Friday, January 31, 2020

Trail Legends - Who and What are They?

I had the opportunity in a gathering called Billy Goat Day that celebrates the Florida Trail to meet several "trail legends." I heard the term often and wondered what parameters would give one the title of trail legend?

Nimblewood Nomad

Take these gentlemen that were present at Billy Goat Day.

Billy Goat and Nimblewill Nomad along with the Florida Trail Guide author Sandra Friend

On the left is Billy Goat, whose birthday is celebrated annually in late January along the Florida Trail. He has hiked over 50,000 miles, and his infectious enthusiasm for adventure and the trail remains a catalyst for all hikers. He spoke kindly to me at a hiker gathering one fall in 2016, displaying great interest for the hike that I accomplished with my teen son on the Appalachian Trail and the one I soon planned to embark on - hiking the length of the Florida Trail.

On the right is Nimblewill Nomad, the perpetual hiker, who has completed all the national scenic trails including hiking across the US and has written books about his adventures. He now oversees a camp on Flagg Mountain, greeting hikers starting or completing Alabama's Pinhoti Trail.

Lastly is Jim Kern, a trail visionary who, in 1966, wanted a long distance hiking trail in Florida. Through his passion and hiking, he sparked the creation of the Florida National Scenic Trail stretching from the Everglades to the Gulf Islands and the Alabama border.

So what constitutes a trail legend?

Hiking? Sure, but a hiker who goes over and beyond a casual trip. These are diehard hikers that have accomplished great feats on the trail. But more importantly, they are hikers that wish to spread their enthusiasm for all things wild and a wild hike to others so they also might enjoy an adventure. It is those that have not kept their great feats a secret unto themselves but encourage others to make a journey of a lifetime. And that is a legend worth celebrating.


Want to read about my wild adventures? Check out my Hiking Adventure Series!

Appalachian Trail

The Florida Trail   

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

My Gear Favs 2019

Here are some of Blissful Hiking's favorite gear picks - I STILL love this stuff...
And a series of great adventures on our National Scenic Trails! :)

(NEW!) Sea to Summit Ether Light Insulated Sleep Pad - Check out a full review of it on SectionHiker. Nice pad, very comfy, sleeps a bit cold though compared to Neoair.

The Evernew water bottle. Compatible with the Sawyer squeeze filter (see below which has blown out my Platypus and a substitution for the Sawyer bags which also fail. Bombproof, works great.

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.

National Scenic Trail Adventures - for the Wanderer in All of Us!

Of course, give the gift of inspiration to a backpacker who dreams of hiking the Appalachian Trail! This one-of-a-kind book covers the trail north and south, including ideas from a teen son hiking with his mom, a solo adventure, and the spiritual aspects gleaned on a long distance adventure! Endorsed by long distance trekker Jennifer Pharr Davis. Available on Kindle or paperback.


Dreaming of a great winter hiking in the Florida Sunshine among the Palms and Palmettos, and yeah, the Gators? Check out Gators, Guts, and Glory! An adventure on the wild side!


Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Hiking Adventure Books - Makes a Great Gift to You and Others!

National Scenic Trails Adventures! 

Give the gift of a National Scenic Trails Adventure for you (why not - you deserve it!) - or a friend or loved one.  Journey with Blissful the Hiker, wandering over 5,000 miles of trail in all kinds of terrain and situations - from the lofty peak of Katahdin to the swamps of Big Cypress. It doesn't get any better or wilder than this!

Mountains, Madness, and Miracles! (North AND South on the Appalachian Trail AND with a teenager! Paperback and Kindle ORDER 

Gators, Guts, and Glory - Adventures Along the Florida Trail (a wild hike like no other - sucking mud and gators and Tahiti and all!). A Reader favorite. Paperback and Kindle ORDER 

Other Formats, Paperback, or to get is signed Click Here 

Makes a great gift for the hiker in all of us! Plan that dream hike in 2020.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Holiday Hiking Challenge

The Blissful Hiking Fall/Holiday newsletter is out! 

Looking for a challenge? 
Tremper fire tower

In this edition we share some unique challenges - like the Catskill fire tower challenge and the challenge of a new wander in a different type of climate and terrain - the Florida Trail! 

Hunting safety issues for the hiker are reviewed. And we can’t forget a good Thanksgiving dinner trailside. 

Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail

After all – we should give thanks every day for our great trails and the people who give so much to maintain them. 

Read all about this and more as well as catch up on past issues. 

The sun sets on the Florida Trail

Don't miss an issue! Subscribe to the newsletter!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

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

Fall is here and yes, with the lack of rain, water can dry up.

