TINKERIN' AT TINKER CLIFFS: AN UNBOUND 40's MAIDEN VOYAGE
I took the Unbound 40 on a shakedown hike on October 15th and 16th. I was excited to try out the pack and was heading out to Daleville to hike the short 12 miles to Tinker Cliffs with my friend, who was weeks away from finishing his southbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.
HOW THE TABLES TURN (OR THE DIRECTION OF YOUR HIKE?)
I had met him on Howard's Rock in Greenville, Tennessee when I was towards the start of my northbound A.T. thru hike. He told my friend and me that he still didn't have a trail name and was just section hiking–but also thinking about thru hiking. Once the thought is planted that the fun does not have to end on a section hike and could continue for another five months–well, who would want to go home?!
Back in Tennessee, I picked up that he was named Howard now because he was on Howard Rock. And so, Howard became sucked into the thru hiker experience. He went from section hiker to northbound thru hiker to injured to southbound thru hiker in a matter of months. He had to take some time off due to plantar fasciitis, so he couldn't have still finished a northbound thru since Katahdin would be extremely cold in October. Instead, he went southbound through one of the rainiest seasons Maine has seen: chest-high river crossings, endless mud, etc. until we crossed paths on my northbound thru hike in New Hampshire, and now again in Virginia, after I had finished. When we first met, I was the crazed thru hiker, and he was the section hiker. Now he was the crazed thru hiker, and I was the section hiker. (Still a bit crazy, though.) It's funny how time changes things.
I didn't pack much for my shakedown hike. Being fresh off the Appalachian Trail, I had all my gear still strewn about my room. I shoved it all together quickly (I was running late to meet up, as per usual.) I loaded my Enlightened Equipment Revelation 0 Degree Quilt and my sleep clothes inside a waterproof stuff sack and shoved it at the bottom of my pack. My quilt is the largest thing I have to get in there, so I usually pack it first. I stacked my Gossamer Gear The One tent on top of that, the second largest item. Then I packed my miscellaneous items in an eight-liter stuff sack–a charging brick, chargers for my devices, bandaids, and my puffy. I threw my food bag beside it, an odd conglomeration of two ramen bricks, a bag of Cheez-Its, five protein bars, and two Carnations Instant Breakfast Essentials inside. Not a lot of food, but I was fresh off the A.T. and really did not want to carry that much weight. I also knew Howard and I would be pigging out somewhere right before we hit the trail for the day out of Daleville. I shoved my two Smart Water Bottles in the side pockets, along with my Sawyer filter. I strapped a foam sleeping pad to the top. Usually, a foam pad would not be my go-to, but my Nemo Tensor Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad has been popped since the Hundred-Mile Wilderness in Maine. Another hiker was kind enough to give me a cut-down sleeping pad he had found in a hiker box that he was presently using as a sit pad. And so began my toxic relationship with the cut-down, flattened Nemo Switchback. I never slept well on it, but I am procrastinating getting a new pad until they go on sale.
I had hesitated to go with a Hyperlite Pack earlier because I wanted a more stretchy back pocket and the Unbound 40 pack delivered. I was able to load it up with my beanie, rain jacket, baseball cap, and poop shovel, and during some points of my hike, it held those things and my puffy and fleece as well. I put my bidet in one side pocket and my cork roller ball in the other. I threw some more protein bars in the bottom pocket of the pack–another feature that I am in love with. The stretchy bottom pocket of the pack makes it so that I don't have to carry a fanny pack, which can sometimes get in the way of my mobility. The pocket has a large opening on one side and a smaller opening on the other. This means I can fish around for a protein bar while I'm hiking, and then after I finish it, I can shove the wrapper in the smaller hole and not have to worry about it flying away (especially with how windy the trail is in October.)
Right out of the box, I could feel that the Unbound 40 was lightweight. It started to get me excited for my upcoming Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. I imagined myself hiking through the desert with the tiny white pack on my back and smiled to think of all the dust it would gather along the way. With everything loaded, my base weight was still around 10 lbs. The daisy chain feature on the shoulder straps held my Garmin In Reach Mini in place. The lack of a fanny pack was delightful. I also enjoyed the built-in whistle that I used to annoy the hell out of Howard.
The Unbound 40 packs down small and has a compact look to it, which I enjoyed. After I hiked with it for a day, I noticed my collarbones and hips were slightly sore from the fit. The pack straps went straight over my collarbones instead of curving slightly to the side like my other pack. However, if some slight soreness is all I have to deal with for a lightweight, waterproof pack, I'm okay with that.
I live in Virginia and started backpacking on the Virginia Triple Crown, so the terrain is familiar to me. Daleville wasn't too far away and made it easy to find parking for the hike. A dry cleaner was right next to where the trail started, so I just parked in their parking lot. I picked Howard up from the hostel, where he was doing laundry. It was odd being at a hostel again after being off-trail. I still felt a latent anxiety that I had miles to do, but I reminded myself that I didn't need to worry about that.
I also discovered that my camera had lost all of its battery. I didn't have enough time to charge it, so I would have to use my phone again. However, I didn't have a proper place to store it, so it was most likely for the best. I made a mental note to invest in a Camera Pod and be more aware of my camera's battery.
We had just eaten a ton of Mexican food, and as we began the trip, the chimichanga was not agreeing with me. However, the fall foliage was beautiful. The afternoon light shone through the orange and yellow leaves and felt warm on my face. The smell of soil and decaying leaves was present at every step. It was earthen, beautiful, and quiet — everything I had missed from my hike. Quiet except for Howard and I catching up with each other's lives: my constant want to hike again and his constant want to have literally any company as a southbounder.
That night was rough. We decided to hunker down in a shelter just before Tinker Cliffs. Camping at the top would've been a poor decision with the wind. Again, even on a little overnight trip, I could not escape the unsavory parts of the AT. A guy snored in the shelter the entire night, and I already couldn't sleep from my foam pad. It made me realize that I really needed to invest in an inflatable sleeping pad. My hips were sore the next morning from the foam pad, so now I have my sights set on a NeoAir XLite Therm-a-Rest.
It took me an hour or so to warm up, even in my zero-degree bag. It was cold. I was grateful I had ended my hike in September. Howard and I woke up and joked about the experience and continued on to Tinkers in the morning, where we sat until I got too cold. I wished him luck on his southbound journey and felt happy that this dude I had met on Howard Rock so many miles ago would now go on to finish his thru hike, too.
On the hike back to my car, I realized how bored I got when I hiked alone. I was walking along the same trail I did yesterday, this time without company. It reminded me of how much I valued the presence of friends in the backcountry. Nothing was working to keep me entertained. I didn't want to listen to any of my songs and couldn't motivate myself to go quickly since I only had twelve miles to hike back, and it was midday. I tried to focus on the little things instead. Pretty colors of leaves. The footprints embedded in the trail. The crunch of my footprints. I thought about how I was grateful to have the ability to be outside and experiencing the trail again. It didn't get easier, but it helped me to feel a sense of place and gratitude.
When I first started backpacking, I used to look up at the trail ahead after I finished my weekend trip and wonder where it went. It would wind behind a thicket of trees and out of sight or over another grassy bald. I had an incessant yearning to go further, to see around the next bend. When I stood at Tinker Cliffs on my weekend hike, I looked up ahead and watched Howard disappear in the distance along with the white blazes. I smiled. I knew where it went now. I stood in the same trail runners that once stood on Katahdin. I didn't have to walk any further–until the next trail.