The Nuts and Bolts of My Perfectionist Preparations

I have been blessed/cursed with the need to do everything to the very best of my ability and then some.  So this naturally applies to preparing my 60-something body and my gear for traversing the northern half of the AT this year.

It was humbling for me in 2017 to have to end my southern half journey after just 500 miles.  Foot and leg injuries made that decision for me.   But I was back on the trail in 2018 for the final 600 southern miles. Climbing Mount Springer on Nov. 10, with my beloved daughter and granddaughters, was the absolute highlight of those 1,100 miles.

 

And now, back I go.  On May 1, I’ll be NOBO (northbound) out of Harpers Ferry, WV, accompanied as always for the first five days by Shortimer. This name is actually a misnomer, given that he has been by my side for 49 years.  How fast time flies!

 

I diverge. Back to the subject at hand:  I’d like to share with you how I have trained my body and mind for up to four months on the trail this year.  Following that, you’re going to hear more minute details than you ever imagined (or cared to hear) concerning putting together an efficient backpack.  That is, gear that works specifically for me.  My loaded pack is not in the highly esteemed category of ultralight, but is the lightest that I can make it and still meet all of my needs.  Read on.

The Body

Some folks can hit the trail with no training whatsoever.  Some of these people succeed in their quest.

I’m not one of these people.  When I did marathons, ultras and triathlons, I judiciously followed my training plans to the letter.  And I never had a DNF (did not finish).  That’s not to say that I never had injuries that kept me from even getting to the starting line, but I always mended and moved on to the next event.

Not so much anymore.  About five years ago, a hip injury led to the discovery of scoliosis, arthritis, and lumbar stenosis (permanently pinched nerves in the lower back).  After seeing the MRI’s and hearing the doctors’ warnings, even I had to admit that the running had to end.  This was one tough pill to swallow.

But happily, backpacking works!  This is something that I have always enjoyed, so I’m grateful that it’s still at my disposal, at least for the time being.  With the switch last year to a pack with a good hip belt that supports the majority of the weight, I’m good to go.  But being trail-ready doesn’t stop there.

My 60-ish body still gave me a lot of pains and problems the past few years until…

Pilates to the rescue!  For the past five to six years, I have been taking private Pilates classes from a very skilled teacher and friend.  We work out on the reformer, chair, springboard,  core align, Cadillac, and all sorts of other fun equipment. It has been a very good match, making a world of difference in how I move my body and feel about life in general.  I definitely couldn’t have done all I have done the past few years without the Pilates workouts improving my balance and tuning the muscles of my body, most notably the supportive center.

So that has been the core of my AT training:  one-hour Pilates sessions with my teacher twice a week.  I also can get in some extra workouts at home on the reformer given to me by a very generous friend who was downsizing his home.

 

The move Myra has me performing on the chair is appropriately called Mountain Climber. She does such a great job customizing each class to the student’s needs.   Note the beautiful fireplace in her studio.

 

I’m so grateful to have my own reformer. I can do everything from short five-minute workouts after my morning yoga stretches to a 45 minute session, thanks to an app called Pilates Anytime. Please note NO beautiful fireplace down here in our basement.

 

But it’s not just Pilates.  Before returning to hiking, we had a fun bit of cross-training in early February:  five days of kayaking and camping in the Everglades with a small group and a professional guide.

 

Unfortunately, in my quest to discover the perfect way to stroke with my paddle, I did something to the rhomboid muscle under my right shoulder blade. Thanks to good chiropractic help, massage, Pilates, and myofascial release, the shoulder is doing much better and complains very little now when a backpack is resting on it.

In retrospect, playing a rousing game of ax throwing at a girls-night-out in Nashville probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do for my sore shoulder.  Axes are heavy.  But it sure was fun!

 

Not exactly a bull’s-eye, but pretty darned close! It’s the best I could do. As they say in the South, “Bless her heart!” Which means, “Pretty pitiful, but don’t tell her.”

The other main focus, of course has been walking and hiking.  I resumed in earnest in February, during a trip to California to see our son.

San Francisco can give you excellent hill workouts, even when you don’t want them.

 

Walking along Big Sur was more about the views than the hills. No complaints from me, in my annual need for a wintertime escape from gray Ohio.

