Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Etiquette in Trail Shelter Living

Who hasn’t loved the idea of finding a safe and dry place in a trailside shelter to shield one from the elements?

Especially when the rain is falling hard, and you don’t need or want to get your tent or gear
any wetter. In times like this, shelters can provide a safe haven from storms. But there is also etiquette that needs to be observed. After all, this is not just one person’s dwelling place for a night, but many. You will share that space with those you may or may not know. You will also likely be sharing it with shelter creatures too – anything from insects, to mice, snakes and even larger mammals.

I stayed in a shelter one stormy night while on my sectionhike of the AT (Appalachian Trail) a few weeks ago. What I observed in the shelter led me to write up seven ideas of etiquette in shelter living:

Rock Spring Hut in Shenandoah
1.       Realize that you will likely NOT be the only one in the shelter. That means, don’t monopolize it with your belongings, taking every hook, etc. DON’T set up your tent and hammock in it either. A guy had strung up his hammock in it that then limited other hikers trying to find a place to bed down for the night and store their gear. NOT courteous.

2.       If you know you are a snorer at home, chances are it will be magnified outdoors. PLEASE then don’t use the shelter. There is nothing more miserable than sleeping beside a snorer, even with earplugs in (which everyone should carry, btw). To the snorer - you will likely have many more enemies in the AM too.

3.       If you know you will be getting in late, like after hiker midnight (usually 9 PM) set up your tent. I was rudely awakened at 10 PM by three dripping wet hikers looking for space. If you choose to hike late, that’s fine. But be courteous by not waking up others in the shelter by coming in and demanding space, making everyone move, firing up your stove, etc. Set up your tent. That also goes for the early
A tiny shelter on the Allegheny Trail
riser before 6 AM. In both instances, do the right thing and tent. And also, use a headlamp with a red night light feature. There is nothing worse than a white LED light glaring all around the shelter. One guy flashed his for half the night as he wanted to read at 2 AM. A red light would have made things much better for those that would rather sleep. If you are a late nighter like that – tent.

4.       Don’t smoke cigarettes, pot or anything else in the shelter. Don’t use your cell phone in the shelter either. Other hikers don’t care to inhale the nicotine, drugs, or hear you talk to your girlfriend. That’s your business, so do it away from the shelter or better yet, tent.

5.       If you are feeling sick, DON’T use a shelter, period. This is mainly how norovirus epidemics hit the AT every year. Avoid all public places – picnic tables, privies, etc. until you are totally well. If you know of someone who is ill, get out of the shelter area. Wash your hands. No sharing food either.   

6.       Make sure your food is stored away properly for the night. I was appalled the next AM to find not one of the other five hikers in residence had hung their food. They left it all in their packs sitting on the shelter floor. Normally it would have been attacked by critters. Always hang your food and cookware preferably by bear rope away from the shelter. That goes for NOT leaving excess food, trail magic or otherwise in shelters or hanging from poles, cables or in bear boxes. Someone had left trail mix just sitting there in the shelter when I arrived. Don’t do it!

A bag of trash left in a shelter fire pit at Niday Shelter. NO!
7.       The shelter is NOT for creating a library of books, magazines, or other reading material that then turn into fodder for mice or the beginnings of a trash pile. No one wants to drag your book around. Don’t leave extra gear and clothes (no one wants that either), food, empty fuel canisters, or trash. The shelter area should be left clean. Volunteers take care of it and they do NOT want to go and clean up your trash. That also goes for the shelter fire ring. DO not leave trash in it. I even found a full trash bag in one shelter fire pit. Empty food wrappers weigh a lot less! Carry out everything!

With some common courtesy and keeping your gear and food safe and carrying out all trash, shelters can be a place of refuge and fellowship for all. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Blissful Hiking is Taking to the Road!

AND not just any road....we are packing up and heading to the beautiful state of Pennsylvania for a statewide Speaking and Book Tour this Fall!
We are very excited to have the opportunity to share 4,000 miles of Appalachian Trail stories at nine libraries through Pennsylvania- from the Allegheny region to north of Philly to Camp Hill and Hershey and beyond!

Plus I will be signing copies of my book- Mountains, Madness, and Miracles - 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail!

