My first zero day!

Hiawassee, GA (got off trail at Unicoi Gap, 52.9, day before).

This is my first zero day–a day with no trail miles. I’m staying in a Budget Inn in Hiawassee, GA and they will shuttle me to the trail in the morning. Of course I am doing some walking, mostly to resupply, eat and trade out gear. These rest days are critical to recovery, especially as I gain my trail legs.

My new best f
My new best friend on the trail, my new Catalyst pack which replaced my POS GoLite Jam. Notice the little monkey, made by my niece Adia.

GEAR

I really thought I had made good gear choices, but I’m finding that I need to make some serious adjustments. At Neels Gap I replaced my backpack and sent to storage about 3 pounds of unnecessary gear. My sleeping bag is simply not warm enough and I should have replaced it there as well. Instead I purchased a much better one  over the phone (from Mountain Crossings, the outfitter at Neels Gap) and it’s being sent ahead to a hostel at Dicks Gap. When I get the new one, I’ll return the older one to REI (Thanks for a wonderful return policy!). This will be warmer and save me almost a pound in weight. Today, I  got a 1 ounce knife to replace my 3 ounce Leatherman mini. I replaced my Snow Peak stove and windscreen for a Jet Boil system. It’s slightly heavier, but heats 2 cups of water in under 2 minutes, saving fuel and time standing around in the cold waiting for tea in the morning. Because I will only have to carry one fuel canister instead of two, it’s only a few ounces more overall.

My tent is the best piece of equipment I purchased. The Big Agnes, Fly Creek UL2 is one of the most popular on the trail. My down jacket, fleece cap and rain jacket have been lifesavers, but I threw out the Packa. Great concept, but it didn’t work for me.

HEALTH

I’m feeling better. This morning was the first that I didn’t throw up. As you can imagine, this has kept me from consuming much food at one time or drinking a lot of water. As a result, I may have dropped a couple pounds! But you can’t hike far unless you are hydrated and fed, so it’s slowed me down. Still not sure what the malady is, but I seem to be getting over it. Slowly.

Though I am a bit stiff in the morning, I have not been truly sore, probably because of the low mileage. It is critical to fully recover overnight and not push myself to the point of pain. These young men can tell themselves “No pain, no Maine” as much as they want, but that’s not a strategy for someone my age. For me, the key to finishing is to avoid injury and just keep moving forward at a pace I can maintain. The miles will take care of themselves as long as I don’t stop. It does not matter if I’m the last one to summit Katahdin. I just remind myself that if I allow myself to recover each night, I will be stronger by April and can increase miles then.

My Merrill's . I had replaced the insole with a thicker, cushier one, but now that my feet a swollen from walking, they get a bit tight. My solution, for now, is to cut out the toe section of the insole to give me more room.
My Merrill’s . I had replaced the insole with a thicker, cushier one, but now that my feet a swollen from walking, they get a bit tight. My solution, for now, is to cut out the toe section of the insole to give me more room.

The other key, IMHO, is foot health. I have dutifully stuck with the “duel sock method.” That means I wear a thin liner sock beneath a thick hiking sock. It reduces abrasion and I’ve had no blisters. I also inspect my feet each night before putting them in thick, warm, dry socks that I carry just for sleeping. This morning was the first that my feet were tender upon rising, but I did 3 miles of rocky trail at speed yesterday, in addition to my highest mileage day with no break. Considering, I think they are doing well. Wish I had gotten a half size larger shoes, because my feet swell and could use more room. But the style and performance of my Merrells is great. They’ve stayed dry and handle the rugged terrain very well.

I do have a few more bruises and cuts than when I started. A scrap across the back of my knee is a mystery, but I remember getting both the bruises on my upper arms as chunks of ice fell from trees overhead. THAT was a walk I’ll never forget. Glad I’ve been through it, but hope to never repeat it! Other than that, a couple small bruises that I can’t account for. Nothing major. I did have a bit of low energy today, but a zero day, hydration and a couple nights in a warm bed should cure me.

