Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quasi Luxury Gear...

In the Essential Gear post I mentioned two of the other books that I carried along with the Data Book.  First is the "2009 Thru-Hikers' Companion."  This also is published annually by the ATC with the help of volunteers from the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).  

This Book provides more than just facts.  You will also find helpful tips on hiking, nature, basic safety precautions and Trail etiquette.  And it not only tells you that there is "lodging," but also tells you what your options are.  In some cases there are rough maps of hiker friendly towns to show the location of motels, restaurants, laundry facilities, post offices, convenience stores, outfitters, libraries and ATM's.

The second book I carried was actually part of a series of books published by the Appalachian Trail Conference.  This series of guide books breaks the AT down into 11 parts.  On the last hike I carried "The Appalachian Trail Guide to MA-CT."  

The Thru-Hikers' Companion covers GA to ME.  Because the AT guide books cover only a state or two at a time, there is room for more detailed information.   Things like local wildlife, vegetation and habitat, geology and even local history.

This information ranges from Trivial (how a shelter got it's name); to Practical (elevation and terrain); to Useful (areas famous for bears, snakes, mosquitoes, etc.)  

The local guide books also break the Trail down into even smaller sections with information on how to access the sections.  This is very helpful for me now that I am section hiking.

These guide books come with separate easy to read maps that show topographical contours and elevation profiles.  The maps are water resistant and tear resistant.  Very cool!

Since the guide books are compiled from information provided by real hikers, they are peppered with some colorful insights about what is worth seeing and what is OK to skip.  

Is it worth following a Blue Blazed Trail a mile out of the way to see a waterfall or a scenic overlook?  It depends.  Does your camera have batteries to preserve that view for all time?  Maybe that overlook is a perfect spot to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July.  

It all depends on your state of mind at the time.  But it is good information to have in order to plan your daily hikes.  

One of the best pieces of advice I acquired about hiking the AT came from an employee at Kittery Trading Post.  She made the hike a few years ago.  She said, "Hike your own hike."  How profound.  Of course, it just makes sense.  And as is true with so many other hiking analogies, it is a great life lesson.

Anyway my point about those books is that they contain very important, very useful information-- but they are heavy.

So on the next trip, I will bring the maps and the Data Book (the lightest of the three) for the "facts."  But I will research the particular section I will be on and photocopy pertinent pages that I think will be helpful.

And I just shed about two pounds off my pack weight.

Some people would consider the weight of a camera a luxury item.  Not me.  I have at least one of my cameras with me at all times.  It seems I have become obsessed with photography in recent years.  

Of course, I don't carry my big heavy camera with me on the  Trail.  I bring the Nikon Coolpix L20.  It's not bad for a "point and shoot" camera.  It shoots 10.0 megapixels, has a 3.6x optical zoom (Nikkor lens), up to 4x digital zoom and weighs in at a mere 4.8 ounces (not including extra batteries and SD memory cards.)  You have to love modern technology!

Taking landscape/nature photos often requires the use of a tripod.  If you are only carrying camera equipment and are hiking to a specific spot to set up all day, you definitely bring the tripod.  But on a long distance hike-- no way.

I did however find a sneaky way to overcome this obstacle.  It's the Sherlock Staff made by a company called Tracks.  The Sherlock Staff has become my favorite walking stick.  You can see a picture of it in a previous post.

This walking stick is very lightweight but strong and is easier to adjust (for height) than any walking stick I've ever seen.  At the bottom is a rubber end tip that easily unscrews to expose the steel tip underneath-- so it is functional on any surface.  It also has a foam rubber hand grip and comfortable wrist strap.  

But there is yet another feature that really makes the Sherlock Staff unique.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see that there is a wooden ball that sits on top of the Staff.  This wooden ball unscrews to expose the camera mount that morphs this walking stick into a monopod!  

Without getting into the pro's and con's of tripod vs. monopod, I will just say that one of the most important functions of both is to prevent "camera shake."  This is one of the things that will cause a picture to be blurry.  And when you have just climbed up a 3000 foot mountain and you are huffing and puffing, you can use all the help you can get to keep your camera steady.  

Some of the other technology I brought with me are my iPod and iPhone.  "But Nick" you ask, "Don't you know that your iPhone is an iPod, too?"  Yes, I know that.  But I downloaded some audiobooks onto the iPod so that I wouldn't have to carry (even more) books.  And I thought by listening to them on the iPod I would preserve the battery on the phone.  

And I won't bore you with all the interesting functions and apps on the iPhone.  Just know that I upgraded to this phone specifically for this hike.  Not just to be in touch by phone and e-mail, but also because I can upload posts to this Blog while out on the Trail.  And there is a great GPS function (in case I get lost!)  I can also check the weather, the Appalachian Trail website and a million other functions.  

One last piece of technology that I will mention here is the cookstove.  There are more cookstoves on the market than you can imagine.  Ranging from very high tech to campfire.  Again, without getting into the pro's and con's of cookstove vs. campfire, I will just say that in many places along the AT, campfires are prohibited (including some national forests and the whole state of CT, for example.)  So if you occasionally want to treat yourself to a warm meal, boil water for hot tea or just want to purify your drinking water-- you need some sort of cookstove.  

I chose the Jet Boil personal cooking system (PCS).  It is lightweight and compact.  In fact, I would call it "self contained" due to the fact that when disassembled, all the parts fit inside itself for safe easy travel.  

This PCS weighs 15 ounces (not including the 6.8 ounce fuel container) and holds up to 32 ounces.  It boils water in two minutes.  That's about 10 boils per fuel canister.

One of the things that sold me on this particular stove is that it all snaps together to make it more stable.  Using most stoves is a balancing act.  Unless you are cooking on totally flat ground (which is never) the cook pot can easily slide off the flame (base) spilling boiling hot water on you.  Even worse, you might spill your last hot meal on the ground!  This is sad on one hand -- to waste the meal, and unsafe on the other hand-- spilled food can attract animals (including bears) no matter how well you think you cleaned up the mess.

One last feature that I really like about the Jet Boil is the neoprene cover.  You don't have to wait for your meal (or hot tea water) to cool down.  You can just pick it up with your bare hands and even eat or drink right out of it.  It is shaped like a big coffee mug.

Another quasi luxury tool to have is an extra water bladder.  On the upside, I can bring most of my filtered water from home.  Depending on the section I am hiking, I may only have to make one refill from a water source.  

The downside of course, is that water is very heavy...  But the other upside is that the more you drink, the lighter your load!

All of these things so far, are carried in the main body of the backpack.  There are other somewhat important tools that I call "side pocket gear."  These are items that you want easy access to, just in case.  

Things like extra shoe laces and cord.  Safety whistle and compass.  Lighter.  Utility knife.  And the all time best "fixing" tool... duct tape.

Everything I carry is either functional or pure luxury, except one.  I have one totally gratuitous item in my pack.  That is my Trail Mascot:  the Lucky Lady Bug.  

She weighs about an ounce, is filled with "Beanie Baby" stuffing and can squeeze into the tiniest gap in my pack.  You would never know she was there.  

She only ever comes out for photo opportunities.  In fact she is quite photogenic.  I will try to post a photo or two  so you can meet her.

I am not superstitious, but I would like to note here that she was not with me that first day in GA (when I got injured.)  But ever since she has been hiking with me it has been a smooth trip.  

So far, the only pack items we haven't mentioned are clothes and food.  I'll save those for another post.

Hope all is well.
Peace and Love,

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