Dream. Plan. Live.
If you’ve met us you probably already know: we are all AT obsessed! The AT is part of the origin story at RRT, but is also what continues to make us who we are. We have been fortunate to continually have a staff that shares our passion for the trail and have completed portions or the trail in entirely. This is the quintessential match made in heaven. RRT owners have supported the ATC with personal memberships since 2007. RRT has been a supporting partner as a retailer since opening in 2010, contributing through the sales of ATC merchandise.
Indirect to the ATC, our biggest contribution has been our assistance, education, and passion that we have passed on for others to both enjoy and appreciate the trail. Spreading the word and growing the trail community to both use the trail and give back to it has been a surrounding message. Every year, RRT is able to help people chase their dreams on the AT. Through presentations and events, we help grow the imagination and confidence of the next generation of AT hikers.
In 2015, RRT wanted to bring as many of those people together, so they hosted their first ATC fundraiser. With giveaways, games, a photo booth, and local favorite 50 West Brewery, RRT raised an additional $500 to contribute to the ATC. We hope to continue to grow the AT community, and although we are in Milford, Ohio, we will continue our work as AT trail angels from afar.
For more information on the ATC please visit the link below:
The Buckeye Trail is literally at our front door! How cool is that? The BTA has been organizing volunteers, maintaining the trail, conserving and protecting lands, mapping the trail, and much more since its inception in 1954. Their efforts have provided over 1,400 miles of hiking trails around the state of Ohio. In 2012, Milford had the official ribbon cutting making the city an official “Trail Town”.
Since RRT’s first full year in 2011, we have been helping to sponsor events and fundraising for the BTA and, in 2012, became official sponsors of the Buckeye Trail Fest, the organization’s largest event. RRT continues support through events, association promotions, and sponsorships.
2018 saw the first sponsored fundraiser for the Buckeye Trail by RRT. We were able to raise nearly $1,000 and also recruit over 2 dozen members for the BTA! We hope to co-organizing more events like group hikes and increasing exposure to this great trail as time goes on. Look for future events on the RRT page such as Buckeye Trail thru-hiker talks, ways to get involved, and trail town events!
For more information on the Buckeye Trail Association visit the link below:
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.
There 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!
With 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.
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).
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.
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 told 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.
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.
Seriously 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 things 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
All hikers do it. They throw that extra [insert whatever] into their bag, just in case. On a weekend jaunt this is no big deal. A few extra pounds are good for you. They give your legs a better workout and justify the three packs of instant noodles you’re having for dinner again and the post-hike pizza and beers that are sure to happen in the nearest town on the way home. On a long-distance hike, however, you get pretty sick of every last ounce that you’re carrying and the time comes when you have to ask yourself, “Do I really need any of this?” The answer, of course, is yeah, you do. But not all of it.
I got to wondering what most hikers end up sending home after a little bit of time on the trail. So I got in touch with some of my hiker buddies, racked my brain for trail memories, and came up with a list of 10 things that seem perfectly sensible to take on a multi-month hike that, after a while, got sent back home in a stinky box to unsuspecting loved ones.
I’d like to thank Jubilee, Iceman, Tundra Wookie, Cincinnati Kid, Shinbone, Treegasm, Sockless, Blazer, the Bartender, Blue Tick and Ado for their contributions. The following interpretation of their data is my fault, not theirs.
What? Your camera? You’re hiking one of the most iconic trails in the world and you sent home your camera? What about the memories and the romantic sunset photos? What about proving to the world how cool you are by taking pictures of yourself standing in front of summit signs? Well, cameras are heavy. Even small cameras are heavy. It’s better to just let day-hikers take your pictures and send them to you when they get back into WiFi range. You’ve got hiking to do; delegate! Not to mention the fact that most phones have built-in cameras these days. Just put that sucker on airplane mode and snap away. (I was going to suggest sending your cellphone home as well, but didn’t want to put up with the backlash. That being said: send your cellphone home! No one wants to talk to dirty Hiker Trash anyway. What are you going to talk about, walking and eating?)
