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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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? 



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

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?

So You Want to Be a Trail Guide?

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


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

You Are Responsible For Everyone's Safety

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

You Will Carry a TON of Extra Gear

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

You are Working 24/7

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

You Will Meet Incredibly Inspiring People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYTH: A Heavy Boot Will Solve All Your Foot Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Post I've Been Putting Off...

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

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

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

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

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

Gear Review: Legend Compression Wear

As many of you know by now I'm both a runner and a hiker - the running coming later than the hiking!  Since I've gotten more and more into running I've definitely started looking for products that can not only make the miles feel easier, but also can help me recover faster from my hiking. With my job as a guide and training to run my very first ultra in Decemeber, my legs need all the help they can get.  This is where Legend Compression comes in.  Through my partnership with BibRave as a BibRave Pro, I was given the opportunity to test out some compression gear on a few recent hikes and runs.  Here's my honest review: 

I recently learned Legend Compression had socks for both running and hiking and was super excited to be given the chance to test them both out.  The first thing I noticed when I received both pairs of socks is the fact that even though they're both compression, they aren't nearly as "stiff" or tight as a few other brands of compression socks I own.  The performance socks actually felt SOFT, which I have noticed is lacking in a few other brands.  From reading the letter they sent me, I could see there was a reason for this - these socks have much less compression than traditional socks, only 15-20 mmHg as compared to 20-30 mmHg for other brands.  This graduated compression is believed to be more therapeutic during performance.  I quickly decided to try these guys on. 

My new Legend Compression performance socks!

My new Legend Compression performance socks!

Putting them on wasn't difficult at all, which is something I have definitely noticed with other brands!  These socks were soft and slid on easily.  I also noticed I had room for my toes to spread out inside of them as well.  It turns out that this is by design.  By giving you room to move your toes you're not only less prone to blister, you've also still got your same gait, which is important for running and hiking.  That's why I'm such a huge fan of wearing shoes that give my toes room to spread out!  I also noticed that the arch of the foot felt nice and snug.  I really like this feature in a compression sock.  

The first time I tried out these socks was during a 12-mile hike with my buddy, Morgan.  We had to hike 6 miles up a mountain to bring some tents to a group of our co-workers.  Due to heavy fall leaf peeper traffic in the park and a long drive, we didn't get on trail until after 2 p.m.  We hiked our six miles in approximately 2 hours and got to camp to start setting up tents.  Less than 20 minutes later, we were on our way back down the 6 miles and made it out in a total of 4 hours and 20 minutes.  I noticed that despite climbing the huge hill my calf muscles still felt alright, which is definitely not always the case!  The real test, for me, is getting compression socks OFF after a long workout.  It's safe to say with a tough hike like this we definitely worked up a sweat and if you've ever taken off a pair of sweaty compression socks you know it can be an Olympic sport!  These socks came off just as easily as they went on!  Another win for me. 

Team Mo'Sprinkles stopping at an overlook to take in the view (and a few selfies!) on our way back down trail.  

Team Mo'Sprinkles stopping at an overlook to take in the view (and a few selfies!) on our way back down trail.  

As an athlete who does a lot of mountain hiking and running I consider myself someone who tries out a lot of gear and I'm super impressed with Legend Compression.  For those of you who aren't into the longer socks, they also make a hiking specific sock called Tuff made of Merino wool, which I can recommend just as highly.  

If you want to try Legend Compression I've got a 15% off code to share with all of you!  You can use the code "bibsave15" at http://legendcompressionwear.com!

Disclaimer: I received Legend Compression socks to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

An Open Letter to the Hiker at the Back

Dear Hiker at the Back, 

I know you're back there, probably sweating a little more than most of us, probably struggling a little bit more.  When we started hiking you probably made some little joke about being the Caboose.  You also probably made the comment that we shouldn't wait for you, or that maybe you should start a few minutes before the rest of the group arrived so you wouldn't hold everyone up.  The group leader more than likely told you not to worry about it.  The group leader told you we would all hike together.  Yet, there you are, a few minutes behind.  

I've been you before.  I've been the person at the back wondering what the hell I've gotten myself into.  Second guessing my abilities.  Wishing I would have just sold my backpack on Craigslist last week like I threatened to.  Knowing that the WHOLE GROUP is just waiting on me.  Knowing I'm holding EVERYONE up from our destination.  Feeling like a failure.  KNOWING I'm a failure.  

Oh, dear hiker at the back, you're so very wrong.  No one in the group thinks you're hindering the experience.  Even though you feel like you're miles behind the group has only been waiting a few minutes.  Truth be told, we all wanted to wait and catch our breath too.  We all hiked up that hill just like you did.  It was hard - we all thought so.  All the complaining you did in your head?  Well, we all did it too, probably even out loud!  When you catch up we cheer because you look like you needed a boost and we're proud of you.  

The truth of the matter is someone is always bringing up the rear - they have to.  Someone always has to be first and someone always has to be last.  Your group leader who seems to be in such amazing shape was probably last once too.  More than likely every single person you're hiking with has been in your shoes.  Our excitement and enthusiasm to see you isn't faked or exaggerated - it's genuine joy that we get to share our experience with you.  The you're out here hiking with us and working every bit as hard as all of the group.  You're accomplishing something right now.  Your experiences aren't worth any less just because of your speed.  

