Shaken Down and Laid Up
The cold rains are blowing into Philadelphia and the Christmas lights are popping up all over the neighborhoods. Old ladies and hipsters are walking their poor dogs dressed in obnoxious holiday sweaters. As the sun sets, more or less, on my 2016 camping season, it’s time to drink strong beer, reflect on my shakedown hikes, and get excited for spring.
Two trips in particular stand out. The first was a fantastic hike in the Shenendoahs, which was an important trip to me for several reasons: I needed to test a new pack, I was excited to really test my hammock system, and it was the first time I’d ever ventured out alone. Even my pup sat this one out.
The weather was perfect, the scenery gorgeous. “What a perfect day for a long hike,” I thought to myself, completely unaware that the next two miles were straight to the top of a mountain. Within minutes I was sweat soaked. Was this new pack even that comfortable, I wondered? Thick foliage hemmed in the trail, blocking the wind and the views, allowing only the sun to beat down. Where normally there would be my pup, with his stupid happy face darting around, there was only the sound of my labored breathing. “Shit,” I grunted, “is this even fun?”
I pressed on, and within a half hour crested the peak and, while soaking in the view, realized that I hadn’t really even noticed the pack on my back. I was just in the zone, putting miles in. My legs felt good, my lungs filling evenly. This is great.
After a few more hours I had descended into a valley, watered up, and set up camp along a creek
This is one of the reasons shakedown hikes are so important. Little things that you’d never even think of tend to pop up. In this case, I was staking out my tarp using some fancy Dutchware titanium trinkets when I realized that, when I burnt the ends of my guy lines (so they wouldn’t fray), they fattened just enough to keep from going through the hole in the titanium. I had to abandon my bling and tie knots LIKE A SAVAGE. Luckily, I had a small bottle of scotch, and set to pouring a glass while I made a note to order some new bling. I definitely have some refining to do of my tarp pitching and such, but let me tell you, hammock camping rocks.
I’m using a Warbonnet Blackbird XLC 1.7, and, at 6’3 230 pounds, it fits me perfectly. The (removable) integrated bug net keeps me skeeter free in the summer and actually helps block the wind in colder months. I’ll eventually write a full post on hammocking once I get some miles and crappy weather under my belt, but, man, I sleep so deeply in that thing that I’ve woken up and not even known what day it was more than once.
A few weeks later it was a slow Thursday, the weekend nearly upon us, and I was looking forward to a completely free and lazy couple of days. A long hike with the pup in a nearby park, some beer, some video gaming, pizza delivery, more beer, a Netflix binge…the works. Then I received an email from a buddy (the aforementioned Andy Laub) saying, in a nutshell, “Hey, I’ve got the weekend free and want to sleep in the dirt. Wanna go?” Cue a slapdash-hungover-bag-packing Saturday morning and we were following White Blazes in the Delaware Water Gap, pup included.
We didn’t do big miles. In truth it was less a shakedown hike and more a fun overnighter. We set up camp, filtered water (finally got the hang of filling those sawyer/platypus bags), attempted to surprise one another with whiskey-filled water bottles, and then set off to find a nice piece of hilltop to take in the sunset. With the darkening sky bringing in an icy wind, we retreated to camp and whipped up a fire, over which we shared food, drink, and stories. A veteran of both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, Andy is filled with great information that he was happy to share. I didn’t do too much talking, just listened and soaked in as much advice as I could (until the booze took hold). As the flames greedily lapped at the wood, I found my resolve to hike the trail intensify. This is going to be so gnarly.
And beautiful and awful and inspiring and really fucking hard. I’m super pumped.
- An underquilt is WAY better than using a sleeping pad
- You need to let gravity do the work for you when using sawyer/platypus bags
- I totally want camp shoes – wet and cold shoes around camp is like…..something crappy
- A general refinement of how I set up camp in general
- Snake/tarpskins are super awesome
- I want trekking poles
- Sriracha is worth its weight in gold
- Hammocks rule and cats drool
Lastly, backpacking is actually pretty easy once you sort your gear out and get into a rhythm.
Am I carrying too much? Is my food bag filled as it should be? Am I doing something the lightweight backpacking/thru-hiking community at large thinks is “wrong?” Who cares! Once you really start to figure out your own camp setup, your sense of trail “style,” everything starts to feel natural. Want to carry that stool to sit on during breaks? Rock on, man, if the weight is worth it to you. Do you carry extra stuff sacks because you like to be more organized? Or a pack slightly larger than the norm? If it works for you, then smile and carry forth. The rain storm is coming but you like setting your tarp up in “porch mode” because you’re confident you’ll stay dry and you prefer waking to a view of the sun rise? Livin’ the dream. You’re out there on your own, but you can handle the challenges. You’re excited to face them.
Last week I went to see Doc Morty about pains in my left foot. It’s more of a nagging ache than anything severe, but I figure I’m about to walk 10 to 20 miles a day, under a pack, for six months…my feet are going to be my money makers! I need to take care of those suckers. I suspect it may be a stress fracture, so I’m going to be taking it easy for awhile. While I’m waiting to hear back from the Doc, maybe I’ll string up the hammock in Mom’s backyard over the holidays. Those winter quilts should arrive by then, and what better way to test them than getting boozed up with the family then sauntering out into the backyard? With any luck I’ll wake up to a nice view of the lake, then head upstairs under the watchful eye of a concerned parent and grab myself some waffles.
Happy Holidays everyone
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