SO come be part of this great statewide event!   Book Tour Details

AND if you want me to come speak to your library, drop me a line at blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Observations of a Summer Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Bland to Catawba, Virginia

This summer my ridgerunning job ended early, allowing me to continue my section hike of the AT in a quest to compete it for my third time. This trip I began just north of Bland and ended at Rt 311 at
Atop Peter's Mtn
Catawba. The week-long journey found me with the usually aches and pains of sectioning, plus some interesting weather and other observations (some of which were NOT that great).

Weather. As with any section hike, once must be ready for weather changes. I began the hike in humid, warm, dry weather that found water a challenge. I packed clothing for that as the weather dictated such conditions throughout the week. But leave it to nature to change midway through, and me wishing I had thrown in that fleece over shirt or maybe a pair of leggings to use at night (I improvised by using the leggings off my convertible pants and used my windshirt inside my sleeping bag). Later in the week the rains came, the winds blew at elevation, and it turned downright chilly! Esp. as I hiked without rain gear (too hot otherwise) and got soaked. And soaked clothing in a wind came make you feel cold fast. So even in summer one must prepare for hypothermic issues and not always take a forecast verbatim.

A welcome pipe at a spring north of Pearisburg
Water. Water was scarce in the beginning. This water source with the friendly pipe made gathering great, but some sources that were even spelled out in the guidebook were dry at times. But once the rains came fast and furious midweek on, water was in abundance. Still, make sure you have a good guidebook and maps to help you plan for the water issue, esp. if you need water and are unsure where the source originates. One source I collected from I discovered, via my map, ran from pastures and along a road – i.e. Sinking Creek. Not quite pristine. I dumped it and waited for the Sarver spring.

At Niday, a full garbage bag left there
Shelters. Every shelter I stopped in had some kind of trash issue, either inside or in the fire pits. One fire pit at Niday even had a full bag of someone’s garbage. NOT cool. I spent one night in a shelter during one stormy night, and after that experience, feel I MUST add and addendum to this
blog with a blog on shelter etiquette.

Physical issues. When the weather came, esp the rains, I had to wear wet socks two days in a row. I had never done that and rapidly developed issues, such as blisters ON TOP of my toes no less and even some fungal issues. I carried three pairs of socks but honestly could have used a fourth. Esp in this long section with wet weather, with no chance to dry out, and no chance to do laundry btw Pearisburg and Catawba. I also had some back issues as I found I needed to carry water a fair 
distance to make certain campsites. A good anti-inflammatory helps (if you can get a 
prescription for meloxicam, it works well) as
does drinking lots of water.

Reroutes. It pays to make sure of any trail changes in your route before you leave. Pearisburg has a major reroute that added on over two more miles to the hike, necessitating a change of camping locale. Be sure to plan for things like this and adapt as needed on your hike.

Enjoy your wander wherever it leads you!

Dragon's Tooth rock formation, AT Virginia

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Preventing Heat-Related Ilnesses while Backpacking and Hiking

It’s the height of summer and time for great hikes. But it’s also time that heat-related illness can affect you while exerting yourself in hot temperatures.

The two heat-related illnesses one needs to look out for are heat exhaustion and sunstroke. Heat exhaustion can be managed on the trail, but sunstroke is a life-threatening emergency where the hiker must get to a hospital.

Heat Exhaustion can occur in hot, humid temperatures when the body becomes depleted of fluids necessary to cool itself - (severe dehydration). There may be heat cramps involved. The skin may be pale, cool, clammy, the hiker slightly anxious, pulse and breathing are basically normal. However, if the hiker is not cooled down, it can advance to the life threatening sunstroke as the core body temperature begins to rise.
Seek rest in a shady, cool spot. Sometimes resting on rocks that are in the shade or beside stream beds are cool. Or find an area next to water or in a wet environment. Breezes can also help you cool down by allowing convection to happen. Drink! – Especially replace lost salt and water. Having an electrolyte type mix in your hiker bag is crucial to helping replace sodium and potassium lost during sweating. Gatorade is also a favorite choice. When you get to town, eating a banana helps with heat and muscle cramping due to imbalances.

