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Because it’s There: Finding Purpose for Adventure

When asked why he desired to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, legendary mountaineer George Mallory allegedly replied, “Because it’s there.” Does one need any more reason than that? Of course, we all know how Mallory’s story ends- he disappeared on his summit attempt and his remains weren’t discovered until half a century later. It is still hotly debated whether or not Mallory reached the summit of Everest on that expedition, but most adventurers will agree Mallory’s three simple words were a strangely elegant, sufficient answer: because it’s there.

For many of us, our outdoor pursuits give us something we can’t find anywhere else. They make us feel a certain way, a euphoric yet peaceful je ne sais quoi. Whether it be backpacking, climbing, biking, or paddling, our experiences outside leave us fulfilled. We know inwardly why we do these things, why we push our bodies past their limits, suffer through the elements, and emerge with a tired smile on our faces. But how do we explain to parents, friends, and strangers why we do this? For them, Mallory’s answer is insufficient. So we must find the words to explain what drives us to set out on expeditions into the unknown.

I’ve done my fair share of adventuring and found ways to enjoy even the most grueling days. But I can’t claim to have an enlightened answer for why I climb and hike. Truthfully, there probably is no way to accurately describe my ambitions, to ease the worries of my parents with an eloquent arrangement of words about why I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or climb Mt. Washington in the dead of winter. For the uninitiated, “because it’s there” answers nothing. We each have unique and individual reasons for setting out on adventures. I’ll try to capture some of the shared reasons we set out into the wilderness.

I get a certain enjoyment out of pushing my body and mind to their limit and then discovering possibilities beyond those limits. Adventures are an escape from routine, an opportunity to experience something new. The feeling of freedom on a backpacking trip is amazing. It is refreshing to wake up to a mountaintop sunrise and realize you have no obligations- no texts to respond to, no work, no deadlines; your only obligation is to hike. An adventure is not just an escape from routine, but an escape from people. The woods provide an opportunity to release stress, a place where your limited interactions with people are genuine and you don’t have to adhere to social norms. 

The simplicity that comes from living out of a backpack is unbeatable; the knowledge of having everything you need on your back empowers you. The thrill that comes from being 100 feet up a rock wall, looking down on the trees, will make even the longest approaches worthwhile. The sense of pride that comes from sending a route or finishing a trail leaves me wanting to do it all over again. There is a certain beauty to fog sifting through the woods or of an early morning on the river, a beauty that can’t be found anywhere else.

I love starting my day with a steep climb and ending it soaked in sweat; I love the feel of wind in my face, staring up awestruck at the Milky Way from the comfort of my sleeping bag, and falling asleep to the steady murmur of a mountain stream. Time and time again I go out there for the sunsets and waterfalls that inspire my adventures. Without fail, I return from a trip exhausted but content, renewed by my time in the woods.

Our backcountry adventures might seem reckless or dangerous, but they bring us something that nothing else can. No amount of climbing at the gym is as exciting as a weekend at Red River Gorge; an hour on the stair-stepper pales in comparison to summitting a rocky peak. Each time we embark on one of these trips, we feel as if we’re going home. There is a sense of familiarity in the backcountry, even in unexplored places, that implores us to return. 

I’m not sure any of this really explains why we do what we do, but maybe that’s the point. We do it because it can’t be explained. In the end, Mallory might have done about as well as anyone in explaining our adventures. Why do we pursue longer and more remote trails, climb harder and more technical routes, or find faster flowing rivers? Because they’re there.

 

by: Will Babb

Redemption on the Black Mountain Crest Trail

Previewing the Black Mountain Crest Trail

If you’ve been following RRT for the past few years, you have probably heard about the Black Mountain Crest Trail (BMCT).  My good friend Will wrote about his attempt in 2019, and I talked about it during one of our Campfire Story segments in 2020. If you heard the campfire story, then you know my first attempt on the Black Mountain Crest Trail did not end successfully but as a slow trudge with a heavy heart.

The Trail

Since my first attempt, few days have passed where that trail did not hike across my mind. I never mustered up the time or courage to go back, and for what? To fail again? Two years passed, and while looking for training hikes my dear friend and co-worker Emma and I decided the BMCT was a must-do. As the weekend of the trip drew near, the weather looked pretty good.  About an inch of rain was predicted through all of Saturday, but we thought it was nothing crazy.

The plan was to hike eight miles to Deep Gap, set up camp, and then hike four miles to the summit of Mt. Mitchell and back. My hopes were high; I was excited to get back on this trail. Learning from my last attempt, I brought better bear deterrents (a friend to feed to the bears) and improved rain gear. This time I was not turning back, especially with Emma there to keep me going.

 

We arrived at the trailhead around 1 a.m. and slept restlessly in the car. The sun came up and we donned our packs to begin the steep four-mile climb to the ridge, soon passing a beautiful stream with a series of waterfalls. My spirits were high as we climbed, and my mind flashed back to my last attempt. A lot had changed from the Dalton who was last here; I’ve learned a lot more about the outdoors and myself, and I now have a mustache.

The initial up was peaceful and serene. Both of us were huffing and puffing in silence. Soon it began to drizzle. We added rain jackets and continued upwards. The drizzle became heavier, and I began to realize what an inch of rain truly meant. My freshly waterproofed jacket was no protection. It could not withstand the increasing pressure as the rain and wind picked up. These four miles seemed to go on forever. The tree line was close. I could feel it, and I made sure Emma knew, too. With the final bit of elevation gain ahead, we trudged more energetically. Then Emma pointed out that the tree line was, in fact, not close at all. Our spirits fell, as did the air temperature as my body chilled beneath a no-longer-waterproof jacket.

After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the ridgeline. Remembering how breathtaking this scene was last time, I was thrilled to view it again. I was quickly let down. The entire ridge was covered with a heavy fog. I could not see more than two fully-extended trekking pole lengths in any direction. Up here, without the cover of trees, the wind and rain intensified and added a bonus element, hail. I tried to push forward, but every second on the ridge felt like a session with a drunk acupuncturist. After a handful of steps, I returned to the cover of trees to talk with Emma and hear her thoughts.

Emma was surprisingly optimistic about the horrendous scenario. Her optimism gave me hope. We pushed on. After no more than five steps on the ridge, she expressed the same concerns I had.

We had another discussion and decided to push on. We trudged another five steps, then turned around and were forced below tree line. This was a tough call. Turning around once was hard enough, but turning around twice? To me it was painful.

Turning around should be a group decision, not the decision of one person. This is always the toughest part. I did not want to let Emma down, and she did not want to let me down. My hands stung from the cold, so I gave in and suggested we turn back. Emma agreed, much to my relief. We began our descent without second thought.

While the way up was full of hope, the way down was dreary. We passed a group headed up in high spirits. I wished them the best but was secretly envious. I thought about how far they would make it. “If they made it further than us, had we turned back too soon? How much further could we have made it?” I worked to push these thoughts out of my mind because they led down dangerous rabbit holes. Emma and I continued to rationalize our decision. “We were too cold.” “Our clothes were soaked.” “We did not have the proper gear.” Even with this knowledge, I had a tough time believing we made the right decision.

