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!

AT Backpacking Gear: Sleep System

I’m preparing for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike next year. In addition to physical and mental preparation, I’m working through what gear to carry. My goal is to have less than 25 total pounds for a week’s hike, including food, water and fuel. One of the key items is the sleep system, since getting a good night’s rest is paramount. Hiking for 6 months across the eastern United States is hard, physical labor and you can’t do it on a couple hours of fitful sleep. As I’ve said before, the weight of your pack is all about what you are afraid of. My biggest fear is being wet and cold and freezing to death, so it’s not surprising that this category is a heavy one, over 4 pounds.

Sleep system

  • Sleeping bag: Big Agnes, Juniper SL 25F, Petite, 34 ounces   $224
  • Silk liner: 5 ounces  $70
  • Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes, Insulated Air Core, rectangular, 20×66, 22 ounces    $85 (THIS ITEM HAS CHANGED. I NOW USE THE Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad, R, 20×72 AT 16 OUNCES)
  • Bivy SOL Emergency Bivy 4 ounces    $17 (NOTE: After a November shake down hike, I ditched this item. With a better tent, I didn’t need it)
  • Pillow Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Travel Pillow 3 ounces $30

Sleeping Bf96e7781-662c-483e-96db-d0b603c854afag

I chose a down bag to keep the weight-to-warm ratio high. I upgraded from my Mountainsmith Vision 15F bag (under 2 pounds) because of moisture. The down feathers and the outer cover of the Big Agnes bag are treated to repel water. That adds weight, but a wet bag is worse than useless—it’s heavy and it won’t keep you warm. I also plan to carry the bag loosely in a trash compactor bag inside my pack, rather than forced into a stuff sack. It’s been my experience that I’m colder each successive night of a long hiking trip. I theorize that the loss of loft in the bag is a big part of this issue. It’s the trapped air inside the loft that keeps you warm. If you keep crushing it into a tiny stuff sack the bag simply traps less air.

78536664-aeb1-4bd5-bec2-e0089996a351Silk liner

A silk liner will add 8-10 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold night. And it can keep your bag cleaner, reducing the number of washings (since that will eventually wear off the anti-water treatment). Wear it on the inside to protect your bag from your dirty clothes and body. Wear it outside your bag to protect it from the surroundings (like at a hostel). And in the summer I can use it as a light sleeping cover. This is an item I’ve had for years. Personally, I slip the silk liner over the outside of my bag because it don’t lose it in the dark recesses of the bag. I’ll also slip the foot of my sleeping bag into my backpack (and the trash bag liner) if my feet are still cold. I also keep an extra fluffy pair of socks just for sleeping in and will add my coat, gloves and hat if I need it.)

aa544dd6-8600-4cb8-8c96-b7f06ce7df1dSleeping Pad

This is an area that I could cut some weight on, but at least for the colder parts of the hike, I want the comfort and warmth of a full length air mattress. I sleep cold. The Big Agnes pad gives me some reflective heat AND it will insulate me from the ground. Plus it’s long and wide enough that I won’t have any part of my body on the cold, hard and possibly wet ground. I can switch to a closed cell foam to reduce weight. This pad replaces an older model Therm-a-Rest, which has served me well, but weights too much.

As an aside, I gave the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad a very serious look. Though horribly expensive (about $200) they weigh less than a pound and have a shiny, space blanket material inside to reflect back your body heat. But honestly I rejected it because of noise. I don’t want to hear it every time I move. It would be like sleeping on a bag of potato chips. And it looks fragile.

(THIS ITEM HAS CHANGED. I’VE REPLACED THIS WITH THE Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad, R, 20×72 AT 16 OUNCES. Part of the change was weight, but also the amount of time/energy it took to blow up the mattress. The Therm-a-rest is partially self inflating.)

78a4e9f7-6941-4b4c-b066-dc3bc06f2b33Bivy (NOTE: After a November shake down hike, I ditched this item. With a better tent, I didn’t need it. If I were starting my hike in early March or–heaven forbid–February, I’d carry it.)

I’ve had the SOL Emergency Bivy in the trunk of my car for months and I’ve carried it once or twice on a trip, but I hadn’t even unrolled it from the tiny stuff sack until my last trip. At 4 ounces and $17, it’s surprising how nice this is. Totally reflective inside to trap heat so it might add up to 10 degrees F on a cold night. But the material is both tough and stretchy so it doesn’t tear like an emergency space blanket. It’s large enough to fit my sleeping bag, sleeping pad and me inside. And it doubles as a ground cloth. That’s a lot for 4 ounces. I’ll destroy it within a couple months of hiking, but by then it will be warm weather and I won’t need it. And they’re cheap to replace. Most bivys are $150+. Even the SOL Escape Bivy is $50 and double the weight. It’s possible that I don’t need both the bivy and the liner. I certainly won’t need this item in summer.

0cb41cb8-687d-4efc-9a32-36e629397611Call me a wimp….

..but I need a pillow. Lately, I’ve been carrying my clothing in a stuff sack that has a silky feel on one side and a brushed surface on the other (fairly heavy for a stuff sack). I’ve used it as a pillow by stuffing extra clothing into it. That works as long as you have extra clothing to put into it. But the essence of Ultralight backpacking is to avoid  “extra” weight. I’ve just added the Cocoon Hyperlight Air-Core Travel Pillow to improve my sleep. I’ve ditched the stuff sack and will just keep it inside my sleeping bag. According to the advert, it weights 2.4 ounces. My scale says it’s 3 without the stuff sack. Grrrrrr

TOTAL WEIGHT FOR SLEEP SYSTEM: 68 ounces

(With changes, this category now includes a Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow, rust at 2 ounces. The total weight is now 60 ounces)

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!

