thru hiking

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.  

How to Survive beingthe _support Crew_.png

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? 

National Backpacker's Day

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Five Things I Learned from Backpacking

Recently I realized that my life has changed so, SO much from becoming a distance hiker.  For those of you who knew me back before my 2012 Thru Hike you know that I was the kind of person who needed to be in control of a situation and liked to organize and plan out things.  Once I really gave that idea up, which took a LOOOOOONG time, and began to learn how to take things as they came to me I've noticed something strange - I'm usually at ease when plan A doesn't work.  I no longer freak out (at least, not on the outside) and I stop to think about what plan B could be.  Then, I go from there.  It turns out the more and more I thought about it I've learned quite a bit from becoming a distance backpacker, but many people learn these simple concepts from the first time they strap on a pack and hit the trail.  Here are five simple things I learned from backpacking. 

1) Simple is better.  The easier a piece of gear is to use the less stress I'll feel when assembling it in less than ideal conditions.  If it somehow gets dark when I get into camp, I'm 100% positive I could set up my tent, hang my bear bag, and climb into bed in less than 10 minutes.  My gear is always packed in the exact same way and I bet I could do all of my camp chores blindfolded!

2) Clutter = Chaos.  Remember the old adage "a place for everything and everything in it's place"?  Well, that couldn't be more true than it is for my backpack.  The stuff sacks are brightly colored and packed exactly the same every single time I put them back.  When I put gear in my tent it all goes in the same order.  With order comes calm.  It's very rare you'll ever find me digging for a piece of gear I've misplaced.  

3) Go with the flow. Sometime Plan A doesn't work out.  In fact, Plan A is usually ditched for me pretty early on.  As someone who used to preplan A-Z, it turns out that if you just wing it things will still turn out alright.  Learning to be flexible with things that come up as been such a valuable lesson for me and has even helped me with my anxiety issues.  It took me a long time to get here, but it's working out pretty well!

4) Everything happens for a reason.  This one is still tough for me sometimes.  It's hard to realize that even things that seem like they're terrible can turn out alright in the end.  This couldn't have been more true for us than it was on our Finger Lakes Trail thru hike attempt in the summer of 2015.  We walked through a section of New York with a long no camping zone.  The trail conservancy was rude to us and offered no help, but with a little help from some trail angels and some tips from people in the area we were able to find a restaurant off trail with people who lived right on the property we were aiming to stealth camp on that night.  Instead of us having to stealth camp on private property in the rain, they offered up a guest house with a shower and a freezer full of candy.  We slept out the thunderstorm that night in the glow of a satellite television.  

5) It always works out in the end.  It turns out the old saying is true - it truly isn't about the destination, but about the journey.  When I set out to do  my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012 I had a much different idea of how my journey would pan out.  It turns out that the journey I thought I wanted wasn't the one I needed.  It turns out the journey I took changed my life forever and in the best possible way.  Funny how the universe works, isn't it?

These are just a few of the life-changing, simple things I learned from backpacking.  Is there anything you agree with here?  What would you add to the list?  

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

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!

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!

Opinion - In Defense of Baxter State Park

With all the controversy going on surrounding Baxter State Park recently I've really been trying hard to bite my tongue; however, yesterday I saw a hiker friend of mine liked a link a friend of theirs posted to Facebook regarding Scott Jurek taking Baxter State Park to court regarding his three summons issued during his record-breaking hike.  The caption written by the poster was "I hope this puts Baxter Park in their place."  My silence is now going to be broken. 

Baxter State Park isn't your typical state park.  In fact, even though it is considered a Maine State Park, it is an entirely separate entity from all the others.  Baxter State Park is a special place, receiving no tax dollars from Maine residents and is only open through the collection of user fees and the grant given by Governor Percival Baxter - the man who purchased all the individual tracts of land which now make up the park in hopes of preserving the wilderness of the Maine woods in an area where logging was king for much of the late 19th and nearly all of the 20th centuries.  The park is a true wilderness area and is not allowed to expand the roads or facilities - no running water or electricity are in this park at all and this will always be the way.  

