Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Tag Archives: backpacking


10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go to Philmont

If you’re gearing up for a trip to Philmont or even just dreaming about a trip out to the High Adventure Base then this blog is perfect for you. Below are ten of my best tips and tricks to make your New Mexico trip successful, safe, and fun. These are tips that I learned the hard way when I was at Philmont in 2014 and I’m sharing them with you so that you know them before you even go. Read on for some great advice and a few poorly thought out jokes. 

Drink Lots Of Water- Hydration is key when you’re backpacking, especially at Philmont. The combination of hot, dry air and high elevation makes dehydration a serious concern. Drinking plenty of fluids will help you adapt to the high elevation much better and can ward off the lightheadedness and nausea that accompanies altitude sickness. You’ll be able to enjoy the trip a lot more if you’re well hydrated. Water is usually readily available, but carry plenty with you. Whenever you stop for a food pickup, ask the Philmont staff for some empty juice or water jugs. These work great for hauling extra water if you have a stay at a dry campsite on your itinerary. Also, follow the “camel up” policy. Before you start hiking in the morning and at each water source, be sure everyone in the crew “camels up” and drinks a full bottle of water, that way everyone is hydrated before they even start.

IMG_0759Be Prepared To Get Lost- I can say with near certainty that you will get lost at Philmont. It happens to almost everyone and is just part of the hike. The key is being prepared to handle the situation when you do get lost. Be ready to hike a few extra miles to get back on the trail. The best thing to do is to backtrack to the last spot where you knew you were on the right trail and then reevaluate the map. In most cases, getting lost comes from reading the map wrong. It’s important not to panic if you find yourself on the wrong trail; stay calm and find your way back. Being handy with a map and compass is a must for anyone going to Philmont. They will teach you triangulation while you are out there- pay attention and remember how to use this essential skill.

Participate In All The Activities- This seems like a no-brainer, but when you get to Philmont, take advantage of all the activities it has to offer. Many of the campsites offer some awesome opportunities for rock climbing, shooting, archery, and even tomahawk throwing. I was surprised how many scouts in my crew chose not to participate in activities because they were “too tired.” Being tired is a pretty lame excuse for missing out on an opportunity you’ll probably never have again- sleep is for wimps. My best advice is to suck it up and give every activity a try, even if it doesn’t sound interesting I’m pretty confident you’ll end up having fun.

Food Is Money- Trading food is a Philmont staple. Philmont does a pretty good job of giving you delicious and nutritious meals and there’s a good variety of them, but at some point you just need something other than protein bars. Trading unwanted items in your lunch for something you do want is a necessary skill for survival at Philmont. I’m not kidding. You’ll probably die if you can’t barter for food. I’ll go ahead and give you an advantage now- jerky is like gold and can be traded for almost anything. Another amazing tip- swap boxes are your best friend. Many of the campsites have a “swap box” where hikers leave their unwanted food behind. Usually they’re full of the healthy foods that scouts would never in a million years eat, but every now and then a dessert or other delicious snack can be miraculously found in the swap box. The key is to walk at the front of the crew as you approach a camp so that you get first look through at the swap box.

IMG_0830Don’t Overlook Those “Optional” Items- Your packing list probably has a few items that are listed as optional. To save on weight you’re probably thinking about leaving these behind. I implore you, take them with you. The wide brimmed hat? Yeah, that’s a great idea. It’ll be extremely helpful in keeping the hot sun off you face and neck. Don’t leave behind your Buff, either. Wear that on your neck as a scarf when it’s cold up high or use it to keep the sun off. Oh, and it’s great for keeping all that dust off your face too. And the most essential of those “optional” items? Trekking poles. They will be your best friend. Share a tent with your trekking poles and make your buddy sleep outside. Jokes aside, trekking poles are a must. They’ll help immensely on the uphills and take the pressure off your knees on the downhills. Your poles will keep you well balanced and I honestly find that I hike faster using poles. Trekking poles have literally saved my life a number of times, so they’re definitely a great investment.

