“What are you waiting for?” by Anna Huthmaker

I was several hundred miles into my grand attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, and the foot path in front of me had turned into a stream. It was raining.

A lot.

It was an El Nino year, and later we would learn that it would rain 28 out of 31 days. But for now, all I knew was that my socks were dry. And I was just doing my best to get through the rest of the day that way.

I made my way up the trail, hopping from side to side, avoiding puddles and sticking to the high ground. A lot of money had gone into my water-proof boots and as long as I didn’t step into anything deeper than a couple of inches, I was good.

Halfway up an incline, I stopped to catch my breath and let a fellow thru-hiker pass by. He turned to me grinning and said, “You know… once your boots get wet, you are free”.

He strode up the trail, and I stood there in surprise. We were miles from the nearest road or shelter, and the rain was predicted to go on for days. What was I doing? Was I really going to hop my way up the trail for the next ten miles?

I stepped gingerly into the large puddle in front of me, letting the cold water seep in through my lace holes. I walked forward, picking up my pace, and realized… he was right. My feet were wet, but I was free. Free to walk with purpose and enjoy the views around me. And to splash through the puddles like a kid, smiling and dancing.

It has been 12 years since that A.T. hike, and I have thought often about that hiker and what he said. How many times do we twist ourselves around, going far out of our way to avoid a perceived discomfort? And how much are we missing around us when we do just that? I don’t want to be so engaged with the effort of life that I miss the great stuff that is around me.

I am sure that hiker never realized how much purpose, joy and freedom have come into my life as a result of his statement. But anytime I find myself tied up in knots, attempting to dodge something uncomfortable, I smile and think of him and that rainy day. And I say to myself, “What are you waiting for…. just get your boots wet!”

“Why Vermont’s Long Trail” by Bren “Pokey” Miller

When I decided to expand from day hikes to backpacking and going on long distance trails, the next logical step was to decide where. Living in Albany, New York, there were plenty of lengthy trails nearby to choose from. The Long Path, Northville-Placid Trail, even the Finger Lakes Trail are right in my own state. Yet after much research, a multitude of factors tipped the scales to make the Green Mountain State’s pride the best choice for my maiden trek.

It’s the oldest long distance trail in the United States. That held a certain appeal to me. I am fascinated by the things of old. The pyramids, ancient trees, even historical buildings and artifacts. The oldest of the trails? No brainer.

Easy bail outs. Because the first half or so of the Long Trail is shared by the Appalachian Trail, it seems that “civilization” is but a short walk off the trail. With my lack of experience on long hikes and overnights in the woods, having that quick escape if necessary is a prudent choice.

Trees. Lots and lots of trees. Having grown up in the northeast, I am used to seeing pines, hemlocks, and birch trees everywhere. On my day hikes in the Catskills and Adirondacks, I find great calm and joy being surrounded by the trees and fallen leaves. Compared to the Southwest, where I expect to find sagebrush and cacti, which have their own enjoyment and appeal, the beautiful greens of home will provide a comfort to me that will be appreciated on that first trek.

Water, water, everywhere. It’s been written that to find water on the Long Trail, one only needs to look down. Some people report that rain is a near constant (as is mud), while others claim that to be exaggerated yet agree it is a wet trail with frequent water sources. I carry a hydration bladder and three ways to purify water. Gaining experience with plentiful supplies will be most appreciated before I venture to the more difficult routes just as the John Muir or Arizona Trails.

The high peaks. One of my goals on my bucket list is the Northeast 111, that is, the peaks above 4000 feet in New York and New England. All five of Vermont’s 4000+ footers are on the Long Trail. My plan is to hike northbound, taking the first half of the trail on my first attempt, then going back another time to complete the trek. The five high peaks are in that northern, or second, half. My goal is that my body will be in better shape to achieve that feat when the time comes to face that second part in the future.

Population. Unlike some trails where it is easy to go days without seeing another human being, because the southern part of the Long Trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail, it is a popular route with many hikers. As a solo hiker, there is a comfort in knowing that if something were to happen and I was not able to activate my personal locator beacon, someone would eventually come back and be able to provide assistance.

This post was contributed by Bren Miller. She is a middle-aged woman who lives with cats and takes care of her disabled brother. She discovered hiking last year and can’t get enough of it, despite her slow going due to her weight and lack of physical prowess. Her joys in life are my cats, my writing, and hiking. 🙂

“A Walk on the Wild Side” by Victoria Heckler

“Wild” is as much a movie about hiking as it isn’t a movie about hiking. It’s not a documentary about the beauty and wonder of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) nor a hiking how-to-guide – it’s a story of Cheryl Strayed’s journey to overcome her personal demons and come to terms with grief, loss and addiction as she hiked more than 1,000 miles of the PCT.