 

Once forced away from CA, even I had to admit that Cincinnati has some pretty good places to train: spacious city and county parks and the private Cincinnati Nature Center. I seek out every hill I can.   Here in Mount Airy Forest, I’m following green arrows. Soon I’ll be chasing white blazes.

There has only been enough time for one overnight shakedown camping trip, but it served me well.  Overnight temperatures below 40 degrees helped me make the decision to pack the Therm-a-Rest sleeping bag liner and Xtherm air mattress for this year’s trip.  Otherwise,  pitching the tarp and bug net tent came back to me quickly.  But climbing in and out of the low structure wasn’t quite as graceful as in the past.

 

 

If there are no horseback riders on a specified trail, is this truly an equestrian trail? I won’t tell I trespassed if you don’t. Finding this hidden treasure tripled the mileage available to me in this particular county park.

All this training, both the Pilates and frequent hikes, work for me.

The Mind

Please believe me when I say that I have plenty of anxiety as I approach my return to the AT.  This body is not the same one that did a shakedown hike just two years ago.  The back is much stiffer,  joints hurt from arthritis, and my hips are very uncomfortable if I try to sleep on either side.  So finishing the northern half  within this calendar year is not a given.

But I have a ton of perseverance and determination.  I know that slow and steady sets the course.  With retirement comes open time in one’s schedule, if you plan it so.  Shortimer tells me to take all the time I need to get to Katahdin. He might just be saying this because he enjoys eating at Penn Station, Skyline Chili, and Wendy’s during my absence, but I’m taking him at his word and plan on taking my time.

Another person who was a source of encouragement was this amazing woman, who we heard speak in Milwaukee.  When she tells sold-out halls of enthralled people that we CAN achieve our dreams, we believe her.

 

For my own peace of mind, I have once again made an itinerary for this trip, but only up until southern Vermont.  In my planning, I used the highly regarded Gutthook app (now Atlas) and the paperback  A.T. Guide by David “Awol” Miller. There are too many unfamiliar, difficult stretches in New Hampshire and Maine to try to guess how far I can go each day in those states.  This will be decided as I approach each section.  As said in my previous post, I will also gradually increasing my daily mileage, week by week.

I’ve heard it said that it’s a great idea to write up an itinerary and take it with you on the AT.  This way, you’ll have a kindling on hand for your first campfire.

That’s funny, but for me, a plan has been helpful in its intended manner.  This will be my seventh hiking or cycling adventure over 500 miles for which I’ve planned my estimated daily distances.  Being very goal oriented, I get comfort knowing where I’ll most probably sleep the next few nights. With all my food being sent by Shortimer to hostels, hotels, and post offices, he has to know at least a week in advance when and where to send these.

It works for us.

 

 

The Gear, Etc.

I’m very happy with how my gear has shaped up.  There have been changes since my past two long sections. I think these will keep me comfortable on cold nights up north and the pack work more efficiently for me.

Where to begin?  Here come all the details.  I hope they help prospective hikers and don’t send the rest of you right on to the next person’s post.

My pack continues to be the ULA Circuit, which fits my back very comfortably and forces me to not overpack.  I have discovered a cool website, litesmith.com, where you can find all sorts of tempting lightweight and useful gear.  My pack is now lined with one of their clear nylofume pack liner bags.  These are ultralight (25.9 g each), odor resistant, fully waterproof, and tougher than the commonly used compactor bags..  These can come in a pack of three, so I’ll have Shortimer send a new one if/when pinholes develop.

 

My clothes will no longer be stored in several gallon-sized ziplocks.  Based on positive comments about the waterproof capabilities of the bags made by zpacks.com, I will now be using one of their medium-plus sized dry bag for all my sleeping clothes, spare socks, down jacket, etc.  Selling features:  the material (Dyneema Composite fabric) makes it both waterproof and ultra lightweight (23 g).  The size, roughly 7″ diameter by 13″ tall (500 cubic inches), is just right for laying on top of all my other pack’s contents.

