Blog Updates

Life is a journey, we’ve all heard the saying and for the most part we understand the logic behind it. But really, life is several journeys that we undertake concurrently. Our educational journey and the inherent human drive to continuously gain knowledge. Our fitness journey, where many of us are struggling to find true health in a westernized culture that’s intelligently designed to make and keep us fat (obesity rates have continued to skyrocket since the 1950s despite all the “interventions” peddled by American culture and the organizations developed to get us healthy). Our wellness journey, where we try to balance a fast paced life and competing priorities with finite time restrictions and deteriorating mental health. Finally our drive for adventure, discovering the new and exciting or rediscovering the old and forgotten. The same drive that keeps us looking at the stars and exploring the deepest parts of the ocean. These journeys are progressing daily, whether we consciously recognize it or not. I hope to use this forum to share my journey with anyone who shares a passion for better understanding these journeys, and ultimately finding happiness and REAL wellness in a world that frequently seems like it’s designed to keep us unhappy and unwell. In the past this blog has been an outlet for me to share some of my outdoor adventures with the community, but like many people I find it difficult to balance life with those constant adventures. So I want to expand the content a little bit so that I can engage with the community more frequently, as well as making the content more personal so that you can better relate to it as a human who is going through something similar (or not). There will be some cosmetic and functional changes to the blog over the next few days, followed by more frequent content relating to those life journeys that we all travel. I encourage you to share information that you find useful and engage in the comments if you feel inspired to.

Sincerely,

Traveler   

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The Appalachian Trail: Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter

Follow the Adventure:

Day 1: Amicalola Falls to Springer Mt. Shelter – Approximately 9 Miles (from parked car).

Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter – Approximately 8 Miles.

AT Miles: 8

March 25th 2019

This was the morning of my 30th birthday, and the start of our second day on trail. Years ago when I was starting to get back into hiking, my father and I spoke frequently about his dream of thru hiking the AT. Which I had subsequently adopted. For years I’d told myself and anyone that would listen, that if my career wasn’t where I wanted it to be on my 30th birthday I would quit my job and start my thru hike. Well, I had some very good years and was exactly where I’d wanted to be in my career on my 30th birthday. So quitting to start a thru hike wasn’t in the cards. But I still have this passion for hiking, and any trail I can get my feet on. So we’d allotted ourselves 8 days to make it about 70 miles back to the car we had staged at the nearest road crossing to the GA/NC border on the Georgia side.

Our day started out with light rain, I was happy about this because this was the first time that I got to try out my trail umbrella. I’d been toying around with the idea of lightening up my pack by switching to an umbrella for adverse weather conditions and decided that this was a good a time as any. to give it a shot. We hiked in a light drizzle for the entire day, and I stayed just as dry, if not more so than the other guys in the group. Being a heavy sweater myself, the rain gear that I carried never really did a good job of keeping me dry unless I stopped to wait out the rain, and in most cases I’d had a short window to hike and that wasn’t an option. So I’d have choose to get soaked by the rain, or by sweat from wearing the rain gear. I almost always chose the former. But I’ve found that with an umbrella I stay comfortably dry and still get to experience the cool breezes that typically accompany the rainstorms. For me that’s a win/win. Some time around 10:30 Steven’s feet started to hurt to the point that we decided to stop at a trail-side campsite next to an open grassy field for a while and get a small fire started. We’d done about 4 miles so far and about 13 in total since we started, and his body was protesting his first foray into trail walking.

We ended up stopping pretty frequently during the first 3 days on trail because of the soreness that my brother was experiencing. Truth be told, the Appalachian trail is a lot to handle for someone that doesn’t hear the call of long distance hiking and is just out to spend time with family. We knew going into the trip that it was a tall order, but we had hopes that his 19 year old physique would overcome the challenges we’d face during the week. Although we didn’t mind the frequent water breaks, it did slow our progress down. But it gave us an opportunity to really take in our surroundings and appreciate where we were. Facing the tallest mountains on the trail in Georgia and dealing with wind a rain in the forest is still better than the best day a person could have at work, and we all enjoyed every minute we were spending together on the trail. During one of our breaks we’d started to notice that Steven had neglected sunscreen on our first day, and being light complected like our father, he was now sporting a very deep and angry looking sunburn. This earned him the trail name “burning man”. So our micro-bubble now included Greenlight (Dad), Storyteller (Jeremiah), Traveler (me) and Burning Man (Steven). Our short adventure on the AT was winding up, and we were all in high spirits. Our day took us across some cool water crossings, and was the moment that we realized we were keeping pace with a new bubble of prospective thru-hikers.