Baldy Will Be Cold- Mt. Baldy is the pinnacle of any Philmont itinerary, and it’s a huge accomplishment to make it all the way to the 12,441 ft summit. If you’re lucky enough to have clear weather and great views from the summit, you’ll want to spend a fair amount of time up top, and possibly even take lunch up there. There’s a couple of glorious alpine meadows just below the summit on either side that would make a great spot for a long break. That being said, you need to be prepared to be comfortable at high elevations. Because Baldy is one of the highest peaks in New Mexico, with a summit well above tree line, it will almost certainly be windy on the summit, even on clear days. Afternoon thunderstorms are also to be expected. The high elevation means it will be significantly colder than wherever you camped the previous night, with snow often lingering on or near the summit well into the summer. Be prepared on Baldy with a good windbreaker jacket, lightweight hat and gloves, and a good insulation layer. It is important to layer well, as with any hike: a good base layer to hike in, a fleece or wool mid layer, an insulation layer, and possibly even a hard or soft shell outer layer on top of that.

IMG_0904Your Pack Will Be Heavy- This doesn’t really need said, but I’m going to say it anyways. Your pack will be heavy and there is no way around it. Philmont is not the time to try out minimalist hiking, this is the time to put into practice the scout motto and Be Prepared. You must bring everything on the gear checklist or have some viable substitute for it; the ranger at Philmont will go through every pack upon arrival to be sure you have everything. And leave extra space in your pack to carry troop gear. Food, pots, pans, rope, and other tools will need to be split up and proportioned equally among everyone in your crew. I know your pack is already heavy, but yes you still have to carry your fair share of the weight; everyone else has a heavy pack too. Don’t go into Philmont with the attitude that it will be all easy hiking; Philmont is meant to be challenging, but the rewards are well worth the efforts.

IMG_0979Enjoy Every Day And Celebrate The Accomplishments- Maintaining a positive morale among the whole crew is essential for the crew to be successful. Think about bringing along a small incentive or snack to share with the crew as a reward for the big climbs. My crew shared Twizzlers and Hersheys bars on the summit of Baldy and it was a huge morale booster. Do whatever it takes to keep spirits high. For us, this meant going through our limited repertoire of Queen songs as we hiked or sharing riddles along the way. Find what lifts your spirits and do it. It’s important to enjoy every day. At the end of every day our crew would go in a circle and share our roses, buds, and thorns for the day- the best part of the day, something to look forward to in the next day, and the worst part of the day. This was just a great reminder that there was always a good memory in each day and helped keep spirits up.

Document Your Journey- Believe it or not, the memories of Philmont will eventually fade. Know this going in and take as many pictures as you can. Not just pictures of the rad views but pictures of your dirty, smelly crew of hikers and pictures of the trail or the campsites you stay at. Beyond pictures, write down a few comments at the end of each day in a notebook detailing where you hiked, what you saw, and what made the day great. These journal entries will be cherished in a few years.

You’ll Eat Some Crazy Things- In general, food at Philmont is pretty good. That being said, you’ll wind up eating some interesting and quite possibly disgusting combinations of food in order to add calories or make your meals more exciting. Food combos that sound disgusting right now might end up being your favorite trail snack. I remember one memorable combination for us was eating mashed potatoes out of tortillas- this saved us from doing dishes later and provided a few extra calories. Tortillas will be a great asset. Whenever you stop to pick up your next resupply ask the Philmont staff for a few packets of tortillas to add to your diet. You can also request extra TP or other necessary items you might need.

And here’s one bonus piece of advice that might possibly be my greatest contribution to this blog: Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lay, and never lay when you can sleep. This is possibly one of the ten most important rules of backpacking, so definitely heed this advice or you’ll suffer the dire consequences (sore muscles and tired bodies).

 

“My wise words you remember and a good trip you shall have” -Yoda (not really)

Yoda_SWSB

 *This incredible blog post by Will Babb*

North West Circuit Track, Stewart Island, New Zealand

Isabel Allende — ‘We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.’

North West Circuit Track, Stewart Island, New Zealand: Allow 9–11 days to walk the full 125 km circuit. This track is suitable for fit, well equipped and experienced backpackers. Track times are an indication only and extra time should be allowed in adverse conditions.  This is a personal account of the circuit along Stewart Island written primarily on the trek, as done in February 2017. This report includes all personal photos except for the island map and elevation chart.

Two of the 54 treks featured in the Lonely Planet New Zealand Trekking guide are listed as the “difficult” and the North West Circuit on Stewart Island is one of them. The description reads, “Coastal epic around a remote island featuring isolated beaches, sand dunes, birds galore, and miles of mud.” This island is a wild beauty and tested me more than any trek I’ve done before.

This is a hut to hut trek, or “tramp” in the local New Zealander dialect. You can buy a pass for the huts once on Stewart island and they are first come first serve. However, the first and last two huts of the circuit, Port William Hut and Northarm Hut can and should be reserved in advance because they tend to fill up as part of the popular Rakiura loop.

For official information: visit the New Zealand Department of Conservation website including what to pack, what to know before you go and all relevant information:

http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/southland/places/stewart-island-rakiura/rakiura-national-park/things-to-do/north-west-circuit-stewart-island-rakiura/

nwc

590

The Tramp:

Day 1: Oban to Port William Hut – 13km

We started from town early with full bellies from the beer and salmon dinner the night before. We were there to hike so opted out for taking a taxi to the trailhead 6km down the road. As we strapped on our packs to set out we were greeted with a heavy downpour. Thankfully, our indomitable spirits weren’t dampened by the rain and we enjoyed a wet day of easy mud-free boardwalks to Port William Hut. We arrived just before dinner time, hung up our wet clothes and Shannon and I headed to the ocean for a post hike dip in the frigid water (despite the rain).

day1 dayy1

 

Day 2: Port William Hut to Bungaree Hut – 6km

We woke to sunshine and quickly realized that the boardwalks were gone and the rain from the day before had turned the trail to mud. I was told about the mud but until you trek for nearly a full 6km through it – and not horizontally – mostly vertical with wet roots – it turns your mind clearing jaunt in the wilderness into a fully physical and mental struggle. Though there were no major climbs the constant roller coaster of roots and knee deep mud challenged our bodies just as much as our minds while navigating the maze. The shell shock of what we were up for fully kicked in. Thankfully we were greeted at the end of the day with the beautifully isolated Bungaree Beach where we searched for shells, swam in the cool waters, and enjoyed the warm sunshine.

day2

da2

daayy2

Day 3: Bungaree Hut to Christmas Village – 12km

We rose early with the daylight and packed up prepared for another tough day of roots and mud. We immediately resumed a large climb followed by a series of hills and gullies full of mud. This was the first day that I started to take in the awe of the wonders around me. The landscape was marshy and lush and covered in unfamiliar ferns, spiky grasses, purple thistles, and tiny flowers. As we navigated the steep descent to Murray Beach we were rewarded with golden sand and sunshine which we took advantage of with a long lunch. After another full afternoon of constant up and downs we landed for the night in Christmas Bay at Christmas Village Hut. We found out through another tramper that from this point the trek was to get progressively harder aaaannndd this would be our last opportunity for cell service and a ferry out. There was a lengthy discussion about whether the risk outweighed the reward. Stewart Island had had one of the coldest and wettest summers in 20 years meaning this difficult trek would be more difficult than usual. We opted to sleep in and decide in the morning.

day3 dayyyy3 dayyyy3or4

Day 4: Christmas Village to Yankee River – 12km

We slept in, ate a long breakfast, and enjoyed hot coffee. We called the ferry serviced and found out that they could pick us up at 5:30pm. It was like a switch went off – as soon as we found out we could get out then we didn’t want to. We knew we could do it – we just had to prepare ourselves for the challenge. We loaded up our packs and set out for one of our biggest climbs of the entire trek. A couple dry days meant that the trail was slightly less dangerous as we wound through a stunning rimu forest. We hit Lucky Beach in the early afternoon and pushed to navigate the large boulders before the tides came in and blocked the path. After a quick lunch we hit a shorter climb with some undulated terrain before finding our stride and making it early to Yankee River Hut.

da4 daaaa4

day4

dayyy4

 

