Shakedowns and Last Rounds

Holy crap.  In just over three weeks, my feet will be touching trail.  I’ll officially be “Righteous” again, or maybe something else this time.  I’ll have to start reminding myself to brush the crumbs out of my beard so I’m not mistaken for an AYCE buffet for mice at 2am.  I can barely contain myself!


“Shakedown” trips are an essential aspect of preparing for a long distance hike.  Figuring out how your gear works, if your gear works, how much food you need each day, and just getting comfortable with your setup and your stench.  Three weeks ago, I embarked on a shakedown trip that also served as a “last hurrah” trip with my best friend. Those of you regularly following my ramblings won’t be surprised to hear our mode of conveyance for this trip.


Surprise! I rode my bike. Because, duh.

So, sure, I didn’t necessarily gain a better understanding of how my feet, knees, shoulders, etc will deal with another thru hike.  But, goddamn did I gain some valuable lessons!  Well, one lesson in particular…

Don’t forget the tent stakes.

I have to admit this one right off the bat, as much as it hurts.  I consider myself a pretty put-together packer when I go on trips.  But, after driving an hour and a half and then riding another 5 miles, I had a classic face-palm moment.  You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Me!  No.  No, I was not.  I knew exactly where my tent stakes were.  In my closet.  Not on my bike.  Womp.

Luckily we had incredible weather and I enjoyed some amazing cowboy camping.  Still, I think I’ll be checking my pack about 47 times for my tent stakes before I get on the train.

Now, the important parts!

The trip was absolutely incredible.  Anja and I covered 200 miles in a big, misshapen loop in the St. Croix River Valley in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The trip served as a farewell of sorts for me, passing through some of my favorite State Parks and soaking in bountiful views of rolling Midwestern prairie smothered in blue skies.  Here are some highlights from my journal:

“5/3/17.  Beautiful sunset/dusk valley views…. Made camp late.  Reviewed route for tomorrow.   Ate chocolate.  Owl is hooting, a pleasant way to drift off.”

“5/4/17. Got chased by a tiny but fast dog…. Green-tipped birches and nice pines near the end of the day…. Banning Campsite rules.  Little rock cave on the bank above some rapids.”

“5/5/17. Crushed rolling miles to start, then hit a wall.  Trail turned to 6 mile sand pit.  Arrive in Danbury, relieved…. Restorative break…. Get to Siren, more water and caffeine….Last stretch to Knowles Forest.  Dirt trail to end the ride.  Camp before dark.   Bubbling stream.  Dinner by moonlight.”

“5/6/17.  An excellent finale…. Some very unique scenery today.  Makes me want to re-read Sand County Almanac…. Last miles mainly downhill on pleasant shady road.  Got ice cream and more gas station snacks…. Chill very hard.  Very impressive trip.  Would like to do it again.”

Some truly prolific stuff, I know.  Consider it a taste of things to come when I start posting trail updates!  I’m having some trouble uploading a few of my favorite shots, but here are a few good samples of the trip.  Click for full size images: Trust me, they’re worth it!

Second night’s campsite, overlooking river rapids in Banning State Park

Classic northern prairie views

Anja cruising down the St Croix River Valley on the last day













Pack Shakedown

I owe a massive debt of gratitude to the amazing people at Midwest Mountaineering.  Not only do I prefer supporting them as a long-standing local small business, their staff are among the most experienced and knowledgeable people you could hope to find.  I’ve bought almost all of my gear from them, and better yet was guided through a fantastic pack shakedown.  We spent two hours weighing gear (mostly “non-essential” luxury items), and coming up with ways to drop weight from my pack.  Yes, this involved cutting the margins off of my paper maps (yes, I’m carrying paper maps, deal with it), cutting off the excess lengths of webbing straps on my backpack, and other “grams are still grams” techniques, but in many cases I was able to drop several ounces without making any functional sacrifices to my kit.

At the end of the day, I dropped a full pound off my base weight.  I don’t agonize over my pack weight, but I’m sure that pound will have a very positive influence on my hike this summer.  Plus, I switched to a new stove system that weighs the same as my old one, but requires 1/2 of the fuel to boil the same volume of water (shout-out to the Caldera Cone!) This will be massively helpful during longer hauls, like my first few weeks on the trail and later going through the Sierra.

Last Rounds

Beyond the last big camping trip and ongoing pack shakedowns, I’m working my way through an informal mental list of things I want to do and people I want to spend time with before I leave.  These “last rounds,” be it a few stiff drinks at my favorite bar (Palmers: “Sorry, We’re Open”) or laps at my favorite local mountain bike trails (Thanks, MORC!), are an important part of my mental preparations this year.  I know there will be lots of people, places, and events that I’ll miss during my hike, so I want to go into it having made the most of my last few weeks.

Bridging over mud-pits on a recent trail work day at Theodore Wirth park


Less exciting, but still an important final visit, I had a great visit to the doctor’s office for my pre-hike check-up.  Despite the nurse asking in a calm but alarmed voice “Is your pulse always this low?” (Me: “Ummmmm, I guess??”), I seem to be in the best shape of my life.  Not that I’ll just hop on trail and immediately be capable of consistent high mileage days, but my general health will certainly help me ease into my trail legs.  The best thing to come out of that visit was my goal to try to gain a few more pounds before I depart!  Not that I weigh less than I want to, but I want to try to get ahead of my upcoming inevitable weight loss.  (For reference, I had lost more than 10lbs on the AT when I got to Harpers Ferry!)  This goal is very compatible with my list of last rounds, which almost always include food and/or beer.

One thing I do have to keep in mind, though, is that I CANNOT GET MYSELF HURT!!  This is specifically in regard to last laps on the mountain bike, though that’s not the only area in which I’m accident prone.  Every time I go out now, I remind myself of when I crashed and broke my collarbone in 2015.  Even a less severe injury than that at this stage in the game could have potentially devastating impacts on my hike.


Not hurting myself at Lebanon Hills

Plus, I keep scraping, smushing, and slashing my fingers at work.  Sure, I’ll never be a hand model, but having busted up digits makes tent setup and other camp chores more difficult.  I hope the ten days between my last day at the shop and the start of my hike will be enough to let them heal!

I’ll be leaving the Twin Cities on June 13th.  Two days later, the Empire Builder will drop me in Everett, where I’ll make my way up to my aunt and uncle’s house in Bellingham.  A few days there to stretch my legs, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and make the final adjustments to my pack, then I’ll be off to the trailhead on the 17th.


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