A Hike Powered by Spreadsheets, Vanity and Gear

Panic is usually not the best response to challenges, but sometimes it’s a motivator.

It worked as the latter last month, when I realized how quickly my departure date was coming up. The only way to forestall the panic was to create a spreadsheet. Yes, I confess I am a chronic Microsoft Excel user. I keep track of my gear with a spreadsheet – and I keep track of my general income and expenses, and schedules for programs I’ve planned, guests I’ve invited, and so on and on. It was inevitable I would turn to Excel to plan my itinerary.

To recap what my 2023 trek will encompass: I will be creating a series of videos about different aspects of cultural and natural history along sections of the Appalachian Trail. I will be on trail in May and plan to do a second trip in September/October. I’m a journalist by profession, and that’s the sensibility I bring to this project – but with the very significant caveat that I have no video experience. In case it’s not obvious, in recent years I have become a huge fan of learning new things and meeting challenges. This project is rich in both categories.

The Power of the Spreadsheet

My December panic did have a positive result – I now have a finalized tentative itinerary. I know “finalized” and “tentative” contradict each other, but I have to acknowledge the limits of what I can really consider set in stone. I’m arriving by train into D.C. and plan to make my way to Harpers Ferry for a story yet to be determined – the prime candidates are a look at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, whose headquarters is in Harpers Ferry; and/or something to do with civil war history. I’ll start actually hiking at the Mason Dixon line, another historic point. For about a week I’ll hike north through Pennsylvania. My points of interest are the AT Museum, Gettysburg (side trip), then Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. After that, a quick stop to visit family and on into New Jersey for a few more backpacking days. I haven’t yet zeroed in on what I want to cover on that leg.

Blue blazed path on the AT

Blue blazed path into Harpers Ferry (on the AT in 2019)

The Power of Vanity

I continue on a too-steep learning curve with the GoPro. I simply have to use it every single day from here on out. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m taking an on-demand online class to learn how to use the camera. (By the way, this post’s featured photo was taken with my GoPro set to wide view in the wetlands forest at Armand Bayou Nature Center in Pasadena, Tex.)

The camera is a challenge in another way. I don’t like how I look. As I noted in my last post, I’ve lost 29 pounds, but I’m still overweight and I don’t like my appearance. I did some practice footage of myself yesterday and hated the result. Are there any 60+ readers out there who also tend to still think of yourselves as younger or thinner or less gray than you are? It’s like I’m shocked every time I look in the mirror – or see myself in a photo or video. I’m a writer. I can use words to emphasize, to encourage or persuade or inspire. Video is…what you see. I’m sure there are ways to do the same thing I can do with writing, but I don’t know them yet. There is no canvas. There is only what I see.

Weight loss efforts continue. If anyone has a trick for turning back time, please share.

The Power of Gear

I thought I was done updating my kit, but I started questioning my choice of sleeping bag. While I’m considering exchanging my new REI Magma for another model (I’m pondering the Big Agnes Daisy Mae), my biggest focus is footwear.

I’ve been wearing a pair of Oboz Sawtooth shoes for four years, and loved them. They fit like a mold and were comfortable and sturdy. I hiked in ankle-deep mud wearing them and my feet stayed dry (obvs I had the waterproof model). On my train trip last November, I somehow came home without the bag those shoes were in. Amtrak couldn’t find them, no one in my group could remember seeing them, and I finally had to accept they were gone. First I replaced them with Sawtooth X boots – the latest model. The cuffs slipped and slid all over the place. I exchanged them for shoes in the same model, and then my heel slipped and slid all over. I tightened the laces and walked 2-1/2 miles, by the end of which my toes were tingling. The shoes aren’t going to work. I have read multiple reviews of the older Sawtooth iterations where customers complained about the narrow heel. I assume that prompted the change that makes the Sawtooth X not a good fit for me).

A pair of muddy hiking shoes

My beloved Oboz Sawtooth shoes after a particularly muddy hike on the Lone Star Trail in 2018

I couldn’t find the original Sawtooth shoes anywhere, so I emailed Oboz to ask them to either help me find a pair of first-generation Sawtooth shoes or to share their advice on whether the Sawtooth II would fit better than the X. They responded very quickly, informing me that the II is very similar to the original, so my best bet is to get a pair of those. Which I will. Soon. I have REI points and a gift card burning a hole in my pocket.

Then I’ll start working on my next post, which will definitely (but you know, in a tentatively finalized way) be a video.

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Comments 3

  • Suzi : Jan 6th

    Oh, I know how you feel. In my head I look great! When I see myself on camera, at 59, I’m like WHAT?? When did I get old, wrinkles? When I do film I tend to avoid filiming myself and just film the location. We probably need to get over that! I’ll work on it too!

  • Mel : Jan 13th

    Ruth, your article was spontaneously recommended for me to read and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately I don’t have a way-back machine in my pocket, but I will say that we are all our own harshest critic, and if your on-screen presence is like your writing, you’ll be great. Maybe it’s time to make a few dorky practice dorky films before you set off. Have a great adventure!


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