Moss Grows On The North Side of Trees, Right?

Moss Grows On The North Side of Trees, Right? (10 Essentials #3)

Kennsaw Mountain March 2008 014

Number 3 on our list of Essential Dame Necessities is a map and compass.  Now, I will be the first person to tell you that a compass will be fairly useless if you don’t know how to use it. I have added compass to this list because any list of important items to take into the woods should include it.  However, most people don’t have the foggiest idea of how to use one.  And unless you have a topographical map and know how to use that, all of it is wasted weight in your pack.  So, the next time you notice a parks and recreation class on orienteering or map and compass use, I would highly suggest you take it.  I have taken several and they are a lot of fun!  You will meet other people that love the outdoors and you will feel so prepared and self-reliant the next time you hit the trail.

Before you take that class, though…..what should you carry?  Our assumption here at Trail Dames is that you are not doing cross-country hiking.  Or that you are not striking off trail through the underbrush.  For anything like that, you absolutely must have map and compass skills.  But for the well-marked trails we take, be it a simple loop at a local park or a four mile ‘in and out’ hike on the Appalachian Trail, I suggest that you head to the internet.  Every hike I have ever been on has had a description on-line somewhere. There are several websites that list hikes and include maps and details, and I highly recommend spending some time getting to know them.

My personal favorite here in Georgiais  These are the same people that do that fantastic book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta.  They have listed tons of trails and each has a complete description and directions how to get there.  For any of these hikes, you should print out all of the details and carry them in your backpack. Something as simple as a notation of a road crossing can help you keep your bearings when you are on a new trail.  In addition, I would print up every description of the trail that you can find on other sites as well and throw them all in a little plastic bag to keep in your pack.

Finally, before you go on a hike, write on the map and trail descriptions any emergency contact numbers you might need.  You should know what county you are in and the nearest towns as well as the phone numbers for emergency services in the area.

This brings up the question of personal safety.  We will explore these ideas in more detail later, but for now, ponder these questions…..

Should you carry a cell phone and should you hike alone?

As for the cell phone question, this has long been the point of a lot of contention in hiking circles.  No one wants to walk along a trail and hear someone else’s phone ring.  Or better yet, have to listen to your loud conversation!  However, I would strongly encourage you to carry your phone with you at all times.  There are lots of places that it will not work…..for instance, when you are down in gaps, or on the other side of the mountain.  However, if you get injured or lost, it would be stupid to not have the possibility of the help that a cell phone would provide.  Carry it and have the numbers that you could potentially need programmed in it.

As for hiking with someone, for the purposes of this blog and Trail Dames, I am going to say always take a friend.  Again, we will re-visit this topic later but for now, enjoy sharing the outdoors with someone that can laugh with you when you slip in the mud and revel with you in the beauty that you are walking through.

Do you know how to use a map and compass?  Click the comment link below and tell us your opinion……

Anna aka Mud Butt

What is that Growling?

What is that Growling? (10 Essentials #2)

PB150132  Have you ever been so hungry that you could eat a bear? An empty stomach is not only miserable but can really affect your performance on a hike.  That is why the next item on our list of  the Essential Dame Necessities is:


It is simple……throw some Power Bars in your day pack.  Or some Luna Bars, CliffBars, or any other sports bars.  The name brand doesn’t matter as long as they provide an easy form of nutrition.  I am a big believer in sports bars because they last a long time in your pack and don’t melt in the heat.  In the cold, however, they could put your fillings in jeopardy!  

Again, though… doesn’t matter so much what you carry as long as you carry something.

Have you ever heard of ‘bonking’?  Wikipedia defines bonking as, “hitting the wall”, and adds that “the “bonk” describes the condition that takes place when an athlete suddenly loses energy and becomes fatigued”.   For years I heard the term bandied around in professional sports and in regards to running marathons.  In all honesty, I did not think that it was a term that would ever apply to me.  I never considered myself to be an athlete by any stretch of the imagination.  And I also thought that since I carry so much extra weight, I had plenty of inner fuel to get me from point A to point B.  Boy was I wrong.

On my very first backpacking trip, I was so nervous and intimidated by the other women that were there, that I did not take care of myself at all.  I knew that I had bitten off much more than I could chew, (10 miles of giant climbs on the AT with a heavy pack and no experience?!), and I was so exhausted that not only did I not take many breaks, but when I did take a rest, I did not eat any snacks.  On top of that, I was so exhausted at meal times that I barely choked anything down.

By the evening of the second day, I could barely pick up my feet.  Three of us were night hiking, (because I was too slow to get to the shelter before the sun went downJ) and I truly hit a wall.  My friend LiteShoe took one look at me and poured a packet of Emergen-C down my throat.  After a few minutes, I felt well enough to keep going, but I learned an important lesson.   It wasn’t until later that I realized that my body had truly run out of fuel.  It didn’t matter that I was overweight, or that I didn’t think of myself as an athlete.

What I was doing was hard.  And it takes fuel to keep your body going.

