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Alright Already!

12 Jun

Well, we are getting down to the wire. Jen reached a point last week that I had made it to about a week prior…we are done with “training” for the trail. It is not that we no longer like hiking or training, we are just ready to be on the AT. I have reached that mental point where I know we can hike 25+ miles a day very easily, so lets just get to it! Mentally we are ready.

Physically we are ready. We have a spreadsheet, thanks to Jen, that covers our miles, our drops, and our town stops. We have an approximate
calendar linked to this site so that people can estimate when we will be on the trail near them. We will update with exact details as we go. We have our gear. We have each tweaked our packs, bought our shoes, and perfected our hydration systems. We have decided what we can and cannot live without. (Examples: I need soft cotton blend tank tops and shirts even for activity. Jen will most likely carry a 0.5 lb sleep mask because she loves to wear it to bed.) We are simply one Sam’s club trip away from dialing in our drop boxes and our first aid kit. We are fit. We know that there will be a week or two in the beginning where we are getting used to the daily grind, and I am shedding the last of the Germany 20, but we are ready.

The stuff that is left to do is to do on the trail. We will have to figure out a routine. I get through life at a slower pace than Jen. (Please note that neither of us consider this good or bad, it is just where we differ.) Her “pace” for all of her daily activities is simply faster than mine. Continue reading

The Taper

28 May

Hiking in the Rincon Mountains.

Emily and I have talked quite a bit about our physical training getting ready for the trail.  Some weeks have gone way better than others, but we have consistently put in 35-60 miles of training a week, mostly running and hiking.  We have pushed ourselves hard, hoping that by putting in the work now we can start the trail doing  higher mileages.  On tough days we talked about how much easier those climbs in the Whites will be after training on these huge rocky mountains.

All of this training unexpectedly culminated on our hike this past Saturday.  Friday we had gotten up at 6am to bike 26.2 miles with a friend (in 35mph winds), then napped, and then knocked out 10.5miles of trail running in the evening.  So when we woke up Saturday morning and hit the trail for our 20 mile training hike we were (maybe) a little tired.   According to the locals, it was the last “cool” day before summer- the high was only 87degrees and there was a beautiful crisp wind.   We had packed tons of snacks and a good amount of water (which, as always in the desert, wasn’t enough).   Continue reading

Food Stuffs

15 May

In all our research one of the biggest gaps of information we found on thru hikers was “What do these people eat?”.   Everyone talks about the intricacies of the trail, where they slept, how rocky Pennsylvania is and occasionally what crazy amount of food they ordered at a restaurant in town, but there is little information on the day to day.  If you are walking/running 20-30 miles a day up and down mountains with a backpack on you need some serious calories.   My usual granola bar and a fruit leather isn’t going to cut it.  So Emily and I have been experimenting and have had to play a lot with foods that we have already eaten too much previously as guides (oatmeal for Emily, dehydrated pasta sauce for me).  Here is what we have come up with so far and what we are going to try to make work for us:

Breakfast:

Cream of rice/wheat

Pop tarts

Shredded wheat, Cracklin’ Oat Bran

DRIED FRUIT

Granola bars

Lunch (on the go): Continue reading

Mt. Wrightson

13 May

Eric, a friend from NC, came out to visit recently and he had told me he would enjoy a camping trip while in Tucson. Knowing that Jen and I train in a very different manner than most I had asked many times about his comfort, speed, and distance preferences. Since he had previously been in the military and is about 6’4” he was relatively comfortable “walking all day”. We spoke about gear and he assured me that he would show up with a small pack, a sleeping bag (ours are way too short!), and a water bladder. We could provide for him a tent and a sleeping pad.
After talking about it and Jen looking into some options we decided to summit Mt. Wrightson, a “must do” hike near Tucson. Mt Wrightson has an elevation of 9453 feet, and a campsite about 1000 feet down from the summit. With a campsite so close to the trail we were able to dry camp* after our first day of hiking, summit in the morning without our packs, and then hike down.
The hike up followed a much used nicely maintained trail. We turned off this trail to hike around and up the south side of the mountain. This trail opened up into one of the most beautiful views we have had in Tucson. The sun was setting in the west and our view into Mexico was stunning.

Continue reading

Ultralight Lessons #1

20 Apr

Two weeks ago after a year and a half of gear research, gear discussions, and eventual gear purchasing, Emily and I finally set out on our first overnight “ultralight” backpacking trip. Though it had been long anticipated, both of us knew that there were going to be many lessons to be learned, the majority of which would be the hard way. Our trip did not disappoint.

We started off what felt like way too early on Tuesday morning. We were up at 7:30am to make our final preparations and to toss our gear and pups in the back of Emily’s Jeep. We had a 30-mile overnight planned out in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Google maps said it was about a 3 hour drive and we hoped to hit the trail by noon to knock out 15 miles the first day.
Well, five and a half hours after leaving our apartment Continue reading

Gals and Dogs

31 Mar
One of the many challenges Emily and I have taken on with our AT venture is the inclusion of our two dogs, Chille and Georgy.  These four legged life partners have been our trail side kicks for years and it is hard for us to imagine this kind of undertaking without them.  My dog Georgy (also known as Bear) is almost 4 years old, in his prime doggie years.  I got him from the pound and quickly found out that he was born for the trail.  He immediately started coming on all my hikes and runs and has been by my side now for 3 years.  He has his faults (garbage eating and butt sniffing among them), but is an amazing companion and protector.   My enjoyment of the trail is doubled by seeing him run around and be free in the outdoors.

