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Outdoor Retailer 2017: Best of Thru-hiker and Ultralight Gear

I attended Outdoor Retailer as part of the staff at the <a href="http://thewirecutter.com/leaderboard/outdoors-2/">Wirecutter Outdoors</a>, my new job. They were kind enough to let me continue to write my annual OR write-up for thru-hikers and ultralighters on my blog while I go into more detail on gear findings for their site.
I attended Outdoor Retailer as part of the staff at the Wirecutter Outdoors, my new job. They were kind enough to let me continue to write my annual OR write-up for thru-hikers and ultralighters on my blog while I go into more detail on gear findings for their site.

 

 

This year, I was one of very few ultralight or long distance hikers reporting on emerging gear at the Outdoor Retailer Winter 2017 show. Winter OR is always a smaller show than Summer OR, but I didn’t see many of the old faces, like Will Rietveld, who usually cover new and emerging technology and design. OR is the world’s largest trade show in the gear industry bringing 40,000 people (in summer) to take over Salt Lake City and hand the Utahns an estimated $45 million annually in direct sales. As the recreation companies debut their 2018 models—vying to be seen as the most creative, innovative, inventive, and stylish—I sorted 11.8 acres of gear booths to find free food and beverage and the few items relevant to minimalist backpackers. Here’s what I found on my quest for gear and sustenance:

Shroomer and Allgood played in the new All Foams
Shroomer and Allgood played in the new All Foams

Eva All Foam Snow Shoes by Crescent Moon

If I saw anything at the Show that could totally revolutionize the long distance hiker’s life, the Eva All Foam Snow Shoes by Crescent Moon were them. I’m thinking NeoAir in 2008 kind of change. Super easy-to-use bindings, lightweight foam construction, no moving parts to break and fix in the middle of nowhere, and equal weight distribution across the shoe make these bad boys the most anticipated gear item at the show. The Evas should work well for non-technical uses (most thru-hikes in spring would be ok here) and they look light enough that it’ll ride as well on top of your pack as you hitch out of town as it will as you go up over Muir Pass.

Lugs on the Eva All Foam snowshoe. Shroomer comments that while it is not aggressive enough for anything technical, they will be great for playing and some less scary thru-hiking situations
Lugs on the Eva All Foam snowshoe. Shroomer comments that while it is not aggressive enough for anything technical, they will be great for playing and some less scary thru-hiking situations

Unlike traditional snowshoes, weight is balanced across the entire Eva All Foam shoe, reducing “swing weight.” The theory is that the lightweight binding system reduces the inertia associated with the weight of the binding. Unlike many snowshoe bindings, as you’re walking in the Eva, you’re not going to trip from catching a loose or moving part like a pre-schooler stepping on his untied shoelace.

The light and flexible Velcro binding system spares snowshoers from the dreaded pinch points and that hard strap that digs into the top of your foot found on most snowshoes.Specifically, I’m thinking of a pair that was worn by a good friend of mine through the San Juans on the CDT and left its unnamed user with sharp pain and tendentious in his big toes’ metatarsals.

Shroomer trying out the All Foam snowshoes
Shroomer trying out the All Foam snowshoes

The combination of the distributed weight and binding system on the Eva All Foam make the shoe feel like a natural extension of your body. My good friends Allgood and Shroomer tried the Eva snowshoes on and were like kids on their first snow play day: Snowshoeing feels more like going for a normal walk than a duck waddle in some other animal’s feet.

The new updated Lone Peak 3.0 on the left vs. the new Lone peak 3.5 on the right
The new updated Lone Peak 3.0 on the left vs. the new Lone peak 3.5 on the right

Updated Altras

If there is one question I get after Outdoor Retailer, it is: “what’s the new design on Altras?” This year is freakin’ AMAZING for Altra as they are planning to launch what could replace the Lone Peaks as the most popular thru-hiking shoe. There are also some serious updates on the popular Lone Peak and Olympus models that are going to make a lot of my friends happy.

The Lone Peak 3.5s (women’s colors)
The Lone Peak 3.5s (women’s colors)

Updated Lone Peak 3.5s

The 3.5s have some pretty sweet updates to the Lone Peak 3.0s. I loved the improved durability on the 3.0s and wore them on the Low 2 High Route last October, but some of my hiking partners have said they feel narrow compared to the Lone Peak 2.5s. I asked Altra about it, and it turns out the 3.0s are just as wide as ever, but different fabric reinforcement (done to increase durability) is giving it that feeling. If you were skeptical about the 3.0s, worry not. Here is what the 3.5s have to offer:

-Less TPU paneling around the middle of the shoe means less constriction. The 3.0s went crazy on trying to reinforce a known failure point. The 3.5s are taking a lesson rom that design, and the TPU has been strategically placed around the main area that people were feeling constricted on the 3.0s. Now it should ride more like the toebox on the older models, but still have the durability in that area seen on the 3.0s.

-Reinforced stitching in the bunion window (the point where the big toe joint and pinky toe pop out—you know, where Altras always get holes after 700 miles). This should increase durability while feeling less constricting than the TPU reinforcement in the LP 3.0s.

The four point gaiter trap on the men’s Lone Peak 3.5
The four point gaiter trap on the men’s Lone Peak 3.5

-The world’s first four point gaiter hook to prevent pine needles from finding their way into your shoes from the sides. (They’re really minimal, but you can always chop them off if you’re very concerned about weight)

-A balance between the stickiness of the Duramax soles and the older models’ durability. It’s a new updated compound with the best outsole yet. Brian Beckstead, one of Altra’s founders, told me that the Lone Peak has gone between being super sticky or super durable. Before, choosing where to go on the durability-stickiness spectrum has been tricky. (Long time Altra fan thru-hikers know right away which models lean towards one part of the spectrum vs. the other). The new sticky rubber in the 3.5s should be the best of both worlds.

Super traction (this photo actually on the King, a new mud-specific model that I’m not discussing in this write-up because I’m tired and am not completely convinced their use is for thru-hiking)
Super traction (this photo actually on the King, a new mud-specific model that I’m not discussing in this write-up because I’m tired and am not completely convinced their use is for thru-hiking)

-Improved traction: The design on the bottom of the shoe has directional cants that work for gripping uphill and backward cants for downhill. The metatarsal area in particular has stronger canted lugs, cuz, you know, that’s where you’re supposed to be striking in a zero drop shoe. These look far more aggressive than any of the early models of Altra and should fight the ball-bearing effect hikers have complained about in the past.

-6 drain holes when there were none before. Thru-hikers have for several decades preferred mesh to waterproof shoes. This new feature will keep water out even more.

-Seamless no-tongue stitching: This is a little change that makes a big difference. I’ve never had a thru-hiking shoe with no tongue stitching before, but after feeling the new LP 3.5, I don’t want to go back. Stitching rubs slightly on the top of your foot, abrading your sock and creating an extra chaffing point with wet socks (I can show you some scars from my first AT hike…).

The new women’s Olympus 3.0
The new women’s Olympus 3.0

Improved Altra Olympus

The Altra Olympus are my favorite hiking shoe right now and there are even more improvements coming in. With the extra cushioning, the Olympus have always been well-suited for people just starting a thru-hike—especially if they’ve had to spend all winter working instead of training as much as they’d like. The Olympus is also great for when you have especially heavy loads to carry or if you are new to zero drop shoes. I’ve used the Olympus extensively, most notably on the Great Divide Trail. The new model will have more rubber and less Eva cutout, but the same amount of cushioning.

