Best…podcast…ever

My girlfriend turned me onto the Joe Rogan Experience podcast back in 2013, and my initial response was “Rogan? The UFC commentator? From that Fear Factor show?” Yeah, that guy. At the time I was spending many hours at work engaging in some monotonous and repetitive actions, so I figured I’d give the world of podcasts a try. She’s usually right about everything anyway, so I could at least download a few episodes and see what it was about.

Little did I know that her recommendation would change the way I looked at the world.

There’s a reason this podcast is popular. Joe Rogan routinely hosts a plethora of interviewees from across the spectrum, touching on subjects so diverse and interesting I wouldn’t even have thought to learn about them on my own. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paul Stamets, Dr. Carl Hart, Graham Hancock, Dr. Rhonda Patrick…the list goes on. Hearing an in-depth interview with someone like Paul Stamets, after being a fan of his medicinal mushroom products for years, blew my mind like the psilocybin variety Mr. Stamets talks about on that episode. 20 grams of psychedelics? Heroic dose, indeed. I’ll stick to the Lions Mane and Cordyceps for my daily morning dose, thankyouverymuch.

This isn’t just a podcast about comedy and MMA, although there are plenty of episodes that focus exclusively on those subjects. This podcast opens doors to subjects we could all benefit from. My fascination with kettlebells came after hearing about them on this show, as did my desire to start meditating and cutting WAY back on carbohydrates in my diet. This podcast made me a better person both physically and mentally. All stuff you could learn about from cursory internet research of course, but not with the added benefits of hilarious commentary that nearly every episode contains.

There are certain to be occasional guests you won’t agree with at times. You may dismiss the show as “meathead” or “obscene”, and will probably have your feathers ruffled. Rogan does have a Netflix comedy special titled “Triggered”, after all. But that’s a good thing. We NEED to have our feathers ruffled. The world shouldn’t be an echo chamber. You can demonize the University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson for the way some media portrays him, or you can listen to him speak and form your own opinion. Maybe you’re vegan and knowing there are professional bowhunters like Cameron Hanes out there makes your blood boil. Megan Phelps-Roper, who used to be a member of Westboro Baptist Church? Oh, you know that one is going to be controversial!

I know many of you probably already listen to this show, but it’s been immensely beneficial to my life over the years, and in the off chance that you haven’t heard it…go give it a listen. At over 1000 episodes now, feel free to browse through the guests and find a subject matter that piques your interest. There’s plenty to choose from.

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Trail town etiquette

Spring is in the air. Migrating birds are sweeping back through town, daylight hours are stretching long and a lot of hikers are obsessing over gear. Packs are being loaded, weighed, and unpacked again to remove a few items in an effort to save weight. Spreadsheets are being created, gear forums bookmarked, and food carefully packed into Priority Mail boxes. All good stuff, but I want to talk about an underrated aspect of preparing for a long hike. Trail town etiquette.

On an adventure long enough to require a resupply, you’re bound to (at least occasionally) find yourself “in town”, among the still-domesticated members of our species. Stepping back into civilization after a week on trail, you may feel like a bit of an outsider. There, all these people have been living their conventional lives, but YOU, dear adventurer, have been out in the wilderness! Sleeping in the dirt, getting gnarly tan lines and developing an odor reminiscent of the wildlife that sniffs around your foodbag at night. Social norms in the context of backpacking are much different than the ones that most people grew up with, and once you start to let go of them, they’re hard to reassume.  It’s easy to let yourself bring some of that stinky, devil-may-care “hiker flair” in places where it’s frowned upon to blow snot rockets or curse like a sailor (ex: restaurants, post office waiting areas, cars that you hitch rides to town in). While you may be proud of the lax hygiene standards that hikers embrace, people in town still appreciate common courtesy like shirts that don’t smell like the dumpster behind the pet store. Context is everything.  Much like taking a shit, intense B.O. is magically way less noxious when experienced in the open air of intact wilderness, rather than the sterile, crowded confines of town.

So here’s a list of things I make a point to consider in an effort to lessen my impact on towns. Leave No Trace doesn’t apply only to the backcountry; as an ambassador to all hikers in front of and behind you, it’s your responsibility to lessen your impact in all areas of trail life. You only get treated nicely in town because hikers before you have worked to build bridges with the locals. Don’t be the jerk who ruins it for either end of the town/trail spectrum.

