Hair Blog

Blogging is a self-indulgent activity to some extent. This probably goes beyond the norm. However, i do get what i find to be a surprising number of hair questions and comments, so here it is in pictures rather than my usual long-winded narrative (mostly).


I have used these either on here or on Facebook before. Sunshine is not a big fan of the photos. I still think what i thought then. She is beautiful and looks lovely in these pics. Check out that hair. I was so very envious.


I got a haircut in the fall of 1991. It was just a little trim to make my ponytail look ok for a stage performance. Only me and my cousin Kim cut my hair from then until 2004, when i got another trim before heading out on my first business trip to the Mid East.


Ah the sweet carefree days of college – the Metal Years.


I have shaved less than 30 times in my life. This was the last time. Who knows, it may remain the final time…


Glorious long hair living! (Swimming in December is awesome.)


And then there is this. I can’t be certain what exactly happened because a whole lot of whiskey and not a few beers were damaged in the making of this incident. I know i fell down – hard. There was no fight. There was no car or bicycle. I was alone in the basement, or possibly out back of my house. Broken arm (just barely not a broken shoulder), three broken ribs, and a nice shiner. Drinking is bad – at least the way i did it.




I had to wear that sling for a really long time and many things were simply not manageable.


The locks had to go.


This was given to Locks of Love.




Jennifer prettied me up!


The last time i came close to having Big Beard was when i got off the John Muir Trail two years ago.

Pre-trim 4/8/2014


Hikin' Hair
Hikin’ Hair

4/8/2014 12:30 am. Thus commences a period of (mostly) unrestrained hair action. Will my eyebrow and hairline finally meet? (Probably). Will my sideburns finally grow in? (Odds are not good.). Will my ear hair reach epically scary dimensions? (You bet!)
Y’all be good to each other and yourselves!

Physical preparation


Note – I am now operating via iPhone only. Bear with me folks.

A few people have asked me about physical conditioning. Some who have seen my daily itinerary have asked about my fitness to do an average of 25 miles a day over and over.

I feel good about my physical readiness for this trip. While I am a pretty active guy in general, I did some specific training to prepare for the PCT. I started in earnest in the spring of 2013. I began taking more and longer walks.

I live in a small town in Lancaster County, PA. This is farm country with nothing but rolling hills in every direction. We don’t have a ton of elevation change on any one hill. 300 feet is not a bad estimate of the average change. But there are generally at least 2 of these rolling hills in every mile. Several US cycling teams train in the area.

It did take me a while to get used to walking without having a canine companion, but I adjusted. I found a few circuits that I enjoy that do not require any driving. These are my favorite kind of hikes. Just walk out your door and go. I started doing a 13 mile loop with a 20 pound pack at least once a week and more often when I had the time. I would finish the circuit in about 4 hours including several short rest stops and usually a 15-30 minute stop to read and reflect in a beautiful gazebo.

I used these walks not just for conditioning but for gear tests. I tried out several pairs of pants, shirts, hats, and socks until I found the gear that really works for me.

I started running again after I quit smoking last November. Once December hit and the cold really set in, I joined a gym and kept running inside. From December 7th to early March, I only skipped three days. I ran (or hit the elliptical) for at least 1 mile every day. Most days it was 3-6 miles, and I kept an 8 minute mile pace on average.

In January, I started with a weight training program as well. Nothing too intense or extensive but the 30 minute machine circuit at my gym hits all/most major muscle groups and is a great place to start for anyone who has never done weights before. I did that every other day.

Despite the wicked cold and lots of snow, I still went hiking on some of my favorite woodsy trails at least twice a month through the winter. I hiked when it was 12 degrees, old snowpack in the woods, and fresh snow falling. I would take a 20 pound pack and hike 6-12 miles depending on the conditions.

The past few weeks I left the elliptical behind and went back to the treadmill to get my feet used to the pounding again and my body to walking instead of running or elliptical-ing. I set the incline for maximum, and the pace at 4 mph and rocked out for a solid hour. Sometimes I would do another 15 or 20 minutes but most days I would begin my cool down after the hour.

