Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Look closely. Right in the middle.

Do you see an M-Dot?

It's for my friend Linae who's leaving today for Panama City Beach to do IM Florida on Saturday.

It's an omen, Linae!

Shot it with my cell-phone while I was on the track doing 400's. Honest, this is exactly what it looked like.

I've had one comment from someone who didn't see it. Maybe I've just got a hopeful imagination, but here it is isolated. I'm not saying it's the prototype logo.... clouds never look much better than "kinda-like a whatever."

Sunday, October 28, 2007


So, here's what I have so far, most of it distinctly un-classy, un-fashionable, outdated, "undesirable," but, to me, serviceable. And much of it would have been considered ultralight high-tech just 10 or 15 years ago.

Backpack: Well, I had posted about my new 2.2-pound Granite Gear Vapor Ki ultra-light women's-specific pack, but.... I sent it back. Loaded with 30# of gear and carried around Western Maryland's hills for a few hours, I didn't find it as comfortable as my 6-pound Eddie Bauer pack that Steve got at Wal-Mart 3 years ago. Having learned a bit about packs while being fitted for the Granite Gear one at the outfitter, I made some changes to the EB pack and have gotten it down to 4.5 pounds. My next step is going to be replacing all the heavy nylon-webbing straps with grosgrain ribbon. That could shave off another half-pound. I may or may not get a new pack.

Trekking poles: You've read about my personalized ones. I love Polly's idea of marking measurements on one of them for water depth, snakes, or whatever. I'm pondering her trick of incorporating emergency supplies underneath the hand-grips. I was thinking of bike-handlebar tape for wrapping them. In any case, they're not $150 Lekki's, but at $12 for the poles and maybe $15 for tape ($5 if I use duct tape) they're good. And my very own.

Cooking: Stove made out of a Pepsi can: free. Pot -- a 29-oz. tomato can: free. Windscreen -- aluminum foil: essentially free. Pot lid: made from bottom of a disposable pie pan, with a soda-can pull-top wired on for a handle: free. Pot handle: dog-shedder tool, $5.98 when I bought it for the dog a couple years ago, free when I appropriated it for a handle. It weighs almost 4 oz. but I love it so much I'm keeping it anyway. Fuel -- denatured acohol, costs about $5 for a quart at Wal-Mart, one ounce boils a pint of water. Fuel container: cough-syrup bottle, won't be mistaken for a water bottle (as the often-used soda bottle can be), has graduations on the side for measuring, free for the asking at the Wal-Mart pharmacy counter. Lighter: Bic-Flick, $1; backup, wooden matches ($1 for 250, only take a few) or book matches (free.) For storage/carrying, everything but the fuel packs into the pot/can.

Clothing: I did spring for honest rain gear. Marmot Precip top ($99) and pants ($70), waterproof, windproof, breathable. They don't have to be saved for rain, can be used just as warm outer layer if needed. Shorts: my Race-Ready running shorts with built-in underwear and pockets. Cost $30 but I had them already. I also already have ($40) a pair of nylon zip-off convertable long/short hiking pants. Long-johns: My mid-weight running tights. Wicking T-shirt: Free (except for registration) from Vermont City Marathon. Wicking long-sleeved shirt: Free (except for registration) from P.T. Cruiser Triple Challenge at Tampa/Gasparilla Marathon 2005. Long-sleeved fleece top: Free, hand-me-down from a friend. Gloves: Already have, 2 prs./$1.50 at Wal-Mart a few years ago. Hats: My Ironman Florida finisher's hat; nothing I got at that race could be called "free" because I worked my g.d. ass off for it, plus the $450 registration fee. But I didn't buy it extra for hiking, anyway. I have a cold-weather knit hat already but may make a lighter, less-bulky one out of some fleece fabric I already have. Free.

Shelter: I sprung for one here, too. Urethane-coated ripstop nylon 8 X 10 tarp, not a tent, but it can be rigged into a tent using my hiking poles and/or a tree or two. I'm going for tarp vs. tent b/c of the many ways a tarp can be configured, vs. the only-way-this works for a tent. $36.

Tent stakes: Aluminum gutter spikes, 30 cents each from the hardware store. A dozen weigh 4 oz. A dozen titanium tent stakes.... well, not sure how much this would set me back, but definitely more than $4 for a dozen. More like $4 apiece, $48 for a dozen.

Ground cloth: a hunk of Tyvek scored from someone who was building a house on a road where I went biking. Ask and you shall receive. Free.

Sleeping bag: Currently a synthetic 40*F bag that Steve got several years ago for a biking trip. Free. Warm enough for colder temps if I wear all my clothes inside it. Or use the fleece liner I made for about $12 (a silk one costs over $50, as does a sil-nylon one.)

