Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Observations of a Florida Trail Hike – The Beginning

The Florida Trail is quickly becoming an interesting trail to traverse during the winter months when other trails are besieged by frigid temps and snowy conditions. One is transported to a land of plentiful sunshine and warm temps reminiscent of summer wanders. Prime time to begin the Florida Trail is December and January. But despite the seemingly flat terrain on elevation profiles, there are multiple challenges one endures.

The Beginning

The southern terminus for the trail is the Oasis Visitor Center in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Overseen by the National Park Service, it has a visitor center complex with friendly rangers (unfortunately the one we spoke to did NOT have up to day info for us on trail conditions and claimed the tent sites had tables and fire pits which none do in the swamp area), restrooms, a little walkway that shows off their alligator, a nice big plaque to get the proverbial first day picture taken, and a log book to sign in with excitement for that first day. They also allow you to park there.

The first two days in the swamp area were fairly dry and interesting. We saw vast prairies that reminded me of Africa. Of course
there was the issue of trying to get used to overloaded backpacks that still made the going rather slow.

Another thing one has to learn how to do is find water in the swamp. Especially when the area where you are walking is dry (and there are no streams). We quickly became acquainted with what is known as a Cypress Dome – a curved stand of tall like trees that jut out above the land. In the middle of that configuration of trees is usually a water source. We found one such source for our first night after trudging through muddy cypress stands to find the water in the middle of the dome. On the second day water become even scarcer and for the first time I used the directions for the dome in my guidebook and managed to stumble upon the water (and wow, did I thank God for that find!). Swamp water unfortunately does not taste good at all (despite what the ranger told us). It has a distinctly weird
Water Source in a Cypress Dome
vegetative taste that I quickly hated. All water, of course, should be treated.

We did not end up doing our projected miles as the terrain slowed us down, and slowed us even further once we actually reached water. After a particular fenceline, you are then wading in water for miles on end with only small areas to rest or camp. It is a slow, arduous process, and in this area mud quickly fills your shoes, hides obstacles (like Cypress roots and limestone holes) so that it is hard to keep your footing. I was forever stopping and scraping mud out of my shoes that accumulated inside and made the bottoms of my feet hurt. On the small blotches of land

The Black Lagoon
where you can camp, you have until the sun sets (by 5:45) to get everything done camp wise before mosquitoes come to visit. One night, surrounded by water all on sides, we were on our own island in the middle of nowhere it seemed. It was like being in a foreign world, to say the least. I took stock of my shoes to find the unending mud and water was breaking my shoes apart. Thankfully I was using an older pair which I planned to get rid of once I reached civilization, and it’s a good thing to plan on.

In the water the best we could do was 7/10 mile an hour. It was a slow achingly long process. But at last we cleared the swamp to rest at a literal rest area on Alligator Alley before continuing on.

What I learned:

Know how to get your water in those interesting Cypress Domes! It’s the only place out there until
Swamp Camping
you reach the deep water.

Do not plan any high miles. Take your time sloshing your way through. If you are in a wet year, monitor the swamp depths and come prepared with dry bags for your gear. (I happened to hike it in a dry year – Dec 2016, so the deepest part at the Black Lagoon was only knee deep. But it can get waist deep or higher sometimes).

Know your shoe will get destroyed there, so plan to have shoes waiting for you farther up the trail

Use hiking poles in the swamp

Try to dry out your feet as much as you can. I found blister blockers from Band-Aid to stay on even when wet. Try to get the mud out of your shoes to prevent strain on your foot muscles. Take plenty of socks. I also washed the mud out my shoes when I could (as the mud can make them weigh a lot).

Yes there are sand fleas out there as well as mosquitoes. Protect yourself with Deet or the equivalent. 
We did not see gators or snakes on this section, but we did see other wildlife like deer and a bobcat.

I found the Guthook Florida Trail app to be very useful. But the trail is also fairly well blazed or one can simply follow the track of water.

If you are in hunting season, wear blaze orange for the first part of the trail. Hunters are out there, believe it or not, and ride around in swamp vehicles.

Know that the swamp WILL end and you will have plenty of interesting memories and pictures to share!


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Some Gear Favs from Blissful Hiking

Tis the Season for Gear - and Gear giving, whether for yourself or for a hiking buddy on your list.

Here are some of Blissful Hiking's favorite gear picks.

Socks are a hiker's best friend, and it might as well be a pair that works great and lasts forever. Hence our fav pick is Darn Tough. They are a pricey but a high quality sock with an unlimited guarantee to boot. In fact, they dare you to wear out their socks! Pretty cool.