When I combine the past 12 months of physical conditioning and gear testing with my prior experience hiking big days in the Grand Canyon or Mt Humphreys in Flagstaff and completing the John Muir Trail through the Sierras – I feel confident.

None of this is to say that everything will be rosy. Some days will be hard. I just mean that I am really comfortable and confident with the capabilities of my body, my gear, and my mind.

I am ready. Let’s do this!



The magical manzanita forest at Casa de Luna. It will be interesting to see how much greenery is here when I am back in a few weeks…

Ramble Bits ©

Fair Warning for new readers – this is only PCT adjacent. If you just came for hikin’ talk, this probably isn’t for you. Feel free to hit the categories or the search options to find some hikey goodness! – Disclaimer Ends.

After about a month of staying up until 3 ish working on plans and general preparations and getting up between 5 and 9, I am almost back onto a hiker’s sleep cycle. In bed between 8 and 10. Up about 5. The next two nights, who knows. My brain is in a bit of a revolt the past week and i have not been able to muster the fortitude to keep it on track. I am even having trouble listening to my audiobook because there are too many thoughts in there and i don’t stay settled. I know this is temporary, and it has been nice for me listening to more music! Though it may be freaking the other folks at my gym out a little bit. When i am in the moment with the tunes, it is all i can do not to sing – but the dancing, air guitar, and head banging cannot be stopped m/. I actually have Rock Neck today from yesterday’s workout.

Casa de Luna (Joe's House) July 2012
Casa de Luna (Joe’s House) July 2012

I expect that my time in LA at Joe’s house will be a further aid to getting back onto a hiker’s schedule as well as finally giving me more hands-on time with my gear. I have only pitched my new tent twice and have never slept in it.  I know this is less than ideal, and it was definitely not the plan. But it is a good reminder that our plans seldom stand up to actual life for very long. I can’t wait to see Joe and Terrie and be in Green Valley again sleeping in the Magical Manzanita Forest! I plan to do a little hiking and might check out the path up to the aqueduct. I will probably hike out to the oasis as well. I expect that there could be some disc golf in my near future!!

Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe
Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe

My head is so very full of stuff to write about that it is difficult to pick a starting place. I may need to resort to the old outline and bullet point system for a bit to track the very divergent tales. One recurring issue that i have never figured out how to address is dealing with stories that are an integral part of my life but that may not really be mine to tell – or at least not in sufficient detail. Aside from the ownership of events, an admittedly not insurmountable obstacle, there is the impact on others to consider as well. In that regard i am more concerned about the business implications of full disclosure – which is why you have heard very few stories about my time in Doha and Thiruvananthapuram.

Me and Emily - June 30, 1996
Me and Emily Campbell (oldest niece)

Business and matters of the heart – how do you write about stuff without really writing about it? I have no idea. Maybe i am no good at writing that way because i am also no good at all at living that way. With everyone in my life, i always want to get to the point past all the surface crap, where you can be the real you without your defenses up.* Where you don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or causing offense because you have and trust the good feeling you share and because you know that you can work through miscommunications. I am an “all-in” kind of guy and i prefer to spend my time with people who are also “all-in”.  If you are not already nodding your head and saying “yes brother man, i get you”, i offer these simple examples. For me, the best example is the behavior of dogs. Dogs and their bipeds, dogs and each other, dogs and other animals. You always know where you stand with a dog. You know if they want to do what you want to do or if they are just going along because they like to be with you. You know when they miss you. You know when they would rather just nap by the fire. You know when they don’t like you and to what degree. You know when they do like you and to what degree. The other example i offer for those of you who are not well versed in dog is children. I don’t know kids as well as dogs, but i have spent a goodly time with many a youngster and there are some similarities. In that magical time before the conscious brain takes over, maybe it is before self-consciousness (not self-awareness now, that is something else), they leave it all right out in front of you. I like this. I don’t like that. I like you. That guy is scary. Let’s cuddle up and take a nap. I need a hug. I wish she/he would play with me. All of it just right out there in the open. I think that is a great way to live and i deeply mourn that so many of us lose this ability as we age.

