thru hike

How to Survive Being the Support Crew

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

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Know your loved one is always thinking of you

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

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

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

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

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

We really, REALLY appreciate everything you do

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of Gear

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

The Early Years

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

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

photo (and great story) from Seven Days. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1940's-1950's

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

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

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

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

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

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

1960's and 1970's

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

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

Photo Courtesey of the AT Museum and google images.

Photo Courtesey of the AT Museum and google images.

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

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

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

1980's and 1990's

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

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

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

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

The 2000's and 2010's

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk For Sunshine - a hiking memoir and book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk for Sunshine

Backpacking 101

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

Carrying the Wrong Gear

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

Carrying Too Much Gear

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

Carrying Outdated Gear

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

Take More Breaks

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

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

How to Plan a Thru Hike

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

Decide if You Want to Mail Resupply

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

Look at Your Daily Mileage

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

Check Your Bank Account

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

Make Your Reservations and Get Your Permits

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

BREATHE and Relax

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

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

 

Thru Hiking Announcement!

Well, 2017 is going to be the year of yet another thru hike for NoKey and me!  It was great being able to get out and go hiking in 2015 and, due to the fact that money is pretty much required to have a decent living where we are, we had to jump right back in and get to work after our hike.  I was fortunate enough to fall right into life as a backpacking guide almost immediately and now NoKey is joining the fun for 2017!  However, even though backpacking for a living is a pretty great way to stay connected to the trail, it can be difficult to feel like you're getting the experience YOU want while out there.  On guided backpacking trips I'm often teaching beginners the basics of backpacking, meaning we start out doing beginner miles.  While I love teaching others the ways to safely begin backpacking and avoiding injuries, I often crave hiking long and hard days.  This is why getting away to take a thru hike is so important for me every few years.

With both NoKey and myself working as guides now, we needed to set up a trip we could take during the not so busy weeks between July 4th and Labor Day weekend.  This year, we have decided to tackle the Tahoe Rim Trail!  This 167-mile loop can be done in approximately 10 days, which means we could take two weeks off to travel, thru hike, take a zero or two, and fly back home.  For us, it was a no-brainer!

The Tahoe Rim Trail is fairly new as far as trail systems are concerned - only officially designated in 2001.  This multiuse trail can be used year-round for biking, snowshoeing, and hiking.  Part of the trail also shares the Pacific Crest Trail, so we'll get a taste of the PCT while we're out hiking in California and Nevada.  We are super excited to hit this trail, especially since neither of us have done any hiking at elevations like this before.  In the next few months, I'll be posting updates about recipe planning and thru hike planning/gear trade-offs we'll be doing in order to get ready for our adventure.  I can't wait to share these things with you guys!

Have you ever been to the Tahoe Region for hiking or recreation?  Are there any "must stop" places you'd recommend?

How Ultramarathons are Like Thru Hikes

On December 31st, 2016 I toed the starting line of my first ever ultramarathon.  While competing in (and later finishing) this event I noticed a ton of similarities that running an ultra and completing a thru hike have in common.  

Aid Stations Are Basically Trail Magic on Steroids

The ultra I ran was the Pistol Ultra in Alcoa, TN.  They have a famous aid station, Woody's, that provides everything a runner needs to get through the race.  From homemade trail mix bars and banana bread to salt and vinegar chips and even candy this little slice of heaven on earth will get you refueled and back to the task at hand.  Much like trail magic, seeing this pop-up tent brought forth a flood of emotions and got me energized to continue onward.  Seriously, when someone fills your water bottles for you so you can stuff your face and keep moving... that person is an angel. 

(Photos of Woody's courtesy of the Pistol Ultra Facebook group)

Hike Your Own Hike Applies Here Too

So when I tell people I've completed an ultra they say "wow I can't believe you ran that far!"  Honestly I did run a lot, but I also walked a lot too.  I stopped and stretched a lot.  In fact, according to my Garmin, I probably stopped for stretches, food, and sock changes more than 15 minutes during the duration of the time I was on the course.  When you're hiking a distance trail you might take 1 zero day or 50 zero days (like I did on the AT) and you're still going to finish.  When you're stopping to walk in an ultra no one is judging you, just like when you take that extra zero day in town.  In fact, towards the end of the ultra if you can manage to run up a hill, no  matter how small, someone who sees you doing it starts cheering you on.  That's support!

Your Fellow Runners Have Your Back

On my final lap on the way back to the finish I saw some ladies headed towards me - meaning they had about 9 miles to go.  One of the women stopped and burst into tears.  Immediately other runners stopped to see what she needed and how they could help her.  Spectators cheered you by name and asked if you needed anything.  Aid station workers, due to the cold weather, asked every person if they needed a hot drink.  We offered up our foam rollers and muscle sticks to those who were in pain.  Just like when you're out on trail and something throws a wrench into your day, others who know what you're going through offer to help you out.  

The Hunger is REAL

About 15 miles into my race my stomach was ANGRY.  I was so hungry all of a sudden I almost couldn't move.  Much like when you're on a thru hike, when your stomach tells you to eat it is time to eat!  I discovered for myself that much like a distance hike, my body responded extremely well to "real" foods versus snack bars, gels, and chews.  When I finished the race we went out for an enormous pasta dinner and I polished off a gargantuan piece of cheesecake.  I regret nothing!

