The Pistol Ultra Run - 100 Miles

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

background photo from traillink.com user jefreeinkorn

background photo from traillink.com user jefreeinkorn

Prerace -

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

Morning of - 

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

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

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

Miles 0-30 - 

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

All smiles at mile 3...

All smiles at mile 3...

Miles 30-60 - 

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

Miles 60-70 - 

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

Miles 70-90 - 

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

Miles 90-100 - 

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

Crying and running through the finish line.

Crying and running through the finish line.

Post Race - 

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

That finisher swag tho...

That finisher swag tho...

The Days After - 

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

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

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

The Race Itself - 

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Coffee Date - March 2018

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

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

Home Sweet Home for 2018!

Home Sweet Home for 2018!

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

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

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

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

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Ultimate Coffee Date - January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to the bottom of every post: This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

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

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

Under $30

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

Under $50

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

Splurge Items

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

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



A Walk For Sunshine - a hiking memoir and book review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk for Sunshine

Ultimate Coffee Date - October 2017

The temperatures are cooling, the leaves are changing, and the tourists are flocking to the mountains like it's going out of style!  It must be October, and since it's the first Saturday of the month, it's time for our Ultimate Coffee Date.  Grab a mug of your favorite warm beverage and let's catch up.  

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If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've taken the leap and signed up for my very first 100-mile race! I have decided to do the Pistol Ultra Hundred Miler instead of attempting to break a 4-hour marathon this spring.  In a perfect world I'd be able to do both races, but it's just not going to happen in 2018.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: There are big plans in the works for 2018.  Since our vacation didn't quite go as planned this year I didn't get my fill of thru hiking as I'd hoped.  In the coming months, look for an announcement as to what next year will bring!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: How excited I am that the temperatures are finally cooling off.  This fall I've been able to run a lot more than I did last year.  I've been really lucky to be able to get a good number of days off this year and I feel like I'm doing a much better job at taking care of myself than I did last fall.  Being able to focus on not just my running, but also being able to get back into yoga has been so much better for me.  I am finally starting to feel like myself again. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Living in this small town I grew up in has kind of put me in a funk.  I was doing well for several years while I was living up north.  These days, being back in a tourist town in the American South has really taken a toll on me.  It's not that I don't love the low cost of living or the scenery, but the fact that we are so incredibly lacking in culture and diversity has been tough.  It's also been pretty cruddy that there is really nothing to eat here other than chain restaraunt and American-style bar food.  I've not been eating well recently and I'm hoping to fix that soon.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Even though I am still here in the south, I'm definitely enjoying the work I've been doing lately.  I was recently given the opportunity to plan several hikes with a much more strenuous pace and distance than many we offer at the company I contract for.  While I love getting people out into the woods and guiding many people out into the wilderness for the first time, getting the chance to stretch my legs has put me in such a great mental place.  I hiked nearly 60 miles in a week a few weeks back and I really got into a happy place.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that speaking of work, some great opportunities for next season are in the works!  I'm super excited to feel like I'm being challenged when it comes to getting out and going hiking.  For me, getting outside the comfort zone is what my job is all about, and when I can do it I think it makes for an amazing experience for both me AND my clients.  

What would you tell me if we were catching up this week?  How was your September?  Did you reach any goals or milestones?!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Catching Up - My Favorite Posts of the Summer

Hey all! I know most of us have had a busy few months and I'm no different!  My work schedule, vacation, and even just life have gotten in the way of my writing recently.  I know I had promised back at the beginning of the summer that I would get back at it blogging for you guys, but it honestly just didn't happen.  Instead, I've been out working and getting ideas for things to write about for you all.  

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Unfortunately, I missed a ton of news out in the hiking world over the summer.  Below, I'm going to share with you some of my favorite blog posts from OTHER outdoor writers that I was reading the past few months. Those of you who follow me on Facebook may recognize some of them.  