In the moment, you could be facing the toughest challenge in the world, but once you turn away and look back it seems doable. There was a little voice in my head telling me I was overreacting and that I gave up at the slightest sign of challenge. This voice stayed with me the rest of the way back and lingered through the coming days.

Redemption on the Black Mountain Crest

Fast forward to the end of June, the Sunday before July Fourth weekend. I was still mentally recovering from my last trek on the BMCT, but I had a free weekend and was considering a quick jaunt to North Carolina for another attempt. As fate would have it, while working at RRT a regular customer, David, came in asking about the Black Mountain Crest Trail, with plans to attempt it that weekend. I mentioned my desire to do the same, and soon enough we had plans to hike together. This time, we planned it as a long day hike, which was significantly more ambitious than my previous attempts.

We drove to the trailhead Friday night and arrived late, quickly finding spots to set up hammocks but not before sharing lukewarm PBRs with people living nearby. Unexpected interactions like these make me fall more in love with the outdoors and its community.

Waking up in Pisgah National Forest was like waking up in a rainforest. The ground was damp as the morning dew dripped from the trees and the sunlight worked past the thick canopy. We ate breakfast and headed up the trail. We maintained a good pace through the first four-mile push and aimed to hit the summit by noon, averaging two miles per hour. At the ridge, the trail became less maintained, and rather than enjoying the scenery we had to keep our eyes on the ground for roots or holes waiting to twist our ankles. As I stumbled to Mt. Mitchell, I could not help but think that if I was already this tired on the way up, then I was horrified for my legs on the way down.

We cruised into mile eight of 24 and stopped for lunch at Deep Gap. After refueling, we pushed onward.  We stayed quiet and kept to our own thoughts and miseries. A few miles later, we crossed the border into Mt. Mitchell State Park and its well-maintained trails. We picked up our pace, only to be slowed by crowds of people. After being stuck in my head for the past several hours, the small talk with strangers was a welcome distraction.

The maintained trails gave way to a paved parking lot, a staircase, and a ramp that took us to the highest point on this side of the Mississippi. The juxtaposition between the rugged trail we had spent the past six hours on and the summit parking lot was jarring. Fortunately, with great amounts of concrete come great amounts of aspirin from the summit giftshop, a key factor in our success. Without that, we would not have made it very far on the return.

Making it to the top was incredibly rewarding. We could see from the Roan Highlands all the way to Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  An accomplishment I had been trying to complete for several years was done. Except, of course, we were really only halfway done. We still had to go all the way back down.

After resting for a bit, we began pushing down the mountain. Pushing sounds like an odd way to describe hiking downhill, but it truly was a push because the hike back to the car was not just downhill, we still had roughly 2,500’ of gain before the final four-mile descent. David had trouble going downhill and I had trouble going uphill. With our strengths and weaknesses balancing out, we leapfrogged past one another on our six-hour return journey. Many people passed us on their way up, and although I was excited for them I was glad David and I had put those miles behind us.

Throughout the trip, as happens on any backcountry excursion, we had dreamed up the perfect post-hike meal: iced-coffee for David and a big Gatorade for me, then digging into $5 Hot and Ready pizzas from Little Caesar’s. Bellies full and thirst quenched, we drove home silently, taking turns napping and driving. A bucket list item that had haunted me for two years was over just like that in a whirlwind 30 hours.

Reflection

Early in my outdoor career, I was fortunate to avoid making the tough call to turn back. I have since found this is not how things will always be. The past few years have been filled with failed adventures. I still valued these experiences and learned a great deal from them, but it will never be easy to make that call. Turning back on something you value is tough and something I am still learning and growing from. As I’ve taken on bigger endeavors, I’ve looked for this quality in the people I travel and climb with. I want to know they will not push me into prickly situations but will push me to be a stronger person, and I will do the same for them.

 

by: Dalton Spurlin

Return of the SLOBO: Fear is the Mind Killer

In less than a week, yours truly, Goatman, will step back onto the Appalachian Trail to finish the last 969 miles of a thru-hike that began in 2013 with a 1200+ mile trek. The time for planning, prepping, training, and ruminating is over. And good riddance.

I know this may come as no surprise to many of you that know me, but you may as well stamp “Type B Personality” on my forehead. Making lists upon lists, worrying about details, lusting after improvement: not my style. Luckily for me, the AT isn’t an expedition. Nor is it a race, or a chore, or a job. And that’s what makes it so great. The AT is an adventure. Look that up in the dictionary.

Having read the other installments of the Return of the SLOBO series, you may think I really have everything together. Surely, a man conceited enough to presume to tell you how go on a very personal, very emotional adventure should himself be a shining example of the Fully Prepared Backpacker. Welcome to reality: I have no idea what is coming. Having hiked long-distance before, I know only one thing to be true: the trail teaches what needs knowing and nothing but putting feet to dirt is going to help you in the end.

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Disconcerting? For some, I suppose. We are raised with the idea in mind that knowledge is inherently important to a task. I would argue that wisdom trumps knowledge a majority of the time. Knowing that you have 17.8 miles until you camp for the night and that water is 5.2 into the hike tells you very little about how your day is going to go. The elevation charts in the guide books are convenient fantasies and often misleading. It never rains for days on paper.

Am I saying to throw the guidebook off a cliff, sell your bag to a bear, and head off into the Great Unknown with only your cunning and sturdy stick to keep you safe? Or course not (okay, sometimes I get in a mood and say exactly that, but don’t listen to me all of the time. It’s bad for you.) I still stand by everything I said in the early articles concerning physical and mental training, buying gear that keeps your safe, happy, and moving, etc. All good ideas. Unfortunately, they are only that. Ideas. So you read the articles with good intentions in your heart, but now it’s go time and you didn’t hike as much as you wanted before setting out, your legs aren’t in the best shape they could be, you took some last minute things and now your pack is heavier than you wanted, and your mind is scattered and racing worrying about all of the “What Ifs”. Now what? Do you cancel your plans? Do you say, “Maybe next year”? Do you justify an existence in which your dreams are not manifested into reality?

Hell no.

goat2You hit the trail. And you hike. And you get stronger and smarter and more wise everyday. Suddenly, you’re hiking the AT and you’ve done a week and you’re still scared, more tired than you’ve ever been, and still not so sure you’re ready for all of this. And then you hike for another week and realize that you are as strong as you want to be, that exhaustion is uplifting if related to a purpose, and that no one is ready for this! And then you hike for another week.

Excuses make terrible hiking partners.

In the end, trails are for hiking, not analyzing.  I cannot wait to shut my silly mouth, strap up, and go. The next time you hear from me, I’ll have some good stories for you, I’m sure, and I’ll be sharing some here if I can.

See you out there.

