In the infamous words of Allen Iverson, “But we are talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We talk about practice, man. ”
What is the purpose of a shakedown hike? To practice packing your pack. To practice carrying the weight. To practice setting up camp. To practice using the gear. Most importantly, to practice making good decisions. It is not always easy to make the right decision. This can be the difference in completing a thru-hike or going home early.
The mileage is not the most important factor of a shakedown. Ultimately, the goal of a shakedown hike is to ensure that you understand how the gear in your pack works, where it will all fit in the pack, and to make changes to what will be carried.
Our first shakedown hike with full packs was in mid May doing a 4.5 mile loop on the Welch-Dickey trail. The day was in the 90s and we struggled with the heavy packs in the sun. To get the senses of the weight we filled our food bags and bear cannister with miscellaneous items. Eric’s pack will be just over 35 pounds and Hayley around 30 (both slightly heavier to start due to the limited resupply in the 100 mile wilderness). The uphill took us longer than expected but the important thing was we made it. We could see the storms all around and hear thunder rumbling. We had planned to camp in the area but a massive thunder and lightning storm had other plans for us. As the monsoon like rain took over we found shelter in The Dam Brewhouse and made plans to have a bonfire with friends (where somehow it wasn’t raining). Not 100% of the plan we expected but made for a nice night.
Our second shakedown was again mid May doing a 10+ mile loop over Mount Whiteface. This time we climbed a 4000 footer with full packs and had to accomplish some balancing acts on the steep rock faces, roots, and uneven surfaces. To our surprise, this uphill seemed much easier and our previous shakedown even though we gained twice as much in elevation and went twice as far. This likely correlates to the weather being much more favorable.
We set up camp earlier than we normally would, around 3pm and had plenty of daylight to test out the stuff we carried. This included setting up our hammock which helped our aching legs and allowed us to hide from mosquitos. We each took a few minutes to swing in the hammock in between gathering firewood. We also tested out our new Bluetooth headphones. We chose them because they are bone connectivity headphones that will allow us to still hear our surroundings if we choose to wear them while hiking. Also since they are two separate pieces, Eric can wear one piece and Hayley the other. We tested how far apart we can hike before they lose signal.
Originally, Eric was going to carry a bear cannister since this could also double as a seat. However, it has never been used as a seat since there was plenty of time to rest in the hammock, the Heliox chair or one of the many rock or log seats found at the camp. Instead of carrying the two and a half pound cannister, we’ll use food bags and the PCT bag hang method. We also have several odor proof Loksaks for food storage.
It was strange taking a vacation a few weeks before our AT start date – we went to Colorado to attend a family wedding and also the trip doubled as an altitude training experience. Interesting how our mind shifted from AT preparation mode to vacation mode. It was helpful to tell family and friends about our upcoming adventure to keep our mindset focused on the AT with just over 2 weeks to our start date at the time. We were relieved to find returning back to Massachusetts immediately put us back into AT mode.
Our final shakedown in mid June we planned to complete one of our favorite loops over Mount Bond and the Bond cliffs. Weather was factor so we made a slight change in our final shakedown. Instead of completing a 30+ mile loop over three days, we did a 19 mile out and back over two days. In addition to testing out our gear, this was another important lesson that backpacking doesn’t always go as planned. It is important for us to adapt, adjust, and make good decisions.
We set up camp near the river earlier than usual, around 2pm. Hayley took a much needed nap in the hammock and we gathered a lot of firewood for a much needed fire to combat the dive bombing mosquitos. Couple issues popped up, including the Jetboil starter stopped working. Good thing we had a lighter and we were still able to eat our Ramen noodles.
So far two of our three shakedown hikes have been impacted by weather. Looks like our start date is also be impacted. The early weather report calls for rain – as of Monday, 6/20, calling for 60% chance of rain. We have been checking the weather reports consistently – updates on Tuesday now report 50% chance of rain but went back to 60% on Wednesday as of the timing of this post. The biggest challenge here is that the weather report is based on 1200 feet of elevation, basically at our campsite. With over 4000 feet of elevation to the summit of Mount Katahdin and over 5 miles of trail, that accounts for a lot of variable change in the projected forecast at the summit. We’ll continue to monitor the weather reports to make the best decision possible.
Our shakedown hikes proved helpful and we have made a few changes to our packs, the biggest being ditching the bear cannister. The only piece of gear we haven’t used yet is the tarp but can still see this being beneficial in the future.
We now move to our final at home preparations. Including mail drops and scheduling time to meet up with friends and family on the trail. We are both getting one last haircut before the hike, Hayley’s being the more dramatic as she is losing 9 inches of hair.
Overall, we have stayed physically fit to attempt a thru-hike having trained for several half-marathons over the past few months. The mental preparation is there but will take some more time to develop on the trail. Eric brought out his favorite AT books (including fellow 2011 NOBOer Zach Davis’ Appalachian Trials). We have also enjoyed watching 2019/2020 hiker “Quicksand” through his Youtube channel. It has been very helpful for our preparation and getting a sense of what to expect as there is not a lot of SOBO material out there. Would definitely recommend checking him out.
With only 5 days until we start hiking, we are feeling good and are continuing to check things off our lists in order to prepare. We will monitor the weather and cross our fingers we get a nice day on Katahdin!
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