Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Arizona Trail - Part One

 Hiking the Arizona Trail was a totally unique experience in the realm of hiking. I’d hiked over 10,000 miles, mostly in the East, but Arizona was the farthest west I’d traveled for a trail. Here are some practical observations after hiking 350 miles of it from mid-March to mid-April, beginning at the border and hiking to Roosevelt Lake.

The border. I hiked down to the border with a friend and glad I did. There was plenty of action. The Miller Peak area can be very active with border hoppers - wearing camo and day packs or wrapped in blankets and wearing Converse sneakers in the snow. Most carry gallon jugs. Try to hike the mountain and to the base in one day, esp. if it's foggy (like it was for me). Keep an eye on your surroundings.

Gates abound on the trail. I probably opened at least fifty of them with different mechanisms. Most of the trail lies within pastureland, even though it’s desert and cattle are grazing, so opening and closing gates are part of the experience. And get along with the cows. They are on the trail. I sang a song. “Oh, the hiker and the cows shall be friends” (from Oklahoma - lol)

Learning how to get water. 

Of course, we expect streams and creeks, which are there on the Arizona Trail. But sometimes water is found in unexpected places, such as troughs, storage bins, water collection devices from rain - of which they are installing several on the trail and other places. I carried two different methods of purifying (Sawyer and Aqua Mira) as some cow ponds for water are - yes, cow ponds, dung and all. 

There are few leave water caches for hikers. Which is very much appreciated. The air in Arizona is very dry so it’s vital to maintain hydration. Your skin dries out, your mouth dries out, and your nasal passages bleed easily. Many hikers complained of nausea. It’s vital to maintain hydration and to also take electrolytes, which I never used to do but now am a firm believer.

I was amazed by the variety of foliage on the trail – but mostly prickly and burning. Even the trees. A good first aid kit and knife with tweezers are a must out there because you’ll get embedded thorns and other issues. Walking in sandy soil for miles is tough on your feet, so blister protection is vital. I’ll talk more about desert hiking in a future blog and podcast.

The Arizona Trail is not blazed. It is navigable through rock cairns, which are all over the place, esp in gorges, scattered signage, and following the trail on the Far Out app on your cell phone. At times small signposts let you know where the trail is at.  But I got lost in a few places. And I followed lots of footsteps, except if they went in the wrong direction, like atop a snowy Mica.

This trail is not cheap. From air travel to shuttles to mailing food drops and town stops, along with gear, it’s expensive. Plan accordingly.  

Along the Arizona Trail in March, one can go from snow to hot desert. You need to be prepared for anything from the 20s all the way up to the 80s, requiring a variety of gear.  I did carry EXO spike traction devices for snow which were only good in the morning when the snow was firm. Slushy snow which I had on Miller Peak causes you to slip and fall which I did multiple times. One hiker actually lost his sleeping pad off the mountainside because of a fall. 

2023 was an extreme challenge in the weather because of all the high snow levels, so I’m actually hiking the trail in two sections. But because of those high snow levels, hikers bubbled up into groups, and we got to know each other. The Arizona Trail ended up being much more of a thru hike type atmosphere like the AT - more so than any other trail I’ve been on in recent years. And I’ve been on a lot of different trails. So it was nice to have that feel of an AT community in hiker towns like Kearny, and other places. Trail angels abound, and there is a good Facebook group to connect. And it was fun running into hikers along the way. We are all out there in it. We’re experiencing the different parts of the trail. It’s highs and lows. And learning from it is always the hallmark of a hike.

Friday, March 03, 2023

The Pinhoti - Alabama and Georgia's Long Trail

The Pinhoti Trail is a 337-mile trail starting at Flagg Mountain Alabama in the southern Appalachians

and extending up into Georgia to meet up with the Benton McKaye Trail. It is also part of the Eastern Continental Trail or ECT that spans from the Keys in Florida all the way up to the International Appalachian Trail or IAT. I've had the opportunity to hike a good deal of the ECT, of which the Pinhoti is a part, from the Florida Trail down in Big Cypress, Alabama and Georgia on the Pinhoti, heading along the Benton McKaye trail or BMT, and linking with the Appalachian Trail which I’ve done twice. 

