Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Tag Archives: Hiking


Wonderful World of Winter

by: Ice Man

I know there are a lot of haters out there so I want to set the record straight. The best time to go for a hike is when it’s cold. In most cases, the colder and the more snow the better. Sure there are exceptions; I’ve struggled to sleep at negative 20 degrees, or labored through five feet of fresh snow before. But my most active months for local trips are always January and February.

Let’s compare the draw backs of the seasons. Summer hiking you are constantly sweating, constantly wet, getting swarmed by mosquitoes, nervous to step on a snake, your tent feels like an oven in the morning, and the trails get too crowded to find a campsite. Winter, you need a heavier coat. Boom! See, no contest. In all seriousness, let’s talk about the positive attributes of a winter hike. For me, I love the solitude! The trails are way more secluded in the winter and the harsher the conditions, the less likely you are to see someone else. The views are spectacular in winter and completely different than what you see in the summer. The leaves have fallen and ridges have more open views, the landscape has a sparkle as the sun hits the snow, and giant icicles rest over cliff lines and waterfalls. Fresh animal tracks are easy to spot and as the ground cover thins out even spotting wildlife is a bit easier. You know what else changes in the winter? Your diet. It’s like a freezer out there, bring ice cream if you want, carry out more meats or cheeses, what ever your hearts desire.

Worried about staying warm? That’s the easy part. It is way easier to regulate your temperature when it is cold outside and ideally you barely break a sweat. With a little layering 101 there are plenty of tips to maintaining a balanced temperature. A popular quote when backpacking is “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” This quote is typically applied to a nasty rainstorm but applies to winter weather as well. There is not a challenge that you cannot be prepared for.

New adventures await when you build confidence in cold environments. Perhaps you can set your sights on some light mountaineering, snow shoeing, skiing, or ice climbing next. If the avoidance of itching a sunburned mosquito bite on the back of your neck while sweating on top of your sleeping bag isn’t convincing enough, I’m not sure what will be. I’ll be tucked into my puffy down sleeping bag, a warm belly of hot chocolate, catching some z’s.

So what is there to fear? Come by our next cold weather presentation for tips or stop by and see any of us winter walkers at RRT. Get geared up with the right equipment and hit the trails. Oh, and all this winter gear I’ve accumulated also means I’m the warmest person scraping my car in the morning.

PSA: Hiking in Hunting Season

Four years ago, I went on a solo hiking adventure down to Shawnee State Park near Portsmouth, OH.  For those who have never been, it contains a 35 mile loop trail which runs around the state park and through some portions of the larger surrounding state forest.  There is a cutoff trail in the center however which means the trail can be chunked down into a 19 mile north loop and a 26 mile south one.  For this trip, I chose the south because I had two full days to hike and I was looking for some miles.  And let me tell you, I had to earn every one of those miles.  Some years ago, it seems the state parks decided it was easier for trail maintenance to use a Bobcat or something to bulldoze a 6 foot wide path where the trail used to be.  Since small dozers are not capable of both pushing earth and making tight turns, this leads to much of the trail being a series of short, but rather steep ups and downs.  Long story short, while hiking out on this state owned land, I learned about something I had not encountered before: There are a lot of trails on publicly owned land that either border or share the same areas that hunters use in the fall when looking for game.  I came across two chaps from Medford, OH who had stopped for lunch and some coffee. They graciously offered some to me and I of course accepted being that I was hiking on a fairly cool autumn day.

Through talking with them, I realized I had lucked out because my pack was a rather attentive red and I just happened to be wearing a bright orange bandana on my head.  They thanked me for the chat and for wearing “hunter’s orange” as they called it and I was on my way.  I had never thought to check before about being aware of where I was hiking during the fall hunting season.  So consider this a PSA of sorts for those who are planning some Noventures during these upcoming weeks! (“Noventures” being “November adventures”, I have the go ahead from Merriam, just waiting on Webster for the official okay on this being an acceptable word).