-Goatman

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The Triple Bottom Line Part 2: Social Sustainability

By: Mackenzie Griesser

The first blog of this series discussed the most obvious factor when determining a company’s sustainability: their environmental awareness.  Another important element that contributes to the triple bottom line of sustainability is social sustainability. This can be defined many ways, but for the purposes of this blog we will define it as a company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can be done several ways. Some companies organize fundraising events and donate the money to local environmental groups while others send volunteers to help with ongoing projects. No matter their level of involvement however, every brand we carry invests in their community in some way. Part two of a three part series on sustainability in the outdoor industry, this blog will highlight some of the social sustainability initiatives that different brands we carry at Roads Rivers and Trails have to offer.

Patagonia definitely takes the cake when it comes to community involvement and outreach. They work closely with several environmental organizations and donate 1% of all profits to nonprofit groups across the globe. Another way they raise funds for these groups is by organizing the Salmon Run, a 5k community “fun run” in Ventura, California. They also created an environmental internship program for their employees, which is one of the best internship programs I’ve ever seen. Not only do they allow the inteexte842rns to work with whatever environmental group they want, they continue to pay and offer benefits for the duration of the internship, which can be up to two months! Patagonia also takes steps to give back to its namesake, Chilean Patagonia, by sending employees at the company’s expense to help create a new National Park from a former sheep and cattle ranch. Volunteers help remove non-native plants and restore grasslands, build trails, and even built a visitors’ center and other necessary infrastructure. When it is finished the park will span 173,000 acres and be a home for over a hundred species of native fauna, including the four-eyed Patagonian frog and the near extinct huemul deer.

While Patagonia’s community outreach and dedication to environmental protection is truly astounding, Arc’Teryx is right behind them in giving back to communities and protecting beloved wilderness areas. However, they differ from Patagonia in that most of their involvement and outreach is through partnerships with other organizations. For example, they partner with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association to help maintain and protect mountain biking trails on Canada’s North Shore. They are also a sponsor of the Trail Builders Academy, which utilizes both on-site and classroom settings to teach proper trail building and maintenance techniques. They are also members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, which requires a membership fee that directly funds projects that Arc’Teryx employees regularly volunteer time towards, and the Conservation Alliance, which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild plaArcteryx_BirdNestCape_Delivery_Day_1ces. The membership fees for this organization also go towards funding projects that are voted on by members. One project that Arc’Teryx created and organizes itself is the Bird’s Nest Project. Staff members volunteer time to sew discontinued Gore-Tex fabrics into garments for homeless citizens in Vancouver, which are distributed by local police departments and homeless shelters.

Another brand that invests a lot in their community and organizations across the country is Osprey. Like Arc’teryx, many of their social sustainability initiatives are through partnerships with other organizations. They helped Conservation Next organize and execute an event where volunteers spent the day removing invasive species and performing much needed restoration work on trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park. They also act as a sponsor for Telluride by financing renewable power for Lift 12, as well as sponsoring the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. On their own, they donate $2 of every pro deal sale to non-profit organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and donate 5% of profits from their biannual community “Locals Sale” to nearby non-profit organizations. Donations from these two fundraisers totalled around $7,000 in 2009. Financial donations aside, they also allow employees to do 8 hours of volunteer work on their clock, racking up 200 hours of paid volunteer work in 2009 alone.

These three companies definiteindexly do the most when it comes to social sustainability, but all of the brands we carry give back in one way or another. Rab and Prana contribute to multiple service projects, including restoration work at Peak District National Park (UK) and sending aid to natural disaster sites. Big Agnes and Sea to Summit support Leave No Trace, an international organization that teaches outdoor ethics. These two also support several other environment-focused organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Some businesses see giving back to nearby communities as a great PR move, but it’s incredibly important to account for how their operations affect local people. Companies benefit from these communities and everything they have to offer, so it is crucial that they invest in them to ensure their longevity. Social sustainability is often overlooked or assumed, but the brands we carry here at RRT do an awesome job of making sure local neighborhoods and the organizations that support them are taken care of. However, they cannot truly be sustainable unless they follow the criteria of the triple bottom line, which includes social as well as environmental and economic sustainability. You can read about our apparel brands’ environmental sustainability here . Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, which will discuss the thrilling world of economic sustainability, coming soon!

Back Country Baking in Action: ICELAND

Back Country Baking in Action: ICELAND

By: Olivia Eads

 

 

 

 

During my recent adventure in Iceland, I decided to test out a few techniques in the field! Before we get to the processes and the final products created, here are a few tips that I learned through these experiments:

– make a recipe you know well and has turned out before

– measuring out liquids is difficult without a container that has specific regiments

– don’t have the fuel line attached when you depressurize the stove

– small flat rocks are rare unless near a sedimentary or slate/schistose rock formation

– figure out beforehand how you will clean your hands

 

MONKEY BREAD

Recipe:

basic yeast dough

  • 1 rounded tsp rapid rise yeast
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup flour

Mix salt and flour together in a plastic bag before going into the back country.

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil**
  • ½ cup warm water

3 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix those two together in a plastic bag prior to adventure.

1/8 cup walnuts

2-3 Tbsp softened butter

Heat water until it is a little more than body temperature, then add sugar. Dissolve sugar then add yeast. Mix dry ingredients along with vegetable oil to the yeast mixtures then allow to proof (double in size.) Once proofed, butter hands and create little balls, cover in cinnamon sugar, throw into cooking pot. Throw the excess butter and cinnamon sugar into the pot along with walnuts. With depressurized fuel, bake ~20 minutes (check at 10 minutes and stir) at low temperature. Enjoy!

 

** I used butter instead of oil for my recipes because it was easier to carry in my pack and already planned on using it for other recipes.**

 

bake1Dough mixed, a little too cold for rapid rising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake2Heating up water to create a warm environment for the dough to rise. ~2 mm of warm water kept in the pot and the green silicon bowl placed on top then covered to proof.

 

 

 

 

 

bake3Creating dough balls and coating each individually with butter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake4After coated in butter, toss around in cinnamon sugar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake5Place balls into the pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake6Be prepared for messy hands!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake7Breaking apart the hard chunks of cinnamon sugar. Add the rest of the butter and sugar mix to the balls in the pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake8Add the walnuts to the baking mixture. Allow a few minutes to settle and proof a bit 5-10 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake9At a very low temperature, start baking! I fried the dough balls keeping the lid on to allow some circulation of heat. Stirred after 10 minutes and continue baking.

 

 

 

 

bake10Remember: first ‘test’ bites are really hot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finished product!

bake11bake12

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake13bake14

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where did they all go? Gone!

I messed up on this recipe a bit. Added too much water to the dough and the dough fell apart rather easily because of that. That’s why a measuring utensil would be nice in practice. Also, a bit of aluminum foil wrapped around the pot would have been nice to get more heat circulating around the dough. However, my ceramic pot has plastic handles on the lid/grips. Since those would melt, I decided to fry them at a low heat and it worked out pretty well. It was relatively cold in Iceland. Due to that fact, the butter was never really soft so I had to use body heat to make it soft. Afterwards the butter was very cold and stuck to my hands. It was hard to get off with cold water too. Moving on…

 

 

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

I will not add this recipe into the blog as I was not a fan. Suppose that’s why one should test the recipes before going out into the field. However, for viewing pleasure, here is the steam baking process documented!

bake15Rehydrate the blueberries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake16MELT THE BUTTER! Again, I used butter instead of oil for these recipes because it was easier for me to backpack with.

