Manassas National Battlefield Park

https://gopro.com/v/ag01EeGgBnMd
I finally got around to hiking the extensive trails that are two miles from my house.” 

Here’s a Quik video of the highlights.

Topo Gee Go!

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 10.02.35 AMLook at any list of essential hiking gear, and you’ll always find the standard fallback “map and compass.” Yeah, I know. I have my nifty GPS gadget and half a dozen apps on my mobile device that can get me to the nearest town or road crossing. What if there’s a solar storm? What if your beloved iPhone takes a drink in the creek? What if you’re left to your own devices without your devices, in a trackless forest you’ve never hiked before?

That map and compass could save your life or limb. “But it’s a pain in the behind to find good topographical maps!” you say. Not anymore. Fist bumps to Nat Geo for placing their entire U.S. library of topos here:

http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads

What is your excuse now, Lewis? How about you, Clark? As an emergency manager and sometimes event planner, I know the value of a good adventure action plan. Not only should you print your grids out and slide them into your pack, now it is super easy to leave a copy with your adventure point of contact, too. Just so that you are both, as they say, on the same sheet of grid squares.

Now get out there and hike something! Happy trails.

Need an excuse to get outside?

We don’t own this, but it is great enough to share. Spring is almost here, my hiker trash buddies longing for sunlight filtering through green canopies! Have a laugh, then go prep your gear.

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Beginning the Knobstone Trail

Over the past two weekends, I’ve been hiking the northern loops of the Knobstone Trail (KT) and I’m quickly falling in love with it. On Black Friday, a small group of us Midwestern adventurers will be trying to see how much of it we can knock out in three days.

All of this is in prep, of course, for a later week-long trek of the Knobstone Hiking Trail (KHT) which is cleverly acronymed to represent the Knobstone, Heritage, and Tecumseh trails, all linked together to form the longest continuous trail in Indiana. Some of it is still on country roads, but the KHT trail advocacy group is acquiring easements (rights-of-way) from land owners and getting more and more of it back up the hills.

I will thru-hike the KHT before I thru the Appalachian Trail, both of which are goals. For now, enjoy the eye candy.

~Greenlight

Measuring up?

IMG_1700I was listening to thru-hike audio books in the car before and after my first hike on the Appalachian Trail, trying to figure out why this is so important to me. It’s the question thru-hikers get all the time from admirers but also from detractors. “Why are you doing this?” Ultimately it’s a statement, heavily underlined, that defies the nature of the question. The true meaning stems more from the person asking than it does from some inherent cliche or from the hiker being asked. Maybe the heavy underline contains more of the answer than does whatever answer lies atop. Grandma Gatewood was asked that question a thousand times and gave a different answer each time. She hiked the AT the first time when she was 67. Then she thru-hiked it again. Then she section hiked it a third time. Then she hiked the Adirondacks. She took seventeen pounds of equipment with her, slung over her shoulder in a sack. That made her not only one of the first thru-hikers, the first woman ever to thru-hike the trail, it also made her the first ultralight thru-hiker and even the first ever woman ultralight thru-hiker. She just got up each morning and walked the blazes. Earl Shaffer hiked the AT to put WWII behind him. The upswell of thru-hikers every year since the Sixties attests a simple truth. We need these wild places. And we need people willing to put aside conformity to love them not by reading articles about them in Outside magazine or Sports Illustrated, but to make all other considerations secondary for a time and love them with their feet. With their whole soul…by doing something amazing. Becoming something just a bit beyond ordinary. The people who have thru-hiked a long trail were already a bit beyond ordinary. The youngest thru-hiker was six when he started. The trail has been thru-hiked by a blind man and by old men with no cartilage in their knees. It’s been hiked by people dying of cancer and people healing from physical and sexual abuse. I think, and this is just my own opinion, the the AT, or any such undertaking, is something we measure ourselves against. Knowing that we are two completely different things, us folks and the mountains, and that the hills will outlast us in the end, but just for a season we outlasted the hills. That is a measurement to be recorded on paper for a time through shelter logs and ATC certificates, but forever in the heart or the human spirit or whatever sappy else you might want to call it. I am not yet a thru hiker. I’m just a middle aged man who loves to hike and camp, and my reasons for hiking are my own. But I will measure myself against the mountains, and one day soon I will measure up.

Do you wanna build a hammock

So, Aaron bought a very nice four season hammock system (integrated bug net, tarp, insulation pockets, bivvy cover, kitchen sink) and used it during last week’s overnighter. He liked it a lot, so it got me thinking…

I spent the last year or two of my Scouting adventures primarily hammock camping.  Back then we weren’t concerned about weight, so we used El Cheapo fist-sized nylon mesh hammocks and enormous poly fill sleeping bags covered by plastic tarps we secured by tying a string around a rock in the plastic, and staked them to the ground with sharpened twigs.  It worked.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 11.20.10 AM

Do you think it’ll hold?  It always used to.

http://www.hammockforums.net/forum/showthread.php/670-My-Take-On-DIY-Hennessy-Hammock-A-Tutorial

http://www.tothewoods.net/HomemadeHammock.html

Give them some page hits, and try out their designs.  It’s super cheap if you have access to a sewing machine, a hardware store, and a few yards of ripstop nylon.

