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SUL Hipsters and Questions We Are Asked To The Point Of Redundancy

8 miles that won't count.

8 miles that won’t count.

We set our tent up yesterday. It was about ten degrees in the front yard and our fingers were numb. Bailey and I were both bummed about the reality of hammock hanging at the start of the trail, but it is not feasible. Hastening around the Lunar Duo tent, pushing tent stakes into the ground, we both looked at each other when the wind picked up.

“This might be a better idea, Dad,” he said.

Indeed. It is roomy, with enough space for us and our gear. Since we won’t have to concern ourselves with bulky under quilts it allows for more comfort items to be carried. It’s not freestanding, and it uses our trekking poles as supports. This is not new to us, we used a Go-Lite tent in the past. Go-Lite, God rest your soul, filed Chapter Eleven a few months ago. It was the go-to supplier of lightweight backpacking gear, manufactured on an industrial level. The first Go-Lite product I bought is still in optimal condition, a Pinnacle backpack. I plan on using it once we get into the warmer months, somewhere in Virginia. I really liked Go-Lite products. I bought a Hut-1 and Hut-2 from them. Light, and functional. I gave the Hut-1 to Bailey to use in the backyard when he was about five. We used the Hut-2 on our trips. Now Go-Lite is gone (sniff).

The smaller scale companies picked up the lightweight banner and ran with it. Let’s face it, after the Jam backpack, Go-Lite kind of went downhill. They tried to get into the sleeping bag and rain gear game, but they  didn’t produce the sort of product ULers wanted. Sure they were less expensive, but that was because they stopped making their stuff in Colorado and moved it offshore, to China. Now we can buy stuff made in various parts of the U.S., for about the same price, and the quality is better.

The Ultra-Light niche is “hipster” in the backpacking community. The Super Ultra Light more so. If a new manufacturer pops up, making single wall tarp tents or anything of Cuben Fiber, these people know about it. They know everything about it. Everything. Grams, dimensions, why it is better than what you have currently, and why you should sell off everything you own in order to procure it.

I don’t fall into the UL or SUL camp. I’m more on the side of just plain lightweight. If I can keep my collection of stuff under 30 lbs. and closer to 25 I am happy.

When I bought the Lunar Duo from Six Moon Designs it was on sale. A manufacturing defect involving the dye used caused some blemishes on the tent fabric. They were unloading the defective tents for half the price and donating the purchase price to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, or the folks over at the Continental Divide Trail. I did the research and found it within the weight parameters. That means it was lighter than the other options I had funds for. And way less expensive.

Here is what I learned after the purchase:

1. Hipster Super Ultra Lighters complain too much about things that don’t matter. SUL people bemoaned it was too heavy, I should have spent $400 on a lighter tent. This is probably why their civilization homes are spartan in furnishings. They can’t afford tables and chairs because they blow all their money on the newest thing. Cuben fiber is probably great, I wouldn’t know. I don’t own anything made with it, and I don’t want to spend that much money on going that light. I workout, so it stands to reason I can probably carry a bit more. Have you seen any of those people? They are built like bulimic runway models. No wonder they want a total pack weight of 8 lbs. I eat steaks that weigh more than their backpacks.

2. Some folks think they know best, when in fact they have done nothing. The last time they went out into the woods was their last thru-hike, back in ’08. I go out pretty frequently. I can build a fire using flint, and I’ve even done it using friction.

3. Some of these people are trying to set a PR, or even a known record. Jennifer Pharr Davis completed the AT in 46 days. It wasn’t a true thru-hike, because she slept in hotels or a van along the way. She didn’t carry her entire life with her, and she didn’t have to. She had a support team following her and ahead of her. I have not read her book, but I’m sure she missed some things. By “some” I mean all. It was quite the accomplishment, but that is not what the trail is for. Benton MacKaye wanted the trail to be a means to connect people with the natural world. It has turned into something to be conquered. So every year somebody sets out from Springer with the intent of doing it faster than anybody previously. Human propelled land speed record setters. What’s the point? There isn’t one.

I can see why the good people at Baxter State Park are pissy about thru-hikers. With accomplishment comes celebration, and some people act as if they just finished Everest. The wilderness is still there, in some fashion (Casey Nocket aside. Google her, she’s an asshole).

I also learned some people have nagging questions. Fears about safety and comfort where Bailey is concerned. So here are the questions we have gotten, with answers.

Do you have a gun? Yes, a few. All of them are for hunting. Rifles and shotguns. No handguns. Don’t need one. Don’t want one. I carried one for about fifteen years as a police. No, we won’t take a gun. Here’s why: too heavy, I’m not paranoid, it would be useless (yes, I can see into the future, I also know something about victimology). 

Isn’t it easier to go southbound since it is downhill? Last time I checked, which was in second grade, a mountain is a mountain. In order to go down it you must climb up, so the direction you choose to approach it has very little to do with it. Also, last time I checked (second grade), the continent is not sloped downward from the north. I know all the rivers flowing south throws some people off, but the terrain is pretty much similar traveling along the AT. 

Have you read “Wild”? No.

Have you read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods”? No.

Did you see the movie? Which one? I saw Maze Runner with Bailey in a theatre. That was the last movie I saw on the “big screen”. Oh? You mean “Wild”. No. But have you seen “Jeremiah Johnson” with Robert Redford? Great movie. Or how about “Little Children”? That was pretty good. You should come over, we plan on watching all of the Bourne Identity movies in succession next weekend.

How will you… you know? Take a dump? I might use a privy if I’m at a shelter. Privy or latrine is what your great grandparents called an “outhouse”. If we are in town we’ll use a bathroom. On the trail? You wander a few hundred feet from the trail and water sources, dig a hole with a trowel, squat, and… Do you really need instructions on how to do that? Bury it when your done.

