A couple of months ago, I talked about some of the world's greatest hikes and how we were considering doing one of them. The Thames Path at 184 miles was sort of a trial run to see whether we could still hike reasonable distances each day for days or weeks at a time, while carrying full packs. Although it wasn't without a few blisters and there were the occasional 'Ibuprofen nights' we had a glorious time, and there was nothing that dissuaded us from trying something more ambitious.
One very enjoyable aspect of the Thames Path, of course, was that we had the luxury of sleeping in hotels and pubs each night. We usually ate one or two meals a day in a pub or restaurant and relaxed with a couple of pints each evening - all in all, a very civilized method of hiking.
There are very few of the world's greatest hikes that allow this type of luxurious approach, however. For the majority of the hikes, it’s necessary for the trekker to carry not only his/her own supplies, tent, stove and sleeping bag, but actually sleep on the ground each night. There are expedition companies that arrange everything: transport all the gear, set up camp each night and prepare all the meals. That doesn't sound at all bad, but there are some downsides - we'd be with a group of people, the trip lasts only a week or two, covering only a small section of one of the great hikes, and are quite expensive. In addition, there is very little room for flexibility – we couldn't, say, on the spur of the moment decide to take a zero day, sleep in late and/or explore the local village. All in all, the expedition approach doesn’t appeal to us.
So, that begs a couple of questions. First is whether we can, being the geriatric backpackers we are, carry everything we'd need for the typical four or five days of hiking between supply stops – food, water, tent, stove, fuel, sleeping bags, sleeping pad, rain gear, layers of clothing and so on. Will we have the space to pack it all, and can we keep it light enough that we can actually pick it up and carry it all day. Ideally, we'd like to keep our pack weights below 20 pounds. Meeting the bulk and weight goals are doable if we take a minimalist approach and/or are willing to spend the money necessary to buy lightweight gear. For example, there are simple water filters and stoves available that aren't as efficient as some of the more expensive versions, but which are smaller, cheaper and weigh less. On the other hand, good lightweight tents, sleeping bags, pads and rain gear cost considerably more than their less expensive but bulky, heavy counterparts.
The second question is whether we're now way too old to sleep on the ground, utilizing only the lightweight backpacking gear we can carry. Will we spend a very long night with throbbing backs, hips and shoulders, then be too 'stove-up' in the morning to get into an upright position or tie our own shoes? Will I be too cranky to live with? Time to find out.
We have a tent and sleeping bags, and we just bought two, very lightweight sleeping pads. This coming week, we'll be heading out to a campground in Blue to see how we do sleeping on the ground. This experiment won't be anything like four or five days on the trail, filtering our water, cooking on a tiny, one-burner stove, and doing our morning ablutions behind a bush, but it'll be a start.
I'll provide a full report next week, assuming the scorpions and rattlesnakes don't get us. Just kidding, Marcie – honest!