Things I’ve learned from a summer of shakedowns

So, unlike most prospective Appalachian Trail hikers (well, at least from what I can tell) I haven’t been slaving away at eighteen jobs trying to save up money the good ol’ American way.  Applying for millions of jobs hasn’t ever been a successful way for me to gain employment, it’s always come through being ready for a good chance and connections.  A whole other ball of nonsense that I’m sure I’ll get into during 2016 AT blogamania.  Anyhoots.  I’m instead travelling the world for a year to get rid of post-grad, post-city-I-hated angst.  I’m doing this on something not much more than Normal People’s AT budget, around $7000.  Because I won’t be in the US until maybe a week or so before hitting the trail  (maybe…I still haven’t figured this out yet) I darn tootin’ had to make sure I got some hiking in this year.  Luckily I was in some super awesome places to do that.  I travel really light and my clothes are dual-purpose (I sold almost all of my belongings before leaving, and invested in merino, etc), so having camping gear at the ready has been no burden at all on my round the world trip.  I hiked in Fiji, Japan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Nepal so far on my trip.

Here are some things I have learned whilst away and shakin’ it down:

  • I do really well at high altitude.

For some reason I have done almost all of my hiking at high altitude, which is pretty much the complete opposite of the Appalachian Trail.  I crossed the Thorung La Pass (highest pass in the world, 5417 meters) on my birthday (yay, thirtyfourness :/ with nary a headache or nausea.  I had 93% oxygen saturation at 3500 meters!  The same as the professional athlete next to me who was 10 years younger!  So, the AT is gonna totally be like, a breeze?  I do feel pretty strong at low altitudes after this, and the acclimization seems to stick for a couple months.

  • It doesn’t matter what altitude I am at, I suck at uphills.

The only upside to this is that as soon as I stop I catch my breath.  I *think* it got better as I went on?  I’m seeing it as a problem with strength which has slowly gotten better.

  • I’ve still got, some of it?

I spent the first 6 days on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal with a Canadian I met the first night.  She is a newly-retired professional runner.  She’s 25.  I was able to keep up!  I’d had some health issues earlier in the year and really was feeling in the worst physical shape of pretty much my whole life.  So I think that’s not so much a problem anymore.  Speaking of that….

  • Hiking makes me feel better

The main issue (other than orneriness) that I was having with my health was unexplainable swelling that didn’t respond well to a variety of treatments.  I was seriously worried about a heart problem or some bizarre and obscure allergy because by the first month of my trip I’d swelled up to the largest weight of my life.  Thankfully, after a summer of day and short multi-day hikes, I no longer get swelling with activity, or much at all.  Oh yeah, and I also dropped 25 lbs without trying and eating whatever I’ve wanted around the world.  At this point I’m convinced that 90% of the problem was stress and the cortisol response it caused, but I’m sure being in the outdoors helped.

  • I seem to be fast (ish) and can go on forever in more flat areas

Hopefully this will help me on the AT.  I’m hoping to try to do longer distances there when possible.  I’m not a speed demon but can do long hours when the terrain is good, I don’t feel the need to stop.

  • Most of my gear is trail-adequate.

Again, since I was only travelling with a certain amount of stuff (and wasn’t even sure I’d do something like the AT at any point, though it was lingering around my noggin) I wanted to invest in good quality stuff.  My backpack is a bit too large, my tent is on the small side, I need to boost up my sleep setup for cold weather, my long johns have an incredible amount of holes in the crotch (and don’t ask, I have no idea why), and I really don’t know what will be my cooking method.  But you know what?  I could hop on the trail with the stuff I have and be pretty happy.  I’ve stashed and will continue stashing some Amazon credit which is pretty easy to get, so I’m hoping I can not have much additional expense for this stuff.

  • I can do it for reasonably cheap!  No, for serious.  I checked.

In other circles I’m known as the “World Wide Webster”.  I guess you can say I’m a travel hacker.  I have more time to do research than ability to earn money (especially because I’m travelling abroad), so I use that and get good deals.  I have enough miles stashed to get my flights to and from the trail.  I’m working on an article I’ll post here on using hotel points to defray some lodging costs, and ways to even make money from hotel/hostel stays.  I’m keeping my eyes open for bank and credit card bonus sign ups.

Some of them are bizarre- for instance, yesterday I read something about how to get two $10 credits on Amazon for changing your credit card on file to a DiscoverIt and Citi card.  I added a card and decided to browse to see what I could get for around $10.  Turns out there was a pricing error on Epic Bars (basically a gourmet dried meat patty- I got lamb), so I have two cases (24 bars) coming my way for about $1.50 out of pocket after the $10 was deducted.  Except, it’s $0, because I already earned a ton of Amazon credit by selling a lot of my things before going on my trip.

–read more here if you can stand reddit

Free $10 Amazon credit with Discover It from churning

Another strange one is a class action lawsuit for Starkist tuna.  Basically if you’ve had something by their company, you qualify for either $25 in a check, or $50 in tuna vouchers.  $50 in tuna pouches?  Um, hello, that’s awesome.

  • It’s cheap though because you have to work a little for it

Luckily there are tons of blogs about this stuff if you look.  Other times you need to reach out and ask.  I’ve contacted countless (um, well countable, but I didn’t bother.  50? 100?) companies to see if they’ll help out with my hike.  Okay, some people have problems with sponsorships.  I’m not going to touch that here, but it is something I’m doing, so deal with it.  Anyway, I’ve got 16 companies so far that are sending me anything from a “sample” to full cases of goodies.  Yeah, each one won’t fuel my trip.  A sample isn’t much, but you know what?  That’s one more thing I won’t have to buy.  I made sure I contacted companies with values closer to mine (organic, free range, etc) and it’s nice to try this stuff out without investing tons of money for stuff that I might not end up liking.

PS- Um, thanks mom?  That’s what all those random packs of jerky arriving in the mail are about.

  • All this means: I feel confident I can do it.


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