Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lessons Learned on What Works and Doesn’t Work on a Long Distance Trek

Things I have heard to take on a long distance trek that just don’t work for me. Sorry.

Case in point -

1. Duct Tape – this is the proverbial go-to for first aid on all types of blisters, holes and / or broken gear, 

I’ve used it for years with poor results. I’ve put it on only to have it fall off, rub my other toes or skin, bunch up, causing more issues. I’ve tried to repair gear with it to have it fall off or bunch up. 

The stuff stinks. Period. And can leave glue marks on gear, sometimes negating a warranty

Solution: For blisters, my treatment is the Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister bandages.
There is nothing like it out there (including stuff I have seen sold in outfitters)! I used them in the swamps and sand of the Florida Trail. They are awesome. I tried other blister brands too. They fell off. Not these. Well worth the money and may save your hike. They are waterproof. When they begin to peel back after a few days, remove the bits slowly, a little at a time. When they fall off, the blister area is healed. Amazing.

As for gear? Tear-Aid Type B works for holes in tents. Carry some. Dental floss and a needle could repair tear in a pinch. Wait for an outfitter or call the manufacturer from the trail to have gear replaced up the trail (lots of manufacturers will work with you).

2. Trash bag liner to line your pack and protect gear from getting wet.

Forget it. Been there, done that. A cheapo version that protects in light rain, sure. But if you are a long distance backpacking, you’re gonna get soakers. As a ridgerunner I have seen hikers pull out their wet stuff from a trash bag liner in their backpack after enduring a heavy thunderstorm. I’ve had my stuff soaked on the Long Trail in a heavy, three inch all day rain. 

Solution: I went to the Z Packs cuben fiber liners and /or stuff sacks. They are awesome. I have had a puddle inside my pack and the stuff in these is dry. Worth the money.

3. Sawyer Mini to filter water.

TOO slow for me. The Sawyer squeeze filter is bigger and works faster – letting you quench that thirst for an ounce more. And I also used the Evernew water bags. They work awesome with the Squeeze filter. No more blowing out Sawyer bags!

Conversely, things I said – “Nah” only to find DO work -

4. A map app on a cell phone. 
I’ve argued – Inaccurate. Wastes your phone charge. Hard to read. May fail.
I used it exclusively for the Florida Trail. Worked great. You do need to know how to work it and read a map, though. On recommendation from hikers, I got a good Anker charger for my phone so I can now keep it charged (the cords are light too for recharging everything when in town). I love phone map apps. They are awesome.

5. Darn Tough socks. Everyone raves about them. I’ve used all kinds of other socks. Are they really that great?
YES they are.
These socks are Bombproof. And they have an unlimited guarantee. They dare you to wear them out. No joke. Amazing.

Anything you care to share about gear you now like or don’t like? 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Anniversary of our Start!

The day has arrived!

Our first day on the trail - March 5, 2007. Ten years have passed since our trek up the Approach Trail to the southern terminus at Springer Mountain. For me it was seeing thirty years of dreaming coming to pass. We had a long way to go on our journey - but it was the day of days, and one I will never forget.

To read more about the amazing journey I took with my 16 yr old son, check out our book Mountains, Madness, and Miracles - 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail

March 5, 2007 in pictures -

At Amicalola Falls State Park where we registered
Some pre duct taping before hitting the trail
At the arch, ready to roll
Happy thru hikers we met along the way
Approach Trail
The first white blaze - of many to come
On Springer Mtn at the northern terminus - Blissful, Paul Bunyan, and Papa Bliss

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 4 - Unexpected Delays

Who has not had plans go awry when you least expect it. So it was for our hike in 2007. We had intended to leave the night before on Feb 28th to begin our hike March 1st and the start of a new
month. But it was not to be. Like even the hike itself, one must expect the unexpected and go with the flow. And alter plans even before you hit the trailhead!

From our Journal - 

Feb 28, 2007

Tonight we are supposed to be at the Hike Inn in GA, ready to embark on this nearly six month long hike.
Maildrops had to be changed
Instead we are at home tonight - I with a cold, Paul Bunyan still has a fever, and Skipper is trying to keep everything together. Still not sure yet when we will be leaving. We got our dog back from the farm where she stayed last night in prep for us leaving today (which we didn't). So we will keep her until we are ready to depart. I went through my Smokies mail drop to check on the weight as it seemed very heavy. Answered a few e-mails. But not doing too much. Basically in a holding pattern until the illness passes. But better here at home than hold up for days at some motel spending money and wondering what will happen. As it is, Skipper won't be able to hike as far as he planned. The maildrops have all changed. But blessed are the flexible. Still, I can't be sad about the setback. Esp when I just heard yesterday of a great Christian author and speaker, whom I've had the privilege of learning from at writers' conferences - who lost his home and a family member in a terrible fire yesterday. I prayed for him last night and thought about my own circumstances that seemed to pale by comparison. But God is good and yet received encouragement today from others. Of course one can't and shouldn't be comparing what we each go through in life. But it did get my eyes off of me for a time, which is always a good thing to do.