Day 5: Yankee River to Long Harry Hut – 9km

Looking forward to a shorter day we started out with a skip in our step as we climbed an undulated 200m to Black Rock Point before a very steep descent on to Smoky Beach. The steep climb and descent took all the power from our legs and just when we thought we had no juice left we were met on the beach by a towering sand dune that sunk 1ft for every 2ft high step. I would best compare it to running up a down-escalator except double it’s height. A true example of how much further you can go when you tap into your reserve tank. We were ready for lunch and a refuel but needed to cross the 2km long soft sand beach before high tide came in. By the time we reached the end of the beach slog we had missed the low tide route and decided to stop and eat. Instantly, sand flies and bumble bees attacked us. We would later find out that they are attracted to the color blue, which Shannon and I were so fashionably donning, but not before Shannon was surrounded by over a half dozen bees and stung on the leg. We raced to a local hunters cabin (that are sparsely located on the island) to doctor up the large sting and finish our snacks before moving on. The high tide route added an extra climb to the day but we hunkered down and moved forward onto Long Harry Hut. When we finally caught view of the hut it gave us the fuel we needed to descend and ascend the steep drop down to the ocean needed to get there. Fortunately, the sun was shining and it gave us a nice afternoon to dry out all of our waterlogged boots and clothing.

daayyy5 day5 dayy5

Day 6: Long Harry Hut to East Ruggedy – 9.5km

We started out slow with the hopes of not losing our “juice” midway through the day like we had the day before. This day would be much like the others and best described by the Lonely Planet guide: “Tough tramping continues as you climb in and out of four more bush-clad gullies and streams, until descending near the north end of Long Harry Beach.” We pushed to get through Long Harry Beach (again) before the tides came up. We barely made it through one section, I found my boots being washed by the incoming tide as I waited my turn to climb the steep rocks ahead. Fortunately after leaving the beach, three days without rain brought us one of our easiest and most pleasurable days on the trek. Graduated climbs, beautiful viewpoints on the northern coast, and kiwis greeted us before descending to East Ruggedy Beach. We had been warned to not cross at high tide and to move fast through the quicksand. I must admit I was excited – I had never experienced quicksand before. The D.O.C. ranger told us days earlier, before we set out, that if we did sink it would only be down to our hips and we would need a friend to pull us out. Thankfully I had two friends and was ready to forge ahead. With my boots tied around my neck and my water shoes on I set out to cross at the mouth of Ruggedy Stream. I kept waiting for my feet to sink but only felt a slight sucking on my feet as I expediently tramped my way through. After a short celebration I set down my pack and headed back towards the stream looking for a soft spot. “I found some,” I exclaimed to Joe and Shannon! As my feet sank I felt so excited to check this off my proverbial bucket list. Joe yelled back, “get out of it.” Not wanting to have to pull me out – he was always the sensible one. Joe washed our feet before putting our boots back on to finish the 45 minute trek to the hut. We ended the day with smiles and a big dinner.

da5

d6

day6

daay5

dayy6

Day 7: East Ruggedy to Big Hellfire Hut – 15km

After a day off to heal our aching muscles, we headed out at dawn with headlights expecting one of our longest and most difficult days of the trip. We made it in record time to the scenic West Ruggedy Beach. We followed the beach before a steep ascent to Ruggedy pass and a steep d

escent into Waituna Bay. After a quick touch and go on the beach we began our gradual ascent to Hellfire Pass. We ended the day after 11 hours of hiking at the top of one of the longest sand dunes in the world at 200m above sea level. The rain hit us on and off all day so we tried our best to light a fire and dry things out but the hut was so cold and the wood was so wet we had to hunker down for our coldest night on the trek. All in all it was a good day.

da7 day7

Day 8: Big Hellfire to Mason Bay Hut – 15km

Since we were looking at another long day we got an early start and were treated to a morning call from a female kiwi. We were looking forward to some lovely ridge walking and beach walking but were deeply disappointed by the near constant mud. It rained all night and most of the day before and wasn’t letting up yet. The mud was deeper and constant. Our boots were instantly wet. As we were coming down from the Ruggedy Mountains we found ourselves descending steep puddle after puddle grasping trees and trekking poles to keep our feet from going out from underneath us (which happened multiple times). We finally arrived at  Little Hellfire Beach. We were immediately pummeled by high winds that tore off our pack covers and swept at our feet. We hurried across the beach as a large storm was looming on the horizon and took shelter under some trees. We decided to grab lunch here and wait out the storm which ended up being pea size hail. According to the map we had a 150m climb over Mason Bay Head and were hopeful that this would be an easy climb. Due to the extreme weather and mud from days of rain this ended up taking nearly twice the time if should have. We were excited to finally make our way to Mason Bay but due to the high tide and the storm the beach was nearly impassable. We attempted to dry out our boots but had to take shelter under my emergency rain cover to keep ourselves dry and warm while we waited out the storm and the tides. Finally, the tide lowered enough for us to begin our 4.5km trek down Mason Bay towards the hut. We were blocked by a steep rocky outcrop and had to add another hour onto our day by taking the high tide route. We were met with more wind, rain, and hail. Finally we left the beach and enjoyed a sunny trek to Mason Bay Hut after a 13 hour day of hiking.