Here are some handy tips and tricks if you plan on going out where hunters will be this fall:

  • Wear bright orange on your head, torso or backpack so you will be visible and stand out more to hunters, don’t forget your puppy pals too if they will be joining you! If you are like me and don’t have much in the orange department, I have also worn yellow and reds.  I think the key here is just to avoid white (like a deer tail) and other earth tones.
  • While out and about, try to make noise either through song, conversation, whistling, or what have you. Something so hunters can hear you are in the area, and if you’re lucky, maybe it will enable Bambi’s mom to make it back home.
  • Don’t go out of your way to confront hunters, they have just as much right to be using the public lands as you do and courtesy goes a long way.
  • If you hear shooting, stop and make sure the hunters know you are in the vicinity. I did this once and I heard a “Sorry dude!” come from somewhere off in the distance.
  • Do your research and know when and where hunting season will be and especially find out if you will be in the same place.
  • Be extra cautious in valleys and near roadways because it seems that’s where wildlife tends to congregate. Or at least the myth perpetuated through the ages because hunter’s don’t want to trek out too far from vehicles…

That’s all the educatin’ I feel I need to do on the subject, mostly because I know so little about it! If you are ever in doubt or feel uncomfortable with going out hiking during any particular hunting season, don’t hesitate to call the managing entity’s office of where you will be hiking and ask them anything you are unsure of.  If you feel there is anything that I left out worth noting, feel free to comment on RRT’s Facebook page, email the shop, or give them a ring at the store in Milford!  I know sometimes Bryan especially wishes for more phone conversations.  Hike safe and happy my friends!

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?

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

Return of the SLOBO: You are the Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verbally Commit

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

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

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

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

Physical Training is Mental Training

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

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

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

You are the Mountain

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

Now sit down and shut up.goatman 063

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to be ready?

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

You only do that on Tuesdays.

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

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

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

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

 

Previous     More Return of the SLOBO?     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

10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking

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

1. Flip your water bottle upside down.

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

2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket

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

3. Less is more when it comes to  sleep wearDSC_0495

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

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

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

5. Don’t hold it all night

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

6. Warm up before crawling into your bag

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

7. Calories = Energy = Warmth

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

8. Bring an insulated buDSCN1601tt pad

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

 

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

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

10. Add traction to your shoes

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

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

 

 

Save

Return of the SLOBO: 799 Zero Days Later

Call me Goatman. In 2013, I flew to Maine with a friend and a backpack to attempt a southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

And failed.

We walked for 4 months through the mountains and across rivers, hitchhiked into town for food, slept in the woods most nights, and were beholden to no schedule but our own. When we got to Virginia, we were told that Shenandoah National Park was closed due to a government shutdown and that hikers found within the park were to be fined hundreds of dollars and escorted out. We didn’t have hundreds of dollars. In fact, we barely had any money left at all. So we came home. Got jobs. Got soft. Became norms again.

But the trail, she don’t stop calling.      roads

It’s 2016 and time for the Goat to return to the hills.

And I want you along for the journey this time. The whole journey. And that journey doesn’t start when my bag is all packed up and I see my first white blaze on a tree in the distance. The journey starts now.

This blog series, Return of the SLOBO*, will be an inside look at how I, a thru-hike hopeful turned LASHer (Long A$$ Section Hiker) gears up and prepares for three more months on the AT. Each section of the blog series will have a unique focus, ending with actual trip reports from the trail as I hike it.

When I flew to Maine to begin this journey, I was green to backpacking. I had been out for a few nights here and there, but had never spent a significant time in the wilderness unsupported by modern convenience. I loved hiking, but who doesn’t love hiking when you have a warm bed waiting for you at the end of a couple of days roughing it?rivers

This time will be different. I have done my homework. I have lived the life and have been anointed with the sweaty sword of destiny and dubbed Hiker Trash Extraordinaire, Knight of the Dirt. For the past two years, I have also been working at Roads, Rivers and Trails, studying gear innovations, talking to other long distance hikers from all over, and even helping hopeful AT thru-hikers prepare for their time on the trail. I’ve come a long way, you could say, on the trail and off.

In this blog, I will talk about training. I will talk about gear. I will talk about hopes and fears, food and sweat and feet and mud. Overall, I will talk about backpacking and the joy of hoofing it over hundreds of miles with everything you need on your back.

The series will be broken down into sections. Links to other articles in the series will be added at the bottom of the articles as they are written.

So please, join me as it all goes down and do feel free to comment below with any questions, concerns, or rambling diatribes on how I’m “going the wrong way.”

*An explanation of the term SLOBO: short for “slow south-bounder”. Even in the backwoods of Maine, one may not be able to avoid being categorized. My hiking partner, Jubilee, and I were known for three thingrockingouts at the start of our journey: “heavy” (40+ lb.) packs, sleeping until after sunrise (which was around 5 AM that far north in the summer), and taking afternoon swim breaks when we came to a beautiful lake. Such a lackadaisical attitude towards pushing miles was apparently frowned upon by other more Type A hikers.  Fortunately for us, we found fellow souls on the same pace that shared a similar philosophy concerning long distance hiking (a shout out to Phoenix, Blue Tick, Ado, and the Bartender. SLOBOs for life!) As it were, our packs got lighter, our legs got stronger, and we started to catch up to a lot of the hikers that had left us behind in Maine. I’m not sure who coined the term, but invariably we began to hear, “I never thought I’d see you SLOBOs again.” The name stuck, even when we started passing people who had burned out early. At this point, we’ve taken it as a name for our hiking tribe and proclaim it boldly, with honor.