The Pinhoti Trail is managed by many volunteers in conjunction with the Pinhoti Trail Alliance. There you can find links to hiking the trail, including shuttles and hostels along the way - of which there are several. 

Relaxing at the Hearn Inn

The most famous and robust one and a great advocate for the trail is the Pinhoti Outdoor Center, which helps with shuttles and has a hostel for hikers. You'll also want to download the FarOut app for your phone which now includes the Pinhoti Trail and provides an invaluable resource for all trail info, campsites, water sources, town info, etc.

The trail itself is divided into sections, some of which include fairly lengthy road walking. 

Road walk and the familiar turkey blaze for the trail

I did this trail last year in March and found it to be a very interesting trail. The weather was good as far as it wasn’t too hot or buggy. But I did have to contend with several severe weather situations, being springtime. Having adequate rain gear and plans for dealing with weather and raging creeks is a good idea. The Pinhoti Trai Alliance has a downloadable data booklet that gives ideas for navigating flood waters should the need arise.  

Roaring water after rain. There are several hazardous crossings

The road walks were not as obnoxious as they could’ve been because I was used to it from the Florida Trail. But for those not used to hiking by way of roads, this can sometimes be a difficulty. In Georgia, I did much of the road walking on a Sunday and this helped with traffic.

The trail does have a few trailside shelters. 

There are several good places to stay along the way as well as places re-supply. I had the opportunity to stay with several good friends in the Georgia section of the trail, which allowed me the opportunity to do some slackpacking and helped a knee condition that sprouted from doing too many road miles ( I think from now on, 20-mile days are out)

Along the trail in Georgia

I recommended the Pinhoti Trail for its diverse beauty and mountains that do exist in Alabama. And there are hikers now that are doing it in conjunction with the AT in what’s being called the Bama to Baxter thru-hike.

Cheaha State Park - the highest point in AL

  At the  Border of AL and GA

The Finish 


Check out my Florida Trail Blog

Saturday, January 07, 2023

My 5 Nonessential Essentials in a Winter Hiking Trip

While trudging along the trail this past week, enduring frigid temps with cold winds that cut through even my heavyweight Polartec fleece, I thought about those things that some may not consider essential but you are sure to find in my pack on a winter hiking trip.

1. Cell Phone - an important tool especially if the trip goes wrong. Doubles as a camera, too, if you happen across the icy spectacle worth making a memory.

2. Chapstick – Oh yes, that tiny little tube of wonder that keeps your lips from drying and then cracking when you near the end of your journey, smiling from a great wander. Sore lips are no fun, especially if afterward you plan to stop at the taco joint. OUCH

3. A Seat Pad – once a luxury item, maybe a HUGE necessity when you plan to stop for a break or lunch and find the rocks covered in snow. Or even sitting in the cold on an ice-cold rock just makes you downright chilly. Thermarest and other brands make nice lightweight options to keep your tushy from freezing on a break.

4. Traction devices like Yak Trax or Microspikes.  I can’t begin to say the number of times I have begun a trail without anything on the ground, only to hike higher in elevation into unexpected snow and ice. Traction devices have saved a hike, turning what would have been a treacherous journey into an enjoyable, confident, and safe excursion.

Unexpected icy trails - Yaktrax or similar helps the trek

5. Wind shirt – While pricey at times, this ultralight garment is truly a necessity when the winter winds whip up, cutting right through your Polartec fleece or merino wool top. It provides just what you need to block the wind and keep you warm.

Your turn – what are your nonessential essentials?

Be sure to also check out my blog on Day Hiking in Winter

Other related blogs:

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Lessons Learned from an October Section Hike on the AT – Damascus to Bland

(Repost of a section hike and lessons learned)

Continuing my third round of completing the Appalachian Trail with a lengthy hike of over 120 miles. My only catch this time is I had eight days to complete it. Thus it required me
The climb north to Buzzard Rock yields a great view
to do heftier miles for longer periods of time (averaging 15 miles) and without rest. It also occurred during a drought time on the trail which has seen little in rainfall.

Water Issues. I talk about this issue in another blog, but my trip required a good idea of reliable water locations. I carried the guidebook pages and maps. I did ask hikers along the way what water was available and most had a hard time remembering. But what I did hear at least boosted my confidence that there was fairly adequate water availability.