da6

d8 da8 day8 Day 9: Mason Bay to Freshwater – 16km

We slept hard and woke with sore feet in the morning. We grabbed breakfast and were happy to have a nice flat day ahead of us. Some people can do this route in 3 hours. Being sore from the days before we took our time and finished in 5.  The scenery was constantly changing as we made our way across the middle of the island back to where we started. Due to flooding we took the water taxi from Freshwater back to Oban. There was a calm sense of accomplishment and we looked forward to beers, dinner and sweets at the local pub.

da9

day9

Written by Emily White, additional writing and editing by Kayla McKinney and photos by Joe White.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Iceland: RRT on the Laugavegur Trail

In August of 2016 a group from RRT explored the ring road around Iceland and hiked the Laugavegur from Landmannalaugar to Skogar. Here is a sample of what they saw:

 

Planning the Trip of a Lifetime

By: Mackenzie Griesser

When I was a junior in high school, my dad promised me that when I graduated college he would take me to either Australia or New Zealand. 7 years later, as I’m beginning my final semester of college, I get a text that reads simply: “So which is it going to be: New Zealand or Australia?” I was instantly in tears. And then the reality sunk in: I gotta plan this thing! So, I have spent the past 6 months planning every detail of this trip, from researching trails to hike to figuring out where to buy fuel for my camp stove. I even made up a powerpoint for the itinerary, complete with pictures! In this blog I will discuss my planning strategy, the tools I used, and any issues or concerns I ran into.

capture

An example slide from my itinerary

Of course the first thing we had to do was figure out logistics. When did we want to go? For how long? How are we going to get around while we’re there? What restrictions are there on what I can bring into the country? We decided to leave at the end of September, right after my birthday, and stay for two weeks so we’d have plenty of time to explore. The weather would be perfect- still snow on the Southern Alps! The cheapest flights were in and out of Auckland, so that’s where we decided to begin our journey.

My dad, being the brilliant man that he is, decided to let me plan everything. First I had to figure out what I even wanted to do! I have never left the country, let alone travel to such a pristine and interesting environment as New Zealand. I knew for sure I wanted to see as much of the country as possible, so we decided right off the bat to rent a car and drive around the South Island for the majority of the trip. I also knew that I wanted to do a short backpacking trip on Stewart island, per recommendation of my super cool boss Joe White. The island is off the southern tip of the South Island, so I figured we could end with that and do some sightseeing along the way there. This is where Google Maps came in clutch. I was able to figure out distances between locations and how long it would take to drive from place to place to see if this idea was even feasible (it was). I utilized that,

A handy tool on the Department of Conservation website for finding activities in different regions

along with a National Geographic Adventure Map, to figure out where to stay along the highway that follows the Southern Alps down the west coast of the island. Once I established how many days this would take and what a reasonable driving distance was per day, the rest was actually pretty simple!

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has an AWESOME, super easy to navigate website. This is where I found all of the trails we plan to hike. The website offers lots of great information about where to stay in every region of the country and what to do while you’re there. They even have maps and descriptions for each individual trail, including mileage, approximately how long it takes to hike it, and what you should expect to see. This is also where we found information on campgrounds, AKA “campervan parks”, to stay at and what amenities they have. Using all this information, I was able to build the basic structure of the trip- where to start, where to end, and what to do along the way. The end result of this planning stage was the following: we would fly into Auckland, pick up our rental car, hang out in the city for a day, take a week to travel down to Invercargill (the southernmost large city on the South Island), spend 3 days backpacking on Stewart Island, then return to Auckland via airplane. This plan left us with an extra day, so I let my dad choose what to do that day.

