In February 2017, I attended the ALDHA-West Ruck in Cascade Locks, Oregon in preparation for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. ALDHA-West (which stands for the “American Long Distance Hiking Association West”) promotes and educates folks about hiking long trails. The ALDHA-West Ruck is a gathering of hiking enthusiasts who socialize and discuss topics of interest to long-distance hikers. The event also provides an opportunity to meet with vendors who sell gear specially designed for long distance hikers.
Note: in 2021 the Rucks will all be held virtually due to the pandemic.
Arriving at the ALDHA-West Ruck
I arrived in Cascade Locks the evening before the ALDHA-West Ruck started, tired and dirty from hiking the Angel’s Rest-Devil’s Rest Loop. I headed over to the Thunder Island Brewing Company for dinner, and was greeted by a couple of tables full of hikers who had arrived before me. They invited me to join them and soon I was eating a prime rib dinner and chatting with Allgood, Story and Bright. They were all very welcoming and soon I felt right at home.
I also got an opportunity to meet Snorkel (aka Liz Thomas) in person for the first time. Snorkel taught the Thru-Hiking 101 Class that I attended online in 2016 and later went on to write the book Backpacker’s Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-Hike. If you haven’t picked up your copy yet I highly recommend it.
The next morning I headed over to the Marine Park pavilion, a location I was already familiar with from attending PCT Days last summer. The first session of the day focused on Leave No Trace best practices – including an informative discussion on how to poop while on the trail. This was all new to me and I listened with rapt attention while learning the proper technique. I’ve since gone on to write my own article on the subject, which you can read here: How to Pee Outdoors (and Poop too!): Hiking Bathroom Etiquette.
After a few other sessions, including one on the link between nutrition and pain management, we came to the highlight of the day …the pack shakedown!
Pack Shakedown at the ALDHA-West Ruck
In the pack shakedown, you dump the contents of your backpack on a tarp and an experienced hiker offers suggestions on how to improve your setup. I’d been looking forward to the shakedown for months and spent hours upon hours researching the latest and lightest gear. I spent weeks weighing all my gear with a kitchen scale and tracking every item on a spreadsheet down to the last safety pin and band-aid.
Long distance hikers are obsessed with weight. The goal is to have as light of a pack as possible – because the lighter the pack, the less likely you are to injure yourself while on the trail. Through-hikers are famous for cutting the handles off of their toothbrushes and snipping unused buckles and straps from their packs to save weight. Every ounce adds up!
For a pack to be considered light, a hiker should strive for a base weight of under 20 lbs (“base weight” does not include consumables such as water, food, or fuel). Ultralight hikers sport a base weight of under 10 or 15 lbs. I know it seems counter-intuitive…when going into a wilderness area you’d think you’d want to bring more, not less, in case of an emergency. But most long distance hikers travel with extremely light packs and they survive just fine… usually 🙂
Prior to the Ruck, my base weight was 17.5 lbs (I was still waiting for a few items to arrive, so I calculated that my final base weight would end up around 18 lbs). I was pretty happy with this weight because as a new hiker I figure I’ll make adjustments as I go – but I wanted advice for how to improve. Was I missing anything major? Was there anything else I could leave out?
I spread my gear out on a tarp and Allgood came over to do my shakedown. Overall his feedback was pretty positive – it was clear I’d done my homework (thanks Snorkel! 🙂 ). Soon a crowd formed and I got a lot of excellent tips from both Allgood and the folks watching along. I made a number of gear changes as a result, including but not limited to:
- Getting rid of my backpacking can opener, waterproof matches, extra t-shirt, and several of my stuff sacks
- Switching my lighter and headlamp out for a smaller ones
- Changing my back-up water filtration method from Potable Aqua iodine tablets to Aquatab chlorine tablets (much lighter!)
- Removing all of my band-aids and adding more Leukotape in my First Aid kit
- Adding a silk tea bag to help in filtering the more questionable water sources
- Getting a prescription for Tinidazole from my doctor (in case I get giardia)
They also suggested that I ditch my tent footprint and spare hiking bra but I’m still thinking those ones over. I plan to start out with them and mail them home if I don’t end up using them.
For you hiking nerds, I put together a detailed PCT Gear List with more information on my hiking gear.
PCT Breakout Session and Raffle
After the shakedown, we had a tasty lunch prepared by chef Shroomer and then broke into smaller groups that focused on specific trails. I joined the PCT breakout and got to meet some of the other folks in the class of 2017. We ended the day with some additional presentations and – every hikers favorite – a gear raffle! I actually did not participate in the raffle this year because I won so much gear at PCT Days last year. I have enough hiking crap cluttering up my house :).
Making New Friends at the ALDHA-West Ruck
After the raffle, most folks headed over to the brewery for dinner and some beer. I spent a fun evening meeting some new friends – Brit, John Z, Arrow, and Scrub – and hanging out with the folks I met the previous evening. Brit is also preparing to hike the PCT for the first time this year, so we compared notes and talked shop.
Thunder Island Brewing just unveiled a new Trail Magic board, which enables folks to buy a beer for a future thru-hiker. You get a coaster as a token to represent the beer and then have the opportunity to write some words of encouragement on it before putting it in the Magic-o-meter. We all bought some hiker beers and spent the evening doodling on our coasters as we chatted.
When I ran into pretty much the same group of folks at breakfast again the following morning, it felt like we were old friends. In particular, I’m thankful to have met Bright and Story and sincerely hope our paths cross again. They were so welcoming and kind to me. I feel like we I’ve met some kindred spirits.
All in all, attending The Ruck was an amazing experience and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone else who is planning a long-distance hike.
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