A Walk For Sunshine - a hiking memoir and book review

Disclaimer: In order to be honest with my blog readers, I am disclosing that I received a copy of A Walk for Sunshine, 20th Anniversary Edition, for free in exchange for a book review on this blog.  As always, all opinions are my own. 

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Being that I'm a distance hiker, I'm asked all the time (and I mean ALL THE TIME) if I've read certain books.  You guys know the ones.  If you hike, you're probably asked all the time too, right?  Well, as a distance hiker reading books by and about ACTUAL thru hikes are always much more interesting to me.  That's why when I was contacted by Beaufort Books regarding the 20th Anniversary Printing of A Walk for Sunshine I was super excited to read it.  While books written about hiking by writers are great for entertainment value, as someone who has taken a long walk on a distance hiking trail it's always a lot more fun for me to read about the experiences of others.  Here are my thoughts on the book A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt - a memoir of his 1998 Appalachian Trail thru hike.  

The thing I really enjoyed about this book was the trail journal style it took on from the very beginning.  The book follows Jeff starting in Georgia - making the mistakes all newbie thru hikers make, and documenting his way northward into Maine.  Being that his book takes place 20 years ago you would think that hikers of recent years might not find common ground with Alt (who adopts the name Wrongfoot mere hours into his hike).  This is where you would be wrong.  Although the trail has changed quite a bit since his hike in 1998, so much of it remains the same.  Hikers who have even stepped once on the Appalachian Trail will immediately find common ground with Wrongfoot - knowing the places or parts of the trail he mentions.  

Being that the book adopts the trail journal style, it's easy to get sucked into reading this book and not wanting to put it down (Seriously, I read it in an afternoon).  Wrongfoot captures the spirit of a thru hike - the difficult and long days, the insanity of the weather brought forth by Mother Nature, even the simple pleasures of making it to a restaraunt as iconic as The Homeplace in Catawba, Virginia are documented here.  I found myself laughing and reminiscing while reading this book, remembering the emotions and experiences I had at the shelters named and the hostels visited along the way.  

One thing that cannot be overlooked in this story is the fact that Wrongfoot is hiking for charity.  When he set out on the trail in 1998, he was raising money for Sunshine Communities - where his brother, Aaron, lived with cerebral palsy and mental disabilities.  During the course of his hike Jeff not only raised money for Sunshine, he even started a Walk, Run, and Roll event that still takes place 20 years later.  His annual inspired event has raised more than $500,000 to date for the Sunshine Communities.  

The great thing about this 20th Anniversary edition book is the fact that there is an Epilogue about life lessons learned, as well as a post script for wannabe thru hikers.  Also something I loved was the recommended reading list in the back - it has many of my favorite hiking memoirs listed, as well as it lets hikers of today know that the gear Wrongfoot carried in 1998 is by no means the gear you'd carry today.  It has practical advice on the fact that the trail is now longer, gear is lighter, and information on the trail is endless.  This practical advice is definitely welcome!

I highly recommend reading this book if you love books about thru hiking, especially on the Appalachian Trail.  You'll find yourself laughing and cringing just like you would if you were talking to a friend about the trail.  You can get a copy of the book your favorite local store or online as not only a paper book, but also an ebook.  You can visit http://www.beaufortbooks.com for more information.  

A Walk for Sunshine

Ultimate Coffee Date - October 2017

The temperatures are cooling, the leaves are changing, and the tourists are flocking to the mountains like it's going out of style!  It must be October, and since it's the first Saturday of the month, it's time for our Ultimate Coffee Date.  Grab a mug of your favorite warm beverage and let's catch up.  

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If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've taken the leap and signed up for my very first 100-mile race! I have decided to do the Pistol Ultra Hundred Miler instead of attempting to break a 4-hour marathon this spring.  In a perfect world I'd be able to do both races, but it's just not going to happen in 2018.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: There are big plans in the works for 2018.  Since our vacation didn't quite go as planned this year I didn't get my fill of thru hiking as I'd hoped.  In the coming months, look for an announcement as to what next year will bring!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: How excited I am that the temperatures are finally cooling off.  This fall I've been able to run a lot more than I did last year.  I've been really lucky to be able to get a good number of days off this year and I feel like I'm doing a much better job at taking care of myself than I did last fall.  Being able to focus on not just my running, but also being able to get back into yoga has been so much better for me.  I am finally starting to feel like myself again. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Living in this small town I grew up in has kind of put me in a funk.  I was doing well for several years while I was living up north.  These days, being back in a tourist town in the American South has really taken a toll on me.  It's not that I don't love the low cost of living or the scenery, but the fact that we are so incredibly lacking in culture and diversity has been tough.  It's also been pretty cruddy that there is really nothing to eat here other than chain restaraunt and American-style bar food.  I've not been eating well recently and I'm hoping to fix that soon.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Even though I am still here in the south, I'm definitely enjoying the work I've been doing lately.  I was recently given the opportunity to plan several hikes with a much more strenuous pace and distance than many we offer at the company I contract for.  While I love getting people out into the woods and guiding many people out into the wilderness for the first time, getting the chance to stretch my legs has put me in such a great mental place.  I hiked nearly 60 miles in a week a few weeks back and I really got into a happy place.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that speaking of work, some great opportunities for next season are in the works!  I'm super excited to feel like I'm being challenged when it comes to getting out and going hiking.  For me, getting outside the comfort zone is what my job is all about, and when I can do it I think it makes for an amazing experience for both me AND my clients.  

What would you tell me if we were catching up this week?  How was your September?  Did you reach any goals or milestones?!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Catching Up - My Favorite Posts of the Summer

Hey all! I know most of us have had a busy few months and I'm no different!  My work schedule, vacation, and even just life have gotten in the way of my writing recently.  I know I had promised back at the beginning of the summer that I would get back at it blogging for you guys, but it honestly just didn't happen.  Instead, I've been out working and getting ideas for things to write about for you all.  

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Unfortunately, I missed a ton of news out in the hiking world over the summer.  Below, I'm going to share with you some of my favorite blog posts from OTHER outdoor writers that I was reading the past few months. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may recognize some of them.  

First, my favorite post about why switching out of those heavy hiking boots and into a lightweight shoe makes so much sense from Clever Hiker: Ditch the Boots. And if that isn't enough for you, check out some more scientific posts from this Reddit Thread

Second, the AT speed record was broken again this year, although quietly, by String Bean!  Regardless of how you feel about speed records existing, it is still an amazing feat! Check out this post from Gear Junkie about his record setting unsupported hike that even beat the SUPPORTED record time!

In August, I was loving An Ode to Every Woman Who's Ever Been Called Outdoorsy.  I even read this post to my women's backpacking groups.  I hope you are as inspired by it as I am. 

And finally, it's just not hiking season these days without a little controversy.  This year, look no further than Stacey Kozel (yes, the "paralyzed" hiker).  While last year I had heard of her, this year she was virtually off the radar until just a few weeks ago, when she popped up again on the nightly news as an inspiring woman who thru hikes.  Unfortunately for Stacey, she picked a hell of a year to fake a thru hike with the highest reported snowpack in 30+ years and wildfires that made it nearly impossible for thru hikers going NoBo on the PCT to even hike it at all - seriously, the unofficial motto for NoBo's this year is 2017 - We Tried.  Anyway, check out this great post by Clay Bonnyman Evans about why it's not harmless she's lying about her hikes.   