RESTAURANTS

Wash yerself. Seriously, if you have the opportunity to clean up a bit before hitting the AYCE buffet, please do so. Sometimes that’s not an option, and I’ve definitely been guilty of not wanting to get a hotel room shower before stuffing myself full of deep-fried mayonnaise and corndog casserole, but if you can clean up before subjecting others to your rank odor, take advantage of it. At the VERY LEAST, wash your hands and face before sitting down. If paper towels are available in the restroom, I’ll sometimes wet a couple of them with sink water and give myself a quick scrub down. Obviously, don’t make a mess. Leave that restroom cleaner than you found it. Also, your mom called and said to remind you to scrub behind your ears.

Tip your server. I don’t care if you’ve watched a certain badass Quentin Tarantino movie featuring an iconic exchange on the ethos of obligatory tipping. Hikers may rack up a hefty bill at a restaurant, but money isn’t everything (translation: it doesn’t entitle you to act without consideration).  Servers and cashiers have to interact with you, and any complaints from other customers or management will be filtered directly through them. If hikers routinely tip well (think at least 20%), employees are way less likely to be offended by our general dishevelment. Customers can complain about us looking like bums, but if those bums are making it rain on the server (and the rest of the restaurant staff by proxy, if they pool tips) we’ll continue to be welcomed with open arms at restaurants. Waitstaff are the front lines of the restaurant world, and we must bribe them to keep the peace. Consider it tithing to the gods of nourishment. If you have the money to spend on restaurant food, you have the money to tip generously.

Stack your plates/bus your own table when possible. If you’re like me, the aftermath of a restaurant visit will leave behind enough plates to make your table look like a war zone. Stacking your plates makes it easier for them to be bussed away, and is a nice gesture. Yeah, it’s their job to clean up, but it’s not your job to make anyone else’s job harder…and that type of behavior leaves a good impression. I’ve been in restaurants where servers complained about messy hikers before me, and that negative experience they had shows in the service I received. Don’t be a burden on waitstaff, be a considerate guest. Going above and beyond leaves an impression that keeps hikers welcomed in places we all need to visit.

Remember your inside voice? After all that time outside, you may not. If you’ve been hiking with other people and forced to shout over the wind to communicate, the volume of your voice may be cranked up a bit. Yodeling from mountaintops will do it too. When your group is suddenly inside a restaurant and the promise of food is looming on the horizon, bubbling excitement only makes our voices louder. But you’re inside a building now, so be mindful of the volume and content of your conversations. Also, while it’s perfectly acceptable to flex your curse word vocabulary or discuss bowel movement mishaps (BMMs) in the woods, mind your Ps and Qs when in the public sphere. The family sitting at the table behind you shouldn’t have to hear your F bombs.

HOTELS

Please, for the love of all things unholy, ask before filling a room with hikers (aka “stacking”). Some hotels don’t care about this practice, but many prohibit it. If a hotel requires all guests to be registered, don’t think you’re an exception to the rule just because your trail-name is Gypsy Freedom Spirit and “like, rules don’t apply to me, man” (same goes for you, Gandalf the Odiferous). I’ve had hotels on each of the Big 3 (AT, PCT, CDT) flat out refuse me service due to being an obvious backpacker. They assume that I’ll pay for just myself and then pack the room with freeloaders, splitting the cost of a two-bed unit with 7 other filthy derelicts. I’ve definitely done that, but only with the permission of the manager. Please don’t flout the rules of these establishments and sour them for all hikers behind you. Remember, you’re not a special exception, and as a representative of the hiking community you can cause irreversible damage to the relationships we’ve built with businesses along the trail.

When you check in, ask for an additional trash bag. As you purchase resupply foods and transfer them into your pack, you’ll quickly accumulate a mountain of packaging that will not fit into the tiny trashcans all hotel rooms seem to have. (What is this, a trashcan for ants?) Just get an extra trash bag right away and use it for all those cardboard boxes of Mac-n-cheese you’ll need to dispose of. Of course, you’ll also need extra garbage capacity for all that garbage food you’ll undoubtedly stuff down your gullet. The empty pizza boxes and pints of Ben and Jerry’s should go directly into that trash bag, not on the floor. Do you want ants? Because that is how you get ants.

TRAIL ANGELS

When someone opens their home to you, it’s important to give back. Ask if there is a donation jar, and think about how this system works. If you were in a hotel, you’d be dropping some serious coin, so putting a $20 bill in that jar is a heck of a deal. If you can’t afford to donate, you don’t need to burden them with your presence in the first place. You can remain in the woods for free if your budget won’t allow a donation.

If they refuse money, offer your time. More than once. Insist. Most places have chores that need to be done, so roll up your sleeves and pitch in. I’ve mowed grass, vacuumed carpets and even fixed a leaky roof. Ask how you can help, and show your gratitude by pitching in. I always try to double down in showing my appreciation by giving money AND doing chores.