If you stick with it chances are a few years down the road you'll be the one leading others up those hills and into the woods, climbing them with steady feet and a careful gait.  You'll be the one encouraging others with your stories of being the slow one.  You'll give the high fives and the hugs and celebrate the victories - large and small - with everyone you hike with.  I promise, you're doing an amazing job. 


The Hiker in the Front

Beating the Summer Heat on a Hike

Even though we're looking at Back-to-School times here in the south, it seems the relentless summer heat just won't give us a break!  The Dog Days of summer started here back in early June and are continuing well into mid-August.  You know the heat has been terrible when the weather reports we are getting a "break" from the heat when the heat index is below 100 (but still above 90!)  Other than for work, I've been trying to stay indoors as much as I can this summer, but when I'm out for a run or hiking at low elevation I still need a way to keep cool.  Here are my favorite ways to beat the heat during summer time. 


Stay at High Elevations

Where I live, the high elevation hiking runs consistently 10-12 degrees cooler than it does in the nearest town with a weather forecast.  Is it going to be 95 in the valley today? Chances are it will barely hit 75 up high with the gentle breeze!  A bonus for me is the fact that high elevation in the Smokies also means hiking on the Appalachian Trail and that means views for miles and miles on clear, sunny days.  It also means hiking in the overcast fog on not-so-clear days.  Either way, both options are beautiful and MUCH cooler. 

Where I live, high elevations mean boreal forest, fog, and sunshine breaking through!

Where I live, high elevations mean boreal forest, fog, and sunshine breaking through!

Reduce Your Mileage

Can't get away from the heat no matter how high up you go?  Reduce your miles!  Just because you CAN hike 22 miles at a time doesn't mean you HAVE TO!  Starting a hike in the morning and doing shorter miles to get done before the peak of the summer heat helps you stay a little cooler - not to mention beat the crowds at whatever your destination may be.  

Get Up Earlier

If you've ever looked at sunrise hiking photos on Instagram with envy this is your chance to emulate what you've been coveting - start super early in the morning (in the dark by headlamp or flashlight!) and hike up to a vista or waterfall for a sunrise viewing!  Not only will you really beat the heat, you'll be finished before most people are even arriving at the trailhead.  You'll have done more before noon than most people do all day long on hot summer days!

Get Wet

Waterfall hikes are always popular in summer months, but you don't have to hike to a waterfall to get wet on trail.  Taking a hike with several stream crossings or river fords will give you an opportunity to jump in and cool off.  Bonus points if you get your hair/hat wet or drape a wet bandana around your neck for the next mile or so.  Keeping cool has never been easier

Looks like a great spot for a swim break to me!

Looks like a great spot for a swim break to me!


Dehydration in the summertime - the most common trail injury I see as a guide.  Not only can the direct sunlight dehydrate you, so can the humidity.  In the Smokies, a temperate rain forest, dehydration can set in VERY quickly.  As a guide, I usually have 3-4 electrolyte options on me at all times, including salt tablets, Nuun hydration, Honey Stinger Chews, Fuel 100 Electrobites (code SPRINKLES will save you 25% at checkout!), and Enduropacks electrolyte spray in my backpack most, if not every, of the time I hit the trails.  If you're out on a hot day it is super important to check in with your hydration status.  Feeling thirsty?  You're already well on your way to dehydration!  With 75% of Americans in a constant state of dehydration it's hard to convince people to drink water.  Make sure you're carrying at least 32 ounces of water on a half-day of hiking and 64 ounces for a full day.  It also never hurts to pick up a cheap and reliable water filter (I recommend and use the Sawyer Mini).  

There you have it - my favorite ways to beat the summer heat on a hike.  What would you add? How do you stay cool in the Dog Days of summer?

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! 

Fuel 100 Electro-Bites: A Food Review


Update: Use code SPRINKLES at checkout for 25% off your order (not an affiliate link, feel free to share!) 

With the heat of summer in full swing I've been constantly attempting, and sometimes losing, a battle with my electrolyte balance.  Between my work outdoors as a full time hiking guide and helping my boyfriend train for his first half marathon, I've been spending a lot of time in the low elevations of East Tennessee - often times in sweltering heat and humidity with heat indexes in the high 90s and low 100s.  When I was offered the opportunity to try out Fuel 100 Electro-Bites I jumped at the chance to try something new.  Here are my thoughts on this product. 

After doing some research regarding Fuel 100 Electro-Bites I was excited to try them out for two reasons - the first being that they weren't fruit chews and the second being that they weren't sickly sweet.  While this product comes in five flavors, only three of them are flavors that sound sweet: pumpkin spice, apple cinnamon, and salty vanilla.  The other two flavors are simply salty and salty vinegar.  This immediately appealed to me because of recent I've been all sugared out and I've been on a quest for savory fueling options that are also easy to eat on the trails or on a run.  These tiny bites fit the bill!  The other thing that appealed to me was the fact these were a dry, baked product.  No sticky gels, chews, or sweet drink mixes.  Don't get me wrong, I love a sweet electrolyte tab after a hot and long run, but getting the chance to try something different was definitely a plus!

I took these out on a training run on a night when the heat index at sunset was 94 degrees.  Even though I ran an easy 3.5 miles I knew I had sweat more than I did on 10 mile runs back in the winter time.  If I don't replace electrolytes immediately I usually get dull and throbbing headaches so being able to grab them and go was a big plus for me.  I ripped the tab off the bag of the apple cinnamon bites and dug in!  The first thing I noticed was the fact that even though these bites were dry, they didn't make my mouth feel dry.  The crunchy little bites were actually fun to chew and were easy to swallow despite being hot and sweaty.  I was able to follow the bites by drinking down some cold water and felt great.  The apple cinnamon flavor was very mild and the hint of coconut oil was delicious as well. 

