Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Top 3 Weight Loss Challenge for Long Distance Hikers

One thing I agonize over is watching hikers lugging pounds of gear in backpacks and having a miserable time. They struggle along a trail that is supposed to invigorate them. This is especially true of those beginning their AT adventure come springtime at Springer Mountain in Georgia. A good many quit by the time they get to Neels Gap.

I know. I was one who lugged heavy gear for nearly half the trail.

Finding the right kind of gear to do a long distance hike can be a challenge. While I once accumulated gear in an attempt to have what I needed for my first AT long distance hike, I realized more and more through hiking info web sites, forums, and getting out there for weekends with sore aching muscles and back the necessity of going lighter. The need to get your pack weight down as much as possible so the hike is less painful and more enjoyable. So that has meant revamping the gear list of the big three.

The gear I had hoped to hike the AT with would have been -

Lowes backpack - 6 lbs
Kelty Zen Tent - 4 lbs
Marmot synthetic sleeping bag 15 degree - 3 pounds, 5 oz

Total: close to 14 lbs with the stuff sacks, etc.

The pack I began with at Springer in '07
The pack. I was given the Lowes Alpamayo for a Christmas gift. How can one say no to a thoughtful person who is trying to be helpful in supplying gear for your dream? I thought this was the pack I needed. I did carry it for part of the hike, but it became increasingly tough to haul, and it hurt like crazy. A few times I wanted to quit. Not good! Eventually I reduced the weight by close to 3 lbs and went with a Gregory Jade. Now I have reduced it even further to my pack of choice - the ULA Catalyst.

The sleeping bag. My synthetic Marmot sleeping bag I carried for the first part of my AT hike was a large monster. It was synthetic as I had heard horror stories of wet down bags putting your life in danger. If you take care of your bag by putting it in a good dry bag (check out the Z packs line of waterproof cuben fiber ones to reduce weight and while you are at it, get a liner for your pack too), you can carry a down bag that will make it through the nastiest rain. And take off 1.5 pounds for a 15 degree bag. I've used Montbell and Marmot and Western Mountaineering. Much depends on your budget (they can get whopping pricey), but I think saving money to reduce weight if hiking is your passion is a good investment. Check out used gear forums for those selling, you can save a lot.

What about tents? When I got my Kelty Zen, it was one of the lightest weight backpacking tents out there. Ten years ago. Now with sil nylon and the way manufacturers are cutting out weight on tents with lighter fabrics and pole technology, it is a thing of the past. I now have a 2 man double wall tent that weighs just over 2 lbs in the Big Agnes Flycreek UL 2. There are also tents with single wall and cuben fiber fabric that makes them even lighter. See my blog on tents for the differences in fabric and single vs double all tents.
My Flycreek UL 2

So what is my new weight totals for the big three?

ULA Catalyst backpack (small) - 2.7
Marmot Helium down bag (3 season) - 2.6
Big Agnes Flycreek UL 2 tent - 2 lbs

Total: 7.3 pounds

Savings - over 6 pounds

Wow that feels a lot better on my shoulders, back and legs.... Worth the effort and the investment for a good time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When Injury Sidelines You

There is nothing more frustrating than experiencing an injury that keeps you from doing what you love to do. Especially hiking. After completing a three week journey on the Allegheny Trail, I came home, did too much, and ended up with severe hip pain and sciatica. Diagnosis - hip separation and muscle overuse (possible pitiformis syndrome). So now I am sidelined. I am no longer a happy hiker, enjoying the fall colors but resigned to icing, Physical Therapy, and simple walks. I’ve had injuries that have given me issues for many years. It’s not an easy thing to deal with when you are active.

So what do you do when injury strikes?

1.       First off, if you’ve suffered an injury, don’t be brave and keep hiking on it. You’ll just do worse damage. Pain and swelling is your body trying to tell you to STOP. So stop hiking. Period.

2.       RICE. Rest, ice, elevation, compression.  DO it immediately after an injury happens. Don’t wait 24 hrs. It impedes the healing process. And be sure its ICE. Don’t ever put heat on an injury. If your stomach can handle it, taking ibuprofen (Advil) helps ease the inflammation. If you can’t, Tylenol helps with pain. Turmeric is said to be an anti-inflammatory; you can get it in pill form.

3.       See the doctor. Many times you can try to deal with the injury at home. But in my case I did not wait. And sometimes it's good not to, to ward off other issues (like scar tissue forming). In severe cases with major swelling, pain, etc., you need a doctor to evaluate it. You may need x-rays to make sure something isn’t broken. You may need physical therapy to get back in the groove as soon as the injury allows. With the cost of medical care, sometimes this is put off. Only you know how bad it is.

