In about 100 days, I will leave for Springer Mountain in Georgia and begin walking to Mount Katahdin in Maine. On this milestone day, I thought it would be a good time to share with you the progress I have made in preparing for this journey, and what I still need to do prior to my departure date.
I am so looking forward to experiencing the trail. Having read dozens of trail journals and watched dozens of YouTube videos posted by previous thru-hikers, I can hardly wait to get out there and experience it all for myself. Seeing the Appalachian Trail through the eyes of others has allowed me to focus on some critical details such as how to hang a food bag out of a bear’s reach, what to expect when staying overnight at hostels, and when to expect hiking shoes to fail.
In terms of formal training, I have recently updated my Red Cross CPR/AED accreditation and have taken the Leave No Trace Trainer course on outdoor skills and ethics. Still to come is a Wilderness First Aid course that I am scheduled to attend in mid-February, as well as the Appalachian Trail Kickoff Seminar the weekend before I start hiking.
While my workouts have been going well, I am further behind in this area than I had originally hoped. Back around September, I was going to the gym for six days in a row and then taking a one day recovery break. It was then that I began to experience some discomfort in my left knee. So, I dropped down on the weights and went to a two day on, one day off schedule in an attempt to discover the root of the problem. I suspected that the issue was caused by the stair mill machine, so I have eliminated that from my workout, focusing entirely on high incline treadmill workouts for cardio. I have recently moved up to a four day on, one day off routine, and so for, so good.
In addition to working out at the gym, in late December I will start taking daily walks of increasing distance with my backpack at full weight. These walks will not provide much of a cardiovascular workout in good ol’ flat Florida, but at least it will start getting my muscles and joints prepared to support the weight of a pack. The only way to truly prepare for backpacking in the mountains is to backpack in the mountains, but I will be as prepared as I can be.
The great gear chase of 2016 is about to come to an end. I’m now in possession of 95% of the items that I will carry for 5 million steps and that will become my home away from home. A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to go camping for two nights to test my gear choices with an overnight low of 37 degrees (I can hear my northern friends laughing at this “sub-arctic” test, but in Florida they might have closed the schools had this low temperature occurred on a weekday). I am extremely pleased to report that I remained toasty warm and I’m confident that my clothing/sleeping system will protect me down to the lower twenties.
As soon as I get the remaining 5% of my gear together, I will schedule a two or three-night backpacking trip to do a final shakedown test that will include walking ten miles with a full pack, filtering all my water, and blogging from the field. Following the shakedown trip, I will prepare a “What Is in My Pack” video to share with you.
Food Planning and Preparation
This is the one area in which I have invested the most time and the area that has the most work yet to be done. After all, a man has gotta eat! Here is a partial list of what has been accomplished thus far:
- Researched dehydrated backpacking meal recipes and preparation techniques.
- Purchased a dehydrator and practiced the dehydration of meats, fruits, and vegetables.
- Prepared a spreadsheet of the nutritional values of various backpacking appropriate foods found at Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.
- Assembled and rehydrated multiple meals to share with my Trail Coordinator to determine what tasted good enough to eat on an extended basis.
- Developed various daily menus that would meet my desired nutritional requirements.
- Estimated meal counts based on anticipated days on the trail and resupply options (i.e. where the double cheese burgers are located).
- Identified mail-drop locations along the trail and created packing lists for each box based on anticipated needs.
As you can see, this is a complex planning opportunity based on a “best guess” schedule involving multiple unknown factors. But it wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy. And while my plan is about as solid as Jell-O nailed to the wall, at least I have one. What remains is the execution of the plan. Over the next several weeks, I will be purchasing, dehydrating, assembling, vacuum sealing, and boxing nearly 300 breakfast, lunch, and dinner items. Of course, I will be sharing the process, with those of you who are interested, through my blog and with a series of videos that I will produce about “How to Dehydrate ______.”
In addition to the items listed above, there are naturally a million other things that must be done by anyone embarking on a 6-month expedition. I still need to file tax returns, set up automatic bill payments, renew my health insurance, order 2017 trail guides, possibly sell my car, join the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (it would be so wrong not to), enter “Ship To” addresses in Amazon, and pre-order the new White Mountain National Forest maps. And, of course, there is the little matter of a jury summons I received for the first week of December. Most important, though, is binge watching Season 6 of Game of Thrones (I saved the best for last).