Your Journey is The Destination

When I finished the AT my thru hike I was just in awe that I had finished.  From that moment on in my life I realized I can actually do difficult things.  I can COMPLETE difficult things.  Until that point in my life I often quit when things got hard and uncomfortable.  Since then, I've challenged myself outside of my comfort zone so many times.  This ultra race, for me, was proving to myself that something I once thought impossible truly wasn't.  I no longer find myself second-guessing my abilities once I'm in the middle of something.  It turns out that my first attempt at an ultra wasn't as scary or unmanageable as I feared it would be.  Much like every thru hike I complete, I come out on the other side realizing that I am capable of finishing something daunting.  

The smile you get after eating a ton of food and being stretched out by a physical therapist after running 50 Kilometers!

The smile you get after eating a ton of food and being stretched out by a physical therapist after running 50 Kilometers!

While there are plenty of other ways running an ultramarathon reminds me of thru hiking, these are the ones that stood out to me.  Have you ever run an ultra?  Do you want to push the envelope and challenge yourself to a difficult or "impossible" feat in the coming year? 

The 14 AT States - Common Perceptions and Misconceptions

Whenever people talk about states along the Appalachian Trail just the mentioning of the name will give you an image in your head.  For those of us who have travelled the trail in those states, however, our perception of those states can be quite different.  My topic today is kind of a fun one - the expectation versus reality of the states along the Appalachian Trail.  

The map image came from  The Cat's Meow Village  and is available for purchase!

The map image came from The Cat's Meow Village and is available for purchase!

Georgia

Expectation: Springer Mountain - the beginning or end of a long journey. 
Reality: Well, you do get Springer Mountain.  You also get the crowds of newbies and all the excited and nervous energy that comes along with that journey.  It's truly a magical (albeit crowded at times) place!

North Carolina

Expectation: Max Patch-like views, your first/last state line to cross
Reality: Big climbs (anyone remember crossing from Georgia into North Carolina?!), your first 5000 foot peak, gorgeous southern Appalachian balds, and two trail town stops you can walk right into - the NOC and Hot Springs!

Tennessee

Expectation: The Smoky Mountains - this can mean snow or dreary weather to most hikers
Reality: You do get the Smokies, but we get good weather here too!  You also get the Roan Highlands, more gorgeous vistas, and views of the Nolichucky River from a cliff face further north near Erwin. 

Virginia

Expectation: "After Tennessee, Virginia is flat! You'll make easy 30-mile days there!"; the ponies and McAfee's Knob
Reality: Virginia isn't flat, and easy 30 mile days on the AT are hard to come by. Sure, you do get the ponies, and McAfee's Knob.  You also get Dragon's Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and Shenandoah National Park.  You also get the Green Tunnel and the Virginia Blues.  The Blues are common for thru hikers (I even got them!) because of the Green Tunnel effect.  By the time most thru hikers reach VA spring has sprung and you're constantly in tunnels of rhododendron.  It can seem like endless miles in a persistent green state.  

West Virginia

Expectation: The halfway point at Harper's Ferry
Reality: While West Virginia is a short state with the fewest miles (many hikers do a 4-state challenge and skip through it in a matter of less than an hour), the actual halfway point of the Appalachian Trail is still quite a bit further north in Pennsylvania.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Headquarters, however, is in Harper's Ferry and is a really cool place to stop by and kill a few hours!

Maryland

Expectation: A short and easy, relatively flat state without anything to see
Reality: It turns out Maryland is one of the prettiest states on the AT.  With lots of park/green space, relatively well-maintained trails, and really cool things to see, lots of hikers doing the Four State Challenge miss a really neat place.  Also in Maryland are Gathland State Park with a memorial dedicated to War Correspondence and the original Washington Monument.  You've also either just crossed or are about to cross the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania

Expectation: Rocks. So.MANY.ROCKS.
Reality: Not so many rocks.  With approximately 230 miles of trail in Pennsylvania (lovingly nicknamed Rocksylvania), it seemed that every time we thought it was about to get rocky we would hear that it was actually not rocky yet.  We rolled into Caldonia State Park to hear that it actually doesn't get rocky until Duncannon.  Then when we got to Duncannon we were told it gets rocky at Port Clinton.  Then in Port Clinton we were told it doesn't get really rocky until Wind Gap.  By the time we hit Delaware Water Gap everyone had mixed emotions.  Many felt we never hit the rocks and others like we only hit rocks.  Little did the northbounders know what rocks would await us further north!

New Jersey

Expectation: Dirty water, smoggy and polluted air.
Reality:  It turns out New Jersey is actually a very pretty place to go on foot!  They don't call it the Garden State for nothing!  Walking through New York/New Jersey didn't take us over the highest peaks, but we did visit an ice cream stand, a beach at a state park, and walked through the Wallkill Game Preserve - a birding park that was absolutely gorgeous.  Lots of boardwalks and tall grasses awaited us here. 

New York

Expectation: Whenever you say New York, most people only think New York City. 
Reality: Well, you can actually see NYC from the trail!  From West Mountain Shelter and Bear Mountain you have gorgeous views are you're only about 30 miles away from it.  We also could hear cannon fire from nearby Westpoint.  You also can hike from deli to deli on this section of trail, as they're close to every trail crossing. A lot of thru hikers are surprised to find those promised rocks of PA in New York instead!  NoBo's and SoBo's alike complain of sore feet here!

Connecticut

Expectation: Snooty people who are rude to hikers. 
Reality: While the town of Kent, Connecticut has a reputation for being inhospitable we found that many people who went in didn't have a bad experience.  We stayed in a town called Falls Village and ate a very nice dinner at an incredibly upscale B&B and were treated very kindly.  We were also allowed to camp in the backyard of a quaint cafe here.  While the mosquitos were killer, the people were friendly!

