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.
Honestly I knew this would happen, even though I like my new job and once my finances are in order I'll be able to thru hike, it is a bit soul stealing. I have definitely found myself gravitating more towards reading Trail Journals and Appalachian Trials, I am returning to the same longing-for-the-trail rut that I was in before I left on deployment.
This was made a bit worse by my recent vacation to the Lakes Region. Walking the Flume Gorge in the Whites had me stop and think while I was staring up at Mt. Liberty. 'If I had started in February I'd be done, if I had started a bit later I could be right there.' The emotions this concept brought out in me made me realize I still have a true aspiration to hike the length of the AT.
All that being said, this is not a post about my feelings...it's a post about a walk I took through the Belknap Range.
I covered this briefly in my post 'Planning and Shamming' but I was turned onto the Belknap Range Trail (BRT) by my mom who wrote about the hiker patch for one of her classes. It is a 12.2 mile End-to-End trail which takes you across 8 of the 12 peaks needed to score the Belknap Range Hiker patch, and I love hard earned bits of thread (see: GoRuck Challenge)
So true to my initial plan I woke up at 0500 sharp (quickest I've woke up in a while) and drove to the parking lot for Mt. Major which was honestly just down the road from where we were staying on Lake Winnipesauke. I made this trek on the last day of vacation after doing quite a bit of swimming the day before while 'floating' down the Merrimack River, to drag peoples tubes back into formation in the current. So my legs were already pretty smoked and I really started to feel it as I pushed off from the Mt. Major parking lot at around 0530.
The climb up Major is a pretty simple one, but with my legs burning as they woke up to the notion of more physical activity today, it was a bit more painful than it would have been otherwise. Upon reaching the summit I was greeted with an amazing view of the surrounding lakes, which I stopped for a pack off break after screaming up the trail as I sent summit photo to my girlfriend at 0610.
I packed back up and got back underway listening to my iPod the whole way, while I appreciate being out in nature and love listening to the sounds of the birds and wind sometimes the soothing sounds of DMX and Slayer are just what a hiker needs (or the score to the Lord of the Rings movies that make you feel like you've been transported to the Shire). Which brings forward the question I pondered as I walked toward Mt. Anna.
Who barks more DMX or the Baha Men?
Right? You can't call it....and neither can I.
Anyways, most of summits in between Mt. Major and Mt. Klem were a blur, there was no fan fair or in some cases no signs...if there are no signs is it still a summit? Coming down from Mt. Klem the BRT hooks around Round Pond before the ascent to Belknap Mountain. Most of the trails had been pretty easy up until this point and there was a rough rock scramble to get to the summit of the highest peak in the range.
On top of Mt. Belknap is a Fire Tower that my Mom used to hike trash out for, she tells me the man that manned the tower in her day enjoyed anchovies. She told me her cloths and equipment would reek of fish for about a week after making a trip like this. The fire tower still stands there today and is featured on the Belknap Range Hiker Patch.
From just below the summit of Belknap you can see the top of the ski lift on Gunstock, at this point it was about 1000 and I had most of the trail behind me. The last remaining mountains are Gunstock and Rowe. The hike between Gunstock and Belknap is quick, on the top of Gunstock I shared odd glances with a bunch of people standing in line to use the zipline. I imagine they were laughing at me for having to walk down the mountain and I'm laughing at them thanks to South Park.
After sending a photo of the top of the ski lift to my folks and my girlfriend, I pressed onto Mt. Rowe on Ridge Trail. This was probably the easiest section of the hike that was mostly a gradual downhill path to the summit of Rowe which featured the lamest completion point of any hike ever, a post at the end of the trail that terminates into a radio tower and an access road, if it wasn't for the notion of beer at the bottom of the access road I would strongly recommend people hike this path the opposite way I did as it will end on Major which has the best views of any of the summits, though it might make for some challenging descents over the course of the trail.
I walked down the access road (falling 3 separate times due to the steep grade and loose gravel) past the under construction mountain coaster and into the outdoor patio bar known as 'The DropZone' I guess this is where the ziplining adventurers drink. I got a Tuckerman's Pale Ale and the aptly named Summit Nachos while I waited for my ride to come and regaled the bartender with my hike after she seemed impressed someone would walk 12.2 miles from Major to her bar (it's not impressive, I've heard some people walk 2,180 miles)
In short, it was a great hike and I would recommend it for an easy day trip for no other reason other than to get on your way to your Belknap Range Trail Hiker Patch. Also, since I was sending summit photos to my parents and they said 'We're following you on the map!' I think it's about time I got my SPOT GPS beacon up and running if I am going to be doing a Presidential Traverse soon, so my folks can follow me online.
Time: 6 Hours
Avg. Speed: 2.03 MPH
I am back from vacation, with that return comes the not so stunning realization that the star-dusty sheen has worn off my new job and I have returned to spending much of my work day staring into the abyss and reading trail journals of thru hikers. Don't get me wrong I knew this moment would come I just wish it hadn't come so soon.
Fortunately my vacation offered me a respite from all of this as well as an opportunity to get out on some trails myself. I even ended up getting in an uphill walk close to the AT in with my girlfriend, which was more than I was expecting to get over the course of my vacation.
Uphill walking? You mean hiking right?.....no, I mean uphill walking.
The Flume Gorge is like a step into the set of Jurassic Park (which is fitting seeing as the Gorge was supposedly formed during the Jurassic Period). It's a massive slice into the side of Mount Liberty that has a fairly elaborate walking path that will take you past 100 foot waterfalls and through the gorge. I walked the path with my girlfriend who was amused by the fact that the visitors center warned about stairs and 'Uphill Walking'.
We couldn't have picked a better time or a better day. It was hot and the Gorge was filled with tourists, but the air channeled through the gorge was cool and we beat the rush and had a relatively un-interrupted walk through the Gorge and back down to the visitors center.
I would really recommend this trip for families and just about anyone that can handle the 'stairs and uphill walking' that they warn about at the visitors center, for such a small amount of effort this $18 dollar trek is well worth it for the pay off you receive of multiple waterfall views including one that is about 100 feet tall.
After getting out of the Gorge we turned around in a parking lot with signage suggesting access to the AT and headed to neighboring Lincoln NH to eat at a resurant known as Gypsy Café. It has a great atmosphere and the food was amazing, I had a Himayalan Hamburger Pita coupled with a Woodstock Inn 4000 Footer IPA (Which happen to be three of my favorite things). It was a great way to cap off our morning spent 'uphill walking'.
Time: 2 Hours
Avg. Speed: 0.6 MPH