Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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. Shenandoah National Park also can close areas to camping). Consider a bear canister or an Ursack with an odor-proof liner like an Loksak Opsak. Check out the Bear facts of the Trail blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near the shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly like a dog (which works very well. There are 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 make 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 these 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 and be sure your furry pal also wears blaze orange. 

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

Sunday, May 09, 2021

A thru hike of the Benton MacKaye Trail!

Blissful is proud to announce the accomplishment of a thru hike along the Benton MacKaye Trail! Blissful began the journey in late March and finished April 16th. The hike began near the base of Springer Mtn and wound its way through the northern Georgia mountains, fording creeks, hiking up and down many "lumps" as Blissful coined them, some gaining elevation to near 5,000 feet until linking again with the Appalachian Trail and onward through the southern Smokies. Blissful enjoyed tremendous scenery, vistas, challenges in good ascents and descents, river crossings that were swift and slippery, 

emerging wildflowers in the spring season, and exploring the past mountaineers that once made the vast Smokies their home. 

If you are interested in this trail, find out more through the Benton MacKaye Trail Association and visit Blissful's trail journal (link below) that explores the day by day journey along this 287 mile trail. 

Hiking Journal

Blissful Hiking Adventures Podcast


Amazon - Florida Trail

Amazon - Appalachian Trail

Monday, February 08, 2021

Hiking in the Winter

Winter snow and ice on the Pocosin Hollow trail in Shenandoah National Park
A day hike in the winter can be a wonderful experience. Cold, brisk days. Outstanding views you can’t see in the summer. No insects. Few visitors. Ice sculptures on cliff faces and waterfalls.

But it also requires careful planning so it becomes an experience to treasure and not to dread. Winter hiking usually involves winter travel. That means walking on snow and ice. In normally warmer climates, when winter precipitation falls, snow can thaw then melt, making for icy travel (such as in Shenandoah National Park where I just walked an eight mile circuit hike in snow and ice). Snow walking can easily sap your strength quicker than you realize. It’s important when planning a day hike to use wisdom for calculating time and distance. Don’t be afraid to limit your hike for the day. It’s better to walk the trail and return safely with limbs intact than try for a higher mile day, slip due to fatigue and sprain an ankle or worse.

When walking on snow and ice, some sort of traction device on your feet is wise and makes for better assurance on the trail. Yaktrax work well in snowy conditions. Microspikes (such as Kahtoola) are useful in steeper and icier terrain. When walking in snow, use trekking poles to help with balance and give support in icy spots or over stream crossings. Take care that sometimes snow will cover rocks and logs in the path that could trip you up. Also, you are working ligaments and tendons much more in snow. Don’t overdo it or it can set you up for overuse injury such as straining a calf muscle, overworking the arch in your foot, or putting a strain on the Achilles tendon. It's also a good idea to use gaiters to keep snow and ice out of your boots. Once inside your boot, the snow can chill your feet and even cause frostbite and blister issues.

If you are contemplating a winter hike, be sure you carry necessary gear in a sturdy daypack. Typical gear includes warm clothing (hat, gloves, insulated jacket, a pair of silk long johns can add warmth under clothing with minimal weight, a wind jacket helps break a cold wind or bring a rain jacket), a first aid kit, a headlamp (there is much less daylight in winter), maps, food and water, and a charged cell phone. Be sure to let someone on the homefront know where your will be and how long you will be gone.
Winter view from Hightop Mountain, Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park

With just a few safety measures, winter hiking can be a great experience.

Related Blogs:

Friday, August 21, 2020

Anatomy of a Section Hike Adventure

Connecting the dots of a trail by way of a section hike to complete a long-distance trail is a rewarding but difficult experience. As a section hiker, you end up basically starting from scratch

every time you go out - with the aching muscles, blisters on tender feet not used to the strain of hiking every day. For longer distances, and if you can manage it, staying out there, you eventually adapt and the aches and pains subside. But for many that is not practical with work and other commitments. The journey of section hiking a trail really is a monumental experience of fortitude and determination.