 

 

 

 

 

bake17Melting all nice like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake18Add the butter to the rehydrated blueberries. Also line the pot with flat rocks and add water just below the rocks. Start boiling that while the next few steps take place.

 

 

 

 

 

bake19Adding the dry mixture to the wet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake20Mix, mix, mix, until just combined. *Sorry, I’m not sorry for the proximity of my feet to the muffin batter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake21Fill silicon baking dishes with batter. Once the water is at a boil, put the baking dishes on top of the rocks and cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake22Time to kick back, relax, and wait. These puppies take about 20 minutes to bake.

 

 

 

 

 

Almost dobakle23ne!

 

 

 

 

 

 

bake25

ENJOY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problems that I ran into with this recipe could have easily been avoided had I made the muffins previous to going on the trail. However, I was lazy and found a recipe with as few ingredients as possible and called it a day… Not sure why I didn’t use my simple muffin recipe I use frequently, but oh well. These guys turned out quite dense because there was too much flour. Also the recipe could have a used a little more sugar and baking powder to get sweeter, fluffier muffins. Overall, both were a great success. Baking is a great addition to the trail for very happy campers!

 

Return of the SLOBO: Rocketship Underpants

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later
 “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don’t help.”

―from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

 

Oh! The dreaded gear installment!

One would think that, after hiking thousands of miles, working at an outfitter, and keeping up with innovations in the backpacking industry, old Goatman would just be waiting to tell you everything he knows about the gear you should take on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The problem is this: I am not you. I’m not packing for you, I’m not resupplying with you, I’m not throwing your bag on my back, and I’m not hiking a single mile of the trail for you.

The gear I use is simply that: it’s what I use while on the trail. I could type up a spreadsheet with weight and cost and every other variable listed out, post it here, and be done with this article, but all you would know is what I take on a hike and not what you, dear reader, should take on a hike. Again, I am not you. I don’t have your feet, I don’t worry about your fears, and I happen to be as strong as one donkey and one mule combined in man form, thus rendering the weight concerns of your average human meaningless to me.

You may be asking yourself: “Well, Goatman, what exactly are you going to talk about in this article besides being a mutant-hybrid pack creature?” Good question. Let’s get to the meat of it. Despite current fashion or gear trends, the gear you take on the AT should do the following things for you: keep you safe, keep you happy, and keep you moving.

Gear Should Keep You Safe

Seems pretty simple. I don’t wear a rain shell when the skies are blue just to look cool. I wear it when it is raining to goatman 043keep dry and warm. I might wear it above treeline to keep the sun and wind off, but otherwise, it is sitting in my pack, waiting for the weather to turn nasty. I don’t put it in a bounce box just because it looks like a nice couple of days ahead. It is not useless weight just because I carry it as much as I wear it; it is still serving its function as a piece of bad weather gear when tucked away.

Try and check the weather predictions along the entire AT for a six month period. Nonsense, right? You don’t pack for the perfect days. You pack with the hard days in mind and you pack to lessen the effect that hard days will have on you, whenever they come.

This can be extended to almost anything in your bag: a headlamp is only useful in the dark, but get caught without one on an overcast night when you get stuck out late on the bogs and see if you don’t wish you had one.

Before leaving something at home, ask yourself, “Am I sacrificing safety by not having this with me?” If you are fine with the risk imposed, then by all means, get it out of your pack. There are things that work as a safety blanket more than they work as functional gear. You will learn the difference on the trail if not before.

Something we tend to emphasize that bears repeating: do not set foot on your thru-hike with gear that you have never hiked with before. Think you need a 7 inch bear hunting knife for safety? Well, take it out on a weekend trip and see how many times you actually need it. Guess what? People have hiked the AT with less useful things and made it every step of the way. Were they being stubborn? Undoubtedly. Could they have lightened their load? Of course. Did it matter in the end? Not one bit. No one is standing at the terminus, counting all of the calories you wasted carrying extra stuff. There’s no thru-hiker report card being filled out. Either you make it or you don’t. If the things in your bag helped you make it, then they were useful whatever they were.

Let’s step back for a moment: What do I mean by safety? Safety on a thru-hike for me means successfully hiking from town to town and eventually reaching the terminus without grievous injury to yourself or anyone around you. This does not entail carting around a 3 lb. first aid kit that you don’t even know how to utilize to its full extent. This does not mean bringing a gun. This does mean, however, choosing socks and footwear that do not cause blistering, loss of toenails, or nerve damage to your feet. It means having appropriate layers of clothing to deal with the rapidly changing temperatures on a long distance hike. It means having shelter from the elements when you get caught out in them. It means having a sleep system that allows you to truly rest at night and regain your strength for the next day. It means carrying enough calories to see you through to the next resupply and/or buffet. And it means having water purification so you don’t poop yourself off the trail.

Gear Should Keep You Happy

I realize that happiness is relative. I’m not worried about whether or not you define yourself as happy every step of the AT. You won’t. You will experience the entire gamut of emotions on the trail, including simultaneous emotional combinations that you didn’t even know that you had in you (i.e. “I’m sad that I’m out of peanut butter, which I hate as of now, but I’m hungry, which makes me angry, but my pack is a pound lighter and that makes me happy.”)

The point I want to make is that if you’re not going to be happy at times, it shouldn’t be because of your gear.

If you’re going to be sad, angry, or fgoat1rustrated, it should be because of some existential longing within your soul or some jerk you met, not because your pack doesn’t fit correctly (because you bought it off the internet without thought to torso size or load capacity.) I’m not a psychoanalyst, but I can fit a pack to your back with precision. There are few problems with gear that can’t be fixed. Remember that hike you’re going to do with all of your gear before you head out on the AT? That would be the time to figure out what hurts and why. And to fix it.

Happiness isn’t just decided by physical means, however. Everything can fit great, your pack can be light and comfortable, and your head can still be a mess. Sometimes, you just need your lucky rocketship underwear. What I mean by this is: don’t skimp on your luxury item, whatever that may be. I hiked the length of Maine with a 600+ page copy of my favorite book. It probably weighed upwards of a pound (I don’t want to know.)

Why? Well, the short answer is that I’m an avid reader and collector of books. It is part of who I am and, without this aspect of my life, I feel less connected to myself and what I’m doing on this Earth. I don’t like reading; I love reading. My vision of hell is a waiting room with nothing to read. And my vision of heaven? To be in the woods, miles away from civilization, with a book in my hand as the sun goes down. It is as simple as that. I made the decision to carry the extra weight so that, in the rare moments that I wasn’t hiking, eating, or sleeping, I could wind down and do a bit of what makes me happy no matter where I am. And I brought this particular favorite book as a symbolic boon for my hike.

