Concerns before we leave

We’ve been kicking around the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail since the fall. Megan got a job that ends in May, and and it seemed awfully convenient to leave as soon as she was done with that, so we started planning our trip starting on top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, hiking south towards Georgia. Unfortunately, by Christmas, we had both suffered injuries that made us question whether our idea was going to work.

Megan developed some sort of back injury, possibly some bulged discs, but very painful whatever it is. She’s done a lot of physiotherapy and has slowly worked her way back to being able to jog, play a bit of frisbee, and go for walks. As of today, she still gets sore on flat walks over 5km in length.

I started developing some right foot pain, which we initially thought was tibialis posterior tendonitis, but may actually be plantar fasciitis. Either way, it’s been a painful few months for me, being mostly unable to walk at all in January and Febrauary. I biked a lot, and eventually worked up to short walks, and now to 10km with a light pack. I still get some pain from steep ups and downs, but flat walking has been fine. I’ve gotten some aids in the form of orthotics for my shoes, and this weird sleep sock thing that holds my foot in a neutral position, supposedly promoting healing.

I’ve slowly become more optimistic about the whole thing, and we recently went on an overnight trip, 10km of fairly rough terrain each way, light packs, and we both were fine. Not great like “no pain”, but not bad in the sense that neither of us had any lingering discomfort. We’ve basically said “%@$% it” and booked our one-way plane tickets to Georgia, hoping for the best. The plan is to be hiking Mt. Katahdin on June 5th.

What happens if one of us is too hurt to continue?

We’re not making plans for this possibility!

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AT Gear Lists

Here’s what we are carrying on our AT thru-hike, excluding food, water, and stove fuel, but including some winter gear we plan to carry only at the very start and end of the trip. You can get the excruciating details of everything we’re carrying by clicking the link below each graph.

Ryley's Gear
Details for Ryley’s Gear

Megan's Gear
Details for Megan’s Gear

There’s definitely some weight savings by having two of us. I’ll be carrying the guide book and “maps”, Megan will have the phone (with GPS) so if she gets lost she can find the trail. The biggest change is the crazy light tent we’re bringing, from ZPacks, called the Hexamid Twin Tent, which weighs just over 1lb. Lighter than the tent I carried on the PCT and the CDT, but with room for two people (barely).

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Appalachian Trail Intro

AT LogoIt’s time for another long trail! I’m aiming to finish my Triple Crown of American long distance hikes with the Appalachian Trail (AT). I’ve already finished the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 and the Continental Divide Trail in 2011, so doing the AT this year will probably wrap up my desire to do long hikes in the USA… I’ve got my eye on Te Ararora in New Zealand, along with some sort of traverse of Europe on one of their amazing trails. But that’s for later, this is what’s up next!!

So, what’s new for me, for this hike?

Marmot Pass, in Olympic National Park

Marmot Pass, in Olympic National Park

#1 on the list is, I’ve got a partner for this hike, Megan! She lacks experience in long distance hiking, but more than makes up for it in stubbornness (one of the two most important attributes for any thru-hiker, optimism being the other one). We did a beautiful 8 day test-hike last summer in Olympic National Park, and decided we could probably get along well enough to put up with each other for 4-5 months. Our hiking paces are fairly comparable (about the same on flats, she’s faster up, I’m faster down). We also tested out the thru-hiking style in the way we organized each day – wake up, pack up, and go – eat while you walk. Long lunch, with lots of lying down and keeping feet elevated. Hike till dinner, probably more hiking after dinner. Collapse into tent, repeat :) I expect we’ll have some disagreements about personal hygiene and food choices (I generally let both slide).

What’s interesting about the AT itself?

I’m excited to see the East Coast states, and not just the big cities. The trail goes through small towns in 14 states, while also coming within 40 miles of New York City. The terrain itself is very different than what we have out West. The mountains are older, so they often look more like giant rounded hills. The AT also tends to plow right over the top of everything, rather than contouring around.

What’s different about the AT from my past hikes?

