Saturday, May 31, 2014

Backpacking Project - Hiking With A Full Pack

I had the pack. I had the poles. I now had boots. It was time to try a full pack.

Or at least a fuller pack. My pack weight came to 13 pounds approximately, which means about nine pounds of stuff and four of pack. That's probably a pound or two less than I'll actually carry in two weeks on the Loyalsock. I used clothing I had in the back of the car to weight the pack.

The location of the hike was Warwick County Park, starting from Mount Pleasant Road trailhead, and
heading toward French Creek. The trail is the former right of way of the long gone Sowbelly Railroad, and isn't like the Loyalsock, but a man has to start somewhere.

My hike took me to French Creek's vista, overgrown as expected, and back for about three miles. The scenery was lovely as expected, and this is a park I hike in frequently, but since this was a shakedown or testing hike, I'll leave descriptions of the views for another post.

Welcome to Pennsylvania.
Here are my takeaways from the three miles, starting at the ground and going up....

Boots: The new boots from my friend John are better at support than the Brooks Cascadia trail runners. That said, as I mentioned in the last Backpacking Project post, the boots are slightly too large. I slid a little side to side and front to back on grades. I think tighter lacing and thicker socks will minimize this problem. The boots handled well on both rock and dirt, and I felt comfortable in them. I didn't have any plantar problems. The orthotic insole stayed in place.

Also, there was a psychological benefit that I won't dismiss. I always associate hiking with boots, and just having them on helped me form an image of me as a backpacker. Yes, I know I can hike in anything, and I encourage all my readers to hike their own hike, but still, the boots helped both my feet and my mind.

Poles: John criticized me for having my poles too short, and I corrected that this hike. The poles did their job, and there's nothing more to say.

Clothing: I didn't wear the clothes I am hiking in on the Loyalsock. No special reason. I'd just not done laundry. Cotton was fine for the three miles.

Pack: The fitting REI did was OK. The weight rested on my hips and not on my shoulders. However, there was one odd feeling I had. As you might have noticed from my photos, I have a spinal curvature. While the pack didn't hurt my back, it did force me into a different posture, one more upright than my normal scoliosis slouch. My back muscles feel, well, confused at being forced to take a different position. So do my arms and shoulders. I expect some soreness tomorrow from the fatigue tonight.

Food: I ate badly before hiking and suffered. Note to self - do not eat a heavy meal ten minutes before hiking. Hydration was fine.

Fatigue: Yes, I am worn out. Hiking with a pack takes more out of you, and I am tired. Of course I was tied before the hike for reasons I won't discuss here, so it might not be entirely the hike's fault.

The most important takeaway is that I feel I can do this, and while I am going to be challenged during my three days on the Loyalsock, I will be a backpacker. And after this hike, I consider myself one now.


Backpacking Project - New Boots

If you've been following the Backpacking Project posts, you recall I discovered last week that the boots I'd purchased in 2010 for hiking no longer fit. Well, the backpacking community came through for me again.

Among the many friends I've made online since starting the Backpacking Project is John, who is planning an AT through hike in 2015. He told me he had Vasque boots that were too large for him, and he didn't wear them anymore. In previous conversations we'd already discovered common links - we both love our Brooks Cascadias trail runners and Osprey Atmos packs, and we are both weight loss success stories - and it turns out we have the same shoe size. Friday morning thanks to John and the US Postal Service I received the boots, and I wore them to work that day to break them in.

The boots are the Vasque Breeze 2.0 with Gore-Tex. John was off on the size, which Vasque claims is US 14. The European measure they give, 48, indicates a size of about 13.5 US. I now use orthotic insoles that take up about half a shoe size in room. This puts the boots at about a 13, which is the size of my cycling shoes, my Brooks Cascadia and other athletic shoes, and most of my casual and dress shoes. The Asolo boots are a 12.

The fit isn't as tight as my Asolo boots. Even in 2010 when my feet were smaller the Asolo were tight. The Vasque are larger, and I don't feel squeezed in them. I realize hiking boots are supposed to be snug fitting so your feet don't move around in them, but I think the little extra room in the Vasque will be beneficial. After exertion or a long day I have swelling up to a half shoe size in my nerve damaged right foot, so much so that I sometimes will have my shoe off under my desk at work.

