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The Sleeping Bag Breakdown

by Goatman

So you want to sleep in the wide open world of nature without freezing to death over night. This is a rather typical human concern.

Based on my experience, folks gearing up for outdoor adventure often think of a sleeping bag before they think of anything else, even their footwear or their backpack. Quite understandable. I can walk a few miles in any shoe with some snacks and a water bottle in an old school bag and head out into the woods for the night. When I get to my camp, however, if I plan on sleeping, I am going to need something to keep me warm if I want to get any shut eye at all. Shivering and snoozing do not go hand in hand.

The sleeping bag, unlike much of backpacking’s more esoteric gear, is a common item to have lying around whether or not it has ever been used in the open air. You may have one sitting around from your childhood or have placed one in the trunk of your car for emergencies. But now you’ve gotten the itch for adventure and you’re wondering about wandering a bit. Is your old Batman sleeping bag going to cut it when the winds start whistling through the pines? To tell you the truth, probably not. If you want to get out and stay out, a good sleeping bag can be the difference between an enjoyable morning sunrise hike and a sleep-deprived slog back to car.

That being said, there are a lot of sleeping bags out there, made for different purposes, and at a variety of price levels. This blog will serve as a map to guide you to the correct bag for your situation.

EN Temperature Ratings

First off, let’s talk about ratings and standards. Understanding the modern method of rating sleeping bags for warmth will be important while choosing your new bag. You may have been in this situation before: you’ve borrowed a friend’s bag and the tag claims that it is a 0 degree bag, so you take it out when the temperature drops down to 20 degrees and end up clacking your teeth all night. Such a situation would leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth concerning so called “ratings”. When it comes to survival, you need to know the capabilities of your gear. If companies are labeling their products with misleading information, how are you supposed to know what you are actually getting?

Enter the EN Rating, more accurately known as the European Norm 13537 Standardized Ratien_tested_templateng for Insulation. In 2005, a standard testing and rating system was established in Europe and, soon after, reputable sleeping bag companies across the world began to follow suite. Utilizing a standardized, third-party system to test the insulation of sleeping bags (involving metal dummies and such. Read more), the EN rating tests how a sleeping bag retains warmth while keeping in mind that different human bodies will produce different levels of heat while sleeping. Instead of a bag being rated with a simple number, such as 0 degrees, an EN rated bag will have a range of temperatures: Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.

Upper Limit refers to the temperature at which a standard man* can sleep without sweating.

Comfort refers to the temperature that a standard woman* can sleep comfortably, in a relaxed position, all night.

Lower Limit refers to the temperature that a standard man* can sleep for 8 hours without waking because of the cold.

Extreme is the minimum temperature that a standard woman* can remain at for 6 hours in the bag without incurring hypothermia.

*A standard man is described as 25 years old, 5’7″, and 160 lbs. A standard woman is described as 25 years old, 5’2″, and 130 lbs. Obviously, this does not describe everyone. The EN rating should be used as a guide more than a guarantee. If you sleep hotter or colder than others, adjust accordingly. As a general rule, the larger you are, the more heat you produce. They are assuming in these ratings that a standard man is larger than a standard woman and thus produces more heat as they sleep.

For example, my sleeping bag has an EN rating of 41 degree Comfort, 32 degree Lower Limit, and 5 degree Extreme (note: many bags do not include the Upper Limit. I guess they assume that you know when you are too hot and can unzip the bag and cool off in that case). I am a fairly hot sleeper, being 6′ and 215 lbs with huge muscles and a grizzly beard. The 32 degree Lower Limit is rather on the money for me, though I can stretch it a few degrees below freezing without suffering much sleep loss. The 0 degree bag mentioned before could have been marketed that way to advertise its extreme rating only, meaning its lower limit was probably more around the 25 degree range.

Keep in mind that this rating takes into account the user’s sleeping clothes, a ground mat, hydration levels, food intake, and even the few degrees of warmth a tent may provide.

Heat Flow and Bag Shape

While we are on the subject of insulation, let’s step back for a moment and consider how sleeping bags work in the first place. When you are out in the woods, away from your furnace and fireplace, you are your own heater. More specifically, the calories you eat metabolize into energy which is given off as heat.  Your body can’t help but heat the air around you. The nature of heat is to move. Without insulation, the heat you are giving off will move away from you to a colder place and will continue to do so as long as the air outside remains colder than your body. The goal of insulation like your sleeping bag is to trap this heat and form a buffer around you from the cold air. You produce heat, the bag catches it, and you feel like the air around you is warm.

talusDifferent bag shapes allow you to customize how efficient you are at capturing this warmth. In cold temperatures, you want as much of your body ensconced in your bag as possible. Enter the Mummy bag. The most efficient of the bags at retaining heat, many modern backpacking bags use this shape. With a mummy bag, you are able to cover all of your body except for your mouth and nose (which you don’t want covered. Breathing is nice. Not filling your bag with the liter of water you breathe out at night is even nicer). The Mummy Bag is a tight fit. This is a part of its design. The less air between your body and the bag, the less air you have to warm before it gets caught in the insulation. This can be uncomfortable for some. It takes some practice for most to sleep in a fetal position with little room to move inside of a bag. Despite this drawback, the Mummy Bag remains popular and this is why: unmatched heat retention.

