Misc

Ultimate Coffee Date - What I've Been Doing Lately

It's hard to believe another month has come and gone and it feels like I hardly even blinked!  So, in the spirit of having a relaxing morning, pull up a chair and a cup of coffee to see what we have been up to lately over at Sprinkles Hikes. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That it has been four years since I completed the hike that changed my life forever.  It's hard to believe it has already been four years since summiting Katahdin - 9-11-12.  We chose the date to mark NoKey's birthday and make it a great memory in our minds.  We even waited six days to summit to make sure we got the date perfect.  It was definitely worth it.  If it weren't for my thru hike I have no idea who I would be and what I would be doing today. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: how proud I am of NoKey.  He has been training to run his very first half marathon - the Millinocket Half Marathon - on December 10th.  I hired the amazing Abby over at Back At Square Zero to coach him through the build up to make sure he doesn't overtrain.  He dove in head first and hasn't looked back.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that I know I've been neglecting the blog recently.  I have a ton of ideas for posts during my "off season" and can't wait to share them with you!  It's been incredibly hard to get things written down recently due to my hectic schedule.  I promise to share them all soon!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I have started a new AT Shakedown program at work!  If you're looking to do a thru hike in 2017 and you've done your research and purchased your gear, but are overwhelmed at all the information on the web for preparing to leave civilization behind for a few months? Let an experienced long-distance hiker help you! On our AT Shakedown Hikes you'll not only get to practice using all your new gear, you'll also learn how to throw a bear line, use your guide book to plan out your days, and even how to plan and prep mail drops or resupply stops. We will also cover basic first aid and fire-building skills. After your shakedown hike you'll feel confident and ready to tackle the journey of a lifetime!
For info, contact info@awalkinthewoods.com!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I am super, duper excited for fall!  While it's true that the next 5-6 weeks of my life will be incredibly hectic, I'm definitely ready for cooler temperatures, camp fires, and sleeping outside!  I absolutely love backpacking in the fall months.  

How was your September? Is there anything you're definitely looking forward to in October? I'd love to hear about your month - leave me a comment below!

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Choosing a Water Filtration System

Working as a hiking guide I get lots of questions about water safety.  Frequently when I talk with clients on a hike regarding the spring water in the Smokies, where I work, people will inquire whether or not the water is safe enough to drink.  This is where my hiking guide hat goes on and I let people know with all water it is strongly encouraged to filter out contaminates or to treat it with a chemical drop/tablet.  With all the changes to gear on the market lately, I thought it would be helpful for newbie hikers to compare water filtration methods to help you decide which method is right for you. 

No Filter, No Problem

But this article is all about filters, right?!  Well, we can't talk about water filters without talking about the fact that some people just don't filter water.  And that's ok!  The no filter method was the most popular method I saw when thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2012.  In fact, I know many, MANY thru hikers who didn't treat their water after miles of hiking back then.  By not filtering your water, however, you are opening yourself up to contamination issues, Giardia being the most common here on the east coast.  With many, many options on the market, I highly recommend looking into some of the lighter weight filters or treatments on the market today. 

Aquamira Drops

Aquamira Drops were my go-to method of filtration back in the mid 2000's.  In fact, it's the first method of filtration I ever used.  With this method, all you'll need to do is mix together Part A and Part B in the provided cup, wait for it to activate, and add it to your water.  The upside of this is that these drops are pretty cheap in the world of water filtration.  They're also incredibly lightweight.  However, in my experience, Part A and Part B never seem to run out at the same time despite using the exact same amount of each drop.  You'll also be waiting 15 to 30 minutes for your drinking water after the drops have been added.  Another downside? Unless you're pre-filtering your water, you might find yourself drinking a little bit of sand at the bottom.  These drops, when they've sat too long in your hydration bladder or bottle, can also taste strongly of chlorine.  

Iodine Tablets/Drops

Ahhh, good old Iodine.  In tablet form or in tincture form, this stuff is great to carry in your pack.  On my guided trips I carry iodine solution in my first aid kit for disinfecting wounds and kitchen utensils.  In a pinch, I could use it to treat my water too.  Of course, the downside to iodine solution/tablets is the same as it is for Aquamira - waiting to drink water and also possibly drinking up some sand or dirt.  Unlike Aquamira, however, iodine doesn't taste like chorine.  It tastes like iodine - and it tastes like iodine all the time.  

Bleach Drops

Yes, I said bleach drops.  Believe it or not, the stuff you use to get your whites clean in the laundry can also be used to purify your water.  A few drops will do the trick.  Carrying a small dropper of bleach can be an extremely cheap, lightweight solution to keeping your water clean.  However, carrying bleach often means you've repackaged it.  Making sure you've got the bottle sealed up tight is crucial in your pack.  Spilling bleach on gear is never fun!  Like Aquamira and iodine, drinking sandy water is also a possibility.  Again, water that sat in your hydration bladder or bottle too long will also possibly have a chlorine aftertaste.  

A FILTER PUMP

There are many brands of water filter pumps out on the market right now.  NoKey has formerly owned an MSR Sweetwater Pump and the gear shop I worked at in Maine also carried Katadyn Micro filters.  Years ago, these filters were your best defense against not only bacteria, but also protozoa.  However, these days these filters can definitely have a few downsides.  First of all, these filters are pretty heavy, weighing in at a pound or more sometimes.  There are quite a few parts to keep track of, which can make cleaning difficult.  Also, the filters have what we would now consider to be an extremely short shelf life, sometimes as low as 750 liters of water.  Many hikers now find it cumbersome to have to find water deep enough to float your filter, pump your water, and hold your bottles.  However, on the plus side, your water won't have that funky flavor chemical drops tend to leave in the bottle!

Sawyer Mini/Squeeze

The first time I saw a Sawyer filter was in 2012 and I only knew three people using one.  In 2013, it was damn near the only filter I saw on the trail.  This tiny filter has a life of 100,000 liters and weighs approximately 2 ounces (the Mini, not the Squeeze).  It's a lightweight filter that I personally put right on the end of my Camelbak hose and drink right out of, eliminating the need to squeeze water altogether.  The downside of this filter is the fact that many people find the collapsable bottles that come with the filter to be cheap and low-quality.  It also does need to be back flushed regularly to keep it running at a decent speed.  Many people think these filters are too slow.  

SteriPen

This UV pen took the market by storm several years ago when they were first released.  Using UV light to treat water seemed like something straight out of science fiction.  By removing viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, this thing seemed to be the perfect water filtration solution.  The fact that it doesn't use chemicals to treat the water and, frankly, it looks cool, are big selling points to hikers.  The downside to this pen is the thing that makes it neat - it's electronic.  Taking electronics out into the backcountry can sometimes be disastrous.  The SteriPen needs batteries and I've seen these pens fail many times when it comes treating water.  While they're quick to use (1 minute for 1 liter of water) like other methods, you may want to pre filter water to avoid getting sand or debris in your bottle. 

Boiling Your Water

Of course, the tried and true method of boiling water to sterilize it never goes out of fashion.  Of course, if you don't carry a camp stove or maybe if it's been raining for a few days and you can't dry out any wood to build a fire, this can be a problem.  Also, this method will take a little while. Building the fire, boiling the water, and then letting it cool down to a drinkable temperature can take upwards of 20 minutes.  

Here are just a few of the most common methods of treating water in the backcountry.  What water filter method do you use?  What do you like and dislike about your preferred method?  

Planning an End-of-Summer Adventure

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SToKCoffee #cbias #CollectiveBias

With Labor Day marking the end of summer it also marks a short break for me.  We are in the lull period between summer vacation and leaf-changing season.  This makes it the perfect time to plan an end-of-summer adventure with NoKey!  Since both of us really enjoy taking bold, active, exciting trips with short notice and we both have only a few hours a day of free time, this meant we needed to do some planning quick.   

NoKey and I discovered SToK Coffee over the summer while we were on our weekly shopping trip to our new Walmart.  We had heard a lot about cold brew coffee and with the temperatures so warm we decided to give it a shot.

SToK Coffee stood out to us for a few reasons.  We love Arabica coffee and this blend was also pure coffee with no weird ingredients.  We also loved how smooth it tasted as compared to what we normally drink hot in the mornings.  The almost fruity, Brazilian Blend flavor profile definitely went down easy.  It may have been slow-brewed, but it was definitely fast-sipped!

