Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pre- Colorado Trail Through Hike: Thoughts, Worries, and Other Reflections

Pre- Colorado Trail Through Hike: Thoughts, Worries, and Other Reflections
I'm roughly 2 weeks out from my Colorado Trail through hike with my dog, Pacer.  Since my boyfriend and I have family coming into town and staying with us until the time we leave, I figured I better right my pre-blog now.
When I originally thought about writing this blog, I thought it would be a good idea as I figured I had a relatively unique perspective of a "kind-of" solo female, newbie backpacker with a dog.  Then I realized I wasn't that unique.  Not only are there quite a few women who backpack solo, but both Jennifer Phar Davis and Cheryl Strayed are two of the most famed backpackers in the country after writing their best-selling books (that I deeply enjoyed reading and have been a great inspiration to me).
I figured I'd write anyway...
In case this gets long, I broke up what I have to say (or type) in different sections, so you can just read what interests you most.
While the CT is much shorter that many thru-hikes (like the Appalachian Trail) at 486 miles (with many options to add on) many people will still wonder...why would anyone want to hike everyday for a month without a shower, possibilities of thunderstorms, snow, and bear encounters, relatively crappy food options (I'm pretty sure it will taste amazing after hiking for hours), do "business" behind a tree, and be totally unconnected with the rest of the world?
Well, to be free of course.
To not have to worry, whether it's my issues, other's, or the world's.
To not be concerned about what I see in the mirror but only what my powerful,beautiful body is doing and feeling.
To learn what the trail has to teach.
To learn what my heart has to tell me when I'm not hooked up to wires and electrical airwaves.
Because even with all my new gear purchases, it's still a whole lot cheaper (and more exciting) than a meditation camp- not saying I'll never try one.
And if I don't do it now, when?
The opportunity to be with my dog and see the beauty of our new home for a month is just too enticing to pass up...though I almost did, but more on that later.
So how did I get this idea in my head?
Well, reading Becoming Odyssa and Wild definitely played a role.  Then there was my Mt. Kilimanjaro summit a few years ago, when I first had a glimpse of the clarity and peace one feels when being outside and becoming part of the earth for a few days. 
But really, I am going to blame my friend Kelly. 
 Back in Ohio, I believe in December, she was volunteering for Girls on the Run where I was the Volunteer Coordinator and we got to talking.  Kelly used to live in Colorado and had numerous adventures around the state...including a CT thru-hike with her dog. 

 Seed planted, watered, and growing.
A few months later when I was certain I was moving out West, I was also "almost" certain of my own thru-hike. Which leads to the next section...
I'd say I am a natural worry, but that seems way too limiting, like it can't be changed.  But before I get off topic, I'll just sat I'm working on it.  For now, let's just look at the fears I had that threatened to
keep me from my adventure.
Money:  At the current moment, I don't have a whole lot.  Admittedly, it been partly by choice.  I was determined to work at a non-profit and stay away from traditional 8-5 jobs that would pay me more. When I looked at my budget for this adventure I asked myself "Can I afford this?"  Answer: "Barely."
Then another question came to me.  I asked myself "Can I afford NOT to do this?"  Answer: a resounding "NO".
Abduction:  It sounds a little silly when you first read that word, but put yourself in a 27 year old women's shoes for a second and it seems pretty sane.  One of the first things I did was email the CT organization and asked if it was a concern.  In an email back, they let me know that they never had a reported incident.  In the end, I used the same rationalization whenever I run or hike by myself: 1) It's much more likely I'd be attacked in the city and 2) because the risk is quite low, it is one I am willing to take.
Bears:  The CT organization also told me they've never heard of an aggressive encounter with a bear reported.  I just need to properly store my food.  Plus, Kelly and my sister told me numerous times it's really not something I need to worry about.  I'll probably see one, but they want nothing to do with me.
Mountain Lions:  They've only been spotted from a distance on the CT, so I'm just going to believe that that tradition is going to continue.
With that, I still have my weapons:
1) Common Sense
2) Bear Spray
3) Knife
4) Hiking poles (though at night they'll be used as part of my tent)
5) Pacer (she scared away a cub in Aspen- at least I think it was a cub.  It happened within a few seconds quickly)

My current main worry: Hypothermia
I think when I first imagined this hike, I was picturing the 300+ plus days of sun that CO is reported to have.  Then I remembered I'd be up 10-13,000 ft most of the hike with afternoon thunderstorms and the possibility of snow.  Not a huge deal for most people, but I'm one of those people who just seem to run cold.  I've touched on hypothermia several times already, but have usually been able to get myself out of the situation (dropping out of a race and jumping in someone's car, running down a mountain, etc).  This time, I simply have to do all that I can to be prepared.  I'll be bringing several warm layers, bought a new insulated jacket, rain jacket, sleeping bag, and water-proof mittens. 
I've also been wearing my Mt. Kilimanjaro bracelet the past few days to remind myself that if I can survive (though barely) the cold and 19,000 feet, I can survive being at 13,000+ ft in the San Juans for a few days straight (and it will be beautiful!).

