The AT and the TA compared

•14 March 2019 • 3 Comments

I am an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (left Springer on March 7th 2018). I am currently in Invercargill, New Zealand, a mere 30km away from completing Te Araroa (left Cape Reinga on November 14th). I’ve decided to take a few zeroes and wait for tramily to catch up so that we can finish together. So I’m on a free computer in the local public library, backpack under the desk, poles leaning against the wall, blogging about the trail… because, indeed, hikertrash for life.

Here are my thoughts comparing the Appalachian Trail to Te Araroa.

>>OVERVIEW

The Appalachian Trail (“the AT”) is a 2,200-mile hiking trail in the United States. It is the better part of a century old. It is an uninterrupted walking path, primarily through forest – it’s nickname is “the green tunnel.”

Te Araroa is an 1,800-mile trail in New Zealand. The name means “The Long Pathway” in Maori. It is less than a decade old. It is a semi-contiguous tramping track which is mostly walked, but there are sections of recommended or optional canoeing, bicycling, packrafting, and even hitchhiking. It goes through tropical rainforest, native and introduced woodlands, tussock and meadow, sheepfold and farmer’s fields, private land, Maori land, boulderfield, scree, alpine garden, high mountain pass, sprawling suburbs, highway shoulders, dry riverbed, occasionally dry riverbed, rarely dry riverbed, and a few times you just straight up walk in a river.

One who hikes either trail, from one end to the other, is a thruhiker.

>>LENGTH

Pretty similar. The AT is about 2,200 miles, Te Araroa 1,800 miles.

>>ELEVATION CHANGE

The Appalachian Trail is a rollercoaster. From tip to tail, a thruhiker will climb – and lose – around 464,000 feet of elevation.

I’m afraid that I have no good data on Te Araroa’s total elevation gain. This trail is just too young to have been subjected to rigorous data gathering.

But for comparison, my gut says:

The North Island is similar to the Mid-Atlantic (WV to NY); the Tararuas are the Smokies; the Richmonds and Nelson Lakes are the Whites and western Maine; Canterbury is Virginia; Otago is Tennessee; Southland is the Hundred Mile Wilderness… except with more sheep.

>>TRAIL

The AT is a well-defined trail. You’re either on it, or you’re in the woods.

It has a lot of little side-hikes. “VIEW -> .3 MI.” is a common sign. Most of these blueblazes are there solely for AT hikers (if not necessarily thrubies).

While the AT has some intersecting trails, very few would remotely tempt a thruhiker. They are, at best, more of the same – and are generally seen as little but opportunities to do bonus miles. You know, accidentally.

Te Araroa is different. Oftentimes it is not a trail at all, but a route – there’s a marker or stile or object in the distance, and you are to cross to it however you want or can. Sometimes you get lost. Sometimes you try an approach, find it doesn’t work, and have to double back. Sometimes you get where you’re going in a way the trail might not have even considered.

On Te Araroa, side hikes are pretty much the rule. This includes connector trails – shortcuts, longcuts, and just plain alternate routes. It’s not uncommon for people to hike tens of kilometers extra, or even hitch or bus, to get to a sd ide hike like the Milford or Kepler. On the Deception Track, I strongly advise trampers NOT to follow the trail markers. I once hiked on the wrong side of a river for 2 straight days – and it was lovely.

>>ELEVATION

The high points of the two trails are very similar. On the AT, Clingman’s Dome (Great Smokey Mountains) is 2025m. On Te Araroa, Stag’s Saddle (near Tekapo, Canterbury) is 1925m.

However, while the official Te Araroa trail goes down from Stag’s Saddle, nearly everybody takes a side trail *up* to a high ridge walk for a far more picturesque descent. So you get to the high point and then immediately go higher. Which, like, Te Araroa as.

The low point of the AT is about 200′ (the bear cage at the zoo in Bear Mountain, NY). Whereas Te Araroa frequently has you at sea level – including on the first day, and the last.

>>GUIDEBOOK, GUTHOOK

The AT has an official guide, an unofficial guide (AWOL), and an unofficial app (Guthook) (among others).

Te Araroa has no official guide. The official route is set by “trailnotes,” which seem to average about a page for every 10km. Sometimes they are annoyingly short. Often they are powerfully long. In many places they are basically unusable without Guthook. In most places you cannot rely on Guthook alone.

>>CHANGEABILITY OF TRAIL

The AT changes a bit every year. This year, for example, Mt Justus (Georgia) was off the trail. There are also temporary changes. Hundreds – including some of my tramily – got shuttled around wildfires at McAfee Knob, floods on the C&O towpath, and other interruptions.

The same is true on Te Araroa. Two northland forests were closed this year to prevent the spread of Kauri Dieback. Another was closed south of Auckland, resulting in a roadwalk of something like 80km. Likewise, several people were shut out of the Richmonds due to forestfires. And don’t even get me started on lambing.

But changes are far more common on Te Araroa just because it is a new trail. For example, when the AT first opened, it was almost half roadwalking. Now it is well less than 1%. But that took decades to accomplish, piece by piece. Only a few years ago did they open a forest path above the Creeper Trail (side note: WHY?). Te Araroa is on the same path, but it is slow. Will it ever eliminate roadwalks? Probably. Will it take decades? Absolutely. It’s just how long trails get made.

