Gear Talk- Selkirk Bear bag, Sawyer SP160 Gravity Bag, Alcos Alcohol Stove

At this point in my preparation I still had three significant decision to make for my gear.

What water purifier system to use?

How will I cook my food?

What will my bear bag be like?

The first one was maybe the trickiest.  There are a ton of chemical and push filter companies out there. The best reviews and quality I could find were the products from Sawyer.  Everything I read told me that they were to gold standard in water filtration.  They also had the most options.  Filters to press water through and into a bottle.  Filters that you put dirty water into the bottle and drink through a filter (this freaked me out a bit… I’m not gonna lie). And a gravity filter.  Takes a bit longer but does higher quantities with less work.  Once I decided to go with the camel pack it was an easy decision for me. The Sawyer SP160 Gravity feed system.  You fill a one-gallon bag with dirty water.  Attach a hose to the filter and hang the bag.  The water moves through the filter and into a clean line on the other side right into my camel pack or anything else I want to fill.  I couldn’t be happier.

Here is more information on that filtration system.

https://sawyer.com/products/one-gallon-gravity-system/

The toughest decision was a stove.  Weight vs efficiency here was the biggest concern for me.  There are again a million options out there from pellets to high pressure gas to alcohol stoves.  For me this came down to how I will be hiking.  If I were going to be regularly on the trail for weeks or months at a time, I would have gone gas all the way.  They are efficient and fast.  Big problem is that they are also heavy.  Considering I’ll be usually doing two or three days at most (exception for the long sections one or twice a year) I felt that time I’d be saving wasn’t worth the weight.  I decided on the alcohol stove and specifically the Alocs cs-b02 Alcohol Stove Kit.  I got a cup set and a light weight one quart aluminum pot from the Restaurant Store and feel like I’m good to go.  I’ll be cooking dinner each night on the trail and probably only heating up water for oatmeal or tea in the morning.  Everything else I’m taking will be ready to eat.  With so little cooking it seems to make sense to me.  On the flip side, I can also switch to a gas stove for longer trips or if this kit doesn’t cut it for me.  Stay tuned for the results!

More info can sometimes be found here at Amazon:

https://us.amazon.com/StarSide-Professional-Camping-hiking-Cs-b02/dp/B019XBR03Q?ref_=fsclp_pl_dp_2

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The last decision was my bear bag.  Bear bags are odor containing bags that hang from trees to keep hungry bears from coming and stealing all of your food.  Great thought.  Right?!  There are a number of different options and the prices vary widely.  Almost o the point where I wasn’t sure I would even use one.  But, at the end of the day, the thought os some hungry momma bear poking her nose into my tent to get at my cliff bars was just too much for me to handle and I went with a very simple, and small bag system.  As before, I’m not going to be out long on most trips so I don’t need to carry a lot of food with me.  I will be using the Selkirk Ultralight Food hanging system.  It came with everything I need.  Odor free bag.  Ropes.  And a rock bag to get those ropes over tree limbs and hung un the right place.  I’m sure this will do the trick with a little bot of hanging practice on my part.

More info on this bag can be found here:

https://selkirkdesign.myshopify.com/products/ultralight-food-hanging-system

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Thanks for checking out this weeks blog and for all of your support!

See you on the trail

Hiker Health- The Basic Health Benefits of Hiking

We all know that the fundamentals of weight loss is simple math. Right?  Burn more calories than you take in and you will loose weight. Shouldn’t be as hard as it is these days but it is oh so difficult.  It is hard. VERY hard. With the litany of exercise options out there what is it about hiking that so many of us enjoy and why is it good for you?

Before I say the next few words I want to be clear about something-  I am not a doctor.  I never will be.  I don’t play one on TV.  This site is about my journey to better health through hiking.  I talk a LOT about the gear, and the trips, and people I meet… but its not really all about that.  Its about getting healthy and living a better life not only for myself, but for the ones I love.  What I will be talking about in my Hiker Health posts is about what I have come to understand from doing my homework.  Before you start any exercise plan or follow any of the guidance you may read on these posts, please consult a physician to make sure that hiking is right for you.

Armentrout Nature Preserve

Now with that made very clear, lets talk about the general health benefits of hiking.