Most hikers I met on the other long trails had already tackled the AT, and they almost universally said it was the most physically challenging trail they had ever done. They told me not to expect to hike 20+ miles a day. As I’ve been reading up on the trail, I’ve discovered that the AT has an insane amount of elevation gain – more than either of the CDT or PCT. Since the highest peaks the trail goes over on the CDT and PCT are twice as high as the ones on the AT, it follows that the AT itself is rarely flat :) I’m also expecting a lot more civilization on the AT. I sat down to figure out the logistics of resupply, and within 10 minutes had decided to wing it. From what I can tell, you can barely go 3 days on the AT without running into a town. On the CDT, I had a spreadsheet as long as my arm to figure out where to get food, and how to deal with long stretches where no towns were nearby. Another interesting difference is that the trail is well-marked in it’s entirety, so we won’t be bringing maps of any kind, just a very succinct guide.

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FEAT Canada Talk

On Sunday night, I spoke at FEAT Canada 2.0, part of the VIMFF. The format was following Pecha Kucha, essentially, 20 slides each automatically changed every 20 seconds.

I tried to talk about the sense of being alone on the trail and what that does to your mind. There were a lot of people there, and I ended up twiddling my thumbs for 4 hours beforehand, getting ever more nervous, before my turn to speak came. Overall, I was happy with the talk, definitely stumbled a bit here and there due to the nervousness, but I got all my points out. The other speakers were very interesting too, particularly Ryan Leech and JD Hare.

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Using GaiaGPS iPhone App for the CDT

Here are some step-by-step instructions for getting GaiaGPS working for the CDT.  I felt like I generally had the most fun setup for GPS out of anyone I met on the trail in 2011.  The main advantage comes if you’re already going to carry an iPhone for other reasons – you save weight by making this your GPS.  I also really enjoyed the UI of GaiaGPS on the iPhone, it was always an intuitive pleasure to use.  I was the envy of at least one other CDT hiker :)  The key feature of using GaiaGPS over a lot of other GPS solutions is that you’re going to end up with exactly the same USGS maps that you’ll be printing from Ley.  This makes figuring out where you are on the map a ton easier.

Read on after the jump for all the gory details.

Continue reading

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I set out on this trip with a pair of LightTrek 4 (LT4) poles from Gossamer Gear. On the PCT I used a different kind, made by Leki. What happened on this trip was that I broke my LT4 poles repeatedly, in circumstances where I felt that they shouldn’t have. To compound the problem, Gossamer Gear doesn’t offer any kind of warranty, except from manufacturing defects. Further, they don’t make it easy to get new pole sections sent to you on the trail. Their website only ships with UPS, which means I can’t get them sent General Delivery to the next town on the trail. Each time I broke a pole, I ended up being without it for at least a week or two.

The pole tips on LT4s are glued on, meaning that replacing them either requires sending the poles into Gossamer Gear, or getting out some serious tools. Leki poles on the other hand, you can pop the tips off with a big rock or a picnic table (i.e. things you can find in the wilderness). The other finicky thing about the LT4s is the locking mechanism is very sensitive to temperature. I was lucky to have Chance with me early in the trip, as he had dealt with all the locking issues before and knew quite a few tricks to get them locked. Even so, I managed to rip off half of one of the grips while trying to expand a pole one time (mostly due to frustration).

I was amazed by how upset I got about all this, because it generally happened when I was very tired and making mistakes on the trail anyways. On Day 74, I briefly mentioned that I broke my pole. What happened was that I stepped over a blown-down tree, and dragged my pole over it behind me. It caught on a branch and snapped. Then I threw it into the trees nearby and stomped around swearing loudly, before retrieving it (after all, one of the sections wasn’t broken) and walking on. I actually carried it in my hand, continuing to swear continuously, eventually trailing off into mumbled curses. After that I stopped and strapped the remains to my pack, but you get the idea. I was angry with a pole.

