The Pistol Ultra Run - 100 Miles

The ultramarathon.  Not many people know what one is.  In fact, very few people tend to even know the distance of a marathon.  When people ask me what an ultramarathon is, I let them know it's any distance longer than a marathon, anywhere from about 30-100 miles (sometimes even up in the 200's these days!)  Now that I'm no longer running for hours at a time most of the week and my body is starting to feel more like it should, I am able to reflect on what it's like to complete 100 miles in less than a day and a half.  

 background photo from traillink.com user jefreeinkorn

background photo from traillink.com user jefreeinkorn

Prerace -

The mini expo for this race is always the day before the race and I rode out there with some friends of mine to pick up our bibs and our swag.  The swag this year was great - a running duffel bag with a separate shoe compartment (which holds 2 pairs of my smaller shoes!), one of those towel/seat cover things that you can use to keep your car clean during a smelly run, a free pair of Injinji socks for the 100K and 100 milers, and then a "choose your own swag" table where you could get stickers, koozies, chocolate, chapstick, etc.  There was an option to buy a hoodie, tech shirt, and then, of course, they had the Pistol Store where you could buy other various merch - pint glasses, stickers, shirts leftover from previous years, etc.  Another fun option was the gear swap table, where you could leave and take things as you pleased.  I got a really awesome Pearl Izumi cycling shirt.  

Morning of - 

I was planning to wake up at 5 a.m. to have time to get ready and get picked up by my friends so I went to bed early the night before.  Unfortunately, I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep.  Since I was about to be awake until easily 2-3 p.m. the NEXT DAY I wasn't super happy about this.  I got picked up at 5:45 and we got to the race before 7 a.m.  Since this race allows you to crew out of your vehicle, we wanted to get there early enough for a good parking spot minimal distance from the actual course.  Panera Bread supplied free bagels to the runners so I was able to eat before the race.  Obviously, we took some photos before the start!  The 50K runners start 5 minutes before the 100K and 100 mile runners just to thin out the crowds a bit.  The 50K runners take off and we line up at the start.  Before I know it, months of training are now about to start working for me!

 Waiting to head to the start line while the 50K runners are lined up.

Waiting to head to the start line while the 50K runners are lined up.

Miles 0-30 - 

The first 50K of this race was great.  I ran the 50K distance last year and it didn't feel too difficult.  I ran with two other friends for most of these miles and we chatted and kept attempting to slow our pace as to keep our legs fresh.  When you're used to running a certain speed and you're slowing yourself down by nearly 2 minutes per mile it can be really hard to keep yourself in check.  Other than our first 10 mile lap, we began walking all the inclines as well.  Saving energy is so important when you know you have 24 more hours on your feet!  The morning started off gray and misty, but the sun shone brightly throughout the afternoon and during the third lap of my race the heat started to beat me up.  Thankfully, the aid stations had popsicles and ice, so that was extremely helpful!

 All smiles at mile 3...

All smiles at mile 3...

Miles 30-60 - 

The friend I came to the race with was battling nausea all morning due to the heat.  Several times I went on ahead to let him try to rest up.  By the end of lap 4 though, he was feeling rough.  I changed my shoes at the end of this lap and headed back out, trying to keep his mind off his stomach.  On lap 5 is when the weather started to turn.  It was around dinner time for most folks when the winds started to shift and the air had that thunderstorm smell.  By the end of lap 5, we were dealing with heavy rain, thunder, and lightning.  In fact, lightning struck the sidewalk at the school near the start line when we were only about a quarter mile away!  It was at this time my friend's stomach really was beating him up and he decided to take a break, so I went on alone. Lap 6 was slower for me, but I was walking at a really great pace in the 16-minute mile range.  Of course, the darkness was starting to set in and the 50 milers, who started at 8 p.m. (at the 12-hour mark) were now out on the course.   Now, the 50 milers start this late to give the 100-mile runners someone else to see out there in the dark.  For me, this was so incredibly defeating.  These runners with their fresh legs were powering past me while I was feeling sore and tired from the hot day followed by the nasty storm.  I came in to mile 60 and I was definitely not in the best head space. 

Miles 60-70 - 

These 10 miles get a paragraph all their own.  This is where I fell apart.  Since the rain had definitely stopped and the course dried out, I decided to put on my thicker-soled shoes for the padding.  When I went to change shoes, I didn't have the socks I thought I packed for these laps and I had a mini meltdown.  Then, when I went to put the shoes on, my feet had swollen so much that they physically hurt to walk in.  As I passed through the start line to head out for lap 7 I had a text from my two friends asking where I was.  I answered I was crying and changing my shoes.  They told me to cry it out and get moving.  Progress was slow to the aid station 2.5ish miles away.  When I saw my friends there they had decided to stop at 100K (they were half a lap behind me), but they were going to help me finish.  I broke down ugly crying and they told me exactly what I  needed to do to finish before the cutoff.  I cried a little more and they pushed me out of the aid station.  The next 4 miles were the most painful thing I've ever done and I was barely walking 2 mph at this point.  I was crying.  I've never felt that much pain.  At Woody's aid station, about 4.5 miles from the start point, I had been on this lap for 2 full hours (when it usually only takes me 3 to walk the full 10) and I cried some more.  The volunteers asked me what hurt and when I told them they let me know that it was COMPLETELY NORMAL at this point in the race to feel this way.  They talked me down and told me, again, how to get through the laps.  I walked another mile before sitting down on a curb because I couldn't take another step.  At this point, I knew NoKey was coming in about an hour, but I was going to quit.  The best 'trail angel' I ever met comes into my race at this point.  Rebecca, the volunteer course monitor, asked me if she should call the RD so I could quit.  I cried and asked her to help me off the ground, which she did.  She walked with me back to the aid station 2.5 miles from the start line.  We talked the whole way, and when she left me at the aid station she triple-checked with me that NoKey was coming.  I gave her his description and told her he was headed my way when he got here.  The folks at the aid station fed me ibuprofen, two go-gurts, and offered to let me warm up.  After sitting for 10 minutes or so, I stumbled away.  I later learned the volunteers were super worried and thought they shouldn't have let me walk.  NoKey met me about 1.25 miles from the start line and walked me up the hill.  By then, my ibuprofen had kicked in and I was ready to head out for another lap.  

Miles 70-90 - 

With the worst behind me, my friend who wasn't feeling well came out and walked with me for about 10 minutes.  He reiterated I should keep going, gave me a strategy, and told me I could do it.  I hugged him and NoKey and told NoKey to come find me in 3 hours.  I did miles 70-80 in 2 hours and 50 minutes, and I even managed to shuffle-run a little.  When I got back to the aid station, the volunteer who basically thought I died was shocked.  "HOLY HELL!" He said when he saw me booking through.  Everyone was super excited and it gave me renewed energy.  When I was getting ready to head back out for miles 80-90 I had slowed down a bit and I was at a mere crawl when it came to walking up the now monumental hills on the back half of the course.  The sun came up during this time as well and now I was worried I'd run out of time.  When I met up with NoKey again to walk up the hill to the start line, I told him to go in and get me a pacer for my final lap.  He told me he'd do the whole lap with me, all 10 miles, despite being in his sandals.  As I shuffled through the start line for the final time, the RD told me to keep moving and I'd be fine.  The volunteers at the start all cheered for me and told me I could do it.  

Miles 90-100 - 

The final lap was super, SUPER emotional for me.  I felt like I was hardly moving, but NoKey told me I was moving really well.  In retrospect, I honestly was moving better than most everyone still out on the course at this point.  It didn't feel like it at the time, that's for sure!  When I was headed back in for my last 5 miles my swollen feet were throbbing and my quads were killing me, but NoKey never lets me stop moving.  As we neared the aid station for the final time, the volunteers all congratulated me and the crying started again.  The hill going up to the high school felt like it would never end.  The final half mile, I was able to pick up my pace to a gentle run, and I rounded the corner to the finish line with arms raised, tears streaming, and legs that refused to quit.  My final time was somewhere around 28:40:00 (I'm not sure right now, as the race results need to be verified still).  My body and my mind were in total shock that the months of hard work finally could end.  

