This is the first entry in a new journal that I will use to document the places I'll visit, the people I meet and any thoughts or aspirations that I'd like to share as I trek northbound along the 2100 mile footpath known as the Appalachian Trail. I'll begin my hike on February 25 at Springer Mountain, GA. I'll travel to Atlanta and meet Donnie and his wife Mary (photo attached) at the North Springs MARTA station. Our first stop will be at Amicalola State Park to sign-in and pick up my Thru-Hiker Badge before heading up the fire road to the Springer Mtn parking lot. From there, I'll hike back to the plaque at the southern terminus , sign the registry, and depending on the time, stay at the Springer Mountain Shelter or push on to Stover Mountain about 3 miles to the north. I do remind myself that these are just plans. As the poet Robert Burns wrote, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" and so to hike to a rigid schedule would likely dilute the experience and allow all that is new and unknown to go unnoticed.
When your legs ache, and your lungs burn, the only thing pushing you onwards and upwards is the goal of reaching the summit or the promise of a view. This drive to finish the ascent is a powerful motivator, but when conditions deteriorate this singular focus on completing a hike can be detrimental and even dangerous. It's difficult to give up a goal, turn around and walk away, but sometimes you have to do it. Learning when yo go and when to say no is an important skill and I am thankful for challenging situations that help me learn where to draw that line.
Recently, my teen daughter and I hiked a local 3000-footer know for its challenging ascent. The trail starts with a steep climb through a wooded forest followed by a 0.5-mile rise up intermittent alpine conifer forests and rock slab. We made it quickly and easily to the rock and were within 1/10th of a mile from the summit when we were stopped in our track by a stretch of boilerplate ice on a slight incline. We could see the summit right above us ... almost touch it, or so it seemed. We gingerly took one step on the ice as we prepared to make the final push to the top and our feet were swept out from beneath. We looked to skirt around the ice and follow the treeline, but it was slick everywhere we stepped.
. My daughter would follow me no matter what so I knew As the mom and the adult, it was my decision to continue or turn around. It was hard to say no e can't go, especially after working so hard to get so far, but my gut feeling told me it was best to call it a day and return home safely. And so we did. Not only did we return home in one piece, but we both learned a lesson in knowing when to give up on a goal and unashamedly turn around.
Review of the Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat.
Apologies, but friends, it is super hard to take photos of an orange sleeping pad. It is what it is.
The Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated sleeping pad (size Small) was a godsend on the CDT. I'm going to write this review in dot points, because I love this sleeping pad so much it risks becoming a rambling mess if I don't.
First up, it is designed by a company local to my hometown Perth, Western Australia (huzzah!) Which is pretty cool in my book.
Second. Let's talk about fabric. This stuff is great because it's durable. We only got one teensy hole between the four of us using these. Guys we hiked through the New Mexico bootheel, where they have the saying "If it isn't covered in thorns, it's probably a rock" to describe the local flora. It's a big deal we only got one puncture.
On the puncture front, anyone who has ever had an inflatable sleeping pad of any sort will run screaming at the mention of checking for and repairing punctures in sleeping pads. I know this because I worked in an outdoor store for 6 and a half years, and in that time 100% of people bringing their sleeping pads in would rather pay me $50 to find and repair the hole in their mat than look for it themselves. Most sleeping pads are repaired with a glue or glue and patch combination. Not these ones. They have a simple, easy peasy, 3M patch that just sticks right on there. Bourbons mat got a hole in it that night before Silver City (around mile 100) we got into town, cleaned the mat, found the hole, stuck a patch on, tested it over night.... And then never had to worry again about the patch. It covered another 2300miles and still looks fine, and the mat stays inflated so I can only assume it's doing its job.
The fabric is a little noisy at first, but our mats got quieter after about ~10nights of use, although that could also be because we got so tired nothing could wake us any longer anyway.
Hilariously, when we first bought our tent (a Tarptent Saddle 2 fyi, review coming soon) we forgot to factor in the silnylon floor. The first night we used the tent last year we pitched up at a campsite beside a beautiful lake overlooking Mt Rainier in Mt Rainier National Park. The campsite had beautiful views, great swimming, even axolotls! But the spot was on a bit of a slope. We had booked the site though, and all the others were full, so we figured it couldn't be that bad. At 5am the next morning we woke to find ourselves sleeping at the bottom of the tent, both huddled on one single mat whilst the other sat pushed right up the wall of the tent like some sort of inflatable wall shade. Needless to say, before our CDT hike we worked out that putting our sit pads under our mats helped stop them from sliding across the floor of our tent. We also tried dots of silicone glue, but it peeled off and didn't really stop the slip factor. Eh, you live and you learn. Now at the end of the trail we have become pretty ninja at finding good likely campsites on topographic maps, so we avoided too much slippage by getting better campsites too.