With that having been said, I have since bonked several more times, but now I know what is going on with my body.  It happens if I am just not paying attention, and it happens all the time to women on our longer Trail Dames hikes.  They are all like me…..taken by surprise at the idea that we should be treating our bodies like athletes.  J Through trial and error, this is what we are all learning…..

1. Everyone is different.  Some people need to munch constantly when they are hiking, while others need to eat something every three hours.

2. Some people respond well to fresh fruit while others need nuts.

3. If we do run out of fuel and energy, it comes back pretty quickly once we eat something.

So if you are hiking along and all the sudden just don’t have any energy, you have bonked.  Having trouble picking up your feet?  Bonk.  And my personal favorite, walk three steps…stop….walk three steps…stop?  Big bonk.  J

Carry extra snacks and food and you will be fine in no time.  And remember, what you are doing is a sport and you are an athlete.

Have you ever bonked? Click the comment link below and tell me what you do to avoid it happening again.

Anna aka Mud Butt

What Comes First? (The Ten Essentials)

What Comes First? (The Ten Essentials #1)

Elachee Nature Ctr-East West Lake Trails 11-23-08-009

When it comes to the Essential Dame Necessities, the first thing you need is something to carry everything in.  A small day pack is ideal.  You don’t need anything fancy.  In fact, you can steal your kid’s school backpack for the day and it will work just fine.  You can even carry everything you need in a large fanny-pack or waist pack.  The only thing that I suggest is that you make sure that whatever you carry either goes around your waist or over both shoulders.  I have seen women show up for Trail Dames hikes with different shoulder bags and satchels.  They do work, but in the end are very uncomfortable.  There is nothing worse than having your shoulder bag sliding off of your shoulder every few steps.  That is a miserable way to spend three miles!

As you hike more and more, you might want to invest in a true day-pack.  They have extras that can make your hike more comfortable, like hip belts and pouches for a water bladder.  But for the time being, don’t let the lack of a fancy backpack keep you from getting out on the trail!!  I have several Dames that hike with poof-y, flower-dy backpack purses and they do just fine.  It is what is in them that matters!

In Trail Dames, we pay close attention to being prepared because it can not only make a difference in your survival, but in your enjoyment.  You want hiking to be as much fun as possible, so anything you can do to keep yourself comfortable is important.  So with that in mind, what should you carry in your backpack?  The next several blogs will list everything that you need, but let’s start with the basics.  These are NOT in order of importance.  You should carry all of them every time you step out of your car to do a little stroll in the woods.


Always carry a couple of water bottles and make sure that they are full.  I am sure that most of you know that you can survive for days without food, but you will not last long without water.  On a three mile walk on a well-marked path, the chances of you getting lost for a week and ending up in a true survival situation is very slim.  However, the chances of the hike taking longer than you think it will are excellent!  Nothing can ruin your experience faster than true discomfort.  And being hot and thirsty is truly uncomfortable.

Also, keep in mind that having extra water can often come in handy if your hiking friends run out.  Remember that part about hikers always helping each other out?  If your friend runs low, having enough to share will is an easy way to insure that you both have a great time on the trail.

Finally, consider investing in a portable means of purifying water.  This can be as simple as iodine tablets. My own personal favorite is the Aquamira drops.  You don’t need to carry a bulky water filter on your day hikes, but a small bag with tablets or drops is a smart way to stay prepared.

With all methods of water treatment you will find pros and cons.  The most important thing to do is pick one and use it.  The amount of critters in a beautiful, swift-moving stream would boggle your mind.  No matter how much it looks like a beer commercial from Colorado, don’t drink it without purifying it.

Stay tuned for more…………

Anna aka Mud Butt

How Do You Want To Be Remembered? (The Ten Essentials)

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

        (The 10 Essentials-Intro)


     When it comes to hiking, the question I get asked most often by new hikers is, “What Should I Take?”  The next few blog entries will cover the basics so that you will never feel unprepared again.  The most commonly accepted list of necessary items is called “The Ten Essentials”, and here we will put them in simple “Dame” language. However, before we do that, we have to ask the question, “Why do we have to carry anything at all?”

When you read the list of essential items to carry in your backpack, you will most likely be saying to yourself, “I am only going for a short hike……surely I do not need all of this!”  I used to feel like that, too.  Then I read an article in Backpacker Magazine on getting lost in the woods.  The basic idea was that if you are to ever be lost in the woods, and require rescue, do you want to be known as the hiker that was prepared and simply ran into some bad luck?  Or do you want to be the hiker that all of the search and rescue folks are rolling their eyes at?  Of course, safety and self preservation are the appropriate reasons for being prepared in the woods.  But I have to tell you……..for me, there is also a pride factor.  J  I don’t want anyone shaking their heads behind my back and saying, “Man, she didn’t even have any water on her!”

            Years ago, there was a local story here about two women and their daughters hiking a short mile up to a waterfall at a local state park.  Somehow, they got off of the well-worn path and continued to trek an extra eight miles to the top of Springer Mountain. They had nothing with them.  A backpacker met them and shared enough of his gear to help them spend a very uncomfortable night in the woods before they hiked back down the next day.  To this day, I think of those women when I pack my day pack.  The chance of me doing something stupid in the woods is always there, but I refuse to be the hiker remembered for years as someone so inadequately prepared.

