20 April, 2010

blogging change

Livejournal has the features I need to blog from the trail, so go to:


All posting will be made at the above address, which will be cross-posted to facebook.

11 April, 2010

my trail name

I've decided to call myself Majikthise the Philosopher on the trail. This fits me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I demand the right to think freely. Or not to do so!

I only pray that those reading have some idea of what I am talking about.

29 March, 2010

Training Hike #1

In an ideal world, I would have been training for months. Alas, this was not to be. So I will make do with what time I have left. Any preparation is better than no preparation. Still, my lack of fitness is the single biggest issue that I'll deal with on the trail (well, that and the humid heat). Luckily, I have a great deal of endurance, the altitude advantage and a great deal of mental toughness on my side.

Yesterday I went for my first training hike. I filled my new pack full of gear (plenty of weight!) and took off. It was a heartbreakingly beautiful spring day. So much so, in fact, that I ended up driving an extra half hour because I missed the turn and it was too pretty to stop and do something as mundane as a map consultation.

I settled on Mt. Falcon, which is a familiar front range hiking spot that's at relatively low altitude for Colorado (between 7-8K'). While it is hilly and steep in places, I thought that for my first hike, keeping it below 11000' was likely a good plan.

I was feeling strong, and while the pack was full of a good load, it didn't feel heavy. That pack is the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, in fact.

Conditions were challenging. As is common during springtime in these mountains, the trail was a mixture of packed snow, crunchy snow, slushy snow and mud. Paths truly act as small streams at this time of year, and I walked through water several times.

The new Keen hiking boots wore like a dream during all of this. My toes were never mashed, even on the steep ascents and descents. My feet didn’t get wet after all of those stream crossings.

The air was clear and cool, while the sun was warm. I thought about how much I’m going to miss Colorado while I’m gone this year. This place may be overcrowded and expensive, but it’s just so damned beautiful. Gets me every time.

I didn’t start to feel tired until near the apogee of my hike, during a sustained climb. I probably ought to have stopped sooner to eat a snack, but I got locked into that ‘climb it, get it done, don’t stop’ mode.

As I topped out onto the plateau, I battled through a cold, bitter wind. At that point, I was only wearing a short sleeved wicking shirt and some light hiking pants, with a boonie hat on top. I probably also should have stopped to put on another layer during the climb.

Finally I made it to the bench at the top of the climb. Quickly I pulled out a mid-layer wicking shirt. While it isn’t even windstopper fabric, it made all the difference.

Ironically, with all the gear stuffing my pack, I didn’t have my Buff, a warm hat or a coat. This is unusual for me, but I got a late start. I slept in until noon, then checked email and such for a while. By the time I was ready, there was no time to waste in poring over my gear. I just ran out the door and headed for the hills.

Armored with what little additional clothing I had, I grabbed a homemade peanut delight (sort of a fudge/cookie w/ dried fruit) and started the long slog across the snowfield. That peanut delight hasn’t tasted good to me in town, but it hit the spot at that moment. Sweet, chewy, packed with calories…perfect.

The snowfield seemed to stretch on for hours. I was getting tired and was having to lean into the wind to keep momentum. The uneven footprints and postholes in the snow made this even more difficult.

Finally I made it back to the truck. Somewhere along the main trail, the wind died down. It was peaceful and sunny in the parking lot and I lingered to enjoy an orange.

Total mileage was around 5.5-6. Not sure what the total elevation change was. Probably around 1000’. Pack weight was probably 20-25 lbs. Success!

Today I don't even feel sore. Funny how my body can handle hiking with a pack even when I'm not in great overall shape.

26 March, 2010

trail sandals and crowds

I've grown to loathe my local REI. In recent years, the place is mobbed with yuppies at all hours of every day. It used to be that one could go in there on a weekday and have peace and quiet in which to geek out over gear. No more.

Today I needed to buy my new trail sandals and I was dreading it. The shoe department there is the worst - understaffed with surly people. To my surprise, today was different. Turns out that they had increased staffing levels for today because of dividend coupons. So I actually got a helpful, friendly guy and we even chatted about gear for a few minutes.

Sadly, my shoe expedition did not go as well as I had hoped. I had planned to buy the Keen Whisper (see below). I have had a pair of Keens for years now and I like them. The problem is that they're a bit heavy, and I thought I could solve it by replacing them with Whispers, which are approximately half the weight.

Alas, they have changed the fit. I have medium width feet, which are generally very easy to fit. Even so, these Keens smooshed my foot meat. The 9.5 was the right length but the straps were too tight. The 10 was too long but the straps were decent. Neither felt right.

