Geez is it me or is it already getting a bit dusty in here.
With every new year this blog gets another year older (Obviously), but I established this blog on New Years Day in Afghanistan in 2015 resolving to hike the Appalachian Trail the following year....as most readers have probally figured out by now, that didn't happen. Alot has happened though in this year despite the fact summiting Katadhin wasn't one of them.
Moving into 2017, I'm pledging to kick my savings and preperation for this undertaking into high gear and write about it here. Obviously I'm not the most active blogger...but you can't really blog if you're not doing anything. I'm hoping that will change and the pace of the prep and the blogs will increase as I march steadily towards 2018.
I am hoping to attend ATKO 2017 and have a few backpacking excursions as well as completing my 'peak bagging' along the Belknap Range. However you know what they say about the best laid plans...
- Wiki Out
Well since my original 'Money' post my saving towards the Trail has not improved much it's not really an issue yet, but something needs to be done to address it moving forward into next year otherwise I won't be able to make my desired start time of Spring 2018, it's a ways out but saving up ample Home Money and Trail Money takes time if you're not the Kardashians or whatever.
Anyways, to address this issue I have adopted a slow methodical saving strategy on top of my larger saving strategy. I'll talk about that in this post, as well as some silver lining news on the job front.
So obviously the bad news is saving for the hike has stagnated, I'm implementing some strategies to correct it, which is really important with Christmas coming up. Obviously, as previously stated, I will continue to dump money into the fund whenever I can, but I am now applying 'the Trail tax' to my daily life. This is certainly not a perfect system to save, but every little bit helps right?
Basically, I have examined my daily routine and found where a lot of 'extra' money goes coffee, breakfast, beer, ect. So basically if I consciously elect to have a glass of (free) water vs. a cup of coffee I go to my bank website and shift two dollars into my Trail account. Another example, is breakfast, if I decide on a Hummus cup (2 bucks) versus my normal Sandwich and home fries (5 bucks) I send that extra 3 dollars to my Trail account.
Each time I make this transfer (Props to my local hometown bank for allowing unlimited transfers, you da real MVP) I'm able to say. "Hey I just bought a mile on the Trail and got breakfast". This has been working well so far and I would definitely recommend it as a supplemental saving strategy.
Now for the good news! Yes there is good news, and it is that of Personal Holiday hours. What are those you ask? A beautiful politically correct way to handle the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas...and an employed potential Thru-hikers dream. Follow me here.
So my company used to have Christmas break, obviously this was probably problematic for the guy in facilities that wears a yamaka everyday, so their solution was to issue Holiday hours to every employee that they could take whenever they wanted every year. I just found out about these about a month out from their expiration date so I guess I'm gonna have a good Thanksgiving break, but moving forward this helps me in a few ways. Commence the bulleted list!
With all that said, it is definitely a positive that I have 90% of the gear I will need on a thru hike already purchased because of my failed 2016 ambitions, just like Harambe...they will not be forgotten. I am considering in March trying to make my way down to Springer for the Appalachian Trail Kickoff and to hike the Approach. This will be dependent on my ability to get off drill and get a few days off, we'll see. Tickets to fly down there seem cheap enough, and I could stay in tent city for cheap as well. Updates to follow I'm sure.
Ah yes, the long awaited sequel to my failed attempt at the End to End attempt of the Wapack Trail. That's right it's a full blown rematch....in the red corner we have the defending champion 'The Wapack Trail!'
"Well I gotta say John he sure doesn't look imposing, but in the right conditions he can sneak up on you."
"You're absolutely right Steve, weighing in at 21.4 miles with 4,850 ft of gain, it's not something to be taken lightly as a one day venture."
....AND in the blue corner, the challenger 'Jason "Wiki" O'Connell', a hiker with some solid experience behind him that faltered in his last encounter with the Wapack.
"I'm really feeling like Wiki needs to come prepared here John."
"I definitely agree Steve and I talked to his training staff they said he feels like he's got this. Also note...he came without a partner today, definitely a deviation from his past strategy."
"Well it worked for him on the Belknap Range Trail, it could work for him here."
I imagine that's what the commentary on the mythical sports casters (John and Steve....good TV names, easy to pronounce you know?) that provide commentary about my life would sound like when discussing the second attempt at the Wapack Trail I took this weekend.
First I want to cover a bit of history behind the trail...as I find that kind of stuff fascinating. The trail was originally conceptualized in 1922 and opened in 1923, meaning that this trail is more than 90 years old. Which if you have read my paper on the AT is quite a feat to have survived through WWII and still be a thriving trail today. The trail is meticulously maintained by the group 'Friends of the Wapack'
So why Wapack? Many folks (me included) may instantly assume this name was derived form a Native American name for the range, but it's actually name for it's two anchor mountains. Mt. WAtatic and North PACK Monadnock.
