On our way to Maine!

The last few weeks have been crazy! Kristen finished her school year, we got married, and our house is all packed up and under contract. We’ve split up our earthly possessions between a 10’x10′ storage locker and a crawl space and are on the road with two backpacks, a cat, and a lot of food.

The drive thus far has been pretty straightforward, save an escape attempt by the cat at a rural McDonalds. No worries – she is still safely on her way to the Grandma Dee Kitty Hotel.

We want to thank everyone for being supportive (both emotionally and physically) as we start this adventure. We’ve found words of encouragement around every corner and couldn’t feel more loved. We hope you enjoy tagging along from the safety of your computer screens as we brave bugs, rain, bears, moose, mice, intermittent internet access, weird smells, and probably too much ramen.

Stay tuned! We know people are curious about pretty much everything, so feel free to comment with questions!

Ultralight Backpacking

A post from Levi:

Take a moment and envision backpacking. Chances are, the first thing that came to mind was a smelly, dirty hiker with a giant backpack straining their way up the trail. That’s how backpacking was done for generations, and it’s how some still choose to do it today.

I remember taking pride in the fact that I had one of the heaviest backpacks in our Philmont scout ranch crew. At one point, my pack was over 40 pounds! It was definitely something worth bragging about at the time. I was tough – I could brave the outdoors and haul an extra 40 pounds to boot.

Since then, I’ve reevaluated what I want out of the outdoors. It’s no secret that a life without reprieve from natural exposure can be a tough one – but with the hardships come many rewards. It’s easy to hang tight to a ‘woe-is-me’ temperament when the forecast calls for a day of cold rain on an already muddy trail. But when milestone mileage is just around the corner, the brimming sense of accomplishment is enough to outpace the despair. Great hilltop views can remedy burning calves and quads. Unexpected conversations with a stranger can warm the chill of loneliness hanging thick in the vast wilderness. Sometimes a hot meal in the next town is the only thing keeping you going. There is plenty of darkness on the trail, but the light, the ‘trail magic,’ makes it all worth while.

The problem is that sometimes the darkness is too strong, or the light is not frequent enough. This is what is often called a ‘bad time.’ If you are experiencing a bad time, you will want to get off the trail. It can ruin what is supposed to be a life improving experience.

I’ve decided that my objetivo numero uno is to do whatever I can to make my experience a positive one. Four to six months is a long time. I want to amplify the good times, and put a stopper on the bad times. So what can I do about it? Well, I have no control over the trail itself. This means I cannot control whether bad things happen nor can I decide how often they occur. There are, however, many strategies to limiting exposure to suffering. One of these approaches is known as ultralight backpacking.

Ultralight backpacking is the idea that carrying the lightest possible load, while maintaining a focus on safety, will improve a backpacker’s enjoyment by allowing them to travel more comfortably at higher speeds and for a longer duration. It is commonly believed that a base pack weight (weight of a full backpack sans consumable materials) below 10 pounds will yield a more comfortable ride and save a backpacker from intense levels of soreness and fatigue. Dark times will seem less-so when you can press the fast forward button with fewer complications.

You may say to yourself, ‘That sounds great, but I’m smart and I can see what’s coming. This all comes at the expense of comfort.’

You are smart and you are right, but comfort is a spectrum. It is possible to find a Goldilocks range that meets both comfort and weight needs. For some people, that base pack weight can be as low as 3 lb. For others, ultralight is never an option – but they can at least shave a few pounds. These few pounds can make a big impact over 2,000 miles.

The first step on the path to Ultralight is a strategy very similar to minimalism – the identification and elimination of unnecessary clutter in order to lead a simpler and more satisfying life. Think of it as Buddhism Lite. If something does not have a purpose, it is not necessary. If it is not necessary, it will distract from satisfying or enjoyable interactions with the people, places, and things which provide the highest quality of fulfilment.

Handle each item in the kit and ask if it is truly necessary. Do you need a lantern and three flashlights? Do you need a 6″ folding knife and a camp saw? Do you need either? Do you need a fresh pair of clothes every day? These are questions each backpacker must answer themselves, but often times the answer selected is the simplest option.

After eliminating what is not needed, the next step is often evaluating what’s known as the big three: sleep system, shelter, and bag. These are items that everyone needs, and can contribute the most weight to the remaining system. These are also the most expensive items in a given kit. A good combined weight to shoot for is 7 pounds – with today’s technology, this is often achieveable with full comfort.