Here is a side by side by side comparison - Asolo, Vasque Breeze, and the foot of a formerly sedentary man etc etc etc. I won't be wearing those socks on the hike. I'm sending the Asolo boots to John, who will try them out.

Meanwhile, I've hit it off so well with John that he's going to lead me on my third backpacking trip, an overnight on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia in July or August. They say to know a man you have to walk a mile in his shoes. Well, I'm doing just that.....


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Our Anniversary

"thinks he has found a name for his outdoor writing blog. "A Taste for the Woods" pretty much describes me. The phrase comes from a letter by historian outdoorsman and writer Francis Parkman. In the letter he corrects a friend for suggesting he was drawn to the subject of the French settlement of Canada by the nobility and grandness of the topic. Instead Parkman wrote "From boyhood I had a taste for the woods...." "

I wrote that Facebook status update a year ago. And what a year its been. Yes, we started a year ago as a diary and "outdoor writing blog", but we've expanded to more than that. And in the upcoming year we will expand further still as we move to our own website. More and more varied articles, and more voices. Gear reviews. Interviews. A podcast. And more to come.

Regardless of the changes I'm still going to be here, and writing about the outdoors. How can I not? Over the past year I've experienced marvels I'd never have seen had I remained 400 pounds and trapped in a little room. A writer is nothing without a reader, and in this case thanks to the readers of A Taste For The Woods I'm having outdoor experiences I'd never have considered otherwise. I've been a writer all my life, I've won awards, but A Taste For The Woods contains my best work, and you challenge me to be better day after day, and post after post. Thank you.

But aside from my growing and challenging myself as an outdoorsman and writer there is an impact from my sharing a story of a former sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors. There are people in the woods who want to play gatekeeper, restricting the wonders of nature to an elite few. Last month a major retailer tried to tell me I wasn't thin enough to backpack. People are routinely discouraged from participating by an outdoor culture that confuses athleticism with activity. We as a community have the potential to do so much and help so many by dispelling the lies of that outdoor culture, by tearing down the gates. As we grow in the coming year lets all work to show that the outdoors of this great big wonderful world is truly for everyone. Because we all have a taste for the woods.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Backpacking Project - Eating

As I mentioned in the Packing List post, for food on my upcoming backpacking trip on the Loyalsock Link Loop trail I was going to go with basic items that cook quickly in little water. This includes oatmeal, Knorr packaged pasta meals, and pouched tuna. Unfortunately I don't own a food dehydrator and I will be car camping for a week before the trip so I won't be able to prepare homemade alternatives.

My concerns are carrying enough calories to prevent this trip from turning into a Pennsylvania version of the Donner Party and having foods that won't upset my stomach. Exertion causes me to develop a ravenous appetite, and I'm going to be pushing myself harder than I normally do. I'm not a forager, and while I have a copy of Euell Gibbons' Stalking The Wild Asparagus on my bookshelf I'm not going to trust myself to start using it this trip. (Besides it adds to the pack weight.)

Aside from eating, there's the result of eating. I have what a more reserved generation would call "a nervous stomach" and I'm going to be under considerable stress during the trip even if it goes well. The last thing I want is to add to the potential physical discomfort I'll suffer by adding IBS to the mix.

So then, here is what I will eat for my three days and two nights on the trail. As usual your comments are helpful to me, as they help me rethink my choices.

Instant oatmeal, two packets
instant hot chocolate

Day one - peanut butter sandwiches brought with me
Day two and three - Knorr pasta packages

Knorr pasta packages
Bumblebee or Starkist pouched tuna, various flavors

Trail mix


Monday, May 26, 2014

Medal of Honor Grove, Freedoms Foundation, Valley Forge, Memorial Day 2014

I spent part of Memorial Day at Valley Forge National Historical Park, a hike I'll discuss elsewhere. But I also spent an hour and a mile hiking at a place I'd driven by for years without ever stopping. This is the story of an unknown gem in the shadow of the national park, why you should visit, and how it could be the most difficult hike you ever do.

Located two miles west of Washington's Headquarters on Route 23 is the Freedoms Foundation. The small campus with the massive 100 foot flagpole is the headquarters of a Cold War organization founded by business leaders and General Eisenhower. The mission of the Freedoms Foundation is to promote "the ideals and principles of our free society and encourage all Americans to embrace both their rights and the responsibilities and contribute to the common good of society." In other words, they teach and promote what my generation of students called civics. What the current generation calls the subject I don't know, nor do I suspect they study it. Just that morning at Valley Forge I'd overheard a young woman surprised that Washington was the first President of the United States. Her boyfriend set her straight, which in turn set my blood pressure back to normal levels.