More and more places are banning alcohol on the premises, for very good reason. This doesn’t mean you need to become a teetotaler, but ASK before showing up with a six-pack. Don’t assume a trail angels house is like a hotel, where you’re free to get drunk and watch Dancing With The Stars all night. Respect the house rules, ask permission before assuming you can imbibe, and please don’t get wasted. Same goes for other intoxicants. Just because cannabis is legal doesn’t mean your hosts are comfortable with you smoking on their property. Get the green light before lighting up the devil’s lettuce.

I KNOW THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ALL ABOUT TOWN ETIQUETTE ON TRAIL, BUT…

As the popularity of the long trails increases, you’re bound to run into people you wouldn’t necessarily associate with back at home. The trails are a microcosm of the regular world, but being that we’re all headed in the same direction on a narrow strip of dirt, you’ll have to engage with folks you might not usually associate with. Welcome to being an adult, kids. The trail (like the rest of world) sometimes isn’t so much a melting pot as it is a mosaic. If you find a certain individual’s personality traits abrasive or off-putting, either hike fast to put distance between you or take a day off and let them get ahead. The trail doesn’t revolve around you (what does, really?), so be responsible for yourself and use your feet and your brain to avoid conflict. Or take this opportunity to get out of your bubble and learn to relate to people that you normally wouldn’t, even if their life experiences differ from yours. Everyone you meet can be a learning opportunity, even if it’s “that’s not how I ever want to live”.

Every year I meet hikers whose sole mission seems to be getting laid. Both sexes do this, but it’s mainly men who get obnoxious about it. I know your hormones are raging and the main evolutionary driver of our species is to reproduce, but hitting on people constantly is sleazy, obnoxious, and generally unwelcome. The majority of people are out there to have a spiritual and emotional growth period, so be conscious of how your desire to mate will be received. Personally, I avoid looking for sexual encounters on trail, and in 15 years of thru hiking have only had a couple…and I didn’t instigate them. The trail is long, but extremely narrow, and getting a reputation for “pink blazing” will only build a barrier between you and others. Even though by nature we are all sexual animals (that’s how we ended up with over 7 billion people on this planet) be mindful of your impact on others.

Electronic devices are a part of most people’s lives, but not everyone wants to hear your phone conversations or music choices. If you need to use the phone, step away from earshot. Use headphones if you enjoy hiking with music and leave the external speakers at home. If I run into one more person blasting Justin Bieber from speakers mounted to their pack I’m gonna hike 10 feet in front of them and scream Weird Al songs until they cry. Don’t tempt me–I know all the lyrics.

Since headphones are so common these days, they get a second mention on this list. It’s a good idea to only use one earbud while hiking for a couple reasons. One, you want to be able to hear a rattlesnake shaking his tiny maracas before you get too close for comfort. Having both earbuds in isolates you from warning sounds nature so generously gives us. Two, you want to be able to hear others who are coming up behind you. Not only faster hikers but also trail runners, cyclists, ATVs, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to shout when coming up upon a slower hiker, and sometimes they don’t even hear that. I generally end up tapping them on the shoulder and scaring the bejesus out of them. Unless you like cleaning crap out of your shorts, try to avoid putting yourself in situations where it might get scared into them.

Go buy the book “Soft Paths” and read it. Then read it again. We all need to take Leave No Trace ethics seriously, and that subject is too deep to get a quick rundown in this post. Familiarize yourself with LNT ethics and be proud that you’re respecting the common treasury of the trail.

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Taking a break

I’m not much of a writer. My website has been up for many years, and my roots in the hiking community extend back to 2003, but my desire to communicate using the written word has never been a priority. Fame was not something I desired. I appeared on a television show (and a handful of podcasts) not in an effort to acquire fame, but to present my lifestyle as a credible possibility for others to emulate if they desired an alternative to the dominant paradigm. Of the many ways one can choose to live their life, this was mine. In a world rife with rampant consumerism and rat-race ideology, living the life of a mountain hobo was interesting enough to others that they reached out for instruction. As if the path to becoming a hiking bum wasn’t self-explanatory. Eschew debt. Live simply. Make adventure a priority and it’ll transform the way you navigate the world.

It was inevitable that I’d reach some level of notoriety if I kept hiking though, and many miles later I have built up a fair bit of credibility…but that’s not why I’m here. It’s only been very recently that I’ve started promoting myself to a wider audience, both through YouTube videos and sharing regular content on Instagram. Even this piece I’m typing now is out of character for me, as most my blog posts have been gear reviews. But I’m recently going through some enormous personal growth, and my partner believes that writing is constructive. I have enough faith in her wisdom to at least try it.