Of course, when I'm planning a trip I always love to eat well!  Coffee has always been a problem for us because we've often resorted to drinking an instant blend with some sort of powdered milk and sugar.  While it's great when you're in the backcountry, front country adventures need something more special.  I'm super glad that SToK Coffee is already cold and can easily be kept in a cooler, ready to drink, for those early morning starts.  It's also available at Walmart with the Iced Coffees and Teas so that makes it easy for us to stock up if we ever need to grab any more.  

Since we both have been working long hours over the summer, sometimes with me not being home for a few days at a time, we knew that planning a trip was going to be tough.  We often were doing reading and research about destinations late at night and the caffeine we were getting from SToK Coffee definitely kept us going!  Toward the end of trip planning it almost felt like our vacation ideas were only one late night away from becoming a reality.  While going through this process, I decided to share some tips with you to help you plan out your next adventure: 

Plan a Destination Based on Your Needs

Want to go trail running and kayaking?  Make sure that your destination has both of those options close by!  If you're taking the time to pack the gear you'll want to make sure all the activities you want to do are going to be either at your campground or close enough to not be a huge drive.  If you're planning on taking your dog along, make sure your park allows dogs in all the places you're going.  It's very common here in the Smokies for people to bring their dogs camping, but when they get here people are shocked when dogs are not allowed on our hiking trails!  Doing a little reading ahead can help you prepare better.  

 NoKey marking some mapped routes on our map. 

NoKey marking some mapped routes on our map. 

Lay Out All Your Gear

While this might seem like a no-brainer for many, laying out every single piece of gear you want to bring is SO IMPORTANT!  NoKey and I have packed up and driven hours away to go camping with our dog only to show up to the campground in the dark without our tent!  Thankfully, other campers had extra gear but it was so embarrassing!  Don't let this happen to you - lay everything out just before you pack it and go over the activities you'll be doing.  Make sure everything is in order before you pack it all up!

 An Epic Trip Calls for Epic Gear!

An Epic Trip Calls for Epic Gear!

Pack Smart and Plan Ahead

If you're headed out for a front country camping adventure you've got plenty of room to bring extra items.  This doesn't mean, however, that you should cram everything into the vehicle and drive into the sunset though!  If you're going to be doing many different activities, try to keep all like items together in your vehicle and keep your coolers easily accessible.  Also, make sure where you're going has ice for your food nearby.  Having to drive an hour round-trip for a bag of ice can really put a dent in your adventure time.  You've got to keep your SToK Coffee cold to get going in the mornings, right?!

Be Flexible

While planning for your trip, make a few back-up plans.  When planning a trip this time of year, give yourself extra drive time for the early leaf-peeper tourists in the area.  When planning trail adventures, always have a back-up plan.  The thunderstorms that often come in late summer can damage or erode trails and cause trail closures.  Having a back-up hike planned will help ensure you're not spending a few hours in the early morning scrambling for a new plan.  Be prepared with a map of the surrounding area as well.  

 Traffic can be tough! Always plan ahead!

Traffic can be tough! Always plan ahead!

These are a few of my tips to help you plan out your next trip.  What do you like to do to ensure your vacations go smoothly?  I'd love to hear about it!  

Ultimate Coffee Date - What I've Been Doing Lately

Hey guys and welcome to September!  While it's meteorologically speaking technically fall, it definitely doesn't feel that way around here to me...!  Summer has been hot here in the Southeast and I can't believe it's technically over.  While it seems like summer flew by, August went by fastest of all.  In fact, I didn't realize it was already September until earlier this week when my schedule showed the end date of September 4th.  I guess it's been busy around here!  With it being the first Saturday of the month, it's time for my Ultimate Coffee Date catch-up post.  Here's what I've been up to recently. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  That I'm totally obsessed with cold brew coffee now.  With August being so incredibly hot all month long we gave up drinking hot coffee and just let it go cold in the pot before drinking it.  With all the buzz I've been hearing for months and months about cold brew NoKey and I finally decided to try a brand from the store only to find out we're absolutely smitten with it.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Some of my favorite trips of the season were in August.  This month I played REI Adventures Camp Host a few times - meaning I didn't actually do any hiking during the 4-day camping trips.  I stayed back in camp and prepped food all day and I loved every minute of it!  I'm super excited to have this new aspect to my job.  While I absolutely love hiking and guiding, it's nice to switch things up a bit too!  Speaking of switching things up...

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've taken on so other responsibilities at work as well!  With two of our ladies due with baby girls this winter, I'll be taking over some office duties to help fill in.  If you try to reach the office I work in throughout this "off season" chances are we'll be talking to each other!  I'm also taking on some additional responsibilities to help out with all the paperwork we receive for backpacking trips and gear rentals.  I'm super excited to be learning new things. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I did some hardcore adulting this month.  Early on in August my washing machine caught on FIRE and needed to be replaced.  I also helped NoKey rescue two stray dogs, made optometrist appointments for both of us, got NoKey into a great dentist, and found us primary care physicians.  Adult level: Expert.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Labor Day Weekend totally snuck up on me.  Like I said in the first part of the post, I didn't even realize it was almost September/Labor Day until first thing Monday morning!  How in the world did that happen?!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: It's time for me to start seriously running again.  All summer long I've been training with NoKey for his Couch to 10K program.  We're both running a few races together this fall, including a 5K, a 10K (maybe for both of us, but maybe just me) and NoKey will be running his first half marathon in December.  I'm also signed up to run The Pistol 50K on New Years Eve and maybe even helping pace a friend in the 100-miler at the same event.  Time to get serious again about running!

Well guys, that was my month in a nutshell!  I really feel like I've been slacking on blog posts here lately.  I've been pretty busy with trips this summer and haven't really been inspired to write about much of anything and for that I apologize.  Is there anything you'd like me to tackle on the blog coming up this fall?  I'd love to know what you'd like to see on the blog.  Leave me a comment below to let me know!

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 - What I've Been Doing Lately

Well guys, July flew by and it's already August!  Somehow summer has gotten away from me and the blog has kind of taken a backseat to all the other happenings in my life right now.  I promise that once late fall and winter get here I'll have more photos and posts for you guys.  Working as a backpacking guide my days and weeks kind of all lump together and getting time to sit down and write like I did back over the winter is tough.  I've decided to jump into the Ultimate Coffee Date link-up to give my readers a chance to see what's been going on over behind the scenes here at Sprinkles Hikes.  I hope you enjoy it!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I was in a car accident on July 2nd and it's kind of left me mentally screwed up.  Thankfully it was a one-vehicle wreck and no one was hurt!  I was on a back road that wasn't designed for big vehicles and the road gave out from underneath the car I was driving.  The vehicle was totaled and no one was injured,  but the insurance company was much less than helpful and it was a mess for everyone else who was involved.  It took more than 20 days for them to even deal with it!  Now I'm pretty stressed about driving ANYWHERE, especially on gravel roads.  I know it will go away in time, but I'm still kind of nervous.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've been working a LOT recently.  When I'm not working I'm actually out hiking to have fun!  I've been doing a ton of hiking and seeing lots of trails here in the Smokies which is a really great thing.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Since I have been working a lot, all my days are running together!  I feel like I'm just a parrot of myself at this point, reciting the same facts over and over and over and sometimes I forget if I already said the things I said only 10 minutes ago!  I also pretty much never have any idea what day it is, but that's never a bad thing in my book!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Despite all the work, I've actually had time to get in a  little bit of fun!  We took our annual Guide Getaway the third week of July.  Our company shut down for three days and everyone got together to go camping down at Tsali Campground in the Nantahala National Forest.  We spent three days swimming in Fontana Lake, boating, tubing, water skiing, trail running, and attempting to mountain bike on some of the famous trails down there.  It was a great time to get away and I think we all needed the vacation!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That while I was on that getaway NoKey and I went hiking down at the infamous Road to Nowhere.  We also got stung by yellow jackets on this hike - me getting stung in the FACE before screaming "RUNNNNNN!"  Yellow jackets are nasty stingers - they lay a pheromone on you to let other yellow jackets know you're a bad guy and repeatedly sting you.  I also got stung in the biceps and the calf while NoKey got stung five times just under his shoulder blade.  We spend the last mile and a half of our hike kind of jogging, me with lots of snot running down my face from being stung in the septum, back to the car and freaking out any time we saw anything flying around!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: NoKey is making me so proud with his half marathon training!  We are training to run the Millinocket Half Marathon and I just recently signed up for the Pistol Ultra 55K race on New Years Eve (my first ever ultra!)  He and I have been out running in some gnarly hot and humid conditions, but I'm so proud of him for sticking with it.  I bet he runs faster than I will on race day!

So guys, that was my July in a nutshell!  While it sounds kind of sad while I'm reading this post back, it was a great month regardless.  What have you been up to lately?  I'd love to hear how your July went.  Leave me a comment!

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

My Favorite Views in the Smokies

As a hiking guide in the most visited national park in the country I am often asked about my favorite places to go for a hike.  While I do a lot of the same trails guiding people, since my hobby and my job coincide I often find myself looking for other less busy trails to hike when I'm out for myself.  One of the things the Smokies is known for would be the stunning views, many of which have mountain ridge lines for days.  Here are a few of my favorite views in the park. 

1) Mt. Cammmerer

 Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer's Fire Tower is a unique shape and built right into the rocks with a cistern built in below.  I've never been in another tower like this one!

Mt. Cammerer can be a long day hike and can be hiked in a few directions. You can make this a strenuous 10 mile out and back hike or you can make it a less difficult, but still long, 15.5 mile loop hike.  Regardless of how you decide to hike to this amazing mountaintop you'll be rewarded with views into the Cherokee National Forest, back into the Smokies and North Carolina, and views of the Appalachian Trail.  You'll also be seeing them from a really unique and gorgeous fire tower.  The views up here in the fall and winter cannot be beat!  If you're out doing a thru hike or section hike of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies, the 1.2-mile round trip to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower is definitely worth it.  

2) Bradley View

The Bradley View is one I would highly recommend you see on a backpacking trip.  While you can see it on a day hike, to make it out and back in one day would be challenging and would require a nearly 17.5-mile out and back from Newfound Gap Road to visit.  I often get to see Bradley View on backpacking trips when I'm staying at the Peck's Corner Shelter or if I'm hiking down a side trail off of the Appalachian Trail.  Regardless of where you're camping, the Bradley View is one of my favorite in the park.  Usually when we get a view from a mountain top we are seeing other mountain ranges and some signs of towns in the valley below.  At Bradley View you're looking out onto a sea of mountains without a cell tower or road in sight.  With up to as many as nine different ridge lines present this view will definitely take your breath away.  This point is located approximately 1.5 miles Appalachian Trail "South" of the Peck's Corner shelter.  

3) Spence Field

Spence Field is another hike that can be done either in the daytime or you can camp up at the shelter nearby overnight.  You can hike this in a loop or as an out and back.  My favorite way to see Spence Field though is to camp at the Spence Field Shelter.  Less than a half a mile from the shelter round-trip you will head up to the field just before sunset for some stunning views with Fontana Lake below you.  If you head back to the shelter just before the sun drops in the sky you'll have enough daylight to make it back to the shelter without a headlamp.  To make this hike, you can hike up from Cades Cove picnic area via the Anthony Creek Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and follow the AT to the field.  Return by the same route or you can continue "south" on the AT to the Russell Field Trail back down to the Anthony Creek Trail.  

4) Shuckstack 

 The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

The view looking toward Nantahala National Forest from Shuckstack in the fall.  It's easy to see why the mountains around us are called the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Shuckstack Fire Tower is located only 0.1 miles off the Appalachian Trail at the "southern" end of the trail in the park.  This fire tower is notoriously rickety, but the climb is definitely worth heading up for!  Climbing up the flights of stairs on the tower you'll feel and hear the wind catching and then you'll come into the top of the tower - views of the Nantahala National Forest, Fontana Lake, the Smokies, and the largest undeveloped tract of wilderness left in the eastern United States will be your reward.  This hike can be done many different ways, but an out-and-back from Fontana Dam is the most popular route.  This 7-mile round trip hike also gives you the opportunity to see the largest hydroelectric dam east of the Mississippi River before your hike. 

5) Mt. Sterling

 Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Looking at the AT from Mt. Sterling on a winter day - the highest point is Mt. Guyot and the AT follows the ridge line down and out of the park. 

Of course I would save my favorite view for last!  Mt. Sterling boasts the highest backcountry campsite in the park as well as the highest point on the entire Benton MacKaye Trail.  Looking north from the top of the tower you'll have an epic view of the ridge line the Appalachian Trail follows.  You'll have views of Snowbird Mountain and Max Patch Mountain.  You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway cutting across the mountains in North Carolina.  Best of all, this hike rarely has others to share the view with.  You can make this hike as short as 4 miles round trip view the old NC 284 gravel road and the Mt. Sterling Trail.  You can also hike it as a 12.2 mile up and back on Baxter Creek Trail or you can make a 17.1 mile loop hike by taking Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail and finally hiking down the Baxter Creek Trail.  

These are just a few of the many, many places I like to hike to avoid the crowds.  Where are some of your favorite places in the Smokies?  Do you like to hike to a view?  

Join the Friday Five Link Up hosted by DC area bloggers Eat Pray Run DC, Mar on the Run and You Signed up for What?! Don't forget to visit all the hosts and a few other bloggers to spread the fun! 

Five Things I Love About Being a Hiking Guide

With summer hiking season in full swing it seems like I'm hardly ever indoors anymore!  If I'm not out on the trails for work you can usually find me out in a state park or national forest with my dog and NoKey.  I recently had a client ask me what it's like to have your passion and your job be the exact same thing and if I found it hard to find a balance between the two.  For me the balance isn't tough because I do my guiding in the Smokies and I do my hiking for pleasure outside of the national park.  There are a few reasons for this - heavy traffic near the Smokies, the fact that no dogs are allowed on trails, and the fact that the trails I hike for work are usually incredibly popular day hikes are some of them.  For me though, being a guide feels like a natural thing and it feels like it is truly where I need to be in life right now.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do for a living.  For today's Friday Five post, I'm going to tell you the five things I love about being a guide.  

1) Teaching 

It might sound cheesy, but there is something really incredibly satisfying about teaching someone how to find what they're looking to learn out in the woods.  Whether it's taking a one-hour  nature walk and showing someone they can chew on a particular leaf or taking someone out for a customized backpacking trip and seeing them become more confident with their gear, the fact that I've taught someone a lesson they will remember is incredibly satisfying. 

2) InTroducing People to Nature

Sometimes I'm guiding a nature walk for a hotel or resort.  While these nature walks aren't strenuous or even long, by taking these groups out on a gentle walk away from the hustle and bustle of gateway towns around the park I'm showing them something they've possibly never experienced in life - and something they may never experience again.  We often get people from flatter places in the midwest or from large cities like Chicago or New York who don't make it out to the woods often.  Showing to people how much beauty you can find just beyond the concrete jungle can be such a rewarding experience. 

3) The unpredictability

It's pretty fair to say the outdoor industry is incredibly unpredictable.  Over the winter several of my hikes had to be canceled altogether due to weather-related road closures.  Sometimes my high ridgeline day hikes have to be rescheduled or even moved to a low elevation route due to thunderstorms.  Living in the mountains of East Tennessee will definitely keep you on your toes weather-wise!  Some days I'll only be scheduled for a short 2.5-hour walk only to be working an additional 8 or 9 hours due to unscheduled hiker shuttles or last-minute getaway hikes.  The unpredictable nature of my job always keeps me on my toes!

4) The Unexpected

Like the weather isn't the only thing that can throw curveballs at me out in the woods!  Sometimes it can be difficult to predict how our clients will react outdoors as well.  Even though we are filling out waivers and doing health questionnaires the physical ability of our group on a hike can keep us on our toes.  I had a scheduled hike up a difficult mountain where the first two miles were faster than usual and the clients were laughing and having fun.  The next two miles up, while not any more difficult, quickly fell apart and turned into me having to decide to make the call to turn around.  It took me 11 hours to hike approximately 7.5 hours on that trip and we never did make it to the top.  The clients, however, were still happy with the hiking and the interpretation I provided during the walk so it at least helps you feel better about making a difficult call. 

