Since the moment I realized that this would be the year I would thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, that it must be the year, I have had zero doubts or second guesses. The down side to this dead determination is that now comes the hard part: the waiting. Finding myself in upstate New York at the moment where the temperatures have already dipped below zero some nights, hiking can be a rough pastime, but I’m chomping at the bit to start getting into better shape and begin building my equipment list with a bunch of test hikes.
I intended on spending part of today with my trusty postal scale weighing in all of my current equipment so I could begin to get a sense of what was Appalachian ultralight-worthy and what would have to be replaced. Saturday morning plans changed, however, when I awoke and found it was 37º, a temp I decided was akin to a heat wave in my current latitude. I put on a pot of coffee and quickly began hatching a plan to hike to the top of nearby Moss Island in time to see the sun rise. It was 6:15; I had less than 90 minutes.
While hikers will endlessly argue over the importance of various pieces of equipment, no one will deny how essential the right footwear is on a hike as long as the AT. Unfortunately, I accidentally left behind my Vasque Bitterroots* on a trip to the Berkshires last year and my $20 hiking sneakers from Walmart were looking pretty rough. Still, I would not be deterred. I dug out an old pair of silk sock liners and wool socks and I was almost ready to go.
To make my first practice run as fruitful as possible, I also filled a standard backpack with all of the heaviest hardcover books I could find. After all, you’re not really preparing yourself for anything if the heaviest item you’re carrying is an iPhone. My final pack weight after I threw in some of the things I might actually need – like water, insulin, juice, and trail mix – came to 23.4 pounds. This was rather satisfying considering my ambitious goal pack weight for the AT is 25 to 30 pounds, and my laptop knapsack didn’t have the added support of a belt like a frame pack which helps your waist carry the brunt of the weight.
My last decision came down to appropriate dress for the weather, and my belief that the work of the hiking would keep me warm in just a pair of flannel lined jeans, a thermal, and a sweater was confirmed as I strolled down the road in the direction of Lock 17 of the Erie Canal. I began my short trek through town listening to music, but quickly turned it off preferring the peaceful silence of early morning. In no time I found myself on the Benton’s Landing Walkway approaching Moss Island.
So far, so good. My shins were feeling the weight a bit, but overall I felt like I was on a leisurely morning stroll. Just before reaching the jumble of pathways up to the top of the island, I lifted my feet one at a time to check the tread on my shredded sneakers, shuddered, and began my ascent. I felt the weight a bit more now that I was climbing, and I was a bit more cautious than normal as I hopped from rock to rock, avoiding the snow as much as possible, but overall it was an easy climb.
When I reached the top I used the compass on my iPhone to double-check the direction from which the sun should be rising, but I was out of luck. As per usual, it was a gloomy, cloudy day in the Mohawk Valley and there was no sun to be seen, even after waiting almost a half hour past sunrise.
My descent was definitely a bit trickier than my way up, I used much more caution as I slid down the series of rocks that cover the island, and at one point I walked straight into a puddle deep enough to instantly soak both of my feet, but eventually I emerged back at the base. I will say this: there is a good reason why hikers wear wool socks. By the time I was headed back down the pathway back towards town, my feet felt as dry as when I began.
About halfway back to the Benton’s Landing entrance I was startled by a loud “Good morning!” I searched my view carefully, and eventually saw the couple walking on the other side of the Canal walking in the opposite direction on the Erie Canalway Trail. I instantly appreciated that I had opted to go without the earbuds as I waved back and let out as loud a “Good Morning!” as one who momentarily thought the entire world was his could muster.
Prep Hike 1
Pack Weight: 23.4 lbs (Dumb weight, not real equipment weight)
Blood Sugar: 50% reduction in fast-acting insulin, no hyperglycemia, great numbers after hike.
Next Steps: Break out that postal scale and weigh in my current equipment, including my external frame pack, a lightly used Jansport, and see how heavy my pack would be if I started the AT thru-hike tomorrow. And of course, BUY SOME HIKING BOOTS!
* After a quick email to an extremely friendly customer service rep at Vasque, I learned that my poor lost Bitterroots have since gone through two generations, and now the closest model are the St. Elias GTX’s. I was also interested in the live stream of photos from Vasque hikers around the world, and she provided information on how to connect with them to share my adventures.
Update 1/10/2016: I have checked out the Vasque website a bit more and found they have a Thru-Hike Syndicate of AT and PCT thru-hikers. They’re still on 2015, but what I love is that they have a map showing hiker progress. Depending on signal availability, I’m hoping to have a live GPS map featured on this web site, but I’ll get into that more in Trail Tech.