(Let me start by noting that despite my title, this is not the first bit of physical training I’ve done in preparation for the AT. I just had to use this title after Mel’s last post.)
It’s cold outside, and while one voice in my head says, “You don’t need to do any prep today! It’ll never be this cold on the trail!” The second voice is saying, “Let’s hope that’s true, but what better time to see if the clothing layering you want to use on the AT will hold up to this cold temperature? If you find it’s too cold for today, well, it’s just a walk around the neighborhood – you can go home quickly. If you stay warm enough at this cold temperature, these layers should be fine on the trail.” The second voice wins, and I head upstairs to change, but not without a look at the thermometer. It say’s about 12 ºF, but the TV shows only 7 ºF.
I put on my base layer, top and bottom polypropylene long johns. I add long-sleeved tee-shirt over the top. It’s a sporty name brand, made of some sort of wicking techy fabric. I pull on the synthetic zip-off hiking pants (the legs will stay zipped on today!), and my normal thin nylon liner socks and wool hiking socks. Over the top, I’ll add a pullover windbreaker that has a thin lining. I’ve used this shell layer over the top on many hiking trips. It’s water resistant (and can be retreated), but generally breathable. I know it’s not adequate in downpours, but on the AT, I’ll be carrying a separate rain jacket and pants. (Incidentally, while not the most chic, a rainsuit and nothing else is reportedly the popular attire while washing one’s laundry when the opportunity arises on the trail; doing one’s laundry usually means doing all one’s laundry.) To all of this, I add a new pair of gloves I want to try and a thin balaclava (a pullover-the-head combination cap, neck warmer and face shield). There’s a hood on my jacket, if the balaclava’s not enough.
Though I would rather hike somewhere with trails and hills, the neighborhood streets will have to do today; I don’t have the time today for driving somewhere more challenging (I want to back to watch the football playoffs later). I sling on my pack that’s loaded up with most of my real gear (I don’t want to carry bricks anymore), grab my trekking poles and out I go! (The pack and poles together weigh in at 24 lbs. Though I’m carrying about 3 liters of water, I don’t expect to carry so much water on the AT. I’m not carrying any food nor extra clothing, however, so I should expect my normal pack weight to be about 10 lbs. more. I’ll be quite happy if I can keep it to that!)
Before I reach the end of the driveway, I pull my hood up over the balaclava. Down the street I go. We had several inches of snow last night, but the street is nicely plowed and the walking is far easier than what I’ll encounter if there’s snow on the trail. I think it’s rather pretty, when my glasses aren’t frosting up from my breath. If I leave my nose uncovered, my glasses don’t frost up. Life is fill of compromises.
I cruise through the neighborhood. I can only afford about an hour and a half today, so I push along extra fast to maximize the workout. The plowed street is rather easy to walk on. It reminds me of hiking atop frozen mud on a Mt. Marcy (Adirondacks) trip once. This is too easy. There’s a park a few blocks away – I’m on my way!
This park is just a big flat expanse of soccer and softball fields, but today it’s snow-covered, the wind is whipping across it like the tundra, and there are drifted deep areas, windblown near-bare areas, and here and there the snow is crusty and my boots stay on top. I quickly traverse the plowed parking lot, and make a lap of the park, staying mainly just inside the surrounding fence-line.
I’m back to the parking lot, and that was too quick. I’ll take another lap. The lot is windblown, but my tracks are clear from the first time around. At the other side of the park, though just 15 or 20 minutes have passed, my boot tracks are nearly filled in. It’s getting colder. I pull the balaclava back over my nose, long enough to warm my cheeks and frost my glasses. I uncover again and my glasses clear.
After this lap around the park, it’s time to head home. Before I make a hot chocolate, I check the thermometer again. Yes, it’s colder. I think about starting our AT hike on March 12th. It’s earlier than most people start, and the weather can be risky, but I don’t think it’ll be like this!