Thursday, December 26, 2013

50 Days Out

Time really is just speeding by. I took the day off today to nurse a baby hangover and to refocus a little. Christmas was a blast this year which was a nice change.

Santa brought us a few things for the hike, including a couple of titanium mugs to match our new Evernew Ultralight Titanium Pot and Traildesigns Sidewinder Ti-Tri stove! We're very excited about this new cook-kit, as it has allowed us to shave about 1.5lb off of our carry weight, not to mention this new set packs down much smaller. Santa is a little late bringing our Zpacks twin quilt, but we're excited to see how all these items fit into our smaller and lighter Osprey Exos 46 packs. With all of these changes, we've managed to get our base pack weight down to around 14.5lbs!

Now, we added onto that weight a little last night. Santa brought me an iPad mini and a Pencil so that I could document my thoughts and such while on the trail easily. I haven't fully decided if I want to bring these items, especially given their cost and delicate disposition, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

We've been testing out potential cameras the past few days to try and decide which one we would like to bring on the trail. My favorite so far has been the Olympus TG-2 Tough camera. It's only fault in my book has been the sad, sad panorama mode that "stitches" together several images. I much prefer the smooth panorama that I've grown used to on the iPhone, so I could probably get away with just using it to capture 180 degree views.

Thinking about it now, it seems like we are planning on bringing quite a few electronics... Not too sure how I feel about that.

Chase has been able to cut back on work now that it is after the holiday and he actually has Sunday off this week. We are hoping to make some great progress on packing and planning. Maybe I'll even get the gear spreadsheet finished!

Merry Merry y'all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Every moment speeding by...

I have been so overwhelmed with responsibilities these past two weeks that it has been difficult to find any time for blogging.

I'm still working on putting together our gear list, but this has proved difficult do to last minute changes in some key pieces. I promise it will be up soon! We are narrowing down cameras, back-up batteries, and trail runners at this point, but we just changed cook kits and sleeping bags, so things are still very much in flux.

Chase and I haven't been home together enough for us to sort out our proposed schedule to let our friends and family know where we will be and when. I'm hoping things will slow down after Christmas and we can figure all of this out.

The house is a mess. Most of my stuff has been packed in boxes, but Chase has a long way to go. I got the Christmas tree out of the garage today and had a mini panic attack about the amount of stuff in there. Good thing we are taking the week before hitting the trail off to tackle it!

I'm giving my boss notice that I am leaving on Monday. That should be a fun day. /joy

Sheila doesn't seem stressed out at all...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Or would it?

I've been wrestling with the idea of trail names since we returned from our second shakedown hike. Really I've been thinking about it since the moment we met our first thru-hiker on the trail and sort of awkwardly looked at one another and shrugged as we introduced ourselves. I'm Kelley, and this is Chase. That sounds way more lame than Two-bit and Mini-Moose (I just made those up, so they aren't that cool). I found I was embarrassed of my own name on the trail, and I'm curious if this happens to others...

I feel like not having a trail name makes you an outsider. To me, a trail name is an instant invite into the cool kids club; and without it, you're just another nobody. I want to make it clear, we weren't treated any differently by hikers, I just felt like I didn't quite belong. I might be a little lot sensitive to this sort of thing, as my self-confidence isn't really the best (one of the many reasons I decided to hike).

From the beginning I've viewed a trail name as something that is bestowed upon you as you struggle through the first few weeks of the AT, something that really speaks about your character or your odd habits or something silly that happened to you. I was really willing to embrace this, to be nameless until the universe decided I should have a name. But now I'm having second thoughts.

We won't be staying in shelters and having the dog complicates some things, so I'm just worried about being nameless for a month and a half. According to the whiteblaze 2014 registry, there is a little bubble of people heading out in February, so my thoughts that we will go nameless seem a little unfounded, but my worry remains.

I thought it might be a lot of fun to let our closest friends and family name us at our going away party, so we could carry a little bit of who we were starting out. A reminder of where we came from. I like this idea a lot, though Chase isn't warming up to it very well. He wants to be named on the trail. And I have to admit, choosing a name before hand may take away from our trail experience.

We could always name each other, but again I think it takes away from the experience. Maybe I should just stop worrying about it.

All good things take time.

Kelley and Sheila on Blood Mountain

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lessons Learned

Chase and I got back from our second shakedown hike late Monday night. We had planned to stay out another night on the trail, but a forecast of near 20 degrees and gale-force winds changed our minds. This trip was scheduled to be our longest yet in addition to being our first trip with the dog, and I'm happy to report that it went well. Nevertheless, there are always lessons to be learned from the trail.

We ended up hiking from Amicalola to Neels Gap from Thursday-Monday. Our longest day was 11.5 miles on Sunday. We didn't hit the trail until noon on Thursday, so we stopped just short of Springer at sunset and camped at Black Gap shelter. The next day we summited Springer and made it to Hawk Mountain shelter where we camped with a few Southbounders, Trooper and Number Two, who were poised to finish the next day. Saturday we traveled from Hawk Mountain to Gooch Gap and vowed to try to cover more ground the next day. Sunday we made it all the way to Woods Hole shelter, which is located an inconvenient 0.4 miles off of the AT but the location and condition of the shelter are worth the hike in. We finished our trip with a easy 3.4 mile hike up Blood Mountain and down to Neels Gap before getting a ride back to Amicalola. 

Here's what we learned in our 5 days on the trail:

Lesson #1: The Days are Short, and the Nights are Long…
Naturally, daylight hours are cut short in the fall and winter. Unfortunately, this effect isn't very noticable in the lower latitudes of La Florida. During our hike, sunrise was around 7:00am and sunset hovered around 5:30pm. This gave us a little over 10 hours of potential hiking time. Yes, we could have hiked in the dark and I fully expect to on our thru… but we weren't quite willing to do so this time around. With limited daylight, we didn't nearly cover the amount of ground that I was expecting.  A part of this was because we didn't have our hiker-legs yet, but more so it was because we are sloooow to pack up camp in the morning, especially when it's 30 degrees out. The other result of only having 10 hours of daylight is that night lasts 14 hours. 14 hours spent laying in the tent, waiting for the sun to rise. Granted we slept most of these 14 hours, but the 2 or 3 hours spent laying awake were absolute torture.

Lesson #2: Ditch Hot Breakfast
It took us 2 hours on average to pack up camp. This includes making breakfast, changing into hiking clothes, packing our sleep systems, getting Sheila ready to hike, hand-feeding the dog her breakfast (more on this later), and packing up the tent. That's it. 

This fact was driving me crazy, so by Day 3 I made the radical suggestion to ditch hot breakfast. No hot cocoa, no coffee, no oatmeal. A Nutrigrain bar to-go and nothing more. This ended up shaving about an hour off of our time to pack up and head out of camp, which was excellent. We also got into the habit of pumping water once making camp that way we wouldn't have to stop during the day or do it in the morning. We met a couple of south-bounders on top of Blood Mountain that said they basically hop from water source to water source and never carry more than a liter with them. I can see how this saves weight, but I can't imagine spending that much time during the day pumping water.

Side-note: Why in the hell are the trails to water always the most steep and treacherous? I almost never have my hiking poles when we go to get water and I am always afraid of busting my butt. 

