Hiker Hunger is Real–even for the Tiny-Mes

There is one topic that every hiker thinks about, dreams about, and talks about—FOOD! After the first few days, when hikers are too tired to eat, “hiker hunger” reaches epic proportions. It takes 3,000 to 5,000 calories daily to replace what is burned by carrying a heavy pack on mountainous trails.

Story Seeker and Andowen carry 5-7 days of food in their packs. Showers and soft beds are nice benefits of stopping in towns along the trail…but the most important reason for a town day is to resupply meals and snacks. The Tiny-Mes stay out of the way as food is repackaged and stuffed in packs. They don’t want to accidentally find themselves in the trash pile with all the wrappers and heavy packaging! Neither Story Seeker nor Andowen are “morning people.” No time is wasted for cooking with our Jetboil Stove that specializes in bringing water to a boil in a little over one minute. “Hot drinks coming right up!” chirps Tiny A cheerfully. Both Story Seeker and Tiny S need a big cup of hot caffeine to start their day. (Why do you think Tiny S carries a mug with her at all times?!) Andowen and Tiny A prefer to slurp down a breakfast drink and munch on dry cereal while they walk. Snacks and lunch are portable—eaten cold as we hike. When Andowen gets grumpy or Story Seeker walks slower and slower, Tiny A reminds everyone, “EAT! EAT!” It is important to eat calories every hour  to keep up energy and avoid blood sugar crashes. Daily snacks include nuts, dried fruit, cheese crackers, candy, and a protein bar. Once we get to camp for the night, it’s time to cook dinner. Tiny A and Andowen argue over which of the remaining meals is most tasty, but they finally agree on which dinner-in-the-bag to fix. Tiny A lights the stove with her magic staff. (Yep, that’s one use for it!) Hot water is poured into the thick freezer-weight bag. A few minutes later the rice or potatoes with tuna is ready for everyone to eat. “Save some for us!” complains Tiny S. After dinner and evening hot drinks are finished, all “smelly things” have to be bundled in secure bags. (This includes food, trash, and toiletries—anything a bear might find interesting.) The Tiny-Mes help find an appropriate tree—not too close but not too far from camp. Andowen carries the heavy bags and ties them tightly to a branch. Sorry, Bears! No human food for you tonight… Occasionally, when hikers are fixing dinner in camp, they might discuss trail food. But rich, greasy, calorie-laden TOWN FOOD is the stuff of dreams. When hikers meet on the trail, they exchange information about the best places to eat in upcoming towns. Folks might disagree on whether burgers are better, Chinese is top-choice, or pizza is perfect. But everyone agrees a cold drink with large portions of food at cheap prices is the most important consideration.

Now the Tiny-Mes are hungry (again). When do we get to the next town?!

 

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Dirty Laundry

Long-distance hikers have a dirty little secret. Unlike day hikers, we wear the same clothes day after day after day. Laundromats are in short supply out in the woods, which means those hiking clothes get sweaty, smelly, and stiff. “Acceptable” and “normal” are different on the trail!

We carry a set of hiking clothes which we put on every morning–wet or dry, clean or smelly. (Synthetic t-shirt, capris or hiking skirt, bra, shorts-style undies, and hiking socks.) We also carry a set of camp clothes–dry items that keep us from getting chilled when we stop the heavy, sweaty exertion of hiking. Obviously, these camp clothes get less grubby than the hiking clothes! (Synthetic tank top, leggings, thin undies and camp shoes. Plus a long-sleeved synthetic shirt in case it gets cold.) As soon as we get out of our hiking clothes at the end of the day, we hang them up to (hopefully) dry. Sometimes we adorn nails around the shelter. Other times we decorate a nearby tree. At nightfall, we often shove the clothes in our sleeping bags. Even if they are still damp in the morning, at least they won’t be cold and clammy! When we get to town every 4-7 days, we wash all of our clothes. Some hostels have “loaner clothes” to wear while doing laundry. Otherwise, two rain jackets work like a mini-dress while I stuff all the grubby clothes into the washing machine. (Andowen wraps up in her sleeping bag while I do laundry if there are no loaner clothes…) While we are hiking, we rarely notice how smelly we are. After all, everyone stinks! Occasionally, if we get to camp early on a sunny day, we might wash out a few of the most offensive clothes. We use the most basic of laundry facilities…