The Timp is the newest trail hiking model
The Timp is the newest trail hiking model

One Shoe To Rule All Thru-hikers: The Timpanogos

If you’re like me, you have a hard time deciding on which situation is best suited for a Lone Peak and when the Olympus is the way to go. Altra has the answer: a new trail shoe. The Timpanogos is meant to take the best of Altra’s trail models and balance them out. Named after this mountain that kicked my butt on the Wasatch Traverse, the Timp offers hikers these features:

-Lighter than the Olympus, more cushioning than the Lone Peak

-Traction of the Superior (Altra’s lightest trail shoe) with the cushioning more like the Olympus at the weight of the Lone Peak

The men and women’s Timp models
The men and women’s Timp models

-Fit of the Torin

Using the flash on my phone, I captured the reflective mesh on the new Timp
Using the flash on my phone, I captured the reflective mesh on the new Timp

-Abrasion resistant mesh around the whole shoe to increase durability over the Lone Peak or Olympus. It’s also shiny and reflective, which is great for road runners, but I think may be weird or annoying for night hikers.

I’m most stoked that the outsole is like the Superior with similar rubber and design, but with more cushion than the Lone Peak. I LOVE the Superior’s aggressive outsole, but there isn’t enough cushion in them to put in 30 mile days, especially day in day out. Ever since the Superior 2.0 was released, I’ve been dreaming of a Lone Peak that had the Superior’s outsole. The Timp should be it.

Brian Beckstead tells me that the Timp takes the best features of all their top selling shoes and wraps them in one. So now it’s time for thru-hikers to make some serious decisions: In 2017, are you going Lone Peak, Olympus, or Timpanogos. Honestly, they all look so good, I don’t know which one I’m going to choose.

Know Brainer Instant Thinker “Bulletproof” Coffee Packets (the pre-mixed coffee product is coming out in April 2017, but the creamer is already available)

It’s a portable, no-mess pocket luxury—a taste of home on the fly. As a no-time-to-stop-for-a-break thru-hiker and a sometimes traveling laptop warrior, one packet has 200 calories plus caffeine and does the same job as my instant Starbucks Via and two GU packets in one (minus all the carbs and sugars). It has MCT (medium chain triglyercides) from coconut oil and grass-fed ghee, is available in multiple flavors, and also has a casein and lactose free option if that’s your jam. At $1.99 per packet, Know Brainer is one product new to Outdoor Retailer that I can actually afford.

KnowBrainer Thinker’s Instant creamer+coffee is available in 3 flavors, including a lactose/casein free version
KnowBrainer Thinker’s Instant creamer+coffee is available in 3 flavors, including a lactose/casein free version

Advocates of bulletproof coffee and ketogenic diets—including Know Brainer—claim that by not loading up on carbs and sugars first thing in the morning, fat+coffee drinkers are rewarded with long term, sustained energy. Dr. Brenda Braaten, thru-hiker nutritionist and trail angel extraordinaire, agrees eating lots of sugar right as you roll out of camp hurts endurance over the course of the day (although I doubt she’s stoked on the ketogenic diet). Ketogenic cheerleaders argue fat makes you feel full without eating massive quantities (Dr. Braaten would agree). Know Brainer’s General Manager Greg Leidrich (who co-founded along with his wife Chari, who also founded 2 Moms in the Raw) said he personally felt like Know Brainer helped curb his carb addiction. That morning, Greg had consumed nothing but an 8 oz cup of Know Brainer and still had plenty of energy at noon. Still, Gizmodo calls Bulletproof Coffee a “hot buttered hype” and questions some of the nutritional studies behind Know Brainer’s inspiration. US News and World Report is skeptical, too.

The reason I’d buy Know Brainer is its great taste, easy-clean up, it is pre-mixed, and that it creates less trash than a lot of competing products. Winter 2017 was Know Brainer’s first debut at Outdoor Retailer, but something tells me that it could end becoming a familiar face at the Show and also on the trail.

 

Rhone wear in an outdoor setting (image courtesy Rhone)

Rhone Gold-Infused Anti-Stink Technology

Rhone is positioning itself to be the Lululemon For Men with a market aimed at tech-bros trying to one-up each other on early adoption (and their workout). The product they’ve got is pretty cool: gold and silver nanotech treated athletic fabric. Silver has long been used as an anti-stink agent in clothes but has some environmental and functional issues: silver washes out into our sewer systems making the treatment less effective in as soon as 30 washes. Rhone makes bold claims about what gold + silver can do better than just silver: quicker drying, doesn’t wash out as quickly, keeps sun rays off your skin better, color and fabric last longer due to reduced sun damage, quicker drying, and of course reduced stink as its very hard for odor-causing bacteria to replicate on silver and cold. The same tech has been used in agriculture, medical, and other markets that have more money than the Outdoor Industry. Surprisingly, you don’t need a Silicon Valley salary to afford this sport clothing either: gold-infused nanotech clothing’s prices are pretty comparable to everything else in the mainstream outdoor market.

In 2017, the Mountaineers release an uber detailed PCT guide for section hikers.
In 2017, the Mountaineers release an uber detailed PCT guide for section hikers.

Mountaineers Section Hiker Oriented Trail Guides

This year, the Mountaineers are releasing an obsessive, comprehensive, uber-detailed section hikers’s guide to the PCT. Two of the guides are already out, and three are released later this year. The 286-page Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington book offers 4-10 day backpacking trips on the PCT, detailed camping info, elevation profiles, how to get to trailheads etc. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Oregon: Sectionhiking from Siskiyou Pass to Bridge of the Gods has been a much-awaited book and is written by Eli Boschetto, who will be speaking at this year’s American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Cascade Ruck.

 

 

Cascade Wild Ultralight Camp Table

I didn’t actually see this at the Show, but after perusing what other news sources are reporting from OR, this is the only thing the “mainstream outdoor media” is writing about that I could even potentially see thru-hikers being stoked about (besides the Crescent Moon All Foam snowshoes.)

A camp table seems like a luxury item incompatible with ultralight hiking…until now
A camp table seems like a luxury item incompatible with ultralight hiking…until now

This 2.3 oz table holds 10 pounds, folds into a water bottle pocket, and keeps your stuff on the ground. Now don’t get me wrong—I’m usually all about being as minimalist as possible and just throwing my gear on the ground. But after spending a few very wet nights in super muddy and horse poop-covered camps on the Great Divide Trail with a poop-adverse hiking partner, maybe there’s something to be said for not setting your food down right in a s%!* bog.

Core Third Ultralight Solar Panels

Designed specifically for backpackers, Core Third solar panels are cheaper and weigh significantly less than the standard Goal Zero solar panels most thru-hikers are using right now. Core Third panels are made of Hypalon, the same fabric used in white water rafting boats or Hazmat suits.

Hikers can charge phones directly from the Core Third solar panel or plug in an ultralight lithium battery and then charge their phones at night. The lithium battery that works with their solar panels doesn’t have the insulation of other batteries, reducing the weight by about 2 oz compared to the competitors. Core Third’s line up includes a 10 W/2 Amp panel compared to Goal Zero’s 7 W/1 Amp panel.

The two panel 10 W version of the Core Third ultralight solar panel
The two panel 10 W version of the Core Third ultralight solar panel

What struck me as the most intriguing thing about these panels wasn’t just the durability, weight, or the increased ampage (most of these things end up running at half of what they are rated for anyway): it was the price. Because their market is set up for direct sales and they have only been around 9 months (making this their first OR show), their 7 W panel is $79 and 10W is $99. They already know about thru-hikers and the many uses we will have for solar panels. Core Third is sponsoring the Warrior Hike and their Christine Walters, their COO, told me that that the panels in their support vehicle’s window charge faster than the USB on the car. I expect to see a lot more of these Core Third panels on the PCT this year and that Goal Zero will need to step up their game.

Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas
Allgood and I rocking out on the ice in the new Kahtoolas

Ice Traction Competition

Last year, I reported on the Vibram’s new sticky boot rubber that allows you to walk on ice. This year, Michelin released a competing product and had a giant Michelin Man walking the show to advertise it. They’re pairing with Columbia to roll the new tech is out. Trauma tells me these rubbers that are infused with glass for superior ice traction have been on the market for five years or so. As I reported last year, Vibram has an exclusive contract with Timberland up through 2017. Soon, we’re hoping for that kind of rubber on some more long distance hiker centric trail runners.

New Flavors of Clif Shot Bloks

Clif Shot Bloks have long been a thru-hiker favorite luxury food: easy to chew, quick infusions of energy with electrolytes. This year, Clif Shot Blok is offering three new flavors. Salted watermelon has double the salt of a normal Clif Blok. Ginger was good but IMHO could’ve been more gingery. I was stoked about a Spearmint flavor (it seems so obvious!!

People love mint gum. Why no mint energy block before?) but the flavor was disappointingly subtle: it wasn’t going to double as a backcountry breath refresher. I love Clif Bloks and the theory behind all these flavor choices, but I have a feeling at least two of them are going to be available at your local Grocery Outlet soon.

Redesigned Luna Sandals

Lunas sandals have long been a thru-hiker favorite for a durable, lightweight, stays on your foot, aggressive hiking sandal and camp and fording shoe. Their new version of the Monos have a redesigned strap and buckle system that reduce slippage compared to their old Mono. Like the old ones, they are still made in Seattle of Massachusetts-made ingredients and they won the Made in the USA Gear Award from the Outdoor Industry Association this year.

Crown Trails Headwear became the hiker headquarters booth at OR this year.
Crown Trails Headwear became the hiker headquarters booth at OR this year.

Crown Trail Headwear

This brand new company has become the official hat company of the CDT, PCT, AT, PNT, and Ice Age Trail—and are looking for more. They are the only hat company that not only has official permission to use the trail logos, but also gives back 8% on all sales to the trail organizations. It was started by hatmaker Bob Wilson, who lives in Silver City, NM—an important designated CDT Gateway Community. He wanted to use his business as a way to raise money for the trail work of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. The hats are stylish and were a success, so Crown Trail Headwears was founded as an offshoot of his old hat business with a goal of giving back.

Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers were pretty tasty
Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers were pretty tasty

A Great Year for Trail Ready Coffee

Multiple coffee companies are fighting back against Starbucks this year. Alpine Start, founded by a climber bro, offers Via-like freeze-dried coffee crystals at a slightly higher price. Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourovers started as a Kickstarter and has a minimalist pour over with less waste than a traditional coffee filter.

Treeline Coffee Roasters pourover jump started my Wednesday
Treeline Coffee Roasters pourover jump started my Wednesday

Treeline Coffee Roasters out of Montana makes a similar product—except focuses more on environmental and social issues with expected price differences.

These new, simple

Pour man’s pourover
Pour man’s pourover

pourover set ups are your new best bet for trail-ready pourover: no extra gear, less waste than a filter, everything is self-contained and measured in a packaged, vacuuming keeps the coffee fresh compared to your ziplock of grounds.

It’s also pretty similar to a mainstream grocery store product I saw in Japan a few weeks ago. The fancy ones are so much tastier it isn’t even funny, but the Japanese product goes for less than half the price. I bought 18 cups for about $5 (but as I’ve been reminded—they are Japanese-sized cups).

Wrap Up

Wow! If you’ve made it this far, you must really love gear and food updates. While this Winter OR was even slower than usual, it felt highly productive.  The free food and beverage scene was better than I’ve seen in a few years, whereas the schwag and discounted gear scene was not as advanced. The normal set up for OR includes some weekend days and is 4 days long. This year was only 3 days long and only on weekdays–which kept out riff raff and also got me home in time to enjoy my weekend….by writing up what I saw at OR.

Dealing with Post-Hike Depression

Finishing a long trail is complete joy. Transitioning back to the real world is not.
Finishing a long trail is complete joy. Transitioning back to the real world is not.

At first, being home will be great after your long adventure. Endless food. Endless Netflix. No more foot/leg/back/what-have-you pain. Temperature control. Roof. Your family wants to hear about your hike and see photos. But after about 2-3 weeks, they’re over it. You’re over Netflix. And your thru-hike is still all you think about.

You’ll be homesick for a place that doesn’t have a roof.

You’ll be homesick for a home without a roof.
You’ll be homesick for a home without a roof.

Post-hike depression is a real thing.

I’ve seen it happen to some of the happiest, kindest, most unlikely people in the world. It is documented in retired elite athletes, so it makes sense it would happen to long distance hikers, too. Yet, I’ve also heard deniers (even very prominent hikers) say, “Get over yourself. There are people in the world with life much worse. You are an ungrateful first-worlder sad because your trip is over.” Like any form of mental illness, “Depression is in your head” or “others have it worse” are among the least helpful things you can say.

Hard exercise triggers the release of endorphin, a chemical that triggers good vibes.
Hard exercise triggers the release of endorphin, a chemical that triggers good vibes.

 

 

 

A major chemical change is going on in your body and mind

Post-hike depression is brought about at least partially by a major chemical change going on in your body and mind. Exercise and being outdoors are great for our bodies and minds. To suddenly no longer have that can be a big hit.

Face it: Thru-hiking is your community and identity.
Face it: Thru-hiking is your community and identity.

 

 

Post hike depression isn’t just biological

When you return to the real world, you lose your community and your identity—two elements correlated to happiness.

I don’t mean to suggest that hikers necessarily suffer from major depressive disorder, which is a diagnosed condition which requires psychiatric treatment. If you at all believe what you are experiencing is major depressive disorder and/or it existed before your hike, please seek medical attention.

Thru-hiking gives us the power to make our own decisions. Photo by Naomi Hudetz
Thru-hiking gives us the power to make our own decisions. Photo by Naomi Hudetz

For many thru-hikers, after months of living in a world where you’ve had a lot of control over every detail of your life (on a thru-hike), you’re thrust into a bad world full of bad people and bad things. It may seem like people who live in the “real world” have never known another lifestyle and thus don’t get how different the world can be. On a thru-hike, life is simple and, to paraphrase Thoreau, that simplicity is the key to happiness. Back here in the real world, things are complicated. The desire to give up all the advances of society to go back to a “better world” is strong.  You are likely to be hit with what one article on depression calls a sense of “powerlessness with an absence of hope.”

Ironically, sometimes we feel the most lost and alone when we aren’t on trail. Photo by Kate Hoch.
Ironically, sometimes we feel the most lost and alone when we aren’t on trail. Photo by Kate Hoch.

According to an interview with Dr. Adam Kaplin from John Hopkins University, “The worst part of depression is that it narrows the field of vision into a very small tube so [the person] can’t see the options. A lot of [the goal of helping] is giving people a hope that things will get better.”

While many of those living with depression are often doing everything they can to feel better (and  actively hate it when folks suggest some of the things below), my experience (and totally non-medical perspective) suggests that simulating the things that you loved the most on trail that are lost in the real world can be a very helpful tonic.

The thoughts below are all about reminding yourself that things can get better.

Find a support group, preferably other hikers

While it’s impossible for others to know exactly what you’re going through or why, other hikers are bound to realize that post-hike depression sucks a lot more than your civilization friends will. One of my favorite parts of the thru-hiking is the community—a place where people from all walks of lives come together, irrespective of their socioeconomic class or background. On a thru-hike, we have a shared self-imposed struggle that brings us closer. Real society, for all of its comforts, is lacking that.

A hiker get together at Allgood’s house.
A hiker get together at Allgood’s house.

Depending on where you live, there may be other long distance hikers near you. Get together in person and talk trail. You’ll feel a little bit like your identity and community are being restored by being back with your tribe (plus—when you inevitability gain back all the weight you lost hiking, they’ll remind you it’s a normal part of a hikers’ life and nothing to be ashamed about). Reconnecting with actual humans is bound to make you feel better than sitting in front of a computer.