Sleeping pad: Sprung for one a friend was selling. ThermaRest ProLite Women's self-inflating, $50, would have cost $100 new.

So far I have spent: $288

If I had bought all the up-to-date equivalents, new:
Pack $160
Stove $100
Pot $50
Fuel $5 (same)
Rain Gear $170 (same)
Shorts: $30
Convertible pants $40 (same)
Long Johns: $40
Wicking T-shirt: $40
Wicking LS shirt: $60
Polartec Fleece top: $60
Hats: $50
Sil-nylon Tent: $350
Sil-nylon ground cloth: $70
Titanium stakes: $48
Down sleeping bag: $300 (I'm actually hoping the family will go together on this for Christmas)
Sleeping pad: $100
Bag liner: $50

Could have spent, on what I have so far: $1723

Friday, October 26, 2007


I wonder if this is some kind of convoluted envy: Sometimes I feel mild contempt for hikers who spend thousands of dollars on the latest high-tech feather-weight gear to make it more comfortable to go out and live in the woods scraping by with the minimum essentials for life, including not enough food (thru-hikers usually lose about 20 pounds en route.)

Spending thousands of dollars on bare essentials seems a little paradoxical.

Recently I spent a great weekend in Gettysburg, PA at the annual ALDHA (Appalachian Long-Distance Hiking Association) Gathering. I went to a couple of workshops on lightening your load. One of the things that was said again and again was, "This thing (pack, jacket, tent, whatever) only weighs X grams and is well worth the cost." A variation on that was "The savings in weight is worth whatever it costs." Or, "It's only a couple hundred dollars and you'll never regret it."

Plus, they've somehow quit their jobs for 6 months.

It's growing on me that deliberately living on nothing and being hungry all the time while hiking in the woods is essentially a sport for the affluent.

Affluent, I ain't. Our main income is my husband's retirement income, which isn't all that much (certainly less than our two professional incomes were, and actually less than his alone.) We supplement that by working in campgrounds for a free site and (usually) minimum wage or close to it. It's our choice to live this way so that we can travel the country. But we don't do it high-class.

I'm thinking a person doesn't have to backpack high-class, either.

Bare essentials are shelter, water, food, and warmth.

"Grandma" Emma Gatewood who became, at the age of 65 (more or less... accounts vary, just like the distance of the AT), the first female ever to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail end-to-end in one fell swoop, did it pretty much on the spur of the moment (not years of planning). She sewed up a denim duffel bag, put into it a change of clothes, a raincoat, a wool Army blanket, a plastic shower curtain for a shelter, and a modest supply of beef jerkey, cheese, and nuts, walked out the door carrying it over her shoulder and wearing a pair of U.S. Keds, and started hiking. She carried a little money so she could buy more nuts and crackers when she ran out.

No $300 tent. No $185 ergonomically-designed backpack. No $300 down sleeping bag. No $150 folds-into-itself super-hot-burning stove. No $75 Titanium pot (that's about the price of the one-pint size.) No $150 waterproof-breathable rain jacket and $100 matching pants, no $200 down jacket.

She made it. She said: "I thought it would be a lark. It wasn't."

I plan to carry a little more than Grandma did, but I'm not going to be able to go high-class. When I first started making noises about how much I'd like to do this, Steve said that he could work extra hours during the 6 or so months, to make up for what I wouldn't be working. (Now that's supportive.)

They say it costs about $1 to $2 per mile, not including gear and getting there, to hike the AT. So we're looking at $2000-$4000 dollars.

The low end if you don't stay a lot in off-trail motels and hostels and eat in restaurants a lot, the higher end if you do.

I haven't added it up, but I'm sure I'd be incurring $2000 in living costs in 6 months even if I stayed home. The main difference would be in not earning an income during that time.

I repeat: My husband said he'd work two jobs so I could do this.

I'd been thinking about this post, or maybe series of posts, before Jack brought up a few days ago about winning the lottery to afford the hike.

Some of my next posts will be on gear -- affording it vs. just going out and buying it as apparently a great many of the hikers do. The ones who go first-class. I'm going economy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Just so I'm not always all about hiking....

I did my first official Training-For-Austin workout today.

10-min jog warmup, then 6 X 400, supposed to be at 2:15 but my natural "try for 2:15" pace kept me coming in around 2:04. I carried the GPS a few laps to keep it around 6.7 mph (I'd done the math, that's what 2:15 worked out to) but whenever I didn't carry it I went faster.

2-min rest intervals during which I stretched calves and hamstrings and walked around. Iced my Achilles's afterwards. They didn't hurt much running, and don't now. I did shorten my planned 4-lap jog cooldown to one lap plus a one-lap walk, just to be safe on the Achilles.

Tomorrow is a bike day, Friday rest, then Saturday long run, 7 miles according to my training plan. This will seem easy, since I've already got 6 10-milers in the bank in the last month.