My last attempt failed mostly due to not being prepared for the level of ice that was on the ground only making it five miles through the Wapack Reserve on the Northern end of the trail, however after studying the maps a bit more I also noticed that there was not really any sort of water supply on the trail. Knowing I drink a lot of water I needed to figure that into my consumption not so much what I chose to carry. I decided to carry my entire backpacking setup as training for some other hikes I have coming up this year. The forecast was calling for 60 degree weather, which was colder than it has been but also not truly cold.
I took what is considered to be the 'traditional route' starting from the Wapack Wildlife Refuge parking lot on Old Mountain Road and travelling south to North Pack. The section that I had struggled on early in the Spring when it was covered in ice was a breeze, I flew to the top of North Pack where a woman was conducting a raptor migration watch. I talked for a bit as I ate some snackage and drank some water, donated a couple bucks to 'keep the watch going' and headed on my way.
Reaching the bottom of North Pack was fun, as it marked the start of trail I had yet to hike, but before I could leave the park I saw a sign that caused me to chuckle. 'Thru-Hikers please pay the Day Use fee at the Ranger Station'. I went over to the Ranger Station and it turns out being a veteran I didn't pay to enter the park, so I chose instead to donate a couple bucks and get back on trail. I crossed 101 and that's when the road walks began, there were quite a few road walks along this 21.4 mile route.
Using an access road I followed the Yellow Triangle blazes to the top of Temple Mountain I began hiking along the ridge there, with the occasional view of Mt. Monadnock in the distance. When I stopped for lunch I chatted on Facebook with some folks and found one of my Derby friends has been looking for a buddy to backpack with, Fall is upon us but there maybe another trip in my future.
Windblown XC Ski Area is very well marked and I never felt like I was going to be mis-directed like some blog posts suggested I might. Unfortunately after clearing the ski area my pace ground down to that of a snail. My feet had finally had enough and the pain shooting through them every time I put them down made it hard to press on. But I did, just far slower than before. I eventually arrived at the summit of Watatic leaving just my descent to the parking area.
Like Kelly, Ozone, and Turbo stars of 'Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo' my second hike along the Wapack was completely unnecessary, but at least it wasn't unwanted. The best part of the trail is definitely that North Pack Section north of 101, but I appreciated the rest of the hike as well regardless of the number of Doomsday Prepper Shelters I walked by or access roads I found myself on. The trail is wonderfully maintained by the Friends of the Wapack and it shows. That being said I dunno if you can expect a 'Wapack Trail: Tokyo Drift' post anytime soon.
The 21.4 mile distance is the longest I have ever hiked in a single twenty-four hour period, while getting more backpacking experience is important before I step out on the AT, knowing that I'm capable of big mile days if I need them (at least on relatively easy trail) will make me feel better at the beginning.
Remember kids, every sticker on your Nalgene is extra weight you have to carry...so make sure they are damn good stickers.
Also for those who follow the blog via Facebook, I haven't really been sharing 'The Ocho' Content there as the posts have been coming every now and then, so bounce over there and see what else has been going on in my life....or don't...you know.
Also feel free to comment down below, I'd love to know peoples thoughts on how the AT Prep blog is progressing.
Avg. Speed: 2.1 MPH
P.S. - Apologies about the lateness of this post...I did this hike 1 Month ago, but Graduate level Project Management Classes are the Devil.
I've been writing a lot lately for this blog (vs. The Ocho, which I've been slacking on), I haven't even posted all of the content that I've written to the point where I have to consciously look at the date stamp on the posts to make sure that I don't accidently post them before other content to make sure they are released in the proper order.
With that being said I've mentioned at the start of about every post in the past month that I've really began gravitating back to reading blogs and books, simply wanting to be out in nature and on the Trail. Obviously with my newfound responsibilities of a home and family (girlfriend and a dog, no babies here) it complicates an eventual jaunt on the AT immeasurably.
This coupled with my recent trip to the Whites has stretched my sanity a bit thin, as I often find it hard to get out and get on trail, any trail that is, because of my schedule. Also with the year drawing to a close the NOBO's of 2016 are finished or finishing and the SOBO's are well into their journey, but what has truly ground on me is the beginning of 2017 prep posts.
Why do they grind on me you may ask? Well it's mostly because I feel a sense of community with them, as I aspire to Thru-hike the AT and I have been dreaming and prepping since 2014 (only started blogging in 2015). This sense of community is quickly shattered when I think about how I'll simply just be digitally stalking these people again this year through their blog.
Having planned on hiking this year and having to follow those blogs, then deciding a 2018 attempt would be best for me. Having to do it again is a maddening thought right now and I am truly having a hard time explain why...though I'm sure I'll be happy as a clam in 2017 when the NOBO's start and I have new content to read, and I of course wish them all the best.
I have also been reading the wrap up posts of the 2016 Thru-Hikers that in some parallel universe would have been my trail family and what I thought was the most interesting and poignant thing I read was 'The Beginning will be the Hardest' from SealTree over on AppTrials and while he was talking about the first few weeks on the Trail (and trust me I'm sure he's right) I interpreted it a little differently and it got me thinking.