We dig out the “washing machine” from my pack: a gallon size ziploc bag and tiny bottle of biodegradable soap. Fill the bag partway with water from a stream or spring. Move a few hundred feet away from the water source. Squirt some soap on the clothes and put ’em in the bag. Shake and squeeze the bag, mimicking the agitation of a washer. Dump out filthy water. Add clean water and repeat until water stays clear of dirt or suds. (Yes, it is time consuming. This is why most hikers don’t bother…) We only go to this much effort if our clothes are particularly nasty…and if there is enough sun and a breeze to hopefully get the clothes dry by morning. A short line strung between trees helps. Obviously, we prefer to hike in dry, clean clothes. Sometimes after washing out clothes on the trail, we have to put on still-damp (but clean) hiking clothes in the morning. Ugh! Smaller items can be hung on the outside of our packs to dry by the time we get to camp that night. This dirty little secret of long-distance hikers might sound terrible to you. It’s really not so bad once you get out there. In-town standards of fashion and cleanliness give way to realities of weight and space available in the pack. We might not look or smell like day-hikers…but we hike with a smile on our faces. We love living in the woods…and that’s no secret!

A Day of Backpacking–with our “tiny me”s

Tiny S and Tiny A decided to share the details of a typical day of backpacking with their hikers on the Appalachian Trail. 

7:00 am — Story Seeker wakes up Andowen for the first time. Andowen goes back to sleep while Story Seeker gets the food bags out of the tree and heats water for breakfast. 

7:15 am — Story Seeker wakes up Andowen again. The bribe of ready breakfast gets Andowen out of her cozy sleeping bag! (Hot Carnation Instant Breakfast with powdered milk plus cereal for Andowen; peanut butter crackers and hot tea for Story Seeker)

After breakfast, Andowen and Story Seeker change to their hiking clothes and pack all gear into their backpacks. Water bottles are filled and snacks are chosen for the day. Maps are studied and the first meeting point is chosen. (Andowen is faster so usually hikes ahead, waiting at pre-determined places for Story Seeker to catch up.)

9:00 am — The Tiny Mes climb into the pocket at the top of Story Seeker’s pack. Another day’s hike begins. The Tiny Mes help look for white blazes on tree trunks and rocks–proof everyone is still on the right trail! 

Throughout the day, the hikers eat a snack each hour to keep up their energy: nuts, dried fruit, candy, cheese crackers. Occasionally they stop to enjoy a view, but water and snacks are consumed while walking. 

12:00 noon — the Tiny Mes are restless and demand a break. While they explore, Story Seeker and Andowen eat lunch (a protein bar) and rest for a few minutes. Soon it is time to walk again (before muscles stiffen up!)  When the seating is comfortable enough or the scenery is especially beautiful, they take off their boots, get out journals or the camera, and fully relax for awhile longer. 

After lunch, the day’s hiking continues. Story Seeker and Andowen prefer to hike 8-10 miles a day, less than many hikers but just right for them. 

4:00 pm — typical time to get to camp for the evening. Frequently, everyone sleeps in a 3 walled shelter. Sometimes, to hit their desired daily miles, Story Seeker and Andowen pitch their tent between shelters. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are spread out, headlamps and journals are set beside beds, and dinner is pulled out of food bags. Dry camp clothes are put on and sweaty hiking clothes are hung to air out. 

Once everything is organized, it’s time to get water. “Dirty” water bags are filled at a nearby spring or creek then carried back to camp. (4.5 – 5 ltrs are needed each day for breakfast, hiking, and dinner.) Story Seeker filters water while Andowen cooks supper.

5:00 pm — hot food is ready. Other hikers start coming into the camp area as they finish their own daily mileage. 

The evening is relaxed. Hikers chat, write in journals, read on kindle or phone. Some nights they play cards (if a deck is found in the shelter) or make a campfire. The Tiny Mes look at the map with their hikers to decide how early they need to get up for the next day’s hiking. 

8:00 pm — “Hiker Midnight!” After a long day of hiking, everyone is ready for bed. Goodnight, John-boy! Goodnight, Moon! Goodnight, Tiny Mes! 

(Read an introduction to the Tiny Mes HERE)

The “AT Experience”

I recently read the Summer 2017 issue of AT Journeys magazine from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). One article included the official ATC policy on the AT experience. I found these policies interesting to ponder…especially as they relate to the therapeutic value of hiking the Appalachian Trail with my daughter “Andowen.” (Read more about how hiking helps her HERE and HERE.)

