Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Being a Moderator of an Appalachian Trail Facebook Group

Okay - what does this have to do with hiking?

A lot, when you think about it. 

I am the founder of the Appalachian Trail Section Hikers group on Facebook. We just turned over 11,000 eager hikers that have joined. I have other great administrators of the group who tirelessly
work to make sure we keep it family-friendly and on our passion – hiking.
In this group, eager hikers share their hikes, pictures, gear questions, their hopes and dreams, their triumphs and trials.

But just recently my eyes have been opened to other facets of this group and its members.
For instance, a dying hiker is sharing his thoughts to all of us as he goes through what must be terrible agony for him and his family.

On the lighter side, I have seen several couples get engaged on the trail and one even said that the Facebook group got him together with his new bride-to-be. Wow.

Though I don’t always hear about it, there are hikers that have shared hikes and now have made new friends. Others have asked for help and gotten maybe more than they bargained for. But for the most part, hikers go out of their way to help. When hikers have been in need, their fellow hikers come running to the rescue. They are true hiker angels. I know. Several years ago when I lost my mom, hikers who didn’t even know me sent me personal messages, gave their phone numbers, prayed and stood by my side.  

Of course, not everything is rosy. As a moderator, I’ve had some issues to deal with. Like the passionate few who have forgotten the gentle guidelines of the group and become a bit too boisterous in speech and content for their own good. Or some that tear down others when they do not agree, which we do not tolerate. We all must respect each other, even if we disagree. And we avoid the hot button issues that can rile some and keep it focused on hiking and the AT. Which, after all, is why we are a part of the group. 

I am most humbled to be the head of a group that is passionate about each other and this trail we call the Appalachian Trail. Here is no greater call at this point in my life, and I am glad for those who have shared their lives, their hopes and dreams, and a part of themselves in the group.

Here’s to another year of great hiking. And I just want to say - to the gentle hiker soon to meet the Creator, here’s to some awesome hiking when you pass through Glory’s Gate. I hear the fruit trees are marvelous and the Great River clear as crystal. Say hello to my mom for me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Good Leafless Hike - Mau-Har / AT loop in Virginia

Are you looking for a good challenge while trying to maintain winter fitness- And enjoy waterfalls and views galore? Then the Mau-har loop trail is a good choice. This fourteen plus loop takes you through a rugged canyon with waterfalls and across the terrain called the Three Ridges along the famous Appalachian Trail. You can do it in one long day hike or divide it into an overnighter.

The trailhead is located on Rt 56 on the way to Crabtree Falls (another great spectacle in the winter, especially if it is frozen. So you may want to return to this area again!) There is a parking lot. If you go in hunting season, be sure to wear blaze orange. I counted many hunters and hound dogs on the trail in mid December, carrying rifles.

Enter the AT across the road and walk across the swaying suspension bridge over the Tye River. I elected to do this trail by way of ascending to Maupin Shelter (three miles) via the Mau-har trail, then return on the AT along the Three Ridges. Though steep up and downs, and thick leaves, this way allowed me to view the waterfalls on the way up. I recommend you take hiking poles. There are several small campsites near the stream.

The trail dead ends right at the Maupin Shelter with plenty of campsites if you want to overnight here. Take a right on the Appalachian Trail to begin your journey over the Three Ridges. Don't rush this part. There are nice views, but lots of downhills too that can test your knees.

Maupin Shelter area has a bear pole to store your food

You get a great view looking back at The Priest and several overlooks to rest before your return trip into the valley. There is also one final shelter area - Harper's Creek - with more camping, approx 2.5 mile from the road.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Be Inspired to Overcome Challenges and Hike!

Sometimes it's good to reflect on others and their amazing ability to face life with determination and inspiration. With that in mind, I wanted to repost this encouraging blog by a young woman and the challenges she faces but her determination not to let it keep her from her dreams and goals. Be inspired!

My name is Brandi and I am a hiker. I am visually impaired. First I will explain my vision acuity. I was born with a rare eye condition that doesn’t have a name. Only about one hundred people have my condition in the United States. The condition is incurable. The eye condition I have closely resembles Cone Dystrophy. For the longest time I was diagnosed with Cone Dystrophy. I will not be able to drive. My vision is very blurry. It is hard to make out objects. If I am sitting in the front row of any show or lecture I still can’t see what is on the projector. I also am color blind, although I can see colors I just can’t tell the difference. If someone were to line up a yellow and green pen together I wouldn’t be able to point out the green one because they would all look the same to me. Even though I cannot see well, I do not let it stop me from doing the activities I enjoy. I love to hike and camp. I’ve been hiking ever since I was able to walk, way before anyone knew I had a vision disability. 

