Got the tarp up!

MLD Grace Tarp
MLD Grace Tarp

Just learned how to set up my Mountain Laurel Designs Grace Tarp. Had to learn how to tie a couple knots in the process. Looks pretty good … nice and airy.

On rainy or cold nights, of course, I’ll ground one or two of the sides so there’s fewer ways for the weather to make me uncomfortable.

I’ll be throwing together a gear video soon, and as promised that infamous cat food can stove video! (And no, it’s not to feed the cat I’m bringing with me …)

The Big Three

Yesterday I finally purchased the last of the Big Three (tent, sleeping bag, backpack):


image courtesy of

This is the Exos 58 by Osprey. Like the gear that will be inside it, this weighs roughly ONE THIRD of my previous backpack! Unbelievable.

I’ll do a YouTube video this week of everything I’m putting in my pack (except food, which I haven’t planned out yet).

Update: The cat food can stove is coming soon … just waiting for one of the cans to arrive that my brother-in-law cut for me. I’ll make a video about how I built that as well, along with a flame test video during which I will probably set myself on fire. (I didn’t get the nickname “Mr. Safety” for nothing, ya know!)

Getting into gear

I started thinking about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail as early as 1997. Back then I didn’t really have a clear understanding of what the Appalachian Trail was, but I stumbled upon it on the highway between Helen and Hiawassee, Georgia on a summer camping trip. We parked at Unicoi Gap and walked east up the trail to an overlook near Indian Grave Gap, but the trail went on through the trees. I wanted to see where it went; I wanted to walk all the way.

In 2003, after buying tons of equipment at the local outfitter (who shall remain nameless), I and my friend Curtis both strapped sixty-five pounds — each — of weight onto our backs (at the time half my body weight) for our first overnight backpacking adventure on a North Carolina section of the AT.

It was supposed to last nine days. On day three, I suggested we get off the trail the following day at the first (and only) road we would cross before our planned end-of-journey. Curtis’s response was more or less, “Thank Christ! I didn’t want to be the one to say it.”

What went wrong? A combination of inexperience and overeager salespeople. We didn’t need half the stuff we were bringing along; and what we did bring, we just thought we needed regardless of the weight. We assumed it was normal to be overburdened. We were, in a sense, over-prepared gear-wise, but certainly under-prepared in terms of knowledge. All the planning and purchasing couldn’t keep sixty-five pounds of crap from feeling like a hundred.

Fast forward to 2016. Despite my horrible four-day experience in 2003, I’d never lost the wanderlust and the romantic notion of walking the entire AT. With a career shift on the way and a summer with no employment, a return to the trail almost seemed like a no-brainer, even if it were only a third of the over 2,000 miles. And I did still have all that expensive, heavy gear in my garage. But I knew that this time, it had to be different if I were to hike for over two months and not just a few days.

Armed with a copy of Andrew Skurka’s The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, I was ready to ditch the heavy stuff in favor of an actually enjoyable walk in the woods. And then I read, within the first several pages of the book, this revelation:

Backpacking … consists of two entirely different activities: hiking and camping. And there are two types of extreme backpackers — Ultimate Hikers and Ultimate Campers[.]

He went on to explain that Ultimate Hikers want “Type II Fun — not necessarily fun to do but fun to talk about later.” Up until now, I was an Ultimate Camper: I preferred Type I Fun (fun to do, fun to talk about later).

Could I be an Ultimate Hiker? Did I even want that? Clearly I wasn’t satisfied hauling the amount of gear on my back that would result in a camping-style experience. Can an Ultimate Camper become an Ultimate Hiker?

This blog’s intention is to answer this question. I’ll take you with me through New England as I decide which kind of backpacker I am. Have I gone overboard with the lightweight stuff? Am I really just a camper with delusions of walking hundreds of miles? I’m pretty sure it will be entertaining to find out.

Up Next: I make my own stove … out of cat food cans.