Trail food and more….

The first time I did a section hike on the AT my biggest worry was about water. Where to find it, how much to carry and how to best filter or sterilize it. After a four day hike on the AT that time, I learned to put that fear away and have no worry about water on this section hike we are about to embark on in May.  In point of fact, if I have any worry about water on this trip it is about carrying too much water. Water as many know weighs…a lot….well, weight is weight. A liter of water is equal to almost 34 ounces of weight. That is nearly two pounds per liter of weight. Trust me friend, when you are trying to stay reasonably light, two pounds is a huge deal.

So what is the big worry this trip. Perhaps worry is the wrong term to use. Headache may be a more apt phraseology to wield. I have fretted over what food and how to pack that food on this trip more than any other I have ever taken. I suppose the main reason for that is the presence of my boy. The only male child I have. The continuance of the family line. Lord that was more grandiose than the law should allow.  Truth is I love my son deeply and I want this to be an exceptional experience for him. I’m trying to walk a fine line between minimalist packing skills and he shall want for nothing. We have spent a tremendous amount of time on this very topic. Packaged items

This is a group photo of the goodies we will share on the trail. Let me start, as most days do for most people, with breakfast.  We wanted something light. Both in weight and in intestinal volume, shall we say.  We don’t want to be spending an inordinate amount of time getting going. We wanted to be able to partake as we walked or broke camp or both. So we experimented with and put together this little concoction. BreakfastWhat you see here is a custom mix of super chocolate whey protein powder and instant decaf coffee. What we get from this is a big protein boost to start the day. Energy that should release more slowly through the course of the early morning hours and frankly approximates one of our favorites from Baskin Robbins…a Mocha Cappuccino Blast.  We both love the flavor and literally can do this for four days straight and not get burned out on the flavor profile.

Next are my supplements. Yes, I am old. Yes I have worked hard to lose weight, Yes, I have joints that tell the tale of a misspent youth. Way too many bike jumps into trees, ravens, and falling off the house doing a myriad of things both functional and foolhardy. Therefore, supplements to keep the engine running smooth and the joints properly greased.

Suppliments

I won’t go into details but suffice it to say there is a spark for the morning to get going and items to keep the metabolic engine firing and the joints less stressed. That with my normal water intake, on average a gallon + of water a day and I’m sure more while on the trail. All should be better able to handle the stresses of the physical trials of the trail.

I’ll skip lunch as frankly we are still working that out. Truth is, there are many times where we just aren’t that hungry at the noon hour. We eat to live more so than live to eat. Moderation in all things.

Snacks has been an especially interesting subject for us so here is a shot of the snack mix we threw together custom just for us.

Trail snackA blend of two different types of puffed snow peas, salted roasted edamame, salted shelled pistachios, vanilla and strawberry yogurt covered raisins, dried pineapple, dried mango, and dried blueberries. We are loving this mix and can change this format at a whim when we make another batch. Super simple and fun to make.

Lastly, the evening meal. This has been pretty basic in that we simply put together a box meal of our choice at home and then dehydrate that and package anew.

Evening meal

I use a manila envelope inserted for the dehydrated meal to rest in. All of these have a noodle or pasta of some type in the mix. These, when dehydrated, have a tendency to poke holes in the vacuum bags when sealed. The envelope keeps that from happening and if we want a camp fire that night we have fresh fire start ready to rock if needed.

There are other bits that we will take along. Some cheese crackers, some dehydrated spinach, carrots and mushrooms to add evening meal mixes as the whim strikes. Jelly beans for the sweet tooth not satisfied at the end of the day.

Each day’s mix will be sealed in its own bag to be pulled out each morning to start and work from through the course of the day. All in an odor proof sealed bag to keep the issues with toothy critters to a minimum. It’s really not the bear I fear as much as the raccoon, possum, armadillo and of course the mighty mouse. They are less likely to bother what they can’t or don’t smell. Still, hole can and may well be had.