>>HITCHING AND ROADWALKING

To be an AT thruhiker, you have to hike every inch of the trail. Emphasis on Every Inch. Emphasis on Hike.

You can’t skip a section. You can’t hitchhike around it. You can’t ride a horse down the Smokies or rollerblade Skyline Drive. You walk. Every inch. That’s thru hiking.

On Te Araroa, things are different.

First of all, there’s all that road. Some stretches are over 50 miles long. Some of it is highway. You are walking on the narrow shoulders of a road where cars go 70 miles an hour. Some stretches have no camping the length of them, so you *have* to do a marathon or more. And most of it is, shall we say, not memorable hiking.

Some people bike the roads. Some people hitch them. Some even hire shuttles or take a bus.

These people are still seen as thru hikers on Te Araroa.

Some questions are ripe for pond’rin. Is biking a section less pure than hiking it? More pure than hitching? Is hitching more pure than a bus? How about kayaking instead of canoeing? How about taking a bridge rather than fording a river?

On the AT, the answers would be obvious. In New Zealand, every tramper has to answer these questions for themselves.

>>SHELTERS AND HUTS

On the AT, there is a shelter about every 5 miles. Almost all of them are lean-tos, open to the night air, with little more than wood platforms on which you can lay your NeoAir.

There are a few exceptions, the most notable being the Whites – full-service huts that cost $140 a night, and are still usually full.

I started the AT early in the year, and pushed through bad weather. As a result I hardly ever used my tent after Georgia.

I also did work-for-stay at every single hut in the Whites. Which, like, acceptable.

Te Araroa is far less regular. There are almost no shelters anywhere. There are designated campsites, paid campsites both public and private, seaside campgrounds, mid-city holiday parks, hostels, resorts, homestays both official and random, and huts.

There are over 1500 backcountry huts across New Zealand. Near a hundred are on or near the trail.

The average hut is basically a small house: four walls, windows and a door, bunks with mattresses, often a fireplace, sometimes an indoor faucet leading to the raintank. First come, first served – most sleep 6-8, a few less, a few more.

Some were built mainly for TA walkers. Some, like Greenstone, were built for those on an intersecting path. Some were built for hunters, or foresters, or shepherds, or gold-miners. Some were built *by* those people and were later taken over by the Department Of Conservation (DOC). And some are still private; put some cash in the koha box, and you can stay.

Some are ancient. Some are pretty terrible. Most are totally great. A few are AWESOME.

I think I slept in my tent a total of five times on the South Island – and three times were before the Richmonds. In total I think I’ve spent 60 nights in huts this trip. About 10 of which involved a roaring fire.

It changes your plans. Some days I have definitely hiked less than my all because I wanted to stop at a hut. A few times I’ve pushed on because a hut was full but the next one might have room.

Hut zeroes are free and awesome. Hut neros are great in snow or rain. And remember, any hut that isn’t on the TA is likely to be empty most of the time. I know a hiker who spent 5 days alone in a beautiful wooden hut on a mountaintop and it didn’t cost her a dime.

>>THE WEATHER

The short answer is: they’re terrible on both trails.

Parts of the AT can see snow at elevation any time of year (hi, Katahdin). In July, 100 degrees and 100% humidity is not uncommon almost anywhere on the AT; in March or November, even in Georgia, below-zero nights might be augmented by gale-force winds and snow. While this might not be common, it is possible – and to survive a thru-hike, you don’t pack for probabilities, you pack for possibilities. All of them.

I had a very unlucky AT hike. Blizzards, hail, freezing rain, brutal cold, a microburst not 5 miles away, gale winds, trees down like threshed wheat, then 24 straight days of rain and floods, then a record heat wave and wildfires.

But now, I’ve had a pretty lucky time on Te Araroa. Dry and mild in Northland, only a few rainy days in Waitomo, dry on the river, almost no wind on Mt Crawford, then only 2 bits of rain the entire South Island – and no snow the entire hike.

But: pople just ahead of me had horrible rainy months. People just behind me are in snow. I’ve been lucky.

…and I’ve zeroed strategically :)

>>PERMITS

To hike the AT does not require a permit. I never got a tag or number. You need a permit for the Smokies, but its cheap and there’s no cap. You need a tag in the Shennies, but it’s free. That’s all.

On Te Araroa, you need a cheap permit for the Queen Charlotte. That’s it.

You also need a Backcountry Hut Pass to stay in the huts. It costs about 40 USD for 6 months unlimited. For me that will have come to under a buck a night. I, ah, recommend it.

Would both benefit from stagnated start times a la the PCT? I think maybe. But that’s just my 2 boxings.

>>FOOD CARRIES

The average common food carry on the AT is about 70 miles – 4 days.

The longest is the 100 Mile… though that’s about 4 days for most nobos at that point. And, there are food drops available.

The shortest are under a day – thank you, Waysides.

On Te Araroa, there is no average. On the North Island you can often go dairy to dairy. Town food is basically the norm. Then for the Richmonds you are suggested to carry 11 days – 7 for the hike, 4 in case of bad weather and/or flooded rivers. Then you have to mail food parcels ahead for over 2 weeks of hiking. (Except it turns out you really don’t have to.) (Don’t get me started.)

