Thursday, December 26, 2013

PCT Planner Spreadsheet

I was playing around with the wonderful PCT Planner web site, and I looked at the exported data it gave me. The file was in a simple CSV format, which contained all the text and numbers of my plan, but without all the dependencies between them, so I imported it into Google Sheets, and started adding formulas in relevant places.

At first I went for the easy ones - The start point of every section, is the end point of the previous section. Easy enough. The Section Distance is the Base + Extra Distance. OK... And so it went. When I tried calculating the Base Hiking Days as the Base Distance / Daily Pace, I found out I got a different result than the one in the original CSV. Looking into the numbers and columns, I realized the days were factoring in that strange Elevation Gain Compensation value over there. It wasn't easy to wrap my head around it, but I finally figured out how to add it into my calculation -
Base Hiking Days = (Base Distance / (Pace * Hiking Hours)) + (Base EG/1000)*(EG Comp/(60 * 8))
Phew. That's quite a mouthful. Good thing we have the Sheets engine to do it for us.

I added another 2 columns to the table, instead of the Exit Distance column, separating the distance between walking distance (Exit Walk) and hitching a ride distance (Exit Ride). I added the Exit Walk distance to the section's total.

To use it, first change the Start Date at the top row, and set the Pace/Hiking Hours and EG Comp values to your own. Changing each value will also change all the following rows, so it's also easy to change it during the hike, and see how your plan updates according to your new speed.

The best "trick" I added, was the first column - changing the value from TRUE would skip that section's end point, and combine its distance and elevation gain with the next row. This way it is easy to switch between different plans, and see how different town stops would effect the end result.

There are several small bugs, and I hope to improve it a bit more. But feel free to create a copy in your own Google Drive accounts, or just download it as an xlsx (Microsoft Excel) file, to play with, and plan your own hike.

PCT Planner Spreadsheet
Share and enjoy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sim card update

Just a quick update - I have just received the two free SIM cards I ordered from T-Mobile. I have no idea if I will be able to activate then in April, but I'll give it a shot.
Oh. I just noticed the back had "Activate by" 12/18/2015. So I might have a good chance of it working.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solar Power

I have started looking into solar panels back around 2007, while following Craig Stanton's blog of hiking the PCT. I really liked the fact he was using a GPS to log the trail while he was hiking it, mostly because I am really into mapping. He was using an OHararp LLC GPSlogger (An older version of this) that came along with a solar panel to keep it running during the long hike.
My Geo Logger in its OtterBox case.
Before I set out to hike the Israel trail I ordered the same kind of GPS logger for myself, along with the generic solar panel. This was all in the days before smartphones, don't forget. I carried it with me while walking all the way from kibbutz Dan in the north, to Tel Lachish (Where I quit my INT hike), and photographed every trail crossing along the way, for future geo tagging of points of interest. I never did anything with the data I collected. Although I checked it out once, and the trail had sampling errors all over the place..

I later got my dad (who is an electrical technician) to fix a simple female USB connector to the solar panel, and took it with me to my hike on the GR20 in Corsica. This time I had a smartphone for the geo logging, but it stopped working on the fourth day or so. Only when I got back home I found out I managed to fry its motherboard. Oopsie. Maybe it was the improvised solar panel. Maybe it was the under clocking I'd tried applying on the phone. I don't know. After I got back home I sent the panel back to my father, for another round of checks and fixes. I noticed I couldn't get it to charge my Nexus 4 at all, and I almost gave up on the idea. But then I found a website with schematics on how to make your own smartphone solar charger. I have no idea what those schematics mean, but my father does. Another round at dad's, and I now own a solar charger that might actually work. I only received it about two weeks ago, and I haven't had any serious sunny days to try it on yet, but it does send the phone into charging mode when under sun light, so I'm optimistic. Since I do not plan on geo logging my bike this time. The charger will just have to keep the phone running occasionally to contact home, and maybe check the maps and GPS applications, if I get lost. I hope it can pull this off in between town stops. If it fails, I will probably buy the SunTactics sCharger 5 instead, since I heard a lot about it on trail forums and the Facebook group.
Getting to work by bus today, so I'll try to see if it charges my phone on the way.
Update: My test failed miserably. Even though I turned off all mobile data access during my ride to work, and did not use my phone for music or internet access, I managed to lose ~2% of battery. The panel was in the sun for most of the bus ride. I guess it is not working well...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hiking Food

Well, I haven't set foot on the PCT, so I can't really tell you what I will eat over there, and what "Works for me" or not, but I thought I'd share my plans, based on the experience I do have from the AT, and some other self-supported hikes I've had. In total, I guess my food choices were pretty boring on the AT. I didn't mind eating the same kinds of stuff day after day, and I just stuck to whatever kept me full at night.

For breakfast I usually had two packets of Quaker Oatmeal. The kind with powdered milk or the apple-cinnamon flavor. Being the lazy git that I am, I would never bother with boiling water for breakfast, and just pour a bit straight of cold water into the paper packet, mix it with my spork, and eat it out. You gotta be careful to get all the powder from the bottom corners, otherwise it'll stick in there until the end, and you will be left with a salty spoon of powder to finish it off. On some town stops I bought Pop Tarts instead, the frosted kinds preferably, which I had for breakfast. They don't keep to well on the trail, but I didn't mind eating the crumbles. It tastes the same.

For lunch I usually had a tortilla with chunks of cheese and pepperoni. Being a vegetarian now I will have to skip the latter. I guess I will try getting some more trail mix and nuts for some proteins. The good thing about tortillas is that they work the same when they are dried up and a bit old - just a wrap. I guess they do break more, but it is better than having a completely stiff bun or pita.

At evenings I used to cook some kind of Lipton meal (Pasta or rice, usually). Over here they have the Knorr brand name on them, and I think in the US they changed as well, but it all works. I used to just pour the packet inside my pot, add water, and cook until the fire went out (I used a simple alcohol stove, so I just had to put about the same amount of alcohol every time, and wait it out). I also added powdered mashed potatoes and tuna chunks (I used to go crazy for the aluminum wrap packages from Starkist) - like the pepperoni, no more tuna for me. Put the whole messy concoction in another tortilla, and it's quite filling.

This time I think I'll do the dinners a bit different. I'm using a Caldera Cone F-Keg system, built around a big 24.5oz Fosters can, which is a bit narrow and tall. I tried cooking in it several times, and I keep getting some burnt leftovers at the bottom. It's also not comfortable eating straight from the pot, due to it's height. So lately I've been trying to just boil water in the can (Last attempt took just under 7 minutes for 25ml of alcohol. and it burnt for 5 more), and then pour the hot water into the Knorr packet, close it carefully, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I failed miserably once, but last two attempts had a rather edible rice dinner at the end. Again, I had way too much water left inside to make it passable for a real serving of rice, but I added the powdered potato mash and ate it like a champ. It worked like a wonder in my recent desert hike. I think it'll work just fine on the trail.

During the day I usually snack on Snickers and M&Ms, even though I remember I had some Clif Bars, and sometimes Chewy bars as well. I used to have a snack every 1-2 hours, for a total of about 3-4 a day. Not good for the teeth, but it kept me going. I'll see how it works out this time. I will try carrying GORP and nuts to replace some of those candies. I will also put more effort into having fruits and vegetables while in towns, instead of just stuffing those burgers, and maybe even carry some for the first day out of town, occasionally. I'll see how that works.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

US sim card

I've been trying to figure out what cell company/mobile plan to use while in the US. I don't need a lot of minutes or messages, and only a moderate amount of data. I was thinking about trying to get a data-only plan, because I expect to be using mostly Skype to call back to Israel, but I will be dependant on having 3G reception to use it even just for making local calls, and I guess many backcountry locations will only have 2G reception available for voice calls. Not to mention I'll have to fool the cell company into thinking I have a tablet, and not a phone, which may or may not be according to the contract I'll be signing.

So - I want a simple plan with a minimal amount of minutes, and some 3G data. I asked on the PCT Class of 2014 fb page about cell coverage, and I understand that Verizon is by far the best cell company (reception-wise) along the trail. Sadly, my Nexus 4 phone is not compatible with their transmission bands, so no use for me there. It's T-Mobile or AT&T now.

Several weeks ago I managed to miss out on a sale on T-Mobile of a free sim-card (shipping included), and was already bummed that I'll have to pay $10 for one. Their web site is not easy to navigate, with all the different plans and options available. While trying to find anything useful there, about a week ago, I was approached by one of their site's support specialists in a chat window. Now, I don't know if I was talking to an actual person, or just some human-passable bot, but she did help me find what I was looking for - And I was very happy to discover that again - a phone sim card is now $0 including shipment. It wasn't easy for me to order a couple of sims (2 is the max on this sale) - At first I tried using my own international credit card, and shipping to a relative in the US. The transaction failed. I then tried using a US credit card, and shipping to that same address. Failure again. As a last resort, I tried using the credit card number of the relative in the US, so now I had the card's billing address identical to the shipping address for the sim cards. No luck again. I was giving up, before I tried one last time - This time I made two changes. I connected through a proxy, so that T-Mobile site thought I am surfing from inside the US, and I also put my regular email address, instead of using +tmobile in it (Using instead of - read about it here). Well, I guess it worked, because the transaction finally completed, and now I wait for the sim cards to arrive to their destination, and be sent over here finally.

I still don't know if I will be able to activate them 6 months from now. The "specialist"/bot told me I won't, but since I got the cards for free, I decided I'll chance it. If it doesn't work, I will just buy a card upon landing in San Diego.

Regarding the plan itself, at the moment I am eying the $30 a month plan that has 2GB of data, and some calls/sms (I don't remember how much, but it doesn't matter). Another option is a daily plan of $3/day, which only charges per days I'm actually using it. So if the phone will be disconnected from service for most of the month, and only connected for less than 10 days (or parts of days), it might be a bit cheaper. But it sounds like the monthly plan is more cost effective after all.