You don’t see as many Rectangular bags in backpacking these days. The heat you loose from hamityliteving such a free, open style is enormous. That being said, when the nights aren’t so chilly and you simply need something to cover up with, a lightweight rectangular bag can be just the thing. Rectangular bags can also open up into a convenient blanket. Little to no restriction of movement is the big seller here. Some companies have begun the manufacture of insulated quilts that serve a similar function. If the Mummy style is so uncomfortable to you that you are not able to sleep, the loss of a bit of warmth may be worth it depending on the weather.

Luckily, people cSea-to-Summit-Trek-TkIIan be smart and inventive. There is a compromise between the two styles and it is called the Semi-Rectangular bag. With this style, the user can customize the bag depending on the temperature. The body of the bag is looser fitting than a mummy, allowing more room for movement within the bag. The top is open like a rectangular bag, but with a hood and drawstring, letting you “mummy up” in the middle of the night if the temperature drops. The ability to unzip the entire bag is also present for warm weather conditions. The Semi-Rectangular bag is the best of both worlds in many ways, though not as much a bag of extremes. A Mummy bag will be capable of greater warmth. A Rectangular bag will be looser and allow more movement. The Semi-Rectangular bag is a great compromise, however.

Big Agnes has bags that contain a sleeping mat sheath on the bottom, meaning that instead of the insulation on the bottom of the bag being compressed while you roll around on your mat at night, the mat fits down the back of the bag. They contain a hood like a mummy bag, but are more roomy in the middle to allow for movement. With this style, rolling off of your mat at night is not an option. However, this requires that you always use your sleeping mat (which is a good idea anyway).

Down v. Synthetic

The great argument rages: do you want a down insulated bag or synthetic? I have no answer for you, only information. Behold:

DOWNSYN comp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you might expect, people are divided on this subject and for good reason: both types of insulation are useful in certain situation. Guaranteed to be soaking wet? Synthetic might be a better choice. Going for fast and light? Go Down.

These days, a few companies are also utilizing Hydrophobic Down, which resists being saturated with water, retains its loft even when wet, and remains lighter and more compressible than synthetic. For more information on Hydrophobic Down, click here. To read more about down in general, including info on different fill weight, click here.

Liners

Say that you have a 30 degree bag which will be great for the first few days of your hike, but on your third day, you’ll be sleeping at elevation and are afraid that your bag won’t cut it when the temperature drops. Do you have to take two bags rated for different temperatures? No! Enter the sleeping bag liner. These are micro-fleece liners for your bag which come in a variety of weights. Liners can drop the temperature rating of your bag up to ~20 degrees and also help to keep your bag clean (which helps with the durability of the insulation and saves you a lot of effort). Read all about it.

Choosing the Right Bag

Now that you’re familiar with the way sleeping bags work, how they’re shaped, what they’re stuffed with, and how they’re rated, it’s time to choose your bag. When making your choice, consider the following: price, weight, packability, durability, comfort, and appropriate temperature range. Know what adventures you’re planning, what weather you can expect, how long you want your bag to last and how light and compressed you need the bag to be. There is no right bag for every adventure, unfortunately. If you are into winter camping in Alaska, your bag probably won’t do for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike and vice versa. At RRT, we carry a variety of different sleeping bags for a variety of purposes. To read more about the different styles of bags we offer, click on any of the links to the brand websites below. The best thing to do, of course, is to stop in the shop, talk to one of our knowledgeable staff members, and actually crawl into a few bags to see which one is right for you.

Big Agnes                   Sea to Summit                        Western Mountaineering                       Mountain Hardwear

 

 

RRT’s Live Inventory now on Locally.com

 

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Mt. Rogers Loop

 

Trip Report

Mt. Rogers Loop – Virginia

Trip report by Kayla “Clover” McKinney.

 

Date: Mid-May 2015

Conditions: Warm, sunny, breezy, mid-70sF during day, mid-50’s at night, some rain at night.

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights

Mileage: 18.1 miles

Highlights: Wild ponies, tallest point in Virginia, beautiful mountain vistas, Appalachian Trail, rhododendron forests.

Distance from Cincinnati: ~6 hours by vehicle

Directions: I-81 S, exit 45 in Marion, head south on VA 16, passing by the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area Visitor Center in 6.1 miles. Continue for another 11.2 miles to Troutdale, then turn right onto VA 603. The Trail Head parking is identified by a small brown sign on the right 5.7 miles down (pictured below.) This sign is easy to miss, so watch your odometer.

sign

Description: The beauty of southern Virginia cannot be easily summarized in words and on this hike, you get not only that, but views into the ridges of North Carolina as well. This hike begins with almost immediate elevation gain as you follow the Mt. Rogers Trail up to the ridge line where it meets up with the AT. Keep trucking! It will be worth it, believe me. As you crest the ridge, the world below opens up and the rest of the hike is stunning view after stunning view of the sparsely populated, rolling landscape. Summit Mt. Rogers and you’ve reached Virginia’s highest point at 5,729 feet. You will run into groups of wild ponies along the trail. Please do not feed the horses, but they are very friendly and will pose for pictures. Stay the night at the Thomas Knob Shelter about 8 miles in for an amazing sunset or keep hiking and camp at any of the great campsites off the trail further on. As you hike, your view will be the legendary Grayson Highlands before dropping down from the ridge, down through the Fairwood Valley, and finally looping back to your car.

