Dreams Furloughed

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Journal with tags , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2013 by samanthamichaud

Still no change on our government’s situation–which means hundreds of thru-hikers, like our government employees, will have to furlough their dreams of completing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Here is an excellent, updated write-up of the shut-down’s impact on thru-hikers from October 5th.:

http://thomasgounley.tumblr.com/post/63087023290/updated-what-appalachian-trail-thru-hikers-are-writing

Check it out!

Feeling the Affects

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Journal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2013 by samanthamichaud

For several years, I dreamed of the day that I would leave to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. I remember plotting and planning, waiting in excitement for the moment that I would begin walking north from Springer Mountain, GA. My hopes and dreams  for this tremendous journey did not stop there, but continued to grow and evolve as I journeyed north for 4.5 months towards Maine.

I encountered many things, some good, some bad, but never did I come to the point when I could go no further–when some outside force would step-in to say “Sorry! Proceed no further! The Appalachian Trail is CLOSED.” Well folks, as of yesterday,  sections of the the Appalachian Trail (as well as, CDT and PCT) will be closed because of the government shut-down.

One of my favorite aspects of hiking the AT was the utter solitude and obliviousness from the world around me. I have never been a fan of watching the news or reading the papers, so the AT only provided me with an even greater blanket of security from the shambles of the political world. But, today I realized that the impact of this governmental shutdown affected me in more ways than I had first thought. It taught me that even the government and politics could impact the area of my life that I thought was free and secluded–my place in the wilderness. I remember a time when I was very early on in the trail. I was resupplying in Helen, GA. When a friend came to pick me up from Dick’s Creek Gap, she told me of the horrors of the tidal wave in Japan and the subsequent nuclear meltdown; she told me about the capture of Osama bin Laden. I listened in horror as she detailed all the chaotic events that had taken place during my first week in the woods. I remember thinking how grateful I was that I could hike and be oblivious to all those crazy events.

I share all of that to say this– Imagine that you, like me, have been waiting and planning to thru-hike one our nation’s beautiful long-distance trails. Imagine that you are weeks and months into your amazing journey and you arrive to a place that is barred, closed, off-limits. Right now, hundreds of South Bounders are making their way to GA from ME. Many of them will never get to experience the beauty of Shenandoah National Park or The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They won’t get to see the beauty atop Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies or see families of black bear rolling around the countryside in the Shenandoas. Instead, they will be forced to find alternate routes, arrange shuttles, and spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to navigate their way around these massive sections of the AT.

We cannot forget the nation’s other long-distance trails: Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail–they too meander through many of our nation’s spectacular national parks. Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite are just a few of the parks that will affect these other trails.

People hike these long-distance trails for many different reasons, but the one thing that unites us is sought in the solitude and quiet of the wilderness. There is a freedom that one experiences when they roam about on no-man’s land with few possessions on their back and no worries about paying bills, keeping the gas-tank full, or running to appointments.

However, in the next days, hikers will be moving about the trail and will at some point reach one of these pivotal “road blocks” that will impact them in more ways than they realize. The government shut-down will have then reached the farthest, most remote corners of the wilderness. Even without internet, electricity, radios, or mass communication channels–the shut-down will have made its case all-the-way out in the deep, quiet of the woods.

Appalachian Trail: Sam’s Gap to Hog Back Shelter (2.5 miles)

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Journal with tags , , , , , , , on September 29, 2013 by samanthamichaud

Looking for a sweet day hike just outside Asheville? Ditch the Blue Ridge Parkway…you know everyone and their mom is out there on the weekends.

The Appalachian Trail makes many sweeps and crossings within an hour of Asheville. Of course, it can be a little overwhelming to pick a section–not knowing what the terrain is going to be like. Well here’s a nice start…

If you’re looking for moderate terrain to hike and don’t mind the trademark roller coaster up-and-downs, check out the AT where it intersects Sam’s Gap on the NC/TN border! From the parking area, hikers can choose to head north or south. North will take you to Big Bald, Spivey Gap, and ultimately…Maine. However, making a left out of the parking area and heading south on the AT will take you to a quieter and more remote stretch of trail that leads to Hog Back Shelter, Devil’s Gap, and Hot Springs, NC.

When I only have a few hours to kill, but am in need of getting away from society–I often head to this stretch of the AT. I hike 2.5 miles out to Hog Back Shelter, stop and have a snack, and then head back another 2.5 miles to the trail head. I takes me about 2 hours and the terrain provides me we enough challenge to feel like I am accomplishing something (calorie-wise)!!

This section starts by crossing under the I-26 bridge, then quickly turns up the hills and starts climbing into the treeline. The trail is completely shaded in this area, so no need for sun screen! It starts out with a moderate climb that sweeps around the side of the mountain. The trail quickly ushers you into a hidden meadow with large, ancient Oaks.

Eventually it meets up with an old logging road cut through the forest. Keep trekking and the trail begins to follow an old fence, no doubt built there around the turn of the century. One can imagine all sorts of cattle grazing the hillside.

Just around the time your legs have warmed up for the hike, the trail takes on a more challenging terrain. Steady up-and-over hills make the way. The climbs are more short, abrupt, and steep, rather than long and sustained. But it is the number of them that make them a great workout for the legs…don’t worry–there’s always the downhill side to rest on.

About 40 minutes into the hike, you will arrive at High Rocks. This is a beautiful, sweeping vista overlooking TN. The outcropping is approximately 200ft. off the trail and well worth the climb!

Keep walking south and you’ll climb up-and-over three more hills. Once you begin making a big descent, you are just about to the shelter. Hog Back Shelter is about 0.1mi. off the trail. The shelter will house about 5 hikers. The shelter also has a privy for your comfort and convenience (a privy with a pretty awesome view too!) and a water source. Unfortunately, the water source is 0.25mi. away from the shelter…a bit further than I want to walk off trail to source water. Nonetheless, it’s a great place to kick your shoes off and have a snack.

Hog Back Shelter, AT

The hike back to the parking area is generally a bit easier as you are gradually losing elevation toward Sam’s Gap.  All-in-all, this a great day hike if you’re up for some moderate strain. It takes me about 35 minutes to beam out there from Asheville so it’s not too bad for distance. Plus, you won’t have the droves of people that the parkway attracts.

Just take I-26 west from Asheville and then take the exit for Wolf Laurel. From the exit ramp, make a right. At the end of the bridge, make a left. Go about 3 miles and the road will wind back toward I-26. The parking area is on the left…enjoy!

Editing Down: Ultralight Water Treatments

Posted in Gear & Methodology on August 7, 2012 by samanthamichaud

After 2,181 miles of rugged hiking I learned a few things about treating water in the wilderness. In a perfect world, I would carry a different method of treatment dependent on the region I am hiking through. However, in the world of ultralight hiking, we can’t afford to be picky. What I mean to say is… on the Appalachian  Trail, there were certain stretches of trail where the water was less than desirable. I am talking about New York and portions of Southern Connecticut. However, the total mileage between those 2 states is small beans and not worth switching out your water purification system.

I commenced my journey with an MSR Sweetwater Filter. It rocked! However, filters require a ton of maintenance and contain many working parts that often break down. As I moved further north on the trail, I discovered that New York and Connecticut’s iron-laden water sources killed my Sweetwater. Filters are not meant to remove heavy metals and they often jam up when forced to do so. The one great thing about my Sweetwater was its ability to remove awful tastes from the water. Although it was a huge annoyance to filter water in the north, it eliminated the gross taste of heavy metals.

Much later in my journey I dropped my Sweetwater off and picked-up a new method. I bought an old-fashioned bottle of iodine. I am not talking about those fancy iodine tablets either… just a small vile of iodine you can purchase at Walgreens or CVS. It contained about 2 ounces and lasted forever. I followed SOLO Wilderness Medicine’s standard protocol: 3 drops iodine per liter of water for 30 minutes prior to consumption. It was so simple it was ridiculous. All those days of pumping the filter, cleaning it out, transferring water back-and-forth were over.

I was faced with another interesting challenge. Since I eliminated my water filter I eliminated the ability to strain the nasty floaters, algae, and creatures that live at the top of most water sources. I saw a lot of folks hold bandanas over their water bottles, but that just didn’t work very well. As you continue into Maine, the water sources also get more-and-more questionable (like creepy stagnant ponds). I came up with a really simple, really cheap solution. I bought a panty-hose sock from Wal-Mart out of the women’s hosiery department. It cost about a $1. I then placed the open-end over the mouth of my water bottle. Over the opening of the sock and the mouth of the bottle I placd a rubber band to firmly fix the two together. I then submerge my bottle underwater. I was amazed at how clear the water in my bottle was and how none of the debris in the water could make it through the sock. The panty-hose sock is so fine that none of the debris was able to pass through. Pretty ingenious huh?

The whole “system–” iodine, panty-hose sock, and rubber band– weigh in at an incredible 2 ounces. Pretty awesome considering that my MSR Sweetwater weighed 11 ounces.

