A Million Flying Bugs

This weekend in Pearisburg, VA we found a beautiful area called Whitt-Riverbend Park. It featured a large, fast-flowing river, open grassy spaces, and a train that ran just above the water. What a scene! So picturesque, so scenic, that it makes a girl want to pack a bag and hike the Appalachian Trail.

Except. There were these little gnats EVERYWHERE. When you stopped long enough to smile for a picture, there they were, trying to settle down on your eyelashes and dive into your ears. I was in shock by how relentless these little buggies were (nature, how could you turn on me like this?!), but Will just said “welcome to my world.” I don’t think I’d do well in his world.

Now that the weather is warm, the animals – and tiny flying bugs – are making their appearance at every turn. Will has seen a bear and three snakes in the past week!


In other news: last week Will got food poisoning and it slowed him down a bit. He’s back to 100% and has started this week strong. There is only one problem – his shoes (or clodhoppers, as my grandpa calls them). The Hokas are not holding up well – in fact, they are falling apart after less than 200 miles. For comparison, the Brooks Cascadias lasted a solid 500 miles on the trail, and Will had them for a year before he even started his hike. So the Hokas are a huge disappointment.


Will contacted the company and explained the situation; they said he could send the shoes in for an evaluation and they may be able to send him a replacement. His plan is to buy a new pair of shoes in Troutville, VA this weekend and stick the Hokas in the mail. They don’t make clodhoppers like they used to.

Speaking of Troutville (aren’t the names of these places the best?)… Will is on his way there! I’ll meet him in Troutville – only 20 minutes from Roanoke, VA – on Saturday. This will probably be the last time I will see him for a while. If everything goes according to plan (when has that ever happened?), this is Will’s schedule for the next month:

4/30 – Troutville, VA (near Roanoke) – mile 729
5/7 – Crabtree Falls campground, VA (north of Lynchburg)
5/14 – Skyland Resort in Shanendoah National Park, VA (north of Harrisonburg)
5/21 – Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia (considered the “psychological midway point” on the AT!)
5/28 – Boiling Springs, PA (south of Harrisburg)


Talk to you soon! Don’t forget to check out more photos on our Instagram page, @thetreelogs.

-Meridith

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Thank You for Not Wearing Cotton

There is a phrase on the AT: “Cotton kills.”

To which I used to respond: “HIM? No. Cotton is just a big, soft, ball of fluff. He would never do such a thing.”

But now I know that cotton would do such a thing (we’ll be seeing warning labels on q-tip cartons soon). Cotton does not breathe well and does not dry quickly. Being wet when it’s cold – even when temperatures are above freezing – puts a hiker at risk for hypothermia, an internal drop in body temperature that can cause serious damage and even death. Surprisingly, the most common weather for hypothermia onset is 40 degree rain, and it has been said that it can even happen in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees.

The right clothing is a physical necessity for survival, so stay away from cotton (even secondhand cotton can be hazardous to young children).

So what kind of clothing should you bring on your thru-hike? Will’s duds are broken down into 3 systems: daily wear, sleep wear, and rain gear. Keep reading for the inside scoop, written by Will (we hope this is helpful to other hikers scoping out gear!):

Clothing Cropped

A. Daily wear:

1. Shoes: I just switched these out from Brooks Cascadia 9’s (probably the best trail runner ever, in my opinion), to Hoka ATR trail runners.  Hoka’s are maximalist, meaning they have extra cushioning for your feet as opposed to taking a more barefoot style approach which is popular right now.  They are going the opposite direction and people are paying attention.  I had my Brooks for probably close to 600+ miles, and in the last 50 miles or so, the tread was bare in my pressure points which is the middle ball of my left foot and the right outside ball area of my right.  My feet were getting very sore in the ball areas and it felt like rocks and roots were going to come through the shoe and into my foot!  When I tried on the Hoka shoes, I tried them in multiple sizes, with inserts and without, and ended up going with Superfeet Carbon insoles that are supposed to last 2 years and correct some problems I have developed in my feet, namely those hot spots.  My arch was collapsing under the weight of my body and pack, causing me to lean forward and the toes on my right foot to turn outward.  This lead to stretching of the shoe, uneven wear in the tread, and can lead to labored walking, so basically walking was harder for me than it should have been. The owner of Mount Roger’s Outfitters in Damascus told me he bet I rolled my right ankle a lot, and he was spot on.  He said if I didn’t get after market insoles, I would pay for it later in life with knee problems and even hip and neck problems.  He uses them in his everyday shoes, and he testifies that they make all the difference.  We’ll see what the next 500 miles of Virginia holds for Hoka’s and Superfeet!

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2. Socks: I have been wearing Darn Tough Vermont socks and they really are darn tough!  I bought a pair of WrightSock Cool Mesh II socks to take with me on the trail, but they got very dirty and eventually wore a hole after only one week.  Guess where?  My left foot in the ball pressure point.  I’m carrying them still since they are super comfortable, but now they are my sleeping socks.  I switched from my SmartWool heavy socks to these now that its supposed to be warmer!  I’ve slept in them in the cold though the other night and they did just fine.  I carry 2 pairs of DT socks for hiking, and rotate them everyday and rinse them out as often as I can and air dry them so I always have a dry pair.

3. Gaiters: Outdoor Research gaiters have saved my socks and shoes a lot of wear!  Wish I had started with them.  These are light weight, polyester pieces that go over my socks and prevent a lot of dirt, rocks, sticks, etc. from getting into my shoes, wearing on my feet and causing blisters and degrading my socks and shoes.  Before I got them I had to stop at least once an hour to dump debris out of my shoes; now I do it probably once a day during lunch.  These are a must-have for me.

4. Compression Shorts and lightweight Nike running shorts: Nothing special here. Compression acts as undies and keeps my legs from rubbing. No need for body glide or anything and no chaffing so far.  Short running shorts are the best for mobility.  I have worn this setup in 7 inches of snow, but I did pick up my next item to have for the next cold spell and to add into my sleeping clothes for summer.

5. Merino Wool Lightweight base layer pants: I just picked these up in Damascus.  Less for cold, more to have for when my thermal weight sleeping pants get too hot.  I am wearing them in cold for now though until I send my heavy winter gear home.  Cons: expensive, pros: comfy and last a lifetime.

6. Mountain Hardwear (spelling correct) polyester tee: lightweight running shirt. Breathes well, dries fast. ‘Nuff said.  Poly also tends to hold smells less than some other fabrics.

7. Patagonia Capliene 3 Zip Up Long Sleeve Shirt: Patagonia Capilene line of base layer clothing is used on Everest Expeditions.  They put a lot of time and effort into designing clothes that are warm when cold and even warm when wet, cool when hot, breathable and fast-drying.  This shirt is awesome, although I am going to send it home and keep my sleeping version of the same shirt, Capilene 4 (Thermal) instead of this one.

8. Arcteryx Atom LT Jacket: warm jacket, used when really cold.  It is okay if this jacket is worn in rain; it has a DWR waterproof coating but is not a rain coat. Drizzle is okay, but rain is not.  It is made of synthetic filling, not down.  If down gets wet it loses its insulating abilities.  And when I say wet, I’m not talking about falling into a river.  I mean even absorbing sweat and ambient moisture.  They can treat down to be more water resistant, but its never water proof.  Synthetic fill jackets are most popular on AT where its wet a lot of the time.

9. Mountain Hardwear Hat: light hat used to keep sweat at bay and head from getting sunburn.

10. SmartWool Merino wool beanie: you know what this does.

11. Mountain Hardwear Gloves: supposed to work with phone, works okay but not great.  Keeps hands warm, even when gloves are wet.

12. Cheap Bandana: wipe my nose, napkin when eating, dry sweat, headband, you name it, I use it.

13. Buff: scarf, headband, hat, dust mask, used when robbing banks to conceal my identity.  Just a lightweight utility item that I could do without but carry anyway.

