Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blissful Hiking's Ten Essentials for Hiking

I came across this post on REI of their updated Ten Essentials for Hiking.

Updated Ten Essential "Systems"

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter

Here is my take on the Ten Essentials for a Hike

1. Navigation. Maps, maps, maps. Consider a guidebook for the area too if unfamiliar with it. A compass is good to have but at least a map is essential.

2. Replace sun protection with insect protection (unless you are desert hiking or hiking in trails out west without trees like Utah). Ticks are a primary concern with the spread of Lyme Disease. Mosquitoes and deerflies can make life miserable.

3. Extra clothing, yes, including a good hat. I would add in rain gear. That can help shield you from wind as well as protect you if the weather turns nasty. And throw in a pack cover for your pack to keep the contents dry. And a small poncho could be used as a shelter in a pinch.

4. A trusty headlamp is a good idea to have if you run late on the trail

5. A first aid kit is a must. See my first aid kit contents.

6. Yes, you can throw in matches for a fire, but what if it's wet out? Extra dry clothing and extra food is good to have.

7. Repair kit and tools? Not sure why a repair kit is essential. I add in my first aid kit duct tape and safety pins. That will likely get you temporarily fixed until back n civilization. Perhaps a small pocket knife, but it isn't likely to help you that much.

8. Extra food is a good idea. A good trail mix has a mixture of fats, carbs and protein from the nuts, seeds, fruits, and chocolate bits.

9. Hydration. Instead of toting large amounts of water, bring water purification and a map and guidebook to let you know where the reliable sources are located. But if there won't be any (like desert hiking) then carry the water you need for the climate. 

10. I would replace "Shelter" with a Safety - bring a charged cell phone, tell someone at home about your hiking plans and when you are expected home, bring some extra cash for a ride. If there are places to sign in at trail registers, do it. Bring a pen for this and some paper too in case you need to leave a note somewhere. Add a small whistle.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Observations of a Two Week Appalachian Trail Hike – Stecoah Gap to Spivey Gap

I did the first of the series last spring where I covered Amicalola Falls State Park to Stecoah Gap, and my observations had to do with other hikers.

The start at Stecoah Gap. Harmless hiking...for now.
This time around, the observations really had to do with me. You see, I had to endure weather conditions I’ve never faced or faced in limited quantities during my spring hike this year from March 23 - April 5th . I am no winter hiker. I have never been out in anything less than 15 degrees, nor am I much on snow hiking. I did a 17 mile snow hike in Shenandoah National Park this past winter, and I must say, that hike really got me ready for what was in store during this time.

1.       Winter Camping – I broke my all-time camping temps at nine degrees at Derrick Knob shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains. When I arrived at 4 PM, the shelter was packed. Fresh snow lay on the ground with more falling. I had not ever been camping when snow was falling. Nevertheless I dug out a spot and erected my tent in a blustery wind that dropped the wind chill to below zero.
My tent set up at Derrick Knob Shelter
I put on every stitch of clothing I had and used a silk liner inside my humble 15 degree bag along with a hand warmer. I managed to stay mostly warm. What I didn’t count on was the water bottles freezing solid, including ice plugs on the top. My trail shoes froze solid (and they can take forever to get back on!). And my stove was inoperable. I learned to warm up the bottles to get a bit of water and warm up the canister, but only on the advice of other hikers. Which leads to #2

2.       Hikers helping Hikers – I was given good advice on winter camping from hikers who knew what to do. One hiker told me to carry my canister in my pocket as I got ready for camp so it would light. When I arrived at a shelter later that day, another hiker had water there from a spring so I could fill up (I’d had nothing to drink for six miles because the bottles were still frozen solid). He also went and got me fresh water as well. When I found out my lighter would not work, a fellow hiker offered me her spare pack of matches (I should have thought to bring matches as a backup).
Rescued at Newfound Gap by a fellow hiker
Another hiker picked me up at Newfound Gap and took me to Cherokee to warm up, resupply etc., all on her dime. And a fellow hiker offered the idea of getting to town to dry out after a very wet two day slog through the final days in the Smokies, and only after he helped give me advice on how to negotiate the solid ice on the trail that came from melting and refreezing of the snow that had fallen. It was also my longest hiking day at over 18 miles.