My new Jet Boil and tiny knife with scissors. They are small, but I used them to cut down my thick shoe insoles.
My new Jet Boil and tiny knife with scissors. They are small, but I used them to cut down my thick shoe insoles.

But I’ve discovered a new malady that I’ve not seen before–a dry, sore throat. It’s the cold, dry air combined with the extra breaths needed to hike. I’ve become a mouth breather! My throat is just a bit raw, but extra fluids and breathing through my nose made a big difference today.

SHOULDA, WOULDA, COULDA

A phrase you hear a lot on the trail! In hindsight, I wish I’d have dumped Sprint and gotten Verizon as my wireless carrier. Much better reception on the trail. While I can often send a text and check simple apps, I can almost never make a phone call. Hope the situation will be better farther north, but I doubt it.

We’ve had our first 2 hikers leave the trail. Both are experienced long distance hikers–they’ve done the CDT and hiked the AT 3 times. He is having back pain and she wrenched a knee. Did I mention it pays to be lucky, too? I’m sure there are others who left quietly as well.

Just spent an hour talking to Katniss and her husband Ben, plus a new hiker, Tex. Tex is having knee problems and is taking his second zero this week. Before long, Katniss and I had stepped away from the boys to discuss the “special” issues women face on the trail. Menstrual cycles are a huge pain and you have to use special supplies that are biodegradable or pack everything out (the officially preferred method. Preferred by men, that is.). Chaffing is a problem! As gross as it may sound to you ladies I have found it impossible to wear underwear and hike more than a few miles without chaffing. I go without. Katniss was coming to the same conclusion. I carry baby wipes to clean up my privates every night. Katniss had just gotten some Vagisil wipes for the same purpose. She also has trouble with constipation, a common complaint. Men do have it easier. It would be so nice to stand up, with a pack on, to pee!

HIKER TRAITS

Did you know that hikers have their own way of blowing their nose? With all the cold air and wind, you can’t stop your nose from running. But you can’t carry a box of Kleenex either. Most everyone has a bandana, but it doubles as a neck warmer, washcloth and headscarf, so you don’t want to use it for your nose. Instead, you stop, bend at the waist, plug one nostril and blow off trail. Repeat other side. Really. You get good at it too.

REMINDERS

After theses days on the trail, I’m reminded how wonderful modern conveniences are. Being able to turn a tap for clean water, a machine that washes my clothes, and a heater that works with a single button, seem like miracles! We forget how lucky we are. Even that horrible sagging mattress made me smile last night.

The ability to just throw away trash is amazing. I have to pack out every Cliff Bar wrapper for days before I can get it in a trash can! It really shows you how much trash we create every day.

I’ve signed up for the 9a shuttle to Unicoi Gap, 52.9. My plan is to hike to Tray Mountain Shelter, 58.6. It’s only 5.7 miles, but straight up, straight down then up again. It will be tough enough for me! As I type this I’m listening to the young men outside my window brag about “big miles” and “no pain, no Maine.”  Let ’em talk!

It begins! And it’s a rough start

The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.
The marker at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain.

For those just joining us, I’m about to hike the Appalachian Trail–Georgia to Maine, almost 2,200 miles.

Standing on top of Springer Mountain is awe inspiring…. and a bit humbling. Facing north is an unbroken footpath stretching all the way to Maine. It’s like being 8 years old, standing on top of a long slope after the first snowfall, a blanket of white stretching beyond, unsullied by a single footprint. Like a calendar without a single day crossed off.

For the next six months, time will be measured, not in minutes and hours, but in steps. The day’s difficulties will be rated by the mountain peaks I need to ascend, not the mountains of paperwork I have to turn in. While I have backpacked before, I know this will be new. This will be different. This is adventure. It will be difficult. It will be a privilege.

A fire the first night at Stover Creek Shelter was a pleasant surprise.
A fire the first night at Hawk Mountain Shelter was a pleasant surprise.

March 1: I had imagined what this day would be like. But it wasn’t like that. It was just another day. No hoopla, no feeling of grandness. It was good, but it doesn’t quite feel real. Yet. It was after 2p before my dear friend Michael and I we were at the top of Springer and I signed in at the resister. Michael drove me to the trail and hiked the first mile with me. Thank goddess for friends!