I’ll be testing out this first foray into hammock camping in more than 30 years…tonight!

Product reviews

It’s been a fun week for the Free Rangers, if you consider 104 fevers, spinal taps, and lopsided Super Bowl victory after-parties fun. I’ll let Aaron explain more (HIPAA violations anyone?) at his leisure, but…

I will say that the plan for this weekend, this Valentines Day weekend, involves sub-zero hiking, overnight camping, and product reviews.  And mea culpas to the women in our lives for rushing through the whole hearts and flowers scenario on Valentine’s Eve.

My reviews support my goal of paring down what I’ll need on the Appalachian Trail, and honing in on the most versatile and useful items to carry.  I should start with my pack, and the stuff protecting my feet.  I’ll give you the whole scoop in this weekend’s product review video, with maybe-just-maybe a bit of horseplay thrown in for good measure.

Stay tuned.

Stepping back to me

unnamedWhen I was six, my family moved into a big white house on the edge of town, a mile north of the Wabash River. I was the younger of two boys, and we were lucky enough to have parents who settled into the neighborhood and became permanent fixtures there. Mom and dad are in their seventies now, still in the same house, still going strong but for some minor ailments.

I liked the house, liked my room, liked our yard and the neighborhood, but what I loved was the twenty acres of woods behind the house. There was a failed development between the back edge of our back yard and the beginning of the woods, only one house was built; when I was growing up, it was just a huge square grassy field. We played baseball and football in that field when the grass was short,until they stopped mowing it and it returned to nature.  Then when the grass got tall we bunched stalks of it and tied the tops together creating big grassy tunnels full of daddy long legs spiders.  Finally, saplings took root and begin to growing into a young forest itself, but that took years – the years after I grew up.  To me, that was always “the field” and what lay beyond was “the woods.”

The woods called my name.

I entered reverently, passing under the coolness of the canopy and into another world. It was a world I’d inhabit for the next twelve years. When I was six, those twenty acres seemed like their own country, and each year on the last day of school, I’d be gone. Riding my Murray Stingray up and down the hills, swimming in the creek, eating apples from wild apple trees, and setting up camp sites that would host overnights for a decade – too many memories to remember them all clearly because they all run together.

Until the day I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to be a Boy Scout, and I yearned for the day I’d turn ten and a half so I could ink that triplicate member application. To this day I can still remember the smell of at form because I held it up to my face and breathed in its official, business like smell like a bookworm might bury his face in a book. Nature was my book, my constant friend, my retreat. In the middle of that woods, there is a massive glacial pudding stone at the top of a small hill that leads down to the creek. To this day, it is my touch stone, and I’ve felt drawn to go and sit there and think before some of the most important decisions of my life.

I don’t even know who owns the property anymore, but it will remain forever mine in my memory.

Turning twenty, courting my wife, getting married, starting a family – all of these things took a toll on my outdoorsiness. There is a thirty year gap in my life that has been filled with good and bad things, but was almost completely devoid of just being outside in the wilderness I loved.

I turned fifty this past August, and I swear, the next thirty years will make up for the past thirty with a vengeance.

Getting ready for the AT

boxI spent an inordinate amount of time today getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I don’t know when I’m going to accomplish it, but I know that I will.

How do I know that?

Because I’m planning to do it now.  Back in 2013, I was supposed to mobilize and deploy to Kuwait for a one-year support mission.  I was at pre-mobilization training (PMT) the summer of 2012, and they ended up cutting the mission in half, and decided not to send the surgeon section.  I was the 38th Division surgeon’s plans and operations officer, and ended up as part of the rear detachment.  Not fun stuff.  But I got to keep this cool green box in which I can store all of the stuff from my AT hiking equipment list.  I keep that checklist as a checklist in Evernote.  It is based on the advice of lots of folks who have already hiked the AT and learned lessons I don’t need to learn first-hand.  They learned what to take and what not to take,  I’m taking what they took. I’m not taking what they sent home or didn’t take.  Pretty easy math, huh?

So the time I spent today, what did I spend it doing?  Finding out what I already had, and putting that stuff in the big green box. Want to know what is in the BGB?

List:

I bought a synthetic short-sleeve button down shirt from Ex Officio a few months ago.  It rocks.  It’s made from recycled water bottles, and dries in about five minutes.

I have both a short and long sleeve moisture wicking compression shirt of the Under Armor brand.  They keep the sweat off of my skin and stop me from stinking in the pit area.

