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Apalachian trail anyone?

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Kansas.  Hmmm.  Hills will be a problem; different muscles, different blisters, different speeds.  

Pop quiz: Is it easier to hike uphill or downhill?

Uphill.

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Back in the dim ages ( '70s) my troop did a 50 miler on the AT every other year, during Easter vacation.   In the VA, Md, PA. sections   I tagged alomg with scoutson #4 on a 75 mile Philmont prep hike in 2015 so I guess I know something about the middle i\of the trail. never have hiked the southern or norther ends   The thru hikers I chatted with over the years seem to think the trail in skyline drive is the best for nubies as well as very pretty.  I would stay away from Maine until your scouts have a few hundred miles under their belts.  

 

OLd scout

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From the start in Ga through the Blood Mountain segment is a pretty good starter. The stretch up through Albert Mtn. is spectacular and plenty of access to water off to the sides. Outside of winter, I'd just avoid GSMNP alltogether. Way too crowded. Actually, even though it's spectacular, it's so messed up most places I'd just hike it again for the record and not for the enjoyment.

Up around Blacksburg, Va is a really nice stretch and on into Shenandoah...just lovely.

But coming from KANSAS!!! Holy smokes I have a tough time imagining what kind of prep that would require.

For you I recommend the Ozarks. Closer too.

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One of my specialties!!  I have hiked sections of the AT with a co-worker for the last few years, and have taken scouts in the past.  My recommendations:

 

New England:  Best only for the most experienced hikers.  First-timers will be miserable in short order.

 

NY, NJ:  Intermediate level.  Some of the AT in New Jersey is on public roads, white blazes and all going into PA.

 

PA:  I call it "Rocksylvania" :)  Nice views---The Pinnacle is worth the climb.  Joke is that the rangers go out and sharpen the rocks at night.  Pennsylvania eats a lot of hiking boots! Some tough climbs but the views are spectacular.

 

VA: Especially Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive) Ideal for beginning hikers!!!   Lots of Black Bear and deer to be seen! Can be brutally hot in July/August!  HYDRATE!!!!

 

I am planning on doing 100 miles in 10 days in the southern half of Shenandoah this July.  I haven't done anything south of Virginia, but you can google PLENTY of info on what the trail is like in ANY section.  Many higher end sporting goods stores have or can get topo/terrain maps for any section from the Appalachian Mountain Club. ($10 per map). 

 

Do a 5-mile test day-hike with your group over varying terrain with full backpacks, as if you're actually going. All the gear should be carried by the group! Do a shakedown!   FITNESS IS KEY!!!  No whiny cry babies allowed!!  Mommy can't come pick you up, even if your cell phone works! (tell 'em to leave those at home!! Once the batteries die, that's it! Enjoy carrying the dead weight! NO charging stations on the AT!)  Those who can't complete the 5 mile test hike do not go on the AT, period.  They need to know this in advance so there are no surprises or disappointments!  The group works TOGETHER.  Much of the AT goes through wilderness!!!!  Carry PLENTY of water and purification tablets.  Never trust any water source on the AT no matter what.  Giardia is NO fun!!!

 

Know where the shelters/camping areas are.  Your maps will indicate them!  You can't just set up camp anywhere on the AT, there are designated areas.  Shelters are first-come, first-served, so always have "Plan B" at the ready, you will need it!    

 

"Be Prepared" and an AT hike will be something your Scouts will talk about for the rest of their lives!!!

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It can be done.   Start here:  http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/explore-the-trail   Each section of the AT is maintained by a local club.  The sections are defined in the ATC website.  It is natural and rural , more so in parts.  Lots of maps available,  Coast and Geodedic Survey..... Google is your friend.... 

 

For a teaser, see "The AT in 5 minutes"  https://vimeo.com/20218520   

 

The ATC headquarters is in Harpers Ferry, which is, as you may glean, a touristy place, National Park.  

 

There are Hostels in some areas you can avail yourselves of:  https://www.hiusa.org/  click around to find them.