Easy to refuel after a long, hot run! 

Easy to refuel after a long, hot run! 

I also brought along the salty vinegar flavor on a longer day hike during a humid and hot June afternoon.  The vinegar flavor wasn't overpowering and again the coconut oil was very mild and present as well.  These bites stored well in a pack and since they're baked they don't melt the way an electrolyte chew would.  You also don't have to worry about adding a tab to water and waiting for it to mix before drinking.  All you have to do is rip the top off and start snacking!

I've got my fuel for after the hike! 

I've got my fuel for after the hike! 

Personally, I loved these little electro-bites and would definitely buy them again.  The fact that they're so much different from anything I've tried recently really sold me on this tasty and quick fuel for athletes.  They're formulated for distance athletes and have 100 calories per pack, including 190mg of Sodium, 55mg of Potassium and 46mg of Magnesium. Fuel 100 Electro-Bites will have a place in my pack for the rest of the season for sure!

A handful of baked electro bites - yum! 

A handful of baked electro bites - yum! 

Have you tried any new electrolyte replacement products recently?  What's your favorite way to refuel during a hot and humid summer run or hike?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Fuel 100 Electro-Bites for free from Fuel 100 as coordinated by Outdoor PR in consideration for review publication.  All opinions, as always on this blog, are my own.

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!

Taking Your Dog on a Long Hike - Things to Consider Before Packing Up

Lots of us have four-legged companions who love to spend time with us.  For hikers, it's only natural to want to bring your pup out onto the trails with you.  In fact, more and more people are taking their dogs on long hikes every year.  Dogs, however, are just like humans when it comes to taking long hikes in the woods - it's not for everyone!  Not all dogs are equipped to handle the rigors of distance hiking or long, extended weekends in the woods.  If you've considered taking your dog out for their first long hike, here is a list of things to consider before buying the gear and taking the leap. 



First of all, make sure where you are going is DOG FRIENDLY!  Not all places will allow dogs on trails - most US National Parks are not dog friendly!  And also, don't be that guy who gets fake permits to say your dog is a service dog just to bring them hiking with you.  We all know someone who does it and it's not only illegal, it also gives hikers a bad name.  Plan a trip someplace where dogs are welcome. 


People need backpacks that fit properly and this is no different for your pup!  While there are several commercial brands out there - Ruffwear, Mountain Smith, there are also some customizable dog packs available as well.  Groundbird Gear makes many types of customizable packs for dogs as well.  Knowing the proper sizing is key to making sure your dog stays happy and doesn't carry to much weight for his or her body on trail.  Not only should you consider a backpack for your dog, you should also consider sleeping conditions.  Will your dog be more comfortable on a sleeping pad or wrapped up in a sleeping bag for cooler nights?  Does your dog have sensitive feet and will he need to wear boots?  Where you're going may also have leash requirements.  Even if your dog is well-trained off leash you may be required to keep him or her on a leash of a certain length the whole time you're hiking.  Again, requirements are in place for a REASON!  Don't be that guy and claim your dog is well-trained and the rules don't apply to you.  

Mileage and Training

Just like people, dogs need to build up their mileage gradually as well!  While dogs are commonly thought of to be strong runners and able to carry on for long distances, that doesn't always tend to be the case.  If you're taking your first backpacking trip with your furry friend, it's a great idea to treat it like you're taking out a complete beginner.  Try to limit hikes to the 5-8 mile range per day for your first trip out.  If you're a super awesome pet parent, you should train your dog for hiking much like the way you began training to do longer hikes - and if you need some ideas for training, see my post about training for a long-distance hike here!  Since my dog, Gracie, is getting older and can't quite do the mileage she used to anymore, we spend a week or so leading up to the hike by practicing with her backpack and gradually add a little weight to it to reintroduce her to backpacking.  

The Happiness Factor

Does your dog actually like hiking? Sure, most dogs love taking walks and might even enjoy an hour or two out on the trails during the day, but how does your dog sleep at night in the woods?  If you're planning to keep your dog in your tent with you at night do you know how he or she sleeps in one?  Is your dog hypersensitive to sounds at night?  Is he a natural guardian and feel the need to protect you all night?  If your dog is suffering from lack of sleep at night it can hinder their performance during the day, just like a person!  This is why I recommend short mileage days and limited nights in the woods when training with your dog.  Chances are you're an amazing pet parent and your dog loves you and would do anything to make you happy - including packing up and taking a hike of any distance for you.  If your dog isn't cut out for longer mileage days they may not eat well or sleep well in the woods but will hike as many miles as you ask of him.  Watching for change in mood or normal behavior is incredibly important for backpacking with a dog!  Dogs cannot speak to us.  They can't tell us when they're hurting or when they don't feel well and it is up to us to determine if they're suffering.  

The decision to take a long hiking trip with a dog is an incredibly personal one.  While I love my dog and know she loves to go hiking, I know that backpacking long distances day after day is definitely not for her and that is okay.  I was broken hearted missing her during all my thru hikes, but in the end I know leaving her at home was for the best - best for her health and well-being!  While I have seen many people backpacking or even thru hiking with dogs, at some point your dog's body will begin to break down just like yours will.  It is so critically important to be in tune with how your pup is feeling to ensure they're still happy and having fun. 