Emily and Rachel
Rachel and Emily

Is there a line between boldness and stupidity? Evidence indicates that there is. I am finally pretty clear that such a thing exists. I am even getting better at locating it and abiding by it in business. But for other aspects of life, i am still not very good at these distinctions. I wanna live bravely, boldly, and in the open. I do manage that most of the time, the rough spots generally occur with “new” folks. I don’t know how much of this is normal and how much may be related to having a natural bias towards addiction – If one is good, more must be better. If once was good, all the time has to be the best, right? I am getting pretty good about controlling my relationship to substances, but i can get hooked on people too. How do you know what is really your heart and what is just some crazy expletive that the really freaky diseased part of you is excited about? Stupid heart never checks in with brain anyway. I  don’t know what that guy is up to half the time. But i do recognize him as one of mine because of how he goes about loving what he loves and that he wants to do it all Super Size!

Now that this post is firmly lost in the tall grass, it is probably time to stop.

I should have a more PCT related post coming in the next day or so about physical preparation!

Rock On Peeps. Be Bold. Live fully. Try not to hide!


* I am not saying that i always get to this magical place with everyone, but it is my goal, and i tend to spend more time and have longer relationships with folks when we DO get to the point where we are free to be ourselves without any worries or psychic baggage.

Stuff and Things 96-97 96-97

Howdy folks. It is getting pretty exciting round these parts. I am leaving in a week. I am thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and really jazzed up and a little scared. One of my new hiking friends and i were talking a bit about fear/anxiety. I shared a thought with her. This is not my original concept, just something i have heard from many sources and that i draw strength from at times. Bravery and courage do not imply an absence of fear. To be brave, to act with courage, is to be afraid and to carry on despite your fear.

I am practicing with a few acts of bravery here in PA 🙂

G+L+N 2003

The previously endless task list is no longer endless and all the big chunks are done. There are still a few things to tend to. If you are as “particular” as i am, there are always more things to do. All the resupply boxes are packed, addressed, and ready to ship out. I have a stockpile of backup food prepared in case i need to have my mail drop angel Liz adjust my portion sizes. I have two boxes of backup gear packaged and labeled for easy identification in case stuff breaks, wears out, or i want something else once i am out there doin’ it.

I filed and paid my taxes. I enrolled in a health insurance program. I got my booster shots both for regular USA life and for almost definite international business travel that will commence as soon as i return to everyday life after the hike (Tetanus and a Typhoid booster). My car is at the doctor’s office getting a new lung so that it will be ready for my folks to use in my absence.

I got some great tent repair tools from the maker of my new tent and have patched the hole i inadvertently made in the rainfly the second time i ever set up the tent. This kit includes a very lightweight device that will preclude the same kind of incident occurring again.

My desktop since 2006
My desktop since 2006

All of that necessary surface stuff aside – there have been some interesting emotional shifts and other reflections during this time of preparation. I look back at the years of drinking and smoking and continue to wonder how and why i lived that way at all, and for so long. There are so many great benefits for me in being sober and an ex-smoker. (I can never be a non-smoker. Even if i thought that it was possible for that title to apply to a former smoker, which i do not, Bill Hicks would crawl out of his grave, join Facebook, and become my friend – just so that he could unfriend me for applying that label to myself. No one wants that.) I will be 5 months smoke free on Friday, but i don’t really feel any different. That does not make me want to smoke again. I love not smelling terrible (or at least not terrible in THAT way). Many people have commented that it should be much easier to hike now. I don’t feel that. I don’t know if not enough time has passed, or if it has more to with me just having a very large lung capacity and staying active even when i was about 40 pounds overweight. I like not smoking. I like not spending the money i used to spend on cigarettes!

The not drinking has many more tangible, immediate, and longer term effects. One of the biggest things for me is that i am not depressed anymore. After living in a constant state of at least mild depression with several rather severe swings into deeper dark places – i have not even really been sad since i quit drinking, and it feels great. Aside from an initial few weeks of changing body chemistry, i sleep so well now. I fall asleep easier and actually sleep all through the night. What a great change that is. Having good sleep alone has probably helped reshape my attitude into the happy sunny guy you all know and love those days 😉 (Yes, i used to be even grumpier. Don’t you wish you knew me then?) I am still me, still have my own ticks, and tendencies, but i let more stuff go now. I am hanging on to less. I do still bottle things inside and am far more likely to channel emotions inside to try to understand and control them rather than just letting them run free – but i am doing it less.

