Shelter Fail

I went over to my local park to test my new tarp. It is my most expensive piece of gear that I have purchased for my thru-hike. All week it was a battle between my laziness and eagerness to try out my tarp. I planned on getting home early from work and hanging it up but laziness got the better of me. Saturday will work just fine.

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I hung up my hammock and tested my new structural ridegeline and things were going good. I moved onto my tarp and I carefully unpacked her and began setting up. After I tightened my 3rd stake SNAP! – one side collapsed.

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Normally, this would not cause me to freak out but this is a $300 tarp and I have been very careful with it. One of the plastic tie-outs has broken – at least it wasn’t the material.

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I am a little frustrated but I will contact Hammock Gear to see what can be done. I am not so much worried about not being able to test it right now as much as I am concerned about the durability of this tarp for the Appalachian Trail.

Sacrifices

Spoiler alert: I am not sacrificing much

I have read many books and trail journals of AT thru-hikers who have had to sacrifice a lot. Most even have to plan years ahead of time to accommodate their career and family.

I feel that I am in a unique situation that I am able to do this. My life won’t be impacted that much by taking off 6 or so months. There are only two things that I am a little apprehensive about.

One is my apartment. Right now I am living my most favorite area I have lived in since adulthood. I live in a small neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. There is a large park 1 block west of me and some nice stores and restaurants 2 blocks east of me. There is a bike path less than a half mile away and a short hiking trail even closer. Portland has some of the lowest vacancy rates in the nation so it would be difficult to find a place when I got back, not to mention how difficult it would be in Sellwood (my neighborhood).

The other concern I have is my career. I am already having a problem with getting out of desktop support and specializing in something more challenging. If I didn’t choose to hike the AT maybe I would be in a much better place career-wise a year from now. Also, what will a future prospective employer think about me pausing my life for this length of time? The way I am justifying this is that I would probably regret not hiking the AT a year from now and that maybe a future employer will see my hike as a positive, not a negative.

It turns out my landlord is willing to work with me on sub-letting my apartment while I am gone. It will be hard to find someone to fit this role but at least there is hope in keeping my place.

I am also quite confident in finding at least temporary work when I get off the trail. Besides, who knows what my desires will be when I get back? Maybe I’ll want to find temporary employment again and then do something similar the following summer.

There are of course other obvious people and things I will miss while I’m gone. I will miss the majority of the Portland Timbers season to which I have 2 season tickets for. I will miss my friends and family. And I will miss Oregon. Compared to others planning to thru-hike the AT I don’t think I have much to worry about.

Why?

I have a few reasons for wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). For one, I would like to lead a less sedentary life and be more willing to get out of the house and do stuff. Another is that I want to make up for lost time; a year ago I had surgery for a severe hernia that affected my social and physical activities for about 8 plus years. It is still embarrassing to admit that (I will detail this in an upcoming post). I also want to have an attainable life goal, while having time to think about my future. These are some of my reasons for wanting to spend half a year out on the trail in 2014.

A year ago I wouldn’t have even considered doing this. So, how did I come to make this decision?

Around March my Dad told me that he won Mt. Whitney lottery for 2013. He then asked if I wanted to join him (he had two permits). At first I dismissed the idea, thinking I am not experienced enough. Besides, even if I was, I didn’t have time to get in shape. I halfheartedly told my dad that I would do a couple of hikes to see how I feel. I ended up not hiking for about 6 weeks. Springtime came around and I started to go on a few hikes and I didn’t feel that great. Still, every weekend I would hike again and I would feel better and better. Even so, Whitney was barely a “maybe” in my mind.

My friend Jen overheard me talking about the possibility of summiting Whitney. She said that she had done it and that if I have the chance I should definitely attempt it. I don’t know why that moment pushed me over the edge, maybe it was just the simple “matter of fact” way she put it. I emailed my dad to tell him that I was in.

I started hiking every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. I wanted to at least be physically ready for Whitney in September. I start to slowly research backpacking gear, and then I go on a few one night backpacking trips. I find Andrew Skurka’s video about backpacking gear and long distance hiking. This led me to start to read about the Appalachian Trail online. I talked about the AT at work and a coworker leant me a book called “Just Passin’ Thru” – about an owner of an outfitter right on the AT. I started to wonder if I could ever do something like that. Then I thought “why CANT I do something like that? What’s stopping me?”

I am single, have no kids, no pets, and my employment is temporary. So I dive in deeper, wanting to learn everything I can to see if it is feasible. Will I have enough money? What will I do with my car? What about my apartment?

Once I had an idea of how I would handle those logistics I make the decision and let my friends and family know. I was worried about telling people because of the psychological effect known as ‘Substitution’ – where when you tell someone your goals and get satisfaction from that, you are less likely to follow through on them.  I am very comfortable with my decision, I’m motivated to start, it’s all I can think about – I will be in Georgia in March.

BTW, I made it to the summit of Mt. Whitney. See the photo in the header for proof.

Making the decision

I have finally made the decision to thru-hike the AT next year. This blog will detail my preparation leading up to early March when I plan to start my hike and then I will update it while I am on the trail.

In my next post I will explain why I decided to do this hike and my experience with hiking/backpacking (not much).

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