My regular diet (my daily food menu, not restricted calorie plan) contains lots of veggies, fruits, beans, nuts, and organic grains.  I'm a plant based eater- aka, vegetarian and vegan.  Obviously, my normal food affair isn't exactly going to work while backpacking for a month.  However, that doesn't mean I'm going to Ramen noodles, Snickers, and other chemical ridden foods.  For breakfast, I'll be packing organic Oats mixed with dried fruits, nuts, spices, chia, and flax seeds.  I'll have some tea and instant coffee packets on hand if I ever need a boost too.  For my 4-5 snacks per day, I'll bring Cliff Bars (not THE best, but affordable, good ingredients, and tastes good), dried fruit (heavy on the nuts for protein, dates (these babies pack a lot of calories with nutrients), and probably a few wraps made with nut butter or hummus when I can.  Dinner is where I am really proud of myself...I'll be bring quick organic brown rice from Trader Joe's, mixed with some quinoa and dehydrated beans AND veggies from Harmony House Foods.  It's not organic, but the Backpacking Kit was a great deal and I'm very happy to have found it!

As my boyfriend has been kind enough to offer to drop of my first resupply package 6 days in,  I'll only have to send out 2 more supply packages.  (Yes, we'll have to carry quite a bit of food but I'm not keen on the idea of hitchhiking into some of the further towns.  My two pick up stores are right off the trail.)

O, and I have to mention food storage... after debating my options of a canister (pricey, heavy, but easy to use), bear bag (cheap, light, but a pain in the butt to throw in a tree), or Ursak (pricey, light, and convenient), I went with the Ursak.  It had a great reviews and I figured it would last a  long time as well.
As Pacer is my baby, I did my research on backpacking with dogs and spent a bit more mula than planned...
The first thing to note is that by choosing to hike the CT with Pacer, I made it HER hike.  She comes first.  If she gets tired, we stop and take a rest or even a rest day if needed.  If she gets hurt, either our hike ends there or my boyfriend will pick her up. Whatever happens, she comes first.

As for her food, she's carrying it.  Right now I'm still planning on her regular kibble from Acana, but I might mix in some freeze dried food to make it lighter.  I'll also always pack a little extra in my snack bags to share with her.  Because she is carrying her own food, I ended up getting her the best pack I could find.  There's a ton of packs out there, and I was temped to get one for $30.  After looking into it more, I new I wanted one with a harness, detachable pack, cushions on the straps to prevent chaffing, and good quality.  Everything I read lead to the Palasides Pack by Ruffwear.  It cost $150, but in all our training hikes (including 27 miles around the Maroon Bells in Aspen) it worked great and Pacer always seemed comfortable.
I also read that there were 2 reasons dogs didn't finish thru-hikes: 1) they ran loose without staying by their owners and got tired out and 2) the pads of their feet got torn up.
Pacer has gone through quite a bit of training, so for the most part, she stays near me.  As for #2, I ended up purchasing the Ruffwear  Summit Trek booties for $50.  I liked these the best as they had liners that go about 2 inches above the paw to help prevent rocks and snow from sneaking in.  We have not had the chance to test these out in the field yet.
Showin' off the new kicks.
Rockin' the Ruffwear Palisides Pack.


I wanted to make sure Pacer was physically up for the hike, so we've done a few 14ers, several long hikes (building up in distance), and short power hikes up Green Mountain and Mt. Sanitas with runs downhill.  We've both tried out our packs with weight in them as well.  Pacer much rather hike a 14er where it is cool rather than a short hike in Boulder in the direct sun, so I think she'll be just fine.

Other than our hikes, I'm banking on our endurance from running.  I also do a strength training video (thank you Youtube) 2-3x per week, plus Yoga once or twice (thank you Prana and Noelle for the awesome Tuesday class).

Pacer enjoying the views on our 27 mile Maroon Bells day hike.
At the current moment, I can't find my gear list.  What I will say is I ended up buying a lot. 
My original plan was to borrow as much as possible from my sister and boyfriend, but then I realized I'd be happier hiking with either lighter, better fitting, or warmer stuff.  Of course, I still bought almost everything on sale.
My big purchase were:
Sierra Design Flashlight 1 Tent (2.9 oz when using hiking pole)
Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Hooded Jacket
REI Lyra Sleeping Bag (22 deg)-  I found out that there are different ratings for men and women (about a 12 degree difference).
Lowe Alpine Backpack (not sure the model)- Sierra Trading Post
Rain Jacket and Pants- Sierra Trading Post
Mittens- Sierra Trading Post
Ursack (bear proof bag)
My main two "luxury" items will be a book and a journal.  I plan to visit a used book store next week.  I'll take one with me and put the others with my resupply.  Since they are used, I can either pass them on to another hike, burn the pages for fire, or feed it to a recycle been.

The journal is probably the key piece, incase I ever forget the wisdom of the trail when I get back the world of technology.  I'm also planning on writing a few personal questions down before I begin my hike and see if my mind/conscience naturally reveals the answers to me as the miles go by.

Pacer is now licking my hand so I guess that's a signal to wrap things up.  I'm sure I'll have more thoughts and pictures to share after our adventure.

Happy Trails,

Rachel & Pacer (aka Supergirl)