2020 Gear Review Part 2

I am going to give my opinion on gear usage in the two outdoor settings I mainly participated in during 2020, the van and river trips. I might add some side notes on other uses. Being first an environmentalist then becoming a long distance hiker, I have found that I end up being a minimalist in many ways. The need to look for multi functional equipment before making a purchase is almost second nature now.

Below I will split the gear by the primary function I bought it for, but will also review its alternative function.

Primary River Use

Yeti Panga 50 Duffel

This was another gift from my brother, he gets the most useful gifts for my life style! I received this before a three week Grand Canyon river trip! Besides the Grand Canyon I have used it as a day bag which is over kill, and also on a week long river trip, which it was just right as Goldilocks would say. It’s the ideal size at 50 liters for holding gear for one person as a dedicated bag for all the sleeping needs. Which in my case consisted of a tent, sleeping bag, pad, lights and night clothes. You really want to keep this stuff dry and the Panga is made for it. It does fall short for two people, as a dedicated bag for all the sleeping needs, it just wasn’t quite big enough. Multiple latch points allowed for it to be secured to the raft and the removable backpack straps made it super easy to transport from raft to campsite. The straps also made for a quick way to secure the bag in the back of a pickup.

For the Van

I sometimes use it to keep my river gear in when it’s dry and not in use just so I can stay organized. It’s not great for that because I have to have the gear dry before I use it as storage, but works.

It’s a bomber piece of gear but a little pricey. I would purchase if I was doing a lot of multi-day river trips.

NRS Expedition Driduffel 35L

I bought this immediately after getting back from the Grand Canyon trip. I found the Yeti duffel mentioned above so useful I wanted a duffel for day trips. Prior to the duffel, I used float storage in my kayak and roll down dry bags in the raft. The duffel is just so much easier to use when accessing with the zippered top. It works as a lap bag in the kayak, although I feel it’s a little big for that. The lap bag allows effortless access to things unlike the float storage bags. It opens wide horizontally from the top zipper to locate things, as opposed to the top down access of the float bag, which makes finding things difficult since everything was stacked on top of each other. It’s the perfect size for a thwart bag, holding first aid, beer and snacks in a super accessible place for day trips. The material doesn’t seem as durable as the Yeti and it lacks the backpack straps.

For the Van

I basically keep my first aid supplies used on the river in it, so I know where they are in the van. I do store it open so it stays dry, sometimes there is condensation in it from the cold beer stored in it on the river.

Goal Zero Venture 30

I purchased this for use on the South Fork of the Salmon. As stated in my previous review of the Goal Zero Nomad 13 Solar Panel and Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Bank I had trouble charging it on the Grand Canyon River Trip. The Goal Zero Venture 30 has enough battery capacity to charge my IPhone 3 times. It has a light on it for use in emergencies or if you need an extra. It’s kind of hard to find in the dark, but after finding it once you can find it easily by feel. My Nomad 13 Solar Panel actually charges this battery! It had enough charge for the 3 day South Fork of the Salmon trip. However, I had to recharge it on the 7 day Main Salmon trip.

For the Van

It lives mostly by my bed where I use it to keep my phone or IPad charged in the evening while watching movies or reading. It comes with a cord that is USB to Mico USB cord that can be used to charge it or to charge other devices using those inputs. It has a function where it optimizes its charging capacity depending on how you charge it. I suggest you use this feature, it took forever to charge from the USB in the van until I used this function! You can charge 2 USB and one Mico USB device simultaneously. It started trying to charge itself when the cable that comes with it is stored plugged into it. This is kind of annoying since it will drain the battery if the cord is stored in it and I keep misplacing the cord when not attached.

I made this purchase mostly based on wanting to use it for future backpacking trips. It’s too heavy for a weekend trip, but I feel worth the weight for a longer trip if you want to keep a phone charged even though it’s a little heavy for that also. I have a spot device I like to keep powered along with a phone so I am okay with this weight to return ratio.

I will not purchase this again if the above mentioned malfunction causes the battery to fail. I had to replace the Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack because it failed. It was warrantied, but I am against the waste involved. Once is a mishap twice is just a shitty product. As it stands the Venture 30 still functions for its purpose.

Hydro Flask Thermos

The outfitter gave everyone on the Main Salmon Trip a thermos before we pushed off for the week. It keeps coffee warm for a long time, too warm if you try to drink it immediately. I prefer my coffee with creamer so that cools it down, but if you drink yours black I suggest you drink some in a cup and save the Hydro Flask for latter that day.

The thermos is fairly durable. I swam out of my kayak one day on a home run and I found my thermos later that day with some dents and chips as well as hot coffee still in it!

For the Van

I use it for my second drink. It is just too warm to drink immediately so I pour the extra in it and enjoy a hot drink after I finish off my first mug.

Will purchase another when I lose this one, I think it will last until I misplace it.

Major Setbacks on Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)

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Grand Canyon

I have had a couple set backs with hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The first was that I won a Grand Canyon River Lottery for 2019, in which I was the default trip leader. Because I won and the method we used left no alternative leaders, I went or the trip did not happen. The second was well COVID! It actually set me back at least until 2022. It feels like I have spent a lifetime trying to hike the Triple Crown and I am only 2/3 of the way there. I know 2/3 is almost there, but it leaves me with over 3,000 miles to hike.

I honestly don’t think I would have went on the Grand Canyon Rafting Trip (GCRT) if there had been an alternate. In hindsight I would 100% not have gone on the trip! But the way we played the lottery was for everyone in our group to pick the same dates with no alternate. From our interpretation of the lottery rules, if an alternate also applies as trip leader you lose your extra points that you get for never having been on a GCRT. You see to boat down the Grand without paying for a guide to take you, there is a lottery you must win to do so. Each new applicant gets extra points so, we maximized our points by the combination of the above mentioned method: all same day with no alternate so we could get the maximum points for our group. I won a permit on my second time applying with this method.

The group came so close to not being able to go for two reasons: a government shut down and I ended up with an acromioclavicul (A/C) tear to my right shoulder along with a concussion.

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South Fork, Salmon River

Again in 2020 I was going to finally complete my goal of finishing the Triple Crown via completing the CDT, but that didn’t happen. I am not sure COVID will not affect hiking in 2021. I did manage to jump on a neat adventure in 2020, but I am sure a lot of you discovered the stay-cation was back in for 2020.

I was lucky enough to get invited on an Idaho rafting trip of the Main Salmon and ended up doing a quick South Fork of the Salmon trip right before the Main. With that exception the rest of my time was spent exploring the area around where I live in WV. Mostly I kayaked and rafted the same rivers I always do, but I did get in a lot of local to semi local hikes/backpacking trips I had wanted to do, but always found myself hiking in other areas instead.

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Salmon River

Staying local allowed for much easier planning and preparation. Instead of pouring over maps and menus, planning for multiple months of clothing and food, prepackaging the food and clothing, calling to see if places still exist where I was planning to stay and/or resupply, and finally getting someone to send all the packages. I basically woke up the day we were leaving and asked Ally, my partner, what she had packed, filled in the rest of what was needed, then we went hiking. I also got a lot more accomplished this year then I normally do since I was in the same tristate area for over a year minus the ID trip which was less than a month. You know I had more fun overall then any of the longer trips. I was lacking the sense of adventure and unknown, but not to a huge degree. I did miss the huge sense of accomplishment that comes from the completion of all that planning, but to be honest it fades really quickly and I am looking for the next big thing.

Over a lifetime we all face setbacks to what we want to do in life. Some are major, some are minor. Some we perceive as major are perceived as minor to others and vise versa. A set back is just a test to see how bad we want something, maybe the set back is so great you can’t overcome it, but you won’t know until you try. No matter what, you can always control your outlook or reaction to the situation. Even if something has dragged you down all year you change your feelings over time. Worst case, in my opinion, you have to have a new goal. It might be different from the original but it can be just as rewarding.
CDT 2022 is now my next objective for completing my life long goal of hiking the Triple Crown! Did 2020 interfere with any of your major goals? What did you do to overcome it? What did you do instead this year?

Comparison Between Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail

I feel like most people I’ve talked to who hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) agree that the answer to which trail is harder is, “they are different trails it’s really hard to compare the two.” That being said most hikers would probably say the AT is more physically demanding while being more comfortable and the PCT is less physically demanding while more mentally taxing. This is strange because the PCT is around 500 miles longer, hell even the abbreviation for the PCT is longer then the abbreviation for the AT! Also, the highest point on the PCT coming in at 13,153 ft is at Forester Pass, with a lot of hikers making the trek to the top of Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft as a side hike, since you pass so close and the AT’s highest peak is only 6,643 ft at Clingmans Dome. How can the AT be more physically demanding, you ask? Well first off it seems to me the AT’s goal is to go straight up every peak along the way from Georgia to Maine while the PCT is graded for pack animals, so even though the summits are higher on the PCT the trail doesn’t go straight up! Well not all the time anyway and it might feel like it does some days, but the fact that I knocked out more miles per day on average on the PCT makes me feel that this statement is true.

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Forester Pass Vs Clingmans Dome

How’s the PCT more mentally tasking? It rained the whole time on the AT and I was almost completely drained by mosquito’s. While it hardly rained on the the PCT for 2,144 of the 2,700 miles and I was strolling along this nicely graded path. So what does being more comfortable mean? For example Clingmans Dome can be accessed by a fully-paved and only half a mile long road. This highest point on the AT has an alternative route to the white blazed trail that involves driving most of the way. After spending half an hour searching for the trail head to Forester pass I can only conclude you have to hike in on the JMT/PCT the two trails parallel each other for some distance or drive to Junction Pass and hike over it and then reach Forester pass. It’s all about the access and planning that makes the AT more comfortable and the PCT mentally taxing. The AT hike is basically running from town to town getting beer and resupplies every couple of days. While the PCT involves more planning and longer hitches into town. The ability to resupply is more limited and involves more mail drops and relying on other people to take you to and from the trail heads since towns are farther away. On the AT you’re hitching because you don’t want to walk the 2 miles while on the PCT you’re hitching because it would take another day to walk into town.

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It was easier to relax on the AT because you are basically following a beaten path that is hard to miss, while on the PCT snow totally covers the trail and there are more then one set of tracks to follow all taking slightly different paths hopefully to the same place. Its also hard to relax when you are sliding down a hill trying to stop yourself with an ice axe before you pitch into an alpine lake.

“Generally speaking, thru hikers on the PCT go to extreme lengths to cut down on their pack weight. While counting ounces is important on the AT, most typical AT pack weights are more than that of what you would see on the PCT. Even the most popular packs on the PCT are themselves from ultralight brands such as Gossamer Gear and ULA instead of Osprey or Gregory, as seen on the AT. Still, gear choices always vary heavily from one hiker to another.” – Carlie Gentry

The other major difference is the tree corridor you are in on the AT, the scenery is basically the same tree cover above. It’s not until you get to New Hampshire that you are really excited about the next view. Whereas most of the PCT is spent hiking from dramatic view to dramatic view. You also go from desert to rain forest while hiking the PCT with drastic changes in environment. With that being said for me I thought the desert was really challenging physically and mentally. If someone would have asked which was harder while I was still in the desert I would have said the PCT, but the desert is not the whole PCT just part of the experience. There was much more amazing sections to overall experience that is the PCT.

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I personally liked the PCT better and would hike all of it but the desert again if given the chance. While if given the chance to hike the AT again I would turn it down, with the exception of New Hampshire and Maine. I disliked the desert so much I am dreading hiking the CDT. I am only slightly nervous of the grizzly bear, but dread having to hike through the desert again!

Maine

I found this old Facebook post from shortly after I finished.

I finished hiking the AT on September 6! I walked over 2200 miles saw hoards of mosquitos, countless ticks, too many rattlesnakes, 4 bears, 3 moose, 1 porcupine, 1 unidentified feline and amazingly only 4 completely crazy people. The most amazing thing I saw was the views. I had became used to seeing the views, but when my father hiked Katahdin with me he stopped to look at the views (rest) more than I would have. I would have looked at the view made a mental note of it and rushed toward the top, my goal for many months. I am glad I slowed down the last day and really took in the scenery. Done!!!

