Okay, I'm seriously stressing about the whole shoe situation. The Treksta shoes I had ordered are on backorder and won't be in before I leave for my hike. I am disappointed because they seemed so promising, but luckily I can go to a running store about 80 miles away next weekend and see what I find there. Otherwise.....let's look at my options.
I'm going on a shakedown hike this weekend and I can try the Keen Voyageurs on an actual hike. But I didn't really like just hanging around in them at work so I don't have high hopes. Maybe I'll try some different inserts in them and see how they feel. I will also bring my Vibrams and some backup tennis shoes, the ones I wore on the Observation Point hike. They are actually nice running shoes that I ran two 10Ks with and have worn around work for a couple of years. They are not ideal, but they have worked pretty well for me. I could start the trail in them if I find nothing else, and hope I find an outfitter and a better pair of shoes along the way. That makes me feel very nervous, but at least I have a plan. Fingers crossed for me to find the right shoes! More than anything else my shoe dilema makes me really wish I lived in a bigger city with more resources.
My friend, Jan Marie, came out to visit from Sunny California in early March, a few days after we had a snow storm in Southern Utah. We had planned to camp in Watchman's campground in Zion, and I would test my gear in a safe and fun way. First we checked into the campsite and then I loaded up my pack with about 25 pounds of gear and we headed off to hike to the Upper Emerald Pool, a round trip of about two miles. I have a friend named Kerry who tried to help me rig my chest pack onto my backpack straps. She needed an industrial sewing machine so she wasn't able to attach anything to the straps, but she rigged another set of clips for the pack and I wanted to try that out. It worked pretty well, though I had to use a combination of coban (I call it vet wrap because that's how I first learned about it) and duct tape to hold the clips on the straps and off my neck. I think with a little more duct tape to cover any areas that might rub my neck it's going to work fine and I loved my camera being so easily available, though I guess it's probably silly looking and will need regular maintenance and upkeep. I got some cool pictures which I posted on here and on the Facebook group. One note about my pictures, I do digitally alter them to make them more intense, to match my experience and memory of them and try to convey the emotion I felt in the moment I took the picture.
Both the vet wrap and the duct tape ended up being purple, and my Gregory Deva is green. Then I ordered a Macabi skirt on clearance in a nice lime green color. I wanted to try hiking in a skirt since I'd never done that before, but not being sure of the whole idea I didn't want to pay full price. I hope it works to keep the ticks off after I treat it and practically everything else in permethrin (WARNING, permethrin is toxic to cats!). I also hoped for some air flow and privacy on the trail for bathroom breaks and even possibly sponge baths. Well, mine would be a shamwow bath, but you know what I mean.
The skirt arrived the day before the trip, so I took it along and my hiking t-shirt happens to be dark purple. I never meant to plan a color theme, but suddenly I have one going. At one point I put on my pink long sleeve shirt and the rest of the outfit and I wore my Vibrams to hike to the Emerald Pool so Jan Marie called me Rainbow Bright. I have to tell you that every cool word or phrase or idea I hear I test it out as a trail name, but I still want to be given mine while hiking (as long as I like it, haha). So, I've had suggestions of Songbird because I sing a lot and especially while hiking, and now Rainbow Bright. I like them both, so any votes or opinions or other suggestions are welcome. At least there's one thing I can wait till after I'm on the trail to decide. ;)
After our "moderate" hike to the Upper Emerald Pool we went back and set up camp. I used my LightHeart Gear Solo tent that needs trekking poles and stakes to set up and Jan Marie used my four person freestanding tent. We set up the camp chairs and I selfishly stole the job of building the fire. This involved removing the wood she had already set up in the firepit, but I didn't mean to be rude. It's just my job to start the fire. Because I want to. Besides, I really wanted to try this trick I saw on the show "Man, Woman, Wild" where they used a tampon and some magnesium shavings and a spark to start a fire. It worked fast and much better than the vaseline soaked cotton balls I tried the second night which didn't work at all, probably because I had too much vaseline on the cotton. I highly recommend tampons as tinder, and you don't need any magnesium either, just a spark, but you do have to pull it apart and turn it inside out. Though it makes me wonder, what is in tampons that would make them burn so well? It's kind of freaky if you think about it.
We made veggie sausages over the fire and then s'mores and read the instructions for my JetBoil and made hot tea which we alternated with cold beer. Hey, this is car camping at it's best! Then, luckily, Jan Marie's tent landed on her. Luckily, because if it hadn't landed on her the wind would have blown it into the fire. So we ran around wildly in the dark trying to hold the tent up, she was inside at one point while it was mostly down around her, and we finally got her tent secured. I feel a little hesitant having a non-free-standing tent but after that I felt much better. My tent was fine, though noisy, in the wind. My camp clothes were warm enough on top, but not on my bottom. Literally, my butt was freezing because I forgot my nylon pants. Once we turned in for the night I struggled with where to put my head and feet in my tent. Not that there's much of an option. Basically my body has to go with the length of the tent so it's just a matter of which direction I'd like my head and whether I'd like my feet or face to press up against the tent wall. I chose to have my face in the wall in order not to have my feet constricted. This is an issue I also have with sheets and blankets in my bed at home, but I fell asleep despite my cold butt, the wind flapping my tent and the cramped quarters. My NeoAir All Season inflatable sleeping pad works great and even when I slept on my side my hip never touched the ground, a first in my camping experience.