A final thought to keep this “brief” and not spiral into a super lengthy introspective ramble – an unexpected correlation between long distance hiking and sober time. Many guide books offer the advice that if your goal is to thru hike a long distance trail like the PCT, you have to expect some changes out there due to fires, floods, landslides, mudslides, endangered species, and other factors. However you do choose to surmount these difficulties, the key is to walk a continuous foot path from start to finish. You don’t want to have to say, “i hiked the whole PCT, except for that bit near Idyllwild because of the …”. I understood this immediately, both what they were trying to say and why it might be important, particularly in your own memory and in talking with other hikers.

My buddy
Me and Lucas at Mickey and Max’s House – 2011

I quit drinking (this time) in January of 2013, just a few days after finding out that one of my dear friends and mentors who also struggled with depression and addiction killed himself by hanging. But on April 14th, 2014, the day i will start my thru hike attempt, i will be 6 months sober. That is because i chose to drink last October. It was something of an experiment. I didn’t go crazy or shirk my duties or anything – but i did drink for several days. I am glad i did it. If only to know that i don’t need to ever run that test again. I hated it. I was so very disappointed in myself for doing it. I had to make sure that i made a few public statements about it so that i would not have a bunch of my supportive friends trying to wish me a “happy one year sober” in January of 2014 that i did not earn. I don’t declare that i have been sober for a little over a year except for that little incident in October. That would sound and feel false and wrong to me. I don’t want to have a similar thing with my thru hike. I am not a purist in the sense of “every possible mile of the PCT must be walked”. There are several alternate routes that are not mandatory, they just take you to different sites and i am really excited about hiking those paths. For me, those alternates do not break my chain of thru hiking the PCT. Skipping sections in a car or something like that – something that does break the concept of walking a path all the way from Mexico to Canada – that would violate my personal goal. So, i get what they are saying and i am on board!

I am not judging the choices others make. That is their decision and their lives. You go out have the hike that you want to have. This one is mine.

PS – i keep meaning to write about music and m/ METAL m/ but i just have not had the time. And yes, those issues are timely and hike related! My new buddy Minda and i have a lot of common musical tastes, though as of yet, she has not found any Metal that works for her and we have been talking about metal. I wanted to write a bit about it and explain what it is about Metal that appeals to me. It may not be what you think…

Anywho – be well folks.

Rock On!

PPS – i have written about my dogs throughout this blog and i am sure i will again. With the anniversary of both of them passing – Guthrey at the end of March in 2004 and Lucas 03/30/2012 – my company getting really active in the MidEast again (which happened right after Guthrey died), and me going to hike in California again (i hiked the JMT a few months after Lucas passed) it has been on my mind. I miss my buddies every single day. No day is really harder than any other. But i am feeling it quite a bit right now.


Gear List – PCT 2014

Hi Folks! It has been awhile. I hope you are well. Aww thanks, me too! How is the family? The kids? Great, great, good to hear.

Holtwood Dam 3/22
Holtwood Dam 3/22

I have been super duper ultra busy the past few months getting ready for this hike – working on the plans, buying the last minute gear, figuring out my resupply strategy and buying food, packing boxes, testing gear and replacing a few items, and doing my real job, and working with my favorite volunteer group Lancaster Young Professionals. I have been the acting event chair for a gubernatorial debate to be held this October and had many tasks to finish up as well as finding and briefing/training my replacement. Work at RAI has exploded with opportunities, which is good, but the timing is problematic. My dad and I have gamed out as many scenarios as we can, done lots of contract work, and created plans for many different possible futures. Yesterday and today we have been doing all the last minute stuff before he gets on a jet to the MidEast. Normally, i would be going with him, but we both decided it made sense for me to continue on with my plan and let him run with the ball solo for a bit. Potentially missing some of the early stages of the pending business development just means i lose the right to complain about how things are set-up when i get back 🙂 I have also had to wear my tech hat quite a bit getting my dad up to speed on a new computer, introducing an iPad into our workflow, and preparing my mom to be as tech savvy as possible during the research portion of her sabbatical. That’s my paragraph long update and excuse – now to business!