And what about resupply? I think the longest hitch I even considered on the AT was 9 miles (Buena Vista, VA). I have walked almost that far in NZ just to get to a spot where I could get a hitch 40 miles away.

On the AT, pretty much every town has a workable resupply, and most hostels can reup you well enough. In NZ some trail towns don’t even have a gas station, and hiker supplies – even canister fuel – might mean a hitch of a hundred miles.

But more than anything, Te Araroa requires research. You can’t just look at AWOL, think “80 miles to Damascus, so 4 dinners 5 lunches.” You have to look at the DOC estimates of how long each upcoming section will take to hike. You have to consult the weather. You really should look at the elevation map. You definitely need to examine the river crossings. Anc you have to know your abilities, your needs, your will. And how sick you are of OSM bars. In short, logistics and resupply are far more complicated on Te Araroa.

>>OUTFITTERS AND GEAR

On the AT, they’re pretty dang common. On Te Araroa, they can be scarce at times – and many outdoor stores here are 20 years behind (say) REI. Lost a titanium tent stake? You’re replacing it with aluminum. Ripped one of your DCF overcompensation devices? You’re patching it with ducktape.

Fortunately there will always be merino aplenty.

>>DIVERSITY WITHIN THE HIKE

The AT is not really known for its diversity of trail. There’s a saying that, if you can hike the approach trail, you can hike the whole AT. A corrolary is that, if you’ve hiked the approach trail, you *have* hiked the whole AT – and this is said only half in jest.

The AT is lovely. Rich forests, waterfalls, 2000m mountains, alpine zones up north. But it can get a bit… samey. And then stay samey for 1800 miles.

Te Araroa ain’t like that. It is a wild ride. It is a fucking potpourri. Beach and bush. Forest snd tussock. Scree and slate. Trail and field. Paddock and highway. City and village. Streams and rivers, lakes, oceans. Giant swingbridges. Tiny little ropewalks. Desert and rainforest. Rift valley. Volcanic waste. And the waterfalls are *insane*.

For my money, there is more diversity of terrain on the first *day* – the first *7 miles* – than there is in the AT from Springer to Moosilauke. Just from Ship cove to St. Arnaud is like, without hyperbole, 20 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT HIKES… in 8 days.

>>DIFFICULTY

The AT has a few tough bits. But, 1, it is never really dangerous – and 2, most of the tough bits just slow you down a bit. They don’t require particular technique or planning. They’re just an extra serving of the same.

Te Araroa is harder. It presents lots of big changes in terrain, climate, and what is required of you. Jumping locked fences. Testing roaring rivers. Sliding down scree slopes. Running from bulls. Shooting rapids in wide canoes. Getting hitches on gravel roads. Crushing 70 mile roadwalks. Tenting in the middle of a busy town.

There are several places I noticed where a less fit, less focused, less experienced, or less lucky person, could have badly hurt themselves or just straight up died. After Te Kuiti I almost fell to possible death 3 times (only 2 for Christie, clearly I’m winning). Helicopter evacs happen all the time here – and sometimes it’s body recovery.

Did I ever feel like I should have stopped? No. It was dangerous, but slow and steady was sure to survive the race. Still, it was often a significant increase in difficulty over *anything* on the AT.

>>DANGER

The AT has bears, copperheads, black widows, brown recluses, wildcats, leeches, crazies, Confederates, and The Doyle.

Te Araroa has… weka.

New Zealand FTW.

>>DAY- AND SECTION-HIKERS

In 2018, something like 10,000 people started a thru-hike of the AT, and several million people put boots down on at least some part of the Trail.

In 2018-2019, over a thousand people started a thruhike of Te Araroa. Most of our trails are primarily or exclusively for us alone. I rarely saw more than half a dozen thru hikers in camp at night, and it was uncommon to meet more than a couple non-thrubies all day long. Some days I saw not a soul for hours – or even all day. It is a much quieter trail.

Except Tongariro. >:|

>>LASHERS AS THRUBIES

On the AT, a thru-hiker is someone hiking every durn foot of the AT within a year (contiguous or calendar). Anyone doing less is treated differently by the vaaast majority of thrubies.

On the TA, a significant percentage of walkers will only walk the South Island – a distance of only about 40% of the total trail. Yet these people are generally considered thru-hikers. And generally they’re treated just the same.

(I’ve never met someone just hiking thf North Island. It seems… unlikely.)

>>ERO

On the AT, you are strongly encouraged to Stay On The Trail, lest you cause erosion.

As I’ve said, there often is no trail in NZ. You have to make your own way. Erosion isn’t even a consideration. (And when it happens, it’s just another part of the world.)

>TMAJ

On the Appalachian Trail there is trail magic. Someone will bring a gift to those hiking the trail. This usually = food. A folding table with snack cakes. An open car trunk with hot ir cold drinke inside. A box of beer hidden under a picnic table. A guy cooking hot dogs on top of a mountain.

In the South especially, tmaj can be real common. Once I got it twice in one day. A few times I basically did a resupply off what someone brought. Once in New York, on my pre-thru lash, a jug of water was near to life-saving.