The beginning is definitely the hardest, the act of preparing and saving for a hike and then translating all the preparation you've done into the actual act of stepping off of Springer with the intention of being out on Trail for 4-5 Months hiking over two thousand miles. Prep is done close to home near the ones you love, while you work diligently at a job or school you may or may not hate, stepping away from that is hard.
What if your work won't keep you on when you get back, how will you pay your bills after the Trail?
What if a family member falls ill while you're in the massive dead zone of the 100 Miles Wilderness?
Questions like those are one of the reason I think the beginning of the Trail so hard, but what I have been doing is attempted to work on strategies to mitigate some of these fears. For example, working on having the option to attend an Army school in late 2018 relieves me of some fear of returning from my hike and my employer not wanting to take me back, as I will at least have a source of income.
So between the prep-posts for 2017 NOBO's and wrap-up posts for 2016 NOBO's we are entering into NOBOing off season which represents a dark time for us blog creepers, but things will be looking up soon come February. I'm also considering making some slight changes to my gear list, updates and testing on that front to follow. I am also considering trying to make it to GA for the ATKO in 2017 and hike the Approach as a long weekend vacation.
Lets face it, there is a dark side about thru hike planning that no one wants to talk about, trip financing. In the immortal words of Ted DiBaise a.k.a. 'The Million Dollar Man' "Money isn't everything. It's the only thing." Since electing to take what I had saved for the Trail and move in with my girlfriend finances are now about 8247% more complex then they would have been had I just taken a gap year from life between a real job and college.
While there's no reason to look back on that choice and shake my head, but it certainly has me scratching it contemplating how I am going to pay for my place AND a walk along the AT. The good news here is my job pays alright and has a good sabbatical policy, so I'll be able to take the time off and be able to return to work once I'm done.
The second bit of good news is that I already have about one thousand bucks saved up, however it always feels like two steps forward and one step back with saving as I feel like I'm always dipping into this money when unexpected expenses arise (a.k.a. - Shit I need new derby skates or Damn, the puppy has a vet appointment), despite that the account is slowly growing.
First lets Break it Down
When planning finances for a trip like this when you also have bills to pay means there needs to be two pools of money : Trail Money and Home Money.
I'll tackle the home money first as I think it's pretty simple: You have to save up enough for the length of you trip to cover all your bills and I'll tell you right now it turns out that is a pretty impressive amount when you assume it's going to be a four month stint in the woods. Fortunately my plan is to save up vacation time as my works policy is to force you to take vacation and personal time during a sabbatical, which works for me as it will mean I'll be getting paid for a bit while I'm on trail....so basically I can count every vacation hour saved as money saved which is great.
Obviously since everyone's situation is different if you are looking to this post for advice on managing bills while on the trail you wont find them here.
Now lets talk Trail Money
According to the AMC's FAQ about thru hiking they claim it costs about three grand to thru-hike. But of course on whiteblaze ( an AT hiking forum) answers range from two thousand to five, but the most commonly referred to piece of money related wisdom is count on two dollars a mile. What I also have decided to do is keep the money for the Trail in a separate account than regular savings/checking , this makes it just a bit harder to spend and get at.
This is how I will be planning to fund my trip meaning I will need around four thousand, five hundred bucks, in addition to the money I will need to keep my household up and functioning. The reason I've selected this is because despite what some bloggers and writers would have you believe (me included) this is basically an over glorified vacation. While on the trail I would like to treat it as such, so having money for the occasional local beer or motel room is important to me.
Also one of the reasons I am looking at that particular amount as my savings goal for Trail Money is I have a while to save it up. As much as I would like to be a Class of 2017'er I think that 2018 is simply more feasible for me for a few reasons, this gives me more time to save more money.
Start Date Talk
"What?!" You say "2018, not 2017! What is this madness, you have all the gear, you could probably get all the money saved up what's stopping you? I have to wait another full hiking season before I can read your trail musings. What the shit man?!"
Calm down my beloved reader (all one of you) there are some great reasons behind this decision and the first one is the subject of this very post. Money, while as I suggested above I could have the requisite amount of money in time for a 2017 Thru, it would greatly hamper me doing the things I like to do. Basically the extra year of saving will allow my quality of life to not change due to my hike planning, whereas if I was trying for 2017 I would have to cut lots of corners to make the ends meet to be able to hike.
The second reason, is school...yes, yes, yes I know I just graduated, but I was accepted into a fast paced Masters Program at Bay Path University. I have already completed my first 2 classes and have 10 left with the next round of two classes beginning at the end of August and two starting every other month following that. Planning for a 2018 thru will allow me to finish my degree path before I push off from Springer as opposed to stopping-out while I hike.
The third and final reason is that come the 2017 hiking season I will not really be that established at my job and I will still not have that much in the way of vacation time, whereas if I save up through 2017 that's vacation time is money made on the trail. In all honesty it breaks my heart to push this back again, but I truly believe it's for the best and will leave me more certain I'll be able to actually start this time, let alone finish.
Update - 8/25/2016: I realized I failed to mention in my savings plan that a 2018 start date will allow me to cover two tax seasons before I start the Trail, this will aide my savings immensely as that money will just go directly into the Hike Fund.