Purveyors of heavy do-dads and outdoor fashion

Until very recently, I’ve done all of my hiking alone. Over the last year or two, there has been a couple of people that would come along – most often, if I’m particularly lucky, my significant other. But by and large, the vast majority of my mileage has been solo.

On the occasion that I do hike with others, the conversation often gravitates toward gear. There’s not much interesting there – in fact after a few minutes it can become quite the opposite. As soon as the conversation turns away from that however, things can get productive.

The most recent on-trail conversation related to this web site and it’s users. We marveled at how users will ask questions – directly or publicly on social media – that have already been addressed ad-nauseum within these pages. After reading text that was written for a very specific topic, why would one turn around and ask a question that was addressed within that text?

My thought on the subject went thusly: The user simply missed the info – it was likely added after their initial visit. Changes at ECTThruHike.com happen sporadically – often on a weekly basis, but sometimes queued up for months, then suddenly… all over the pages and all-at-once. When a hiker is initially considering a thru hike, they read through the site (hopefully), and over time, a few additional questions come up. Surely they’re unlikely to re-read pages of (dry?) text to see if those answers were missed or added since that first read-through?

Long Story Short – a changelog (or list of revisions) has been added. Since my conversation mate was a software guy, in homage to him the format is very techie-isque and object oriented – it will appear at the bottom of each static page, but only as new updates are applied going forward. New items will appear on the top, and after a few months old items will drop off the bottom.

I’m under no illusions that this will fix the issue we identified during the hike. People will be people. However, at least this way, they have less reason to not inform themselves and the tools to do so effectively.

Rather than get into the most recent updates here and why the changes were made, I’ll just let you check out the bottom of the Equipment Page as an example of this new function. Hopefully the title above will then make sense. 🙂

Re-supply Updates and Sharing the Joy

While driving last weekend to hike my final mysterious non-official southern ECT sections along the coast toward Cape Race, I seized the opportunity to do some research. While a hiking buddy made pit stops for ice cream, I checked out hardware stores and post office locations.

The final post office before Cappahayden is at Fermeuse. It’s tucked away in the most unexpected of spots… on a quiet subdivision side street at the top of a steep hill. At 350 meters off the road route and 28 km from the southern terminus, it’ll probably be of more use to northbounders than southbounders.

During this drive I also passed Dalton’s Home Hardware in Cape Broyle (@ km # 218)… for once while it was actually open. As I expected, Methyl Hydrate is available in the paint department. The real surprise however came at Witless Bay Home Hardware (km # 173). Not only do they have Methyl Hydrate, but also Isobutane Canisters… in a dedicated camping section! It’s expensive @ $12 for a 220g, but it’s a second re-supply option for those using gas (the first being The Outfitters @ km # 96).

20170601_162521_hdr-01

This info has been added to the Spreadsheet and Notes & Tips page.

The #ectthruhike tag has also been suggested by thru hiker Marc Gärtner. We’d better grab it for this real trail before it’s claimed by a theoretical one. This will allow thru hikers to share info online while en-route for a variety of advantages: it will not only allow hikers to publicize themselves and their effort, but also help them identify fellow thru hikers. Sharing in this way also provides great exposure for the trail and serves to inspire next year’s group of thru hikers

Links have also been added to the Thru Hikers 2017 page for two Facebook groups; Hiking the East Coast Trail (preaching to the choir, but local hikers love following along) and Backpacking in Eastern Canada (which has a greater percentage of backpackers as well as people that are unaware of the ECT and the idea of thru hiking it).

Spring Cleaning… Site Updates and Upgrades

For quite some time, it’s been widely known the ECTA has been working on a project to redesign their web site. I’ve heard it said more than once that many usability and structural issues arising from the way the old site evolved – with sections and info added and grafted on to an existing design – would be addressed when this pending updated design went live.

Personally, I’d been holding out hope that much of the functionality contained within ECTThruHike.com would be eclipsed with data provided by the association when this project was complete. As ECTThruHike.com itself has evolved since it went online just over a year ago, an increasing amount of data has been added, often following an inquiry or request from a user.  As a result of this expansion, the site has not only taken more time to maintain, but in fact has been used by a wider range of hikers than originally intended – a testament to the utility of the data. Whether these users be Section Hikers, Slackpackers or Local Recreational & Weekend Backpackers, the focus here remains squarely on Thru Hikers.

As it turns out, the recently unveiled East Coast Trail.com seems to be largely a cosmetic change. While the design is no doubt visually appealing and cohesive, there seems to be little new information added. In particular, the idea of promoting the trail to the thru hiker is noticeably absent, and in fact indirectly discouraged through certain policies.

Of course this is not likely an oversight… but thru hikers should not be deterred or put-off in any way. The omission would most likely be born from a misunderstanding regarding overuse. I would confidently suggest that, amongst all users, the light footed, nature loving and respectful thru hiker is going to be the least likely to have an impact. In reality, there is of course no organization or no individual who has the authority or ability to discourage this particular use. Rest assured that, as a thru hiker, you will be very welcomed by people you meet along the trail.

The Resupply tab in the ever expanding ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet... viewed here on mobile.
The Resupply tab in the ever expanding ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet… viewed here on mobile.

The idea then that ECTThruHike.com could slowly slide into obsolescence seems to be somewhat flawed.

As a result, I’ve recently done some additions and tweaks… a few things that have been in the pipe for some time.

  • Canada Post Resupply Info. Since the concentration on the ECT seems to continue to be first-time thru hikers, info on Canada Post locations and their proximity to the route has been added to the Spreadsheet.
  • Resupply Strategy. Contains a simple how-to for grocery store / post office food resupply strategy aimed at novice backpackers doing a self-supported hike.
  • Direction of Travel. Info that’s been collected regarding why certain hikers have chosen a specific direction has been added.
  • Transportation. This section has been cleaned up and simplified… now categorized by direction of travel. Detail on flat rates offered by Portugal Cove Taxi to the Bell Island Ferry Terminal (Picco’s Ridge South) have also been included.
  • Connectivity. I’ve been told the section was unnecessarily technical. I don’t really know what that means, so I just deleted some stuff. 🙂
  • New Server. More processing power, faster page load.

Just point me to the data please

One of the really cool things about having info online on the ECT is the connection it allows me to have with those who come to Newfoundland from elsewhere to do a thru hike.

Thru Hiker Eric Moll at Brock's Pond near the end of his northbound hike in Sept 2016.
Thru Hiker Hiker Eric Moll at Brock’s Pond near the end of his northbound hike in Sept 2016.

Most often these hikers will have a few questions and contact me well in advance of their start date. I really look forward to this interaction as it allows me to quickly incorporate any previously unasked questions into the site – the idea being that eventually the online info will be so complete that every possible question will be answered. Thru hikers, as a pretty independent breed by definition, ideally will be able to take the raw data and run with it.

I’m of the opinion that this trail in particular is best suited to first time thru hikers though – people who may have a few more questions than your average seasoned hiker.

Even though ECTThruHike.com is not yet a year old, I’ve already been in touch with a couple of people who were able to complete a hike and check in after-the-fact.

Eric Moll is one such hiker who checked in yesterday after doing the ECT northbound in mid-September. He’s posted a YouTube video highlighting his hike, but he’s also posted a trip report to his blog with some strikingly beautiful photos. Also check out his west coast hike for some dramatic photos and a video from the burgeoning IAT-NL.

Eric’s Hikes Newfoundland 2016 Blog / Trip Report – IAT-NL Section and ECT.
Eric’s YouTube Channel – Includes footage from those hikes and others in the US and Canada.

Aggregate Stats for 2016 ECT Thru Hikers

The only known picture taken on route of thru hiker Steve Liu.
The only known picture taken on route of thru hiker Steve Liu.

Following are some stats compiled from data posted to ECTThruHike.com and stories gleaned from in person and online conversations with various ECT thru hikers. For more info, check the Notes section below.

Update: October 8, 2016. Data has been updated to include stats from Eric Moll.

Number of attempted thru hikes: 17
Number of completed thru hikes: 8
Percentage complete: 47%

Type of thru hike undertaken:
Supported: 0%
Self-Supported: 100%
Unsupported: 0%
For more info on these terms, please see the Notes section.

Direction of Travel:
South: 53%
North: 47%

Solo Hikers vs. Groups (2 or more):
Solo hikers: 29%
2+ hikers in a group: 71%

Seasonal start time for all attempts:
May: 0
June: 59%
July: 23.5%
Aug: 12%
Sept: 5.5%
Oct: 0

Percentage of attempts that were successful by seasonal start time:
May: 0
June: 70% (7)
July: 0
Aug: 0
Sept: 100% (1)
Oct: 0

Most often reason cited for lack of complete hike:
Lack of info / maps (likely Picco’s Ridge & White Horse): 67%
Unspecified: 22%
Injury: 11%

Remaining data for successful attempts only

Average time to complete:
12.19 Days

Percentage of thru hikers with primary residence outside NL: 94%
Percentage of thru hikers that stayed one or more night off trail (paid accommodation): 94%

Percentage of thru hikers that purchased supplies locally: 100%
Percentage of thru hikers that purchased equipment locally: 88%

Notes:
Data is only for / from those who have shared info with ECTThruHike.com.

For the purpose of this data, a thru hike was considered complete if the hiker covered the entire distance of the trail on foot, under their own power, while also adhering to the Type / Style of hike they claimed to have undertaken. This information has been voluntarily supplied by each individual and has not been independently verified.

Thru Hike Type / Style Definitions
For more info on these terms, please see Peter Bakwin’s definitions.

Supported
The hiker / runner has pre-arranged on-trail help from one or more people. The support person(s) usually assist with food, supplies, etc..

Self Supported
The hiker has no pre-arranged help from other individuals. They resupply from stores, mail drops or stashes en route, under their own power on foot. Self Supported hikers have been known to accept offers of help (ie: food) from non-prearranged sources.

Unsupported
The hiker has no help what-so-ever from anyone. They carry everything they need, including all food, from the start and through the duration of the trip. Water is the exception – obtainable from natural sources on-trail.

Road Walk Routes Added to Spreadsheet

When managing a project, there are always a number of ideas floating around that can improve the final product. With this site, one such idea was to Identify and Map the Road Walk Routes through communities.

Some of the ECTA Maps already have these Road Walks defined. In real world use though, the problems with the printed format are numerous – the street names are not consistently discernible, the identified routes are out-of-date, and on some maps, the communities don’t appear at all. As such, mapping the road walks is something that I thought may be useful, and would take relatively little time to do – but I never really stopped to consider how useful it would be. So I simply never got around to doing it.

Having just completed a thru hike however, I’ve come to realize the utility of the data. To illustrate, below are two screen captures from GPS routes for the road walk portion of two thru hikes that took place in the last few weeks.

RWB GPS ECT June 2016
Click to Enlarge

For anyone familiar with this section (Silver Mine Head to Father Troy’s), they’ll quickly see where the hikers went wrong. I always thought this data would be useful just to CFA Thru Hikers…. but I was one of those hikers that got off route!

RW GPS ECT June 2016
Click to Enlarge

“But Randy,” I hear you saying “You’re familiar with those community links – how did you manage to go wrong?”

Well, it has to do with your mindset while hiking.  When you’re doing a thru hike, the community road walks are often not a highlight. When you come to the end of a trail, you are jolted out of your zen-like hiking state. All of a sudden, you have to start thinking – about the route, about re-supply, about the next trailhead, etc.. Your hike is no longer a beautiful relaxing walk through the woods – there are streets going in every direction, people, cars, noise, smells…. For someone who’s been spending all their time in the forest, it can be a little off putting. Paying attention to your route through the community is one of many things you have to do when you reach a town, and it’s something that can easily fall by the wayside.

So, long story short… (if that’s possible at this point), the Road Walk Routes have been added to the Spreadsheet. You’ll find them in the first tab, Trail Data, linked from each alternating line.  While hiking and when viewing the Spreadsheet with Google Sheets, it can be accessed very easily in Google Maps – as can been seen in the accompanying video. The route text can also be printed (with or without the map) for those hiking without a mobile device (Menu > Print).

Site Re-design

The Portal has been moved from Google Sites to a more permanent home.

This new server will allow the site to evolve naturally as it provides dramatically more control over design, structure and content. Most importantly, the software I’m running on the server (WordPress) allows greater accommodation of visitors on a range of devices. Specifically, this change gives the viewer a very similar experience – whether they’re using a 5″ screen smartphone, a 55″ screen TV, or anything in between. I’m still working out a few kinks for visitors using iOS devices, but generally everything is kosher.

This info will still be available for a short while at the old address. I may move some of the more relevant posts from the Updates section to this new server… undecided. For now, they’re available here:

https://sites.google.com/site/ectthruhike/updates

Evolution of the Portal

About five months ago, when I started posting videos online for the East Coast Trail, I didn’t really know where I was going with the idea. At the time, I had just a few more paths to hike before completing all sections of the trail, and although I knew I wanted to do more hiking, I wasn’t sure if it would be on the ECT.

20151213_132025~2For me, hiking the ECT has always been bittersweet. I’m of the opinion that the environment in general and the ECT in particular is not something that the various levels of local government really appreciate. As a resource I feel that they don’t really understand or particularly care about it – not like BC does with the WCT – not like Spain with its Camino – not like Italy with its Cinque Terre. These are all world famous footpaths, but they’re just footpaths – and in my option, in many ways not even as engaging as the ECT.

So I decided that if I hiked it again I’d have to not only add some aspect to the activity to make it more interesting, but also make it mean something in a larger sense. Without much thought, I started to shoot some cell phone video – as opposed to just snapping photos – photos that I’d hardly ever look at anyway.

Once I started adding more videos, I felt the need to get them all online – an incomplete series seemed sort of pointless. I realized this could be a useful resource to those coming to Newfoundland to thru hike the path – info for those intending to do an end-to-end hike wasn’t readily available. In fact, a question that I’ve been asked on trail more than a few times by hikers going in the opposite direction has been “…is there a large river soon?” That’s telling.

20151226_141825_Richtone(HDR)~2Soon after half the videos were uploaded, I was contacted by a person (I’m still not sure if it’s a man or woman) via YouTube with questions… How long will a thru take? Is it as wet as the WCT? How about resupply? That was the first of many messages – messages that have become more and more frequent: potential distance hikers, day hikers, even a family RV camping at La Manche (“Is it safe to take kids on the trail?” Ah…. Yea! You should _definitely_ get those kids out of that RV and on the trail).

Despite the fact that I was speaking to the distance hiker in the videos, a wider range of people were watching. I also didn’t expect that the distance hike questions I’d get were from so many people who’d never done anything like this before. I can put that down to the Wild Effect, or something else, but it doesn’t really matter – the format of video lends itself well to those that are sedentary and looking for motivation.

After a few times cutting / pasting basically that same answer that was sent to the original YouTube contact, I knew I should stick the info online. I also knew video wasn’t the format for large amounts of raw data – I mean what was I thinking… They should take notes while watching on YouTube? So the Spreadsheet was born. Soon after that, one night when I couldn’t sleep, the Thru Hike Calculator followed – I honestly don’t even remember doing it.

As I was trying to clumsily manage URLs for the playlist and Spreadsheet data, and looking for somewhere to share the email responses, I had two viewers ask the exact same question, within an hour of each other. I decided then… That would be my last copy / paste.

Which brings me to today and the latest evolution of this whole thing – The Portal.

Currently at www.ECTThruHike.com you’ll find the following:

Where is this going from here? I have no idea….