Sunday, May 20, 2012

Banzai Trail 4 of 4

This is the last in the series. Near the end of the movie, it will seem to get a little choppy. At the end of the hike Scotty thought he might have been running out of memory and decided to switch from taking videos to taking pictures on a 2 second interval. Also keep in mind that it took us an hour and a half to get from Bright Angel Campground to the Utah Flats, and about an hour to get back. These videos seriously abbreviate what our experience, but they're good for the basic idea. I truly recommend taking this trail, but make sure your in good physical form and carry tons of water.

Oh and...
It's really a shame that Scotty didn't make any of the footage because of his attire. Nobody managed to get a picture, but I'll do my best to describe it. Hiking down and into the canyon, Scotty and Jeremy each had two 32 oz gatorades, and Jess and I had one each. We also found a big plastic water bottle and another 32 oz gatorade bottle up on the Flats. On our way back to the rim from camp, they were all empty, so Scotty decided to puncture the eight of them and string them onto the back of his pack. It truly looked like he was a gatorade hunter displaying his trophies. That or he was making wings out of gatorade bottles. Either way, the whole way out we were trying to get him to tell people he was sponsored by gatorade, or just didn't drink water. Hilarious.

Banzai Trail 3 of 4

Unfortunately, we forgot to keep rolling through the part of the hike that would have come between videos 3 and 4. We got off trail at the end of this clip, sort of swerving to the right and heading down what seemed to be a creek bed. Except for the piano sized rocks we kept climbing down. Our trail actually veered off to our left, and we spent about 5 minutes after realizing our mistake, traipsing back up to reconnect with it. Sure was fun, though.

Banzai Trail 2 of 4

Over the music, you may hear some whistling. We did this so that anything that may be hiding in one of the cracks or crevices would know we were coming. We were pretty close to Bright Angel Campground, so we were pretty sure that there wouldn't be any cougars near. We still felt it was worth a few whistles, and the next morning I ran into a family of deer, so there was food up there other than us.

Over all, the climb to the flats took us about an hour and a half almost straight up the canyon wall. At any point in these films, the person that's in the lead is always above the trailing person's head. Epic.

Banzai Trail 1 of 4

We've had a lot of folks asking about the Grand Canyon and what it was like, so we're inviting you to hike with us! This is part 1 of the 4 videos we've decided to post on our spring break hike of the "Banzai Trail," the route up to the Utah Flats. Each video is approximately 10 minutes long. The first two are heading up the trail, and the second two are coming down. Apologies for the camera shake, but it's rough out there!

Oh and hitting full screen makes the quality go way down, so try control + just to make the window a little bigger. Seems to work better.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Eats

When we were hiking out of the Grand Canyon, I would say I got hungry about every two hours. Heck, in a regular, non-active day I’ll sometimes eat four meals plus snacks if the food’s around. But I’m a fairly small person, so when I say ‘meal’… well, that’s about a third of what Andy considers a MEAL. So no matter how long I spend thinking through food plans for the trail, I can’t get past one thing—we’re going to need A LOT of food. Gah. Lots. And since neither of us is ready to incorporate Ramen and Little Debbie’s into our menu possibilities just yet, menu planning is taking some deliberation. Consider this: the average thru-hiker burns 6,000 calories per day. That’s over twice as much as most adults… plus you have to carry all of that food on your back and there is no refrigerator. And I’m not entirely sure you understand yet just how much Andy eats.

The best website that I’ve found to help with this, hands down, is Between the dehydrator my parents got us last year (thanks, mom! (thanks Amy! ~Andy)) and the vacuum sealer we ordered a few months ago, we should be able to prepare some pretty great meals that will be easy & delicious on the trail. Don’t get me wrong, here—we’re not prepping every meal this way, but we are hoping to shake things up from Knorr instant noodles from time to time. And since water is one of the main components of many foods, dehydrating is going to be a huge help. Here are the big items we’ll be dehydrating over the next few weeks:
  •  Bark (potato bark, bean bark, & pumpkin pie bark… yum!)
    • Bark can be eaten (sort of like a chip) or rehydrated
  • Pasta sauce leather
    • Rehydrate and it’s back to sauce 
  • Rice
    • Rice takes a long time to cook initially, but if you cook it, dehydrate it, and cook it again later it softens up much faster
  • Veggies
    • I’m planning on making one mix of basic veggies and one mix of peppers
  • Fruit
    • Just about every type of fruit in the grocery store has or will pass through our dehydrator

And if I can get past the fear of spoiling/have time…
  • Ground beef (low in fat)
  • Beef jerky

Without the vacuum sealer, I’d never bother with dehydrating beef, but with it everything is supposed to be able to keep just fine. I don’t think we’ll attempt chicken, though. Poultry kind of freaks me out even in normal kitchen conditions (Google ‘uncooked chicken’ if you’d like to join me in that club), so we’ll probably go with something like canned chicken. I can’t say that idea exactly ignites my salivary glands, either, but Andy’s a big meat-eater, so we’ll need to find alternatives to 6 months of beef jerky and bacon bits.

Finding recipes has been somewhat exhausting (probably doesn’t help that I’m not exactly much of a cook even in normal kitchen conditions), so I’m including a link to the document of what I’ve accumulated. Hopefully at least one of you out there will be able to use this, too! Check out the sites in the document for more recipes, too.
We also have been stocking up on some basics that our parents will mail to us with some dehydrated food. Most of these we got at Costco & Walmart in bulk, and even with postage should these end up cheaper to send than to buy in smaller quantities along the way. Some of the things we got: almond snickers, trail mix (we’re adding things like dehydrated fruit to pre-made mixes), Nature Valley protein bars & granola bars, granola cereal, dehydrated milk, Gatorade mix, hot cocoa, ibuprofen, & vitamins. There’s a huge debate out there over mail drops vs. buying food along the way, but I think it’ll work out well for us to do a mix of both. 

Also, I’ve had a few questions about how to mail things to us along the way--we’ll be posting mail drop addresses & ETAs as we’re on the trail, so stay tuned!

Before you go, I want to give you a visual taste of the wonder of dehydration.

Prepped (in the Rockies dehydration times have been cut almost in half for most things—these only took a few hours):

After: So small!

The end product has intensely amplified flavor, and isn’t really anything like the sugar-coated dehydrated fruits you get at the grocery store. It’s kind of like comparing apple cider to apple juice. Or orange juice to Sunny D. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Kick-off Story

One night last spring, Andy and I were on our nightly Skype (this is before he moved to the mountains with me) and I had just found a bucket list that I had made years before on my computer. I was reading the bullets off to him, and he was insisting that I make a list for him, too. Here, for your enjoyment, is what he came up with:
1. Spear a fish
2. Eat chilled monkey brains
3. Get pudgy
4. Learn how to make potato pancakes
The turning point came with the end of my list. Here are the last 5 items I had listed:
70. Crochet a doily
71. Knit/crochet a wearable sweater
72. Dress up in a mascot costume
73. Do a cartwheel
74. Hike the Appalachian Trail
Honestly, I have no idea how that last one got on there, but Andy got really excited about it. It turned out he had been wanting to hike that trail, too, but he had never had someone to hike with. So we started researching what exactly this Appalachian Trail was and within an hour we were plotting when we might be able to do it. Over the course of the next few months, we moved our hiking plan closer and closer to the present, and when I started designing our website we were fully intending to hike in 2013 (you’ll notice this still lingers in our email address). I’ve now read 2 books (and am starting a third) about the AT, a myriad of blogs, spent endless hours on sites like, and even (in a moment of surrealism) purchased one-way tickets to Bangor, Maine. I can use terms like “white-blazer” and “bounce box” fluently. And I know how to hang a bear bag PCT-style. And still I can’t fully wrap my mind around what’s to come. I do, however, fully believe that just about anything that happens out there will be both more memorable and more fulfilling than crocheting a doily, so at least that’s something.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lamentations, Expectations and...We Could Use Some Help!

Were getting tremendously close to leaving. There is a poster in one of the hallways in the high school I work at that's counting down the days until the end of the year. I remember my time as a high school student, not that it was that long ago, but I have a crystal clear memory for waiting impatiently for summer vacation. But now that I work in a school, I'm trying to make each moment last as long as possible. Those tables sure did turn on me!

For this past school year I've been working as a Paraprofessional Teacher in Special Education. My mornings are spent working with elementary school kids, and my afternoons are in the high school up the road. They say that time flies when you're having fun. Well what about when your having a tremendous amount of fun AND  there's a start of a six month backpacking adventure rapidly approaching? Time hops in an F-22 and goes super-sonic.

One of my biggest (and hopefully only) regrets about hiking the AT this summer is going to be leaving all these great people behind. So on a personal note, I'd like to get my good-byes out of the way now because it's only going to get harder (and please forgive the generics, there are simply too many people to name here):

To everyone I worked with in the district- Thank you all so much for the tremendous amount of help and support you all gave to me this year! So many of you told me how natural and confident I seemed in my position, but I drew that confidence from all of you. Everyone made me feel so at home here, for that I will be forever grateful. 

To all my teammates from Conroy's Excavating and Moonshine and the FVYHA- you guys rock, this season was awesome. Playing hockey in -15 temperatures with icicles hanging off my goalie mask was sweet. I'm looking forward to visiting with my bag and seeing if anyone needs a guy between the pipes. Best of luck next season!

To all the kids I helped to coach- What a team we had this year! You all progressed more than I would have ever imagined. Keep up that desire to improve and to win, but above all have fun! Oh, and thanks for my coach jersey. That'll be the one I wear to the Avalanche and Eagle games I go to from now on!

To all my students at the elementary and high school- Put down those video games and get outside! And read a book every once and a while would ya? I'm kidding (partially). But seriously, thanks for making this such a memorable year! Please stay in touch, my email is on our website-use it often. I'm going to miss you all very much, work hard in the future so you have great news for me when I come to visit. 

And just to all- I don't think spending 20 years up here would have been enough. Up here in this small town, friendships are truly friendships. People help others when they're in need, not just when it's convenient. People actually say hello to each other at the grocery store and wave when they drive by. A crazy concept these days. I'm a kinder person for having lived here and met all of you. 

As we get closer to the end of the year, things continue to get crazier. We're going to move out of our house in two weeks, so at the end of the school year we can just grab our packs and go. This means we'll be packing and organizing on top of Jess preparing her students' finals, and me preparing the students for finals. Right now we're just missing one key thing: a way to move. So if you have a truck/trailer and are either free the weekend of the 24th or willing to let us borrow it, please let us know. We can compensate for help via beverages, food, good company...etc. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Gal’s Side of Gear

One of the things I had some trouble with in my initial gear hunt was that there seemed to be so little information on hiking gear for women. Even when I looked at sites like REI, the reviews were largely complaints about things like the color not matching the photo on the website or the fit not being flattering enough in the bust area. I wound up doing a lot of searches for the men’s equivalent of what I wanted, as I found the odds of finding technical reviews to be much higher.

Eventually I stumbled on the mecca site of AT hikers: It doesn’t look like much at first, but this is a gold mine of hiking information. AND it has a forum dedicated just to women. This has been a huge help with gear & prep questions I’d been pondering, many of which guys are unlikely to consider (except, apparently, for the random creeper who chimes in on the forum).

Our gear is very nearly finalized now, and much like Andy, there are some things in there that are just so awesome I have to stop myself from using them too much before the trail. Here are my gear highlights:
  • Deuter ACT Lite 60+10: I have a pretty crummy back, yet somehow my back hurts worse after a day at work than after a day of hiking with this pack at 20+ pounds.
  • REI Sub Kilo +15 Sleeping Bag (750 fill down, 1 lb 15 oz): I always thought I slept warm, but without the furnace of Andy next to me I guess my own body heat just doesn’t measure up. This is my first down bag, and I just can’t get over how something so light can keep me SO warm. **Side note: Ideally, we'd want a double sleeping bag--as a couple, sleeping in separate bags feels somewhat like a 50s style return to two twin beds. But have you ever tried looking for a lightweight, reasonably priced couples sleeping bag? Awful. We tried the Big Agnes King Solomon ($400, 600 fill down, 5lbs 3oz), but it was so bulky and heavy we just couldn't justify carrying it over our current bags. The only decent alternative we've found currently on the market is the Feathered Friends Spoonbill (900 fill down, 2lbs 11oz) at a gasp-inducing $800.
  • Smartwool clothes: If it wasn’t so expensive, I would wear this stuff pretty much all the time. And while I wouldn’t call it odorproof, it’s light-years better than synthetics.
  • Salomon Quest 4D GTX Hiking Boots (+ green Superfeet insoles): I decided on a taller boot for the ankle-support, and leather would have left my feet disgustingly sweaty. Somehow, perhaps by magic, I haven’t gotten blisters yet in these boots (combined with my Smartwool socks) despite hiking some very long distances. Speaking as someone who gets blisters with nearly every new shoe I wear, this is pretty incredible. The Superfeet are surely a huge help in keeping my back from hurting, too.
One thing that recently changed in my gear plans—when we were hiking into the backcountry in Arches, I felt this shocking chill on my backside. My Camelbak was leaking so badly that water was dripping from my pack. I had never had trouble with it before, but between it being full and the contents of my pack pushing on it, I guess it couldn’t hold up. Apparently this problem isn’t uncommon with their new latch design; Andy has the older version, which doesn’t leak but is next to impossible for me to open. So I swapped it out for a Platypus Big Zip. One thing I already have to say I like about it is the detachable hose. This means you can pull the bladder out of your bag without dealing with pulling the tube back through the pack. In any case, I hope this is a good alternative!
Gear I took on our Grand Canyon trip (pretty similar to what I'll have on the AT)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Sheared Gear

Ok, so... everyone whose every done anything resembling an Appalachian Trail hike has blogged or listed their gear. Well, we're no different. We've posted our gear spreadsheet on our website (see link on the right side of the page).

Gear for us has been a challenge. I consider us extremely lucky in that we have stores and websites that have return policies that allow us to check a piece of gear out. Some of them even allow us to try it out/test it a few times before we decide to keep it or return it. Short of plugging an ad for these companies I just want to publicly announce my thanks to REI and Both of these retailers have truly amazing employees and customer service, return policies and deals. Check em' out if you're looking for something outdoorsy. I was not paid/compensated in any way to say that, but I wouldn't mind if they did.

Now, onto the skinny! I used to work at a small, family owned sporting goods store in my hometown. I definitely wish I would have been able to get more of my gear there, but as we carried mostly fitness and team sports, there wasn't a whole lot of room for the deeper niche of backpacking gear. But without them I wouldn't have my key item. My backpack.

I had never heard of Deuter before this pack walked into the front door, but after I had tried it on I was sold. The pack I am so lovingly referring to is the Deuter ACT Lite 65+10. Deuter has an awesome adjustable strap system and ridiculously comfortable foam used in the straps and along the wearers back. Anyone who hasn't heard of this company should check them out. Rival them to the best. I've tried on and used my fair share of packs, none of them have compared. Not to mention this pack only weighs about four pounds. My pack has been to the Continental Divide, twice to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and plenty of other memorable places. I probably have close to 300 miles on this pack and it looks just as good as the day I bought it.

There's no way not to consider me biased. I love all the gear I have, and absolutely recommend it to everyone. Among my other favored items:

  • REI Quarterdome T2+ Tent. I have it at just about 4 lbs now; groundcloth, rain fly, stakes and guyout lines included. The first night Jess and I tried out this tent it was clear as could be when we went to bed. At 3 in the morning, it starting pouring as if the heavens wanted us to know just how good this tent really was. Also, the + at the end of the name is there because this tent is longer than the normal T2. I'm about 6'3" and have never ever woken up in a tent without either my feet or my head pressed up against the wall. So when we found this tent I ran around screaming, "I fit! I fit!" Jess made me stop. 
  • Go-Lite Adrenaline Long 3 Season Mummy Bag & Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Mattress. The whole sleeping package together weighs under 4 pounds. I could honestly sleep on this stuff at home. The air mattress is 2 1/2 inches thick when inflated and the bag fluffs up like a down comforter. In the morning it all packs up to the size of about two nalgene bottles. 
  • Katadyn Vario Water Filter & Steripen Adventurer Opti. Filter hooks directly to a nalgene and filters water at a very fast rate. What the filter misses the Steripen will get. Extra weight? Sure, but I'm not taking any chances with our water. 
  • Smartwool shirt, pants, socks and balaclava. Anything that keeps me nice n' warm (even when wet) while not smelling after a week of heavy wear is considered a treasure. 
  • Marmot Zeus Down Jacket & Oracle Rain Jacket. I was going to bring a fleece but between the Smartwool and these jackets I'll be comfortable no matter what the weather throws at us. I've worn the down jacket bare chested in single degree weather. No complaints. The rain jacket became my lightweight ski jacket. This year we've been skiing in 40 degree weather since February. 
  • Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners. I've got some weird feet. Weird, I tell ya. Size 12-13 and A-B width. Hiking boots just don't fit. Bottom line here is Brooks saved my bum. Great grip, just as comfortable as my running shoes and sweet colors. 
  • Crocs Prepair II Clogs. I never EVER wanted to own a pair of these. They look nothing like how they feel. Putting these on after hiking all day in the Grand Canyon almost brought me to tears. They say that these particular Crocs are designed to help feet relax and increase blood flow. I believe 'em.
We've got a lot more gear. A lot more. My favorites are here but I'd be lying if I said that everything that's going into our bags wasn't hand picked and thoroughly tested. Our whole lives will be on our backs for 6 months and we're not going to carry anything we don't absolutely need. We've done a good bit of buying, testing, keeping and returning. If our gear were a sheep, it would be a very sheared sheep.

Please feel free to contact us with any equipment questions/comments. It'd be a shame to leave all this knowledge to just us!