 Crying and running through the finish line.

Crying and running through the finish line.

Post Race - 

I was ushered inside by a volunteer, and as I was making it inside I see Rebecca, my trail angel, who had come back to the race because she had forgotten her bag.  I thanked her and hugged her, crying of course, letting her know how much she helped me in the middle of the night.  I went inside to collect my belt buckle and finisher hat only to be told I was 2nd in my age group.  I also got a coffee mug and a giant bag of chocolate!  I took my finisher photo and the photographer had NoKey come take a photo with me since he was my "crew" for the final difficult miles.  I grabbed some food and cried with some of the other participants as well. I threw on a pair of slippers for the ride home.  I got home and showered and fell into bed for a well-deserved 5-hour nap.  

 That finisher swag tho...

That finisher swag tho...

The Days After - 

My feet are so swollen they burn after I wake up on Monday.  I've got busted blood vessels in my right foot and three of the biggest blisters I've ever seen (which I equate to the swelling more than anything else).  I was fortunate enough to use a hot tub, get a chiropractor adjustment, and get a sports massage on Monday afternoon.  Monday night I'm even able to walk my dog, albeit in a pair of flip flops since my feet can't fit into regular shoes.  By Tuesday, I've got normal shoes on, the blisters are drying out, the swelling is nearly gone, and I'm able to spend about an hour at a time on my feet before getting worn out.  Three days out, I'm doing even better.  I'd say I'm only about as sore as I would be from running a really hard marathon or technical trail for around 15 miles.  

 The shirt from the race that made me question my training and the belt buckle I earned completing 100 miles. 

The shirt from the race that made me question my training and the belt buckle I earned completing 100 miles. 

The Race Itself - 

For those wondering about The Pistol Ultra, I absolutely recommend this race despite all the pain I endured during it this year!  This was my first ever ultra distance when I ran the 50K last year and I knew I wanted to use it again for my attempt to go 100 miles.  The aid stations, volunteers, and general experience CANNOT be beaten. The fact that you really only need to carry a minimal amount of fluids and really no food because of the nature of the course and placement of the aid stations really takes a lot of stress out of the planning. This is an urban ultra, so it's on pavement the entire time.  It's really tough on the body.  There's grass right next to the pavement though, so you can get some relief when you need it.  Because you're doing out-and-back "loops" on the greenway, you really get to know your other participants and there were so many people cheering for you every time you saw them.  There was so much encouragement from the participants themselves, as well as the volunteers.  If it hadn't been for the middle of the night Woody's crew and Rebecca on her bike I very well may not have finished this race.  It's the support like this that makes the race what it is.  

So, I'm only a few days out from Pistol and I can safely say I'm still not ready to say I'd ever do another 100-miler again.  I am willing to take on the Double Barrel challenge next year (the 50K and 50-mile race for a total of 82 miles, with a few hours of break time in between).  The 100-mile race really brought me to a whole other level of endurance I've never experienced before, even with doing multiple thru hikes!  I'm already planning my return trip next year.  

I want to take this opportunity to thank those who took the time to send me Instagram and Facebook messages, as well as text messages.  Every time I checked my phone I had dozens of notifications (seriously, 25-40 every time!) and so many of you supported my journey.  From corny jokes to ridiculous memes, you guys supported me so much from far away and I couldn't be happier to share my finish with you all.  

Would you ever consider doing 100 miles at a time?  Have you ever run an ultramarathon?  What is the furthest distance you've traveled on foot in a day?

Chicken Piccata - a Trail Recipe

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For the past two weeks, I've been doing lots and lots of meal prep.  For those of you who don't know, for thru hikes less than 1000 miles I prefer to do all of our meals as mail drops instead of resupplies.  In doing a trail like the Mountains to Sea Trail, we are giving up the convenience of being able to easily get into town, especially for the first several hundred miles.  We will be mostly parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway and it makes it much easier for us if we do drops instead.  Our first mail drop will consist of a post office less than a quarter mile from the Parkway and our second will be at a hotel that sits right on the Parkway.  Having mail drops right on the trail is so much easier than trying to hitch off a scenic byway and get back up to it - especially on a trail that doesn't see so many thru hikers!  

While I was going through my favorite recipes for this trip, I decided to use a few of our old favorites, as well as test out some new recipes.  I also decided to attempt and create one of my favorite dinners - chicken piccata.  I know Backpacker's Pantry offers this as an option, but at $11.00 per meal (and it's definitely not a two-serving meal at only 350 calories per serving!) this is not only cost prohibitive, it's also bulky in their big packaging.  I decided to see if I could recreate this meal at home with dehydrated products and I am super excited with the results!  Being able to have one of your favorite meals on the trail is a great way to end your day.  The recipe for you to recreate is below. 

Sprinkles' Chicken Piccata

1 cup of dried pasta of your choice (I recommend small pasta, like farfalle)
1/4 cup freeze dried chicken (or dehydrated canned chicken)
1 tablespoon of dried capers* (see below for instructions)
2 teaspoons butter powder
1/4 teaspoon (or one packet)  True Lemon powder

Directions: 
At Home:  Take the 1 cup of dried pasta and the 1/4 cup of chicken and combine in a sandwich-sized Ziplock bag.  Combine the capers, butter powder, and lemon powder in a separate snack-sized Ziplock bag.  Place the smaller bag inside the larger bag and seal. 

On Trail: Remove the small Ziplock containing the "sauce" powders and capers and set aside.  Dump the pasta and chicken into your cook pot and cover with water by a 1/2 inch.  Cook on a low flame, stirring to make sure the pasta doesn't stick to the pot.  When your pasta is done, you shouldn't have a ton of extra water in your pot - just starchy water barely covering the pasta and chicken.  Add the powder and capers from the smaller bag directly to the pot and turn off the heat.  Let it sit for a few minutes to rehydrate the capers and enjoy directly from the pot.  

*To make dehydrated capers, drain capers from their brine and place on a fruit leather sheet or piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray.  Dry at 135 degrees for approximately 4-6 hours (depending on the humidity), until they are leathery, but dry.  If you don't own a dehydrator, you can always place them on a baking sheet and put your oven on the lowest possible setting with the door cracked open for 2-4 hours.  

What is your favorite meal at home?  Would you ever attempt to recreate it on trail? 

Ultimate Coffee Date - March 2018

It seems spring has sprung here in the southeast and another month has come and gone.  Welcome to March, everyone!  Since I've been taking more time to unplug this month, it's time for us to play catch up.  Grab your favorite cup and fill it with some coffee or tea.  It's time for our March Ultimate Coffee Date. 

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If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: NoKey and I are moving back to Millinocket!  We were contacted recently pretty much out of the blue by Paul and Jaimie up at the AT Lodge.  After some serious discussion we have decided that after we hike the Mountains to Sea Trail later this month, we'll be headed back to Maine with all our pets!  We'll be taking on a management role at the Lodge and look forward to meeting all the AT hikers who are coming through in 2018. 

 Home Sweet Home for 2018!

Home Sweet Home for 2018!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: My running has taken a serious hit in February.  After my most recent 30K at Whitestone, I've really scaled back on running.  In fact, I've not done any serious running in over a week.  I've been having some pretty severe pain and I've been seeing a chiropractor and doing some trigger point rolling.  Since my goal is to run 100 miles very soon, I'm taking it easy and making sure I get the rest I need to successfully complete my goal.  Speaking of that...

