Hiking down Stratton Mountain I felt elated and completely at peace. A couple miles from the summit I saw a couple hikers setting up hammocks just off the trail. Enjoying the relaxing pace I had adopted this evening I sat down for a minute to check my mileages on my phone and ask them about the trail conditions down the hill. As was becoming the norm they couldn’t believe I was camping with such a tiny pack. Both engineers from Boston, they asked where I was from. I told them Richmond and one of them said he was dating a girl in Richmond. I found out she went to a rival high school and graduated a year before me. Simple things like that bring back little pieces of home and made the trip much more bearable. It was a cool little reminder of the connectedness in this world. In my loneliest moments, I always found there was a little bit of home everywhere, whether in some familiar looking woods, or in a phone call home, in a stranger’s friendliness, or in a crazy connection. Continue reading Massachusetts Appalachian Trail, Day 19, 42.3 miles
Yesterday I had my first day of a two week stretch of training out in the western Virginia woods. On my drive to Blacksburg, Virginia, I stopped in Montebello to do The Priest hike, one of the longest climbs on the entire trail. It was a beautiful cooler day and it’s great to be back out in some shaded woods after training through the winter in the leafless forests of Shenandoah National Park. I met some awesome thru-hikers, Koz from South Carolina hiking for his second attempt, Patterns and her canine companion The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and her other hiking friend Scarecrow. I gladly let them help themselves to the snacks, drinks, and candy I housed in my car and it felt great to have the opportunity to do so. I told them I would be hiking south in a few weeks and may see them again. It certainly would be nice to see a familiar face out there.
“Drop completely the term “fastpack.” You are backpacking, so call it that. There is a very well developed community of backpackers who take an endurance athlete’s approach to the activity, myself included. I’d encourage you to join it rather than try to create a new niche in the ultra niche. Don’t create distinctions where there are none. I’ll add that I find “fastpacking” to sound very elitist — it’s as if runners can’t admit that they are “backpacking” and it implies that the rest of us are just “slowpacking.”
Skurka left that comment on an article written about fastpacking a few months ago. To be perfectly honest, to me it was nonsensical. I dropped a quote on one of my previous posts from a climber demoting mountaineering to “hiking and camping”. As absurd as it sounds, it’s absolutely accurate. Whether hiking in Shenandoah National Park or climbing Everest, you’re mostly walking and sleeping. But if we didn’t have the term mountaineering, we may not know whether our friend just climbed Everest or went on a stroll in Nepal. His argument is synonymous to saying we don’t need the term whale because it’s just a mammal or we don’t need to term hiking because it’s just walking.
But it brings up an interesting question, what exactly is fastpacking? Continue reading Should we abandon the term fastpacking?
This summer I am going to be attempting to break the unsupported Appalachian Trail record. I have been asked a lot of questions about my trip and wanted to clear up exactly what I am doing by addressing some of those common questions here.
What exactly are you doing?
Self-supported Appalachian Trail record thru hike attempt. It is done backpacker style without a support crew. I will resupply in towns and pick up packages I mailed to myself but cannot have prearranged support from friends or family nor will I be able to accept rides into towns.
How far is it?
It is a 2185 mile long trail that passes through 14 states. Continue reading Appalachian Trail record attempt FAQ
I’ve begun the process of packaging up resupplies to for my Appalachian Trail mail drops. Made a mess of my apartment in the process and logistically kind of a nightmare but hopefully it pays off and saves time off the trail. Throwing in some Ensure shakes, pudding cups, and fruit cups for a little snack at the mail drop. If you can think of other happy food I should put in there, let me know!
I realized after my recent post on backpacking diet that I did a great job outlining some of my diet choices for my fastpacking trips and a poor job of explaining why I chose the foods I do. I wanted to do a write-up explaining the backpacker’s diet so people could better understand what purpose it serves and how a diet loaded with empty calories is not unhealthy granted the context.
My backpacking diet serves a very specific purpose and addresses the most immediate concern: starvation. It focuses on macronutrient intake and finds the densest foods to obtain the most calories. Anything beyond that is fluff. Continue reading Explaining the backpacker’s diet
With a solid training week coming to a close and preparations reaching a lull, I wanted to take a moment to review a piece of gear that is going to be invaluable to me on my upcoming Appalachian Trail self-supported record thru-hike attempt, my Enlightened Equipment 50 degree Enigma quilt.
To give some background, a quilt is similar to a sleeping bag, except sports a simpler, more efficient, and lighter design. While a sleeping bag wraps all the way around you, a quilt maximizes the insulation by only covering above you and letting the sleeping pad take care below. They usually come without a hood or with a detachable one. To most new backpackers they’re daunting for their simplicity in the same way that new hikers flock to tents over tarps. Unfortunately this kind of misunderstanding really halted the quilt’s progression as an innovative piece of backpacking gear. For years quilt companies simply didn’t have access to the top fabrics and were way behind the field in design. The fully enclosed counterparts were often lighter despite being fundamentally inefficient.
When I started checking out the market for new, lighter gear to replace my battered gear from my previous trips, I was elated to find Enlightened Equipment leading the way in lightweight sleep systems. Their 10 denier nylon fabric matched that of the outdoor gear giants and the option for 800+ fill down showed their dedication to using the highest quality materials for their quilts. I continued my search for competitors to make sure EE was truly the best and nothing came close. There was no getting around it, I needed an Enlightened Equipment quilt for my hike and to carry anything else would put me at a disadvantage from the gun. Continue reading Review: Enlightened Equipment Enigma quilt
Overall my recent training hikes have been very uneventful hiking. But I do need to evaluate what slowed me down and each individual ache and pain. Back when I was racing triathlons I was extremely resistant to making excuses. I blew off every reason that could have slowed me down or made perform less than my best. But while in a two-hour race my stubbornness probably helped, with such long distance hiking, denying any ache or pain can turn into a brutal lesson.
On my spring break trip I had developed achilles tendonitis in my left heel. By the end of the trip it was creaking and severely inflamed. Because of the grueling punishment I had put my body through, I couldn’t be certain of exactly what had caused it. I suspected going from the flatness of Norfolk out to the high mountains of Smoky Mountain National Park had put additional strain on my tendon on the uphills and that stretching may alleviate it. I had also wondered if it had to do with my ridiculously small climbing shoes I had been using for several months at the climbing gym in Virginia Beach. And of course there was the distressing possibility that my body simply didn’t want to tolerate 40+ mile hiking days. Continue reading Evaluating setbacks
Over spring break I had a great adventure down in the Smokies in North Carolina hiking a section of the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Appalachian Trail. It is one that I’ll look back on as a solid foundation for some future trips. I went out into the woods in late winter in Smoky Mountain National Park (which boasts the highest mountains on the east coast and unseasonably cold weather) with a sub 3.5 pound pack. That’s it. Besides shoes, poles, socks, a shirt, and shorts, the 3.5 pounds on my back was all the gear I figured I needed to survive for four days. Loaded with 3 pounds of food and a liter of water, it brought the total up to 7.8 pounds. Continue reading Benton MacKaye Trail spring break hike
I had a couple good days of hiking this past weekend out in Shenandoah National Park. 35 miles on Saturday and 38 on Sunday. Not huge days but were solid training back out in the mountains. It was the first great weekend of spring and it was wonderful seeing so many other people enjoying the beautiful weather after several lonely hikes this winter.
You can check out the GPS files for each day here and here. I’ve tried keeping a good training log to track my progress and for transparency but it’s been harder than I anticipated. At least these two files give some idea of what pace I hit, how long my breaks are, and where and when I may need to adjust my pace and mileage.