I also would rather not be the hiker that has to rely on another backpacker to survive the night.  Backpackers, by their very design, carry the absolute bare necessities.  They pack just enough to keep themselves safe.  As hikers and backpackers, we all watch out for each other and help one another whenever necessary.  I just want to make sure that if I ever do need to rely on another hikers resources, that it is outside the realm of my own basic preparedness.  Does that make sense?

In any case, a Trail Dame needs to approach hiking with common sense and forethought, so keep reading as we dive into the Essential Dame Necessities you need to carry.

Anna aka Mud Butt

Pole Dancing

Elachee Nature Ctr-East West Lake Trails 11-23-08-061The summer was 1989 and North Carolina was a riotous green.  I was spending a few months in Brevard and one fateful day, my friend John asked if I would like to go hiking   I call it a ‘fateful’ day because it changed the trajectory of my life dramatically and was the first step, (no pun intended) towards a future full of mountains, trails and adventure.

On that particular day, I enjoyed the hike despite the fact that I fell into the mud.  It wouldn’t have been any big deal, except that the trail was dry, the day was dry and there was only one small muddy section on the whole hike. I fell into that small puddle and begun a long history of being the clumsiest hiker that I knew. If there was mud or water on a trail, I would fall into it.  That was the day that Mud Butt was born.

My trail name came about amid a storm of laughter and beer at a party that summer, and I embraced it wholeheartedly.  I might be balance-challenged, but at least I had a cool name to show for it!  And in the years to come, in the midst of cries of ‘are you ok?’ and ‘there is a stream over the next hill that you can wash the mud off with’ I became a hiker.

Several years after my less-than-graceful beginning, I discovered the joys of hiking poles.  I purchased two sticks that telescoped to the perfect height and proceeded to extend my hikes further and further.  Years went by and I became so attached to my poles that I wouldn’t even go to the water source without them.  They provided balance, confidence and, on occasion, less need to do laundry.

It wasn’t til a decade later when I was talking about my trail name to some friends that I realized that I hadn’t fallen in the mud in a really long time

When it occurred to me that I wasn’t quite as clumsy as I used to be, I had a momentary existential crisis. Who was I if I wasn’t Mud Butt?!  Could I still be Mud Butt if I didn’t actually end up in every single mud puddle?!

But the moment was short lived and I realized that anything in the world that makes my hike more enjoyable, is here to stay.

The question is, should you use hiking poles?  If you are a new hiker, I would encourage you to give them a try.  They save your knees, provide great balance, help you cross streams, and give you a way to clear brush away from the trail ahead of you.  When used well, they even help you pick up the speed and find your stride.  You will be faster, more efficient and safer.  What more could you want?  I suggest starting with one pole to see if you like it and then trying two.  Most poles do telescope so if you get out on the trail and don’t feel like they are working for you, you can throw them in your pack.

Here are some of my random thoughts on pole use:

1. There are lots of ‘official’ ways to use your poles.  My advice is, don’t get caught up in the right way and the wrong way.  Just find your own way.

2.  The telescoping element on many poles becomes loose as you are hiking. Before going down a descent, check and make sure your poles are locked tight.  This would be a bad time for them to telescope in on you!!

3.  If you are a backpacker, consider having your poles do double duty.  There are lots of tents on the market that don’t use actual tent poles.  Instead, they use your hiking poles for set up.  It saves you weight and room in your pack.

4.  Last but not least, don’t exert a lot of extra energy leaning on your poles when you don’t need to.   I had an honest moment of panic on the Incan Trail last summer when the guide tried to take my poles away.   He said that in using them to support all of my weight, all of the time, I was using a lot of excess energy.  I listened to him and started treating them more as accessories them actual crutches.  I rely on my leg muscles to power me up now, rather then my poles and arms to drag myself up.  Now I am a more efficient hiker!

I will finish by saying, consider renting a pair, or borrowing a pair to try before you actually buy some.  Hiking poles are expensive, so you don’t want to spend $80-$100 on a pair unless you will truly use them.  And please, please, please do not buy the cheap poles that you find at the big box discount stores.  I know that they are shiny, red and $10 a pair, but you truly get what you pay for.  Remember that whole “going downhill is a really bad time for your poles to telescope” thing I mentioned earlier?  These have a BAD tendency of snapping, breaking and just not working.  And you could really get hurt.

Good luck with your poles and get out there and hike!!

Do you use hiking poles?  I would love to know why or why not?  And do you have any other helpful hints for other hikers?  Please click below and share your comments with the rest of us!

Anna aka Mud Butt

Note: When it comes to a particular brand of pole, I am a real Leki fan.  My experience with their national customer service has been pretty poor, but you cannot deny the quality of the product.  And the rep that they have for the South East is wonderful.  His kindness and helpfulness has kept me a Leki customer and it is partly because of him that I recommend their product.