Friday, October 12, 2007

Trying Out Trekking Poles

One of the things the Old Timers finished talking me into that day that I met them, was a pair of trekking poles. I had long been considering them, although when I first learned of them, they were exorbitantly expensive. They have since come down considerably in price, and because my broke ass couldn't afford anything better, I bought a pair at Walmoo.

Yes, I'm still "just" a dayhiker, carrying a light little pack. And yes, I'm really only 32 years old, so my knees aren't shot yet. But man, have they made a difference! Essentially, they are 4wd for my hiking. At first I couldn't stand to use them on the uphills, so I just strapped them onto my pack for long climbs. But oh, what a change they made in my downhills! I feel as swift and sure-footed as a billygoat. OK, make that a nanny goat. Some stubborn, cloven-hooved critter, anyway.

In truth, I probably look far more like a truncated giraffe as I make my way down the trail, as my "forelegs," being my arms equipped with the poles, are twice as long as my "hind" legs. Appearances be damned, though, as I've long had the motto, "if it works, do it!" This goes double out on the trail, where I hardly see anyone anyway, and anyone I do see has likely seen far more bizarre things than I can muster.

On my last couple of hikes, I've worked up to using them on the majority of my uphills as well. Now I can feel not only the muscles in my shoulder and neck having growing pains, but also my forearms, wrists and biceps. Woohoo! After a recent near-blister incident, I've also repurposed my cycling gloves into hiking gloves, and they work beautifully. The gel padding on the heel of my hand is just what I needed for the downhills, where I turn the poles around and lean on them, instead of trying to use them at the more awkward angle of a pistol grip. This, too, undoubtedly looks weird, but, see motto above.

The first time I took these out for a spin was on the section of the AT between Hughes Gap and the summit of Beartown Mountain. As mentioned, I quickly tired of hassling with them when climbing up the steep ascent. Near the summit was a side trail to an overlook, with some absolutely stunning views. This is only a tiny slice of the vista, but hopefully the seemingly endless layers of mountains in the distance will help you understand just how thrilling a place this was to be.

I met three other hikers this day, and all were backpacking. Didn't stop to query whether or not they were genuine thru-hikers, though they didn't look quite scruffy enough to be such. This was a very challenging climb. In fact, one source, which may be viewed here (search for "possibly the"), believes it to be the most strenuous climb in the entire AT, with the trail climbing over 800 feet per mile. Truthfully, the citation in that link covers the AT all the way up to the Cloudland Hotel site, and I think the segment between where I stopped this day and the Cloudland site is even more steep. I later did that remaining section, from Bear Mountain on up to Cloudland, in reverse; down first, then up. A very bad plan for someone like me, who has most of their energy early in the day. However, to hike the entire AT, I'm sure I will run into this more than just this once, so I suppose I'd better get used to it (or at least resign myself to it) sooner rather than later. But more on that hike later (hopefully).

On the way back down I collected quite a few buckeyes. I'm not sure why, as I was pretty sure about what they were, having eaten the eponymous candy many times. And of course, having had Ohioan parentage, I already knew that buckeyes were "just useless nuts." :) I guess I hoped they were something more useful, like chestnuts. If there's one thing of which I cannot be accused, it is being a botanist. Not even an amateur one. I can tell the difference between a pine tree and a birch, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Although if I ever manage to drag myself out of bed in time to go hiking with the Old Timers again, that may change a little, as Bill was quite instructive about trailside plants (it was via his tutelage that I came to identify the rattlesnake plantain in this earlier entry).

Date: 9/19/07
Miles covered: 1.4 (x2; out-and-back = 2.8)
Altitude gain:1,441 feet
Time: no clue
Other notes: Filled up with gas on the way home for $2.50 per gallon