Monday, October 08, 2018

No Matter the Trips and Miles – You are Always a Newbie

I was so excited to hit the trail again. It had been several months since my car accident that had caused major back issues. I had been out once for an overnight during the summer, but for a few quick miles. I was ready to hit the trail for some fairly good walking and cover about 70 miles in four days. It had been a trail I’d done so many times, I had it memorized. The graded Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. The outlook was bright.

Unfortunately I had several things working against me right off the bat. First, I had a pretty good sore throat going when I left. Meaning I was battling sickness. I waved it off, having endured as much on the Florida Trail and thought it shouldn’t affect me much. Second was my backpack. Since my good one was getting reconditioned by ULA, I went with a very old one. I figured it would be fine for a four day trip. Third was the idea I could do some good miles each day on what I believed was easy trail for the most part.

All Wrong

The first day was lovely. I ascended from Chester Gap into the park, enjoying the pretty but warm day. Not a few hours into the trip I felt a certain exhaustion beginning to grip me. There was some decent ups and downs on this route. I worked away any issues as I did most everything else. But the unplanned tiredness, coupled with some muscular pain from the backpack that began erupting early on clued me in I ought to cut miles the first day. But I can be pretty stubborn and pushed through 
to reach Hogback Mountain and a 17 mile total for the day. Yes, I hiked 17 miles on day one.

I was pretty exhausted that night but still was able to check out a backpacking meal I had created for a magazine article (to be published in Mother Earth Living in March, 2019). Somehow I managed to get my act together to review the recipe and even take some pictures using a selfie stick I threw in at the last minute (which worked out well).

But then next day I felt it. I enjoyed a pretty sunrise over Hogback, but I was extremely sluggish and I hurt everywhere, with blisters also on my big toes (a situation I deal with on every new start until the prized calluses form). The 17 miles on day one had completely done me in. I was okay for the first two hours but after that, it was a mental push just to do minor elevation gain. The illness was
Hogback Mtn sunrise
sapping strength too.

So with great reluctance I called for a pick up at Thornton Gap, having done 27 miles in two days. At least I was able to get out but it took several days for me to recover from fairly intense muscle pain and the blisters, along with a cold.

I keep forgetting that my best on a trail was formed by consistent hard work and continual hiking. Not zooming out into long stretches straight from the house.

So here’s the lessons –

1.       DO NOT hike high miles on day one

2.       Change your plans

3.       Don’t go if you feel a cold coming on (sore throat, aches, etc.) cut your miles, head to a hostel, or wait on your trip.

4.       Remember that despite the many trails and miles of the past, of which the mind can play tricks, whenever you go out, you are still a newbie in your body  

Pass Mtn view

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Celebrating 50 Years of our National Scenic Trails

What a great country we live in, full of beauty in both nature and in humankind. And what better way to experience it all than through a hike, long or short, on a National Scenic Trail. 2018 marks the golden anniversary of this great trail system. 

So what sets a National Scenic Trail apart? To earn this revere designation, the trail must be over 100 miles and reveal outstanding beauty, history, and recreational opportunity. To date there are 11 such trail designations.

Here is a listing of them and what agency oversees them.

I have had the privilege of completing two of these trails -

I have hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail twice, first from Georgia to Maine and then from
Maine to Georgia. Spanning nearly 2,189 miles, this trail traverses fourteen states in the most populated part of the east, running primarily along the Appalachian Mountain chain. It’s diverse beauty spans from mountain peaks to farmlands, through small towns to mountains looming above treeline, and goes through several National Parks.

I have also hiked the Florida National Scenic Trail. This gem begins near the Everglades in Big Cypress National Preserve and winds its way through the heart of Florida and across the Panhandle, some 1,100 miles worth. Along the trail one experiences natural beauty that one might see in some island paradise, from tall palms to palmettos. There are lofty pines, the heartland of Florida’s farms and ranges, Cypress trees and bogs, and even a walk along the beach fronting the Gulf of Mexico, all part of this unique trail unlike any other.  

I hope to hike more of these national treasures (stay tuned!). Make sure you future hiking plans involves an exploration of these scenic wonders.  The Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) is commemorating these national treasures at its October “Gathering” October 12-14. More Information.

My Book on my Appalachian Trail Hike - hike it both north and south! 

**Coming in 2019 – Adventures on the Florida Trail!**

Monday, August 06, 2018

Safety Tips - Cars Parked at Trailheads

I have posted on this in the past but it's good with the hiking season in full swing to reiterate safety tips.