First, my favorite post about why switching out of those heavy hiking boots and into a lightweight shoe makes so much sense from Clever Hiker: Ditch the Boots. And if that isn't enough for you, check out some more scientific posts from this Reddit Thread

Second, the AT speed record was broken again this year, although quietly, by String Bean!  Regardless of how you feel about speed records existing, it is still an amazing feat! Check out this post from Gear Junkie about his record setting unsupported hike that even beat the SUPPORTED record time!

In August, I was loving An Ode to Every Woman Who's Ever Been Called Outdoorsy.  I even read this post to my women's backpacking groups.  I hope you are as inspired by it as I am. 

And finally, it's just not hiking season these days without a little controversy.  This year, look no further than Stacey Kozel (yes, the "paralyzed" hiker).  While last year I had heard of her, this year she was virtually off the radar until just a few weeks ago, when she popped up again on the nightly news as an inspiring woman who thru hikes.  Unfortunately for Stacey, she picked a hell of a year to fake a thru hike with the highest reported snowpack in 30+ years and wildfires that made it nearly impossible for thru hikers going NoBo on the PCT to even hike it at all - seriously, the unofficial motto for NoBo's this year is 2017 - We Tried.  Anyway, check out this great post by Clay Bonnyman Evans about why it's not harmless she's lying about her hikes.   

Anyway, I hope you guys all had a wonderful and amazing hiking season and that your shoulder season is cool, colorful, and full of adventure!  By the way, if you're looking for more adventure from NoKey or me, feel free to follow us over on Instagram! You can find us @SprinklesHikes and @NoKeyRules. 

Ultimate Coffee Date - August 2017

July came and went so quickly it felt like a blink of an eye.  Of course, it always helps my month along when I leave for vacation for half the month!   While I didn't do a ton of work in July, I definitely have a ton to talk to you about - so grab your favorite mug, your favorite beverage, and join me for August's Ultimate Coffee Date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That I'm halfway through my busy season at work now!  I'm almost counting down the days to the off-season at this point.  After backpacking a little on vacation I can't tell you how much I miss being able to do my own thing.  Leading trips is great and I love teaching people the 'how-to's' of being outdoors, but being able to enjoy it for myself is so fulfilling. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Our vacation was definitely a mixed bag.  We had to scrap our original plan of thru hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail due to NoKey's dad getting sick and being in the hospital.  Thankfully, he's doing much better now, but he was in pretty bad shape and we thought it best to head out to see him and then make a road trip out of it.  Unfortunately,  I also lost a diamond earring in the White Mountains and blew a tire in Connecticut, leading me to have to buy four brand new ones.  We also discovered that there was a class action lawsuit involving my model year of vehicle due to tires always blowing out (I've blown three in three years).  Unfortunately, I missed out on the lawsuit, but I will be getting the part fixed soon. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Not all things on the trip were bad.  In fact, we spent some time in Delaware (the last state I needed to visit on the east coast!) hiking and kayaking, drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and then did a road trip with hiking every few hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The vacation was a great break from the norm, but not quite the thru hike I was craving and needed. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm so incredibly thankful for my friends and family who helped us make the trip possible.  Being a "mom" to five cats and a dog, all of whom are getting older and have their own set of issues, going out of town and off the grid for periods of time can be really difficult.  If not for my parents, grandma, and a few close friends it would be nearly impossible.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm looking forward to the off-season this year.  I've decided to pursue a few things that I've been interested in for a while now.  I'm also trying to decide between attempting to finally get that sub-4 hour marathon time or attempt my first ever 100-mile race... Stay tuned for that!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm so thankful for those of you still reading the blog.  This project started out on Tumblr as a way for me to keep track of my hiking miles and has turned into SO.MUCH.MORE.  Without my readers, I'd be lost!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: In case you missed it, I'm really proud of this post I wrote before I left for vacation.  I've really been not too happy with how I'm looking physically lately, and honestly I'm old enough to know better ;) 

How was your month of July? What would we talk about if we met up for a coffee this morning? I'd love to hear about it!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

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?