Do activities that are mentally challenging—preferably with others

Some hikers have this box checked already: If you were lucky enough to have a job lined up right after the trail, keeping busy can save you from the post-hike rumination that reminds you how much the “real world” sucks compares to thru-hiking. For some, this means treating “looking for a job” like it is your job. For others, this can mean hitting the next hike planning with a vengeance. Set a goal and get to it.

Even in January, it’s possible to get out and hike. Photo by Tom Gathman.
Even in January, it’s possible to get out and hike. Photo by Tom Gathman.

 

 

Go hiking

If you’re a hiker, by now, you’ve already figured out that being outdoors can stimulate hormones that make us happier. Physical activity and exercise also trigger happy hormones. When you go for a thru-hike and then suddenly stop moving, your body and brain are getting a huge withdrawal of hormones that make you happy. Give your brain a rush of the good stuff and go for a hike or run.

Show Your Gratitude

Nita and Kathy, two generous, kind, good souls and trail angels on the CDT.
Nita and Kathy, two generous, kind, good souls and trail angels on the CDT.

Numerous studies show (here, here, and here) that being thankful and showing gratitude can really make you happier. As a thru-hiker, you have a lot to be thankful for: public lands, the fact that trails exist at all, and for amazing trail angels.

I always put together thank you cards for those who helped me on my hike (side note: this can be pretty time consuming and can fall under the “giving yourself a challenging mental task” noted above). If you’re not already a member of the trail organization associated with whatever hike you did, becoming a member can be a great way to thank them for all the trail work and maintenance.

Barney “Scout” Mann and Meadow Ed are trail angels and recipients of the Martin D. Papendick Award. Photo by either Miguel Virgo Aguilar or Nabor J
Barney “Scout” Mann and Meadow Ed are trail angels and recipients of the Martin D. Papendick Award. Photo by either Miguel Virgo Aguilar or Nabor J

In addition to sending trail angels thank you letters and cards (they’re usually thrilled to hear you made your goal), I also like to send them a check or Paypal. I get it: when you’re thru-hiking, the temptation to not leave as much for trail angels as you’d like is strong. You legitimately may not be sure you have enough cash to make it to Katahdin/Canada/Mexico. But once you have a job again or are back at home and still have a few bucks to your name, send the trail angel some cash and you’ll feel some of that guilt go away. I’ve  sent some post-hike cash to trail angels and it’s filled some post-hike guilt.

Give Back

Peter “Czech” Sustr teaches a class on fording at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Ruck in Colorado.
Peter “Czech” Sustr teaches a class on fording at the American Long Distance Hiking Association-West Ruck in Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

Another way to show your gratitude is to give back to the future generation of hikers. Try to meet with prospective hikers in person, give them gear shakedowns, and share your trail experience with them. Believe me—they’ll be a lot more interested in hearing more about your hike than your friends and family.

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva gives David a pack shake down to help lighten the load he carries on backpacking trips.
Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva gives David a pack shake down to help lighten the load he carries on backpacking trips.

Talking trail and helping others is a great way to restore your identity and give thanks for all that you have learned on your journey. It’s also a great way to meet other hikers—seasoned and yet to head on their journey.

Realize the Journey Isn’t Over

Sure, you spent 4-6 months with a single goal: getting to Katahdin or Canada or Mexico or wherever. And suddenly, your goal—your life’s meaning—is gone.

Sometimes, the goals you set for yourself will be just to walk across town. But it’s these accomplishments–as much as your thru-hike–that remind yourself you are strong.
Sometimes, the goals you set for yourself will be just to walk across town. But it’s these accomplishments–as much as your thru-hike–that remind yourself you are strong.

But you also proved you can complete whatever challenge you set for yourself! Sure, you won’t be able to go back to the pure bliss of PCT 2016. But you can take that “can do” attitude and set a new goal (say, CDT 2017?). There’s a reason why thru-hiking has such a high recidivism rate.

An essential aspect of “getting over” post thru-hike depression is setting new goals. Whether that goal is going back to school or saving up for your next thru, having a dream to keep yourself motivated is important. As my friend and super-hiker Bobcat quotes his grandma as saying, “Having something to look forward to” is one of the pillars to happiness.

Let your hike change you for the better

For what it’s worth, most thru-hikers I talk to say that the post-hike depression they experienced was worse after their first very long hike. The more hikes someone has under their belt, the shorter and less pronounced post-hike depression becomes—so much so, that some hikers even forget it exists.

When the joy of the trail can travel with you wherever you go in life, then you have found the secret to happiness.
When the joy of the trail can travel with you wherever you go in life, then you have found the secret to happiness.

 

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was from Stacey Matthews, a repeat thru-hiker and beautiful person inside and out. She told me the true lesson of a thru-hike is to take the happiness and beauty that the trail brings you and bring it to your non-trail world. You’re still on trail, just taking 180 zero days.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or trained counselor or therapist. Seek professional medical help.

 

 

 

Rim to Rim to Rim in a Day Nutrition and Hydration

The food I brought with me on Rim to Rim to Rim in a day. I didn’t end up eating everything here and will discuss what worked for me and what didn’t work during the actual hike.
The food I brought with me on Rim to Rim to Rim in a day. I didn’t end up eating everything here and will discuss what worked for me and what didn’t work during the actual hike.

 

Nutrition and hydration were key to making Rim to Rim to Rim possible. When I did R2R2R in 2013, I never thought it would be impossible, but did not finish strong. This year, I knew hydration and nutrition would make the difference and was very strategic about it. A few days before I left, I went to the grocery store and went crazy getting the foods that I thought would help me the most. And it was totally. Worth. It. I finished R2R2R this year feeling strong, fast, and like I had done (almost) everything right.

In the past three years, I’ve learned a lot about keeping myself hydrated and maintaining a salt balance. Indeed, I overheard rangers talking to dayhikers at each of the water stations, warning them that there is more to hydration than water. The rangers suggest eating salty snacks along with the water to avoid hyponatremia—a condition where you actually drink too much water when doing an endurance activity. This time, I used salt tabs, which are empty pill cases filled with salt, to make sure that I was getting a lot. Salt tabs are an old ultra marathoners’ trick and I’ve used them on some bigger dayhikes on hot, sunny days. I knew they would serve me well on R2R2R.

For me, the secret of nutrition on R2R2R was making sure I got enough calories. The body can usually absorb up to 300 calories per hour during exercise, but as a hiker, I usually only eat every 2 hours. On R2R2R, I decided to attempt eating ever 1 hour.

The problem is that I have a hard time choking down food, especially if it is hot and I am exerting myself. Last time I hiked, I brought bars and usual hiker fare food.

This time, I knew I needed to drink my calories. I always have thirst, but rarely have an appetite on a dayhike.

Although it’s pricey, I bought a large container of Hammer Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water Powder and mixed them together to create a Super Powder. My friend Leo who I hiked R2R2R with and is also a cyclist said that Perpetuem had been a life saver for him on a 17,000 foot gain endurance race.

On R2R2R, I drank a serving of Perpetuem+ Coconut Water Powder+Water every hour. The Super Powder made up about half my calories on the R2R2R. I never felt like I bonked or had run out of energy. Although Perpetuem and Navitas Coconut Water have no caffeine (or at least the flavor I got has no caffeine), I didn’t realize it until after I got home and checked the ingredients. The Super Powder gave me a boost that I would have expected from caffeine.

I think the Navitas Coconut Water made a big difference in boosting the Perpetuem to help with electrolyte balance. Leo used just the Perpetuem and afterwards said he wished he had had a little something extra, especially between Cottonwood Camp and Phantom Ranch on the return, a section that is hot and exposed.