Social media is a relatively new experience for me. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2009 (along with this website) but stopped posting with any regularity long ago. It was an interesting way to keep in touch with the friends and family I didn’t email regularly, but that platform never held much allure. Seeing baby pictures and blurry photos of food didn’t interest me, and the biased political nonsense that passed as facts made my eyes roll so hard they hurt. In 2015 I started an Instagram account as a way for my girlfriend to see photos I took while hiking, but since I wasn’t much of a photographer, there wasn’t much for me to share. Being that I grew up before cheap/lightweight digital photography, I preferred to take each moment in through my eyes instead of a lens. That Instagram account lay dormant until 2017 when I hiked the Florida Trail. With the help of a fancy new smartphone, I started to document my trip up and across the state, taking ridiculous photos of myself wearing goofy shirts and playing on exercise equipment. I tried not to take myself too seriously.

Stumbling into the world of Instagram was strange. While I had gained notoriety in the hiking community (due to long walks year after year), it was almost entirely among people I’d met face-to-face on trail. People recognized me from my contributions to Yogi’s Guidebooks, but the only folks who read those books were those prepping for a long hike of the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide Trails. Not a large or far removed audience. When I started posting on a regular basis on Instagram last year, my readership skyrocketed, reaching nearly 10k in a matter of months. Suddenly ALL THESE PEOPLE were able to communicate with me directly, many of whom would never have learned my name otherwise. In the social media spotlight, with barely any concept of how it functioned, I continued to make fun of myself for short shorts and terrible dance moves. Soon I was sharing parts of my life both past and present. Old photos from thru hikes in the early 2000s, new pics from ultra running events, eventually opening up about my pursuit and eventual attainment of sobriety. I never thought I’d share something as personal as substance abuse with strangers, but there I was, communicating with the world about my failures as a human.

I’m now nearly two years sober, but I still have a lot to accomplish. Two years may sound like a long time, but there are layers of damage I now need to start peeling back, and the twenty years of alcohol abuse I subjected myself to created some deep scars. Finding the reasons why I drank, exploring the anger and roots behind my addiction, seeing how the ripples of alcoholism still reverberate through my words. These are the new problems to solve. The substance I abused isn’t there, but the echoes still are. They come up at inopportune times, reminding me of the person I used to be, and hammering home the changes I need to make to become the person I want to become. Meditation helps. So does immersing myself in books (mostly based on recommendations), and attending meetings with others who have experienced similar addictions. Going on long runs, lifting kettlebells and doing push-ups, regular attendance at the gym…all these help. My friend network, diverse as it is, also contains a few (or more) old drunks like me who have shucked off the yoke of alcohol and been reborn. Finding kindred spirits is immensely helpful and is the main reason I decided to start sharing my own battle so publicly. If I could reach out and help others battling substance abuse, it would become my real gift to the world. Helping hikers shed pack weight and choose comfortable shoes is definitely worthwhile, but I found the idea of somehow aiding people in healing from addiction much more compelling.

Trouble is, I don’t think I’m ready for that. I deactivated my social media recently because I don’t believe I’m in a position to share my journey quite yet. I’m sober, but I haven’t learned enough about myself to be a public figure. I’m still blundering along, making mistakes and fucking up. There is no alcohol in me anymore, but I’m still acting like a drunk. I beat alcohol, but haven’t conquered the emotions that caused me to drink in the first place. My journey as a sober human is still in its infancy, and until I learn to better control my emotions, I don’t consider myself qualified to share my experiences. I’ll continue to write here on my website, since this platform is much smaller and personable, but I’m taking a break from social media for the time being. Maybe I’ll come back. Maybe not. To be honest, I’ve really enjoyed these past couple weeks without it. Not staring at my phone has been refreshing. I’ve unplugged from the machine for the most part, only using my laptop to Google healthy food recipes and finding interesting classes at the gym. Instead of viewing the world through a screen I choose sociable dinners with friends, long walks with my girlfriend, and taking in sunsets with my naked eyes instead of a lens.

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A letter of apology

There are some apologies I need to make.

I want to express my feelings of remorse for being so mean to Carrot. Over the years, I have not been kind to her, and it took recent events for me to fully realize the extent of my behavior. I’m embarrassed to reflect on how my words hurt her. I allowed myself to act poorly, making disparaging comments that were unjust and in poor taste. I’ve realized that the negativity I let control my interactions with her was toxic. Using my platform to damage her reputation was callous and unacceptable, and I truly apologize for that.