Being so close to the end of this experience stirred a broad range of emotions. Excitement from almost completing this hefty goal to a feeling of loss and listlessness. On one hand I was about to complete this “once in a lifetime experience” as I have heard this referred to many times, but I didn’t want this to be a one and done. This is what I want my life to be. I had already started formulating plans for future adventures. There is no way I could see my self going back to a “normal life”. Next spring I was planning to cycle across the USA then work on completing the triple crown, with the PCT next and the CDT to finish it off. The infinite possibilities bouncing around in my head, the creative juices flowing from spending the last few months in the wilderness with not a care, but the singular goal of hiking to the top of Katahdin.  And here it was just a few hundred miles away.

I got a head of my self, I realized as I took my pack off and squeezed through a hole in the rock jumble that is Mahoosuc Notch (the hardest or most fun mile of the AT, according to AWOL’s Guide), reaching back through the opening and pulling my way to heavy pack through. I crammed about 10 days of food into my pack so I could take out a resupply to save time. Sweating profusely as I dragged the pack though the opening I doubted if I would actually save time.

Maine flies by and I arrive at the 100 mile wilderness way to soon. Nine days latter I was eating Lobster and drinking beer at the restaurant near Abol Bridge, waiting on my parents to meet me. While waiting on them enjoying another beer, they were late as usual,  I saw a moose run across the road. I had been hoping to see a moose and was super stoked to that I got the chance. My parents arrived shortly after late , but dependable and supportive we proceeded to get a campsite in Baxter.

My parents wanted to hike as far as they could with me the end of the AT.  However, Katahdin is the longest climb on the entire AT, at five miles of climbing, starting from 1,089 feet at Katahdin Stream Campground to 5,268 feet at the summit. So I was surprised that they made it as far as they did. My mother turned around before we made it to the exposed sections. Dad and I stopped just shy of the treeline to eat and and rest before tackling the windy summit push. Climbing our way to the top using rebar drilled into the rock we slowly made our way to the top which was in sharp contrast to the start of the day where I was rushing to keep up with my father. Now stopping on many occasions “to take in the view of the numerous lake” as dad put it. Not far from the top he said, “I can’t go any further.” Commenting that the helicopter ride off the top cost just as much as from where we were I urged him to keep going. We took in a few more views, but made it to the top where a group of thru hikers were celebrating the completion of their journey, gorging on a watermelon heavyweight, another hiker, had hiked up to the summit.

Looking out over the summit, before for heading down, dad following me, I know definitely that I will cycle across the country the spring after next, spending this coming year working and saving money for the next adventure.

Bring on the White Mountains!

Before I left Vermont and crossed into New Hampshire, hell yeah only two states left, I was listening to some Nine Inch Nails though my head phones trying to pump out some early morning miles, when I suddenly saw a blur of motion behind and to the right of me. Jumping as I pivoted, possibly squealing but you will never know, I fixed my eyes on a large black cat. By large I am talking the size of a German Shepherd, as it bounds onto a tree about 5 feet off the ground then explodes off, like a champagne cork, flying through the air then disappearing into the woods. What just happened? What was that? I rip my head phones out, heart pounding, as I look around. Well I wont need these for a while, my adrenaline is high enough for me to hike quite a few more miles before lunch! Could that have been a catamount (mountain lion for those not from the Northeast)? I thought the eastern mountain lion was extinct? I continue on at a faster pace then before from the excitement, looking behind and to my side much more frequently then normal!

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It feels so good to only have New Hampshire and Maine left before for I finish my goal, even though they are supposed to be the hardest sections of the trail. With New Hampshire ranking #1 followed by Southern Maine at #2. Baxter State Park itself which is basically Mount Katahdin in Maine ranks #4. With only 2 states left I have 3 of the hardest sections of trail to hike since Maine takes up two slots on the list of hardest sections. New Hampshire comes in at #1 because of the White Mountains. The start of the Whites is generally considered Mt. Moosilauke (mile 1792), ending at the town of Gorham (mile 1891). I was as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve, so motivated was I by the pull of discovering what the view on the next peak offered, I had my personal longest mile day of the AT in what was rated the hardest section. The beauty of these mountains totally overshadowed the physical demand.

