I Said, “Never Again!” in Maine, but I Was Only Fooling Myself.
Two years ago, injuries and pain sent me home not so very far from a triumphant finish atop Katahdin, after three summers dedicated to the AT. But now, with a healed and stronger body and 18 months of a healthy new way of eating, I am raring to return to the scene of the crime!
I hung up my hiking boots at Andover, ME, 257 miles from the “finish line,” so that’s where I’ll rejoin the trail. I actually got all the way to Katahdin in 2019, renting an SUV and supporting my Swiss friend, Freeman, so he could slackpack his way all the way north.
I couldn’t desert him after promising “Katahdin together.” And we did it! After several weeks of just sitting and driving, I felt much better as he approached that monumental climb, so I was able to join him on the final summit of the AT. What a victory! But now it’s catch up time on those missing miles.
I’ve been preparing for nearly a year, despite Covid disrupting all our lives. If you saw my previous post, you saw that last summer, I began the Buckeye Trail, a 1440 mile trail/route that encircles our state of Ohio.
I went out for many weekends and got about 25% of it done already. This will be a long term project, no rush, and is a great way to see more of Ohio.
However, when this past winter hit hard, I put my trail runners aside for now.
Once warmer weather returned, I needed to train on the steepest trails I could find, so I’ve donned my boots and hiked elsewhere.
Besides training for hiking by hiking, I have become even more devoted to my twice-weekly Pilates and daily yoga, for strength, flexibility, balance. I have begun following the 30 minute Yoga for Osteoporosis by Dr. Loren Fishman, and have seen big advances in my conditioning. I’m hoping that my next bone scan in 2 years will also show improvement in bone density. I’m tired of stress fractures.
Preparing all my own food for my projected 28 days on the AT has also been priority. When I dehydrated my food for 2017-2019, I was eating a Paleo diet, dairy- and gluten-free, heavy on meat, sugar, salt and oil. Now that I’ve discovered the many benefits of eliminating all animal products (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy), and no added salt, sugar or oil (oil especially because of heart disease), I have happily embraced eating “whole food plant-based” and passed my remaining Paleo trail food on to others. I have started anew with preparing and dehydrating my trail meals and snacks, now consisting of simply vegetables, grains, legumes, fruit.
I continue to use the resources found at backpackingchef.com. His two cookbooks are fantastic (Recipes for Adventure), no matter which way of eating you follow. His red lentil stew with quinoa has me licking out the pot.
After two months of intense cooking and dehydrating, I now sleep soundly at night, assured that I have plenty of food dehydrated and frozen in gallon ziplock day packs, ready for Short-timer to once again mail to me at my selected hostels/hotels.
In an effort to continue lowering the weight of my backpack and its contents, I’m analyzing every single thing I’m taking with me. I remain true to my Lowa Renegade hiking boots, after having terrible tendonitis with trail runners my first year. I feel very secure in these boots, especially my new ones (my fourth pair) with superb grip of wet surfaces. In future photos, you’ll see me in exactly the same hiking clothes, protective against the sun and insects, particularly ticks.
My pack will once again be my ULA Circuit. I’d love to use one of my ultralight, self-sewn Ray Jardine backpacks, but my right shoulder insists on having a hip belt to carry the majority of the load. The Circuit remains very comfortable, lightweight at around 2 pounds with modifications and just the right size.
I have decided to leave the Bearicade Weekender bear-proof food cannister at home this time, moving to the Ursack Allmitey bear and critter resistant food sack, which appears to hold about the same amount of dehydrated food but weighing of 1 lb. 2 oz less. You place your food and any other scented items in the bag, close it tightly and tie it securely to a tree.
No hassle hanging a bag up high in a tree or lugging a heavy cannister. I’ll use the cannister in the future when it’s required on other trails.
I’m also leaving behind my little MSR Pocket Rocket 2 stove, cannister of fuel, cookpot and lid and wrap-around cozy. I’ll be using a different method of food prep this year: cold soaking. I have a 775 ml plastic container with a screw on lid from litesmith.com, into which I’ll put my dehydrated meal and an equal amount of water an hour or more before needed (or overnight) and let the water do its work. I don’t need hot meals on a summertime trip, and I love the idea of not having burnt food, a sticky pot to clean and the added weight of the cooking equipment. This change will lighten my load by 12 oz, which will help make those mountains easier to climb and my shoulders happier.
I am also considering replacing my air mattress with a foam pad I already have. I’m going to first experiment with it on two upcoming short camping trips. Sleeping comfortably is very important, not just cutting down pack weight, so I don’t want to be “stupid light.”
This year, I will be hiking on my own until Day 18, at which time I’ll be joined by hubby Short-timer and two of his cycling friends to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness, in which there are no towns or roads, other than small private ones. Hiking with a group is a big change for me, since I’ve done the grand majority of the AT solo. However, practice hikes and camping together have proven that we get along well and will have a lot of good laughs. They will be new to the AT, but have hiking/backpacking experience and are taking their training and gear and food prep seriously. I look forward to hearing their thoughts about their AT experience after finishing.
I have researched the route and lodgings leading to Katahdin, but that has been easy, since I covered the distance by vehicle last time and stayed in many of the same places that I have chosen for this year. All 8 hostels/hotels/cabins have been reserved for myself when on my own and with the guys. I’ll be taking “zero days” at hostels/hotels (zero miles hiked, rest days) every 5th to 6th day when on my own, as is my custom. I’m 68, not 28, and it really helps physically and mentally. We’ll take 10 days to complete the Wilderness and Katahdin, no rest days, and will carry 3-4 days’ food with us, with a shuttle driver delivering our food resupplies twice via logging roads.
I have had a lot of practice day hikes in this region of Ohio, building up to 10 miles a day with a fully loaded pack (around 22 lbs with water and some food). The best training I have found was at Shawnee State Forest in south central Ohio. The hills there can pack a punch, which is what I was looking for. I did a solo 7 mile hike out to a designated camping area, accessible only by foot, set up my tarp, got in 3 more miles for more mileage under the belt, enjoyed my cold soaked dinner and was asleep by 8:30.
So nice to be back under my tarp and in my cozy bug net tent. It was good to reacquaint myself with camping solo in the forest. Other than a very noisy whippoorwill calling out during the night, it went very well.
All went well, and I hiked the 7 miles back the next day to the car. My 3 future Maine hiking buddies will join me soon on a repeat of this 2 day excursion.
It’s both exciting and anxiety-provoking to be going back to the AT after leaving with injuries both in 2017 and 2019. But with my body feeling better than ever, and reduced aches and pains and more energy due to my diet, I feel like I’ll be ready. Slow and steady will get me back to that famed final summit. I’m ready to go!
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As a sixty-year-old with osteoporosis who hopes to do this when I retire, I really appreciated this. It’s nice to read something by someone who’s not 40 years younger than me and crushing 30 miles a day