Lesson #3: Winter Weather Calls for a Winter Bag
For this trip we took our 20 degree Mountain Hardware Lamina sleeping bags, thinking they would be more than sufficient especially with our silk liners, and for 80% of the trip, this combination worked just fine. Our first night on the trail was bitterly cold though, and I can imagine wanting the comfort of the 0 degree bag in the dead of winter in February.

Lesson #4: Avoid Shelters
We stayed in Wood's Hole shelter on our last night, and I'm thinking that will be our final shelter stay if we can help it. This was mainly because it was much colder in the shelter with just the two of us and the dog. Sheila was also kind of a nightmare to deal with in the shelter because we were afraid she would run off in the middle of the night after whatever animal came lumbering by. A third reason is the creepy-crawlies: mice and spiders. I don't mind spiders, but I certainly don't want to sleep with them right next to my face. We weren't planning on staying in shelters during our thru anyway, but it was nice figuring out that we weren't missing much. 

Lesson #5: Work on Cardio
One of the things I've been wanting to do before leaving for the hike is to get in shape. I'm not terribly our of shape per se, but I do lead a sedentary lifestyle that isn't very conducive to hiking well on Day 1. I wasn't really hitting my stride until Day 3, which is normal, but I felt like I was slowing Chase (and Sheila for that matter) down. I really need to work on my cardiovascular endurance. I would start on an uphill and have to stop 8 steps later totally out of breath with my heart trying to burst past my sternum. Chase was patient and encouraging, telling me to go slowly and steadily, and I eventually fell into an even rhythm during ascents. 

Either way, I have noticed such a difference in my body just from being on the trail for 5 days that I would like to keep it up. I'm going to actually start going to the gym and going on runs in my free time to try and stay in shape.

Lesson #6: Trail Runners
We encountered a little trail magic curtesy of Fresh Ground's Leapfrog Cafe at Woody Gap and met quite a few successful thru-hikers. Unfortunately I'm not great at names, so I can't recall who we met, but they all had great advice for us once we told them our plans of attempting a thru next year. One thru-hiker in particular told us that nearly 90% of NOBOs that year wore trail runners in leu of traditional hiking boots. He said that those who did wear trail runners, none of them reported having tired feet or blisters at the end of the day. This was news to me, though I had heard that a lot of people were turning to trail runners. As a result of this conversation, Chase and I are going to look into a couple of options and try to work in one more shakedown hike in our new trail runners before setting out in February.

I actually ended up getting a little compression neuropathy from the hike in both of my big toes and the ball of my left foot. It's only temporary and only mildly annoying, but I'm hoping a combination of hiking in trail runners and some different orthotics will solve this problem. I'm currently hiking in some mid-top Lowa's with Superfeet insoles, so I may try layering these with some Dr. Scholl's massaging gel insoles to help absorb the impact.

Lesson #7: Be Flexible
It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that we just weren't making the kind of miles I thought we would make, but by Day 3 I learned just to let all of the frustration and disappointment go. I would like to attribute this change in attitude to a conversation we were having with Southbounders Trooper and Number Two, whom we camped with at Hawk Mountain Shelter along with section hiker Aquaman. They told us the story of setting out for their thru-hike, how Baxter State Park wouldn't even open Baxter Peak for another week when they had already arrived. They decided to start on the next section of trail rather than remain idle, and ended up beginning their thru-hike by jumping right into the 100-mile wilderness, which is reportedly one of the most difficult sections of trail. It took them 9 days to get through the wilderness but because of this "set-back" they were able to develop their hiker-legs a little before summiting Katahdin. Trooper and Number Two also had to change plans around the White Mountains of New Hampshire. During the days leading up to beginning the Whites, the weather turned really terrible and they new that it was going to be an awful time to try to hike this difficult section of trail. So they skipped it. They hiked south of the Whites until the weather cleared and then returned north to cover the section they missed. Because of this detour, they ended up having sunshine and 300 miles of visibility on top of Mt. Washington, whereas friends of theirs had to crawl across Franconia Ridge on their hands on knees the week before because of how strong the winds were. 

Essentially, these stories made me realize that yeah, the plan won't always work out and you have to be prepared for that. If you can be flexible, you will enjoy your time on the trail a hell of a lot more than if you try to stick to the plan. I'm looking forward to taking it one day at a time…

Overall, this hike went smoothly. We were happy with all of our gear for the most part, and we learned a lot! I hope to post some photos soon! Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shakedown Hike #2

Next week Chase, Sheila, and I will be setting out to Springer Mountain to hike as much of the AT as we can in 5 and a half days! We are planning on driving up in the evening after work, grabbing a hotel and getting a good nights sleep, and then setting off from Amicalola State Park in the morning.

This is our first hike with all of us together and it will be my longest hike yet. We are planning to cover 57.3 miles of the AT plus the 8.8 miles of the Approach Trail for a grand total of 66.1 miles! Oh boy!

To makes things even more exciting, the forecast for next week has winds in the 45 mph range on top of Springer and the low temperature near 28 degrees Fahrenheit! I think this will be a pretty good test of our fortitude and winter gear, though I'm sure the weather in February is going to be pretty different.

We had some last minute gear purchases to make to be ready for the cold weather, including some heavyweight long underwear, Nalgene cozies, and some waterproof over-mitts. Eventually I will put out a collective gear list, but for now there is just no time. I have a lot to say about the gear we've already purchased and used a bit, and I'm anxious to get that information out there!

My biggest challenge has been putting together Sheila's first aid kit. I had to purchase a bunch of stuff and make sure her kit packs down enough to fit in her pack. I plan on making a special post dedicated to doggy first aid. Sheila will be carrying about 5 lbs of her own gear, including 1 L of water, 1.5 days of food, her first aid kit, a ball, a brush, and her bowl. We just ordered a Guyot Designs Squishy Pet Bowl in size small (24 oz). We have the 48 oz version, but it is really just too big and it is a little awkward to pack. I hoping the smaller size will remedy this! We also bought an OllyDog Mt. Tam Hands-Free Dog Leash . I used it to take Sheila for a walk around the neighborhood, and while it is nice having my hands free, I'm not sure if I like how stiff the stretch is in the leash. I'm planning on taking her for a run tomorrow morning to see how it might work out.

Well, that's all for now. I'm completely exhausted… To bed!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


An unfortunate result from our overnight on the Florida Trail was that Sheila the dog got ticks. Lots of ticks. Hundreds of them! She was just completely infested, and her hair is so long and thick it was really almost impossible to pick them all off. Not to mention they were in the larval portion of their life-stage, so they were no bigger than the tip of a pencil. So we spent Sunday afternoon at the vet getting her treated and online trying to figure out what to do about ticks on the trail. I've learned a lot about ticks and preventative measures in that time, so I wanted to share the knowledge I aggregated for anyone else looking for this information.

What is a tick and why are they bad?
Ticks are a member of the arachnid family, a relative of spiders. There are many different species of ticks found across the country and there are a few that are known to spread disease. These are the ticks that we humans worry about the most. These hard-bodied ticks include the blacklegged or deer tick, the american dog tick, the brown dog tick, Gulf Coast tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, Pacific Coast tick, and the lone star tick. These ticks can carry a wide array of diseases, most notably Lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. The most common symptoms of tick-borne disease are fevers/chills, aches and pains, and sometimes a distinctive rash (a bulls-eye or spots).
"Bulls-eye" rash most commonly associated with Lyme disease. Curtesy of the CDC
Ticks undergo a complex lifecycle. Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to three years to complete their full life cycle, and most will die because they don't find a host for their next feeding. This infographic from the CDC illustrates the lifecycle of a typical deer tick.