We used the size "small", which is just shorter than both my partner and I. It comes in at 5'6" or 168cm, and weighs 15.1 Oz or 430gms. I'm 5'9", and Bourbon is 6'1". Neither of us ever felt they were too short. We both slept with our packs under our feet for that last little bit of warmth, and our pillows were on top of our spare clothes off the head of the sleeping mat. Honestly I wonder if we could have used the XS and been more ultralight sometimes, but I slept pretty well for 5 months on this one, so I doubt I will bother switching.
In summary, because despite my best efforts, this has still become a massive ramble...
10/10 would definitely recommend.
One of our other favourite pieces of gear was our Enlightened Equipment Accomplice quilt. It's a double quilt, that is completely customisable. We got the tall, and had ours rated to 10degrees Fahrenheit/ -10degrees Celcius and we have zero regrets. It was warm enough, still under 1kg (2lbs) and it has only once got soggy because us, all our gear and the entirety of the mountain we were on were all soaking wet (it is filled with dry down, which definitely helped I think). It doesn't even smell bad (I have no idea how that is, but seriously, two stinky thru hikers in it every night and no odour). I ended up getting a thermal bag liner, because Bourbon sleeps much warmer than I do. That was a perfect compromise for us. I could be a little warmer, but we could both sleep any which way inside the quilt still.
I like sleeping with one leg bent, which you can actually do comfortably in a quilt, and Bourbon is a side sleeper and says he got way less twisted up in the quilt than he does in a typical sleeping bag. When we hike together, I doubt we will ever take anything other than this quilt now. Even when it got ice crystals on it, or lots of dew, 5 mins in the sun and poof, the down would fluff back up and the skin of the bag would dry out.
The downsides are few but worth noting: in a quilt, if you don't sleep in thermals there is a high chance you will be sleeping straight on your sleeping mat. Which makes for a sweaty night's sleep if your mat is plastic. We actually have sleeping mat "sheets" at home that we usually use, but we left them behind on this trip for the sake of the extra 2oz. In warmer temps I will definitely sacrifice the extra weight for that little bit of comfort. Occasionally I would also wake up with the drawstring from the neck of my side of the bag wrapped around MY neck. Not a great feeling. Once I get home I will stitch that loose end down with my sewing machine so it can't happen any more.
If you have ever tried sleeping with a partner with your sleeping bags zipped together you'll know just how frustrating that can be. I happily report this is almost as comfy as the duvet on our queen size bed at home, and give it a solid 10/10 would recommend. #enlightenedequipment #eeaccomplice
I forgot to mention in our last post, the RV park in Ennis was excellent. If you're ever in the area it is awesome value, has super spacious clean showers, and is right in the centre of town.
We rejoined the trail in Butte, which was awesome. Even though it was still kind of sucky weather and there wasn't a huge amount of water around (15mile carries between sources, and a lot of sources not marked on guthooks) it was good to be back on trail. The trail north from MT hwy 90 was in great condition and the miles went by super fast. We easily did 22miles after lunch one day! I know a lot of people miss this section because they take the Anaconda cutoff, but we really enjoyed it.
Best in show on the CDT goes to this diminutive Icebreaker Chase Headband. I carried this instead of a beanie for the entire trail. I added a beanie in Northern New Mexico and the South San Juan, but then went straight back to using just this as soon as I started pushing the beanie off during the night.
Honestly, it was the most heavily used item I carried in my pack. It could pull down over my eyes to keep the sun out, kept my head warm, weighed almost nothing, took up almost no space and was cool enough I could wear it whilst I was hiking. That was really its biggest benefit. It helped keep the cold air out of my ears and off my forehead, but didn't make me over heat like a standard beanie. I will never hike again without one of these in my pack.
So, the last few weeks of the trail got on top of me. We hit longer and longer days, and I just didn't have the energy left to write. But I'm going to catch you up now, partly because I got some great photos in the last few weeks that I really want to share!
Honestly, the Wind River Range was spectacular. I enjoyed it far more than much of Colorado. The trail was generally in better condition, and the mountains were just totally beautiful. 10/10 would recommend. We hiked out to Pinedale for a resupply partway through, which was definitely a good reset in the middle (I had too much food and my partner had too little, which always happens with us. As soon as we get into the mountains my appetite goes way up and his goes way down!)
First of all I would like to thank everyone who will see my journal. This is a huge undertaking for me, and I do wonder what the hell was I thinking at times. Then I realize this is for those veterans who paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms.
I am representing the Brothers in Arms Foundation during my thru hike. My goal is to raise funds for this amazing organization. Please look them up at: www.brothersinarmsfoundation.org
If you enjoy my journal please share it far and wide. Visibility helps me stay motivated and lets us never forget our fallen brothers and sisters in arms.
Back at the car, our gear loaded in the back, and somewhat surprised it is already over. You know it was a good trip when: