Archive for January, 2010

January 27 Sleeping system

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Trying to have a life while getting ready for the PCT is a challenge!   Yeah, yeah,  we are retired, but to be real, we are now spending way more hours volunteering in various capacities than we ever did at work while we were working.  One of our biggest commitments, which takes quite a bit of our time each week, is being “Commanders’ of an Awana Club for kids.   Most Awana Commanders are pretty much just in administration, but in our club, Bill and I wear a lot of hats.

In case you wonder what Awana is, well, it’s an international (over 150 countries), nondenominational Christian club for kids ages 3-18.  Our club meets for a couple of hours a week during the school year.   The kids memorize a lot of stuff from the Bible,  play games,  sing and hear stories/skits/puppet shows, etc.  The older kids are “leaders in training”, learning how to teach the younger kids.    The kids also go to competitions, where they are up against other Awana clubs in Bible Quizzing (that’s, obviously, a Bible memory and knowledge competition) and AwanaGames (an athletic competition).  The cool thing about Awana is that it trains not only kids’ minds and hearts to love and serve God, but also trains their bodies to be strong and fast and healthy.   Our Awana club competes  with clubs from all over Northern California and Nevada, and we usually come out at or near the top. 

Yesterday was “Awana day” and I was not only setting everything up (takes a couple of hours to do that), but leading a “Council Time” for all the kids,  coaching our junior high Bible Quiz/AwanaGames team,  our “Sparks” (K-2nd grade) Games team, our “T & T” (3rd-6th grade) Games team, and finally, coaching a high school AwanaGames team.   All  in one day.   Whew.   I didn’t get home till after 9 pm.  And that’s a pretty typical day for me.  Which is why I don’t always get around to putting up another blog post!

After a day like yesterday, I  need a good night’s sleep, which brings me to my “subject” of  sleeping systems for the PCT.

Bill and I did a lot of hemming and hawing before we did the PCT in 2005, over what sleep system to use.  Should I make us a Ray Jardine-style quilt?  Or should we take sleeping bags–if so, should they be down or synthetic?   What “degree” level should we go for?  (32 degrees?   More?  Less?)   Finally we reached these conclusions:

1)  Our usual carcamping method is to zip two sleeping bags together.  We learned from this that  Bill is a tosser ‘n turner, which means that a lot of cold air comes racing in every time he tosses.  Brrrr for me, Monty.  I tend to burrow deep down into the sleeping bag, tucking it around myself, while Bill likes it loose,  with more “air”.

2) Bill (typical for guys), sleeps “hot”.  It can be fairly cold outside, and he is unzipping his side of the sleeping bag and  trying to cool off.  Monty (me), on the other hand (typical for gals) am often cold at night.  (I joke that Bill is my “hot water bottle”!)   We had been on some backpacking trips where all this made for a somewhat uncomfortable night, where neither of us got the sleep we needed.

So that led to our first conclusion:  We will need all the good night’s sleeps we can get on the PCT, so we’d better go for separate sleeping bags.

At that point, we were looking at down vs. synthetic.  Down won.   It is WAY lighter, and very comfortable and warm.  Some of the people we talked to said, “No, no, you can’t do that!  Only people with TENTS should use down.  You are using a tarp, so you should use synthetic, in case you get caught in a bad rainstorm and the tarp doesn’t keep you dry.”   Well, our experience with tents had shown us that tents are nasty, wet, damp places, and a tarp is DRYER.   So we hung tough on using down, and that’s what we got. 

My sleeping bag has no zippers and no hood.   It’s just a tapered, narrower rectangle shape.  It is long enough for me to burrow into.  It has lots of down at the foot.  Ahhh, warmness for my tired feet!   It weighs 32 oz.  And sorry, it’s a closeout.   Nobody makes it anymore.   Bill’s bag does have a zipper, so he can open it up when he gets hot.   It weighs 27 oz. and it’s made by Mountain Hardware. 

To keep our sleeping bags at their best, every day (weather permitting) when we stop for our noon break, we take the sleeping bags out of their stuff sacks and air them in the sun.  During that time, my job is to cook dinner, and  Bill’s job is every few minutes to turn and fluff the sleeping bags, turning them inside out and rightside out, and flipping them like pancakes, till they get totally warm and dry and fluffy.  This makes them weigh less!  If you don’t air your sleeping bags, they get heavier and heavier with your own moisture that evaporates off you in the night. 

Then at night, once the ground cloth is down  ( and if needed, the tarp is up), the next item of business is for me to roll out my 3/4 length Ridgerest , while Bill puts out his Gossamer Gear sleeping pad (I call it his “doormat”, because that’s what it looks like), get out the sleeping bags and fluff them and let them “re-aerate” while we do other things like “washing up”, changing into sleeping clothes, etc.   I use a Ridgerest, because it does such a great job of insulating me from the cold ground.   Bill doesn’t mind cold ground, and he likes the idea that his doormat only weighs 3.5 oz.    Neither of us would ever consider Thermarest.  Waaaaaay too heavy.

The other part of  our sleep system is our sleeping CLOTHES.  To stay warm enough in such lightweight  bags, we carry silk longjohns (separate top and bottom) that weigh 3 oz. for each “piece.”   Our “silkies” as we call them, are fine for all but the coldest nights.  Personally, I also add a pair of clean, lightweight wool  “sleeping socks” since my feet get cold easily without them. The silkies travel in the stuff sacks with the sleeping bags while we are hiking.

When it gets REEEEALLY cold, we start adding things.  Besides the silkies, we put on a polyester longsleeved top (known by many hikers as “polyphews” because polyester can get pretty stinky from sweat), and wear a fleece hat and mittens.   To keep my legs warm, I occasionally added my fleece jacket, draped over my legs inside the sleeping bag.    Only twice on our entire 2005 hike did I need to WEAR my fleece jacket inside the sleeping bag at night, and I also snuggled up right against Bill–he still makes a good hot water bottle.

Words are not adequate to express the wondrous feeling of putting on CLEAN silkies with CLEAN socks and sliding into a soft, warm down sleeping bag at the end of the day.  Man, does it feel good!   I’d put on my headlamp and write notes in my journal  and just relish the wonderful feeling before turning off the headlamp and calling it a day.

January 22 Packs

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Today was another wet, wet day!  We hiked by a pond which last week was very low, but today, after a week of rain, is now filled to overflowing.  It was a good day for further experimenting with rain protection.  I am still trying to finesse my “rig” for a hands-free way to carry an umbrella.    I’m sort of torn, because I love the protection of the umbrella, especially for my glasses (it’s no fun trying to see out through rain-bedewed lenses)  but the downside is that I cannot see the scenery as well, because the umbrella partly blocks my view.   And the scenery is worth looking at!  We are so blessed to be able to live in Sonoma County, right on the edge of open space and farms.

What I’m aiming for is a way to rig the umbrella that is very SIMPLE and quick to set up/undo on the trail.  When I finally get it nailed down, I will try to describe it for y’all.

What I’d like to mention today is our conclusions about PACKS.   The last time we did the PCT in 2005, we researched packs.  We went to REI and tried on packs.  We got packs from companies online and tried them.  But no matter where we looked or what we tried, nothing seemed to really feel right.  I studied Ray Jardine’s pack design (it’s basically a bag with net pockets on the outside, plus shoulder straps).  I really liked Ray’s design, but discovered that the lack of a hip belt was a major problem.  If I have very much weight hanging off my shoulders, I am in pain.   When I tried adding a hip belt to Ray’s pack, it only partly solved the problem. 

In the end, I made myself what I jokingly call “the Ray Way Hybrid”.  I took a small old external frame pack we had, kept the hip belt, but removed the old pack (it was heavy, and had lots of zippers–yikes!), made a Ray Jardine pack, and attached it to the small frame.  Voila! All the benefits of Ray Jardine’s design, and all the weight transferred to my hips by the frame!    Yahoo!  I was very happy with my hybrid pack.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so gleeful, because Bill then decided he wanted one and I had a last-minute dash to make him one too!

My hybrid pack weighs 2 and a half pounds (it would be lighter if the frame were titanium or plastic pipe, but I stuck with the tough old aluminum), and the “bag part” has no zippers  (I would never take a pack with zippers on the PCT–what if a zipper gives out?) .  It has a little short pocket to tuck my umbrella into when it’s not raining (the rest of the umbrella is lashed on with lightweight cords ) .It has net pockets on the sides and a big net pocket on the back.  It is made out of cordura on the bottom and the back where it touches the frame.  The rest is silnylon.   Since silnylon and cordura are not totally waterproof, and of course there are seams, I always line the inside of the bag with a trash compactor bag.  This keeps everything inside totally dry.  In the outside net pockets I carry all the stuff that can get wet.  That way there is no need for a pack cover in the rain.