5) The People

There is something incredibly satisfying about introducing yourself to a group of people you're going to see over the next several hours and knowing that you're going to be able to show them things they've never experienced before.  Even though my job relies heavily on being able to do interpretation on the things around me, I often get to know my hiking clients on a more personal level, especially on a longer day hike or an overnight trip of any length.  Getting to learn things about people on such a personal level and connect with someone on a trip is the single greatest thing about my job.  Building a close report during such a short period of time really can't be done in any other setting.  

These are just a few of the things I really love about being a hiking guide.  When I first got into guiding I had no idea what to expect but now I can honestly say that I have found where I need to be right now.  

Is your passion your career?  What is it you love about what you do?  Would you be able to work at a job that closely mirrors the hobbies you have?  

I'm linking up with CourtneyCynthia and Mar and some of the other folks who link up with us – and please don’t forget to link to your hosts if you are participating!

Tick Prevention for Summer Hiking

During the summer of 2015 NoKey and I set out with a goal to hike across New York state on the Finger Lakes Trail.  Since we knew most of rural New York along this trail would be consisting of farmland and grassy fields tick prevention was in the forefront of our mind.  With more and more cases of Lyme Disease being reported every year and tick myths being as prevalent as tick facts we chose to pretreat some of our gear with permethrin for prevention of ticks.  As far as we know the permethrin worked like a charm for us!  During the course of the summer walking through many different states in the eastern US we never once found a single tick on us.  

Going back to my thru hike of the AT in 2012 I never found a single tick on me, despite the fact that everyone was so nervous about Lyme and ticks being so prevalent.  It was a hot summer and once we hit the mid Atlantic region hikers were constantly speaking of their fears of finding ticks or the fact they had pulled some off before heading to bed the night before.  I considered myself to be lucky as I didn't usually apply any sprays to myself and never had to worry.  This summer, however, is a different story.  Starting back in April of this year I began finding ticks on my legs.  About two weeks ago I pulled a large tick off my dog after a walk through our neighborhood.  Most recently, I took an off-trail hike with clients and removed four ticks from my legs throughout the course of the 6-hour hike.  Now that tick fears are in the forefront of my brain I'm choosing to pretreat some gear again.  

Before talking about tick prevention methods, let's first take some tick myths and debunk them.  From prevention.com, I've found a couple of common misconceptions about ticks: 

Myth #1: Once you've been bitten, you'll get sick. 
Fact: For most tick-borne diseases, the tick needs to be attached for longer than 24 hours to transmit disease, says Mather, because of the biology of the way ticks feed. Bacterial diseases live in ticks' stomachs, he says, but in order to be transmitted, they need to get to the saliva, a process that takes at least 24 hours—which means that checking yourself for ticks as soon as you get indoors can help you find ticks before they've had the chance to make you sick.

Myth #2: You'll know if you've been bitten by a tick.
Fact: Tick bites are painless, so you certainly won't feel one. What’s more: fewer than half of people who've been infected with Lyme show the "bull's-eye rash" that was once thought to be a telltale sign of the disease. If you start showing flulike symptoms in the middle of summer (fever, chills, aches, and pains are common symptoms of a variety of tick-borne diseases), go to the doctor and ask to be tested for the illnesses associated with ticks. July and August are peak times for Lyme disease infections, says Mather, because deer tick populations surge toward the end of June, and it can take between two and three weeks to get sick.

Myth #3: You can remove a tick with perfume, alcohol, Vaseline…
Fact: Those old tricks you learned from your relatives about removing ticks—spraying them with perfume or alcohol, lighting a match next to the tick, painting it with nail polish—are unnecessary and possibly dangerous, says the CDC. The only tool you need is a pair of needle-nosed tweezers. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull it out without twisting or jerking. Then wash your hands and the spot where you found it with good soap and disinfect the skin with rubbing alcohol.  ((Note from Sprinkles - when I worked in a vet clinic, we would place the tick we removed in vial rubbing alcohol as well, to kill it, before disposing of it)).  

So now that we've debunked a few common myths and learned how to remove a tick (in myth #3 above) let's talk about some things you can do to keep ticks away from you and your pets during the summer time.  

-Avoid brushy or grassy areas. 
-Stay on the main hiking trails and stay in sunny spots if possible.
-Buy clothing already pretreated with permethrin; many clothing items commercially treated can withstand up to 100 washings!
-Always hike in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
-Wear DEET as an insect repellant on your skin anything from 25-35% will work well and you don't have to go 100% if you're not comfortable with that strong of a formula!

Since I personally am not a fan of wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants, especially in the heat, I opt for treating my clothing with permethrin myself.  Permethrin comes from many different companies, but the brand I use comes from Sawyer (not an affiliate link).  It is REALLY IMPORTANT TO NOTE that permethrin in it's liquid form is HIGHLY TOXIC TO CATS.  If you are going to pretreat your clothes or shoes yourself, please do this away from your feline friends. Once your item is dry it is no longer in the toxic state and can be brought back in your house.  Since permethrin, when applied yourself, is good for up to six washings with soap and water, I also make sure to treat my shoes and socks.  It's very easy to do yourself and only takes a few hours to dry.  

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As someone who likes to keep my health and food options as healthy and natural as possible, Lyme Disease is just not something I'm willing to take my chances with.  As a person who works outdoors and practically lives in the woods during prime tick season, using a more natural option to repel ticks and insects is not something I'm willing to chance.  Sure, using DEET or permethrin does come with some risk, but it's one I'm going to take season after season to ensure I don't end up with Lyme.  

What are some of your tick prevention tips or tricks?  I'd love to hear what you do to keep yourself protected.  Please leave me a comment!

Hiking Season is Here! {Recent Recap and Giveaway!}

Well guys, it's officially hiking season here in the Smokies!  I've gone from hardly working to working HARD in only a few short weeks.  While spring break was busy for me as a guide, now that we're inching closer to summer (okay, well the temperatures make it feel summer already!) I'm getting busier and busier.  I "graduated" my training back in late March and have been out guiding hikes and trips on my own ever since.  I'm also getting back to the one thing I loved the most about working at the hostel in Maine - shuttle driving!  Driving people from point A to point B was one of my favorite things working in Maine.  It gave me some down time when I was on the trip without the clients and it gave me social time with other hikers when I was with them.  In the past two weeks I've spent countless hours in vehicles driving all over the Smokies and the southern Appalachians getting hikers to the Appalachian Trail in various locations.  It's been SO MUCH FUN!

My birthday came and went pretty fast this year.  Our friends from the AT, Steady and F-100, were driving through on their way to see their daughter graduate from college so we invited them to stay with us.  We spent the evening having dinner and birthday cheesecake with them and got to see them off the next morning.  It was so nice having hiker trash back in the house again!

 F-100 and me! 

F-100 and me! 

 Steady and me

Steady and me

 F-100, NoKey, and Steady

F-100, NoKey, and Steady

With spring in full swing it also means it's time for spring cleaning and the annual purging of the backpacking gear.  I try to go through our gear a few times a year and make sure it's clean, dry, and in general good working order.  I was recently digging through our gear bin and found some stuff to toss and then some stuff that we forgot we even had!  Enter these Alite 3-in-1 utensils!  These were given to us after Trail Days a few years back and they made their way into our gear bin to be forgotten about.  Since then we have purchased our titanium sporks and we haven't looked back.  Since we have these hanging out here at the house and we don't need them, I figured I'd pass them on to you guys!  Check out my Rafflecopter giveaway below!

Becoming a National Park Centennial Ambassador

A few weeks ago a follower reached out to me on Twitter wondering if I'd be interested in helping to reach out to Millennials regarding the 100th Anniversary of the National Park System.  While depending on what you read I either am or am not a Millennial, I was very excited to be offered the chance to reach out and help people discover green space in their communities.  I jumped at the chance to sign up and be part of this team!

While each park system is doing different things to promote the 100th Anniversary of the National Park System, the Smokies crew is doing things both in the context of the national park and in the context of helping people discover green spaces on their own terms.  While we have a national park here in the region, many people living in the area haven't done much exploring!  In fact, I didn't start hiking in the park until my mid 20's despite growing up less than 20 minutes from one of the entrances.  The Smokies is the most visited park in the country, so the fact that we'd have to fight the tourists every single weekend just to see the place really wasn't appealing, especially when you work on the strip in a mall and deal with them every day anyway!  When I finally discovered what I was missing I was shocked.  Who would have known you could get away from the crowds simply by taking a short walk in on a trail?!  My personal story can really help resonate with people who are feeling the same way. 

