Tuesday, June 30, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Last Minute Prep, Freaking Out, and Loose Ends

The last week has involved an awful lot of trail-related anxiety. In large part this has to do with the calf, Achilles, and lower back pain I'm experiencing. What if my body is not up to this trail? What if I have to quit after a few days? What if it was all a waste of money? And how embarrassed will I be after telling everyone I'll be gone for a month and showing up again after a few days?

Then there's the weather. It's in the 90s in Yosemite. And the mosquitoes. All reports say hot weather and bad mosquitoes.

But then I see pictures of the Sierras and I am transported back there, and I re-experience my love for the area I am about to hike. Or, at least, attempt to hike.

I shipped off my re-supply boxes (and bucket) yesterday. Total cost: $50. All USPS Priority Mail. I'm told I got off easy on the price because I was mailing them within California.

Today I picked up my prescription for the next month and, while I was at it, dental floss. Then I got a 4 oz. bottle to put my herbal hippie (yet hopefully effective) mosquito repellent into, because it's currently in a huge 8 oz bottle. I think I still need to buy more dried fruit, and I might need more trail mix.

I deposited a few checks. I mailed off rent checks for both July and August a few days ago. I need to pay my car insurance but I'm not sure I have enough cash for that plus both rents. Today I went to court to pay a ticket, because the internet said I had to pay it there. Bit of drama there. The cop didn't include enough information when he put the ticket in, so it was deleted from the system a week ago, and I can't pay it until he fixes it. Only it's due four days after I leave. This is a problem.

Still to do: Get a windscreen for my stove (a turkey pan from the Dollar Store that I will cut up). Maybe get some batteries. And pants. My favorite pants are so worn out at this point (I've utterly worn them to death) that I just can't bring them on the trail. I had planned to bring them, but I wore them tonight and realized they were in very bad shape. They are torn, and just completely worn out, and it would be dumb to bring them as my only pair of pants on a 25 day hike. Thankfully, REI has an identical pair in stock, so I'll get those tomorrow.

I will leave the place where I'm staying on Friday, even though I will not go to Yosemite until Saturday. I think I'll make some hard boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches to bring with me, and I can get any last food I need on Friday. Just the dried fruit, I think. Friday I'm heading up to a friend's house that is every so slightly closer to Yosemite - but much closer to a train station. I'll leave my car at her place while I hike.

On Saturday, the train leaves at 7:56am. To get to Yosemite on public trans, I'll take the train to LAX, the bus to Bakersfield, and a train to Merced. In Merced, I pick up the YARTS bus to Yosemite's lodge, arriving after 8pm at night. It's going to suck. I'm bringing a cheap, used copy of The Last Season, which is apparently a book about Yosemite or something... it was recommended by other hikers. I figure I'll read it on the trains/buses and then hand it off to another hiker who wants a good read. And hopefully someone looking to off-load some weight from their pack will give me a book they've finished.

And... that's it. With luck, you won't hear from me again for a while because I'll be successfully hiking the JMT!

Previous JMT posts:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: New Training Plan

I've got a new training plan that can be roughly summed up as: "F*** it."

I was very ambitious at first to complete regular short and steep 3 mile hikes with increasing weight in my pack, plus increasingly long hikes at least once a week. I tried doing that. After doing two 9 mile hikes in a week, I lost several days to blisters. Oops. The next weekend, I got back on the trail and hiked up Mt. Baldy. That resulted in a three day long severe migraine and about a week of nausea. And then, the you know what REALLY hit the fan.

I attend grad school in Wisconsin, but I am from San Diego. I am also working on my graduate research in San Diego, which provides a perfect excuse to spend the entire summer here. Only I needed a place to stay. Somewhere cheap. I was going to bring my 3 cats and sublet my place in Wisconsin, and then sublet a place here. But an elderly couple offered me their home for $200 a month (to cover utilities). They were going on a three-month road trip so the house would be empty. I could not bring my cats to their house, so I found a woman to stay in my home in Wisconsin rent-free and watch the cats.

I cannot even begin to list the disasters that began even before last week. Car trouble of every sort, my cat sitter bailed on me, a friend got killed by a drunk driver, the university did not pay anyone the summer funding it promised due to a bureaucratic hiccup, and on and on. Then I had about a week without trouble, the week in which my blisters healed and I hiked up Mt Baldy. Following 3 days of a nasty migraine, I woke up pain-free. That was one week ago. After the nausea came back, I took a med for it and went to bed to wait it out. I was awakened by the owner of the home I was staying in. She had been gone all of 10 days out of her three month trip.

