I am so excited (obsessed according to my wife) as the time to start my AT thru-hike approaches. I feel like I’m ready to go right now…except for two things:
1) It’s still too darn cold. I have a lot of admiration for hikers who are already on the trail.
2) My son is getting married on March 16th and I want to delay my start until after his wedding. So my current start date is March 28th.
So I continue to take long hikes with my full pack, which weighs 22 pounds with food and water. My training hikes now generally range from 10 to 12 miles but yesterday I drove up to the AT and hiked a fast 14 miles in really cold weather. It’s good for me to get used to the cold (not my favorite weather) and by hiking fast I can improve my cardiovascular system so that I have good stamina on the trail. I would like to be able to hike 6-8 hours per day from the start and work up to as much as 10 hours per day. I don’t want to miss things along the way but I also don’t want to spend a lot of time in camp or in trail towns. I like hiking and seeing things along the trail much more than camping, so long hiking days will be my goal.
I believe the I have made my last clothing/equipment purchases. I ordered an inexpensive down vest which weighs only seven ounces and will be my insurance against really cold weather. (Did I mention that I don’t like the cold?) If the weather gets down into the teens at night on the trail, the vest will be a nice addition to my sleeping attire.
I also ordered some very lightweight gaiters that are designed for trail running. They will help keep trail crud (stones, leaves, pine needles, etc.) out of my shoes and will also provide some degree of protection from rain. I’ve never used gaiters before but a friend who works at the local outfitter recommended them. I respect his opinion a lot so I’m going to give them a try.
Another friend asked if I was going to have a spare pair of shoes and got me thinking about buying them now and breaking them in ahead of time. So I’ve got another pair of Keen Voyageurs (my third pair) that I’m breaking in so that they’re ready to go when my other pair wears out. These are the same shoes that I have used for a couple of years and wore out the first pair on the Camino de Santiago. They’re the perfect hiking shoe for me. There is plenty of room in the toe box, my heel does not slide around, and they are tough enough to stand up to rocky trails.
So my friends have been making good suggestions! I’ve also gotten good advice and recommendations from other hikers on-line. This is all very helpful because no matter how much you read to prepare for the AT, there are still questions that need to be answered.
Another friend, Russ, provided what must be my first “trail magic” – a beautiful map that rolls out and shows the entire trail from Georgia to Maine and is suitable for hanging on a wall. I’m going to hang mine at home so that my wife can track me as I progress from south to north. By the way, in case you didn’t know, trail magic is unsolicited help that a hiker receives along the trail. It may be a ride into a trail town, free food supplied at a trail side cookout, or an invitation to spend the night at someone’s home. My wife and I provided trail magic to three hikers – Gaia, Mossy Brown and another I cannot recall right now – by giving them a ride from the trail to dinner, then to our home where they spent two nights, rested and resupplied before they returned to the trail. We loved having them in our home and hearing their tales of the trail. Thanks to facebook we still have contact with them from time to time.
Finally, I’m going to thank my wife in advance for putting up with this obsession and for being so supportive of my adventure. I think she is excited for me – she loves to hike but has no desire to camp out, so she’s not going with me. But she will be my support team – driving me to the start of the trail, providing constant positive reinforcement and motivation through the inevitable tough times, editing my blog posts to fix typos and grammatical errors, and meeting me every 3-4 weeks to bring supplies. Since we live in Virginia, I will be within a two hour drive from home for about one-fourth of the trail.
It is absolutely critical that I have my wife’s support and last night I got a very positive sign. As we got into bed and she was having a little trouble going to sleep, she asked me to talk to her about the AT. It’s nice to know she cares…:)