Thursday, September 22, 2016

I Need Water – 7 Things You Can Do in Dry Conditions

It has been very dry all along the Appalachians in the Eastern US, prompting lots of worry in hiking circles about water availability for fall hikes. 

I know when I did a section of the AT back in 
late July, it was already beginning to
be a problem.

So what can you do to prepare or while on a backpacking trip?

1.       Try to schedule your hike when there has been rainfall. Easier said than done when you can only go at a certain time. But if you have flexibility, do it. Check in with hiking social media to get updates if possible. If need be, alter your hiking plans to a different area that has better water availability. Some areas are beginning to close due to fire danger. Check ahead of time for these issues before you leave.

2.       Take an updated guidebook that will tell you when sources are reliable or unreliable. For instance AWOL’s AT Guide for the Appalachian Trail tells you when source are reliable. And those not marked this way for me were dry. Also, you need guidebooks of potable sources in towns etc. On the heels of this, take a map. Maps can identify water sources – esp. springs, streams, etc that may not be in your guidebook. Or it will let you know if a water source is flowing from a beaver pond or a field or a road, of which you then need to treat with care. It will also tell you where you might want to camp that night.

3.       Take extra water containers. When in a dry section, you may need to tote water for a considerable distance. Take extra Platypus containers, empty water bottles, etc. Adjust your pack weight and how you carry items in your pack to adjust for the extra water (a liter of water weighs about 2 lbs)

4.       When you see a water source, fill up. Hydrate too. Check your map, if it has been very dry, you may need to err on the side of caution and take an extra few liters with you. Plan your mileage accordingly if you need to carry extra weight.

5.       Plan non cook meals. This will use less water.

      6. Make sure you have adequate water treatment (chemical, Sawyer squeeze, Steripen, Pump)

      7. If things get tough, don’t be afraid to ask a neighbor for water. Sometimes you need to do what’s safe. If all else fails and there is none, get off the trail. Better to be off and hike another day than get dehydrated or worse.

It can be tough trying plan for water conditions, esp. when there has been no rainfall. But with some planning and flexibility, you can make it through the driest of times.

Related Blogs 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wow, I Hurt from Backpacking!

You’ve likely heard and said those words many times after a backpacking trip. The unpleasant feeling of soreness. It can come from just carrying a backpack (sometimes with too much weight in it or not properly fitted) to the harsh terrain covered that day on muscles not used to such rigors.
An overstuffed pack coupled with the terrain can make you sore

The best way to minimize such effects after a long day of hiking is to try and preempt them.

First, make sure you are carrying the right backpack for you. Make sure the backpack is right with proper backpack fitting. There are also techniques for how to pack a backpack. to minimize the unpleasantness of weight bearing on tender shoulders. But do expect some pain the first few days. After all, you are doing something you have never done before. It will take time for you to adjust. So be patient with yourself.

Make sure you are not overpacking. Take only what you need. There are ways to cut back on pack weight, simply by reducing ounces (that can quickly add up to pounds). While this may not be that critical on a weekend venture, over long distances, it can attribute to lots of aches and pains. Look over your gear to see what your need and what you don’t. Have other hikers peruse your list online at trail forums to maybe help you reduce weight. Check out this gear list for backpacking for what you need on a long trip. See the Related Blogs below for other ideas in cut in food, specialty gear, etc. 

While hiking, be sure you are drinking plenty of water. Our body is composed mostly of water, and water keeps joints lubricated and less likely to hurt. Carry the means to safely filter your water and bottles to carry it. Eat the right foods also. While enjoying a candy bar might be a good pick-me-up, it won’t help mend the tiny tears in your muscles that is the soreness you feel. You need proteins and vitamins to mend.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep. I tend to crash for at least ten hours, resting myself because I know during that time, the body is repairing. It helps reduce pain. 

If your need to, take some pain medicine but don’t overdo it. Advil products can cause wear and tear on your stomach, leading to ulcers. Preventing pain is better than trusting to drugs. If oyu do need then, try the lesser one, Tylenol. Don't rely on narcotics for pain. If you need that much relief, you need to get off the trail and have your affected limb or issue looked at by a professional. 

Limit your mileage. Don’t try to be cool and do lots of miles you are not ready for. Take your time to adjust to the rigors of hiking. Stop often to rest, eat a snack, and enjoy a view or a flower.

Yes, aches and pains can come, but the joy of the trail, the views, the woods, and times with new friends can make it all worth it!

Related Blogs:

Lighten that Backpacking Load

Top Three Weight-Loss Challenge for Hikers

Friday, September 02, 2016

Guest Blog - SPOT and Trevor Thomas Team Up During September National Guide Dog Awareness Month

Trevor Thomas has always had a passion for extreme sports, ranging from backcountry skiing to racing cars. Then within eight months. Thomas says, “I thought I’d been issued a death sentence. Every day my vision got worse. I went from being perfectly normal to having to learn everything all over again.” Suddenly his entire world changed at age 35 when he learned he had a rare autoimmune disease with no cure, leaving him blind.