The final step is never ending. Once you’ve developed a system you are comfortable with, the only thing to do is find lighter versions of what you already have. Dropping pounds becomes shaving ounces becomes squeezing grams.

Kristen and I have our gear setups pretty well dialed in, and over the next couple of months plan to share them with you so you can see examples of ultralight kits. We’ll take you piece by piece, and would love to answer any questions you have along the way.

Stay tuned!

Trail Life

If you’ve never gone on a long camping trip before, you’ve probably got a lot of questions about backpacking life. Let us lay it all out for you:

A day in the life:

  • 06:00 and/or butt crack of dawn: Rise and shine. Get up, pack up, and hit the trail.
  • 06:30: On trail eating a mobile breakfast like granola bars and walking to warm up. This step may be postponed 15 minutes for instant coffee if it was a rough or cold night.
  • 07:30: Fully warmed up, shed all excess layers like jackets, gloves, etc. About 2-3 miles in. Eating 100-200 cal/hour in snacks so that Levi doesn’t get cranky.
  • Around 11:00 – 12:30: Stop somewhere with a nice view (or at least a comfortable place to sit) and eat a small lunch. Mileage goal at this point is 10-16 miles depending on terrain.
  • Around 15:00 – 16:00: Still snacking. If we’re above our mileage goal for the day, we will relax our pace. At this time, we should have gone between 15 and 25 miles depending on terrain and number of breaks.
  • 19:00: Start looking for optimal campsites. If we find it, we will take it.
  • 21:00: Also known as hiker midnight. If we aren’t in bed, we should be. A successful day will be between 20 and 30 miles of hiking.

Frequently Asked Questions:

So, do you, like, hunt down and fish for your food? Do you scavenge for berries and stuff?

We will be bringing food with us, and will resupply in towns every 2-5 days. While hunting and fishing is allowed with permits in certain parks along the trail, we do not plan on bringing any gear with us. It’s too heavy. We have been known to snack on berries.

How do you get your food? What about things like tooth paste and toilet paper?

Every 2-5 days we will be making stops in towns that are on the trail or within eight or so miles from the trail. We plan on packing up food, toiletries, and other goods prior to the trip and shipping them in what are known as ‘resupply boxes’ to post offices, hostels, and businesses in these trail towns. We will also have opportunities to shop at local stores and businesses to supplement our supplies.

Are you going to be camping the whole time?

Most of the time. We do plan to overnight in trail town hostels or hotels once every couple of weeks or so. If storms are really bad and there are no towns nearby, we will take refuge in the shelters that are scattered along the trail.

How big is your tent?

We have the biggest tent. Our tent is bigly, it’s the lightest, and best tent there is. Nobody has a better tent.

Aaaaand back to reality. We don’t use a tent – at least not in the traditional sense. Kristen uses a hammock and tarp, and Levi uses a ground tarp and splash bivy (sort of a small tent).

You never said anything about a campfire. What about that and the songs and just hanging out in nature?

We don’t plan on having many campfires for a few reasons. The first is that many parks don’t allow them outside of established campsites, and we don’t like established campsites (we’ll explain in a future post). Another is that we don’t plan on spending a lot of time in camp. We want to see and do as much as possible. Hanging around camp won’t be a daily staple of our routine, but we’ll do it occasionally based on what our trail friends are doing.

How many changes of clothes do you bring? Do you bring deodorant?

We do bring extra clothes. Levi will be bringing two whole extra socks, and Kristen will have two socks and an extra pair of underwear. Because saving space and weight is so important, every item of clothing needs to have a specific purpose (or even multiple purposes). We don’t have the desire to carry things we don’t absolutely need.

We are going to smell and get dirty regardless of whether we have five changes of clothes or 15 sticks of deodorant. It is inevitable. Our clothes will be quick drying and anti-microbial, however, which helps with keeping us healthy in humid and wet conditions.

If you do see us on the trail, you might not want to hug us.

Wait. Levi isn’t bringing an extra pair of underwear?

Nope. Good luck, Kristen.

Why We’re Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking 2,200 miles… That’s an undertaking. You must be serious, stupid, or a little bit of both to try an adventure like that.

   Probably both.

FOUR to SIX months, and you sleep in the woods the whole time? I could never do that.

