Last weekend I finally loaded up every piece of my gear into my pack for the first time in preparation for a shakedown hike. This was not really to test gear like last time but to test myself with my gear, all by our lonesomes.
I barely fit it all in my pack and to make it fit I had to add the brain/lid back on top and fill it as well. I did take a few extras, things I'm still debating about, and I brought three to four days of food which weighed six pounds (on the theory that I'll be loaded up with at least that much food every time I hike out of a trail town). I also brought three full liters of water which weighs about six pounds because I knew I wouldn't find water out in the desert so I had to carry it all, and holy crap! It all weighed in at fifty pounds! My goal was once thirty five pounds if you remember, and I knew the camera equipment would add a few extra pounds, but I have to get rid of some other stuff! The reason I will give up other stuff instead of the camera gear is that I see myself as a photographer (albeit an amateur one) who is thru-hiking the AT, not a thru-hiker who wants to snap a few pictures of the AT. I am equally a hiker and aspiring photographer and I could say that the photographs are at least half the reason I'm doing this. Maybe more than half.
So. No toothpaste. I will use my Dr Bronner's soap which tastes a little like vomit when you brush your teeth with it, but I can deal. In fact, I've been practicing with it since then. No stove. Yep, no stove. It weighs over a pound including the fuel canister. I realized on my shakedown hike when I went to fire up my JetBoil and discovered that the fuel canister was empty that most of my food didn't actually need hot water. The only things that actually needed hot water were the ramen noodles, dehydrated/instant potatoes, instant oatmeal and tea. I can make sun tea in a water bottle. No problemo. I've also read that ramen and instant potatoes can be rehydrated with cold water. I'll try it at home and see if I can stand it. There are also multiple ways to eat ramen raw, including spreading peanut butter or nutella on it (I read a book on 101 ramen recipes for college students once).
I also brought summer sausage, string cheese, wheat pitas, trail mix, crackers, dehydrated hummus, cliff bars, dehydrated milk and chocolate pudding, craisens, pumpkin seeds and peanut butter mixed with honey in a tupperware. I can have granola instead of hot oatmeal. So my plan is to start with no stove, save myself more than a pound and a lot of space, and if I really miss hot food and can't make up for it in town then I'll send for it or pick up something else along the way.
I'm cutting my hair short on Friday, which will make care so much easier and lessen the chances of dreadlocks and scalp sores when I go a week without washing it, and will also mean I'll need that much less Dr Bronners (which I use as my shampoo) and less Aloe Vera which I also use as hair gel. I don't plan to shave or carry a razor, but maybe in the occasional town I'll splurge on disposable razors and shave.
I still don't know what to do about my clothes, and they are actually the heaviest items I can still change out. I think I have to buy some cheap, light, pvc rain gear and use that instead of my windshirt and poncho combo I meant to use. I also have a raincoat I bought at a thrift store which blocks wind and is water repellent, but I just think it's too heavy. Unfortunately, I can't really figure out the whole rain gear thing until I can try it in the rain, and I just don't know if that's going to happen before I get on the trail.
I wore the same shoes I wore on the Observation Point hike, still no insoles, and they were fine. By the second day my soles were pretty sore, though, and I wished I had used my Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep the sand and grit out. I haven't attached them yet, because I have to put a velcro piece on the shoes I plan to use them with, and I don't know what shoes I'm using yet. Friday, though, I have a good feeling I will find the shoes.
I didn't stake out my tent's rainfly because it wasn't windy so I woke up at 5am with water dripping on my face. My warm breath had condensed on the inside of the tent because there was no airflow under the rainfly. This didn't happen in Zion because I staked it out due to the wind. Now I know. So I used the shamwow to wipe down the walls of the tent and unzipped the rainfly to try to improve the situation. It was cold enough I saw my breath in the air, but once again I had been almost too warm in my sleeping bag even without the sleeping bag liner. I find this reassuring though I don't know what the actual temperature was. I think it was in the thirties.
At 7:30am I woke up to wipe the walls down again and saw that the hood of my sleeping bag was wet. The sunrise was just hitting the red rock walls of the Arizona desert gully and so I crawled out, flipped over the rainfly, threw on a couple layers and took pictures for the next hour and a half. By then, the sleeping bag had dried out and the tent walls were mostly dry. It then took me a couple more hours to break camp, have breakfast and repack. I can only hope I get faster at making and breaking camp, but since I plan to start off hiking about eight miles a day for the first week or two, I guess I'll have the time for a slow start and lots of pictures.
That was my first night camping outside completely alone, with nobody else anywhere near me, and I did fine. I didn't even have bear nightmares. I also realized that while I will make every effort to lighten my load, and I know I can drop at least five pounds from my pack weight, I was okay hauling around fifty pounds. For two days, not six months, but still....I was okay. I'm going to be okay. I can do this. I know I'll lighten my load even more once I start on the AT and see what other people are doing and see what works for me, but I'm so glad I did this hike now and didn't have all this to discover at the last minute. I still have time to fix things and adjust before I leave, though not that much time. One more week of work. One more week of the workshop after that. And then I hit the road with my dog for another week before my plane leaves for Atlanta.
Three weeks to go! I can't believe this is happening after ten years of dreaming! Wheeee.....