Do you take your dog backpacking or trail running?  Are you someone who once backpacked with a dog but maybe can no longer take your four-legged friend with you?  I'd love to hear how you feel about it!  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Indian Flats Falls - A Tuesday Adventure

My recent trek on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia may have been cut short, but I still had an opportunity to go hiking over the weekend.  My friend Shannon and I headed up the Middle Prong Trail to see Indian Flats Falls on a chilly, overcast Sunday morning.  Since Spring Break season is finally over, we are in that beautiful lull period between vacations and summertime making for an easier commute to the park, as well as for emptier trails.  This peaceful and relatively easy hike began in a nearly empty parking area and really gave us the solitude we were looking for. 

Middle Prong Trail begins at the very end of the gravel road in the Tremont section of the Smokies.  After crossing a large steel bridge, you begin following an old railroad bed up the trail at a gentle grade.  The first 3/4 of a mile on this trail follow alongside the Middle Prong of the Little River - the water on one side and rocks and downed trees on the other.  This scenic first portion of our hike had us seeing blooming doghobble, several varieties of wildflowers, and mosses growing on the rocks and decaying logs.  It was incredible peaceful walking next to the water as well.  When you hit the 0.7 mile mark on this trail there was a bench off to the left overlooking a waterfall.  The waterfall here is actually the remains of a splash dam used by the logging companies.  The trail from here turned a little bit rockier and muddier due to horse use, but still followed the same gentle grade.  Approximately 2 miles in there is a well-defined side trail off to the right where you can find an old skeleton of a Cadillac from the 1930s off in the woods.  According to local lore, the car belonged to a foreman of the logging camp.  The car quit running one day and the men of the work crew got it off the road, and pushed it to where it still remains today. 

The skeleton of a Cadillac. 

The skeleton of a Cadillac. 

After hopping back on trail from our snack break at the Cadillac, we continued up the hill through an area of old fields, once farmed by the Walker family.  A little further up we came to the site of the former CCC camp where at one time a crew of 172 men lived in the area.  These men created trails, bridges, and roads in the park during the late 1930s.  All that remains of the camp today is a brick chimney.  Now that we walked through the camp the trail begins to switchback up the hill and across a wide bridge.  At the bridge you've gone 3.5 miles from the parking area.  The trail switches back a few more times before coming to an unmarked side trail off to the right.  This is the site of Indian Flats Falls.  We took the side trail down about 0.25 miles and were treated to a serene sight - not one other person at the waterfall!  We got a few photos and took a lunch break before heading back down to our car.  After leaving the waterfall, we passed many other hikers headed up to the waterfall for the day.  We were very glad to have gotten an earlier start!

The fallen chimney of the CCC camp. 

The fallen chimney of the CCC camp. 

Indian Flats Falls. 

Indian Flats Falls. 

Indian Flats Falls is a great beginner hike here in the Smokies!  The old railroad grade makes for easy walking and everyone loves a waterfall!  Since this trail is an out-and-back hike, you'll get approximately 8 miles of hiking in.  Over the course of nearly 4 miles you gain approximately 1000 feet of elevation, so you'll barely gain 250 feet of elevation per mile.  If you want to try this hike, drive to the Tremont section of the Smokies.  Instead of turning left into the Tremont institute, go straight onto the gravel road instead.  Driving approximately 2.5 miles on this road you'll dead end into the parking area.  From here, cross the steel bridge and bear left at the fork in the trail (the right side of the fork is a nature trail).  Elevation and map for this hike are below.  

Map and elevation profile for Indian Flats Falls. 

Map and elevation profile for Indian Flats Falls. 

Have you ever hiked Indian Flats Falls?  What do you think of this area of the park? I'd love to talk with you about your favorite hikes.  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Porters Creek Trail to Campsite #31 - A Tuesday Adventure

The Porters Creek Trail in the Smokies is well-known to locals and visitors alike in the springtime.  It's known as the wildflower hike and is popular among hikers and photographers from late winter until mid spring for the variety and beauty of the flowers growing alongside the trail.  I recently did a backpacking trip up to Campsite 31 for the night and got to enjoy all kinds of weather - from sunshine to rain to mist to sleet all in the span of about 30 hours!  Here's a recap of my recent hike on Porters Creek Trail. 

We arrived around 11 a.m. to a packed parking area at the end of the gravel road in Greenbrier.  While usually a packed trailhead means for busy hiking, we knew many hikers would be turning around before they reached our final destination for the evening.  It also was a good sign that the wildflowers were going to be extraordinary today!  Word tends to travel fast in this park about the flowers blooming, so busy trailheads mean pretty sights much of the time.  We began our walk gently uphill on the former roadbed that is the first mile of the Porters Creek Trail.  After reaching the old traffic circle, the literal end of the road, we took a detour over to the John Messer Barn and the old Smoky Mountains Hiking Club Cabin before continuing up trail.  

The flowers really look like snow covering the hillside! 

The flowers really look like snow covering the hillside! 