   We’re not in the woods the whole time – sometimes we’re above treeline…

Aren’t you scared of bears and spiders and snakes and lions and ticks and…

   Yeah, most of those things. Well maybe not lions.

There are plenty of reasons not to hike the Appalachian Trail. Ask all you want, some of those reasons just don’t shake us. We’ll try to dispel any concerns you have in future posts; for now, we’d like to explain our reasons for hitting the trail.

We love the outdoors

We both love camping, hiking, travelling, and experiencing nature. Backpacking the Appalachian Trail is the ultimate testament to all of the above. We value everything that the AT is, and everything it stands for.

Now is the perfect time 

There’s no time like the present. We are both in situations where we can take breaks from the working world. We’re still young. We don’t have any toddlers to drag up Mt. Washington in 40 mph winds. Finally, we’re in sound physical condition. No one could pick a better time to do the AT.

Physical and mental challenge

The Appalachian Trail has a 70% failure rate due to the environmental, psychological, and physiological challenges one faces between Georgia and Maine. We’ll be fighting through cramps, blisters, black flies, long days, rainy days, rainy weeks, interrupted sleep, heat waves, cold snaps, you name it. We’re excited by the challenge, and want to push ourselves to our limits in order to accomplish something as great as the Appalachian Trail.

It makes for an epic start to our lives together

Talk about trial by fire, right? If we can make it 2,200 miles together, we’ll probably be pretty well set for the rest of the road. Not to mention, we’ll create stories that we can tell and retell (and embellish) for the rest of our lives.


A Brief Description and History of the Appalachian Trail

America has many long walking trails, spanning from a few dozen miles to a few thousand miles. The oldest recognized long trail is the Appalachian Trail, which spans almost 2,200 miles along the Appalachian Mountain Range in the eastern United States. It is a continuous walking path from Georgia to Maine marked by semi-frequent white ‘blazes,’ in most cases a 3-4″ vertical brush stroke of white paint on trees, rocks, or whatever may be bordering the path.

The Appalachian Trail was conceived in 1921 by regional planner Benton MacKaye, and in 1925 work began to connect existing trails. The trail was completed in 1937 under the leadership of Myron H. Avery. In 1938, a hurricane destroyed sizable portions of the trail in New England. Due to this damage and World War II, the trail was not officially opened again until 1951.

The first claimed thru-hike (hiking from one terminus to the other continuously) came in 1948 by Earl Shaffer. This claim has been highly criticized due to damaged portions of trail and further shortcuts taken by Shaffer.

The first thru-hike by a woman was claimed by Emma Rowena Gatewood in 1955. Known as ‘Grandma Gatewood,’ the 67 year old completed the trail with a shoulder sack instead of a backpack and Keds instead of boots. She then completed the trail two more times at 72 and 75 years old.

In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Trails System Act into law, opening the door for the Appalachian Trail to become a federally protected part of the National Parks System.

Today, the trail is open for day hikers, overnighters, section hikers (those on a multi-day trip that do not plan to complete the trail in one trip), and thru-hikers. There a few recognized ways to become a thru-hiker:

  • NOBO – Hike the trail ‘northbound’ from Springer Mountain in GA to Mount Katahdin in ME. This is the most popular way to complete the trail, and hikers often depart in March and complete the trail in mid-fall.
  • SOBO – Hike the trail ‘southbound’ from Mount Katahdin in ME to Springer mountain in GA. A less popular way to take the trail, hikers often depart in June after snow melts in the north and complete the trail in late-fall. We will be hiking SOBO for our thru-hike.
  • Flip-Flop – Start from the middle and hike to one terminus, then return by car or plane to the middle and hike to the other terminus. This can also be done from terminus to middle. This is a good option if the hiker wishes to avoid the ‘hiker bubbles’ (large group of hikers generated by the usual SOBO and NOBO hiking seasons).

Shelters are spaced every six to ten miles along the trail to aid during serious weather. Shelters are helpful in a pinch, but can appear in various states of disrepair. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find assorted species of ‘mini-bears’ (squirrels, chipmunks, and mice) inside the shelters as many misinformed people like to bring food into the shelters with them when they sleep.

We hope to post again in the next few days. Our next topic will be ‘Why We’re Choosing to hike the Appalachian Trail.’ Thanks for reading!

Additional resources on the Appalachian Trail: