Sunday, January 3, 2016

What's All This List Stuff Anyhow?

Year's ago, I used to read a column by Bob Pease that was always titled "What's all this ____ stuff, anyhow?" where the blank was filled with the month's topic. Topics were often about engineering methods or approaches where there were different camps of thought. Pease was also a bit of a curmudgeon, skeptical of computer modelling and the internet. His favorite programming language? Solder. Yes, that means build a piece of electronic hardware and see if it works or not. Pease also enjoyed the outdoors and wrote about hikes in the northeast.

In 2015, I got turned on to hiking. There are vast areas of New England that cannot be  reached by bike. You have to go in by foot. 3000ft net gain climbs galore? I'm into that. The rhythm of hiking differs from cycling, or even skate skiing for that matter. It is slower, yet it can demand much cardio fitness when going up 60% grades. It is very easy to slip into a flow state while hiking.

You meet a lot of interesting people on the trail. Reasons that draw people to the trail are diverse. Invariably, it seems everybody is working on one list or another. So what's all this list stuff, anyhow?

Shortly after moving to New Hampshire in 1997, I became aware of the 4000 footers list. There are 48 peaks that are above 4000ft elevation and have 200ft prominence. I knew people working on this list. Planned hikes were based on what they "needed," which meant a peak they haven't "bagged" yet. I thought this was kind of arbitrary. Why not 1000 meters or 5000ft? Guess the list would be too long or too short then.  48 peaks is a number most fit people could achieve in a reasonable amount of time.

What spiked my interest in hiking was an invite to do the Presidential Range traverse in a day. My wife and I plan to move out west some day and I wanted to experience the Presi traverse before moving.  This is a more serious undertaking than hitting one or two peaks in a single hike, as the Presi traverse entails upwards of 20 miles of rugged terrain and 10,000ft of climbing. During the traverse, new terms were learned. One was redlining. A couple we crossed paths with multiple times were "redlining." I wondered, was this like going all-out, like redlining an auto engine? Hmmm. Then Soups explained it to me. You take an AMC trail map, not any particular one, then hike every single trail on it, highlighting in red as you complete them. This means dead-ends to outhouses, spurs to outlooks, every trailhead, etc. That is dedication. Probably looks pretty impressive when complete and worth framing. There was also a runner out there that day doing a double Presi-traverse in a single day. Was he going for the FKT? Fastest Known Time was another term I did know before I started hiking.

Now that it is winter, I learned there is a "Winter 48" list. So hiking the 48 4000-footers when it is nice out isn't enough. Now you have to do them between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Additional gear is needed. Traction devices like micro-spikes, crampons or snowshoes. Or survival items, like extra dry layers, emergency shelter, etc. Parts of the White mountains have the worst weather on Earth and people regularly die in the Whites.

But wait, there's more. There's The Grid.  Why not hike all 48 4kers in every month of the year? That is 12x48=576 peaks to bag. Many have completed it. One of the last hikes I did up to the Twins, I met two people up top. They asked if I was a "Gridder." Fortunately I had already learned what that was and didn't look like a complete idiot. Surely I must have been a gridder, hiking up there solo after the trailhead gates had been locked, on a wintry day. I told them I wasn't sure I was pursuing any list. They replied they were passive gridders themselves, but they had completed about half of the grid. That doesn't sound all that passive to me...

I learned rules go along with these lists too. For example, some hikes it is possible to ride a bike part way in, say to the wilderness boundary. But no, that doesn't count. You must hike all the way in from a legitimate trailhead. Soups pointed this one out to me when I mentioned I was going to bike/hike to Owl's Head. You can do that, but then you can't claim Owl's Head on your 48 list. So I toughed out those extra 5 miles on foot. Can't say why, as I'm still not sure if I'll hike all 4000 footers or not.

There are many other lists people are chasing, like the Hundred Highest, Fifty Finest, Trailwrights 72, etc. Everybody has their reasons. One person I met said hiking was like therapy and the list provided focus and motivation to keep it going. Some do it for bragging rights, I'm sure. I suspect others become enslaved by lists. There was a very good discussion thread on Views from the Top forum a while back.

And if humans pursing lists weren't enough, there are lists for canines too. That adds another dimension to figuring out what hike to hit next. What do I need? What does Fido need? Then try to coordinate with friends and their dogs and what they need. Gets pretty complicated.

