In the infamous words of Allen Iverson, “…but we’re talking about the practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking practice, man.
What is the purpose of a shakedown hike? To practice packing. Practice carrying weight. To practice setting up camp. To practice using the equipment. Most importantly, practice making good decisions. It is not always easy to make the right decision. It can be the difference between finishing a hike or heading home early.
Mileage is not the most important factor in a shakedown. Ultimately, the point of a shakedown hike is to make sure you understand how your pack gear works, where everything will go 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 bags in the sun. To get an idea of the weight, we filled our food bags and our bear canister with various items. Eric’s pack will weigh just over 35 pounds and Hayley around 30 (both slightly heavier initially due to limited resupply in the 100 mile wilderness). The climb took us longer than expected, but the important thing was that we made it. We could see thunderstorms all around and hear rumbling thunder. We had planned to camp in the area, but a massive thunder and lightning storm had other plans for us. As the monsoon looked like rain, we took shelter at The Dam Brewhouse and planned to have a bonfire with friends (where somehow it wasn’t raining). Not 100% the plan we expected but makes for a great night’s sleep.
Our second shakedown was again in mid-May, doing a 10+ mile loop over Mount Whiteface. This time we scaled a 4000 foot climb with full packs and had to perform balance acts on steep rock faces, roots and uneven surfaces. To our surprise this climb felt much easier and our previous shakedown even though we gained twice the elevation and went twice as far. This is probably related to the fact that the weather is much more favorable.
We set up camp earlier than usual, around 3 p.m. and had plenty of daylight to test the gear we were carrying. This included setting up our hammock which helped our aching legs and allowed us to hide from the mosquitoes. We each took a few minutes to swing in the hammock between collecting firewood. We also tested our new Bluetooth headphones. We chose them because they are headphones with bone connectivity that will allow us to always 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 we could walk before they lost signal.
Originally, Eric had to carry a bear canister as it could double as a seat. However, it was never used as a seat as there was plenty of time to rest in the hammock, the Heliox chair, or one of the many stone or log seats found at camp. Instead of carrying the two and a half pound canister, we will be using food bags and the PCT bag hanging method. We also have several smell-proof Loksaks for food storage.
It was weird taking a vacation a few weeks before our AT start date – we went to Colorado to attend a family wedding and the trip also doubled as an altitude training experience. Interesting how our minds went from AT prep mode to vacation mode. Talking to family and friends about our upcoming adventure was helpful to keep our mindset focused on the TA with just over 2 weeks to our start date at the time. We were relieved to find that returning to Massachusetts immediately put us back into AT mode.
Our last shakedown in mid June, we planned to complete one of our favorite loops on Mount Bond and Bond Cliffs. Weather was a factor, so we tweaked our final shakedown slightly. Instead of doing a 30+ mile loop over three days, we did 19 miles round trip over two days. Along with testing our gear, this was another important lesson that hiking doesn’t always go to plan. It is important for us to adapt, adjust and make good decisions.
We set up our camp near the river earlier than usual, around 2 p.m. Hayley took a much-needed nap in the hammock and we collected lots of firewood for a much-needed fire to fight off the dive-bombing mosquitoes. A few problems appeared including the Jetboil starter which stopped working. Luckily we had a lighter and could still eat our Ramen noodles.
So far two of our three shakedown hikes have been affected by weather conditions. It looks like our start date is also impacted. The first weather report announces rain – from Monday 6/20, announcing 60% chance of rain. We’ve been checking the weather reports consistently – Tuesday’s updates are now reporting a 50% chance of rain, but were back to 60% on Wednesday at the time of this article’s publication. 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’s a lot of variable changes in the forecast projected at the summit. We will continue to monitor weather reports to make the best decision possible.
Our shakedown rides came in handy, and we made a few changes to our packs, the biggest being the discontinuation of the bear canister. The only piece of gear we haven’t used yet is the tarp, but we can still see that it will be beneficial in the future.
We now move on to our final preparations at home. Including mailings and scheduling time to meet friends and family on the trail. We both get one last haircut before the hike, with Hayley being the most dramatic as she loses 9 inches of hair.
Overall we stayed in good physical shape to attempt a hike after training for several half marathons over the past few months. The mental preparation is there but will take a little longer to develop in trail running. Eric pulled out his favorite AT books (including Appalachian Trials by fellow 2011 NOBOer Zach Davis). We also enjoyed watching the 2019/2020 hiker “Quicksand” via his Youtube channel. It was very helpful for our preparation and to get an idea of what to expect as there is not a lot of SOBO material on the market. I would definitely recommend checking it out.
With only 5 days until the start of the hike, we feel good and continue to check things on our lists in order to prepare. We’ll be watching the weather and crossing our fingers for a great day in Katahdin!
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