Anyway, I hope you guys all had a wonderful and amazing hiking season and that your shoulder season is cool, colorful, and full of adventure!  By the way, if you're looking for more adventure from NoKey or me, feel free to follow us over on Instagram! You can find us @SprinklesHikes and @NoKeyRules. 

Ultimate Coffee Date - August 2017

July came and went so quickly it felt like a blink of an eye.  Of course, it always helps my month along when I leave for vacation for half the month!   While I didn't do a ton of work in July, I definitely have a ton to talk to you about - so grab your favorite mug, your favorite beverage, and join me for August's Ultimate Coffee Date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That I'm halfway through my busy season at work now!  I'm almost counting down the days to the off-season at this point.  After backpacking a little on vacation I can't tell you how much I miss being able to do my own thing.  Leading trips is great and I love teaching people the 'how-to's' of being outdoors, but being able to enjoy it for myself is so fulfilling. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Our vacation was definitely a mixed bag.  We had to scrap our original plan of thru hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail due to NoKey's dad getting sick and being in the hospital.  Thankfully, he's doing much better now, but he was in pretty bad shape and we thought it best to head out to see him and then make a road trip out of it.  Unfortunately,  I also lost a diamond earring in the White Mountains and blew a tire in Connecticut, leading me to have to buy four brand new ones.  We also discovered that there was a class action lawsuit involving my model year of vehicle due to tires always blowing out (I've blown three in three years).  Unfortunately, I missed out on the lawsuit, but I will be getting the part fixed soon. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Not all things on the trip were bad.  In fact, we spent some time in Delaware (the last state I needed to visit on the east coast!) hiking and kayaking, drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and then did a road trip with hiking every few hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The vacation was a great break from the norm, but not quite the thru hike I was craving and needed. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm so incredibly thankful for my friends and family who helped us make the trip possible.  Being a "mom" to five cats and a dog, all of whom are getting older and have their own set of issues, going out of town and off the grid for periods of time can be really difficult.  If not for my parents, grandma, and a few close friends it would be nearly impossible.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm looking forward to the off-season this year.  I've decided to pursue a few things that I've been interested in for a while now.  I'm also trying to decide between attempting to finally get that sub-4 hour marathon time or attempt my first ever 100-mile race... Stay tuned for that!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm so thankful for those of you still reading the blog.  This project started out on Tumblr as a way for me to keep track of my hiking miles and has turned into SO.MUCH.MORE.  Without my readers, I'd be lost!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: In case you missed it, I'm really proud of this post I wrote before I left for vacation.  I've really been not too happy with how I'm looking physically lately, and honestly I'm old enough to know better ;) 

How was your month of July? What would we talk about if we met up for a coffee this morning? I'd love to hear about it!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Distance Hiking and Body Image

Body image always seems to be in my social media feed - it seems like we're obsessed with it.  A new ad campaign promoting something regarding celebrating your body seems to pop up every month.  As someone who grew up in the age of Title IX but before crazy photoshopping, body image never really played into how I viewed myself.  Granted, like every teen girl on the planet, I learned to point out my flaws for a good 15 years or so.  Recently though, especially after hitting my 30s, I've learned to let a lot of that go.  While I think part of that comes with age, I think another part of it comes with my experience as a distance hiker.  In fact, distance hiking has helped me come to terms with my body more than any body-positive ad campaign ever could. 

When I first set out to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2012 I knew I had a few pounds to lose.  Not many, but a few.  When those few pounds came off in the first nine days I knew I still wasn't happy with my body.  In fact, there are still some photos from the trail that make me cringe when I see them.  Sure, I was (and still do) wearing Spandex.  Sure, I had a waist belt cinched tightly to carry the weight of my pack.  Sure, I had just finished camelling up (drinking a ton of water) at a water source so I wouldn't get more dehydrated.  To me though, these photos don't show me at my best.  In a highly curated world, these photos are sort of embarrassing to me even now.  I recently came across a photo like that, seen here:

My least favorite photo from the entire AT. 

My least favorite photo from the entire AT. 

I could nit-pick at this photo all day.  The way my waistband sits, the way my stomach sticks out, the way my hair is in that weird in-between growth stage.  When we took that photo it was just after we ate a ton of food (read - sugary snacks), drank even a ton more of water, and had hiked about 15 miles that day.  When I saw that tree, all I wanted to do was hop on and take a photo.  We camped that night and had an amazing time with our other fellow thru hikers.  It wasn't until months later, when I saw this photo on my Facebook feed (as I often uploaded without editing) that I was horrified at my appearance.  Weren't female thru hikers supposed to look strong?  All the other girls I hiked with looked so thin and confident.  They were all stronger than me, weren't they?  It really put a dark cloud over what I was actually out there accomplishing.  

The same day the photo above was taken, the photo below was taken... yes, the SAME DAY:

There's nothing wrong with this photo (in my eyes) and I remember feeling so great that day.  So, why do I feel so bad about the first one?  

In a world where our images are perfect, photoshopped, and manipulated and curated to fit a certain image, it's important to see our photos for what they are: a memory of a time we wanted to document.  I think people are truly never happy with their bodies, but the truth of the matter is our bodies can do amazing things.  For me, my body has carried me more than 7500 miles - through physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging terrain - and given me a career.  My body has carried me through an ultramarathon and a distance hike.  My body has been grimy, slimy, and scabby from months outdoors.  I've been covered in bruises and DEET.  I've been energized and exhausted all in the same day.  I've walked 30 miles and I've barely moved.  The fact of the matter is that none of this matters because my body is strong.  My body is beautiful.  My body can get out and climb that goddamn mountain.  

With this post, I'm issuing a challenge to all those outdoorsy folks - go ahead and post that photo.  Share the moments you're proud of.  Don't be distracted and disheartened by all those pretty white 20-somethings with colorful tattoos and John Muir quotes on Instagram.  Your experience outdoors is just as important.  Be proud of who you are and what your body has done for you.  I know I'm proud of mine. 

National Backpacker's Day

In the age of social media it seems we are more aware of the daily holidays that exist in our country.  When I saw there was a National Backpacker's Day I knew I had to get on board with this one!   I mean, how do you NOT celebrate National Backpacker's Day when you're basically a professional backpacker?!  I won't be able to spend the day backpacking, but I'll be out on the trail in just a few days.  In the meantime, I can actually reflect on what being a backpacker means to me. 

As someone who was never deemed athletic as a kid or an adolescent, becoming a backpacker in my mid 20s had such a positive change on my life.  In fact, I can honestly say I wouldn't be the person I am today without putting that pack on my back over Labor Day 2008.  I remember that trip incredibly vividly.  Not owning any gear of my own and the person I was with only having enough gear for one person we did the best we could.  Armed with a sleeping pad, a bag, and a liner, we decided one person could sleep in the sleeping bag and one person could use the pad and the liner.  I carried a day pack with some food, the liner, and the pad.  He carried the alcohol stove, sleeping bag, and some food.  We hiked in a whole 2 miles to the Kephart Prong shelter in the Smokies.  I remember thinking just before we got there just how hard this hike was and hoping it was going to be over soon.  Just before I asked the ubiquitous "are we there yet?!" we had arrived.  I hardly slept at all - I was freezing cold for one thing, and a mouse kept getting in the sleeping bag of the person above me in the shelter, so she was yelling periodically.  The next morning I was chased by bees at the fire pit.  Still, I was hooked.  

Since that trip nine years ago I've learned so much about hiking and backpacking.  In fact, I'm still learning things every single time I'm out on the trail with someone new.  I've gone from carrying a 29-pound pack to a 19-pound pack.  I've upgraded my gear and hiked closer to 10,000 miles than I ever thought I would.  I've learned I'm capable of making critical decisions and doing hard things.  I've discovered that my body is stronger than I ever gave it credit for.  I also discovered that the old adage "Garbage in, garbage out" is truer than you'll ever know. 

For me, backpacking isn't just a way of life.  Backpacking is my life.  I am so incredibly lucky to get the chance to teach people how to do it the proper way.  I get to share my love of distance hiking with wanna-be thru hikers.  I even get the chance to take people out into the forest for what could be their very first trail experience.  National Backpacker's Day, for me, is a way to honor the role it plays in my life. 

Does your favorite hobby or job have a national day? What does it mean to you and how do you celebrate?

Hiking the Great "Soaky" Mountains - My Flash Flood Experience

I recently had a brand new experience during a guided trip - a flash flood.  While many of us go through our daily lives and hear or see the words "Flash Flood Warning" pop up on our phones or scrolling across the screen during a weather report, none of us ever actually get a chance to see or experience one.  While I hope you never do, I'd like to recount my experience, share a video, and let you know how you can avoid a situation like that while you're out on your next hike.  

During my most recent Women in the Wilderness trip thunderstorms were again in the forecast.  So far this year it has rained on every single trip I've taken.  Granted, after our severe drought last year, the rain is a welcome sight.  Even though I'm grateful for the rain and the fact that we are now two inches over our normal rain level, I'm starting to get a bit sick of it.  Knowing rain was in the forecast I made sure I had packed my usual rain kit for a guided hike, including my uncomfortable and hot rain jacket and a large and incredibly heavy (when it's dry) tarp for my clients to relax under.  While our first day on the trail only gave us a sprinkle or two when we first took off, our second day was calling for afternoon thunderstorms.  It was while we were lunching that we heard our first thunder clap, but after about 45 minutes of all bark and no bite the storm never materialized.  However, just as we arrived at camp, around 3:30 in the afternoon, the sky in front of us was nearly black.  I knew we'd be pushing the rain and we hiked downhill to my favorite campsite in the park, campsite 49 (Cabin Flats).  We walked back to the farthest site from the trail, right next to the river, and immediately put up our tarp to keep us dry.  We assembled all the tents and got underneath the tarp as the first rain drops started to fall.  Our group joked how this would be our trip high point - we assembled the tents and tarp just before it got wet, assuring that when we finally set up our tents on the inside (putting our sleeping gear inside) it would be nice and dry.  

At first, the rain was steady and not out of the ordinary; however, after approximately 15 minutes, the rain began falling in heavy sideways sheets.  The tarp quickly slackened from becoming wet and due to the sideways rain and winds we ended up holding some of the edges, moving to the middle of the tarp with all our gear and hoping the storm would let up.  The sideways rain continued for about a half hour before it finally let up, but the rain continued steadily.  After approximately 1.5 hours the rain had let up to the point where one of my clients asked "so, how much longer will we have to do this?" meaning stand under the tarp before we set up the rest of our gear.  As if on cue, as soon as those words escaped her mouth, we all heard a deafening roar.  Looking toward the river, we all watched the water level rise from normal to just at the shoreline and ready to breach.  After looking at each other and saying "did everyone just see that?" we ran over to the tents, picked them all up, and moved them to a higher point in the campground.  After standing for a few minutes and chatting, we decided I would head up to the top of the campsite, which was higher up, and see how the river looked.  When I got there, the water had risen to above the shoreline and was beginning to cover the upper part of the area.  I instructed everyone to grab their packs and head up the hill, leaving the tents for the moment.  

After bringing all our gear, minus the tarp and tents, to a safe point we came up with a game plan.  We definitely weren't staying at the campsite because it could still be raining upstream and the water could get higher.  We now had a few choices - grab the tents and stay right on the main trail, hike up to a different site about 3.5 miles away and stay there illegally without a permit, or hike out to our cars.  My group was shaken, but not ready to call the trip.  We decided to grab the gear and camp somewhere else.  Staying as a group, we broke down the tarp and three tents quickly and brought them up the hill to pack them up.  On our way back the second time, the water level had risen even more, despite the rain stopping where we were.  We sloppily packed the gear as best we could and decided to make the 3.5 miles trek to campsite 50.  

My biggest concern with hiking down to campsite 50 was the fact that it was at an even lower elevation than our campsite at 49.  I also knew the water would be higher down lower and that we had four bridges to cross to get there.  After approximately half a mile we came to the largest and what I considered the most secure of those bridges and I looked to see the water was only about a foot and a half from the bottom of the bridge.  This water, at normal levels, comes up to about my mid calf.  We paused on the bridge to take photos of the water and I shot a video as well.  You can see that below: 

For reference - this is what the river normally looks like. 

For reference - this is what the river normally looks like. 

Our walk continued along the Bradley Fork Trail and over a few more bridges that spanned the raging river.  We could see several walls of debris that were freshly piled up on the shorelines at the turns of the water.  Thankfully though, the water never breeched the trail.  When we got to campsite 50 we were shocked to find it was empty on a Saturday night.  We set up our tents, cooked dinner, and spent a dry night cozy inside them.  

I would be lying if I told you I felt 100% calm about the situation.  I've never experienced water like this in the Smokies before, although flash floods have been known to happen in other parts of the park.  Now that I've been through the experience, I can be better prepared for dealing with this situation in the future.  Here are my tips for dealing with a flash flood: 

1) Stay Calm:
If you panic your body won't help you make a rational decision.  In retrospect, it may have been safer to break down the tents and the tarp first to avoid taking that second trip down to the site.  Either way it would have taken the same amount of time.  

2) Know your outs:
Even if you're backpacking someplace new to you, having an evacuation plan is key for a situation like this.  The most important thing you can do during a flood like this is getting yourself to higher ground.  Knowing how you can get back to your car is even more helpful, but it's not always possible. 

3) Keep paying attention:
Even though we had a plan to continue onward with our hike, and even though we were still talking, laughing, and joking, I was still paying attention to that water and listening for anything out of the ordinary.  While you want to get out of the area quickly if possible, it's also important to stay safe while doing so.  

4) Report the incident to the proper people ASAP:
I had no cell phone service on this entire trip.  For me to report what I had seen I actually had to talk to the backcountry office at the park once I drove to it.  Letting the proper people know will get someone out there to check the site for anything unsafe and possibly close it to keep other people safe as well.  

While I hope I never have to deal with a situation like that again, I know that hiking for a living in a park with more than 3,000 miles of flowing stream it is a distinct possibility that I will.  I'm hoping to be better prepared and even more in control if I ever do. Have you ever experienced a flash flood?