Massachusetts 

Expectation: Massholes. 
Reality: Gorgeous hiking and history, phenomenal views into Vermont from Mount Greylock, and the Cookie Lady all make Massachusetts amazing.  Hiking through the Berkshires region in summertime is going to give you bogs and boardwalks and rocky summits.  You get a little bit of everything. 

Vermont

Expectation: Mud
Reality: Okay, so there's a lot of mud.  But there's also some incredible trail maintenance!  When I hiked through in 2012 so much of southern Vermont was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irene.  When we hiked the Long Trail in 2015 it was very clear how much amazing work the Green Mountain Club had done to clean up the damage as well as drain a lot of the standing water on trail.  You also get gorgeous fire tower views in more remote places than you've seen further south, breathtaking boreal forest, and glacial ponds for swimming.  

New Hampshire

Expectation: Getting your butt kicked in the Whites and freezing cold temperatures even in summer.
Reality: The Whites do in fact have some of the worst weather in the world, especially on Mount Washington - the highest point in New England.  While we were here we didn't get many views, but The Whites were also known for making all the butt kicking worthwhile by rewarding you with alpine summits (meaning you're above tree line).  One thing I didn't expect in New Hampshire was the fact that despite being a strong hiker I would slow my pace to approximately a mile an hour - something that does happen to a lot of thru hikers!

Maine

Expectation: Katahdin and the epicness that is the 100-Mile Wilderness
Reality: You have 281 miles to hike in Maine before you finish the trail and first you are going to travel through some mountains even harder to hike than the Whites!  Southern Maine doesn't get nearly the attention the neighboring Whites do, but they're just as hard and exhausting.  The infamous Mahoosuc Notch is the hardest mile of trail (or most fun depending on what you're into!) on the entire AT!  Of course, you also get amazing views from those alpine summits, ponds so big they look like oceans, and then you get to cross the Kennebec River in a canoe.  You'll also find out that the big, bad, and scary 100-Mile Wilderness doesn't live up to it's hype and you'll make it through unscathed for your big finish at the summit of Katahdin.  

So, there you have it, the common ideas of what it's like to hike the fourteen states of the Appalachian Trail versus the reality of hiking them from someone who has.  Have you hiked through any of the states listed above?  What were your impressions of the Appalachian Trail there? I'd love to get your input in the comments below!

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. 

Hiking_With_Dog

Regulations

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. 

Gear

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!

What Do Thru Hikers Eat?!

Whenever I'm out on the trail, whether it's a short trip for work or a month long hike (or even longer!) people who have never done a backpacking trip often ask me how I eat on the trail when I'm staying in the woods.  I usually give them the short answer of "I carry food!" because many people just assume I forage or hunt or even carry tons of canned goods (yes, really!). Since I've been doing a lot of advice posts recently, this post is aimed at newer backpackers who are still confused as to what to bring to eat for longer distance hikes.  While there are so many wonderful options out there, here are the most common things people carry on thru hikes.  It should be noted that I dehydrated all our food from recipes for our hikes last summer, so more intensive backpacking "recipes" won't be covered here - stay tuned for future posts for people looking for recipe inspiration (as well as healthier options)!

Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast is a toughie because some people just don’t like breakfast.  If I don’t eat breakfast I crash and burn fairly quickly.  I also was never a coffee drinker until I hit the trail but once I really got into the routine, I found a warm cup of coffee was perfect for me most mornings. On hot summer mornings I often just made it with cold water for an "iced coffee"!  If you don’t think you’d like coffee, any warm liquid is often nice in the morning to get everything in your digestive tract “moving.”  Instead of hot chocolate, I really recommend Carnation Instant Breakfast packets.  They have a coffee flavor and two different chocolate flavors, as well as vanilla and strawberry.  There is at least SOME nutrition in this, as well as a LOT sugar to perk you up. My personal favorite for a breakfast drink is coffee with a pack of Carnation.  It’s like a hiker trash mocha, haha!  

-Two packets of instant oatmeal - two will at least give you calories. Interestingly enough if you look at a pack of instant oats you'll see something you probably never noticed before - a fill line. That's right, you can eat this stuff right out of the packs for easy clean up!  Just be careful with super hot water.  I often ate it cold on trail. 

-Two packets of instant grits or cream of wheat

-ProBars (340 calories - whole food energy)

-Little Debbie Cakes (sugar energy)

-Honey Buns (iced honey buns have the most caloric bang for your buck, often packing in close to 600 calories for only a few ounces of weight)

-Pop tarts

-Bagels with shelf-stable cheese (Laughing Cow will last up to 5 days in a pack) or peanut butter, cookie butter, or Nutella

-Peanut butter and granola bars (Nature Valley type)

Lunch Ideas:

I am a fan of stopping for a proper lunch.  I like to take breaks when I hike and I find a proper lunch break makes me feel better in the afternoon.  Lunch ideas are often the same as breakfast with a few tweaks. 

-Peanut butter and honey on a tortilla or the sandwich thin bread or bagels (I hate tortillas, so I opt for bread)

-Pepperoni/summer sausage and Laughing Cow Cheese (or regular cheese) on a bagel or bagel thin

-Pop tarts with peanut butter, eaten like a sandwich

-Tuna or salmon packets with tortillas or sandwich thins. I don't know if any of you have noticed, but they make so many flavors of tuna now and I even recently saw two different flavors of salmon!  Spam packets also are popular for lunches.

Dinner Ideas:

Dinner ideas can be crazy versatile.  There is really more food out there than you’d think, but if you don’t shop for processed food often it’s hard to figure this out.  Sometimes you just have to be creative and do without things and be good at improvising.  The only thing I recommend staying away from for trail dinners is quinoa - it takes 18 minutes to make and that’s active cooking time.  Fuel canisters can only last 60-75 minutes, so it burns up a lot of fuel on your stove!