We finished the next 4 miles to Hawk Mountain Shelter by around 3 in the afternoon and set up camp quickly in the rain. Steven decided to hang out in the shelter after setting up his tent, since there were several hikers around his age that had already taken up residence there for the night. It was still raining steadily so the camp area was pretty quiet, except for the occasional rainsoaked hiker standing around the sides of the shelter trying to find a relatively dry spot to heat up their dinner. We spent some time in the early afternoon reflecting on the day and Steven joked that if he’d known that all the attractive women his age were on the AT he would have started hiking years ago. We laughed and joked that we hoped that would be enough motivation to spur a thru-hike out of him.

Out of everyone in the group, Steven was the only one of us in a position where he could actually do the entire trail. He’d just relocated to be closer to our extended family and his friends from High-school and was unencumbered by career or relationship restraints that usually dissuade the typical American adult from doing something as profound as spending 4 to 5 months walking in the woods. Around 5 PM we started to hear the distinctive low rumble of thunder coming up the mountain. After a burst of wind that blew me sideways in my hammock I watched everyone near the shelter hunker down as lighting and hail started battering the mountain. The storm went on for about 30 minutes, and by the time the hail was done it looked as though it had snowed in our campsite. Once the weather had calmed down enough to not be concerning, people started to venture back out to the shelter, and for the second night in a row I fell asleep to the sound of laughter and low talking floating through our campsite.

The Appalachian Trail: Amicalola Falls to Springer Mountain Shelter

Follow the Adventure:

Day 1: Amicalola Falls to Springer Mt. Shelter – Approximately 9 Miles (from parked car).

Day 2: Springer Mountain Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter – Approximately 8 Miles

AT Miles: 0.2

March 24th 2019.

This was the first day of our trek along the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail. Our group of 4 consisted of my Dad and his hiking buddy Jeremiah, my little brother Steven and me. This was Steven’s first hiking trip of his life, but he likes to do things big and he was very optimistic. We discussed at length whether or not we wanted to start at Springer or hike the Approach Trail up to Springer. During the planning and travel phases of the trip I was against the Approach Trail. I wanted to maximize the amount of time that I’d spend on the actual AT. Not only is the approach trail approximately 8.1 additional miles, but the section of the trail at the actual falls consists of 604 metal stairs that are incredible intimidating once you’ve gone about a quarter of the way up them. In the end, I was outvoted and we decided to start at Amicalola Falls and hike up to Springer Mountain.

The falls are breathtaking and the pictures really don’t do it justice. Having now completed the approach trail, I absolutely recommend it to anyone who hasn’t hiked it before and anyone who’s planning to attempt the trail. The stairs were a beast, but once we made it to the top and filtered some water we felt energized and optimistic. To be honest, after the stairs were complete the rest of the approach trail up to the summit of springer was a breeze. The summit of Springer Mountain is not what I was expecting. It’s merely a small plaque embedded in the rock. After seeing all the pictures of NOBO hikers finishing their hikes on Katahdin I wondered for a brief moment how all the SOBO hikers must feel when they reach Springer. After a few short moments of reflection, we jumped on the actual Appalachian Trail and headed for the shelter about 2 tenths of a mile away. At the time I was around 285 pounds before gear and when we made it to the shelter I could have done another 8 miles comfortably, my Adrenalin was pumping and I was ready to greet some mountains.