I am endeavoring to complete a third round of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and doing so by way of section hiking. It began back in 2008 and is ongoing to this day, though I have had to curb it quite a bit due to a prior accident, the 2020 pandemic, and other issues that have affected the ability to hike for a length of time. But when I am able, I test myself and attempt a few days out on the trail. This most recent time saw me wandering along a modest portion of trail spanning three states: NC, TN and VA from Rt 19 E to Damascus.

Day 1 – On the first day, coupled with travel, I usually do shorter miles. This day saw me ascend from the road and into the NC woods of which the glory of Jones Falls greeted me with a good waterfall, considering some of the dryness out there.

Day 2 ended up being a longer day hiking along with the simplistic Mountaineer waterfall greeting me, as the trail traversed some of the wetter seconds that required footbridges and wandering through vast patches of rhododendron. I ran into a fellow hiker that told of an available campsite that night and glad for the intel, which is very important on a trail as it can help you plan and provide an excellent place to spend the night.

Day 3 – I journeyed across Dennis Cove road – home to several popular hostels including Bob People’s Kincora where I stayed with my son back in ’07 and stopped by again on my sobo hike in 2010. The trail took me to yet another impressive waterfall at Laurel Fork, and some confusing trail as for about 20 minutes I had no idea where the trail went and began wandering aimlessly along the banks of the river before realizing that most definitely was NOT the trail. The AT ascended Pond Mtn then, quite a good climb and appropriately named with frogs of all sizes greeting me along the trail, reminiscent of what one might see in a pond! The night was a stay at Boots Off Hostel for resupply and a night of tenting.

Day 4 – A lovely early morning jaunt around Watauga Lake made for a pleasant morning walk and then obtaining water early which the added weight did not feel good at all on my sore back. At Vandeventer Shelter I hung out as a strong thunderstorm roared on by until I was able to sneak out and make it to camp for the night.

Day 5 – Passing by the old Nick Grindstaff grave, I thought about the man turned hermit who lived by himself for years on Iron Mountain. I noted from the dates inscribed on the stone he had spent his impressionable teenage years during the terrible Civil War, and I wondered if that experience had any bearing with his decision to live as a hermit later in his adult life. And I thought too of the teens bearing the current Covid crises as I write this and wonder how it will affect them, which is sad to consider.

The trail then took me through lovely pastureland of Shady Valley and a prominent AT symbol on the barn until a return to the woods. I barely had time to set up my tent and partially cook a meal when a terrible storm rolled in, and I endured some of the hardest rain I’d ever been in my tent. I wondered if I would float away. But by a miracle the tent hung in there and I did too.

Day 6 – The after effects of a storm yielded me the beauty of a fiery sunrise and so many different mushrooms it was like earthly flowers of different kind along the trail and I headed for my destination and crossing a state line of Virginia to end in Damascus and the conclusion of this interesting wander.

For more adventures check out Blissful Hiking Adventures for my new podcast and my Hiking Adventure Series of Books!

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

The Wonders of Hiking and Exploring our National Parks

The Wonders of Hiking and Exploring our National Parks

Backpacking Yellowstone in Shoshone Geyser basin
Backpacking Yellowstone in the Shoshone Geyser Basin

The national parks are the people's parks - created to protect the wide diversity of scenic beauty, flora and fauna as well as preserving these unique splendors for generations to enjoy. Established in the 1800's with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in Montana, the parks yield a great playground of opportunity for the outdoor enthusiast. From the volcanoes of Hawaii to lofty mountains of Denali and Rainier to the Everglades of Florida and the rocky seashore of Acadia in Maine, the parks offer a wide variety of opportunities in exploration and enjoyment. 

I grew up with yearly family adventures to our national parks like Glacier in Montana and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, extending that enjoyment to my adult years where I spent part of our honeymoon watching lava flow into the ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and later on, working along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park as a ridgerunner.

Before you venture to the parks, check out the official park website and their Things to Do section that offers park highlights. Once at the park, head to the visitor center where friendly rangers and park volunteers can help you decide on the best adventure in the time you have. 