So I tried on a couple of other models and settled tentatively on the Merrell Freesia (see below right). It's not rated as a hiking sandal, but that doesn't worry me in particular. I just don't know if they're comfortable enough, or if it's even worth the weight at all.
To cover my bases, I also purchased a pair of extremely lightweight flip-flops, made by Teva. Perhaps I'll just carry these. My goals for this pair of shoes are 1. camp shoes to wear after taking off the boots, 2. occasional hiking on hot days and 3. extremely lightweight.
Flip-flops would fill #1 and #3 in admirable fashion. #2 is a stretch. Sure, people in the ultralight backpacking movement have been known to hike long distances in really marginal footwear, but flip-flops? I don't know. I guess I could give it a shot.
The new Merrells would be great for #2, not quite as great for #1 and only decent for #3.
What to do, what to do. Well, I'm going on a shakedown trip at some point before leaving on the Trail, so I'll just give both of these babies a try. I suspect that if I can even remotely deal with the flip-flops, I'll go with those. Weight is at a premium.
In other news, my gear list is almost complete. I now only need a small nalgene cap (or a new bottle), a new sports bra and a bucket. Aqua Mira tablets (for back-up to my filter), a mosquito head net and a waterproof pack liner are on the maybe list. It kind of depends on how my weight is adding up. I would like to get to a 16 pound base weight, which allows me 14 pounds of food and water for a total of 30 pounds. A quite tolerable weight for me.
Getting closer. Gear is almost done, food list is nearly complete and it only remains to go food shopping and take that aforementioned shakedown trip. I feel confident about my gear system and ability to obtain food.
My only worry right now is my fitness level, which is dismal. Granted, even at my version of dismal, I can still hike all day. But carrying extra pounds on my body AND carrying a pack? It's going to be tough. Based on past experience, I know I can make it for a week. But how will I feel when it stretches beyond that and I can't stop to recover?
Oh, I suppose I could stop at any time. But I need to make miles. My itinerary is tight. I'll have to push pretty hard to make Maine before the snow flies. My intuition tells me not to worry. I'll go with that, and spend these last few weeks doing whatever I can to prepare.
I wore my new pack, which was mostly full, during today's shopping odyssey. Training walk #1!
Perhaps I ought to just go out for a walk after work every day wearing the pack. Or I could hit the elliptical, stairmaster or treadmill at the gym wearing the pack. I also need to get with the bodyweight workout program that I used to practice. I suppose packing boxes won't hurt either!

22 March, 2010

Food Prep

This weekend I decided to take advantage of my as yet unpacked kitchen and do some food preparation for the trail. I scored some great deals on ingredients at the Mexican grocery store and got down to it.

The first step was to marinate five pounds of beef for jerky. I settled on two flavors of marinade - one Asian and one basic. Both flavors got a shot of Sriracha sauce for added heat. Why fuss with pepper flakes, I thought. And cayenne powder is just so...boring.

Then I dove into making my family's traditional spaghetti sauce. I can't reveal the recipe here because it's a secret! Actually, I don't recall anyone else in the family saying that it was a secret. That's a tradition I made up some years ago for my own amusement. Who knows, though. It really sounds like something my family would do. Remind me to ask my brother sometime.

After a whisk through the blender to improve drying uniformity, the sauce went into the dehydrator for "spaghetti leather", a most delicious idea that I got from Ray Jardine's book.

The next day, I broke out the smoker and smoked all of the jerky meat. I had no idea how easy it was to smoke things until recently and it really adds that special something to the finished product. Luckily, Adam left me the electric smoker. He likes to use a mixture of apple and other types of wood, but I could only find hickory at the grocery store.

The first batch of jerky out of the smoker went into the oven. The oven process made me paranoid - would it get overcooked and turn into charcoal? Despite my fears, it did seem to turn out all right and had the proper snap when bent.

The second batch of jerky out of the smoker went into the dehydrator. By this time, it was evening and I agonized about whether or not to leave it in there overnight. Finally I decided to go for it and guess what? It turned out just fine. I did stumble out of bed at 5am to turn it off, though.

It always amazes me how the right motivator can drag me from my warm, comfortable bed no matter what the hour. Disoriented and heavy with sleep, I could barely see or keep my balance, yet I remembered to make it to the kitchen to turn off the dehydrator. Must...save...jerky!

It will likely take me all week to finish drying the spaghetti sauce. Each tray of the dehydrator only takes about 1.5-2 cups of sauce, and I made enough to nearly fill my largest pot. I only have two suitable tray liners. Must do some experimentation with plastic wrap and/or parchment paper. Drying all five trays at once would be so much faster! It might even be the case that I could start a new batch each morning before work. This morning I slept in, but tomorrow...tomorrow is a new day.

I dreamed of the trail last night. Don't remember details now, but it was a good dream.

14 March, 2010

Appalachian Trail

It has been an interesting 10 years in Denver, but it's time for a change. My best relaxation and healing takes place in the outdoors, and I have many friends and relatives on the East Coast, so the Appalachian Trail was the logical choice.

This will be my longest expedition to date, so I am excited to see how well my trip planning skills will scale up. Being a computer-oriented geek, all of my plans reside in one giant spreadsheet. It's absurd. Everything from the itinerary to a contacts list is there.

At this point, most of my planning is complete. I've nearly obtained all needed gear, and the final phase is to source food supplies.

My main focus at this time is to wind up my affairs in Denver. Just a month and change to go!

31 August, 2005


As a child, my mother thought it was fun to take two children, a map and a compass into the woods...and actually try to accomplish something.



But I'll be ever grateful she introduced me to orienteering.

Sure, sure, GPS units are cool. Geocaching must be quite fun, what with the walking around playing with electronic toys and finding goodies and all.

But it can't possibly compare to the sheer accomplishment of translating land features to markings on the map, while using a simple magnet to find other specific locations...

all while competing against the clock and other teams.

So I enrolled in a seminar course at my college to refresh my skills. Imagine, I can get college credit for wandering around in the woods!

This weekend, we sojourned to Mt. Falcon, which is located in the front range of our beautiful Rocky Mountains.

It was a perfect Colorado morning, that is to say, cool, sunny and crisp. We wandered about, taking headings.

I did well, except for failing to account for the deception of nearness in the different mountain ranges. My map reading is rusty after all.

Many places that I go, maps aren't even necessary. In CO, there are many places that require trail usage. And there are many where it's obvious where you are and where you want to go (distinctive/solitary mountain, canyon, etc).

So I've got work to do.

As a classmate pointed out, it's great practice for adventure racing. I think I would kick ass at that sort of thing.

Drop me in an unknown place with a compass and a few supplies, and I'll find my way out.

Either that or I'll take up with a band of nomads and never come back.

Who can tell?