On what are supposed to be "easy running/jogging" days, I'm substituting biking to save wear and tear on my chronically-ailing Achilles.

We shall see what happens at Austin. If my old decrepit body makes it through the training.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I haven't given up on the AT. I'm revising.

I am still going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

I'm lengthening my goal by a year. Instead of 2008, I'll do it in 2009.

2008 will be the Year of the Baby. The year of the Austin Marathon. The year of SavageMan. Who knows, maybe the year of the Boston Qualifier after all. (Or not, on that one.)

I had been afraid that, after the Year of the Baby, would come the Year of My Mother, followed by many Years of My Mother, taking care of the woman who took care of me, until she does not need me anymore, by which time I might no longer be in condition to undertake the pilgrimage.

But I think: My mother wants me to fulfill my dream goal of hiking the AT. She's said so. She wants to live to see me do it. She doesn't want me to wait till she's gone.

And so, to be sure she's cognizant that I am actually hiking, my goal now is to make it while she's still living on the earth, to give her the satisfaction of knowing that I made it.

My mother believes I can do it. She's watched me through 23 marathons and 2 IronMan triathlons. She wants me to achieve this next ultra-endurance goal. She would find it appalling that I put off, even cancelled, a lifelong dream to take care of her.

I think, with that in mind, I can arrange, if necessary, for her care while I go and do it. Already, in recent weeks, she's gotten a housekeeper to come for several hours twice a week, gotten one of those "I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up" bracelets, and arranged for weekly garbage pickup. She arranged these things for herself, with a little nagging. Her housework, her safety, and her garbage have been my 3 most critical concerns with her. If it all works out and she doesn't deteriorate in the next year, I will plan on starting my hike in March of 2009 (unless I qualify for Boston, which I seriously doubt.)

Today I've started a new project. My hiking poles. I had a pair of manufactured aluminum (or some kind of metal) trekking poles with screw-in-or-out length-adjustments. I used them all summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, on the most rugged parts of the AT. They broke this fall, at the adjustment points. I got them in Wal-Mart for $20 for the pair (Swiss Army Gear, they weren't less-quality than my Swiss Army Knife.) You can buy screw-length-carbon-fiber titanium hi-tech adjustable hiking poles for a couple hundred dollars. I find this a bit much for a couple of sticks.

So I bought dowel rods. They're the perfect length and grip thickness for me, cost $6 apiece, and are practically indestructible. I thought they had less character than, say, a pine or maple limb I might scavenge in the forest and de-bark and hone to my requirements. But such limbs tend to curve, or be cracked, or be secretly fragile from X years in the elements before being found.The dowel rods are straight and reliable in their seasoning.

They started out plain but won't end up that way. I'm adding character. Today I started working on the first one. I wrote my name and Steve's on it, with our wedding date underneath: 8 - 26 - 1972. And wood-burned over that, so it's my own handwriting. Then Steve signed it, and I wood-burned his signature, with his birthdate. This evening, our daughter Avery and her husband Scott came over, and I had each of them sign it, and woodburned over their signatures, and put in their birthdates. I'm going to have all my children, their spouses, and their children -- my grandchildren -- sign it. And my mother. And I'll wood-burn everyone's signature and birthdate. That way, my whole family will be with me, each in their own handwriting, when I hike the Trail in 2009. I'll have Abbie, who will be 6, sign for her little brother or sister, who will be going on 1. I'll leave the Trail for his/her first birthday party and then go back to continue and finish.

I think, on the other pole, I'll attach an AT hiking medallion. This second pole will be for the names of my friends: email friends, Blogland friends, Internet friends, whoever wants to go with me. Then, while on the trial, I'll have new Trail Friends write their names on it, and when I finish the Trial, I'll wood-burn them in. Press hard, you are writing through 2,175 miles.

I am going to have the coolest hiking staffs on the Trail. And they won't break.

When they're farther along in their evolution, I'll post a picture.

These staffs comfort me. I am still going. Just not this coming year.

It gives me more time to plan, more time to "practice," more time to learn.

And time to do SavageMan. Date: Sept. 14, 2008.

Sunday, October 21, 2007



My gymnast granddaughter Gracie trains 12 hours a week. Three days a week for 4 hours. This past week she put in an extra 4 at the gym "fine-tuning her routine," an optional practice session suggested by her trainer.

I went to her practice the other night and she pretty much was working the whole time. Occasional breaks of a minute or two to change disciplines, wait for the other girl to get off the bars, etc. But mostly she was working the whole time.

It's not the same kind of endurance as running or biking for 4 hours, and not the same type of intensity as triathlon-training 12 hours a week; still, it shows a lot of concentration and determination.

You can see her muscles when she moves her arms and legs.