I woke up sweating! I knew the temp was going into the 30's and my bag is a Montbell Super Spiral 15 degree down bag but I'm always cold when camping. Always. So I had added the sleeping bag liner (rectangular shape to give my feet their freedom), put on my wool beanie, and had two layers on both my top and bottom along with warm socks. I was so hot and afraid if I vented the heat I would be cold but finally I stripped down to one layer, ditched the liner and the hat and the hot water bottle and partially unzipped my bag. MUCH better. I fell asleep again after remembering that I have a tiny snickers bar in my survival kit which I had in the tent with me. Then I dreamed a bear was huffing and snorting outside my tent right next to my face and I screamed myself awake. Nevermind that there are no bears in Zion as far as I know, I am very prepared to be paranoid about them. I'm happy to report that Jan Marie did not hear me scream over the wind and tent noises. I could have set off my panic alarm, but I woke up enough to realize it was a dream and fell back asleep to dream I was expanding and spreading out with the wind.
In the morning we had instant coffee and oatmeal and I'm in love with my JetBoil. It's just so simple and fast and awesomely easy that I decided it absolutely is worth the weight, at least in the spring and fall. Maybe not for the summer and maybe not by the time I get to Neel's Gap thirty miles down the road. I'll have to see how it goes this weekend, too.
I threw on my colorful outfit and my full pack and we headed to the Visitor's Center bathrooms to clean up before our big hike. Observation Point is eight miles round trip and the most strenuous day hike in Zion, with an elevation gain of something like 2300 feet in four miles. I am still doing the aerobic training and wearing my heart rate monitor to keep my HR under 137 while training. I can go faster than this, especially without a pack, but I'm trying to build endurance so I knew I'd be slow. I told Jan Marie to go ahead and plan a two hour picnic on top and off we went. She left me behind quickly and then I rounded a switchback and came upon ice fields blocking the trail. A nice couple coming down told me to remove the rubber cups on the ends of my trekking poles so the metal could dig into the ice, and that was a very helpful tip. I saw a woman carrying crampons in her hand and wondered if I was prepared enough. At every ice field I wouldn't see Jan Marie so I knew she had made it across without trekking poles and I kept going though I had to chop out some footholds for my slippery tennis shoes. After the final snowfield which I named my nemesis and was the scariest of them all, I yelled back to a young couple that it looked clear ahead, because they were debating going on. They carefully crossed too, then passed me.
Echo Canyon was beautiful and there was more ice on the trail, but none so scary that I worried about falling down the mountain like before. Hiking in the skirt was fun. I figured that living in Southern Utah, people might assume I was a sister wife, but I did get good protection and better air flow than I do in my nylon pants. After a couple of hours I stopped for a lunch break and I even used my Pstyle female urinary device (sorry guys, but it is AWESOME!). I went off the trail and I dropped my hiking shorts which I wear to prevent chafe, also known as chub rub. I felt so modest with my back to the trail and my hind end totally covered by the skirt that I want to hike in the skirt just for that. Also, the pockets are big and deep and I love them. When it got hot up on the exposed rock near the top I just clipped the skirt up on the sides and got even better airflow to my legs. On some steep steps I did step on the bottom of the skirt, but Kerry is once again coming to my rescue and hemming it three inches shorter for my weekend hike. I'll be bringing the skirt on the AT for sure.
Finally at the top of the climb, I saw Jan Marie heading back down my way. She returned with me to the point and we met a couple from North Carolina who said I need to watch out for wild boar attacks on the AT and I should always carry a gun, like they do. Except, well, they didn't have one right now, but they'd never go in the Smokies without one. They were nice so I didn't tell them about possible mountain lions in the area. It would have been cruel and I know of no mountain lions in Zion canyon, though with all the deer I assume the lions are probably are there, too. I know mountain lion tracks have been found very near where I work and the terrain is similar. My bear plan is pepper spray, my very loud panic alarm, trekking poles if they're not holding up my tent, and putting my food (including emergency snickers bars!) away from my tent at night. Also I can try making noise, not running away and looking big without challenging the bear. I wonder what Stephen Colbert thinks I should do? Bears often top his threat list.
It was amazing to reach the edge of Observation Point and see the view all the way down Zion Canyon. The picture of Jan Marie sitting on the edge shows some of that view behind her. We figured out we were looking down at Angel's Landing but we couldn't see any people on it. People with binoculars said it was packed, though. We were just too high above to see them. I'd say Observation Point has the best views and is harder due to the length of the trail, but Angel's Landing, while also very steep is only half the distance and more fun as long as you include the adrenaline rush of climbing over the spine and up the rocks from which people have fallen thousands of feet and died. I highly recommend both hikes, but try not to fall and die, because that would be sad.
We couldn't stay long on top because I had taken so long to get there, so after I pasted some duct tape over the hot spots on each foot, we hoofed it down the trail and I ignored the HR monitor in order to get past the ice fields before they refroze as the sun was going down. The sun had softened them all afternoon, though, and my trekking poles dug right in this time. There were even sections where we could see the trail on the edge of the ice. We beat the sun down the mountain and headed to camp and dinner with more hot tea and cold beer, which I managed to spill on my new skirt first thing. Awww, its first stain of many to come. I slept more confidently the second night in only one layer of clothing and no liner. I also made sure that snickers bar was in the car with the rest of the food. I slept great!
The duct tape on the outsides of my big toes worked and I didn't get blisters. I'm sure that using the injiji socks as liners helped prevent blisters as well even though I had to take the insoles out of my running shoes because my toes were squished against the top of the shoe. After months of barefoot training I can feel the difference in my feet inside all of my shoes. Most of them don't fit me width or lengthwise anymore. I didn't really measure my feet before the training so I can't prove it, but I think I've done myself a big favor by training my feet ahead of time and I'm glad I can fit new shoes to my bigger feet if I actually find some new shoes. So I had no cushioning at all inside my shoes and I did alright. A couple of hot spots isn't too bad for eight miles with a thirty pound pack in less than perfect shoes.
Okay, my super long entry is done and don't expect entries like this when I'm on the trail, but I will update you after my weekend shakedown hike. 30 days till I'm on the AT!