June backpack: Testing new gear and methods under the super moon

 

Isn't this quite the view? This is what I saw outside my tent this weekend along the AT, in the Blood Mountain Wilderness.
Isn’t this quite the view? This is what I saw outside my tent this weekend along the AT, in the Blood Mountain Wilderness.

I’m preparing my gear and my body for a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Right now, I’m fairly obsessed with gear and the weight of everything I’m carrying. As part of this effort, I’m going on a weekend backpack monthly to check out new gear and techniques.

AT hike June 2013, 3This trip I was checking out my new backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and—most importantly—my new tent. I’d timed the hike to coincide with the beginning of Summer and that “Super Moon” that’s been all over the internet. Bonus!

I went hiking last weekend in the Blood Mountain Wilderness area and had a particular spot in mind. The exposed rock outcropping at the top of a mountain gave me a good view and I thought it’d be the best test of the tent if it got windy or started to rain (it didn’t).

Overall experience

The site I picked is about 3 miles from where I park the car, mostly straight up a mountain. I’m in better shape than a month ago when I hiked this same mountain. Plus I’ve dropped my pack weight by almost 5 pounds. Those changes really made a difference. And the moon was lovely! The breezy spot kept down the mosquitos, but the tiny flies were pretty bad. I had to resort to bug spray. Never seen so many Daddy Long Legs, though. And they were really attracted to my tent.

New backpack, sleeping bag, pad and tarptent.
New backpack, sleeping bag, pad and tarptent.

New Gear

The Contrail TarpTent replaces my beloved Hennessey Hammock. With extra-large rain fly, two sets of Snake Skins and Four Season Insulation System, the Hennessy tops out above 4 pounds. I’ve spent a fortune on this system and I’m loath to abandon it, but I must be practical. A tarp tent will almost always weight less than a hammock system made for outdoor camping, and the Hennessey is the top of the line. But the real problem with a hammock is not just the weight of the system. The problem is that you end up carrying redundant gear. I still have to carry a pad and ground cloth for nights I stay in an AT shelter, which I expect to be more than half the time. I also carry tent stakes to convert the tarp into a tent, in the event there are no trees or the weather is just too cold and windy. I hate carrying redundant gear and frankly my body can’t take it. I’ve done a full review of the Contrail, for geeks who care.

Also new this trip is a sleeping pad (Big Agnes, Insulated Air Core, rectangular, 20×66, weight 22 ounces) and bag (Big Agnes, Juniper SL 25F, Petite Rated to 26F for Women, weight 34 ounces). The pad slept comfortably and the bag seemed fine, though late June doesn’t give a real test of the warmth of the bag. I can say that the down bag did NOT soak up the moisture of the air like my existing down bag, which weighed about the same and packs smaller. The Big Agnes is treated to reduce moisture and I think it’s worth the investment. A wet down bag is worse than none at all.

Finally, I’ve got a new backpack, the GoLite 70L. It’s probably bigger than I need and I’ll detail it in another post.

Hiking means enjoying the things you see along the way, like this Indian Pipe.
Hiking means enjoying the things you see along the way, like this Indian Pipe.

What I didn’t carry/replaced

What you leave behind matters too, since Ultralight backpacking is all about taking only what you need. I didn’t carry my MSR Sweet Water filter pump, opting only for a liquid water treatment to kill virus/parasites/bacteria (saving another pound). And I’m using an emergency bivy by SOL to double as a ground cloth (saving a couple ounces).

I also left my fancy water bottles at home (6 ounces each), opting for two, one-liter soda bottles (one ounce each). That’s a total savings of 10 ounces.

Finally, I ditched my pack cover (4ounces). It won’t keep your stuff dry in a downpour. Instead I’ve gone to a simple, white Glad trash compactor bag (1 ounce). If it has to stay dry it goes inside the bag. Total weight savings, 3 ounces.

Another view of the Super Moon, roughly 14% larger than usual and as close as it will get to us over a year.
Another view of the Super Moon, roughly 14% larger than usual and as close as it will get to us over a year.

New Techniques

It’s important to try something new with each hike. In addition to gear I tried these new things.

Pillow: Call me a wimp if you want but I need pillow to sleep well. The usual answer is to stuff extra clothing into a stuff sack. That’s fine IF you have a lot of extra clothing and an extra stuff sack. With Ultralight camping, you don’t have extra anything. What I tried was inflating plastic Ziploc baggies about half way with air and putting them in a stuff sack. It didn’t work for me. They were flat in minutes. Back to the drawing board.

Bear Bag Hanging System: I hang my food well away from my tent at night and don’t cook near the place I plan to sleep. This keeps down all critters, but especially bear. I’ve got a terrible throwing arm, so I’ve focused on just getting foodstuffs away from me. But I have to improve this method. I used a system from Mike Clelland’s book and it worked really well. It’s outlined here, and it’s the PCT method. Easy, lightweight. The drawing in Mike’s book is better than the photos, however.

One less stuff sack: It isn’t really the sleeping bag that keeps you warm. It’s the trapped air. Every time you stuff a sleeping bag into a tiny stuff sack you force the loft down. It may or may not come back. So I’m just putting my sleeping bag into the trash compactor bag loosely. I’ve got a pack with large volume and now that I carry less, I don’t have to worry about everything being forced into such a small space. I think allowing the bag to stay fluffy means it will keep me warmer. This wasn’t the trip to test that theory since June is warm, but I can say that I have enough room to do this.