I also wish to apologize to my ex-girlfriend Diana for being such an awful partner to her.  I’ve felt crippling guilt over the way I treated her back then, but have purposely avoided contacting her, lest I cause her further emotional suffering. Diana, if you read this, I am so sorry for being such a terrible partner to you. I feel awful for the way I treated you, but that pales in comparison to the way you felt dealing with me at that stage in my life. There is no excuse for the way I treated you, and I’m sorry you’ve had to relive your experiences dealing with me by writing those words. Nothing I can say will alleviate the pain you experienced, but I want you to know I have deep remorse for how I behaved towards you. No human deserves to be treated with disrespect, and I’m sorry for failing you.

I’m not writing this with any expectations that the people I’ve hurt will accept my apology, nor do I expect our community to give me the benefit of the doubt in regards to its sincerity.  But I am approaching this with humility, and I know that the private apology I sent weeks ago wasn’t enough, not only because so much of my behavior towards Carrot was public, but also because a private apology doesn’t hold me publicly accountable for both my past and future behavior. I’ve already deleted my Facebook account since it doesn’t feel right sharing my learning experiences there until I have completed further rehabilitation.

I have heard people saying they’ll “withhold judgment” until they hear “my side of the story”. But my side of the story is irrelevant if I’ve made people feel the way they do. Enough of it is true that to parse it all and nitpick the details would be an attempt to put up a defense of actions that are, on the whole, indefensible. And it would inevitably lead to a continuation of a cycle of accusation, anger, and acrimony that doesn’t benefit anyone in the community. I must own my past, apologize for my mistakes, and continue my efforts to be a better person. I plan to take a huge step back in my participation in the hiking community, completely distancing myself from all social gatherings and groups, as I need to focus on continuing to build the foundation of positive change I’ve started to construct.

EDIT-

I feel the need to point out that this apology addresses what really happened, while attempting to tactfully ignore the inaccurate accusations regarding my actions. I purposefully didn’t address the untrue things said about me and decided to take the higher road.

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The thru hiker uniform

Clothing for a hike doesn’t need to be expensive. Bargain hunters can comb through thrift stores and find nearly everything they need for pennies on the dollar. A synthetic button-up shirt and running shorts are usually pretty easy to find at Goodwill, and as long as you’re not grossed out by the thought of wearing used clothing, I suggest going that route.

I do all my hiking in a pair of black running shorts (black doesn’t show dirt/sweat stains) and prefer inseam lengths that leave little to the imagination. Having fabric restrict the movement of my legs, even a tiny bit, drives me nuts. That’s why I tend to wear short shorts. They look goofy as hell, but I’m not out there to win any fashion awards. Besides, my legs are my most attractive feature, and I don’t mind showing some stem. I worked hard for these muscles! Many running shorts have a small zippered key pocket at the rear of the waistband, but I cut that off before starting a hike. Having a little pocket seems like a good idea (you could put tater tots in there!) but the placement of the zipper can abrade your backpack and cause a hole.

Collared button-up shirts have been my go-to torso covering for over a decade. Being able to unbutton the front and maximize airflow is a blessing on a hot summer day, and the loose fit of these shirts is the most comfortable option I’ve found. A t-shirt just kinda sticks to your body and feels gross. Another positive aspect of the button-up shirt is how it makes you appear in town. When you’re a 200lb heavily tattooed meathead, a collared shirt (in a nice bright color) helps alleviate peoples fear that I may be an ax murderer.

“Surely a criminal deviant wouldn’t be sporting a nice blue plaid button-up shirt! Why, he looks like someone who goes to my church!”

Unfortunately for anyone picking me up on a hitchhike into town to resupply, my pleasant outward appearance is quickly forgotten when they get a whiff of that shirt. To the laundromat, please!

Why did I write this little piece on hiker clothing? Well, I’m starting to experiment with Amazon affiliate links. The way that works is when people use these links, I receive a tiny percentage of the sale. YOU pay the same amount, but Amazon kicks down pennies to me as a way to incentivize my writing about things they sell. Since I use Amazon a lot, I have a large list of hiking gear from them that I use all the time. I’m not sure this even works, but click on the blue links to the shirt and shorts I got from Amazon before my last hike.