Part of what we do as volunteers is speaking at local engagements, be it at a Rotary Club with a slideshow, a school doing the Let's Move challenge, or even at a tourism convention.  As an ambassador for the NPS, I'll be speaking to different groups of people about the history, preservation, and activities you can find not only in the Smokies, but also in regular parks in your own community.  As a society that is ever more connected, we seem to be disconnected with nature and the outside world, which is where we come in.  

The Find Your Park campaign isn't all about getting out and hiking epic mountains every day - it's about defining what a park is to you.  Find Your Park encourages you to get outside and discover the world around you, be it in the small greenway in your community, the city park, or even a state park, national forest, or national park.  The main goal is to see you get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer. 

Have you found your park yet?  Check out FindYourPark.com to learn more about the campaign to help people reconnect with nature. 

Trail Talk Tuesday - Things I've Been Doing Lately

While I normally try and have an adventure post for you guys on Tuesday afternoons, this week will be a little bit different.  It's not that I haven't been hiking, because I have, but because I do a lot of the same hikes repetitively.  Here's a little update from the world of Sprinkles & NoKey. 

Spring seems to be here now in the Smokies!  The early blooming wildflowers have sprung, the trees are blossoming, and we even recently needed to mow the grass.  While I still think we are going to have one more cold week in the near future (because we always do!), I think we've definitely transitioned into warmer weather.  Due to my erratic work schedule and NoKey's mostly set, but strange, schedule we haven't had time to do much hiking together.  The hikes I've been doing for work have mostly been short, less than 3 hours a piece, and I've done mostly the same routes each time.  I do love being a hiking guide, but it doesn't really make for good blogging to write about the same trail over and over and over again!  Also, many places we hike are on quiet nature paths or off-trail hikes, so they don't really translate well into adventure hiking.  

I am feeling more comfortable being in charge of guiding people though!  While I'm technically still "training" it actually feels very natural to me to point things out to people.  I've done a little bit of testing this out on a few friends I've taken on personal hikes and I think it feels pretty natural in conversation to talk about plants, trees, the neat volunteer projects happening here in the park, etc.  Even though the hiking part of the job isn't challenging, teaching people about the park I love so much has been such a rewarding experience.  I'm truly lucky to have fallen into a job like this.  

All this talk about hiking also brings me to another part of my hiking life - what is my next long hike?  NoKey and I talk about this a lot.  It's so funny how after the AT we were pretty much set on taking some time off, but after our shorter hikes in the summer of 2015 we just want to hike some more! We've been talking over long trail options and we've really narrowed it down to a few with one major contender (and spoiler alert - it's not one of the Triple Crown Trails either!).  All of this will depend on how much money I can save up and when I can take the months off work.  If we get another warm winter next year, that will definitely mean we will probably take off for a few months!

In other backpacking news, I recently did my first solo trip guiding a backpacking trip.  It was a lot of fun to do a shakedown hike with a wannabe thru hiker.  I have a newbie backpacking trip going on this weekend, which I am really looking forward to doing.  I also have a week-long hike on the Appalachian Trail planned in a few weeks right after my marathon (because I'm a crazy person!)  Anyway, I feel like this post has rambled on long enough.  I just wanted to write down some of my recent thoughts to let all of you know what we've been up to recently. 

Have you spent any time outside recently?  Is the weather feeling like spring where you live or are you still stuck in the snow?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Business Cards Mean I'm a Professional, Right?

So you guys, whenever I meet people on trail and chat with them for a while it either comes up that I have a blog or people mention they have read something I've written either on Appalachian Trials or here on the site.  It's always really exciting for the recognition, but when people haven't heard of my site or ask me if I have a trail journal, I pretty much have relied on their memory to remember who I am and where they can find me.  

When I worked at the AT Lodge in 2013, I had people give me business cards for their trail journals a few times and I always thought it was a smart idea.  Being that I didn't get my very own domain until last year (seriously, this website has been running for a YEAR?!) I never really felt like I had a reason to hand out a card until then.  Then, life happened and we hiked and moved halfway down the east coast... then I got a job as a hiking guide, and then I had a long winter with lots of free time... and now I finally have the money to do the cards!

 Here's how they look!  They're from  Moo.com !

Here's how they look!  They're from Moo.com!

I looked at quite a few options after creating the card.  I tried several discount business card websites, but every time I uploaded my design they came out really blurry or disoriented.  It was definitely a frustrating process.  Finally, I tried Moo.com and my design worked.  Unfortunately, the price was more than I wanted to spend.  After debating the  price for a few days I bit the bullet and ordered the card.  When they arrived, I was super impressed and I think the card is worth every penny I spent.  They're thick and have a coating on them, and they're actually a bit water resistant, meaning I can keep them in my pack to hand out and not worry about them being damaged.  Be sure to check out Moo's site for pricing and card options.  While they were more expensive than other sites, I'm super impressed with the quality!

Do you have a card for your website/blog?  I've definitely found it much easier to hand one of these out in the woods - and they really work!  It's helping reach a bigger audience for the content I'm writing!  Who did you use? 

Disclaimer: While this post is not an ad, Moo has given me an affiliate link to share with you guys.  If you check them out I will not be compensated, but may receive a discount in the future on my orders if you're referred by me.  

Transformation Tuesday - My Hiking Weight Loss Journey

While I normally do adventure recaps on Tuesdays, today I thought I'd do something a little different.  In the fitness community Transformation Tuesday is a big feature on social media across the internet.  Many of us like to share our journeys with each other if for no other reason than to say "life is never easy - I know it's hard and I got through."  It helps to inspire others to be their best selves.  I know for me that Tuesdays are always extremely motivational if for no other reason than I know this could be the story that changes someone's life!  For me personally, hiking saved me.  If it weren't for me finding this passion in my life I have no idea where I would be today.  Here is my story. 

 This is me in June 2010, only 2 months after knee surgery and carrying more weight than I care to remember - both in my pack and on my body.  

This is me in June 2010, only 2 months after knee surgery and carrying more weight than I care to remember - both in my pack and on my body.  

After struggling through some personal issues in 2008 I had gained a few pounds.  My doctor was treating me for depression and the pills made me gain weight and slowed down my thyroid function.  The lower my thyroid functioned the more weight I put on and the more depressed I became.  It was a vicious cycle.  By early 2010 I was weighing close to 155 pounds. At 5'1" I was unhealthy and overweight.  Then, a slip and fall in a friend's kitchen caused major damage to my knee which required an easy surgery but required physical therapy to be able to walk and pedal a bike again.  I gained 25 more pounds due to the steroids and the physical inactivity.  I was absolutely miserable.  I had hired a personal trainer to help me lose the weight, but with my knee pain it was so hard to do many exercises without severe modification.  Weight training was helping me get stronger, but without cardio I knew I'd never lose the weight.  

Since I was in a lot of pain and walking was a skill I could manage I started hiking more seriously.  I could only do short day hikes, 3-4 miles, but since we live near a national park a lot of backpacking trips would fit this description.  I could do a round trip total of 6 or 8 or 10 miles in a weekend!  I started hiking as often as I could with a group I found on Meetup.Com that was local to my area.  I was often times the slowest person in the group, the one everyone took a break and waited for.  I was the one who didn't get a break ever because by the time I caught up to everyone they had been taking a break for a LONG time!  Sometimes I really got discouraged, but I had made some amazing friends in the group who helped support me and encourage me on those hard hikes. 

 Me hiking through a rock quarry in August 2010 with my Meetup friends. 

Me hiking through a rock quarry in August 2010 with my Meetup friends. 

Little by little, my injured knee got stronger every day.  After about 6 months of working with a trainer and spending my weekends with the hiking group I was able to start doing light impact cardio at a gym - elliptical and bike training.  While the pain in my knee was still aggravating, it had lessened dramatically and I was able to work on my endurance.  Combined with the strength training, I knew I was getting stronger and was slowly starting to do a better job keeping up with my friends on our hiking trips!  By the time we rang in 2011 I had dropped more than 30 pounds, my thyroid began functioning better on it's own, and my depression was lessening.  Not only was the physical activity helping my moods, but being outside in the fresh air and sunshine with good company was helping lift my spirits.  While I was shedding weight, I was also shedding a dark cloud that had been built up in my soul for a long time.  

 Hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Spring of 2011 - thinking how hard it would be to go all the way to Maine one day!

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Spring of 2011 - thinking how hard it would be to go all the way to Maine one day!

In the late spring of 2011 I met Jennifer Pharr Davis.  She was the female speed record holder for the Appalachian Trail.  She was going to try to (and did!) set the overall speed record during the summer.  I had already started throwing around the idea of doing a thru hike after spending some time with friends who had done large sections and, after meeting her and listening to how she spoke of the life changing experience of hiking the trail, I knew I had to do it... but how on earth would I manage something like that?!  That summer a friend of mine began a bucket list item - hiking the 900 miles of trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before her next birthday.  She spent every single weekend out on the trails and by now I was one of the faster hikers.  I spent most of my weekends with Elise and other friends of hers doing obscure day hikes and combinations of trails that no one could ever even dream of!  With Elise at my side I took my first ever multi-day backpacking trip.  Because of all the hard work I put in with her, by the fall of 2011 I knew for sure I could not only start a thru hike but I also knew I would complete one!

 Me at McAffee's Knob - the most photographed location on the entire Appalachian Trail.  May 2012. 

Me at McAffee's Knob - the most photographed location on the entire Appalachian Trail.  May 2012. 

By the time I left for Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 27th, 2012 I had lost 50 pounds.  I was a strong hiker who for the first month of the trail didn't spend more than a night or two with the same person because I usually completed more miles.  I was physically prepared for the trail and even dropped 8 more pounds throughout the length of my hike.  By the time I walked to Maine I was the strongest and fittest person I had ever been in my life (with the worst diet probably!).  After getting back home to Tennessee I wasn't walking 20+ miles every day and the weight started to come back - much to my horror.  Granted, some of those last 8 pounds were caused by dehydration and would be gained back... but it's hard to tell yourself that when you've worked so hard to lose so much weight in the first place.  Hand-in-hand with coming back into the real world from a thru hike comes post-trail depression.  The inactivity and depression started throwing me back into a spiral of sadness I remembered from years ago and it scared me.  

I started running about a month after I got home from the AT as a way to stay busy and fit when I couldn't go hiking every single day. I was running 5K's at Thanksgiving and New Year's and doing the miles started to feel normal to me. After moving to Millinocket in 2013, I made it a priority to take a walk nearly every night around town.  Sometimes I even ran a 5K by looping twice around the greenway they had at Millinocket Stream.  It wasn't until we moved to Syracuse that I started seriously thinking about running as a way to fill my time.  I ran my first half marathon in the spring of 2015 after training through the brutally cold winter outdoors before daylight.  For the first time since finishing my thru hike I truly felt accomplished and proud of the things I was doing.  Running went from something I really hated to something that kept me focused and sane.  By the time we left for the Benton MacKaye Trail in the late spring of 2015 I was in the best cardiovascular shape I had ever been in!

 Crossing the finish line of the Syracuse Half Marathon with an official time of 2:05:45 - better than the goal time I trained for!

Crossing the finish line of the Syracuse Half Marathon with an official time of 2:05:45 - better than the goal time I trained for!

I now consider myself extremely lucky to call myself a hiking guide.  I now get paid to share my love of the trails and backpacking with people who are new to the sport.  In my free time now I've run a multitude of races, added two more long-distance trails to my hiking resume, and I am even training for my first full marathon in the spring of 2016.  If you were to ask me 5 years ago if I ever would have seen myself here I would have told you that you were crazy!  

The reason I'm sharing this story now is because I feel like it's important to tell people that small changes add up.  I get messages of people asking me how to start hiking with a group; people who are slow and overweight like I was and are afraid to make others wait on them.  The reason I'm sharing this is to tell you that we all have to start somewhere.  Hell, I even had to learn how to WALK again before I could hike.  We all start slow.  We all need time to ease into it.  If you want to start hiking - GO FOR IT!  Hiking changed my life.  It saved my life.  I'd hate to think where I could be today without it.  

Has hiking caused a positive change in your life?  I'd love to hear about it!  Please leave me a comment or find me over on Facebook to get the conversation started!

Women's Running Community


Becoming a Brand Ambassador

Sponsorship is a big to do list item for many long-distance hikers.  The daydreaming of free gear in exchange for hiking and being an awesome person has a magnetic pull that most hikers just can't seem to shake.  While many of us dream it, fewer of us seem to pull it off.  With the ever growing popularity of FKT (fastest known time) hikes and the explosion of ultrarunning in the recent years, sponsorship is mostly a thing of the past for amateur athletes. Something that is becoming more and more mainstream, however, is the brand ambassadorship.  This post will outline exactly what that entails on your end and will help you figure out how to get it. 

 The companies I have been associated with since early 2015. 

The companies I have been associated with since early 2015. 

Sponsorship vs. Ambassadorship

Sponsorship for most companies means free gear and comped race entries for athletes they consider to be elite. Some companies will offer only sponsorships and only to elite athletes, while others will offer different tiers or sponsoring - i.e. - one free pair of shoes for some and unlimited free shoes for others, etc.  A sponsorship means you'll be getting your stuff for free in exchange for repping the brand.  A brand ambassador is essentially the same thing, but usually means you're getting discounted (sometimes deeply discounted!) gear you're buying out of your own pocket. Every single company is different and each will have their own definitions on their ambassador applications. 

What is a Brand Ambassador?

A brand ambassador needs to be a fan of the product they're representing. Since most of the time you will be spending money on the product out of your own pocket, you need to really like the stuff. I have yet to see an ambassadorship offering monetary compensation to athletes who are not elite, so most of you reading this post will be falling into this category.  You definitely aren't going to be getting paid to compete.  You need to be a super fan who has no problem telling someone why that particular piece of gear or food item is the best.  

The Importance of Social Media

With social media ever more present in our lives, the opportunities to represent companies you love is easier than ever.  If you are following a brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Tumblr, etc. you know just how important images are to a brand.  Often times, they will share images of their customers in their gear or eating their food if you use a specific hashtag. If you aren't participating in social media, it's going to be tough to convince any companies to let you represent them.  

What Companies Want From You

Again, all companies are different, but being a brand ambassador isn't all about the perks. There is some work involved and ultimately you'll have to decide what is worth it for you and where you'll draw the line.  Many brands will expect you to be active on social media with brand-specific hashtags, tagging, and most importantly - interaction with others.  If you post a bunch of photos, but don't take the time to respond to your comments, you'll more than likely be turned away. Altra Running, for example, requires that I write posts for their blog on their website and post with their hashtags twice a month.  Some brands require more posting, some require more writing, and some require you to review and give away products.  This is why I say it is so important to be passionate about the brand you'll be representing.  If you don't really like their stuff, it's hard to think of original posts to write and photos to add to your accounts. 

So Tell Me How to Get Free Stuff Already!

So this stuff doesn't sound too bad to you?  Now you're ready to show off the gear you already own and get some cool new stuff while you're at it?  Great.  Here are the steps you need to take to start becoming an ambassador:

1) If you aren't already, start following the brands you love on social media - on ALL platforms. Even if you don't understand them, sign up for them and starting "liking" away. 
2) If you're already doing the above, become more active - use specific hashtags and interact with your commenters. 
3) Watch your brands for ambassadorship announcements.  This step is so important.  Many brands now actively recruit for ambassadors.  In fact, every brand I work with I have applied because I've seen an announcement on Instagram. Yes, EVERY brand.  They will tell you exactly who they are looking for and what is expected of you. 
4) Apply through a link on their site and be HONEST.  My social media numbers, as compared to a lot of other hikers and runners, are not that impressive.  My interaction and my writing, however, tend to get me noticed.  It also helps that I apply with niche brands and smaller companies whose products I am truly passionate about. 
5) Expect rejection.  You're not going to be a perfect fit for every company. 
6) When all else fails, or your favorite company isn't accepting brand ambassadors, contact their social media person.  Write them an email about what you're doing - i.e. - running 50 marathons in 50 states in 12 months, thru hiking an obscure trail, etc. - and see if they'd be willing to send you some product in return for some social media love.  It never hurts to try!

I hope this post helped you see the differences between sponsorships and ambassadorships. Do you represent any of your favorite companies?  I'd love to see what you would add to this list.  Leave me a comment or get in touch with me on my Facebook page to have the conversation!

Help the Millinocket Library!