3.       Winter Trail Conditions in Springtime – There were winter conditions I have never really experienced backpacking. Like rhododendron full of snow, and when you pass through, they dump snow over you.
Going under the rhodo on the trail made for tough travel
Snow from high above in trees falling like snow bombs on top of you. Then the trail turning to a slushy mess when it began to melt. My feet were soaked and slipped and slid much more even than ice. It made for a very slow, cumbersome travel. What should have been easy hiking turned into a major ordeal.
Now it's all slush, and 2-3 inches worth of it. 
And so too my “schedule” had to change. I did not camp where planned but camped where I needed to. I still was able to make certain rendezvous with family, but had to constantly rearrange plans. So it is with the trail and weather where best laid plans are but aside, and you work out each day as it comes.

But it all passes and great views abound. On Big Bald.

Yes, this was a time for personal observations of what I endured. You never know what a section hike on the AT will bring, and this was certainly a two week adventure I will never forget.

Related Blog:

Observation of a Two Week Appalachian Trail Start

Day Hiking in Winter

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wow, I'm Sore and Achy from Hiking!

You’ve likely heard and said those words many times after a long day hiking. The unpleasant feeling of soreness. It can come from just carrying a backpack to the harsh terrain covered that day on muscles not used to such rigors.
An overstuffed pack and the terrain can make you sore and achy

The best way to minimize such effects after a long day of hiking is to try and preempt them.

First, make sure you are carrying the right backpack for you. Make sure the backpack is right with proper backpack fitting. There are also techniques for how to pack a backpack. to minimize the unpleasantness of weight bearing on tender shoulders. But do expect some pain the first few days. After all, you are doing something you have never done before. It will take time for you to adjust. So be patient with yourself.

Make sure you are not overpacking. Take only what you need. There are ways to cut back on pack weight, simply by reducing ounces (that can quickly add up to pounds). While this may not be that critical on a weekend venture, over long distances, it can attribute to lots of aches and pains. Look over your gear to see what your need and what you don’t. Have other hikers peruse your list online at trail forums to maybe help you reduce weight. Check out this gear list for backpacking for what you need on a long trip.

While hiking, be sure you are drinking plenty of water. Our body is composed mostly of water, and water keeps joints lubricated and less likely to hurt. Eat the right foods also. While enjoying a candy bar might be a good pick-me-up, it won’t help mend the tiny tears in your muscles that is the soreness you feel. You need proteins and vitamins to mend. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. I tend to crash for at least ten hours, resting myself because I know during that time, the body is repairing. It helps reduce pain.

If your need to, take some pain medicine but don’t overdo it. Advil products can cause wear and tear on your stomach, leading to ulcers. Preventing pain is better than trusting to drugs.

Limit your mileage. Don’t try to be cool and do lots of miles you are not ready for. Take your time to adjust to the rigors of hiking. Stop often to rest, eat a snack, and enjoy a view or a flower.

Yes, aches and pains can come, but the joy of the trail, the views, the woods, and times with new friends can make it all worth it!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review - Woolx Merino Wool Garments

I'm a huge fan of merino wool for hiking activities. Merino is actually a type of sheep found in the Alps of New Zealand. Merino wool is a wool based fabric that boasts non itching softness and lightweight properties with the ability to insulate despite the weather. It also does not stink like other high activity garments.  I've used extensively Smartwool brands tops and socks (lightweight and midweight) and just recently was introduced to the WoolX brand of merino wool base layer midweight top and neck gaiter to test.
Midweight Top

The moment I saw Woolx's unique packaging I had a feeling this would be a different type of product. And I was right. The feel of the garment was different. The process by which they are able to produce the wool into the garment is unlike any of the Smartwool tops I own. The weave is tight, smooth and thick (see here how it is made). It has good stretch for freedom of movement. The weight at just over 8 oz is the same as the midweight Smartwool top I own. UPDATE: I wore it as my principle baselayer while backpacking through snow and single temps in the Smokies and beyond during the last part of March, first part of April. The fabric held up under the strain of a backpack. There was no stink even after many days of hiking. The unique stretchiness of the fabric gives when hiking and was probably the best feature of the shirt. And it washed up great at the town stop.