Most bridges went over dry areas unless they were bigger creeks
Murky Water sources. The evening of Day One saw me camped by a black pond as my water source. In all the miles I have hiked, I have never had to pre filter water. But in this case it was a must to avoid the sediment clogging my Sawyer filter. I took a bandana (glad I had two with me for this hike!) and ran the water through. The bandana worked perfectly to collect the dark sediment. I then filtered the water through the regular Sawyer filter. While the water was still discolored, it was free of particles and treated.

Elevation and Weather. It pays to know the weather ahead of time. The hike began in summer-like
Snow and cold wind on Chestnut Knob
70s but I knew at the end I would face cold conditions. What I didn’t count on also was snow on Chestnut Knob! SO I had both extremes, warm and snow in a week section hike. Be sure to check the weather up to the minute and prepare for weather extremes, taking into account the elevation in which you will be hiking. I felt weird carrying cold weather gear at first, esp. with hikers bouncing along with light packs for the summer temps, but at the end of the week, I used everything I had and glad I packed what I did.

Other Hikers. I must say, on this trip I met the friendliest hikers out there. Everyone greeted me. I saw lots of southbound thru-hikers also as they are heading for final destination of Springer Mtn in GA, only weeks away (and boy were they happy!). It was great to see such a collection of friendly hikers out there enjoying the trail. The only issue I saw among most – no one was wearing blaze orange!!

Animals. In this section of trail it is not so much the bears but ponies and longhorn cattle! In several instances, the cattle stood directly on the trail. The horns were quite intimidating, I must say. I did

what I usually do with bears, talked to them like my dogs in a confident manner and they thankfully moved. But it was still nerve-wracking.

Overuse. Because of the persistent high miles over rough terrain, I am now nursing a fairly bad anterior tibial tendonitis on my right leg. Even after four days of basically no walking t is still bothering me. So the rule is – don’t overdo or you will suffer the consequences! And that is something I ought to know by now! Check out tips on my Overuse blog.

Sunset at Thomas Knob Shelter

Observations and Lessons Learned on Section Hikes Series:

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

2022-2023 Trail Festivals and Conference Schedule

Upcoming Hiking Events, Trail Festivals, and Gatherings 
for 2023

Southern Ruck, Jan 13-15, Hot Springs, NC

Appalachian Trail Kick-Off,  First weekend in March, Dawsonville, GA

Trail Days, May 19-21st, Damascus Virginia

Check back for more events.

Feel free to e-mail at blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com or comment with any other festivals that should be included.

Dreaming, Planning, Hiking, and Finishing an Appalachian Trail Thru-hike

Blissful Hiking Adventure celebrates fifteen years with a new episode on the Blissful Hiking Adventures Podcast Network

Episode Seven - Dreaming, Planning, Hiking and Finishing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike - A 15-year Anniversary

Blissful the Hiker reminisces about her dreams of hiking the entire AT beginning as a teen and waiting thirty years for its fulfillment. She recalls the many twists and turns to get to that moment, and then the twists and turns of hiking the trail with a teenage son. 

Hear it all on the podcast. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

15 year Anniversary of a Northbound Completion - Fun Facts!

Mt Washington fun fact - I have climbed this peak four times.

Celebrating 15 Years!

It's hard to believe that we began this adventure on an early spring day on March 5th and finished on September 18, 2007. To commemorate the event, Blissful shares fun facts and tidbits from the journey.

Northbound Georgia to Maine
Average Miles per Day
Average Miles per Hiking Day
Average Miles per Week
Number of days in Trail Towns
Number of nights in a Shelter
Number of nights in a Tent

Number of nights in a Hotel
Number of nights in a Hostel
Number of nights in a House
Number of Day Hikes
Longest Day
Shortest Day
Number of Days over 20 Miles
Number of Days between 15-20
Number of Days between 10-15
Number of Days between 5-10
Number of Days between .1-5

"What was the Toughest Day on the AT?" For me, the day after I was sick with norovirus all night at Lakes of the Clouds hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. That ten-mile trek over the Presidential Range did me in. At Osgood tentsite, I collapsed and didn't move. My teen dude did it all -set up the tent, cooked, everything. 

"Did You See any Animals?"  A big 300-pounder bear in PA, and snakes galore. Not much, surprisingly. 

"Did We Ever Get Lost?" Yup. One day Paul Bunyan was lost for over five miles in Maine. He finally got a ride back to the real Appalachian Trail after realizing he was on a logging road going nowhere. He did not get into camp until 9 PM. Talk about one worried Mom!

"Did We Ever Want to Quit?" Sure. Me, in the Smokies. Paul Bunyan in PA. Paul Bunyan’s motivation was food. Pizza and a milkshake helped in PA. As did a kind caretaker who opened the concession stand in a park on a very hot day and got us cold sodas. For me, it was the friendly face of a fellow hiker with a Georgia twang who befriended me in the Smokies and kept me going.

"What Was our Favorite Trail Town?" I loved Gorham. After the rigors of the White Mountains going north and before the challenging Mahoosuc region, Gorham falls right at the place where one needs some rest and food. A bus out to the store made it easy to resupply. And friendly folks were there for transportation. Paun Bunyan even got a lift to visit an amusement park. 

Paul Bunyan Enters Hot Springs, NC

For Paul Bunyan, his favorite place was Hot Springs. Why? – “The people, the cool hostel we stayed at, and just the idea of walking into town, smelling like funk, but being welcomed as friends,” he says. That and I gave him spending money, and he loved it. 

My Favorite Food? On my northbound hike, I loved the pizza we got at the Mohican Trail Center and the turkey dinner with all the trimmings in Gorham.  

You can check out the Trail Journal Online

OR better yet - Discover it all in the Book where you can read about north AND south adventures in one easy place!


In Print - Amazon and Barnes and Noble

E-book - Kindle  (only $4.99!) 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Are You Ready to Hike? A Step by Step Process

How do you get ready physically for the demands of an extended backpacking trip? The goal of just doing a trip is the first step to starting the process.

Here are a few tips I’ve used to begin the process and get myself ready for that next great adventure.

Set a Goal

More than anything, a backpacking trip is a mental venture. You can do the physical preparedness as best you can, but it’s the enjoyment of reaching a goal and enjoying the journey that ultimately leads to success. So spend some time thinking of your hiking goals. Where do your want to go? How much time do you have to hike? Go over some trail guides and seek the advice of others as to trails that might work. Make notes on your calendar. With the goal in mind, your can now begin to work toward it. Sharing about it in social media forums helps you set the goal before you.

Getting in Shape - Diet

 If you are one of those that may need to shed a few pounds, start by choosing good foods. There is no need to do some kind of diet fad. In fact, doing and then eating junk on your hike can cause major issues.

Veggies, especially the green types, lean meats and fish, whole wheat products, and drink plenty of water are good choices. Try to cut down on refined sugary products and useless carbohydrates like white breads, crackers, muffins, things that will spike your sugar levels. Also, when you feel full, stop eating. Don’t take the second helping. Controlling portions helps. Look into intermittent fasting. A few pounds shed now is less that needs to be carried on the trip.

Getting in Shape - Physical Activity

If you have never engaged in physical activity, start slow. A walk around the neighborhood for instance. Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Park a good distance away from where your need to go and walk there instead. Walk as much as you can and slowly increase the amount of walking you do. I’ve heard of some walking up and down bleachers at school stadiums, etc. if there are no hills in your area. You can also load up a day pack and head for the hills. Every step helps.

I do day hiking in nearby Shenandoah to prepare. But any place where you can walk will do.

If you have trails to walk, try to get out on weekend and enjoy a few mile hike, increasing the mileage as time goes by. Later on, you can load up the backpack you plan to take and carry it. I’ve been seen carrying my backpack on trips around the neighborhood. I also alternate jogging with hiking or cross training. One day I'll hike 8-10 miles, the other days I am out jogging 2-3 miles. You can also alternate with other sports, like biking, swimming, etc. I have to admit I am not a treadmill person, but if this is what you have to work with, then use it. But stay as active as you can.

The Big Day Arrives!

Don’t worry if you are not in great shape. The trail will do it for you in no time. Keep your miles low and the weight in your backpack low. Start out slow. Realize that aches, pains, and blisters are all part of doing something your body is not accustomed to. You will adapt. Most of all, enjoy the journey whether on your own or with family or friends. Take lots of pictures and share about your trip. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Where Should I Go? Six Things to Consider When Determining Your Hiking Trip

There are so many places. So many trails. So many adventures waiting to be had.

Lots of trails. Lots of choices. 

What to do? Where to go? 

First, take a deep breath. Yes there are lots of places to explore. Maybe this is not the year though to do the big trails. The shorter trails, even trails in your own state, can bring great satisfaction and unique experiences than just the big trails we always hear about. No one heard of the Allegheny Trail in West Virginia which I thru-hiked in the past. It doesn't get the major press and hoopla. But wow, did I learn a lot by doing it. And grew in my hiking knowledge that I can now share with others. And it ended up being the catalyst for the Florida Trail the following winter. One never knows where a hiking adventure will lead. 

My finish of the 1100 mile Florida Trail, Feb, 2018

If you are planning a big one – like a multi-day backpacking trip, take a few things into consideration in planning. Some say you can just drop everything and go. Not wise. By taking the time to think things through that maybe you hadn’t yet considered, you will be steered towards that perfect trip meant for you! And without the distractions, misplanning can cause.

1.       Time. Do you have the time to do the trip you are considering? Will you need to take vacation time from work? Or a leave of absence for a major hike? Take into consideration how long the trip will take. You won’t be able to do 20-mile days. A 50-mile trip may take you five days. Plan accordingly.

2.       Money. It takes money to do a trip. Money for gear. For traveling to and from your destination. For expenses on the hike. For paying the bills or other needs on the homefront if you will be gone for an extended period of time. Be sure there are the finances to do this. Don’t think – oh, I will earn money on the way. Or I can skimp on things along the way. Or raid hiker boxes, etc. More often than not it never works out the way you think it will in the comfort of your home. Always plan for more money than you will need. Save up and be self-sufficient.

3.       Physical State. How are you physically? It is important to know if you are able to hike safely the trip you have planned. Even weekend getaways. Carrying a backpack is not the same as walking or running. It uses muscles differently, especially bearing a full load. For instance, if you are having knee issues, it’s doubtful they will suddenly go away on a hike! So take care to get checked out by the Dr. Get fixed what needs fixing so you don’t exacerbate a condition. If you need to change shoes do so. Work on physical strengthening, etc., do it. And make sure you have the proper gear and you are not burdening yourself with lots of extra weight that can rapidly turn a trip into a grueling experience. Learn from others on what to bring and what not to bring.

4.       Social Aspects. Are you going on this hike with others or going alone? Both need planning. For instance if going with a buddy, do you both hike roughly the same pace? Can you live with that person for an extended time? If the buddy must leave the trail on a long-distance trek, can you go on alone or are you sharing gear? Decide who carries what gear or if you should carry your own (which is a better idea). If you are going solo, prepare with your safety in mind. Maps, a cell phone, a guidebook, knowledge, even some personal safety devices like the Garmin Inreach. Are you also ready mentally to spend days and nights alone? Much of this can decide the kind of trip you want to do.

5.       Gear. Do you have the gear for the season and the area you plan to hike? Research ahead of time what you are going to need to accomplish your adventure. Adequate footwear, clothing, outerwear, sleep and cookwear. The backpack. All important. But remember, gear first, backpack last. Make sure you know weather conditions ahead of time and prepare accordingly for whatever you might face.

6.       The Mental Aspects. Are you accomplishing a hike to chip off sections on the AT? Doing a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail? Or going on your first expedition? Are you seeking waterfalls or a great view? Or another hiking challenge. Whatever it is, be sure your heart and mind are into it. The mental aspect of a hike is the number one thing that can kill it altogether if you are not ready and eager to get out there and experience the lows as well as the highs. The good and the bad. All of it is a learning experience. Stay positive even in the hard stuff. Limit expectations and take it one day at a time.

By looking at these different aspects of a hiking journey, you can better prepare for the perfect trip to fulfill your hiking dream this year.