The movie is just under 2.5 hours long and although readers of the book will be quick to notice omissions from the book (like Strayed’s comical ice axe practice sessions and her inspiring encounters with trail angels), the movie stayed fairly true to the text and, to my gear geek delight, obvious care was taken to ensure that the backpacking gear used in the movie was consistent with the gear available in the mid-1990’s, when Strayed hiked the PCT.

Producers even paid a hefty sum to the Estate of Bob Marley to allow Witherspoon to sport a shirt bearing his likeness, as Strayed did in real life. (Why the hefty sum, you ask? Because Marley’s Estate did not like that the movie featured scenes of drug use. Oh, the irony…)

Both hikers and non-hikers alike will enjoy this movie and it’s definitely not one that you need to “read the book” before seeing, although some may find the film’s depiction of the events leading up to Strayed’s life in flashback format a bit disorienting at times.

Reese Witherspoon did a great job playing Strayed and gave her a depth of character that doesn’t necessarily come through when you read the book or hear Strayed speak in person. In fact, Witherspoon was so convincing in her grit and determination that I think I might actually prefer Witherspoon’s version of Strayed to the real Strayed herself.

Reese is supported by an all-star cast: Laura Dern plays her ailing mother; Thomas Sadoski (Don on HBO’s “The Newsroom”) plays Strayed’s ex-husband, and Gaby Hoffman (“Transparent,” “Girls”) plays Strayed’s best friend Aimee.

However, with the exception of Dern, none of the other supporting roles get enough screen time to even bother reviewing their performances. I initially thought that Dern, at 47, was not old enough to play mother to 38-year old Witherspoon convincingly, but after seeing the film, I think it was Witherspoon who was a bit too “Hollywood old” to play a 27 year-old convincingly.

There’s been much fuss within long-distance hiking circles about what effect mass-marketed movies like “Wild” and the currently-in-production movie “A Walk in the Woods” will have on the Pacific Crest or Appalachian trails. Frankly, after the gross-out scene of one of Strayed’s toenails falling off and her struggles to stand upright with a full pack on, I am not sure that anyone who has never hiked would be inspired to set foot on the trail, but if it does, then all the better.

All in all, I give this movie 4 out of 5 s’mores.


Trip Report: Backpacking with the Trail Dames at Pine Mountain

By Jean Swann (Georgia Trail Dames)

November of 2014 brought a wonderful flurry of backpacking trips! Pine Mountain was my destination for two weekends in a row. I had backpacked once before with Joan West and others from the Trail Dames organization. This was my second opportunity. I arrived at F.D. Roosevelt State Park at Pine Mountain early in the day and took advantage of the extra time to do a little geocaching. The woods were beautifully arrayed in bright fall Crayola colors.

Fall leaf along Pine Mountain Trail
Fall leaf along the Pine Mountain Trail.
Beautiful red leaves.
Beautiful red leaves.

Joan was driving in from North Carolina, where she had just finished thru-hiking the 77- mile Foothills Trail. She met me at Dead Pine campsite at dusk, just as I was polishing off the last of my dinner. The evening was chilly, and it was almost dark, so she quickly hung her hammock, and we retired for the night at 6:30 p.m.!

Joan at Dead Pine campsite.
Joan at Dead Pine campsite.

I thought I would have a hard time going to sleep, but I drifted off in about 30 minutes, snug inside my 10-degree down sleeping bag. This was its maiden voyage, and I was really glad I took it because the overnight low was 23 degrees and Mark wasn’t there for me to put my cold feet on!

I slept until almost daylight, when a group of hikers noisily tramped along the nearby Pine Mountain Trail, probably heading for the Country Store for a hot breakfast. Joan and I met the two other Trail Dames who would be hiking with us – Tonya and Kelly – at the park office, and we were off to Dowdell Knob to do a gear shakedown. By the time we got on the trail, it was nearly lunchtime.

Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.
Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.

We left Rocky Point parking lot and headed west on the Pine Mountain Trail. There, the trail drops quickly amid huge chunks of rock embedded into the mountainside. At the bottom of our descent, we rock-hopped across Sparks Creek, discovering, in the process, late fall blossoms of the lovely Grass of Parnassus. The delicate white flower is actually not a grass but an herbaceous dicot.

Grass of Parnassus.
Grass of Parnassus.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.