Ultimate Coffee Date - July 2017

Another month has come and gone and the year is now more than half over (and my hiking season is getting close to that too!).  Time to play catch up with all you guys and let you know what is going on in our neck of the woods.  So, grab a cup of your favorite morning beverage and let's have our coffee date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that June was a great month for me.  I was able to get back into running a bit and I've proven to myself that I haven't lost my fitness level too much!  Since I started seeing a chiropractor back in April I've really cut back on running to allow my body to heal after my marathon season.  I'm finally back to feeling great with very minimal pain. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I didn't have much time to focus on myself last month, however.  I led a lot of trips, some of which were added to my schedule last minute.  I got to run one of my AT Shakedown trips and that was such a blast!  I love seeing former clients go to the next level of backpacking.  I was so proud to see how much she had accomplished.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: our vacation is looking like it unfortunately might be a bust.  It looks like, at this time with less than 20 days til go-time, that some parts of the Tahoe Rim Trail are still covered in more than 8 feet of snow.  We are going to make a decision soon as to what we might do instead.  I'm pretty heartbroken that my planning might be for nothing.  While I love working as a guide, I really need some time to get out and hike the way I want to hike. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've got some new backpacking gear coming in the next few days for said vacation.  I finally decided to try a Zpacks Arc Haul and we made the switch from a single walled Tarptent to a double walled Nemo Blaze.  The only thing sad about that is my new gear won't be here until after I get back from my final guided trip before our vacation, so I won't get a chance to try it all out under a load of weight.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm toying with signing up for my first ever hundo (a 100-mile race) in March next year.  The race, the Pistol Ultra, is normally over New Years' weekend, but had to be moved due to the host school's schedule this year.  I don't really want to run an ultra in southern spring heat though... decisions, decisions!

While I'm definitely looking forward to a busy July, I'm also really looking forward to some "us time" on vacation.  What are your summer plans shaping up to be?  Are you planning an epic end-of-summer trip? 

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Hiking in the Rain

I don't know about the weather where you're living, but here in the southeast the late winter and springtime have been full of rain and thunderstorms - a huge difference from the hot and dry weather we were experiencing last year.  With wet weather in the forecast it can be very tempting to cancel your much-anticipated hiking trip, but it doesn't have to halt your plans!  In fact, hiking in the rain can be enjoyable if you've got the right gear.  Check out my advice for hitting the trail in the rain and how to enjoy your trip.  

Invest in Some Contractor Bags

A box of contractor clean-up bags will be a wonderful investment for any backpacker.  An unscented bag can be your pack liner.  You simply slide it into your empty pack and load your gear as  you normally would, twisting and tucking the top/extra plastic before closing up your pack.  Pairing this with your pack cover will give you an extra layer of waterproof protection that can stand up to nearly any storm.  It's important to double check that the box is UNSCENTED and heavy duty before leaving home. 

Ditch the Waterproof Shoes

While this seems counter productive, I promise there's good advice here.  Imagine you're wearing shorts and a Gortex hiking boot during a summer hike when a rainstorm breaks out.  You've got your pack covered and your poncho or rain gear on.  The rain will then run down your poncho or down your legs and directly inside of your boot.  Even if the rain stops and you get a chance at camp to dry out your shoes, shoes that are waterproof will not only keep water from streams from getting inside, but it will also stop the condensation or water that got inside your boots from drying out.  Consider going with a lightweight, breathable boot or, better yet, go ahead and make the switch to a pair of trail runners.  Even if your feet get wet during the day, you can easily dry a pair of trail runners in dry conditions or even just from your own body heat.  

Test Your Gear 

If you haven't taken your gear out in the rain in a while, I highly recommend you check your gear at home first.  That tent that hasn't been out in a year may not be as waterproofed as you remember.  Set up your gear outdoors and spray it down with a garden hose.  Inspect your gear for any seams that aren't sealed or any holes/leaks.  Avoiding a surprise during that late-night thunderstorm could make all the difference in your trip. 

Have The Right Equipment

While this one seems like a no-brainer, there are still things you can do to protect your gear inside your pack.  Invest in some waterproof stuff sacks for your sleeping bag and your clothes.  If you know your trip is expecting rain, make sure to bring an extra dry set of clothes to help avoid hypothermic conditions (because, yes, people can get hypothermia any time of year!).  By lining your pack you're definitely helping keep clothes and sleeping equipment dry, but by adding protection and using a waterproof bag in addition to your pack cover you can be sure your camp clothes will be dry and keep you warm. Remember - hikers always say there is no such thing as bad weather, just gear that can't handle the weather!

Learn Lightning Safety

Thunderstorms are definitely a natural part of the weather system in many parts of the country and being prepared for lightning can not only be informative, it can help you stay safe.  Know the warning signs of an impeding afternoon storm and limit your time above tree line in the summer months. Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid or First Responder course and learn the Lightening Ready protocols.  Learning Lightening Ready Stance can greatly reduce your risk of being struck by lightening in the backcountry. 

Lightning Ready Stance can be taught by many different courses - learn the proper techniques!

Lightning Ready Stance can be taught by many different courses - learn the proper techniques!

HAVE FUN With It!

While walking for miles in a downpour doesn't always sound like fun, it can definitely be fun.  Play in the puddles, sing a song, or just power through the miles with a smile on your face.  A positive attitude can make all the difference, especially if you're hiking with a group. 

Have you ever had to hike or backpack in the rain? How did you keep your trip enjoyable despite the weather? 

Ultimate Coffee Date - June 2017

It's the first Saturday in June (June, seriously?!) and that means it is time to play catch up with all of you guys.  Check out all the happenings behind the scenes over here at Sprinkles Hikes.  Grab your favorite coffee or tea and let's catch up on everything I've been doing over here. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: My season is really starting to pick up! I spent the month of May out on a few glamping (front country camping) trips as a camp host instead of as a hiking guide and I have absolutely been loving it.  Honestly, I spent so much time out in the backcountry last season that I don't mind spending a few hours out in the front country this year.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: With that being said, I am really looking forward to my first backpacking trip of the season (with clients) in two weeks!  I am leading an AT Shakedown hike for a repeat client and her friend, plus a woman who wants to go hiking out in the Rockies.  As much as I love backpacking, I did so much of it last season that I'm really enjoying the fact that I'm not out all the time this season. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  I've been seeing a chiropractor now for six weeks and I finally have gone more than a full day without any hip/shin/knee pain!  This marathon season I had been complaining of tight hips that never loosened up despite miles of warm ups and cool downs and stretch sessions.  With this most recent session, my doctor used a device called The Activator.  While it was initially uncomfortable, I've actually been hip pain/tightness free in 36 hours!  I've also stepped it back on running once again and I'm opting for low-impact cardio options at the gym and doing strength training at home.  Strengthening my hips will be a priority for my winter running season!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  how fast this season is going!  We have booked everything for our Tahoe Rim Trail hike and now I really need to get on top of the food thing.  Thankfully, this trip is only 10 days in the backcountry and not a few weeks or months, but I've found that planning a menu for only 10 days can be just as stressful!  I want to make sure we'll enjoy our meals without getting bored.  We will also need to mail ourselves our food and fuel for our trip, so I do need to set up a hotel in Reno for that purpose.  July will be here before I know it!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  I'm doing a giveaway this month!  I have one Believe Logbook signed by Lauren Fleshman and I think it would be perfect for those of you with fall marathon or half marathon goal races!  Check out my Rafflecopter giveaway below!

 

Add to the bottom of every post: This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

So You Want to Be a Trail Guide?