Apparently, three days into the trip, her doctor called to tell her she has melanoma and she needs to come home. She decided to surprise me instead of giving me advance warning so she could find out how clean I was keeping her home. Let's just say it wasn't up to her standards. I had my bear can and resupply buckets out on the bar, with all of my food and maps sorted between them for my resupplies. I hadn't done the dishes during my three days with a migraine. My hiking gear was strewn about, from when I came home from Mt. Baldy with a migraine. When she saw that, things got a little ugly.

I am no psychologist, but I can tell you this woman is a raging narcissist. She's definitely unpleasant to be around. I agreed to stay in her home because the price was right and because she would not be there. The plan was for me to never see her again. Ever. (Her husband, by the way, is the sweetest old man ever.)

The stress of her return led to two more severe migraines... and no hiking. It also coincided with a heat wave that has no end in sight, making hiking more difficult and less fun. I've checked, and even the mountains are hot. To avoid the heat, one can hike at night or head to the coast. Both Catalina Island and the Channel Islands would offer great hiking paired with great weather right now.

I'm now resettled at a friend's place a bit further east than I'd like to be. It's heaven to spend time with a good friend and to be out of that toxic atmosphere I was in. But the weather has not abated, and I have obligations that are keeping me from taking a big trip anywhere cooler like the Channel Islands. There are also financial constraints, of course, since you have to pay for the boat to get there, and that costs a lot more than it costs to just hike locally.

My new strategy involves daily three-mile hikes with 800 feet elevation gain and carrying weight. I've got my sleeping bag and tent in my pack, and tonight I'm adding my bear can and all of the food. This will be my 3rd day in a row carrying my pack up the same mountain. I'm doing it after dark, when it's cool. I'm also doing yoga several times a week and have been for a month and a half.

If I can, I'd like to do longer hikes too - or at least one longer hike - before my big trip. I've got a 12 mile hike planned for this weekend. We'll see if I go through with it. In the meantime, if you are wondering "exactly how little training can one get away with and still do the JMT?" stay tuned. You might find out.

Previous JMT posts:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: The Camera

Now that my food is squared away from my hike, I turned my thoughts to my camera. I've got many aspects of my camera already worked out. I'll be bringing my DSLR, and I carry it in a case that attaches to my hip belt. It's a bit of a pain in the butt, but it's a hands-free way to carry the camera on the trail, and it affords a bit of protection for the camera too. I've got 1 gallon ziplock bags to store the camera in during rainstorms and overnight.

But what about batteries and memory cards?

If I take 300 photos per day, then that will be 7200 photos during the whole trip. If I take 400 per day, that makes 9600 photos. I'll need enough batteries and memory cards to do that. I can charge the batteries if I bring a charger. I won't have my laptop, so I'll need enough memory cards to last the whole trip.

The battery situation is the easier one. Right now, I have 78% of my battery charge left on the camera, and the camera has taken 626 photos on the current charge. That means that one battery charge can take 2845 pictures. That means I need 2.5 batteries to take 300 pics per day, or 3.4 to take 400 pics per day. I estimate that I'll be good if I either bring 2 batteries and charge them during the trip, or if I bring 4 batteries. I'll need to check but I've got either 2 or 3 batteries for my camera. If I bring 2 and the charger, that should do it. I could potentially bring 3 and no charger, but I don't want to be sweating it out at the end of the trail, worried I'll run out.

Then there's the memory card. For that, it depends on what format of photos you take. JPEGs take less memory than raw photos, and even within raw, it depends. My photos range from 26 to 31 MB each. And there are 1000 MBs in a GB.

Assuming I take 400 photos per day and they are 28.5 MB per photo (I shoot raw), that equates to 273 GB. (If I did 300 pics per day, it would be 205 GB.) Right now, I've got a 32 GB memory card and a 16 GB card. That obviously won't do. I need an extra 225 gigs of memory. To be safe, I should probably get either 7 32-gig cards, or 4 64-gig cards for this trip (along with the cards I already have). Or I could get 2 128-gig cards and bring them along with the cards I've already got. Since cards do not weigh much, it's a matter of price. What's the cheapest way to get the right amount of memory for this hike?

For a SanDisk Extreme SDHC 95 MB/s, it appears that one can get 2 32 GB cards for $50 (or the same deal from B and H), one 64GB for $55, or one 128 GB card for $100. Therefore, it's pretty much the same price no matter which way you go.... with one exception. You can get 2 64 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro cards for $80. Sign me up.

For Lexar, you can find 2 32 GB for $35 (95 MB/s) (and the same deal at B and H). That's the best deal I found for Lexar. For Transcend, one can get a 32 GB card for $15, making it the cheapest option so far. A 64 GB Transcend is $30.

