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Appalachian Trail Hike #4

Yesterday I returned from my fourth Appalachian Trail hike.  Here’s a little recap for anyone interested, and for my own use in planning and packing for future hikes.

(The first hike was in 2001 before this blog was born and I don’t think anyone took photos; I did post commentary and photos about the second and third hikes though.)

This fourth AT hike was a 2.5 day trek in New Jersey, from Buttermilk Falls to High Point State Park.  I can’t find a single online map that shows Buttermilk Falls, but based on a low-quality hand-drawn map of the area and my memory of the roads we took, I’m pretty sure that this is it (in the center of the map, just south of Mountain Road).  High Point State Park is much easier to find online; here’s the parking area next to the trail where our trip ended.  I was able to locate that by looking for route 23 and then using a map of AT shelters to see approximately where the trail crosses 23.

In general I haven’t found a particularly good AT map online, but the "Topo" mode on does show it.  The quality of Topo mode isn’t that great, but it’s still useful because you can find what you want and then switch to the regular map or the satellite photos to see the same location.

This trip featured the usual suspects (me, Brian, Chris, Jason) except that Rolly came along and Josh stayed home.  We covered 22 miles, doing about 9 on Saturday and Sunday and then 5 on Monday (which we finished around 2 in the afternoon).

My pack weighed in at 31 pounds this year, a big improvement over the 48 and 45 pounds of previous years.  The main reason is that I carried much less water (only 1.5L) because there were lots of water sources along the way.  (I think about 2L would have been perfect, assuming you can refill daily.)  I also learned from earlier hikes and brought a little less extra clothing, less food since I always come home with lots left over, and I saved ~3.5 pounds by leaving my camera behind since Rolly, Jason, and Chris were all bringing their (smaller, lighter) ones.

The hike started with an extremely steep climb right next to Buttermilk Falls; there were steps for some of it but they were spaced really far apart so it was still pretty tough.  Once we got to the top of the falls, there were no more steps but it was still uphill for quite a ways.  After about 2 miles, the Buttermilk Falls Trail ran into the Appalachian Trail and we proceeded towards the northeast.

Even though my pack was about 15 pounds lighter than before, I’m about 20 pounds heavier and out of shape, so the going was pretty tough on me.  I did prepare by going for walks and runs and bike-rides about 3 times per week for about 2 months before the hike, but none of the walks/runs were anywhere near 9 miles and I didn’t have a 30 pound pack on my back. So while they definitely helped a lot, I should have prepared more by doing exercises that were longer and more frequent.

My calves and feet were the areas that were hurting.  I decided to wear normal socks instead of the fancy smart-wool type socks that cost $7/pair, and I think that helped keep my feet cooler, but they were still pretty warm, and the bottoms of them were hurting by the end of the first day and all thereafter.  My Merrel shoes are made of water-resistant pigskin so they don’t ventilate your feet at all; I wore them because there was rain in the forecast, but in the future I’d like to take a second pair of shoes that are part mesh and more breathable.

On the second day we got some rain, but overall the weather was pretty great.  It was really cold at some points, like at the top of Sunrise Mountain in the extreme wind, and during the second night, so I was glad to have brought my winter hat.  And those smart-wool socks did come in handy for keeping my feet warm at night and in the mornings while making breakfast.  I did bring one white t-shirt for each day (in addition to socks and underwear for each day), because even though you can’t really bathe, it helps a lot (especially for sleeping) to be able to put on some clean clothes, and t-shirts are pretty light in weight so I think it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

One thing that’s always been sub-par in my camping experiences is the camp pillow.  The technology seems to improve every year or two though, and I got a new one this year.  But I washed and dried it the day before the hike, and didn’t realize there was a small amount of dampness still in it after it came out of the dryer.  I put it into a zip-lock bag and into my pack, only to take it out the first night on the trail and find it cold and damp.  So next time I’m definitely throwing the pillow into the dryer for a second run even if it feels dry.