At the time I was happy to take it easy and try to stay around 10 miles a day. The past few “long” hikes that I’d attempted had been cut short for one reason or another. My first adventure on the AT back in 2015 had ended after a day, at the time I had only been hiking on flat trails in Indiana and severely overestimated my ability, while simultaneously underestimating the Smokys. The Lone Star Trail was ended after 3 days because of wet feet and poor planning and the Knobstone Trail was ended after a day, when I finally realized that I’m not (currently) built to hike in the heat and humidity. I really wanted to see this hike through till the end. Our plan was to hike to the GA border, but in reality we’d had to stage our vehicle at Dicks Creek Gap at right around the 70 mile mark (including the approach trail).

Springer Mountain Shelter was a cool experience. We got to meet a ton of cool people and share stories, I really think that the encounters that you have at the shelters after a tough day hiking make the experience that much more enjoyable. Feeling included in the community of people that are all voluntarily transient helps lessen the feeling that you’re “missing out” on anything back home. Laying in my hammock on the eve of my 30th birthday, listening to the laughter and chittering conversation flowing out of the nearby shelter I really started to feel like I was in the right place.

Downed Bridges and Trail Names

At the end of 2018, my father and I made plans to hike the GA portion of the Appalachian Trail to celebrate my 30th Birthday (March 2019). Since I now live in central Tennessee, I thought I’d use one of the closer rugged trails as a training opportunity before the epic birthday hike.

I picked a clear, cool Friday evening in the beginning of March to try my hand at the Lower Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls in Spencer, TN. I’d been on the Upper Loop within the last year, but had been told that the Lower Loop had much more difficult terrain. I left work and noon and got on the road, in a few short hours I was on the trail and heading for my camp site that was just past the half way point.

The trail was rugged in places. with a descent just over 500 feet over the course of about a quarter mile. But the weather was mild and the sky was blue, so I enjoyed taking it all in. But, to my disappointment as I was nearing the midway point around dusk (about 7 miles into the trail), I found the bridge washed out. Usually this wouldn’t have been a problem, since the bridge only crosses a creek. But we’d had several inches of rain fall during the week and the water was now between 3 and 5 feet deep and fast moving in the center. After spending the next 40 minutes walking up and down the bank looking for a safe spot to cross, I turned back and headed back towards the nearest campsite. Even though it was still early spring and the weather was cool enough to keep most people off the trail overnight, this still bothered me for a few reasons. The first and biggest was that no where at the start of the trail, or anywhere along the 7 miles leading to the bridge, was there anything posted to let people know that the bridge was out, when it had very clearly been down for some time. The second feeds off of the first, the campsites in the backwoods area are reservation only, and I was now 7 miles into a trail at dusk only to find out that my campsite was now 14 trail miles away. To add insult to injury, all of the beautiful views that the Lower Loop is known for, and they are some spectacular waterfall vistas, are located on the western rim while I was now confined to the eastern rim.

The silver lining to this unfortunate trip was twofold. Once I got back to the nearest campsite, there were 3 open spots and the only other occupants were a father/son duo who were out testing their hammocks before an upcoming scouting trip. The second which was unbeknownst to me at this point, was that I was about to be handed my trail name. As I approached my chosen camp site, I started a polite conversation with the Father and Son to let them know that the bridge was washed out, and that they’d have to head back out the way they came in the morning. After a short conversation about the recent weather the father politely asked my favorite question “where are you from?”. Earlier this year I recounted with my wife that we’ve moved 8 times in the last 9 years, and moved between states on 4 of those occasions; Indiana to Alaska, back to Indiana, to Texas, and now to Tennessee. So I usually just answer with “all over the place”, but this time I explained our transient tendencies, the kid laughed and the father said something along the lines of “well, you’re quite the traveler”. The last word struck a chord and stuck. I’d been thinking for the last year about what possible trail names I might end up with, but nothing ever sounded as good to me as “Traveler”. So after a few more minutes of conversation I retired to my hammock with a smile, and a new name.

DIY Anywhere Fire-Starters

If you’re like me you’ve probably struggled to get a fire started on the trail due to adverse weather conditions, a lack of nearby kindling or any number of potential reasons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat next to a pile of damp kindling searching my pack for scraps of paper and burning my thumb with a hot lighter (or wasting cooking fuel trying to use my JetBoil to get the fire started) just to end up going to bed cold and disappointed. It can be frustrating and outright demoralizing, especially when the weather is chilly at the end of a long day hiking or when you have friends that are counting on you to get the fire going for some much needed campfire socialization.