“Integral to the trail experience are:

–Opportunities for observation, contemplation, enjoyment, and exploration of the natural world.

Time for contemplation when camped beside a waterfall along the AT in Virginia

–A sense of remoteness and detachment from civilization.

The world disappears when sitting atop a mountain above the clouds!

–Opportunities to experience solitude, freedom, personal accomplishment, self-reliance and self-discovery.

Writing in a journal and making drawings is a great way to record and process our experiences

–A sense of being on the height of the land.

Sometimes it feels like “on a clear day, you can see forever”

–Opportunities to experience the historic and pastoral elements of the surrounding countryside.

If only the ruins we pass could talk…what stories we would hear!

–A feeling of being part of the natural environment.

Hugging Keffer Oak–the second largest tree along the AT. It has an 18′ diameter and is over 300 years old!

–Opportunities for travel on foot, including opportunities for long distance hiking.”

“The mountains are calling and I must go…” –John Muir

I’m sure many of these experiences can be found in other places in nature…but they certainly are part of why we continue to return to the Appalachian Trail for more backpacking adventures!

Adventure…some days it’s HARD!

The number one rule of successful adventure is–Never Quit On a Bad Day! As  John Denver sings “Some days are diamonds, Some days are stone…” It is important to remember that there WILL be sparkly, bright days again, even when this particular one feels dark and heavy. 

Most days we can celebrate the “diamonds” found by spending extended time in the mountains/woods. We enjoy seeing the beautiful views, hearing stories from fellow hikers, and feeling tired pride at the end of the day–the pride of a job well done.

On other days, however, this all feels like a heavy, cumbersome “stone.” We wonder why we are out here. We get teary and angry and just want to quit. (Take a moment of silence in sympathy for my poor hubby when we finally have cell coverage after a few hard days in a row….)

A few days into our trip, daughter Andowen pulled off her backpack and plopped down beside a cross-trail. She was adamant that we were going to hike down to a hostel, call daddy and go HOME right then. I insisted that we would talk about it two days later–after a night in a soft bed and a belly full of town food. We argued about it…but eventually she grabbed her pack and angrily stomped off down the trail. 

Another day I was exhausted. I was physically tired of hiking day after day…and mentally weary of worrying about whether or not there would be water at the next shelter. (The drought in this area causes us to have to carry pounds of extra water each day…ugh!) Being careful to save water so we can make dinner even if the water source near the shelter is dry causes us to skimp on drinking while hiking. Dehydration is a terrible thing! The unrelenting steep climb at the end of that day made things worse. By the time I got to the shelter, all I wanted to do was crawl in my sleeping bag and give up. 

On hard days, adventure comes down to attitude. It is important to acknowledge and feel the full range of emotion. But then, we need to choose. We remind Andowen to reframe the negatives–and look for the positives. This is the first time she has felt homesick—but that also means she finally has friends and roots in our new location. For me, I remind myself to let go of worrying about things I can not control (my daughter’s emotions, the lack of water, how much my muscles ache).

And we remind each other on those hard days—Never Quit on a Bad Day!

WANTED: Volunteers

Wanted: volunteer trail maintainers. Must be hard working with a sense of humor. Responsible for building trail and maintenance and repair of current trails, bridges, shelters, and more. 

Anyone who backpacks on the Appalachian Trail owes huge gratitude to the more than 6000 volunteers who maintain the trail each year. Although the AT is part of the National Park System, it relies on volunteers and on regional maintenance clubs to keep the trail open. 

“Volunteers contribute some 270,000 hours to the A.T. every year, making it one of the largest volunteer-driven projects in the world.” —AT Journeys, Summer 2017 edition

Installation and ongoing repairs include the following types of projects:

Marking the trail with “blazes” on trees or rocks, repairing eroded parts of the trail, and removing trees which fall and block the trail. 

Adding edges to slanted sections of trails near drop offs.

Slowing down erosion on steep sections by building steps from rocks or logs (see photos in previous post HERE) and by building water diversion lines (stones set to guide water off the trail).

Build bridges (fancy like this one…or a simple few logs to cross).

Repair shelters as needed. 

Build privies (outhouses), maintain them (cleaning out trash and wipes throw in them…yuck!), and moving them as needed. 

All of this is hard work. But a sense of humor is also important! Additions like these keep hikers smiling…

An electric box….attached to nothing! 