Humbled receiving LYP's Humanitarian Award
Humbled receiving LYP’s Humanitarian Award 3/20 – Photo Credit: Melissa Engle Photography

If you research lightweight hiking, or ultra lightweight hiking, you will find loads of information and many, many gear lists. I get frustrated reading some gear lists. How one approaches hiking and gear selection can be deeply personal and i am not trying to change anyone’s mind about their process. But it does irk me to see so very many gear lists trumpeting Base Pack Weights (all gear and supplies except food and water) at or under 12 pounds that are about 15-20 items long. Any hiker can read those and know, there is tons of small stuff left off of those lists. Small stuff adds up. If you are taking the time to weigh your stuff and make and publish lists, just be real about it. That is my feeling. With that said, here is my actual, no expletive around, gear list.

Base Pack Weight without Bear Canister = 16.17 pounds
Base pack Weight with Bear Canister = 18.73 pounds

The Big Three Description Weight Oz.
Pack Gossamer Gear Mariposa 28.00
Sleeping Bag Z Packs 20 Wide XL with sack 22.70
Sleeping Pad Neo Air X Lite 12.70
Liner Homemade Silk 6.40
Tent, stakes, Stuff sack Tarptent Contrail 29.30
Totals – Ounces   99.10
Totals – Pounds   6.19
Kitchen Description Weight Oz.
Stove Pocket Rocket w/case 3.95
Lighter Bic Mini 0.40
Fuel Can Large Full MSR 227 g canister – 13.2 oz 13.20
Pot SP TI 600 w/lid 3.50
Spoon Yogi Orange 0.20
Cup Sea to Summit X Mug 2.20
Drying Cloth Cut Micro Towel 0.20
* Bear Can BV 500 40.95
Totals – Ounces   64.60
Totals – Pounds   4.04
Water Description Weight Oz.
Bladder/Hose Platypus Hoser 1L 3.15
Bottles 1L powerade 1.70
Reservoir Platypus 2 L 1.75
Reservoir MSR 4L 4.30
* Filter – Sawyer Squeeze Mini 16 oz Bag, filter, and Backflush tool 4.15
Purification Aquamira full 3.10
Water gear bag StoS XXS 0.40
Totals – Ounces   18.55
Totals – Pounds   1.16
Clothes in Pack Description Weight Oz.
Socks – Hiking second pair Smartwool PHD Run Mini Light Cushion M 1.65
Long Underwear tops Cap 2 Large 5.65
Long Underwear Bottoms Patagonia Cap 2 Medium 4.90
shorts Nike black with white stripe 4.00
Rain Jacket Marmot 13.55
* Rain Pants EMS (11.6 oz)
Balaclava Army 1.50
Down Jacket Golite 6.75 6.75
Hat Army Watchcap 1.25
Gloves Cheap cotton garden gloves 1.60
Camp Shoes Crocs – size 10 14.00
Bag for clothes gossamer gear poly sack 1.35
Totals – Ounces   56.20
Totals – Pounds   3.51
Incidentals/Emergency Description Weight Oz.
Whistle Fox 40 Sharx 0.45
Compass Burton Classic 1.25
Headlamp/main light Photon Light w/necklace 0.25
Kindling Sol Tinder Quik 0.05
Emergency fire starter Matches in Waterproof case 0.90
Skin Repair Super Glue x 2 0.45
repair kit/q-tips/earplugs sewing/gear tape/qtips/ear plugs 0.60
Tick Key Tick Key 0.15
Soap Dr Bronners 0.55
nail clippers toe 1.55
Microcloth – personal towel Cut up 0.55
Rope 2 mm 30 ft plus cord wrap 0.50
Headnet Sea to summit 0.90
Bandanna Lucas and PCT Class 2.20
Notebook/Pencil/Zip From Marie 1.70
iPhone 5S with lifeproof 5.35
charge cords 1 Lightning 1 mico usb 0.90
usb charge block Anker 5 port 8.45
Camera lumix DMC-ZS20 7.40
external battery Anker 6000 4.70
more cords camera 1.30
Headphones Sony DREX61IP 0.45
Tooth Kit brush/paste/floss/zip 2.00
Sunblock Sport 1 OZ 1.30
Watch Small w/band 0.60
Lip Stuff Bert’s Bees 0.25
Knife Swiss Army small 0.75
Maps HalfMile Sections per food drop 3.00
Summit Backpack Stuff Sack Sea to Summit 2.60
bags/Zips camera zip 0.25
bags/Zips anker hub/bat/cords zip 0.25
bags/Zips StoS XXS drawstring emergency 0.45
Totals – Ounces   52.05
Totals – Pounds   3.25
Toilet Kit Description Weight Oz.
Trowel GSI 2.95
Hand Sani 2 oz container 2.35
Triple Antibac-cream Equate hydro 1.00
Wipes MYO 10-pack from bulk pack 2.15
Trash bag 1 quart freezer zip 0.20
Toilet Gear Bag StoS XXS Drawstring 0.45
Totals – Ounces   9.10
Totals – Pounds   0.57