I love to hike because it helps me to relax. I enjoy being outdoors with the beautiful foliage and animals. I also get a chance to experience and go places I have never been before. I love to travel to new places. When I was fifteen I hiked Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. That was a tiring hike for me but I did it! I hiked Mount Jefferson in New Hampshire when I was eighteen. Last year I hiked up to McAfee Knob in Virginia. I can climb rock scrambles. I can hike any trail with little assistance. The only assistance I use is a hiking stick which basically takes the place of my sight cane. I use that to poke around for roots and loose rocks.

 I have hiked around Europe for a month with my student ambassador delegation. Well, not really hiked, but I was on my feet more then I was sitting. The only time I had to sit was when I was on the bus which was almost never. It was difficult traveling on my own in the enormous city of Paris France. I had to navigate the busy streets of Seville Spain in the dark, never fearing the worst. I am not afraid to do anything on my own. 

While on the trail I face many difficulties. I have fallen. The worst that has happened was when I was hiking with my dad on Mount Jefferson and there was a crevice that was hidden by vegetation. I stepped in it and banged up my knee. On that same trail I got temporary disorientated. I couldn’t figure out where the trail was.  As I hike I face a lot of challenges. When I hike I cannot see the roots or the trail. Everything camouflages. The sun is a challenge for me too. I am sensitive to light. I will sometimes wear sunglasses when I hike. Sometimes I will just have them off to marvel at the trees. I haven’t hiked in the dark, but I would like to try. Flashlights don’t help me much. When it shines on an area I just see blurry images. If a flashlight is shone on a root I wouldn’t be able to make out details such as length or depth.  

Although I can’t see well, most people who meet me will never have guessed. On the trail I show no signs that I have vision impairment. Over the years I have acquired special adaptations that help with hiking. Having great balance is the key for me. When I trip over something I act quickly. However, sometimes I do stumble over, but I recover quickly by regaining my balance. I have adapted to being quick on my feet. I often memorize my natural surroundings, much like a human GPS. Having been on a trail once, I have an innate ability of remembering where it goes and how long it is. As I mentioned earlier I carry a hiking stick, one which is the length of my sight cane. 

Hiking has helped me develop patience for myself and others. I regret that I don’t do it enough. Unfortunately, I do not yet have a trail name; certainly it will come with time. I would like to start hiking again more frequently once this college semester is finished. In the future I would like to hike Katahdin in Maine and feel the exhilaration of yet another accomplishment. In the near future I plan to go hiking with my dad in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Feel free to contact me and ask me questions. If you see me on the trail make sure you give me a holler.

 Hope to see you on the trail soon. 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Gift Considerations for the Outdoorsy One

Pondering what to get yourself or someone on your list that is outdoorsy? Here are six
recommendations from Blissful Hiking:

A three-in-one jacket – while a bit heavy for ultralight backpacking, a three-in-one jacket is great for the outdoorsy type who may find themselves in all kinds of weather. The liner zips out so that you have three jackets for any kind of weather – a rain parka, a fleece jacket, or a combination of the two for those cold, wintry days in the woods. Check outdoor websites like Backcountry.com, Sierra Trading Post, REI, etc. for the best deals (I recently found a Columbia brand jacket for half price).

You can’t go wrong with good quality hiking socks. For example, I’ve been trying out the new Ecosox – made of bamboo (!) and had found them terrific for outdoor use. On several extended day hikes I had no blisters, no stink. They proved durable and washed well. From the manufacturer: “…
the spun bamboo viscose fibers make Ecosox ultra soft, moisture wicking, odor resistant, and help prevent blisters.” They are reasonably priced also. Try them!

A Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – this is THE thing for filtration among backpackers. Whether using the mini that can attach to your drinking system such as the Platypus or Camelback or the regular size, these on-the-go water purifiers are great for making sure water is safe to drink.

Anything Cuben Fiber – Check the Z Packs site for the one who may have everything but is looking to lighten their load. Z packs has a whole line of cuben fiber type gear, great for those looking to cut out extra ounces from their bags, packs, liners, etc. but with the durability and water resistance you expect from a good fabric. I used my pack liner from Z Packs in a pouring rain and all the contents remained bone dry. That makes for one happy hiker.

A Lifeproof Case – most are going to a cell phone for all things phone, music, and camera-wise on the trail. Make sure to protect the investment with a waterproof and bombproof case like this one. But avoid the imitations sold on other websites and buy from reputable places (we got ours at Best Buy).

How about investing in a backpacking course that can offer ideas on backpacking, gear, food, first aid, safety, and more? We are holding a backpacking seminar here through Blissful Hiking. What a
great way to make a happy hiker by offering to pay his or her tuition to this great one day seminar for only $45! Or treat yourself and a friend or spouse? Check it out and see the great reviews from last year's participants. Registration is now open but seating is limited. If you want to give this as a gift, we’ll send a card to that special person, announcing your gift of a hiking workshop! Just let us know via e-mail on the registration page that it is a gift, and add in your email the address where to send the special card!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

What are You Thankful For?