Sunstroke occurs when the mechanism to keep yourself cool begins to fail and your internal body temperature rises. Your skin becomes red, hot and dry. You can become disoriented, confused, and irritable. Your heart rate is rapid and there may be a seizure. Cool immediately by immersing into a cold stream or river or pouring water over the body. Give fluids if still awake and you can massage limbs to draw out the heat. Call for help.

How to prevent heat-related illnesses from happening on a hike: 

  • Take frequent rest breaks in cool, shady areas
  • Drink plenty of water and eat salty foods. Carry electrolyte replacement granules to add to water. Be sure to carry plenty of water in desert environments. You can also over drink and deplete your sodium levels, leading to other potentially harmful conditions. When you drink, don't overdo it either! And NO Alcohol which can lead to quicker dehydration.
  • Wear lightweight clothing and light colors. Wear a lightweight hat. Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn. 
  • Carry maps and guidebooks so you know where the water sources are. If you pass a source, no matter what, fill up. You can also collect water off your tent, etc. during storms. Check for areas too where you can take a dip and cool off. 
  • Never go off on a hike, no matter how short it is, without water.
  • Carry adequate means to filter your water
  • Use common sense, if you are prone to heat related illness, choose a different location or wait for a better time to hike (such as early AM or late PM)
  • Carry a phone for emergencies and hike with a buddy
  • If you feel hot, dry, your urine output is low, that means you are severely dehydrated and your core body temp is rising. Especially if you STOP sweating when you should be. That means DANGER. Stop immediately, rest, and rehydrate.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review – Gomacro Bars

As a former nurse and now avid hiker, I am more conscious about what goes into my hiker food bag and into my body. Especially as I see hikers consuming empty calories and nutrition on their hikes. When they arrive home, their health deteriorates and more issues arise. Thus I am always on the look-out for nutritious ways to eat healthy on the trail.

I was given the chance to review the Gomacro bars. The company began with the family enduring what many do these days, the devastation of cancer, and their decision to eat healthier as a way of conquering this disease. After having good results with dietary changes, the company was born. They strive to create bars that are made of 100% plant based ingredients sourced from organic and non GMO farms. The bars are soy, gluten, and dairy free. They come in two sizes the Gomacro Macrobar and the Thrive and come in a variety of unique flavors, like blueberry lavender to chocolate peanut butter cup for the Thrive bars and cherries and berries and sesame butter and dates for the Macrobars.

I tried both the Thrive bars and the regular Macrobar on my recent backpacking trip. I ate a Thrive blueberry and lavender for a snack and instantly realized there was a big punch in a small sized bar. You can see the superfood ingredients jam-packed into the bar. Right off I tasted blueberry which was nice. But after eating a whole bar, I realized a half bar was plenty for me to feel satisfied. The bar provides decent energy and satisfied hunger for several hours. The next time I tried the Thrive, I only ate half a bar and that was plenty. So this bar goes a long way, and they only weigh 1.4 oz.

The Macrobars I used for breakfast. I noticed the outside of the bar was fairly oily, presumably so it doesn’t stick to the packaging, but I found it rather detracted from eating the bar. I could eat a whole bar and didn’t feel the fullness I did with a Thrive. The flavor was ok. It satisfied me for about two hours which is at least an hour better than I get from breakfast bars like Belvita. And I liked the idea I was eating something good for me instead of empty sugar-based calories.

All in all I like the Gomacro concept. I feel the Thrive bar is definitely worth putting into your hiker food bag. A little in that bar goes a long way, and at a mere 1.4 oz. a bar. I also like the idea I was putting wholesome nutritious food in my body so it could perform better on a hike and after the hike is done.

For more information, go to Gomacro

Our other product reviews

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lightning Storms on Your Hike


With the summer heat comes the threat of thunderstorms and even severe ones called derechos - a wide spread, long lived wind storm that can bring about destruction like tornadoes. For a hiker its crucial to find out forecasts, even long range, and prepare for an outbreak. F the threat of dangerous storms by seeking shelter, preferably in a strong building. Get off exposed ridge tops and head below tree line well before a storm approaches. Be sure your tent is not pitched in a low lying area or beside a stream that may be proned to flash flooding (which is very dangerous). When setting up your tent, check the ground first to see if there has been ponding of water there. If you know there will be a violent outbreak of storms, get off the trail. Always carry maps, a guidebook, and a charged phone so you can make emergency arrangements.  