-Near East CousCous (There are a TON of flavors and its fast!)

-Ramen - you can add peanut butter and dried veggies for a “pad thai”

-Mac and Cheese - even without butter and milk powder this works well!

-Knorr pasta sides or rice sides - these generally cook in 8-10 minutes, but can be done in as few as five active with 10 extra for sitting and soaking

-Instant mashed potatoes - they come in several different flavors

-Stovetop stuffing - surprisingly filling for a dinner or you can mix them with potatoes 

-El Paso Ready Rice - there are tons of precooked rice packs out there in lots of flavors. Unfortunately, these are heavy, but are great for a first day out of town

-Asia Kitchen makes Chinese food that is much like the ready rice - just heat for a few minutes and serve

-Taste of India makes Indian dishes that are heat and serve (and these make other hikers REALLY jealous when they smell them!)

Snacks: 

I usually eat three meals a day and two snacks when I am hiking. I have breakfast around 7:30 a.m., a snack at 10 a.m., lunch around 12-1 p.m., a snack around 4 p.m., and dinner at camp.  This is my magic recipe for not feeling “hangry” during the day!

-Nature Valley Granola Bars, Clif Bars, Kind Bars - any kind of bar really!  I would AVOID anything labeled as a protein bar or body builder bar.  These bars have sugar alcohols as an ingredient and sugar alcohols are notorious for making you need to poop VERY badly. I made this mistake a few times on trail and it’s HORRIFYING. 

-Goldfish Crackers, Cheeze Its, Triscuits - most crackers like this hold up for a few days pretty well

-Fruit snacks

-Trail mix - can be heavy as most bags are an entire pound, but if you make a good dent in it each day it should be okay

-Cheesy Popcorn - holds up surprisingly well in a gallon sized freezer bag and is a personal favorite of mine

and of course, CANDY!  The mini candy bars are what I always went for. The packs of 8-10 are the best because it’s just enough of a snack, plus you can usually eat two per day. Sometimes I would have one with lunch and one with dinner as a dessert. 

I should also note that for people who don't often eat a lot of processed food products, it can be really hard on your stomach and body to immediately begin consuming large amounts of this stuff.  For me, by the time I got to Hot Springs, I constantly felt kind of queasy.  I picked up a package of Flintstones Chewable kids vitamins and took two of them every night before I brushed my teeth and they really helped me feel better.  Several others who noticed me doing this also reported good results.  Since then, they've come out with adult gummy multivitamins and NoKey does really well chewing those up every night.  I personally cannot take regular adult multivitamins because I get stomachaches from the iron content.  So, in short, if you start feeling run down and crappy fairly early on, consider adding a multivitamin to your diet!

And yes, I know I may have forgotten (insert whatever it is you think I forgot here).  There are so many different food choices out there and so many different dietary needs. Some people prefer to not even carry a backpacking stove, so this article doesn't even begin to touch on all of those things!  I'm just covering the bases for any new or wanna-be hikers who are looking for ideas that are cheaper than Mountain House type meals and will be cooking. 

Well, there you have it!  A quick and dirty list of foods I commonly see on the trail that long-distance hikers are eating.  Are you horrified at what thru hikers consume?! What do you normally eat on the trail? Are there any foods you love or foods that you can't even bear to look at after eating them so often on a hike? I'd love to hear your favorites! Leave me a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter to get the conversation started!

When Quitting the Trail is Okay - How to Decide to End Your Thru Hike

Here's a true story - I've bailed on a thru hike before.  For those of you who have followed this blog for a while now, you'll know that NoKey and I bailed off the Finger Lakes Trail back in the summer of 2015.  We quit for a few reasons - I got a MRSA infection and a respiratory virus; it rained every single day; parts of the trail were completely underwater, meaning we did a LOT of road walking; the trail conservancy was very rude to us on the phone and didn't offer us any help when were were looking for a place to camp (and the president of the conservancy did call to apologize, but the damage was done); and the biggest reason of all - we weren't having any fun at all. Our thru hike was a failure.  I even wrote a post about how yes, we didn't finish our hike and it failed and why it wasn't a bad thing.  For us, the decision to quit the FLT was the best one and I don't regret it.  In my post last week I talked about reasons why thru hikers will leave the trail.  This week, I want to talk about when leaving the trail is the right decision and how to make the call.

When It's No Longer Worth It

You may have set out to conquer the trail, but now it no longer seems important to you.  Sure, no one said thru hiking would be easy and you get that, but no one said you had to finish the trail as a thru hiker either.  There are many, many different ways to hike a long distance trail and you can complete it (or not!) any way you choose.  When we decided to quit the FLT and take a vacation we had taken quite a few days to talk about our decision.  We had taken a weekend off to avoid more rain.  We hiked out and then I woke up incredibly sick.  We went back home to recover and during the first week after little improvement we decided that the rain would never let up and I probably wouldn't get any better (it took me almost a month to shake the MRSA and respiratory virus).  What is the point of killing ourselves every day if we don't want to be there?  Like I said last week, there are many reasons why you can decide to get off trail. 

When You Don't Care About the Trail Anymore

Hiking the trail can sometimes be like a bad relationship.  It mentally and physically exhausts you, sometimes for weeks on end.  You give yourself to it 100% and you get nothing in return. You've even given up most of your "normal life" to spend time with the trail and it's like the trail doesn't even care!  Now, if this was a relationship with another person chances are you'd be ready to call it quits and break up.  Sure, you might Facebook/Instagram stalk the trail for a while.  Every once in a while you'll feel nostalgic and pull out that picture of the two of you together.  You might even like a photo posted of the trail with it's new hikers.  Time will heal your wounds.  