* items: Bear Can – only need for around 300 miles through the Sierras
Water filter – may send home after the desert, may keep whole hike
Rain Pants – i will not carry these for the ~1,700 miles of California. Might mail them to myself in OR or WA, might not. Never seen or heard of comfortable rain pants. Mine certainly are not. I kinda figure that i am planning to walk outside for 4-5 months, sometimes i might get wet.

Not part of Base Pack Weight Calculations, but important gear none-the-less:

Not in Pack Description Weight Oz.
Hike Pants EcoMesh pants w/belt 12.00
Hike Shirt Patagonia Cap 1 Large 6.75
Hike Socks Smartwool PHD Run Mini Light Cushion M 1.70
Hike Hat Tilley 3.80
Sunglasses Ironman Triatholon 1.10
Poles w/duct tape Leki Khumbu 21.00
Shoes Merrel Moad Vent (10 W) 34.50
Gaiters Dirty Girl Large 1.10
Insoles Super feet green E 3.90
Totals – Ounces   85.85
Totals – Pounds   5.37

There may be some other gear write-ups later, but there may not. Let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything you would like to know more about.

If you made it this far down the page, shouldn’t you get a little reward? Of Course! How about a short little movie combing still pics and video from this weekend’s hike near Holtwood Dam?

Family Hiking

My dad has been interested in my preparations for the PCT, and told me that he would like to go on some more hikes together. After we hiked Kelly’s Run to The Pinnacle (pics here) he was excited to do more trips. When i have time for overnight or gear shakedown hikes i head out to the AT and hike south. It is great to hike anywhere outside of rocky PA, and my last AT hike stopped just about ten miles outside of Shenandoah National Park. My family spent a lot of time in SNP when i was just a wee lad. I can remember park rangers teaching us how to walk like “indians” through Big Meadows, and many other trips. My dad told me that he wanted to do some overnight hiking with me and was very excited about the opportunity for us to return to SNP together, and to do it in the winter when the crowds would be quite thin and the views would be unlike anything you would see in the Park at any other time of year.

Kelly's Run
From “P” blue loop clockwise to orange to first camera to white to second black to orange to blue clockwise back to “P”. Gotta love PA!!

To facilitate that, we have to outfit him with some gear. That meant that he got his own section in my incredibly dorky but highly useful gear spreadsheet. We loaded a pack for him, using much of the actual gear he would need to carry on an overnight, and headed out to Holtwood Dam for a 12 mile shakedown hike. Including 3 liters of water, Vance was carrying 25.3 pounds when we left the car. I like the area near Holtwood, on the west side of the Susquehanna. There are lots of rhododendrons and streams and very very few other hikers – even during peak times. I have hiked around here many times, but there are three trips that stand out and i have made movies for you from the pics and video shot on those hikes.

