Friday, October 14, 2016

Safety and Hikes in the Fall Season

Max Patch in NC
There’s nothing better than a backpacking trip in the woods at the peak of leaf change. The air is crisp, the colors of the changing leaves brilliant, and the expectation is there for adventure and recreation. With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your trip go smoother and more enjoyable. 

Changing Weather – Fall can be a time of changing weather patterns. From warm to cold, bright sunshine to rain, make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check the weather before you venture out. Make sure your sleeping bag is of an adequate rating and you have enough warm layers. Include a good hat. Check out this blog too for ways to stay warm when the temperatures dip and what to bring when it rains. Carry the food you will need with a day extra to spare, just in case. Bring maps and a guidebook for the area in which you will be hiking, and include a phone in case of trouble. Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.

Wear blaze orange
Bears and Wildlife – This is the time of year when wildlife is foraging for food to keep them during the long winter months. They tend to be more aggressive and are on the hunt for food. Make sure you are using bear-proof techniques to hang your food. The PCT method works well for bears accustomed to hiker food strung up the usual way. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike (such as in the Smokies that routinely closes shelters for bear activity. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly  like a dog (which works very well. There's even apps for your phone!). Bears should NOT be there in those areas.

Leaves and Acorns – No one would think acorns and leaves can disrupt a trip. But wet leaves makes the trail slippery which can cause injury. Piles of leaves can hide rocks and other impediments on the trail. 
Acorns rolling under your feet act like marbles to trip you up. Take extra care on the trail when encountering this minor obstacles to prevent ankle twists or other injuries. Sometimes fallen leaves and obscure the trail. Be sure to have a map with you and a compass also. 

Hunting season - Fall means hunters are out sharing the woods and trail. Wearing blaze orange is a must. Know the hunting regulations where you will be hiking. Watch for dogs that are assisting hunters also. Check out the blog on hunting tips to keep you safe on the trail. 

Where are the colors at their peak? Check out the fall foliage map

Finally, some top fall hikes in different states -

In the Smokies
New York and New Jersey
New England
Washington State
New Hampshire
CNN's take Includes Virginia

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Five Reasons to Attend Hiker Festivals and Workshops

Sometimes the expense, time away, and distance to attend a hiker festival or workshop may not seem like a worthwhile investment. But having just returned recently from The Gathering – the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker (ALDHA) premier festival that occurs every October during Columbus Day weekend, I have discovered several really good reasons for taking the time out to come gather with other hikers – 
1.     Education. Despite the trail miles we may have put on or the adventures we have seen, there is always things we can learn from others. The Gathering I just attended had a multitude of workshops covering a variety of topics: from various hiking trails found around the world, to How To, to preserving the trails we love. All of them provided ways to learn.  Even if the festival does not have workshops, attending informal gatherings provides time for feedback about different hiker topics and thus, education (for instance I received valuable info on the Florida Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail just by chatting with hikers). You can take your backpack to many events and have a shake down from fellow hikers and discuss gear options. And speaking of invaluable education – be sure to check out the all day workshop we conduct in March to get ready for spring hiking (registration opens in December).
2.       Networking with hikers. It’s important to meet old and make new friends in the world of hiking. They are the people who best understand the difficulty found on the trail, or loneliness of a hiker who can’t find others who understand their passion or their goals. This kind of networking provides advice, friendship, ideas, companionship, and fun!

3.       Adventure. Going to new places, even hiker festivals, provides an outlet for an alternate adventure. I mean, in one sense, we all hike to experience adventure away from the mundane. A hiker festival or gathering provides an outlet also for the adventuresome spirit, when one never knows WHAT will happen or the people you may meet! It can and often does, surprise you.
4.       Fun. Festivals are fun. They are magnets for having a good time around a campfire at the tenting area, for joking about things that have happened, to just reveling in the hiker atmosphere such as in the hiker parade at Trail Days in Damascus and having a good, old fashioned water fight!

5.       Make New Dreams. I have had my dreams for future hikes stimulated by hiker gatherings. I have found out about new trails or information about a trail or area I plan to go  – and by those that have done it. Maybe you also nurse a dream of getting that pack weight down or finding a new friend to hike with, or doing a thru hike. Festivals, Workshops, Gatherings, Rucks, etc. provide a great opportunity to make your hiking dream a reality.    

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mental Aspect of Long Distance Hiking Explored – Part 2 After the Trail

Congratulations! You’ve finished the trail. You’ve completed the goal. You’ve basked in the glow of it all and the congratulations of others.