The big controversy surrounding the Appalachian Trail began in the fall of 2014, when the park composed an open letter to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy regarding the swelling problems created by thru hikers, mostly the hikers ending their hikes at Katahdin, but also by the sheer numbers of people who are entirely unprepared to hike southbound from the park as well.  This letter can be seen by clicking the link above, but lists the many problems the park has had with thru hikers in recent years.  Contrary to popular belief, the park doesn't mainly cater to thru hikers and their families.  AT hikers only make up between 2-3% of the visitors in this park every year.    

The real issue of this letter came to a boiling point very recently, on Scott Jurek's record-breaking AT thru hike, in which he finished the trail in less than 47 days and beating Jennifer Pharr Davis' record from 2011 by three hours.  Jurek was issued three summons after his summit of Baxter Peak - one for littering, one for drinking alcohol on the summit, and another for hiking with a group larger than 12 people.  Jurek plans to fight the summons in court - and this is the reason for this opinion piece.  

I am 100% on the side of Baxter State Park on this issue.  Having worked very closely with the park during my time in Maine in 2013, I have seen the problems happening in the park and understand their anger regarding this record breaking hike.  This whole issue is not about having a celebratory drink on Katahdin and that seems to be the only thing hikers are complaining about.  This issue is about violating the rules.  If you don't know the rules, that is not a valid excuse for breaking them.  For example, on my 2012 thru hike I didn't know the rules about alcohol and I popped the champagne just like many other hikers before me.  This doesn't excuse my actions and if I were issued a summons, I would plead guilty and pay the fine, as breaking the rules is exactly what I did.  Saying "I'm a good person and I pack out my trash and I didn't know" doesn't make you not guilty of violating the guidelines you are to follow on the summit.  

The thing that is making the park officials the angriest, however, is the corporate sponsorship surrounding the event.  This point is completely glossed over by many in the hiking community.  Jurek wore a Clif Bar headband and had a support vehicle following him with the logo, as well as had a documentary crew following him.  While the company following his journey had obtained a permit to film in the park, they were told filming within 500 feet of the summit for commercial purposes was prohibited.  They chose to do so anyway.  Maine's largest wilderness area was home to corporate advertising on the day of Scott's summit, which isn't allowed.  

With the popularizing of the AT with this week's new film, A Walk in the Woods, Baxter Park has grown more concerned for the future of the impacts that will be made there.  The park has already written in their letter I linked to above that they can and will consider moving the trail completely out of the park, meaning hikers wishing to finish on Katahdin will have to follow the same procedures as everyone else who wishes to climb the mountain.  While I would be saddened to see the trail move, it by no means indicates you can't hike Maine's tallest peak - it only means what most AT hikers seem to forget: You are not special or entitled just because you walked here.  In order for the wilderness of Baxter State Park to be preserved, you might just have to sign up for your Katahdin permit online or register with the park in the future.  I don't see how this would be a bad thing.  

I would love to hear your opinions as to why or why not you agree with Baxter State Park on their stance of this issue.  Please leave me a comment or comment on this post on Facebook! If you would like to read more about the park's creation or learn the history of this very special place, visit their website here

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. 

Days 14 & 15 - zero days at home

We came home yesterday night from McGraw, NY and we will be getting back on trail in Hoxie Gorge.  Since we were just going to be road walking to this point, that is why we made this decision.  So far, the minimal maintenance in the Catskills  and DEP lands combined with the wet (but beautifully maintained!) other portions of the eastern part of this trail have really gotten me in a funk. 

I am hoping the days off will recover my feet, which are starting to peel so badly I wonder how in the world there is any skin left!  I've never had foot problems on a hike before and I know it's probably just due to the perpetually wet conditions of this trail so far.  We are hoping that the summer weather kicks back in soon!  I haven't really hit my stride yet on this trail and it kind of has me a little nervous.  I think it's probably just due to the fact that my feet feet so miserable, but I'm really hoping to start enjoying myself more soon.  