 

 

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Frogg Toggs review

Some pieces of gear are so timeless, a review of them seems unnecessary. They’ve been around so long, I figure everyone already knows about them…so why bother informing others of its existence? Living in my little ultralight bubble, Frogg Toggs jackets are so commonplace I assumed everyone knows about them. What UL hiker hasn’t experimented with the cheap $20 rain jacket that weighs less than pretty much every other offering from competitors…even though they’re 10x the price?! Well, apparently I need to pull my head out of my own bubble, because a discussion of Frogg Toggs came up at an online forum and I was shocked that people had no clue what they were. It inspired me so much that I even made a ridiculous YouTube video on these neat little jackets.

 

 

 

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Descend on Bend

I’ve had this website up for years. When it first launched, it’s main purpose was to simply have a place for my gear list to be posted, since that was the main question I received from folks interested in ultralight thru hiking. It was a kind of buffer. Sending out the same email listing what I carried to hundreds of interested people got old, especially since I’m not very tech savvy and didn’t realize I could simply cut-n-paste that list. Having everything listed here allowed me to avoid emails…and spend more time on the trails.

If you’ve been reading content here, you’ve probably been curious why there weren’t many new posts. Fact is, I don’t fancy myself much of a writer. There are way more people out there who enjoy generating content and are far superior writers than I. Even now, I’m not editing this post at all…I’m just drinking coffee and typing out stream of consciousness nonsense. Figured I’d scribble (damn, this isn’t even scribbling…it’s typing. I’m a dinosaur) since I paid for a coffee and the rain outside is keeping my enthusiasm low for the run I had planned today.

Last month I wrote a little blog for my friends at Next Adventure about a trip I took in my van. Check it out below;

https://nextadventure.net/blog/trip-report-descend-on-bend-van-dwellers-unite/

I’m still figuring out what I want this website to be. Do I do gear reviews of products I use on my hikes? Do I offer advice for folks new to hiking? Do I randomly sit in coffeeshops and bang out whatever pops into my head while I wait for blue skies?

 

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YouTube

Did you know I started a YouTube account? I’ve been learning how to film and edit videos on my phone, so they’re all pretty rudimentary, but I’ll keep pumping out gear reviews as long as folks like them. I have a lot of gear to go over, and have started with a few of my favorite products. Here’s a link to check it out;

https://www.youtube.com/linthikes

I plan to mainly focus on ultralight backpacking gear, since while there are many others reviewing the same products, they only have a fraction of the experience I do on the long trails. Being that I’ve accumulated nearly 30,000 miles of thru hiking miles alone, I’m hoping to bring a unique voice to an oversaturated platform. Or not. Maybe my reviews are simply adding to the clutter of YouTube, which seems to be full of all kinds of ‘experts’ these days! I’ve noticed the most popular gear review channels are run by newcomers to the long distance hiking world, who may have the skills necessary to film and edit a slick video, but lack the experience to offer much beyond that. I seem to be on the other end of that spectrum…I have all the experience hiking, but no experience when it comes to making a catchy video!

Folks have been offering up requests for a host of different videos, and I aim to eventually cover more subjects, but am currently working on other projects that are taking up much of my time. I can’t feed myself with the pennies that come in from affiliate links through Amazon (although this certainly helps, and many thanks to those who make their Amazon purchases through those links) so in the mean time I’ll have to continue earning my keep by building van conversions.

 

 

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MontBell UL Stretch Wind Parka review

I’ve never had much luck with wind jackets. I’ve tested several different models, each claiming to be the latest and greatest, but nothing I tried ever struck me as useful enough to own. I know a few ultralight die-hard hikers swear by their wind jacket/umbrella combination for staying dry, but all the wind jackets I’ve tried either weighed the same as a rain jacket, or were so wispy and delicate that they shed zero precipitation. Good for blocking wind, but useless in the slightest mist. I want something to bring with me on training runs in the mountains. I’ll hike all day with an umbrella, but running with one is awkward. While poking around the Boulder MontBell store last week, I spotted the new Stretch Wind Parka.  It debuted in stores recently, and lately I’ve found myself thinking about giving wind jackets another shot.

The UL Stretch Wind Parka fills a gap in the MontBell outerwear line. Straddling the line between a delicate wind jacket and full-on rain protection, my size large mens model weighs 4.29 ounces. It’s beefier and more water resistant than their popular Tachyon wind jacket (2 ounces for a mens size medium), but lighter and easier to pack than the Torrent Flyer and Versalite rain shells (8.6 & 6.7 ounces mens size medium, respectively). Right there in the middle is the Stretch Wind Parka…small enough to disappear in a running vest pocket, but without sacrificing light water-shedding capacity.  Perfect for the wind, rain, and snow that I’ve been encountering regularly lately while running Colorado mountain trail in the springtime.

So, I brought one home with me.  Stuffing it into my hydration vest, it disappeared among my snacks and maps, and I headed out for 15 mile trail run.