Ultimate Coffee Date - July 2017

Another month has come and gone and the year is now more than half over (and my hiking season is getting close to that too!).  Time to play catch up with all you guys and let you know what is going on in our neck of the woods.  So, grab a cup of your favorite morning beverage and let's have our coffee date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: that June was a great month for me.  I was able to get back into running a bit and I've proven to myself that I haven't lost my fitness level too much!  Since I started seeing a chiropractor back in April I've really cut back on running to allow my body to heal after my marathon season.  I'm finally back to feeling great with very minimal pain. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I didn't have much time to focus on myself last month, however.  I led a lot of trips, some of which were added to my schedule last minute.  I got to run one of my AT Shakedown trips and that was such a blast!  I love seeing former clients go to the next level of backpacking.  I was so proud to see how much she had accomplished.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: our vacation is looking like it unfortunately might be a bust.  It looks like, at this time with less than 20 days til go-time, that some parts of the Tahoe Rim Trail are still covered in more than 8 feet of snow.  We are going to make a decision soon as to what we might do instead.  I'm pretty heartbroken that my planning might be for nothing.  While I love working as a guide, I really need some time to get out and hike the way I want to hike. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've got some new backpacking gear coming in the next few days for said vacation.  I finally decided to try a Zpacks Arc Haul and we made the switch from a single walled Tarptent to a double walled Nemo Blaze.  The only thing sad about that is my new gear won't be here until after I get back from my final guided trip before our vacation, so I won't get a chance to try it all out under a load of weight.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm toying with signing up for my first ever hundo (a 100-mile race) in March next year.  The race, the Pistol Ultra, is normally over New Years' weekend, but had to be moved due to the host school's schedule this year.  I don't really want to run an ultra in southern spring heat though... decisions, decisions!

While I'm definitely looking forward to a busy July, I'm also really looking forward to some "us time" on vacation.  What are your summer plans shaping up to be?  Are you planning an epic end-of-summer trip? 

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Ultimate Coffee Date - June 2017

It's the first Saturday in June (June, seriously?!) and that means it is time to play catch up with all of you guys.  Check out all the happenings behind the scenes over here at Sprinkles Hikes.  Grab your favorite coffee or tea and let's catch up on everything I've been doing over here. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: My season is really starting to pick up! I spent the month of May out on a few glamping (front country camping) trips as a camp host instead of as a hiking guide and I have absolutely been loving it.  Honestly, I spent so much time out in the backcountry last season that I don't mind spending a few hours out in the front country this year.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: With that being said, I am really looking forward to my first backpacking trip of the season (with clients) in two weeks!  I am leading an AT Shakedown hike for a repeat client and her friend, plus a woman who wants to go hiking out in the Rockies.  As much as I love backpacking, I did so much of it last season that I'm really enjoying the fact that I'm not out all the time this season. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  I've been seeing a chiropractor now for six weeks and I finally have gone more than a full day without any hip/shin/knee pain!  This marathon season I had been complaining of tight hips that never loosened up despite miles of warm ups and cool downs and stretch sessions.  With this most recent session, my doctor used a device called The Activator.  While it was initially uncomfortable, I've actually been hip pain/tightness free in 36 hours!  I've also stepped it back on running once again and I'm opting for low-impact cardio options at the gym and doing strength training at home.  Strengthening my hips will be a priority for my winter running season!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  how fast this season is going!  We have booked everything for our Tahoe Rim Trail hike and now I really need to get on top of the food thing.  Thankfully, this trip is only 10 days in the backcountry and not a few weeks or months, but I've found that planning a menu for only 10 days can be just as stressful!  I want to make sure we'll enjoy our meals without getting bored.  We will also need to mail ourselves our food and fuel for our trip, so I do need to set up a hotel in Reno for that purpose.  July will be here before I know it!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  I'm doing a giveaway this month!  I have one Believe Logbook signed by Lauren Fleshman and I think it would be perfect for those of you with fall marathon or half marathon goal races!  Check out my Rafflecopter giveaway below!