So far we have spent 13 days on trail.  The breakdown is five nights in a tent, three nights in a shelter, three nights in private homes, and two nights in a motel.  For this reason, we have nicknamed this trail "The American Camino" or "Camino de American" haha!  We have been enjoying the road walks into these little towns, but it's going to start getting expensive if we keep going in to enjoy them!  We have already had to send back a box full of food due to not being behind schedule, but overindulging in towns to where we don't need our boxes.  This weekend home I plan to look more closely at our maps and plan our days loosely to make sure that our resupply plan suits us, especially since we have about a month left to hike on this trail. 

We have resealed our tent (AGAIN) to hopefully keep out every single drop of moisture.  It's waterproofed very VERY well right now, but due to the high amount of rain it's still getting some minor dripping at night.  Hopefully this third time is a charm and we won't need to do it again.  We also waterproofed the bottom of NoKey's pack and have washed and dried all our gear.  I'm enjoying the comforts of home, but I'm already wishing to be back on the trail.  That's the thing about a thru hike, it's all about the journey.  Some days on this trail haven't been all that enjoyable, but not every day will be.  I'm glad we were able to get home and get some rest so I wouldn't push myself to hard and just want to quit.  I was seriously ready to never come back to this trail before we hitched into McGraw yesterday afternoon.  Here's to hoping for better weather in the coming weeks!

Day 13 - Finger Lakes Trail

We were supposed to have rain from midnight until 8 a.m., but we woke up at sunrise to completely dry conditions, albeit overcast.  We were elated at the fact that it didn't rain!  We packed up and headed out early since we knew today if we pushed it we could go home!  We began some easy uphill walking to the top of the first hill, which at the top was just a mud pit.  We have deemed this mountaintop squishiness "mountain mush".  We slopped our way through the mud, attempting to stay dry but failing when the rocks under our feet would either completely sink or slide away and wash downstream.  The trails, however, were maintained as well as they could be.  On the other side at the bottom, we walked through a wet field where the water was so deep I sank in mud up past my calves.  The grass was nearly as high as my chest!

Just a LITTLE muddy!  

Just a LITTLE muddy!  

We began yet another uphill.  This hill made me lose my cool.  There was an old logging road switching back the whole way up, yet whoever built the trail decided to build it straight up the hill, meaning the entire trail pretty much had washed away due to all the rain.  You could see where people had slipped and slid, and even animal prints sliding and slipping, all the way up.  WHY NOT JUST USE THE OLD ROAD?!  Ugh.  Covered in mud at the top of the hill, the trail now WAS following the old logging road next to some private land and barbed wire fences.  This guy really doesn't want people on his land!  After some more mud, we came down into the Cheningo Day Use area - which doesn't look like it has been used yet this year.  

NoKey playing in a creek, washing off the mud and trying to escape the mosquitos!

NoKey playing in a creek, washing off the mud and trying to escape the mosquitos!

From here, we chose to road walk up Cortland Two Road due to Cheningo Creek being so high and it recommending to do this for eastbound hikers if the creek is high.  We walked pretty steeply uphill before coming to the pond where the trail went back into the muddy woods.  We climbed another hill before finally coming down to Telephone Road.  From here, we could either climb a mountain described as "brambles get thicker", or we could get a ride into McGraw and go home.  Since the trail from here would have been a road walk nearly all the way to Hoxie Gorge, we chose to hitch.  I threw up my thumb and we surprisingly got a ride pretty quickly from a guy from Delaware.  He grew up in the area and said he used to hitch around here all the time.  We were incredibly grateful for the ride since the sun had come out and it was noon.  

Some dry-ish portions of trail today... it sure is pretty when everything is so green!

Some dry-ish portions of trail today... it sure is pretty when everything is so green!

We stopped into Malarkey's Pub and Grub in McGraw and made a few phone calls to arrange our ride home to Syracuse.  Daryle and Jenny came and picked us up and brought us back home.  They really helped us out yet again and we are SO THANKFUL for them!  We really needed some time away from the trail and I'm ready to enjoy a weekend with (hopefully) dry feet. 