There are lighter, more weather resistant, more practical items that I could have brought to keep me busy when not moving, but that was not the point. Carrying this book made me happy, so I carried it. Don’t let other people dictate what keeps you smiling. That doesn’t work. You won’t look at any AT pack list that includes Giant Pretentious Modernist Novel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring one.

Gear Should Keep You Moving

Being safe and happy isn’t what hiking is all about. If these were your only goals, you might as well stay at home. Hiking isn’t always safe. Being in the woods can be dangerous and there are certainly a lot of things you can do to minimize the risk, but at the end of the day a bit of the Fear is part of the experience of hiking. As for happiness, I don’t think I need to repeat that this is a conditional state that you will move in and out of on the trail just as you do at home or any other place that you happen to be.

What hiking is all about is movement.

There is a saying on the trail: “It’s not about the miles, it’s about the smiles.”

However, in the paraphrased words of SLOBO extraordinaire the Bartender (’13): “That’s bull, man. If it were all about the smiles, I’d be back in Monson, drinking beer and hanging out. It’s gotta be about the miles if you want to finish.”

You’re not a hiker when you’re sitting around town. You’re not a hiker before or after your trip. You are only a hiker when you’re on the trail, making miles, and putting another footstep towards your goal.  The gear you take with you should help with your progress, not hinder it.goat2

This is where your pack weight comes in. It’s trendy these days to try to go as “ultralight” as possible. There’s good reason for this: the less weight in your pack, the less strain on your body, the more miles you can potentially do on the same amount of calories. Makes sense, right? Yes, it does, unless you are going so “ultralight” that you are sacrificing your safety or your happiness (see above.) There is a balance to be met, just as in all things.

So the point is to keep moving. No one knows what keeps you moving better than yourself, but there are a few universals. If you are injured, you will have to stop and rest. Your gear should not be the cause of injury (once again: shakedown hike! Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, shakedown hike!) If you don’t have the gear to move through and survive inclement weather, you will have to hole up in town. If you underestimate the amount of calories to pack out, you will find yourself tired, grumpy, and disoriented on the trail. A light pack isn’t going to help with any of these. So, yes, please, think about the weight of your pack and make sure that it isn’t weighing you down unnecessarily, but cutting weight just to cut weight is foolish if you are sacrificing your safety or happiness.

This is also the point where the longevity of your gear comes into play. Going into town is both fun and necessary at times, but going into a town you weren’t planning on going into in order to find a replacement for malfunctioning gear is a huge waste of time and energy. I realize that hikers are all about frugality, but there comes a point when it is more cost-effective to buy quality than to settle for something less that you will have to replace (possibly multiple times.) Case in point: I thought paying over $10 for a titanium long spoon was crazy when I could buy a cheap plastic spork that weighed less for a couple of bucks. And then I broke my plastic spork eating noodles. And then I broke my second plastic spork eating mashed potatoes and now I’m eating my dinner with filthy, burnt fingers for days before I can replace it with the spoon I originally snubbed as being too expensive.

There are definitely things that you can go cheap on, but when it comes to gear that is keeping you on the trail, you’ll find that spending the extra dough to get gear that is proven to last and warrantied against damage will save you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run. The spork is a silly example in that I didn’t need it to keep moving. Had I skimped on my footwear and socks, however, I would have been limping back into town. Had I skimped on my backpack, I could have found myself at war with what should have been my dearest asset, whether that meant the straps rubbing me raw or the pack becoming nonfunctional.

Again, the goal is to keep moving. Keep this in mind when gathering your gear. Keep an eye on weight. Too heavy and you’ll be huffing and puffing every step. Too light and you might be sacrificing safety and happiness.

No one can pack for you. There are hundreds of example pack lists available on the internet. Look at them, learn from them, but in the end, you will come up with your own system that works for you. In all of my years of hiking, I have never come upon another hiker that is carrying the exact set up as I am. Why is that? Am I wrong? Is she wrong? How about that guy over there?

Find what works for you. Test it. Make sure it does what you need it to and that it will last. If you need advice, we at RRT are always here to help. In the end, no one else is going to hoist your pack and hit the trail for you.

 

(Shakedown hike!)

 

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Return of the SLOBO: You are the Mountain

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later

“Whatcha wanna do today? Go on a hike? I know this great trail.”

We would joke like this in the morning as I filtered water from a stream and Jubilee broke down our tent.

And sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was a painful reminder that there was nothing else to do, that we had no choice but to hike. We lived on the Appalachian Trail. Hiking was not only our sole mode of transportation, but also our entertainment, our defining sense of purpose, and the task at hand. You either hike or you go home. This is what makes long distance hiking so difficult. Not the sore feet, empty belly, cold rain, or looks of derision while stinking up a laundry mat. It remains true to my experience that the easiest way to lose the joy in something is day in, day out repetition of said thing. Anything can be exciting when new.

It is a hard lesson to learn: perseverance and happiness do not walk hand in hand. You don’t wake up and hike another 20 miles because it makes you happy that day. You wake up and hike because that is what you set out to do and there is happiness in following through with your dreams. Thinking that thru-hiking is months of endless fun is like thinking that working at an amusement park is fun. Trust me: it’s not. You get to see a lot of people having fun, yes, but you are there after the rides close, dealing with the reality behind the illusion.

A heavy start to a blog, I must admit, and not usually my style, but the time has come to get down to it. Mental preparation for the Appalachian Trail is anything but frivolous and it begins the second you decide to take on the trail. In the spirit of the thing, we’ll start heavy and lighten the load as we go. So let’s look at what you can do to strengthen your resolve before you even put shoe to dirt.

Verbally Commit

So you’re going to hike over 2,000 miles on foot through the oldest mountains on Earth, experience iconic towns, beautiful mountain summits, rivers and lakes galore, live with everything you need on your back, and make lasting relationships with people from across the world. Excited? Oh yeah, you’re excited! You are going to do it and its going to be the trip of a lifetime. So tell people! Tell your friends and family, tell your co-workers, tell people on the street. Tell them when you’re going and why you’re going. Talk it up. Make people associate you with your hike.

You’re not just talking because you’re excited and love talking about backpacking; you are turning on the social pressure machine. Thinking about going home after a couple of hard days on the trail? It will happen, but are you ready to explain to everyone back home that you are a quitter and that your will is weak? Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

We are social animals, for better or worse. Many people spend their entire lives worrying about what society thinks of their actions and appearance. For some of us, this is a nuisance of which we would gladly be rid. In this case, however, the best thing to do is to make sure to use it to your advantage. Don’t want your older sister making fun of you for quitting the AT? Then don’t go hiking with quitting on your mind. I believe that we are what we do, not what we plan to do or have done in the past, and the only one that can act in the present is you, now.

But boy can people gossiping about your business put a fire under you. It’s up to you whether you let the fire burn you up or you turn it into rocket boots.