When You've Tried a Second Time and Feel the Same

So sticking with the bad relationship concept above, maybe you and the trail broke up.  But sometimes exes get back together, right?  Maybe you broke it off with the idea of thru hiking but for whatever reason you two found your way back to each other.  Then, you and the trail fall back into old habits and it turns out the relationship hasn't changed at all; everything is exactly the same.  

The bottom line is this: 

THRU HIKING ISN'T FOR EVERYONE!

And you know what? That's okay.  Nobody said you have to thru hike a trail for it to magically "count".  What's more is that most trail conservancies recognize trail FINISHERS, not trail thru hikers.  Sure, you might be able to order that extra "thru hiker" or "end to ender" rocker patch for your certificate, but at the end of the day being a thru hiker is just a title.  In a world where we place a lot of emphasis on extraordinary achievements, at the end of the day whether you set the fastest know time, slowest time ever, hike a section over 20 years, or hike it all in six months - anyone who has finished a long trail all gets to say they're a completer.  

Maybe you're on the fence about breaking off your thru hike.  For those of you who haven't decided if getting off trail is right for you, here are a few pieces of advice: 

-Take a zero day.  If you're still on the fence, take another.  Maybe take a week off.  Talk it out with other hikers at a hostel.  Make a plan to hike to only the next town and see if your feelings change.  
- Think about how you'd feel if you quit.  Maybe you're thru hiking to prove something to someone (yourself or a loved one).  If the idea of quitting doesn't make you all that upset, it's probably time to call it.  

Have you ever been on the fence about quitting a hike?  Maybe you've spent tons of time planning and dreaming only to have it turn out differently than you'd imagined?  I'd love to hear how you dealt with getting off the trail.  Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook and get the conversation started!

Four Reasons Hikers Thru Hikers Quit (and one that trumps them all!)

It's no secret that most people who set out to thru hike fail.  According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, only 20-30% of people who report starting a thru hike will actually finish. While taking on the task of thru hiking seems glamorous and exciting, after spending several weeks on trail many hikers realize that the romantic idea of doing a long hike isn't always all it's cracked up to be.  This post is going to touch on the four main reasons thru hikers quit, plus one fifth reason that is the most powerful of all. 

Injuries

Many people attempting a thru hike are complete newbies to the world of multi-week backpacking trips - myself included.  For me, I trained for my thru hike and started my hike with bigger hiking days, 15-20 mile days.  Many people do not do this and think that a thru hike is a lot like a day hike.  I mean, a lot of people can do a 15 mile day hike with no problems! They go big too early and end up with a common hiking injury.  Shin splints, sprains, strains, and exhaustion are all very common in many new hikers.  Unfortunately, many hikers don't let their injuries properly heal and end up reinjuring themselves pretty quickly.  This definitely ends a lot of hikes!  (and if you want to know how to avoid injuries, check out a this post I wrote in November 2015!)

Money Issues

Leaving the working world behind for 4-7 months can be expensive!  I've seen estimates of $5000 per person to successfully complete a thru hike and that can be very realistic.  I myself did the trail on $2800, but I didn't need to replace any of my gear or electronics and we often found cheap places to stay instead of zeroing in expensive motels.  Many people we knew who quit the trail north of the Mason-Dixon line quit because they were running short on cash and had pretty much exhausted all other resources for backup cash.  Sure, some hostels offer work for stay and you can resupply a lot out of hiker boxes at post offices or hostels, but that can only get many hikers so far before throwing in the towel.  After taking more than 50 zero days on our AT thru hike, NoKey and I developed a Near-o system on our three 2015 thru hikes of various shorter trails.  The near-o system of hiking into town early in the morning, resupplying and freshening up, staying in the hostel, and hiking out the next day not only saved us money but also gave us the mental boost we needed to keep hiking.  Taking too many zeros can definitely deplete your cash flow!

The Honeymoon is Over

If you think about it, the idea of thru hiking is incredibly romantic!  Just you and your gear, powering through hard miles, rolling into camp for a hot meal and a beautiful sunset at a mountain overlook every night... what's not to love about that?!  Well, as someone who has thru hiked before, I can tell you those kinds of days are few and far between.  Sure, you can still have a great time on days that don't look like that, but for many the repetitive nature of hiking day after day after day just becomes too much.  The trail isn't as fun as they thought it would be.  The work isn't worth the reward.  Quite frankly, thru hiking can be INCREDIBLY BORING a lot of the time.  Many people you meet will ask you all about your "hiking vacation", but I personally find that a thru hike is like a low-paying full time job.  You log 10-16 hours a day of hard work (walking all day long) for mediocre food before collapsing into your sleeping bag.  Make no mistake, thru hiking is definitely not a 6-month vacation!

Family Issues

I left this one for last because it's the one that is often unavoidable.  We can't control what happens at home and an illness or the death of a relative can happen.  Sometimes hikers can bounce back and come back to the trail, but often times those hikers don't stay back on trail. It's also very common to miss your family and friends back at home, especially if a hiker has kids.  Missing out on milestones or big events in a family member or friend's life can be tough. 

And finally, the one that happens that many people don't think about: 

You Find What You're Looking For

Many people decide to take on a thru hike while they're in a transition phase of life - recently graduated school, retirement, being laid off from a job, etc.  You'll find that many trails often have people from all walks of life who are out on the trail trying to discover their next path in life.  In fact, I'd find it fair to say that every single person on the trail is definitely looking for answers to some question they have.  Sometimes you'll find what you're looking for before your trail ends.  This is another reason the quote "it's about the journey, not the destination" is so true and popular among many hikers.  