What will you do if you see a bear? Take a picture and video it. Put it up on YouTube.

What will happen to you when it rains? The same thing that happens to you. I’ll get wet. They make these things, called rain jackets. Unless you drool stupid, look up with your mouth open, and promptly drown, you should probably put one on. Some folks have carried umbrellas while hiking, and some use ponchos. We use rain jackets, and rain pants. Cover your pack if needed with a pack cover/modified trash bag, and keep going. It rains in various locations throughout the world and humans have developed methods for staying moderately dry during such occasions.

Do you need a knife? Me? No, I have several. I’m taking a small one. A Leatherman Micra.

What about a radio? We have a phone. A Samsung Galaxy. I did contemplate taking a small radio, but the weight and need for batteries just won’t justify it. The other thing is I don’t listen to country music, and the AT winds through hillbilly land, which means the strongest radio signals come from country music and gospel stations. Besides, WRAS (GSU college radio station) was taken over by NPR. We’ll listen to music using Spotify or the music stored on my iPod, which I am bringing. 

What about really bad weather? Like tornados and lightning? Tornados are infrequent in mountainous regions, even along the AT, due to the geographical features. Lightning is a concern, so we plan accordingly. We won’t camp on top of mountains during thunderstorms. You should be more concerned about those things than we are. Don’t you watch the news? Some guy was zapped by lightning while standing in his backyard in Marietta, and tornados tear up subdivisions. Talk about vendettas.

Snow? Get snowshoes. I doubt we’ll need snowshoes. Climate change hasn’t reached those proportions, yet. Here’s a trick/tip: Put plastic bags over your socks and then put your shoes on. I hear that helps. It might make things a stink sauna, but at least they aren’t cold and wet. I’m thinking about getting a pair of Gortex socks, but it might be redundant since my trail runners have a waterproof membrane. One way to find out. Hike in the snow.

What will you two eat? Freeze dried? MRE? Velveeta Cheese and Shells, with bacon bits. Knorr Pasta Sides, instant mashed potatoes, tortillas and peanut butter, Snickers bars, dried fruit, jerky, Ramen. You know? Crap. Whatever. Freeze dried meals are used by people who have no idea as to what they are doing. They are fine the first few times you backpack, but after that they suck. MREs are heavy, and in all honesty I hate them. Plus those things are expensive, not to mention hard to come by while resupplying in a trail town. Go to a Dollar General or grocery store. What you see there is probably what we will eat, as long as it isn’t in a can.

You should take a bigger knife? That little thing you have won’t help you at all? It has scissors, so yes, it will help. Many people don’t carry a knife at all while thru-hiking. A knife is the least used piece of equipment on any backpacking trip. A bigger knife won’t help. Try and dig a splinter out of your finger with a K-Bar. You can’t.

What if one of you gets sick or injured? What happens if you get sick or injured? See? Same thing. Nothing changes. It’s the Appalachian Trail, not the Gobi Desert. Most towns have a doctor, pharmacy, and a hospital nearby. Doctors Without Borders does not have to set up in Roan, VA, or Boone, NC. We’ll be in the U.S., with health insurance. And money. Our first aid kits are set up to address the common cold, blisters, and minor cuts. Maybe poison ivy and chafing.

Do you have hiking boots? I’m starting with Salomon trail runners. Bailey has a pair of Keens. That will probably change as the miles add up. We’ll need new shoes on a frequent basis. Boots are overrated, and do nothing but add weight to your feet. Most people believe they give ankle support, but they don’t. They only protect your ankles from abrasions on the trail, and make it harder for debris to get into your shoes. Wear gaiters if that is a concern.

You are both using down for jackets and sleeping bags? If it gets wet you will die of hypothermia. Have you thought about synthetic? Thought about it, then forgot about it. There is a solution to wet down. Don’t get it wet. It’s not hard. Get a trash compactor bag and use it as a pack liner. Pack your down in decent stuff sacks and close them. Here’s the thing about the whole down vs. synthetic argument: wet is wet, and neither will insulate you. Go get your synthetic jacket and put it in your bath tub under the faucet. Now put it on and go outside. Are you warm yet? No. Why? Because it is wet, and now you’re wet too. Synthetic material will retain some of its insulation properties when wet, but in reality that means nothing. Down takes longer to dry, and that is the reason people choose synthetic. Most down insulation jackets have waterproof or water resistant shells, the same as the synthetic stuff. My down sleeping bag has a waterproof membrane, which is why it is heavier than most other down bags, but still lighter than a synthetic. If you get synthetic insulation wet it is still wet, and you will be cold, regardless.

You really need to rethink this gun thing. No I don’t. Fourteen states, and different state and national parks. All of them with different gun laws. We have to travel over 2,000 miles on foot, and worry about making it to Katahdin before the snow falls. The last thing we need to worry about is being in compliance with the carry laws of different jurisdictions. The last thing I am worried about is a bear attack, which a handgun will be useless during (caliber too small). I’m not concerned about criminals, because the truth is they do things easy. Is it lucrative to assault and rob people on the AT? How much money could you get doing that? Nice job Al Capone. You netted a cat food stove and ten dollars in your last heist. Criminals stick to easy targets, like soccer moms driving SUVs at Lenox Mall. Serial killers don’t hike for days on end, and suffer through rain and cold, in order to get a victim. The military might, but not a John Wayne Gacy. I’m sure somebody will carry a gun on a thru-hike, and then promptly call a family member to meet them before the half-way point to come and get it.

If you are a SUL Hipster feel free to leave your snide comments. If you are a family member, friend, or even a stranger, worried about my safety or the safety of my son (13, taller than me, and same weight, slightly less ninja skill, about the same mountain man) chime in.

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