After being encouraged to get out on the trails by an inspirational speaker who was a blind hiker, Thomas began training for long distance hikes. He accomplished his first hike blind in 2008. While it was a huge achievement, he didn’t complete it unscathed and endured several broken bones. He then reached out to several guide dog organizations across the United States with a request for a dual-mode guide dog that not only could perform normal guide duties, but could also handle extreme hiking and navigating the back country.

Denied by all but one organization, his request was finally answered by Guide Dogs for the Blind. In 2012 Thomas and Tennille, an energetic black lab, graduated from training, marking the start of a truly unique and life-altering friendship.

"Trevor and Tennille are an amazing team and we are proud of all they have accomplished both on and off the trail. We are grateful for all of Trevor's efforts to help change perceptions around blindness and to serve as an ambassador for our organization,” commented Karen Woon, VP of Marketing, Guide Dogs for the Blind.

To date, Thomas and Tennille have crested over 6,000 miles and are aiming to reach 7,000 this year. He says, “It’s mind-boggling the miles she has covered in only 4 years. There are many long-distance hikers who have not done as many miles as Tennille.” Thomas is the first blind person in history to complete a solo, end-to-end thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, which is 2,175 miles long. He says one of his biggest successes thus far was completing the Colorado Trail, since he attempted it in 2011 and was unsuccessful without Tennille. “There are no other guide dogs that I know of that do what Tennille does. She’s enabled me to do things not only personally but professionally that I otherwise would not have been able to achieve; in a sense, she saved me.”

While Thomas says they err on the side of caution and try to take every safety measure possible, sometimes things can be unpredictable while in the backcountry. They’ve had their share of close calls on the trail, but that it was always comforting knowing he had a way to reach out to get help if needed. 

"Safety for Tennille and I is my priority when in the back country. No matter who you are, things can go wrong and my SPOT Gen3® is the most important piece of gear that I have to let folks know where I am and summon for assistance if needed,” comments Thomas. “And should I truly be in a life-threatening situation – I can remember a few close calls – the S.O.S. button on my SPOT device will be there for me.”

Not only does he carry a SPOT Gen3 for himself, but Tennille also has her own SPOT device which she carries on her pack. “It’s simple. She is very important to me and while I know she would never voluntarily leave me, if something were to go wrong in the back country and we were separated, then her SPOT will be pinging and we could find her,” he says.

When they aren’t on the trail, Tennille holds Trevor to a strict schedule. “Every day we hike 8 to 15 miles just to stay in shape. She can tell time and will definitely give me attitude if I am working in my office all day and we haven’t gone on our daily hike.” Tennille also enjoys car rides and visiting their local grocery.  “People are always amazed when we walk into a store and I tell her my list and she will bring me to the items. We end up with an audience following us around. She can differentiate between specific chips and even varieties of the same sports drink brand.”

According to Thomas, Tennille has a very strict diet she must adhere to as all guide dogs do, and that “trail angels” will often bring her some of her favorites including bananas, baby carrots, mangos, broccoli, Greek yogurt and green beans. When they complete a thru-hike or a special trek, he says they have a tradition, “We both get filet mignon!”

Upcoming adventures for the pair include hiking the high altitude Collegiate Peaks Loop in Colorado, a total of 187 miles that will take around two weeks to complete. From there they will travel to California and thru hike the John Muir Trail to summit Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Completing this climb will make Tennille the first guide dog ever to do so and set a new altitude record for a blind person and guide dog at 14,997 ft.

Throughout the year and especially during September Guide Dog Awareness month, Thomas hopes to help educate society on the importance of what guide dogs do for people in everyday life. “None of the guide dog schools receive public funds.  They are raised and paid for by donations only.”

In addition to supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind, Thomas is also passionate about his foundation, Team FarSight Foundation, Inc., which he founded in 2013 to challenge misconceptions and to push the boundaries of what is considered possible for a blind person to achieve. The Foundation is devoted to empowering blind and visually impaired young adults through outdoor activities like hiking. Through these programs, Team FarSight Foundation helps participants develop self-confidence and adaptive skills needed to succeed in mainstream society.

Ever optimistic, Thomas feels that every day is an accomplishment, focusing not on what they have done, but on the challenges ahead. He looks forward to taking on these challenges with Tennille by his side, saying, “She makes life more enjoyable because she is my best friend. She helps me to do expeditions that I wouldn’t be able to do by myself. The sky is the limit.”

During the month of September, Team Farsight Foundation will receive $5 from every SPOT Gen3 purchased on using promo code TENNILLE at checkout. For a limited time when using code TENNILLE between September 1 – 30, SPOT Gen3 will be discounted to $99.99 on its website, a $50 savings! In addition, supporters of Trevor’s inspiration and mission can make a donation to either organization by visiting and

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

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