Now that we’ve got the Toughest Trail Run in the Midwest behind us, and recognizing the new found popularity of the social trail running/walking scene, I’m offering today an insight into one man’s Real Trail Experience.
I’ve seen Rob Nickeron training out at the dojo, carrying a large pack, walking, walking, walking. I finally stopped and asked him what his deal was and he told me that he was training up to tackle a 2 week hike on the Appalachian Trail, perhaps the most scenic and difficult of all trails in the U.S. Following is my interview:
Will: This adventure would seem to be every true outdoorsman’s dream. What first inspired you to make this wonderful trek through some of the most scenic country in the United States?
Rob: Back in 1969 while living in Cambridge Mass, my father and I climbed Mount Washington when I was in first grade. I still remember getting to the top…. Later I joined the Boy Scouts and camped a lot with them; and then re-hiked Mt. Washington on December 27, 1979 for a week. That was one cold week! Four and a half years ago we moved to the state of Washington and I got back in to hiking. I spent a week at a time by myself 20 miles into the Olympic National Park camping and fly fishing (you run in to other people every other day or so, so I was never alone.) Fifteen months ago we moved to Omaha and missing the mountains and ocean I thought back to a guy I met back east that through hiked the Appalachian Trail. Thus began my obsession.
Will: You will completely self-contained and self-sufficient for your two weeks on the trail. Describe your pack and what you’ll be taking along. What would you consider the most important piece of equipment?
Rob: I have an Osprey 60 liter pack not ultra-light but it feels good up to 40 pounds. My pack with 4 liters of water and three days of food is around 34 pounds. A Real quick gear list…. Caldera Cone alcohol stove, Neo air pad, 10 deg. Western Mountaineering sleeping bag, Ice Breaker long johns for camp, 4 oz. Marmot raincoat, NO rain paints but a rain skirt, Marmot wind shirt, 100 weight Fleece pullover , Short sleeve Ice Breaker shirt, silk weight top and bottom to hike in if its cold, wool buff and glove liners, extra socks, and extra underwear, headlamp, duct tape, 9 oz. first aid kit, tooth brush , travel size toothpaste, Floss, and yes TP. The most important piece of gear hands down……. A DRY SLEEPING BAG. If all else fails, hold up and stay warm.
Will: Tell us a little about the training you have done to cover such strenuous terrain on a daily basis? What type of daily mileage will you be hiking? What will be your total mileage?
Rob: A year ago my wife and I joined a gym with a personal trainer 2 or 3 days a week for a half hour full body workout. 4 to 7 days a week we also do cardio for 30 to 45 min at around 145 target heart rate. 7 weeks ago I started with a 30pound pack and 4 mile hike 3 days a week. Worked up to 13 miles at 30pounds, then upped the weight lowered the miles to 7 till my feet could do this every day and then upped the miles at 40pounds till it did not seem to strain the shoulders, back, or feet. On the trail I need to average 10 miles per day to get to my exit point in two weeks.
Will: What other trait besides endurance would you say is necessary to take on the Appalachian Trail? What special skill set do you bring to this challenge?
Rob: You need a willingness to except the trail. You can’t change the trail, I will be sore, I will be wet, and I will be cold. I feel I bring the ability to listen to my body and push just shy of injury. Plus doing the same thing day after day after day; I find fun trying to do it better and smarter each time. Get simple and dialed in. It’s just walking in the woods.
Will: What special considerations have you made regarding nutrition? How many daily calories will you need to consume?
Rob: Food on the trail has to be light weight. This ends up being freeze dried pre-made backpackers meals or Supermarket food like Knorr’s or Lipton sides dishes or quinoa with beef jerky , tuna , chicken or salmon pouch added for dinner. Breakfast needs to be fast, instant breakfast powder with Nido which is a powdered whole milk and a pop tart or two. Then eat 2 nd breakfast in a nice sunny or dry spot up the trail an hour or two in. Snack all day on nuts, jerky, snickers bars, and M&Ms. Lunch is cold food more tuna, chicken, salmon pouches, or peanut butter on tortillas. And then more nuts and candy till dinner. Can you tell I don’t like fruit? To tell the truth, eat like a Hobbit. Burning 4500 to 6500 calories a day you cannot carry enough food without burning more calories. So pack light and every 3 to 6 days eat like a pig in town as you do your re-supply, laundry, and maybe a shower and a hotel with a bed once a week.
Will: What if any, is your greatest fear about being solo in the mountains for that period of time?
Rob: On the Appalachian Trail this time of year the crowd is getting thinner but 10 or 20 people will start at Springer Mt. each day. I chose to start on a Wednesday as it is one of the less crowed days to start. I do like being by myself some.
Will: Are there any highlights you are anticipating? Any specific peaks or valleys you’ve heard of?
Rob: Getting off the trail on time and finding a way to get to Asheville Airport 80 some miles away without walking (Ha ha ha). I am looking forward to Mountain Crossing an outfitter that the trail goes through. They can give me a shakedown on my pack to lose some weight I hope, and check my fit or make suggestions on my foot wear or other gear.
Will: How do you plan for the varied weather conditions? I’m guessing you’ll run the gamut of fair and foul conditions over the fortnight.
Rob: Dress in layer to stay warm, drink lots of water or camel up at every water source when it’s hot, and plan to get wet when it rains. Rain gear only makes you sweat.
Will: Will you have any contact with the outside world?
Rob: Most high points get a cell signal. Most camps are near water, most water is in a low area so a midday phone call can be done. The trail crosses a road that leads to a town maybe 10 miles away every 2 or 3 days. Hitch to town shop for food hitch back to the trailhead start walking. EASY!!!!
Will: Would you do us the privilege of an occasional update and photo to keep our readers informed to your progress? I for one will be experiencing this incredible journey vicariously through you and I know many others will be similarly inspired and awed!
Rob: I will do my best. Recharge the phone in town, send reports, and power down phone. Will have a digital camera, and one on my phone can send photos in text messages and will also be making notes in my journal. Three days to go and I will find out if I really like long distance hiking or is it just a real cool dream to have.
Rob left yesterday for his adventure and we look forward to keeping up with his progress. A man’s man to be sure!