Then it hits. You are back in society. Back to the grind of a job, perhaps. Or there with no job and needing to pay bills. Back to society like a busy city. The simple life is gone. It’s so complicated and overwhelming. I yearn for trail life again.


I know, I‘ve been there. It’s already coming to light that there can be a certain stress syndrome involved with hikers leaving long distance trail life and returning home.  You can get depressed, anxious, nervous, moody. You can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t do multiple or complicated tasks. You try fitting back in but feel you are only on the outside looking in. You wonder what to do and really, how to live again.

So what can you do?

Realize that you will experience some kind of post trail stress after returning home. I dealt with a letdown – (lots of this is chemically induced that happens when engaged in high activity then suddenly crash when that activity ceases). I dealt with guilt for having been away from home and leaving my husband. I dealt with the guilt of not being able to do certain things, like multi-tasking. I was used to the simple life of a hiker with lots of exercise, plenty of sunshine, and limited decision-making. So give yourself a break and realize there’s going to be some adjustment involved, and it may take time. Have a plan BEFORE you hike is crucial so you aren’t overwhelmed when you return home. Especially if you need to make financial or life changing decisions. Limit those for now until you adapt back into society.

After two AT hikes, I turned to ridgerunning and speaking
Go on a diet post trail. Why should I? I look great. Not for long. Your metabolism will slow down and the pounds will start adding up quick. DO NOT eat what you did on the trail. You are no longer using up 4-6,000 calories and can therefore eat useless carbs. Stop now and eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good types of protein. DO NOT eat a bunch of Snickers candy bars like you did on your hikes. The sugar alone can send you crashing and your mood crashing too. No potato mixes, Ramen, stuffing either. Eating healthy helps you feel better. Drink lots of water too. And skip the sugary drinks and alcohol.

Go on an exercise regimen. I started a running program. You need to do something aerobic. Don’t just stop everything. Your body will rebel. So will your mind. Start by some jogging. Or just walking. Walk everywhere. Keep walking and running if you can. If you can take a day hike at times, do it. But do not STOP exercising! Your body and mind need the chemicals exercise generates to help you feel better and sleep better. And you need the sunshine.

If you find you are not in sunshine a lot or its winter take some Vitamin D3. This will help ward off colds (it’s easy to get sick when you are home and around the public) and helps strengthen bones and the immune system.

Reconnect. Set up interviews (like town newspapers) and places to share about your hiking experiences. Write about them on trail journals. Or blog about them. Offer to speak about your journey so others can experience it. Become involved on social media in hiker forums to help others realize their hiking dreams. Concentrating on others rather than yourself helps lift your mood. Find a job having to do with your interests (I turned to ridgerunning and speaking). Be a part of a hiking group in your neighborhood. Or take kids hiking. We started a church youth group and took kids on lots of adventures. Get involved with scouts. Or become involved in trail maintenance. DO something and share about your experience with others! By all means stay in touch on line or by phone with other hikers and join in on an event that brings hikers together. Plan to attend Trail Days or other activities too. I also get involved more in praying and reading the Bible. I felt it helped me a lot by letting God give me the strength when I had none.

Be sure you reconnect with those you left behind. Be a part of their lives. You may have been on the trail for many months. I had get togethers with my friends and showed pictures of my hikes. I went and acted in a play with my husband and son to reconnect our family. Try some new but simple things that maybe
To reconnect in our family post hike, our family performed in a play 
you’ve never done. Avoid multi tasking. and work toward a new goal or dream. Resist the urge though to get out on another long distance hike right after the first. It may be tempting, but honestly, the problems will still be there when you return. Make the adjustment but keep goals for future hikes in mind.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, then by all means seek professional help like a counselor. You may need a little more doctoring afterwards, just like if we suffer a physical injury from too much stress. Stress can lead to mental injury that also needs doctoring. So seek help if things are just not working. Especially seek help if you are feeling like life is not worth living or at all contemplating ending your life – SEEK HELP! Please!    

Most importantly don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time. Don’t set yourself up with tons of things to accomplish. I found I couldn’t multi-task for a while and told my husband that. Do one thing at a time and do that one thing well. You’ll start getting back into the groove of community living again. But it can take time, so don’t get discouraged. Cherish the great memories you had on the trail and look forward to making new ones.

