Friday, July 25, 2014

Backpacking the Maryland Challenge

I’m heading off into the woods on Monday to tackle a 41 mile section of the Appalachian Trail from Pen Mar PA to Harpers Ferry WV… and then 41 miles back in a really ambitious 4 days. The total mileage is going to be something closer to 90 miles by the time I’m done. I expect that I’m going to have more to say about hex crawls, weather, and encumbrance after I get back!

I do have a couple of posts queued up, but don’t expect any replies to comments or e-mail for a few days.

What I’m bringing for 4 days/3 nights:

Hooded rain jacket
2 quick dry synthetic t-shirts
2 pair of shorts
6 pair wool socks
Hiking shoes
Baseball cap
Regular glasses
Plastic poncho

3 liter waterskin
1 liter UV water bottle
light sleeping bag
camp stove+steno
Cookpot, Cup, Spork
LED flashlight
Cell Phone
Solar Cell Charger
First Aid kit
Emergency Kit (Whistle, Rope, Compass, Mirror, Matches, Duct Tape)
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Walking sticks
Bug Spray
Trash Bag

8 power bars
6 packets of oatmeal
6 fun size candybars 
1 bag homemade trail mix
4 instant coffee packets
3 dinner packets

Total Weight: About 30lbs, of which about 1/3 is water.

In preparation for the trip I've reviewed a number of backpacking websites, read numerous accounts of the Maryland Challenge and the 4 state Challenge, as well as journals of various hikers who have attempted the Maryland section of the AT.

For the most part I was pretty buoyed by what I read, and feeling psyched about the whole thing. The instances where people dropped out of the Challenges were mostly due to injury, often really bad blisters. Since I’m not planning on trying to do all 40+ miles in 24 hours, I’m not too worried about that.

What I am worried about is being slow. There was one journal ( where it took the one guy 2 days to do 22 miles. In the second paragraph, there’s this line:

“Even if we finished the day at a brisk 2 mph pace (and that didn’t seem likely), we were facing at least a mile in the dark.”

A brisk 2mph?!?! Then again, it looks like he was carrying WAY more than is even close to necessary for an overnight hike.

Yesterday my sleeping bag and solar charger arrived, so I packed my pack to see how it looks/feels. I’ll be taking it out for a spin this weekend so I can get an idea of what my trip will feel like, and see what adjustments I’ll need to make to my packing.

I can already tell you that 30lbs is a lot of extra weight... off balance weight too. Having it all right behind you radically changes your center of balance. I'll be adjusting what I'm carrying, and how I carry it over the weekend. And even what I've got is around a third of what a soldier carries in the field! Yikes.  


  1. Food looks light to me (unless that's one big bag of gorp) do you have enough calories per day?.Are you bringing an extra pair of shoes/boots/hiking sandals? Pack more food 3 liters of water is under 7 pounds.
    90 miles in 4 days is also really optimistic unless you've done this a lot but over 20 miles a day is a whole lot of not fun.
    A full pack is definitely awkward keep that in mind if you ever catch yourself hoping across mud or a stream.
    I haven't done many long distance trips myself but I've never been upset I brought in too much food.
    Sounds like an adventure.

    1. It's 1 big bag divided into... 4 or 5 sandwich bags. I'm also not carrying my first morning's breakfast, or my Tuesday dinner (stopping for a burger). If I don't have enough food, I can pick more up at the bottom of the trail before I turn around.
      I've got a pair of hiking shoes and hiking sandals.

    2. Cool I hadn't thought of how close resupply might be on the route. Lot's of folks forget the extra pair of shoes anything past a few miles and an overnight trip needs a second pair of shoes, just in case; wet footwear makes hiking very unpleasant.
      (Here's how you can tell I'm from further up north) Are you packing a sweater or sweatshirt it can get chilly at night and early morning even in the summer?

      Sound like fun. One of my pals wanted do a combo hiking and canoeing trip years back that he thought we could do in 5 days (2 days downstream and 3 days walk back) I forget the exact distance but at 15 miles a day it would have taken us about a week to walk back, we didn't do that trip.

    3. I'm from New England, so I get the cold. It really isn't here, even though it'll be cooler than is seasonal. I think I'm going to skip the rain jacket (it's heavy) in favor of a long sleeve shirt. Not a sweater or sweatshirt though.

      Yikes... yeah. I'm trying to be realistic about my speed. But at 2mph, and 10 hours, I should be able to do 20 miles a day. Not to say it won't hurt, but it *should* be doable.

  2. Sounds awesome! Best of luck and please report back! Looking forward to the D&D Hexcrawl angle. Try looking for a ruined tower or a hidden lair while you're traveling. See how hard it really is to roll that 1 on a d6. ; )

    1. Will do! Since I'll be sticking to the trail in order to cover the 20miles/day, I probably won't have too many hidden lair encounters.

  3. Definitely looking forward to hearing your insights on hexcrawling after this. I haven't done an 80-90 mile hike, myself, but in my experience 30 lbs is about my limit for comfortable encumbrance (I did once hike in to a campsite with swords, but that was just a few miles - and anyway swords are a lot lighter than you might think; the two swords totaled maybe 5 lbs), though I feel like I could do 60 in a pinch.

    1. I think it's definitely going to shade how my games are run, but we'll see!

  4. Oh, I just checked your equipment list. Get an AT trail guide, if you dont already have one, and plan your hike so that you can camp at the prepared camp sites. They have outhouses at them, which means no need for the spade. You possibly won't even need a tent if the camp sites youll stop at have shelters. You need a sleep mat to keep the ground from sucking the heat out of you, even in the summer. Oh, and bring water purification. Don't think you're going to boil your water. It is a bad idea, been there, done that. Oh, and be sure you have something to work as a bear bag.

    1. Hi Pippin,
      I have mapped out my route to get me to shelters for the night, but from what I've read, they're a little on the small side, and depending on how busy it is, I'm not guaranteed a spot. The spade is a little plastic one, and doesn't weigh very much at all. The 1 liter bottle has a filter and a UV light which is supposed to kill anything in the water. As for a sleeping mat... yeah. That's a good idea.