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm running my first ever 100-miler in only two weeks! (YIKES!)  The taper crazies haven't gotten to me yet, but I have run 290 miles since the beginning of the year.  I think I ran enough to get me through without losing my mind.  And speaking of running...

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I was accepted to run the New York City Marathon!  I didn't even tell NoKey I applied to the lottery this year because I was so sure I wouldn't be accepted.  In fact, on lottery day I didn't even bother refreshing after checking to see if my credit card was charged.  I had forgotten that when I put my name into the lottery my credit card was in the process of being replaced, so I used my debit card.  Imagine my surprise the next morning when I saw the email asking if I was ready to run the streets of New York City!

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That pretty much sums up my February.  What would you tell me about your month? I'd love to catch up with you!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

The ONE Phrase I'd Like to See Disappear

Backpacking and hiking are truly very personal sports.  While it can be done as a group activity, when you're out in nature your experience is always going to be individualistic.  When it comes to my job as a guide, I spent a lot of time explaining to people that we aren't just on one hike - if I'm in a group with four clients plus me, I'm hiking five individual hikes PLUS a group hike.  Try leading six individual hikes by yourself!  For many hikers, there's a phrase we all adopt. It starts off well-meaning and innocuous enough - hike your own hike (HYOH).  While this phrase can be used in multiple ways on the trail, unfortunately the way I see it used a lot on social media these days doesn't really lend itself to that friendly, simple advice.  Let's talk about why I'd like to see people stop throwing around the phrase hike your own hike (HYOH).  

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When I first became serious about attempting a thru hike, I learned the phrase HYOH from a friend of mine who had done some long sections.  He used it nicely enough.  He let me know that I should always HYOH instead of letting someone else in a group decide for me where I should be going and how many miles I should be doing.  As I got out onto the AT in late March of 2012, I immediately heard the phrase used multiple times a day - especially in those early days.  As someone who did a lot of long day hikes and backpacking trips before I set out to thru hike, I was often ridiculed in the first month I spent on the trail.  I heard many things about my speed and distance being covered each day, but it always basically boiled down to "You're not seeing anything when you hike 20 miles every day! You need to slow down to experience the AT the way it was meant to be done! But I guess you can HYOH..."  This was the first time I had been told to hike my own hike, but also been told that my way was wrong in their eyes.  

As I reached the fourth state line heading north, Virginia, and I came into the town of Damascus, more hikers were starting to pick up speed and bigger miles thanks to getting conditioned to the terrain.  I was no longer being told I wasn't seeing or experiencing the AT the "right" way.  Now though, it seemed like every hiker (both thru hiker and day hikers alike) were all experts on the gear I should be carrying and what I should be wearing.  The phrase HYOH now took on a different connotation.  "Well, the weight of a canister fuel system isn't something I can justify. I'd much rather carry HEET and a beer can stove. But HYOH..."  Once again, this seemingly sweet phrase is now being used to say "my way is the best but I guess yours is okay."  Around mile 500, HYOH really started to get on my nerves.  

After about 1000 miles of a distance hike, the HYOH phrase and culture died out for the most part.  I didn't really hear the phrase again that year.  In 2013, I moved to Millinocket to work in a hostel and found myself using the phrase nearly every day with the bright-eyed SoBo hopefuls.  Without really trying, I found myself using the very phrase I learned to hate during my thru hike a year previous.  "Well, many people on the east coast find solar panels to be cumbersome weight. I'd recommend sending it home.  But if you REALLY want to keep it, HYOH you know...?"  Basically, any time someone didn't like my expertise on a shakedown, I used the phrase to convey "I know better than you and I think you should do what I say."  Without even realizing it, I was now the person who was belittling my fellow hikertrash.  

These days, as an active part of the hiking community - both through my work as a backpacking guide and my future job working at a hostel - I'd like to banish this phrase from the hiker lexicon.  While the HYOH expression, I believe, started off innocent enough I no longer see a use for it on the trail.  While I don't have a catchy slogan to replace it, I'd like to work toward a culture shift in our community instead.  Instead of trying to use the phrase HYOH to talk to newbies or people who are setting out on their journeys, let's instead find a constructive way to convey our advice.  When in doubt, of course, the Golden Rule of not saying anything if we have nothing nice to say is always appropriate!  

Keep in mind that your hiking experience is always YOUR hike.  My experiences on distance trails will in no way be the same experience you will have.  My mileage might not work for you.  My gear might not work for you.  My resupply plan might not work for you.  Your experiences, gear, and resupply points might not work for me.  That's the beauty of getting out on an outdoor adventure - you get to learn something about yourself each and every time.  So, let's keep the snarkiness and mean comments out of it and help build each other up to enjoy it.  

How do you feel about the phrase hike your own hike?  Have you seen it used in the ways I've mentioned above? What would you recommend instead if you aren't a fan of the expression?

A Mountains to Sea Trail Update

It seemed like spring would never arrive a few short weeks ago, but now we're midway through February!  I've been feeling like I'm doing a good job at my New Years' goal of unplugging more, but at the same time I always like to update my readers as to what is going on and what our progress is on thru hike prep.  Major progress is being made and I'm super excited to share it with you guys!

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Menus are finalized!

While for long hikes I'm a big fan of resupplying on the fly, for shorter hikes (1000 miles or less) I prefer to make our own meals.  It's a lot easier on a trail like the AT to resupply in towns or at gas stations, even for those with special dietary needs.  However, when you're on a smaller trail like the Benton MacKaye or the Finger Lakes Trail, doing your own resupply boxes ahead of time is pretty clutch to making your hike work better for you.  Since we're only doing about 45 days on this trek, I decided to go ahead and plan a menu and resupplies.  Here's a small sampling of what we'll be bringing!
 

Breakfast: Fig Newtons, Poptarts, and homemade granola with coconut milk for NoKey; breakfast rice, couscous, oatmeal, and homemade granola with coconut milk for Sprinkles. 
Lunches: Shelf stable bacon with mustard on bagel thins, pepperoni sandwiches, dry hummus and crackers or fresh veggies if we can find them. Homemade granola will work for a sweet lunch as well. 
Dinner: Staples like trail mac 'n' cheese and my favorite Thai Style Ramen always make an appearance, but this time I'm going to make some new dinners like Prosciutto with Peas and unstuffed peppers.  I'm even attempting a chicken piccata recipe!
Snacks: We are going with Lenny and Larry's cookies and RX bars on this trip, with an assorted mix of candy bars in there to keep it interesting!

Drop box locations are still TBD

I honestly just haven't done the research on where I want to send boxes yet.  I've got a pretty good idea of where we'd LIKE to send them, but I still need to narrow that down.  One thing we definitely know is that we'd like to stay at The Pisgah Inn if at all possible and will probably resupply there if we can!  We had lunch here for the first time last year on our 5th Anniversary and fell in love with the place.  It doesn't hurt that it's smack dab on the MST near Asheville. 

Mixing it up a little

The Mountains to Sea trail is so much fun to me because it's not a strict thru hike if you don't want it to be.  In fact, there's a paddling route you can do by kayak and you can bike the road sections (and beach!)  I'm having a lot of fun planning our canoe trip portion and trying to figure out where we can drop our bikes for the last section of trail.  

Planning a thru hike, since I've done it a few times now, is actually a lot of fun for me.  When I first set out onto the AT it was so incredibly overwhelming to plan even my resupply stop at the store, but now that I'm better at estimating my mileage and my appetite I find it almost exciting!  Being able to plan out a trip and know your needs is a great feeling.  

Have you ever planned a distance hike? Did you have to make any changes on the fly? What was your favorite and least favorite part of planning?

 

How to Survive Being the Support Crew

While this time of year is when people planning a thru hike for the spring or summer are getting their final gear and food purchases together, there's one group of people who frequently get overlooked: the support crew.  For some people, this is the spouse staying home and working to keep the bills paid; for others, it's mom and dad sending care packages every few weeks.  No matter who you are in relation to your favorite hiker, being a part of a support crew manning the home front is no easy job!  This post is dedicated to all those at home, monitoring their loved one out on the hardest vacation they'll ever take.  

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Know your loved one is always thinking of you

While this seems like a no-brainer, sometimes it's hard to remember that your hiker misses you when you see their social media updates.  Sure, that sunset photo is gorgeous and the hikers around them look happy without another care in the world.  What you're not seeing is the internal struggle of missing home, the dirt under their toenails, and the struggle it took to not only get up the mountain to get the shot, but also the struggle of the night hike to get into camp!  So, even though the photo looks like life at it's finest, know that your hiker is thinking of you and how nice it would be to share that moment in real life rather than just in photos.  

Just because they didn't call doesn't mean the worst has happened

While it might seem scary to know that there will be several days between phone calls or texts sometimes, know that it doesn't always mean that something terrible is happening!  Even though since my AT thru hike waaaaaay back in 2012 phone service has reached more and more places, it's amazing how much remote country you can still find here in the USA.  Sometimes sending a text message out will use upwards of 20% of your battery life, which can be a real bummer when you're 4-5 days from your next charging opportunity.  And, as we covered above, I promise it sometimes frustrates your hiker too when they can't get in touch with you. 

We would LOVE to see you, but we need you to be flexible on dates and times

Sure, it would be great to meet you in town in four days.  Sure, it's 100 miles away, but we can get there!  Or can we? Sometimes weather, tough terrain, and general fatigue make it REALLY HARD for us to get to a certain point at a certain time.  If you're going to take some time off to meet your hiker in a certain place, make sure you don't take it out on them if they're late or tired that first few hours.  Remember, we really did miss you and appreciate you and we probably busted ass to get to see you.  If you want to come visit a hiker, make sure you give yourself a few days in that area to meet up, hike with them (if that's the plan), slack pack them and their buddies, or even do trail magic.  It'll make it easier on both parties!

We really, REALLY appreciate everything you do

Sure, the last two times we were able to get in touch with you we were asking you to mail us things or telling you how to forward that box we accidentally sent to your house instead of the hostel we'll be at TOMORROW and we REALLY NEED IT RIGHT NOW EVEN YESTERDAY OMG. That doesn't mean we forgot that it was kind of a pain for you to take care of it for us while you're juggling working a 40-hour week and taking care of all the pets.  We might not always show it in the right ways (after all, we have been walking 20 miles a day for the last 14 days and didn't sleep the last two nights due to snoring folks in the shelter), but as a hiker I promise it doesn't go unnoticed how much you help us out.  

When you're feeling sad or lonely, online communities can be a big help

There are so many Facebook groups now for hikers you'll be sure to find one that suits the trail your loved one is doing.  Many family members join these groups as well.  It's a great place for hikers to share information and for support crew members like yourself to vent a little bit about what it takes to be the person at home.  You might even get some joy out of following certain hashtags on social media as well, following journeys of other hikers and their crew out on the same trails.  It'll help you really visualize where your hiker is or what they meant when they described their day to you.  

It's been argued many times that being the support crew at home is harder than being the one out doing the actual hiking.  For many distance hikers, it can be hard to remember that life goes on as normal even when we're out hiking for six months at a time.  Nevertheless, being the support crew for a hiker is a unique experience that requires nearly as much planning and flexibility as being out on the trail yourself.  And we love you.  And we appreciate everything you do for us.  And we miss you.  Take care of yourself!

Have you ever been the support crew for someone else? What would you add to my list of "surviving" the experience?

Ultimate Coffee Date - January 2018

Hello readers and welcome to 2018!   Blogging really got away from me last year - both due to the business of my year and the fact that I wasn't truly feeling motivated.  This year is a new year though, and I've got some big things in store.  Let's catch up this morning.  Grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in for our ultimate coffee date. 

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If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that I am currently at Disney World! In fact, since you're reading this on Saturday morning I have probably just completed the half marathon!  I'm running the Goofy Challenge this year, running the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday.  I figured it would be great training for my next little tidbit...

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm running a 100-miler in March!  I'm super, SUPER nervous because I know I can finish 100 miles, but I just want to do it in a respectable amount of time and before the 30-hour cut off. Ha!  I'll be adding a few more races along the way during the winter, but being in the thick of training right now I'm not sure when I'll decide to do that. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I recently completed a 40.5-mile, 12-hour ultra marathon!  This was my first ever trail ultra and I ended up being 4th place female, finishing only a few minutes behind finisher number three.  This event was HUGE for me, mentally and physically.  I only have a few blisters and one really bad black toenail as a souvenir, but I'm officially hooked.  I'm thinking I'll be transitioning into more ultra events and fewer short races.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: you may have missed the fact that I'll be tackling the Mountains to Sea Trail in the spring!  Over a period of 7 weeks I'll be hiking and biking 1175 miles across North Carolina.  You can find the details about that hike over here

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that over the winter months i'll be working on more original content for the blog, and possibly a few sponsored posts as well.  I've already been lucky enough to be accepted back onto the Altra Red Team for 2018 and I couldn't be more excited to represent this amazing company for a third year!  This year I'm hoping that I'll have more recipes for the backcountry to share with you all.  

That's about all I've got from the last month.  How about you? What's new in your world? Do you have any big plans for 2018? I'd love to hear about them! Leave me a comment 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

Unplugging - A New Year Resolution

Welcome to 2018, folks! I'm super excited for the new year, as I've got lots of fun things planned to keep me outdoors and active, including a thru hike and a 100-miler on the books.  While 2017 was winding down, I tried to make it a point to think of some ways I could improve on myself in the new year.  Some of you know I was battling some pretty bad depression last year - and it manifested well into the year.  As I finally feel I'm coming out of it, I've definitely decided to make some changes.  While some changes are small, like deciding to dedicate more time to gentle yoga and stretching every day, some changes are going to feel nearly impossible - like making the decision to unplug from my smartphone more.  

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Being that I keep a blog and spend time doing social media work and influencer, spending time online isn't just for fun and wasting time.  Spending time online is what I do to keep this blog going.  It's what I do to curate a feed that might inspire someone to get out and take a walk in the woods.  It's how I communicate with our friends and family while I'm on an extended trip.  One thing I've noticed over 2017 though is the fact that many people are no longer living in the moment while they're out there and instead they're live streaming summit views on Instagram or Snapchatting each and every object.  While I definitely believe social media has a place in the outdoors (more on this in a subsequent post), I also believe that living life through the screen has become more normalized and that is what I find worrisome.  While we all love to share beautiful photos and stories with each other, I think there's a fine line between enjoying the moment for yourself versus making it pretty for your followers. 

We all know the restorative benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature.  In fact, back in the 1990s the art of Shinrin Yoku became popular in Japan.  Forest bathing, as it's known in English, is the act of getting out into nature and experiencing it through all of your senses.  It's smelling a wildflower, tasting a wild edible plant, feeling the breeze on your skin, hearing the water flowing down the stream, and seeing views along the way.  The benefits of forest bathing are measurable - it can improve your high blood pressure, help you focus more, and even reduce your stress or anxiety.  I think it's fair to say everyone has experienced this from being outdoors at least once and you may not have even realized it! Every time you take a walk to clear your head or take a hike to your favorite waterfall, you are experiencing the benefits of Shinrin Yoku.  

Notice that above I didn't list the benefits of live streaming your hike on Instagram Stories.  I didn't list finishing off your audiobook on the way to the summit.  I didn't even list texting your mom from the top of the mountain.  While all of these things can and do happen in the woods, it isn't a part of forest bathing.  This is where my resolution for 2018 begins.  While I truly enjoy listening to a great podcast during a solo hike, I have found in the past year that my brain really, REALLY wants to turn off.  It NEEDS to turn off.  I have even stopped running with my headphones in and recently completed a 40.5-mile ultra race without once listening to any media.  While I did stop to take a few photos here and there, the quiet headspace really did me some good.  In fact, despite being more sore than I've ever experienced, my mind and heart were clear.  And it felt really amazing.  

During 2018 I will be thru hiking, and when I thru hike I do set aside time each night to write about my day and match up some photos.  That will not change.  I'll still be sharing stories with my Instagram and Snapchat followers as well.  But one thing you won't see from me (or at least I'm going to try!) is filming while I hike or keeping my phone "in service" during my time in the woods.  In such a busy society, the quiet and the calm away from the screen is something I'm craving more and more. 

I want to hear from you! How do you feel about the art of Forest Bathing? Have you ever immersed yourself in nature? Would you be willing to try going out without your devices for a day or even a week?  Leave me a comment below!

 

Coming Soon...

It's hard to believe that another hiking season has already come and gone!  With it being six years since my AT thru hike (seriously, six?!) and three since my last thru hike of any kind, 2018 has become a year when something fun needs to be done!  While I've been doing some seriously epic shit (running an ultra, anyone?!) these past few years, it turns out my heart is truly out on the trails.  After attempting to schedule a thru hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail in the summer of 2017 and basically failing at that, I've decided that 2018 is long overdue for hiking the way I like to hike.  That's why I'm super excited to officially say that I'm taking a long-distance thru hike in 2018. 

 Photo from  mountainstoseatrail.org  // Beacon Heights / (C) David Pozo

Photo from mountainstoseatrail.org // Beacon Heights / (C) David Pozo

In 2018, I'm going to be thru hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail across the state of North Carolina.  While many friends and clients consistently ask me when I'm going to get out and hike on the west coast, the answer to that question is honestly "Not this year."  I tried to schedule a hike out on the west coast in July 2017 and so many things in the universe were pointing to it not being my time to get out there.  With all of my pets getting older as well, I don't really want to be crazy far from home or out on a super long trail.  In a few years I'll attempt to get back out onto the west coast because hey, the trails will always be there, right?!

Hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail was honestly a no-brainer for me.  It's a developed trail system that actually has a terminus inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  In fact, I've hiked all of the first segment before already.  Being comfortable with the trail I'm going to be calling home for a few months is never a bad thing!  Some portions of the Mountains to Sea I've hiked recently are in the most beautiful forest I think you'll see in the Southeast, so needless to say I am excited to get out and take a walk across North Carolina.  

I'm hoping to get out and hike this trail from early April to late May or early June.  I'd like to get done before it gets crazy hot and I'm also hiking it early so I can come back to work.  I'll be taking a few months off after the winter is over to get out and take some "me time".  As a distance hiker many people would believe that being a backpacking guide is a dream come true.  Don't get me wrong, I love being a guide.  I will say though, being a guide and doing what I love are two very different things.  Just like with any profession, you're bound to get burnt out if you aren't taking time for yourself.  

At this point I'm hoping to set off for the Mountains to Sea Trail a very short period after I finish my first ever 100-mile race.  I'll keep everyone updated throughout the winter as to not only my plan changes, but also with new trail recipes and gear updates as well.  I'm so excited to have a distance hike to look forward to again.  

Do you have any big plans for the 2018 hiking season? What is your "main event" in 2018? 

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

It's time again to start thinking about getting a gift for the outdoorsy person in your life! If you're at a loss for what to get the hikers you care about something unique, let my holiday guide help you.  

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STOCKING STUFFERS

GSI long-handled silicone spoon - VERY necessary for those who eat pre-made freeze-dried meals! This guy will get down into the nooks and crannies of even the longest bag meal. 
Hikertrash Stickers - I don't know a single hiker who doesn't love putting stickers on just about everything they own.  Help them rep their Hikertrash status proudly!
Sawyer Mini water filter - Being able to have clean water on the go is very necessary for anyone who spends any time outdoors.  These compact filters are super easy to use and easy to clean.
Klymit Pillow X - Makes a great pillow for backpackers and a good seat on a day hike too!
Therm-a-Rest Z seat - In case your hiker isn't a fan of things that can pop on the trail, consider this Z seat instead of the Klymit Pillow. 
MSR Piezo Ignitor - If your hiker uses a canister fuel stove, this thing is amazing! Lightweight and doesn't require fuel like a lighter.  Never worry about running out of fluid again. 

Under $30

Road ID - Have piece of mind when your hiking buddy is out solo. These bracelets (or shoe charms) can hold emergency info and some charms too. 
Darn Tough Socks - The only socks I've found that can keep up with the abuse I put them through - and that's saying a LOT! 
A Scratch-off Map of the US - for the hiker trying to hit every state (or every high point!) this fun multicolor map is a great way to keep track of your travels in the US. 
A US National Parks Scratch-off Map - Just in case you're trying to get all those parks in there too ;)
An Anker Portable Charger - A lightweight charger that won't break the bank. Great for those who use their phones to listen to music or podcasts in the tent at night. 
GSI Microflip Mug - This mug is vacuum sealed to keep your coffee or tea hot on the way to the trailhead on those early mornings. 

Under $50

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 - A new stove is never a bad thing! This guy can boil water in 3.5 minutes. 
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp - 350 lumens to keep the trail bright when you're night hiking or getting in those before dawn miles. 
A Mountain Ring - Let's face it, sometimes lady hikers want to look nice (and sometimes we even have to go to places in the "real world"). This ring will let her take the peaks wherever she goes. 
White Blaze Pendant - This unisex Appalachian Trail
pendant comes on polycord and is adjustable.  In fact, check out ALL of Tarma's jewelry. 
Dirty Girl Gaiters - Keep debris from your shoes and look good at the same time. 
Altra StashJack - A jacket that leaves room for your pack in the back, so you can put it on and take it off without stopping. Why hasn't this been thought of before?

Splurge Items

A Handmade Replica Trail Sign - Handmade to match nearly any sign, these will definitely make your favorite hiker's heart skip a beat. 
Suunto Traverse Series Watch - For the hiker who loves data and stats, this watch will leave a trail of breadcrumbs and show the trails in the area right on the wrist. 
Excalibur Food Dehydrator - For the hiker who loves eating well in the backcountry! This 9-tray dehydrator will make huge batches of jerky, meals, and more. 
Helinox Chair One - Because being comfortable shouldn't mean breaking your back trying to carry that chair to camp. 
Altra Wasatch Rain Jacket - A breathable rain jacket you can run in?! Yes, please!

These are just a few of the things I'd love to see as a holiday gift this year.  What are some of your favorite gifts to give? 

 

 

Gear Sale!

As an avid backpacker for nearly 10 years I have acquired my fair share of hiking gear.  However, I'm in the process of simplifying things right now and changing out some of my personal and guiding gear.  I figured what better way to clear out items than to offer them up for sale to people who would appreciate gently used, well taken care of gear.  Please check out all my offerings below. These pieces of gear I'm offering up would be great Christmas gifts for the beginning backpacker in your life!

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Prices are set and are firm and shipping is included in the price (local pickup will not get a discount - sorry). This isn't a flea market - No negotiating.  Gear is sold AS IS/ALL SALES FINAL and descriptions of any imperfections are included in the item description.  Payment is accepted through Paypal or by cash/check if you're local.  Local pickup in Knoxville, TN area only. Shipping is to the US and US territories only.  Shipping will be first class US mail with a tracking number provided (priority available - please ask for pricing to your zip code!).  