When people find out I'm a trail guide I not only get a few questions, I also get to hear "Wow, that's the best job in the world! I'd love to do that!" followed by attempts to ask about getting hired at the company I work with or how they can start a hiking company on their own.  While working as a trail guide is a wonderful and enjoyable job, I always try to stress to people that working as a guide and hiking in general are not the same thing.  If you've ever thought about getting into the world of guiding, here's some practical advice to help you decide if you'd like to get into the guiding industry. 

You're Going to Hike SLLLLLOOOOOOOWWWWWWW

My normal comfortable walking/hiking speed is between 3 and 3.5 miles per hour.  As a guide, however, my hiking speed is approximately 1 mile per hour.  Why the difference?  People hiring a guide are doing so to get out and enjoy nature - many of them for the first time ever.  When a mountain mile is approximately equivalent to walking 3 miles in a city on sidewalks, you can imagine people are DEFINITELY not going to be able to walk 3-3.5 miles per hour.  Not only will you be hiking slow, you'll be taking plenty of rest breaks and be reading the cues on your client's faces to make sure they're not exerting too much.  While it's enjoyable to work outdoors all the time, your comfort and abilities don't matter when you're a guide.  If you're a fast hiker, be prepared to slow it down considerably and be prepared to hurt A LOT when you do. 

You Are Responsible For Everyone's Safety

When you're out hiking with your friends, especially if they're adults, they're all responsible for their own decisions and safety.  When you're out with paying clients chances are you're the only one in the group with any first aid training and any first aid items in your pack.  While going out with friends it's a lot of fun to hop up on that giant rock and take photos, with clients it's important to watch their steps and check for rattlesnakes that could be under or around those rocks.  Keeping people safe not only keeps your hikes enjoyable, it also keeps your insurance rates low and your company's reputation high as well.  

You Will Carry a TON of Extra Gear

I don't know about you guys, but I don't carry ANYTHING extra in my pack I won't need on a backpacking trip.  When I'm out with clients though, this level of thinking goes right out the window.  On trips where I have a group of 8, I often am carrying two stoves (Jetboils) and extra fuel canisters, two water filters (Platypus Gravity with two 4-liter bags a piece), a tarp for rainy conditions, extra string, more first aid items, and even homemade baked goods (when you're working for tips, extra touches help!).  I can easily add an extra 10 pounds of stuff I'd never dream of carrying to my pack.  This doesn't include gear that your clients are unable to carry.  It doesn't always, but sometimes will, happen that a client is physically unable to walk with a pack on, but when it does be prepared to carry some of their gear as well.  

You are Working 24/7

If I'm on a trip and during the middle of the night a client needs me, I am on call.  If we are sitting around camp and an emergency arises, I am on call.  I am never not working on a trip.  While I do get some down time to relax with clients around a small campfire at the end of the day, I still need to make sure I'm doing my job and keeping people safe.  "Did she just take food into her tent? Did he just pour grey water into the creek?  Where is that guy's food bag now?" You are continuously monitoring camp and the people around you to make sure your group will be safe and enjoy their camping experience.  Working 24/7 on a trip can definitely be exhausting. 

You Will Meet Incredibly Inspiring People

Just like when you're hiking on your own, even with all the above-mentioned things you'll be doing, you're going to meet incredible people with incredible stories to tell.  I have met inspiring hopeful thru hikers, women leaving abusive relationships, men trying to reconnect with their kids, people celebrating their victory over cancer, and been a part of some incredible celebrations. On a trip I am their guide and afterward I am here to answer their questions if they're ready to get back out and try another trip.  Knowing that I helped people enjoy their trip into the backcountry, no matter their ability level or the trail conditions, is incredibly rewarding. 

While being a trail guide is a physical demanding and mentally exhausting job, it definitely has wonderful moments.  I work incredibly hard on everything I do, be it an hour-long walk or a week-long hike.  Teaching people the right way to get out and enjoy nature and showing them how accessible it can be is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. 

Have you ever been on a guided hike or trip?  Do you think you'd enjoy being a hiking guide? 

Backpacking 101

If you've been thinking about jumping into the sport of backpacking chances are you've done quite a bit of research on gear to buy or rent; however, this isn't always the case.  As someone who works as a guide and has done a number of distance hikes I can tell you while many people are doing the research there are still huge numbers of people who do absolutely no research at all.  Don't let your first trip take you by surprise!  Here are some common beginner mistakes a lot of people make on their first few backpacking trips and some tips for how to avoid making them. 

Carrying the Wrong Gear

We have all seen people out on the trail for the weekend carrying that backpack their dad bought back in 1979.  While the gear manufactured back then was truly built to last, sitting in the basement unused since the 80's means that your gear has a tendency to fall apart the minute you try to put it through the rigors of a backpacking trip.  As a guide, I've repaired numerous pieces of "durable and built to last" backpacking gear out on a trip.  Avoid this happening to you by heading to an outfitter and buying a new pack, getting fitted properly and learning how to use it.  Can't afford a new pack for the once-a-year trip you're about to take? There are plenty of gear rental companies out there to help you out!  Try looking online for a local place where you're headed into the woods, or check out a website like Get Out Backpacking for ultralight gear rental you can do online.  

Carrying Too Much Gear

Just because you bought it doesn't mean it needs to come out on the trip with you!  While many outdoors aisles have lots of fun and cool-looking outdoor tools you don't necessarily need to bring them on a trip!  Carry a small Swiss Army knife instead of that Leatherman multitool.  Leave the hatchet and saw at home.  A solar charger is useless under most tree canopies.  Cosmetics and deodorants will melt.  A full camp kitchen isn't necessary.  And last, but not least, you aren't going to need a different set of hiking clothes every single day.  By going through your pack and eliminating extra items you'll be able to shave a few pounds off your pack's overall weight.  By carrying less weight you'll decrease your chance for injury and have a more enjoyable trip.  Remember - a pack should never be more than 20% of your total body weight!

Carrying Outdated Gear

Now, I'm not saying that the gear you bought in the late 90's isn't any good any more.  I'm sure it's great!  But, what I am saying is that it might be time to retire that heavy gear to your front country camping stash instead.  Over the last several years backpacking gear has become significantly lighter and more advanced.  While it was common for thru hikers to carry 30-40 pound packs back in the 90's it is no longer necessary for hikers to carry that kind of weight.  By updating your gear piece by piece you'll save yourself quite a few pounds.  One of my favorite switches is a water filtration system.  Commonly weighing a pound or more, the old-fashioned water pumps are no longer necessary with options out on the market today.  Consider switching to a Sawyer Mini or Squeeze system and ditch that Nalgene bottle for a Smartwater bottle and you've saved yourself nearly two pounds and only spent about $20.  

Take More Breaks

As a guide, I teach people not only how to update, replace, or even buy gear properly, I also teach people how to hike properly.  Just because you did a 15-mile hike the last time you went into the woods doesn't necessarily mean you can still do 15 miles without any training time again!  By taking a slower pace and taking a few snack and stretch breaks along the way you'll not only get to camp in one piece, you'll also wake up the next morning with fewer aches and pains.  I recommend taking a 5-minute break every hour to take off your pack and roll out your neck (because looking down at the ground for an hour can really do a number on you) and stretch out your legs.  Snack breaks, even if you're not hungry, can help your body recover before you can even tell that you need to.  Taking small sips of water throughout the day will also go a long way against preventing dehydration.  

These are just a few of many tips I could offer to help make your first (or first in a while) backpacking trip go successfully.  What are some mistakes you made when you first became a backpacker?  What advice would you give someone who wants to try to go out on their own for the first time? 

