Something Old, Something New: Pre-Departure Thoughts

Tightrope Walking Between Dorm Life and Death, a.k.a. Hiking in Your Prime 

I find myself thriving in my mid-thirties, which is generally seen as a less common age to head out on trail. Though I do think the pandemic and the so-called “Great Resignation” (a.k.a. people refusing to stay in a variety of toxic work environments and opting instead to follow their dreams) has changed this a bit, the traditional groups – recent high school/college grads and newly minted retirees – still reign supreme. People who are forty and older look at me and are like, “You’re still so young! You have so much time!” They tell me I look younger than my age, to which my response is always, “Cigarettes and sun damage, baby!” (No, I didn’t read that in a peer-reviewed journal; I made it up, okay?! Plus, I generally use sunscreen and I don’t smoke. Usually. Did I throw a few stoges into my Kennedy Meadows resupply box? Possibly. Moving on!)

People who are 29 and younger, on the other hand, look at me like I’m the Sad Ghost of Christmas Future, noting my gray hairs with abject horror and asking if I still have an active sex life, to which my response is always, “No, but it’s a personality issue, not an age issue, baby!” (Their personality, obviously, “their” being the royal them. But moving on again!)

With regards to the trail, though, which is what I’m supposed to be tying this all back to, being of my age bracket on the precipice of hiking a long trail means two things. First, I needed to change my sleeping pad. Second, I needed to change my food strategy. 

Closed-Cell Foaming at the Mouth

Point blank: FUCK the Z-Lite. Seriously. It’s a communion wafer. It’s piece of parchment paper. It’s like laying on a bed of nails that are on fire but also in quicksand so you have to grip the sides to flip yourself over. The craziest thing about the damn thing is I slept on the same one for five years and really had no issues and then all of the sudden, about a year ago, BAM! White hot knives on my sacrum and hip bones. You know what I used before that? Nothing. NO SLEEPING PAD. I was just out there in my twenties, raw-dogging the ground, nothing between the sleeping pad and tent floor but a few grains of dirt. 

I concluded if I have any hope of successfully completing this trail, I was going to need to invest in an inflatable mattress. I know the popular choice is the Therma Rest but honestly, that pad is directly in opposition to LNT principle #7: Respect Others. It’s crinkly AF and its users seem to move around all night long, making me wary of it’s comfort. Also, that R-value makes the foam thing look like it’s winter-ready.

I settled on an extremely heavy, warm, and luxurious Big Agnes pad with an equally not-light air-filler-upper. Ten turns of the magic air bag and your life raft is ready for a night of smooth sailing. What solidified the purchase was that I had $50 of Amazon gift certificates for donating my blood to COVID research (long story) so I was able to get it for half price. We love a good deal!

Not Only Twizzlers: Nutrition Considerations

The Pop-Tart Paradox: How do hikers eat garbage and grind out miles for months? Tenacity, stupidity, ignorance, yes. Willpower, maybe. Having a body that has become a machine, definitely. But having age on your side certainly helps, at least for me. I’m sure there are people far older than me who can adhere to a typical backpacking diet and be perfectly fine. But while eating pure crap and hiking used to feel nervous-exciting, like I was getting away with something naughty, now it makes me feel like, well, pure crap.

The problem is, I’m a Buy-Vegetables-At-The-Store-But-Get-Chik-Fil-A-For-Dinner kind of girl. I’ll chant “Greek Salad” as a mantra all the way to the diner and then blurt out “BLT!” when the waitress comes. When I’m hiking, it’s worse. Skittles, Twizzlers, Fast Breaks, Donettes…Maybe it’s a middle finger to my healthy upbringing: Look, Mom, only candy!

A couple of years ago, I started hiking the Long Trail eating very healthy and vegan food; five days in, I got a ride into town, where I bought a block of cheese, a pound of sausage, and Fritos. I finished the Long Trail; I did not finish vegan. 

Yet two years of being a homebody during the pandemic has caused me to become, oddly enough, quite healthy. I drank less than ever. I stopped eating meat regularly. I made salad on salad on salad. I got a juicer, for heaven’s sake! Candy tastes fake! Chips seem like empty calories! Is this maturity? If I’m going to make it to Canada, it will not be with Honey Buns and ramen alone.

This is not to say I’ll be riding the health train to Hart’s Pass and beyond. This time, I’m doing a balancing act of sorts. I’ve swapped the candy for dried fruit. I’m doing black coffee instead of the Trader Joe’s loaded one with milk and sugar (which, for the record, is great). I’ve packed a daily multivitamin and 30 servings of green superfood powder. I’ve got ProBars and protein cookies. I’m skipping the cured meats and cheese and am aiming to pack out as much fresh fruit and veggies as I can access (which could very well be a banana a month), pack weight be damned. There are no Little Debbie cakes on my horizon. 

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