4.       Eat nutritious food. If you are going to be sidelined for a while, be sure the food you eat is good for you. Don’t eat sugar and useless carbs thinking it will make you feel better. It won’t and may even worsen things. Protein, fiber-based foods, and lots of water are important to the healing process and for your well-being.
5.       Try not to get depressed. Easier said than done, especially when you see your buddies hiking and you’re sitting. But most have suffered like you have in one form or another. Most have been sidelined. Think of this as rest time to do other things that maybe you haven’t done. Think of the projects you can accomplish while you’re mending. Be sure to be outside too as sunshine is important to elevating your mood. Talk to others that have had injuries. Above all, give yourself time to heal by giving your body (and you) a break.

6.       Engage in other physical activities that don’t aggravate the injury. I have an exercise bike. Yeah, I hate the thing. But it’s better than nothing for cardiovascular means. A swimming pool works wonders also. Do some strengthening exercises (check online for exercises that have to do with your injury to begin rehabilitating it when the pain allows). Stay involved. When you are able, return slowly to your activity. Don’t push it or you could find yourself back at square one.

7.       Above all, be patient. It takes time to heal ligaments, tendons, and bones. Let your body do its job. Then you will be raring to go and ready to tackle that trail in no time. Remember, the trail is going nowhere. You will be back when the time is perfect.

Related Blogs

Monday, October 19, 2015

West Virginia’s Long Trail – Thru Hiking the Allegheny Trail (ALT)

For my big hike this fall, I tackled the 300 plus mile long Allegheny Trail that spans the
Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, starting at the PA border and stretching southwest until it reaches its southernmost terminus with the Appalachian Trail not far from Pearisburg, VA. It winds its way through some interesting and beautiful scenery – such as Blackwater Falls State Park and giant hemlocks, old coal towns, canyons, and ridgelines. It has a shelter system also of eight shelters. There are resupply points and friendly townsfolk (who may not understand WHAT you are doing but who want to help anyway!!)

It is important to note though this trail is NOT the Appalachian Trail with a well-trodden trail and white blazes heralding from tree trunks every 100 yards. Few people traverse this trail. There are places where you can hardly even find a trail. Some of the tread work on the hillsides is very narrow. In some areas the blazing too is very faint. It is a much more primitive trail in many aspects and thus one needs to be prepared for a primitive experience. There are blowdowns to amble over or under. 
Blowdowns are par for the course on a primitive trail
Heavy vegetation. Thorns. It is like the AT once was some 40 years ago with road walks, and friendly townspeople letting you stay places and trying to navigate a trail using maps and common sense. It takes determination, patience, and the ability to reason things out.

The website for the Allegheny Trail (see link below) provides the would-be hiker with a guidebook (yes it's over 12 yrs. old) and maps (fairly accurate). There are also multiple pages you must download and print up the updates (of which there are many). Hopefully soon they will actually update the guidebook as a while, but until then, you must download all the available info offered so you know where you are going (there are several reroutes in place that the guidebook and maps do not cover.

As I mentioned on this trail you need to use your common sense. Section One is mostly road walking and yes the blazes can sometimes be few,

View from Middle Mtn
but follow the map and guidebook to help you. Section Three probably has the worst blazing on the ridgelines, and there you must look for faint traces of blazes and faint trail traces, along with using a map. Real pioneer stuff. I did not happen to bring a compass, but it’s probably not a bad idea to carry one. With the water sources, most streams were going (even though it had been pretty dry out.) I had a hard time finding most of the piped springs listed in the guidebook. Not to say they aren’t there, but I didn’t really see them but for two. So I would count them as unreliable in case you miss them like I did.

Most of the shelters are in fairly good shape. Over half of them don’t have reliable water sources (the two at Rowelsburg, Canaan Mtn, Waddel, Marlin Mtn) but you can walk water in from other sources (except for Marlin, it would be a LONG walk as that is a dry section).  If you are interested in a resupply sheet for the ALT, email me at
Graham Shelter. 
blissfulhiking(at)gmail(dot)com and I will be glad to send it on to you. The towns were pretty good, the people quite friendly.

All in all, the ALT was an interesting look into the world of thru hiking long ago where a trail is actually a journey in the wilderness, and for that I have much admiration for the pioneers of long distance hiking.

West Virginia Trails Association (for maps, guidebook, and other info)

Beaver Creek

Several one room schoolhouses along the road walk

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers


Reposting this with the water hazards from recent heavy rainfall. The above is a river I forded yesterday. I wore my shoes in it didn't worry about getting my footwear completely soaked (a plus for quick drying footwear like trail runners), and used my hiking poles for leverage. The water current can get very swift though and can knock you off your feet. Be careful. If in doubt, don't cross.

With all the rain be have been receiving, I discovered this valuable article via the Appalachian Trail Conservancy on how to safely cross streams and rivers. Be sure to check out the ATC for other valuable articles on planning your hike and become a member!

Safety Tips for Fording Streams and Rivers

Fording streams and rivers may be the most dangerous challenge hikers confront. River crossings can be deceptively hazardous. Even a very shallow, swiftly flowing body of water can pack enough force to knock you off your feet. Use caution and common sense. Carry a map and compass and know how to use them. If a section of the Appalachian Trail is closed or presents a serious safety hazard, hikers may take an alternate route or skip those sections entirely and still be eligible to receive 2,000-miler status.

Do not attempt to wade or swim across Maine’s Kennebec River. Dam releases upstream may cause sudden and rapid changes in water depth and current. One hiker is known to have drowned and others have had near misses fording the river. The official route of the Trail across the Kennebec is the ferry service for A.T. hikers, provided at no charge during peak hiking season. Current information on the Kennebec ferry schedule.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fall Hiking Tips

There’s nothing better than a backpacking trip in the woods at the peak of leaf change. The air is crisp, the colors of the changing leaves brilliant, and the expectation is there for adventure and recreation. With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help your trip go smoother and more enjoyable. 
Max Patch in NC
Changing Weather – Fall can be a time of changing weather patterns. From warm to cold, bright sunshine to rain, make sure you are prepared for your trip. Check the weather before you venture out. Make sure your sleeping bag is of an adequate rating and you have enough warm layers. Include a good hat. Check out this blog too for ways to stay warm when the temperatures dip and what to bring when it rains. Carry the food you will need with a day extra to spare, just in case. Bring maps and a guidebook for the area in which you will be hiking.

Wear blaze orange
Bears and Wildlife – This is the time of year when wildlife is foraging for food to keep them during the long winter months. They tend to be more aggressive and are on the hunt for food. Make sure you are using bear-proof techniques to hang your food. The PCT method works well for bears accustomed to hiker food strung up the usual way. Check ahead of time to see if there are any bear warnings for the area where you plan to hike (such as in the Smokies that routinely closes shelters for bear activity. Check out the Bear facts of Life blog for tips on handling black bear encounters. Don't be afraid to be aggressive though if bears are sighted near shelter and tenting areas. Shout, bang pots, throw rocks, bark loudly  like a dog (which works very well. I've heard there's even an APP for it for your phone!). Bears should NOT be there in those areas.

Leaves and Acorns – No one would think acorns and leaves can disrupt a trip. But wet leaves makes the trail slippery which can cause injury. Piles of leaves can hide rocks and other impediments on the trail. 

Acorns rolling under your feet act like marbles to trip you up. Take extra care on the trail when encountering this minor obstacles to prevent ankle twists or other injuries.

Hunting season - Fall means hunters will be out, and wearing blaze orange is a must. Know the hunting regulations where you will be hiking. Check out the blog on hunting tips to keep you safe on the trail.

Now some top Fall Hikes of previous years (still great!) 

In the Smokies
New York and New Jersey
New England
Washington State
New Hampshire
CNN's take Includes Virginia

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Caring for the Wilderness

I have just completed my third season as the ridgerunner for Shenandoah National Park. Inevitably I
encounter hikers who ask me then – what is a ridgerunner?

Basically I hike the Appalachian Trail within the park boundary (some 100 miles worth), greeting hikers (I greeted over 500 thru hikers – those hiking the entire AT in one year – this season), serving as a roving information board, checking trail conditions and inspecting the huts (or shelters) where hikers stay. As this is my third year in the park and I have done all the trails within the park on the off season, I am fairly well able to handle the different questions hikers have, which are many. It’s my job to try and know all I can.

The role of a ridgerunner is also important to both the trail maintainers and the National Park Service. I serve as their eyes and ears. I work closely with each agency partner. I let them know when there are issues that need to be dealt with.

For instance, I let them know about garbage issues in the park that can lead to wildlife encounters.

This garbage was left in the same area where the bear attacked. PACK IT OUT

 I tell maintainers about unsightly graffiti inside huts or other things that need taken care of.

Graffiti of any kind in a shelter is not only unsightly but also criminal

And I let maintainers know where the big blowdowns are on the trail.

This season was not without incident for me, however. While camped at Pass Mountain Hut a few short weeks ago, a young bear inexplicably attacked my completely empty tent. The bear broke a pole and did some other damage. 

The park then came to inspect and try to ensnare the bear. Earlier that day I had found half eaten food inside the privy area. Adequate food storage and carrying out ALL trash (including not leaving any trash in the fire pit) helps alleviate a bear’s interest in humans and food. As well as chasing away any bears that are spotted near these structures or places where hikers are camping. My role in being an educator in Leave No Trace principles helps protect both the hiker and the park.

Of course I also enjoyed a nice view. 

Who can’t help but enjoy a place of immense beauty and natural wonder? I help the hiker have an enjoyable time outdoors while helping maintain and protect a park busy with the many visitors that come seeking fellowship with the wilderness that Shenandoah provides.  

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Meaning of Life and a Trail - A Walk in the Woods Review

A Walk in the Woods will certainly generate AT interest. But not in the way some might think.

This movie is essentially about two older people looking for the meaning of the rest of their life by taking a walk on the Appalachian Trail. One battles alcohol. The other is a washed-up author who is seeing friends die. It is a scenario those over 50 see very much in their lives. Which is why I believe the film will MEAN more to the older generation. Young folks will likely find it boring, uninteresting, or upset the way young people are portrayed in it as either hip studs ready to rescue the old codgers or obnoxious and mean. This is not a movie for young people in that sense. The movie examines the thoughts of older people. But in this, young might learn something valuable about life as they see parents and grandparents go through these struggles. Which is a good thing as these days people seem to be very “me centered.”

As for the hiker, ones that have done the AT won’t like a few mishaps with the trail or mistaken scenery placement. But this is not a documentary. Tons of those out there. It shows a few of life’s lessons and also lessons you can learn on the trail. Like what happens when one doesn’t follow Leave No Trace with food and the bears come (although grizzlies are NOT on the AT). I was also happy to see that twice the hikers showed ethics with waste disposal. There was a small 5 second clip of maintainers taking care of the trail. It did show some beautiful spots and how the trail can invigorate you and cause life changes. That will be its draw, as well as the draw of simply seeing a Hollywood flick with AT written all over it that then extends to people buying the book. Which led to the initial surge of hikers after the book’s release.

I am still concerned about the impact of the trail by those that don’t know what to do. And I feel the movie could certainly spur others to try and do it without being adequately prepared. It did not show so much the rigors but in many cases, interesting trail life. That the trail has lots of pit stops and comraderie and social aspects. That will draw folks. But preparation is the key. As well as preservation in observing Leave No Trace.

But do find a mean to life by a hike, whether in yourself are in others. A walk fills the soul in ways this modern world can never do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lightening that Backpacking Load

One of the things I love to do as a hiker advocate, educator and ridgerunner is helping hikers eliminate unnecessary weight from their packs in shakedowns. I had the opportunity to do this the other day with a young hiker who was dead tired after four miles and ready to quit. Not only was the hiker carrying heavy items like a seven pound tent and a chair, but the backpack did not fit correctly either, and the hiker carried all the weight on the shoulders.
Make the right choices to lighten the load

Not cool and definitely a painful ordeal.

So what do you take out of your pack? Most hikers tend to do overkill with food, toiletries, first aid,
etc. They take every part of a cook set rather than just the tools they need. Sometimes half the medicine chest is in the first aid kit. This hiker I helped had two 8 oz. fuel canisters for three days. Also many lightweight times can quickly add up to pounds. Eliminating these in rapid fashion decreases the weight and make a hike more comfortable.

So let’s take a few of the above.

Food. A good rule of thumb is approx. 1 ½ lbs. of food per day. No need for cans. Check my blog on hiker food ideas to give you nutritious meals without the weight.

Toiletries. No need for a deodorant, brush, shampoo. Ladies – you don't need make up. If you are hiking long distance, chances are great hostels and motels have shampoo and soap. A few baby wipes can make you feel refreshed in camp (but pack them out!!). I have never felt the need to take a brush or comb. Take only what you need for trail first aid.

Cooking. Many hikers take an overabundance of cooking gear to make simple meals. Honestly, all one needs for most meals is one pot and one Spork. No need for a plate, frying pan, or extra pots. And don’t forget a simple stove, like a pocket rocket version (there’s a cheap one on Amazon some have said works good) and a canister to cook. I’ve seen hikers struggle to cook meals over a fire with wet wood and go hungry. Bring a lightweight stove. Substitute a Smartwater bottle for a Nalgene bottle saves some good ounces.  

Lots of heavy bags, stuff sacks etc. Simple, good quality Ziplocs make organization easy and you can see through the bags to help determine what you have. But do carry a good waterproof food bag for bear bagging. And make sure your clothing and sleeping bag are in good waterproof bags.
Electronics can get heavy. Bring only what you need. A phone in many instances can serve as a camera, music player, etc.

Check your pack. Do you REALLY need that huge book? That chair (try cutting an old blue foam pad or ridgerest and plop it next to a tree)? Leave out the heavy knife and egg container. If you don’t think you will use it, don’t bring it.

Lastly, make sure your pack fits you right. Make sure also you are using the waist belt correctly.

Just few ideas to lighten the load and make it a happy trip.