Another lifesaver for me on R2R2R was moist instant foods that I would rarely consider bringing on a thru-hike. I loved having the Munk Pack instant oatmeal squeezes. I could down in 30 seconds and it didn’t require any chewing and saliva left in my mouth. The Clif Shots worked the same way—quick calorie boosts that didn’t require chewing. I also wanted some bland, easy to digest “real food”—stuff that backpacker would never usually carry. For me, that meant boiled eggs and new potatoes that I covered in salt. They were so moist and easy to digest. The ProBar Bolts and Natural High freeze dried banana served a similar function. They’re so easy to stuff in my face, down some water, chew, and swallow, that I would be able to roll into a water stop, eat an entire pack of ProBar Bolts or the entire freeze dried bananas, and chug some water in just a few minutes.

It’s funny, but when I’m pushing hard, I go for sentimental foods. The only solid food I ate the whole trip was some Blue Diamond Almonds and Navitas Mulberries. Blue Diamond is based in the town I grew up, Sacramento, and I ate a ton of them as a kid. Before my boyfriend and I were dating, he sent me dried mulberries. I had never ever seen dried mulberries before and they were such a luxury to have a such a superfood. Ever since, mulberries have had a special spot in my heart, and I knew I wanted them on this trip.

I didn’t end up eating the Boom Chicka Puff or the Pop Chips. They just seemed like they required too much chewing but to be quite honest, I couldn’t be bothered to open the bags. One of few things I wish I had done differently is to repackage those chips into a ziplock bag. I was that lazy—saving every bit of energy for pushing hard and fast. I also didn’t eat my Epic Bison Cranberry bar while I was hiking. I had specifically purchased it as a luxury item to help with the big R2R2R hike—perhaps as motivation to get to the next checkpoint. While I was hiking, the idea of eating a meat product just didn’t seem like something my stomach could handle. But as soon as I finished, I downed it in what seemed like one bite. I hoped that it would help me rebuild muscles by eating it within the golden hour.

In total, I drank 14.5 L during my hike. I drank 1.5 L before I started and 1.5 L when I finished. Most of the liquid was as the Perpetuem. At each water station, I downed at least 1 L on the spot to “camel up.” Then, I left each water station with 2 L of water.

The nutrition and hydration for the R2R2R is a little different than I would have expected, but I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to the strategy I need to be my best.

 

Portland Urban Hike Day 10: Hiking among Mansions and Treehouse Cathedrals

Miles: 15.26

Starting: Multonomah Village

Ending: Goose Hollow

Neighborhoods Visited: Multonmah Village, Hillsdale, Corbett-Teriwlliger-Lair Hillsdale, Homestead,Terwilliger Parkway

Healy Heights-Southwest Hills, Council Crest, Portland Heights,Goose Hollow

View of downtown Portland from Council Crest
View of downtown Portland from Council Crest

After a festive night spent talking at Next Adventure outdoor store speaking to a group of outdoor enthusiasts and people following my hike, the start of the day was bittersweet. Virgo and I returned to Multonomah Village and proceeded on hands-down the most pleasant day of urban hiking on the trip—if not any urban trip anywhere.

Multonomah Village is adorable—if anything twee. Had we not eaten robustly before we started the day, we could have had our pick of numerous cafes and breakfast places on this little commercial street.

From there, we walked through beautiful residential. A flaw on my part with the mapping took us back to the Stephens Creek Natural Area and disc golf park that we saw on Day 1—admittedly, a highlight of that day, but an urban hiking no-no as far as backtracking.

From there, we went through the heavenly George Himes Park and to a fun staircase described in the Portland Stairway Walks book as “party on top, business in the back.” While my maps had suggested that we would need to backtrack here—that there was no way to get from the bottom of the stairway on SW Barbur Blvd down to the SW Trail 3. This trail uses the 169 step Iowa stairway to connect the Marquem Trail to the Johns Landing neighborhood that is cut off from a lot of natural areas and the park. We bushwhacked from Barbur down to the trail (not recommended—if I were to do it again, I’d take the trail from the end of SW Parkhill Drive to the George Himes Trail to access the Iowa stairs).

Ok—so the George Himes Trail to SW Iowa Street may be one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Portland. This area that one would expect to be a dumping ground instead has this beautiful, well-taken care of trail and beautiful stairs under an old-style bridge. Truly an unexpected gem and wonder of the neighborhood.

Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa
Well-cared for new-ish trail connects George Himes Park to Iowa

The trail started looking more commercial and industrial near the Seymour stairs—an unlikely, slightly sketchy, path in the bushes that leads to Corbett over I-5. From there, we climbed the OSHU hill again (and yet again, I found that my route had made some mistakes that had me hitting stairs I had already completed on Day 3).  Terwillger Blvd was beautiful but the highlight was dashing into the trees on the Marquam Trail and getting spit out by the KMHD-FM radio station. What I love about being an urban hiker in Portland is seeing all the radio towers from the east side and then climbing up to those radio towers a few days later. They look so impossibly far away and high up on the hill when viewed from the east. It makes their climb (though an easy one) feel like a big accomplishment.

This neighborhood was just rad and the best part of it all was SW 18th Ave Drive. It’s this hidden road inaccessible to through traffic and fairly steep and narrow without any turnarounds. This makes it a perfect forest path for the urban hiker. The houses on this hill are each a tree-house mansion. They’re a church of the forest. They’re a retreat center in the middle of a city. Each one would be a hippie billionaire’s dream.

A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.
A thru-hiker’s dream resupply town! Everything a thru-hiker needs with a library and an All You Can Eat Chinese restaurant right next door.

After lunch in downtown Hillsdale—a cute walkable mini-downtown are that would make any thru-hiker’s dream resupply town (see photo)—we went back into the hidden pathways, alleys, and woods of the southwest. There’s a beautiful ravine bridge at the northern end of Hillsdale Park near the Robert Gray Middle School that reminded me of similar ravine bridge at Lewis & Clark College or Reed College.

One of the largest stairways in all of Portland connects SW Trombley Drive to SW Melville. The climb kept going and going. My favorite stairway of the whole climb was at 4100 Ches to Waputo and Fairmount. They were wooden steps and went past the King of the Treehouse Cathedrals.

The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.
The Tree House Cathedral–my favorite house in all of Portland.

It was a surprise to top out at Council Crest—a green steep hill park (as approached from the south). It offered a fantastic view of Portland and lots of people were out. From there, we took the Marquam Trail to connect some stairs in the Southwest Heights.

The shoulders for pedestrians to walk weren’t great on SW Broadway, but otherwise offered some fun walking through ridiculously mansioned neighborhoods. I had no idea Portland had such opulence—especially when we reached SW Hillcrest Dr. I wondered aloud who could possibly afford to live here, and the Virgo told me, “That’s where Kurt Cobain killed himself.” He proceeded to say there was a famous photo of a loft above a detached garage in a residential area at the corner of SW Hillcrest and SW Ravensview. It seemed a lot more likely he killed himself in Seattle, but it seemed like only someone of Kurt Cobain’s legendary status could afford to live in that house.

 

And then he started laughing and it was obvious he was pulling my leg. In my defense, the photos of Cobain’s house in Seattle (at least the loft above the garage) look fairly similar to the house in Portland.

The neighborhood was home to what SoFar (the bike tour guide we hiked with on Day 5) calls “Portland Royalty.” An older couple told us an unreal-y heavenly house we walked past was Pittock’s other mansion. There’s something exhilarating about walking through ritzy neighborhoods with a backpack and a purpose. No one gives you eyes that ask “what are you doing here?” You’ve got to love Portland! Everyone just assumed we were training for something.