#2: Big Knife
It’s fun to think that you might need a 5-inch blade to pierce a bear’s heart or build an igloo with while in the woods. If you are hiking within the Arctic Circle, you are probably justified in your choice of blade. However, most of the long trails in the U.S. are near enough to roads and thus civilization that the likelihood that you will need a Bowie knife is slim to none. Now, if you plan on getting into a lot of knife fights at the local watering holes along the trail in defense of your honor, don’t let me tell you how to live your life. However, if you’re on the trail just to hike, your knife will get used more to clean your thumbnail before a tough hitch (gotta get that baby shining in the sun if you expect anyone to stop!) than it will anytime else. Toenail clippers are much more useful and, in a pinch, you can totally cut Trail Magic pizza into slices with the nail file they always have attached.
And by extra, I mean any clothes that aren’t worn everyday. Think you’re gonna need a nice pair of town clothes to impress the locals? You can’t hide the stench of your filthy body with a clean shirt. If anything, they may not trust you if your garments don’t match your disheveled beard and noisome body odor. Extra socks are nice, especially a specially protected, sacred Clean Pair for the day you decide you would rather cut your feet off than put them into the same pair of wet socks for the 5th day in a row. A base-layer for unexpected chilly nights is a good idea. But both pants and shorts? Two shirts? A flowery dress for whimsical barn dances by the light of the harvest moon? Send ’em on back. The trail ain’t New York City. There’s no one to impress out there but me (and I will be impressed just to see you out there hiking, clothes or not.)
#4: Games and Toys
Grow up. You’re a hiker now. Think you might bring a pack of cards to while away a rainy day? You’ll be hiking. How about a frisbee to toss while waiting on a shuttle? You’ll be eating. A chess board to challenge opponents around the fire at night? You’ll be sleeping. You will pretty much be hiking, eating, and sleeping exclusively. Taking a zero day and thinking about getting a Magic: The Gathering tournament started at the hostel? Everyone else is at the bar eating, drinking, and sleeping. The others are hiking. Don’t worry. You won’t be bored. You’ll soon learn fun trail games like “Look at that Stick for a While” and “What’s that Noise in the Night” or my personal favorite “Am I Too Tired to Pee?”
Along the same lines of #4, books seem like a great way to relax before bed and get some education at the same time. I read constantly at home. If I’m not working or actively involved in conversation, I’m probably reading. When I’m on the trail, however, I may get 3 pages read before I pass out. Are these few minutes of peace and quiet worth the pound of paper and glue? Probably not. Even the guidebook gets no love. I ripped out every page as I came to it. A lot of hikers end up sending entire sections home as mementos. Think a Kindle or other e-book is a better idea? Well, e-books pages don’t make good tinder for a fire in Maine when its been raining for two weeks.
Any food that needs cooked can be packed up and sent home. Never had cold noodles soaked in stream water? Welcome to hiker cafe. I know what you’re thinking: what about the comfort of a nice, hot meal after a dreary day of socked out views and less than ideal stream crossings? There’s a nice, hot meal waiting for you in the next town. And the town after that. Imagine how good that cheeseburger is going to taste after eating barely rehydrated oatmeal and crumbling protein bars for a few days. You can’t have joy without sadness, you can’t have light without darkness, and you never truly taste a well cooked meal until you’ve been eating partially frozen peanut butter with a tent stake for breakfast for a week.
#7: Stuff Sacks
So you’re gear is all nice and organized and you’re ready to hit the trail. You’ve got your toothbrush and soap separated from your sleeping mat and your rain fly is conveniently in its own bag to keep it from getting everything else wet. Good for you. Now dump all that stuff out of its tiny bags and shove it in your pack anyway you can that’s comfortable. Every time you get to a shelter, your bag is going to vomit all of its contents onto the ground anyway. Your toothbrush will be full of mud, everything will be slightly damp, and individual bags for everything will only stave off for so long the eventual mingling of smells that you will become.
This one might be a bit AT specific, but unless you plan on bushwhacking down the sides of mountains or following strange creeks to their sources, you probably won’t need a map (the CDT is another story, of course.) Here’s how you find your way on the trail: You wake up. You look at the way you came into camp. You go the other way. If you don’t see a blaze within a few hundred feet, you turn around and try again. You can also sniff the air and follow the scent of the early risers that have conveniently already cleared the spider webs out of your face. Want to see what exists along the side trails and blue blazes? Just keep in mind that every step off the trail is a step you have to do again. And it’s usually a climb.
