Monday, October 15, 2012

The Things! (Part 4) Layers

I cannot tell you how much fun it is to go into the REI in SoHo and just go nuts. Granted, my version of "going nuts" is carefully and methodically comparing every possible item for 3 hours and then walking out having purchased only 2 things. SCIENCE!

We've gotten almost all of our gear at this point, which is making it feel even more real that we're going on the trail. One of my favorite new purchases is an inflation bag for my sleeping pad. My sleeping pad (A NeoAir XLite) is super light and really comfortable, but it has to be manually inflated. This means that after a day of hiking for 20 miles, I would have to sit down and squeeze all the air out of my lungs for 5 minutes to create my bed. I wager that at least once a week I would have passed out from lack of oxygen. This was becoming such a worry of mine that I was seriously considering getting a heavier sleeping pad that would self-inflate. But hark! There is a solution!
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Pump Sack

This is a pump sack, making it #1 on the list of things I own with the most inappropriate-sounding names. This 40-liter sack has a valve at the bottom that connects to a valve on air mattress. To use it as a pump, you loft the sack (basically just hold it open and let air float around inside it) roll the top down and then push air into the mattress. It's genius. So instead of having to take 5 minutes to make myself dizzy by blowing up the mattress, I get to take 5 minutes squeeze the dickens out of a fluffy bag like it's my favorite teddy bear. It will keep me from getting light headed and it will also keep the inside of my sleeping pad free from gross moisture from blowing it up with my breath.  This weighs only a few ounces and folds down to the size of a cocktail napkin.

I was going to make this post about clothing, but I got sidetracked talking about my pump sack, and I can't think of a good way to transition into talking about clothes. I guess I could wear this pump sack as a hat. Or perhaps I could inflate two of them and wear them on my hands like terribly ineffective though comically over sized boxing gloves.

Great! Clothing!

I am doing my clothing in layers, because I like to think of myself as an onion. I am going to think of myself as an onion as early on in this process as possible, because by the time I've been on the trail for a month, if I smelled like an onion it would be like smelling like a rose. I reckon there will be no words for how I will smell. Only a series of sounds.

Layers are good mostly because the climate will be changing on a regular basis (maybe even dramatically in one day if we are going up or down a steep mountain), and it will be good to add or remove layers as necessary. Unfortunately there will be a limit to how many layers I can remove even when it becomes beastly hot during the summer - unless I want to be forever known as The Naked Hiker. The threat of chafing is deterrent enough.

Base Layer

 SmartWool Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms
These are Merino Wool, meaning that they're really soft and not itchy. Or at least they're not itchy right now. We'll see how I feel after wearing them for weeks on end. There is also a spec that says that this has a UPF 50+ rating, meaning it protects you from UV rays. I thought clothing did that already, by the simple nature of being fabric that covers up your skin(?) I think I need someone to explain this to me. I have noticed these UPF ratings on all the clothing at REI and other outdoor sports shops. It feels reminiscent of putting a label on a box of spaghetti that says "Rabies-free!" I am glad that my pasta won't have me foaming at the mouth, but doesn't the freedom from deadly disease come complementary with most all spaghetti? Unless Chef Boyardee has some secret agenda. It just feels like an attempt to make the product seem extra awesome without actually changing anything.

SmartWool Midweight Crew Top
This is the same Merino material as my long underwear bottoms. I tried the long underwear pants and this long underwear shirt on at REI at the same time, and I instantly felt like a cartoon ninja. It didn't help that I currently have purple hair. I spent 5 full minutes doing high-kicks in the dressing room and ducking and weaving like Spider Man until I got too hot. That was a satisfactory test for me that this will be a good, toasty base layer.

 Mid Layer

 The North Face Sunrise Convertible Pants
These are made of "4-way stretch nylon" which is rip-resistant and dries very fast. They zip off above the knees to make 6-inch inseam shorts. This was the only pair of these type of pants I could find where the zip-offs actually turn into shorts, and not just capri-pants. They fit me really nicely, and the material is super comfortable. These apparently also have a UPF 50 sun rating, which I will keep in mind if I decide to point my bum directly at the sun.

Mountain Hardwear Monkey Woman Fleece Jacket 
 "Polartec Thermal ProMonkey Phur features a high-pile curl on the outside and smooth velour on the inside. It dries quickly when wet, is highly breathable and resists pilling. Polartec Power Stretch cuffs, wrist panels and waist offer a stretchy, quick-drying seal."

THIS JACKET IS CALLED THE "MONKEY WOMAN" JACKET. OF COURSE I OWN IT NOW. I put this on in the store and felt like I was a rotisserie chicken. That might sound uncomfortable, but I am starting the AT at the top of a mountain in March, so I suspect there will be snow and coldness at the beginning of my journey. If I can get that warm with something so lightweight, then it's good for me. This is not made out of real monkey, but I can't guarantee I won't turn into one while I'm wearing it.

Top Layer

 REI Kimtah Rain Jacket
The last thing to put on is a rain shell, and it needs it be super lightweight and breathable. There's nothing quite so awful as a clammy, clingy rain shell. I did a lot of research and found this rain shell, which weighs next to nothing, and fits perfectly over my fleece. This is made of some fancy kind of nylon called "eVent" fabric that "has a unique membrane structure that allows sweat vapor to quickly escape to the outside of the fabric." Apparently this is so efficient that there aren't even any pit zippers, which means that all the seams are sealed for total waterproofing. It has one of those brimmed hoods that make me feel like I'm looking out through a long tunnel. It's also windproof for up to 60 mph, which means if I am in an environment with 61 mph winds, the jacket will blow off of my body and go flying up into the clouds like Mary Poppins.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Things! (Part 3) Backpack

I have purchased my pack!

 Gregory Deva 60 Women's Pack
- Internal Frame
- 5 lbs. 11oz
- 63 liter capacity
- Independently rotating load transfer panels on the hip belt automatically register the hip angle and articulate the body's movements
-Thermomolded EVA back panel features a grippy lumbar pad that helps keep the pack positioned properly and effectively transfers load weight to the hips.

So this pack is nearly six pounds. I must be crazy. I tried on many packs at REI (with twenty-five pounds worth of sandbags jammed into them for true fitting) and this was by far the most comfortable. We were at the store for close to three hours, as it took Mike quite a while to be able to find a pack that worked for him. I had tried on a lot of packs during a different visit, so I loaded this one up and kept it on for two and a half hours at the store. It sincerely felt like I was wearing nothing at all, even though I was carrying the weight of three average-sized bowling balls. I suspect that I will be able to remove at least eight or nine ounces by cutting off excess straps and other extraneous do-dads, once I have it all situated with my gear. To me it feels as though it doesn't matter how heavy my pack is if it is so effective at transferring the weight that I don't even notice that I am wearing anything.

All of the other packs I tried on would rock back and forth as I walked, due to the nature of my figure. I tried a lot of different adjustments with the straps on each pack. Regardless, when I walked around I felt like I was giving a piggyback ride to a large and wiggly three-year-old. A three-year old with a very specific agenda of making me lose my balance and go crashing down a mountain. This was the only pack I tried on that did not sway back and forth, but stayed in place.

The hip-belt on this pack is so thick that I can rest my forearms on it. This isn't a purposeful feature, but does give the added bonus of making me look like the world's laziest hiker. The hip-belt is designed to move as I move, so that the pack stays in place and all of the weight is on my hips and none is on my shoulders. I hope that this serves to build huge leg muscles and continue the general weakness of my upper body, such that when I am done with the trail I will resemble an upside-down line backer.

The lower-back support on this baby is phenomenal. It does force me to have better posture, as the molding on the support system against my back has a definitive S-shape that fits my lumbar spine. The upper part of the back comes away from my body about an inch, leaving space for air flow, which I'm sure I will appreciate. Though that does open up more of my body to be susceptible to bug bites. 

We got our packs at the REI in SoHo, then did some other errands around downtown. It occurred to me that we probably looked like tourists walking around with these giant backpacks, but two separate people asked us for directions, so I guess we still gave off that gritty New York smell.

The next thing we did was buy ice cream, which seemed only appropriate. I got a cone covered in a rice crispy treat, because I'm healthy like that.

I got a rain-fly for my pack as well. Mike says he's just going to use a garbage bag. You can look forward to the future when it rains for the first time and I spend an entire blog entry waxing philosophical about whether the satisfaction of saying "I told you so" is worth the price of me then feeling like a jerk.

While at REI I also bought one of THESE! THE BEST INVENTION.

Light My Fire Spork. And how!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thinking about thinking

Mike just got back from a month-long trip photographing a hunter-gatherer tribe in Brazil for NatGeo. It seems a bit blunt to put it that way, but I'm not sure how else to put it other than "my tall, pale partner was in the Amazon and all he came back with was a body stained with blue paint."

He wrote a journal and gave it to me when he got back. I was supposed to do the same thing, and I had every intention of doing so. However, I missed one day. Which led to me missing two days, then three. It's like holding onto a rope that's dangling from the basket of a hot air balloon that suddenly and unexpectedly lifts off the ground. You could let go when you're 5 feet of the ground but you don't, because it could hurt. You consider letting go when you're 10 feet up, but the ground looks scary and hard. Then eventually you have no choice but to hang on for dear life because if you let go you will DIE. I am inferring that if I had to write a week's worth of material in one sitting, I would keel over, clutching my writing hand, and pass screaming into the night.

This may sound like it does not bode well for me writing while on the trail. However, there is an important distinction between now and then. When I am hiking I will have nothing else to think about other than writing. In fact, I suspect that I may become irritatingly Steinbeck-ian in my florid descriptions of leaves, trees, and god help us, maybe even a turtle.

They say that one of the hardest things about the trail is not the physical exertion (though that is nothing to sniff at). Rather, the act of getting up every day and doing the exact same thing (walking) has a tendency to make people go a little loony. I hope this means that there are signs put up in towns off the trail, warning people against the proliferation of thru-hikers who burst through the doors of grocery stores, wearing cooking pots on their heads and declaring "I'VE GONE MAD! MAD, I SAY!"

I do think that there is some credence to the thought that it will be hard to have nothing to think about. There will be no to-do lists, no social calendar, no paperwork to complete, no mobsters to blackmail. I know that I will need something to occupy my brain, lest I settle into a litany of silent complaints that will only serve to make the physical exertion harder. Contrary to the very popular belief, saying "it's hot" over and over again, does not actually make the temperature any more bearable. I think it actually makes it worse- for me, anyway. 

So, what is there to do? I am going to write. And during the day, I will think about writing. What will be interesting is that after I scribble something and mail it out to my sister, I will have no way to check on what I have already written. I wonder if I will say a lot of the same things? I hope not. If I do, I apologize in advance, and beg your forgiveness. I will do my best to keep to a minimum any rambling ruminations on the meaning of life. I seem to be magnet for all manner of bizarre situations (it's not my fault!) so I can only hope that I will be able to put those things into words for you. 

And when there's nothing to say, maybe I'll invent a story about a turtle crossing the road, and pretend that it's a really important comment on society as we know it.

Or maybe I'll just draw pictures of unicorns.