These are just a few reasons why thru hikers quit the trail before finishing, but I've found them to be the most common!  Be sure to check out my post next week on why quitting the trail isn't a bad thing - and why for some people it can be the right thing to do.  

Have you attempted and quit a thru hike or other major goal in life?  How do you feel about your decision?  I'd love to chat with you about it!  Leave me a comment below or catch me over on the Facebook page to get the conversation started!

Snake Den Ridge Trail

Like most of the country, we got unexpectedly and unseasonably warm weather for most of the month of December.  Despite it being a few days after Christmas, we found ourselves itching to go hiking in the 75-degree weather - wearing shorts and t-shirts no less.  Since NoKey got a new camera for Christmas, we decided to take it for a spin on a trail with a few different and interesting things to see.  We chose the Snake Den Ridge Trail in Cosby and hiked up to the Appalachian Trail to see a plane wreckage site and an incredible view of Mt. Sterling to see the new camera in action. Snake Den Ridge Trail is not generally thought of for nice views or waterfalls or, well, really anything.  It's more of a connector trail in the park, leading you to the places you want to go. Since it was a nice weekend and right after Christmas, we chose it thinking it wouldn't be crowded with tourists and we chose right - we only saw four people the entire 12 miles we hiked.

The foot bridge near the trailhead. 

The foot bridge near the trailhead. 

We began first by walking through the closed-for-the-season Cosby Campground back to the trailhead. The beginning of this trail is an old roadbed with a gentle grade for the first 1.5 miles or so. Just before leaving the road, you'll see an old cemetery off to the right. Now that we were nice and warmed up, we were able to shed some layers before heading up to the only creek crossings on the trail - the first on a beautiful new log bridge and the second a usually easy rock hop.  The high levels of rain we got in December made this one a little tricky, but we got across relatively dry.  Snake Den Ridge Trail climbs a little more steeply for the next mile before coming to a switchback where you can take in a beautiful view of Mt. Cammerer and the Cosby valley below us. We also started to see evidence of other hikers around this point - hard boiled egg shells littered the trail for approximately the next mile or so.  Now we were at about 4000 feet in elevation and the scenery began to change - the hemlock trees gave way to spruce and the trail began to level out.  We also saw three backpackers coming down from the AT.  After climbing a huge and recent blowdown, we reached our junction with the Appalachian Trail. 

Crossing the stream. 

Crossing the stream. 

Once on the AT, we headed southbound for less than 1/10 of a mile before coming to the site of a 1984 F-4 plane crash.  The pilot slammed into the mountain and it's said that the explosion was heard as far away as Newport. After checking out the site, we headed up to the old Deer Creek Gap Helipad to soak in the views before needing to turn around.  We didn't get started hiking until 11 a.m. and it was now 2:30, so if we wanted to beat sunset, it was time to go!  When we got back down to the AT junction with Snake Den Ridge we met another dayhiker headed down the same direction we were headed.  He started all the way at Newfound Gap that morning and was headed down into the campground.  He had covered some serious mileage!  Our hike down was pretty uneventful other than the fact that during our unbridged stream crossing we both misstepped and ended up wet on one foot!

The beautiful view from the top.  The ridge line is the Benton MacKaye Trail, our first summer thru hike in 2015.

The beautiful view from the top.  The ridge line is the Benton MacKaye Trail, our first summer thru hike in 2015.

We made it back to the parking lot by 4:45 p.m. and prepped for our drive home when it began to sprinkle.  Talk about great timing!  We followed up our hike with nachos and chicken wings.  Even though we didn't have time to get in major miles for the day, we called it a victory getting in a quick 12-mile, 4400-feet elevation gain hike. 

NoKey at the top! 

NoKey at the top! 

Lessons I Learned From My First Solo Hike

Even if you've been backpacking for years, chances are you have been going with a friend or a group.  When I first began backpacking back in 2008 I was either going with my boyfriend or our local hiking group on trips.  When I first decided I was ready to attempt an AT thru hike I also made the decision to take my first solo backpacking trip.  While you are rarely ever alone on the 2189.1-mile Appalachian Trail, taking that first solo trip was really important for my self-esteem and it also taught me a few lessons. Here are a few things I learned on my first solo trip.

Be Flexible

Be prepared for your plans to change during a trip. My first solo trip was in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Back in those days a permit wasn't required for all campsites - you just filled it out at the trailhead and placed it in the permit box.  Since my campsite, Campsite #15, wasn't a reservation campsite, I filled out my permit and put my copy in the top of my pack and headed out on my way. When I reached my destination on that warm September day I discovered the spring feeding the campsite was dry. I made the decision to head back to Campsite 16 instead.  When I reached this site it was also dry, so I headed down the trail a little way until I found some running water.  I then backtracked up to Campsite 16 for the night.  I didn't get to follow my plan, but I stopped and thought for a few minutes before making a decision.  Learning to be flexible is incredibly important when you're backpacking!

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Despite being on a trip in the most visited national park in the country, I didn't see a single person the entire time I was out on my trip, which is incredibly rare.  After setting up camp for the evening, I kept hearing things moving around the campsite. I kept hearing knocking sounds. I stood stone still for several minutes, heart thumping out of my chest, before realizing it was a squirrel running around and dropping nuts.  It was crazy to me to hear something so loud come from such a tiny creature!  Thankfully I was able to learn this lesson before the sun set. I was definitely extra careful that night when I hung all my food and hygiene items in my bear hang though!