It wasn’t long before the warmth of the springtime sun was sapped by chilly gusts as I huffed up Bear Mountain. Breaking through the trees and zippering up my chest, I was glad to have a thin, nylon shell to thwart warmth-stealing wind. As I continued to grind upward, I started to perspire.  I barely got sweaty, as the breathable fabric did a great job of releasing water vapor. This surprised me–I’m a raging inferno of heat on climbs, and I’m not accustomed to a wind shell breathing quickly enough to keep me from getting clammy.  At the summit I put up the hood for maximum protection, and appreciated the swatch of soft brushed nylon around the neck. It’s the little things, ya know? The winds up top were really blustery, so I even got to use the hood drawcord–easy to use with cold hands. I regretted not bringing wind pants, as my tiny running shorts left my bare legs exposed. At least my upper body was warm. Zippered hand pockets allowed me to warm my chilly fingers, which is why they are one of the main features I look for in a shell. I dislike suffering through cold hands, and am happy to exchange an additional few grams for the warm, cozy nest of hand pockets.

Heading down the mountain I broke into a jog, and this was where the stretch and mobility of the construction really shone. MontBell cuts the fabric for this jacket “on a bias”, which gives the garment just a little stretch.  It flexed and moved freely as I pumped my arms. It stayed snug against my body, but stretched with me as I shifted direction, zigging and zagging along the trail. Pretty sweet!  Moving back into the trees however, the snow in the branches had begun to melt, and I was showered with water from high above. MontBell treats their shells with something called POLKATEX, which not only sounds like a New Wave accordion band, but also effectively beads up moisture to keep the jacket from “wetting out”. I’m happy to report I stayed dry.  A wind shell that actually repels water for more than 5 minutes–great!

This will definitely be a mainstay shell in my collection. A sub-5 ounce jacket on my runs is good insurance for inclement weather, but won’t weigh me down. I’d even bring this on a long distance thru hike if weather conditions weren’t expected to be exceptionally harsh. In conjunction with an umbrella, I’d choose this for a Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail thru hike during the warmer months. For spring or fall on the AT/PCT, or extended travel above tree line like one encounters on the Continental Divide Trail, I’d try a Torrent Flyer, since conditions on that trail fluctuate for the worst way too often. I’m glad I gave wind jackets another chance, because this one exceeded my expectations. If you’re in the market for one, I give this jacket a solid recommendation.

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Florida Trail

I’d been aware of the Florida Trail for many years, but hadn’t really put much thought into thru hiking it. Like the Alaskan tundra–I was happy to know it was there, but had no desire to actually venture out and immerse myself in that terrain. When planning a pedestrian adventure, I focus on a pretty narrow list of desirable traits. Alaska and Florida don’t get my pulse thumping the same way other areas do.

I had heard a few stories. Friends who had set out to hike the trail from end to end didn’t have very high praises to sing. There were complaints of long, paved road walk sections. Endless miles of trudging through mucky swamps. An elevation profile devoid of any apparent physical challenge.

During my 2017 thru hike of the FT, I found many of the warnings to be true. I also discovered many of the gems that Florida has to offer.

Being that Florida doesn’t have public lands the same way they do out west, a thru hiker is often forced to reroute along highways to avoid private property. These road walks aren’t the two-track dirt roads of the Continental Divide Trail, either…these roads have semi truck traffic.

I can’t remember where, but I once heard someone say that a thru hike is like a pearl necklace. Each trail is composed of a number of beautiful pearls, but they’re connected by unremarkable lengths of string. To reach the pearls, one has to endure the string…and just like a necklace, each route is unique in the distance between each pearl. The Appalachian Trail has smaller pearls, but they’re all packed tight together. The Pacific Crest Trail has larger pearls, with short sections of string to connect the dots. The Continental Divide Trail has HUGE pearls but also longer strings. Each necklace is beautiful, and one artists design isn’t necessarily better than other…they’re just different. With the Florida Trail, the pearls may not be as grand as the Sierra mountains or the Wind River Range, but they’re gorgeous just the same. It’s just the damn strings between them are so long!

What really made me fall in love with the Florida Trail is different than my love affair with Americas other trails. Being able to set out on a thru hike in January, when the rest of the country is draped in snow, was what initially won my heart. While everyone else was planning their spring/summer hikes in the depths of winter, I was able to venture out in short shorts and a tank top shirt to enjoy Florida’s mild climate. The unique ecosystems also piqued my interest, since I’d never traveled through swamps before. The only alligator I’d ever seen was in a zoo, and who wants a metal fence separating them the toothy jaws of a prehistoric relic? I wanted to get the crap scared out of me with close encounters of SWAMP MONSTERS!