How to Plan a Thru Hike

Taking on a thru hike can be a daunting task, especially if you're new to distance hiking. Getting ready to head out for a few weeks or months can take a lot of planning, but doesn't have to be stressful.  Check out my tips for planning your thru hike and keep the stress to a minimum!

Decide if You Want to Mail Resupply

Not every trail requires you to plan out and mail yourself a resupply.  If you're looking at doing a trail that is fairly well-established, like the PCT or the AT, and don't require a special diet, you can definitely get away with resupplying in towns.  If you are doing a lesser-known trail or have special dietary needs, you'll want to look more in depth into mailing yourself resupply boxes.  Keep in mind when you're planning your resupply that you might like one meal quite a bit at the beginning of a hike, but after a month or so you might not be so excited to eat it again.  Keep a variety of meals for your resupply and try not to eat the same meal more than once a week if you're going to mail out your own foods.   After you've decided to mail your boxes or resupply on the trail, you can move on to the next step to plan out your drops. 

Look at Your Daily Mileage

The first thing you'll need to do, once deciding on a trail, is checking out the terrain and your daily mileage.  If you're new to backpacking you'll definitely want to keep your mileage below 10 miles per day for the first few days or even first two weeks.  After you've looked at what your abilities will let you hike on the trail, you'll not only have a rough outline of your trip to leave with your friends and family, you'll be able to set up resupplies based on this plan.  Keep in mind that mileage can vary dramatically depending on the season - you never know how many early spring snow storms you'll run into in high elevations!  Keep a buffer zone in there.  

Check Your Bank Account

While a lot of people who aren't yet distance hikers look at a thru hike as a cheap extended vacation, many of us who have been not only distance hikers but also worked in the hostel and hospitality industry can tell you that distance hiking can get expensive!  If you're doing a section hike or traveling far from home for your trail, you'll need to set aside money for shuttles, hostels, hotels, and emergency services (like doctor's visits).  Not only should you have more money set aside than you think you should, it also helps to carry cash and tip your drivers.  Many people who work in the hiking industry are doing it while they're operating at a loss.  Tipping your drivers and hostel owners is always good practice.  

Make Your Reservations and Get Your Permits

Some places you're going to be hiking will require permits or camping reservations.  Hopefully you've done your research before heading out and you know exactly what you need to do to get to your trailhead.  Make sure you call ahead and check with campgrounds and hostels about availability and pricing.  Pricing can vary during the hiking season and by calling ahead and getting a rate and reservation you'll guarantee your pricing.  No one likes a surprise at the beginning or end of their trip.  Some trails require you to get a campfire permit (which are usually free) even if you're using a camping stove, so make sure you've got this as well.  Check and see if bear canister restrictions are in place and always carry the gear required.  By avoiding fines and following trail rules you're helping keep hikers in good standing with rangers and park officials.  

BREATHE and Relax

Know that not everything will always go according to your plan (which is why the emergency funds are so important!)  If you've got a plane to catch you'll have to work harder to stick to a schedule, but it's always a good idea to build in a few buffer days into your trip just in case.  Once you've got all your planning done and you've accepted things won't always go according to your plan, you can relax and count down the days to your trip. 

Planning a thru hike can be a daunting task at the beginning, but once you've got the major details squared away all that's left is to relax and get excited about your trip.  Do you have any tips for planning a major hike or vacation?  Have you ever had a trip not go according to plan? I'd love to hear about it!

 

Black Toenails - A Rite of Passage... or is it?!

When I first got into hiking seriously back in 2008 I joined a Meetup Group.  Before becoming a backpacker, I spent a lot of time on front country camping trips doing day hikes.  On one such trip, I remember sitting around a campfire with some veteran hikers and I found myself in a conversation that was borderline horrifying to me.  In fact, many of you who are hiking have probably heard a conversation very similar to this one: "You don't want to see my feet! I've lost so many toenails I can't even count them all!" "Oh yeah, I have two black ones right now - both big ones!" "My first backpacking trip I lost seven nails!" "I get so many blisters I'm pretty sure my trail name should be bubble wrap!" "Yeah, I don't think I've had a solid set of nails in 10 years!"  As I listened to this in slight horror I realized that yes, indeed, I was not a real hiker yet.  And thanks to this conversation, I wasn't looking forward to being a hiker either! 

A few years down the line I did join the real hiker club.  Thanks to a long day of hiking in boots that were too heavy, I got to camp and immediately shed the footwear to walk barefoot in a cold mountain stream.  The stream was in fact so cold that when I banged my toe on a rock I didn't feel a thing.  Later that night, however, a small purple lump showed up directly in the middle of my toenail.  Six months later, that nail had to be surgically removed thanks to the fact that the bruise never healed, nor caused me to lose that nail.  Finally, I had become a real hiker.  Honestly though, does losing or bruising nails REALLY make us a real hiker?  I'm here to tell you guys that NO, LOSING TOENAILS ISN'T NORMAL OR A RITE OF PASSAGE!  This post will deal with some footwear myths and facts to help you avoid the most ridiculous Rite of Passage hikers hear about.  

MYTH: You should Always Buy Your Boots a Full Size Bigger Than Your Shoes

If you need to buy your boots a full size bigger than your normal shoes, this tells me you're not wearing the proper size shoe in the first place!  In fact, most Americans are not wearing the correct shoe size for their foot.  A proper hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe should not only be long enough, it should also be wide enough to accomodate your feet in both their swollen and normal conditions.  To get properly fitted for a hiking, trail running, or backpacking shoe I HIGHLY recommend going to a running store and not an outdoor retailer first.  Running store employees are properly trained to watch your gait, measure your feet (both width and length) and look for wear patterns on your shoes to recommend a corrective insole if you need it.  They'll ask you your daily/weekly mileage, terrain you plan on traveling, and even what your long-term goals are.  THEN, they'll go in the back and find the brands and styles that will work best for you.  

MYTH: A Heavy Boot Will Solve All Your Foot Problems

Which of these sounds better for a foot in normal conditions: A heavy, inflexible, non-breathable shoe; or a lightweight, breathable, flexible shoe?  Now, add in the rocky, muddy, wet conditions of a mountain trail.  While hiking boots definitely have a place in the hiking world, a lightweight and breathable boot or shoe will do you much better in most conditions.  In the past several years, many running shoe companies have expanded into a line of trail shoes and some even offer a high topped shoe to rival many hiking boots.  Other outdoor companies make heavy duty, breathable shoes with moderate ankle support.  Whether you decide on a boot or a shoe, light and breathable with some flexibility, not heavy and solid, will keep your feet happy.  

MYTH: Always Wear A Sock Liner And You'll Never Get Blisters

Just like one shoe doesn't fit all, one sock solution doesn't work for everyone either!  Sock liners do help prevent friction in high pressure areas of the feet.  Injinji toe socks also make liners to help separate your toes and prevent between-the-toe blisters; however, sock liners aren't your "quick" fix for blisters or black toenails.  Getting a properly fitted, properly breathing, properly weighted shoe is the first line of defense.  Secondly, making sure you're wearing a wicking sock, like a wool or bamboo variety, will also help pull moisture away from your feet.  Third, determining if your blisters are caused by pressure on your foot or debris in your shoe also helps! Some people can solve their blister problems by wearing a gaiter to cover the tops of their shoes or boots and prevent debris from rubbing their feet.  

