“Fastpacking is the intersection of ultralight backpacking and long-distance trail running,” according to Trail Runner Magazine.
On Tuesday, March 30, my husband and I embarked on an intended three-day, two-night fastpacking trip on southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT). Keep reading to see what turned it into a two-day, one-night trip instead.
First, we dropped off a resupply vehicle at the trailhead nearest to our night-two shelter.
Next, we logged 1.5 miles of hiking after dropping off our main supply of gear at our night-one shelter.
Then, we drove home to change into running clothes, trail shoes and hydration vests.
After three hours of logisitcs, we ran out the door to the trail and embarked upon our journey.
We enjoyed a sunny 70-degree day of run/hiking the first 24 miles of the LHHT with 5,052 feet in elevation gain and 4,175 feet of elevation loss.
When we landed at our shelter for the night, nearly eight hours later, we had clocked 25.5 miles for the day, my husband’s longest run/hike ever in mileage and my longest run/hike not in mileage but in duration.
Before I get to why the trip was cut short, I’ll share with you some of my favorite pieces of gear and clothing from the adventure, as well as the food I ate along the way.
Salomon ADV Skin 8 Women’s Running Hydration Vest – You can read more about my favorite running vest in the recent review I wrote. I wore this on day one, and it was loaded full of all the food I list below plus the Grayl Purifer and Leki poles. On day two, we hiked with our larger backpacking packs and stuffed our running vests into them.
Grayl Ultralight Compact Purifier – The purifier fit into the back zip pocket of my Salomon hydration vest. We filtered water at miles six and 15 from creeks and filled our reservoirs (mine, a three liter; his, a 1.5-liter) as well as our smaller collapsible flasks.
By the time we got to the campsite, where the only water source is from a pump that brings forth iron-rich water, it became quite difficult to press the filter down, and the thin edges of the cup were painful on the hands. We need to replace the filter – then it will be easier to press.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter – a straw that sticks directly into the creek for drinking – now we’re talking! For practicality purposes, you don’t receive a lot of water from this device. But I will carry it more often in case of emergency and for the pure joy of enjoying ice-cold creek water in a safe way. On this trip, it was nice to take a big sip through the LifeStraw while my husband and I were taking turns filtering from the Grayl Purifier. Plus, when I ran ahead for the last five miles, he kept the LifeStraw while I kept the Grayl.
Leki Micro Trail Pro running poles – You can read my in-depth review of the poles here. I used them at mile two for one hill, then again from mile 6.5 to 7.5 on the steepest hill of the day, and not again until mile 18.5 for a small, steep section On day two, when we were not running anymore because we were carrying our larger packs, I used the poles the entire time.
Oiselle Long Roga Shorts – I purchased these while pregnant in size four (I wear a size two in the regular Oiselle Rogas), and they still work for backpacking, riding my mountain bike and outdoor adventures with my sons. While I do not wear them for runs anymore because they are a bit loose and shift around when I’m in my natural, steady pace, they are comfortable for fastpacking or backpacking when miles are slower and days longer. I love the brief liner, the stretchy fabric and the back and side zip pockets. Sized up, these give me the relaxed fit I prefer when fastpacking as opposed to the “fitted” fit I prefer when strictly running.
La Sportiva Lycan II trail running shoes – They are lightweight, provide supreme traction and are my go-to shoes these days. Read my full review here.
Outdoor Research Seattle Rain Cap – This hat kept my head warm and dry and the rain out of my eyes on day two and adjusts nicely.
I love food! I eat to feel good, especially during physical pursuits. “What do you eat?” is the number two question runner friends ask me (the first is what shoes I wear). While I like to share my running food favorites, I do so with the disclaimer that we are all individuals and what works for one may not work for another.
For instance, my husband ate a huge ham, turkey, cheese and mayo sandwich at mile six, canned tuna at mile 19 and honey roasted pistachios and chocolate chips throughout the day. Keep reading, and you’ll see how our fastpacking food choices differed to suit our unique wants and needs.
Mile 3: One sandwich baggie full of fresh papaya chunks and raspberries and about four ounces of Skratch Labs Sports Hydration Drink Mix – Lemon & Lime mixed with Elderberry immunity powder
Mile 12: One can of Juice Performer Beet Juice with B12 and about 10 manzanilla olives
Miles 19 to 24: At this point, my husband kept the run/hike pace while I took off and ran the last five miles. I took small sips of the remaining drink mixes (the Skratch/elderberry and the cherry juices) during the final stretch and finished them off when I arrived to the campsite.
For dinner, I had prepared dehydrated corn, carrots, asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and broccoli in my Excalibur dehydrator. We boiled the vegetables over the fire in the three-liter pot from our GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Camper Cookset along with a bag of Lotus Foods Organic Millet & Brown Rice Ramen Noodles and canned organic chicken plus hearty dashes of Maine Coast Sea Vegetables with Sea Salt.
After a long day, the savory, hot, hearty delicious noodle soup hit the spot.
The next day, we woke up to rain and high 40s. It was predicted, and we were prepared, but what happened over the next couple hours was a disappointment.
We boiled instant oatmeal with dehydrated bananas, which I also prepared ahead of time in the Excalibur dehydrator, and topped it with sunflower seed butter. After we drank our instant organic coffee and packed up camp, we donned our rain apparel, covered our packs with pack covers and set off.
Our first stop was the creek just a quarter mile into the hike to filter water, a task that made us even wetter, particularly our hands.
One hour into hiking through downpours, my “waterproof” Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Hooded Jacket had saturated through to the tops of my arms, back and sides. Gratefully, I was warm and felt good despite the circumstances.
After almost five miles, just north of mile marker 28, we stopped at the only resupply store along the trail to buy lunch and snacks for the day. It was there that we discovered our sleeping bags and pads had become wet with rain, despite the pack covers.
“Call your mom for a ride?” my husband asked.
Inside, I cried. My soul withered. No! No! No! I had to keep going. I needed to keep going. I thought of a million ways to try to complete the journey by myself. I wanted it so badly.
After all the preparation, lining up childcare and finally putting this dream into motion, we decided to call it quits…
We still had 17 miles to hike that day in the rain, my entire upper body was soaked, my rain jacket useless…
Snow and below freezing temperatures were the forecast for the night…
We did not want to sleep in wet bags or on wet pads…
What if we arrived to wet kindling and wood and couldn’t start a fire, which was the only way we could cook dinner?
What if my Raynaud’s painfully numbed and thus debilitated my hands completely?
How could I filter water with no use of hands?
What if we woke up on day three without fire, with no way to cook breakfast, to cover the final 24 miles frozen stiff and hungry?
Besides, my husband, who is not an ultrarunner, or even a marathoner, was happy with what we accomplished and ready to rest an achy knee.
I did not go on solo.
I settled with feeling satisfied in the lessons learned and happy with the laughs and one-on-one time we shared while doing something crazy fun, our favorite kind of date. Furthermore, I was over-the-moon with my husband’s never-ending smile as he dove into a feat for which he was under-trained. He loved every moment, even the painful parts.
And as we sat and watched the falling rain while waiting for my mom and our two sons to pick us up, I began devising a plan for the next attempt.
That time, it would be different.
I hope this story guides you in your own adventures with gear, food and clothing choices and ignites your passion to keep following your dreams with a smile on your face despite obstacles and setbacks.