So when Emily and I started our trail planning we both assumed we would find tons of information on hiking the AT with dogs.  In our minds hikers and dog-people are often linked.  I have very rarely had negative experiences with other hikers or other dog owners on trail with Georgy.  However, in reality we found post after post of why dogs don’t belong on the AT and why no one should bring them.  One major web resource for AT hikers blatantly states that if you have a dog you are not allowed in ANY shelter along the trail.  They say that people with dogs need to camp separately from other hikers and restrain their dogs from coming near people.  I was absolutely shocked to read this.  In years of section hiking the Appalachian Trail I have never come across this kind of negative feedback or sentiment.

I wish I could say I have an answer to this problem we are going to face, but I really just wanted to let people know that we are acknowledging this issue.  We are doing our best to physically prepare our dogs with the same kind of training we do.  They come along on every hike or run that they can (unfortunately there are no doggie treadmills or ellipticals at our gym).  They have their own packs, will carry their own weight and will hopefully be great members of our foursome. My hope is that once we are on the trail our dogs will adapt to the lifestyle, and the reality of the trail community will be much friendlier than the online version.   However, we also want to do our best to not detract from other people’s trail experiences and to not impose our furry friends on them.  By going Southbound, against the crowds, we hope to skirt the issue a bit.  In the end though, it is all about what is best for both us and our canine pals.  So stay tuned!

Working and Training

23 Mar

Though we may try to avoid telling people on the trail, the fact is that Emily and I are both nurses.  We currently work in a Trauma ICU at a Level One Trauma center, which basically means the sickest of the sick.  Most nights are spent on our feet anywhere from 8-12 hours of our 12 hour shifts.  When I first started training, my friend Molly told me I would be ahead of the game since so much of what we are working towards is time on our legs.  I don’t think it really hit me what that meant until the past few weeks.  We have been training 6-7 days a week and I work 3 12-hour night shifts a week.  That math means there is no avoiding working out before and after intense shifts.  Critical care nursing isn’t just physically exhausting (e.g. turning 600lb patients), it is incredibly mentally exhausting.  We use a lot of critical thinking, are constantly doing calculations in our heads, and are titrating and bolusing life saving (and potentially fatal) medications.  You can’t really let down your guard or relax while at work.  All of this tends to add up to tired, sad-sack koalas and pandas at the end of the day.

Which brings me back to the training part. Continue reading

Teamwork

21 Mar

I am married. I have lived with my husband for 13 years. I think we have a wonderful/healthy relationship. One thing I have learned from my marriage is that whenever we spend significant time apart there is always an adjustment period when we come back to living together. Taking this into account I decided to move to Tucson to live and train with Jen without my husband. We needed to iron out the kinks of what our day to day relationship will be before hitting the trail. Some people may differ in their opinions of this, but I will tell you right now that this was a wonderful idea.

Jen and I have had a few misunderstandings and it has been a luxury to be able to come back to the apartment and have separate rooms in which to be alone or to think things through. These are luxuries we will not have on the trail. Our time together is spent in some of the most uncomfortable situations. We eat together, train together, sometimes we work together. We need to learn how to deal with all of the unfortunate feelings and situations that arise when two people spend this much time together. We need to be able to deal with each others bad moods and know just what we can say before we cross the line. We need to be comfortable enough with each other to say “i just need silence right now” or “i am so sorry…but I can’t reach this tick”. Gross, maybe a little. True, definitely. Logging 25+ miles a day on the trail together will take its toll both mentally and physically. We as humans are not mind readers, so we need to be able to tell each other exactly what we need. We also need need to know that when we say what we are feeling that it will be received in the manner that it was meant without needing an in depth explanation. When you are physically exhausted and hungry you simply lack the ability to construct complicated and elegant thoughts.

I feel that Jen and I turned a corner approximately 3 weeks ago. We had a conversation with our coach and in that conversation we explained to her that she needed to start viewing us as a team. She needed to forget the concept of us as individuals and look at us as the same person. I can only imagine that it must be difficult from a coaching standpoint, but in all actuality we are only as strong as our combined weaknesses. We train together. If I have a bad day, Jen has a bad day. It is unfortunate but it is true. In the end, we will run this thing together. Step by step by step.

Our 13 mile run on Sunday had all of the makings for a really bad run. Continue reading

Physical Preparation

19 Mar

Physical preparation is a huge part of our lives right now.  However, when we were doing our research we had a really tough time finding information on how other people trained for their thru-hikes or thru-runs.   Lots of folks on traditional thru-hikes let the trail get them in shape.  They start hiking 8-10 miles a day for a few weeks until they build up the stamina they need.   They usually start in the south and go north because the trail gets progressively harder and therefore allows for this kind of “on the job” training.   With our plan for the trail this doesn’t work for us for a few reasons.  One, we want to be trail running as much as possible from the start.  Two, we are going north to south, therefore starting on the hardest terrain and ending on the easier sections.  Finally, we don’t have six months to complete the trail- we are shooting for four, which ups the necessary daily mileage by quite a bit.  All of these factors lead to the fact that we have to whip our butts into shape pre-trail!

While Emily and I have both been runners and athletes since middle-school, we made the decision that we wanted to get a coach.  With working full-time (we are both RNs who work night shift), planning all the trail logistics, taking classes (Emily) and various cross-country and international moves we wanted some help.  Continue reading