Mt Rainier

Some of my favorites include

The Giant Sequoias of California
Great Sand Dunes in Colorado
Mt Rainier of Washington State
Glacier in Montana
Arches and Bryce Canyon in Utah
Acadia of Maine
Shenandoah in Virginia

If you plan to venture into the backcountry of a national park for hiking and camping, check out the park's regulations. Most parks require a backcountry permit. In some the permits are free, in others a fee is required. Some parks require you to watch a safety video. Some parks require that you reserve a specific camp area or site. Check out also on bear proof technique for your food in each park as some have different regulations. And be sure you have the appropriate gear and footwear for the terrain and seasons in which you are hiking and camping. 

Exploring Bryce Canyon, Utah

With a bit of planning the national parks offer a wide variety of fun and exciting opportunities to enjoy the splendor of these unique places in the United States. 

Check out Blissful Hiking Adventures to listen to this and other episodes on our podcast and the Hiking Adventure Series on our National Scenic Trails in print and e-book!

On Lassen Peak!

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Day in the Life of a Hiker on the Trail - and the Lesson Learned

A Day in the Life of a Hiker on the Trail - and the Lesson Learned 

Shared by Ryan Michael Beck

photo: Ryan Michael Beck

Yesterday was by far one of the hardest days on the trail (top 2 to be specific). Now before I go in to some details, I am not looking for encouragement and in no way plan on stopping. I just want the reader to understand that while chasing your dreams and fighting for what you love, takes hard work, is rarely easy, and sometimes makes you want to lose your mind ...
It was my first early morning in over a month, I was planning a 20 mile day. The first part was going to be hard (5,800' up 4,200' down over 13 miles) I knew there was not a lot of time to mess around and by 7:30, down the trail I went.
Early into the day I was crushing it. I mean it felt good being on the well groomed trails of Maine. I don't normally use trekking poles but the terrain was so nice I had too. That was my first mistake and I did not even know.
Around 11 o'clock I got some horrible news, one of my hiking partners (since 1/2 way point) was going home. I had not seen him in a few days, come to find out he had been hiding an injury and was unable to move his knee. This was devastating on multiple levels. First here was my friend, someone I looked up too and through hardship developed an incredible bond with. This also ment (sic) my other partner, who is younger and faster than me would probably move ahead without me. On top of the fact that the whole situation made me questioning my own bodies capabilities.
After that phone call the day particularly when to shit. I don't know if you know, but the mud and bogs on top of mountains is a plain and one miss step can have you knee deep in the grossest mud you have ever seen. Well that happened only twice on this trip...and it was yesterday. Side note trekking ploes (sic) are horrible in the mud.
Another thing that's hard to do out here is stay hydrated. That leads me to the next crap part of the day, I was using the forest, thinking about how my pee was dark and very smelly, when a black fly bit my forehead. I dropped my fany (sic) pack to slap head, but then I had a bigger problem. The fany (sic) pack landed in the stream and I got covered in my own disgusting urine. This is about the point I mentally started losing my composure.
It was only 11 o'clock and I was fading. I began the climb up Old Blue mountain. 3,800' of fun. So I climbed and climbed and climbed. My neck and back where sore from a poor night's sleep. And it seemed like the climb would never end. I made it to the top by 1. That's 5 hours to go 7.4 miles. Before I got to the top, with every step I was cruising the mountain. I don't mean figuratively but very loudly and not very kind words. But I did make it to the top.
3 bad things happened at the top of that mountain and the servaratiy (sic) would not be realized until later. First I called a friend who was picking me up in a few days and scheduled a meeting place, this cemented me to finishing 13 more miles that day. Second my younger travel partner showed up and confirmed that he was moving on ahead of me. Third I did not eat lunch, super bad move.
At 2 I hit the trail again after the final goodbyes. What I did not know is my body was completely toast. After a long break it can be hard to get moving again. So much so, some people don't take breaks during the day. I thought that I just needed to get moving and all would be better. Plus the second half of the day was going to be easy, well it was not.
The up's just kept coming, the map looked flat but the mountain was not. I climbed and climbed and climbed. My phone battery was low so no music. By this point I was really inside my own head. A miss marked trail made me think I was 2 miles a head of where I was. Walking more than 20 minutes without stopping to take of my pack and rest was out of the question.
At one point I slipped on a wet rock, in a fit on rage i broke my trekking poles. While in the monument this felt great, it was the point where I lost all control and salvaging the day was not going to happen.
By the end of the day I called my wife and told her I was never going to meet my friend, there was no way I could do the miles. She said she would help, but needed more info. Well my phone with 3 bars of 3G won't send a text message. I am at my witts (sic) end. Its was almost 5 by then and I had gone 5 miles past Old Blue and still had 1 mile to go so that I could have water and stay in a shelter.
I did finally make it to the shelter and got text too my wife and she coordinated a closer pick up spot for my friend.
As bad as the day was and as bad as I wanted to give up, I knew everyday brings new experiences. The challenge is rarely the obstacle, its finding a way to extract as much value as possible. I confronted demons yesterday, I was more exhausted than I had ever been, but that reminded me how bad I want to finish and what I am willing to go through to achieve my dreams...