The Goose Hollow stairs were my favorite of the day. I had been falsely led to believe by Allgood that Mt. Adams was never visible from Portland (after all, Lewis and Clark never mapped Mt. Adams, though apparently their journals mention it). I was jumping up and down in excitement to see from the top of SW Cardinell. These are the best views in Portland: Mt Adams, Mt St Helens, Mt Hood, and downtown in the foreground. The big house had a plaque from the National Historic Register, but I couldn’t find it on this thorough and engrossing list of places in Portland on the Register.

Vertical garden growing on a fence
Vertical garden growing on a fence

A highlight of the day was descending our last stairway and seeing my friend Dave wave at us from his desk. Every time I’ve been over to Dave’s, I’ve dreamed of the day I’d be on those stairs as a Portland Urban Thru-Hiker. How accomplished I felt to finally be making my dream come true! The feeling was not at all unlike how I felt walking the PCT through a climbing area in Truckee. I remember using the PCT as an approach trail to this climbing area and had dreamed of the day when I would actually get to hike the PCT.

 

Portland Urban Hike: Northeast, Rocky Butte, Marine Drive

On the first Portland rainy day of the hike, we left the Sunnyside neighborhood and headed to the northern Mt. Tabor area to hit up some neighborhood stairs that we didn’t catch on the day we walked through the park. My friend So Far joined us—a guide for Portland Bike Tours and native Portlander who knows more than anyone I know about local Portland history. He told us stories of the Portland Royalty—as he called them—the early founders of the city and the railroad barons of old.

The Montavilla neighborhood was rad and totally unexpected. It seemed so far from everything and although I knew there was one “hip” brunch restaurant there (the Country Cat Café), I had no idea there were awesome things all around it, too.

From there, we continued past I-205 into east eastern Portland towards Stark Park where the Stark Island Fountain is the most eastern Portland public art fountain listed on the Portland Fountain tour. Unfortunately, it wasn’t operating, but we were able to catch some tacos at a food truck parking lot on the way there.

 

So Far climbing up to the castle on Rocky Butte
So Far climbing up to the castle on Rocky Butte

 

 

 

Rocky Butte loomed to the north of us—an island of forest and trees and a clear landmark to navigate to. My research on topo maps had showed there are trails to the top not listed on googlemaps (as is the case in Forest Park as well). We had to do some exploration to find them, but found a way through the dense, moist forest up to the tower on top.

Despite the weather, Rocky Butte reminded me of Mulholland Drive in LA—it was a narrow road surrounded by giant, beautiful houses (but not nearly as tightly on the ridge as its LA counterparts).

SoFar assured us that the top of the mountain was awesome, and we continued up the road. He was right. There was a giant castle on the top constructed of lava rock. In the Portland mist, it looked like a Scottish castle with a view out over the Columbia river and Portland empire.

A giant tree at the Grotto
A giant tree at the Grotto

 

From Rocky Butte, my maps showed there is a trail down to the Sandy Blvd but there were no Trespassing signs, so we walked around the neighborhood. But, as is with urban hiking, it’s the adventures and the unexpected that make the trip. We found an unmapped mural intersection! It felt like stumbling across an Easter egg.

With wet hugs, So Far left us–missing one of the highlights of the day, the Grotto. We continued into the forested compound without him. Immediately, the energy in the air felt different than Sandy Blvd. There were giant trees and it was peaceful and quiet. It was a strange thing to find some beauty and solitude right on Sandy Blvd. It was unlike anything I’d seen in Portland so far and words fail me to describe the experience.

With a population of little more than 800, Maywood Park is a city within Portland
With a population of little more than 800, Maywood Park is a city within Portland

Much like Denver, Portland has a small city within its city limits. Here, it’s the beautiful separately incorporated city of Maywood Park. We walked its few blocks before heading on the long and less glamorous walk down Sandy Blvd and up to Marine Drive.

Marine Drive follows the Columbia River—which I had hoped would give us good open views up north and out to the east. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t provide, but it was still nice to walk along the northernmost boundary of the city.

A turtle loving home in the Cully neighborhood
A turtle loving home in the Cully neighborhood

SoFar told us he commutes everyday on the 205 Bikepath, which we took up to Sandy Blvd before crossing into the Cully neighborhood. Cully is a neighborhood with cute houses, big trees, and big lots great for urban farmers. It’s clear there are artists here and young families and the vibe here felt homey and good.

While north and north Portland may not be the glamour spots exhibited on Portland tourism ads, it was cool to see a part of the city that felt lived in and off the beaten path and to realize that there are so many bike and trail options even in the less forested areas. Today was a day of adventure and discovery and I feel honored to have shared it with SoFar and Virgo.

 

Portland Urban Hike Day 1

 

Portland Hike: Day 1

Starting Point: The most southwest corner of Portland near PCC Sylvania

End point: Sellwood near Oak Bottoms

Mileage: 19.2 miles

 

Many locals don’t know how far south and west Portland City Limits actually goes. We started by Portland Community College Sylvania—quite near Tigard. Almost right off the bat, we got to travel on muddy trail through the forested Lesser City Park up to the campus—and then from there, do a little “cross country” hiking through a forest on the college’s property down to G Street.

To prep for the hike, I bought the infographic maptacular book Portlandness, a cartography geek’s dream created by two geography professors at PSU. The profs ran stats showing that Portland has way more unpaved streets than other Cascadia towns and I told Virgo, who is thru-hiking and filming the trip, “I really want to see some of these 4WD city streets!” Who would’ve thought that I’d find what I wanted so quickly into my hike?

The SW Trails Association has put together this great routes that serve like “bike routes” except for walkers. They take advantage of trails, stairs, and hidden alleys where only those on foot can go. I frequently found that although I hadn’t consulted with the SW Trails guide to map my trip, I was often on one of their routes.

I’m convinced not only is Portland the land where young people go to retire, but also where school age children go to retire. Despite walking on the fantastic stairway down to Jackson Middle School at 10:30 am, kids seemed to be going to coffee, hanging out, and doing anything but being in class. Maybe it’s spring break?

A fav spot of the day was the trail along Foley Balmer Natural Area along Tyron Creek. In a neighborhood that felt like walking through a tree house, close to a near-gated community, was a hidden trail system with beautiful rockwork. These are the gems that I seek on my Portland hike—that which is hidden from cars by leaves.

A crossing of I-5 and PCH/SW Barbur Blvd. brought us to a grittier area that Virgo told me was more like the “old Portland.” Already in this hike, I’ve heard a lot of folks compare new and old Portland. As an out of towner, I can’t make judgments because I have no past understanding to compare to what I see now. As a pedestrian, I want to understand and document to memory how Portland right now, and how its future is tied to its past.

One of the coolest things I’ve seen on any urban hike is the long unpaved alley climb up SW 19th Ave and the giant disc golf park up top. Then, we took a steep trail to Stephens Creek Natural Area just stunning. I can’t believe how lucky people in Portland are to have that be their neighborhood park.

Just south of I-5 in the Burlingame neighborhood, we found a cool series of stairs with the best yard art ever. Virgo and I probably spent near half an hour finding hidden toys in the trees before taking a hidden trail under the I-5 overpass. It’s funny that when you’re looking for beauty, even the highways appear beautiful.

 

 

The longest stairway of the day was SW Custer which spit us out Taylors Ferry Road—a dangerous, unsidewalked thoroughfare filled with commuters headed home. In an attempt to avoid the danger, we tried to reroute along what turned out to be an even sketchier SW Macadam Ave. Then we tried to hop on a railtrail along the Willamette—but it was closed due to construction. Ultimately, we backtracked and headed back to the pedestrian and biker unfriendly Taylors Ferry Road as it was the only path headed south.

Luckily, we were saved by the (strangely official) bike route through the River View Cemetery—a peaceful respite from the cars below.

One of the goals of this trip is to hit up all the colleges and university in Portland. Lewis and Clark College was among the more gorgeous campuses I’ve ever seen—and we enjoyed taking a break to use their gender neutral bathrooms.