 

Out of state adventure?   More flat?   Nations Capitol?   C&O Canal , connects to the Allegheny  Trail , Washington DC  to Pittsburgh (mostly up hill that way):  330 miles total https://gaptrail.org/

 

Spread the maps out on the floor and start dreaming. 

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But coming from KANSAS!!! Holy smokes I have a tough time imagining what kind of prep that would require.

For you I recommend the Ozarks. Closer too.

 

It is actually not that bad. My guys that went to Colorado last year did a little prep but had to time to acclimate to altitude. Took it easy the first few days and hydrated 5-6 liters per day. Slow and steady, but they got to see a great deal and still managed 32 miles.When done they realized that they could have done more...way more...but were satisfied as Flatlanders.

 

AT won't give them the altitude issues CO did, but they should not under estimate the up/down of the AT. Ridgelines are your friend. ;)

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Our Troop has done many trips Georgia through Virginia. Consensus is that the ones near the North Carolina/Tennessee border were (mostly) the best. We do it and Tampa is VERY flat (highest point is around 60 feet). We do a lot of practice is on the convention center stairs which are 3 stories. With packs. Best to lose as much excess fat before hand...you'll think deeply on that point going uphill.

 

But I did it and I am a crippled old man. Going downhill with a pack takes some practice and can be hard of the knees.

 

As for the shelters we got them about 80-90% of the time. Some of them were cool and some of them ratty. We started out early every day and try to it our target shelter around 4pm while there was still space. I kept a tarp, light weight ground cloth, and some cord and used by trekking poles (the Walmart specials with 300 miles on them) for poles. Usually worked good enough even with Chipmunks running over my feet all night. Really you will be so tired you will sleep anywhere.

 

You can Google videos of a lot of sections and they give you a good idea. And get some profile maps. You are never really THAT far from civilization and 90% of the people are really nice to you for bringing today's youth on the AT.

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I did a solo hike from Tennessee to Ga southbound.  About 325 miles in 28 days last September.  Averaged 12 miles a day.  Had two or three days where I only did about 8 miles due to weather, waiting for post office to open to get food drop, etc.  Hiked 2 weeks, took a zero mileage rest day, and then two more weeks.  Towards the end I was covering 16+ a day with ease.  55 year old solo is different from group of teenage scouts.

 

Was covering 10 miles a day at home with full pack in 4 hours during training.  Took 8 hours on the trail.  I live in Ga where it is hilly.  Thought I was ready.  Nope.  Trail taught me differently.  But by the end of week one was able to hike 12 a day with relative ease.  On trail by 8-8:30, 12 miles covered by 4-5pm.  Shelters are about 12 miles apart. 

 

Hydrate and calories.  Make sure everyone is taking in calories on a regular basis.  I carried trail mix, granola bars, peanuts/cashews and jerky.  Each was about 100-150 calories per serving.  Eat any two at breakfast, any two after 1.5-2 hours, 4 choices at lunch, another two after 1.5-2 hours and then a dehydrated meal of ~700 calories for evening meal.  Drank at least 1 gallon of water a day plus water for cooking.   Drank a measured 1/2 liter every two hours plus sucking on my camelback. 

 

Did not eat enough calories often enough during first few days.  Crashed on the trail about 3-4 one afternoon.  Make the lads eat even if not hungry.  Lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat.  Make lads drink.  Lack of fluids and calories will show quickly.  Once I ate and drank enough, body did a lot better quickly.  Figure at least 2000 calories per person per day.  Cliff bars are about 350-450 calories and take up same space as above choices.  Eat at least one a day to boost the calorie intake.  Body needs protein when exercising all day.  Jerky is pure protein.  Some days eating a 100 calorie package of jerky I could physically feel my body respond to the protein while eating.  Not terribly tasty but your body will do much better with it. 

 

I carried individual snak pak mandarin oranges as a prize for myself.  Usually ate during the afternoon break with the above two choices.  Heavy but the sugar was a great afternoon boost and the liquid helped.  Not everyone is willing to carry the extra weight but I loved them.

 

The only way to get lost on the AT is to actively walk off the trail.  The GA section is relatively easy hiking.  Trails are relatively flat, fewer rocks, wider, just plain easier than NC or Tennessee.   When planning the hike, look at elevation change, not just distance.  Climbing 2000 feet is much more challenging then 500 feet.  Smoky Mountains have a 3000 ft. change at both ends.  That is a long day of nothing but uphill.  Set your treadmill to steepest incline, set a concrete block under the front, put on 35 lb. pack and then walk for 8 hours.  Tough day.

 

A day of 300 up, 200 down, 500 up, 200 down, 300 up, 200 down is much easier than 1100 up.  Same amount of Up but it is spread out over the day.  The more elevation change, the less distance you should plan to cover.  Everyone will have a bad day at some point.  Everyone will have a super easy day.  Expect it and allow for it.  Someone will always be ready to race down the trail one day and next day struggle to make it half the distance. 

 

One day I covered my planned 11 miles by 4pm.   Had to get into town the next day to get food.  Pulled out map and it was 4 more miles to the road.  Got lucky and it was all down hill with virtually rock free dirt trail.  Covered 4 miles in 2 hours, hitch hiked into town, and got a room for the night by 6:30.  Great day.  One day my body gave out by 4pm.  Thought I would sit and rest.  Passed out for 45 minutes.  Fortunately water source was only 300 yards up the trail.  Topped off water, ate some food and camped right there, 5 miles short of my 12 mile plan.   That day was lots of elevation and too little calories early on in the trek. 

 

Never used trekking poles prior to this trip.  Wow.  They make a huge difference.  The adults will really appreciate them.  Boys are too full of themselves and may not like them.  You transfer some of the hiking to your upper body and ease the strain on the lower body.  Hands don't swell and prevent falls.  You can hike farther and easier with them.  Get some.  Really.  Get some.

 

Water.  You can carry and you can fill along the way.  I carried 1 gallon.  I would drink and every time I passed a water source would top off.  That's 8 pounds.  That's a lot.  1/3 my total pack weight.  Most thru hikers carry only 1 litter to 2 liters at most.  Different times of the year some water sources dry up.  I never had problem finding water where the maps said it was.  Often nothing more than a trickle.  You do need to purify.  Lots of options.  Keep your purification handy cause you will be gathering water at least three to six times a day.   Rule, everyone tops off water containers when at water source.

 

Hiking the AT is not really much different that Philmont.  Except you plan you own food and there are no planned activities each afternoon.  Philmont treks average about 6-8 miles a day.  Little tougher on the AT due to spacing of shelters.  Instead of mining for gold, lumberjacking, rappelling or other Philmont activities, you just hike further.   Philmont provides food drops every 3 days.  AT you might go 4 days between sources.  You can go into town and buy food or mail food to yourself.  Mailing food can be tricky if you show up to Post Office and they are closed due to weekend/holiday or your package doesn't arrive until next day.   Not that difficult to plan.  I mailed my food to the PO and picked up about every 3-5 days depending on trail and PO locations.

 

Was nice to eat "real food" in town once a week or so.  You can plan that into your trek as well.  Some places the trail goes thru town and other places town is 10-15 miles away.  Trail towns often have shuttles and similar low $ rides.  As a solo hiker, would hitch hike into town and get shuttles/trail rides back to the trail.  With group, hitch hiking will not likely work. 

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Something to keep in mind:  

Not every Scout has the LNT, Outdoor Ethics thing down.   I have met some Park Rangers (and others) that have come across the "leavings" of not-so-responsible Scout Patrols/Troops, and who therefore have a poor regard of Scouting in general.  The group is often judged by the actions of only one member.  

   Let your Scouts, no matter where you hike/camp/visit,  understand your expectations of them, that those are also their PARENTS' expectations, and the general public's expectations.

 

"Character is what you do when you think no one is watching".

Edited by SSScout

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oh, I wish that i was closer to a trail like it, any trail.  I would love to try some short segments.... even just on my own with scoutson, if not with the troop.  I did some backpacking up around Boone NC when i was in college.... I have always used that as my baseline for what camping really is.