Hiking is a powerful cardio workout that can:

  • Lower your risk of heart disease
  • Improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Boost bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise
  • Build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscles in your hips and lower legs
  • Strengthen your core
  • Improve balance
  • Help control your weight
  • Boost your mood. “Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society. “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.”

Additionally, Up to 90% of adults in the US are thought to be Vitamin D deficient which has been correlated with increased risk of autoimmune disorders, common cancers and hypertension. Direct sun exposure is the best way to absorb Vitamin D. Just 10-15 minutes per day in the sun can increase calcium absorption, improve mood, memory & immunity and lower blood pressure.

One of the benefits I enjoy about hiking is the workout it gives your core.  I hate doing crunches and lat machines in the gym.  Climb over a pile of boulders with a 30 pound pack on and you will discover muscles in your core you had forgotten about!!  It improves your balance, your strength, and your heart all at the same time. 

I could go on and on here about the basics, but the image below says everything far better than I ever could.  SMARTHIKR.com gathered this info and put it together.  Their sources are listed and I know that these are the reasons I’m hiking for my health.  Why don’t you come join me?

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The Shakedown- Postlude Part 2- Can I get a Witness?! And some water?

I took my first break at about 5 and half miles. I found this perfect little spot with a cropping of rocks and a view of the lake.  There would normally be a significant stream running through here but everything was very dry and the water levels are low right now.  I sat down and removed my pack.  Yessssssssss that feels good!! I started to eat and that’s when I met Matthew.

I had seen Matthew hiking in front of me at a pretty good clip.  I could tell he was older and he had a great walking stick.  He approached with a full respect of social distancing and we talk about the trail thus far.  He had taken a bad slip and “Christened the walking stick with blood” from the gash on his arm.  I offered him some first aid but refused saying he had things in the car to tend to it. 

He starting asking me about my gear and what I got out of hiking.  I told him my story and how the trail is the place where I work on my physical and good mental health.  He smiled and commented that “God gave us these places to rest our minds and be at peace”  He then turned and smiled at me saying “I bet you never thought you’d me a Jehovah Witness in the middle of the woods now did you?”  I smiled and responded “A Buddhist and a Jehovah Witness meet in the woods… sounds like the beginning of a good joke” We laughed.  A few minutes later we parted ways.  He left me his “card” on a rock as to not get too close and climbed up out of the gully to head back to his car.  It was a charming and unexpected encounter.

I made my way out of the Blue Trail but not without encountering a random banjo player somewhere off in the middle of the woods.  Every possible Deliverance image went through my head and I quickly kept moving, laughing out loud to myself that I couldn’t actually be hearing a banjo.  I took a video to try and capture it but I need to boost the audio so you can hear it better

At the point on the far end of the lake the Blue Trail becomes the Red Trail and everything changes.  You leave the woods and it is open paved and gravel trail.  Long bridges around the water and through meadows of grass and flowers.  Very exposed to the sun.  While it was relatively flat these miles were exhausting from the radiant heat.  The canopy of the woods provides so much protection that at this point in the day the sun was very tough.

There is a point where the open Red Trail circles around a patch of woods and you have the option of taking the Yellow trail along the water’s edge.  That could not have come at a better time and I took my second break just over 9 miles in at step spot coming up from the lake.  This is where I learned my second big lesson of the day,

I have mentioned before that I carry a camel back for my water.  It allows me to drink without working with a bottle on and off my pack or having to take it off all time.  I also find that I take more controlled and deliberate sips of water therefore utilizing it for my body more effectively.  Here is the downside that hadn’t occurred to me:  I can’t see it.  I don’t actually know how much water I have at any given time. I stood up from my rest, went to take a drink, and started sucking air out of the line “Oh shit! I am NOT out of water already??”  I still had 4 miles to go and yes, yes I was.

Flowing water is safest to clean and drink.  There is almost ZERO stream flow this time of year.  At my first stop, I should have collected and refilled while there was a chance.  I did not.  I was now learning that lesson the hard way.  THIS is why I did this shakedown here in Green Lane so I could learn in a safer environment than atop a mountain in North Carolina. 