This review sings the praises of the SanDisk Extreme Plus 32 GB 80 MB/s card. This site slightly preferred the Trancend over the SanDisk. This review, on the other hand, did not think that the Transcend was as good as promised.

I decided to switch it up a bit, because it would be terrible to get out on the trail with two 128 GB cards only to have one of them fail. Or fall off the side of Mt Whitney. So, why not get a combination of SanDisk and Transcend, because SanDisk seems to be a favorite for quality, whereas Transcend is cheaper. I ended up choosing 2 64 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro from B & H Photo for $79.95, plus 2 64 GB Transcend cards from Adorama for $59.40. Total cost: $139.55.

Previous JMT posts:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Food and Resupplies

Note: I can see a lot of people are reading this post. You should also read my post Lessons Learned. It turned out that my food was gross, despite my careful planning. Specifically, I got sick of the Mary Jane's Farm curry by day two, and trail mix and dried fruit did not agree with my tummy at altitude and while exerting myself. Cheese, on the other hand, hit the spot. I also did not pack enough sugary food initially, and eventually got my hands on some gummy bears and jelly beans that really saved the day. And I would not plan to thru-hike again without planning to resupply at Kearsarge or Wood's Creek, one or the other. If you are hiking less than 15 miles a day between MTR and WP, plan a resupply in between.

My hike on the John Muir Trail is starting to get real. I'm jumping the gun a little bit by packing my resupply boxes now... but only a little bit. There are four easy resupply options along the 220 mile trail, and all occur in the first half of the hike if you go southbound (as most do). After that, resupply options get more difficult and more expensive, like paying someone (a lot) to bring a mule over a mountain pass with food for you. I'm not doing that.

I began by making my itinerary and planning when I would receive my resupplies. I am going southbound (a.k.a. SOBO), starting at the beginning of the trail at Happy Isles in Yosemite. I'm starting slowly, and taking a day to hike Half Dome. And I anticipate I'll spend a night in the backpacker's campground in Yosemite Valley before I start my hike. That means I'll arrive at my first potential resupply location, Tuolumne Meadows, on the fourth day of the trip.

I decided to send a resupply to Tuolumne Meadows for a few reasons. First, it will be nice to start the trail with a lighter pack. Second, this resupply is easy and cheap. You just mail your stuff to the Tuolumne Meadows post office:

Your name
c/o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite National Park
CA 95389

Then you pick it up there during office hours - and not on Sundays. I will have to hike 10 mi on my fourth day to arrive at Tuolumne Meadows, and I am not counting on getting there before the post office closes. I will get my resupply the next morning when they open. It will be a Tuesday. So I'm good there.

The resupply box I send to Tuolumne Meadows must contain enough food and other supplies for five days. I plan to purchase breakfast at Tuolumne Meadows (I expect it will be a welcome break from oatmeal) and I plan to buy dinner at Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth when I arrive to pick up my next resupply box. That means I'll need to pack 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 4 dinners in the box I send to Tuolumne Meadows. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal (mixed with brown sugar, raisins, and chia seeds)
  • 3 treats (for each time I go over a mountain pass in this segment)
  • 4 days coffee (Starbucks Via)
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Thai Coconut meal
  • 1 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • Maps
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr. Bronners Soap
  • 15 Lysine (to prevent cold sores)
  • 5 days of band-aids
  • Coca Tea

The dinners are mostly Mary Jane's Farm organic meals. I bought two 3 pound bulk bags from them (Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice and Corn and Black Bean Chowder) plus several other individually packaged meals. The individually packaged meals cost more, but I figure I will go stir crazy if I eat the same thing for an entire month, so it is probably money well spent. I have three meals that are not Mary Janes. They are "Made in Nature" brand "Ancient Grains Fusion" in three flavors. They weigh twice as much as Mary Jane's Farm (they are not dehydrated) but they cost half as much. I'll eat them at or near my resupply points so that I won't have to carry them.

I went with Starbucks Via for coffee somewhat grudgingly. I don't like Starbucks coffee, but I must admit that it tastes better than anything else I've figured out. I was going to pack fuel for my stove too, but apparently that is complicated to send through the mail, so I will just buy it there. The coca tea is for altitude sickness, just in case. I am also bringing aspirin for the same reason. Aspirin and caffeine are a good combo for mild altitude sickness.