Like trailhead parking areas. Already there have been break-ins at parked cars

Here are some things to keep in mind to avoid possible theft and car damage:

  • Check with online hiker forums, clubs and the specific trail organizations for parking issues. For instance the Appalachian Trail Conservancy posts on its website trouble spots with parking. Other trail organizations may do the same. Be sure to find out where there have been incidents and avoid parking there. Don't hesitate to contact these groups ahead of time for parking advice. Facebook also has many groups related to specific trails that can give advice on safe parking.
  • Take your oldest, beat-up vehicle to leave at the parking lot. Or get a ride to and from the trailhead (better to pay someone for the ride then to pay lots of money for a broken window or lose money to stolen items). Another option is to look for alternative parking near to the trail and get a ride up or walk to the trailhead. A place of business, for example. 
  • Consider leaving the car unlocked to avoid windows being broken. But with that said, if you do choose to leave it unlocked, leave NOTHING valuable in the car! Take ALL ID, loose change, wallet, cell phone, any important papers, etc with you. Better yet, leave everything at home you can't carry with you in your backpack or day pack. Locking items in the trunk doesn't mean the thieves can't force the trunk open or break a window to get at it. I did leave my car unlocked for two weeks while out on the Long Trail and did okay.    
  • Leave some unsavory items on the seat and / or back window to discourage thieves. Underwear. Dirty socks. Grungy clothes, etc.
  • If you see vandalism or are a victim of vandalism, report it immediately to the local authorities. If it occurred on a major trail system like the Appalachian Trail, report it also to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website and file an incident form. A park ranger evaluates each incident and contacts appropriate authorities along with making the hiker community aware of issues.
  • In all honesty, remember, one parks at their own risk, no matter where you are or what advise you have received.  

Friday, July 27, 2018

Overuse Hiking Issues

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

Foot and lower leg tendonitis - Just today I developed an anterior tendonitis in my right lower leg radiating to the right side of my foot from increased exercise and a flexion issue. Pain on the top of the foot may be extensor tendonitis and could be because your laces are too tight. If you have pressure point pain over a bone, a stress fracture may be developing.    

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

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

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

What to do?

First of all, CUT the miles! If you are developing an issue like tendonitis, shin splints or knee issues, rest is important. RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation until symptoms subside.  Take a few days off. Ice the affected extremity. Take Vit I (Advil) or Meloxicam works well too (a prescription). Taking tumeric with pepperine helps with inflammation. I have had very good results with an ointment called Penetrex. Applying an ace wrap or brace to the area sometimes helps (for me, it tends to aggravate things). Search out exercises online to help stretch the affected areas. If you are having foot pain, try relacing your shoes. If there is no relief, get checked out by a good sports medicine doctor.

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

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

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

Related blogs:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Preventing Heat-Related Ilnesses while Backpacking and Hiking

It’s summer and time for great hiking adventures. But it’s also time that heat-related illness can affect you while exerting yourself in hot and humid 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.

Yes it can get hot with bad water even on the Colorado Trail. Prepare!
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. 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. Sunstroke can kill!

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 (like Nuun)  to add to water. Be sure to carry plenty of water in desert environments. if the sources are far apart or contaminated, prepare with filtering capability, a good guidebook, and containers to tote water.  You can also over-drink and deplete your sodium levels, leading to other potentially harmful conditions. When you drink, don't overdo it either! Do NOT drink Alcohol which can lead to quicker dehydration as it pulls water from your body.
  • 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. Use hiker intel to tell you what water conditions are like enroute or ask in hiker forums before you go. 
  • Never go off on a hike, no matter how short it is, without 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. Sunstroke kills!  

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Rain... Part of a Hiker's Life

Blissful in the fog of PA before descending down to Palmerton

I felt like tonight I should blog about rain, since many hikers out this year are encountering rainy events. And not just any rain, but sometimes major events or even tropical systems. There can be downpours and strong winds. Heavy stuff. There isn't much weather protection that can keep you and your gear dry in that kind of extreme weather, except a good ol' warm hostel or other place of refuge.

But rain is a fact of life on the trail. And you must protect your gear and yourself. In some conditions it can be a life saver, especially if you hit the 50 degree temperatures with a wind that can actually cause hypothermia to set in rapidly. Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature begins to drop. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, poor decision making, weakness, drowsiness - if it progresses further you are in serious trouble. In the case where the temperatures warrant it, I always don my full gear - rain jacket, rain hat, and my rain pants. In the summer I don't bring rain pants as its warm enough that a good shower can actually feel good. My son loved to carry an umbrella. But in colder conditions they can help prevent you from getting soaked to the skin and having real issues.

This is a picture that a fellow hiker took of me atop Springer Mountain during my southbound hike a few years back. It shows me with full rain gear in action as it is November. Because of my glasses issue, I prefer wearing a rain hat. I have tried both the Marmot and Outdoor Research brands and has served me well. I am wearing a Marmot precip rain jacket (the orange color here came in handy when I hiked through the states of TN and NC in the fall and full hunting season with hunters out actually carrying their rifles - slightly unnerving). I did switch to DriDucks for a light weight option in the summer and it served me well on the Long Trail, but note - it is NOT durable if pine branches snag it! You can purchase rain gear made of simple silnylon or cuben fiber but remember they do not vent well and you may find yourself wetter on the inside than the outside. My son disliked rain gear and carried a lite umbrella for the summer rains on our thru hike of the AT.

In the above photo I am also wearing Marmot precip pants. On warmer days, a rain skirt such as the ones sold on Lightheart Gear has done well to keep the upper part of me dry. I only have regular trail runners on, not waterproof, but on a nice sunny day afterwards, I find they dry out amazingly well. But I did use a pair of the Gore Tex waterproof trail runners to test them out in the spring snow-like conditions. And I must say, having dry feet at night sure felt good.

As for pack protection, in this photo my husband sewed for me a sil nylon pack cover (we also made our own stuff sacks). You can get kits to make your own covers like this at Thru-hiker Gear which sells kits and materials for that creative person. I have met hikers that have made many of their own gear items, including a backpack, a sleeping bag, a vest, etc. Just recently I purchased a Sea to Summit pack cover and it has worked out well. But in heavy downpours, no pack cover keeps a pack dry, so it behooves you to keep the contents dry.  On the inside I have lined my pack with a trash compactor bag. The thicker the bag (in milliliters), the better. After a heavy storm though, I found the Z packs cuben fiber pack liner a must-have, esp as I still got water inside the trashbag line.  Nothing gets by this - it's bombproof. They also make a variety of stuff sacks for clothing and sleeping bag (which must stay dry no matter what). Worth the $$. I tend to go overboard and double bag my camp and clothes and sleeping bag. if all else fails and you are wet and cold, these can really save you and make you comfortable. Be sure also to have a working stove to heat up water for hot soups and drinks, and carry a good tent to protect you at night.

These are a few ways I have coped with rain while hiking. Sometimes its hard to see the fog rolling in and know you are missing some good views. But there is also good to be found on a rainy, foggy day. Clean fresh air. Plenty of water at the springs and streams when you need it. And knowing the sun will eventually come out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wow, I Hurt from Backpacking! 9 Ways to Prevent It

"Oh, do I hurt!"

You’ve likely heard and said those words many times after a backpacking trip. That 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 day after day on foot and leg muscles not used to such rigors.
An overstuffed pack coupled with the terrain can make you sore

The best way to minimize the painful effects of hiking is to try and prevent it as much as possible.

1. Carry the right backpack for you. Gather your gear together first, then check out backpacks at an outfitter. Make sure the backpack is properly fitted. 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 and you will be amazed how quickly your body adapts.

2. Make sure you are not overpacking. Take only what you need. There are ways to cut back on pack weight simply by reducing ounces (which can quickly add up to pounds). While this may not be 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 in trail forums to 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. 

3. 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.

4. Eat the right foods like good proteins, veggies, dried fruits, whole grains, and cheese. Avoid useless calories that will do nothing to re-energize or heal achy joints and the micro tears in muscles. A candy bar might give you a temporary sugar boost, but then it makes you drag.

5. Make sure you are wearing the proper footwear for your foot type. Get fitted by a professional. The wrong shoes or worn-out shoes can make your legs feel very achy and sore.

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

7. If your need to, take some pain medicine but don’t overdo it. Advil or other NSAID products can cause wear and tear on your stomach, leading to ulcers. Preventing pain is better than trusting to drugs. If you do need a pain reliever, try the lesser one, like Tylenol. Take turmeric with pepperine also. Do not take 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. 

8. Limit your mileage. Don’t try to be cool and do lots of miles when you're not ready. Take your time to adjust to the rigors of hiking. Stop often to rest, eat a snack, and enjoy a view or a flower. This is about the journey, not the destination.

9. If you feel achy even after limited hiking and it is accompanied by a headache and / or fever, get checked by a doctor. It could be an indicator of Lyme Disease.

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

Related Blogs:

Lighten that Backpacking Load

Top Three Weight-Loss Challenge for Hikers

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Ticks Are Out! Get Defensive Now

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

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

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

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

Below is the list of Prevention Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Important - If you do find an embedded tick, remove it promptly with tweezers or a tick-removal tool and seek out a doctor. This is important for ANY tick, not just the deer tick. A one time dose of doxycycline 200 mg can be taken to prevent Lyme Disease if done with 36 hrs of the bite. If you are unsure when you got bit or start to have a fever, headache, joint aches, get to a Dr asap.

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