I worked myself slowly back into the open Red Trail.  Another mile under the heat and I was starting to get concerned I wasn’t going to find any moving water at all.  I was preparing myself for a very long last few mile’s.  I came to a wooded area that the map indicated would cut off some time.  This proved to be the best decision of the hike.  About 100 yards in I could see a group of homes nestled against the tree line.  Little paths cleared from them to the trail.  It was hot and no one was outside, except Marge.

I saw Marge sitting on her deck smoking a cigarette with her 50-year-old son in the shade.  I worked my way to towards their home and asked if they would be a Trail Angel for me and let me refill my water.  Sweet Marge was happy to help me and told me that he daughter trains for endurance races on these trails and she knows how tough they are in the heat.  I handed her my camel back and 5 minutes later she handed it back filled with water and ice to keep me cool. 

One hour later I dropped my pack on a picnic table in a grove of trees next to my car.  Back where I started.  I felt tired and accomplished.  I felt grateful for Marge and the talk I had with Matthew.  The ranger came over to me smiling. He commented he had seen me leave this morning with my pack and we talked about how people under estimate the challenge of the loop.  Add on the heat of the day and I could tell he knew exactly what I had just been through.  He told me I could get into my campsite early and that he’d check in later to see if I needed anything.  I met good people today.  Each one of them took time to talk, and help, a complete stranger connected to them only by everyone’s proximity to the trail.  It’s good for the spirit to know that in this world these kinds of moments can still exist.

I’ll wrap up my final thoughts and lessons learned in my next blog.

See you on the trail!

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The Shakedown- Postlude Part 1- Hitting the trail

Let me start by saying WOW!  I am so happy that I did this.  I feel like I learned a ton about myself along the way and had some interesting experiences to bring home.  He is an overview of the trip. I got to the park early Thursday morning.  It was about 72 degrees and crystal clear.  I parked my car at the entrance to the campground (I couldn’t access the site until 4pm). 

There are two apps I utilize to track where and how I’m doing. First, I use the AllTrails App in so many ways.  I use it to find new trails in the area that I’m not aware of and learn from the peer reviews how those trails are compared to what I’m looking for.   

Then I use the application as my guide map.  Once I hit record, I can download the trail map and it will show me where I am on the trail, what elevations I’ve already done and what the terrain looks like moving forward.  In big parks with complicated trail systems, this has literally been the best tool I could ever have asked for.  If you hike and don’t use this already, go get it.  It’s amazing. You can find them in the App Store for your device or online at AllTrails.com

I also use Map My Walk by Under Armour.  This has been the most valuable tool I’ve found in a long time.  It collects all of my data on my physical walk.  Distance.  Calories burned.   Stride Lengths.  It is awesome.  I ALWAYS use Map My Walk.  I downloaded this from the App Store but you can also find them here at MapMyWalk.com

I started my trackers, strapped on my pack, waived to the Ranger and hit the trail!

The Green Lane Loop is actually three trails.  It’s the parks Blue Trail, Red Trail, and Yellow Trail all connected.  The Blue Trail is the most like the Appalachian Trail.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures here because I did this part of the loop earlier this year with Man Scout Mike Sedor.  Check out my Trail Tourist post and the story of how I met Man Scout HERE! This section is tough!  It’s very rocky, it has the biggest climbs and the highest points of the entire loop, and it never stops being a roller coaster.  Very challenging.

I started in this direction because I wanted to do this section when my legs were the freshest.  I started learning about myself early on into the loop.  First, I began to realize that I have a natural warm up period when I hike.  I’m sure it sounds natural now but I had never consciously realized that I need to get a mile or so into my legs before they start to show how string they are.  It’s something I’ll keep in mind as I’m planning when my big climbs will be during the AT.

Then I realized how much short pauses in my climbs help me.  As opposed to pausing and pushing to do a climb nonstop, I found that sometimes just stopping for 30 seconds, allowing my legs to rest and catch my breath, made these steep climbs a lot less daunting.  My body seemed to say to me “Thanks!  That’s all I needed.  Now keep going!”

Thanks for checking the start of my Shakedown Hike. In my next blog post I’ll talk about my lunch break with a Jehovah Witness, random banjo music coming from the woods, and what happened when I ran out of water with 4 miles to go.