Assorted cuben fiber stuff sacks. Waterproof, durable, great for adding protection in your backpack or for keeping sleeping bags and clothes dry. We have used them in all shapes and sizes (they make a good hiker wallet too). The thicker the material, the more durable, Z Packs has a great selection. Cuben fiber (now referred to as Dyneema) has also been used in ultralight tents and backpacks as well (but they are pricey).  
Other gear websites: Mountain Laurel Designs, Hyperlite Mountain Gear

Basic rain gear is a must in a hiker's backpack. If only out for short jaunts, Frogg Toggs makes a ultralight and cheap means to stay dry with a jacket and pants for around $30 bucks (though be warned, they are NOT durable for lengthy ventures). We find the jacket also provides good warmth in windy weather. Another fav is the rain kilt or rain wrap that does a great job of protecting without the need for cumbersome and hot rain pants.
Some gear shops for a rain kilt:
Lightheart Gear,  ULA

The Sawyer Filter -  a fav for Appalachian Trail adventures. We use the bigger model that filters water much quicker than its smaller mini model for a mere ounce or two more (though some like to have the smaller Sawyer mini filter attached to a Smartwater bottle for quick drinking).

Of all the eating utensils, the simple titanium spoon is our fav. Unlike the Light My Fire sporks that seem to break on a whim (and we've gone through many), This has been on dozens of trips and remains tried and true (gets out gooey stuff like PB from a jar without breaking), and good also for scraping away food while cleaning the pot, too.

Feel free to share your fav gear in the comments!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hiking Safety During Hunting Season from the ATC

 (This is reposted from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy web site. Please consider supporting the ATC by becoming a member or making a donation today! These are good reminders as we  are now in the main hunting season. Be extra vigilant. I did a good portion of my southbound hike during hunting season and on the Tuscarora Trail. Many times you are sharing the trail with hunters carrying rifles and with their dogs. Several times I heard rifle shots quite close to me. Pretty unnerving. So take these tips to heart as you enjoy your hike.)


From ATC website


Know local hunting seasons — Specific dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and also by type of game hunted and weapon used. Small-game seasons (turkey, rabbit) stretch from fall through the end of May; large-game seasons (deer, bear, moose) generally occur October through January. Learn the regulations and hunting seasons for the areas where you will be hiking before you go. 

Wear blaze orange
—Wear a blaze orange hat and vest (and pack cover if backpacking), or hooded outerwear when hiking in fall, winter and spring. All fourteen states that the A.T. traverses require hunter education classes prior to issuance of licenses, which has led to a significant decrease in hunting-related accidents. Even though these safeguards have been put in place, both hikers and hunters need to do their part to prevent accidents. In late 2002 and early 2003, two A.T. hikers were shot and seriously injured in separate incidents by hunters who mistook them for deer. Neither hiker was wearing blaze orange, and neither hunter properly identified his target.

If you hike with a dog, it should also wear blaze orange visible from all sides. The ATC recommends that pets be leashed at all times while hiking.

On state game lands in Pennsylvania, all hunters and non-hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, or a fluorescent orange hat, from Nov. 15–Dec.15 (except on Sundays). The orange material must be visible from all angles (360 degrees).

Avoid wearing colors that could be mistaken for game animals. Avoid white or brown during deer seasons; red or blue during turkey seasons.

Use extra caution at dawn and dusk. Hunting activity may increase at dawn and dusk, when animals are feeding and visibility is poor. Wear reflective vests or use a headlamp or flashlight for extra visibility.

Use extra caution near roads and in valleys—Be especially cautious within 1/2-mile of road crossings (both approaching and leaving) and in valley areas.

Be heard—Make sure you are heard before you are seen by whistling, singing, talking, etc., while you hike.

Avoid hunter interference—Hikers should be aware that interference or harassment of hunters in the lawful pursuit of game is a violation of law in all fourteen A.T. states. This includes interference or tampering with dogs used in the pursuit of game where allowed by law. Sportsmen are our partners in conservation—encounters between hunters and hikers are opportunities to raise the awareness of both groups.