Lifecycle of a blacklegged tick
Now, we were hiking in early fall/late summer in Central Florida, which means that almost every species of hard-bodied tick could have been crawling around the forest floor. I did manage to pick a few off of her and identify the species of tick. Each had six legs, and a light colored area on the abdomen. I have decided that the ticks that covered Sheila's legs and belly were larval Lone Star ticks. Here is what just a small section of her foreleg with ticks attached to get a better idea of what we were dealing with. Below that is a shot of the alcohol container we used to preserve some of the ticks in, just in case any tick-born illness developed. Note that this many ticks came from just one of her forelegs.

Each black dot is a tick

Larval stage Lone Star ticks that I pulled off of Sheila
I did find a few nymph stage ticks on the bottom of her paws, but I wasn't able to get a good shot of them.

When your dog is infested after a hike, what do you do?
Me? I panicked. I felt like such an awful dog-mom. I made the mistake of thinking that her Trifexis protected her from ticks, so coming home Sunday evening was a harsh reality to face. We stopped by the Tractor Supply and picked up a kennel dip (17% pemethrin, interestingly enough!) and some tick shampoo that would be a bit more gentle on her sensitive skin. I gave her bath and tried to soothe her worried look. I then decided that I couldn't take chances and brought her to our local Banfield Pet Hospital inside of Petsmart. After a few suggestions of having to shave the dog, which I was adamantly against, the vet suggested we use the Preventic collar. He suggested that some studies have shown that the Preventic collar starts killing ticks within 48 hours which would help minimize any risk of disease transmission. At $18.99 this was the option for us! We also opted to have her vaccinated against Lyme and put on a cycle of doxicylin to further protect against infection.

A note about the dose of doxi… we found out later through Tick Encounter Resource from the University of Rhode Island, that larval Lone Star ticks do not transmit disease, though nymph stage ticks may transmit disease. This was mainly a preventative measure because I am a worrier.

The Preventic collar did seem to kill all of her ticks within about 48-72 hours, though it left the ticks dead bodies attached to her which fell off easily after a good brushing. After reading more about the different tick preventatives, we decided that Preventic isn't our best bet while actually hiking the trail.

Types of tick preventative
There are so many types of tick preventative out there, it can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, a few sites out there have done all of the hard work and summed up each product including active ingredient, application type and even what treatments are effective against which ticks!

Information gathered from

Information gathered from
What's the best tick protection for dogs on a thru-hike?
The answer to this varies, as no two dogs are the same. For us, topical treatments do not work well due to the nature of Sheila's thick coat. We are personally going to be using a Seresto collar, which isn't listed above. This collar's main ingredients are imidacloprid and flumethrin, it's safe for dogs and cats, it lasts 8 months,  it is water resistant, reaches 97% effectiveness in 48 hours against deer and lone star ticks, and is also effective against fleas. It is a relatively expensive collar. We were quoted around $50 from a local vet.

We are mainly interested in this collar because of the 8 month effectiveness, that way we can put it on her early and keep it on well after the hike. I was leaning toward the Scalibor collar, but it doesn't seem to be offered in the states anymore.

A week and a half later, Sheila is happy and healthy with no symptoms of tick-borne illness. Our little incident really opened up my eyes to the dangers of ticks on the trail. I just hope that our good luck will continue as we set out on the AT early next year!

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking for this sort of information. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to submit them below! Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Florida Trail Overnight

This weekend's overnight on the Florida Trail was great. We hiked from the Pat's Island Parking Area to Juniper Springs, which is about 10 miles. This was Sheila's first official hike and campout, so we were anxious to see how she might do.

The original plan was to leave Friday night and do a bit of night hiking and to make our hike longer. The logistics of this didn't really work out, as Chase and his dad had to work late. So we set our alarms for 3:45am and tried our damnedest to get a good night sleep. Of course that night we were up until 11:30pm packing and getting things together, so when 4am came and went, we were still sleeping. I finally coaxed Chase out of bed at 4:15am and we started loading the car and making our finally adjustments. Chase remembered at the last minute to pack our mess kit, so we spent 45 minutes searching every nook and cranny in the house. When we finally found it, it was just after 5am and we knew we had to book it to St. Augustine to meet Mason, Chase's dad. We left St. Augustine at just about 7:00am and checked in at Juniper Springs around 9 to claim our campsite and drop off one of the cars. We then drove to the trailhead at Pat's Island and set off!

Chase leads and Sheila follows.

I first thought I would keep Sheila on the leash and just attach it to my pack. That got old really fast and by the time we got to Hidden Pond, I was letting Sheila run free. She learned very quickly that she was not permitted to go first, so she tended to run back and forth between the leader and whoever was in the middle. She probably hiked twice as far as the rest of us!

At Hidden Pond (mile 3.5), we took a welcome break to cool off and eat a light snack. I dipped by Buff and my Patagonia Capilene 1 shirt in the cool waters and relished the sensation of 72 degree water on my forehead and back. Sheila took a dip as well and seemed grateful for the opportunity to cool down. Feeling energized, we set off again through the soft sugar sand. We stopped to lunch on bagels, cheese, and apples just past Whisky Creek (mile 6). Again, it was great to take a break and sit in the shade for a moment or two. I always feel crappy after eating a heavy lunch, and this was no exception. As we packed up and set off again, my spirits were dampened as we heading into the most exposed patch yet.

It was a hot day with no cloud cover. The high was 91 at 2pm, which put us in the hottest part of the day on the most exposed section of trail. This was absolutely miserable. With feet starting to swell and my shoulder beginning to ache, I longed for road that would lead us into Juniper Springs. We ended up stopping for a break at about mile 8 in the middle of a desert. There was no shade, but we were thirsty and needed to rest our feet. Sheila found the only patch of shade and drank a few gulps a water before wanting to set off again. The clouds were beginning to roll in, so we pressed on and made it back to the campsite at about 3:30pm.

Sheila did absolutely wonderful. She pushed on harder than we did and STILL had energy left at the end of the day. I couldn't be more proud of her.

Sheila, Mason, and Chase after the hike.

Chase and his dad went to pick up the car back at Pat's Island, and I hung about camp with the dog. We both laid on top of the picnic table and relaxed. I began searching Sheila over for ticks when all of a sudden it started to get darker. I checked the radar, and sure enough, a great globule of rain was heading my way. I was prepared to throw Chase's rain jacket on Sheila and to hunker down, but thankfully none of that was necessary as the guys pulled up just in time.

They were both skeptical about the rain, even though the radar clearly indicated that it was going to be more than a brief shower. Chase and Mason began setting up the tents and right on cue the sky opened up. We were able to get the rainfly on the tent within a minute and Sheila hunkered down in the vestibule to wait it out. We waited out the rain under an umbrella (me in my rain gear, being the only reasonable one) and as soon as the rain quit, we wiped down the inside of the tent and pat down the dog.