Map of Holtwood Hikes
Hike 1 = Green to Green, Hike 2 = Red to Red, Hike 3 = Blue to Blue

Hike 1 = My first long hike here with Luacs in 2011 (7:50)
Hike 2 = Mother’s Day hike with Mom and Dad in 2013 (2:47)
Hike 3 = Shakedown hike with Vance in 2014 (7:55)

It was a cold day, but it is such a beautiful hike and we had fun. Vance handled the weight and the mileage very well. After that hike, he had a new appreciation for my anal approach to tracking weight and was eager to lose some pack pounds wherever possible. We have since changed things up, pulling or swapping out some gear and clothes. I also have a few more pieces of gear on order and a few yet to buy. We are looking at our first SNP hike to begin in late February and are both really excited about it!

Vance with full pack
Vance with full pack
Nick and Vance
Nick and Vance

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 3

West Virginia Vista
West Virginia Vista

Critter Conclusion:
In addition to the many deer i mentioned, i also saw a gang of turkeys towards the end of Day 2! It was getting dark and they were across a little valley, but i saw them take off from the ground and fly into some trees. There were maybe 12 of them. Again – no pics. I wasn’t worried about spooking them. But with the light and the distance, i did not think the odds of a clear pic were very good. And i was really tired and hoping to make it to camp before dark.

Pack Weight:
Things have changed in Backpacking since my youth. It is scary to think back on the things we learned when i was in the scouts. We carried hatchets, raw potatoes, canned goods, all kinds of weird heavy stuff. We would carry fresh fruits – lots of apples – and chuck the remains into the forest to decay naturally. None of that stuff matches up with today’s principles, and in many cases, rules and laws. We will have to come back to Leave No Trace principles later, because that it is important, but it is not gear review or Pack Weight.

Big Pack 1
Big Pack 1

My buddy Poppa Joe shared a quote that sums the whole thing up nicely: “The fun goes up as the weight goes down.” Warner Springs Monte

The lighter your pack, the easier it is on your body. The lighter your pack, the less crap you have with you in the woods – hopefully lending to a simpler experience with more time spent in the moment than fussing over gear. I have been gear obsessed for the least few years. I have two scales for weighing gear and several spreadsheets with products and weights and links to reviews and comparisons. In addition to simply enjoying good gear, i do all this now so that i won’t have to think about it in the woods.

Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)
Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)

Once i wanted to get beyond weekend trips, i started like most other beginners (experience not age), with about a 60 pound pack. You get in the woods a little bit, talk with some other hikers, buy a few different things and get your weight down below 40 pounds. This is still way too heavy. I did make a few changes, mostly buying a new pack, and got my Base Pack Weight (BPW)* near 30 pounds before i hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012. Things were better, but i discovered that this was still way too heavy. Almost everyone I met on that hike was thru-hiking the PCT and they ALL had these tiny packs.

* There is not a truly consistent standard for calculating BPW. The concept is that your BPW should be the weight of everything NON-Consumable in your pack. But how that gets interpreted varies. Do you include or exclude your water treatment drops, or vitamins, or toilet paper/wipes/hand sanitizer, or sunscreen, or stove fuel, or, or… Many folks, me included, tend to use BPW for everything but food and water. I like this system. It is easy to understand, replicate, and provides a useful standard for comparison.

From my talks with experienced long-distance hikers and other research, my goal is to get my BPW as close to 15 pounds as possible. It can be easy for someone new to backpacking to get set-up with a lightweight kit. It can be more difficult for experienced hikers to drop pack weight. There are many things that you can buy, but you really need to learn how to challenge ALL of your preconceptions. This has been a fun and enlightening process. Why do i have so many zip locks? Why are these things in this bag? How you keep your gear and spare gear organized at home does not have to be the same way you organize your gear in your pack. Without making very many new purchases, but focusing on analyzing my behaviors, i got my BPW for this hike to about 22 pounds! That is over 8 pounds lighter than my JMT kit, and included some winter specific gear that will not be in my PCT pack!

Check out how small Joe's pack is.
Check out how small Joe’s pack is.