Avoid deer firearm season
—Avoid areas where hunting is legal during deer firearm season, which varies by state, but typically occurs during parts of the months of October, November, December, and January. During those months, you may want to hike in one of the five national parks crossed by the A.T. (note that hunting is allowed in Delaware Gap National Recreation Area, another NPS unit). Do a search for the specific state in which you will be hiking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Those Witnessing the North Carolina Wildfires, I Understand. A New Appalachian Trail is being Created

Right now the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina and Georgia is being inundated with huge wildfires. This past spring saw at least seven fires sprout up on the trail, causing major issues not only for hikers but also for residents. 2016 has been a severe year for fires.
Fire burns in Shenandoah National Park, Spring 2016

I am seeing many posts of scared, exhausted, and concerned hikers who fear what the trail will look like after such devastation. A revered tower that many hikers used to view the grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains has also burned down (Wesser Tower). Lots of things are changing.

I totally understand the pain and anguish. I saw 10,000 acres in Shenandoah National Park burn this past spring.  I was similarly devastated. I had to inhale smoke, I watched the trails I loved to hike overrun by flames (caused by an illegal campfire) and hikers having to be rerouted. For several agonizing weeks I endured it. It was very stressful. 
Brow Mtn Overlook, Shenandoah National Park

Eventually the rains came. The fires were put out. A smoldering black landscape was revealed.

The AT in Shenandoah shortly after the fire was put out

But not for long.

Creation has a way of healing. And fast.

In six weeks I saw this happen -

In a few months I saw this. I was so pleased and happy. I knew everything was going to be ok.

A changed landscape but new vegetation and a great new view. 

Nature does come back. Yes, there will be changes to the landscape. There will likely be less of a tree canopy so summers will be hotter on the trail. BUT there will be views galore. Wildflowers in abundance will come in the spring. The birds will return and merrily chirp. The trees too, whose roots survive, will put out new shoots. Blueberries and rhododendron and mountain laurel that love acidic soil will flourish, and their showy flowers will line the trail and delight hikers. And all of this happens so quickly, it’s amazing.

Nature will return, though it brings little consolation now. But I like the Scripture in Psalm 30:5 that says: ...Weeping may stay the night but rejoicing comes in the morning. 

And a new morn will dawn on the new Appalachian Trail.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lessons Learned from an October Section Hike on the AT – Damascus to Bland

Continuing my third round of completing the Appalachian Trail with a lengthy hike of over 120 miles. My only catch this time is I had eight days to complete it. Thus it required me
The climb north to Buzzard Rock yields a great view
to do heftier miles for longer periods of time (averaging 15 miles) and without rest. It also occurred during a drought time on the trail which has seen little in rainfall.

Water Issues. I talk about this issue in another blog, but my trip required a good idea of reliable water locations. I carried the guidebook pages and maps. I did ask hikers along the way what water was available and most had a hard time remembering. But what I did hear at least boosted my confidence that there was fairly adequate water availability.

Most bridges went over dry areas unless they were bigger creeks
Murky Water sources. The evening of Day One saw me camped by a black pond as my water source. In all the miles I have hiked, I have never had to pre filter water. But in this case it was a must to avoid the sediment clogging my Sawyer filter. I took a bandana (glad I had two with me for this hike!) and ran the water through. The bandana worked perfectly to collect the dark sediment. I then filtered the water through the regular Sawyer filter. While the water was still discolored, it was free of particles and treated.

Elevation and Weather. It pays to know the weather ahead of time. The hike began in summer-like
Snow and cold wind on Chestnut Knob
70s but I knew at the end I would face cold conditions. What I didn’t count on also was snow on Chestnut Knob! SO I had both extremes, warm and snow in a week section hike. Be sure to check the weather up to the minute and prepare for weather extremes, taking into account the elevation in which you will be hiking. I felt weird carrying cold weather gear at first, esp. with hikers bouncing along with light packs for the summer temps, but at the end of the week, I used everything I had and glad I packed what I did.

Other Hikers. I must say, on this trip I met the friendliest hikers out there. Everyone greeted me. I saw lots of southbound thru hikers also as they are heading for final destination of Springer Mtn in GA, only weeks away (and boy were they happy!). It was great to see such a collection of friendly hikers out there enjoying the trail. The only issue I saw among most – no one was wearing blaze orange!!

Animals. In this section of trail it is not so much the bears but ponies and longhorn cattle! In several instances the cattle stood directly on the trail. The horns were quite intimidating, I must say. I did

what I usually do with bears, talked to them like my dogs in a confident manner and they thankfully moved. But it was still nerve wracking.

Overuse. Because of the persistent high miles over rough terrain, I am now nursing a fairly bad anterior tibial tendonitis on my right leg. Even after four days of basically no walking t is still bothering me. So the rule is – don’t overdo or you will suffer the consequences! And that is something I ought to know by know! Check out tips on my Overuse blog.

Sunset at Thomas Knob Shelter

Observations and Lessons Learned on Section Hikes Series:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Safety and Hikes in the Fall Season

Max Patch in NC
There’s nothing better than a backpacking trip in the woods at the peak of leaf change. The air is crisp, the colors of the changing leaves brilliant, and the expectation is there for adventure and recreation. With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your trip go smoother and more enjoyable. 

Changing Weather – Fall can be a time of changing weather patterns. From warm to cold, bright sunshine to rain, make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check the weather before you venture out. Make sure your sleeping bag is of an adequate rating and you have enough warm layers. Include a good hat. Check out this blog too for ways to stay warm when the temperatures dip and what to bring when it rains. Carry the food you will need with a day extra to spare, just in case. Bring maps and a guidebook for the area in which you will be hiking, and include a phone in case of trouble. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.

Wear blaze orange
Bears and Wildlife – This is the time of year when wildlife is foraging for food to keep them during the long winter months. They tend to be more aggressive and are on the hunt for food. Make sure you are using bear-proof techniques to hang your food. The PCT method works well for bears accustomed to hiker food strung up the usual way. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike (such as in the Smokies that routinely closes shelters for bear activity. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly  like a dog (which works very well. There's even apps for your phone!). Bears should NOT be there in those areas.

Leaves and Acorns – No one would think acorns and leaves can disrupt a trip. But wet leaves makes the trail slippery which can cause injury. Piles of leaves can hide rocks and other impediments on the trail. 
Acorns rolling under your feet act like marbles to trip you up. Take extra care on the trail when encountering this minor obstacles to prevent ankle twists or other injuries. Sometimes fallen leaves and obscure the trail. Be sure to have a map with you and a compass also. 

Hunting season - Fall means hunters are out sharing the woods and trail. Wearing blaze orange is a must. Know the hunting regulations where you will be hiking. Watch for dogs that are assisting hunters also. Check out the blog on hunting tips to keep you safe on the trail. 

Where are the colors at their peak? Check out the fall foliage map

Finally, some top fall hikes in different states -

In the Smokies
New York and New Jersey
New England
Washington State
New Hampshire
CNN's take Includes Virginia

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Five Reasons to Attend Hiker Festivals and Workshops

Sometimes the expense, time away, and distance to attend a hiker festival or workshop may not seem like a worthwhile investment. But having just returned recently from The Gathering – the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker (ALDHA) premier festival that occurs every October during Columbus Day weekend, I have discovered several really good reasons for taking the time out to come gather with other hikers – 
1.     Education. Despite the trail miles we may have put on or the adventures we have seen, there is always things we can learn from others. The Gathering I just attended had a multitude of workshops covering a variety of topics: from various hiking trails found around the world, to How To, to preserving the trails we love. All of them provided ways to learn.  Even if the festival does not have workshops, attending informal gatherings provides time for feedback about different hiker topics and thus, education (for instance I received valuable info on the Florida Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail just by chatting with hikers). You can take your backpack to many events and have a shake down from fellow hikers and discuss gear options. And speaking of invaluable education – be sure to check out the all day workshop we conduct in March to get ready for spring hiking (registration opens in December).
2.       Networking with hikers. It’s important to meet old and make new friends in the world of hiking. They are the people who best understand the difficulty found on the trail, or loneliness of a hiker who can’t find others who understand their passion or their goals. This kind of networking provides advice, friendship, ideas, companionship, and fun!

3.       Adventure. Going to new places, even hiker festivals, provides an outlet for an alternate adventure. I mean, in one sense, we all hike to experience adventure away from the mundane. A hiker festival or gathering provides an outlet also for the adventuresome spirit, when one never knows WHAT will happen or the people you may meet! It can and often does, surprise you.
4.       Fun. Festivals are fun. They are magnets for having a good time around a campfire at the tenting area, for joking about things that have happened, to just reveling in the hiker atmosphere such as in the hiker parade at Trail Days in Damascus and having a good, old fashioned water fight!

5.       Make New Dreams. I have had my dreams for future hikes stimulated by hiker gatherings. I have found out about new trails or information about a trail or area I plan to go  – and by those that have done it. Maybe you also nurse a dream of getting that pack weight down or finding a new friend to hike with, or doing a thru hike. Festivals, Workshops, Gatherings, Rucks, etc. provide a great opportunity to make your hiking dream a reality.    