Any hiker who has been on a hike long enough to make a few town stops knows the important role a library can play.  For many, the Millinocket Library is the last one they will visit on trail - maybe to book a flight home or upload all the photos off their camera before ending their hike. When I lived in Millinocket, I used the library all the time and was there at least twice a week checking out books for the low price of $25 for an out-of-towner seasonal library card.  

 Checking out a book in the Millinocket Library - a blast from the past with the old school card system.  

Checking out a book in the Millinocket Library - a blast from the past with the old school card system.  

The library in Millinocket could use your help.  They are in the running to receive a $2000 grant from the Maine Masonic Charitable Foundation.  This grant could go a long way in helping a struggling trail town.  Take a minute to vote every day from now until January 31st.  You can find the Millinocket Library down in District 24 (the last one on the page).  Thanks for your help, hikers!

Click the link below to vote: 

http://www.masoniccharitablefoundation.org/building-community/

Welcome, 2016!

While most bloggers are writing New Years Day posts about their upcoming goals and trips for the year, I regret to say that I don't really have any for 2016.  My big goal for this year was to run my very first marathon in April.  Due to the fact that I'm working as a backpacking guide now, taking a big elaborate trip, the way we prefer to do our hiking, just won't be feasible this year. While the thought of not taking a thru hike in 2016 does make me kind of sad, I'm also okay with it being that I know I'll be spending quite a few nights out in the backcountry for my job. 

One thing we are hoping to accomplish this year would be international travel.  Now that we finally have started putting down roots and established a permanent address, getting a passport is going to be a much easier task.  We are hoping to save up some money and take some time off during the winter of 2016-2017 while I am off from my hiking guide job.  I don't get the opportunity to do much work in December and January since backpacking season is essentially hibernating during these months.  We have both always wanted to visit New Zealand.  NoKey's big bucket list item is hiking Machu Picchu.  Mine would be do thru hike the Bibbulmun Track in Australia.  We both also want to hike in Iceland, but the winter timeline we have doesn't really make that a good idea in December/January!

Whether you've resolved to get outside more in 2016 or even do an epic thru hike, I hope the new year brings you lots of adventure!  

Merry Christmas!

The past year has flown by at what seems to be record speed.  While 2015 was full of adventure and surprises, I am so excited to see what is in store for us in 2016.  I somehow got incredibly lucky and not only got to complete two of my three attempted thru hikes over the summer, I also ended up moving into a beautiful home in the Smoky Mountains.  I'm living my dream - getting paid to hike - while spending time in the place where I learned to love the trail. This year has taught me so much about gratitude and what it means to accept help when you need it most.  

I have so much to be grateful and thankful for and look forward to sharing all our adventures with you in 2016!  Happy Holidays!

Reasons I Love Long-Distance Hiking

As hard as it is to believe 2015 is drawing to a close. Like many people this time of year, I'm taking some time to reflect on all the amazing moments I had during the year.  I'm so fortunate to have hiked on three long-distance trails and completed two of them, as well as half of the third before being taken off by a MRSA infection.  Somehow I got incredibly lucky to land a job as a hiking guide in the mountains where I learned to hike.  Yeah, this hasn't been a bad year at all. While I've been so happy to lead multi-night trips, long-distance hiking is where I find my true happiness.  This post is all about why I love hiking long trails. 

The thing I love the most about doing a long hike is the one thing I thought I wouldn't like: The Community.  I've never been much of a social person, but like many hikers I find when I'm out on a trail I've never met a stranger.  It's a lot of fun for me to be leading a hike on the AT through the Smokies on a trip I'm leading and running into someone who knows many of the same people I know.  Since becoming a guide here, every overnight hike I've been on I have run into someone thru hiking or section hiking who shares something with me.  It's a lot of fun to talk to someone who understands what I've been through and just talk trail for a few minutes.  Having this built in support system is so helpful on those long days when everyone is exhausted, but who has conquered all the obstacles you did that day.  

Unfortunately, cell phone signals are beginning to reach to the furthest corners of the longest trails. While this is a great tool to have for a Search and Rescue situation, it means that we are becoming more and more reachable.  While I do journal on my phone every night while we're on trail, I try to avoid turning off the airplane mode setting.  I like living off the grid of social media and 24-hour news for a few months at a time.  It not only clears my head, I feel like my mental acuity become sharper and clearer when I'm hiking.  My critical thinking skills seem to skyrocket when I'm hiking and Google isn't just a click away on my phone.  Having real conversations with other hikers face-to-face is one of my favorite things to do. 

Human beings are incredibly fond of patterns and usually resistant to change. Change is hard and uncomfortable.  Change makes you push your limits and see what you are really capable of doing. While hiking for a few weeks can cause you to form patterns, change is a constant. Having to adapt to weather conditions on the fly, choosing whether or not to take a side trip, or even what you're going to buy on your resupply are all decisions you're going to have to make in a split second.  An example of this was when NoKey lost his rain cover on the Long Trail. We didn't need to go into town, but it was going to be a huge risk to hike without one. While we didn't get caught in any daytime downpours after we bought the cover, not having it would ensure all of his gear getting soaked in a rainstorm. We chose to go to town and not only somehow managed to hitchhike successfully from a guy riding a bicycle, we met a true trail angel and did an amazing 18.7 miles that day. 

Hiking has played such an important role in my life the past few years. Before I began hiking I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, and anxiety. I was 50 pounds overweight. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. As I began hiking more and more the weight came off and being alone with my thoughts was no longer scary. I learned I could push my limits and quitting when I was tired just wasn't an option when the car was still 5 more miles away. While I still have a long way to go to work on myself, I know hiking a few short months on a few long trails is the best therapy I've ever had.  

What is your favorite thing about taking a long hike - be it a long day hike or a few months out in the wilderness? I'd love to talk with you about your experiences!  Leave me a comment below or find me over on Facebook to get the conversation started. 

Common Hiking Injuries - How to Avoid and Treat Them

Injury prevention and treatment is something anyone participating in any sport will eventually have to deal with.  While many people don't consider hiking to be a sport, it's very easy to draw comparisons between hiking and high impact exercise like running and ultrarunning.  While taking your time to ease into hiking is always a great way to begin, overuse injuries are extremely common in novice and experienced hikers alike.  Here are my tips to avoid and treat common hiking injuries.

Sprains and Strains: 

First, let's understand the difference between a sprain and a strain.  A strain is when you have a pull or tear in a muscle or tendon while a sprain is when you have an overuse injury in a joint that causes damage to a ligament.  Muscle strains in hikers are commonly seen in the hamstrings, while a sprain is more likely found in the ankle.  Regardless of the difference in terminology, prevention and treatment for both are very similar.  

Prevention: Begin your mornings by hiking a slower pace, giving your body plenty of time to warm up.  I always recommend that you take a minute to stretch your ankles by writing your full in name in cursive with each foot about 15 minutes into your hike.  Stretching out your quads and hamstrings is also helpful.  This is easy to do by making a "figure 4", balancing one leg just above the knee of the opposite leg and bending at the waist.  Bend only as far as needed before you begin to feel a slight pull in your hip.  

Treatment: For an ankle sprain, stop and sit down.  Remove your shoe and take a look.  If it is beginning to swell, it's time to take action.  While in the real world we would recommend the RICE method (Rest, ice, compression, elevation), on trail it's important to rest, elevate, and compress - in that order.  Since not everyone has an Ace bandage on them, rest and elevation for 30-45 minutes after the injury can significantly help.  If you're having pain, ibuprofen (Vitamin I as many hikers call it) can also be helpful for both the pain and the swelling.  I also recommend sleeping with your feet elevated the night of your injury.  Just use your pack to keep your feet off the ground.  Take a zero day if you're in a lot of pain and give your body time to heal. 

Shin Splints:

Shin splints are the most common overuse injury I've ever seen on trail - and I've seen a ton of them.  I'm also very prone to them myself and often get them during race training as a runner. Signs and symptoms of shin splints can include tenderness, soreness, and pain in the lower leg, which may or may not be accompanied by localized swelling.  Lower leg pain when walking is the most common complaint.  Unfortunately, if not treated, shin splints can lead to another nasty injury called a stress fracture!