I also wore the top on a very windy (20 mph wind) and cold (20 degree air temp) 4 mile walk and run in upstate New York. Under a fleece layer, the insulating capability was excellent. My neck became cold also, so I put on the WoolX  neck gaiter. With the tight weave of the garment, it cut the wind and protected my neck. I really thought my neck would still feel cold but it did not. The garment is excellent in wind and may well be the feature that puts this garment above the other merino wool garment brands. More testing is needed.
The gaiter. Great when a cold wind hits your neck
I was also pleased to see the simple care instructions of washing and drying rather than needing hand washing and air drying, taking lots of extra time. A bonus feature.

I was pleased with Woolx and believe it an excellent performer for hiking activities in cool / cold weather. You can tell a well made product by people that care, and Woolx fits this to the tee with a good product that strives for performance and customer satisfaction. Run don't walk to get this excellent product that is well worth the money.

About WoolX from their website -

Woolx was created, very simply, to fill in the gaps where other 100% merino wool products fell short. We wanted to raise the bar and make a 100% Merino wool garment that would always be the first one out of your drawer.
We tested and wore many companies garments. Researched and read feedback from customers who wore 100% Merino wool garments. Took our 100 years plus of combined employees outdoor experience. We then added this all together, and backed by a company with a solid 64 years in business, Woolx was born.
When you pull on a Woolx garment you will notice the difference at once. Smooth, soft, absolutely no itch or scratchiness in our garments.
When you wear a Woolx garment and you'll feel the performance...not the garment. It's there and does what it is supposed to do with unsurpassed comfort that makes it almost invisible. With our special gusseting,  premium neck bands, and the utmost care in the cut you may forget you have it on.
When you wash a Woolx Garment. Then dry your Woolx Garment. All worry free from shrinking. This gives you more time to to get outdoors and enjoy the activities you bought your Woolx garment for...not inside hand washing, hanging to dry, and shaping back.
We've only begun here at Woolx. Many new and exciting products are on the table from jackets to garments for your dog. It's going to be a great adventure! We are honored to have you along with us for the hike.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Remembering a Great Man - Bill Irwin

Bill Irwin was an amazing man who did an amazing feat – he was the first blind man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail with his guide dog Orient. Now he has received his reward – leaving this earth for a heavenly home on March 1, 2014.

Bill wrote about his journey in the memoir, Blind Courage. I bought his book back in the early nineties and it became my favorite read for years until I did my own thru hike in 2007. Bill was an incredible inspiration. I still cannot believe he hiked this trail blind.

Just last summer I decided to approach him to see if he would look over my book on my AT hike. I wasn’t sure what to expect as he was always busy. But I found him wonderfully warm and eager to take time to read my book and endorse it.

Here is what he said to me via e-mail about the book only a few months ago (July, 2014) -

“I can sit in my new home on top of a mountain facing the last 110 miles of the AT.  Straight down our driveway is White Cap Mountain, I know you remember that one.  To the extreme left is Barron and Chairback range and to the far right is Mt. Katahdin, that we call, “The Mountain”, around here as it is so magnificent!  Albeit 90 miles away from our home my wife, Debra can see this magnificent mountain from her chair! How blessed can a person get! Eh?  Praise God for His wonderful surprises and love for us!

I did read every single wonderfully written word of your book and thoroughly enjoyed all of it!  I just wanted it to go on and on; the dream of every writer is to have his audience to say that, and I do mean it!

I feel like I know you like a book!  You are the only person that has had to go through much more testing an whittling than I! :O).

I have prayed a lot about what to say in a very short space; this is so difficult as I could go on and on about Mountains, Madness, and Miracles 4,000 miles Along the Appalachian Trail, but knowing how it works with publishers  I know that every word that I write must  count and that is where a lot of prayer comes into play; just what to say that will let people know exactly what a spiritual journey this actually was for you! here goes
with a few sentences, (tongue in cheek):

John Wesley, a great leader of the past once said, “It is the duty of all believers to go out into all parts of the world and share the gospel message with all whom they meet and occasionally even use words.”  This means that what one does is so loudly spoken that another cannot even hear what they say.