Once we finalized the structure of the trip, we had to work out the logistics. There was a lot of booking to be done! We decided to stay in Airbnb’s 4 nights throughout the trip. We booked those, plus a handful of nights at different campgrounds. We also had to buy tickets for a couple different ferries and reserve sites on Stewart Island. On my itinerary, I highlighted the date (at the top of each slide, one slide per day) in red if there were still logistical details to work out for that day. Once everything was booked and confirmed, I unhighlighted the date and could rest assured knowing all we had to do was show up and do the stuff and everything else was taken care of!

1-passenger-arrival-card-noresize

Passenger Arrival Card for declaring “at risk” items

The only thing left to do was make sure travel to and from the country would be as smooth as possible. New Zealand has a lot of restrictions on what can be brought in. I learned in my research that we have to declare every “risk” item we bring. This includes items such as camping gear, sports equipment, and food. I also heard from a few customers that visited the shop that they will not let items with any amount of dirt on them into the country to prevent the spread of invasive species, so I had to make sure to clean all of my gear before leaving. I also emailed the Ministry for Primary Industries to make sure all the food I planned on bringing was allowed into the country. I’ve heard from a few people that they have odd restrictions on certain ingredients but I was not able to find any information that specific on any official website. Luckily, nothing I plan on bringing (ramen, instant mashed potatoes, trail mix, pasta, etc.) raised any red flags.

The very last thing I had to do was figure out where to keep our extra luggage when we go on our backpacking trip. We are dropping off the rental car prior to taking the ferry to Stewart Island, so we do not have a place to keep the items we don’t need for the trek. I emailed the service we are using for the ferry and they said they have a few small lockers available to rent, but they were unable to provide exact dimensions so there is no way to know for sure if our duffels will fit until we get there. Aside from that detail, everything else is accounted for! Stay tuned to hear how it all turned out!

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.

cloud1

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

Previous   More Return of the SLOBO?

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!)

 

Previous     More Return of the SLOBO?     Next

The Best Trail Town

The Milford Trail Junction
Written by: Bryan Wolf

What is a trail town? I found this definition online; “A Trail Town is a destination along a long-distance trail or adjacent to an extensive trail system. Whether the trail is a hiking trail, water trail or rail trail, users can venture from the path to explore the unique scenery, commerce and heritage that each trail town has to offer.”  (elcr.org)

Milford Ohio fits the above definition as well or better than any town could. We are in fact the epitome of a trail town. We are home to over 22,000 miles of long distance hiking trail as the biggest trail junction in the United States. We are home to a “rails to trails” program that connects cities more than 70 miles apart. We are home to a National Scenic River that has year-round recreational opportunities. Lastly, we are home to a city that dates back to 1788 and boast unique shopping and dining experiences.

As an outfitter we hope that RRT adds to the qualifications, that we bring additional excitement and attract and inspire more recreational use around the city and that we support users of our trails and river. But we cannot take credit for a single aspect that has built the outstanding resume that you see above. What we are proud of is that we settled in this city because we want to be part of this trail town, and because we recognized it’s potential.

Every year we are lucky to meet and share in the experience of people walking one of three trails across the country, or around the entire state of Ohio. Every day we are lucky to personally enjoy and be immersed in the abundant recreation provided by the Little Miami Scenic Trail and River. Be it by foot, wheels, paddle, or pogo stick, this city ties it all together.

Junction mapThere are a lot of cogs in the trail town system that make us who we are. The over half a dozen canoe and kayak liveries that operate in and around Milford are a big part of that machine. You see the Little Miami River isn’t a one shot or one season river. This is part of the reason why Cincinnati is the self-proclaimed paddle capital. This is why we have the largest and strongest paddling groups in the country. Not because we have short term destination whitewater, but because we have year round beauty and access that is beginner friendly and harnesses the passion of the sport.

One of these great canoe and kayak liveries is Loveland Canoe and Kayak, who operates both out of Loveland and Milford. Owner Mark Bersani had this to say about the Little Miami; “We are fortunate to have one of nature’s best playgrounds right in our backyard.  I love the Little Miami River because of its incredible beauty, rich history, abundant wildlife and accessibility.  It provides awesome recreational opportunities for paddlers, anglers, nature lovers and explorers alike.  When you spend time on the river you can feel the stress of the day melt away as you take in the inspiring scenery and fresh air.”