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We've done segments in PA, NJ and NY - great trail.  The sections we do are pretty highly travelled -- especially on weekends.  There are a lot of backpacking trails across the country -- we've done some short ones - Pinchot Trail in PA (around 20 miles) and some long ones like Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway (around 54 miles).  This summer we are doing the West Rim Trail of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (around 30 miles).  I've challenged my son to do the Maine 100 Mile Wiilderness on the AT or the Tahoe Rim Trail in three years and then do Patagonia with me and his best friend before leaving for college.  Maybe even fit Philmont in 2018.  

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I thru-hiked the AT from Katahdin to Springer (Maine to Georgia - most go from Georgia to Maine - I wanted to get the 100 mile wilderness out of the way early in the trip - not at the end of the trip when I would likely be far more exhausted) back in 1981.  The trail has changed a lot since then.  Back when I hit the trail, folks around the trail didn't really like thru-hikers much - there were places with hiker hostels but "trail angels" were very few and far between.  You were as likely to be robbed, or beaten while heading in to town as you wetre to be offered a friendly ride.  You never left your backpack outside when you went in to the post office for your resupply - it would be gone by the time you got back outside - smart hikers left them hidden where they left the trail.  There were unofficial guides to the AT that you were wise to pay attention to - they would tell you which post offices were the best for resupply drops and which post offices to avoid at all costs.  Which towns were friendly and which were places to avoid.  They were detailed enough to tell you locations along the trail where it passed by farmer's land that were best to move past quickly because of unfriendly folks.  I hate to say it but most of the warnings were about the Southern states.

 

That has mostly changed - there may still be some unfriendly people out there but they're probably miserable old (and young) sots that are unfriendly in general.  There are now towns along the trail that hold trail festivals and more places for folks to leave the trail and find good restaurants, supplies, hostels, etc.  There are a lot more people now attempting to thru-hike - and in the "the more the merrier" vein, it also means that the trail does have more of a "party" atmosphere but from what I've read, and heard, and talked about with friends from my college who thru-hiked recently (and later in life), the partying tends to take place in town and at various trail festivals (except for the guy last year that did the AT in less than 45 days and to celbrate, popped a champagne bottle open on top of Katahdin to party like it's 1999.  He was outraged that a park ranger gave him multiple tickets, including for having too large of a group with him (a lot of his friends showed up and went up the mountain with him - group sizes are limited), for littering (he was outraged that champagne foam would be considered littering though it was the cork that he let fly that got him the ticket) and for having an alcoholic beverage in the park itself.  He was young and felt entitled - Maine smacked him back).  There are now thru-hikers (or mega-section hikers) who plan the timing of their hike to go from festival to festival during the season.

 

Another sign of change - I was at a presentation at my library of a guy who thru-hiked and he asked if anyone had thru-hiked it.  Naturally I raised my hand and he asked me about "yogi-ing".  I had no clue what it was so he explained that it was sidling up to folks having picnics and being like Yogi the Bear - begging for food.  When he expressed surprise that I had never heard of it, I told him that I hiked it in 1981 and if anyone tried Yogi-ing back then, they'd likely find themselves beaten bloody or sitting in the sheriff's jail for the night. 

 

So where to go?  My #1 choice would be Virginia.  My #2 would be Maryland.  Georgia is good too.  I would, unless you have lots of experience backpacking in mountains, stay away from North Carolina and Tennessee.  If you travel through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will need permits and must camp in designated camp sites.  This is also where the highest mountains in the AT are located.  Pennsylvania has some excellent ridge walking, but the trail is wicked on boots - there is a lot of shale on the trail in PA.  New Jersey and New York aren't bad but you may as well hike in Kansas.  Massachussets and Vermont would be good but stay away from Maine and New Hampshire.  The trail goes through the White Mountains in New Hampshire and it's not for beginners.  Maine is (in my humble opinion) the most beautiful part of the trail but it is one of the most difficult - and most remote.