Googlemaps made it look like we would have to go all the way south to Riverwood to connect Lewis and Clark bluff down to S Riverside Drive. But I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be able to find a hidden trail down Lewis and Clark Ravine—and it worked!

We hopped on the rail trail along the Willamette all the way up to the Sellwood bridge—which just opened last week. Unfortunately, the pedestrian/bike lane on the northbound side wasn’t open yet so we had to sneak by a non-existent shoulder alongside commuters waiting at the bridge stoplight.

The day ended with gorgeous views of Mt. St. Helens and of the Mausoleum by Oak Bottoms. The end of day light was perfect to walk through this little nature reserve in the middle of the city.

Tomorrow brings a big chunk of the Springwater Trail and Powell Butte. Stay tuned!

 

 

Upcoming opportunity

As many of you know, I’m 1 or 4 ambassadors for the American Hiking Society, the only nation-wide organization working on behalf of hikers in Washington.

Earlier this year, AHS partnered with Michelob Ultra to create the Michelob Ultra Superior Trails program. We all voted for our favorite trails for a month and then two trails were awarded with $25,000 a piece—the Continental Divide Trail and the Ice Age Trail.

Now, it’s time to make the commercial about the Michelob Ultra Superior Trails program. Check out the ad below to learn more:

“Michelob Ultra’s agency is hosting an open call to look for interested men and women 25 or older who are active hikers and climbers to be considered for an upcoming commercial shoot.  

When: Jan 15th-16th, 2016 (please plan for full days as shoot times may vary and can be lengthy)

Where: TBD hiking trail in Southern California (travel costs not covered)

What’s in it for you? Besides a chance to audition as a candidate for possible selection to participate in an upcoming Michelob Ultra commercial, those who are chosen will be paid $627 for their time spent during the commercial shoot as well as residuals if applicable. Please note, that this shoot could be used in TV, print, digital and other forms of media for Michelob Ultra.

Interested? If yes, please send the following information to  HikersFCB AT gmail.com no later than January 4th, 2016 to be considered:

Name

Phone Number

Email

What city do you live in?

How long have you been hiking?

On a scale of 1-10, (10 being the most skilled) how would you rate your hiking skill level?

Please also include a photo of yourself

 

Michelob’s Ultra’s agency will be reviewing all applicants and will contact you regarding next steps if you have been selected.

 

 

Seattle Urban Hike: To Ballard, North Seattle, and Maple Leaf

I woke up at my friend Abigail’s beautiful house near the zoo looking from a well windowed 4th floor apartment out into a rainy, windy, stormy morning. I’ve learned over the years that weather often looks worse when observed from the comfort of the indoors (or a shelter), so headed on my way with my umbrella and rain coat. Miraculously, when I stepped outside, it was barely raining at all and certainly not very windy.

I quickly moved through the stairs that I was “supposed” to complete last night. The clocks changed overnight, so I was surprised to find myself out at 6:30 am, one of few out and about. I was a little worried about hitting up some stairs under an overpass so early in the morning, but no one was out.

A highlight of the neighborhood was talking to a neighbor about the flying penguin attached to a jetpack that landed on the top of the hill, 100 yards from his home. True story. This is what I love about urban hiking. The things you find along the way cannot possibly get more random.

I circled back to Abigail’s to use (and subsequently flood) her fancy coffee machine, before heading on the day’s long walk to the Ballard neighborhood. Allgood headed home to Portland after kindly slackpacking our stuff to my friend Matt’s house. He came to Seattle as an Urban Thru-hiking Skeptic. I worried the rainy weather would make him even more curmudgeonly towards it. He left with a respect and understanding of how it can be fun. While we both prefer the wilderness, walking in the city can open our eyes (and mouths) to new experiences.

It rained hard on the way to Ballard. I was so thankful that I opted to make my Goretex Torin Flyer rain jacket instead of a slightly more ultralight option. This was the kind of cold, intense rain I was expecting Seattle would throw at me everyday.

I was sure to route us by the famed Café Besalu in Ballard. Allgood drove past it in the morning and there was a line into the street, even in the pouring rain. When Virgo and I passed it several hours later, things hadn’t changed except that it was raining harder. Normally, I like grab and go foods on urban hikes, at least in situations where I need to make miles. I usually would never actively wait in a huge line to get baked goods. But this croissant was worth it.

I ate it in the rain outside of a pit toilet waiting for Virgo to do his Café Besalu coffee-induced business. And it was the best croissant I’ve ever had in my life.

We crossed the railroad tracks down some stairs to Seaview Ave and up to Golden Gardens Park. The long stairway here was fabulous. A true favorite. Just beautifully constructed, in the woods, with views out to the Sound, and with bathroom facilities at the top. What more could you ask for a thigh buster than that?

It was a long relatively stairless stretch through Crownhill, Northern Greenwood, and Northwest Seattle. It rained and poured and we were getting hungry and my phone’s battery was dying. With the last bit of juice in my phone, I found how to get to the next stairway and a Pho place. We traveled for many miles along a nice bike path that had awesome art along the way designed to look like animation as you bike past it!

When we got into the Pho shop, it was a warm, wonderful place to reset. I ordered the extra, extra large bowl while trying to charge my phone. It wouldn’t charge. I decided to run across the street to a Walgreens and buy a new charger. After downing a giant bowl of Pho in stress, I looked at my phone. The new charger seemed to work, but I didn’t have much battery. It’d have to milk when I had.

We walked the northernmost stairway in Seattle near I-5. Technically, it didn’t fit under my definition because it connected a street to a bike path. I was a little upset that I had not been detailed enough in my recon planning to sort it out of the trip, but it was cool to see what the northernmost stairway looked like.

We followed the Jackson Creek path away from that insanity as it outlined a golf course. Despite the nature-esque feel of the path and the soft tread, the intense fence to keep the riff raff out of the course (or golf balls from hitting the riff raff) made it feel cagey and prison like.

Then we were released to the Olympic Hills neighborhood—perhaps my favorite of the whole Seattle hike. It had big trees and wide lots and felt like the place where stereotypical grandparents invite the family to stay at for the hypothetical perfect summer.

We walked through Lake City to the shore through dark and twisty roads without sidewalks, hoping our headlamps would be enough to alert cars to our presence. Then we went through Chelsea to Meadowbrook with hunger and a desperate need for a bathroom. We found a café that was open, but it was only open for a baby shower, and we turned away, despite being two feet away from a cake that was never going to get eaten.

A few miles of leg squirming and near peeing myself later, we found a gas station which had a taco stand. The trail provides.

The Maple Leaf/Morning Side neighborhood was a beautiful lattice of parks with stairs down wooden bridges into ravines. There was something creepy and magical about hitting them in the dark when no one else is there. Some of the stairs near Lake City Blvd had trash along the sides that indicated they may have been home to the homeless at some point.

Just like in Los Angeles, during the whole Seattle trip, I only found one sign that said “Stairway Ahead.” In both cases, I felt like I had found the golden stairway.
Just like in Los Angeles, during the whole Seattle trip, I only found one sign that said “Stairway Ahead.” In both cases, I felt like I had found the golden stairway.

We arrived in Green Lake at my friend’s Matt house around 8. I felt bad that we had come in so late, but felt proud that for the first time in 5 days, I was on schedule and caught up on my stairs. We had great conversations with Matt over fried rice and my phone even successfully charged in his kitchen.

Urban hiking, like real hiking, is full of reminders that bad times pass. Cold, wet weather is followed by hot showers. Hunger and thirst is followed by feast. Dark is followed by light. And dead phone batteries are, at least sometimes, followed with a full charge.