Mason wasn't as fortunate. His old MSR Hubba Hubba has had it! The rainfly is no longer waterproof, so he ended up with a couple of gallons of water in his tent. We shook it out the best we could and rigged up a set up to help the rain fly do its job. We used some guy line and some hiking poles to keep the rain fly off of the mesh, which would hopefully help if it decided to rain in the middle of the night.

We decided to make a trip down to the spring to take a dip before sunset. Dogs aren't allowed in the day use area of Juniper Springs, so we took a trail from behind the campsite down to the boardwalk that leads to the spring swimming area, hoping Sheila would be quiet. She was very well behaved and we didn't meet anyone on the trail, so Chase held her while Mason and I went for a quick dip. Mason chickened out when he was only in up to his knees, but I was brave enough to submerge myself in the refreshing 72 degree water. I sat content while the minnows nibbled at my legs and feet. It felt so amazing. If you've never been in a Florida spring, I highly suggest you make a trip, before these ecological wonders are ruined or disappear.

Copyright SunyFLx4 Photography

We took a walk along the boardwalk that parallels Juniper Creek as the sun was setting and enjoyed a nice night "hike" back to camp. After a dinner of Ramen noodles and carrots, we cleaned up and got ready for bed. This would be the true test to see if Sheila could be trusted to actually sleep in the tent. She did great. She only woke up a few times throughout the night and only kicked me off of my sleeping pad for about an hour. The weather was nice and cool after the sunset, so we weren't kept awake by her incessant panting.

All in all, I think we've got ourselves a trail dog!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Finding a Dog Pack

This was a really sore subject for me, and I think Chase was getting a little annoyed with me about it. The very first thing we bought when REI opened here in Jacksonville, was their REI Ultra Dog Pack. We used our opening day gift cards and barely paid anything for it, so we were happy with the purchase. Until we got it home and put it on her.

She didn’t seem to mind it being on her, but the belly strap was just a little too tight in my opinion. Chase insisted that it should be snug, but i just wasn’t comfortable with it. So I set off to the Internet to find a better option.

I immediately found the RuffWear Palisades Pack and thought that it would be a good option. There was only one problem. Sheila is an Australian Shepherd, so she has a very deep chest, a narrow waist, and a fairly long body. The instructions for fitting on RuffWear’s website are to measure around the deepest part of the chest. And of course, Sheila is 27 inches, right between medium and small. We held off on this purchase for a few months (actually until after we got back from our Nantahala Shakedown) and we ended up going with the small, based on RuffWear’s recommendation.

Sheila, again, didn’t seem phased by the pack, and it fit a lot better than the REI pack. We went for a walk around our neighborhood with just a bit of water in each side pocket. I decided after a lap and a half that this wasn’t my ideal pack either. It tended to slide to one side or another based on which side of me she was walking on. I tried tightening the chest and belly straps more, but it still tended to one side or another. The REI pack did this as well, so I’m thinking it had something to do with all of her fur.

So it was back on the Internet. I have been following along with Jill at A Trail Life for a few months now and reading about their hiking adventure with Rooney, so I decided to try out the Granite Gear Long Howl Pack.


This has so far been my favorite pack for her. The design is quite different from the Palisades and the REI, and I think it works better for her over all. It is a bit smaller (capacity wise) and it’s a bit more difficult to put on and take off, but the weight is much more evenly distributed. I think we will be able to deal with the decreased capacity, as we are only planning on her carrying two days of food at a time. Our first chance to really test it out is coming up this weekend on our overnight in the Ocala National Forest along the Florida Trail. I’ll be sure to update when we get back.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sheila's Gear update

We’ve been doing a lot of shopping around since we decided to bring the dog along for our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. We’ve bought 3 different packs for her, multiple bowls, debated on doggie footwear, and even talked about getting her a raincoat and an insulated jacket. Well after all that, this is what we’ve decided we need for surviving this trip with the dog.

Dog Pack

I'll be making a separate post about Sheila's dog pack. Stay tuned!

Foot Protection

I knew from the beginning that keeping Sheila’s feet happy was going to be key to successfully completing this hike with her. I thought boots would be the best option at first, but the more I read about them, the more I didn’t like the idea of her wearing boots. Nevertheless, Chase insisted we at least try them out, so we purchased some Granite Gear Dog Clogs when we ordered her pack. We ordered both medium and small sizes, because again she was between sizes. The medium boots were too big, and the small boots were really difficult to get on because her foot seems too long for them. They also just didn’t seem that sturdy. I couldn’t imagine how they were supposed to help her grip on slippery rocks or help her climb up jagged edges. If anything, I felt they were more of a hazard.

I took another cue from Jill at A Trail Life and purchased some Musher’s Secret. This seems to be the perfect solution. You just rub a little wax on their paws before heading out into the snow or sand, and reportedly helps them keep their grip on slippery surfaces. The wax is meant to protect sensitive pads and there is added Vitamin E to keep them from blistering and cracking as well. I’m excited to test it out this weekend.


At the REI in Atlanta (another side story from our Nantahala Shakedown Trip) they had these Guyot Designs Might Bowls on sale. We picked up the only one they had left (a 48oz monster!) because I really liked the idea of a squishy, silicon food and water bowl. It’s light, super bendable, and it will pack just about any where. I am hoping to pick up a smaller one to cut down on weight a little further. Amazon has the small one on sale for about $12.


We are planning on carrying regular dog food. She’s on about 2 cups of food per day now, so I’m guessing that’s going to go up to about 4-5 cups per day (2 in the morning, 3 at night) and with silicon, I don’t really see the reason to purchase a separate bowl.


We are still deciding on the contents of her first aid kit and debating whether or not to bring a ball (her favorite toy in the whole world). For sure we are going to be bringing at least two of her four brushes.

This might seem absurd, but for an Australian Shepherd it is extremely important to keep their coat thoroughly brushed. I’m not planning on shaving her because her coat actually functions to keep her cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And besides, it can ruin her coat permanently if it isn’t done properly. So brushes are an essential part of her gear. She has a general comb for getting knots out and a FURminator which has been great for cutting down the amount of shedding in the house. Even though its heavy, I’m thinking it will be really useful for finding and weeding out ticks before they attach.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hi Blogger. Long time, no post.

I’ve been crazy busy trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life regarding grad school and spending a lot of time studying for the GRE. I took the test yesterday, and I did fairly well. I wanted to do better on the math section, but I ran out of time and didn’t have a chance to check my answers. I had 10+ minutes at the end of each verbal section, and I wish I could have used that extra time on the math. Oh well, though, there is no use dwelling on things you cannot change.

I’m supposed to be spending this week mulling over grad schools and narrowing down professors, and I’m sure I’ll start on that in a little while. I wanted to take the chance to make a proper blog update. I’ll probably load a few things into the queue and let it be for the rest of the week.

I’ve got a few updates on what gear we’ve switched out and why, a whole new gear list for Sheila the Aussie Dog, and even a little bit of insight on our budget situation and how we plan to return from Maine. I hope they will be insightful and entertaining!

Feel free to ask me any questions about us or our hike! I’d be happy for a little human interaction. :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tent replacement

I’m thinking we are going to upgrade to this Tarptent Stratospire 2. After an overnight with the dog in the Marmot, we decided we don’t have enough room for us all.

And this tent is about 52% lighter (Marmot Astral 2P: 4lbs 13oz vs Tarptent Stratospire 2: 2.5 lbs).

Now all that’s left is to order it before our November shakedown!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pisgah National Forest

I think this is where we are going to be in early November for our winter shakedown. I’m thinking of looping somewhere behind Davidson Campground on the Art Loeb trail.

Anyone have any experience out here?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1 / North Carolina Advernturetime: Conquering Albert

Monday, July 22

I awoke refreshed and with a better outlook. We packed up camp and headed the hell of out of Betty Creek Gap. And of course, about a quarter of a mile down the trail, we hit Mooney Gap which had a campsite that looked a million times better than any of those in Betty Creek, although there was a “No Camping” sign posted and was situated right along a forest road. We stopped for water, which didn’t take as long as it did at Carter Gap, so maybe perception is everything in these instances. At this point, the next mile and a half was all uphill to Albert Mountain. I donned the GoPro, and off we went!

The going was tough, and the tough got going indeed. We made great time as I pushed forward to make it to our next checkpoint. We passed a group of hikers from the ATC Biennial conference, whose only warning was “It’s about to get rocky.” Rocky was an understatment. There were boulders that we had to climb up in order to get to the summit of Albert. The overhand climb was a little tough because I wasn’t used to the extra weight of my pack and there were moments when I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. I cursed mothernature many a time on the way up, but when we finally made it, I was exstatic. Beautiful views and clear weather greeted us at the top, and we celebrated with a hot lunch. This was a bad idea.

We hung out on Albert longer than Chase wanted to, but I welcomed the break after our tough ascent. On the way down, the food weighed heavy in my belly, and it we moved slower than anticipated. My feet began to hurt from the steep desent, but it leveled out soon enough. We made it into a beautiful valley area and stumbled upon a brand new shelter. We took the opportunity to rest and to talk to a guy who camped at Standing Indian Campground often. We weren’t too far from Glassmine Gap and the trail back to the parking lot, so we pressed on, stopping to take pictures at a stream coming out of the base of a tree. The trail was pretty easy through here and we were at Glassmine Gap sooner than we expected.

We took a short break and then turned down Long Branch Trail. This trail was narrow and seemed like it wasn’t used very often. There were a few downed trees and we were forced to reroute around them. A lot of the trail was downhill and my feet and ankles were starting to really hurt. We weren’t too far from the car at this point, and I was yearning for a bit of AC and a place to sit down.  The guy we were talking to at the shelter caught up to us and passed us, which was a little discouraging until I realized he wasn’t carrying 30lbs on his back.

We made it back to the car and I was happy to unload my pack and take my boots off. I would have plenty of time to recoup as we now had a 6 hour drive to Raleigh ahead of us. We pulled out of the campsite and pulled off the highway to snap a couple of victory pictures at a scenic lookout. It was a great feeling to be finished! We got back on the road and celebrated further with a big, fat, juicy, disgusting Hardee’s burger.

Our trip was amazing and we learned a lot. I’m hoping to post brief reviews of some of our gear soon!

Betty Creek Gap to Glassmine Gap: 5.3 miles
Long Branch Trail: 2.0 miles

Total mileage: 22.6 miles

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1 / North Carolina Adventuretime: Betty Creek Nightmare

Sunday, July 21

We awoke around 8:30am, made a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot cocoa, and packed up the campsite. It was a beautiful morning and we had some great views of the surrounding mountains from the lookout point at the top of Standing Indian. I felt great as we descended into Carter Gap and we were making great time. The area that the Carter Gap shelter is located in is beautiful , though it is a bit of a hike to get to the water source since it is located behind the old shelter that has since been dismantled. It took almost 50 minutes to filter 6L of water with our Squeeze and were really annoyed by the setback. I also realized that my monthly visitor had arrived and I had not packed sufficiently! Thus began the moment in which everything turned south. We packed up and hiked on planning to make it to Betty Creek Gap before nightfall. The clouds began to press in on us It slowly got darker and eventually the rain began to fall. We pulled on our gear, excited to test out our gear and set off again convinced the rain would stop before we had to make camp. We were wrong.

I became evermore agitated at the whole prospect of hiking to Betty Creek as we got closer and the rain continued to fall. I was tired, sore, annoyed, wet, etc. We had just another mile or so to go, and I became downright unbearable to be with. I apologized to Chase later, as I was taking out my frustrations on him as we hiked the last quarter of a mile to the gap, blaming him for our unfortunate circumstances. Chase had said there was a shelter at the gap, and I was so looking forward to a dry place to sit and nurse my sore feet and tender belly. There was no shelter at Betty Creek. I thought I was going to break down crying. Chase was ever so patient with me though, and I can’t thank him enough for setting up camp and letting me relax and calm down in the tent.

Our campsite sucked. It was muddy and rooty and Betty Creek Gap was extraordinarily creepy. We had a cold dinner in the tent, finishing off the last of the summer sausage and bagels. I was significantly happier after eating and drying off a little in the tent. Chase left to hang the food bag and I sat alone in the middle of creepy Betty Creek Gap, absolutely terrified at every raindrop that sounded like a snapping twig. Chase told me after he came back that the entire gap was filled with an eerie fog, and that he was also creeped out a bit. We tried to get some sleep, and I definitely slept better than the first night, but Chase was up off and on due to the angle of the campsite. He woke me up in the middle of the night to show me a mouse that had chewed a hole in my brand new pack to get at some trash that I had overlooked. Cheeky mouse!

I was pretty grateful for this day in retrospect. Not every day can be awesome and I like knowing how I will react in bad situations. I felt bad for acting like such a brat, but if I had been more prepared, everything would have been better.

Standing Indian to Betty Creek Gap: 9.2 miles
Total mileage: 15.8 miles

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1 / North Carolina Adventuretime: (out)Standing Indian Mountain hiking!

Saturday, July 20

We woke up around 8:30am and enjoyed a simple breakfast. I had a banana and a cup of Tang, while Chase went for the honey bun and a cup of coffee. We left the hotel soon after and arrived at the trailhead a little after 11:30am. I was super stoked to finally get on the trail and was ready to go soon after arriving. Chase took a little more time to make sure he had everything and that the car would be secure, but we were soon making our way happily down the trail.

We did it! I kept thinking to myself, We made it and we are actually hiking! I am setting out on my very first backpacking trip! It was surreal! And awesome!

The Kimsey Creek Trail starts at the Standing Indian Campground Backcountry Information center and then cuts through some of the campground before shooting off to follow the Kimsey Creek up to Deep Gap. This trail was listed in the “More Difficult” section of the backcountry trails surrounding Standing Indian, and they really meant it. The trail began going uphill very steeply within the first half-mile, and I thought I was going to hate backpacking. I am not in very good cardiovascular shape, and I was breathing heavy in under 2 minutes of the climb. But it got easier elevation-wise and we were soon paralleling the creek.

This was both refreshing and bothersome! Such a beautiful mountain stream! So many gnats! I was stopping every few steps to pick them out of my eyelashes. Yeah. Totally gross. (We used a picaridin-based bug spray, and it worked awesome! But it doesn’t repel gnats.)