Here are some reminders on what you can do when water is low on the trail -

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 also institute burn bans 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 or use a map app on your phone. 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, business, even a home 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, especially when there has been no rainfall. But with some planning and flexibility, you can make it through the driest of times.

Related Blogs 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wonders of a Tennessee Section Hike

I have hiked what I consider the gem of the Appalachian Trail in the south – meandering over the Roan Highlands. The trip that began at Spivey Gap and ended at Rt 19E covered
such beautiful areas as the Nolichucky River, Beauty Spot, Unaka Mountain at over 5,000 feet, then the tall peak of Roan at over 6,000 feet and the highest shelter on the trail – Roan High Knob. It included the balds of the Roan Highlands, a farewell to the red barn of the Overmountain shelter (as it is now closed), and then traversing the majesty of the Humps for more stellar views. I am happy to share it with you.

Day One – Spivey Gap to Temple Hill Gap 7.6 miles
I am using this hike to test both back and knee that have suffered from several incidents not of my making. I had left off here six years previous and was glad to finally be back as I work to complete my third hike of the AT. This day I had originally planned to go all the way to Erwin for the
Near Erwin
night, but with the long trip here, played it safe and only did a little over seven to a campsite. Skeeters were out in force, requiring me to don my headnet (and thankful I had it).

Day Two – Temple Hill Gap to Deep Gap near Beauty Spot 16 miles
Beauty Spot
No, I was not planning to go so far on day two, thinking had had just gone to Beauty Spot Gap for 15 miles. But the next day proved me wrong when I began a severe ascent of Unaka Mtn. Still, found a campsite in this area with water coming out of a pipe. Saw a flip-flop thru hiker atop Beauty Spot. Earlier that day I ran into a friend hiking who told me about a bees nest at a footbridge and water from the pipe, and very glad for both means of intel. The hiker grapevine of knowledge is a wonder.

Day Three – Deep Gap at Beauty Spot to Clyde Smith Shelter 14 miles

Unaka Mountain
Had a lovely time among the pines and some cool breezes atop Unaka Mtn as it has been rather warm out and I was sweating quite a bit. The rest of the day was spent hiking over assorted “PUDS” (pointless ups and downs in trail lingo). In an old orchard I found an apple to eat. Saw two more southbound hikers out. Got water at Greasy Creek and onward the shelter site where the camping spots were marred by many roots. Hard to find a flat, non-rooty spot.  

Day Four – Clyde Smith Shelter to Overmountain camping area 15.6 miles

Roan High Knob Shelter

Nice climb up Roan MT to more breezes and the scent of spruce to check out the highest shelter on the AT – Roan High Knob. Unfortunately the spring was all but dried, with just a few cups of water from a pine-filled puddle to carry me through to the next campsite. Descended to Carver’s gap and enjoyed talking to many of the visitors who were fascinated about my backpacking as I climbed the balds to beautiful views. Also chatted with a triple crowner who had met me when I did ridgerunning
Overmountain Camping
in Shenandoah Nat’l Park (small, small world out there!). Walked through much blooming snakeroot to Overmountain where they have closed off the barn but left camping open. Again the campsites were not very good – few flat areas with sloping, pit-filled ground. The tent got very wet out in the grassy areas, but wow, the views were lovely.

Day Five – Overmountain Camping to Rt 19e  9.6 miles
Left early after a rough night (could not get comfortable) – and headed over the scenic Humps to outstanding views. Really enjoyed
The Humps
the time though I was tired. Ended up at Mountain Harbor Hostel and said hello to the owner while admiring all they have to offer hikers.

This is an excellent section hike for good views.

Want to read more about my other adventures on the AT? Like my two night stay at the Overmountain Barn with no food, bad weather, and a hungry teenager by my side? Check out

Mountains, Madness and Miracles – 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail!

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Friday, August 30, 2019

Hiker Food Kinds of Stuff

Food! Probably one of the most important things a hiker thinks about. And hikers get HUNGRY. It's the nature of the high level of activity. Your body is using lots of calories, and in colder weather, calories to stay warm too. Muscles are getting torn to shreds by constant abuse and the need of good protein to heal. Food is a necessity, and good food is a requirement to keep the hike going.

But sad to say, a lot of hikers seem to think that they can hike huge miles subsisting on potato packs and ramen. Have you ever read the back of those packages and the nutrition they contain?
Zip, zero, zilch. Nothing. No protein. No vitamins and minerals. No bone and muscle preserving calcium.

And this is what your body is saying when all you eat is that stuff. "HEY!! How do you expect me to move for you if you don't feed me right?"

Good nutrition is a must on a long arduous hike in the wilds. A good balance of proteins, carbs and fats to make everything work in sync.

Okay, so how does one accomplish that on a hike? After all, you must carry what you eat. And thankfully its a lot easier then it was some 30 to 40 years ago. Reading Ed Garvey's book when he hiked in 1975, he had to carry little cans of tuna and chicken. Now we have foil packets that are light and easy to use. Canned chicken dried in a dehydrator makes a good addition to rice and couscous mixes. Ever been to any of those Mennonite or Amish farmer's markets? Especially if you plan to have some mail drops - they have fantastic dried foods for hiking - everything from well balanced trail mixes (salty, sweet and spicy) to dehydrated veggie flakes, couscous in various flavors, to soup bases, and even these highly concentrated tiny squares that when I eat one, boy it can keep me going for a good long while. Trader Joes and Whole Foods have a great selection of dried fruits (I have become partial to dried cherries of late). Target has Simply Balanced fruit strips with no added sugar, made of fruit puree (check the labels on the strips to make sure they are fruit based). Of course there are old standbys like PB and Nutella which give good protein and fats. Some hikers even carry olive oil when the weather is really cold to add fat to a diet. And of course bars are everywhere, from the Luna bars (which are actually pretty good and last a while; even my hubby liked it though they say nutrition for women which means nothing) to Cliff bars, Power Bars, and I like Nature Valley granola bars for crunch and also the Sunbelt bars pack a good carb punch for the weight. But all the bars tend to be heavy, so watch how many you carry.

These are typical foods stuffs I have had for my meals on the trail -

Breakfasts - Cliff bar, Pop Tarts (if I carry them I take Annies), oatmeal (when cold out, add dried fruit and nuts to fortify it), trail mix, granola bars, granola cereal, small bagel and PB, and usually I eat a piece of fruit like a the all natural fruit sticks from Target or simply dried fruit, granola

Snacks - trail mix (both salty variety and sweet, though I much prefer salty like sesame sticks, flax seed chips, cheese crackers), mixed nuts, mini candy bars, Snickers, sometimes a Power bar or Luna bar if I have a tough hike that day

Lunch - the small whole wheat bagels; I found the thin round sandwich bread then have now to be very packable, tortillas, pepperoni (put in a ziploc if hot out as it can get greasy), cheddar cheese, beef sausage, jerky (I make my own), PB, raisins

Dinner - I dehydrate beef mixtures and canned chicken to add to mixes. I dehydrate peas and green beans also to add to rice mixes. I use tuna packets. I used to use Knorr mixes that have FINALLY cutout the msg. I also make my own using good noodles, non MSG broth bases (look for them in health food stores), a little cornstarch as thickener, some spices to taste, and add in dehydrated veggies, chicken or beef. There is also couscous, a turkey dinner recipe, Annie's mac and cheese (much better than Kraft and you get more in the package. Bring some dried milk to add to it and noddle mixes.). I've gotten a pesto mix (watch for MSG though or dehydrate some bottled pesto) and added it to a bag of dried tortellini for dinner. If I eat Ramen, I discard the flavor packet and bring my own seasoning in a snack size Ziploc bag, and fortify it with dried peas and green beans and dried meat. I sometimes use the Mountain House / Backpacker Pantry meals, but they are pricey for long distance hikes. Dessert - Rice Krispy bar, Little Debbies oatmeal pie, packets of Oreos, snack size candy bars, etc

For more ideas and recipes on eating healthy while backpacking, check out my article at Mother Earth Living magazine.

Extra - take a good multi vitamin with iron if you're out for a long time. Some hikers use the kiddie gumdrop ones. I use ones I know are good from a Vitamin shop and are in my maildrops.

Trail Magic rocks! Especially fresh fruit.
Good wholesome food will keep you going and will help you enjoy the hike a whole lot more.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Observations of a Florida Trail Hike – The Beginning

With the publishing of my trail adventure Gators Guts and Glory - Adventures Along the Florida Trail - the second in the Hiking Adventure Series - I decided to take you back to the beginning of the adventure on memory lane (or in this case, trail) - 

Check out my book on this 1100 mile adventure On Amazon

"What a great book! I couldn't put it down." - Amazon review, Verified Purchase

"This is a must read. Lauralee's writing style keeps you riveted to her every mile..." - Amazon review, Verified Purchase

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!


Florida Hikes website -  for the guidebook and also, check out this thorough review on my Florida Trail Adventure!

Guthook App - for the FT map

Florida Trail Association - maps and advice

Book 1 in the Hiking Adventure Series - Mountains, Madness and Miracles