Expect the Unexpected

Remember I said above how I didn't see a single person the entire trip? Well, I did actually have company the entire trek out to my first destination: a dog.  The Smokies are a national park and therefore no dogs are allowed on trails.  This little guy followed me from the parking lot all the way out to my campsite, followed me back to the second campsite, accompanied me to get water, and then headed home when I started unpacking.  I named him Buddy and he definitely made me feel more at ease - a way to say "hey, you're not alone - I'm here."  Fun fact about this dog - I saw him again in the park a few months later.  He had on a name tag - his name was actually Buddy!

While my first solo backpacking trip wasn't long and strenuous, it was a major confidence builder for me while I was mentally and physically prepping for my AT thru hike.  I feel like being out there alone really helped me to realize how strong I truly was and helped me to understand that I am strong enough and capable enough to make good decisions when faced with a problem on a long hike.  I was totally prepared to be afraid or call it quits.  I was convinced an ax murderer would sneak up to my camp in the middle of the night and no one would ever hear from me again.  I was terrified a bear would climb a tree and steal all my food.  In reality, it was a completely uneventful and confidence-building experience. 

Do you backpack alone or with friends?  Have you dreamed of taking the leap to do your first solo trip?  I'd love to talk about how you like to backpack.  Leave me a comment or find my page over on Facebook to get the conversation started!

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. 

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!

Brushing Your Teeth in the Woods

Whether you're headed out for one night, one week, or even half of a year you're going to need your toothbrush and toothpaste.  While brushing your teeth at home isn't really something you have to even think about much, on the trail dental hygiene is crazy important.  This post is going to be dedicated to the one subject no one ever really talks about and most hikers skip - how to keep your teeth and gums healthy outdoors. 

Before delving into the "how to" section of this post, I'd like to mention common dental issues that hikers can face.  A friend of mine, despite all her brushing on trail, ended up with three cavities after a 6-month hike.  Considering the amount of high sugar and high fat foods, along with carbonated and sickeningly sweet drinks a hiker consumes, it's no surprise that even with regular brushing cavities are a common problem. Another thru hiker I know had a molar crack completely in half and fall out while consuming her dinner one night.  Thankfully, she was a short way from a town where she was able to be seen by a dentist on an emergency basis.  Commonly, plaque buildup can cause gingivitis - a swelling and bleeding condition of the gums.  Having a bloody mouth while you're trying to eat boiling hot and incredibly salty food is never a fun time!  If any of these scenarios don't sound like fun to you, you're not alone.

Saying that most hikers don't brush their teeth regularly is not a shock to many of us.  It's been a long day and all you can think about is eating your dinner and crawling into your bag.  If you aren't keeping your toothbrush in your food bag, chances are you've skipped this important action more than once on trail.  The number one way I advocate to remember to brush your teeth is exactly this: keep your toothbrush, toothpaste, and any other oral hygiene items in a Ziplock in your food bag.  If they're close at hand when you're cleaning up your dinner, you won't forget to brush!  Since your brush and toothpaste smell like foodstuff to mice and bears, leaving it in your food bag is an even better idea so it can go in your bear hang/bear can at night. 

Since we've talked about an easy way to remember to brush, let's talk about the toothbrush and paste you're carrying on trail.  Many hikers opt for a travel toothbrush because of its small size and weight.  Alternatively, if you have a brand or firmness of brush you prefer to use at home, you can cut the handle off to make it travel size yourself.  A tube of travel-sized toothpaste will last you easily 2-3 months in the backcountry.  Dental floss picks are also a popular item on trail due to their small size and disposability options.  These come in handy after a meal that just doesn't want to come out of your teeth!  Options I don't recommend on trail are single use disposable finger brushes, which are often expensive, heavier, and not so great at cleaning teeth.  

So you've picked out your brush and toothpaste of choice.  Is there really a proper way to brush in the woods?  Actually - there is.  For brushing in the backcountry, you're going to use a LOT less toothpaste than you normally would.  I recommend just a small dab in a thin layer on a dry brush.  This way, there won't be too much to spit out onto the ground.  After brushing as you normally would, the "spew" method is the most taught in Leave No Trace principles.  We recommend you spray it, blowing a wide area of toothpaste as to  not concentrate a large glob.  Also, if you're out in the woods, digging a cathole is an acceptable method of disposing your extra paste.  The final method taught by Leave No Trace is to swallow it.  Yes, I said to swallow your toothpaste.  Keep in mind that you aren't using even a quarter of what you're probably using at home.  I always use toothpaste without fluoride anyway, so that isn't a concern for me.  Tom's of Maine is a great non-fluoridated brand available here on minimus.biz. 

Did you experience any dental problems on your long-distance hike?  What is your method of keeping your teeth clean in the woods?  Leave me a comment here on the blog or over on my Facebook page and let me know!

Failure Happens - Reasons Why it isn't a Bad Thing

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I recently read a blog post over on Appalachian Trials, a site I regularly write for, where someone has come to the decision to end their thru hike attempt.  The failure of this hike weighs heavy on her and she ponders the question if she is a failure also.  There are comments and support pouring in for this hiker about how the hike isn't a failure, etc.  My opinion is different though, and it might seem rude: Yes, she failed.  No questions about it, she set a goal, tried, and failed.  But let's talk about this because failure isn't a bad thing.  Yeah, I said it - it's NOT bad.  Let's break it down. 

Failure is defined by dictionary.com as "an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success."  By all accounts, when you attempt something and you don't do it, you have failed.  The very definition of the word implies this. However, there are seven definitions of the word "failure" on dictionary.com and not a single one of those definitions makes failure into a bad thing. As a society living in the age of technology and instant gratification though, we see success as being good and failure being bad.  In a time when we are constantly barraged with people's good moments and successes on social media, failures are not often highlighted or even noticed anymore. 