B. Sleep Wear
these are always at all costs kept DRY!  Kept in a waterproof bag, inside my trash compactor pack liner.

1. Sleeping socks: outlined above.  Keeps feet dry/warm and helps hold my salve/ointment on so that it does not get on my sleeping bag.  Switched from thick SmartWool to light WrightSocks.

2. Pants: REI Thermal weight pants.  Cheaper than Patagonia but heavier – plenty warm though. Will send home in summer and keep Merino Wool pants I just got for sleepy times.

3. Patagonia Capilene 4 Thermal Weight Zip Hoodie: probably my favorite shirt ever!  So warm, hood fits like a sock, lightweight, breathable.  Love it.  Buy it!  Expensive ($120) but worth every penny in my opinion.

4. Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket: lightweight, synthetic fill in case it were to get wet somehow, also has DWR waterproof coating but I wouldn’t chance it.  Can wear it to bed but it is usually too warm, so I just wear around camp.  Will keep and send Arcteryx home most likely in warmer months and keep this (or maybe send both home in June).

C. Rain Gear:

1. Marmot Preicip Jacket: light, waterproof coat with pit zips to help my armpits breathe a little, although all rain gear gets clammy and can get just as wet inside from sweat as it does outside from rain.

2. Northface Rain Pants: light, waterproof pants.  Worn them once when it snowed 7 inches after I had changed into dry clothes and went to forage for water.  Will definitely send home in summer.
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Trail update: Will is in Virginia, his fourth state! The AT passes through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. West Virginia is the shortest. Maine is the most rugged. And Virginia… it’s the loooongest. More than a quarter of Will’s entire 2,189 journey will be spent here.

Thank you all for reading! Leave a comment if you have any questions about the gear!

-Meridith

All About Trail Life – Notes from Will’s Journal

Will is keeping a daily journal on his phone and this week he got it connected to the iCloud so I could read his entries at home. I loved reading them and thought you might, too. I’ve picked a few quotes, in no particular order, that span Will’s journey of several weeks on the trail. I think these highlight some interesting aspects of trail life – the people he’s met (known by their trail names!), the food he’s eaten, the weather he’s encountered, and the mental and physical toll of a long-distance hike. I hope you find these highlights as interesting as I did!

——-

I made it into NC today! It was immediately more rugged but much more gratifying of an experience. There were more views in the miles I hiked in NC today than in all of GA.”

“We all ate and talked a little and then, as is thru-hiker custom for some reason, got into bed right at dark, which is about 7pm right now.”

​”As Lumpy was showing us the resupply area, he said ‘I have everything a hiker could ever need in here.’ I asked ‘Do you have Aqua Mira [water purification tablets]?’ ‘Well, no,’ was his reply. So that just sums up my stay there.”

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​…a trail angel named Rodney had set up his tail gate on his truck with peanut butter cookies, fresh fruit, coffee and orange juice. I stood and talked to him for about 45 min while I waited on the shuttle to come get me. I had 6 cookies, a banana, coffee, and 2 cups of OJ.”

“I was so worn out at the end of today. I was really hating the AT for how it goes up so steeply, only to send you right back down immediately. I was mad, but I never once thought of quitting. It’s not even in the cards at all as long as I can walk.”

​”A section hiker named Boston told me that a guy at the shelter might have norovirus, so I ended up setting up my tent beside his to try and minimize my exposure. I probably washed my hands a half dozen times tonight in the bathroom.”

​”…eventually the bottom dropped out and it began to pour. It rained from probably 1:30 till about 5:30 heavily.”


This side of Clingman’s really reminds me of the Sierras. There are large grassy balds on the sides of the mountains. And lots of hemlocks. Looks more like something out west than in the Appalachians.”

They hiked the trail several years ago and had 2 broken bones along the way. Took them 3 years the first time they said.”

We ate frozen cheese burgers and shared a bag of Rice Krispies from the hiker box with some powdered milk we also found in the box. Bow Tie went and bought 10 sugar packets for 25 cents and distributed them among us for our cereal.”

“It rained, snowed, and/or sleeted all day. About mile 13 I was really getting fatigued, and just sat down on a log in the rain.”