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The Whites are considered the hardest section because Mt. Washington is home to the “worst weather in the world” and many climbs gain over 1,000 feet per mile. All this is worth it because of the outstanding views to be seen since you are consistently above treeline. One can even spot Wildcat, one of my favorite NH ski areas, which days later I will arrive at on the trail. The White Mountains are also one of the most popular sections of the AT. It hosts the Franconia Ridge which is a 6-mile traverse and one of the most highly rated day hikes in the country. It’s also home to the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) or the (Appalachian Money Club as some refer to it) the prices to sat at these huts are ridiculous, but thru-hikers can stay for free depending on demand. The hiker staying helps for a meal and space on the floor. Which I ended up doing once. I was trying to make a huge push over Mount Washington, but it didn’t happen. I stopped way short of my goal and was forced to stay at Lake Of The Clouds Hut before pushing on for coffee at the top of Mount Washington the next day.

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The Long Trail

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I wake feeling better, putting the last of the anti sting on my butt, I pack and start hiking again. Even though I feel better physically and mentally, I am exhausted overall but keep going. Motivated by the knowledge that I am close to what in my opinion is the most scenic, but physically challenging part of the trail. Having previously been to New Hampshire and Maine I am excited for the expansive vistas!

I knock another high point off when I summit Mount Greylock in Massachusetts. Greylock boasts the only subalpine environment in Massachusetts. The peak stands at 3,491 feet, a dwarf in comparison to the summits out west and just over half of the height of Mount Mitchell the highest point east of the Mississippi River located in North Carolina.

Approaching the top of the mountain through the fog, a dim outline of a structure emerges in the distance. I feel the dampness in my clothes, a combination of the sweat from the climb and the dampness in the fog. As the structure takes form resembling a pawn piece on a chessboard, I take a moment to get a few photos and try to imagine what it would look like without the fog before continuing on my way.

Its been around 4 months since I started the Appalachian Trail (AT)  and a few months prior to that my life freed up to enjoy this hike. Its strange because my ex wife is coming to meet me in Massachusetts for a few days after visiting a friend in New York. Her leaving is what gave me the freedom to knock this trail off my bucket list. The encounter was kind of anticlimactic nothing was really said; no apologies, yelling, screaming, or discussions were engaged in. I did, however, get two amazing OR beers from the Rouge Brewery and some gear for colder weather that she brought. We spent a couple days just hanging out, eating and chilling at the pool. It was as if nothing really had happened before, then she went back and I kept walking a separate path.

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I crossed into Vermont shortly after and the Appalachian Trail started piggy backing off the Long Trail. The Long Trail goes from the Massachusetts-Vermont boarder and continues to Canada. It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States, built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930 and was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail.

I hike on these two merged trails for about a 100 miles before they split somewhere near Killington and the Long Trail Inn going their separate ways to different amazing destinations. I stopped at the Long Trail Inn because I was too late to get my package. I spent the evening drinking with an Aussie father and son discussing the differences in our healthcare systems. Our system really sucks! They were hiking the AT via yellow blazing. Yellow blazing is a term used for when you take transportation like a cab to points on the trail instead of hiking. They would catch a ride from town to town along the trail basically day hiking and spending their evenings drinking, then catching a ride to the next stop. I awoke the next morning to rock climbers leading a pitch outside the window of my room. I started the day in a great mood seeing others enjoying the outdoors also!

Connecticut Land of the Super Pretentious

Arriving in Kent, Connecticut everything seemed great, there were even outlets in public areas where a hiker could charge their electronics. A cyclist with a smile on his face, riding a pastel yellow cruiser with a brown basket on the handlebars, pedaled across the bridge to welcome me to Kent. There was even a place offering a free first slice of pizza to AT Thru Hikers. I passed up the pizza as I was on a mission to do laundry, thinking I would stop back for a slice later on that day.

