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Why?

In a recent conversation with a hiking friend the topic came up of why we do what we do: multi-day backpacking.  What drives us to leave the asphalt and concrete for a week or more at a time to just walk?  Why leave comfort, ease of living, convenience, and “safety”?  Why hike off into the wilderness with nothing but the pack on your back and a goodbye wave?  This is the point were most of us get philosophical, etc.  Ok, I guess I will too.

The truth is I believe that from time to  time we need to be free from pressure…of any kind. Like wiping the blackboard clean to start over (here is the spot where the kids say “what’s a black board?”) anew and fresh.  Totally out from under the burdens of daily living that include payments, jobs, school, and especially modern communication.

Modern cell phones and social media have come to invasively permeate our lives.  Often we see this as a good thing, like drinking orange juice because it is good for us… but the person who drinks a gallon a day begins to have adverse effects from it with bad consequences.

I see my cell phone as a modern necessity, but I need to be free from it sometimes.  Analogy number 1: It’s like that person you really like but when you have to spend three months with them locked in a cabin you find yourself daydreaming about how nice it would be to quietly kill them in their sleep.  Just a thought…

Analogy number 2, and perhaps a more accurate one: My cell phone is like a fly buzzing around me.  It’s not a bother for the first couple times it distracts me.  Over time I can develop a tolerance for the fly, after all he isn’t hurting me, just bugging me constantly with unwanted and unneeded distraction.  I might even enjoy watching the fly occasionally as he circles around me, but… after a while that fly might just drive me a small bit, slightly, a little bit MAD…

I have had people tell me in disbelief that I must be crazy to walk off into the woods for days on end.  Why would I want to do that?  Sanity, that is why.  Who is really crazy here, the person who lives in an artificial, virtual world of needless harassment and distracting “entertainment”, or someone who walks in the real one?

Go take a walk… as your therapist, I demand it.

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Trail Food! What do you like?

With warmer weather upon us, hikers are getting the itch to go out and get their shoes dirty.  But what do you eat out there?  I have seen some pretty amazing things come out of a backpack on long hikes, including a full size frying pan!!!  I kid you not.  So what does good trail food look like?

Breakfast- simple but good

You could go buy the expensive, pre-packaged foods at a camping store.  While convenient, it’s not for me.  The cost is prohibitive ($7-$10 per meal) for a long hike and the flavors leave something to be desired.

My favorite trail foods are those that I package up myself, like Shepherds Pie and Red Beans and Rice.  These kinds of meals can be light weight, nutritional, and good tasting.  I dehydrate most of the ingredients so the cost is usually low.

Meals like this can get complex and quite tasty.  My friend Chef Glenn has an entire web site devoted to trail food preparation he calls Backpacking Food For The Soul.  The site is at http://www.backpackingchef.com/.  He is wonderful cook and is well known for his creative trail food, hence his trail name “Chef Glenn”.

Re-packaging dry foods into smaller portions works great.  I zip top bag or vacuum pack soups, mashed potatoes, and stew mixes like this into individual meal portions.  This works great if you split food preparation up with friends.

I also like to take advantage of convenient dry packaged foods like individual packs of grits, oatmeal, and good ol’ Hamburger Helper Cheesy Macaroni (microwave- works just as good with boiling water).

Of course, there are the tried and true tuna fish, raman noodles, and individual pack peanut butter that are all easy, good for you meals.

So what do you do for food?  I’d like to hear what your favorite trail meals look like.  Give it a post…

The Ouachita Trail Section 6

My hiking destination for this past weekend was the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas.  The trail head my group of seven used was the Hwy 27 trail head.  From there we headed east.

The trail was moderately difficult, first climbing the .9 miles to the John Archer shelter and later climbing up and over Sandlick Mountain to the Irons Fork River on the first day.  The forest is a good mix of hardwoods and tall pines in this section, with a few good viewing points from near the top of Sandlick.  If you are in decent physical shape you won’t have too much difficulty if you take your time.

(L to R from top) Trevor, Taylor, Ray, Tyler, Hilton, Jimmy, and Wyatt.

The shelter journal at the John Archer shelter had a hilarious entry from a guy who made the trip up to the shelter with his girlfriend.  It was a disaster!  They took 3 hours to make the less than a mile ascension carrying a full size air mattress with a powered pump.  He made it pretty clear that his girlfriend was very out of shape.  Once at the shelter they found that they forgot toilet paper (who knew socks made a good substitute?) and were awakened in the middle of the night by an attacking raccoon!  I know they were not having fun, but we had a great time with the story.

The day finished six miles later at an absolutely beautiful site along the Irons Fork River.  Here the forestry service built a concrete bridge that makes for a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the sunset over the mountains.  An old forestry road about 40 yards off the river made for an ideal camping area without causing undue site impact.

The concrete bridge over the Irons Fork.

At the river we saw some small fish and several small snakes, but nothing to worry about.  The only great concern I have to caution you about is ticks!!!  Wear PLENTY of tick repellent.  The population in wooded areas is high.  We sprayed down heavily and checked our bodies regularly and had no problems to speak of; however, we saw tons of the pesky little buggers.  This is when it is good to have a close friend who will help you look for “riders” on your back, etc.  I sprayed down thoroughly and never had a real worry after that.

Day two saw us taking a late start around 9am.  After crossing the river we immediately started the only real climb of the day out of the river valley.  It was quite steep at places but manageable.  All in all, I found the hike relatively easy, but I tend to compare everything to hiking the Appalachian Mountains.  The Ouachita Trail, or OT, graciously has fewer ups and downs than the AT.

Great views were a regular treat as we continued through the day.  We stopped at the side trail for the Big Branch Shelter around 11 to have some lunch, but didn’t make the trip down to the shelter.

Trail conditions on this section are very good and our advance group of Wyatt, Taylor and myself had no trouble keeping up a fast 2.5-3 mph pace that took us the 10 miles we had for the day in around 4 hours, even with a nice nap at lunch.  We emerged at the Hwy 298 trail head around 1pm.  Hilton, Jimmy, Tyler, and Trevor rolled in about an hour and a half behind us with few problems.

Everyone is in agreement that this is a rewarding hike and we will return in May with our boys group to test their metal.  Jimmy and I did agree, after some discussion, that we would put some variation in our hike plan for the larger group.  In May we will make more use of the shelter sites and use lower mileage days to help the inexperienced kids in the group to cope.  I look forward to going back.

More Trail Poetry!

Poetry is an outlet of creativity for some.  It tends to also be an escape for me when I solo hike.  I tend to put couplets together to keep my mind occupied and off of the miles that I have to go or the PUDs (pointless ups and downs) that await me later in the day. Often poetry is an expression of the beautiful things I see or the interesting people I meet, as in the cases of “The Tale of Four-Eyes” or “Strike With Caution.”

I wrote this poem while I was still preparing for my trip to the southern Smokies year before last.  It was just a whimsical idea I had that fleshed out as a poem.  I hope you like it.

I Saw A Bear Wearing Pants

I saw a bear wearing pants,

On an overlook he sat.

And as he perched in meditation,

I saw he wore a hat.

The bear was topless in the sun,

Drying on a rock I saw his shirt.

A pair of boots lay nearby,

Covered in trail dirt.

I came to an odd conclusion,

Minutes after passing by.

Either there is a naked hiker our there,

Or that is one very hairy guy!

 

 

Hike Your Own Hike.  I’m off to the Ouachita Mountains!

The Weight Wars?

How light is light? Ultra-light?  My answer is that it is purely subjective.  The pundits of the trail argue for hours on end over a pound here and an ounce there.  Let’s face it, shelter life would be boring some nights without a good debate on canister gas vs. alcohol stoves.  The world stands still as the gram weenies and traditionalist fight it out!  So what does it mean to you and to me?  That is the real question.  The probable answer is not much.

Please understand, I hate to see people suffer because of carrying too much gear.  Lots of trips are marred by blisters and sore shoulders that never had to be.  Many people I see on the trail pack based on what they “are told” they should have.  They did little research and figured the stuff on the shelf looked good enough.  In other words, advertisers and stores display cool gear and make it seem indispensable.  The message is “You need this or your trip will not be comfortable, fun, and memorable.  Buy it now.”  Do not get me wrong.  There are some of those things that you do need, just not always what they tell you.

I once took a beautiful elk hunting trip in the high mountains above Silverton, CO. Translation: backpacking with an eight pound weight in your hands.  Unfortunately, one of the most memorable things about the trip for me was the three mile mountainous hike into the area we planned to camp in.  We were badly out of shape.  One of my trail mates was a young man from Mississippi with an enormous pack.  I was not exactly lightly loaded with full winter wear, a heavy 0 degree bag, etc.  My pack weighed in at about 40 lbs.  Looking back now it was pretty heavy with cold weather clothing since the temps were falling into single digits some nights.  Carrying that pack was grueling in the thin mountain air.

Amazingly, my young friend’s pack was closer to 70lbs!!!  No amount of debate or cajoling could convince him to lighten his pack.  He resolutely declared that he needed each and every thing he had in that pack and could not leave anything behind.  He believed that every ounce was absolutely necessary.

During the trip I tried to watch him to see what he actually used and what weighed so much that he had to have.  I found that he vastly over packed food for the 3-4 day trip. He had a backup pack stove and fuel for over a week.  His tent alone weighed over 5 pounds. Needless to say, he was exhausted at the end of the short hike in and not much better on the hike out.

I learned some valuable lessons on that trip.  We did not bag any elk, but I was inspired to begin finding ways to be lighter on the trail.  I immediately began to lighten my load.

Now days my personal philosophy of light weight backpacking is this:  “If my pack is lighter, I work less.  If I work less, I get less tired.  If I am less tired, I feel better.  If I feel better, I spend more time enjoying everything around me: friends, views, wildlife, peace and solitude.  I go hiking to enjoy myself, so I want my pack lighter.”  That’s my philosophy.  What’s yours?  Have you thought about it?

You do not have to be me.  Where I can, I prefer a tarp instead of tenting.  I use a very light weight alcohol stove.  I prefer down bags.  I like to dehydrate my foods myself.  My favorite backpack is a frameless Gossamer Gear G4.  This weekend I am going on a two day/three night hike in the Ouachita Mountains.  My pack will be about 17 lbs with food and water. I like it that way.  But that is me.

I encourage people to adopt my philosophy as much or as little as they like because there are no absolute numbers.  Pack the pack you feel good carrying.  Make it light enough to enjoy your trip, but be as comfortable as you feel you need.  It is not about what I say or anyone else who might claim to be a guru.  Do what I did.  Experiment with everything, listen to others opinions, and observe what works for you.  Then fill your pack with what you like!!!   And above all else…

Hike Your Own Hike!