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Trail Tourist- Green Lane Reservoir and the Man Scout

I met Mike Sedor through a work buddy.  I was told that Mike had recently retired as a carpenter and was Thru Hiking the AT last year when he got injured and had to come off the trail. After an email introduction, Mike and I decided to get together and have coffee.  Three hours later we were still going.  I had never met anyone with so much knowledge about the AT and backpacking. 

Mike’s trail name is “Man Scout”.  Mike earned the prestigious Wood Badge from Boys Scouts of America and I’m fairly certain he could write the book on it. 

We left that day with “Any time you want to get out and hike just let me know”.  Several weeks later I tool mike up on that offer.  We did the Blue Trail at the Green Lane Reservoir in Green Lane PA.  10 miles.  10 grueling… challenging miles… where Mike shared his knowledge of the environment round him and the patience to do the AT

When that day was over, I was exhausted and beaten by the trail.  I thought there was no way I could ever do this.  But Man Scout kept reminding me to hike my own hike.  Stay within myself.

I haven’t felt prepared to try that trail again (almost there now).  So, Man Scout- I’m almost ready to try this again with you.  Thank you for being an inspiration

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The Shakedown Part 2

The Gear

I have spent so much time collecting and putting together my pack for the AT that sometimes its easy to forget how much there actually is that goes into living in the mountains for a few days with everything you need on your back.  It feels like every time I turn around there is something more that I think “Oh yeah!  I’m gonna need that”

Some of the gear you’re going to see here I have talked about already. Much of it I may have mentioned but I will talk more about them in posts to come.  I want to actually use some of in the field to be able to talk it with some experience.  I will not only share those post separately, but I will update this post with links to those reviews so that if you want to come back to this gear list and learn more, it will be easy to find each item’s in-depth discussion.

Here is the full breakdown of my pack.  This includes my food and water.  I’ve tried to list all of the brands and models of what you’re seeing below.  The only items missing are a few very small incidentals and my camp clothes which I imagine will add no more than a pound to a pound and a half.

My Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 is strapped to the outside of the pack.  Behind that is the compartment where my Sea to Summit Comfort Plus mattress and pillow reside. I went big on the mattress.  I felt like I’d be very tired at the end of each day and a good nights sleep will be critical.

More info about the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 can be found here in my post Meet Big Agnes- My Tent

I broke my inside gear down into different bags to make them easy to grab when I’m looking for something. All of my cooking equipment is in the Red bag.

The Orange bag is medical and emergency supplies (notice the protective care around the TP)

The Blue bag is Fire starting and my deuce of spades for cat hole digging.  I’m confident that first time sharing the woods with bears for that deed is going to be a memorable experience. 

The black bag Is my quilt.  I went with a quilt instead of a sleeping bag because I know how I toss and turn.  Besides, this one is super light and probably the best on the market. Enlightened Equipment is the choice of so many experienced hikers, I could resist getting one

Food and water is a great deal of the weight.  I went with a camel back system instead of carrying bottles.  You can see how the bag holds two liters of water.  A hope with a valve at the end attaches to one side of the bag.  I put the bag into a special sleeve inside my backpack and run the hose up to my shoulder.  Then, when I want a drink, I just open the valve and take a sip.  I went with a Sawyer gravity fed water purification system for ease.  I can fill that camel back fairly quickly while I rest.

I bagged my food up for the two days I’ll be out on the trail.  My goal was to be under 2 pounds per day for food and I hit 3.3 with two meals not being needed (I’ll eat breakfast at home on Thursday and Dinner home on Friday).  I’m pleased with the arraignment so far.  We’ll see if its’ too much or not enough.  That’s what this shakedown is all about!!

I’m also taking some electrolyte powder and some Nutella for the bagel.  The extra bag is for carrying out my trash.  I have a spare water flask that I’ll be using just to restore my electrolytes at the end of the day.  I’ve never used the powders before so I’m curious to see how they work and how my body responds to them. 

Throw in some camp shoes, a collapsable canteen, and a selfie stick and I’m ready to hit the trail!!

It truly is amazing how much work goes into getting ready for even two days.  I know that the next time it will be easier, but there is a constant running list of what could be forgotten going through my mind.

That’s the gear.  Ready or not that’s what is going with me.  Check back tomorrow for updates.

I’ll see you on the trail!

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