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Week 11 on the AT: June 11-17
Have I mentioned my distain for the PCT bear bag method? This method is what we were taught during orientation Day 1 before leaving for Springer. The idea is that you hang your bear line over a very high branch, attach your food and then weave the loose end through the carabiner. Pull until the food bags touch the branch and then grab the line and attach a stick, let go and let the stick catch on the carabiner. Why is this method preferred? Well the bear can play with the hanging line all he/she wants and the food will not come down!
Let me get into the reasons why I hate this method. First of all, you need a really high branch, higher than if you were hanging a bear bag the old fashioned way. Two, when there is rain or dew that gets into the rope, it is near impossible to pull the rope and stick back down so that you can get your food. I have never been able to get my tramily’s food down by myself. We have broken so many tree branches, sticks, carabiners, and torn so many food bags. If I was by myself I would most likely opt for a bear canister or Ursack. The bears in Virginia are very active. I know many people who lost parts or all of their food from a bear getting a poorly hung food line. Even if hung correctly, these bears are clever. Sometimes they just break the branch because they know that the food will come down. In the Grayson Highlands, a bear canister was compromised and the day before Damascus someone’s Ursack was torn apart. Do I hate the PCT method? Yes but I continue to use it.
I am now over 700 miles and almost in Shenandoah. I have competed over a 1/3 of the AT so I have been reflecting on what I have learned and my gear.
The Big Three
I once loved my Osprey Eja but we have fell out of love for each other. The hip belt continues to cause me pain. Since my hip bones hurt I adjust it so more pressure is on my collar bones and, well, then my shoulders hurt. I am not sure what to call them but I have developed fleshy callouses over my hip bones that protrude out (the right more than the left and it looks really funny), I also have red scaly patches on my collar bones. It isn’t that Osprey is a bad brand. It just isn’t working for me. I see a variety of packs. Osprey, Gregory, Gossamer Gear, Z Packs, Hyperlight, Six Moons Design, etc. I just need to find something that fits me better. My pack weighs 35 lbs with full food and water and no that weight can’t come down any further. In the meantime I have been putting a scarf around my waist to comfort my hips.
My sleeping bag pleases me though it is a bit big and bulky. It is the NorthFace The One Bag. It has sections that zip off so it can be a 5 degree bag, 20 degree bag, or 40 degree bag. I sleep really cold so the 5 degree design really helped in early April. I currently have the 20 degree design and I sweat like a dog. When I visit DC in a couple weeks, I am changing it to the 40 degree. Warm weather has arrived.
My tent is a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 (two person). I love it. It is light weight and I can set it up in the rain without getting water in the tent. I don’t mind the front opening feature, most people prefer the side opening tents because they are easier to get out of but I have not had an issue. The vestibule is also big enough for me to squat and pee when I wake up and have to use the bathroom (emergencies only). Because of this, I always set up away from others and slightly downhill. I don’t pee right outside my tent too often but when it was colder, it was really difficult to struggle out of my sleeping bag to pee.
For clothing: I use Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants that are pants/shorts convertible and love them. They are so comfortable, the side pocket is big enough for my phone and they dry really quickly when they are on me. I fully intend to write Outdoor Research a love letter.
I use an Omni-shade Columbia shirt that I got at Kohl’s. It buttons down and the sleeves roll up. Yes it is white. I chose this shirt to protect my skin from the sun however provide relief from the heat. As I hike I usually unbutton the top buttons. It doesn’t keep me warm in cold rain however so I purchased a used short sleeve Smartwool shirt to use during summer rain storms. I sleep in Smart wool base layers and love them. They honestly don’t smell as much as my other clothes.
My underwear was cheap, Fruit of the Loom brand from Walmart. It is their quick drying version from Walmart that is polyester and spandex. People out here swear by Exfficios, but I was just tired of spending money so I went with cheap and I’m satisfied. My bra is just a Brooks running bra, I got thin straps because during my practice runs with my backpack, I found that sports bras with thick straps pressed into my collar bone too much.
Cookware and such: My little Jetboil burner is tried and true. My hiking companion has gone through four stoves (two cheap from Amazon and two expensive from REI). I have never had a problem, mine is heavier among the backpacking stoves but compared to what I used when car camping…this thing is tiny!