I reached out to Mark to get some facts, because what good is my nostalgia without facts? The numbers blew me away! In one year Mark will personally put about 16,000 people on the Little Miami River! This is local love right there, we aren’t talking about tourists from other cities. We are talking about a town and its love for the river. Furthermore he added that amongst the half dozen other liveries they would total about 100,000 people per year on the river!

089_LittleMiamiFellas_5-26-15With a healthy and frequented river, so grows the city. This isn’t your grandma’s Milford anymore, although Grandma is still welcome and we love her dearly. In the past five years we have seen the city transform from half empty to overflowing. From a shopping and dining perspective Milford is blowing up, and if you’ve not been here in sometime then you have been missing out. Downtown Milford hosts festivals, has a nature preserve, and even riverside camping. The city grows everyday making it more livable, more shop-able, and more fun.

This year Milford has the opportunity to be part of Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns” competition as we compete to be the best “River Town”. Just having the nomination puts us as one of only sixteen cities to be voted on! So I ask you to please share this, to please vote, and to please spread the word. But also be proud, because if Milford is your city than you should know that it goes toe to toe with cities of a much larger reputation; like that of Bend Oregon, St. Louis Missouri , Charlotte North Carolina, the Appalachian Trails Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, and even Portland Oregon.

Click here to vote now (open until 4/29/16)

If you are unfamiliar with the vast trail town resume I’ve mentioned please check it out. You can find the breakdown of all 22,000 miles of trails that cut right thru Milford on the cities website and the link provided at the end of the article. Special thanks to Mark, visit him in Loveland or Milford (lovelandcanoe.com // 513-683-4611).

Click here for Trail Junction details

Click here for Little Miami River Safety

Europe by Hostel: 10 Tips

By Kayla “Clover” McKinney

Hostels are one of the quintessential aspects of backpacking through Europe. Hostels are typically great because they are cheap, convenient, social, and specifically designed with the backpacker in mind.

I have recently moved to Austria to live and work as an au pair for a year giving me ample time to travel throughout Europe. I have three day weekends, ample holiday and paid time off, and live in the most centrally located country on the continent. Because of this, hostels are quickly becoming a regular scene in my weekend life.

This is an essential “consideration” list for what to look for in hostels. It is certainly not a one size fits all list and most of the time you won’t be able to check off every aspect for each stay. In order to ensure that you have a safe, comfortable, convenient, and fun time here are several things you should consider before booking a hostel:

LOCATION

Just like in real estate, location is certainly the most important thing to consider in hostel backpacking. Ideally, your hostel is close to the train station and the main sights that you want to see. However, if you must choose between one or the other, pick the hostel that is closer to the train station. It is harder and more stressful to walk a far distance to your hostel with your luggage when tired after a train ride and in a new environment than it is to have a farther distance to your sights once settled in. Typically, a farther hostel also has a bus or tram stop on the same street, as well as connection maps. Arrive at your hostel, unload your bags, look at the map, then go see your sights.

TIMING

This is something I just recently learned that was not obvious to me. Do a quick Google search of the holidays and major events that may be going on in the location of your upcoming trip. Oh, it’s the biggest holiday in the country that weekend? The hostels will all be booked in advance. When I stayed in Innsbruck for 4 days recently, I did not do my research. Turns out it was Fasching (think Mardi Gras) as well as the biggest snowboard competition of the year. All the good hostels were completely booked. Of course, this can work adversely as well if you’re looking to get some unique, authentic cultural experience. Either way, it is good to know what you’re getting into when traveling to a new town.

BOOK IN ADVANCE

Not only do you usually save some money, but it also ensures that you have a place to stay on your trip. I understand the appeal of just wandering into a new city and thinking you’ll stumble upon the perfect hostel, but this is a gamble that doesn’t always pan out. Also, some of the cooler locations aren’t as obvious from the street, so research upfront can help you have an amazing time.

LOCKERS

Important. Pay attention beforehand to these essential questions: are they free? Do you need to bring your own lock? Do they even have lockers? Lockers are nice because you can safely store your belongings (possibly everything you own!) while you leave and adventure for the day. I know it’s romantic to think that you’ll get super strong lugging your pack through the streets, but take it from me: it’s just awkward taking your pack into restaurants, bathrooms, book stores, etc.