And in this new book of Lauralee Bliss, Mountains, Madness,and Miracles 4,000 miles Along the Appalachian Trail, is exactly what Lauralee did! In the beginning, and even earlier in her planning of this very arduous task that God called her to, she was mostly focused on her own aspirations and life goals. This was definitely a priority! Then as time and the innumerable difficulties transpired her spiritual growth became evident and by the time she got back home from her first thru-hike of the most difficult and famous trail in the world, The Appalachian Trail, she was much more focused on her son, Joshua who was with her, and her husband, Steve, who, without his help Lauralee would not have been able to accomplish this great journey.  And a journey it was at that!  She took the focus off of the destination, which was very anticlimactic, and focused on the journey which transformed her life into a more Godly and selfless person. I know without one bit of doubt God smiles every time He thinks of this courageous woman who took a chance on losing her life, and that of her only son, known on the Trail as, “Paul Bunyan”, to share the message with everyone with whom she met and did it mostly with her feet and not her mouth.

I cannot even imagine anyone else who had so many obstacles to encounter than Lauralee and she did it like a champ. You must read this great and inspiring book; it will literally change your life!      

Well, this is my opinion, and I am sticking with it! Huge :O)

It was certainly a pleasure for me! The time it took was nothing compared to the blessings I received by doing it! Time well spent!”


Well, Bill it was time well spent reading your adventure in Blind Courage year after year and using your

example as an inspiration to make my hiking dream come true, no matter how tough it can be. Thank you!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Upcoming Spring Events for Blissful Hiking

Blissful Hiking Speaking Events this Spring 

Mark Your Calendar and come get ready for spring and summer backpacking! 

March 8,  8:30am - 5pm - Backpacking "Bootcamp" Workshop - an all day, in depth look at backpacking. Held near Shenandoah National Park in Standardsville, VA. 
**Get put on the e-mail list for a Fall 2014 overnight backpacking adventure!** blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com 

On the trail at Wayah Bald

March 15,  6:30pm - 8pm - Adventures along the Appalachian Trail - 4,000 miles of trail stories north and south plus a book signing. Rockfish Gap Outfitters, 1461 East Main St, Waynesboro, VA

75th Anniversary Thru Hiker Workshop for the ATC

April 26, 2 - 5 PM - Thru Hiker Panel Discussion - Staunton Public Library, Staunton, VA   

OTHER Year Long Hiking Events!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mental Aspect of Long Distance Hiking Explored – Part 2 After the Trail

Congratulations! You’ve finished the trail. You’ve completed the goal. You’ve basked in the glow of it all and the congratulations of others.

Then it hits. You are back in society. Back to the grind of a job, perhaps. Or there with no job and needing to pay bills. Back to society like a busy city. The simple life is gone. It’s so complicated and overwhelming. I yearn for trail life again.


I know, I‘ve been there. It’s already coming to light that there can be a certain stress syndrome involved with hikers leaving long distance trail life and returning home.  You can get depressed, anxious, nervous, moody. You can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t do multiple or complicated tasks. You try fitting back in but feel you are only on the outside looking in. You wonder what to do and really, how to live again.

So what can you do?

Realize that you will experience some kind of post trail stress after returning home. I dealt with a letdown – (lots of this is chemically induced that happens when engaged in high activity then suddenly crash when that activity ceases). I dealt with guilt for having been away from home and leaving my husband. I dealt with the guilt of not being able to do certain things, like multi-tasking. I was used to the simple life of a hiker with lots of exercise, plenty of sunshine, and limited decision-making. So give yourself a break and realize there’s going to be some adjustment involved, and it may take time. Have a plan BEFORE you hike is crucial so you aren’t overwhelmed when you return home. Especially if you need to make financial or life changing decisions. Limit those for now until you adapt back into society.

After two AT hikes, I turned to ridgerunning and speaking
Go on a diet post trail. Why should I? I look great. Not for long. Your metabolism will slow down and the pounds will start adding up quick. DO NOT eat what you did on the trail. You are no longer using up 4-6,000 calories and can therefore eat useless carbs. Stop now and eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good types of protein. DO NOT eat a bunch of Snickers candy bars like you did on your hikes. The sugar alone can send you crashing and your mood crashing too. No potato mixes, Ramen, stuffing either. Eating healthy helps you feel better. Drink lots of water too. And skip the sugary drinks and alcohol.

Go on an exercise regimen. I started a running program. You need to do something aerobic. Don’t just stop everything. Your body will rebel. So will your mind. Start by some jogging. Or just walking. Walk everywhere. Keep walking and running if you can. If you can take a day hike at times, do it. But do not STOP exercising! Your body and mind need the chemicals exercise generates to help you feel better and sleep better. And you need the sunshine.

