Yesterday I went on another shakedown hike (one of I don’t know how many now) with my buddy Russ and my husband Joe (for those of you who have read my story, yes, we are back together after all that has happened). Generally, when I hike with Russ, I let him do the logistical planning, I don’t pay much attention, I just go with it. All I know is where we will start and where we will end. I don’t calculate the mileage before hand, I let him do that. I don’t look at the terrain at all, I let him do that. I figure that when I’m on the trail, I will not know what lies ahead, so why bother anticipating what’s coming when I’m doing a shakedown? Yes, ‘The AT Guide’ lists the elevation for reference points along the trail, but nothing can prepare you for every step you take. The steps in between elevation 963ft and 1340ft can be full of shifty rocks, slick leaves, roots, and everything else that seems to be purposely there to ruin you. I will have to pay more attention to this when I’m out there on my own, but for now, I don’t give a crap. It may not be the best strategy for training, but it’s my strategy. Prepare for the unknown.
This day, we were to do a simple 7 mile hike. As with many section hikes, it began with a hill. Halfway up the hill, Russ says, “I think this is the ‘Stairway to Heaven'”.
I reply, “Oh, great. Am I gonna die?”
The “Stairway to Heaven” is a series of rock slab steps switchbacking up Wawayanda Mountain. This section of the trail is classified as a moderate hike with seriously rocky sections. I was grateful for the steps that constituted the climb, because it’s the slopes with the smooth terrain that wreak havoc on my Achilles tendons. In retrospect, looking at my handy guide book, this hill is nothing compared to the goliath climbs I will encounter in New Hampshire and Maine.
More information regarding the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ can be found here: http://www.purdes.com/njhiking/stairway/
We reach the top and venture slightly off trail to the ‘Pinwheels Vista’, where the Kittatinny Mountains are visible in the distance, farms in the valley below, and on a clear day, High Point Monument.
The remainder of the hike was uneventful as far as terrain is concerned, however we came across a pond that had the most precarious dam that I’ve ever seen. The water level was a few feet above the trail and looked like a beaver built it. I’m not sure how it came into existence, but I actually was afraid to walk past it as I felt that at any moment the wall would break and I would be washed away by a deluge of murky pond water.
As is purpose of performing a shakedown hike, we had some gear to test out. Although I already have a stove, we purchased a JetBoil Sol Cooking System. It’s supposed to boil water quicker than my MSR MicroRocket and since Joe will be hiking the first 70 miles of my thru-hike with me, I figured we should try it out. It worked beautifully and I was ecstatic when I found out it had a push-button piezo igniter built in. Russ was ecstatic when he found out we were going to make hot mochas with it. I may have to steal it from Joe before he leaves the trail! We’ll see how it does when we cook a few meals with it. Since there were three of us, I ended up using my pot, however the JetBoil Sol has a separate stove burner top which allowed me to use the stove too while Joe was able to enjoy his mocha in the JetBoil cooking cup.
The other piece of gear I wanted to test was my Sawyer MINI Water Filter. I’ve actually used it before, but never to filter out water in the wild. As you can see from the picture above, we took a break on a bridge that traversed a good-flowing stream. Being that I only brought one liter of water for the hike, I needed to replenish my store. I fought through some tangled prickly bush to get to the water’s edge and with a little difficulty, filled my 64oz squeeze pouch. There’s definitely a trick to getting water into the pouch, but I think I now have this mastered. I pressed the water through the filter and voila! I had nice clean greenish water! What?! Yep. The water had a green tinge to it, not much, but definitely not a crystal clear constitution. If I had to describe what it looked like, I would say that if you were to mix 6 parts water to 1 part green Gatorade, that’s what you would get. The Sawyer filter is supposed to remove all harmful particulates, 99.99999% of all bacteria, and 99.9999% of all protozoa, so I had to trust it and drank the water. We all drank the water. We’ll now see if we get sick. I have since e-mailed Sawyer about the situation to see what they have to say.
The temperature was a balmy 34 degrees (I like it cold), however it was cold enough to aggravate what I think may be arthritis (actually, I think it may have been a combination of the cold and the rough terrain). I made the mistake of not wearing my baselayer on my bottom, which resulted in a frozen ass cheek as well as hip and knee pain a little more than halfway through the hike. I put on my knee braces when we stopped to make our mochas, but by that time, it was too late. I hobbled along with a knee that felt like a dagger was being plunged into the joint every step and soon the same happened with my hip. I took some Advil, which relieved the pain for a brief time, but never completely eliminated it. I will have to make sure that I always have plenty of Advil with me during my thru-hike and also be sure to be more diligent in preventing the pain from occurring in the first place.
On this trek, we had three GPS units recording every step. Russ had his iPhone and I had my iPhone as well as a Garmin GPSmap 62st. We performed various location checks as we went along and as always, my iPhone did not match the readings from Russ’ iPhone. This elicited some playful banter between us as to who was correct. I had the upper hand having two devices (my iPhone and GPS unit) that had the same readings. Russ refused to believe his iPhone was wrong all the way to the end.
Daylight started to wane, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to bust out our headlamps. Well, Joe and I resigned to the fact, but Russ was determined to not have to use it (I think he may be afraid of the dark). What was a pretty leisurely pace through the whole hike, quickened to a walking frenzy when we hit the 7 mile mark and the moon was rising.
“Only 7 miles, eh?”, I shouted ahead to Russ, who was so far ahead, he couldn’t even hear me.
Russ and I take jabs at each-other all the time, however this time Joe was the innocent bystander. It’s all good fun and if we didn’t feel like we were family, we might take offense to it.
When 7 miles became 8.2, I was glad it was over as I staggered to the car. Normally, 1.2 miles extra in a hike is not a big deal, however when each step becomes your personal hell, it’s a big deal. I’m sure I have many (many) more of these experiences when I am doing my thru-hike. Yay.