#9: Back-Up Anything
Think you might use that extra tent stake? That’s what sticks are for. Have an ounce of iodine in case your water pump breaks? Giardia is for the weak. Just swish some dirt around in your mouth, you’ll be fine. Tent repair kit? Pole Splint? Mat patch? Shoe Goo? Duct tape. Duct tape might even clean your water. You never know until you try. Back-up food in case of emergency becomes extra snacks on the day before town. Anything you need while you’re on the trail can be traded for with hot sauce. Let others carry it for you. You just hang on to that hot sauce and everything will be fine.
Shelters were built for a reason. Cowboy camping makes your soul tough and your ears sharp. Caught out in bad weather? That’s why night hiking was invented. Just walk to town, curl up under a train, and sleep like the hobo you have become. Like the privacy of your tent? You’re in the woods. Walk 30 feet in any direction that’s not the trail or a campsite and you’ll have all the privacy you could ever want. Besides, you can always curl up under someone’s vestibule in the middle of the night if you get cold or lonely. They will probably just think you’re a bear and start clanging stuff around to scare you away. If you refuse to move, they’ll pass out in fear and both of you will get a good night’s sleep.
At RRT, we see a lot of folks looking for a shoe to wear on an assortment of outdoor excursions. From my experience as a long distance hiker I try to sway them towards a non-waterproof trail runner, whether it’s for an overnight trip to the Red River Gorge or a long section of the Appalachian Trail. No matter where you go, moisture management will insure happy, blister-free feet.
The trade-offs between a high top boot and a trail runner are numerous. In my opinion, the benefits of a low top shoe that is not waterproof outweigh those of a waterproof high top boot during three-season hiking. Although sacrificing ankle support and warmth, a trail runner provides better breathability, cost efficiency, flexibility, and weight.
One of the first concerns I hear is that the low top shoe will not provide adequate support. The support a high top boot provides that a trail runner does not is in the ankle and stiffness of the shoe. The high top boot keeps your ankle from moving as much as a trail runner, which in certain terrains can hold you back when you want full range of motion (i.e. bolder scrambles). Backpacking boots are good for absorbing the shock that comes with walking with a heavy pack. These days, a pack in the 30 pound and under range is more common and the support of a boot can be overkill. As you get out and hike more, your ankles will strengthen and the extra support becomes less necessary.
For every pound on your foot, you spend the amount of energy equivalent to 5 pounds on your back with each step. So every time you walk with the two to three pound boot, you are essentially adding 15 pounds to your back! A typical trail runner weighs just under a pound. On a short day hike this may not be noticeable, but on a week long trek you will definitely notice the difference each night.
Calling a waterproof shoe breathable implies an absolute. Every waterproof shoe is breathable to a degree. Different fabrics allow better air flow, but pale in comparison to a completely non-waterproof material. As a result of limited breathability, any water that enters the boot will not leave until you take the shoe off to dry. A trail runner will flush the water out with each step and dry on the move faster than the waterproof boot.
The warmth that a shoe provides is a result of its breathability. A waterproof shoe will be significantly warmer than its counterpart, but this is only beneficial in the winter. During warmer temperatures, waterproofing can cause sweat to build up inside of the boot. In the cold, movement itself can keep your foot comfortable through freezing temperatures no matter what shoe. So a trail runner can keep you moving through cold snaps, although keep in mind that a waterproof boot will keep you more comfortable through sustained freezing temperatures or heavy snow.
A solid pair of hiking boots run in the price range of $200 or more while a pair of trail runners cost around $100. While it’s true that the boot may last twice as long, by that point, the boot will be damaged, it’s waterproofing compromised, the insole broken down, and the tread worn thin. Repairing the boot can cost upwards of $100. At this cost, you could have replaced your trail runners almost twice over.
In conclusion, trail runners will keep you on the move, help maintain drier, happier feet and maintain their value longer. Whether you are wearing waterproof or not, your feet will get wet during an extended backpacking trip. It may be from your own sweat or water entering through the giant hole your foot goes in. Having the proper footwear to combat prolonged moisture is key. The trail runner is the proper footwear that I use to manage moisture on long distance hikes. Waterproof boots are very specific in their use and should be saved for extended cold weather, snowy trails, or use with heavy loads. So weigh the pros and cons against your needs. No one knows your foot better than yourself!