On Te Araroa this basically never happens. There is no culture for it. The trail is too new, has too few alumni. Also, most thruhikers are nonlocal – from a different hemisphere, like as not. So nobody’s around to cook hamburgers.

I will say, however, that I cannot overstate the kindness and generosity of kiwis. They might not do trailmagic per se, but that’s little loss when they’re inviting you into their homes for supper, or letting you sleep on their spare mattress or in their caravan, or taking you fishing, or boating, or offroading in their utes, or taking you on a magical woodworking adventure (it’s a long and AMAZING story), or just giving you advice about the trail ahead – because it seems every other kiwi has hiked at least twice as much as you ever will. Because this is EnZed, and that’s how kiwis roll.

>>DOGS

On the AT, traildogs are common. And they are GOODBOYES.

On Te Araroa, much of the trail goes through conservation land.  This usually = native birds, which usually = kiwis. Apparently a dog will just chow right down on a kiwi. As such, thrupuppers are mostly not allowed.

>>FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m terribly glad I did the AT. I loved it. I loved the suck and the suffer snd the people and the world. Also, it got me in shape. It kicked my damn ass around the schoolyard. Without it, I don’t think I could have done Te Araroa at all.

I’m terribly glad I did Te Araroa. I liked it more than the AT.

I’m glad I did the AT first. I’m afraid that, after Te Araroa, much of it would seem easy… and most of it would be boring.

I would probably recommend Te Araroa to a more experienced hiker. It can be hiked by a less experienced hiker to be sure. But I would not recommend Te Araroa to an immature person, a scatterbrained person, or someone looking to find themselves – that is better done at Trail Days.

I would recommend the AT to someone looking to get into hiking, to get in shape, or to really get into the zone and crush some fuckin’ miles.

I would tell an AT hiker to hike Te Araroa – but to consider hitching the roads, doing sidehikes, and possibly just skipping from Whangarei to Tamarunui.

I would tell a Te Araroa hiker to hike Hanover to Katahdin – but not to be surprised if the Prezzies are pretty cruisy. Maybe Springer to Hot Springs for a fun section. Otherwise, I’d tell them they probably wouldn’t like it. Also there aren’t nearly enough mutton pies.

If I do the AT again, it’d be as winter sobo, or a trailrunner caring solely about speed.

If I do Te Araroa again, it’ll be only doing sections – and even then, there’s still so much of NZ I’ve got to hike first.

Alright, I ended up writing most of this on my phone and boy are my fingers tired. Time for bed.

<3

-Silver

IG: @daxelkurtz if you want pics

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Daxel Contra Wristwatches

•4 October 2018 • Leave a Comment

There’s a lot of “go big or go home” thinking in wristwatches now. And I think it’s an economically rational decision. Either get something expensive and fuck-you, or wear something that costs $30 and is basically disposable. The middle-market is a study in irrelevance.

You can see this by looking at TAG Heuer. As little at 20 years ago they were making monstrosities like this – gaudy frankenwatches, slick and wetly chromed like Giger meets Rob Liefeld, the sort of thing you’d expect to get for 10,000 skiball tickets at an LA galleria in 1993. Now they have gone back to their roots to make Autavias like this and this. Which are clean, classy, masculine – at once traditional and smart.

(And Brietling is right behind.)

I expect this reflects six trends: two macro, two micro, two phyto – relating to the global economy, the luxury-good economy, and the watch-world in particular, respectively.

Macro: there is more wealth in the world in general.

Macro: there is greater wealth inequality, and so those who have are more likely to have a lot.

Micro: if you want to wear a watch at all, it’s probably as a statement of value.

Micro: if you want a watch that isn’t a statement of value… you can just buy a Timex.

Phyto: we have much rejected the desparation for novelty that marked the 60s thru the 80s, and just, like, thank God

Phyto: we have much rejected the developing of new fashion trends at all, in favor of appropriating the fashion trends of previous generations.

At its most favorable, I would suggest that the first phyto trend represents an enlightened embrace of quality, and that quality – rather unsurprisingly – can often be found in techniques from the eras and epochs before mass production, when making was hard, repair was difficult, utility was the name of the game, and as a result, the development of quality was just a simple necessity.

It is unsurprising that the use of older techniques brings about an embrace of older designs and aesthetic sensibilities. On the one hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, that is fine. But on the other, it is facile to believe that technique and design are separable. The employ of a traditional production method is a great way to realize the wisdom of the traditional design associated with it.

A bit more cynically, I would posit that the second phyto trend represents something a bit more philosophically cumbersome. The backward-looking archaism of wearing a historical watch-style – which is basically synonymous with wearing a watch at all – is a reflection of the fact that, while we have the intelligence to realize that the little variations and trappings of kultur are unimportant, we lack the courage to escape them. A hipster is a person who takes on the aesthetics of others in order to avoid having one for themselves. “We do this ironically,” they say, “because we are all emperors, and yet for some reason, the emperor must wear clothes.”

I would say that aesthetics are contextual, and all too often, we lack context. The contextual basis for aesthetics applies both to production and use. In a globalized world, we can make (or buy) whatever we want, wherever we are. Likewise we usually don’t need specialized clothing or equipment (at least not of a personal nature, to be worn day-to-day).

In the modern world, much of what we wear and use is of sufficient quality that it could be used in most, if not all, common contexts. Jeans and a t-shirt are easily dismissed because they are easily accomplished. In reality, they are the apotheosis of millennia.

Compare to Budweiser. Ever notice how a (traditional) Budweiser can has those gold medal blazons on it? From when, in the 1890s, it was declared the Best Beer In The World. And at the time, it was – because the goal of brewing, for literally thousands of years, was to create a beer that was simple, easy-drinking, clean, stable, and reproducable from every batch to batch. Every medieval maker of ale and amber was dreaming of a pale pilsner. Budweiser was the success of a thousand lifetimes. Just as the dream of every beer-drinker was that it always be late spring, with no need to drink watered lager in the summer heat, nor stout in the winter cold. Now we have indoor heating and A/C (or, y’know, moving to Los Angeles). We can achieve harmony, stability, perfection – not just in production, but in use. Fuck off, Thomas Hobbes: life is communal, rich, pleasing, lazy, and long.

But it’s boring.

So we go backwards, to a time when it was not boring. We make historical beer-styles, stouts and switchels, and we pay five times as much for the privilege and talk about Bud with disdain. Because we miss the variety that came about through necessity. Because all dress is just playing dress-up. Because nothing is necessary anymore.

In the same way we strive for ancient weaves and complex designs because jeans and a t-shirt are easy and dull. They are perfectly acceptable in basically all situations ever (and don’t give me any ‘but Black Tie!’ nonsense – neo-Victorian dress protocols are the epitome of hipsterism; they are just cosplay for those with a lot of dough). I would argue that they have actually been improved upon a little – a Merino base layer, a Patagonia shell, some zipoff ripstop pants, and a pair of trailrunners, and you’re basically ready for anything in the fucking universe. But we’re talking incremental improvements, here – which is to say, diminishing returns. From cotton to wool is not apples to oranges; more like a 1665 to 216600. That is to say, more like Budweiser to Heineken.

Take the “dress watch.” It’s not just a simple, thin watch, because anyone can make that. It apes the earlier style inside and out. It is preposterous archaism – and they make tens of thousands of them a year, selling for at least ten thousand dollars a piece. Not because they’re better than a Daniel Wellington. They are inarguably worse than many a $300 Seiko. Because we have no needs, and so, have no culture. Because we have nothing to strive for today, so we join in the strivings of yesterday – columns on our McMansions, Calatravas on our wrists.

And outside of necessity, attempts to create newness are like controlling a machine through positive feedback. At best you get something kinda cool, like the Ploprof – that is certainly no more useful than a regular dive watch (like the original Rolex submariner, or a $300 Seiko Prospex)… and let’s not forget that this is a very low bar. But more often you get something really stupid, like a Richard Mille that costs more than a condo in Somerville. And I could post two dozen examples of modern “haut horologie” but honestly, I just ate breakfast, I don’t want to look at ’em.

Really the basic truth is that the mechanical wristwatch reached its apotheosis with the Rolex Oyster in the 1930s. Everything since then has been diminishing returns – if any. These days mechanical watch should almost always be a Rolex. The only reasons not to buy a Rolex are to prefer aesthetic differences, or to save money. Both rational justifications – but there is no third.

And that’s not even touching mechanical versus quartz. Which is probably more than Budweiser versus Heineken… and the Heineken in this case costs about one sixtieth of the Budweiser.

On the one hand, I can’t imagine that I would like to live in a world where everyone wore jeans and t-shirts like they were Mao Suits. On the other hand, creating difference without necessity is just very dull. The better thing to do is work on incremental improvements – making things better, and more durable, and cheaper. Concomitant is the goodness of working to see that more people can afford the necessities of life. But best, I would argue, is seeking NEW NECESSITIES – new challenges, new problematizations, new contexts. So that our creations are solutions, informed by need and use. So that the result is not simply faffing about; it is necessary; it is authentic.

Gear changes between the AT and TA

•2 October 2018 • Leave a Comment

This is really comparing the gear that I am ending the AT with, versus what I’m taking when I begin the TA. Will have to revist if and when I finish the TA – and compare to when I started in Harpers Ferry!

Here are the changes:

PANTS:
-ditched kilt, because (oddly) it’s more of a cold-weather thing.
-instead I will be wearing light nylon pants with zipoff legs (i.e. they turn into shorts)
-in point of fact, think I’ll bring 2 pairs of the shorts but only 1 pair of legs, since I expect I’ll very rarely want ‘pants’ – mostly in town
BOOTS:
-ditched hiking boots (a while ago), because generally not needed as a thrubie
-Instead will be using trailrunners
-but now I’ve got heavier trailrunners, with vibram lugs for grip, a rockplate for protection, and “sandpaper toes” for grip… AKA, basically approach shoes
PACK:
-backpack went from 40L internal capacity to 70L internal capacity
-fabric is now thicker (35wt dcf to 150wt woop woop), and also has a small internal frame
-new backpack does not have external pockets. instead it has external daisychains, from which I will hang carabiners and a few lengths of paracord, so I can make my own pockets/hangs as I see fit. we’ll see how this works!
STORAGE
-added two more stuff sacks, just to make internal organization a bit easier
CARABINERS
-biner game has steadily evoled. at this point, am carrying 2 locking carabiners affixed to rear of pack (for max reliability), and 2 quick-release biners on belt-loops (for max ease)
SOCKS
-ditched the ultrapadded boot socks. using lightweight ankle-socks instead
-still DarnTough of course. because… of course.
HAT
-traded heavy wool hat for light wool beanie. because the only time I need more than that is when I sleep, and for that I have The Darth Vader Hood
GLOVES
-ditched the lightweight gloves because they did nothing. mittens for sleeping or snow; otherwise, bare skin
-bringing rain gloves. useful primarily for getting water out of half-frozen springs
POLES
-ditched my carbon lekis, because they kept breaking, sad pandas
-using $20 aluminum poles. even if they do break… twenty bucks, not two hundred
OTHER
-added a Fisher Space Pen (teeny keychain version), because the ability to write is pretty cool
-added a second 2L platy, because there might be some longer water carries
-switched from 5000mAh battery pack, to 20,000. for longer “power carries”
-fresh paracord. #treatyoself

The Process Due

•28 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

For discussion:

When:

1) an accusation is made

2) under oath

3) accusing a person requesting a benefit (and emphatically NOT a respondant in judicial proceedings)

4) of an act or omission,

5) which would, if true, render them unfit to receive that benefit, and

6) the accusation is facially credible;

​THEN​

the accusation should be held to create a rebuttable presumption of unfitness.

The burden of proof thus shifts firmly to the accused, to either

A) disprove the allegations,

B) demonstrate the incredibility of the accuser, or

C) argue that the allegations, even if true, do not warrant an adverse judgment.

If they are unable to so do, the accuser is given the benefit of the doubt, and the accused is denied the benefit of the position.

 

In such a circumstance, I think that it would be charitable to offer the accused the benefit of neutral, professional investigation, which might produce such evidence, at their request.

Vow of Poverty

•28 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

For discussion: a framework for reducing congressional self-interest:

  1. A person serving as a member of congress shall be barred from doing any paid work, or any unpaid work for a for-profit corporation, or any unpaid work for a registered lobbyist, for a period of time equal in length to their tenure in congress, to begin at the moment they leave office.
  2. A person serving as a member of congress shall receive their full congressional salary, and medical benefits, during the time wherein this prohibition is in effect.
  3. This shall in no way impair the ability of these persons to serve in other governmental positions, in any branch of government, whether elected, appointed, or related to military service.

The Sartorial

•26 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

While I was on the Trail, I dreamed – a lot – about things to buy. I thought about what I wanted to own. Things to define myself. Things to wear. I spent a lot of time on hostel wifi looking at shoes and watches and suits.

This is somewhat natural. When in A, dream of B. When in a wet tent, dream of a dry house. When in Altras, dream of Allen Edmonds.

I’m sure it also sprung somewhat from the fact that I hadn’t packed enough audiobooks and podcasts (and oral arguments galore). A situation which I am working very hard to remedy for Te Araroa. Thank you, 512GB MicroSD card!

But most of all, it originated from my desire to, like, work for a living. To be working towards something. Making progress. Making anything.

Dreaming of the work itself was – is – too painful, at this point. So I dreamt of the life.

The big problem with this – outside of the numerous practical problems which need no belaboring, I promise you – is that it’s actually a bit counterfactual. If I had a fulfilling job, I would want to treat myself to shiny things the less, not the more. And the more fulfilling the job was, the less I’d care about other things – or things at all.

Indeed: the more luxurious my income, the less I’d want to spend it on luxuries. Because when you have very little money, it is perfectly acceptable to dream of treating yourself. To big things. To little things. What’s the difference? Whereas if you have a lot of money, you have enough that you can actually use it to knock some bodies down. You can work towards guaranteeing your security. Your retirement. The undertaking of projects that are orthagonal to work – hobbies, ventures, cough thru-hiking cough-cough-cough. And beyond that, you can put the money to use – to underwriting new ventures, to endowing charitable works, to – in short – making things.

Having a lot of money is not just an improvement over having a little; it is qualitatively different. Because being in the upper middle class may be luxurious – but it is not powerful.

This is not to say that I disdain – or wish I could disdain – fashion, or fabric, or the owning of things. Not at all. Not were I rich, not were I poor. Even emperors need clothes. I just wish my desires, my daydreams, did not exist in a vacuum – that they could complement a life, rather than supplement it.

Much of my attention towards fashion has been practical. My interest in how I present myself sprung from a desire to maximize my odds of success in a business interview. This is important. It pains me that I am only now pursuing it. But it is not creative. It is about surveying what other people are wearing and trying to match course. It is not about self-determination, it’s about guessing what will look ‘okay’ to a 23-year-old HR rep from Mineola. It is observational, barely analytic, and not at all generative. It doesn’t require daydreaming. It doesn’t even allow it.

There is a case to be made that this, then, is an area wherein I should not bother daydreaming. That I lack context, and to dream of self-presentation without specific context is to shout into the abyss – or pee into the wind.

But if I can dream up an outfit, I can dream up a context, too.