The trails: Parking Lot -> Mt. Rogers trail -> Appalachian Trail -> Side Trail to Mt. Rogers Summit -> Appalachian Trail -> Pine Mountain Trail  -> Lewis Fork Trail -> Mt. Rogers Trail  Parking Lot.

Water: Water was somewhat scarce on this trip. I packed in about 3.5L of water: a 2.5L reservoir and a 1L Nalgene water bottle. There is a stream off the Lewis Fork Trail, approximately 1.5 miles off the Mt. Rogers Trail in case of emergencies. The next water source is at the Thomas Knobb Shelter, 7.6 miles from the Trail Head, and the location of the first night. There is also a small stream approximately 10 miles from the Trail Head along the Appalachian Trail.

summit

trail

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map 11393446_10204460564379108_8829693825679438220_o    11393709_10204460564659115_1294967089291071055_o 11221970_10204460588259705_5477594585256936411_o

 

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Southbound: episode 16

January 4th 2007
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

   Its been 2 weeks since we left Waynesboro and we have been having an awesome time. It so nice to be back in the mountains. The views have been absolutely amazing. The day after leaving Waynesboro , we spent an entire day hanging out in the shelter because it rained for like 30 hours straight. During the cold rainstorm, we entertained ourselves with Yahtzee and Uno. The following day wasn’t much to scream about, it was a clear and cold day. However, we did share the shelter/camp with an older couple and two goats that packed her gear, it made for an interesting conversation.

In the morning, we hiked over the Three Ridges, the sun was out and it was near sixty degrees! It was all too grand, the continuous views captured our attention and we all agreed to go about half the distance planned. We hiked over to “Chimney Rocks” where we sat for the rest of the afternoon admiring the view, watching vultures fly over their domain.Backpacking the AT

So then it was Christmas. It could of been better to be honest. We hiked up and over “The Priest”, our first 4000 foot mountain since New Hampshire ! The cold rain kept us from enjoying it though. We cut the day short to avoid getting sick, as we were all drenched and shivering. We built a Christmas tree out of water bottles and just enjoyed getting warm and dry. The following day we decided to treat each other to a Christmas present. We hiked a few miles to a old dirt road, and just another mile and a half down to Montebello and the Dutch Haus Bed and Breakfast. We were pampered with great meals, showers, a warm fire, and The Chipmunks Great Adventure on VHS.

Our weather improved for a few days, and we sure did enjoy it! Great view from the grassy top of Cold Mountain , Bluff Mountain , and on down to the James River . We hitched into the small town of Glasgow for resupply, it took a while to get in, but the town was friendly and it was quick getting out. Then we crossed the James River footbridge, the longest on the AT, at 642 feet. From there it was just a quick creek side walk to the shelter. Most of the shelters in Virginia have had mice, some an army of mice. This shelter however had a rat, he lived in the privy (outhouse).River along the trail

Happy New Years! Like every other holiday, it rained New Years Eve. It was not as cold so we still pushed out our planned thirteen miles. At the shelter that night we finally enjoyed the two heavy bottles of wine Ice Man was carrying. It was only Arbor Mist, but the celebration was priceless! The next morning we played Uno until the rain stopped, and the most beautiful blue skies followed. We crossed Apple Orchard Mountain , a gorgeous grassy bald, the way down kept our attention with cliff side views and short trails to overlooks.

The next few days would have us following and crossing the Blueridge Parkway . It was nice cause they had the trail cross at overlooks. We went later into the night a few times, but enjoyed the sunsets, and the light of the full moon. We stopped at one point to admire the moon framed between the forest limbs and the mountain horizon behind. We feel so fortunate to capture whats “behind the scenes”. The night before last, our shelter was perched above the city lights of Roanoke , magnificent.Balds

We hiked into Daleville yesterday morning, where we met Ginger Snap’s brother and close friend. They spent the night with us at a hotel just off the trail. They were nice enough to shuttle us around for food and resupply. We shared many laughs and we decided Chinese buffets should have microwaves too. Oh, and coconut ice cream is disgusting. The three of them are leaving today to road trip down along the Gulf Coast and Texas . We wish we could tag along, but that just wouldn’t be right.Hiking the AT

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This section brings back some great trail hiking and remains one of my favorite areas.  Between the ridge walking and the balds we had some incredible views.  If we had been on this section with bad weather it may be a different story seeing as we were exposed quite often. The bad weather did come back around but in the worst way. The temperatures dropped to high 30s while we dropped to the valley and then started climbing the Priest.  I think all together I went up the mountain relativity fast but it didn’t seem that way. I found my self stopping often trying to keep with the group a little more. At one point I stopped for what seemed like a half hour and still didn’t see anyone coming up the trail.

This was only bad because I consequently lost most of my heat. for the rest of the day I struggled to feel good about the hiking and was constantly cold. Now i really wanted to meet up with TW and Ginger so we can make a group decision to maybe stop at the next shelter.  By the time I got to the top my body and mentality was shot and I wanted nothing more than to jump in my sleeping bag. After a few false summits I made it to the side trail. I made a little arrow on the ground using sticks to mark my detour for the rest of the group. Not long after getting in the shelter I stripped off my wet clothes and hurried into my bag. The constant rain had soaked through most everything and it took a good hour of shivering in my zero degree bag until I felt normal again. At that point the rain turned to ice and seemed to come down pretty hard making me concerned for TW and Ginger. If I was trucking up the mountain and didn’t stay warm how were they doing?

They arrived soon after and were definitely happy to stop for the night.  Merry Christmas to us! This was for sure the closest I’ve come to having  hypothermia.  Our New Years was also the most effort I’ve ever put into having a midnight toast.  By the end of it all it was back to just TW and I, which I think we were both ready for.  It was time to get back to our old pace.

Southbound: episode 15

December 21st 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

The roller coaster wasn’t much to scream about, nor was it long enough to wear us out. We should have been more tired after 23 miles. The next morning, we went into Linden to pick up our maildrop and food. We were so excited to be sleeping less than a mile from the beginning of the Shenadoah National Park . In the morning, we registered for our permit for camping in the park and started strolling down some of the nicest trails we have seen yet. The weather was beautiful and so were the views. The views were better than any since Vermont and Massachusetts . It is nice being above 3000ft again.

After 23 miles, all we wanted was a good nights sleep, but there were a couple of mice that kept us up most of the night. In the morning, we hitched into Luray for mail, resupply, and a bucket of chicken from KFC. We were told that it was illegal to hitch in Virginia , but so far its been the easiest place to get a ride in and out of town. The rest of the day was still filled with great views and nice trails. We stayed the night with a couple out for the weekend. The one guy was in the Navy at Norfolk , and he was planning a thru-hike once he finishes his service. We shared a lot of stories from different adventures we have had as the campfire slowly burnt out.Hogback Overlook

The following day we hiked 21 miles until we hit rt33, which passes through the park, so we could be picked up by a trail angel named Melanie. Before we made it there, we bumped into a thru-hiker named “super dave” and he was also from Cincinnati . He started in WV and hiked north to Maine , then went to Georgia and was on his way to WV. We were all so excited to meet each other, because we had met his friend in New Hampshire and we were told to look out for him. He actually knew who we were before we introduced ourselves. He should be finishing up his journey in the next couple of days. Congrats Super Dave and we wish you the best.Shenandoah

We finally made it to the road and Melanie picked us up and took us in for the night. We met her in Harpers Ferry at the trail club dinner, its funny how everything falls together. She cooked us dinner, let us shower, and do laundry. She had an awesome music collection. In the morning, she took us to the store to pick up enough food to get us to Waynesboro and then back to the trail. Thanks Melanie.

In the Shenadoah National Park , skyline drives runs parallel to the AT and follows the ridgline all the way, so the mileage is pretty much the same. We had to hike along the road for both that day and the following, about 45 miles. The reason: Around thanksgiving, the southern section of the park was hit with a devastating ice storm leaving the trail and road covered with trees, branches, and tree tops. The AT was closed and was recommended to skip, but we instead walked the closed skyline drive.

The road walk hurt and it seem to go on forever. There were a few good things though. We could listen to our transistor radio while we walked, we still had great overlooks, and we didn’t have to stare at our feet to make sure we weren’t going to trip. Our last shelter in the park had a big rat living there that was rumored to eat holes in backpacks. We hung our food and packs outside the shelter, but we still caught a glimpse of the nasty beast. The last 20 miles out of the park was miserable. We were hurting so bad and we looked funny as we were limping along. We made it though, and we were fortunate to know another trail angel that picked us up and dropped us off at the Quality Inn.

Some of my family came down that night and stayed with us. We ate some Papa John’s pizza while watching our first Bengals game. It was a depressing game though. The next morning 8 of our friends from home dropped in to visit. The rest of my family came down later in the evening. By the end of the night, there was 18 of us, it was like being at home. We spent the day tossing Frisbee and football. They even brought down the corn hole set. That night we all went down to the bowling ally, what a great time. The fun lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning, way past our bedtime.Shenandoah Sunset

Yesterday, they all went home after we all went out to lunch together. It was sad to see them go, but it was a reminder of all the great people we can’t wait to get home and see once again. Someone did get left behind though, by choice, her name is Ginger Snap, formerly known as Barbara. She is going to hike with us for a week and a half or so. Last night we just kicked back and relaxed and tried to re-cooperate. Today we are just doing the usual in town resupply and journal update before we hit the trail. We will hike out of town here in a little bit to the first shelter 5 miles away. We hope to be about 135 miles farther in about 8-10 days where we can update you once again. Thank you to all of those that came to visit. Merry Christmas to everyone. We miss and love you all.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

This was a big post, both in time, miles, and events. Like most of our other posts the most interesting moments are not about the physical trail but more about the characters that help shape it.  We introduced and met back up with several new characters in this post.  The first was Melanie; we first met Melanie back in Harpers Ferry at the Potomac Trail Clubs Christmas Party.  She offered us a place to stay down the road and we were happy to make the call.  Melanie refueled us for our adventure and I’d like to think that we fueled her adventurous spirit too. After dinner Joe and I helped her start planning an epic trip around the country. Not long after finishing the trail we would meet her again in Cincinnati; a detour on her epic life changing adventure!! I think this is a good time to maybe reconnect again.

