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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Is it all Gators, Guts, and Glory?


And it's right here! The long anticipated second book in the Blissful "Hiking Adventure Series"

What does the state of Florida give visions of? Beaches? Ocean waves? Resorts far and wide? Walt Disney World? 

What could it possibly give to the interest of a hiker?  

Blissful the Hiker takes you on a wild and wonder-laden trek on the Florida Trail through pristine cathedral palms, thick woods of palmettos, sky high scrub pine, Lord of the Rings forests of oak and cypress knees, a lounging gator or two, exotic birds, vast prairies, and maybe some swamps for fun. Not to mention the interest of assorted dogs who would rather hike with Blissful than guard property and the joy of trail angels who will do anything to help a hiker in need when storms arise.

Welcome to the release of Gators, Guts, and Glory – Adventures Along the Florida Trail. This humorous and painfully realistic tale of an 1100 mile trail stretching from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore will inspire hikers with a journey unlike any other to be found in the U.S.

What popular authors and hikers have said about Gators, Guts and Glory – Adventures Along the Florida Trail:

“Lauralee paints a richly descriptive and realistic picture of the unique challenges faced by long distance hikers walking from the swamps to the seashore as they traverse the length of Florida on the Florida Trail.  – Sandra Friend, Author of The Florida Trail Guide

“Lauralee's inspired writing provides us with a richly detailed account of hiking the Florida Trail. Her writing is genuine and thorough and reveals to us the rigors, emotions and ultimately the joy of long distance backpacking."  - David Miller, author of The A.T. Guide and AWOL on the Appalachian Trail 

So immerse yourself in adventure beyond your expectations! And hopefully begin your own trek on this unique trail.

Order on Amazon

Check out also Blissful’s first book in the Hiking Adventure Series – Mountains, Madness, and Miracles – 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail

Thursday, June 27, 2019

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 in places like 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 en route 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 cell 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!  

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Waterfall Adventures

Summer is here, the heat is on, and so is the opportunity to see beautiful falls in all their glory. Many states have waterfalls of varying heights and beauty. Some are easy to see, some require a bit of a walk or even longer treks. All have their own unique characteristics. Enjoy these favorites of mine from over the years, at different times and seasons. (Note: all photos are the author's except where noted)

Taughannock Falls, New York State  

Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Whitewater Falls, South Carolina (Foothills Trail)

Amicalola Falls, Georgia

Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

NPS website


Friday, May 24, 2019

9 Ways to Stay Safe on a Hike

With the tragic event on the Appalachian Trail of hikers terrorized and one killed by a
mentally unstable and drug addicted individual, fear can creep in. Is it safe to hike? One would think
a trail is immune to the dangers of society. But many times troubled individuals seek out the wilderness to cope with their mental issues. In very rare cases these issues lead to altercations and in this case, tragedy.

Looking at the facts of safety on trails like the Appalachian Trail, the odds of you receiving or witnessing violent crime is extremely rare. Compared to cities, towns, even a neighborhood, you are more likely to encounter issues than the woods. But that does NOT mean one should ever let their guard down, no matter where they are. Always be on the look-out for anything strange or suspicious. 
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. And heed ANY warnings you hear on the trail or elsewhere.  

Here are some other ways to safeguard yourself on the trail:

  1. Always carry a cell phone and proper navigation. That means carry paper maps or an updated map app on your phone (realize though it may not have side trails like a paper map). If you are in trouble and need to bail or to get yourself out of a situation, you will need to know where to go. Have emergency contact information for the area you are hiking in on your phone. When in doubt dial 911.   
  2. Never give your itinerary out on social media. Share plans with family or friends privately but don’t broadcast it everywhere. Some hikers in the past have been attacked by sharing their whereabouts. That includes who you share with on the trail. Be sure you know the person(s) before telling them where you will be or what you are doing. I never give out my info to anyone. I tell hikers I don’t know where I’ll be. I also never tell anyone I see on the trail I am hiking solo if they ask.  
  3. Carrying safety measures is an individual choice. Some have talked about carrying mace, a firearm, etc. Please realize that each state has their own regulations for carrying pepper spray or a firearm. It is your responsibility to know the laws of each state and to make sure you are trained in all aspects of firearm safety and abiding by the regulations. Taking a defensive class can make you feel more confident. Oftentimes in situations your brain is the best defense you have. Don’t take chances. Don’t ever engage with someone who appears unstable. If something isn’t right, if you meet someone who isn’t right, leave the area. Even If it’s late at night, leave the area. And for that reason, make sure you also have fresh batteries in your headlamp, charged cell phone, and navigation handy.  
  4. If you witness anything suspicious or criminal, alert local authorities and fill out an incident form with the trail’s managing group (for the Appalachian Trail, for example, it would be the Appalachian Trail Conservancy). This includes items stolen, altercations witnessed, weird behavior, threats, damage to person or property, etc.
  5. Try to hike together or stay with groups. I have done extensive solo hiking, but it isn’t for everyone and I have hiked with others in certain areas. Especially on the AT though, it’s rare you are ever hiking solo. If you feel better with others then find hikers to hike with.  
  6. If you can and it is legal in that area, avoid staying in high use areas such as shelters or high use camping areas where you may encounter mentally unstable individuals, etc. Do not camp near any kind of road, including road traces. Look for those out of the way places to camp if it is legal to do so.
  7. The trail grapevine is essential for trail news, as is shelter logs. Take all warnings seriously and use common sense and good judgment. If you need to - adjust your plans, skip over a part of the trail (it isn't going anywhere), get off the trail, take a side trail, flip flop, do whatever you must to be safe.
  8. Do not hitchhike if possible. Check with day hikers in parking lots, try online hiking groups, or use your guidebook to call for rides. If you must hitch, do so with others.
  9. Above all, look out for one another. We are hiker family. If one is affected, it affects us all. There is strength in numbers and in each other. Stay strong, stay alert, and don’t let fear rob you of having a good time in the woods.  

#ATStrong #ATStronghold