This ultralight water treatment system is incredibly easy and a great one to experiment with at home. I dare you to try it out one day and see how simple it really is.

Ain’t it the truth…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 15, 2012 by samanthamichaud

An Ultralite Alcohol Stove: Beer Can Style

Posted in Gear & Methodology with tags , on January 27, 2012 by samanthamichaud

A few weeks ago I wrote about editing down my current camp stove (MSR Whisperlite) to a new, homemade alcohol stove. So, with many empty beer cans and a little ingenuity, I have created my own alcohol stove.

This stove is totally legit… do you see how the blue and gold paint has been burned off around the individual puncture holes? This means that the flame was successfully distributed out of the jets and allowed for an even dispersal of heat. It was a lot of fun to make and very easy to replicate (refer to Editing Down: Camp Stoves for step-by-step instructions). Easy replication is very important to me because if the stove is damaged or lost, I will have no issues making another one. And with so many thru-hikers around there will ALWAYS be a wealth of empty beer cans to choose from. Oh, did I forget to mention that this stove was FREE. It cost nothing to make,  which is a large difference from the $70 I spent on my Whisperlite.

Nonetheless, the stove itself was a success; however,  I realized that I was lacking a very important element to make this totally legit. A pot stand is needed to allow oxygen to flow into the stove, as well as, to support that full pot of boiling water.

I was rooting around the kitchen and found a can of pineapple. After eating the delicious pineapple I used a can opener to remove the bottom . I liked this particular can because of its weight-to-strength ratio. This can is ultra light weight, but rigid enough to support a full pot of water. The height of the can is just right, allowing for oxygen to feed the flame.

Those triangular shaped holes, you may notice, were made very easily with the assistance of a special tool called a “church key.”

I want you all to understand just how easy it is to make and use these stoves. I have very week hands, having broken each of them. My dexterity is not-so-great, but I had no problems making this alcohol stove. Anybody can do it!

Viola! Below is the camp stove setup and with a hot pot of boiling water atop it.

Keep reading….

My first meal was a delicious bowl of shrimp Top Ramen. I know you are wondering how much alcohol it used to cook this… only 1/8 of a cup or roughly 3/4 of a shot glass.

The final weigh in for both stove and pot holder… 0.3 of an ounce. How is that for ultra light hiking and efficiency? I will take 0.3 ounces over my 11 ounce Whisperlite any day.

The best part of this stove is that is required no maintenance or tweaking. Just pour the alcohol and light!
Bon Apetit!

-Fuzzy Navel

 

 

 

 

 

“How To Take A Bath In the Woods”

Posted in Gear & Methodology on January 24, 2012 by samanthamichaud

Okay, I am officially responding to the 4 people who asked me this question in the last week. Get ready to take notes!

This may seem a little silly or childish, but it’s actually quite a legitimate question to ask. I will do my best to tackle this subject with tact, but I am not making any promises that it won’t sound silly.

Research

Before I embarked on my thru-hike, I often pondered what bathing would be like or if I would even have the opportunity in the woods. I knew there would be streams and I knew there would be springs and I knew that I would eventually come to a town where I could shower. One day, when I was studying in Library West at UF, I was spacing-out and having trouble concentrating. So I haphazardly clicked on the YouTube link and starting searching.  The first question I asked was “how to poop in the woods.” Don’t laugh! I know that sounds weird, but when you are going to live in the woods for five months, everyday tasks like a back-country poo poo become very important! Well…you’d be surprised at how many videos appeared, all dealing with potty-ing in the woods.

So I kept searching, this time about thru-hikers and hygiene. I will admit that hygiene is the antithesis of thru-hiker. We are known for carrying the stench of a rotting corpse. Nonetheless, I was curious about these issues… I continued to stumble upon similar information. Most hikers carried some sort of shammy or “sham-wow.” It made sense. Not only could a shammy dry off a wet hiker, it could sop the water off of your rain-soaked gear before packing it up. The benefit of the shammy is that the water can be wrung out of it and still absorb water as effectively as a large beach towel. So I made a special trip down to Wal-Mart, trotted over to the automotive section, and purchased a shammy that you would use on your car.

How to take a bath in the woods

I will just be honest and tell you that taking a bath out in the woods is just something you have to figure out when you get there. However, there are a few important things to remember…. we should all respect the great and wonderful principles of our friends over at Leave No Trace (LNT).