I found 3 new just-add-water meals that I really love: Mountain House Pro-Pak Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Mountain House Granola with Blueberries and Milk (takes cold water, not boiling), and Maruchan Won-Ton cup-of-soup.  I decided to try a new-looking Beef Stew MRE, but I continue to not really like any of the stews.  I brought mainstays like beef jerky and mixed nuts, and though I did bring applesauce cups, I forgot to bring some fruit cups.  I brought 4 Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal bars, but wished I had more of them.  Some things I want to take next time are actual packs of Ramen noodle soup (as opposed to cups), some kind of drink mix and an empty bottle to mix/drink it from, and some Bottle Caps candy like Jason’s which I ate most of.

And on a food-related tip, bring an extra bottle for middle-of-the-night potty use, so that you don’t have to leave your tent and get eaten by the bears.

Actually, we did see a bear, for the first time ever on one of these hikes.  But it wasn’t on the trail; we saw it while driving from the trail-end to the trail-head to pick up the second car.  This young blackbear comes barreling out of the woods, across a few yards of grass, and right across the street!  The little guy was flying and Rolly had to speed up to avoid having the thing run into the side of the truck.  Though clearly young and small for a bear, he was probably 300-400 pounds, I’d say.  Seeing this bear may well have been the highlight of the trip; we were all so excited.

We also saw some really cool bright orange salamanders, and we saw 4 black snakes.  Two of them were seen slithering away under rocks as we came upon them on the trail, but the other two were actually up in the rafters of the Mashipacong Shelter.  After arriving at the shelter area a little ahead of the other guys, Jason and I were sitting at the picnic table there.  But he went to sit in the shelter to get out of the wind, and I joked "how are the bats in there?"  I went to sit next to him and looked up at the rafter about 4 feet above my head.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw a honeycomb pattern and thought it might have been a bee’s nest, but a second or two later I said "Uh, I think that’s a snake."  We ran out of there pretty quick.  Once Rolly, Brian and Chris arrived, Jason managed to knock the thing down from the rafter (which took several tries -- it did not want to move) and we saw that he was about 4.5 feet long.  Not only that, but there was a second snake up there too.  So although you’re technically not allowed to camp anywhere but the shelters on the AT in NJ, the fact that they’re usually a haven for bats and apparently snakes too means that I’ll never stay in one.  Nobody else does either, if the 3 or 4 other tent-sites we saw along the trail were any indication.

Overall it was a great trip, like the other 3 Appalachian Trail hikes I’ve done (except for that one where it was 30 miles of ankle-twisting rocks the entire time).  It was interesting to see endless mountains and rocks and trees in New Jersey, because I typically only think of either the Jersey Shore or the crusty Camden area when I think of that state.  I hope it’s not too long before I’m back out on the trail again.

Hopefully Rolly will post his photos soon, and I’m going to try to get Jason and Chris to send me their photos so I can post them here.

Update: Rolly’s photos are now online!

Posted by Anthony on reply

Mixed Nuts

Today I discovered that Planters sells a nut mix called "Pistachio Lover’s Mix" that contains just pistachios (shell-free no less), cashews, and almonds.  That’s what I call mixed nut perfection.  It’s about time somebody made some mixed nuts without all those weird nuts that nobody likes (filberts?? come on).

Also, while researching this post, I came across this gem of a webpage.  Be sure to read the whole thing.  It’s surely one of the most freakish pages there is.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Encodable Redesign

I launched a new layout on today.  It’s a variation of a new layout that I launched last Friday; I liked that one, but something about it wasn’t right, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.  This new one is cleaner and lighter and I like it much better.  Thoughts?

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Zen Nano Plus

Kim and I have been wanting to get small Digital Audio Players (DAPs) for a while now, mainly to listen to while running.  Kim has been running with a CD player which isn’t fun, and I’ve been running with nothing; and I’m so out of shape that I want to quit with every step, so I really wanted something to listen to, so I’d have something to focus on besides how much I want to give up.

After researching the myriad different brands and models available, I settled on the Creative Zen Nano Plus.  It’s got a gig of space, an FM tuner, a recordable line-input, and folder-based navigation.  I got it at Best Buy for $110 two weeks ago, but the next week Wal-Mart and Circuit City had it on sale for $70, so I took it back and we both got one at Circuit City.