Physical Training is Mental Training

So you’ve toldgoatjub 131 people that you’re going on the trail and you’re hitting the local parks with a pack on your back to strengthen up your legs for the mountains. What can you be doing mentally to train while you are training physically? The good news is that you’re already doing it. Your mind and your body do not work as separate entities. If you got out of bed early to put in some miles before work or spent your Saturday with your pack on, outside and moving, you are participating in mental training. Every time you could be sitting at home, staring at a screen and giggling as you eat cheese-o’s, and decide instead to hit the trail with a pack on to put in some miles, you are winning the mental challenge game.

Now we start to combine methods: Your friend invites you to a BBQ in the afternoon. You tell him that you’re going to be hiking to prep for the AT. He sends you a picture of steaks, cold beer, and an empty hammock. You send him a picture of Katahdin. Then you skip the BBQ and hike even farther than you were planning originally. So now your friend knows what you are doing, sees that you are serious enough to skip out a good time, and talks about why you aren’t there with others. Meanwhile, you put in the miles that you need to put in, pushing yourself both physically and mentally.

The toughest day on the AT for many people comes when leaving town and going back into the hills after a relaxing zero day, back away from all-you-can-eat buffets, air conditioning, and clean beds. Practice choosing the trail over convenient distractions. You’re going to be doing it a lot and you might as well practice.

You are the Mountain

Your friends all know about your trip, your family is excited and anxious for you, you’re as fit as you’re going to get and the date of your departure is coming up fast. You even think you know the first few shelters you’re going to stay at and your gear is all laid out, ready to go.

Now sit down and shut up.goatman 063

You’ve been busy. Now is the time to learn to be un-busy. Some would even called it bored. It’s an uneasy truth, but true nonetheless. Hiking everyday can be boring. You are going to be alone a lot. I say this having hiked with a partner. Yes, there’s conversation and camaraderie at times during the day, but not all of the day. Not even most of the day. Most of the day, you are staring at your ever moving feet, completely in your own head.

There are modern “cures” for this: You can listen to music. You can listen to audio books, podcasts, or recordings of cats falling off of things and meowing. You can do all of this and still be bored. Call me a Luddite, but I believe that entertainment technology is but a band-aid on a wound that will never close if you keep messing with it.

Music can take you out of your head, yes. It is good at that. But isn’t it better to be comfortable where your mind dwells without the need for distraction?

Spend time in your mind before leaving for the AT. The best way I know of is meditation. You don’t need incense and chimes. You don’t need an esoteric mantra or expensive cushion. You don’t need to prescribe to anything in particular at all. All you need to do is sit down for 20 or 30 minutes with a straight spine, breath slowly and methodically, and let your mind settle. And don’t move, no matter what you do. Boredom is what we call the transitional phase between activity and non-activity. If you’re interacting with outside stimuli all day and suddenly give your mind nothing to grab onto, it will panic and tell you that you are bored, that you need something other than what you have. Meditating is a good way to let your mind know that it doesn’t need anything outside of itself.

Everyone is different and I don’t mean to speak for anyone but myself. Meditation works for me, but there are other ways to slow down and let your mind get comfortable being alone for a while. Only you know what works for you and what doesn’t. But whatever method you find, make sure to stick with it, especially when it becomes inconvenient and difficult. The more inconvenient and difficult the better, to tell you the truth.

Are you ready to be ready?

Overwhelmed? Sorry about that. Talking about mental preparation for a thru-hike isn’t the most light hearted topic and I refuse to sugar coat things. You’re going to be tired, hungry, and ready to go home. What you do next is what will decide how your hike goes. I want to disabuse you of the notion that the AT involves months of skipping through the woods with a flower in your hand, singing Kumbaya, and smiling every step.

You only do that on Tuesdays.

332Seriously though, there are days when your spirits are higher than the mountains and love is the law of the land. These are the days that will keep you going. And they are more numerous than I can emphasize. But no one needs to prepare for being happy and free. That will come naturally.

However, if you get good at navigating in the darkness, you won’t miss the light so much. So be tough on yourself, but be hopeful. Be optimistic while practicing your bad days and you’ll realize that the difference between a bad day and a good day has little to do with everything else and a lot to do with you, yourself, here and now.

I could tell you to look for the silver lining around every storm cloud, but cliches are of little help when the rain starts falling so instead I’ll leave you with this thought:

The only clouds inside your mind are the ones you put there.

 

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The White Mountains: Mt. Washington

by Louie “Sunshine” Knolle

Greetings and salutations from New England to all of you RRT dudes and dudettes out there in the cybersphere! This is Loubear Sassafras (one of many RRT alums) checking in with some winter adventures that I was able to enjoy this past January and February. The topic for discussion today is Mt. Washington, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. For those who have not heard of this beast of a mountain, allow me to elucidate the finer details of this wonderful place. Mt. Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States at 6,288 feet, Wikipedia even goes so far as to label it the most “prominent” peak in all of the eastern US due to its altitude relative to the land around it. Don’t worry peak purists, Mt. Mitchell is still the highest peak east of the Mississippi, but I digress. Washington is home to some of the worst alpine weather in the world. In 1934 the Mount Washington Observatory observed a recorded wind speed of 231 mph! That’s more than 3 times the minimum for hurricane force wind. The official record low temperature for the summit is -50 degree Fahrenheit and that was without accounting for windchill! There have been wind chills of 140 degrees below zero. Even as I’m writing this my mind is riding the boggle bus. Due to its location, Mt. Washington is at a confluence of many major air streams and weather patterns, hence it’s unpredictability and slightly erratic nature at times.

12778722_10207784457224690_1665729167757751404_oNow if that doesn’t put you in the mood to go and summit this baby, I don’t know what else will. The most popular time for hiking up Washington is during the summer when the weather is slightly less inclement (note the italics.) Even in summer, you can get caught in some snow up top when it is perfectly warm and sunny down in the town of North Conway. It is highly recommended that even for a summer summit attempt, you bring water and windproof hard shell pants and jacket, both a thermal and fleece layer, and it would probably be a good idea to include a light mid layer in your pack, just in case. You can wear shorts and tank tops back in town, but you don’t want to get in a sudden rain storm in 30-40 degree temps mixed with 75+ mph winds. Those are all conditions that can quickly lead to hypothermia if you don’t watch it. However, if you pay close attention to the weather and plan accordingly, it can be quite the amazing hike and so worth the effort. The most popular trail is Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. It is about 4.2 miles to the summit and you can always switch it up by coming down the Lion’s Head route if you’re looking for a little more exposure or a change of scenery. Tuck’s is considered a Class 2 route, so there a few places where you might be required to use your hands for climbing up some rocks, but the moves are simple and you are not at any risk if you take your time and mind your P’s and Q’s. During winter, Tuck’s is usually covered in ice and snow so it is highly recommended you take the Lion’s Head winter trail.