The pack is JUST big enough to fit my gear and it has an “extension collar” on top which is normally just folded under, but comes into play when we have to carry say 10 days of food through the High Sierras.  My High Sierra bear can fits into the pack, too.   I carry my RidgeRest sleeping pad rolled up, and lying across the top of the pack, held down by a “Y-strap” that anchors at the top corners of the pack frame, and the bottom of the “Y” clips to the bottom of the pack, creating a very secure compression for holding things down.   There is also a bit of lacing to compress the contents of the big net pocket on the back of the pack.

Bill’s pack is the same as mine, only bigger.   The only modification I would do if I had a different frame to work with is I would consider adding “loadlifter” straps.   They really help!   But since my old aluminum frame isn’t made for that, I’ll stick with what I have.  The only thing I have to do to the pack for 2010 is replace the elastic at the top of the net pockets–it’s pretty worn out!

My advice to anyone who is trying to pick a pack is to REALLY give each “candidate” a good trial run.  The online pack companies are really nice about letting you get a pack and try it for awhile.  Be sure you pick a LIGHT weight pack–not one of those awful 6 or 7 pound mooses. And remember that whatever pack you pick–be sure you can fit a bear can into it!   Those Yosemite rangers are dead serious about checking for bear cans.  We were warned by other thruhikers that “somewhere in Yosemite, you WILL meet a ranger on the trail, and that ranger WILL check to be sure you have a bear can!”   They were right!   So be sure your pack can comfortably accommodate your bear can!

January 21 Mosquitoes/Mossies

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

It’s not quite mosquito season…yet…in the San Francisco Bay Area.  At the rate it’s raining, though, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of the whining little guys once spring gets going.  Some folks have been inquiring about how we deal with mosquitoes (or “mossies” as I like to call them) along the PCT.

Well, first off, after many years of hiking and backpacking, Bill and I (Monty) have learned something:  mosquitoes LOVE to chew on me, and are less interested in Bill.   So I tend to “do more” to protect myself than he does!

Basically, there are 3 main situations you have to plan for.   1) While you are hiking along the trail     2)When you stop for a break (like to eat lunch or a snack) and 3)When you camp.

1) While you are hiking…..If the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, you can just hike fast and outrun them (sometimes).  Once they get more annoying, my next step is to put on gloves (I made these–they are just pants fabric) and a headnet.  My legs are already protected with long pants, and arms with longsleeved shirt.  That usually does the trick, but there are times when the mosquitoes are TOTALLY OUTRAGEOUS.  In that case, I put on my raingear with the headnet, though usually I put the raingear jacket on backwards so that I don’t get as hot.  The pack protects my back just fine.

2) When you stop for a break….At this point, if the mossies are not too bad, a headnet and gloves might be enough.  If they are annoying, I wear full raingear and headnet.  Sometimes they were so outrageously bad that Bill and I crawled into our net tent to eat in peace.

3) When you camp….When Bill is by himself, he rigs the tarp (if he thinks he will need it) or just lays out his groundcloth and sleeping bag.  Then he takes his sleeping clothes (we use superlightweight silk longjohns), walks a little way away from his camp, then VERY FAST, he changes into his sleeping clothes and makes a RUN for the sleeping bag, dives in, burrows in, and he says he then can sleep in peace.  It doesn’t work for me.  So if I am around, and the mossies are around, too, I want the net tent!   I got the idea for it from Ray Jardine’s book, “The Ray-Way Tarp Book.”  Ray designed and sewed what sort of looks like a miniature house.  I liked his design, only I tapered it down at the foot end so that it would be lighter in weight.  It rigs easily under the tarp, and “shares” the tarp stakes.  I cannot think how many times on the PCT, when the mossies were whining around us in clouds, how WONDERFUL it was to rig the net tent, scurry in, and be able to dress/undress/take a “sponge bath”/write in a journal/read/etc. in PEACE!  I remember we were approaching Evolution Creek in the Sierras, when we met the famous thruhiker, “Billy Goat.”   (He was taking a rest break by the trail).  Of course we had to talk to him, and as we were getting ready to leave, I asked him, “How bad is the crossing at Evolution Creek?”  “No problem,” he said.  “It’s only knee deep.  But the mosquitoes are pretty bad.”  He wasn’t kidding.  We rigged our net tent that night!