We got onto the more narrow foot path and kept climbing at our gentle grade, crossing a unique log bridge and walking into the section of this trail that contains the old growth forest.  Now our trees are bigger and more varied!  We turn the corner to switch back up the hill and the forest is now carpeted in gorgeous fringed phacelia!  As we are walking through and admiring the flowers we also see a few trout lillies that are just about to open.  It's been raining for a few minutes now, so the flowers are starting to wilt and close up a little.  We spot some spring beauties and continue up to the side trail to Fern Branch Falls. While here we begin to spot white trillium and even the makings of some yellow trillium.  We also spot a small patch of Dutchman's Britches.  

Fern Branch Falls in the rain. 

Fern Branch Falls in the rain. 

After a break at the waterfall most people are now turning around in the rain to head back down to their cars.  We, however, will continue uphill toward campsite 31.  We see the endemic (only found in this park) flower Fraiser's sedge along the way.  The sun begins to come out about 30 minutes from the campsite making for pleasant walking and happy campers!  We roll into the site around 5 p.m. with only two other people there for the night.  We are able to set up camp, collect water, and have dinner and a small campfire before finally calling it a night.  

Some white trillium along the trail. 

Some white trillium along the trail. 

We wake in the morning to a misty, nearly imperceptible rain falling.  We have coffee and breakfast together before finally breaking camp and heading back down trail.  The misty rainfall never stops and we even have a few periods of sleet.  At this time I sure am glad I have my new Swing liteflex umbrella keeping me dry!  I had been using it the whole trip and can even go hands-free if I need to since it attaches to the sternum strap on my pack! The rain finally let up as we reached the end of the trail and got back onto the old gravel roadbed.  We were all very happy to be close to the cars, meaning the relative warmth of our cars and hot showers at home awaited us!

The Porters Creek Trail and elevation profile

The Porters Creek Trail and elevation profile

If you want to try this hike for yourself, either as a day hike, trail run, or backpacking trip it's easy to find!  Get your campsite reservation at https://smokiespermits.nps.gov/ for campsite #31 if you want to backpack.  You'll drive to the Greenbrier entrance of the park and follow the road approximately four miles straight back to the Porter's Creek Trailhead.  Be prepared to walk a little ways if you're hiking on a weekend - parking tends to fill on beautiful weekends!  You'll follow the Porter's Creek Trail approximately 3.7 miles back to the campsite.  See the map and elevation profile below. 

Hiking Mt. LeConte - A Tuesday Adventure

If you've ever been to the Smokies chances are you've heard of Mt. LeConte.  The big mountain with three peaks looms over the towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg and is visible as you drive towards your vacation destination as soon as you hit the 407 exit.  While this mountain in the park isn't the tallest (it's the third tallest, after Clingman's Dome and Mt. Guyot), it's definitely the most famous!  In fact, when the writers of the song Rocky Top, the University of Tennessee's fight song, got together to write the song they were sitting in Gatlinburg looking at Mt. LeConte!  If you're wanting to hike up one of the five different trails going up Mt. LeConte, chances are you'll choose Alum Cave Trail.  This trail is the shortest route, although not necessarily the easiest route, up to the summit.  I recently hiked up the Alum Cave Trail and down the Rainbow Falls Trail on the opposite side of the mountain for a guided hike.  Here's a recap of the new and improved Alum Cave Trail. 

When we first stepped on trail I was definitely impressed at all the hard work the crews have put in on this trail.  Alum Cave Trail is in the process of being rebuilt and is wide enough for the large crowds it attracts now!  The first 1.2 miles up to Arch Rock were pretty uneventful and the new staircase inside is easy to  navigate and looks amazing (sorry I didn't get a photo of this one). From here we had a little more climbing before stopping at Inspiration Point - a heath bald with views of the natural arches over on Little Duckbill and the Eye of the Needle.  At this point, we're still climbing what is known as Peregrine Peak, named for the bird that is also nesting here over on Little Duckbill and at the Eye.  There is an incredibly hefty fine for going off trail to that area and disturbing the birds.  After our break, we climbed up to the namesake of this trail - the Alum Cave Bluff.  This sandy "cave" is a microclimate here in the Smokies and is actually considered a desert! It's hard to believe in a park with temperate rainforest you can still have a desert.  The "cave" also has a big of a sulfuric smell, like that of spent matches.  This soil is full of oxalates and contains minerals that can be found nowhere else on earth. 

A dry streamed where once a flash flood roared down this mountain. 

A dry streamed where once a flash flood roared down this mountain. 

After continuing uphill from the Alum Cave Bluff the crowds began to thin a bit.  We mostly saw college students climbing up or down the mountain now being that it's spring break time for most colleges along the east coast.  We continued to climb, now being aided with steel cables in places to help hikers along in winter, and finally reached a flatter spot in the trail.  The forest type has now changed from old growth to boreal - meaning most of the forest is evergreen spruce trees and fir trees.  The sun shining made it smell like we were hiking on a mountain of Christmas trees and we had finally reached our destination for the day - the summit of Mt. LeConte.  We took a break up top and watched the seasonal workers scurrying around stocking the cabins and the office for the upcoming season.  The lodge isn't open year-round and is just now getting ready to open for the season.  

A view of the AT from the Alum Cave Trail.
A view of the AT from the Alum Cave Trail.

When we were ready to head downhill we took the Rainbow Falls Trail down to Cherokee Orchard.  This trail has been one of my favorite routes up or down this mountain for a long time due to the easier grade and the views into the valley and Gatlinburg.  It was fun getting a glimpse of town, knowing it was so busy down there and we were realtively alone on this part of the mountain.  Rainbow Falls Trail doesn't see the crowds you'll get on the Alum Cave Trail and, until we hiked down to the falls, we didn't see any other people.  On the way down we found a patch of teaberry that actually still had their berries.  It's always fun eating wild red berries that taste like peppermint instead of fruit. We took our final break at Rainbow Falls and saw relatively few people there, but that may have been due to the fact that it was getting late in the day.  

So many creatures living on one rock - rhododendron, moss, spray paint lichen, and crepe myrtle! 

So many creatures living on one rock - rhododendron, moss, spray paint lichen, and crepe myrtle! 

About half a mile down from the falls we spotted people illegally camping in a patch of rocks next to LeConte Stream.  Given that this mountain has seen a wildfire from this type of activity only a few years ago, we did let the campers know they weren't supposed to be camping there and certainly weren't supposed to be building a fire inside a hollowed out log in a rock pile!  The Smokies have strict rules as to where you can and cannot camp due to it being the most visited national park in the country.  Our park has been loved to death in generations past and the rule helps protect the park and keep it from becoming a giant, scarred wasteland of former campsites and garbage.  After this encounter however, we had an uneventful walk down LeConte Creek to the vehicles we had in the parking lot.  

I love hiking Mt. LeConte and it's especially fun when you can hike up one side and down another.  To do the hike we did you'll need to have two vehicles or use a local shuttle service to help you get from your car to your starting point.  Here is a map of the direction we hiked the trail. 

We started on Alum Cave Trail (the bottom) and hiked to Rainbow Falls Trailhead (the top).

We started on Alum Cave Trail (the bottom) and hiked to Rainbow Falls Trailhead (the top).

Have you ever hiked up Mt. LeConte or stayed in the lodge at the top? The historic lodge dates back to 1925 - before the Smokies even became a national park!  I'd love to hear about which trails you hiked up or down and what you thought of the them.  Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started. 

Sunday Runday - Week 11 of Marathon Training



Monday - 18 miles. I had to make up the miles from my long run I missed Sunday due to so many circumstances!  I got a few stomach cramps, at miles 11, 12, and 17, but each time I took a minute or so to rehydrate and stretch out, so I was able to rally.  I also almost got run over by a car in a crosswalk.  It was a Mercedes... so maybe I should've just let her take me out!

Tuesday - Hiking with clients.  I had a guided hike today, so my active rest day included a slow and gentle hike in the Greenbrier Section of the Smokies. 

A sunny hike to a waterfall! 

A sunny hike to a waterfall! 

Wednesday - 8.5 progression miles.  Damn, it was hot this morning!  I headed out to run at 10:30 a.m., but it was in the high 70s in the blazing sun by the time I got to my speedy miles.  At the very end of the run I had a half mile "all out" run and while I hit a 7:45 pace, I also hit what I call "the tinglies".  It was super hot and I was really probably a little too dehydrated. I had taken my running hydration belt with me for this run, but decided against it at the last minute since I'd be doing speed work at the end.  Big mistake. I won't be doing that again!  In other news though, I HIT A 7:45 PACE!

Feeling strong despite dehydration! 

Feeling strong despite dehydration! 

Thursday - 3 miles slow. I started a little too fast and ended up logging a 9:35 for my first mile, but progressively slowed down throughout the run.  I went out at 10 a.m. and felt like I was going to melt to the pavement of the Greenway.  I had a guided hike in the afternoon and when I came home it was 82 degrees in my house. Yeah. What happened to spring?!

Friday - Active rest day.  I walked my dog and did a Zuzka Light Bunny Slope workout, followed by a slow vinyasa for runners to keep my legs stretched out.  I really needed the rest day today and got to spend lots of time writing!

Saturday - 18 miles.  Now that I'm back on track with my training that means I had to do a second 18-miler this week.  Unlike earlier in the week though, it was already hot when I started and I knew this was going to be a slower run.  I ended up running through a race on my route, a 10-miler, and got to see the winner with his motorcycle escort just before he turned the corner to cross the finish line!  By the time I made it to mile 4 it was sweltering.  After the half marathon mark, I had looped back around to my car and needed to refill my Nuun.  I went in to the restaurant where I was parked and bought a huge cup of ice water off them, as the water I brought and left in the car was pretty warm.  Since I was already moving slow, I decided to drive over to the other greenway and finish my run there hoping there would be more shade.  There wasn't.  The sun was blaring and the temperature outside said only 70 degrees.  When I finished up my run, the thermometer in my car said 84.  My legs were shaky and my stretches post run were probably hilarious to watch.  In fact, at mile 17 I actually yelled out loud "WHY AM I DOING THIS?!"  It wasn't funny at the time, but it is now that I'm looking back!

Sunday - Rest again!  After hiking, dog walking, and running, I had a 55-mile week.  i honestly really would rather be out hiking in the cooler temps and misty rain today, but I know my body needs the rest.  

Next week is my final big mileage week and I'm so nervous!  I'm really hoping the temperatures back off a little bit for the big race on April 3rd.  Also, because I'm a crazy person, starting April 5th I'm headed back out for a week on the Appalachian Trail starting at Springer Mountain!  While I'm excited to be back out for a section with a client, I'm again wondering what in the world I'm doing only 18 hours after finishing my first marathon!  Hiking season is already here!

That was my week in training and I can't believe my first ever marathon is only a few short weeks away.  I'm so nervous now!  Do you have any advice for a first-timer? How did your first big race go?  I'd love for you to leave me a comment or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

I'm linking up with the Women's Running Community for Share It Saturday!