I got stocked up on water and ate dinner on a log close to where I had set up my tent. Backcountry pad Thai tonight. Ramen noodles, peanut butter, soy sauce, Knorr dried vegetables, and a little of the seasoning packet that came with the Ramen.”

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Today would be my longest day yet. 19.8 miles to Cosby knob shelter.”

I noticed as I rolled past the shelter that all were gone except 2 people who I later would learn were Cabot and Hobbes. Pilgrim, Pinky, and Free 2 Go were all there the previous night but were gone now.”

We got changed and decided to wait for the snow to die down before going out for water to cook dinner. It was snowing so hard and blowing all around that the shelter began to get covered inside.”

Woke up in the shelter after probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had. I heard a mouse right as I was about to get in my sleeping bag and didn’t have too high of hopes for the night’s rest, but all in all it was pretty good!”

​”I set everything up, ate and brushed my teeth just as it started getting dark… now I’m going to enjoy the night and look at the stars a while before heading to the tent to read and get some much needed rest.”

——-

Will is now north of I-40 (a milestone!) and has hit the 300-mile mark. I didn’t visit last weekend, but I’m meeting him again this Friday – Saturday (3/25-3/26). We are planning to meet up at mile 317.6 and stay in Erwin, TN.

So far so good!! Thank you for all of your encouragement and support along the way! 

-Meridith

Shoes in a Tree and Other Trail Tales

To be honest, my second post was supposed to be about clothes.

But it’s a lot of work preparing to depart for 6 months. Time got away from me and so I’m saving the clothes post for a later date and skipping right to the main event… Will’s launch this past weekend!


Since Will had hiked from the start of the trail in Springer Mountain, GA to Neels Gap (about 30 miles) a few weeks earlier, we began at Neels Gap on Saturday, February 27th. Neels Gap is a landmark along the Appalachian Trail; it is the home of Mountain Crossings, a specialty outfitter  with a certain cultural significance. Many hikers actually quit the trail at this point and many others use the stop to re-evaluate their pack weight, eliminate gear, or trade out their shoes. The discarded shoes end up hanging inside the store or on a tree outside (really – a designated shoe tree!).

Let’s talk about pack weight, since I’m on the subject. Pack weight is to thru-hikers what orange soda is to Kel (and for those of you who didn’t grow up on 90s  Nickelodeon – pack weight is to thru-hikers what lasagna is to Garfield?). It is always on their mind. Will stayed at a hostel the other night and told me that he and others were cutting tags off their clothes, cutting the excess straps off their backpacks, even getting rid of hand warmers (which seem essential to me – any other Raynaud’s sufferers out there?).

After checking out all that Neels Gap had to offer on Saturday, Will and I had an awesome 5.5 mile hike to the next stop. The next morning I drove back home while Will kept walking toward Maine. As of today (3/2), he’s camped out at mile 81.4 on the trail. I can’t wait to visit in Franklin, NC on Saturday! He’ll be at almost 110 miles by then.

To conclude, here is a brief Q & A with Will, or Rootbeard as he is known on the trail:

What has been the most surprising part of this experience so far: There are so many places to camp! This means that my schedule is more flexible than I had anticipated; if I decide to walk a little further or a little less one day, there is likely still a campsite within a relatively short distance from wherever I decide to stop.

What has been the worst part of this experience so far: The ups and downs. There are parts of the trail later on where it gets flatter, but right now it’s just a lot of ups and downs. You do all of that work on an incline, only to head right back downhill.

What has been the best part of this experience so far: How good I feel. I did the first 30 miles a few weeks ago and I did it in two days, which was too much hiking initially. Now I am pacing myself better, carrying the right equipment, and thankfully have had great weather most of the time.

P.S. Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @thetreelogs for more frequent updates. Talk to you soon!

-Meridith

 

How to Fit Your Life (for 6 months) into a Backpack

Well… the secret’s out.