If I had a forty thousand dollar a year legal job in rural Maine, what should I wear? Probably the answer is “it couldn’t possibly matter less.” No help there.

Doesn’t mean it would be a bad life. It would be one that would cost me perhaps $100 a year in broadcloth button-downs and AmPrime khakis; certainly it would be economic! But for such a life, I might as well never have learned the difference between twill and tweed. Not only would it be unnecessary, it would not be of benefit – and could very, very easily be counter-beneficial. As I’m run out of town on a rail for sins against the sumptuary.

I think this context is probably representative of the majority of middle-class jobs that I could enter into. It encapsulates the better part of ‘business casual’ – which encapsulates the better part of the working world.

Whereas, if I had a partner-track job somewhere, the answer to “what should I wear?” would remain rather asymptotic to “whatever everyone else is wearing.” The inputs would change; the algorithm would not. I would still have to study others; it would not give me much opportunity to study fashion, and even less to study myself.

Whereas, if I achieve even a modicum of success – as an entrepreneuer, as a businessman, as a financier, as a lawyer further down that partner track – then I can wear whatever I jolly well want. Then I have freedom. Which allows me – requires me! – to actually make hard choices for myself, backed by research, paying opportunity cost at every turn. It would give me the freedom to work harder – freedom of my favorite kind.

There is, in short, little need for me to daydream about fashion or Things, outside of concurrently daydreaming that I have a great and fulfilling job that has made me rich.

 

So – let’s pretend that I am rich. That I am successful. That I am fulfilled, day to day.

What do I wear?

I think that larger conundrums can be brought into focus by looking at wristwatches. Not the least because, I know watches way better than I know… anything else, really. Shut up.

Let us look at two wristwatches: the Breguet Type XX, and the Breguet Tradition

The dieselpunk chrono:

Breguet is the house that invented the wristwatch (as well as the self-winding watch, the modern balance spring, the tourbillon) back during the ancien regime and then the Empire. During the World Wars, they were called upon to produce ‘tool watches’ for the military effort. Most luxury houses did the same – Rolex (e.g.) for the British officers; Lange and IWC for the German pilots; Panerai (with Rolex movements) for Italian divers; etc. As a result, some of these timepieces showed lesser or greater amounts of luxury influence. The Breguet Type XX and Type XXI chronographs, made for French pilots, were somewhat at the zenith of this. They are still made today, and are still beautiful watches – and excellent timepieces. Much like Panerai still make the Radiomir, IWC the Pilot’s Watch, and Rolex still, of course, makes the Submariner and GMT-Master that brought us victory and glory in Vietnam. They are functional, attractive, manly I dare say, and full of history.

They are also a watch that was made for a specific context, which is now seventy years gone, and to which I have no connection, nor particular desire for one.

The problem is – this thinking would apply to the vast majority of watches. And… I think it does.

So let us look at a modern marvel of a timepiece.

The steampunk skeleton:

The Breguet “Tradition” is, of course, nothing of the sort. It falls, I think, under the categories of ‘needless ostentation’ and ‘baroque maleficense which aggravates underlying socialist tendencies’. Skeletonized watches always have this effect on me. And I am quite fine that they do. On an intellectual level, they are at best the very model of diminished returns; more likely they are simply and entirely indefensible. They are without function. They gild the lily with abandon. In point of fact they take a (pretty perfectly) good thing and make it more delicate and more difficult to upkeep. It’s not that they aren’t worth the money; they shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

If this is true of skeletons, it is squared and cubed for tourbillons.

On the other hand, these mechanical marvels do inspire in me an, ah, unconscious physical response, the likes of which my forebears might describe as reproductive in functionality.

Why do I like them, if I hate them so? Is it just a response to good branding? Is it just a vague love of the mechanical?

Stepping back, I think it is natural result of wristwatches having become a pure luxury item. Whether it’s there for your pleasure, or to show off to others, is rather immaterial; a wristwatch is an item of the decorous. If you’re going to buy one, buy a nice one; if you’re going to buy a nice one, buy a very nice one; if you have the resources, you might as well skate down the slippery slope, and give Thorstein Veblen a clockwork handjob at the bottom.

In which case, skeletons and tourbillons aren’t just absurdities themselves; they are a reductio ad absurdum argument against mechanical watches in general. They are a blistering indictment of any wristwatch which is not powered by quartz & cased in steel or titanium. They say “if you want to spend $500 on a watch, then you want to spend $5,000, or $50,000, or more. If you don’t, it not from lack of desire – only lack of money.’

To which I might reply: ‘There ought to be more standing between you and being a Wicked Witch of the Wrist than your ability to pay. You should spend your money on other things. Travel and tailor and the tawdry. Spend it. Invest it. Donate it. Give it away. Don’t pay someone to make something that, in truth, ought not to be made. Buy a quartz-powered Seiko, with a sapphire crystal and a bit of WR, and tell M. Breguet to stick his squelette straight up his escapement.”

This is, I think, the perfect representation of my thoughts concerning the sartorial. If I have a cheap job… who gives a fuck. If I have a true Profession, a Career… I will do what dother people do. Even if that means I have to buy a fucking Rolex. But if I were successful… fulfilled, and flush o’ cash… I do not think I would wear a Very Expensive Timepiece. Not a Rolex, not a Sinn. I think I’d probably choose not to wear a mechanical watch at all.