I’m taking a mid-weight synthetic long sleeve fleece top from Sierra Trading Post from my last employer.  It’s blue.  It’s warm.  It’s going.

I already had a pair of lightweight synthetic trekking pants that zip off at the knees.  Those will be my day-to-day bottom half outerwear, and they were produced for the Boy Scouts of America.  It’s my nod to the six excellent years I spent in the BSA, eventually winding up an Eagle Scout.

There was an optional line there for underwear, which on a hike are simply a bother.  Don’t tell my mom, but I’m going commando.

I also have a fleece toboggan of military heritage.  It’s camel brown and I love it.  I wear it everywhere in the winter.

I also have a Columbia Titanium sun hat that I bought before accompanying my son to the 100th Anniversary Camporee in the BSA National Capitol Region (NCR) at Goshen Scout Reservation.  

I’m indecisive on which pack I’ll carry, but I’m leaning toward the Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack at this point.  By the time I buy, they may have newer models out. We shall see.

I already have a great winter sleeping bag, the North Face Furnace, but it is much too warm for summer camping.  I’m sure I’ll carry it from Springer Mountain in late March or April until the end of May or so, at which point I’ll mail it home and possibly re-delivered further up the trail in September.  In the interim months, I’m looking at another North Face bag, the Aleutian 35, for the warmer months.

have in my possession right now a ThermaRest self-inflating air mattress that compresses down to just about nothing for packing.  That will be going with me.

The military was nice enough to let me keep my issued waterproof bag.  It is large enough to slip over a five gallon bucket, so it should store all of my stuff that has to stay dry.

I’m undecided on which tent I will pack.  I know I’m taking a fist sized hammock for the warmer months, but I’m debating whether to get an REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for regular use.  Of course, when I can stay in a shelter, I will, but when I can’t I will opt for the hammock or the tent.  Options, people, options.

Footwear?  I know I’ll probably go through three or four pair of shoes, but which shoes will they be?  Methinks Merrell Moab Ventilator mid-ankle hiking boots will do the trick, or possibly the low-rise shoes.  In any case, I know the inserts will be Superfeet premiums.  Heard enough trail tales to know that the only way to hike is over Superfeet.

Trekking poles?  Yes, I’ll have a pair.  Don’t know which ones yet and don’t care.

Headlamp?  Same deal.  The PX has a lot of really geared up options, so I may try out one or two of theirs.  They have a liberal return policy and there’s a PX only 20 miles from my house.  Within biking distance.

I had to turn in my military issue CamelBak water bladder system but I know I’ll be getting another one for the thru hike.

I will be cooking over the JetBoil Flash, which features both the burner and the 16 ounce cup and cosy and has been getting rave reviews.  I’m a peanut butter and banana kind of guy, so I know I’ll be packing lots of PB, and dehydrated banana chips along with oatmeal, cinnamon, and nuts for the most part, but I also have an ample supply of MREs to bounce down the trail from a long military career.  They keep for a long time.  You tear open the foil pack and sniff.  If it doesn’t stink, it’s still good and you eat it. If it stinks, you eat peanut butter.

My water will be purified, along the trail, by a Lifestraw personal water filtration unit.  I’ll also find an inline unit that has good reviews.

I’ve already picked out my Nalgene bottle, and it is in the BGB.

I also have a really nice single folding blade knife that my daughter found walking along the road one day.  It’s a Gerber it’s sharp enough to shave with.

My first aid kit already has mole skin for blisters, an assortment of bandages, salves, wipes, and OTC meds such as the indispensable Advil, Immodium, benadryl and pepto along with sunscreen, foot salve, and bug dope.  I’ll consult with my doc before the hike to get a round of broad spectrum antibiotics.

No hike would be complete without a map and compass.  I’ll also have a Garmin GPS unit if needed, and AWOL’s trail guide, so I should be fine.

You’ll be happy to know that I won’t be wearing deodorant or bathing regularly, but I will be bouncing lots of toiletries ahead of me so I can indulge when I hit a town.

I have a mini-moleskine notebook and an anti-gravity pen that writes on anything for those moments when a brilliant idea hits and the mobile phone is dead.

And of course my iPhone will be attending with me for taking video, pictures, journaling, and finding out where the hell I am if I get turned around.

I have a very nice set of sunglasses/protective eyewear from the military and it will be going with.

And for entertainment?  Kindle Paperwhite with charging cable and wall plug.  I already have a waterproof case in which to put it.

What if I don’t feel like reading in camp?

Hoyle.  All weather infrared readable playing cards.  Shelled out ten bucks for them a few years ago and friends, they work.  You can have a full blown Euchre tournament in the middle of the Hundred Mile Woods in the dead of night with a red flashlight.

I also bought a cheap harmonica so I can offend everyone I meet for the first month or so.  By then I should be playing like John Popper.

That is basically it.  Most of that stuff will be traveling on my back for about six months.

Do you think I’m “all in” enough?

I do.