 

Because the scent of snack bars easily escapes their wrappers, I’ll be lining the hip belt pouch designated for snacks with an XX-small  Bos odor-sealing bag, found on Amazon.  When Dottie (the hunting dog that adopted me for a day last year) repeatedly went directly to my empty, closed snack pouch, I knew these odors remaining from previous snacks could also attract bears or the even more prevalent shelter mice.  For convenience, my hand sanitizer will join the snack bars in the bag.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about a multitude of details.

 

Here’s Dottie looking for yummy things in my backpack. An average dog’s sense of smell is 100 times better than a human’s. A bloodhound’s is 300 times better, and a bear’s, 2,000 times better. I doubt my little white bags are going to make much of a difference, but I can at least try. Maybe they’ll thwart some mice in the shelters.

While we’re looking at the pack, I’m reminded that I lost a lovely aqua bandanna to a strong wind last year.  That won’t happen this year.  I sewed a buttonhole on one corner of each of the two bandannas I’m taking.  Attached to carabiners that are clipped to straps on my bag, these bandannas aren’t blowing away.  The pink one is for wiping sweat or my nose, and also serves as my towel.  The half-sized purple bandanna starts with the letter P, and is for that use.  Because of their different uses, they don’t reside side-by-side on the pack, although they’re washed or at least rinsed out each night.

 

Regarding clothing, there have been other improvements.  After much researching and trial and error $$, I decided on a new rain jacket.  Again, a small cottage industry, lightheartgear.com, provided just what I wanted at a great price: $99.  The fabric is NOT breathable, which means that it will protect me in the way a poncho does and won’t wet out when subjected to hours of drenching rain.  Long pit zips provide ventilation and the full brim hood keeps the rain off my glasses.  For $50 more, I was able to customize it with an added 1.5 inches added to the length of the sleeves.  This helps protect the hands from rain.

Speaking of the hands, I followed the lead of famed hiker Andrew Skurka and ordered a pair of fisherman’s gloves from Seattle Marine and Fishing Supply Company:  https://www.seamar.com/item/ATS281-SZ/GLOVE-TEMRES-BLUE/  They’re a lovely but vivid blue. You feel kind of like you’re all set to wash up a bunch of greasy dishes or gut a fish.  But in today’s cold,  heavy rain, they kept my hands warm and dry.  I got size L, so that I can layer these over a pair of liners in very cold weather.  Mount Washington, I’m talking about you.

Last rain item:  a change of rain kilts.  I stuck with zpacks.com, but bought their opaque blue kilt instead of the see-through silver one I’ve used in the past.  This way the kilt can serve two purposes:  keep the rain off most of my lower half and later serve as my temporary outfit, along with my rain jacket,  while all my other clothes are in a washer and drier.  It’s great when things can serve multiple purposes.

 

I have this gut instinct that Vogue will not be contacting me for a springtime rain wear photo shoot.  By the way, the blue pieces of foam under the shoulder straps will soon be covered in black vinyl and held in place with Velcro.  My shoulders always appreciate extra padding as the backpack gets heavier.

 

Inside the bag, there are other interesting little details that I hope will help make life on the trail run a bit more smoothly.

Two sports balls will be going with me.  The smallest one, two inches in diameter and just 1.7 oz, will be used to help prevent plantar fasciitis.  I plan on firmly rolling one foot at a time over the ball, to help keep the tendons on the bottom of the feet loose.  This worked well last year.  The second ball, four inches in diameter and 2.5 ounces, is somewhat squishy.  It will be used like a mini-roller, to ease sore muscles whenever I have a shelter or hostel floor at my disposal.  I see these as very important pieces of the puzzle called “Keeping the Body Going.”

 

The Konga ball came from the pet department of a Meier Superstore. The AllBall was given to me by a physical therapist. I keep that industry busy.

This body also needs its supplements, all recommended through the years by my physician who specializes in integrative medicine.  After taking a deep breath for strength, I ordered enough of everything for four months and told Shortimer to not look at the Visa statement for a while.

 

Four months worth of supplements. Please don’t judge me.  I function better with all of these doing their jobs.

Once everything arrived, I put together tiny packs for each meal and bedtime, and combined them all in a 2″ x 3″ zip-closure bag.  These bags came from Amazon, where you can find just about anything.

 

One 2″x 4″ bag containing breakfast supplements + one 2″x 2″ bag split between lunch and dinner + one 2″x 2″ pack for bedtime + this day’s floss and pipette for between the teeth (yes, I use these!) + 2 cotton pads for wiping off an eyelid cleaner used for dry eye + one day’s eye drops = one day’s supplies.   Trust me, putting 120 of these together kept me entertained for many hours.

 

All the supplement bags are stored in these Tupperware containers. Shortimer will send the appropriate number with each food mail drop.

 

Supplements need food to work.  As you’ve read in my previous posts, I dehydrate all my gluten- and dairy-free food for the trail, with the exception of some purchased snack bars.  A couple of weeks ago, I’m sure you heard me cheering from the basement when I finished preparing the final pack for day 120.

 

Here’s an example of how I prepared one of my breakfasts. Sweet potatoes were cut in cubes, steamed till cooked, flavored with Coconut Aminos,  dehydrated for ten hours. Swiss chard was  washed, torn into small pieces, dehydrated maybe four hours, then combined with the potatoes in single portions in  pint freezer ziplocks. The night before I intend to eat this, I add enough water to rehydrate food in the bag, store overnight in my bear canister with the rest of my food, and, the next morning for breakfast,  they’re rehydrated and yummy unheated. Dinner foods are rehydrated briefly,  brought to a boil for one minute, then left to soak up the hot water for 15 minutes, till ready to eat.

 

Each day’s pack has a list of what’s inside. On day 56, I’ll have buckwheat granola with powdered goat’s milk for breakfast. Lunch: homemade ground beef jerky, coleslaw (dehydrated cabbage and carrots which rehydrate while I’m hiking that morning. At lunch, add individual packets of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and you’re good to go), and store bought papaya. Dinner: turkey stew, probably made from a recipe in the excellent book, “Recipes for Adventure: Healthy, Hearty & Homemade Backpacking Recipes” by chef Glenn Mcallister. Each day’s packet is vacuum sealed so that it can last in the freezer literally for years. This pack apparently had a puncture is no longer vacuum sealed. It’ll be fine this year.

 

130 days worth of food are stacked in two freezers from Costco. I made food for several extra days, just to cover all my bases.

Returning to supplies in the backpack, backpackers usually try to eliminate large containers or quantities of items that will only be needed a little at a time.  Here are some examples of what I’m doing.

Two other personal items in the medical category that are going:  a liquid solution for keeping my eye lids and base of eyelashes clean, to keep blepharitis (dry eye resulting in blurred vision) at bay; and CBD oil, which really helps moderate the discomfort in my joints.

 

The eye solution is in a rather bulky spray bottle. From my usual source (Amazon) I bought these little 15 ml glass bottles, which equals half  the bulk and weight of a regular bottle. I’ll just rub the solution on with my fingertip. I’m leaving the CBD oil in its original container, since I will use one bottle every two weeks. Shortimer will send me more of these products as I need them.

 

A few feet of duct tape, always handy, have been rolled around a small pencil. A partial roll of toilet paper has been squished (and tube removed after this photo was taken), and stored in a ziplock along with a second bag to collect the used paper. The two spare tent stakes are fastened to the back pocket of my backpack, ready to dig catholes when the need for #2 arises.

 

 

Enough sunscreen for a week or two is in a small Dollar Tree plastic jar. Olay night cream (used in the evenings after washing my face with Dr. Bonner’s liquid soap) is stored in an old film canister. I will replenish these items myself along the way. I found this great, non-drying alcohol-free hand santizer on Amazon and disbursed it into small plastic flip top bottles, also from Amazon. Resupplies of this will be included in mail drop boxes when needed.

 

 

Here’s your reward for reading this far.  Can you guess what’s in the photo? I got this unique idea from Don Clelland’s book, “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips.”  Here’s his Tip # 54: Make your own toothpaste dots.  Squirt out  long lines of toothpaste (non gel) on a plate, let dry several days (I used the dehydrater on its lowest temp of 115 about 24 hours), cut into half inch lengths,  continue drying till completely hard. When using, chew one dot till foam appears, brush teeth and rinse (far away from the campsite…bears like toothpaste). Crazy, but fun, and certainly a good lightweight tip.  Also very useful for me, since I have one toothpaste I prefer “Squigle,” since it’s all natural and helps prevent canker sores.  I will be sent a small bag of dots with every mail drop, instead of having to carry a much heavier toothpaste tube.