Day 12 - Finger Lakes Trail

We got another early start from Bucks Brook, mostly because we knew it was going to rain and we needed to get into DeRuyter for our resupply.  We had lots and lots of muddy walking this morning, through fields and private land, but it was mostly level without too much in the way of steep hills this morning.  Early on, we passed the Link Trail.  This is the trail system designed to connect the Adirondacks and the North Country Trail to the FLT.  It also runs up to the Erie Canal system.  We joked that we could just walk to the Erie Canal and walk home that way!  After crossing the first road, we began to get rained on again.  We didn't mind much as this now seems to be the norm for us!  We walked through more mud and slop for a while, up and down some rolling Central NY hills, before finally coming to the road we could walk to get into DeRuyter to pick up our resupply box. 

Where the Adirondacks can meet the FLT. 

Where the Adirondacks can meet the FLT. 

We tried to hitch the entire time we were walking, but had absolutely no luck.  We were lucky, however, to get into DeRuyter 10 minutes before the post office closed for lunch!  At least we had that luck on our side!  We repacked our food bags and got out the new maps before we realized we honestly didn't even need the resupply because with all the road walking we would be doing the next few days we would be home in less than 2, instead of the full three we had planned.  Somehow, now NoKey had six days' worth of food! Yikes!

We stopped at Sal's Pizzeria on the way out of town - NoKey got two slices and I got a pepperoni roll.  Sal said we could recharge our phones while we ate, so we did.  We hiked back out of town, again trying to hitch back to no avail.  From here, we had a hot, but thankfully not sunny, road walk pretty much to near where we were camping for the night.  We passed an Elk Farm and had pretty much no traffic the entire time, so that was nice.  When we finally reached the top of Cuyler Hill Road to turn back into the woods, we took a break and checked our phones.  I had a message from the President of the FLTC apologizing for the rude behavior I experienced a week ago when I called the office for help on map 28.  I really appreciated him following up with me, even though I wasn't the person who called!  Donna, the kind woman who called me back when we were out of Downsville, had called and lodged a complaint on my behalf for being treated so poorly by the office worker on the phone.  He assured me they were taking steps to make sure this would never happen again and encouraged us to give him a call when we got into his part of the trail.  Thank you, Pat!

The beautiful rolling hills at the top of Cuyler Hill Road and Stony Brook Road. 

The beautiful rolling hills at the top of Cuyler Hill Road and Stony Brook Road. 

From here, we climbed up to our first 2000 foot hill we've seen in a while before coming downhill for a few miles into our campsite at Wiltsey Glen.  With all the rain, the whole area was pretty washed out again, but our campsite was pretty dry with the leaf and pine needle coverage.  We set up camp at 6 p.m. and were shocked that we had done nearly 25 miles for the day with all the road walking to our box in DeRuyter.  Even though road walking is hard on us, it does get you pretty far pretty quickly!  Tomorrow we are hoping to get into McGraw, NY and find a way to get home for the weekend.  I've lost a lot of motivation, probably due to the weather, and am ready to get home and take a break.  

Day 9 - Finger Lakes Trail

 

We got up really early to have breakfast with Steve and Deb, coffee with home fries and fresh cheese. We sat with Steve until around 8, when the post office opened, grabbed our resupply and headed out of town.  Some people driving by stopped us to talk as they were from the Yellow Deli - a hostel system with two AT hostels.  We headed down the trail from here, road walking out of town.  We had a lot of road walking to do today and we got rained on pretty much every time we stepped onto the road this morning. We also missed where the trail went back through a field and ended up doing  much longer road walk than anticipated!  It was still very pretty as we were walking uphill through a rural neighborhood with lots of field.

A misty day in the fields  

A misty day in the fields  

 

We alternated woods and road walking several times and took a high water bypass in the early afternoon.  As soon as we were walking on the road I saw a bear go darting across the street.  We saw a bag of garbage on the other side of the road and guessed we interrupted his meal. We did a whole lot of road walking from this point before heading back into a sopping wet field and a nasty wet and flooded trail.  It was supposed to be scenic waterfalls but it was honestly just a mess.  We did some more road walking and decided to check cell phone coverage before heading on.