Maybe an SBGA081. Maybe a Snowflake, if I wanted variety. If only the VHP were a little dressier… BUT I DIGRESS.

 

This logic, I think, applies equally to clothing.

Look at shoes. Leather is archaic. At best it pays homage to naturalism, in a way that reminds me far too much of the renfaire. Mostly it simply showcases our inability to redefine the fashionable apart from the definitions of a previous generation – one part hipsterism, ten parts cowardice.

On the other hand, what are you gonna do, crush hi-tech sports shoes day-to-day? Why?

It’s the chronograph and the skeleton again. Rejection of the ancien-for-the-sake-of-the-ancien does not require us to embrace the self-consciously moderne. They should both be rejected. In favor of practicality. Elegance. Simplicity.

What should I wear? Good slacks. Tailored dress-shirts. A pair of jeans. A killer sweater or three. Merino polo when it’s hot, LL Bean flannel when its not. Seriously – what more does one need?

Really, I should just wear Altras forever.

Needs

•19 September 2018 • Leave a Comment

Thru-hiking has offered me a really interesting perspective on my relationship to material goods.

When hiking, I need only what’s in my backpack. (Definitionally. If I need something that I don’t have, then – well – enjoy recovering my body from the mountaintop.)

I rather thought that, at home, I would explode into greater needs. But I’m finding that this isn’t quite so.

-Part of this derives from redundancy. A lot of my hiking gear is just as useful off-trail as on. Good hikin’ shoes are good runnin’ shoes are good everyday casual shoes. Now that I’ve worn merino, I will keep wearing it – I will never, ever, go back to cotton.

-Part of this derives from necessity. I have none. I have no life. That’s fair – I’m about to go hike for another 4-8 months, so, life-having is not a present expectation. But this only goes so far. I’m 31 years old, I have a fair idea of what is needed in my life – and what is needed in Business Casual / Upper Middle Class life across-the-board. And, well, I basically have it. Could step into Life at a moment’s notice.

-But a large part of it is a result of a change of attitude. During the brief time that I’ve been – well – indoors, I find that I’ve brought a certain minimalism back from the Trail. Basically I’ve realized that I would not only be just as happy to own less stuff, I would in fact be happier.

I’ve spent the last few weeks rather aggressively triaging my belongings. I thought I might take a moment to list what I’ve kept. In part as a little day-in-the-life time capsule. In part to remind myself that I have a lot as it is!

-KITCHEN. Chef’s knife (Miyabi birchwood). Rice-cooker (Betty Kawaii). KitchenAid. Blender. Immersion blender. Sous Vide wand. Pasta maker. Cast iron: dutch oven, skillet, broiler pan. Teflon: omelette pan, baking sheets. Silicon: steamer basket, strainer, hand-tools. Wood: cutting board, chopsticks.

-CAFFEINE. Manual coffee grinder. Goose-neck kettle. Pourover cone. Aeropress. Teapot. Infusion basket. Half a dozen mugs – but down from a dozen.

-OFFICE. Desktop computer. Laptop computer (chromebook). Headphones. LED lamp that’s as bright as a major solar event. Might get a projector for watchin’ movies.

-BATHROOM. Electric razor. DE razor. Shaving brush. A dopp kit containing too much product – but I ain’t complainin’.

-CLOTHING. Two long-sleeve dress shirts (white, blue). Three long-sleeve buttondowns (black cotton, light gray linen, dark gray denim). Three short-sleeve button-downs (light gray, light brown, dark brown). Two heavy flannels. Three pairs of chinos (light khaki, mid khaki, dark khaki). Two pairs of raw denim jeans (preposterously light, preposterously heavy). Two polos (merino). Two overcoats (black cashmere, camel trench). Five sweaters (black, dark gray, mid gray, light gray; green donegal that’s my favorite thing ever).

-SUITS. A navy three-piece. I’d like to have several more. But then, I’d like to have the sort of life that requires me to suit up. Or even allows it. I don’t have that. Until I do, it does no good to pretend otherwise. Dream of the life, not of the life-adjuncts!

-ACCESSORIES. A few belts. Suspenders. Collar stays. Cufflinks, tux studs, just in case. Couple of scarves. Small box of Darn Toughs. Fifty neckties… but that’s down from 100, I think that earns me partial credit?

-SHOES. Black dress oxfords. Tan dress boots. Trail runners. Mid-weight hiking boots. Blue suede boat shoes. Might dream of a pair of workboots – Truman’s in Moss Mohawk, anyone?

-WATCHES. White metal, white dial, dress. Stainless, black dial, luxury sport. Yellow metal, white dial, luxury sport. Stainless, black dial, diver, daily. Can still daydream, but basically I’m good.

-MAKER STUFF. A Dremel and press. A Singer and walking-foot. A tool-chest full of crap. A real hell of a Bugout Bag.

-A CAR. And A BIKE. And. Enough hiking gear that I could pass as a Seattle techie.

I may not have a life – but at a moment’s notice, I am ready for one.
 

 
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