I started the day with one less toenail. An injury over a month ago didn’t seem so bad at the time. But putting on my socks this morning, Pop! Off it came.

I passed several day hikers going in the opposite direction, they looked at me oddly. I imagined that they were a bit in awe, as if it were obvious that this lone woman was starting a momentous thru hike. Only later did I realize that the right side of my face was smeared with the glaze from the donut holes I’d cramed into my mouth as I left Michael at the Springer parking lot. I only walked as far as Stover Creek shelter, mile marker 2.7. There are a dozen thru hikers here. My favorite is Rambo (who did 1,400 miles in 2012) and his partner Tim (who I’ve tried to call The One They Call Tim, after a Monty Python movie). They must be around 20, very laid back young men. There’s also Pack Rat who seems odd. He says this is his 3rd thru hike attempt and that he’s done all but the last 500 miles. But his gear is all new–he’s never even set up the hammock before and he claims his pack is 70+pounds. I am skeptical, but he’s told stories of running all the downhills, night hiking, falling snakes and taking 2 months of zero days. It’s hard to believe, but I’m in no position to call him a liar.

Cold, probably only 40 degrees F today and cloudy. Will drop well below freezing tonight. Adding layers to sleep in.

March 2: From Stover Creek shelter (2.8) to Hawk Mountain shelter (8.1).

Stover Creek shelter
Stover Creek shelter

The start of things is often messy. This hike is truly showing me my limitations. Today did not go well. I was up early enough, but had trouble with my stove and drank my tea lukewarm. Then when I went to pack up the tent I barely had time to take a step to the side when I threw up. Five times! I felt fine after, but knew I didn’t have enough liquid for the day in my system. Yet I was afraid to do more than sip water. I did fine hiking until I hit an uphill patch, when I moved pitifully slow. I got to Hawk Mountain shelter and decided to cook my big meal and take a rest. After an hour and a half, I felt better and decided to put in 2 more miles. But I wasn’t paying attention coming out of the shelter. The AT turns, but I followed an unmarked trail straight up a huge hill. I went a mile before I realized it, walked around trying to find the trail. Finally gave up and retraced my steps. Energy and self esteem depleted, I decided to stay put for the night. This is a rough start. I was sick last week, but hoped it was only nerves. Today it seems like more than that. No energy. Can’t eat or drink much at one time. Must go slow. Good thing I have an extra month to hike.

Decided to take a nap. Sipping water, but can’t eat. Must be 3 dozen hikers here. Dinosaur is from Germany. A NC couple are Columbus and Queen. I have mild diarrhea overnight, fortunately before the rain started.

March 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter (8.1) to Horse Gap.

Hawk Mountain Shelter.
Hawk Mountain Shelter.

This has not been my best day ever. Heavy rain last night and by mistake I left 2 shirts outside in my vestibule So it was wet clothes and a wet tent to pack up this morning. Rained until noon and then the temps dropped. It was heavy fog, so nothing was getting dry. Still not able to eat or drink much at one time. Moving very slowly. But I threw in the towel at Horse gap when my pack broke. I was able to call for a shuttle to the outfitters and hostel at Mountain Crossing. Time to re-assess my gear and replace the pack. It’s been painful and ill-fitting.

A young man named Will helped me pick out a new, better fitting pack and went through all my gear. I’m sending home about 3 pounds of stuff! Did not need to resupply because I’ve barely eaten anything, but did order a pizza, take a shower and did laundry. It’s the little things that bring joy!

If I were a purist I would take a shuttle back to Horse Gap tomorrow. But I’m not going to. I’ve done this section lots of times, the last time in November. Gonna skip it. As slowly as I’m moving I could use the extra time.

I’ve been sick. I’ve had to replace gear. It’s colder and wetter than I’d expected (mostly because I planned to star a month later). I know this sounds like a very bad beginning, but I’m not daunted. I’ll make the adjustments I need and keep moving forward! I believe I can go all the way to Maine. The only way to know is to try.