 

RETURN OF THE SLOBO     Next Article

7 Halloween Costumes Every Backpacker Already Has Lying Around

October is my favorite month, no doubt. The long, humid days of summer shorten into chilly autumn nights. Campfires smell better. I get to wear my favorite fleece.  Every hike is lit up golden and red, reinventing familiar paths and making every viewpoint a visual spectacle. There’s pumpkin pie and pumpkin beer and pumpkins to carve and, at the end of the month, there’s my favorite day of all: Halloween!

I love Halloween as much as I love backpacking and being outdoors in the Fall. With all of the trips I go on this time of the year, I don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around and, to tell you truth, I’d rather spend the money I do have on gear and travel rather than a costume I may only use once.  Solution: raid the gear closet for anything I can use for a Halloween costume!

1. Jack Torrence/Brawny ManIMG_8923

We’ll start simple with a flexible costume. Grab a flannel, a pair of jeans, and some big stomping boots and you’re half way there. Have fabulous hair and a mustache? Then all you need is a roll of paper towels (which will come useful when people start spilling cider on the dance floor) and, behold: Brawny Man! Have more of a crazy look in your eyes and an axe in the shed? Here’s Johnny! You’ve got Jack from the Shining ready to go.

2. Attacked by a (Teddy) Bear

Throw on your normal hiking get-up and don’t forget the pack. Grab a teddy bear and have him secured to your pack and looking as fearsome as possible (vampire teeth?) as he leans over your shoulder to take a chunk from your neck. Obviously, you can get as gruesome as you’d like with your wound situation. Explain to others that you forgot to hang your candy bag.

3. Really, ReFullSizeRenderally Lost Hiker

Depending on your dedication, you can grow your beard out all year in anticipation of this costume. All you need are your most ragged clothes  and a hermit-worthy beard. Get creative with this one. The goal is to look like you’ve been in the woods for way too long. If you can train a squirrel to eat from your (real or fake) beard, you win!

4. Arctic Explorer

Every few years, Halloween in Ohio turns out cold. Not chilly or nippy. Cold. Snow and ice and freezing temperatures cold. When this happens, all the naughty nurses and skimpy Tarzans flirt with frostbite on their exposed skin. But not you! You’ve got a big, puffy down jacket, sunglasses, snow boots and a beanie. Maybe you even have a rope and an ice axe laying around. Throw some water in your (optional) beard and put it in the freezer for added effect. If people are hip to horror movies, you can even tell them you’re Carpenter’s The Thing in human form.

5. Ramboimage(6)

You know you have a knife so large as to be impractical for actual backpacking. You start looking at knives and suddenly you have a 7″ Ka-Bar in your hands and you feel its power. So you buy it and think that someday, when society finally collapses due to radioactive space zombies, you and your knife will be all you can trust. Until that day, however, at least you can dress as Rambo with a pair of army pants, a red headband, and your beloved, huge knife. Giant muscles are helpful, but optional.

6. Base Layer Ninja

You’ve got your base layer, whether Capilene or merino wool, and I bet it’s black, light weight and form fitting. Have a Buff? Then you probably already know how to make a ninja mask out of it. If you don’t, stop in RRT and I will personally show you. Slip on some black socks or a black pair of Vibram Fivefingers and you are ready to disappear into the shadows before the shogun’s guards ever know you were there.

7. Famous Hollywood “Thru-Hiker”IMG_8950

Hollywood has made a few movies over the past few years that bring backpacking, and thru-hiking in particular, into the spotlight. Forget all about your ultralight set up and grab your old, huge pack and stuff it full with goodies. Ladies, check out Wild for aesthetics and lace up your boots with bright, red laces to pose as Cheryl Strayed. The greener the pack, the better. Men, stuff your belly with a pillow, put on a floppy hat, and curse a lot for a perfect Katz from A Walk in the Woods.

 

Get creative! Ideas of your own? Share them in the comments. Get hiking and haunting and have a great October.

 

RRT’s Live Inventory on Locally.com