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Frozen Head State Park - A Tuesday Adventure

NoKey and I had a rare day off together - something that hasn't happened much lately with my marathon training schedule.  We decided that since the weather was nice and since we had a whole day we would pack up our dog and head over to Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County for a day of hiking.  Since Frozen Head is a state park, we could take our dog - which is always an issue for us when we want to hike in the Smokies.  Dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks.  We decided to do a loop hike with the North and South Old Mac Trails, visiting a fire tower in the middle, and then afterward hiking a short out and back to a beautiful waterfall.  

When we reached the parking lot around 11:15 a.m. it was already packed. The sunny skies and nearly 70-degree temperatures brought out everyone for a day hike!  We started on the flat old road bed of the South Old Mac Trail, hiking less than a mile before running into the old CCC Dynamite Shack left from the days of this being a CCC camp.  Now our trail began the steady climb to the top!  We crossed several streams and met lots of hikers coming up and down the trail, many of them with dogs as well!  After crossing several streams and taking a few switchbacks, we came up to the old road bed at the Tub Springs Campsite.  We took a short break here for lunch, looking around the large campsite and checking out the cool spring house before taking the 0.5-mile walk up the old road to the fire tower at the top of the hill.  I stayed down with the dog while NoKey went up and took in the views!

Gracie tangling me up with her leash during our lunch break! 

Gracie tangling me up with her leash during our lunch break! 

On the way back down the trail we now took the Panther Gap Trail to the North Old Mac Trail to head back down to the car.  When we got to this shady side of the hills, we noticed there was still a beautiful dusting of snow on the hillside.  Despite several days of warmer temperatures, the shade kept it cool enough to keep it from melting!  We passed a ton of hikers and lots of kids and dogs heading up the hill on this section of the hike.  Since the hill was also in the shade, it was a bit muddier than the trail we took to the top.  I thought our dog would start to get tired or slow down on this section, but she was so full of energy her leash actually gave me a bruise as she drug me down the mountain side!  When we reached the bottom of the loop it was still relatively early so we decided to head back a little further into the park and head to the Emory Falls Trail.  

The spring house and a grill for cooking.  

The spring house and a grill for cooking.  

We were lucky enough to snag the last parking spot in the lot so we knew this trail would be even busier than the last.  The gentle grade and short distance make this hike popular!  We walked only half a mile before getting the view of our first waterfall - Debord Falls.  From here, it was supposed to only be half a mile up to Emory Falls, but we found it was closer to one mile.  The trail left the old road bed and went up on a rockier, eroded climb.  When we got to the top there were probably 50 or so people playing in the stream and photographing the waterfall.  It was nice to see so many people out and enjoying the day!  We had a quick and easy hike back out to the car. 

Emory Falls with a teeny rainbow! 

Emory Falls with a teeny rainbow! 

Frozen Head State Park is definitely my favorite place in East Tennessee to hike with my dog.  The trails are challenging, and there are close to 50 miles of trails, and you don't usually have to deal with the traffic and crowds of heading up to the Smokies.  There are also backpacking campsites and primitive front country campsites and they're all really cheap!  If you're looking to spend some time in the mountains with your dog or if you just want to get away from the traffic and noise in the Smokies, I definitely recommend Frozen Head State Park.  

Hiking with South Pole - A Tuesday Adventure

On Monday afternoon I got a message over on my Facebook page from a friend I met on my Long Trail thru hike back in the summer of 2015.  South Pole thru hiked the AT in 2015 and then, after finishing, had decided she wanted more trail.  She came back down to Vermont to finish hiking the Long Trail.  We met her near the end of our hike, in Johnson, Vermont.  She and her friend Susan were working on "marking off their maps" - a term we use here in the Smokies for people who are trying to hike all the trails in the park.  She asked if I'd like to meet them for an easy hike on Tuesday and I jumped at the chance.  Often, my job as a hiking guide has me hiking very slowly and the opportunity to hike with other endurance hikers and runners makes me happy!

We met up at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drove off for the Twin Creeks Trail trailhead.  We got the only parking spot at the trailhead due to being out so early.  It had been raining all morning until this point, so we were happy for a break in the rain!  I brought my favorite new piece of gear, my Gossamer Gear Liteflex Umbrella, and I credit the umbrella for keeping away the rain!  We hiked up a gentle grade on the Twin Creeks Trail, only getting our feet a little wet until crossing a stream before getting to the Ogle Cabin.  This beautiful old cabin has been maintained by the park service and is easy to access from the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail!  We did a little bit of road walking before coming to our junction with the Old Sugarlands Trail.  

A foggy and beautiful LeConte Creek in the early morning.  The water rushing past us only moments ago came down Rainbow Falls!

A foggy and beautiful LeConte Creek in the early morning.  The water rushing past us only moments ago came down Rainbow Falls!

I've been hiking on this trail recently, so I knew to expect some muddy spots.  This old road bed comes down from the Rainbow Falls hiker parking into a valley where settlers farmed and tapped sugar maples before a CCC camp came in during the Great Depression.  We passed a few gentlemen hiking the other way who were surprised to see people out hiking in the same dreary weather they were!  We hiked downhill on the gentle grade before coming to the split in the trail where you can head up to the old cemetery and site of the famous "stone house".   We walked past and explored the old site of the CCC camp clock tower before heading back down to the trailhead.  