Today I’m going to share a super simple, easy to make and lightweight fire starter that you can take with you anywhere and that will consistently perform even in damp, windy or snowy conditions. So without taking up anymore wordspace – I’ll get to the how-to portion of the post.

All you need is a small pot, a jar of standard petroleum jelly and a small bag of cotton balls.

1. You’ll start by emptying the cotton balls into a container that you won’t mind dedicating to petroleum jelly saturation, or something that you can throw away. For this instance I chose a leftover tinfoil pan. Once they’re in the desired container, set it off to the side, in a sink or some other easy to clean area in case there is spillage.

2. The second step will be emptying the jar of petroleum jelly into the pot before it goes on the stove. You’ll need a silicone spatula or something flexible that can get most of the jelly out of the jar and into the pan on the stove. Because of its unique viscosity this can be tricky and messy. Once you get the jelly in and on and on the stove, set the burner to medium and watch as the jelly dissolves into its liquid form.

3. Once the petroleum jelly is completely dissolved. Remove it from the burner and slowly pour it over the cotton balls, try to fully saturate as many as you can as they will burn longer than partially saturated cotton balls. Once you’ve completed this step, let the petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls sit and cool for about an hour.

4. Once they have cooled you can store them all together or separate the fully saturated cotton balls from the partially saturated ones. The fully saturated cotton balls will burn in almost all weather conditions and will stay lit for anywhere from 5-10 minutes. You can extend this time by wrapping the cotton ball in tin foil and pulling a small bit of cotton out like a wick to make a lightweight trail candle. This will extend burn time up to 20-30 minutes generally but will be affected by. wind resistance. While the partially saturated cotton balls won’t burn as long or as well as the fully saturated ones, they work well as an anti-chafing aid, trail chapstick and as a barrier against windburn on your face. So don’t throw them away.

The picture below is after 2 minutes of burn time.

This is after approximately 7 minutes of burn time.

Thanks for checking out this post. If you found this information helpful please leave us a like and comment to let us know how the DIY goes for you.

Niagara Falls and work travel

2018 was a great year for a lot of reasons. I’m progressing in my career and I’ve never been in a better place in my life, I finally found myself in a job that I love waking up and going to every day that also happens to include the opportunity to travel for work periodically. This January marks 3 years since I got out of the cloud of VA prescribed medication that almost destroyed my life. My relationship with my wife and my family is better than ever and I have a genuine love of life that has been growing stronger and stronger since I started using the outdoors, and specifically hiking and backpacking as a way to safely ween myself off of the pharmaceutical industry’s teat.

With all that being said, 2018 was not a great year for me in regards to trail miles. I had a job transition in April that took our family from South Texas to Nashville, and even living in Tennessee (a backpackers mecca), I barely managed to fit in a handful of trips over the second part of the year while trying to balance my new responsibilities with the work travel opportunities that were presented to me. I frequently bat back and forth between the drive to be hyper ambitious, fueled by some recent success, and the desire to give everything up and make travel and backpacking my full time focus. Obviously it isn’t practical to leave a career that pays well and is genuinely fun and challenging. But it’s difficult to shake the urge to just take off and leave all the stress of modern life behind. No more deadlines, projects, office hours or typical responsibility to worry about. The idea of spending the days and weeks focusing on the beauty and simplicity of what’s immediately around you is a siren call to some of us. Living in middle Tennessee the drive to Springer Mountain, Georgia and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is quick enough to be an extended day trip.

But for now I’m staying practical and taking advantage of the travel opportunities that my career presents. Most recently I had the incredible, and incredibly poor timed opportunity to visit Buffalo, New York in January. We lucked out for the most part and got to stay for a week that was relatively warm for the northeast and we avoided any major snow storms (by a matter of hours on the return flight). This trip felt like the perfect cap to a 2018, when we’d taken a few trips around eastern and middle Tennessee chasing the many waterfalls that snake through the local topography. It was a frigid day in the middle teens when we made our way to the American side of the falls, at dusk so that we could see them in the daylight and at night. We got some cool pictures and an amazing video of the falls, but Niagara is a wonder that is only done justice in person.