After taking advantage of the photo op, we continued until the merry waters of Sparks Creek beckoned us to stop at a creekside campsite and eat our lunches. We left the pleasant creek valley and climbed the ridge on the switchbacking treadway, eventually reaching a parking lot, where Tonya bid us goodbye and headed home. Following the Boot Top Trail, Kelly, Joan and I eased back down the ridge into the valley of Bethel Creek, the scene of extreme tornado damage a few years ago. As the Boot Top Trail rejoined the Pine Mountain Trail, we passed a Boy Scout troop taking a breather. For the next mile and a half, we played leapfrog with them as first one group and then the other stopped for rests or photo sessions.

Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.
Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.

We reached Whiskey Still campsite in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely dinner and once again shut down for the evening by 6:30. At dawn we were up and loading our packs to head back. The walk out to Mollyhugger Hill parking lot, where we had stashed a vehicle, was beautiful and only about three quarters of a mile. It was a great weekend trip!

At the Whiskey Still campsite.
At the Whiskey Still campsite.

“Dehydrating Helped Me Improve My Trail Meals” by Debbie Wroten

I never thought I would try to dehydrate my food for backpacking.

It was so easy to go to the outfitter and buy Mountain House or some other packaged food. However, three summers ago I went on a 20 day backpacking trip—my first outing longer than 5 days.

I discovered that after eating the 4 dinners that I liked several times, the thought of having to eat any of them again gagged me. And the thought of having to eat another power bar or any other protein bar made me just want to forget about lunch.

When I was in town, I would load up on fruits and vegetables. I lost about 13 pounds on that trip and decided I had to have a better meal plan. The things that worked for a 3-5 day trip just weren’t working for a longer trip.

I needed better quality food that was better tasting and more nutritious if I was going to continue backpacking. After all I don’t really eat processed foods home nor do I eat foods that are low in nutrient density.

Dehydrating food for my meals seemed like a good place to start. I could control what went into my meals so I would have food that I liked in amounts that were satisfying to me. I have a Nesco dehydrator with 6 trays plastic sheets that I can line the trays with if I am dehydrating something like spaghetti sauce but most of the time I use parchment paper.

My favorite foods to dehydrate are:

*fruits — apples sprinkled with cinnamon, fresh pineapple slices, strawberries, and watermelon. The key is to slice the fruit evenly so that all the slices are finished at about the same time. I may do all the fruit at the same time since it uses the same temperature, but some fruits take longer. For example, a watermelon takes about 26-28 hours. Because of the sugar content of a watermelon I wrap slices in plastic wrap before putting in a Ziploc to keep the pieces from sticking. The key is to get all the moisture out. Why dehydrate fruit when they are so easily available at the grocery store? It is very hard to find fruit that does not have added sugar.

*vegetables — frozen mixed vegetables are easy to spread on a tray to dehydrate and can be added to anything. Many vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and acorn squash need to be cooked first. I usually roast them and then puree before spreading on a parchment paper- lined tray. Add any seasoning you like and you won’t have to carry seasonings with you. Canned black beans and kidney beans can be spread on the parchment paper to dehydrate and then use with rice for a tasty meal, especially if you remember to bring along single serving sour cream or even the powdered sour cream.

*meat — this is usually ground beef, sometimes plain but usually with taco seasoning. I can add this with any vegetable combination and some minute rice for a quick meal. I add the vegetables and rice before leaving home so I can play with herbs and spices. Beef and venison jerky are easy to make and there are a variety of recipes on the internet. It is very important to get all the moisture out or the jerky will mold.

*hummus — you can make your own or dehydrate your favorite brand. This makes a great lunch with crackers or flatbreads!

*leftovers – chili, spaghetti sauce, and hamburger stroganoff are three of my favorites and I plan to experiment with others this winter. I spread the food on parchment-lined tray and dehydrate.

Just a few things to remember:

*it takes planning to dehydrate your food but once you package it, you can toss it in the freezer until you need it

*I rehydrate each new food once at home to see how long it will take and how much water I will need. This also gives me a chance to play around with seasonings

*sometimes you will decide some foods aren’t worth it. I will never dehydrate tuna again—it is not worth the smell! Nor will I do bananas.

*your dehydrator should have various temperature settings. Fruits and vegetables need to dehydrate at 134* and meat 155*. Remember to make sure all the moisture is out

*I keep a notebook of foods that I have tried to dehydrate, the time needed to dehydrate, how much I packaged as a serving, and the amount of water need to prepare it. I write the amount of water on the package along with the contents.

I don’t get caught up in having “perfect” meals but I do want to have nutritious meals. After a day of hiking miles, pretty much anything will taste good. At the end of the day, my main goal is to have a satisfying meal that meets my nutritional needs and can be made with boiling water in less than 10 minutes with little or no clean up.

I can honestly say that this past summer I looked forward to my dinners every night of each of my backpacking trips. Now to improve my lunches!