Related Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Blogs 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wow, I Hurt from Backpacking!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Blogs:

Lighten that Backpacking Load

Top Three Weight-Loss Challenge for Hikers

Friday, September 02, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Etiquette in Trail Shelter Living

Who hasn’t loved the idea of finding a safe and dry place in a trailside shelter to shield one from the elements?

Especially when the rain is falling hard, and you don’t need or want to get your tent or gear
any wetter. In times like this, shelters can provide a safe haven from storms. But there is also etiquette that needs to be observed. After all, this is not just one person’s dwelling place for a night, but many. You will share that space with those you may or may not know. You will also likely be sharing it with shelter creatures too – anything from insects, to mice, snakes and even larger mammals.

I stayed in a shelter one stormy night while on my sectionhike of the AT (Appalachian Trail) a few weeks ago. What I observed in the shelter led me to write up seven ideas of etiquette in shelter living:

Rock Spring Hut in Shenandoah
1.       Realize that you will likely NOT be the only one in the shelter. That means, don’t monopolize it with your belongings, taking every hook, etc. DON’T set up your tent and hammock in it either. A guy had strung up his hammock in it that then limited other hikers trying to find a place to bed down for the night and store their gear. NOT courteous.

2.       If you know you are a snorer at home, chances are it will be magnified outdoors. PLEASE then don’t use the shelter. There is nothing more miserable than sleeping beside a snorer, even with earplugs in (which everyone should carry, btw). To the snorer - you will likely have many more enemies in the AM too.

3.       If you know you will be getting in late, like after hiker midnight (usually 9 PM) set up your tent. I was rudely awakened at 10 PM by three dripping wet hikers looking for space. If you choose to hike late, that’s fine. But be courteous by not waking up others in the shelter by coming in and demanding space, making everyone move, firing up your stove, etc. Set up your tent. That also goes for the early
A tiny shelter on the Allegheny Trail
riser before 6 AM. In both instances, do the right thing and tent. And also, use a headlamp with a red night light feature. There is nothing worse than a white LED light glaring all around the shelter. One guy flashed his for half the night as he wanted to read at 2 AM. A red light would have made things much better for those that would rather sleep. If you are a late nighter like that – tent.

4.       Don’t smoke cigarettes, pot or anything else in the shelter. Don’t use your cell phone in the shelter either. Other hikers don’t care to inhale the nicotine, drugs, or hear you talk to your girlfriend. That’s your business, so do it away from the shelter or better yet, tent.

5.       If you are feeling sick, DON’T use a shelter, period. This is mainly how norovirus epidemics hit the AT every year. Avoid all public places – picnic tables, privies, etc. until you are totally well. If you know of someone who is ill, get out of the shelter area. Wash your hands. No sharing food either.   

6.       Make sure your food is stored away properly for the night. I was appalled the next AM to find not one of the other five hikers in residence had hung their food. They left it all in their packs sitting on the shelter floor. Normally it would have been attacked by critters. Always hang your food and cookware preferably by bear rope away from the shelter. That goes for NOT leaving excess food, trail magic or otherwise in shelters or hanging from poles, cables or in bear boxes. Someone had left trail mix just sitting there in the shelter when I arrived. Don’t do it!

A bag of trash left in a shelter fire pit at Niday Shelter. NO!
7.       The shelter is NOT for creating a library of books, magazines, or other reading material that then turn into fodder for mice or the beginnings of a trash pile. No one wants to drag your book around. Don’t leave extra gear and clothes (no one wants that either), food, empty fuel canisters, or trash. The shelter area should be left clean. Volunteers take care of it and they do NOT want to go and clean up your trash. That also goes for the shelter fire ring. DO not leave trash in it. I even found a full trash bag in one shelter fire pit. Empty food wrappers weigh a lot less! Carry out everything!

With some common courtesy and keeping your gear and food safe and carrying out all trash, shelters can be a place of refuge and fellowship for all. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Blissful Hiking is Taking to the Road!

AND not just any road....we are packing up and heading to the beautiful state of Pennsylvania for a statewide Speaking and Book Tour this Fall!
We are very excited to have the opportunity to share 4,000 miles of Appalachian Trail stories at nine libraries through Pennsylvania- from the Allegheny region to north of Philly to Camp Hill and Hershey and beyond!

Plus I will be signing copies of my book- Mountains, Madness, and Miracles - 4000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail!

SO come be part of this great statewide event!   Book Tour Details

AND if you want me to come speak to your library, drop me a line at blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com