People call these mountains “The Whites” for a reason. They are a giant, snowy wonderland for winter sports enthusiasts. Whether it be cold weather mountaineering, alpine or ice climbing, backcountry or telemark skiing, the Whites has it all. I was recently there on a Wednesday in mid-February and the place was a-hoppin’. Coincidentally enough, most of my experience in the Whites comes during the winter time. As of 2 weeks ago, I have summited Mt. Washington in the winter on 3 separate occasions. My first two summits, in January 2013 and in January of this year were by way of 12819386_1101705653226154_7284161733876819870_othe same route. Starting from Pinkham, we hiked up the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail for almost 2 miles where we hopped off and went up the Lion’s Head Trail. This trail goes around a large rock feature (called the Lion’s Head) and takes you up along a beautiful ridge looking down into Tuckerman’s Ravine. On a clear day you can just make out the weather station on the summit (which is about another mile and a half away.) Both times, we were required to put on crampons before breaking tree line due to snow and ice on the trail. Over the years I have seen some people summiting with just microspikes, but those will not hold up as well in truly gnarly conditions. Also required for this winter hike is a mountaineering axe of some kind, whether it be a true mountain axe, glacier axe, or even an ice tool. It is an invaluable piece of gear for safety reasons, in case you find yourself in a tight spot and need to use it to self-arrest to keep from sliding down a steep, icy slope. Ski goggles are also a great idea teamed up with a balaclava to protect your face.

Once on the summit, there is a very clear summit post and a couple buildings usually covered by lots of snow and ice. People live and work on the summit year round studying the weather since it such an amalgam of weather patterns and one of the most unique climates in the states. During the summer, there is a visitor center open to the public, mostly due to the fact that the Mt. Washington Auto Road allows people to drive their cars to the summit. And I know what you’re thinking: nobody needs to be “that guy” with the bumper sticker claiming they sat on their bum while letting a machine take the fun away from hiking up this wonder. You were born with feet for a reason! In winter however, this road is closed and so is the visitor center. On two of my three summits, the kind people at the observatory left a bay door open for us to huddle inside of away from the dangerous winds. Both times, we came down the same route we had summited by. In summer you have more trail options to do more of a loop to get a change of scenery.

My third and final summit (just a few weeks ago in February) was by far the most exciting to date. My friend Lee and I hiked up Tuckerman’s Ravine as usual, but we took a side trail toward Huntington’s Ravine where usually we would begin the ascent up Lion’s Head. At this juncture, we stayed at the Harvard Cabin (owned and maintained by the Harvard Mounta12805812_10207784457904707_7029352592099974397_nineering Club) where you can pay $15/night for a spot in the loft for your pad and sleeping bag, access to propane burners for cooking, and best of all a wood burning stove that they keep going from 4-10 pm, making this a nice alternative to sleeping out in a tent where it is likely that there will be negative temps overnight. The next morning, we hiked into Huntington’s Ravine where there are numerous technical ice climbing routes that go up the mountain, ranging from 500 to 800 feet in length. Lee and I chose Odell’s Gully which was an easier intermediate route in which we climbed 4 pitches of ice and topped out after several hundred yards of steep snow/rock scrambling. Then we were able to meet up with a trail that took us to the summit after about another mile of hiking. In addition to summiting after climbing up almost 800 feet of solid ice, it was actually a clear day and we could see out from on top of the mountain. On both of my previous trips, it had been cloudy and snowing on us so we weren’t able to see more than 50 feet in front of us at times.

And now come the disclaimers12779201_10207784457744703_743328778429584511_o! I am in no way an expert on this mountain at all! If you decide you want to climb up this mountain, which you totally should because it’s rad as can be, make sure to thoroughly research the paths you are taking, have all the necessary clothing and gear (I wonder where you might be able to get that ;),) and above all watch the weather like a hawk!! The Mt. Washington Observatory has its own website where they update the summit weather forecast daily and it will change on a day to day based on my experience. Don’t forget to talk to people who have hiked it. Almost everyone at the RRT has done it to the best of my knowledge. That’s one of the easiest ways to first start gathering intelligence on the hike. I’ll leave the lecture on calories and hydration to the rest of the team now that they are all Wilderness First Responders too. I’m sure they have a backcountry safety blog in the works or reprising one of the old ones. And if you’re still reading this, I know you are dedicated to informing yourself about the trips you take and the places you go because I have rambled on for far too long now. Happy trails and I hope to bring y’all more tales of the adventures I am having while in New England. Slainte!

 

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Return of the SLOBO: Really Good at Walking

Read the first article in the Return of the SLOBO series, 799 Zero Days Later

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldy engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walking

When people ask me “What was it like hiking the Appalachian Trail?”, I normally space out for a few minutes, stare into the ever-deepening hole of my memory and watch as fleeting images pass of those free days in the hills, drinking fresh spring water, laughing with new friends around a rustic shelter at night, and sitting on a mountain summit, spirit emboldened, knowing that the day would bring only more beauty.

And then my brain kicks sentiment out on its butt and I recall the reality of chronically sore knees, swollen feet, cracked toenails, ravenous hunger, blood, sweat, mud, rain, rain, rain, and waking up in my own filth once again, knowing that the day would bring only more pain.

When I come out of my trance, if the person is still there, I answer with a smile and something like, “Well, I got really good at walking.”

It sounds snarky, but it’s true. When you start out to do a long distance hike, no matter what trailbald you are setting out on or how much past experience you have, your mind cannot help but to romanticize the prospect of spending all day, everyday trekking through the woods. It just sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? As if blue birds should be greeting you every morning upon waking with a song and a pancake breakfast. On the other hand, when you are deep into it, caught up in making miles and pushing yourself to your limit, you might forget to stop and take in the view or to appreciate a gang of frogs burping out a back country symphony as you’re trying to sleep. There is, as in all things, a balance to be struck and despite hardship and despite joy, at the end of every day, there is one thing that is always true on a hike: You get really good at walking.

Walking all day, over rocks and roots, up and down mountains, through streams and over fields, is not a simple as it sounds. Unless you already live in a rugged area, most of us don’t spend our days staring at our feet, watching every step, and varying our gait to match the lay of the land, avoiding slippery roots and sharp rock edges. Most of us walk on nice even floors, convenient sidewalks, and maybe even nicely groomed trails in the local park and never have to think about where our feet are going to land. You can count your steps-per-day in the city, but this will not translate to steps on the AT. Not really. Not without a pack on your back, sweat in your eyes, sore feet, exhausted muscles, and no prospect of a clean bed for days.

I learned this the hard wamainey. In late 2012, knowing that I was to leave for the trail in 6 months, I began to train (without actually researching what training I should be doing.) So I started trail-running, climbing steps, doing squats and push-ups, and tried to walk everywhere I went. I went on shake-down hikes and made sure that my bag fit properly and that I had everything I needed (and more, it turned out.) When the time came to fly to Maine, I was feeling better than I had in years. I had lost some weight, gained some muscle, and saw my endurance more than double. When people noticed, I always told them, with pride in my voice, that I was training for the AT.