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Well that’s where the friendliness ended. Even the local users of the laundromat seemed pompous. Yes the frequent users of the laundromat were above me, their importance lingering in the air mixed with the aroma of detergent. Should I be so presumptuous as to use the front loading washer like I belong to this aristocracy of local users or take my place with the proletariat of the top load users? I make my mind up as I notice people scrunching up their noses at me and scooting away as I go to redeem my bills for coins and yes to purchase soap from the dispenser at the laundromat. Fuck’em I am using the front loader! Waiting for my laundry, sweating, because I am wearing my rain jacket and pants since all my other laundry is in the FRONT LOADING machine becoming clean, I am approached by a gentleman wondering, “What are all you people doing here?” Is he referring to the hierarchical system I perceive to be in the laundry mat? Doesn’t he not know I declared myself one of his own by my choice of washing machine? “You people?”, I ask in reply. “Yes the dirty ones with the packs on.” Oh those people. Ha, he hasn’t discovered I am of the top load class. How does he not know who we are? The trail goes right through town. “I am assuming the other ones you are referring to are Appalachian Thru Hikers, also.” At that moment I blew my cover by saying Appalachian with a West Virginian sociolect! He knew immediately I did not belong in the front load group. After correcting my pronunciation, he immediately turned on his heels and walked away. I was not in the mood to hangout in town longer, not even for the free pizza!

This was not the same carefree beer drinking Laundry Mat as down south!

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Later after hiking up a steep incline weighed down with my recent resupply and feeling miserable in general, I approach the top greeted by people. I survey the area seeing a bench with an amazing view of the valley below. Spinning back 180 degrees I say hi back to the greeters and head for a picnic table to unshoulder my load feeling better already. As I sit, my pack sliding from my shoulders, I am aware of a sharp pain in my right butt cheek. I stand up thinking I sat on a nail and bam another sharp pain. I had in actuality sat on a yellow jacket. That brief instant of feeling better vanished. I felt defeated and if I wasn’t already 2/3 the way done I probably would have quit right then and there I felt so miserable. A couple, who were doing an overnight hike on the trail came to my aid with sting relief and Benadryl. As I fell asleep in my hammock overlooking the valley below I am reminded of the kindness of strangers and the earlier advice I received to give it a couple days before you quit.

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New York

If you don’t hike in the rain you won’t make it to Maine became the mantra for the trip. Sloshing through impromptu streams running down the trail from the storms that raged almost every evening was the norm, repeating the mantra as I no longer tried to avoid the water by hoping from rock to slippery pieces of downed wood, with my already saturated shoes and socks. I don’t know if this was normal, but I do believe it made for an impressive cloud of mosquitoes trying to drain me on a regular basis.

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The only things that sticks out in my mind from NY was crossing a four lane highway with a divider, the trail was more difficult to follow because of the rocks which did a great job of hiding the impact of the thousands of people that walked before me, and a handicapable guy fully padded with a hockey helmet charging up the trail.

This road crossing was not as intense or reminiscent of the Frogger arcade game like the time I tried to cross a much busier highway to get to the halo like beacon of the Golden Arches.

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The divider allowed for a single quick burst of speed to take you to sanctuary while you built up the energy for the remaining explosion of speed to get back to the safety of the trail.

New York was a preview of what the trail was going to look like soon. I was still not above tree line or in the alpine zone, but rocks were becoming more prominent and there were some laders attachded to the rock. This was nowhere as intense as the exposure at higher altitude with re-bar drilled into the rock to make the trail navigable.

The coolest thing I saw was the handicapable guy plowing down the trail, smile on his face, making sounds of enjoyment with his family in tow. He looked like some futuristic combatant with his hiking poles swinging and body fully padded. I loved the fact that he was getting so much enjoyment of the simple act of hiking!

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I am a sold 80 percenter in life. Yvon Chouinard sums this concept up in his statement,

“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me.”

 

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I also believe you should do things you have an aptitude for, not waste your time learning how to and struggling to do something you can’t. There is a theory based on the research of Anderson Ericsson that if you spend 10,000 hours practicing a skill, you can master it. So one would have to spend about 90 minutes a day for 20 years to accomplish this! In my opinion that’s a lot of time to get close to being a 100% at one activity.

That’s why I decided to give this long distance hiking thing a try. I figured that at age 34, even if I started walking late in life and avoided it on occasion, being an 80 percenter and all I would still have accumulated the hours to be a pro at walking by now.

The big take away I have from being an 80 percenter is that I do spend 100% effort on deciding if the reward is worth even the 80% effort. Sometimes good enough is good enough!