I’ve heard it spoken of as romantic, miserable, magical, adventurous, life changing, and testing. I’ve spoken to those who have dreamt of the experience forever and those that have experienced it with little to no previous knowledge of its existence at all. In journals and books it is a place of community as much as it is a physical journey. Now it is even portrayed as a place of great comic relief on the big screen. In my personal opinion, the Appalachian Trail is all of these things and more.
How did you first hear about the Appalachian Trail? Were you raised with a great awareness of the outdoors and knowledge of its possibilities? Many were turned on to it by a book or happened to be channel surfing while National Geographic was playing a documentary on the trail. Not one of these things can ever explain what the AT is or what it could be to you. The truth is, to sum up a 14 state trail that is about 90 years old takes much more than any one story, including my own.
And who am I to know the AT so well? I’ve backpacked close to 2,500 miles on the AT, including my 2,175 mile winter thru hike in ’06/’07. For me the trail has become like a close relative, one that I visit often, that I know well, and that has seen me grow while traversing life’s ups and downs. Because of the AT I have memories that live in my mind stronger than a lot of other moments in my life. I can still replay many of these instances vividly in my head.
On Mt. Success in New Hampshire, I would fall waist deep into a bog. Then, on Mt. Greylock, the wind would push us backwards over the icy mountain top. Later still, while in the Shenandoah, I would fight through the stinging pain on the top of my foot that sent a shock through me with every step. The worst of the moments may have been at the Overmountain Shelter where the wind blew the snow and negative temperatures through the cracks in the shelter walls while I tried to shiver myself to sleep.
Then, of course, there were the good times. We ended our day earlier than planned after the Mt. Success catastrophe, which led to the most stunning of shelter views on the entire trail at Gentian Pond Shelter. Our departure from Greylock led us to Dalton, MA, and to one of the most gracious of trail angels. The next day after that night at Overmountain, my best friend and hiking partner would meet his future wife. What of the Shenandoah pain you ask? No good came of that. Sometimes the trail is just cruel.
Today I spend more time with the AT than ever. As part of a local outfitter, I’ve prepared dozens of people for a thru-hike and hundreds for overnights. I’ve mailed them care packages, written meal plans, answered late night calls after worrisome days, hiked with them, dropped them off and picked them up from the trail. I give what advice or help I can, to help tip the scales that send over 75% of hikers home from their journey earlier than expected.
If by chance this article is your first impression of the AT, what is it you should take away? Thus far, I’ve more or less described an existential experience between each person that interacts with the AT and the AT itself. Should I describe trail conditions or trail logistics? Or should I fill your head with the beautiful and magical encounters that I have experienced out there? If you could, would you brave entering into this fairy-tale-like world to see it for yourself?
Perhaps my generalizing is intentional. Perhaps this horrible ankle twisting trail is already overcrowded. To be honest, I enjoy the solitude of sitting atop a mountain peak alone, knowing that the soft breeze is all my own. My instincts suggest that I sway you from the trail. Find your own trail, your own family, and your own fairy tale. But I can’t honestly in good conscience say these things, because the trail is to be shared. I know that generations will enjoy the exploration of setting out for a journey in the woods. Both the young and old will learn more about themselves in a few miles than in the past few years, and I also know that the trail will provide so many with the most imperfect, perfect experience.
So if your heart pulls you to a quiet place in the woods, if your feet just want to move, and if you are ready to listens to nature’s lessons, perhaps you can find what you are looking for on the AT. If so, maybe our paths will cross on that long line from Georgia to Maine, or perhaps before your trip we can sit and I can help prepare you for that next great adventure!
Trail Food with the Goatman Installment #2
Dehydration is easy. Just hike into the wilderness without any water, lie down in the hot sun, and wait for a day or two. Oh, this blog is supposed to be about dehydrated food? Well, I can do that too, I suppose. The principle is the same.