My only significant complaints about it are that I wish the screen were bigger (or just that they’d use more than 1 line of it for displaying the song title); I wish the song title was taken from the filename rather than from the ID3 tag (since it uses folder-based navigation after all); and the line-input is one of those stupid 3/32-inch jacks instead of a standard 1/8-inch jack (but I’ll probably rarely use that so it’s just kind of an annoyance).

The included earbuds are white, which apparently makes you cooler since they’re the same color as iPod earbuds; but it also makes you more of a target for thieves, since the white earbuds are a sign that the mark is carrying an expensive iPod.  But where I live, the bulls are more of a problem than the thieves, so whatever.  Anyway as with all earbuds, I can’t seem to use them without them either falling out or really hurting my ears, so I picked up a pair of those headphones that slip over your ears and that position the speaker sideways into your ear.  They work much better and don’t hurt.

The MP3 player that I really wanted was the MobiBLU Cube, but it has two issues that I can’t tolerate: a 2-second gap between tracks, and a failure to sort songs alphabetically within folders except for the first 6 characters of the filename -- in other words your albums only play in jumbled order.  MobiBLU is releasing the Cube 2 at the end of June, so depending on price and whether these issues are fixed maybe I’ll check one out.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Lug Nuts

On Sunday I got a flat tire.  My car has a full-size spare, which I was quite glad for on this, my first flat tire in 7 years with the Golf.

But Golfy’s tire wrench isn’t one of those huge plus-sign-shaped ones that’s 18 inches long on both bars.  Instead it’s shaped like an allen wrench, and is only about 10 inches long.  I never thought this would have been a problem until I had to use it to loosen the lug nuts.

It was virtually impossible to get them loose.  Of course they’re tightened with pneumatic drills at the garage that installs them, and they also appeared to have a slight amount of rust on them.  I pulled with all my might and they didn’t budge even slightly.  Kim and I both tried standing on the wrench, to no avail.

I started thinking about opening my phone and getting our GPS coordinates, and calling my parents or one of my siblings, asking them to bring us some stronger arms and/or a different tire wrench, when I had one last idea.  I stood on the wrench again, then jumped up off it, and slammed my heel back down on it.  Finally the nut gave way!

The interesting thing is that it made a terrible screeching noise when it first loosened, and upon tightening the nuts they made the same noise at the very end of the tightening process.  I’ve heard the noise before, of course, at any number of auto repair shops throughout my life, but I always figured it was the sound of the drill hitting its past-my-current-torque-setting level of tightness.

So why and how do the lug nuts make that noise?

(OK, technically, they are lug bolts on my car, but I’ve never actually heard anyone call them anything but "lug nuts.")

Posted by Anthony on 4 replies

Spinning Optical Illusion

Check out this optical illusion.  It appears to be spinning, but it’s not.  (The JPEG image format does not support animation.)

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Custom Route Planning with Google Maps

For a while now I’ve wished that Google Maps would let me create a route by just clicking on the map to create my own points.  Google Maps will give me directions from point A to point B, but I don’t always like the route it chooses; often I’d like to be able to say "Go from point A to point B using a route which goes through point C on the way."

Well does just that.  You just click your starting point, and it creates a marker there; you then keep clicking (creating new markers) along the route you want to create, until you get to your destination.

It’s designed primarily for planning exercise routes as you might have guessed, but it does allow you to set the speed for your route, so it will display the estimated time properly based on the length of the route.

Apparently the site has been around since late 2003, so I’m pretty late on discovering it.  On the other hand it originally used Yahoo and Mapquest maps, and I think we can all agree that the old way of online mapping was barely worth using at all (i.e. non-draggable maps that require the whole page to reload every time you change your view) now that we know the One True Path.

Posted by Anthony on 4 replies

New Apple Ads

Apple introduced some new TV commercials on Monday and I think they’re pretty funny.  You can watch them on the Apple website.

It’s kind of annoying how they present it as "The Mac vs. The PC" when it’s really about Mac vs. Windows.  I run a PC, yet none of the PC-based problems mentioned in the ads affect me at all, because my PC runs Linux, not Windows.

But other than that, the ads are good -- they’re funny and they’re pretty much completely accurate.

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

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