(Bravo! Despite the obstacles, never give up on your dream and keep pressing forward - Blissful)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Preventing Heat-Related Issues 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 or Liquid IV Hydration)  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!  
Plan ahead and prepare for the conditions. Hot weather is not the time for heroics or Olympic feats. Take it easy and enjoy the hike. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Virus Thing and Hiking – 8 Ways to Protect Yourself and Others

UPDATE - 7/23/2020 Please consult the local, state and federal areas for these closures and please obey the regulations. Change your hiking plans. A thru hike can still be accomplished in a calendar year by some creative ways once the emergency is over. Be flexible, and most importantly, don't give up on your dream!

Every year viruses do plague the trails, esp the AT which comes down with its annul norovirus bug every spring. So of course hikers are going to wonder whether the Coronovirus will hit too.

First off, be sensible and take simple steps to safeguard yourself and those around you. A good hike in the woods is actually therapeutic for the mind and body. Cardiovascular exercise makes you feel good and releases good hormones like endorphins. Fresh air and getting away from crowds are other good things.

But be sure to follow some simple, common sense steps as there are other hikers out there and towns are also on a hiker’s list of stops for resupply. But right now avoid the heavily used areas. Seek other lesser known trails. Seek solitude. And hang in there. This too shall pass.

1.       Carry hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol on the trail but handwash as much as possible in towns.

Practice social distancing on the trail at all times.

2.      No staying in shelter areas. Some areas like on the AT are closed to backcountry camping too. Plan ahead and avoid closed areas. Have guidebooks and maps to tell you where campsites are if it is allowed.

3.       NO sharing of food at any time. Do not take food from hiker boxes. Plan accordingly so you have enough food for your hike. As resupply is limited in some towns, do mail drops.

4.       When in town, avoid communal and gathering areas. A motel room or a separate room when offered at hostels might be good for now (though many hostels are now closed. Budget your money so can prepare to spend a little extra for a single room. Hand wash frequently and use your hand sanitizer in town. Call ahead with hostel and other providers to see if they are open (many are not).

5.       It may be hard to find rides (hitchhike) right now as people may be reluctant to pick up hikers. Plan to walk or call for a shuttle. Budget to pay for the shuttle rides. Call ahead on shuttles though as some providers are canceling services for now.

6.       If you hear in the trail grapevine there is sickness ahead, avoid staying in the affected area by slowing down or speeding up.  Carry extra food in case you must spend extra time on the trail and can’t get to town right away.

7.       Carry good foods to eat (less of the empty sugars, etc), Vitamin C tabs, Zinc. Get enough rest. And watch the alcohol, etc.

8.       If you feel sick and especially have the norovirus or a fever, get off the trail and stay away from others. Know the symptoms of each type of virus. (Noro for instance is the stomach bug with runs and vomiting. Coronovirus is a fever and dry cough with chest irritation. The common cold is a sore throat and runny nose and usually no fever). 

   Related Links:  The Virus and Maildrops

     Check out my Blissful Hiking Adventure and my series of books on the Appalachian Trail - Mountains Madness and Miracles and the Florida Trails - Gators Guts and Glory!