Eventually we made it the 4.2 miles to Deep Gap! How wonderful it was until I realized that it was another mile to Standing Indian Shelter, and that hiking a mile takes more than a minute. The hike from the parking area to the shelter was pretty and less buggy for sure. We could hear thunder in the distance and the skies threatened rain, but we were spared. Making it to the shelter was wonderful. There were two hikers there who were setting up to spend the night. They had come from Carter Gap that day and enjoyed several weekend hikes throughout the year. They were very nice and even let us have a spare lighter when we realized we had forgotten to stop at the convenience store to pick one up.

We ate a lunch of a bagel with summer sausage and cheese spread at the shelter. Chase and his dad enjoyed the old “bagel and log” during scouting, but I don’t think it will be something I take as a viable meal on the trail. It was heavy in my pack and heavy in my stomach! One of the hikers at the shelter said he was cooking chicken and dumplings from scratch that night, but I didn’t ask him how he did it. It sounded too good to be true.

We filtered water to refill our hydration packs and bottles and carried dirty water to bring to the summit of Standing Indian, which is where we planned to camp that night. After leaving the shelter, it was a quick but steep two and a half miles to the summit. Our campsite was perfect. A grassy spot for the tent, exposed rock to cook on, a clearing to hang the food and relieve ourselves in, everything was wonderful. We got there a little bit late, so we ended up cooking a dinner of black beans and rice and tortillas in the dark. We didn’t get to bed until after 9:30pm. I didn’t sleep very well due to my sleeping pad going flat in the middle of the night (an REI garagesale item that I got for $20, so I’m not that upset). It rained in the middle of the night, and it was quite peaceful listening to the rain hit the fly.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hickory Nut Gap Inn

Mountain Moonrise 1

Bat Cave, North Carolina
Courtesy of

Our view from the cabin. This is actually the moon coming up over the top of the ridge. So beautiful.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1 / North Carolina Adverturetime: Pre(mis)adventure Preparations

We had a blast on the trail, and there is a lot to be told! I will be breaking up these posts according to our pre-hike preparations, the hike, and an overall gear impressions post! Check back for updates!

Thursday, July 18

Today was a boring, uneventful day at my desk job that was only made brighter by the fact that I was leaving an hour early in order to go home and begin packing for our impending trip up to North Carolina. Chase was supposed to be at home gathering all of our gear and treating our clothing with pemethrin and I had already done a small amount of preparation so I thought that I wouldn’t have much to do when I got home. It turned out that we still had a lot of things to take care of and we were not all together ready for what we were about to do! This was stressful since we had talked about leaving by 7am to make it to Standing Indian Campground after lunch on Friday.

My pack was not fully packed until around midnight, and at that point I realized that no matter how I adjusted and fiddled with my pack, it was not sitting comfortably at all. I felt much of the weight on my hips, but the pack couldn’t get close enough to my back to prevent the shoulder straps from cutting into my collarbones. This was not okay. I tried everything over the next hour to get my pack to sit correctly on my frame. I reorganized the load with no luck. I adjusted all of my straps and the height of the harness itself, fiddling with different combinations of lengths but it was to no avail. Frustrated and defeated and more than a little grumpy, I finally decided to just go to bed an deal with it in the morning.

I did not want to start our adventure grumpy and with an ill-fitting pack so thankfully a decent night’s sleep changed my attitude for the better.

Friday, July 19

We awoke around 9am and slowly got the car packed while discussing our options for the day. We had already planned to stop at the Patagonia in Atlanta to exchange a pair of defective boots Chase had purchased on Steep and Cheap for me, so we decided to also stop at one of the REI’s in the Atlanta area, figuring that they would be more knowledgeable of my situation and needs than our local Jacksonville store. With a delicious smoothie for breakfast, we set off on the 6+ hour drive to Atlanta.

The Patagonia ended up being located in a little sketchy strip-mall area, but we were happy to make it there! Their customer service was phenomenal! The girl who helped us exchange my boots was extraordinarily helpful. She let us exchange the size after I tried the boots on again in the store and decided they were not the proper fit, but they didn’t have the next size up in stock, so she called Patagonia Boston and had them ship the correct size to our apartment at no charge! It was really incredible considering the boots are not even being made anymore and we did not even order them directly from Patagonia. What an awesome company!

Next we ventured to the closest REI and proceeded to spend two and half hours or more trying on multiple brands of packs and different combinations of sizes after it was determined that my Osprey Ariel was just a tad too small. I was between sizes, not quite small and not quite medium, and it was endlessly frustrating. I tried every brand with a pack that fit my specifications multiple times, debating over each one. The only bag that seemed to fit better than the Osprey that I had already was the Gregory Deva 60. It took a little bit of getting used to the intense lumbar support, but the pack fit my frame very nicely when adjusted properly. Chase and I wanted to test out one more combination of a medium harness on the small Osprey bag, but the REI we were in mistakenly only had a large harness for the medium Ariel pack. We decided to go ahead and see if the other REI had the correct medium harness for me to try out. We also decided to buy the Gregory pack in case they didn’t have it at the other REI (which was clear across town and it was rush hour) and if the medium harness did not help my situation. I’m glad we did because the other REI had the medium harness but not the medium bag to go with it, and the combination of medium harness/small bag was not working. So I spent $330 on a new pack and got a store credit for my Osprey since it was a gift. It was hard swallowing the cost of this gear change, but I’m sure we will spend that money on something else… like a Palisades Dog Pack!

It was now after 9pm and Chase had spent the last 30 minutes trying to find a cheap hotel for us to stay in, since we were obviously not going to be hitting the trail that day. We ended up booking at America’s Best Value Inn in Clayton, GA, and had a lovely night sleep. It was easy to sleep well knowing that my pack issues had been solved and that we would be finally setting foot on the trail the very next day!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hey y'all!

We just finished up our vacation in North Carolina! Our shakedown hike went well, but I am too tired to post about it now. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson


A Walk in the Woods was the first book I decided to read in preparation for our upcoming thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This book is praised as the inspiration of many a thru-hike, but I have to say the only way that this book inspired me at all was to grind my teeth in frustration.

A Walk in the Woods is a self-self-proclaimed rediscovery of America via the Appalachian Trail from someone who has not lived in the country in twenty years. After preparing for his expedition with a quick visit to the local outfitter and begging old friends to come with him, Bryson and his friend Katz set out on the trail, only to have misadventure after misadventure. Bryson and Katz eventually realize that they are in no way, shape, or form going to finish hiking the Appalachian Trail. They part in Front Royal and agree to meet back up at the start of the 100-Mile Wilderness one month later. Bryson takes the opportunity during this down time to drive along the Appalachian Trail and section hike. Once he and Kats are reunited, they make it to West Chairback Pond in Maine after Katz gets lost in the woods, and they decide to call it quits. They never get to even see Katahdin. 

Now, I am a big supporter of the idea of hike your own hike (HYOH), but my god how can anyone call this trip a “rediscovering of America?” At best, this book is a self high-five for taking a chance on a once in a lifetime adventure, full of personal opinions muddled in sarcasm and not much on his actual experiences hiking.

Bill Bryson is a sarcastic ass, and while I can appreciate some of his humor, I was mostly shaking my head in dismay. And Katz. Katz. I wanted to throw Katz off of a mountain just as he chucked half of the contents of his pack off a mountain. How these two men talk about and treat women is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve read in my life.