MYTH: Buy A Pair of Insoles And Never Have Foot Problems Again

Are you guys noticing a pattern yet?  Hikers often have a "one size fits all" solution for foot problems, but just like the other myths we've covered, an insole will not help all hikers solve their problems.  Many insole brands you can buy off the shelf in a store will tell you that being uncomfortable is all a part of the break-in process because your body doesn't know how to walk on it's own (I'm paraphrasing here).  Not every hiker needs an insole to help solve their blister or toenail problems.  In fact, many hikers can avoid the insole by getting a properly fitted, properly cushioned shoe or boot in the first place.  

Have you ever lost toenails or gotten severe blisters on a hike?  What did you do to help remedy the situation? 

Ultimate Coffee Date - May 2017

The month of April is finally over and I'm back at it writing again.  It's time to play catch up with all of you and share what has been going on over here behind the blog.  It's time for our Ultimate Coffee Date - May edition!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm starting to feel a little better than I was when I last posted.  It's still taking a lot of energy on my part to sit down behind the computer and write posts, but I've been working on a few different ideas and I'm going to start getting more active by posting archival posts on Facebook and Twitter in the coming months.  Look for the "Best of Sprinkles Hikes" coming to social media near you soon!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: It seems like the Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike is sneaking up on me!  I'm going to have to get on the ball and purchase plane tickets (they say 55-65 days from the trip you'll get the best deal), maps, apps, and finalize our food for the trip.  I'm definitely planning on doing a lot of our own home-dehydrated meals again.  Logistics, like getting to the trailhead from the airport and stopping by an outfitter for fuel on the way to the trailhead, are definitely near the top of the list.  I'm going to have to work on this soon!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've started seeing a chiropractor for the aches and pains I've been dealing with since finishing up my marathon training this year.  Post-marathon blues really hit me hard and I've been having major FOMO following the ultras my friends are doing.  This training season really wrecked my body and I worked so hard (running a 20+ minute PR in my marathon) to improve my times and stamina.  I'm hoping to feel some improvement soon!  I've gotten back into running again and I did nearly 15 miles this week.  I'm hoping to run three days a week (one long run on my day off) and possibly get in a day of strength training.  Since my FedEx days I've definitely lost quite a bit of arm strength!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I recently went on a campsite scouting trip for the company I work for.  We are expanding into other areas to offer more trips for REI Adventures.  This meant I got to go out without clients and take a hike at my own pace and camp where I wanted to!  Granted, I chose a poor campsite (due to bear canister restrictions) and ended up doing my first ever night hike at 1:15 a.m. to sleep in the backseat of my car, but I was able to hike 30  miles and find some great places for a trip!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: NoKey and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary.  It's hard to believe it's been five years since I was out on the AT.  I cannot believe how much I've learned about myself and changed in those five years.  It seems like every single year brings a new adventure and a whole lot of self-discovery!

What would you tell me if we were sitting down for a cup of coffee today?  I'd love to catch up with my readers!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

 

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The Post I've Been Putting Off...

Some of you may have noticed it's been quiet on my blog for a little while.  In fact, I've sat down to write posts several times, but never had the heart to finish them.  The short answer to my lack of posting is a simple one - I've been incredibly depressed the past few months.  For those of you following me on social media, you may have noticed I've really dropped the ball on basically all channels the past few months.  I've just not had the heart to do much posting.  In fact, I've only recently begun to start getting active on Twitter and Instagram again.  It's very  hard to curate images that are beautiful when you feel so heavy.  

I've been doing a lot less guiding at my job the past few months.  I love being a guide and teaching people how to see and explore the outdoors in new ways.  The wildfire that swept our region back in November has had devastating effects on area businesses.  Many local places are reporting being down between 20-45% from last year.  In fact, many people are still under the impression that the entire town of Gatlinburg and all of the Great Smoky Mountains are completely decimated.  The truth of the matter is that 1700 homes were lost, but many businesses reopened in the past few months or are rebuilding.  The Smokies only saw 2% of the park damaged by fire and the damage becomes less and less noticeable every day thanks to spring rejuvenating the burned ground.  Getting people to come back to the area, however, has been really, REALLY tough.  

The past few months haven't been all bad for me.  As usual, I focus my off-season months on running.  I ran a PR in both the half marathon (finally running a sub 2-hr half) and full marathon (4:05:30 - nearly 20 minutes off last year) events I entered this year.  I ran a trail marathon without ever having really gone trail running.  I ran my fastest ever mile.  I even decided to start focusing on more endurance and ultra events in 2018.  Physically, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.  Mentally though, I'm not doing so hot. The past few months have brought up a lot of personal issues I need to deal with and I'm just now dragging myself out of the hole to do it.  It's been really heart-wrenching at times and, if any of you have ever dealt with depression, you know it's not an easy road to recovery.  Add to that the fact that I don't have health insurance and that means I'll be paying for all of this out-of-pocket and you've got an even tougher road ahead.  

For those of you still looking for trail advice and reading trail journals, I'm still reachable by email and by Facebook.  I'm still loving answering your questions and helping you plan your journey.  Just know that the posts will be coming back slowly and it might be a quick minute before I'm feeling up to the task.  For those of you who are regular readers, please note that I'm writing posts for you guys!  It's very hard to continue coming up with new ideas, graphics, and formatting that makes sense.  Drop a comment every once in a while and let me know you're reading.  It's very tough to continue writing if you feel like no one is out there!

I'll be back at it again soon.  Happy Trails!

Soul Food - A Trail Recipe

While some hikers love easy, no cook dinner options I happen to be one of those hikers who just loves a hot meal, no matter how hot it is outside! To me, a hot meal can really end my day on a good note.  Was it hot and nasty today? A good meal makes me feel better.  Cold and drizzly?  A hot meal warms me up and sends me to bed happy.  Now, imagine you’re having a tough day out on the trail and you open your food bag to see that you left yourself your absolute favorite dinner for tonight.  This moment can not only change your day, it can sometimes change your entire outlook!  One of those trip altering meals I had on the Benton MacKaye Trail was this one - Soul Food.  I adapted it from the book Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ and it was definitely one we think about even off trail!  If you wanted to take this meal to the next level and you aren't vegetarian, you could even add in chunks of summer sausage!

Soul Food - 1 serving

1/2 heaping cup brown rice, dehydrated and cooked in veggie stock
1/3 cup of precooked and dried black-eyed peas
2 tbsp onion soup mix (here’s the recipe I use, but you can use store bought Lipton brand)
1 tsp onion flake (in addition to your soup mix!)
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp parsley flake
1/2 tsp cajun/creole seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp bacon bits/TVP
1 pack Cholula hot sauce
Optional: Slices of summer sausage

At home: Add all ingredients to a zip top bag and seal.  Shake to combine evenly.  Add one pack of Cholula hot sauce to the bag before packing.  

On trail: Pour contents of the bag into your cook pot, minus the hot sauce, and cover with water, leaving approximately 1/2 to 1 inch of water extending over your ingredients.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat, add sausage if you'd like, and let meal sit for 5-10 minutes.  Check the texture of the beans for doneness before adding hot sauce and digging in. 