Failure can be a good, if not great, thing!  Failure means you tried and probably that you tried something HUGE.  If history tells us anything, many influential and inspiring people didn't become that way on their first attempt at anything.  Henry Ford attempted several car companies before Ford took off; Colonel Sanders was rejected MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND times by restaurants when trying to sell his chicken recipe; Walt Disney was fired from a job for lacking imagination; Abraham Lincoln ran for public office and lost multiple times before becoming President of the United States; Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime; I could go on and on about people who are considered triumphal now who failed time and time again!

Let's look at an example from my life recently - thru hiking the Finger Lakes Trail.  We wanted to do this trail over the course of five weeks in the middle of the humid New York summertime.  Then it rained.  Then I got sick.  It never stopped raining and all we were doing was walking highways in the rain.  We decided to postpone this hike until after we do the Long Trail, meaning we are no longer considered thru hikers.  While we will still become end-to-enders on this long distance trail, we will not be thru hikers.  We failed at thru hiking.  We didn't fail at anything but the title.  We failed at our goal, but are not failures as people.  We will have a new goal we can achieve and this is okay.  It doesn't make our attempt any less important to anyone but ourselves.  

So, if you're one of the many people out there who have failed at a goal - congratulations! You are doing something not a lot of people do anymore, and that's attempting something big.  There is a quote that is popular in fitness circles: "If your goal doesn't scare you, you aren't dreaming big enough" and that, I believe, is fitting to this blog post.  Failure means you're dreaming big and aiming high.  It means your sense of adventure, in whatever manner you chose, is still active.  It means you can try and try and try, fall down a bunch, and keep getting up.  Failure means you're being resilient.  Failure means you're human.  Now, quit feeling sorry for yourself and give it another shot!

Controversy in Baxter State Park

Check out Baxter State Park's Facebook status this morning about Scott Jurek's record setting thru hike- https://www.facebook.com/baxterstatepark/posts/1682502611969384

I'd love to hear your opinion of how Baxter State Park feels about this - check out the Sprinkles Hikes Facebook page and let's talk about it!

Day 17 - Finger Lakes Trail

It turns out it didn't end up raining all night.  Unfortunately, it DID start thunderstorming at 7 a.m. though.  We were already awake and getting our stuff put away when a wicked thunderstorm hit - lightening and thunder, the whole thing!  Thankfully, it did stop at 9 a.m., enough time for us to get moving.  Unfortunately for me, I woke up feeling not so great.  I'd been developing a bit of a scratchy throat since Saturday morning (our first zero) and now, on Tuesday, I woke up with a double earache and a wheeze.  We started walking and my cough got worse and the rain started again.  It rained for about 45 minutes, enough time for us to get wet on the downhill and then the crazy steep uphill that followed Babcock Hollow Road.  This part of the trail is so steep that FLTC crews installed ropes to help pull you up the hill.  Thankfully, we've hiked this section before and didn't need the ropes, even though it was raining.  

It's really steep, they aren't kidding! 

It's really steep, they aren't kidding! 

By the time we reached the top of the short and steep hill, the rain had stopped and mosquitoes came back out.  If you stopped walking, they would swarm.  We kept our heads down and we kept moving, although I was moving at a much slower pace than NoKey was.  We reached a seasonal road and we could take two trails - either the main FLT or a branch trail known as the Swedish Loop.  We opted for this trail instead of the main FLT since we had already done this part of the FLT.  The Swedish Loop was very beautiful and well-maintained - a mix of hardwood and spruce with a nice soft ground for walking.  The loop trail met back up with the FLT in only 1.5 miles and we were back on track to hit Daisy Hill Road.  We road walked a bit before heading back uphill and then down to the Jim Schug Rail Trail. 

When we reached the rail trail we were making great miles, pretty quick too.  There was a bench at the end where the FLT meets the road walk and we sat down for a bit.  By now I'm coughing and gasping, my throat hurts, and I just feel like crap.  The first lean-to of the day was only 6 miles out and I figured we could just stay there.  NoKey convinced me that I really needed to get out of the woods and rest.  We finished the road walk up to NY 38 and pulled out our "Hikers to Town" sign to hitch into Dryden.  We got picked up really fast with the new sign and got dropped off at a gas station/McDonald's at noon.  

Seeing this kind of trail will motivate you! 

Seeing this kind of trail will motivate you! 

We were trying to figure out what to do next - I didn't want to spend money on a B&B when home was only an hour away, but we had no way to get home.  No buses ran from this area to Syracuse until the following day and we still needed to hitch 10 miles down the road for that.  All this changed when a nice man named Dave came over to us.  He noticed the AT logo on NoKey's hat and started telling us about his daughter who thru hiked in 2007.  We got to chatting and discovered we had all lived in Maine before.  One thing lead to another and he said he could give us a ride to Cortland because he was on his way back to work there anyway. He had a Chinese Intern with him, Aman, who was headed back to Syracuse at 3:30.  Aman generously offered to drop us off at home if we could wait for him to get off work.  We agreed to wait and they dropped us off at a shopping plaza where I went to the drug store for medicine and NoKey went to Big Lots for junk food!

So now we're back at home...again.  We are so grateful to all the trail angels we met today who helped us get here and I'm feeling incredibly sad to be off trail. I feel like I'm throwing off our whole hike.  I know that hiking when you're sick is hard, but I still just want to be on trail.  

The rolling central NY hillsides. 

The rolling central NY hillsides.