Hiking into Waynesboro was hard for me too enjoy. Some things were in our favor, we had an easy road walk due to the trail shattering ice storm and amazing views, however the anticipation of meeting family and friends seemed to draw things out a while. To make matters worse I secretly was feeling the worse I had felt yet. The top of my right foot had a stinging pain with each step. I found my self stopping often trying to readjust my boot to no avail. I think the road walking, although flat, was also rough on my feet and put a lot of stress on them. I hobbled into town and put ice on the slightly swollen foot. I didn’t want to blow it out of proportion and especially worry any of our friends that had traveled so far to see us, but secretly I was concerned that it would not heal.

One car load at a time our friends and family piled in. As you can imagine this was a great few days enjoying every creature comfort you could want and laughing again with those you miss.  It meant so much to us that they all came down and I will forever be grateful to each one of them for taking the journey. As all good things do, the time went all too fast, the cornhole boards, cards, Frisbee, beer, and pizza was packed up and drove away making it home hundreds of miles away in the time it takes us to travel less than a half dozen miles. The one who stayed behind, Ginger Snap, was Joe’s friend from Alaska who was going to hike with us a while.

I was excited to have someone else around for a while at this point (but that did not last). When we hiked out I found that my foot had still not healed and the miles were slow. Despite the miles moving slow, I was still way out in front of the two of them and suddenly felt very alone. Ginger snap had a tough go at the first few miles despite being a backpacker (The AT has that affect on people) and we stopped 5 miles in. I took a few “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen)  pills and just wanted to go back asleep. Tundra, or as I called him, “TW” and Ginger played games and I just wrote and slept. The next day I still wasn’t feeling well and it started to become quite concerning, luckily my partners in crime were fine staying in so we did another shelter zero (5 miles from a real town I may add!). My best guess was that it was a stress fracture and I needed to stay off it.  At least we packed out some Beef and Cheddars.

Outsidecincy.com “Get to Know an Enabler…”

Published December 15, 2013
Written by: Cody Sowers

When I first moved to the Cincinnati area, outdoor gear stores were few and far between. Big box stores littered the outer belt, and only a couple “real” gear stores existed in between. That all changed in 2010 when Roads Rivers Trails opened their doors, and they have been inspiring everyone with adventure ever since.
roads rivers trails
Walking through the doors, you are smacked in the face with gear. High tech clothing, a variety of canoes and kayaks, packs, shoes and more. There is even a replica Appalachian Trail shelter, of course, stuffed with quality gear.
appalachian trail shelter
If the gear was not enough for you, what sets this store apart from the rest is the ambience. These folks know what they are talking about, and they do not just talk about it, they do it! You will be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable and experienced group of individuals that are this well versed in outdoor gear and adventure.
get to know an enabler
If you are in the market for anything related to the great outdoors, or just want to pick the brains of some gear heads, make the trip to RRT which is conveniently located in downtown Milford. Be sure to also check out their website to stay in the loop with their different hike/gatherings/presentations.

Get Outside Cincinnati!
roads rivers trails

You can find this original article and more stories and gear reviews at:
Outsidecincy.com

Southbound: episode 14

December 11 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

In order to do the trail, you have to accept that things don’t always go as planned. It’s not that what happened is bad, it’s actually kind of funny that its the opposite of what we wanted to do. We are at the Bear’s Den Hostel, just 20 miles south of Harpers Ferry which is the funny part. We made it to Harpers Ferry 3 days ago, granted one day was an off day, but what we did in one day last week, we did in 2 days. The terrain is not to blame, nor the weather. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club has been very hospitable. We bumped into the trail club in Hapers Ferry and the invited us over for dinner both Friday and Saturday night. It was a great time and we really enjoyed hanging out with all the people that are not just building and maintaining the trail, but also working to protect the wilderness around it.Roller coaster

They talked us into stopping by the Blackburn Trail Center last night, which is just off the trail, to stay the night and have dinner with the caretakers. We also celebrated the caretakers birthday with cake and ice cream. Of course, we still had to stop by here to do laundry and grab some more food to get us to the next town. Pizza, ice cream, internet, electric, hot shower, and a bed? OK, we’ll stay, but tomorrow we are doing 23 miles. Tomorrow we hit what they call the “roller coaster”, a long series of quick ups and downs, sounds like fun.

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

 

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

To be clear, we were laughing at the fact that immediately following a 26 mile day we managed just 20 miles in the three days to follow. We speed up and slow down over and over again on the trail; each time for a different reason.  At the Blackburn Center was our first time considering a later life move to the trail and looking into a lifestyle of support and trail work on the AT.  The young couple that were caretakers there at the time were amazing and seemed to have fun doing it.  Even after getting home we would talk about running a hostel or trail crew. More than a year after the trail we called the Blackburn Center to check on job details and availability. It is all proof of the lasting impact that the trail had and the desire to pass it forward and live more of a life surrounded by the trail.