Here are some other facts about lightning and safety measures, taken from the website HikingAbout.com 

 Facts About Lightning

• The National Weather Service estimates your chances of getting hit by lightning in a given year are literally one-in-a-million. But over the course of a lifetime those odds drop to one-in-10,000.
• Lightning reaches temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—five times hotter than the sun.
• A bolt of lightning can reach five miles in length, then spread across a 60-foot area from its point of contact with the ground.
• Some forms of lightning can strike at great distances either in advance or behind the center of a thunderstorm—anywhere from five to 10 miles away. That means that people sometimes believe that they are at a safe distance when they are actually well-within range of lightning activity.
• Lightning is more common in spring and summer but can occur at any time of year and anywhere in the country.

Lightning Precautions

  • Check forecasts. Use Weather.Com or a reliable forecasting site to get predictions on conditions for the area where you will be hiking.
  • Hike earlier in the day. Thunderstorms are much more likely to develop during the afternoon, especially in mountainous areas. So if you’re planning a hike at higher elevations, try to be off of the trail before noon.
  • Stay vigilant. Look for cloud masses that begin to grow quickly and darken. Anvil-shaped clouds are a sign of potential thunderstorm activity. Watch the direction that clouds are moving and listen for any hints of approaching thunder. Increasing winds are also an indication of an approaching storm.
  • Follow the 30/30 Rule. Count the time between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Sound travels roughly one mile in five seconds. If the time between the lightning and thunder is less than 30 seconds, that means you’re well within the danger zone and need to find a safe spot.
  • Watch out for danger signs. If your hair begins to stand up or your skin tingles, those are both indicators of imminent lightning danger.


How to Protect Yourself

  • Avoid exposed areas. Ridgelines, open fields, lone trees or isolated groves, and tall, prominent outcroppings all increase your risk of being hit by lightning. But sheds, picnic shelters, and the mouths of caves are also dangerous choices.
  • Stay away from conductors of electricity. Avoid water (at least 100 yards away) and stay clear of metal objects, such as fences. If your day pack, trekking poles, or any other personal items have metal in them, move that gear 100 feet or more from where you will be.
  • Find a low protected area. You’ll want to locate a swale or low-lying spot but be careful not to take cover in an arroyo or creek bed where flash floods may get channeled. 
  • Make yourself a small target. If you’re caught in a storm with lightning nearby, get into a crouching position with your head tucked and hands covering your ears.
  • Spread your group out. While you and your fellow hikers will feel a natural tendency to stay closely together, by remaining in a cluster, you create a bigger target.
  • Do not lie flat. Your goal is to minimize contact with the ground and the surface area of your body that's exposed to lightning.
  • Wait 30 minutes. To avoid lightning that may strike behind the storm, wait 30 minutes after you’ve heard the last thunder before leaving your safe area.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Ticks! Prevention Tips

It's tick season and they are out in full force! Now more than ever it seems new diseases and other issues are evolving concerning this pest. I see more hikers worried about bears in the Appalachians, but what they really need to be concerned about is this very tiny menace that can wreck havoc on your body and cause a variety of illnesses. 

Here are the top ten ways to prevent this pest from ruining you from the Tick Borne Disease Alliance (and I add in a few tips also): 

Ticks are most active in the spring and summer months when they’re typically in their “nymph” stage.  Because of their small size at this stage in their lives, these ticks can go feeding—unnoticed—for days, allowing greater time for infectious bacteria to travel from the tick to its human host.  

Lyme disease is the fastest growing infectious disease and the most common tick-borne disease in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control, but there are numerous other diseases that ticks can pass along. There is currently no full-proof diagnostic tool for Lyme disease, causing thousands of people to often go misdiagnosed and without appropriate treatment.  Many sufferers of tick-borne illnesses are not even aware that they are victims of these diseases because they don’t have the facts. 