*SOLD*MSR Pocket Rocket (original) Stove - $10 (fuel can not included)

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

I used this stove for several years and am upgrading to another version instead.  You'll notice some slight discoloration at the top tips of the pot stands.  Works beautifully and I've never had any problems with any canister fuel I've tried, including: SnowPeak, JetBoil, MSR, Coleman, and any other cheapie you find at a resupply spot.  Specs from the manufacturer: 

  • Weighs just 3 oz. (85 g), with palm-sized dimensions
  • No need for priming, pressurizing, or maintenance.
  • Boils 1 liter of water in under 3.5 minutes.
  • Glove-friendly controls allow precise flame adjustment, from a simmer to a boil.
  • Tri-sectional Windclip wind shield protects flame and boosts efficiency.

*SOLD*Sierra Designs Rosa 20-degree Sleeping Bag (Synthetic) - $45

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

I used this sleeping bag a total of probably 10-15 times and don't have a use for it anymore.  It's clean and in amazing shape.  It comes with a stuff sack for packing in your backpack as well as a breathable cotton bag for storage.  Loft is in great shape.  It has a small pocket near the top of the bag for earplugs or headphones.  It also has a pocket in the back to stuff clothing to make a pillow.  It won't slip from your sleeping bag thanks to the straps on the back of the pad. Specs from the manufacturer are below: 

The Women's Rosa 20 Degree Sleeping Bag by Sierra Designs is rated to 20 degrees F/-7 degrees C. Continuous-filament synthetic insulation provides reliable warmth for the life of a sleeping bag, even in damp conditions. We build the Rosa with Climashield HL, and wrap the whole package in 70-denier nylon for a durable bag destined for seasons of use. Rated to 20 degrees, the Rosa not only provides warmth, but serious comfort, too - an ergonomically shaped foot box won't cramp your feet and Pad Locks mean you won't roll off onto the hard ground during the night. Will be compressed for shipping. 

  • Specifications and Features for the women's Rosa 20 Degree Sleeping Bag by Sierra Designs:
  • Insulation: Climashield HL
  • Material: Shell: 70D Nylon
  • Material: Liner: 75D Polyester
  • Trail Weight: Regular - 2 lbs 12 oz
  • Zipper Side: Regular - Right
  • Fill Weight: Regular - 24 oz
  • Stuff Size: Regular - 9" x 19"
  • Chest Pocket
  • Draft Tube
  • Ergonomic Hood
  • Pad Locks
  • Pillow Pocket
  • Snag Free Zipper Tracks
  • Two Color Options
  • Woman Specific Bag
  • Continuous Filament Insulation
  • Offset Layer Construction
  • Tricot Lined Footbox
  • Tuck Stitch

*SOLD*MSR Seagull 1.1 Liter Stainless Steel Pot - $10
*SOLD*MSR Seagull 0.75 Liter Stainless Steel Pot - $8

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

These pots are great and durable.  Used on my AT thru hike and intermittently as car camping gear.  While they're a bit heavier than aluminum, they're durable and showing no signs of wear other than minor scratching - no blackening.  The 0.75 L pot does have one small spot on the inside on the bottom of the pan that can probably be scrubbed off.  I'm just lazy!  See manufacturer specs below: 

  • Dual purpose handle/lid lock flips up and over the fitted lid to securely lock the lid in place during transport
  • Fitted lid with a top handle
  • Scratch and dent resistant stainless steel stands up in the most rugged conditions
  • Rounded corners help heat travel up sides of pot more quickly, boosting efficiency
  • 1.1 L pot is 15 oz and measures 7.6 x 6.6 x 3.75 inches; holds 37 oz
  • 0.75 L pot is 13 oz and measures 6.75 x 5.75 x 3.5 inches; holds 26 oz

*SOLD*The North Face Rock 22 Backpacking Tent WITH Footprint - $65

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

Taken out into the backcountry probably 20 times and it was mostly used as a car camping tent.  Comes with stakes, poles, footprint, original guy lines, and all stuff sacks.  Two of the stakes do have a slight bend in them from use.  The tent is freestanding in design and super easy to set up with color-coded tabs/grommets for making assembly super simple and newbie-proof.  Notice in the photos there is a patch in the floor and some red mud staining on one door.  Other than those two things, the tent is in practically brand new condition with minimal dirt.  See manufacturer specs: 

  • Versatile two-person, freestanding design has two doors each with their own vestibule
  • Continuous pole sleeve construction maximizes stability through even weight and pressure distribution
  • DAC® aluminum poles are lightweight, strong and durable for long-lasting use
  • Color-coded canopy and rainfly webbing provide clear and easy pitching
  • Internal prayer-bound floor seams increase user space with clean angles; taped nylon taffeta floor
  • Four internal pockets keep small items organized
  • In nice weather, minimalists can leave the tent body behind and use just the rainfly, poles and footprint to save weight
  • Packed Size: 7 x 25 inches
  • Floor Dimensions: 87 x 55 inches; 33 square feet
  • Vestibule Area: 8 square feet per side
  • Peak Height: 43 inches
  • Packed Weight: 5 lb, 11 oz

Leki Cressida DSS Women's Trekking Poles (with packaging) - $110

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

I bought these poles to replace some ancient ones and the quick lock system just isn't for me. I wanted badly for them to work, but I just didn't like them. These are still on the market brand new for $159.  They have less than 40 miles (and some dirt) on them and come with a "free" strip of duct tape featuring kittens wearing bowties! (Ha!) See manufacturer specs below: 

  • Dynamic suspension system (DSS) antishock technology reduces peak impacts by approximately 40% to help protect muscles, joints and ligaments
  • Stable and durable aluminum HTS shafts with matte clear finish feature light, strong Speedlock 2 and Super Lock systems that offer extremely fast pole-length adjustment
  • Short carbide flex tips with interchangeable baskets deliver precise contact and traction on nearly all kinds of terrain
  • Edgeless, ultralight Aergon Thermo foam grips offer a soft feel and a fit designed for a woman's hands
  • Short, ultralight, breathable straps offer maximum comfort with minimum weight and bulk

For more info, you can see this exact pole on their website: https://www.leki.com/us/trekking/poles/2771/cressida-dss/?c=708

Deuter ACT Lite 28 SL (Women's specific) Day Pack with Cover - $50

Click on the photos to scroll through them. 

This pack has been used as my guiding daypack for one year.  It never did fit me right, but I never had time during the season to replace it.  I have a 15-inch torso and the frame hits me in the back of the head, that's the only reason I'm selling it.  This pack would fit anyone with a 16 inch torso or longer.  The pack is dirty, not gonna lie.  I haven't taken the time to try and clean it up, which is why I'm letting it go cheap.  It comes with a built in rain cover with it's own pocket at the bottom of the pack.  Also, the front zipper pocket has a tear, which I repaired with tape.  See manufacturer specs below:

  • Anatomically shaped, women-specific Airmesh harness provides maximum ventilation and weight savings while load adjuster straps reduce bulk and ensure proper carrying comfort
  • Compatible with a 3-liter hydration reservior
  • 2-way front zipper allows direct access to the main compartment for easier gear retrieval even while the lid is closed
  • Thin, mesh hipbelt fins enhance breathability and weight savings and easily stow flat when not needed
  • Lid pocket; internal pocket; valuables pocket on hipbelt; side zippered and mesh pockets; ice axe and trekking pole loops
  • Holds 28 Liters
  • Weight: 2 lb, 8 oz
  • Torso - 15-19 inches (Note from Sprinkles: I think 16 and up would be better)
  • Internal Frame with Delrin U frame
  • Ripstop Nylon

For more info you can see this pack on their website: http://www.deuter.com/US/us/hiking/act-trail-28-sl-3440215.html

If you have any questions about the gear you're seeing here, please feel free to reach out to me via messenger on Facebook. I'll answer any question you might have about the gear.  Also, if you're looking for an overnight pack, please message me there as well.  I have a few options I'd love to share with you!