The next resupply option is Red's Meadow Resort near Mammoth. They require you to mail this form two weeks before you arrive, along with a payment of $35. Then you send your resupply package before you leave to:

Your name
Red's Meadow Resort
Mammoth Lakes, CA

I will reach Red's on the 9th day of my trip. It will be a short hiking day, so I should be able to pick up my resupply package that day. I will reach the 3rd potential resupply location (Vermillion Valley Resort) just three days later, and the fourth (Muir Trail Ranch) five days later. So I've decided to skip resupplying at Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR). It costs $20 plus the cost of shipping, and it's a needless expense since I am able to carry five days of food without any trouble. I will still probably visit VVR because they have a restaurant, shower, laundry, and internet... but without a resupply box to pick up there I have the option of skipping it.

I need to send five days of supplies to Red's. That includes 4 breakfasts (I'll have breakfast at their restaurant one day), 5 lunches, and 5 dinners. I am sending:

  • 4 c. oatmeal
  • 4 days coffee
  • 2 treats
  • 5 bars
  • 5 days trail mix
  • 5 days dried fruit
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 2 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 1 Cheesy Noodle Casserole
  • 5 days bandaids
  • 1 roll toilet paper
  • Dr Bronners
  • Batteries
  • 15 Lysine
  • Coca Tea
  • Maps

The last easy resupply is Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). I'll reach them on the 14th day of my hike. They tolerate but do not love hikers. They charge you $70 to send up to a 25 lb resupply bucket (they ask that you send it in a 5 gallon or smaller bucket), payable here. After you pay, they generate an address label to place on your bucket. You need to ship your resupply bucket 3 weeks before you expect to arrive. If you do not get there within 2 weeks of that date, they give away your food. The flipside of that - especially later in the season - is that you can help yourself to everyone else's leftover food (and there's plenty, especially later in the season). Quite frankly, if I wasn't picky and insistent on eating organic, vegetarian, and healthy, I would just plan to do that.

Muir Trail Ranch does not open its amenities to hikers, for the most part. If you want to eat in their restaurant or take a shower, you need to be a paying guest. And I will not be a paying guest. Hikers can pick up their resupplies, charge their phones and devices, pay to use the internet... and soak in the hot springs. I plan to take a day to do that.

After MTR, there are no more easy resupplies, but there's about 100 miles of trail. I plan to book it from there to the end in order to minimize the number of days I'm on the trail, which in turn minimizes the amount of food I'll need. Even still, I'll need 11 breakfasts, 11 lunches, and 10 dinners. That includes one day's worth of extra "just in case" meals, and excludes the last dinner because I'll eat at Whitney Portal when I get there.

Here's what I'm sending to MTR:

  • 9 c. oatmeal
  • 2 packages quinoa
  • 11 days of coffee
  • 6 treats
  • 11 bars
  • 11 days trail mix
  • 11 days dried fruit
  • 1 Moroccan Bazaar meal
  • 1 Tuscan Garlic & Tomato meal
  • 1 Bare Burrito
  • 2 Lentils, Rice, and Indian Spice
  • 3 Corn and Black Bean Chowder
  • 1 Chilimac
  • 1 Curry in a Hurry
  • Aspirin
  • 10 days bandaids
  • Aqua Mira
  • Dr. Bronner's Soap
  • 2 rolls toilet paper
  • Batteries
  • 30 Lysine
  • 3 bags to repack food
  • Maps
  • Coca Tea

The overall cost of the food and resupplies is nightmarish.

  • The coffee cost $20
  • The bars (a mix of Luna bars and Earnest Eats bars) were $46
  • The oatmeal, trail mix, dried fruit, Lysine, soap, and Band-aids were $109
  • Fees paid to resupply points will be $105
  • Mary Jane's Farm meals were about $9 each for the 3 I bought full price ($27)
  • I got 4 Mary Jane's Farm meals on sale ($5 each). I don't like the flavors much (Chilimac and Cheesy Noodle Casserole) but I'll eat it to save money. ($20)
  • The 2 bulk Mary Jane's Farm bags I got were $70 with shipping, and they will feed me for 12 days, or about $6 per meal. I packed more than one serving per meal for those, because I imagine I'll be very hungry on the trail.
  • The Ancient Grains Fusion meals were $5 each ($15)
  • The quinoa was $2 each ($4)

That amounts to $416, and it does not count the Aqua-Mira, aspirin, treats, batteries, bags, bucket, or shipping. It also doesn't count the maps or Coca Tea, which were both gifts. The only nice thing I can say about it is that I would have to eat during the month of July anyway, so I'd spend money on food for July no matter what. Just maybe not that much money on food.

There are two more things I might add to my resupplies before I pack them up and send them. One is shelf-stable waxed cheeses. The other are books to read at night. If I get books, I'm getting them from the thrift store. I've spent enough money already.

Previous JMT posts: