One of the high-tech cogs in my AT hike machinery is a wireless 4G hotspot. Just picked it up this week. With it I can check current conditions along the trail anywhere I can get a cell phone signal (not to mention uploading photos and blog entries). Since I'm starting my hike January 1st, knowing about snow cover conditions will help a lot with logistics. I've found some cool sites such as the one shown above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. They analyze satellite data to get a virtually continuous map of snow coverage, but no information about depth. The Trail in VA and NC got a bit of snow at the end of December, and it shows up here on this December 1st screen shot. I can get snow depth information from National Weather Service sites, but only at reporting stations, and these are usually down in the valleys. But every little bit of info will help.
I toyed with the idea of getting a smart phone or even carrying a wireless 4G tablet with me on the trail to check weather and provide updates in near real time - a good 10 inch tablet weighs less than a pound - but I opted against these options in favor of the more versatile wireless hotspot because experience has shown that cell tower reception is very spotty along the trail. And that's kind of a good thing, when you think about it. It's nice to know that there's still some 'wilderness adventure' left in an AT thru-hike :-) So I'll be doing my internet connecting only from my vehicle.
Other than the visit to my local Verizon Wireless sales center, this week was very up-and-down. I managed several training hikes that extended my Personal Continuous Footpath to an old 1979 residence of mine in Takoma Park, MD and to my long time place of employment at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, MD, but had to cut the trekking short when my three tooth extractions all developed the very painful complication called 'dry socket' or 'alveolar osteitis'. Wow! That really knocked me back a peg or two for several days. I have a follow-up visit with the oral surgeon this morning, so I'm hopeful that the worst of it is over.
Had I felt better, I was hoping to download Google Earth and begin to learn to use it to import tracking data from my GPS, but that's going to have to wait a few days. Yes, the plan is to have my entire step-by-step track posted on Google Maps for the curious to see--and to keep me honest (As a trail 'purist', I plan to pass every white blaze twice during 2012).
All for now ... I leave you with one shot from the week's hiking: A little lake on the property of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center variously called Alter Pond or SCS Lake. It teems with wildlife all year, and in summer is almost completely covered with water lilies. I've posted a few dozen more photos from the week's hiking at Panoramio.