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NJ to NY

It was the 4th of July weekend when I first crossed in N.J. The state was a dichotomy urban pavement and nature. I saw the greatest density of wildlife in this small section of the Appalachian Trail. I believe this was do to the urban wildlife interface, the animals were using the same narrow corridor of nature I was.

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Setting up my camp one evening I look up over my hammock to see two bear cubs playing behind me, awe how cute I think, seconds before I wonder where their mother is. Scanning around in a full circle I spot movement coming up the hill across the field just out of the treeline. There she is I think as I start to panic, where did I put that bear spay, it would be super useful if it was on the outside of my pack where I could get to it in an emergency! Shit I need to pack up this hammock, throwing the rest of the contents of my pack that were spread out on the ground not so neatly back into my bag, backpack swing off my left shoulder as I start walking away from the cubs, I rummage though my pack looking for the bear spray, a half packed hammock pinched under my right arm pit while my right hand finally feels the bear spray canister in my bag. I look to my right scanning the field again for the mother bear, I see her, closer now, walking purposefully and powerfully in the direction of the cubs which also happens to be in my general direction. I am also walking purposefully, but nowhere near as powerfully away from the cubs! Not wanting to make eye contact I continually break my gaze from her as I  routinely check her progress. Soon her and the cubs are out of site. I continue at my pace, with my gear still haphazardly hanging off me for a little while longer. I finally stop and repack my bag before continuing farther down the trail and trying to set up camp again.

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I participated in some of the Holiday festivities while I was near the urban interfaces. I spent half a day laying around a lake soaking in the sun, eating ice cream treats periodically,  after I had an impromptu bath in the lake. After relaxing for the day I stopped by a fellow hikers parents house for some more relaxation and food. We camped in the yard and spent most of the day eating and drinking in the pool. This is probably the cleanest I have been since I started the hike, lots of time spent in the water!

This is also the only time my hammock got soaking wet from the rain. It poured so hard the slings holding the hammock to the trees soaked up and started wicking the moisture down the length of the strap where enough moisture accumulated that it then wicked the length of the hammock. Luckily this has been the only time its rained hard enough for a sufficient time period to accomplish this.

I hiked through the state of Jersey rather quickly and in to New York. At this point I didn’t really know anyone else along the trail, so I knocked out the rest of the states with nowhere as many brakes as I had before. My ex wife came to visit for a few days in the New England states, but that was my longest break until I made it to Baxter and finished the hike.

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Slackpacking the Gap.

If I recall correctly it was at Lehigh Gap, I stayed in the basement of a jail that allowed AT thru hikers to sleep in bunks. Here I met some hikers that had an extra copy of AWOL’s Hiking Guide which is supposedly the hikers guide of choice for any section of the AT. Up to this point, over halfway through the trail, I had been winging it and it was working out just fine. I did, however, use the book for the rest of the hike, since I had it. It was weird because from that point on I was kind of doing everything that the rest of the thru hikers were doing. We all had the same guide suggesting the same stuff. I was officially now part of the guide tribe, doing what was suggested by those who hiked before me.

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The hikers I met in the basement said they had met a couple who were going to section hike and were willing to shuttle their backpacks so they could slackpack. Slackpacking as you probably figured out from the statement above is when one hikes a section of trail without their backpack. My guide tribe offered to let me in on this amazing phenomenon! So, of course, I handed everything over that I needed at the time to survive and complete this thru hike, except a bottle of water, iodine tablets, a rain jacket and the clothing on my back to people I just became acquainted with to pass on to people who they in turn had just met to leave at some unknown location for me the next day.

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The next morning relieved of the burden of my pack and the unknown thanks to my new friends, but now saddled with the burden of having to rely on strangers, I head north with my new group. Slackpacking was amazing! I found it relaxing and rejuvenating after spending months carrying my backpack. We knocked out a lot of miles and ended the day still feeling refreshed. After picking up our packs from the side of the trail we moved on to the next shelter!

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Soon we were through the state of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey where the trail came too close to another state high point. I took a quick side hike to bag this peak. Maybe I will get to the top of all the state high points at some point, I think to myself. This hasn’t been an active goal, but I have managed to get to the top of a quarter of the 50 state high points. Damn, I am probably going to get sidetracked again before I hike the CDT.