Giving Back

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many casual hikers are slowing down and prepping their gear for a long winters' nap.  For some of us other hikers however, the holidays mean long weekends and time to spend out on the trail.  Many others fall into a place somewhere between - not quite retiring all their gear for the season, but not ready to spend all their free time out on the trail during the cooler winter months.  Since this time of year is about giving, I'd like to talk about ways you can give back to the trail for the holidays - maybe in a way you never thought about!

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Take Someone Hiking

It's my opinion that the best thing we can do for any trail system is to help make other people aware of it's mere existence!  Helping friends and family members discover a trail can lead to a love of hiking or trekking, which in turn helps the trail.  How, you may ask?  When other people learn about a trail they're more inclined to take care of it.  Learning a trail is nearby means you take pride in that trail, you share your positive experiences with others, and that helps spread the love even more by word of mouth.  Sharing a trail with someone is a super easy thing to do!

A Group Cleanup

Head out to a trail with a few friends and make a friendly competition out of the day.  Have everyone take extra gallon-sized Ziplock bags and have rewards for those who pick up the most trash, weirdest item, or even the biggest item.  Picking up microtrash (small items like the tabs off a candy bar wrapper or a plastic water bottle lid) really add up quick!  

Donate to a Trail Conservancy

If you have a long distance trail in your neck of the woods, add them to your charitable giving this winter.  If you don't have a trail near you, donate to a local park or outdoors organization.  Preserving the outdoors for the public to enjoy is a gift that keeps on giving!

Sign Up for Trail Maintenance

While some maintaining jobs require licenses (like operating a chainsaw), many trail and outing clubs encourage any and everyone to come out and help.  Find out when your local club goes out for trail maintaining and sign up!  Not only will you meet new people, you'll help out and give back to a trail system local to you.  

These are just a few ideas you can try to give back to a trail system or park near you.  Have you ever participated in a trail cleanup? Do you like to share nature with others? 

Packing Mindfully

The Japanese use a word - Kaizen.  Simply put, this word means "change for the better" but can also mean "continuous improvement" when applied to business.  Kaizen is an everyday process.  You can't just make one change and expect it to serve you forever.  When it comes to hiking or backpacking, practicing the Kaizen method will never do you wrong.  Whether you've been backpacking for two months or twenty years, every hiker could use a gear improvement every once in a while!  For me, as a guide in the Smokies, practicing Kaizen on every single hike not only makes my load lighter, it also keeps me hiking happily.  Let's look at some ways every hiker can practice Kaizen on any hike!

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Pretrip

When you are packing for a trip, you will obviously be checking the weather and maps before you pack your gear, right?  When you're packing your gear, decide what is really and truly necessary.  Do you really need to pack a coat or can you wear a long sleeve shirt with your rain coat instead?  Will it be necessary to bring a winter sleeping bag or can you get by with your summer bag and a liner?  By taking a few moments to ask yourself these questions, you can whittle down your gear pile in no time!  Something NoKey likes to teach new hikers is to divide your gear into three piles - the first will be things you definitely need, the second will be things you need to decide on, and the third pile will be for the cast-off (or items you didn't bring on previous trips).  By making these three piles, you'll have a visual for the gear you'll be bringing before you start cramming your pack.  Being able to visualize what is going in the pack will help you realize how much you're carrying.  If you're new to packing a bag, check out my post about how to properly pack your backpack here. 

During the Trip

Whether you're out for an afternoon or a week, keeping track of gear you're using is easier than you think.  If you're simply out for the day, you may not be in and out of your pack as much as you are on a backpacking trip.  Since your pack is basically a giant tube you store things in, having to dig all the way to the bottom for more used items is a hassle.  You may find yourself practicing Kaizen by simply rearranging the way you place items back in the bag before you continue hiking.  

Post Trip

When you get home and cleaned up make note of the items you used and didn't use.  I'm a fan of keeping your day pack ready to go, but regularly replacing and maintaining the items inside will keep your gear in good repair.  For backpacking gear, it's a good rule of thumb to unpack everything and set it up to dry before you even hop in the shower.  This way, especially if you have muddy stuff, you won't make a bigger mess of yourself in the process!  Another trick I've recently learned is to take apart trekking poles to allow them to dry on the inside as well.  This will keep your poles in working order for THOUSANDS of miles!  Once your gear is clean and dry, repeat the three pile process and put away your gear accordingly.  If you have items you use on every few trips for example, you can keep these items all in one place.  You may find that they go from every few trips to no trips at all!

Bonus Points

Something fun I like to try and teach newbie and experienced hikers alike is how to think of two uses for every single item in their pack.  Basically, there should be very few unitasker items in a backpack.  For example, instead of carrying a bandana and a hat, why not carry a Merino Wool Buff instead?  Instead of packing a pair of gloves, why not bring a pair of socks you'll only wear as a second layer while you're sleeping?  By finding more than one use for items in your pack, you'll not only save yourself space, you'll also save yourself a few extra pounds in the process!

How do you decide what to bring on a trip and what to leave behind? What is one item you always bring on the trail with you, regardless of how silly others might find it?

The Evolution of Gear

I recently, as a member of the Green Mountain Club, read an article in their quarterly publication about a man who decided to thru hike the Long Trail using the gear early hikers would have used back in the 1910s (when the trail system was officially open for use). This interesting read got me thinking to how much gear has changed in the past 100 years.  I thought it would be fun to do a little research and share my findings with all of you guys.  I hope you find it as fun to read as I had writing it!  Since the article I read was replicating a thru hike of a trail in 1917, that's as far back as I decided to go.  Since the National Park System in the US was developed and created only a few years prior to this, I decided that many people were more than likely not camping recreationally before this period.  Granted, people were following their herds to the high country for the summer and camping out long before this, I find that those "headed to camp" accounts don't really make for good backpacking gear stories.    

The Early Years

 Catherine Robbins, Hilda M. Kurth and Kathleen Norris, 1927  photo (and great story) from  Seven Days.  

Catherine Robbins, Hilda M. Kurth and Kathleen Norris, 1927

photo (and great story) from Seven Days. 

One of the first things that stuck out to me in the article I read in Long Trail News about the gear was this paragraph: 

"For food, bread and bacon will keep you going with little weight." "No person should ever travel The Long Trail without axe, compass, and matches" "A tent is not necessary on most of the trail; it may be needed in the southerly part if the hiker desires to sleep out, in which case a very light, small tent of balloon silk is advised" 

Already the gear differences and advice are pretty fun to read about.  I also loved reading that Mike MADE HIS OWN PACK out of brown ash wood.  Yep, that's right.  A "pack basket" was all the rage back in those days.  For an example of gear you would have carried in those days in your pack basket see below (it's also worth noting that back in those days it wasn't uncommon for hikers to cut boughs off trees to make a bed for the night; since that is no longer done for obvious LNT ((Leave No Trace)) reasons, it's worth noting that the hiker here stuffed a pillowcase with leaves):
-Wool blanket
-Homemade waterproofed cotton tarp and cotton groundsheet
-Camp knife (hand forged) in a leather belt sheath
-2 Quart metal canteen
-Bug Net
-Alcohol stove with alcohol carried in a GLASS bottle
-Tin cup
-Matches
-Waxed cotton food bag
-Candle for nighttime
-Wool knickers
-Wool knee-length socks
-Leather hat
-Leather boots
-Rubberized poncho
FOOD: 
-Hardboiled eggs, rice, cashews/almonds/raisins, bread, cheese, cured meat, canned fish, and hershey's chocolate

I also love that for this hike Mike used birch and beech twigs to brush his teeth!