Southbound: episode 13

December 8th 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

  Here we are in Harpers Ferry , West Virginia . There is only 4 miles in WV, so we will be in Virginia as soon as we leave here. Virginia will be our 10th state and will also be the longest state, about 545 miles. Since leaving Duncannon , PA 7 days ago, we have gone another 124 miles without any real problems. We are impressed with ourselves and happy to see that we can still have 20 mile hiking days despite the short hours of sunlight. It has been pretty cold though. We have been taking extra care to ensure our water bottles and filter don’t freeze at night, which isn’t hard, just have to put in the sleeping bag. Today it was so cold that our mustaches started to ice over while hiking, so to keep the water from freezing, we had to keep the bottles inside our jackets as we hiked. The wind chill brought the temperature down into the teens.ATCTundra Wookie

As you can see in the pictures, we have come to quite a few nice views looking out over Pennsylvania , Maryland , and West Virginia , but they should be even better in Virginia . We passed the half way point marker (now outdated) and took a step past into the southern half of the trail. We are more than happy to be done with Pennsylvania , and Maryland only lasted two days. The trail took us through another small family cemetery from the 1800s. It was nice to see someone still keeping it fairly cleaned up. We also past by the first monument dedicated to George Washington, as well as several other civil war memorials. We have enjoyed not only the scenery but also the walk through time and history.Blast Iron Furnace

In the last entry, we told you about Little Engine and Ellipse and how they would be hiking with us for awhile. Well, that didn’t last long, actually, we never got to hike with them. They left town a little before we did and Ellipse hit the ground running and we can’t catch him. Little Engine must have gotten off the trail for one reason or another because we didn’t pass him on the trail and he certainly isn’t in front of us.

Overall, we are feeling really good, just have to get back in the grove for cold weather. It is hard to believe that 3 months has already gone by, exactly 92 days and 1165.2 miles behind us. Our mountains await us, above 3000 feet we go again.

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

You know when you just don’t want to get out of bed? You’re buried in the covers and you feel so warm, all you want is to turn over and sleep just one more hour? Now imagine you are outside and it is a cool 15 degrees outside of your sleeping bag! I did not want to get ready the morning that we hiked into Harpers Ferry but of course town food has its persuasions.  First, if you were not already sleeping with your clothes to keep them warm you grab them and warm them in your sleeping bag.  After putting on my hat and gloves I would sit up against the shelter and put on every top layer I had. Next I would put on every bottom layer I had while still in the sleeping bag. I would try to move fast and I had this routine down pretty well. Jumping out of the bag, throwing on boots, packing my entire pack, having breakfast, brushing my teeth, and pumping water while trying to maintain all my body heat.

I wasn’t about to get rid of any layers yet though. If you have a hiking buddy you know that one of you most likely gets ready faster than the other. I had a few more minutes to wonder around camp and check my gear before hitting the trail so I kept everything on till I was sure we were moving.  By the time we got going my toes and fingers were already numb and my body couldn’t hold it’s temperature any more, it is time to move! One at a time we would shed layers to keep comfortable. Hike, Rest, Repeat.

The walk into Harpers Ferry was awesome, after a steep down hill of switchbacks we hit the old canal tow path. It was easy walking and beautiful. At Harpers we registered with the ATC and had our pictures taken to mark our passing. The town isn’t super hiker friendly on pricing or lodging but there is little eateries and a camp store. Of course there is also plenty of sight seeing and historical education to be enjoyed around town.  The untold story was me getting sick in the trail clubs backyard from drinking too much red wine but you don’t need to hear about that. We’ll just say we were very lucky and thankful to be invited to their annual Christmas Party. Here we would also meet Melanie who we’ll see later in the trail; just another example of the trail working it’s magic and intertwining lives in wonderful ways.

Southbound: episode 12

December 2nd 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

  We made it to Duncannon , PA , a nice milestone for us. Its hard to believe that we have been out here for 87 days now! In just three more we’ll reach the official half way point on the trail at 1,087 miles! We have learned so much thus far, not just of hiking, but of the hardships and joys in life. Our imagination stirs with whats to come next. Overall, in the past week, we have been making a lot of good ground. The terrain is completely different than any other so far. It has been a lot of flat ridge walking with the occasional steep 1000ft climbs in and out of the gaps, however, it is very rocky and a struggle some times. There were a couple of nights we cowboy camped out under the stars. Once because we missed the shelter, and the other because we spent too much time having to hike into Hamburg for fuel and resupply.Rocky Trail

We walked some old railroad beds and abandoned carriage roads from the 1800s. The trail took us through some ruins of an old coal mining village of Rausch Gap . The town went under in the early 1900s when the railroad pulled out and moved elsewhere. There was a cemetery with a couple headstones from 1854 and a really sweet stone arch bridge over a stream, and it was all out in the middle of the woods. The past few days of hiking have been fair weathered with rain and fog moving in andRausch Gap out. The weather killed our views from the ridge except for yesterday. We had great views of the Susquehanna River and the world’s longest stone arch bridge.

Our biggest concern over the past week has been the arrival of buck season and all the surrounding hunters. They seem to surround our camp early morning just before sunrise, and when the sun rose, the gunshots filled the air. We have seen over 60 hunters just in the first 3 days of hunting season. Not to worry though, we have been wearing blaze orange hats and ribbons to keep from getting shot. We caught up to 2 other south-bounders, “Little Engine” and “Ellipse”. We stayed with them last night here in Duncannon and we are all hiking out together today. By the looks of it, we should have some company for a while. We are pretty excited to be hiking with them.

Last night, Ice Man and I had an interview with a gentleman that hosts a very popular backpacking website called practicalbackpacking.com. He also hosts a series of podcasts, downloadable audio files, of interviews with different men and women in the field of backpacking. Including interviews with gear companies, authors, organizations, and backpackers. We are very excited to be included with the other respected and well-known subjects. The podcast should be up and running in the next few days, and we will put a link to the page when it is up. If you want to check out the other interviews or check to see if ours is updated goto www.practicalbackpacking.com/blog .Rausch Shelter

Our next town is Harpers Ferry , WV in 7 or 8 days.

