My Semi-Successful Shakedown
It’s the final countdown – I will officially begin my thru-hike in FOUR days. I have been meaning to write my first blog post for months now and like the extreme procrastinator I am, have continued to put it off. In my defense, I have been incredibly busy trying to wrap things up both at work and outside of work. I will do a second post in the next couple of days that is more of an introduction: about me, why I am doing the hike, etc., but first I wanted to recap my final shakedown hike.
I did this one-night shakedown a couple of weekends ago with my boyfriend Dave and our friend Andrew. I needed to learn how to set up my next tent (Zpacks Duplex), try out my new quilt (Katabatic 15* Flex), and try hanging a bear bag for the first time. I am happy to report that 2/3 of those things went well – the other was a complete failure.
We left on Saturday morning and drove to George Washington National Forest, just over the border of Virginia into West Virginia. We had planned a 20-mile loop split evenly between Saturday and Sunday and if everything went well, we would see the sunrise at the top of Halfmoon Mountain. Unfortunately, I had just developed an ear infection, so we picked up my antibiotics and grabbed some Starbucks on the way out. About halfway through the drive, we were in the middle of an episode of Backpacker Radio when all of a sudden I had a horrible realization.
“Ummmm, Dave? Can you check if we’re close to an REI?”
Dave and Andrew thought I was joking, but much to my embarrassment I was not. I had completely forgotten my new quilt and it was supposed to get down to 30* that night. I was in luck that day though because Andrew happened to have a sleeping bag AND a quilt with him. I would have told you he was extremely over-prepared, but here I was hanging my head and completely dependent on him lest I buy an entirely new sleeping bag.
We lucked out with the daytime weather and it was a great 10-mile hike to camp with a couple of decent climbs. I had downloaded a video from Zpacks to help me set up the tent and had given Dave strict instructions not to help me. After a few fumbles, I managed to get it up and looking similar enough to all of the pictures and vlogs I had seen. Next up was the bear bag. I was thrilled I got the rope over a decent branch on my second throw (I’ll ignore the fact that my first throw was into a bunch of thorn bushes and I scratched up my legs trying to rescue the rock bag).
At this point, the sun was going down and the temperature was dropping. Luckily Dave had built a fire because I was shivering the rest of the night. I didn’t even have an appetite to eat dinner (though I did eat dessert!). Even wearing all of my clothing I was pretty cold the entire night and got maybe 1-2 hours of cumulative sleep. I know I’m going to have plenty of nights like that on the trail though, so I might as well get used to it.
The next morning our alarms went off at 5 am so that we had time to pack up camp in the dark and make it to see the sunrise which was about a two-mile hike up the mountain. We got there JUST in time to see the sun creep over the horizon and enjoy a warm bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. The rest of the day went smoothly and we lucked out with the weather again. By the time we got back to the car, our feet were sore and we were ready for a big meal and a good night’s sleep.
While I’m still kicking myself for completely forgetting my quilt (out of all things how do I forget that?!), I feel like this hike was a great opportunity for me to dial in my last few pieces of gear (afterward I bought gloves, a polypro groundsheet, a compactor bag to line my pack, and a bigger memory card for my GoPro). I am nervous but overall feeling ready. TWO days until the drive to Georgia begins!
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