My first reaction to all these lists was it is pretty silly. But then I realized I have been chasing a list myself for a long time: Mountain biking in all 50 states.  I am two states away from completing my list, Mississippi and Louisiana yet to be colored in. I use this goal of riding dirt in each state as a way to see parts of the country I wouldn't normally get to see and experience diversity in riding terrain our country offers. So yeah, I can relate to hikers pursuing lists. I am not a slave to my list. I've been working on it for 15+ years. I let opportunity work in my favor. Work travels have helped me "bag" many states. Wife wants to go to Hawaii? Sure. Bike is coming along. I also don't avoid going to states I've already biked in in favor of hitting a state I "need." Case in point, I go to Arizona or Utah every spring. Riding there that time of year is just too friggin awesome to pass up for a less awesome place because I haven't bagged it yet.

Anyway, I've maintained a detailed log since 2001. I used to call it my training log. I don't really train for specific events anymore. It is an activity log. My activities are more therapy than training these days. My 2015 activity pie chart looks much different in years past. Road cycling hours continue to diminish, mountain biking hours increase, and then a large new slice shows up with hiking. I wonder how this will evolve in 2016?

2015 saw the most aerobic activity hours I've ever logged in a year, almost 750. I strive for 600hrs, what I feel is the minimum therapeutic benefit threshold. The big increase is due mostly to hiking. Even taking hiking out of the picture, I still would have had over 600hrs. Not sure 750 is sustainable going forward, so something else will have to give a little, especially if I attempt a Pemi Loop in 2016...


Jason said...

That’s cool that you can diversify your athletic pursuits and achieve a state of flow in each. My problem is time. The beauty of road cycling is that in most cases it can be done right out the door with every minute devoted to the activity itself rather than travel. My local routes are admittedly quite stale despite having decent diversity. My rides in central MA and northern New England are vital to keeping it fresh and rewarding but I’m limited on how many times I can do these.

Are you planning on continuing your hill-climbing with cycling? It will be interesting to see how your times are now that you’re no longer doing so much specific training.

If road cycling could be done in an environment with few cars, good roads and lots of elevation would it be your favorite activity? Or has it now been replaced even if you could be guaranteed those often times difficult to find parameters?

Even if I had time to do various other types of activities, I think road cycling would always remain my favorite given the sheer speed and distances that are achievable. I used to do lots of scuba diving and snowboarding. I definitely miss those.

PatrickCT said...

You may want the Great Range Traverse (NY) on your 'list' if it's not already there...

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great 2015, glad you were exposed to the wonders of hiking long miles in the mtns, it's the best.

Hill Junkie said...

Jason - I've always had a strong passion for off-road cycling. Even the one year I rode over 10,000 miles mostly on road, I still cherished the off-road rides. I don't think having unlimited car-free road climbs would change my current sentiment that much. In New England, we can come close to that in some parts, especially in Vermont if you don't mind riding on gravel (two of the Vermont 6-Gaps have gravel sections that we ride with road bikes). Over the last 10 years, I'd say 80% of my cycling trips were MTB. Sometimes I do pure road rides with MTB on these trips, but they are off-road centric trips. Notable road-only trips were Dolomites (splendid, highly recommended) and several trips to southeast Appalachians. Even then, I occasionally will rent a MTB for one day and do epic off-road ride. If I happened to live in the middle of the Green Mountains, would I do more road? Perhaps.

I will always be a Hill Junkie. Whether it be road bike, MTB, ski or hike, I like to go up. Cycling trips are always to areas with big climbs. I don't ever see going to Florida just for riding. Just not in my DNA. As far as bicycle Hillclimb races, reduced emphasis, but I'll still hop into at least a couple events per year. I do hope to participate in other hillclimb events, such as Mt Washington foot race (keep entering lotery but don't make the cut), or maybe the Wildcat duathlon (run-bike-uphill run finish). I suspect my VOmax power has withered some without the weekly focused efforts, but my endurance and overall fitness is quite good right now I feel. I suspect I would be at least 10% off my Mt Ascutney PR pace right now, 31-32min instead of 28min, just a guess.

Jason said...

That Dolomite trip report you did remains my favorite and most inspirational. Not surprising given my proclivity for road riding. I believe Thompson (sp?) Tours offers many packages for road riding in Europe. Do you think that you'll ever do another trip like that or will future trips be all focused on off-road riding?

Hill Junkie said...

I came very close to booking another Thomson tour a couple years ago. It is highly unlikely I'd do a tour during one of the big tour races. I don't like being by that many people and am not that infatuated with the pro peloton. I wouldn't mind seeing more of Austria or Switzerland. I looked into renting a MTB for one day while in Bormio back in 2011. I'd go on solo flyer while the rest of the gang did the ride of the day. But it would have meant giving up Gavia and Mortirolo. Just couldn't pass up those two famous climbs on the last day of riding.