I use a Sawyer Squeeze filtration system. They are sold at REI and Walmart. Where did I go? Walmart. There are three versions. The original (which I have), the Mini (everyone hates theirs because it takes forever to filter water), and the Micro (the water flow is alright). I haven’t popped a squeeze bag yet and I am not bothered by squeezing the bag. To me it doesn’t take too long. Mine does leak at the junction between the bag and the filter because the O ring is misplaced but I just wrap a Buff around it and it works perfectly fine.
I absolutely love my Darn Tough Socks. I haven’t gotten a blister yet with my footwear combination of Darn Tough Socks and Altra Lone Peak 4. This combination especially is very personal. I don’t wear sock liners but others have found that they need sock liners and toe socks like Injini. There are other sock brands too coming out like Farm to Feet. Either way, take care of your feet!! I practiced wearing Altras with their zero foot drop a year before the trail and that did me good. I also sized up from a 10 to an 11. I haven’t lost a toe nail yet. I really like the Lone Peak 4 version because the tread is amazing (much better than the previous version) and there is plenty of room for my toes to spread out. They don’t last much beyond 500 miles. I’ve gotten 700+ miles out of mine and there are holes to prove that I need new ones!!
Upon other things to reflect upon are my new trail name and the plethora of rain we will be getting now that it is warm weather season. My name is Patrice and my friends since kindergarten have called me Pat-Rice. I was offered a variety of trail names like Skinny, Fatty, Snakepants, and Hot Spot and I turned them down either because I didn’t like them or found them to be inaccurate. I wanted to be called something other than my name so I started introducing myself as Pat-Rice since it is one of my nicknames. Now I have heard some crazy trail names out here but for some reason Pat-Rice really threw people through a loop. Huh? What? It was getting kinda annoying to explain to people that my trail name was simply just my name. I also heard a lot of, “that isn’t a proper trail name!” But I finally have one “Drop Sticks”. One of my hiking partners usually walks behind me and we always laugh by how often I drop my poles (about once every two miles). He suggested Drop Sticks a week ago and 700 miles into the AT, I accept this trail name! It is a fun little tradition and I’m happy to take part.
I left Daleville with my tramily of 3 however Wiki injured himself and decided to take a zero on the day that we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway multiple times. Pusher and I felt a little lost without him and our next couple days were low mileage days. My close-knit tramily is small however I have been walking in a bubble of people since April 1st. I call anyone who I hike with my “trail cousins,” sometimes you see them and sometimes you don’t but you are always happy to run into them like real cousins. The week that we temporarily lost Wiki is also the week we experienced four rainy days in a row. It was slow moving and miserable setting up and tearing down our tents in rain. I helped Pusher set up his tent and he helped me set up mine to try to reduce the water in our tents but things were still…moist. We were pretty miserable until we ran into a trail cousin named Diggs and his new hiking partner Puma. They are fun people and without them my week would have been more miserable. With his help we were able to hitch into Glasgow to dry out. Seriously the trail provides. We got into and out of Glasgow with no problem, just the generosity of amazing trail town people.
After Glasgow we hiked 22 miles (biggest day yet!) into Buena Vista. Both Diggs and I had packages at the post office so we could not skip this town. When we started we weren’t sure how we were going to hitch the 10 miles into town but halfway through the day we met a section hiker who offered to drive us if we hiked with her. Done and done! We were able to reunite in Buena Vista and take care of all our needs.
I have learned so many things on the trail. First of all, you can push your comfort zone and be perfectly fine. In other words, you can handle a lot more than you think you can. I thought being wet and cold would be a sure thing to take me off the trail. It isn’t. I said we were miserable in the rain, and yes there was some level of misery but I smiled and danced and laughed most of the time. Why? Because you have two choices, be miserable or make the best of it. Four days in the rain isn’t my favorite weather but I know that I can handle it. Another lesson is just to let go of worry. Things work out the way they are supposed to and there is no reason to fret over things you cannot control. This is my third month on the trail and I have been able to get into and out of town every time. No need to worry.
It has been difficult planning when to go home to DC and see my boyfriend. He only has off weekends yet I cannot truly control when I will arrive in Harper’s Ferry. I absolutely do not want to lose my tramily, they make be feel safe and I have laughed harder than I ever have in their company. But like the trail has taught me, it somehow will all work out. I’ll be able to see loved ones and continue on down the trail. I am grateful for every painless step I take and for every person I have met. The AT in Virginia is very pleasant and I am excitedly awaiting our arrive in Shenandoah!! Less than a week away now!! Happy Trails!!