My master gear spreadsheet, where i am tracking my PCT gear, includes gear that i do not yet have but which i have decided to purchase for sure, and has very few holes which represent items still under debate: will i take this or not, will i get this brand or that brand, etc. This spreadsheet is tracking two BPW numbers: with and without a Bear Canister. Many sections of the PCT require hikers to use a bear canister. I am thinking about carrying one the whole trip. Most people only carry one where it is strictly required. I like the bear canister. It is simple and effective, and it works against every critter, not just bears.

Very few people actually know how to effectively hang food out of the reach of bears. Even if you do know how, there are not many places that present the correct configuration of trees to oblige you. If you do have the knowledge, and nature does provide the correct availability and spacing of trees, this system does nothing to prevent squirrels, mice, possums, and any other kind of critter that can climb or fly from getting your food. Given all that, why wouldn’t people carry a bear canister all the time? They weigh about 2.5 pounds.

Joe is sitting on a Bear Can
Joe is sitting on a Bear Can

My heavy number, BPW with bear canister, is down to 17.9 pounds. I am at 15.4 without the bear can. We will see as i continue to fill the few holes in my list. I project that when the list is complete, i will be at about 19 pounds BPW w/Bear can. And that is why i think i am going to replace the tent i just replaced. I can lose about 2 pounds switching from my current free-standing tent to an ultralight single-wall tent that uses one or both of my hiking poles as the support structure. More on tents another time.

That is a quick look at pack weight. There will probably be more later. As i get closer, i am sure i will do a complete inventory series as well.

Feel free to let me know if there is anything specific you would like to learn about.

Rock On!

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 1

If you think it has been a long time since my last blog entry, consider this – until last week, I had not spent the night in the woods since March!

Camp 11/19/13
Camp 11/19/13

November 19-21st I continued walking south on the Appalachian Trail to get out of town, get into the woods, and shakedown some new gear. My last hike was about 42 miles, going from the Pennsylvania/Maryland State line to Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry is the “spiritual” midpoint of the AT and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which coordinates trail-wide issues and maintains the registry of thru-hikers, among other things.

For this hike, I picked up where I left off and walked about 48 miles from Harpers Ferry south to the intersection of the AT and Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia. There will be some trail tales mixed with varying degrees of detail on the new gear items, but i will hit you with a summary of the good right up front.

  1. I had a great time and was knocked out by the simple beauty of the woods, the critters, and the sounds.
  2. I was much warmer than my last trip!
  3. My pack was much lighter than my last trip. (For those who know about these things, 22 BPW, 32 fully loaded with fuel, food, and 4 Liters of water. For those who do not have a firm handle on BPW and related issues, we will get into it. Many details and charts about gear weight are in our future!)
  4. The new gear performed well. I am an official convert to alcohol stoves!! (Much more on this later.)
  5.  I was able to meet or beat my expected pace. “Speed” as such, is irrelevant to me and my goals in the woods. But, when planning a 2,600 mile, five month walk in the woods (which is what i am doing getting ready for a thru-hike of The Pacific Crest Trail) knowing how long it will take you get from one re-supply spot to the next is rather important.
  6. I do still need to get my pack weight down. (I have most of that process figured out and just need to continue to earn the funds to replace some gear.)
  7. Though the total mileage is similar between the two trips, the daily output differed. In March, over three days i walked roughly 10 miles, 16 miles, and 16 miles. This trip i walked about 10 miles, 21 miles, 17 miles.
  8. I need to get back on the stick with my core exercises!! I was a little more sore than expected at the end of the trip. Most of the soreness was obviously pack related – hips and shoulders where the straps make the most contact and focus much of the pack’s weight. Some of that gets easier just as you go. But much of it will be cured by carrying a lighter pack. For the rest, being in better shape will definitely help.


Mini-chat on pack weight – contents for this hike
Patagonia Capilene Base layers – general, 1 vs 2, 2 vs Under Armour
Hydration: Bladders – Camelbak vs Platypus and Gatorade Powder vs the new fancy tabs
Backpacking and Cooking – stoves/systems/fuels, fuels, and pots

There may be more, but that is all i can foresee at the moment. Rock On!

*Product Disclaimer – i have no sponsors and receive no gear free or discounted. All product reviews reveal my unvarnished opinions. I will provide links when we get into specific products, as a courtesy to you, dear reader.

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