 

Well, folks, I think I’ve used up all my energy for now on this post.  Time to go put my feet up and get rested for tomorrow’s training hike.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  Now you see some of what it takes to get ready for hitting a trail for weeks and months.  I look forward to when my feet are finally on the AT and with no more preparations that need to be done, although I have enjoyed this process.

Let’s hike!  Talk to you again in a couple of weeks.

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Comments 22

  • DMFINO : Apr 20th

    Great to see you back. Look forward to following you again this year. Toothpaste dots are a hoot! Coleslaw too!

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

      Thanks so much for being a loyal reader. It’s been fun learning tricks of the trade. I left out one that’s very cool: sealing up single use portions of Neospirin ointment in capsule-length sections of straws, since I surely won’t need a whole tube in one go. You use heated needle nosed pliers to seal off the ends of the little straw segments.

      Reply
  • Sherry Weckenbrock : Apr 20th

    What impressive planning and determination! Always an inspiration! Will be thinking of you and following your blogs, stay safe and have fun! YOU GO GIRL👍😁

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

      Thank you, Sherry! I can always count on you for huge support. I’ll give it my best.

      Reply
  • Jodee : Apr 20th

    Still amazed at the incredible amount of prep and training you do! Looking forward to sharing this next stage of your grand adventure with you!

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

      Jodee, thanks for confusing to support me. Even I have to wonder sometimes if it’s worth all the effort of the preparations. But once I’m out there soaking up the forest and enjoying my delicious, healthy food, I know that it is.

      Reply
      • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

        Oops, typo: continuing, not confusing. The perfectionist in me couldn’t let that go uncorrected. 😉

        Reply
  • Ross : Apr 20th

    Glad you’re back. Missed you.

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

      Glad to back and to know that I have been remembered. Thanks!

      Reply
      • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

        Ha! Caught again by a typo. Someone set me free from from needing things to be correct!

        Reply
      • Ruth Morley : Apr 20th

        Ha! Caught up by another typo. Someone set me free from this need for “correct!”

        Reply
  • Sandy : Apr 21st

    Ruth,
    So glad to hear you are getting back on the trail. Love reading your posts and can’t wait to hear about your amazing adventure. I just got the ULA Circuit and am loving it. May 1 is coming soon! Have fun and don’t forget your whistle for safety!
    Sandy

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 21st

      Sandy, were you the person who shared the story about losing her way back from an outhouse to her tent? And wishing she had her whistle to signal her campmates? Regardless, I now carry my loud but lightweight whistle from litesmith.com deep in my pants pocket so it’s always on me.

      Thanks for following my post. I love sharing my trek with others.

      Reply
      • Sandy : Apr 22nd

        Hi Ruth!
        Yes, that was me who got lost coming back from the “potty” and needed a whistle! I really want to do the AT, but waiting for the appropriate time. At 55, it better happen soon! Good luck and keep on hiking and posting!

        Reply
  • Jon M. : Apr 21st

    The DEA would like to talk to you about your “dehydrated toothpaste”…

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 22nd

      They find that more suspicious than my open confession to using CBD (hemp) oil? It must be a slow day at the DEA office.

      Reply
  • Myra : Apr 22nd

    You’ve prepared well and it will make all the difference just as it did last Autumn! Bon Voyage!

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : Apr 22nd

      Thank you, Myra! As I said at the end of today’s Pilates session, “I’ll miss you, but I hope to not see you again till August!”

      Reply
  • Mary Stewart : May 2nd

    I guess you’re on your way now. You are so amazing. I cannot believe the amount of preparation. I can’t wait to see your posts.

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : May 6th

      Hi Mary! Thanx for continuing to follow my blog. Yes, I’m now on the trail, and all those preparations are paying off: food to eat, cozy bedding and toothpaste!

      Reply
  • B. Towne : May 12th

    Talked with Shortimer today at church. Glad to hear you are back on the trail!!

    Reply
    • Ruth Morley : May 13th

      Thanks so much. It feels like home on the trail.

      Reply

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