Dal with Rice - A Trail Recipe

Indian cuisine is so delicious - all those earthy flavors with a hint of spiciness.  When I’m out hiking a long trail any time I see a town that has an Indian restaraunt I’m spending my days and nights dreaming of that food!  When I was hiking the AT in 2012 one of my favorite “Treat Yo’ Self” meals came in the form of the ready-to-eat India Kitchens meals.  Granted, they’re heavy and you have to eat them basically your first night out of town, it always made me smile to see hikers turn their heads to see where that delicious smell was coming from.  You’d be the most popular hiker in camp when you had Indian-style meals!  Since India Kitchens is heavy and a bit cost prohibitive, I set out to make my own Dal for backpacking.  Below is my favorite dal recipe, dehydrated and packed up for a backpacking trip!

Dal with Rice - 1 serving

1/3 cup dehydrated jasmine rice (I cook mine in veggie stock before drying)
1/3 cup dehydrated dal (see below)
1/4 cup mixed dehydrated mushrooms, eggplant, and bell pepper
2 tbsp chopped cashews
2 tbsp currents (or raisins)

At home: Add all ingredients to a zip top bag and mix well.  

On trail: Add contents of the bag to your cook pot and cover with water.  Bring meal to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.  Once the meal boils, remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to meld the flavors.  

My favorite dal recipe:

2 Tbsp of butter or ghee
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (crushed to release flavor)
1 Tbsp of Garam Masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt (maybe more)
2 tsp curry powder
2 serrano chiles, chopped small (seeds removed if you wish)
2 cups of red lentils
3 cups (approximately) of chicken or veggie broth
1 can of diced tomatoes

Sautee the onion in the butter/ghee until slightly caramelized. Then, add in your garlic, chiles, and spices.  Cook until very fragrant, only about 1-2 minutes.  Add your lentils and your stock, covering the contents of your pot about half an inch or so.  Cook until your lentils are halfway cooked, soft outside but still firm in the middle.  Add in your tomatoes and cook down until lentils are soft.  Taste for saltiness and add salt to your liking.  Let your mixture cool to room temperature before adding to food processor or blender to puree.  

To dehydrate your dal, spread the mixture in a thin, even layer on a fruit leather sheet or parchment paper.  Dry in your dehydrator on 135 degrees until it begins to crack and dry, resembling chalk.   

Aftershokz Sportz Titanium Headphones - Gear Review

I recently received a pair of Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones to try out and review for my readers.  Since many people enjoy running or even hiking with earbuds in I thought it would be great to review something that both the running and hiking crowds would enjoy.  Read on to see if Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones worked for me. 

Aftershokz headphones are different in that instead of going in your ears and falling out (am I the only one with this problem?!) they go over your ears and rest on your face.  These headphones use bone conduction technology to keep your ears open while you're out running or hiking.  This comes in pretty handy when you run in areas with heavy traffic or you'd like to hear people coming up behind you on trail.  So, what happens is the vibration is directed into your inner ear without blocking up your ears.  Here's a quick illustration:

The orange lines represent where Aftershokz directs the sound versus the blue - where traditional headphones direct sound. 

The orange lines represent where Aftershokz directs the sound versus the blue - where traditional headphones direct sound. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

The first thing I noticed about these headphones is that the plug isn't straight, but curved. Immediately I was unable to use these headphones with my Catalyst iPhone case.  Running without my phone case isn't ever going to happen - it's waterproof and shatterproof. If you've got a new iPhone that doesn't have a headphone jack, these won't work for you either.  The second thing I noticed was that they have to be charged.  ...What...? Well, the good news is they hold a charge for 12 hours.  If you're out hiking this might not be super impressive for you though, as that could be only one day worth of battery power.  

I can't show you how this sits on the headphone jack for my phone because how else would I take a photo? haha

I can't show you how this sits on the headphone jack for my phone because how else would I take a photo? haha

USAGE:

Since I couldn't use the headphones, NoKey did.  We charged them up and then figured out you have to turn them on with the power button on the little battery pack thing.  The sound quality was really great and he could still hear me talking to him.  The downside, however, was that I could hear his music, haha!  Taking these headphones for a run, he said they were comfortable and didn't move.  They also come with a tiny clip so you can attach the wire close to your body (like on your collar).  This proved beneficial so the wire didn't bounce during a run.  The little battery pack is only a few inches away from the phone while they're plugged in, so it just went inside his pocket where he carried the phone.  The rear band of the headphones goes around the nape of your neck and has a reflective band for visibility, so that's a pro!

He makes headphones look good :)

He makes headphones look good :)

Pros:
-They allow you to hear your surroundings with bone conduction technology
-Reflective strip on the back
-Clip included to keep wire close to the body
-If you need a microphone/call answering option on your headphones, this pair has that
-Lightweight with a carrying bag

Cons:
-They didn't fit me well. At all. 
-They need to be charged
-You have to turn them off
-Everyone around you can hear what you're hearing
-The plug is "sideways" and doesn't work with my phone case 

While these headphones we're exactly for me, you might find reviews from other BibRave Pros helpful if you're trying to decide if they're right for YOU!  Check out reviews by Jeannine, Mary Jo, and Mark David. 

Are these headphones right for you? Buy them and get a free water bottle!

Visit this link and get a free stainless steel water bottle with your Aftershokz Sports Titanium purchase. They're $59.95 and come in 2 colors (Onyx Black or Ocean Blue).  Free shipping to the US and Canada. They also have a 45-day money back guarantee.  

Do you listen to music when you're running or hiking?  What kind of headphones do you use?

Disclaimer: I received Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones for free to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

Hot Chocolate 15K - Nashville

Pros: Easy Course, great scenery, chocolate, well-placed aid stations, free race photos, preferred corrals for your estimated race time (with proof of other race times) 
Cons: Mandatory expo, early start time (especially for those of us from other time zones!)

This is my second Hot Chocolate race this year, my first being in Atlanta. Since I ran Atlanta only a few short weeks before this one, my expectations were pretty clear in my mind. With Atlanta, I purchased a parking pass for downtown. With Nashville, I didn't because I'm more familiar with the area. Parking downtown, if you're familiar, isn't nearly as much of a nightmare as you'd think! The fact that the expo is mandatory, however, does make it frustrating for those of us from out-of-town. The expo, as compared to other HC15K Expos I've seen, was definitely lacking. I liked the venue, because it was kind of cute and kitchy (like Nashville!), but there wasn't much to see in terms of vendors. This expo also only had stale marshmallows dipped in chocolate for a "treat". In Atlanta, they had a few types of snacks and also the famous hot chocolate for samples. Atlanta also had a slew of retailers whereas this one had maybe two and they were so crammed together that even though I went when the expo first opened at noon, you couldn't even look at the merchandise.

Race day came earlier (7 a.m.) than the Atlanta race, and the weather was about the same. It was breezy, warm (60's) and a bit sprinkly. I never mind an overcast day when I'm running though! The race started and ended downtown at Bicentennial Park and I really enjoyed taking in the scenery running the loop around Nashville - my favorite way to see a city is on foot! The course was also relatively easy (like Atlanta) with only about 350 feet in elevation gain throughout the 15K.

I love running Hot Chocolate Races and I think the race management team is top notch. They are ON IT when it comes to social media and keeping participants informed. I would recommend this race series to anyone who is looking for a "big name" race to practice running in larger crowds.

Disclaimer: I received a I received a free entry to review Hot Chocolate 15K - Nashville as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!