The number one thing that bothered my about this book was the manner in which Bryson flip-flops between wanting to preserve the nature surrounding trail and wanting to see it more developed or “restored” to farmland. He does this several times, especially through the Smokies. His prose reads as if he is an expert on national parks or conservation or preservation efforts or “how things should be,” but I highly doubt his expertise in any of these areas. This book would be infinitely more enjoyable if Mr. Bryson didn’t inject his own personal opinions on certain matters into every single paragraph. He is excruciatingly negative. Everything could be done better or differently, and he doesn’t hesitate to say so. I have to say I’m not used to this sort of subjective writing, as I’ve spent the last 5 years of my undergrad reading objective scientific papers.

I enjoyed almost nothing of this book; not even his descriptions of his interactions with people on the trail. Again, he has almost nothing nice to say. Every interaction is written in a way that makes whomever he is speaking with sound like a backwoods idiot. This is a sad disservice to the people of the Appalachian Trail, as I’ve heard from so many the people you meet are one of the great gifts of the trail.

I will concede that this book tends to give people an appreciation for what it takes to hike the Appalachian Trail or to do any extended backpacking, and that is something I am grateful for.

I encourage anyone to read the book and form their own opinion, but if you’re looking for a book that will show you what the trail is like, this is not the book for you.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book reviews

I’m in the process of writing a book review of “A Walk in the Woods.”

When I say “I’m in the process,” what I really mean is “I have a draft of a post saved with nothing but the title ‘book review’ and I probably won’t actually write anything for another month.”

Anyway, if I can manage this, I will be writing book reviews for all of the books I’ve read on the Appalachian Trail so far. Hopefully this is something people will appreciate!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Shakedown Hike #1

… is approaching quickly! Too quickly almost!

Chase and I will be hiking the popular Nantahala Basin Loop trail, which encompasses about 18 miles of the AT from Deep Gap to Glassmine Gap. I found this hike on Everytrail and it seemed to be the perfect hike for what we needed: a multi-day loop with a variety of terrain. We have a few options regarding the actual route of the hike, and I’d like to present those options here:

Option 1:
Long Branch Trail from Standing Indian Campground to meet the AT at Glassmine Gap (2.0 miles). Take the AT south to Albert Mountain, with the option to camp on the summit (3.5 miles), or continue to either Betty Creek Gap (5.7 miles) or Carter Gap (9.4 miles) depending on how we feel. I’m expecting a short day and the 5.5 miles to Albert might be enough to exhaust us completely. The next day, we could hike from the summit of Albert to Carter Gap (6.2 miles) , Betty Creek Gap to Beech Gap (6.9 miles), or from Carter Gap to Standing Indian (6.1 miles). Day 3 would encompass either Carter Gap to Standing Indian (6.1 miles) , Beech Gap to Standing Indian (2.9 miles), or taking the Lower Ridge Trail from the summit of Standing Indian back to the campground (4.2 miles). The 4.2 miles from the summit of Standing Indian would make for a short half-day hike on the last day. This would be 22 miles total over possibly 3-4 days!

Option 2:
Kimsey Creek Trail from Standing Indian Campground to Deep Gap (3.7 miles). Take the AT north to Standing Indian Mountain (2.4 miles) with the option to camp on Standing Indian. We could also push on to Carter Gap another 6.1 miles from the summit of Standing Indian, but I doubt we will. From there, Day 2 would be Standing Indian to Carter Gap (6.1 miles), or Carter Gap to Albert Mountain (6.2 miles). Albert Mountain to Glassmine Gap is only 3.2 miles, and the exit trail along Long Branch is only 2.0 miles, making for a short Day 3/4. This trail route is 23.6 miles!

Option 3:
Lower Ridge Trail straight up to Standing Indian Mountain (4.2 miles), where we could camp or press on another 2.9 miles to Beech Gap. On Day 2, from Standing Indian to Carter Gap is 6.1 miles, and our hike would be much of the same as Option 2 for the final miles. If we make it to Beech Gap, Betty Creek Gap is 6.9 miles away, and our third day would encompass the steep climb up Albert Mountain (2.5 miles) and camping at Long Branch Shelter (4.9 miles total from Betty Creek), and a short day from Long Branch Shelter back to Standing Indian Campground (2.8 miles). This would add up to a total mileage of 21.7 miles!

I’m personally leaning toward Option #2! This option will show us the trail as we will see it when we set off next year, with the opportunity to summit two mountains and camp on each. The mileage is also uniform, which I think I will benefit from as this will be my first backpacking trip.

AWOL’s A.T. Guide (2013 edition) shows the terrain for this section hike on page 16, which will be very convenient for us. I highly recommend this book to anyone hiking the Appalachian Trail, thru- or not.


Overall I’m really stoked to finally get out on the trail and test out my gear. I really wish we could bring the dog, but the logistics didn’t work out this time since we will be spending time after our hike with friends and family.

I will be posting lots of pictures and probably initial gear reviews after the hike!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Favorite hikes in NC?

Chase and I are heading up that way in mid-July and would like to use this opportunity to test out gear on a couple of overnight hikes in the western North Carolina area. We would prefer a loop hike or a hike where we can get back to the car without having to just hike out a certain distance and then turn around.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

One chapter into AWOL on the Appalachian Trail...

And I’m already enjoying it much more than “A Walk in the Woods.”
No fluff. I like that.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

AT Reading List

I received some books in the mail today! I can't wait to get to reading. I've heard such great things about AWOL and about Appalachian Trials. And the AT Guide is more so we can get used to the format and use it on any shakedown hikes.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


I picked up some postcards while in the Keys that I'm hoping to send out to some of the 2013 hikers soon. I hope I can find the right words of encouragement! And maybe some M&M’s.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Budget Budget Budget

I’m trying my damndest to save up as much money as possible while paying off my student debts and credit card, but the money I’m making working full-time is only about 70% of what I thought I would be bringing home. I also found out about furlough today, and I’ll be loosing 11 days of pay starting mid-July. And who knows about that raise…

I still have a lot of gear to buy, and I’m starting to panic a little. Does anyone have any advice for how much to save?

Gear update

Here’s a quick list of the big ticket items we have purchased so far. We are planning on beginning in February, and we’re both a bit nervous about the cold, hence the heavier jackets. Some base layers have also been purchased, as well as a couple of beanies and things. We still have a long way to go, but at least we are making some progress! We've been getting a great deal on almost all of this gear because Chase is such a wiz at shopping for deals. I swear he's addicted to Steep and Cheap.

Gregory Baltoro 65

Osprey Ariel 65

Mountain Hardwear Lamina 0

Mountain Hardwear Lamina 20

The North Face Meru Gore-Tex Jacket

Patagonia Super Pluma Gore-Tex Jacket

Patagonia Women’s Micro Puff Jacket

Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody

Patagonia Men’s Micro Puff Jacket

Patagonia Nano Puff Hybrid Jacket

Saturday, March 23, 2013


We got our tent in the mail today! A Marmot Astral 2P! It’s lovely, and roomy enough for the whole family. We will be testing it out in Bahia Honda next month! It's a bit on the heavy side, but we got it for a good enough price I hope we will be able to handle the weight.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Christmas in March

We had a goody bag full of Patagonia jackets and gear waiting for us at home after spending 9 days on the St. John’s River! Feels like Christmas!

