February - looking forward and backward on trail - lessons learned in loneliness - things to do this month

Time has been slowing down for me. I'm waiting for my two new pieces of kit to arrive in the mail so that I can put my pack together and try out some new ideas. I want to try inflating my sleeping pad slightly to have it act as more of a back pad in the pack during the day. I think this will make packing a whole lot easier. Normally I have to pack all of my insulation between my food bag and my back to save myself some discomfort. Using the sleeping pad in this fashion should allow me to pack my insulation much more loosely, which is always a plus.

My SUL (super ultralight) pack is probably around 30 liters in storage volume. I wonder how much spare room I will have now that I have replaced my winter bivy, my 30 degree mummy bag, and my down puffy jacket.

I've thought about heading out early often, since the weather has been so mild here in Chattanooga. I know, though, that the mountains can be brutal until well into April when the weather actually starts to turn. With how far north I'll be starting back, I know it's smarter to just wait for favorable conditions.

I found myself going from hostel to hostel and waiting for weather changes when I hiked alone in Wintry conditions last year. Still, I got caught out with knee-deep snow drifts and temperatures as low as -11 degrees Fahrenheit. It was slow going, as I was alone and trying to keep my promise that I would hike in the safest conditions I could. I had everything I needed to stay warm and be safe, but there's a special kind of loneliness that ambushes you when you know that there's a fireplace with a bunch of friendly faces around it behind you.

There are some powerful places that I'm glad I visited alone, don't get me wrong. I crossed a frozen Roan and its accompanying balds. The windswept, frozen ridge lines were breathtaking. I have this deep feeling of pride when I think about making that trip through those highlands. I can see myself slowly making my way across the massive open spaces, climbing higher through a through the patchworks of frozen grass and stone to the tops of balds. It felt amazing to travel through, and be so comfortable in, such a harsh place.


Like anything else, being alone can take practice. I remember feeling like a little kid, homesick while sleeping over at my cousin's house for the first time and wanting my dad to come pick me up in the middle of the night, when I was in the woods alone for the first time in 2016 going NOBO in Georgia. There were warning signs about bear activity everywhere, and every sound I heard was assumed to be a black bear coming to check out my camp. I made a long fire to burn several hours, giving me the strong psychological boost that only a fire can when you're in the woods alone. Even so, I called my fiancee and kept her on speaker phone until I could fall asleep. I used up most of my phone's battery that night.

I felt the same way coming back to the trail the next March, going NOBO again from where I'd flipped to hike in Maine with friends to avoid the brunt of the summer heat. I hiked out of hot springs northbound, quickly outstripped by the first waves of "fast nobos" and well ahead of the slower hikers with later start dates. Most nights were spent alone in shelters, and I took comfort in talking to the lens of my phone's camera.

Talking to an audience on my one remaining social media account has always been a good way to make myself feel less isolated. I'ts cool to be able to go back and see how I felt at different points of the trail. There are more than a few short videos where I explain that how bad of a day I'm having. I think that going back and seeing how bad some of those days felt, and how low my mental state got, really helps me steel myself for hard times to come.

No matter how lonely or worn out I've gotten, it's always been something worth experiencing. More importantly, there's always something awesome to enjoy before too long.

I feel like after several months you learn to hike (live) for the good days. It may not be the same for everyone, but I've also learned that company makes for much sweeter memories. I think these are the two most important things I've taken to heart since starting the trail.

Changing gears:

So there's some things I want and need to get finished before we get too close to hopping back on trail here in the next few months.

Most importantly, I need to get my health insurance situation figured out. Whoa, right?
Yeah, so getting my insurance figured out has been a nightmare. I don't know how many hours I've spent on the phone trying to get my first payment in to activate my coverage. It's been such a pain in the ass that I've gotten an exemption that lets me have until March to pick a plan. Well March is stomping its way towards me, and I'm just going to have to change my approach. I'm going to start all over and go with a different provider and a different plan. Everyone has told me to pick one provider over another, but it's like that provider doesn't want to help me give them money.

It's been an endless cycle of someone not knowing, transferring me to another person who should know, and then being told that I need to talk to someone else at another office / entity. Twice now I've been put on hold forever, just to have the line cut out eventually. No call back even though they had my cell number. Finally I request help from a supervisor, citing having been hung up on and not gotten any help. I was told that I'd get a call within 24-48 hours. Nothing. So I'm done with that provider.

Next, I need to figure out what I'm going to do with my car insurance payments. I think I'd like to cancel my coverage and park my car under a carport for a while. If I'm going to be on trail for the season why pay insurance on the car I'm not driving? Its a really a very large expense against my savings and feels like a huge waste.

Finally I need to shape up my investments before I hit the trail. Internet service is spotty enough that I won't be able to check my stocks when I want to. I've been transitioning my portfolio to all long-term and dividend paying positions.

I'm going to get started on the health insurance problem today. Gah, be motivated and get important things done!