Research overload and OMG it's almost 2012!

I stayed up last night until after 2:00am on Amazon and all over the internet, looking at, lusting after and reading specifications and reviews on backpacking gear.  I had to work this morning, but even after I got off the computer I was so excited I couldn't sleep for a while.  I’ll be sharing my Amazon Thru-hike wish list with family and friends in case anybody needs gift ideas for my birthday in December and Christmas.  Just go to the Amazon home page and on the top bar is a place to click that says “Gifts and Wish Lists.”  Go there, select wish lists, type in my name and there it is!  If anybody wants to help me out with getting gear I’d love some Amazon gift certificates to get some of the stuff on my list!  Keep in mind that the list is a changing thing and there are duplicate items, like two sleeping bags, because I haven’t decided yet, or want the more expensive one, but will get the cheaper one if I don’t have enough money.  I ordered my Leki carbon trekking poles that double as a camera monopod from (thanks The Dusty Camel for setting me up with them!).  I got them for nearly half the price they were on Amazon and I can't wait till they arrive.  Woo Hoo!

Suddenly it all feels very real.  Maybe it's because November is almost over, Thanksgiving is almost here, and then December, my birthday and Christmas and then WOW it's 2012!  Since I'm planning to leave in mid-April, I only have about three and a half months in 2012 to get ready and that doesn't feel like enough time, but it also doesn't seem soon enough.  I'm still deciding on so many things!  Will I use a bear canister instead of trying to learn how to bear bag?  It sounds like a huge pain and not always reliable to find the right tree with a branch thin enough a bear cub can’t climb on it (how thin is that anyway and what if there’s no tree?) and throw the rope over it with a rock and then pull the food bag up high and tie on a counter-balancing bag and loop the rope up and then use a stick or pole to push that bag up until they hang evenly.  They have to be ten feet from the trunk of the tree and twelve feet in the air and even then, if the bears don’t get it, which they sometimes do, the mice and other rodents can have a go.  But a bear canister weighs two and a half pounds.  The tent I want is less than two pounds, for comparison.

I haven't even decided what kind of cooking system I want, or what kind of food I'll eat.  Will I pre-purchase items in bulk and have friends and family ship them to me at pre-determined towns?  And which towns would I want them in?  Those are called mail drops.  Will I purchase supplies along the way to ship ahead of myself so they're waiting when I arrive somewhere?  Those are called bounce boxes.

 I've spent several months thinking I would hike the Appalachian Trail in a non-traditional way.  Something like 90% of the 2,000 thru-hike attempts each year start in Georgia in the spring and go northbound all the way to Maine to arrive in the fall.  They're called NOBOs and they go from GA to ME, so they are GAME or GA>ME.  About 10% of hikers start in Maine in June or July and head southbound.  They are SOBOs and go from ME to GA, so they are MEGA or ME>GA.  Others start in the middle and go to Maine, then come back and head south to Georgia, or go to Georgia and head back north to where they started.  These are called flip-flop or alternative hikes.  There are many variations on the alternative hike and many of them are designed to extend the hiking season due to time deadlines or to hike in the best weather for every region.  An average thru-hiker takes about six months to hike the nearly 2200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  I thought I would flip-flop because I'm starting later than most, and I worry I won't get to Mount Katahdin by October 15th, when it closes for winter.  I've really thought about it and now I’m not so sure.  I do want the community and the experience of going NOBO from Georgia to Maine with many of the same people.  Even so, doing a traditional NOBO thru-hike doesn’t mean I’ll get to stay with the friends I make along the way.  Only 10-20% of people actually complete their thru-hikes, so even though it can be very crowded at the beginning of the hike, the numbers do thin out for many different reasons.  I suppose I could start in Georgia with the intention of going straight through to Maine, and if I run out of time, then I could flip up to Mt. Katahdin and head south from there.  Plenty of people do that.

I want to enjoy the hike itself and stop for pictures when the moment calls for it, maybe ride a canoe on the Shenandoah River, or hike a side trail to see waterfalls.  I don’t want to be a slave to the miles, pulled by the deadline of October 15th and unable to see the things I want to on this once in a lifetime adventure.  I also want to enjoy the company of my fellow backpackers and people in the trail towns, so I plan to take some extra zero days for socializing in addition to the zero days where I do all my chores in town, like doing laundry, food shopping and repackaging, gear repair or replacement, picking up mail drops, updating my blog, checking email, shipping home SD cards of pictures, eating hot and cold food, sleeping on soft beds and showering repeatedly trying in vain to remove my own stink built up from a week of no showers or bathing other than wet wipe baths.  Zero days are days spent not hiking, and many hikers take one zero day a week, or plan them around certain towns, festivals, restaurants, or what their friends are doing. 

Food is a big deal when you’re in town.  Food is a big deal all the time for thru-hikers, from what I’ve read.  You can’t carry enough calories to make up for burning 5,000-6,000 calories a day hiking.  If you carried that many calories it would slow you down with the weight, and then you’d burn more calories hauling more food and carrying that extra weight would slow you down so you’d need more food.  Therefore, when in trail towns, thru-hikers reportedly gorge on heavy calories, high fat and all the foods we all know we shouldn’t be eating.  That will be fun and guilt-free!  In the meantime, I need to cut back on most of those foods so I can lose some weight before I go.  Actually, I am concerned with dropping pounds off my body, but I’m even more focused on getting in shape.  They don’t always go together, but in my case I’m hoping to accomplish both goals with my pre-hike training. 

I started with day-hikes once or twice a week and lunchtime fast walks two or three times a week.  I’ve done part of those either in my hiking boots or my Vibram Five Finger shoes.  This week I dug out my rebounder.  Some people call it a mini trampoline and I’ve had it for several years.  I bought it the first time I decided to lose some serious weight, and with that and diet alone I managed to lose 35 pounds without stepping in the gym.  I went on to lose a total of 65 pounds, but since then I have regained at least 30 of those pounds and so I know what to do, I just have to make myself do it.  I decided to rebound in my Five Finger shoes since they give me traction while jumping and still strengthen my feet as if I were jumping barefoot.  I am very serious about strengthening my ankles and I’ll add in some of the exercises with thera-bands that I used to do after my sprained ankles in the past.  So far I have improved my cardio and strength somewhat but not really lost any weight because I am not yet eating well and I’m just not ready to go to the gym yet.  When I do start back at the gym I plan to load my wonderful backpack (Gregory Deva 60) with weight and either run stairs or use the stair stepper.  For now, the weather is gorgeous and I’m enjoying every minute outside that I can.  The nice thing is that as I get my cold weather gear I’ll be able to test it out this winter.  Yes, I’ll be sleeping in my tent in the backyard, and my roommate has threatened to come out and scare me some dark and cold night.  Well, she better hope I didn’t order my bear spray yet, is all I can say!