Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: First Test Hike
As I’ve mentioned previously I have undertaken planning to do a thru-hike next year on the Appalachian Trail (AT). My hope is that I will walk all 2,200 miles of the AT from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt. Kathadin, Maine starting in late February or early March, 2015. This is my trail journal where I hope to take you from my decision to do this, through my preparation and then notes from the trail and hopefully all the way to Maine. All of this in my journey and process to live happy days my friends ~ Rev Kane
When it comes down to it, all of the research, the equipment buying, book reading, conversations with former thru-hikers and gym work doesn’t mean anything until you get out and hike. I’ve been working in the occasional 6 to 10 mile hike on the Western States trail, I’ve been carrying around 25 pounds and to be honest those early single day hikes were harder than I had expected them to be. This led me to start working out harder at the gym and they got easier.
However the problem with the Western State’s Trail hikes is that the trail is not very hilly on the section nearest my house. Sure, there’s some up and down but nothing like the elevation changes I’ll see right off the bat on the AT. So the next step of course is to start going uphill. Luckily, living in Northern California and at the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, finding trails with elevation change isn’t that difficult.
Last Christmas I spent 3 days in a little place named Guerneville near the coast, just north of Santa Rosa and did some hiking in the Armstrong Redwood Reserve. The trip was great and the reserve was beautiful and more than that, a couple of trails I did had some steep elevation gains so I decided to do a three day test hike up in the reserve.
The first day was a bit hectic, I needed to check-in at the place I was staying between 3 and 7 PM and had to be out of the parking lot at the park by sunset. I arrived at the park around 1PM and jumped out on the East Ridge Trail and very quickly realized the combination of a 30 pound pack and some real hills was going to hurt a bit. The trail has about 400 of elevation gain in the first mile. The climb felt good, hard but good but I was certainly walking more slowly than I would like. I hit the high point of the loop I was doing and swung back down some switch backs back to the starting elevation.
The next piece was another 600 foot climb up the Pool Ridge Trail, this trail had a couple of switch backs but it’s basically 600 feet in a half-mile so it’s pretty gnarly. I was determined to do the climb without a break and so I was going pretty slow, but I did accomplish that goal and felt pretty good at the top of the climb. The rest was a nice walk descending slowly with a lot of switch backs with the final half mile flat through the park.
Here were the answers to the three questions for that day:
What was the most beautiful thing you saw today?
The most beautiful thing I saw that day were the redwoods, I really feel a connection to them, always have and it was wonderful walking along trails through these giants.
What did you learn today?
What I learned today was that my back can handle the weight of full pack pretty well, I’m hoping to hold my full pack weight on the AT to around 30 pounds and that felt like a doable weight. Before the hikers out there chime in, yes, I wear my pack appropriately and drop as much weight as possible onto my hips. But there still is some dug on your back and I was a bit worried about mine.
What made you happy today?
Just being in the redwoods, walking instead of being behind a desk, feeling like I was making progress towards being ready for the AT.
Woke up a little sore but was ready to go, the plan for the day was to climb the East Ridge Trail up to the Bullfrog Pond at the top of the park. The way the brochure was written it seemed like a total climb of about 1000 feet, probably should have looked at the topographic maps online. Because the fact is the elevation changes should have been added together, so I was expecting about a 1000 feet but it was actually 1500 feet plus over four miles. Not a huge amount of climbing but it messed with me, the mental aspect of hiking is every bit as important as the physical aspect. Twice as much climbing as I had expected really zapped my energy, add to that the mileage was longer than I anticipated and the hike suddenly felt like the Bataan Death March.
It didn’t help that once I finally arrived at the Bullfrog Pond, after descending for a half an hour, I found a dried up former mud pit, very disappointing. So I ate lunch and reversed the hike. I had hoped to return by the Pool Ridge Trail but the maps were very confusing and I didn’t want to risk getting lost and having to walk extra to get out of the park so I just reversed my steps.
The climb up had included some incredibly steep sections and as hard as they were to come up, I knew they would be even harder to face on the way down. I was right, but by the time I got back to a familiar spot I was about a mile left to the hike, my quads were screaming and I was pretty miserable. I finished out the hike, bought a sub and a big coke and crashed out. I woke a few hours later and showered, and was already a bit sore so I popped some ibuprofen and crashed back out, I planned to repeat the Day 1 hike in the morning.
The most beautiful thing I saw on Day 2 was a honey bee nest that had been dug out of the side of a hill by a black bear.
What I learned on Day 2, or more accurately what I was reminded of on Day 2, was how important the mental aspect of hiking was, not knowing the trails and being surprised by both the length and the elevation of the hike, really took a toll on me.
What made me happy on Day 2, not much, although I did find a few moments near the end of the hike where I started to laugh at myself. Understanding what had gone wrong I had to laugh, something I’m sure I will experience on the AT, particularly in the beginning weeks, long days that are harder than I expected but in the end I’m out hiking, not sitting in an office dealing with the inanity of all that encompasses, that thought made me happy.
Well the evening of Day 2 to be exact, the pain set in. Late that night I woke and was very tight and very physically unhappy. I took some more ibuprofen, did some stretching and went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning and swung out of bed I could barely stand up. When I could it was a very tentative and painful experience. That pretty much killed any hiking that day. I went out and had a big breakfast and then went up to the park to take a short and packless walk through the park to loosen up my legs. I was sore for a couple of more days.
The most beautiful thing I saw that day was an ibuprofen bottle for obvious reasons.
What I learned, quite a lot, particularly I learned that there were muscles that I hadn’t been working on in the gym. My hip abductors and the muscles along the front of my shins. Most of this discomfort came from the descent.
What made me happy, oddly enough my joints, after a couple of really hard days and a lot of sore muscles but my knees and ankles felt ok. I had a little knee pain but nothing significant and nothing on the scale of the muscle pain I was having. Muscle strength I know how to gain and isn’t all that serious, so I was in pain but I was happy.
Hard but happy days my friends ~ Rev Kane
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