However, as interesting as the mission and campus of the Freedoms Foundation was to me, that wasn't what I'd come for. Fifty-two of the eighty-five acres of the campus remains wooded. And in that woods is the Medal of Honor Grove. A winding series of paths take you to 54 memorials devoted to winners of the Medal of Honor - one for each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, military chaplains, and men who hadn't achieved citizenship at the time they committed their act of heroism.

The Medal of Honor, popularly called the Congressional Medal of Honor even though its been presented by
Presidents from Lincoln to Obama, is the highest military commendation in the United States. It's awarded to servicemen and women for valor above and beyond the call of duty. And its often presented posthumously, as valor demands sacrifice, and at times the ultimate sacrifice. As I wandered past the markers and monuments on this Memorial Day, I had a lump in my throat. Each name underlined the duality of war; its the most horrible of man's creations, and yet it brings out the noblest elements in us. And every name tells a story. At the Pennsylvania monument I stopped to photograph one marker, just one at random.

Ross McGinnis was a young man born in Meadville and raised in Knox, both towns in western Pennsylvania. . The nineteen year old was a private in the US Army serving in Iraq. In 2006 a grenade was thrown into the vehicle he was riding in. With seconds to decide, he alerted the other soldiers so they could escape the vehicle and then threw himself on the explosive. McGinnis' sacrifice saved the lives of the other soldiers. His parents were presented the Medal of Honor he earned by President Bush in 2008.

The Medal of Honor Grove is filled with such stories, some recent, many older. Here was a stillness in the air as I passed stories of lives cut short, parents outliving sons, children without fathers and spouses parted. My hike was on pavement, and little more than a mile. I didn't need boots or poles. There was no exertion needed, and yet I've not found a hike that took more out of me than this one. I emerged from the wooded Grove into the sunlight and couldn't look at the flag the same way I had when I walked in. And now a half day after my visit, I still can't.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Backpacking Project - So long to Asolo

As I mentioned in the last Backpacking Project post, I needed new insoles to keep my developing PF symptoms at bay. And in the post several months ago discussing "Footwear for Hiking", I wrote about my feet shrinking back into my Asolo hiking boots. Well, that didn't happen. My feet are still too big for the boots, and the addition of the insoles renders the boots unwearable. So my Asolos are destined for a hiker's flea market - they have little wear, easily less than a 100 miles - and I'm left with the problem of deciding what I wear during my trip in two weeks.

I currently have three choices:

1. Buy new boots. While this choice might prompt cries of joy on online forums, my budget doesn't extend to new boots this year. So unless I luck into some massive clearance sale, have an unexpected flush of cash, or get a gift (I need a size 13, gentle readers), my choices are reduced to:

2. Hike in the new Cascadias. I'm now on the Cascadia 8, the 7 above being worn out. I've put the new insoles in, and the shoes are comfortable, but I don't know about for six to eight miles of backpacking. Brooks says the shoes are not intended for backpacking, but my load will be relatively light, and when you consider the shoes are already supporting over 300 pounds.... still, its either these or.....

3. Hike in the Ozark Trail boots I purchased on a whim a few months ago. If you aren't familiar with the brand of boot, its the house label for Wal-Mart. (Yes, I do at times shop at the Beast of Bentonville.) I'd toyed with the idea of doing a cheap boot vs Asolo comparison for you, gentle reader, but I'd never gotten around to it. The Ozark Trail boots size 13 last had to have been designed for Sasquatch; the fit improved with the replacement orthotic insoles, but the boots are still wide on me. A hike of a mile on pavement seemed OK. Again the boots don't perform as well as my Asolo did, or perhaps as well as a top of the line boot, but the goal is to get me through this trip. I'd only use the boots for the two backpacking trips - the three day on the 11th and the overnight on the 21st - and perhaps as a second choice to the Cascadias on day hikes.

The Backpacking Project posts have been the most popular on A Taste For The Woods, and the hiking community is very supportive of my goals. Please, share your thoughts in the comments below. Should I backpack in the Ozark Trail boots? The Cascadias? Something else?


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-05-25

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