Eureka! Now I understand. I’ve been spending so much time researching and planning for my A.T. thru-hike, but I’ve been doing it all wrong. Quantity over quality.
There’s a lot of talk about the psychological and emotional preparations that are necessary, but honestly those aren’t my biggest concerns. I may not physically be the strongest woman ever, but I’ve got grit (in my teeth. Does anybody have a toothpick?). Oh, and also, I’m grounded (i.e. short) and realistic. I know what it takes emotionally to conquer the A.T. (I survived middle school, didn’t I?), or at least I’m willing to find out.
Instead, my main concern is the gear. I’m basically starting from square one. The only piece of equipment I own is my 20 degree sleeping bag, and I’m not even sure it’s the right choice. And the more I comb through forums and websites trying to find concise and decisive gear recommendations, the more my head becomes jumbled with options.
When it comes to sleeping bags, one has to consider weight,
synthetic vs. down (phew! I’m allergic to down so one less consideration), temperature rating, length, width/cut, blood type, and social security number. Then there are the sleeping pads and tents. Do you sleep warm? Or cold? Do you even know what those terms mean (because I tend to nod my head and smile when the gear experts start getting excited and chatty)? Do you want the privacy of a freestanding structure, or is a lighter tarp tent enough? And of course don’t forget your clothes (for the love of all that is…no, I changed my mind. I’m not going to go there. It’d be funny, and I mean “oops, I just laughed out loud at my desk; now my boss knows I’m not working” hysterical, but that look on your face makes me think this is neither the time nor the place). There’s the base layer, the insulating layer, the outer layer. Polyester, nylon, smartwool. Lions, tigers, bears (oh my!).
So many options. So much weight. So much money. So many ways to make the wrong decisions and become more heavily laden.
Well glory be. How lucky was I when I opened my email last Sunday night and saw in my inbox a calendar of my local REI’s upcoming events. And what did I see but a “Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Gear and Food” workshop for Wednesday October 3.
I showed up at 7pm with pen and paper in hand. The speaker Andres had set up a table full of gear that was representative of an average thru-hiker’s collection, which I perused for a few minutes before we started. I also giddily underlined and circled items on the detailed Gear List handout that had been sitting on my chair upon arrival.
When Andres was about to get started, I had a look around at the crowd of about 20 and realized that I was the youngest person in the room by at least 10 years. I’d say the average age was about 55 and that young only because I was thrown into the mix. Either this means that the herds of thru-hikers lean toward the older retiree demographic, or younger folk confidently traipse into the woods willy nilly. I’m going to go with the latter.
I, on the other hand, am eager to be counted with the salt and pepper crowd (an endearing term referring to the abounding wisdom and general willingness to learn, I assure you) since I clearly don’t know what in the whoosit I’m doing when it comes to equipment. And what occurred to me when Andres began talking and wielding his trusty PowerPoint presentation? I’ve just needed a classroom and professor this whole time. I’ve been out of grad school for five months now, and the inner nerd in me was so excited to come out. For two hours, I sat enraptured, taking notes, asking questions about everything (yeah, I was that girl), checking out all the gear.
And you know what I realized? It’s not actually that big of a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some work ahead of me, but really there aren’t that many pieces of equipment to consider. And not only that, but Andres offered options and expounded upon each of the pros and cons. I can stare at specifications in a store all day, but I inevitably get worried that I’m making the wrong decision. If instead I’m provided a few distinct options with obvious differences, then it’s much easier for me to make a decision.
Let me do a simple exercise to illustrate.
Should I stay with my current job and sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day, or should I leave and thru-hike the Appalachian Trail? See, that’s an easy one.
Should I buy a free-standing tent that weighs 3 pounds and costs X or should I buy a stake-able tent that weighs 2.5 pounds and costs 1.25X? Much harder.
Ultimately, to be face to face with someone who’s thru-hiked thousands of miles and happens to live, breathe, and eat gear makes all the difference. I left the workshop feeling more knowledgeable, more organized, and most importantly more relaxed about the decision-making process.
Now it’s time to get serious and start purchasing equipment. Or, well, ya know, maybe next week. The weather’s too nice to shop. I think I’d rather go for a hike. Yeah, decision-making…next week…