March 1

March 1st and the day I was to begin my hike. But seeing the atrocious weather in Georgia this day and the many comments I have received that all things work together for good - I must say that has
come into play here with our continuing illness. I believe we are starting to mend, but it's hard to know when to go. When will we be fit enough to hike without suffering relapse or something else? In my heart I would like to go for a March 5th start. But I don't know. So we will see how tomorrow goes and then make a decision from there. All you can do is take it day by day.

March 2

Waiting to see this place, sigh...
Here we are, T plus two days. When I told Paul Bunyan that we will have to delay longer if he doesn't start eating (cause we won't go if he is that sick), he suddenly became hungry and began to eat. In the back of my mind I am hoping we might leave Sunday for a March 5th start, but we are still in a wait and see. Thankfully our neighbor agreed to watch our dog, so we are not bound to the schedule for the kennel where we were planning to take her. So this gives us a bit of leeway. Still, Skipper is getting edgy to leave since he only had ten days to hike with us, which has now been lessened to a week. Every day lost means less time he has to spend with us on the trail as he must be back by March 11 for work. So it's really a tough decision to make when to go. Right now I am holding to leaving Sunday, March 4th for GA. All we can do is continue to wait and see.

March 3

We're going to go for it - leave for GA tomorrow, that is, and begin the hike on March 5th. I'm not 100% and neither is Paul Bunyan, but we decided to go slower than we were planning, plus we have a cabin to stay in at the end of the week in Neel's Gap which will be nice.
Thanks to all who are following our journal and for your continued thoughts and prayers. God bless and see you on the trail.

Related Blogs

Monday, February 27, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 3 - How a Dream is Born

It's always good to reminisce about those crucial pre-hike events that spawned the long distance adventure like back in '07 when I did the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. So it was in early Jan of 2007 when I reminisced about my older brother and the hikes we used to take long ago when I was a teen - helping to spawn a 30 year fascination with the trail and a desire to walk it all.

Here is my post from ten years ago honoring big brother for that and for his encouragement.

And if you are looking for an inaugural event to kick off an AT dream, the trail through Shenandoah National Park is a good place to start, and a place where dreams are born!

"I start off the New Year in anticipation of my hike just a mere two months. Hard to believe. But what
Getting the idea for the AT at age 15. 
better way to begin this year than with a word about my older brother, Rob.

You see, Rob and I first did a part of the AT back when I was a young teen. We did a day hike together, a section in Shenandoah National Park from Stony Man to Big Meadows. I never forgot it. We stopped at the Rock Spring Cabin where he cooked me up some soup on his stove. I felt like a real hiker, even though I was carrying my candy cane striped daypack ( I have a picture of the daypack on my hiking web site). We had a great time discovering views, a blooming chestnut tree, and just being hiking buddies.

Big brother on our hike in Shenandoah when I was a teen.
He fired up his stove and made us soup at Rock Spring Hut
Today I talked on the phone with him, and we shared about my upcoming hike this year. And he had nothing but encouraging words for me. To go for it all the way. To live my dream. And to do the hike for himself and his family.

I was so touched. But then again, I was touched too, long ago, on that section of the AT in

Rob, this hike's for you! Thanks for being there."

AT wander with big brother in Shenandoah - I did nine miles that day from
Little Stony Man to Big Meadows and was excstatic

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - Part 2 - One Week and Counting...

One week to go - ten years ago - before the adventure of My lifetime and also the title of a book I read every year from my teen years on - Ed Garvey's book - Appalachian Trail: Adventure of  Lifetime. The book is actually a nostalgic look at hiking in the 70's before the advent of the thru
hiker craze, free dried meals, lots of shelters, multiple trail magic feeds, no road walks, and internal frame packs. I recommend it.

Here is my post dated February 22, 2007 -

"I sit here pondering the fact I have but a mere one week before my feet hit the AT to complete the trail this year. I don't care to ponder the fact that I still have a zillion things left to accomplish. But I do ponder how the journey first began as a teenager thirty years ago and now has come to this momentous point in my life. And I'm even more excited and in awe when I hear of others who are sharing in my thrill of this journey - from my family who visited or e-mailed encouragement, to friends who have been praying, the neighbor next door giving me postcards to send to her son's 2nd grade class, to the people that have already volunteered along the trail's route for us to stop by and stay with them (from VA to PA to CT). All point to a trip in stages but one that must and will be completed, by the grace of God in Whose strength I can do all things.