  1. Even though you are in the woods there are usually people around (other thru-hikers, tourists, etc.) so you’ll need to get over your inhibitions or wear your skivvies in the water.
  2. If you are hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, I have news for you; the water is going to be FREEZING cold. There’s no hot tubs out there.
  3. Pick a location: water sources are usually common and shared amongst other thru-hikers; therefore, be respectful and go DOWNSTREAM of the others. Other hikers will most likely be sourcing their drinking water from the same place and I know they don’t want to drink your body soil.
  4. Sometimes you won’t be able to immerse yourself in the water. Don’t let a shallow stream or spring prevent you from taking a sort of sponge bath. Sometimes a nice rinse at the end of hot day is all you need to boost your morale.
  5. This one’s REALLY important! Don’t suds yourself up in the water source. First of all, you should only use biodegradable camp soap (Dr. Bronner’s, Sea to Summit camp soap, Camp Suds). Secondly, if you really need to soap yourself, get wet and then walk 200 feet away from the water source to soap up and to rinse off. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but dumping even miniscule amounts of the most environmentally friendly soap in a water source can have devastating impacts on the environment. Generally, if I needed to bathe in the woods, I didn’t use any soap and just took to scrubbing myself thoroughly with water. It’s your choice.
  6. This one’s for all you ladies out there– going on a thru-hike is no excuse to let yourself go. I still managed to shave my armpits and my legs. I mean, you could skip on that, but it’s really rather easy and way more comfortable. Just because your living in the woods like Sasquatch, doesn’t mean you have to look like him : )
  7. Grab your shammy and start drying off.

I said all that to ultimately say… you will always eventually come to a town with modern plumbing and bathing facilities. The longest I went without a bath was 9 days, but it wasn’t too bad. The times that I found myself taking a birdbath were days that it was incredibly hot and I was caked with salt. Generally, I just put up with my funk and waited until town. Even if you do manage to bathe in the woods…. you will still smell like a land fill, so embrace it!

I will leave you with some bathing anecdotes from the trail…enjoy!

Backwoods Bath Time Anecdotes

Quarry Gap Shelter, 17 miles south of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania…

Here in Pennsylvania, the AT dissects many state parks. Tiger Lilly and I came upon a beautiful stream on a particularly hot afternoon. We decided that it was high time to strip down to our skivvies and take a bath. We smelled so bad! So we waded out to the center of the stream and took a most-needed, most-wonderful bath. However, we failed to realize that we were in the middle of a very crowded Caledonia State Park, Michaud State Forest on Memorial Day Weekend. People started walking by and staring at us. Little children asked their parents why there were girls taking a bath in a stream. We incited much ruckus and it was so funny! I honestly didn’t care what any of those people thought of us because we really needed to take baths!

Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I got to take a bath finally! The sun shined right down onto the creek so I was able to bare the ice, cold water. I even got to shave my legs! I’m no hippy! I haven’t bathed since Fontana Dam Shelter and every day since it has been rain, sleet, and snow. Usually when we make it to the shelter it is freezing cold, but everything is soaked with water…our sweat. To see the sun this afternoon was such a blessing; I’m so glad I finally got to take a bath. It was a little odd because the stream was right in front of the shelter, but at least I got to take a bath and wash my dishes at the same time! I know… it’s the simple things in life that bring me joy now.

Stewart Hollow Shelter, Housatonic River, Connecticut

What a day! The mosquitoes were out in droves today and I am pretty sure that the state Connecticut is home to a mutant breed! My goodness! Since I crossed the Mason Dixon, I’ve been carrying around my little orange bottle of magic…I mean Ben’s Insect Repellent. This stuff is lethal, coming it at 99.9% Deet. For the most part, it does a great job of keeping the mosquitoes off, but it burns the hell out of my skin and if it gets on my gear it dies it different colors. I am not so sure this isn’t going to cause me to have cancer in 10 years..oh well. It beats Encephalitis and West Nile Virus for the meantime.

The last two miles of my hike were on a perfectly flat path alongside the Housatonic. Along with being drenched in the repellent, I was waving a bandanna back-and-forth across my face and neck. Those little suckers kept landing in my eyes! I was so sweaty and so ticked-off about the stupid mosquitoes, that I decided I was going for a dip. I had been warned about the Housatonic, but I just didn’t care! I took my bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner’s and went for a swim. The water looked pretty murky, but darn it felt so clean and refreshing. I found a nice rock to sit deep into the water and proceeded to scrub, scrub, scrub. A train passed and I could here the horn bellowing in the distance. Once I got out of the river I felt like a million bucks! Oh the power of nice bath in the woods!

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