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Wondering into Duncannon, Joe and I dreamt of our 15 seconds of fame.  It was a voicemail one afternoon from a guy that hosts an online blog that started it all. We enjoyed the attention and the idea that a complete stranger found about us and our hike and even thought it worthy to blog. We let the whole thing spin way out of control of course, I think at one point I wanted to get us on David Letterman. All the anticipation made us nervous for the actual interview though. I sat there in the middle of the Doyle hotel nervous as ever for the recorded call.  I was more nervous then than I would be now, but at a little wood table covered with our notes and Joe’s phone in the middle, we did our best to answer his questions without letting our excitement take over. Check it out if you want, but please don’t judge 🙂

The Doyle was really impressive though. Not the crackling paint, cob webs, and noisy uncomfortable beds of course, there was something else. The place had character, and it also had a bar on the first floor. We barely got in the doors before the wind took out the electricity. Given that we were accustomed to having zero utilities, we became the hit of the party. Joe and I brought down our transistor radio for some tunes while we had drinks with the locals by candlelight.

The trail becomes a time warp through Pennsylvania if you let your imagination take over.  Although not a popular section (the entire state) because of the low elevation and rocky trails, I really enjoyed it.  I’m not a history buff, but I’d imagine it would be even more fun if I were.  I felt like I was discovering not just nature, but America.

Southbound: episode 11

November 23rd 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

Well, we are about 40 miles farther into Pennsylvania , so far so good. Our climb out of Delaware Water Gap had a lot of great views looking back into the gap and over New Jersey . It has pretty much been a ridge walk with little elevation change since, but the rocky terrain makes up for that. The ridge before Lehigh Gap was completely destroyed. We thought a fire might have swept through a while back, but apparently Palmerton used to have some Zinc factories and the air pollution killed off all the vegetation on the ridge. The factories have been shutdown and they are supposedly trying to cultivate the land again.Lehigh Gap

The climb down into Lehigh Gap was probably the hardest and most dangerous descent we have had since leaving New Hampshire . We spent last night in the old jailhouse in Palmerton , PA. Unfortunately they had tore out the old cells, but it was pretty sweet. We got to play some basketball in the gym upstairs. Its so hard to play in boots.

We were picked up by Ice Man’s parents this morning and were treated to a delicious thanksgiving dinner at the Cracker Barrel (thanks for being open). They brought fresh clothes and shoes from our closets, so we could feel like we were home. We now have a new set of boots, new socks, and a new water filter, ahh so nice. We will be hanging out here at the Hilton (a really nice shelter) all night playing games, watching football, and chilling in the hot tub.American Flag on AT

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Boots or no boots, I’m just not that good at basketball.  This section flew by for me as I couldn’t stop thinking about a big Thanksgiving dinner, warm bed, hot shower, and seeing my parents for the first time in a few months.  We were getting a resupply which is always exciting but with the new updated gear it gave us a feeling that we would embark on a new trip.  When you stare down at the same scuffed up boots for a while you can start to feel the same way that they do.  Funny thing is the boots were structurally sound and could of kept pounding out some miles, same with the water filter.  We had pre-bought these items before leaving though so there was no use in not putting them to good use.  I knew the shine on those boots would not last long but we felt a lot better that we wouldn’t have any gear breakdown surprises later on.

Seeing my parents and giving them big hugs felt sooo good! At the hotel we all hung out in the lobby playing cards and watching the traditional Lions vs. Packers football game. It was nice to relax but difficult to concentrate on the moment. I knew we were heading back out the next day and I knew it would be difficult. I think both Joe and I were worried about our trail mentality after seeing loved ones. Feelings and memories from home can be persuasive reasons for going home. We did of course hit the trail the next day, and for the first mile or so my parents hiked up with us. The trail was steep and the light was fading so we had to part ways shortly before hitting the shelter. they handed over the pumpkin pie they had carried for us and we devoured later that night. After hugging them good bye and turning around I had to fight tears and try to ignore the gut wrenching feeling of walking away from them. I hated it so much, it was even worse than leaving for the trail the first time. the first time I had to only jump in a car and start a road trip to Maine, it didn’t seem so distant. This time was real, I was walking away, and hundreds more mile further before seeing them again.

But these Pennsylvania rock would not kill these new boots, so we hiked on.

 

Southbound: episode10

November 20th 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

  Well, we made it to Pennsylvania in one piece. This has been the longest we have gone without updating everyone, sorry it took so long. I hope no one was too worried. Since last updating you in Connecticut , we hiked straight through New York and New Jersey without taking any showers. These states were not as spectacular as we may have liked them to be, but they held there own little highlights so to speak. Rather than give you a day to day break down and take up hours of your time, we will just touch on some of the cool things.Fitzgerald Falls

First off, the heat wave that we had through New York was a nice break from the cold, but it also brought a lot of miserable rain. I would rather the cold than the rain to be honest. We hiked with “Early Bird”, another south-bound thru-hiker (or a SOBO), for a few days. A 4th personality was nice for a while. While staying at the ball fields courtesy of the Graymoor Monastery, we stumbled upon ruins of a once immaculate garden and sanctuary. We offered to volunteer some of our time to clean up some of the debris, but we were told that the ruins were to be completely removed at a later date, what a shame.

