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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

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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!

 

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.

 

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The White Mountains: Mt. Washington

by Louie “Sunshine” Knolle

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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Return of the SLOBO: Really Good at Walking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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10 Hacks for Winter Backpacking

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

1. Flip your water bottle upside down.

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

2. Keep snacks in a warm pocket

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

3. Less is more when it comes to  sleep wearDSC_0495

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

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

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

5. Don’t hold it all night

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

6. Warm up before crawling into your bag

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

7. Calories = Energy = Warmth

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

8. Bring an insulated buDSCN1601tt pad

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

 

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

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

10. Add traction to your shoes

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

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

 

 

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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

The Louie Knolle Bomb-Diggity Bootastic Award

To put it simply, I do not enjoy conventional footwear.  On the average day, you will find my toesies free from the confines of shoes, either in the nude or in very minimal sandals for when I need to get all dressed up for “The Man”.  I adhere to the belief that shoes were invented by people who hated everything and wanted to make mankind suffer by making our feet get all sweaty and stinky, trapped in laced-up boxes.  However, I know that when it comes time for a tough, long hike in the mountains that I need to give my feet some protection from the elements. That’s when I need to strap into my Salomon Quest 4D GTXs (plot twist!)

Now I know what you are thinking: Louie, you like being barefoot; could these boots really be that greatThe   answer is yes. Yes, they really are.  I have long been a fan of Salomon footwear for their comfortable and supportive trail running shoes and how they perform in the gnarliest of conditions. Having also made a name for themselves with skiing gear and clothing for everyone from day hiker to ultra-marathoner, Sabootslomon has quietly been building boots that have earned the Louie Knolle Bomb-Diggity Bootastic Award.  

Enough gobbledygook! Here is the nitty-gritty on these bad boys.  The Quests feature Salomon’s rock solid Contragrip outsole, a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane to keep the tootsies dry, and Salomon’s ever popular toothed lace eyelets so that when you tie your boots, they stay tied. The newly updated 2015 Quest 4D 2’s feature upgrades such as a more comfortable tongue on the shoe and laces that have a rougher surface so they stay tied better.  I have the first generation models and those were the two things I would say needed improving. Good thing Salomon already took care of that for the rest of you guys!  

So, these boots rock.  I have worn mine for over a year and a half now and they have given me no reason to even begin to look for new boots yet. It will be a long time before I retire them!  I have worn them in the desert in January, the Smokys in February, guiding in Vermont April through July, in the Adirondacks in November and about a million other places. They have been everywhere with me it seems.  Though these are the “heaviest” in the Salomon line of hiking footwear, they are still lighter than any traditional backpacking boot lou3in my opinion.  The Quest’s 4D chassis, which provides support throughout much of the mid-sole, offers unmatched firm yet supple rigidity to the boot which keeps my feet happy as I’m walking on countless roots and rocks.  The sole on these seems like they stick to just about everything! Mud, rocks, leaves, talus, you name it and they will keep you from slipping on it (well, except for ice.  Ask Kayla about the time I tried to hike uphill on ice while wearing the Quests). I have waded through water that was up to the tippy-top of these boots and my feet stayed dry.  After 18 months of use, there’s still no leaks in the waterproof membrane of these guys.  

As I stated earlier, normally I am a sandal/trail runner hiker on short trips, but when I’m going to be out and about for long periods of time, these are my favorite boots I have ever owned.  The roomy toe box allows ample room for my toes to splay naturally the way I like and the sole protects my feet from rough surfaces while still allowing me to be flexible enough when I am in the mood for some heel clicks and 360’s off of rocks and logs (which is about 99% of the time.)  The height of the boot is also something I’ve come to like, even though at first I thought I was opposed to it.  When on really deep, sketchy terrain, the ankle support is bomber and offers unparalleled protection for your ankles.  When I’m on an easier trip, I only will lace up to the second eyelet from the top so it’s a little more of a loosey-goosey feel and I can feel like I’m not as rigid in the ankles.  

So in summation, these boots stick to surfaces like glue, even on the grodiest of trail conditions. They will keep your feet dry, period. They made a boot believer out of a barefoot/minimalist shoe lover, and your feet will be happy and smiling in these boots whether you hike for an hour or a month.  Also, did I mentionlou2 that Salomon has a 2 year warranty on their footwear? They totally do!! I have had no reason to need it, but it’s always a good safety net to have and twice as long as most footwear warranties.  Salomon believes in their product, 100%. So whether you’re going to the Cincinnati Nature Center, on your first backpacking trip to Philmont, or tackling any of the beastly long distance trails such as the AT or PCT, these boots will treat you right or my name isn’t Louie “Lou-bear” “Sunshine” “American Pie” Knolle.  

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