Below is the list of Prevention Tips:

1.    Purchase tick-repellent clothing, especially clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide that repels and kills ticks. You may spray your own clothing with permethrin or seek out brands such as Insect Shield. Any article of personal clothing can actually be sent directly to Insect Shield in Greensboro, NC, where they will treat it with permethrin in their patented bonding process.  The treated clothes will look exactly the same as the clothes that were sent in, but will have the ability to repel and kill ticks, as well as repel other insects, for up to 70 washings.  See their web site for details. (I sent mine in and they were returned in a week).

2.     Reduce the amount of skin exposed by sporting long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat

3.     EPA-approved insect repellent should be applied to exposed skin. check this website from REi on different kinds.  

4.     Venture in the center of woodland trails, and avoid walking along any deer paths

5.     Every time you’ve been outside, check for ticks while you are out and as soon as you get back

6.     Never wait to shower.  Bathing as soon as possible will help in removing unattached ticks from your body.   Bath time is the perfect time to carefully inspect for any unwanted hitchhikers.

7.     Take your clothes off and put them in the dryer at high heat for about 30 minutes to kill any ticks.  If clothes cannot be put into the dryer immediately, they should be placed in a Ziploc bag until a dryer is available.

8.     Inspect your pets when they come inside from the outdoors, as they may be transporting ticks that can then transfer to you (Note: This is really important. Be sure your pet has been vaccinized for Lyme disease. And use a tick killing collar, drops or a pill. Don't skip this. I've had a dog with tick-born illness)

9.     Opt for light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks

10.  Neatly tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants legs into your socks when possible to provide an extra line of defense against ticks

(Note also - if you do find an embedded tick, remove it promptly with tweezers or a tick-removal tool and seek out a doctor, especially if the tick was a deer tick. A one time dose of doxycycline 200 mg can be taken to prevent Lyme Disease if done with 36 hrs of the bite)

More information about TBDA, Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and prevention and protection can be found at www.TBDAlliance.org.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Overuse Hiking Issues

Just recently I am seeing overuse issues cropping up among hikers and especially those doing long distances. Unfortunately hikers sometimes believe the hike is a competition and they need to keep up with the flock. Or they feel the miles they do is too low and they ought to do more. Thus they end up doing too much for ligaments and tendons unaccustomed to the stress. Because of this, hikers end up with overuse related issues that can jeopardize their hike.

Shin Splints – I have seen many hikers developing this issue, usually after long days of hiking, doing
high miles their limbs are not used to it. Shin splints refers to medial tibia stress syndrome over the shaft of the tibia. It is directly related to doing too much too soon. The pain is felt along the thick bone of the tibia of the lower leg. Sometimes it can be in the calf muscle itself.  There could also be swelling.

Knee issues – this is probably the most common joint that suffers from overuse. The ligaments around the knee become sensitive to the loads we carry, not only of our backpacks but the stresses of uphills,   downhills, and rocky terrain. That plus longer distances puts a good deal of stress on them, leading to pain and sometimes even ligament tears.

Muscle and Body Pain and Fatigue – again, doing too much too soon can lead to weariness in the
body, especially in long distance hikers who are not adequately taking in good nutrition needed for the miles hiked. Or they skimp on drinking water. The body can turn to muscle to burn - a very poor place to find the energy needed to keep things going. Muscle wasting leads to weight drop, fatigue, and health issues once the hike ends.

What to do?

First of all, CUT the miles! If you are developing an issue like shin splints or knee issues, rest is important. RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation until symptoms subside.  Take a few days off. Ice the affected extremity. Take Vit I (Advil). Apply an ace wrap or brace to the area. Search out exercises online to help stretch the affected areas.

Check your shoes. I’ve seen hikers that have come 800 miles in trail runners which are only meant to 
do 3-400 miles. Change your shoes, and when you do, make sure they are the proper shoes for your foot type. Good insoles and good socks are important too. And don’t forget hiking poles.

Make sure you are taking in adequate fluids and nutrition. Eating just ramen or potatoes is not going to provide the protein needed to help your muscles recover. Skimping on good foods means your body may turn to muscle of energy, and that’s not good. Eat a well-balanced meal that also contains dehydrated veggies and protein. Also take a multi vitamin. Water is needed to lubricate joints and prevent that achy feeling.

When you are ready to begin hiking again, ease back into your hiking. Do not be tempted to do too much too soon. Or you will be right back where you started. Be patient and your body will reward with with an awesome hike.

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