Bacon, Jerky, and Meat: Big Food Trends at Outdoor Retailer 2015

This is Part 1 of the Food and Nutrition trend articles from Outdoor Retailer 2015. It is Part 2 in the Outdoor Retailer 2015 Summer series.

Paleo Bars and Jerky

It seemed like there was a new meat product around every corner of the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 trade show. With what seems like half the young population in Colorado going Paleo (the other half is the increasingly less trendy but much better for the environment vegan), the market–as exemplified by the health and energy foods that show up at OR– has stepped up to offer fresh, fun flavors.

What this means for hikers is that we don’t have to be stuck with Slim Jims and Walmart Jerky for our backpacking trips anymore and that the market is expanding far away from the fruit-and-nut bar we’ve all eaten a million times. It also means there are more savory bars on the market (check out my series on savory bars). A bunch of these meat bars can also be used as dinner alternatives for the stoveless or dinner supplements for the stoved.

Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.
Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.

Wild Zora:

The first meat and veggie bar on the market, Wild Zora uses grass-fed beef, local lamb, and free-range turkey to create moist creatively flavored bars. The bars have no nuts, gluten, soy, grains, MSG, chemical additives, or sugar or sweetners and run under the motto that “fruits and nuts do not make a complete meal” (those two ingredients, of course, being the contents of most of the bars at the Show). Wild Zora bars are 1/3 organic veggies, making one bar a full serving of veggies. This can be useful to hikers to help up our veggie intake. Zora Bars come in Chili Cayenne Apricot Beef, Parmesan Tomato Basil, BBQ Hickory Tomato, Turkey Masala Spinach, and Lamb Rosemary Spinach. My favorites were the lamb (which was among the moistest bars on the market) and the Parmesan Tomato (a really unique flavor for a meat bar.

Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.
Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.

Fusion Jerky:

A mix between Asian-style jerky tenderness and America-style jerky flavors, Fusion Jerky offers meat-eaters funky flavors and new animals to jerky. Fusion Jerky is the first jerky line to offer chicken jerky. They also offer some intriguing flavors including Garlic Jalapeno Pork Jerky, Rosemary Citrus Turkey Jerky, and Basil Citrus Beef Jerky. The only jerky company to be owned by a woman of color (she’s Asian and came up with the idea while hiking Kilimanjaro, so of course I have a soft spot for her), the company uses only US animals and is MSG and nitrate free. Her family has been in the jerky business for 50 years and makes their jerky in Nebraska.

Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.
Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.

Bricks Bars:

A new Paleo bar out of Brooklyn, Bricks Bars combines grassfed, antibiotic-free meats, veggies, fruits, and seeds to create a moist and richly flavored bar. Flavors come in Grassfed beef/uncured bacon/cranberry/sunflower seed AND Turkey/sweet potato/cranberry/pumpkin seed. These brand new bars blew my mind in the taste test and I look forward to seeing the company progress as they develop new flavors and grow.


Duke’s Small Batch Smoked Meats:

This Boulder Colorado-based jerky company has their own smoke house and crafts everything in batches of 500 pounds or less. Duke’s prides itself on less sugar, only hardwood smoked (not liquid smoked), and only US raised meat. There are three varieties 1) slow smoked thin cut jerky 2) extra thick and tender strips 3) and slow dried old world style sausages (kind of like a high class version of the Slim Jim). They features fun flavors like Bourbon Beef Steak Strips (made with actual Jim Beam), Chile N Lime Beef Strips, and Stubb’s BBQ braised pork strips

Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products
Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products

Epic Bars:

I’ve written about the Epic meat bars before on this blog, so was excited to see that they are rolling our 3 new flavors: the uncured bacon bar, the Chicken sesame BBQ bar, the Pulled Pork Pineapple Bar, the Beef Apple Uncured Bacon Bar, the Chicken Sriracha bar and (get ready for it) the Liver beef and sea salt bar. The company is also rolling out a new line called Hunt and Harvest Mix which includes jerky, berries, fruits, nuts, cacao nibs, and coconut chips to create a sweet and savory trail mix. This is the trail mix meant to appeal to the Hunter and Gatherer Paleo types. Epic also has come out with Bites—mini bars essentially—that are a portion-control re-sealable snack (whatever that means). These come in new flavors: bison/bacon/raisin/chia, beef/cranberry/sriracha, bacon, and chicken/currant/sesame.

The next section of the Outdoor Retailer Food and Nutrition Write-up will focus on intriguing options for the stoveless, new caffeine delivery systems, how to eat crickets on the trail, and how to drink less water. That and more…next time!

What does the “hardest hike in America” mean?

The Princess of Darkness (of Trail Show fame) hanging on the edge of Vernacher Col
The Princess of Darkness (of Trail Show fame) hanging on the edge of Vernacher Col

In the past week, this article posted on Gizmodo has been going around claiming the Sierra High Route is the hardest route in the Lower 48.

My recent trip on the SHR really cemented in my mind an idea I’ve been toying with—that how difficult you find a trail or route to be is relative to the hiker—her/his experience, fitness level, skills and knowledge, and mental state.

Our group had some discussion about whether the SHR is more difficult than the Continental Divide Trail. Most of the group thought the SHR was much harder. Although objectively speaking, I know the SHR was more technical and required much more experience and knowledge than the CDT to complete it safely (which thank goodness, we all walked off the trail healthy and safe—a prospect we had put odds on before leaving for the trip), I couldn’t help but agree that I personally found the CDT to be harder.

Allgood descending 30 feet of Class 3 slab after Blue Lake Pass
Allgood descending 30 feet of Class 3 slab after Blue Lake Pass

The main reason for this was because when I hiked the CDT, I did not have the skills, knowledge, and experience that the trail required. I hiked the CDT during the shoulder season, providing me with additional challenges that I wasn’t prepared for. I was worried about not being able to make it through the snow in the San Juans, and tried to hike as many miles as I could, not giving myself adequate time for mental or physical recovery.

Meanwhile, my prep for the SHR was relatively solid (for me). The Sierras were my old stomping grounds and I had a wonderful group of mentors who taught me the skills and guided me through years of experiences in the Sierra that made me feel prepared for the trip. We hiked the SHR during a great season, and although we had some weather issues, I felt good about staying safe in those situations. Most importantly, I hiked the SHR with a great group of friends I could count on who were experienced and who made me smile all day. No matter how hard a trip, it doesn’t seem bad when you’re smiling.

If hardest hike in America means the one that does you the most bodily harm…
If hardest hike in America means the one that does you the most bodily harm…

 

Ultimately, a trip’s difficulty is an equation between you and what the trail and its conditions (especially weather) requires.

The bigger the gap, the harder you will find the route and the more likely you will be injured or find yourself in a life threatening situation. The smaller the gap, the more manageable the trip. Of course, you can always try to increase that gap by creating challenges—hiking the trail faster, hiking the trail in the off-season, adding an extension or yoyo-ing the trail, or hiking the trail with a group of troublesome people.

Walking on ridges during thunderstorms is among the challenges of the SHR
Walking on ridges during thunderstorms is among the challenges of the SHR

After a few days on the SHR, I noted that what our team of experienced thru-hikers felt must have been a little like how a normal backpacker feels when s/he first undertakes a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. Doing the SHR felt a bit like learning a new “sport”; traveling the SHR has about in much in common with thru-hiking as dayhiking has with backpacking. It wasn’t quite thru-hiking and wasn’t quite peakbagging (or pass-bagging) and wasn’t quite rock climbing.

Steve Roper, the climber who developed the route, calls SHR-ers “travelers” and the term seems fitting for one who undertakes the journey. I felt fortunate that I felt knowledgeable enough about the three “sports” that “traveling” is rooted in, that the SHR was not the most difficult trail for me.

So when you read Gizmodo’s article, take it with a grain of salt to determine whether the SHR will be the most difficult trail for you.