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Selling your excess stuff: eBay

I’ve commented before on my journey toward a more frugal lifestyle, one with more experiences than stuff. Getting rid of things you don’t use/need is one step in the process.

Honestly, I enjoy giving things away much more than selling them. But money is a handy thing to have. And besides, I spent my hard earned cash for many of items I no longer use and they are still useful for someone. If your goal is to live a simple, frugal life and/or get rid of your excess stuff you may be in the same boat.

So I targeted a few items to sell off. They money will go straight into my “future adventures” fund. In the past I’ve written about other possibilities. Here’s my first foray into eBay.

eBayeBay

I started with 4 items I wanted to sell on eBay, a service I’ve never used before. My criteria for selecting things to sell:

  • Excellent condition
  • I wouldn’t use them again
  • Easy to package and ship

Three of the items I selected are used backpacking gear that is still in great shape, but I won’t be taking on my AT Hike next year. I did my best to focus on what the item was worth now, not what I paid for it when I bought it new. That way lies madness. And it will break your heart.

Signing up for eBay as a seller is ridiculously easy. I already had a Paypal account, so I chose to link it to eBay to make and receive payments. After that I found or took photos of each item and wrote a description. The more info and photos the better in every case. The one item that I couldn’t write much about (a perfectly good sleeping bag that was more than a decade old) was the item that I priced the lowest and had the hardest time selling. Make your descriptions really good. Spend some time working through the shipping concerns. I chose for the buyer to pay shipping but used a set shipping price (not a range). That worked for me. An alternative would be to set your minimum bid higher and pay for shipping yourself. In every case I set the items at a 7 day auction with a minimum bid and a “Buy it Now” price. Only the older model sleeping bag was rolled over for a second auction and eventually purchased at the minimum bid. All of the items were posted for sale on 6/26/13.

Don’t want to do the work yourself? You can use the eBay Selling Assistant, but they take a deep cut.

Kelty IllusionWhat I sold

Kelty backpack, Illusion 3500: Starting price: $25.00 Buy It Now price:

$45.00. Sold for Buy it Now price in 7 days, plus $16.85 shipping.

Mountainsmith down sleeping bag Vision 15FMountainsmith down sleeping bag Vision 15F:  Starting price: $60.00. Buy It Now price: $100.00. Sold the same day it was posted, for the Buy It Now Price plus $10 for shipping.

Garmin Nuvi 1300 GPS: Brand new, original packaging, never used. Starting price Garmin nuvi 1300 Automotive Mountable GPS Receiver$32.99. Buy it Now option, $55. Sold in 2 days for Buy it Now price, plus $8.75 shipping.

Caribou Mountaineering, synthetic fill sleeping bag: Used, over a decade old, but in very good condition. Starting price: $25.00 Buy It Now price: $40.00. Sold after 2 weeks for minimum bid with $12 shipping.

So all total on four items I brought in $271.60. Not bad, right?

Well…..we aren’t done.

Additional costs and considerations

You have fees to pay. Paypal charges about 3%. So far I’ve paid them $7.79. And eBay takes their share too, about 10%. So far I’ve paid them $17.37 (my July bill added an additional $10.08 to eBay for a total of $27.40) . I still have to settle up with both of them for the last item, which will probably be about $3.70.

That final sleeping bag. Now if the buyer will just pay for the item....
That final sleeping bag. Now if the buyer will just pay for the item….

I had the seller pay for shipping, but you still have to print the label and packing invoice, package the item, and take it to the post office. If your item is over 13 ounces, you have to deliver it to the post office desk. I was lucky that my day job is in an office with lots of boxes and packaging that would otherwise be thrown out. Packaging cost me nothing. I got very close on guessing shipping costs, but it’s easy to lose your shirt, so be very, very careful. I’ve paid out $43.75 in shipping so far.

You won’t get your money right away

Paypal put a hold on my payments for about a week. Not an unreasonable time period, but it could have been a hardship if I needed the money desperately. And they can hold it for up to 20 days.

Final

All in all, a fairly good experience and profitable. I’ve made $188.96 (give or take). That’s OK by me for items I would have given away otherwise.  I call this a win!