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mental Aspect of Long Distance Hiking Explored – Part 2 After the Trail

Congratulations! You’ve finished the trail. You’ve completed the goal. You’ve basked in the glow of it all and the congratulations of others.

Then it hits. You are back in society. Back to the grind of a job, perhaps. Or there with no job and needing to pay bills. Back to society like a busy city. The simple life is gone. It’s so complicated and overwhelming. I yearn for trail life again.


I know, I‘ve been there. It’s already coming to light that there can be a certain stress syndrome involved with hikers leaving long distance trail life and returning home.  You can get depressed, anxious, nervous, moody. You can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t do multiple or complicated tasks. You try fitting back in but feel you are only on the outside looking in. You wonder what to do and really, how to live again.

So what can you do?

Realize that you will experience some kind of post trail stress after returning home. I dealt with a letdown – (lots of this is chemically induced that happens when engaged in high activity then suddenly crash when that activity ceases). I dealt with guilt for having been away from home and leaving my husband. I dealt with the guilt of not being able to do certain things, like multi-tasking. I was used to the simple life of a hiker with lots of exercise, plenty of sunshine, and limited decision-making. So give yourself a break and realize there’s going to be some adjustment involved, and it may take time. Have a plan BEFORE you hike is crucial so you aren’t overwhelmed when you return home. Especially if you need to make financial or life changing decisions. Limit those for now until you adapt back into society.

After two AT hikes, I turned to ridgerunning and speaking
Go on a diet post trail. Why should I? I look great. Not for long. Your metabolism will slow down and the pounds will start adding up quick. DO NOT eat what you did on the trail. You are no longer using up 4-6,000 calories and can therefore eat useless carbs. Stop now and eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good types of protein. DO NOT eat a bunch of Snickers candy bars like you did on your hikes. The sugar alone can send you crashing and your mood crashing too. No potato mixes, Ramen, stuffing either. Eating healthy helps you feel better. Drink lots of water too. And skip the sugary drinks and alcohol.

Go on an exercise regimen. I started a running program. You need to do something aerobic. Don’t just stop everything. Your body will rebel. So will your mind. Start by some jogging. Or just walking. Walk everywhere. Keep walking and running if you can. If you can take a day hike at times, do it. But do not STOP exercising! Your body and mind need the chemicals exercise generates to help you feel better and sleep better. And you need the sunshine.

If you find you are not in sunshine a lot or its winter take some Vitamin D3. This will help ward off colds (it’s easy to get sick when you are home and around the public) and helps strengthen bones and the immune system.

Reconnect. Set up interviews (like town newspapers) and places to share about your hiking experiences. Write about them on trail journals. Or blog about them. Offer to speak about your journey so others can experience it. Become involved on social media in hiker forums to help others realize their hiking dreams. Concentrating on others rather than yourself helps lift your mood. Find a job having to do with your interests (I turned to ridgerunning and speaking). Be a part of a hiking group in your neighborhood. Or take kids hiking. We started a church youth group and took kids on lots of adventures. Get involved with scouts. Or become involved in trail maintenance. DO something and share about your experience with others! By all means stay in touch on line or by phone with other hikers and join in on an event that brings hikers together. Plan to attend Trail Days or other activities too. I also get involved more in praying and reading the Bible. I felt it helped me a lot by letting God give me the strength when I had none.

Be sure you reconnect with those you left behind. Be a part of their lives. You may have been on the trail for many months. I had get togethers with my friends and showed pictures of my hikes. I went and acted in a play with my husband and son to reconnect our family. Try some new but simple things that maybe
To reconnect in our family post hike, our family performed in a play 
you’ve never done. Avoid multi tasking. and work toward a new goal or dream. Resist the urge though to get out on another long distance hike right after the first. It may be tempting, but honestly, the problems will still be there when you return. Make the adjustment but keep goals for future hikes in mind.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, then by all means seek professional help like a counselor. You may need a little more doctoring afterwards, just like if we suffer a physical injury from too much stress. Stress can lead to mental injury that also needs doctoring. So seek help if things are just not working. Especially seek help if you are feeling like life is not worth living or at all contemplating ending your life – SEEK HELP! Please!    

Most importantly don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time. Don’t set yourself up with tons of things to accomplish. I found I couldn’t multi-task for a while and told my husband that. Do one thing at a time and do that one thing well. You’ll start getting back into the groove of community living again. But it can take time, so don’t get discouraged. Cherish the great memories you had on the trail and look forward to making new ones.

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