Prevention: Wearing properly fitted shoes with insoles is the best thing you can do to help prevent shin splints.  For hikers who prefer a lightweight trail shoe, I highly recommend going to a RUNNING store, not a hiking store, to be properly fitted.  Many running stores are trained to analyze your gait and see what insoles and shoes would be best for you.  If you want a heavier hiking boot, go to an outfitter and be properly fitted.  Since shin splints are an overuse injury, I recommend taking your first days out on the trail a little slower and doing fewer miles to ease your body into carrying a heavy pack and doing long days. 

Treatment: When you're out on trail a few days from town, treatment options are limited. As a long-distance hiker, I always carry leukotape with me and it's invaluable! NoKey and I call this human duct tape - it can work as K-tape in a pinch and also stays stuck to skin that is dirty and grimy for weeks on end (seriously, I had it on my feet for 17 days of straight rain on the Finger Lakes Trail and I still had to rip it off!)  Learn how to tape a shin splint by watching a YouTube tutorial.  This will help you tremendously in getting to town.  Once in town, unfortunately a few zero days will be in order.  That handy RICE method I mentioned above is your best bet for treating a shin splint, along with an NSAID (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory) like ibuprofen or naproxen (Aleve).  Shin splints can take a long time to heal, so being patient is key. 

Blisters:

Ahhh, blisters.  Everyone I know has had more than a few blisters in their lifetime and ways to treat and prevent blisters can vary from person to person.  The advice I'm listing below is the method I was taught at my recent Wilderness First Responder program last month and is on point with how I've treated blisters for a few years. 

Prevention: Since everyone's feet are different, I highly recommend you find works best for you in terms of prevention.  For all hikers, I highly recommend a wool sock and properly fitting shoes that can breathe.  Gortex is not your friend on long hikes because it can actually keep moisture from sweat inside your shoes.  Some hikers who get blisters between the toes find that Injini toe socks can be helpful to alleviate their toes rubbing together.  If you get blisters on the tips of your toes, chances are you need a larger shoe size. 

Treatment: Again, everyone treats blisters differently.  For me, I use a sterilized safety pin (sterilized with an alcohol pad) and pop the blister from the bottom, going underneath the healthy skin before the blister starts.  Gravity will clear the fluid from the blister.  Do not apply any ointment inside the blister and leave the "blanket" in place.  Cut a donut-style hole with moleskin and apply it around the blister.  Secure in place with leukotape.  Make sure to change this every night before going to bed to allow the wound to breathe and heal. If you feel like infection is imminent, you can place triple antibiotic ointment around the outside of the blister, but avoid putting it in the actual wound. 

Muscle Cramps: 

We've all been woken up in the middle of the night with a Charlie Horse pain in our calf muscles.  When you're out on the trail and you don't hike much, it's common to have some muscle aches and pains, pop a few ibuprofen, and continue on your way.  

Prevention: Dehydration is very common not only in long-distance hiking, but also in America in general.   In fact, it's estimated that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and probably don't even know it!  Muscle cramping on trail is usually due to the fact that you aren't drinking enough water, which sounds like a simple fix, right? I highly recommend using a Gatorate powder or Nuun electrolyte tab in your water you drink with your camp dinner at night before you go to bed.  Not only do they taste like something other than water, they will help replace the vital electrolytes you lost during your hours of hiking during the day.  

Treatment: Just like with the prevention, treatment for muscle cramps means eliminating dehydration.  Unfortunately, just chugging a bunch of water after you cramp up isn't going to help much.  This rehydrating process can take a day or two, so be patient.  I highly recommend drinking an electrolyte drink with each meal for a few days after the cramping began.  Also, drinking more water is important.  Try to remember to take a sip each time you stop to take a photo or talk to a hiker.  

Chaffing: 

No matter if it's your first long-distance hiker or your fiftieth, you're going to chafe when you least expect it.  Whether it's on your thighs, low back, or even shoulders, chafe is definitely irritating and can be prevented and cured while hiking. 

Prevention: A lot of hikers quickly discover Body Glide is their friend!  Simply apply to wherever you've got friction and it will help.  I also highly recommend marino wool undergarments.  I'm a huge fan of Smartwool bras and underwear to prevent chaffing.  

Treatment:  NoKey and I are huge fans of something called Boudreaux's Butt Paste.  It's essentially a zinc cream for treating diaper rash and that's pretty much what chaffing is.  We apply a thick layer of this to wherever is starting to chafe and it will not only soothe the pain, it will help heal the rash.  Also, prerinsing your hiking clothes with you in the shower before doing your laundry will help cut down on the recurrence of chaffing.  If you've been wearing the same shirt for months on end and washing it only 2-3 times a month, doing a prerinse will definitely help cut out some salt crystals.  

I'm NOT a physician and what you're reading here isn't considered diagnosis or treatment for your specific injuries - ask a doctor what is best for your specific injuries after you get back to civilization!  

These are only a few of the common injuries I have treated on both myself and other hikers.  Do you have any trail injury stories?  I'd love to chat with you about what you would do differently.  Leave me a comment or head over to the Facebook page to join in!

Five Ways Running is Similar to Hiking

Many of you following me on Instagram know by now that when I'm not out hiking a trail I'm at home running and planning for my next race.  While I've got a few half marathons under my belt, I've taken the leap and decided to train for a full 26.2 mile marathon in the spring - The Covenant Half Marathon in April.  While I hated running before I was a thru hiker, after my 2012 hike I discovered that running is one of the few things short of doing another thru hike that can keep me sane.  I've noticed some similarities between the two in recent months.  Here's how I think running is like hiking. 

 

Time to Clear Your Head

Running is my "me" time.  Whether I'm running 3 miles or 13 miles, I can use this time during the day to walk off whatever is bothering me or think through some ideas.  In a world where we are increasingly dependent on electronic devices (yep, even when I run I'm tracking my progress!), taking the time to focus only on my breath and my thoughts helps me come up with more creative ideas, whether it's for suggesting new hikes at work or coming up with blog post ideas for you guys!  Just like when you find yourself wrapped up in your own thoughts on a long and quiet hike, running can provide peace for your mind. 

Runner Hunger

Just like when I'm on a long hike, when I'm training for a race my appetite hits out of control hungry girl mode.  I normally eat a lot of small "meals" throughout the day anyway, but when I'm in the middle of training I am eating around 8 times a day with legitimate hunger pangs. When I'm really in the thick of training, just like when I'm hiking I can tell you what time it is just by the growling of my stomach.  Second breakfast is REAL people!

The Internal Struggle

Something a lot of people don't know about me is that I'm mostly a pessimist.  When I was on any given long distance hike I never had the idea in my head that I would succeed and complete the hike - or any hike for that matter.  I had a blog follower ask me years ago when I knew I would finish the entire AT and I told them the minute I touched the sign on Baxter Peak of Katahdin was when I knew I would complete the trail.  The same is true for me and running. On any given run, especially on my longer days, I don't ever feel like I'm going to complete the entire length of the mileage I've planned until I'm back at the car stretching.  I have no idea why, but maybe it's a good way of keeping myself from getting disappointed on less-than-stellar runs. 

Exhaustion After a Long Session

No matter how fit I think I am or how good I'm feeling, a long run - just like a long hike - can drain me.  When I'm on a long-distance hike using the excuse of getting into town and getting some delicious and greasy food will make you do incredible distance.  When I'm training for a big race, the promise of getting extra brownies and a big serving of chocolate milk is enough to make me push harder.  Also just like when I'm on trail, that big push will zonk me out and render me useless on my recovery day.  On trail, we take zero days.  In the real world, I take binge watch a TV series days. 

The Sense of Accomplishment

When you finish a long hike you are on top of the world!  Exhausted and possibly swearing off hiking forever, but on top of the world nonetheless.  The same is true for running.  When I finished my first half marathon nine months ago I had trained all winter, sometimes getting up and running before the snowplows came and scraped away the layer of powder falling the night before.  Running by headlamp with flashing reflective clip-ons in the pre-dawn hours all to say I ran 13.1 miles without stopping.  When I finished the race I was jubilant and I ugly-cried after they gave me my finishing medal.  There is something about the hard work and dedication paying off that can make running and doing a long hike incredibly rewarding. 

These are just a few of the things I find running and long hikes have in common.  Do you run for fun?  Did you take up ultra running after a thru hike?  I'd love to chat with you about your experiences.  Please leave me a comment below or click on the Facebook post and get the conversation started!