 

Summer is going to be very busy almost anywhere on the trail, but particularly through the mid-section of the trail when all the thru-hikers are coming thru.  If you could arrange it, I would suggest doing the Virginia portion of the trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway or through Shenandoah National Park in September.  Why September?  Summer vacationers are not on the trail, and the North-bound thru-hikers are long gone and the South-bound thru-hikers should be thru already.  (I know - but September - school is in session - think outside the box!).

 

And a word about those trail shelters.  Some can indeed be rodent infested - Section and Thru-hikers are rarely to blame for that - they don't tend to make too much food and leave a bunch of trash.  They (we) tend to blame weekend warriors who hike up, take over a shelter for the weekend and have beer parties, or Boy Scout Troops, who often hike up on a weekend trip, take over a shelter, and just become slobs.  Can you guess which groups of people thru-hikers tend to despise when they come across them on the trail?  Weekend warriors and Boy Scouts and sorry to say, Boy Scouts rank higher on the scale of hatred towards than weekend warriors.  Most weekend warriors start to pass out after they've had a few too many and are quiet (except for loud snoring) - Boy Scout Troops tend to be loud, for a long time - nothing demoralizes a thru-hiker more after hiking for 15 miles to come upon a shelter full of loud, noisy and obnoxious Boy Scouts spilling out of the shelter and taking up way too much of the surrounding camping sites and realizing they've got to hike on another couple of miles at least before they can set up camp and cook their meal.  Please don't become one of those groups.

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From the start in Ga through the Blood Mountain segment is a pretty good starter. The stretch up through Albert Mtn. is spectacular and plenty of access to water off to the sides. Outside of winter, I'd just avoid GSMNP alltogether. Way too crowded. Actually, even though it's spectacular, it's so messed up most places I'd just hike it again for the record and not for the enjoyment.

Up around Blacksburg, Va is a really nice stretch and on into Shenandoah...just lovely.

But coming from KANSAS!!! Holy smokes I have a tough time imagining what kind of prep that would require.

For you I recommend the Ozarks. Closer too.

We thought the Georgia sections especially Blood Mountain were a bit harder than NC/TN/VA. It seems they had never heard of switchbacks...

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I did a solo hike from Tennessee to Ga southbound.  About 325 miles in 28 days last September.  Averaged 12 miles a day.  Had two or three days where I only did about 8 miles due to weather, waiting for post office to open to get food drop, etc.  Hiked 2 weeks, took a zero mileage rest day, and then two more weeks.  Towards the end I was covering 16+ a day with ease.  55 year old solo is different from group of teenage scouts.

 

Was covering 10 miles a day at home with full pack in 4 hours during training.  Took 8 hours on the trail.  I live in Ga where it is hilly.  Thought I was ready.  Nope.  Trail taught me differently.  But by the end of week one was able to hike 12 a day with relative ease.  On trail by 8-8:30, 12 miles covered by 4-5pm.  Shelters are about 12 miles apart. 

 

Hydrate and calories.  Make sure everyone is taking in calories on a regular basis.  I carried trail mix, granola bars, peanuts/cashews and jerky.  Each was about 100-150 calories per serving.  Eat any two at breakfast, any two after 1.5-2 hours, 4 choices at lunch, another two after 1.5-2 hours and then a dehydrated meal of ~700 calories for evening meal.  Drank at least 1 gallon of water a day plus water for cooking.   Drank a measured 1/2 liter every two hours plus sucking on my camelback. 

 

Did not eat enough calories often enough during first few days.  Crashed on the trail about 3-4 one afternoon.  Make the lads eat even if not hungry.  Lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat.  Make lads drink.  Lack of fluids and calories will show quickly.  Once I ate and drank enough, body did a lot better quickly.  Figure at least 2000 calories per person per day.  Cliff bars are about 350-450 calories and take up same space as above choices.  Eat at least one a day to boost the calorie intake.  Body needs protein when exercising all day.  Jerky is pure protein.  Some days eating a 100 calorie package of jerky I could physically feel my body respond to the protein while eating.  Not terribly tasty but your body will do much better with it. 