I still have a multitude of things to clear from the prep list. Every day is an exercise in despair, followed by hope and a feeling of “we got this” only to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the perceived reality “wait, there’s more” and despair once more. The psychology of hikers preparation is an interesting thing to behold. Valid or not, perceived or real, the challenges will be addressed, adapted and overcome, and marked off the list. Now, where did I put that peanut butter packet?

Assessment and update….

Well we are exactly 15 days and counting until we leave for our AT (Appalachian Trail) adventure.  I’ve been crazy busy at work since the last hiking post so I figured I better get at least a small update in the hopper.

The last I told you folks was that I was doing a shake down hike in the Sipsey Wilderness area of Alabama late last month. Well, it was a raging success. I learned a lot of good bits about my new pack. We did around 13 miles on that Saturday in and out of the gorges. A couple river and creek crossings and more blow downs than I’ve encountered in a long while. There were two different groups hiking. There were six in the group I hiked with but of everyone hiking in our groups that day I was the only one doing it with a full pack. To say I stood out a bit was an understatement.

We had a great hike none the less and as I said I learned a lot. The Gossomer Gear Mariposa 60 was really amazing. There is a lot of elevation change in this area so I tend to get some issues at the end of a long mileage hike with my shoulders and particularly my hips. There was no issue with my hips and my shoulders didn’t even start to get a little tight until right at the last mile we did. Otherwise, the pack rode very nicely. The weight in the pack was around 25 pounds. This is a full 5 pounds heavier than what my pack weight will be all in when we hit the AT that first day and it will only get lighter as we go through our food on the four day hike.

Speaking of food, we finally started dehydrating meals last night. I have to do some work on packing up last night’s meal tonight and then do another one later this week and finish all of it this weekend, but we are gonna be in really good shape for what we are doing. I found a great resource for dehydrated/freeze dried vegetables recently and will have several ounces of dehydrated carrots, spinach and mushrooms to add to the meals we have that are kinda base. The boy will be okay with the carrots. The rest is for me. If you are in the market for this or other DIY supplies for hammocks, tarps, backpacks, etc. take a  look at  www.MakeYourGear.com. Dutch is an excellent guy to deal with and has one of the best customer service records of any vendor I’ve ever done business with. He’s a stand up guy and you can trust him.

We also managed to settle on a snack/in between meals format for the trail. The last time I did a solo on the AT I had the CLIF bar deal and they were fine. Got a lot burned out on that and just felt in my head there was a better way to go that would get me a little more variety, get me the caloric intake needed for long days hiking with lots of elevation change, and not burn me out by day 2.5 or worse.  We managed an assortment of a couple cheese cracker formats, some simple Jelly Belly jelly beans for that sweet tooth, some homemade jerky that we’ll be finishing up this weekend hopefully and a custom trail mix. The custom mix is the most interesting part for us. It consists of Strawberry Yogurt covered raisins, Vanilla Yogurt covered raisins, dried blueberries, dried mango, dried pineapple, shelled roasted salted pistachios, and roasted salted edamame.  We put this together last weekend had some left over after packaging that we could taste test. Awesome sauce. I had to put the packaged mix up and as far back in the pantry as possible to keep the kids out of it. Otherwise, there would be none for the trip. This was a home run for certain. All off the shelf stuff we just poured in a big bowl, mixed it up good and packaged by weight. Now we have enough variety to keep it fun and the caloric intake will be what we were hoping for per snack.

There is still so much to do. Ordering last minute bits and bobs to finish out the boy’s kit and pack and then getting everything together, packing, unpacking, rechecking, repacking and hiking in my head to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything before we leave. Once we are packed for the final time, there is no turning back, adding to or picking up something. We’ll just have to survive without it.

We’ve had to get the boy’s end of year finals testing schedule adjusted but his principal was a huge help for this. Once I told him what we were planning to do it literally was less than 15 minutes and he had granted excused absences for the final three days of class, told every one of my son’s teachers to make it happen for him to take tests early, and told me if there was any hiccups or anything else I needed, just call him directly. He would clear the way for us. Who said principals can’t be cool? This one is a rock star to me.