Susan and Sprinkles at the old CCC clock tower. 

Susan and Sprinkles at the old CCC clock tower. 

When we got back to the trailhead it was still relatively early, so we decided to hike the Gatlinburg Trail to mark it off the maps as well.  This out and back hike was very quick and lead to an 11.5 mile day completed in less than 4 hours.  

South Pole, Susan, and Me - obligatory selfie!

South Pole, Susan, and Me - obligatory selfie!

While we were out on this hike we were able to see a few wild eatables - we tasted toothwort (a horseradish-like flavor), partridge berry (a small red berry that we didn't eat due to it being close to the side of a very busy trail), and little brown jug (a heart-shaped leaf that smells and tastes like ginger or sassafras root).  We also saw a small patch of witch butter and some very vibrant turkey tail mushrooms.  We even got lucky with a big patch of blue sky making an appearance for the end of our hike!

I have hiked these three trails many times before and it's often said this is the easiest "loop" hike in the park.  If you are hiking by yourself and looking for something more than 10 miles that won't take you all day, this is a great option.  You can park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the park headquarters.  Walk over to Old Sugarlands Trail and hike up to the Rainbow Falls Parking area.  Follow the road down to the Bud Ogle Cabin and get on the Twin Creeks Trail.  Hike this to the road and road walk down to stoplight #8 in Gatlinburg.  Stop at a restaurant for lunch on the way if you want!  Turn left at the light and walk down to the end of Gatlinburg, where you'll hop on the Gatlinburg Trail.  Follow the Gatlinburg Trail all the way back to the visitor center parking lot.  I've included a map below for making this a loop hike, along with the elevation profile. 

Have you ever hiked these trails in the Smokies? I'd love to chat with you about your favorite hiking trails.  Please leave me a comment below or find me over on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

Sunday Runday - Week 9 of Marathon Training

Well after the difficult and tiring week I had last week, I rallied and got back on track this week.  We have had some crazy weather here in Tennessee and I think we saw three different seasons this week, but the running went very well!  Here is my weekly summary: 

Monday - 3 miles running; This was supposed to be a warm up mile, 2.5 hard effort miles, and a half easy mile with a cool down walk.  I loved doing this run!  It was sunny and warm, so how do you not like that?!

Tuesday - 11.5 miles easy hiking; a friend of mine from the Long Trail, South Pole, was in town with her friend Susan doing "map marker" hikes.  She is trying to hike all the trails in the Smokies and needs to do strange combinations of hikes to get all the miles done.  When she contacted me to see if I'd be interested in an easy hike, I jumped right on it!  We hiked Twin Creeks Trail, Old Sugarlands Trail, and the Gatlinburg Trail for 11.5 of the easiest miles in the entire park.  We even got a little bit of blue sky considering they called for rain all day.  I'll thank my umbrella for keeping the rain away :)

LeConte Creek. 

LeConte Creek. 

Wednesday - 7 miles running; for this run, I was supposed to run five comfortable miles followed by two very hard effort miles.  The wind was gusting at 30 mph, it would occasionally start raining heavy sheets of rain, and I ran this loop in an area where the sidewalks randomly end on high traffic roads.  People honked their horns at me more than usual on this run, probably because I looked like a crazy person running in the storm!  The final two hard effort miles were making my legs scream, but they were very enjoyable!

Thursday - 3 miles running; an easy recovery run was on the agenda for today. I chose to do them on the Gatlinburg Trail since I was up at the Park Headquarters for a meeting.  It was snowing throughout most of the run and the torrential storms from yesterday knocked over quite a few trees on the trail, so I got to practice my hurdle jumper skills!  Is it just me, or are the easy effort miles harder on your body? I was more sore after this run than I thought I would be!  After I got home I did a Bunny Slope workout on Youtube From Zuzka Light. 


Friday - REST!  I was supposed to be on an AT Shakedown hike with a client, but we had to bump the hike to next week due to bad weather and the roads being closed due to snow in the park. 

Saturday - 16 miles running; I had one of my "you must be a real runner now" moments when I didn't even feel like I hit my stride until well into my fifth mile!  From mile 5-16 I felt strong.  I ate a pack of Honey Stinger Chews and drank Nuun and I didn't feel tired, bonk, or even want to slow down.  I'm glad I finally found something that doesn't make my stomach seize up like the Gu gels do.  I also ran what my Garmin called my fastest half marathon time.  While it's not my PR, it's the fastest I've run 13.1 since December.  I ran this half for my Level Up Virtual Run - I won a free entry from Heather over at What the Heck, Why Not?  So thank you, Heather!  I can't wait to get my adorable BB8 medal in the mail!

Sunday - 10.6 miles hiking; an active rest day today and it was in the high 50s with bluebird skies all day.  We packed up our dog and drove to Frozen Head State Park (yes, where they hold the Barkley Marathons for those of you Ultra Runners out there!) where we hiked the Old Mac Trail loop and then did an out and back at Emory Falls.  It was a beautiful day and the trailheads were full.  One thing I really enjoyed about today was seeing how many people were hiking with very young children.  Lots of young kids and lots of dogs out enjoying the parks today!


Well, that was my week in training!  It seems like I got over my mid training slump earlier this month.  I'm still nervous about the fact that I signed up to run a freakin' marathon only about a month from now, but I'm going to stay positive!  How was your week?  Tell me all about your adventures or training in the comments below or find me over on Facebook or Twitter!

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