I wanna grow up to be just like Gracie :-)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

RUNNING.... OWWwwwww....

Running hurts.

My Achilles tendons, and my butt right under the sit-bones. I stretch and ice and stretch and ice and it doesn't get better. This is the pain I had that made the Vermont City Marathon feel like a death march and made me ponder that my running career was over.

In fact, I hardly ran all summer. I hiked and backpacked, trained up for a 5K and ran it, but otherwise I rested from running.

Now I've started again, since I'm pondering the Austin Marathon in February.

Still hurts. Achilles tendons, sit-bones, and, after I run, my lower back, the flat sacral area.

These chronic aggravations have been going since January. I'm so tired of it.

Maybe when we get established in Austin for the winter I'll look into physical therapy. Our insurance doesn't cover massage therapy but it does take PT.

Columbus Marathon is tomorrow and we're here in town but I sure won't be running it.

I'm pleased with today's run, about 11 miles I guess (have to go measure it.) The second hour I was in pain. I guess it's relative, though..... not enough pain to stop running, just enough to make the run miserable. My gymnast granddaughter Gracie (9) ran me through a bunch of stretches with her afterwards. That was fun do do with her and maybe it helped. I'm not tired at all from the run, just that soreness in my tendons and butt.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I have not been here in Blogland for so long.

We have been away from Internet access, except for the McDonalds wi-fi and our son's house. We've been back "home" in western Maryland at Deep Creek State Park the last several weeks.

Now we're en route to Austin, TX for the winter, via Ohio to see our daughters and other grandchildren, then Michigan to visit Steve's parents and one of his sisters and her extended family. I will need to stay late at Mom-in-Law's on Nov. 3 to watch Linae's Ironman Florida finish, since we won't have web access at our Michigan campground either.

I had this big plan, Plan A (without knowing it was Plan A and the plans might eventually span the alphabet) to pack up a bunch of gear, buy a plane ticket from Austin to Atlanta, and start hiking the Appalachian Trail late in March.

Everything has changed. There's good news and bad news.

The good news is that our son, Jon, and his wife, Jamie, are expecting their second child the third week of May. Abbie is going to be a big sister. We've been in "baby deprivation" for several years now and are thrilled that we're getting a new grandchild.



The bad news is, it won't work for me to be out in the wilderness out of cell-phone signal reach, and go into town for a food resupply, call home, and find out the baby was born and is 4 days old already.

Or was born prematurely and is in the NICU.

Or whatever.

At first I decided right off the bat not to go at all. End of hiking plan. Scratch Plan A. I can't even begin to describe the inner battle between joy over the new baby and grief at not hiking the Trail.

We made arrangements to work again at Candy Hill Campground in Winchester, VA, starting in early May, so we'd be just a couple hours from "home" and we can see the baby and the rest of the Maryland installment of our family every couple weeks.

The campground is only about 15 miles from Harper's Ferry, WV, which is an important stop on the AT and the "psychological halfway point" for thru-hikers. I could hike from somewhere, to Harper's Ferry, getting there early in May and joining my husband in Winchester in plenty of time for the baby. This was Plan B.

I'd found out that if my family were to contact the Appalachian Trail Conference with my approximate location (I'd be keeping Steve updated) they could find me within hours.

It started to occur to me that if I were in the neighborhood and not hiking all summer, I could train for and participate in SavageMan in September, which I've been salivating over ever since its unofficial trial run in 2006, and its inaugural running a month ago, both of which I missed because I wasn't in the right place at the right time. For 2008, I could be.

Then Holly came up with Plan C. Wouldn't it be a great story for this person to grow up with, she said, that "When I was born my grandmother was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and she left the trail to welcome me into the world for a week, then went back to the trail to finish hiking her dream before spending the next couple years close to me and my family."

Whew. That would be a story. Much different from, "My grandmother was going to hike the Appalachian Trail but she didn't because I was on the way."

I seriously considered this. For awhile it seemed like the way I'd most likely go.

But there's SavageMan. This year was its first running. Next year is scheduled. But that's not enough runnings to assume that it will be put on every year. And for 2 years I have really, really wanted to do this race.

The Appalachian Trail will always be there. SavageMan may not be. If it weren't for this baby coming at this time, I might never have been able to do SavageMan at all. We might never have been in the neighborhood when it was SavageMan time.

So I went back to Plan B. Hike till the baby comes, (I should be somewhere around Roanoke), then stop, train for and do SavageMan, probably also doing some section-hiking on the Trail since we'll be so close to it all summer, and then finish the Trail another year.

But now I don't know again. I don't know if it's worth buying a plane ticket for a 2-month hike. Especially with money tight enough that I'm already scrimping on my gear. Maybe I should save until I can do the whole thing, then do the whole thing.

And then I get depressed again thinking about not going.