As hikers we often overlook some of the reasons to be thankful. And this season of Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect and give thanks for things trail-wise maybe you hadn’t thought of in a while -
Here are some that come to mind for me –

1.       Those that Volunteer on the Trail – I’m talking trail club volunteers, maintainers, overseers, those who worked tirelessly to maintain the trails, shelters, etc. so we as hikers can enjoy it. Here is a listing of ones that maintain the Appalachian Trail. And in honor of them, feel free to read the blog I did on these great angels of the physical trail.
belong to a trail club, consider it. Here is a

2.       Trail Angels of Hikers – those that give tirelessly to trail efforts by helping hikers in their time of need. In December I plan to have a few of those trail gems as guests here to explain why they do what they do (so check back). I think of the people that took me into their homes, gave me food, took care of my stinky laundry, drove me back to trail at the crack of dawn, the list goes on.

3.       Organizations that oversee the trail. Like the trail clubs, consider joining them. The funds from memberships, stores, etc help oversee the trail, protect fragile environments, and assist in many other ways. Here's a listing of a few. 

4.       The many Hostels out there – I had the opportunity to interview a few hostel owners for a blog recently. While hikers do pay a modest fee for lodging, it no way begins to cover the amount of time, effort, long days and nights, these folks put in. And the way they support the trail community. It truly
is a labor of love providing a place of rest and recuperation for weary hikers.

5.       Our families and friends – I’m sure you can think of many who have gone out of their way to support you in your sometimes wild adventures. I know I give a BIG thanks to my husband who has stood by my side, even on the home front, while I went off exploring many trails. A big thanks for that!

So what are you thankful for? Feel free to comment. And from us here at Blissful Hiking, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Being Considerate of Others on the Trail

We share the trail not only with woodland companions but with other hikers, hunters, wanderers, pets
etc. It's important that the outdoor experience is enjoyed not only by us but also by others. The video by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has good tips for showing consideration to others. Some other tips to consider -

1. The Leave No Trace Principle of Planning and Preparing. By planning your hike so you arrive at the right time, you won't disturb others by a late night arrival. If you find you will be arriving late or just like to night hike, plan to camp out somewhere away from those who will likely be sleeping when you arrive (maps are helpful if your itinerary changes). I was not happy when I found someone setting up a tent right behind mine way past hiker midnight (after 10 PM), shining a headllamp and waking me up. We are not all on the same time table.  

2. If you are leading a large group, like scouts, a youth group, etc, plan to stay away from other individuals. Groups, not matter how hard leaders try, are always noisy Do your homework ahead of time as to where your group will be staying on the trip. Consider alternative ideas and perhaps scout out locations ahead of time. Plan to split up the group if the camping areas will not work. Be flexible in your planning.

3. Watch your pets. Although you may love your dog and feel he or she won't hurt a flea, there are hikers that are genuinely afraid of them and don't wish to share shelter space with a dog, etc. Plan to stay out in your tent and make sure your dog is on a leash when encountering other hikers. Don't assume your dog will get along well with other hikers and with wildlife.

4. Cell phone useage. Do your talking away from the shelter or other communal areas, overlooks, or other hiker gathering places. Many hikers come to the woods to get away from man made devices. Use headphones when listening to music. Think about those around you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hiking Safety During Hunting Season from the ATC

 (This is reposted from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy web site. Please consider supporting the ATC by becoming a member or making a donation today! These are good reminders as we enter the hunting season this fall. Be extra vigilant. I did a good portion of my southbound hike in 2010 during hunting season and on the Tuscarora Trail last fall. Many times you are sharing the trail with hunters carrying rifles and with their dogs. Several times I heard rifle shots quite close to me. Pretty unnerving. So take these tips to heart as you enjoy your fall hikes.)


From ATC website


Know local hunting seasons — Specific dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and also by type of game hunted and weapon used. Small-game seasons (turkey, rabbit) stretch from fall through the end of May; large-game seasons (deer, bear, moose) generally occur October through January. Learn the regulations and hunting seasons for the areas where you will be hiking before you go. Hunting on Sundays is prohibited in some states. See our 2014 Hunting Season Guide by State.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Serious Infection Trailside

A simple sting begins to blister, which is not a good sign
(Be Warned - Injury Pictures) On my most recent hike along the Foothills Trail, I had the unfortunate experience of developing what could have been a severe infection. It began fairly tame enough – what I thought to be a simple hornet sting on the trail. That evening I looked at it to see a rather small round circular mark. I put some sting eze type prep on it. Over the night it appeared to be getting better. I did no other first aid,
put on my rather dirty sock (I had no clean socks as it was the end of my journey) and proceeded to finish the hike.