Well that will do for now. I’ll post later about meal prep and anything else that comes up. The excitement is building slowly but steadily. So many firsts. So many memories to make and so much fun and wonder to be had. I love these moments with my son. I can’t say I’ve been the best father in the world, but I’ve managed to get some of it really right. Hey, the kid has to have something to tell his therapist some day, right?

Oh, one last thing. I mentioned I learned a lot on the shake down hike. I especially learn not to leave my hiking poles at camp with my camera still attached to them. Unattended, there were some interesting photos taken by my “friends”. You know who you are and you know you are truly too twisted for color television. LOL!

Millennial Mel…..

This is an imagined exchange between myself and a millennial I know. Most of the events following are completely fictitious and should be understood as such.

I come back to my office yesterday to find two of my employees eating lunch (the office has the microwave so I allow them some latitude) and one of the two, who will be referred to as Millennial Mel or Mel for short from this point forward, watching a YouTube video of some fellow railing on about numerology, cosmic intervention, name it claim it, god within you, diatribe while they finish their meal. The following is what I imagine as to how the conversation would have gone had I chosen to comment openly on what they were watching.

Me: What in the world are you watching on YouTube?

Mel: Bishop Whatsamattau. Talking about how the universe is organized and how there are specific numbers that if they didn’t exist the entire universe would dissolve. He is big on how you speak into existence the reality of your life. You do that. No one else. You should look at the jars of rice they spoke to. The one that molded slowest only had positive things said to it. This guy speaks a lot of truth about God.

Me: Seriously? You know, you can have a better understanding of God by studying His word on your own. I wouldn’t try to get my theology from YouTube. Auto repair? Sure. Theology? Not so much.

Mel: I’m in the word. I find stuff all the time that pastor’s say is this and I find it is that. You can’t hate on Bishop Whatsamattau. He’s legit.

Me: So how much time and effort are you putting into your personal study? Half hour, hour,more?

Mel: I try to spend some time each day. It’s not about the amount of time. It’s about what you read and what you do with it.

Me: You’re right. What you read is very important and if you aren’t doing anything with what you read then that is pretty much wasted effort. However, you have to put in the work. It’s easy and it isn’t easy. It really is something you have to work at.

Mel: I work at it.

Me: Nah, you don’t.

Mel: Sure I do.

Me: Nah, you want it handed to ya.

Mel: That’s messed up. How can you sit there and say that?

Me: It’s true. I’m not intending to be judgmental here. It’s just what I see from my perspective. I see a generation that wants everything handed to them in a nice neat little package. Most folks in your age group do. You’re used to life that way. Technology and social advancement have made you what you are. I’m not saying you’re lazy or stupid. You’ve been handed life in the palm of your hand. You have everything on a cell phone. If you want it, there’s an app for that. If you have a question, you say “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri”. You get your reality from reality TV and YouTube. If it’s on there you take it as gospel. You want the world to hand you health care, a job, nice place to live and a nice car all wrapped up in an easy to use format. Life has to come to you, where you are, at the moment you want it, wrapped up in a bio-degradable, no BPA, pre-packaged clam shell, ready for use, batteries included.

Mel: Man, you don’t know me. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Me: You’re probably right. I don’t know much of anything. I’ve only lived through 50+ years of actual life experience. Fathered two children, worked, as in had a job, every day of my life since I was 14. Been married, twice. Divorced once. Known the love of a woman so deep it makes me weep to think on it. Seen my friends die tragically and peacefully, Traveled all over the U.S. and lived, actually on the ground for more than a week at a resort, in other cultures that are completely different from the American way of living. I’ve been flush with money and I’ve been within 24 hours of the bank auctioning my home on the county court steps. I’ve been the big man in the board room and the little man in the crew digging the ditch. Yeah, your right. I don’t know much, but I do know this. The decisions I made were my own. I got to revel in the good ones and I had to walk through the consequences of the bad ones and I’m still paying for some even now.

Mel: Whatever….