A plunger for an outhouse!

And a “fireplace” at a shelter with no chimney! 

THANKS to all the men and women who keep the trail clear so daughter and I can enjoy these adventures….

The Last Adventure

Life can be filled with adventure. Or it may be spent quietly at home, in a gilded cage of routines and responsibilities. We get to choose how we live. Eventually, however, we run out of choices. We face the last adventure: Death.

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

I haven’t written any blog posts in the past six months. It felt like I had little to share. I wasn’t pursuing epic adventures nor was I making much art. I was staying involved with my folks as my Dad’s time here on earth was coming to an end. His heart beat its last rhythm on April 28, 2017

It felt like this was a time of small deeds, of simple words, of loneliness and isolation. Looking back, however, I realize these same things are elements of what makes an adventure “epic.” It is in overcoming obstacles large and small that humans are stretched beyond daily routines. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, an epic adventure is “any task of great magnitude.” Looked at through that lens, these past six months have indeed been a big epic! What can be greater than helping a loved one move on to the next world even while helping oneself and others grieve that loss here on earth?

My dad lived a life filled with adventure. He traveled many places around the world, both for pleasure and to help others. He adventured on the water and on long road-trips across the United States. He finally fulfilled his dream of taking epic motorcycle trips—to all four corners of the USA and even in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa!

In the past year, Dad gradually lost mobility. Other health issues limited the time he could sit in a plane or in a car. His last trip was to visit family in Montana (my son and his brother) and in Idaho (his nephew). He treasured the memories of that adventure, even in his last few weeks.

Although his health was declining rapidly, Dad enjoyed a family gathering at the end of the year. He was “tickled pink” to welcome a new grandson-in-law to the family and meet the fiancé of another grandson. A few weeks after the party, Dad realized his prayers had been answered: he had the opportunity to see his family members all together one last time.

During the winter, Dad’s world continued to shrink. He could no longer go to the airport to say hello or goodbye to traveling family members. With the cold weather and his limited mobility, Dad enjoyed the few days that were sunny enough to sit outside. Eventually, even getting to church became too much for him.

I sat with Dad weekly through the winter and early spring. Talk meandered here and there: sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about practicalities of medical issues, sometimes just sitting together in silence. I treasured those times…and so often I cried myself to sleep on those nights. How can you bear seeing your dad struggle more and more with life? How do you say goodbye to your dad?

In the last ten days of his life, Dad’s world closed in around him, even though he was still at home. He was confined to bed. He needed help to eat or drink. He couldn’t even move without assistance. My siblings stayed at the house twenty-four hours a day, helping Mom to care for Dad. I came in each day, to give the caregivers a break. During this time, my sister and I spent hours playing his favorite hymns. He took comfort in the music just as he found moments of calm in prayer.

And there was waiting, lots of waiting. Dad dozing and crying and begging for the waiting to be over. His family staring out the window, taking walks, seeking the comfort to be found in nature. All of us asking God for hope and comfort and a peaceful passage for him into the next world.

At one point, near the end, Dad asked “When will this trip be over?” Finally, he took his last breath, and started his new journey. We are still grieving his loss…but this photo summarizes the last adventure quite well:

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

Wand’rin’ Star

“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go.  Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.

Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted. the mountains are calling

There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again. AT trails

This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander? RV travels

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE

Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me. texas river walking

And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am… Painting by SKay Art

I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!

Who Should Be “Allowed” to Hike?

I am passionate about backpacking. I feel fully alive when I’m living in the woods. My daughter feels the same. Beyond simple pleasures, however, hiking is a key therapy to manage her anxiety and mental illness challenges. Nature brings her peace. So we return to the woods again and again, no matter who questions the risks or suggests we should pursue “safer” activities for her. We continue to backpack because of her disabilities, not in spite of them. hiking partnersThere are many of us who love outdoor activities and love someone with disabilities. Because we understand both worlds, we must be the ones who speak up. We need to stand beside those who might be discriminated against. Anyone who dreams of taking a walk in the woods should be encouraged. Outdoor adventures should be available for everyone.

I am passionate about backpacking. I have also become an advocate.

Advocate: 1. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. 2. a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor. Synonyms: champion, proponent, backer.

When a hike is successful, everyone celebrates the courage and perseverance of the blind thru-hiker or the one with artificial legs. But what happens when things go wrong? Do tragedies or close-calls “prove” that the nay-sayers are right? How does the outdoor adventure community find an appropriate balance between personal freedom and personal responsibility for participants?