I have enjoyed writing down tidbits of this pre-journey in my blog. Now the journey and its wonders will turn to my trail journal site. So be certain to check it out where I am and what's happening when the journey begins March 1st, 2007."

My friends threw a party for us

(Just to let you know - even the start date did not go as planned - more on that in Part 3. And also taught me a valuable lesson about "plans" - they are always fluid and/or should be thrown out even before Day One)

Our book chronicles our adventure physically, emotionally and spiritually I don't gloss it over either! Mountains, Madness and Miracles - 4000 Miles along the Appalachian Trail 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trail Maps – Why Bother?

Being a frequent contributor to hiker forums, I have seen the Appalachian Trail map debate time and time again. And time and time again I see the same reasons crop up as to why hikers choose not to carry maps or even find them an essential part of their gear list -  

Common arguments against taking maps on the Appalachian Trail - 

-          The trail is blazed white and easy to follow. You can’t possibly get lost
-          I know the trail cold, so I don’t need them
-          I never plan to get hurt, face a drought, need a road to bail a friend out or meet a friend, avoid storm damage or any such calamity because my hikes go perfectly every time
-          My guidebook is good enough
-          Maps are too heavy
-          Maps are too expensive
-          Some maps cover such a small portion of the trail, they’re a waste
-          I don’t want to have to rely on a mail drop for a map
-          I can always look at someone else’s map
-          Maps are for whimps
-          Maps are only for those who like looking at something else besides the woods
-          Maps are only good for TP (toilet paper...)
-          Your own special reason…..

Now the Reasons Why you Need a Map – based on the above

-          Yes, the Appalachian Trail is blazed white. But did you know there are places where other areas are blazed white? State Game Lands of PA are. I have seen dirt roads with obscure white or other areas. Just because white blazes often signify the AT doesn’t mean other areas won't also use the same markings. And that can mean you veering into other areas with the potential of – uh – getting lost. Also, many designated wilderness areas have infrequent trail blazing. Or blazes are obscured due to rerouting or lost over time. It’s easy to miss them at road junctions. Or pranksters could have obliterated them. In different seasons trails can be hard to follow and blazes spaced far part or gone by blowdowns or chipped bark. Or fresh snow obliterates them. 
-          So you never plan to get hurt or encounter adverse weather which may necessitate your need to bail out or emergency camp at a place that has water? A map will show you areas that may suffice for an emergency campsite. Maps help point out road crossings or alternate trails that can lead to bail-outs and safety if you or a friend need them. Or if you run low on supplies. Maps help show detour routes if the trail is blocked by severe storm damage (i.e. hurricane damage in season or fire season when trails close) or high water from a t-storm. Maps also help locate adequate, uncontaminated water sources where reliable ones in a guidebook may not be flowing. Essentially, maps could save your hike and maybe even your life
-          Guidebooks are giving elevation profiles of the trail but don't have the other features a map contains. They do not have contour lines. You don't know for sure where that trail is really going from a guidebook. There are no side trails outlined on it except in verbage. They don't always point out all upcoming road crossings and trails, nor do they tell you where they lead. They cannot pinpoint obscure water sources you may need, esp in drought conditions or in beaver fever areas. Guidebooks provide words not visual illustrations of the trail and its surrounding areas
-          If you think a tool that could help you or save a life is too heavy, then maybe your aren’t cut out for the rigors of hiking
-          Ditto for $$. You’ll spend it on other things, maybe even brew or tobacco, but not on a map. Priorities - ?
-          Maps are never a waste if they are needed. OK – you may have been fine on a section without them. But no doubt the one time you need it, you won’t have it. 
-          Mail drops are fine for forwarding paper maps  lots of places besides the PO will take them. Another option is a trail map phone app. I have used this successfully on the Florida Trail. They are excellent resources and with lots of info about waypoints, water sources, towns, etc. 
-          Sure you can look at someone else’s map, but why not have your own? This is your hike. Carry
your own stuff and be self reliant. If you ask me, the whimp factor in the next response can also apply to the one who refuses to carry a map then must rely on another to provide it for him / her.
-          I believe the other answers are addressed above when one see the value in a map. Also, maps are part of Leave No Trace, that is, planning for your hike. Maps can be life savers. I have never known a hiker having to quit a hike because of carrying a map. But for sure some have had to quit because they did not have one – i.e., they got lost, they got hurt and didn’t get medical attention in time to help the injury, had to take an unintentional detour or other reasons.

Bottom line is, be prepared and take some form of a map.

Google clubs for the trails you wish to hike to look for maps

Guthooks Map App   

Thursday, February 16, 2017

10th Anniversary of a Thru Hike - 2 weeks and counting

- 10th Anniversary of our Northbound AT Hike 
Blissful and Paul Bunyan - 

During the next two weeks I will be reposting blogs and other excerpts written at the time of our AT hike in 2007 from Georgia to Maine with my sixteen year old son. 

Read all about our 2007 adventure in our book - Mountains, Madness, and Miracles available on Amazon from WhiteFire Publishing.

(Reposted from Feb 15, 2007 )

In two weeks we will be doing the Approach Trail to Springer Mtn. Hard to even comprehend. Even harder when I think how long a journey it has been to get me here and then what awaits me. I wonder if I will just be in a state of shock during it, like this is not reality. I mean, I will certainly have the reality and the pain of the hike. But the idea I am really doing this, from Georgia all the way to Maine. Five and a half months. Amazing.

I like to think of the old Michael Card song when it comes to this adventure. "There is a joy in the journey." And that is really what I want to have. Joy in the journey.

Getting gear and maildrops in order

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Backpacking Over Fifty

Life does not end when one reaches the half century milestone and beyond. In fact the adventure is just beginning. I’ve had several ask in forums if it’s possible to do a long distance hike in the older years. Of course! It’s never too late to enjoy an adventure and make the most out of every outdoor
opportunity. So the answer to - can I do it - is YES. Take a look at “Drag’n Fly” who became the oldest female thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail. Or “Nimblewill Nomad” who continues to meander on trails (actually hiking every one of the major trails in the US). Backpacking over fifty can have interesting challenges, but none are so insurmountable that you can’t enjoy a weekend, a week long or even a long distance trek. But it does take planning.

To begin with, getting cleared by the doctor to begin your new trekking adventure is important.
Make sure any current medical issues you are dealing with are either resolved or stabilized. One hiker had a transplant a while back and wanted to head out backpacking. Great for him but important to know when you are ready for such arduous activity. A doctor is your best source for this information and not other hikers. So too if you’ve had joint replacements, if you are diabetic, etc. All these things should be discussed with your doctor as well as any medication you may need to take. If you’ve had knee issues in the past or ankle issues, get them resolved ahead of time. It does no harm to begin your adventure by taking care of yourself at home, like doing exercises to help stretch out muscle groups and walking as much as you can (walking is less hard on the joints than running). Prepare yourself and your body for what is to come, and the hike will go much smoother.

Gear. It’s doubly important that you are carrying the least amount for a safe venture, especially as we age. While many of us can no longer just sleep on one of those simple pads, thankfully gear manufacturers are coming out with lightweight gear that helps reduce the pack load. Consider one of the 3 inch inflatable pads for instance. Or maybe even hammocking. Older bodies tend to get colder too, so make sure you have proper layers for hiking. Get checked by a good shoe professional when it comes to footwear. Poor footwear will quickly cause issues in the knees and hips—both major flair-ups for older hikers. A pair of trekking poles goes a long way to helping manage those hills and give balance. I have been known to carry more for comfort’s sake than a thirty year old. I have inflatable pillows for instance (Exped and Klymit make good ones). I carry more in my first aid kit than many. For instance, aspirin tabs are a good idea to help against heart attacks. I have discovered Penetrex and carry this on my hike for joint aches and pans. Watch taking lots of NSAIDS (like Advil) that have been known to cause ulcers and even other side effects in older people. Once you have all the essentials together, then check out backpacks. Get the one that is comfortable for you, not the one that is necessarily ultralight.

Food and Fluids. It’s most important that you drink lots of water on hikes. Water lubricates joints which can ache more often and become stiff. Carry a good water filtration system (I use the Sawyer Squeeze). I also am doing things differently with food. Much of the typical backpacking food contains way too much salt and sugar. For an older hiker, this can effect blood pressure and diabetes. Be sure to read the labels. Prepackaged foods also contain additives that cause issues – like MSG. Create your own meals and ship them out in mail drops (see food prep ideas). Use a guidebook to help you plan. Buying on the trail, unless it’s a big food store, limits you to more of the high salt and sugar products.   

Goals. We are not 20 anymore. I happen to be fiercely competitive and always want to do what everyone else is doing or what I have done ten years ago—in miles and goals. I’ve learned the hard

way it’s not a good idea. It can lead to overuse injuries that can wreck your hike. What you may have been able to do long ago is not the same now. Maybe twenty mile days were easy, but now fourteen is the max. Great! It’s your hike, your adventure, take it at your pace. Be kind to yourself. Take in the moment, rest by a stream, meet new friends, enjoy the scenery.

Make the most of the time you have in the great wilderness with the realization that you can do it at any age.