Skip to June and see me at Thoreau Springs, just having climbed to the tableland of Mt. Katahdin, only a short 4 miles in, with over a mile left to the summit and 5 more back to camp after that, sitting on a rock, waiting for my legs to start working again, hoping that they would come around before the lightning storms rolled in. As a south-bounder, you don’t technically start the AT until you reach the summit of Katahdin. I was beat and I was still on the approach hike.

Had I not trained hard enough? No doubt that I hadn’t. Did I know what I was getting myself into? Of course not. Was my body ready for the test of climbing mountains everyday? No. Not yet. Then came the most important moment on the trail for me: I snacked, I rested, I hydracrawlerted, and I got to my feet and I walked (slowly) the last mile to the summit. My lovely partner, Jubilee, was there waiting for me, having passed me up at some point. We took our customary summit photos, looked off into the wilderness below that was to be our new home, and started hiking back to camp before the weather turned. This would be the first of many of these moments – moments where I felt drained, out of my element, and daunted by the task ahead. Call it stubbornness or call it willpower, but there is something inside that does not listen to the aching of our bodies and ignores the cries of our emotions. This is what we must train, I have decided.

You’ll hear this “secret” spoken of in any reliable AT prep article, but it bears repeating: there is no true way to prepare for hiking everyday except for hiking everyday. For most of us, this is not easy to accomplish in our modern lives. However, the truth of the statement stands. This time around, I’m taking this advice to heart. And it won’t be easy, but neither is hiking the AT.

As I write this, I once again have 6 months until I leave for the trail to complete the final leg that I failed to hike the first time around: Shenandoah Nat’l Park, VA to Springer Mountain, GA. The time has come once again to get these bones ready for a long ramble. And I’m going to do it by hiking. I believe that one cannot truly learn by any method but doing, especially in the realm of the physical. This past weekend, I strapped on my pack, loaded in more weight than I will be carrying on the AT, headed out into the snow and frigid winds, and climbed some ridges at Red River Gorge. Not many, but it was a start. I felt the old, familiar pains and groans and with it came a sense of peace. It was like my body welcomed back the burden of the pack and my legs started to strengthen just bit at the mere hint of going back out on the trail.

So as I finish the longshotlast 900 odd miles of the AT, my goal is to hike 100 miles a week after the first few reconditioning weeks. For now, at home, I will start even slower to build up to this goal. I will hike, with my pack at or above trail weight, 30 miles per week, whether it be over a couple of long days or a series of short hikes, on top of the squats and exercises that are my routine. When this becomes easy, I will add miles.  And so on. At some point this summer, I will take 5 days and head off into the mountains to see the state of my legs.

From here on out, when I have the opportunity and the time, instead of settling for anything less, I will have my pack on and I will be moving. Let this be a warning to my friends: if you want to see me on my days off for the next few months, you might want to check out the local trails.

The time has come to get really good at walking again.

 

 

 

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10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking

So you’ve decided that your love of backpacking is so great that not even Old Man Winter himself can keep you cooped up when the temperatures drop. Good. Welcome to the club, fellow maniac. Whether it’s the beautiful, snowy vistas, the refreshing chill of the air, or the solitude of the trail during the winter that draws you out, here are a few things that you can do to make your excursion into the cold even more enjoyable (and safe!)

1. Flip your water bottle upside down.

Water at the top of a bottle freezes first (due to the fact that ice is less dense than liquid water) effectively shutting off your access to the water below. If you flip your bottle, the ice will then form at the top of the upside down bottle, meaning that when you go to drink it, and flip it right side up, you are still able to access the liquid, drinkable part of your water.

2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket

There’s not much liquid in most snack bars, but what little there is will freeze and become tooth-shatteringly hard to eat. Figure out your snacks before hand and keep anything that you plan on eating on the trail that day in a jacket/pant pocket. Your body heat will do the rest.

3. Less is more when it comes to  sleep wearDSC_0495

The best thing to wear to bed inside of your bag in the winter is a dry base layer. And that’s it. Wearing too much clothing is counter-effective in that the extra clothes can compress the insulation of your bag and cut off circulation to your extremities. A sleeping bag is designed to work as a single unit, the warm parts of your body heat up the cold parts of your body. If you wear your warmest coat then there is no passage of warm air to travel to your toes. Also, if you’re wearing damp clothes inside of your bag, this moisture will get trapped in your bag and make you colder.

4. Warm your clothes before getting out of your sleeping bag

If your hiking clothes are moist, take them off before bed and change into something dry. In the morning, your moist clothes will be cold if not frozen. You can avoid a chilly start to your morning by placing your hiking clothes in a plastic bag (to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag) and warming them up inside your bag before putting them on.

5. Don’t hold it all night

I won’t go too far into this, but having a full bladder impedes kidney function which is important in keeping your organs (and thus your whole body warm.) Added to this, if you can’t sleep because you have to go, then just go and get it over with! Being well rested is important on any hike. We won’t talk about the other option, but let’s just say that a wet bag is a cold bag.

6. Warm up before crawling into your bag

Right before you get into your bag, its good to have your blood flowing. This will help in creating heat for your bag to trap, which will make you warmer more quickly once inside. So go for a short walk or do some jumping jacks before turning in. Don’t get sweaty, of course, but get the heart pumping and the heater going.

7. Calories = Energy = Warmth

Most hikers don’t need the encouragement, but: don’t forget to eat! Keep in mind that you’re not just replacing lost calories from the hike, but that you are also adding fuel to your inner furnace. Bring extra snacks for the hike and make sure to eat something filling and warm in the evening (preferably not too long before lying down for the night.) Carbs and fat work best to keep the fire going. Plan on an extra 500 calories at least when the weather gets cold.

8. Bring an insulated buDSCN1601tt pad

Cutting a piece off of an old insulated foam pad to use as a seat in the winter will save you from a wet, cold bottom when you stop for a pack break halfway up the mountain, not to mention keeping you warm as you eat around camp in the evening. It can also double as extra insulation under your mat, pillow, or even as a sleeve to keep dehydrated meals warm as they cook inside of their bag.

 

9. Layer, layer, layer (and pack your layers intelligently)

If you’ve been backpacking in the cold before then you know that layering is the only way to go: a base layer under a mid fleece layer under an insulating layer under a wind/waterproof shell layer (or some combination that works for you.) As you warm up, you ditch layers. When you stop or when the weather turns, you put them back on. Just remember to pack your layers in a way that they are easily accessible while on the move . This includes, of course, hats and gloves.

10. Add traction to your shoes

You won’t always need full crampons, but on slippery, steep surfaces, some sort of after-market traction added to your boots can keep you moving vertically without ending up horizontal, face down in the snow (or, worse, creating a giant snowball by rolling down the side of a mountain.) This is obviously terrain dependent, but on any winter hike where the elevation changes, you can bet that the amount of ice and snow on the trail is also going to change.

So don’t let the weather keep you down! With proper gear and smart planning, you too can be pointed at by folks from the comfort of their cars as you head out on the trail into the beauty and serenity of the winter landscape.

 

 

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