SHOWERS

If you’re going on a long term backpacking tour you will eventually (hopefully) want to shower. Showers are almost never free and you either have to bring your own towel or pay extra to rent one. Also, the showers can be co-ed. Just a heads up.  unisex-bathroom-sign

WiFi

Some hostels offer free WiFi throughout the hostel, some only in the lounge, some for a fee, and some not at all. WiFi is crucial for looking up train connections, important travel information, or if you need to leave your hostel and find another one for whatever reason. It is a safety net in my opinion and is not up for compromise.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Go for the hostel that offers free breakfast and coffee. Dinner is awesome too. As mentioned, WiFi and lockers are crucial. Other accommodations to consider are whether or not your hostel accepts credit cards. I personally would prefer to pay with a card because I don’t feel comfortable carrying around lots of cash on my person. But if this is unavoidable, make sure there is an ATM close by or get the money out in advance. Pay attention if there is a different currency. Laundry is a huge bonus, but most likely it comes with fees.

Ensure that your hostel has linens included or be prepared in advance. Don’t be surprised if there’s a deposit for linens.

A note on the linens: everyone seems to be afraid of bed bugs in hostels. I have not encountered this. In fact, I have usually been required to take my linens to the front desk when checking out so that they can be washed. But if you’re worried, then use your own sleeping bag.

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES

Hostels with bars make it easier to meet people and possibly even new adventure buddies. At my hostel in Salzburg, I had dinner with a Korean girl, an Australian, and two girls who were from the same town as my grandparents in Pennsylvania. People are usually receptive to meeting new people in youth hostels; it seems to be an unwritten agreement. Don’t be shy. Take advantage of the social atmosphere. You’ll never know who you will meet!

PICK UP THE BROCHURES

I have learned about more hostels and cool opportunities around town, found coupons, and so on just from taking a moment to search the brochure rack at my hostels. This is free, relevant information – take advantage of it!

TYPES OF ROOMS

As a solo female traveler, this is very important to me. I prefer hostels that have female only dorm rooms. These rooms usually cost a little more than a co-ed dorm, but it is worth it for my sense of security. The all female rooms tend to be cleaner and smell better too. You can also request single rooms, two bedrooms, three bedrooms… it depends on the particular hostel.

Check out this link for good hostels:

http://www.famoushostels.com/

So, why not AirBnB? Why not a hotel or couch-surfing?

airbnbThis is mostly personal preference. For starters, AirBnB and hotels are more expensive than hostels. There are a few other things to consider as well, especially with AirBnB: AirBnB can sometimes actually be cheaper than a hostel because of the included accommodations. With AirBnB, you often times have access to a fully functional kitchen, which means that you can buy a few groceries instead of eating out for every meal, saving you lots of money (especially if you’re staying for a few days.) Also, an AirBnB host will often pick you up from the train station or airport if you arrange so in advance, which saves you a ticket. Showers and laundry are usually included as well. AirBnB is also comfortable and an adventure in itself. I recommend it if you’re looking for more privacy and personal space. To find a good AirBnB host, read the reviews. After the experience, always give your host a review for future guests.

I personally don’t see any reason why’d you get a hotel, but recognize that I have the particular bias of being pretty poor. Also, I am more interested in interacting with people who have a generally similar travel mindset as myself.

As for couch-surfing, it is certainly the cheapest (free), but is the least comfortable. You get what it advertises-a couch. But hey, it’s a free place to crash and another new way to meet people.

Overall, I recommend exploring multiple options to get an idea of what your preferences are. For example, for my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, I have learned that the hostels are a huge scene for party people and that, if you want any sleep, then you should pay for a single room. For this trip, I will likely stay one night in a hostel for the experience and the rest of the time in an AirBnB. I would rather be able to sleep soundly so that I can wake up early and have an adventurous, full day.

However, the places where you sleep on your grand adventure are not the most important aspect. Try not to spend too much time in your hostel. Go out and explore!

Oh, and if the movie Hostel has negatively influenced you in anyway, all I have to suggest is that you really should go out more.

Previous      More RRT Adventures?     Next

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.

 

 

 

Previous Article     RETURN OF THE SLOBO    Next Article