We rang it... And it was LOUD! 

We rang it... And it was LOUD! 

I had a message from a blog follower saying she could help us out if we were having a tough time finding a place to camp. Since we were on mostly private land and had already done 17.5 miles (2:30 pm), we decided to shoot her a message.  She offered to let us stay at her house in their camper and we agreed to meet her at 6 pm at a road crossing.  This gave us the energy we needed to do some more uphill pasture walking before coming to a microwave tower (seriously, what are these things?!) and then doing yet another long road walk in the afternoon sun.

 

The first time we have seen these green signs on our trip! 

The first time we have seen these green signs on our trip! 

 

Amy, along with her kids, picked us up with cold Gatorade and water waiting.  She drove us back to her place and introduced us to her husband who welcomed us with open arms.  They fed us dinner, let us shower, did our laundry, and even gave us beer and ice cream until we thought we would explode.  We talked about some of our past adventures and showed Amy our gear to help her prep for some upcoming hikes.  It was an amazing end to a 22-mile day.

Day 5 - a zero in Downsville

We woke up early, around 6:15, and decided that a zero day was in order.  After having wet feet for four days and both of us in new shoes our feet have taken a pounding and we both had some pretty bad looking feet.  We made a great decision because we ran into a big problem.  We picked up our drop at the post office at 9 am after a huge breakfast at the Downsville Diner. We hit the market next door for some zero day provisions and then headed back to the hotel for some relaxation.

The cute and tiny post office  

The cute and tiny post office  

We sat down and sorted our box and I started making a game plan for tomorrow's hike.  Here is where I hit the snag.  If you're heading west out of Downsville there is a horse camp about 5 miles outside town.  The map goes on for 12 miles to the next map, which is 25.2 miles.  The only campsite for 35 miles is the one just outside of town.  The entire map that is 25.2 miles is all land owned by New York City.  There is absolutely no camping and they have their own environmental police to bust you for camping (the DEP).  Their headquarters is also at the start of this 25.2 mile map.  Now we have to figure out where to go.  I called a car spotter and he recommended I call a place.  That place recommended I drive 11 miles to a campground and didn't quite understand I was on foot and driving isn't possible.  I called the Finger Lakes Trail Conference for an idea of what to do next.

The FLTC office turned out to be a dead end and a pretty bad experience.  In fact, the woman who answered the phone, when I asked what they tell thru hikers to do in this long section, told me I should have planned weeks in advance and lined up my shuttles to hotels.  I asked her if there was a town between Downsville and Bainbridge that I maybe couldn't see on their maps and she told me no in a very firm tone.  She told me she couldn't help me and hung up.  I was shocked at the treatment I received from the FLTC and I'm really upset that I called asking for help planning our day and they flat out told me they couldn't help me. We again walked back to the hotel.

We decided to blow off steam by taking some kayaks out onto the river.  The Downsville Motel is right in the East Branch of the Delaware River and we took some kayaks out on the very small stream coming from the NYC-owned reservoir where you're actually allowed to boat.  We had a beautiful view of the covered bridge and even saw a bald eagle flying around.  It was a great way to end our long and frustrating day.

Screw it, let's kayak! 

Screw it, let's kayak! 

I won't tell you guys where or what we'll be doing tomorrow.  I will say that this trail, so far, hasn't been the norm for us.  We normally run into people who are full of information and very helpful.  We've been lost, soaking wet, and now told to fend for ourselves.  After nearly 3000 long-distance hiking miles to say we finally have hit a big snag is pretty impressive.  I would like to say thank you to the people we talked to today who DID take the time to help us out on the phone - Richard, Tina, and Jim.  Thank you!  And also a big thanks goes out to Al and his employee at the sports shop/motel who sat down with us and looked at the map and tried to help out.  

It's gorgeous on the Delaware River! 

It's gorgeous on the Delaware River!