My main objective for this years winter was AVOIDING THE COLD! Something snapped in me this year, and the thought of another dreary Northwest winter sent spurts of ice through my veins. I didn’t want to wear a rain jacket and insulating layers while I escaped the city. I had no desire to tromp around in snowshoes and a parka, bicycle while getting sprayed with slush, or run circles on pavement while the mountains above where socked in with feet of snow. I WANTED TO BE WARM IN THE SUN! The plan was to drive south. Farther south. Like, Mexico south. My partner and I found ourselves on the sandy beaches of the Baja Peninsula, eating cheap tacos where land meets sea, and doing our best to communicate with our limited Spanish. Here we enjoyed a respite from the cold, but gas strikes across the peninsula made fuel. Being in an RV, we were dependent on combustible fossil fuels. We decided that this was the universe gently pushing us back north, so after a week or so we drove back across the border. Back in the United States, we filled up our tank and scratched our heads in frustration. Now what? Mexico was a bust, so where else could we hide from winters icy grip?

That’s when the Florida Trail popped into my head. I had all my thru hiking gear with me, and Florida NEVER has snow! I had really been looking forward to a steady diet of questionable Mexican street food and long runs on the beach, but the timing was perfect for a thru hike in Florida. So off we went, first towards Gainesville to purchase some maps from the Florida Trail Association and then down to the Everglades to start walking north. Nothing like zero preparation before a 1,100 mile journey to up the adventure factor!

The official start of the FT is at the Oasis Visitors Center in the Big Cypress Everglades, but I had heard from my buddy Jupiter that I really needed to extend my hike and begin 8 miles south of there for a true Florida swamp experience. Getting dropped off on some dirt road 8 miles from the official beginning of this hike didn’t seem like much, but holy cats, that section was an eye opener. Within a couple of miles the trail became submerged in water, and the friggin’ snakes started popping up all around me in numbers I couldn’t believe. These weren’t the polite rattlesnakes we have out west, who give a friendly warning rattle when you get too close…these vipers were dead quiet and gave no indication that they were pissed at your presence. Every ten minutes I spotted a gaping white mouth, opened wide in defense and aggression. I even had one fatty SWIM TOWARDS ME! Nothing quite like frantically locating a stick to scoop up and launch a vicious snake to get your blood pumping. Teaching snakes how to fly…this was my introduction to the Florida Trail. I don’t even wanna talk about the river crossing with the alligator snout poking up near the only reasonable route across.

With Big Cypress Snake Breeding Reserve and Killer Gator Sanctuary behind me, the rest of my time on the FT was much more tame. This was a supported hike, as my lovely partner followed me along and met me at road crossings in our vehicle. Not only did this allow me to spend quality time with a loved one, I was treated to hot meals on a campstove, cold drinks from a mini fridge, and the occasional solar shower. I’m afraid if I brag about getting access to clean clothes and cartoons on my laptop every night, my status as a thru hiker will be diminished in the eyes of my hardcore hiker friends. Rest assured, I still was thru hiking, albeit with the pampering and support anyone would enjoy given the opportunity.

I’ll spare you any more details of this 42 day trip. There are a host of better authors out there who were actually journaling as they trekked north (check out dirtybowl.wordpress.com), and their descriptions of this route do a much better job than my simple brain can recall, weeks after completing the trip. (I wasn’t even going to write anything for this site, but I’ve been getting vague death threats from hikers who are SICK of me neglecting this page, so I’ve decided to finally start smashing my keyboard and hoping it’s worth reading.)

What I will say is that the Florida Trail is not to be missed, and hikers looking for a unique challenge during the winter months should consider a journey on this National Scenic Trail. The flora and fauna are incredible, weather is pleasant, and the community of trail maintainers I met are second to none. My path led through muddy swamps of cyprus trees, coniferous forests that towered above my head, and volunteers who put a lot of effort into maintaining this route.

Don’t let the swamps and road walks scare you! Encountering alligators and cottonmouth snakes builds character. Drinking swamp water rich in tannins keeps your immune system strong. Tromping along a paved road walk reminds us how important public lands really are, and how vigilant we need to be to their preservation. As thru hiking continues to grow in popularity, the communities along the way will see how setting aside public space increases revenue for their town and allows visitors to fully appreciate the special places they call home.

I’ll be back to hike the Florida Trail again, for certain. If you’d like to find me on trail, just look for the big tattooed dork in shorts that are borderline inappropriate and a blaze orange hat.

 

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