Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stress, Planning, and a Little Venom for "Medium"

I'm going to go ahead and apologize right from the start because this blog won't contain anything overly cool or overly interesting. In fact, I doubt it will be any more entertaining than the clown with the shovel who walks behind the circus elephant. Basically, I'm knee deep in an over abundance of highly interruptive stuff at work. “Interruptive” in the sense that it takes away from things I'd rather be doing (i.e. NOT working) and “abundant” in the sense that I need to devote more time to it than what I’d normally find tolerable even when being paid. Essentially, I have too much work and not enough time to spend doing anything else.

In addition to my over abundance of highly interruptive work, I am stressed because I haven't found an adequate amount of time to devote to an upcoming trip I have scheduled on the Appalachian Trail (AT) with a group of several folks organized by "Toothless" of AT Hiking - The Podcast (http://athiking.libsyn.com/). Toothless was kind enough to invite me to section hike part of the AT which he schedules twice per year, once in April and once in September. I should mention he truly does an excellent job organizing the trip, communicating, having a comprehensive plan, offering helpful tips, and just generally being a welcomed, responsible, and pleasurable host. For someone who hikes alone 99.9% of the time, this is a welcomed opportunity for me. The mileage of each trip varies, but ultimately amounts to enough effort for a group of non-professional non-thru hikers who just find their "trail legs" only towards the end of the 7-day trip. I don't think any of us prefer to hold the status of a "section hiker", but with no one being independently wealthy, we all have accepted the undesirable sinful burden of man and our over abundance of highly interruptive work. The truth is, if I (we) stuck with it, I’d feel just as honored to say I section hiked the whole AT as if I thru-hiked it. Being able to claim accomplishment to such a task is something I wouldn’t mind owning at all. Whether it takes 5 months or 15 years is devotion I think is worth acknowledging.

Planning for a trip more than a few days requires a heck of a lot of thought. In this case, carrying enough food for 7 days is likely slightly more than your average thru-hiker. One thing I’ll say about food is that it is irritatingly heavy. Yes, you can dehydrate, pack light foods, use powders for taste instead of the actual item, eat less, or do any number of things to make it lighter, but in the end, the more days on the trail the heavier it is unless you are creative (and flexible) to food drops. The heavier it is, usually the more it takes up your pack too. These two factors alone have weighed on me heavily, pun intended. It actually makes me mental as I hate the reality that I “must” take it. Food, much like water, simply can’t be left behind. Food/water is unlike a tent in which I could choose to swap out for a tarp or not use at all. Food/water is unlike clothing or even a sleep system which I can choose to take less of or find things which are lighter. Essentially, food and water are stagnantly heavy items – and this fact alone is what drives me crazy. It’s like I can cut weight everywhere else and then I merely need to accept the lump of weight from the very thing that will power me through the trip, keep me healthy, help me sleep at night, and generally ensure I don’t try to cannibalize my hiking partners. In this case, I’m looking at anywhere from 14-18 pounds or so. Just thinking about that “extra” weight makes me cringe. Course, thinking about my last days on the hike when my food weight will be dwindling does make me somewhat happy.

When preparing for this kind of trip I find that I spend a disproportionate amount of time weighing everything. I mean I’ve weighed stuff before, but when knowing that I have to carry it for much longer than just a weekend it becomes an obligation to really make concessions. Something that I doubt many truly consider is the difference of weight in items of different sizes. For example, most manufacturers post the weight of their product in size “medium”. Medium, after all, likely consists of the majority of the world’s population. Clothing is medium, hotel beds are medium, even shower heads are set at a height appropriate for medium-sized people. At 6’6” and 270 voluptuous pounds, I hade medium. Medium cars and medium roller coasters hurt my knees and the back supports usually come up around mid-back instead of to my neck. Medium airline seats cause me to contemplate suicide or at least strangling the person in front of me. Medium movie stars like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise look like little penguins to me. Ceiling fan stores safe for medium people make me feel unbelievably edgy. Medium food portions give me medium stomach hungers. Medium medications don’t do much for my non-medium headaches. Toilets placed at heights appropriate for medium people are like a parlor trick for sharpshooters. Medium. BLEH!!! I hate medium. And here we have backpacking items where my XXL jacket, the exact same jacket worshipped by medium lightweight backpacking enthusiasts for its packability and lightweightness (in medium-size), is, get this, almost 300% heavier than their medium size and generally just as heavy as the bulletproof gear in, you guessed it, medium-size. Sure, no one is surprised that something bigger than the exact same thing in a smaller size is heavier (and takes up more physical space), but I think few appreciate the fact that anything us bigger folks wear or carry is almost always 40% or more heavier than pretty much what everyone else is carrying. Medium be damned. I bet you medium folks taste like chicken.

Why am I complaining? Well, call it a reaction to an over abundance of highly interruptive work, stress associated with planning a trip without proper dedication, and the general aggravation that no matter what I do I will never be able to get my overall pack weight down to a weight comparable to my hiking partners. Unless I run into a band of lost Vikings, a gaggle of Amazon ogres, a team of NBAers, the real Jolly Green Giant clan (yes, I impersonate), Chewbacca and friends, Big Foot and his underlings, or a club of overzealous pituitary gland zealots, I’ll almost certainly be just a tall hiker carrying an average pack-load with seemingly no consideration given to the fact that I spend a significant amount of time, money, and effort trying to go as light (and responsible) as possible. No I can’t compare myself to Da Vinci and say it’s like someone passing by the Mona Lisa and asking if it was paint-by-number, but just because I have no appreciable amount of talent in anything other than breathing oxygen and making red meat disappear doesn’t mean that I’m not trying and not pushing my passions.


(Hey, I warned you from the beginning.)

(By the way, have you ever noticed some people say that they need to "preplan" the trip? Isn't that the same as "plan"? I'm just sayin'....)


Anonymous said...

From a 175lb, 5'9" lightweight backpacker ... since you're body frame is 50% larger, shouldn't it be able to carry roughly 50% more and be equivalent to my ~18lb pack weight? ;-)

Jolly Green Giant said...

Like salt in an open wound. Medium. BLEH!!