 Mike Debonis on his 2017 thru hike of the Long Trail, using 1917-style gear. 

Mike Debonis on his 2017 thru hike of the Long Trail, using 1917-style gear. 

1940's-1950's

I couldn't find much for the period in between our history hiker and the WW2 era, so I'm going to skip ahead to Earl Shaffer - the first ever thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail.  It can be said that Shaffer was the first ever Warrior Hiker - he took to the trail to "Walk off the War" in 1948.  Earning himself the name "The Crazy One", he was the first person to ever hike the trail all the way through in one year.  At first, even the Appalachian Trail Conference (later, Conservancy) didn't believe him!  He may also be considered the first minimalistic hiker, being that his tent failed in the first week on the trail and he got rid of it, saving himself an additional five pounds!  Back when Shaffer thru hiked in 1948, he was taken in by friendly fire tower wardens and fed meals; he even hiked hunting camp to hunting camp in Maine.  On his thru hike in 1998, Shaffer relayed via letter to Gene Espy (the second thru hiker of the AT) by letter that the trail had become much more difficult than when they hiked it decades before, the trail conservancy having routed the trail up to the higher and harder ridge lines instead of being down low near the hunting camps.  An example of his gear can be found below: 
-Mountain Troop rucksack
-Military issue poncho (which also served as his rain shelter at night!)
-A Daisy Mae Rainhat
-Match safe
-Compass
-Sheath knife and small handaxe
-Sewing kit
-Snakebite kit
-Mountain Troop cook kit
-Wool blanket
-Wool pants
-Russel Birdshooter Boots

 Earl Shaffer atop Katahdin in 1948 with his pack (photo from earlshaffer.com)

Earl Shaffer atop Katahdin in 1948 with his pack (photo from earlshaffer.com)

Gene Espy, our second-known thru hiker went through northbound in 1951.  He had some great gear as well, including one of my favorite luxury items - an inflatable pillow! His gear weighed in at a whopping 50 lbs and included the following (from gearjunkie): 
-Steel frame pack
-Lamb’s wool used as comfort under the heavy pack straps
-Tent (without a floor) and tent posts
-Down sleeping bag
-Watch; to know his time between shelters
-Guide books
-Hatchet and rope
-Inflatable pillow
-Camera
-New Testament Bible
-Diary and pencil
-Collapsible cup
-25 caliber pistol (which he claimed he used as protection from bears)
-Carbide lamp (this is what miners used back then as a headlamp - it requires chemical reaction to make it work!)
-Nylon poncho used for a rain jacket and as flooring in the tent
-Pants from the Navy to protect his legs from thorns
-Two long sleeve shirts
-2 pairs of hiking socks
-Hat
-Tin water cup
-Snakebite kit
-Boots
FOOD: 
Gene carried about a week of food at a time, and his favorite foods included chocolate pudding, loaves of bread, and Baby Ruth candy bars.  

 Gene Espy during his thru hike in 1951 (from geneespyhiker.com)

Gene Espy during his thru hike in 1951 (from geneespyhiker.com)

1960's and 1970's

With the 1960s and 70s came the "heyday" of the American National Park System.  More and more folks were able to get out and enjoy not only the national parks of our country, but also the backcountry and hiking trails provided by our parks!  Check out some of these vintage ads I found while scouring the internet.  Heck, I know some sleeping bags that weigh more than 3.5 lb have even tried to make their way out onto a backpacking trip I was leading!

During the late 1950s the AT saw it's first female thruhiker, Grandma Gatewood.  She would go on to hike the trail two more times during her life, making her the first multi completer of the trail.  While I couldn't find a comprehensive gear list, I did find a photo of her gear (circa 1960) (thanks, Reddit!) at the Appalachian Trail Museum.  It's safe to say she was the first ever "dirtbag hiker", hiking with a homemade denim sack, a rain cape made from a shower curtain, and was the first hiker to ditch the heavy boots for lightweight shoes, recommending Keds to all hikers she met! She was also the first thru hiker to "slackpack" her way along the AT.  She often wandered off the main trail to knock on doors to ask for a place to stay or to get a hot meal.  

 Photo Courtesey of the AT Museum and google images.

Photo Courtesey of the AT Museum and google images.

The 1970s is when backpacking really started changing.  Jansport and Kelty led the way in creating lightweight external frame packs with specially designed pockets for hauling gear ergonomically.  Also during this era we see the very first Therma-A-Rest mattress hit the market.  Now, instead of cutting live tree boughs, hikers can sleep on an ACTUAL mattress in the woods! Check out the weight of those "lightweight boots" by the way - only THREE POUNDS!

You also start seeing the commercial freeze dried and dehydrated food industry taking off.  Yes, America - you too can eat like our astronauts!

Click on the photo bar to scroll through! (Photos here are sourced from google images)

1980's and 1990's

Lightweight was the name of the game!  Ultralight was truly being developed during this time period, despite how many of us would think it was something more recent.  In fact, 2-lb packs were being developed during the late 1970s and early 1980s!  Nike was even on the forefront of developing a lightweight hiking shoe/boot hybrid - the Lava Dome! While many folks were still carrying external frame packs during this period, the frame during this time started moving to the INSIDE of a pack - something unheard of before now!  During this time period we also meet some of THE names in backpacking that many hikers still know today, the most famous of whom is Ray Jardine.  Ray and his wife, Jenny, began thru hiking in the late 1980s and can still be found out on the trail today.  In 1991, Ray wrote a book about his PCT thru hike, talking about how it was possible to hike much faster and lighter by making homemade gear.  In fact, he still regularly publishes and hikes today.  

During the 1990s we see many what we would call "Cottage Industry" companies starting to pop up as well.  Dana Designs and Gossamer Gear both got their start in the 1990s when regular hikers started getting fed up with not being able to find what they wanted in gear that was commercially available.  

During this time we also see people hiking in light athletic shoes versus heavy boots.  Laurie "Mountain Laurel" Pottieger (of ATC fame) switched to running shoes during her 1987 thru hike of the AT.  While she switched back to boots for rockier sections of the trail, at the time it was practically unheard of (and was done by the Jardines as well!)

(photo of the boots from google images and Jenny and Ray from RayJardine.com)

The 2000's and 2010's

These days, fast and light is the name of the game.  With more and more FKT (fastest known time) attempts on the trail and more hikers getting savvy to the "less is more" way of backpacking, it's possible to hike more than 2000 miles carrying little more than a daypack.  Some of the more famous names in the game right now include Anish, String Bean, and Lint.  For an example of what these ultralighters are carrying, check out Lint's thru hiking gear list.  

While not everyone is going ultralight, it's pretty unusual to see anyone out on the trail these days carrying more than 35 lb.  We know now that the average pack should be 25% or less of your total body weight.  With lighter packs comes the ability to wear lighter shoes as well. In fact, reading surveys of commonly used gear online you'll see that less than 20% of hikers are now wearing boots on trail, opting for lightweight trail running shoes instead.    

 An example of what a thru hiker would carry on the AT courtesy of @GossamerGear on Instagram ( @ryanshamy  original)

An example of what a thru hiker would carry on the AT courtesy of @GossamerGear on Instagram (@ryanshamy original)

And there you have it - a pretty comprehensive history of how gear has changed since the early days!  Gone are the days when heavy boots and 50-lb packs are the norm.  Here to stay are the lighter, easier to carry packs with quick drying shoes and gear to get you from point A to point B in relative comfort!

Would you have been able to thru hike Grandma Gatewood style?  When did you first start collecting your backpacking gear?  What piece of gear do you remember and miss the most? 

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?