So, you’re going on a backpacking trip but you don’t want to starve. Typical human urge. You would also like to cut the weight in your pack to a minimum so that you don’t get super strong and grizzled like the Goatman, who town folk whisper about dreadfully in the night (though I am usually out cold at sundown and miss all the late night small talk). Or maybe you just don’t enjoy hauling around 50 pound packs for some reason. Either way, a simple, effective way to cut down on pack weight is to bring dehydrated foods. Backpacking 101, right? Well, this blog entry isn’t just a list of prepackaged foods that you can buy at the store (though they do come in handy on those really long hauls). What I aim to do here is to lay out the basics of DIY dehydrating from your own home with a focus on preparing weeks, if not months, ahead of time for backcountry adventures.
To be honest, my interest in dehydrating goes beyond backpacking. Sure, I love the fact that foods with moisture removed become lighter and easier to pack. I also love that I can supplement store-bought noodles and instant rice meals with veggies and meat that I myself prepared, adding not only to the flavor of the meal, but also to the nutritional value. Good food equals good health and that goes double for hard-working backpackers whose options are limited.
That, however, is but the beginning of the usefulness of dehydration. When water is removed from food, you are also preserving that food by denying bacteria a foothold. Just like us humans, those little food spoilers need water to live and to reproduce. Dehydrating increases the shelf life of food to a great extent (exact numbers depend, of course, on the properties of the exact food itself). So, when fruits and vegetables are in season and relatively cheap, I can stock up, knowing that the portion I don’t use immediately can be dehydrated and kept throughout the winter. Have a garden? Perfect. Plant some extra rows. You’ll be making stews all winter with dehydrated vegetables. There is a lot of money to be saved with DIY dehydrating, money you could be using to plan your next trek.
2: Materials and Tools
That brings me to the meat of it: What do you need to get started? Behold, the basics:
1. Dehydrator. These can run you anywhere from $50-$300. In its most basic form, this is a box with a hot air fan blowing through ventilated trays on which food is placed. Opting for a model that has both a timer and a thermostat will make dehydrating a variety of foods a lot easier.
2. Colander. There are times when you will need to blanch food (we’ll deal with this in a moment). This handy tool makes it easy to remove excess moisture from food before it is placed into the dehydrator.
3. Heat-proof metal strainer. Again, for blanching.
4. Fine mesh tray liners. These are normally sold specifically for dehydrators by the manufacturer. They allow you to dry food that becomes tiny when dehydrated without it all falling down into the bottom of the machine.
5. Parchment paper. For dehydrating wet items such as fruit leather, soups, or chili. Can also be used to prevent sticking (in the case of high sugar fruit such as strawberries, for example). Alternatively, the manufacturer of the dehydrator may also make a specific “leather tray” that is a reusable alternative.
6. Sharp knives. The more precise you are when cutting food, the more evenly that food will dry. This is huge and we’ll talk more about this later, but don’t count out the importance of a simple, sharp kitchen knife.
7. Vegetable peeler. Sometimes, the skin of a vegetable or fruit needs to be removed before dehydrating. Make sure you have a sharp one. No use wasting food by peeling too much of it away with a dull peeler.
8. Air-tight Containers. Glass or metal containers with air-tight lids work the best for long-term storage. Plastic bags are great when packing for your trip, but let in too much air and moisture to be effective for long-term storage.
Some other things you might consider having around would be a food processor or blender, a jerky gun, kitchen scissors, or a mandolin. These items are used very specifically. As a first time dehydrator, I wouldn’t worry about these until you’re ready to branch out.
So you’ve got your kitchen ready. Before you get to chopping and waiting patiently, there are a few things to consider that, if done correctly, will save a lot of time later on.
First, you must prepare the food to be dehydrated in the appropriate manner. Not all food dehydrates equally. There are ways to deal with stubborn food that we will get to in a moment. Here, I simply want to state a few basics that apply to all and any food being dehydrated.
The act of dehydrating goes something like this: hot air moves over the surface of object, carrying away moisture. As the outside of the object loses moisture, water from the center of the object moves to the outside (this is called diffusion). When all of the moisture is diffused, the object is thus dehydrated. Diffusion itself is a slow process, however, and can be helped along by cutting food into the appropriate thickness, thus revealing extra surface area over which air can move and moisture can escape.
Cut your food evenly into 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) pieces. This thickness helps foods to dry quickly and evenly while being thick enough to prevent over drying.
Once cut uniformly, you will want to spread the food as uniformly as possible. This prevents uneven drying. You may also need to rotate the trays within the dehydrator as food closer to the fan may dry faster than that further away. It’s all about balance here. You want all of your food to dry equally in order to prevent over drying of some and under drying of the rest.
Other factors in successful dehydration are all tied up together. For every food product, there is an appropriate time and temperature:
1. Most fruits and vegetables do well at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Meats must be set at a higher temperature to ward off bacteria. 155-160 degrees Fahrenheit will do the trick.
3. Herbs can be more delicate than other foods. 110 degrees Fahrenheit will work for these tasty treats.
For a more comprehensive list of drying temperatures, as well as times to expect, see the list of resources at the bottom of this article. I don’t have room here to go into great detail, unfortunately, but there are a lot of great books on the subject.
Consistent temperature is important. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that cranking up the temperature in order to speed up the dehydration process will work well. In a lot of cases, this will actually slow down your drying time due to a little something called “case hardening”. Basically, a higher temperature than what is recommended can dry out the outside of your food to an extent that it hinders the process of diffusion from the inside. Think of searing a steak to lock in moisture. We are going for the opposite of that. Consistent, correct temperature will in the end not only dry food faster, but will also retain the flavor of foods once re-hydrated.
4: Storage and Trail Preparation
I have already mentioned the fact that air-tight containers are ideal for long-term storage of dehydrated food. These can be made of glass or metal. You will want to store these in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight such as a pantry or cabinet. Foods can also be refrigerated after drying to increase the shelf life. Another common practice is to obtain a vacuum sealer and to freeze the food once sealed. For long-term storage, this is obviously the best option. However, if you know that you will be using the foods within 6 months to a year, such measures are not required.
There are a few things to look for when storing dehydrated food:
1. Again, make sure all of the food is evenly dried. If some food contains moisture, this can leach out into the rest of the food, allowing bacteria to spread or mold to grow.
2. Some foods turn strange colors when dehydrated raw (cauliflower turns purplish black. Yum.) This can be avoided by a process called blanching. Blanching is boiling a vegetable or fruit for a short of amount of time, mainly to kill the enzymes that cause discoloration. Blanching can also loosen cells in tougher foods, such as broccoli, that allow for a tenderer re-hydration.
3. If oxygen permeates your container, even well dehydrated food can develop off flavors. Make sure those lids are on tight!
When preparing for a backpacking trip, take your food out and put it in a plastic bag. Make sure, however, not to mix foods that are not meant to be together (onion flavored blueberries anyone?). If you dehydrate ingredients separately, you can combine them before leaving for a trip into single meal packets. For example, I have dehydrated onions, peppers, kidney beans, tomato sauce, and ground beef. Throw it all in a bag and I’ve got some backcountry chili. It only gets more elaborate from here. Below, in the resource section, I have listed a variety of great dehydrated food cookbooks that are more decadent than you thought possible.
5: Tips and Tricks
I am going to get specific here for a section and troubleshoot a few common problems one might come across while dehydrating different styles of food. Obviously, this list is not comprehensive, but is meant as a good starting place for beginners.
Fruits and vegetables are traditionally the easiest type of food to start dehydrating. In fact, starting out by experimenting with some basics will teach you a lot your first time through. So go ahead and slice up those apples (evenly). That brings us to our first tip: color preservation. Food you buy in the store has all sorts of preservatives to protect color. One point of DIY dehydrating is to avoid such things. This one is easy. Take a 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 4 cups of water, mix them in a bowl, and soak your apples in this solution as you slice. This will prevent browning.
Another common problem with produce is how to dehydrate “tough” fruits and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans etc.). I have already mentioned the answer a few times: blanching. The rule here is, if you don’t typically eat the food raw, blanching will help with re-hydration when the time comes. Take your food and cut it up while boiling enough water to cover all of your food. Place the food into a heat-proof metal strainer, dip it into the boiling water for approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute, and remove from the water. Throw in a colander to drain and you’re ready to put it in the dehydrator.
Some fruits have a thick casing, such as blueberries and cranberries. This is nature’s way of preventing dehydration, so we have to be smarter than nature (or at least a bit clever now and then). The case must be broken to allow diffusion to occur. This can be done by heating until the case breaks (the fast, easy way, though flavor may be affected) or you can pierce the casings individually with a toothpick or other pokey object (tedious, yes, but makes for better tasting fruit).
2. Starches and Beans
I put these together because they share a common method. Both starches (rice, pasta, barley, etc.) and beans must both be cooked prior to dehydration for fast and effective re-hydration (Canned beans are ready to use and don’t require extra cooking). We’ll use an example that involves both: red beans and rice. Delicious, nutritious, and filling, this makes a great trail meal. Although both beans and rice are dry when you buy them at the store, both take a long time (hours in some cases) to cook as to be edible. Instead of wasting fuel in the wilderness, cook these ingredients at home, either separately or together, and then dehydrate the meal afterwards. When you get out on the trail, fire up your camp stove, boil some water and you’re done. The meal should only take a few minutes to rehydrate, saving you both time and fuel when such things are a precious commodity.
Jerky takes a while to perfect and I don’t have the space here to treat it as in-depth as I would like. Luckily, there are a lot of great books and recipes out there that take the guessing out of jerky making.
Here I will simply mention the basics of choosing an appropriate cut of meat (you’re on your own for finding a recipe that you like!). The general rule with jerky is that the leaner the meat, the longer the jerky will last. Fat and oil are enemies of dehydration, unfortunately. Any fat left in a piece of dehydrated meat (or anything for that matter. I’m looking at you, avocados) will eventual turn rancid and ruin your snack.
That being said, you want to look for meat with less than 2% fat content. Cooking your meat and draining the excess fat is the first step (which also kills any bacteria within the meat). While dehydrating, you will need to periodically test your jerky with a paper towel. If oil is absorbed, take your meat and press it between paper towels to remove the oil. Do this a few times on and off and, once the meat is dried to your liking, do one last test. If no oil comes out, you’re good to go.
I’m not talking about cow hide here. Leather, whether fruit or vegetable, is a pureed, dried form that is great for snacking, among other uses. Basic fruit leather can consist of nothing more than applesauce and your favorite berries, mixed together and dried into strips. This is where a food processor or blender can come in handy.
A few tips for good leather: Press the fruit mash down when placing it on your leather tray or parchment paper. Avoid spreading, especially spreading thinly. Once again, the magic dimension is 1/4 inch. This thickness is more important than covering the whole tray. 1/4 inch, pressed uniformly, will make for leather that doesn’t over dry and crack. Leathers will firm when cooled, so don’t worry if it’s a bit wobbly when first removed. A good indicator is the stickiness of the leather: too mushy means underdone, not sticky at all means overdone.
If making veggie leather, it is better to powder the result after dehydrating than to leave it in its leather form. The whole point of veggie leather is to add flavor and nutrition to meals. Powdering makes this easy. A food processor works best for this.
Don’t forget: leather doesn’t have to be all fruit snacks and veggie powder. Take some tomato sauce and follow the instructions for making leather. Ta da. You have backcountry pasta sauce that doesn’t weigh much. Try this with salsa or barbecue sauce and suddenly your bland backpacking meals aren’t so bland anymore.
Goatman didn’t invent dehydrating food. Caveman did (or cave woman. I don’t know. I wasn’t there). The point being this: I have tried to lay out some basics for DIY dehydrating, but there is a lot more to learn. The best way to learn, as in all things, is through trial and error. To start out on the best foot, however, there are some resources that have been a great help to me and my friends as we prepare for our trips, treks, and rambles across this wild planet of ours. Below are a few specifics I have found helpful (I left out internet resources simply because there are too many to include and a simple search will pull up more than you will ever need). We stock a lot of these at RRT, so stop in for some knowledge.
MacKenzie, Jennifer, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer. The Dehydrator Bible. Ontario: Robert Rose, 2009. Print
March, Laurie Ann. Fork in the Trail: Mouthwatering Meals and Tempting Treats for the Backcountry. Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2007. Print.
March, Laurie Ann. Another Fork in the Trail: Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes for the Backcountry. Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2011. Print.
Meredith, Leda. Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More. Woodstock: Countryman Press, 2014. Print.