My NOBO Thru-Hike
My plan? Start late in the year, go fast, and do not go ultra-light! Starting a NOBO Thru-Hike the first week of May. This goes against the grain of almost all my research (which has been exhaustive). This will force the second part of my plan, which is, to go fast. Getting to Mount Katahdin before the winter kicks in will require a faster pace. The final part is to eschew the ultra-light craze. Not to say that I am not going light, I plan to go as light as possible without sacrificing on a few points (this will be elaborated on further).
The Start Time!
I will be starting the first week of May, which is later in the year than most NOBO Thru-Hikers start. This will make reaching Katahdin before it gets snowed in, more challenging. The timing is a logistical necessity, but will have some advantages from what I have researched. I will be starting after the main bubble of hikers, so there will be a chance for more solitude. Shelters should be more open. Most importantly, I should avoid the cold!
I am planning on an average of 20 miles a day, from the start. Most people start slower and wait till they get their “Trail Legs”. I will be starting my hike with “Trail Legs”. My training plan, which has been going on and off again over the past 6 months, is now in full swing. I am hiking 10 miles, two to three days a week to work on distance, and spending three days a week on the stair machine in my hiking gear with full pack. I go for one hour at a pace of about 45 floors per minute, two times a week, and once a week I go for four hours. You can follow my training on Instagram, scuba_steve_melians.
Speed is necessary to reach Katahdin before the winter closes it down. I will also be taking about a week off in June to fly out to Portland OR, to see my daughter’s commissioning in the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant (insert proud dad face here!)!
Not Going Ultra-Light!
The ultra light craze is in full swing, and many post I have seen are almost accusatory toward people who carry more than a 10 pound base weight. I will be carrying about a 24-26 pound base weight. There are a few reasons for this line of thought. One, I know I can carry that weight. I am a retired Army Ranger, and I have carried much heavier loads, and with much less comfortable gear. There is also the issue of durability. The ultra light gear research indicates a lot of replacing broken equipment. I am not a fan of my equipment breaking because I was not gentle enough with it. The cost, in my opinion, is not worth it either.
I am also wearing hiking boots (gasp)! And even carrying extra clothes (double gasp)! I feel more comfortable in hiking boots, having worn boots all my career, and from what I read, if you hike in trail shoes, it takes about six pair to get through the hike. This is an expense and logistical issue I will be foregoing. I have hiked in lived outdoors through many rain storms, and there is nothing like a dry set of clothes to continue your hike when the rain abates.
It is better to have and not need, than to need and not have! Yes, it means I will be carrying a little bit more weight, but I am fine with that. I have seen a few posts and blogs from ultra light hikers and some of them, frankly, bother me. One post extolling the virtues of ultra light, and how to obtain the absolute lightest possible load, gave advice on not carrying first aid items to save weight. The reason the blogger stated that this was OK, was that you can bum whatever you need from other hikers on the trail, everyone shares and they are all so nice. That is the height of selfish irresponsibility. Carry your own gear. Rant over!
See You on the Trail!
I will be looking forward to seeing all the Thru and Section Hikers on my Hike. I hope you will enjoy my prose about this little adventure. Remember, as Douglas Adams stated “Don’t Panic” and “Always carry a towel”. As you can see, I have both!
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My two cents from hiking the trail 3 times (2002, 2007, and 2009) is that thru hiking is a walk in the park. Usually, after walking 8 to 12 hours per day followed by camp chores, it was often easy to drift off to sleep in the evenings. Consequently, most of my time while awake was spent walking and only a brief period in camp before sleeping. The extra wt will also limit your mileage during the day which will pose a burden whenever a new friend fades into the distance with less weight on their back.
If anything is to be taken from this post it is this….removing weight from the pack and limiting mileage whenever pushing too hard will help lead to an enjoyable experience on the trail.
I have the utmost respect for anyone who has served in an elite unit in the army. Their mental toughness and durability is unquestionable and there is no doubt in my mind Katadin is within your grasp.
Personally, I am not so tough. I have noticed that as my pack approaches 20 lbs the presence of the weight takes away from my enjoyment of hiking. On the other hand as my pack wt closes in on 10 lbs it almost becomes unnoticeable as I prance though the woods. How much gear does it take to go for a walk in the woods anyway? Roads are almost always within a day’s hike if a problem develops.
I enjoy spending time in the woods for the tranquility, fresh air, freedom, a chance of meeting new people and the sense of well being associated with a healthy life style. And over time, I have been blessed with a spiritual connection during these journeys as well. This connection has been the greatest gift garnered from the trail.
Please bear in mind that pack wt and the fear of the unknown are directly related. As comfort levels rise, please consider removing anything in your pack you did not use (today) and remove it in not used (tomorrow). Unless, it is an emergency piece of gear it might not justify the burden. One of the toughest things about hiking lightweight is putting on a wet shirt in the morning with a close second to thawing out frozen shoes while walking. But as uncomfortable as these occasional mornings may be, there is nothing to fear as within a half hour of hiking (the furnace has been turned on) the chill asides. The question becomes would one rather deal with some discomfort for a brief period of time or all the time with the burden of a heavier pack.
Regarding training, please consider a shakedown hike of a few days to a week. Take you gear and after hiking 20 miles in a day, see how your body feels in the morning. Hiking on hilly terrain uses a slightly different set of muscles than hiking on level ground. Many fit hikers experience LT problems with their knees on the outset of the journey. Their overall fitness (heart) is up to the challenge but certain muscles in the legs are not accustom to this routine. These hikers almost always recover quickly with a little rest and slower pace for a few weeks.
I suppose the point of this post is to help distinguish the differences from what is possible to what is enjoyable. Please consider hiking comfortably to your standards and not push too hard for mileage. Katahdin will always be there and to paraphrase it is the journey and not the destination that counts the most.