 

I carried individual snak pak mandarin oranges as a prize for myself.  Usually ate during the afternoon break with the above two choices.  Heavy but the sugar was a great afternoon boost and the liquid helped.  Not everyone is willing to carry the extra weight but I loved them.

 

The only way to get lost on the AT is to actively walk off the trail.  The GA section is relatively easy hiking.  Trails are relatively flat, fewer rocks, wider, just plain easier than NC or Tennessee.   When planning the hike, look at elevation change, not just distance.  Climbing 2000 feet is much more challenging then 500 feet.  Smoky Mountains have a 3000 ft. change at both ends.  That is a long day of nothing but uphill.  Set your treadmill to steepest incline, set a concrete block under the front, put on 35 lb. pack and then walk for 8 hours.  Tough day.

 

A day of 300 up, 200 down, 500 up, 200 down, 300 up, 200 down is much easier than 1100 up.  Same amount of Up but it is spread out over the day.  The more elevation change, the less distance you should plan to cover.  Everyone will have a bad day at some point.  Everyone will have a super easy day.  Expect it and allow for it.  Someone will always be ready to race down the trail one day and next day struggle to make it half the distance. 

 

One day I covered my planned 11 miles by 4pm.   Had to get into town the next day to get food.  Pulled out map and it was 4 more miles to the road.  Got lucky and it was all down hill with virtually rock free dirt trail.  Covered 4 miles in 2 hours, hitch hiked into town, and got a room for the night by 6:30.  Great day.  One day my body gave out by 4pm.  Thought I would sit and rest.  Passed out for 45 minutes.  Fortunately water source was only 300 yards up the trail.  Topped off water, ate some food and camped right there, 5 miles short of my 12 mile plan.   That day was lots of elevation and too little calories early on in the trek. 

 

Never used trekking poles prior to this trip.  Wow.  They make a huge difference.  The adults will really appreciate them.  Boys are too full of themselves and may not like them.  You transfer some of the hiking to your upper body and ease the strain on the lower body.  Hands don't swell and prevent falls.  You can hike farther and easier with them.  Get some.  Really.  Get some.

 

Water.  You can carry and you can fill along the way.  I carried 1 gallon.  I would drink and every time I passed a water source would top off.  That's 8 pounds.  That's a lot.  1/3 my total pack weight.  Most thru hikers carry only 1 litter to 2 liters at most.  Different times of the year some water sources dry up.  I never had problem finding water where the maps said it was.  Often nothing more than a trickle.  You do need to purify.  Lots of options.  Keep your purification handy cause you will be gathering water at least three to six times a day.   Rule, everyone tops off water containers when at water source.

 

Hiking the AT is not really much different that Philmont.  Except you plan you own food and there are no planned activities each afternoon.  Philmont treks average about 6-8 miles a day.  Little tougher on the AT due to spacing of shelters.  Instead of mining for gold, lumberjacking, rappelling or other Philmont activities, you just hike further.   Philmont provides food drops every 3 days.  AT you might go 4 days between sources.  You can go into town and buy food or mail food to yourself.  Mailing food can be tricky if you show up to Post Office and they are closed due to weekend/holiday or your package doesn't arrive until next day.   Not that difficult to plan.  I mailed my food to the PO and picked up about every 3-5 days depending on trail and PO locations.

 

Was nice to eat "real food" in town once a week or so.  You can plan that into your trek as well.  Some places the trail goes thru town and other places town is 10-15 miles away.  Trail towns often have shuttles and similar low $ rides.  As a solo hiker, would hitch hike into town and get shuttles/trail rides back to the trail.  With group, hitch hiking will not likely work. 

I am a Diabetic so with the additional calories came more peeing even with the right carb load and medication (I had a nurse nutritionist design it with me because my workplace provided it--what a luxury!). I kept pretty close track and even hiking in 50 to 70 degree weather I typically drank 6 to 8 liters a day and peed 1 to 2...the rest was pure sweat. I usually carried 3 to 4 liters and did a lot of filtering and 'cameling up' when I could. Still if I can do 60 miles and a few 1500 foot up-hill days anyone can! Though I was sloooow.

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