Me: I know one more thing Mel. I know that I don’t know God as well as I want to, but to get there, I gotta walk. Walk to Him, walk with Him, and walk for Him. Walking isn’t as easy as the world wants it to seem. No Segways, hover boards, or roller skates in the faith department. God loves you deeply. All the magic numbers and positive affirmation you can manage won’t enhance that or change it one iota. He just does, and He does it completely with nothing left out. So you go ahead and listen to Bishop Whatsamattau or who ever else you want to. It’s a free country and I can only make a suggestion. Don’t get your theology from the internet, and that includes blog posts to boot.

Now, let’s go load the truck.

Shake Down…..

7 Weeks+ Until Departure:

Time to do a shake down on lots of things.  I got a new pack I’m intending to use on the section hike. Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Lightweight Backpack.

This is a pack I’ve had my eye on for about a year now. Nothing at all wrong with the ULA Circuit that I have. I did the last section hike with it and the pack was near perfect. The Circuit has been my go to pack for all trips whether car camp, group hang or solo. I even pack it and use it for vacation trips with the family. Everything in one spot and easy to carry.

I wanted to try the Mariposa for a couple reasons. One, for the additional pockets. There is a fold over flap pocket that I think will serve me well for quick access items like the FAK (First Aid Kit), wallet, maybe snacks or other bits and bobs. The set up of the side pockets is different from the ULA so the spare water, the cook kit and tarp all get carried differently in this set up as opposed to the ULA. The large back mesh pocket is a little different so I should be able to carry items differently there too.  Second, she is technically a good bit lighter than my ULA. 29.6 ounces for the Mariposa, 40.1 for the ULA. There are about an average of 5 ounces on each pack that are things which will be removed as they are added weight of items I don’t use in my normal set up. With that the difference is still about 10+/- ounces between the two. Ounces make pounds and I’m working to keep the pounds to a minimum.

All of this is very different and new compared to what I have been used to for the past two years of hiking with the ULA. I need to see how I want to load the pack, playing with placement of food, shelter and additional clothing. Whether I will use the aluminium curved stay or let the contents set the body of the pack. What can I reasonable use in the hip belt pockets, etc? All of this may seem to be no big deal to the average person and in truth may be of no consequence to the average hiker, but to me they are crucial. I’m all about economy of movement and time when I hike. I want to be able to see all I can see and go as far as my body and time will allow me. That being said, I’m in no crazy speed mode either. However, when I want to do something, eat lunch, get a snack, check the map or compass, set up camp, I want to be efficient in the process. Where things are placed, ease of access and economy of the task is of great importance to me. I’m trying to keep the overall weight, all in food and water, shelter, and equipment at or under 20 pounds for about 50 miles and four days of hiking. This is not what many would consider ultra light but a darn sight better than most average hikers for the same length of time and distance where I see pack weights in the 40 to 50 pound range. That hurts me just thinking about it. Going as light as I am means everything has to work, work every time and work efficiently.

So it’s time for a shake down hike. I’ll go to the Sipsey Wilderness in upper Alabama in a couple weeks and get a chance to wear the pack, play with the set up and get in some no joke elevation change hiking to see how she rides and what I need to tweak in the set up and use areas.

Once this is done, I can have a decision on which pack I will use and which one my son will use and how each of them will be set up.

7 weeks out and I’m already thinking about packing and transport of the backpacks on the airlines and getting through the airports as efficiently and completely as possible. Terrorism sucks on many levels.

If all this works out the way we hope, where will we go next? Well, 2017 may hold yet another section hike on the AT and possibly, dare I say it, a hike and hang in Peru on the Amazon or to Central Asia to the steps of the Caucus Mountains or perhaps a trip to British Columbia.  Not sure where God will direct us in 2017 but looking very forward to joining my passion for Jesus Christ with my passion for travel and hiking.

Time for a shake down….and then some shaking up.

IT’S TIIIMMMMEEEEEEE…….

Or so says the guy at the beginning of those UFC main event fights. No, not time to fight. Just time to get back to my beloved AT and the mountains of that Tennessee area.  I’ve probably stated this before, but if not, I’ll do so once more. There is no place I have experienced on the planet that puts me into full tilt relaxed, can’t even spell stress, blissful calm and peace, like the mountains of Tennessee. I’ve traveled there, honeymooned there four times all with the same woman, hiked there and known it as my happy place for the better part of three decades now.

I was fortunate enough to do a section hike on the AT (Appalachian Trail) back in 2014. A solo trip from the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center) up to Fontana Dam.  Some 30+ miles on the trail over the course of four days. A tremendous adventure for a fella looking for some mental R and R, as well as some physical limit testing.  Funny part was the physical turned out to be not that big of a deal but the mental was the game changer for me. It was intended to be a kind of shake down hike to see if I had the right stuff to do a through hike from Springer all the way to Katahdin. A hike, as the trail stands today of about 2,190 miles. What I discovered then and decided at the end was, no through hike for me.

That was 2014. Here we are in 2016. Things change. What changed? Well, a few things. First, I had a surgery. Nothing major, just a pesky hernia matter that needed to be resolved, and yes, I know what you are thinking, and I did do the hike in 2014 with that hernia albeit a somewhat lesser degree than when I had the surgery. Face it men, we’re not as bright as we might like to think we are at certain moments in our lives. That being said, there was zero hikes of significant lengths done in 2015. So with that particular physical issue resolved, the itch to get out for a longer trip and longer miles was in dire need of a scratch. Second, I lost about 20 pounds. Out of sheer embarrassment from a simple vacation trip with the family and being told by the sweetest little ride operator on the planet that I was over the weight limit to ride thus not only keeping me off the ride but precluding my son from doing it also. Granted the weight limit was 229 and I was 230 that day. One pound was enough to make me take stock and rethink not only my eating habits but other lifestyle changes needing to be made.  Lastly, the boy. He wanted to go.

I mentioned to my son that I wanted to get back to the AT and take another stab at this thing in 2016. He said he thought he would like to go. My reply? “How about you lay down for a bit and think about that. Then you get back to me with what you think about that.”  So he did. About a week later. “I think I’d like to do that hike with you.” Okay then. Let’s get this figured out.

So here we are in March with an eye toward late May and a new section hike on the AT. This will we a lot of firsts for us both. First time for the boy to fly….ever. First time for he and I to do a multiple day trip….just him and me. Alone. For days.  First time for him to really carry his own pack for multiple day. His own food, his own water, his own shelter set up. The whole kit and caboodle. First time for me to be long distance hiking with anyone other than me, myself or I. Fine fellas I assure you, but, well, a new companion is a new companion.

I’m excited to for many things in this small adventure. Excited to loose, hopefully, another 10 or so pounds. Excited to experience the adventure of it all through the eyes of my son. Excited to be on the AT once again and all that entails. Excited to document the planning, experimentation, decision making and the subsequent adventure itself.

I will admit, I have my eye and hopes toward one more bit of a daydream. Should my son enjoy this adventure enough to wish to do it again. The hope and the plan would be for us to do a longer trip when he graduates high school some three years from now. I would gather together all the vacation time I would have and we would spend three glorious weeks on the AT. Start at Springer Mountain and hike for roughly a week, then maybe skip up to about a week shy of Harper’s Ferry and hike into to that important and historic spot, then bounce once more to a few days shy of Katahdin and make the summit before coming home. A taste of the beginning, the middle and the end of a through hike. A rite of passage, here’s your man card, go and find your own adventure and know that I will miss you more than anything, that I love you more than anything and will be there to walk with you through anything should you need me.

Yes, indeed, it is time. Time to think, play with, plan, and embark on another great adventure. I think I am quite ready. Yes, ready indeed.

The Girl…..and a father’s love

The girl.  My girl. Daddy’s girl for sure. I’ve stated it before in reference to my son and it still holds true, every age is my favorite age with my kids. It’s always an adventure.

A friend of mine and his wife who already has a son, just had a girl.  He catches me the other day and says, “Hey, you have both.” “That’s the dirty rumor.”, I reply. He asks sincerely and expectantly, “What’s the difference?”  His question is more to the point of differences in how you raise and interact with a girl child as opposed to a boy child. Far less to do with plumbing which is obvious. Truth is, we could talk for hours on the differences and still never begin to scratch the surface of the differences.