Aside from the mosquitoes, I wanted to say that I haven’t posted for awhile because we were having some computer issues.  I think they are solved now.  Hopefully.  We continue hiking 3 days a week–Tuesdays it’s ALL day, and Thursdays/Fridays for a couple of hours each.   Every week, we carry more weight.  I’m at 12 pounds now, which is just short of my “base weight” for the PCT.  (Base weight means the weight of my pack and gear, without the consumables of water and food).

The weather here in California is making our training hikes pretty muddy and wet.  On Tuesday we did the Cross Marin trail, plus much of the San Geronimo Ridge.  It’s a great hike for pouring rain weather, since so much of it is rocky rather than muddy, and the Cross Marin part is actually a paved bike path.  And pour it did!   Oh, man, did it pour!  I had decided to wear my waterproof/breathable raingear (which I do NOT wear for the PCT) and it reminded me again of why you can’t trust waterproof/breathable in a downpour that goes on and on.   It does NOT keep you dry!   I was pretty wet by the time we got back to our car at the end of the day.  Some of the wet was just sweat, but some of it was LEAKS.  On the PCT, we use very lightweight silnylon fabric for raingear, and cut to fit quite loosely.  It kept us dry and mostly not sweaty.

Our Tuesday hike was further enlivened by a thunderstorm, which is not that common around here.   Fortunately, when it started to flash ‘n rumble, we had just come down off San Geronimo Ridge.  Whew!  I would not want to have been up top when the lightning started.  All the creeks were roaring, muddy brown.  They looked a lot like the nasty creeks we had to get across going around Mt. Hood up in Oregon.  I was glad to have bridges over the creeks today!   We didn’t have to look for logs.  And we didn’t have to face the prospect of putting on cold, wet clothes, socks and shoes tomorrow morning.  Training hikes are fuuuuuun!

January 13 Tarp vs. Tent

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Yesterday (Jan. 12), Bill and I spent the whole day hiking on Bolinas Ridge.  It rained almost all day, and at times was so cold we could see our breath.  It was a fantastic  hiking day!  Great practice for Oregon and Washington on the PCT!  We were cheering as we walked along, and reminiscing about the PCT.

The trail on Bolinas Ridge has everything you could want–hill climbs, open meadows with cows, deep dark redwood/douglas fir forests, ocean views (well, not when it’s raining, though).   One time before when we were on the Bolinas Ridge trail,  we caught up with a group of yuppie hikers all in a tither, standing around helplessly,  because a herd of Black Angus mama cows and calves was all over the trail ahead of them.  Bill and I marched past the yuppies, and walked at the cows, saying, “Hey, mama!  Move over!” and the cows obligingly did just that.  But yesterday, there was a big ol’ Black Angus BULL standing right in the middle of the trail.   He was as tall as I am, and was chewing a mouthful of grass.  We did NOT mess with him!   “Hi, big fella!  We’ll just walk around you!” was our greeting to him.  He never moved, just watched us as we circled around him.  

When we reached the forest part of the trail, we were amazed to see that SOMETHING had literally been tearing up, shredding, etc. all the plants and brush for 10-15 feet on each side of the trail.  What on earth could have done that?  It was obviously freshly done.  A bit more hiking and we had the answer–a three man crew running a huge brusheating machine–it had a long arm with a sort of super rotary mower device (the size of a manhole cover), and it was just tearing everything up–ferns, bushes, small trees, everything.   It seems they were making a firebreak.  I sympathize, but oh, bummer, what used to be a lovely trail through the forest, lined with ferns and berry bushes, etc. is now a wasteland.  I guess it will grow back.

But to my subject of tarps ‘n tents.  Whenever we are out hiking, I find that one of the instincts I developed on the PCT–“Where is a good place to camp around here?” and looking for a likely place, is still with me. I’ll be hiking along, wherever, and find myself thinking, “Hmmm.  If this were just about sundown and I wanted to camp, could I camp here?”  In 2005  I got pretty good at spotting a place for our camp, even if we were on a mountainside.   Once we spot that JUST big enough flat place, and clear it of sticks and stones and pinecones, then we either just roll out the groundcloth and sleeping bags and “cowboy camp”, OR we put up our TARP.  That’s right–we are TARP-ers.  The only time we use a tent is if we are carcamping, and want privacy in a public campground.

We use the Gossamer Gear “SpinnTwin” tarp.  It’s made of spinnaker nylon, and it was just right for the whole PCT in 2005.  We have replaced it, since the original now has pinhole leaks.   We love our tarp.  Tents have major problems with condensation, and you can’t see anything.   And you can’t put your gear inside the tent with you, and tents are way too heavy.  Etc.

 The tarp is superlight, very easy to set up (we can either use two of our trek poles, or just tree trunks, bushes, etc.) and it kept us dry and comfortable through rain and snow in 2005.  Depending on conditions, there are several different ways to “rig” it.   The one and only time it failed us was a couple of days before we reached Kennedy Meadows, when we were hit by an unbelievably fierce and violent storm during the night.  For many hours, it was torrential rain with wind wild enough to break the tops off the trees around us.  Lightning was hitting close by, and the thunder was deafening. It was the wind that was the problem–we had set up the tarp and staked it as usual, not anticipating the wild storm.  Had we known what was coming, we would have TIED down the tarp.  So in the violent wind, the stakes came out and the tarp collapsed.  Brave Bill went out and fixed it, but in the meantime, all our stuff got pretty wet because of the torrents of rain coming down.  So now, if we have ANY concern of a storm in the night, we TIE down the tarp!

And oh yes, the tarp stakes–we use titanium stakes.  They save us several ounces of weight. 

Seriously, don’t even think of bringing a tent on the PCT.  Tarps are great!

January 10 Ticks

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area where we live, the hills are turning a brilliant green, the earliest wildflowers (delicate, bobbing little white clusters of “milkmaids”) are out, the trails are muddy, the cows think they are in heaven….and the ticks are waiting.

This is the time of year when we check ourselves for ticks during and after our training hikes.  Basically we’ve learned, “When the grass is green, the ticks are hungry.”  Both Bill and I have been “tickbit” on several occasions in the past, including on the PCT.  For some reason, though, my skin seems to react violently when a tick tries to “dig in”; it hurts like crazy, and I notice right away and can pull the nasty thing off.  Last spring, about this time of year, we were hiking in Hood Mountain State park (another AWESOME place to practice for the PCT–lots of big hill climbs)–and it was like the ticks were in a frenzy to get a meal.  Normally, they carefully crawl up your pant leg, looking to get in at your waist, then “dig in” at your back where you won’t notice them.  But that year, they dug in right through my sock!   Yikes!  Some desperate ticks!  

Thanks be to God (and I do mean that, I’m not just saying it), neither Bill or I has picked up Lyme disease.  We regard ticks as just part of what happens on the trail.  We do our best to protect ourselves, without getting obsessed about it.  If I am concerned about the ticks, I wear gaiters to cover the opening at the bottom of my pant leg, and I keep my shirt tucked in rather than loose.  After any stretch of trail that involves pushing through grass or bushes, Bill and I check each other for ticks.  Any we find, we toss as far away as we can–I have tried squishing them, but they are unbelievably tough.  You literally have to grind them between two rocks.  I’d rather just toss them, and leave quickly!

Today being Sunday, it was wonderful to be in church.   That was something we very much missed on the trail.  The whole 5 months we were out, we only got to go to church a couple of times, because just about every Sunday, we were way out in the mountains somewhere.   In case you wonder what church, well, actually, make that TWO churches.  I go to an early morning service at St. John’s Anglican Church (where I am on the altar guild plus Bill and I are Co-Commanders of the Awana Club for kids and Bill teaches at one of the men’s groups), then Bill and I BOTH go to the Salvation Army church, where Bill is often asked to preach and teach.   He looks really, really cool in his Salvation Army uniform!   One of the awesomest things about living in Petaluma is that all the churches that actually believe the Bible and where the people really have a relationship with God that’s real and not just intellectual, well, all the churches actually work together, help each other and love each other.   There is none of that stupid “My denomination is the ONLY one” mentality.   So St. John’s and the Salvation Army church work together on a lot of stuff, including the Awana Club, which is one of the best things ever for kids!  

So I am really soaking it in at church, ’cause I’m really going to miss this out on the trail!