Upper Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls

A few weekends ago I got the opportunity for an overnight adventure, and I decided to check out the Upper Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls. The Upper Loop is about 15.5 miles with the current detour, it’s lightly trafficked and rated as moderate on Alltrails.

As far as Tennessee trails go, this is less than extraordinary during the summer. There really aren’t any noteworthy views, it is very overgrown, spiders and webs are a constant battle along the whole trail, the bugs are much worse than other similar trails I’ve been on in the state and there are a TON of downed trees that require you to squeeze under or make wide detours off the trail. With that being said, the back country camping area was the one redeeming quality from my short weekend trip. The established fire rings and ample space close to filterable water made camping alone, since all the other camp sites were vacant on a Friday night, very enjoyable. I would recommend this trail in Spring, Fall or Winter when there is more to look at. But if you’re looking for a quick 15 miles or a manageable overnight trip. The trail camp sites here make it worth the trip, just make sure to pack a lot of extra bug spray if you go during the summer months. The chiggers are out in force.

You can find directions and more information on the Upper Loop Trail by following the following link. https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/fall-creek-falls-upper-loop

As always, I’ve posted attached some of my favorite pictures from this hike below.

 

Paw Paw Trail at Fall Creek Falls

The Paw Paw Trail is a 3 mile moderately trafficked loop trail at Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville, TN that features an incredible waterfall view and a scenic overlook that is breathtaking in its own respect. This is a great day hike, but access to the falls is via a very strenuous cable trail that is a mix between hand over fist rock climbing and rappelling (not really that intense but it seems like it) in some areas.

However, if you’re looking for a great weekend trip that can be completed in an afternoon, this is the trail for you.

As always, I’ve added some of my favorite pictures from the trip (and a couple videos) below.

Cane Creek Overlook

Cane creek Falls

Happy Trails!

Mammoth Cave Historic Tour

After things had slowed down following our relocation to Nashville, Tennessee in the early spring of this year. We decided to take a trip up to the Bluegrass State and take a tour of Mammoth Cave back in June. I’d already been once as a child, but locations like this are always worth a trip as an adult. My wife had never been at all. For our first trip, we decided to take the 2-mile Historic Tour that focuses mainly on the portions of the cave that have been in use for tourism the longest. Since there are over 400 miles of cave in this National Park the scenery and history on this tour make for an incredible time.  The historic tour enters through the original entrance to the caves and visits some of the most famous portions of the cave. While the historic tour is a great start, there are several cave tours ranging from wheelchair accessible to real spelunking adventures and everything in between. Mammoth Cave is a great family trip, but also has attractions and tours better suited to adventurous adults.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm

While flash photography in the cave is prohibited. I’ve attached some of the better pictures from our trip. However, Mammoth Cave is a place you have to see in person to really respect.

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Happy Trails!

Savage Gulf Day Loop

The Savage Gulf Day loop is a moderately trafficked loop trail located in the Savage Gulf Natural Area near Palmer, Tennessee. It offers a scenic overlook and 3 to 4 waterfall views depending on how adventurous you want to be. The track that we took was about 5.5 miles when all was said and done, but this trail begs for off the main trail excursions. The trail was well maintained and mostly flat, so even in the August heat starting in the middle of the day it was still tolerable and well worth it for the views. There is a scenic waterfall overlook to the east of the access to the falls, but during the summer it’s so overgrown that it’s really not worth the quarter mile side trail to get to the overlook.

This trail also offers 8 primitive camping locations within walking distance of the falls, but they are first come first serve and must be paid for in advance. All in all this is a very cool day trip that is accessible for anyone that doesn’t have a difficult time walking up small hills and over flat ground. I highly recommend this trail to anyone looking for a little weekend adventure in Southeastern Tennessee.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/tennessee/savage-day-loop

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