Veteran’s Day was a disaster, the post office was closed, so we couldn’t pick up our mail-drop nor send anything home that we didn’t need. Luckily, Alex, a hiker we met in Maine , lived nearby and took us to a grocery store to pick up what we needed to get to Unionville. Not all of Veteran’s Day was a disaster, the weather was beautiful, and we got to mingle with society. The trail goes through the Trail side Museum and Wildlife Park, so we got to learn about all the different geology and wildlife of the region. The lowest elevation of the AT is in front of the black bear exhibit (124 feet).trail side zoo

After that, we came out into Bear Mountain. park with a huge lake, a wide open green space, an ice-skating ring, and our favorite; concessions. After two soft pretzels, two hot dogs, and talking to lots of people, we climbed up Bear Mtn in hopes of a glimpse of the NYC skyline less than 40 miles away. The sun had set when we reached the top and the fog had rolled in, so no luck on the skyline. We still had another 4 or 5 miles to do over to West Mtn. in the dark. The hike wasn’t too bad and it went fairly fast, but when we came close to the top, smoke and the smell of fire filled the air. I was honestly kind of worried there was a forest fire nearby, but it was just 40 or so boy scouts camping near the shelter.

On Monday we called the post office, and they assured us that they would forward our package to Unionville, awesome. We made it into New Jersey and the trail opened up and we were able to make some good time. Wednesday night, just before we were going into Unionville, we found out the package never left the last town. They made sure it was there for us to pick up Thursday morning, but only 2 of the 3 packages made it (actually we are still waiting for it to catch up). We got to enjoy some small town hospitality and good home-style cooking at Sara’s Soda Shop. She had about 400 hikers come through this year, amazing. We hung around there for lunch and used a corner of the shop as a base while we ran to the post office and grocery store. The locals warned us of the 2-5 inches of rain headed that way, so we hurried outside of town to the first shelter.

The shelter is actually a “secret shelter” that is built on Jim Murray’s property for thru-hikers only. It was done up real nice with electric, running water, and a shower. He also had a couple of donkeys in the field that kept bellowing out coarse sounds whenever the rain would stop. The trail from then on was easy. One morning we stopped by a farmer’s market next to the trail and ate a big cherry pie, oh so sweet.Secret Shelter

The day before last a big group of boy scouts stayed outside of our shelter. They didn’t even say hello, which has actually been a common occurrence for us in Jersey. Yesterday was a big day, we woke up at 3 in the morning and started hiking, so we could finish the 25 miles into town before 4 in the afternoon, it was our biggest mileage day so far. We had to walk over the I-80 bridge into PA over the Delaware River , and the cars were just flying by, weaving in and out of each other. They weren’t doing anything we wouldn’t have normally done, but to us, it seems so scary and dangerous. We haven’t moved that fast in a while.

We are staying in the basement of a church, they setup a small hostel for thru-hikers with a sitting area, bunk room, and hot showers. It is a wonderful place. Last night, we both slept on the leather couches instead of the bunks, so comfortable. We will hit the trail again in the morning for a couple days until we meet Ice Man’s parents for thanksgiving on Thursday. We are excited that they are coming up. Hopefully they will do some hiking with us and check out one of the shelters. We also caught wind that some of our friends might be coming up at the end of the month to visit, its all too good.

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Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

I’m not sure who got the joke in that second paragraph, but the fourth personality between three of us included my second self.  New York I think is when I started going cuckoo.  The time was really wearing on us and the rainy days were getting us down. There was one day where I felt like I was stumbling from tree to tree leaning on each to take a break. It was partially the fatigue but it was mostly mental, I was actually pouting while hiking.  Talking to myself seemed to help, but eventually I think I just accepted my new lifestyle.

The ruins at our church camp were almost maddening. Joe and I each discussed the unfair fate of the hillside garden.  There were several trails from the bottom of the hill leading up to the church, each one with it’s own unique statues.  We imagined the hillside restored, the statues picked up, the brush cleared, and new flowers and plants growing. What was once a path for prayer and meditation with old and original character was abandoned and was to be bull dozed. Still a bummer.

What I remember still of New York is all about the crowds of people we would see and how awful the water tasted.  I attribute the water to farm run off as we pass a lot of low lying streams near farms.  Watching cow patties instead of roots and rocks wasn’t welcoming.  If I were to describe New Jersey I think of giant scout troops, even more bad water, and that damn donkey outside our shelter. although it is funny now he made it real tough to sleep at night.

The only real problem we had with shipments came with holidays and post office closures.  I will say that hiking was made so much easier with that support and the willingness the USPS has to help. It is sad that now many of these post offices are closing.  It also didn’t hurt to have your father, a postman, as a support crew back home mailing things out, thanks again Pops!  Sara’s Soda Shop was more than accommodated while we waited and you’ll find that kind of courtesy at almost all of the small towns and shops along the trail. At the end of the post I also talk about the excitement that is coming over us as we anticipate  family and friends coming to see us.  This honestly got us through some days on the trail! It is so comforting and touching to know that we had the support crew to come see us.  Joe and I would often talk about it, day after day, “who is coming down you think?”, “What do you want to do when our friends come?”, “Do you think (unmentioned exgirlfriend) is coming?” , these and many other questions filled our days with excitement and wonder.