Add to the bottom of every post: This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Ultimate Coffee Date - May 2017

The month of April is finally over and I'm back at it writing again.  It's time to play catch up with all of you and share what has been going on over here behind the blog.  It's time for our Ultimate Coffee Date - May edition!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm starting to feel a little better than I was when I last posted.  It's still taking a lot of energy on my part to sit down behind the computer and write posts, but I've been working on a few different ideas and I'm going to start getting more active by posting archival posts on Facebook and Twitter in the coming months.  Look for the "Best of Sprinkles Hikes" coming to social media near you soon!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: It seems like the Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike is sneaking up on me!  I'm going to have to get on the ball and purchase plane tickets (they say 55-65 days from the trip you'll get the best deal), maps, apps, and finalize our food for the trip.  I'm definitely planning on doing a lot of our own home-dehydrated meals again.  Logistics, like getting to the trailhead from the airport and stopping by an outfitter for fuel on the way to the trailhead, are definitely near the top of the list.  I'm going to have to work on this soon!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've started seeing a chiropractor for the aches and pains I've been dealing with since finishing up my marathon training this year.  Post-marathon blues really hit me hard and I've been having major FOMO following the ultras my friends are doing.  This training season really wrecked my body and I worked so hard (running a 20+ minute PR in my marathon) to improve my times and stamina.  I'm hoping to feel some improvement soon!  I've gotten back into running again and I did nearly 15 miles this week.  I'm hoping to run three days a week (one long run on my day off) and possibly get in a day of strength training.  Since my FedEx days I've definitely lost quite a bit of arm strength!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I recently went on a campsite scouting trip for the company I work for.  We are expanding into other areas to offer more trips for REI Adventures.  This meant I got to go out without clients and take a hike at my own pace and camp where I wanted to!  Granted, I chose a poor campsite (due to bear canister restrictions) and ended up doing my first ever night hike at 1:15 a.m. to sleep in the backseat of my car, but I was able to hike 30  miles and find some great places for a trip!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: NoKey and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary.  It's hard to believe it's been five years since I was out on the AT.  I cannot believe how much I've learned about myself and changed in those five years.  It seems like every single year brings a new adventure and a whole lot of self-discovery!

What would you tell me if we were sitting down for a cup of coffee today?  I'd love to catch up with my readers!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!


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The Post I've Been Putting Off...

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Coffee Date - February 2017

Another month has come and gone, which means it is time to catch up with all of you once again!  So, pull up a chair and a cup of coffee or tea and join me and our hosts, Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner! , for an ultimate coffee date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I had a great January run-wise! Fresh off the completion of my first ever ultra marathon I was able to dive back into marathon training with no injuries - something I'm super proud of!  I ended up getting in 101 miles from January 2nd to February 2nd.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've been getting up on Saturdays, with the exception of race days of course, to run at 5 a.m. with other people.  This has honestly really helped me on my long run days.  It's amazing how motivated you are to run a little faster when you're trying to keep pace with other people! Now I finally get why people enjoy running groups!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I really enjoyed my short run-cation to Atlanta last month to run Hot Chocolate 15K!  I hadn't been to Atlanta in such a long time.  My favorite way to travel is on foot, so getting to see the sights in the city at my own pace was so relaxing.  I'm super excited to be running in Nashville on 2-11! (code NashvilleBRHC gets you a free visor when you register!)

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That right now, if you're reading this on February 4th before 11 a.m. I'm trying to run my first ever official sub 2 hr half marathon!  I unofficially broke my PR and ran 1:56:00 last week during a training run.  I'm super hopeful I can do it at a race today!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm really working to hold everything together lately.  I feel incredibly frazzled and I wonder sometimes if it's because I'm spending too much time online - either working on the blog or interacting with run/hike groups or answering emails (which I love to do! you can always email me!)  One of my goals for this month is to spend less time online and more time reading books.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've finally gotten back into a near-daily yoga habit again.  One of the things I really hate about where I live is the fact that there isn't any yoga near me.  It's at least half an hour one way to a studio with a class at intermediate levels.  I've been back to doing yoga on YouTube, but I'm honestly starting to get bored with it.  Anyone have any suggestions for online yoga classes?

So that's about all that is going on with me this month.  I'd love to hear what you're up to! Leave me a comment about how your 2017 is going!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Ultimate Coffee Date (+Giveaway!) - January 2017

Happy New Year to all my readers!  While many of us are happy to see 2016 in the rearview and looking forward to 2017, I had a pretty kickass December.  I'd love to catch up with you today, but since we're so spread out a virtual coffee date will have to do!  Grab your favorite mug and warm beverage and let's catch up. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: My December flew by!  I spent the early part of the month dealing with the wildfires here in town, followed by the arrival of two new babies.  Then, we traveled to Maine to run a half marathon (NoKey's first!) in our favorite little trail town.  With all of those things going on, who would have thought I'd have time for ANYTHING else?!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Despite all of the above, I still had time to run 111.4 miles in December.  This is thanks, in part, to me finally jumping in and joining a local fitness center.  Since I'm not getting home until it gets dark and people around here not exactly paying attention to pedestrians I needed a safer options.  While at first I loathed the idea of hopping on a treadmill, being able to run after work and doing it safely kind of makes the dread disappear!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I also had a chance to see some friends this month.  Shaggy, a hiker we met on the AT, came into town and we spent the evening talking trail like only thru hikers can do.  Don't get me wrong, I love chatting with others about the AT, but it's so much different when someone else understands exactly what you were feeling out there.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: On December 31, 2016 I ran and completed my first ever ultramarathon!  I chose The Pistol Ultra not only because it was local but also because I'd heard for a first timer this was THE race to chose!  It didn't disappoint.  You can check out my thoughts on running an ultra on a post I did a few days ago.  I cannot wait for this race next year!

And that brings me to my first giveaway for 2017! Since so many of us resolve to be better versions of ourselves in a new year, I'm giving away a Fitbook Lite.  This handy little book is designed to keep you accountable for six weeks, with places to put in your daily steps, water intake, exercise, and more.  Check out the giveaway below (ends 1-15-17):

What would you tell me today if we were going to catch up? Was your December crazy busy? Are you ready to rock 2017?

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Ultimate Coffee Date - What I've Been Doing Lately

It's December - the final month of the year!  While 2016 was definitely the year of "that just happened..." it's been one of the best ones for me professionally in a really long time.  So, pull up a chair, grab your favorite mug, and join me for our virtual coffee date today.  Here's what I would tell you today if we were just relaxing and having a cup of coffee. 

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... how excited I am to let you know NoKey finally quite his corporate job to come work with me at A Walk in the Woods!  One of the big things he wanted to accomplish when we moved here was to find a smaller business to work for.  We've both done work for huge corporations and smaller places and we both love the family feel of working for a smaller business.  It's so exciting that we'll have the opportunity to work together and develop our own guiding styles. 

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... speaking of work, I got a "promotion" so to speak.  I'm now our "backpacking coordinator" and am developing new programs and backpacking routes as well!  It's been really exciting to see the changes taking place and knowing that the ideas I have are good enough to bring about some of the changes as well!  You can check out all the changes over on their website!

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... that I'm still not sure what the heck I was thinking signing up for the Pistol Ultra on New Years Eve!  While I've had time to train on a treadmill recently, due to joining a gym, I'm still just wondering what I've gotten myself into!  I honestly thought I'd have a lot more time to train!  How is it that events sneak up on us so quickly?!

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... I am however, super stoked to be running the Millinocket Half Marathon in only one week!  This little town means so much to both NoKey and me.  Seeing this grassroots effort go from only 50 runners last year to an estimated 1000 this year just makes my heart happy.  I'm looking forward to getting back into town, eating at my favorite restaurants, and seeing some of my favorite people again.  

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... it doesn't feel the holidays to me this year.  Maybe because it was just so warm all summer.  Maybe because I was just so busy for the past few months that it doesn't feel like December yet.  No matter the reason, I'm just not feeling super festive yet.  Any ideas what I can do to bring some holiday cheer into my life?

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... The wildfires here in town have been devastating.  I am planning to write a separate post about them early next week.  I started to yesterday and it just got exhausting.  I'll have more info for you guys soon. 

What would you tell me today if we were able to meet up and play catch up?  Have you had some good news recently? I'd love to hear about it!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!


Smokies Wildfires - What It's Like to be Here Now

This post was really rough for me to write - not because of the content, but because I'm honestly just so tired.  It's been over a week since the wildfires struck the town of Gatlinburg.  With all the misinformation and jumbled messages out there, I wanted to put it all in one place.  I've had so many people - former clients, friends, old thru hiking buddies, and even total strangers - emailing me and asking how to help.  Here is my experience in the Gatlinburg area in the past week with some links to legitimate ways to help out.  

A photo of the former Driftwood Apartments in front of the Park Vista Hotel (taken by NoKey)

A photo of the former Driftwood Apartments in front of the Park Vista Hotel (taken by NoKey)

A lot of people assume these fires all started on Monday last week, but that's actually not true.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you might recall my last backpacking trip of the season had to end a day early due to wildfire.  In early November I was actually walking directly into a fire outside of Franklin, NC.  The following weekend NoKey and I took a hiking trip and we were very close to another fire outside of Robbinsville, NC.  Basically, from the end of October until this very moment wildfires have been ravaging the drought-stricken Southeastern US.  In the Smokies, we are officially down more than 13 inches of rain for the year.  This doesn't sound like a lot, but when you take into consideration that we in the Smokies are actually considered a temperate rainforest and our springs were running dry in the high elevations, it was the perfect set of conditions for a fire.  

I took this picture the first week of November after physically walking up on the fire.

I took this picture the first week of November after physically walking up on the fire.

While the fires were spreading throughout the region the air quality became very poor here.  Some days when I would go out to lead a hike you could smell the smoke in the air and you'd get massive headaches just from being outside.  Some days it looked as thick as fog.  We had nothing to worry about then - the fires were upwards of 50 miles away and across a giant lake.  Then, November 23rd, 2016, a fire broke out on the Chimney Tops here in the Smokies.  It has been proven at this point this fire was deliberately set.  In fact, 79% of the fires in the southeast that have been burning have been proven to be arson.  With the severe drought in place, the southeast has become an actual tinderbox.  On Monday, November 28th, many of us in the area knew something was very, VERY wrong.  The smoke in the air was incredibly thick.  There was an eerie yellow glow.  Many downtown Gatlinburg businesses locked up early due to the shops and restaurants filling with smoke.  By 2 p.m., the press conference told people there was another fire behind the Sugarlands Visitor Center - less than 2 miles from town.  We were told not to worry.  However, there were strong storms coming into the area that night.  Strong storms bring with them strong winds.  By 5 p.m. the winds had begun to gust and we were seeing gusts up to 91 mph.  By 7 p.m. chaos began to erupt.  It was being reported that the dry ground and winds were causing the fires to spread at 30 feet per minute and evacuations were  starting.  Traffic was snarled.  The videos started pouring in on our Facebook feeds of people driving through flames on Ski Mountain.  

Downtown on Monday before the fires spread.

Downtown on Monday before the fires spread.

The eerie yellow glow.&nbsp;

The eerie yellow glow. 

From our house, which was also starting to fill with smoke and was not near any fires, we were watching Gatlinburg catch fire.  We were glued to social media trying to figure out how to help and what we could do.  We helplessly watched as friends were fleeing their homes and learning what was supposedly on fire.  We would learn a week later that more than 1700 buildings were destroyed and 14 people would be left dead.  My friend and coworker, Sam, who was 8 months pregnant, lost her home and went into labor a few days later.  Many people living in the neighborhoods destroyed were immigrants who speak no English and are left with absolutely nothing.  So many people lost everything and we had to help. 

Appalachian Folks have a way of helping their own in need.  Now, a week after the fires, they're begging people to stop donating physical items like clothing and bottled water.  We ran out of places to store the items and we can't get them delivered to the people who need them most.  Dolly Parton set up the My People Fund, a foundation that gives 100% of the money raised to victims of the fire to get them back on their feet.  Local charities, like Crib Connection, have been getting in touch with people via social media to help them get the items they need.  The Volunteer Spirit is alive and well in East Tennessee.  We are far from in the clear, however.  Over the next week we need approximately 2000 volunteers to help us sort and deliver supplies to families in need.  We are desperately in need of translators who can speak Spanish to help those who can't communicate with local hospitals and clinics.  We need diapers and formula for those living in the shelters.  We need toys for the kids.  

Below you'll find a few links.  If you're in the area we would love to see you out volunteering.  If you're not in the area and want to help, please see the first link below to the Mountain Tough website.  

Finally, this is the Go Fund Me for my friends Sam, Junior, and new baby Abbie.  These are the most generous, sweetest people I know and they definitely need a hand. 

Thank you, THANK YOU to each and every one of you who reached out during this terrible time.  Seeing all the emails from you guys just warmed my heart.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

While many of us here in the US are celebrating Thanksgiving today I wanted to take the opportunity to let all of you guys out there know how thankful I am for each and every one of you.  Without my readers I wouldn't have the inspiration to keep doing these posts.  Without your feedback and support I wouldn't be half as successful as I am today either!  I hope you're all celebrating with family and loved ones today.  

-Sprinkles & NoKey 

Ultimate Coffee Date - What I've Been Doing Lately

Another month has come and gone... and that means it's time for me to play catch up with all of my readers!  Here's what I would talk about with you today if we decided to go out for coffee. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm so glad October is finally over!  It was definitely my busiest month and it feels like I was hardly home at all.  While I love my work as a backpacking guide, I definitely spent more than 2/3 of the month in the backcountry.  I really missed running and spending time with my dog.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  I'm also excited to be able to train for my ultra marathon!  I only have 6 weeks to train for it at this point, but I'm not worried for a few reasons.  1) It's only 50K and I feel like it's doable. 2) The cut off time is more than 50 hours. 3) I was backpacking or hiking at least 60 miles per week during the month of October.  Even though I didn't run further than 9 miles at a time, I was still getting in my endurance training!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  For the first time ever, I had to end a hike early due to wildfire.  There are quite a few fires burning in the southeast right now due to the severe drought we are experiencing.  Several parts of the Appalachian Trail are closed due to fire. We actually came up on it burning and had to hitchhike out a day early.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That my most recent blog post absolutely blew up on the internet last week.  I'm super proud of it and, if you haven't read it yet, I'd really encourage you to do it.  It came from a place near and dear to my heart and I hope it inspires people.   

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you:  That I'm ready to get my diet back on track.  Being that I've been backpacking so much in the past few months my regular eating habits have flown out the window!  Gone are my cravings for fresh fruit and veggies and here to stay are sugar and snack cravings.  When Extra Toasty Cheez-Its are a diet staple, it's time to clean things up a bit!  Even with the holidays coming, I'm pretty confident I can do it.  

That's everything that's been happening with me this past month.  What would you tell me if we were meeting up today to catch up? 


Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks

Unless you've been living in a cave (and I won't judge!) you know by now it's the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System this year.  With 2016 quickly coming to a close, I wanted to share two really neat infographics with you guys regarding the parks in our country.  

This first one shows all the National Parks in the country plus their locations and the number of annual visitors.  Some of these parks I haven't heard about before.  Yes, even someone who hikes for a living can't name all the national parks!  This second graphic may be of more interest to many of you guys because it shows the most and least visited parks. 

Is it surprising to see the Smokies has more visitors than the second, third, and fourth most popular parks combined? As a Centennial Ambassador for the NPS this year I've been doing many, MANY social media posts trying to encourage people to get out and find their favorite outdoor spaces and I can definitely tell  you we've seen SO MANY VISITORS in the Smokies this year.  

Thanks to Cotopaxi for sharing these graphics with me! (not an affiliate link or an ad!)

Have you visited any national parks this year for the centennial? What is your favorite place to visit?  Would you consider visiting some of the more remote and less crowded parks?