This year alone, a variety of incidents along the Appalachian Trail have provoked strong opinions and arguments among hikers in online forums. An older man with Alzheimer’s got confused and was lost for a few days. A person with brain cancer wanted a friend to take her on a first-ever backpacking expedition. A young man with Multiple Sclerosis needed intervention when he overheated. Parents are taking very young children on an attempted a thru-hike (walking almost 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in one long trip). Are these “okay?” Or should the mythical “someone” intervene and prevent such risky behavior? And, if prohibition is such a good idea, then who decides which situations are okay and which are too dangerous?

Whenever there is a close-call or a tragedy, fingers are pointed at the ignorant adventurer, at the family, at the doctors, at search and rescue personnel. Online discussions grow heated. It seems so clear to some readers that the person with mental illness or with physical disability should be protected (even from themselves) by not allowing them in the woods.

Usually, I step away from contentious arguments. However, in a recent online discussion, I realized I can’t just run away from conflict and find peace in the woods for myself and my daughter. I must not just write posts about the adventures I am privileged to take. I must also build bridges for everyone to pursue their own passions. It would be a sad day if the only hikers on the Appalachian Trail were those who were young, perfectly fit folks carrying perfect gear. (Hmmm…that would eliminate both of us and most of the hikers we meet!) With proper precautions and an attitude of taking personal responsibility for one’s decisions, even those with disabilities can continue to enjoy outdoor adventures.

I am passionate about backpacking. I am also an advocate. passionate hiker, I am an advocateWhat about you?

Watch Your Step!

Last week I shared the truth about the Appalachian Trail: it is not merely a walk in the woods. There are more “secrets” about backpacking the AT: hikers must stay alert and watch their step. There are often obstacles to be crossed along the way.

For a footpath in the forest, it is surprising how often the AT crosses roads. Sometimes there are nice road signs that alert passing motorists to slow down for hikers. Roads_Hiker CrossingOther times hikers have to cautiously watch for passing cars whose drivers have no idea that there is a trail crossing the road. Roads_crossingAlong the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, the AT often comes out on one side of a pullout or parking area. It can be hard to figure out where to re-enter the woods on the other side. Sometimes the trail maintainers are kind enough to add arrows to the pavement to point the hiker in the right direction. roads_arrows to the trailThere is something scarier than road crossings, however. There are times when the hiker walks into a clearing and has to cross a railroad track. Daughter and I practiced listening and feeling through our feet for a rumble around the curve before safely crossing in the silence.  (We often wondered what it would have been like to be standing that close to the tracks when a train rushed past!)railroad crossingSometimes, the hiker feels like a rat in a maze. In jumbled rocky areas, side trails can be confusing, especially if there are no clear blazes. obstacles_maze trailsThe first time a hiker encounters a fence crossing can be intimidating. How in the world does one climb a steep stile ladder with a pack on the back? And then there are the tight gates that keep cows or horses from escaping a pasture. They can be difficult to navigate with a bulky pack.  obstacles_fence crossingEven when the trail stays in the wilderness, there are obstacles for hikers to navigate. In the previous post, the various styles of water crossings were discussed. (See post HERE).  Sometimes the obstacles in the path are living critters. Other hikers tell of surprising a bear or deer in the trail or having to carefully navigate around a rattlesnake. Happily, we have only seen (harmless) black snakes… obstacles_snakesFinally, nature herself sometimes puts challenges on the trail. There are giant boulders to conquer, such as this landmark: The Guillotine. (Actually, it is far easier to walk under than its name implies.) obstacles_guillotineAny time there is a big storm, trees may fall across the trail. Eventually, trail maintainers will cut through them to clear the path. Until then, it may be possible to walk around the fallen giant. (This one almost beat me: it was too steep to climb around; it was too tall for me to step up onto and jump down on the other side;  it was too wide for me to manage a sit-and-swivel. I finally took off my pack and crawled over. I’m so glad daughter didn’t think to take video of my awkward performance!)obstacles_fallen treeOther times it’s the over-under dilemma! (Daughter crawled under with her pack on, getting her knees dirty. I took my pack off, tossed it over the log, then crouched and duck-walked under.) obstacles_fallen logHikers have to be ready to conquer any obstacle. Don’t forget to WATCH YOUR STEP!

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