Part of my anger was just that the hassle and cost (~$75) of the replacement was relatively high. The other thing was knowing I had a perfectly good set of poles at home that had made it through the whole PCT. Halfway through the trail,after breaking a pole for the third time, I had Hailey bring me my old Leki poles, which made it in perfect order through the rest of the trail. They also gave my arms a bit of a workout, as they weigh 3x as much as the LT4s.

Overall, I loved the LT4s though. I just think they aren’t appropriate for me on a long trail. I would happily carry them on weekend or week long trips, where if one were to break I wouldn’t have to hike for weeks afterwards with only one pole.

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The best and worst gear

  1. MEC Wool Hoodie.  I wore this to bed every night, and sometimes in cold weather I didn’t take it off for days.  It’s cheap for a Merino shirt too, and so versatile.
  2. Kindle.  Apart from breaking one early in the trip, I loved being able to read as much as I wanted.
  3. Montbell Ex Light Down.  I was amazed how warm this 5 oz jacket kept me.  I didn’t wear it hiking much, but whenever I stopped, it went on.
  4. iPhone.  Great as a GPS, but also was so handy in towns.
  5. MSR NeoAir Sleeping Mat.  I slept like a baby on this, and never had cold spots on my hips or shoulders.  Choosing campsites was easier than ever, as I could trust it to even out pretty rough ground.


Most irritating/useless/worst:

  1. Gossamer Gear LT4 Poles.  They were finicky, broke easily and were expensive.
  2. Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Rain Mitts.  The failure was entirely my own.  It takes someone very crafty to successfully seam-seal these, and I am not that.
  3. Wigwam Rebel 1/4 socks.  The least durable socks I have ever owned.
  4. Camera Tripod.  This falls under the “useless” category, as I used it a total of maybe 4 times on the entire trail, for that much use, I should have just figured out ways to prop the camera up on the few occasions I wanted to use it.
  5. MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoes.  I love these, but they were also just useless in the conditions I found (consolidated snow and steep side-slopes).  I should have known better, but I was nervous pre-trail and just piled on gear to make myself feel better.
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Finishing the CDT

I haven’t written much since I finished, but now I’ve gotten a bit of rest and I wanted to reflect a bit more.

I was in a lot of pain the last night. My hips and glutes were very
sore and even on my plush sleeping mat, no position was comfortable.
I took a couple ibuprofens expecting that to take care of it, but
nothing changed. Around midnight 4 Border Patrol jeeps raced by me,
headlights fully illuminating me as they went by. I expected one
would stop and check me out, but nope, not even a brake light.

I finally fell asleep, waking only briefly to choke on the dust of the
jeeps return trip. I woke up to my alarm in the darkness, feeling
like I’d lost a bar fight in a blackout, but still mentally excited to
get moving.

As I walked, I had fantasies of how I’d end at the monument at the
Mexican border. Throw my trekking poles to the side. Strike a Nixon
victory pose. Write a triumphant statement in the official CDT log
book. Reality was different. I barely even took a picture at the
end. Sam Hughes was there and I spent most of my monument time
talking to him and his dogs. Then the ride out was spent staring out
the window, not thinking. Not able to think. Way too tired.

I have more time now, but still not much to add. I finished, the real
world intrudes and calls to me. I have a series of notes and TODOs
I’ve written to myself in the last 4 months, from which I hope to
retain my frame of mind as I reenter society. I hope :)

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the last photos

Here is the link to the last photo album.

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Day 125

Well it’s done! The walk today was pretty forgettable, especially since I was tired and not able to eat well. I mostly drank Gatorade and ate chocolate bars, nothing else appealing in my food bag. By lunch I was in striking distance of the end. I turned up music and powered through to the END!

I was met by Sam Hughes at the border and after a quick photo snap, that was it – we hit the road. I’m now embarking on the trip home, and I’ll write more once I’m there. So far I’m not having any deep thoughts or emotions about finishing, except relief. Hopefully more to say later.

June 25th to October 26th. Pretty good!

Daily Summary
Date: Oct 26, 2011
Day 125
Daily Distance: 30 miles
Trip Distance: 2605.8 miles

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