Monday, 5 May 2014

Let the Planning Begin

I think planning is a big part of the enjoyment of an adventure. The trick is to plan enough to ensure you enjoy the adventure without doing too much to completely take away the discovery of new experiences.

Luckily I think it will hard to plan in too much detail to prevent surprises over 4 ½ months so I am happy to do a lot of research. My sources are:

1.    The Te Araroa official site Luckily this is an excellent resource with free detailed maps of the route in the standard 1:50 000 NZ Topo Map, Trail Notes, track updates and links to blogs from people who have already done the trail.

2.    The Te Araroa facebook pages. There is a general page – Te Araroa and a page specifically for those doing the TA this season Te Araroa 2014-15.  Both pages are excellent places to ask questions and connect with others who have done, or are about to do, the TA.

3.    Blogs. I really enjoy reading about how other people have found the TA. I am also reading blogs about people who have done the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, all long distance trails in the USA. I especially enjoy the blogs that do more than just say where people went, I love reading about the challenges and highlights they encounter and about the other people they meet.

So far most of my research has been related to gear. I have been the typical Kiwi tramper hiking with a good quality canvas backpack and standard gear, usually meaning a base pack weight (the weight of everything less fuel, food and water) of around 15 kg. This means on a 10 day tramp I am carrying around 25kg at the start. While my backpack is very comfortable, and I am used to heavy loads from the Army, it does distract for the first few days as the weight of the straps on my shoulders become my sole focus rather than the stunning scenery around me.
For TA I have decided to aim for a base pack weight of no more than 10 kg though I am secretly hoping to get this to 9 kg. My current list (see my page ‘Gear’ is slightly over 9kg but that is with me guessing the weight of many things. I will have to wait until I get back to NZ in late October to be able to confirm the weight of many things.

The key area I am aware I am going over normal lite hiking standards will be my pack. I am planning to use an Aarn Featherlite Freedom which is heavier than most ultralite packs. For me comfort and load stability is worth a little extra weight, especially as I have had some back troubles over the last few years, and have not been doing any tramping for the last two years. However I did read in their 2013 brochure that they may possibly be able to make this pack in Cuben Fibre which would drop the weight more to what I would prefer. I will need to contact Aarn to find out if this is true and what the new weight will be.
For the remainder of my gear I am fairly certain what I will be purchasing but unfortunately I will not have the luxury of being able to test much of it due to my late arrival back home. I cannot get mail sent here to Democratic Republic of Congo to test the new gear as mail usually goes missing once it arrives in the country, most likely stolen. I have tried 2 packages to be couriered here but neither one made it so I am not going to risk expensive gear being stolen. Also there are few places I can go tramping here that are safe so I would be limited in testing anyway.

I have made my gear decisions based on internet research with heavy emphasis on reviews of the equipment, especially by Thru Hikers. However I will have backups that I can get my support crew to send to me if I have a gear failure, it is just they are not as light as what I will be buying over the next few months.
I have been living very simply since I arrived in DR Congo so I have the luxury of being able to purchase top quality super light gear which I hope will make up for my advancing years and poor hiking condition.

Please review my gear list and let me know if you think I have missed some better alternatives.

I have downloaded all of the trail maps from the Te Araroa website and have made an estimation of where I may be spending the nights and consequently how long I will take (see Map Page for full plan). I plan to take it very easy for the first couple of weeks and take many rest days to let my body adjust before picking up the speed and mileages. I am usually a fast tramper but will have to be disciplined to take my time at the start. I do have the advantage in my planning of being aware of NZ conditions and the likely speeds in the different terrain. In thick bush (jungle)with poor tracks I will only be walking 1.5 km/hour, in normal bush and untracked tussock that will be 3 km/hr, in Beech forest and tracked high country that speed will pick up to 4km/hr and on roads 5-6 km/hr. For overseas trampers be aware you will not go as fast on most NZ tracks as you are used to, they do not compare to the nice maintained trails like Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Also Kiwi track builders like to be direct, therefore if there is a hill in the way you will go over it - straight over it, we haven't heard of switchbacks!
I plan to take a zero (day with no tramping) on average every 8-10 days except at the start where I will build up from 4 days.

By my calculations the trail will take me 133 days (I will try and upload my Google Maps File for my planning on my location page).
However I know no plan survives H Hour (military term for start of an operation) so I am prepared to listen to my body and change distances and speed as needed. I have a full 5 months off work so I have plenty of time.
Zero days I will spend at backpackers or camping grounds and occasionally pamper my self with a motel room. For the rest of the time it will be in a tent or Hut. NZ has a great Hut system but you don't hit the first one until after Hamilton and it is not until the Tararua Ranges and South Island that they are frequent.

Normally when I go tramping I take Backcountry Cuisine Freeze Dry meals. They are simple to prepare, light and most of the meals taste good. I did find in my Stewart Island Tramp that by the 5th day the meals were not enough and I was always hungry. Also they are not cheap.

I have decided to do a mixture of Freeze Dry meals and supermarket meals with pasta, couscous or Potato Flake bases. For the longer legs I will have more Freeze Dry but the shorter legs will be normal meals.  My aim is to keep food intake to around 20,000 KJ per day and the weight to under 1kg per day. I know many people can do it on lighter weight but I like my food and hate being hungry. I will also be calorie loading whenever I pass through towns, mainly on Meat Pies (NZ staple food) and flavoured milk). My food plan is in the Food Page.