If you find you are not in sunshine a lot or its winter take some Vitamin D3. This will help ward off colds (it’s easy to get sick when you are home and around the public) and helps strengthen bones and the immune system.

Reconnect. Set up interviews and places to share about your hiking experiences. Write about them on trail journals. Or blog about them. Verbalize your journey for others so they can see and learn too. Concentrating on others rather than yourself helps lift your mood. Find a job having to do with your interests (I turned to ridgerunning). Be a part of a hiking group in your neighborhood. Or take kids hiking. We started a church youth group and took kids on lots of adventures. Get involved with scouts. Or a trail maintenance program. DO something and share about your experience with others! By all means stay in touch on line or by phone with other hikers and join in on an event that brings hikers together. I also get involved more in praying and reading the Bible. I felt it helped me a lot by letting God give me the strength when I had none.

Be sure you reconnect with those you left behind. Be a part of their lives. You may have been on the trail for many months. I had get togethers with my friends and showed pictures of my hikes. I went and acted in a play “Miracle on 34th Street” with my husband and son to reconnect our family. Try some new but simple things that maybe
To reconnect post hike in '07, our family performed in a play 
you’ve never done. And find a new goal or dream. Resist the urge though to get out on another long distance hike right after the first. It may be tempting, but honestly, the problems will still be there when you return. Make the adjustment but keep goals for future hikes in mind.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, then by all means seek professional help like a counselor. You may need a little more doctoring afterwards, just like if we suffer a physical injury from too much stress. Stress can lead to mental injury that also needs doctoring. So seek help if things are just not working. Especially seek help if you are feeling like life is not worth living or at all contemplating ending your life – SEEK HELP! Please!    

Most importantly don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time. Don’t set yourself up with tons of things to accomplish. I found I couldn’t multi-task for a while and told my husband that. Do one thing at a time and do that one thing well. You’ll start getting back into the groove of community living again. But it can take time, so don’t get discouraged. Cherish the great memories you had on the trail and look forward to making new ones.

Related Blog

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Mental Aspect of Long Distance Hiking Explored – Part 1 The Before

Just recently on Facebook, a hiker made an interesting yet accurate observation concern hiking. He said -

“I'm going to bring up a touchy subject but it needs to be considered as you prepare for your own journey on the AT (Appalachian Trail). Simply put, a thru-hike of any long distance trail is not a solution (to) the problems and stresses that face you in everyday life. When the work and strain of 5-6 months is over and the exhilaration is fading, you will find that all those stresses and problems are still there. As (another hiker) so accurately pointed out, that can lead directly to a post trail stress disorder of its own. Perhaps you're thinking, I can just go on to the next trail and everything will be OK. Wrong. The truth is, if you’re hiking to fix your life problems, you're not fixing them, just postponing them. The trail can give you time to think and prepare, minus your normal daily stresses, but it is not a permanent fix for dealing with them. The trail can certainly build you a support network of other hikers, trail angels, ridge runners, etc. but the first thing you have to do is acknowledge is the trail is its own journey and not a complete substitute for the journey of your life.

What he said is so true. I have seen hikers out there who think a hike and the trail will solve their life’s pressing issues. Yes it can be a marvelous time to sort out those things. The fresh air and sunlight along with the physical exercise, can invite a sense of well-being and provides many mental health benefits. But once the hike is over (and at some time it must end) you are then faced with life itself. And that’s where the issues can come into play.

It’s important not only to get ready physically, prepare your gear, map out your goals, etc. But one must get ready mentally too. Not just for what the trail can dish out. But make mental preparations now for the aftermath of your adventure. That is best done before you set out on your hike. For instance, do you have job prospects lined up so there is work to do when you get back? Are you financially secure enough to take time away for a long distance hike, yet not be out on the street homeless afterwards because of no money?
It’s important before and while on the trail to involve friends and family back home. The trail family you meet are great, and you may stay in touch with them once you get off. But it’s important to keep those contacts you now have. They may be the very ones who can help you adapt back into life post trail. 

I also believe in having an active spiritual life. Praying, meditating, reading (I find much solace in the Bible) helps a great deal. Be sure to maintain a spiritual life especially before during and after the hike. I find God to be a source of great strength, understanding, and help in times of need. No matter how big or small that need is.

In Part II I examine a few steps you can take to curb the post trail stress that sometimes strikes after a long distance hike.

Other Mental Issues on a Hike