Will is leaving this Saturday (February 27th, 2016) for a 6-month hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail! As we have shared this news with friends and family, we’ve received varied responses and questions. There are many questions we’d like to answer on this blog- both for those of you who are very familiar with the culture of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and those of you who are not- but we’ll start by dumping out and analyzing the contents of a backpacker’s best friend – his backpack. Hint: it does not contain a gun (this has been a popular question).

Below we’ve divided all of the gear in Will’s pack into 8 main categories. Read on to learn what goes in the pack and what stays behind (warning: extreme puns ahead)…

Main Gear Cropped

1. Backpack because there would be no such thing as “backpacking” without it.
The popular trail saying “pack it in, pack it out” is both a call to protect the environment and a picture of a thru-hiker’s life – each morning you pack up your life and you carry it. Will is using a Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 (58 means 58 liters, or the size of the bag; a typical thru-hiker’s backpack is somewhere between 50 and 65 liters). Also included in this section: a pack cover for rain protection and a trash compactor bag (a really thick trash bag) which acts as a liner inside the pack. It is white which helps you see inside the bag more easily.

2. Shelter system- because it can get in(tents) out there.
Will is using a Zpacks Duplex cuben fiber tent which is extremely lightweight and durable. This section also includes tent stakes and trekking poles. Using trekking poles to hold up the tent rather than carrying separate tent poles saves on weight. #multipurposegear!

3. Sleeping system because you need a place to “saw logs” after a day in the woods.
At home you’ve got box springs, a mattress, a Tempur-Pedic pillow, and sheets. In the woods you’ve got a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, an inflatable pillow, and sleeping bag liner. Will’s sleeping bag is a Nemo Nocturne 15 (the 15 means comfortable down to 15 degrees) goose down bag; his sleeping pad is a Thermarest NeoAir X Lite; and his sleeping bag liner is a Sea to Summit Thermolite (essential in cold weather because it adds warmth; also keeps the sleeping bag clean inside).

4. Navigation- because there’s no GPS in the wild.
That little green book in the top center of the photo is the A.T. Guide by AWOL. This book is popular among thru hikers because it lists all the shuttles, hostels, maps of towns, shelters, elevation, and mileages along the A.T. Will also has a Suunto compass, which is not absolutely necessary on the trail because the A.T. is so well-marked, but he likes using a compass and it also has a mirror that can also be used for hygiene (checking for ticks= very important).

5. Nourishment- because your hunter/gatherer instincts are probably lacking.
Will’s backcountry kitchen will consist of a Jet Boil Mini Mo (you cook/eat/drink right out of the pot), a spoon, and toothbrush to wash out the pot. For water treatment, he is using Aquamira drops to treat water from streams. For now he is going to go with #nofilter, but if it becomes necessary he can pick one up along the way. He’ll bring 4 liters of water storage, but will not carry that much at once. He’ll also store his food in a  Zpacks cuben fiber food bag.

6. Electronicsbecause you’ve got to keep in touch with those of us in the 21st century.
Perfect for keeping in touch, taking photos, and staying sane while detached from civilization. Will is bringing his iPhone 6, an Anker battery-powered phone charger which can charge his phone up to 6 times, headphones and an iPod Nano to listen to music, and a StickPic for selfies with woodland creatures.

7. First Aid/toiletries- because you need to stay so fresh and so clean.
Will is bringing a toothbrush, toothpaste, bandaids, nail clippers, Neosporin, sports tape for blisters, Body Glide, homemade salve (really, he made it!), multivitamins, and ibuprofen for sore joints and muscles. He is NOT bringing deodorant. ::cringe:: (“Deal with it.” – Will)

8. Repair kit because everything that can go wrong, will.
When your only worldly possession is your gear, you’ve got to protect it. Will is bringing patches for his sleeping pad in case it gets a hole, cuben fiber tape to repair the tent, duct tape, a mini Bic lighter, small multi-tool, and spare batteries for his headlamp.

So there you have it- our 8 categories of trail living! Notice one important element that is missing from this list? Stay tuned for our next post!

P.S. Follow along on Instagram at @thetreelogs

Meridith and Will