Chase and I participated in this Transformational Learning Opportunity offered by our school. We spent 9 days aboard a houseboat living with 10 other students. It was really a great opportunity and it really changed my perception of how we treat our natural resources. Here in Florida, everything is about water. We studied and learned about our extensive freshwater spring system and how our actions are impacting these fragile and ancient ecosystems. Conserve water, y'all!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Will you come with me to the mountains?

Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?
~C.S. Lewis

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis. I feel like he really captures what it means to go into the mountains on foot. It may be something you feel like you regret at first because it's so difficult, but living a shadow of a life isn't gratifying, and maybe it's worth sacrificing your comfort to actually feel alive.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rain Jacket

Bought my own first piece of (potential) gear today; a rain jacket! This was the Deal of the Day on REI, and I couldn’t resist. This Sierra Designs Wicked jacket weighs only 10oz, and is apparently wind proof! There isn’t any insulation, so I’m hoping the size will be big enough to layer underneath. And if I decide it won’t work for the long haul, at least I’ll have a bright purple rain coat to wear around town (okay it's pink).

Monday, March 4, 2013

REI Grand Opening Gear Haul

Of course, the first gear we buy is for the dog. :)

With all of the goodies we earned from REI for going to the grand opening events, we were able to buy the REI Ultra Dog Pack that is normally $75 for around $50, and even then I was able to use promotional and gift cards to cover the rest of the cost. I ended up only paying $6 out of pocket for it. We're having a hard time deciding which size to go with. Sheila is a standard Australian Shepherd weighing around 50lbs. The pack says to measure around the deepest part of the chest, and she is just at 27in. This puts her in a “small” pack, which holds 8.5L. The pack fits very well in all areas except for the strap around her belly. It’s just a little too tight, and I’m worried about how it is going to affect her. There is a much more expensive Ruffwear pack online, which we might order just to see if it fits better. 

The other items we picked up with our promotional gift cards include these sweet REI dog food and water bowls. They pack down slim and fit well even in the small dog pack. My only concern is that the rim around the water bowl does not dry quickly, but I’m sure it is not that big of a deal. We also purchased two 0.5L Platypus bottles that fit nicely in the dog pack, that way she can carry her own water.

Also, I bought a nalgene (my first!) just because. We received something like 5 Camelbak Eddy water bottles for free, but I have an addiction and I’m not ashamed.

Friday, March 1, 2013

REI Grand Opening

My dearly sweet trail partner and partner-in-crime is currently braving the 48 degree weather (brrr!) to stand outside for a chance at a free Camelpak bag with a REI gift card inside! I’ll be joining him tomorrow morning, and perhaps even Sunday morning for the free loot. Every little bit helps!

We will also be signing up for the REI membership and even a credit card or two. So stoked that REI decided to put in a store just as we were deciding to thru-hike the AT!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gear Trip #1

We’re on our way to the local Black Creek Outfitters to test out some packs and shoes and things. Probably won’t pick up anything today, but it will be nice to finally put my hands on the things I’ve been looking at on the Internet for weeks now. When you're not very familiar with all of this outdoorsy stuff, it really makes a difference being able to walk into a store and handle something.

Also, the local REI is opening this having it's grand opening this weekend, which means there will be lots of opportunities to get free REI money and sign up for credit cards and memberships. Oh, and did I mention there will be free breakfast?! So stoked!

I’ll update later with what I tried on, liked and didn’t like. Either way, it’s a step in the right direction!


Well that was unproductive! Black Creek Outfitters had very little selection and absolutely no customer service. We were the only customers they had and still no one came by to assist us. I'm pretty disappointed. Thankfully Chase knows his way around packs and boots and things, but they didn’t have any display size small packs to try on. I tried on two pairs of boots though, and determined I probably need a 7.5, which makes sense since I normally wear a 6.5. It's all about how the shoe fits though, so there are many more brands and styles to try on.

The search continues!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Student loans and the AT

At the time that I will be hiking, my student loans will be in full repayment swing. I’m graduating this semester, so I still have 8 months to pay off as much as I can. I am just going to put as much as I can afford toward my student debt, and put the rest toward saving up for the trip. I’m planning on just making the minimum payment while actually hiking, or maybe the minimum + $20, just so I know I’m working down that principle some. I'm also going to budget for 7 or 8 months of paying that loan payment, so I have some cushion when I get back and have some time to find another

I was also looking into the various types of repayment plans. We shall see how it all pans out...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crunched some numbers today....

If I move out of my apartment and we split a storage unit and I put my phone on hold, AND I pay minimum amounts on my loans and credit cards, then I only need to save around $1100 to take care of all of my “at home” nonsense.

That’s not so bad, right? Right?


Bell's Expedition Stout

Bell’s “Expedition Stout”

88 B+

This robust winter seasonal is built to last through a long expedition, or at least an evening of slow sipping thanks to a respectable amount of alcohol. Layers of chocolate transition into a bitter coffee and dark fruit combination. It’s got sort of a chocolate orange vibe, merging with blackberry and espresso. Alcohol creates a cherry syrup aftertaste that peeks out despite the heavy body. I can’t help but be distracted by the slick thickness of the mouth feel, often syrupy in consistency. More carbonation could have leveled this out. Aside from that, the flavor of the roasted malt is quite good, but hops bring upon a good deal of sourness that doesn’t work to much advantage.

Overall, I could do for a tad less alcohol, because I find it adds a bit too much of a cherry cough syrup aftertaste, offsetting what is otherwise a very good beer. The malt layering of chocolate, coffee, and fruit is interesting and hits with a richness of depth not often found. This makes the 4th or 5th stout from Bell’s and each one is good because of the attention given to malt. Despite the alcoholic negatives, I quite like it. However, I can’t quite recommend this one because I realize it isn’t for everyone.



Grand Rapids, Michigan
Courtesy of BeerRitual 

This is an “A” beer in my book. And aptly named!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Physical Preparations

Being physically prepared for thru-hiking is something I’m really concerned about, and this article addressed my concerns and made some great points. I know that being mentally prepared for the long journey is key to finishing, but I know that if I’m struggling physically, I’ll be more moody and more easy to break mentally.

Today I started on the road to fitness that I’ve attempted a hundred times before but this time with a new ultimate goal in mind; to be in shape so that I can thru-hike the AT without absolutely hating my body for being weak. Granted I didn’t do much besides a little jogging and stair climbing, yet I still felt like I was making progress.

That being said, I need to come up with a routine that I can adjust based on how I’m progressing. For now, I think I’ll start with:

  • 2 miles of walking/jogging/running,
  • Climbing the Empire State Building (on the stair-master),

  • 30 squats,

  • 30 sit-ups,

  • 20 push-ups

I’m really out of shape, so I probably won’t do this much at first, but I hope to work up to it and then surpass these limits. I hope to go at least 3 times a week from now until we leave in February.


It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.

This will be my mantra as I take my first steps on the Appalachian Trail come next February.

If I move with deliberation and purpose, I will surely reach my goal: Katahdin. Baxter Peak. The Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail. And I will surely be a more open and fulfilled person for having made the journey north from Springer Mountain, Georgia.

Accompanying my boyfriend and myself on our 2,184 mile journey will be our faithful companion, Sheila, the 4-year-old Australian Shepherd.