Boys are boys, but, boy howdy, girls are GIRLS, and my girl is all girl. My sweet lady and I wanted a little girl first. I even went so far as to, when we discovered we were having a boy first, mope for two weeks solid lamenting the fact of a boy first. I’m glad we had the boy first because it makes me appreciate the differences all the more.

She was perfect when we brought her home. All pink and pretty and deeply rooted into that special place reserved for daddy’s girl from the moment she breathed air. The fact that she was our second and ultimately destined to be our last made us less fussy over the little things. She shared the same place as the boy in only getting quiet and going to sleep for daddy instead of mommy. For the first couple years the wife swore she was out to exclude her from the family by hook or crook. She’d ignore my wife both willfully, purposefully and blatantly at every opportunity. Daddy’s voice and attention was all she would listen to.

She’s tough as nails to boot. She puts on a different face to the world these days but daddy has always known the truth. One particular day I was picking her up from daycare. There she sat in the office in a chair, eyes swollen and red and snot everywhere. I ask the girl at the desk if there was a problem. She looks at me and coyly states, “We had a bit of a meltdown earlier. Nothing major.”  Turns out she was told no to this thing or that and boom. Vesuvius. I told the little girl not to fret. No is a common term in our household. I then advised the young lady to be on guard because, “she’s sneaky mean.” “That a terrible thing to say about your child!”, she replied but the truth was the truth. What is sneaky mean you may ask. Did you ever play football at a friends house with the neighborhood kids? There they are all in a pile wrestling over the ball. All arms and legs and hair and teeth. As the pile dissolves one kid as he or she as the case may be, gets up, they put their knee in someones thigh, or elbow in a throat, or a thumb in an ear, accidentally on purpose? That’s sneaky mean.  There’s a good three or so years between the boy and the girl in age. I can still see the boy playing quietly in the floor with toy X as the girl walks by him and unprovoked, whacks him in the back of the head and keeps toddling along as though nothing had every transpired. At no time did her hands leave the ends of her arms. Magic. Sneaky mean. It’s because of this that when other men, mostly non fathers of daughters, comment that I’ll be waiting, firearm in hand, for the boys as they come courting that I just shake my head and say I have no worries of that. She is fully capable of twisting any boy on the planet into a knot.  Whoa to any boy that hurts her physically or emotionally. When she gets done with him there won’t be much left to go to prison for.

She’s always has been and still is, daddy’s girl. We loved to play the game of I love you more. Back an forth until finally she would say, “You win.”  Of late, I tend to be the one who say you win first, much to her delight, but always knowing she is the real benefactor.

There is a lot more drama these days as well. As I said, she is all girl. All pretty and pink and flamboyant and expressive. Some days it will exhaust you in a nano second. Others, it is pure joy to watch. Never boring. Never. She has the most personality between the two kids by a country mile. She’s more of a walking sight gag or a spit take than a well crafted premise with a punchline that makes you think but she can make you laugh just as well.

She’s creeping up on womanhood. A fact her father is both lamenting and welcoming. I fear the trials she will face in middle and high school. Girls can be so brutal to each other. Sometimes it’s little better in adulthood. Men fight battles on a physical plane more so than the psychological warfare the female species are masters at. The mental and physical torture of becoming a woman is an alien world to men and so her mother will pull the bulk of the duty for that. My job will be to be, well, daddy. A safe haven, a gentle hand, an open ear if it comes to it. I welcome it though because she will be a beautiful woman both on the outside and more importantly on the inside. She has a kind heart. She loves God like no other child I’ve seen. A practical and genuine faith that causes her dad to swell with pride and be ashamed of his own lack of faith all in the same instant. She is graceful and clumsy, joyful and thoughtful, gabby and personable. She’s not yet a tween in years but getting there. She is my girl. The best girl. Wrapped up cozy and tight in daddy’s heart from the first minute she breathed air. She is one of the three best things in my life. I don’t deserve a girl this sweet, a boy this fine or a wife that loves me this much, but I have them and so I’m a man with much to be thankful for.  As she is about to be eleven I’m especially thankful for the girl. My Girl. I love you baby girl….I love you more….you win….(i win).