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Beginning In The Backcountry: A Guide For No-Timers and First-Timers

<b>For</b> me, it started on a family vacation to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. To keep me occupied for the eight-hour drive back home, my parents bought me a copy of Harvey Manning's Backpacking: One Step at a Time. By the time we got back to the flatlands I knew, even at 12 years old, that no matter how weird it all got I would always have a place, and it would always be outside.<!--more--> Tragically, it was almost 15 more years before I made it into the backcountry. But there I was, poised at a Smoky Mountain trailhead with at least 50 pounds on my back for this two-night trip. My pack was the backcountry equivalent of the Beverly Hillbillies' flatbed, with a 10-pound tent right there where Granny should have been. Throw on a pair of running shoes and a dozen bagels, and it was all I could do to hobble four miles to camp. Though far from a hardened veteran, I've put enough miles on the boots to have picked up a decent sense of fine-tuning the art. My pack doesn't look like a truck anymore, and I don't carry nearly as many bagels. I've discovered basecamping, and I carry a water filter. Though I wouldn't take anything for my degree from On-The-Trail University, there are a few pieces of information that would have served me well had I gotten them from some other source besides Experience. In that spirit, I would like to offer those who stop at this site on the way to their first backcountry adventures a few assorted bits of advice. Have fun. Really, it's why you're there in the first place. Take your time. Watch a cloud form. No stress is the rule in the woods, and the way you avoid stress is by following Rule 2. Be prepared. Too many backcountry disasters and near-misses result from the hiker's own ill-preparedness; inadequate clothing, lack of routefinding ability, bad judgment calls. Life-threatening situations don't just happen -- they are (in most cases) allowed to happen. Know what conditions you're going into, know how to deal with them, and pack accordingly. Park management can give valuable advice on local conditions and permitting procedures, but you have to call them. Know your equipment. You're not a traildork just because you know which insulation your sleeping bag uses. Your gear may well be called upon to save your life one day; the more you know about your equipment, the easier it will be to avoid situations that would overcome its abilities. Make sure you know what everything does and how it operates before you leave the house. (And speaking of leaving the house, a friend who will recognize himself once took his trailrookie wife into the bush around Fairbanks for one of her first overnighters. Though I'm sure he remembered his star chart and his miniature pepper grinder, he did forget the fuel pump for his stove. Knowing your equipment also means making sure it comes with you -- make a checklist.) Know your own abilities. The trail is always steeper and longer than it looks on the map or sounds in the guidebooks. ("After an invigorating climb, you reach the summit.") If you're depending on a shuttle or are restricted to some other timetable, make sure you can finish what you start. Know the country you're going into. Are thunderstorms common during the summer afternoons? Is water available for the entire length of the trail? Is there a possibility of bear encounters? Preparation, preparation, preparation. Though you should be prepared for emergencies, it's equally important to practice emergency avoidance. Important, But Not Life-Threatening Carry good food. True, I could never have eaten all those bagels. But good food is definitely worth the additional weight. Gary and I met a hiker in the Smokies who claimed to be saving weight by eating only gorp, but he was also carrying a bottle of wine for his last night on the trail. Go figure. If I'm on a short trip, my first night's meal will usually be a small vacuum-packed steak that's been allowed to thaw in my pack. Dry soups prepared with powdered milk, homebrewed hashes made with store-bought dried pasta or rice, oatmeal with a box of raisins thrown in; the thought of any is enough to propel me an extra mile or two. Don't forget dessert. Bring antacid. The unfortunate side effect of the above is often a scorching case of heartburn. For me personally, exertion and exhaustion seem to exaggerate the effects. Greg and I would have sold our sisters for a few tablets after tomato-basil soup in the Collegiate Peaks one night. Pick your companions wisely. Not only will you have to see them 24 hours a day, you'll be depending on them in the event of an emergency. If your companion brings a harmonica, accidentally leave him or her at the next gas station. Allow yourself plenty of leisure time. A trip requiring you to cover ten miles a day for seven straight days is not a vacation. Don't think that because you can walk ten miles on city streets you can keep up the same kind of time in the woods. It just doesn't happen, and if it does you're probably missing something. Don't fret over small stuff. Print and electronic backpacking media are full of debates on water filters vs. iodine, leather boots vs. nylon and suede, internal vs. external frame packs, and though proponents of each may make good points, the beginner would do well simply to make sure the basics are taken care of -- boots on feet, shelter over head, pack on back. Most of the equipment sold by reputable retailers (ask around) is of good quality, and any stove will boil water if operated properly. Though I'm not saying you can't go wrong, I am saying you don't need to sweat over brands and specs. Read. This article is only the most minimal beginning. The books and magazines available to freshman hikers offer invaluable information and are a blast to read (a winter afternoon, a huge cup of coffee and a good guidebook -- is there anything better?). Finally, remember you have a responsibility to the wild places you frequent. As visitors, we inevitably remove a tiny piece of wildness from the places we visit. Minimize your impact in every way possible. By the way, Manning's book is still one of the best available introductions to wilderness travel and ethics. You can find it in almost any bookstore, as well as through numerous mail-order catalogs. Highly recommended.

21 Things Not To Forget On A Day Hike...And Why

<b>Hiking</b> is an adventure. Anyone who's gone on a 5 or 10 hour day hike knows as much. While on these day long excursions, you can expect any number of things to happen. In order to better prepare for the various things that one might encounter on the trail, I have composed a list of 21 things that I always consider bringing when I go on a day hike. While I may not use very many of them, I'm usually glad I brought what I did.<!--more--> No, I was never a boy scout as a youth. One thing I've learned over the years is that there's an easy way to learn things and a hard way. Since I have pretty much gone for the "hard way" approach in nearly every one of these cases, I hope that I can pass some of these lessons on to you the easy way. 1. Backpack and rain cover. Well, this one is obvious. At least the backpack part of it is. It's fairly unlikely that you'd go hiking without a backpack. But a rain cover? Most people think that if it's raining, there's no sense in ever leaving the house. But one thing that I've found is that rainy days are the best way get accustomed to the inevitable rain you will encounter on longer hikes. Thus, you might just want to get a rain coat for that day hiking pack as well. 2. Food. In general, it's a good idea to have some food on hand when you go day hiking. Even if you only plan on going for a 2 hour hike, you never know when you're going to become interested in some side trail and end up tooling around in the woods for 5 hours. It happens. So you should always have food on hand for when your stomach begins to go on strike. I always bring along a sandwich for my lunch and some fruit for a quick energy burst, with oranges being the best candidate for that job. Also, I like to have 3 powerbars with me when I start as well as having eaten one before I began the hike. They are an invaluable source of calories and are good to have if you run across another hungry hiker on the trail with no food. And let's not forget gorp. 9 out of 10 hikers agree…. 3. Boots. Well, this one is a gimmie, right? One rule of thumb to remember when choosing those boots, however, is that every pound of boot is like adding 5 pounds to your back. It's funny how the body works like that. You put too much stress on one part of it and another complains. Books could be written on choosing your boots. Read some of them before you proceed. Of course, after having said that, there are many trails that can be hiked with a pair of sneakers. Don't go out and spend the money on boots if you don't need to. 4. Gaiters. Again, this goes along with the rain cover for your day pack. If you want to get used to the rain, well, this goes without saying. What these accomplish for you is they prevent water from running down your legs and into the tops of your boots. After you spend all that time waterproofing your boots, you don't want to be foiled by forgetting to seal that big hole where your legs go in. Many hikers use these even on sunny summer days to prevent sweat and morning dew from getting into their boots. 5. Socks (2 pair). Socks are obvious. What isn't so obvious is what kinds of socks. Having an outer wool sock and an inner polypropylene sock combination to drain the moisture from your feet is a valuable practice that every hiker should get in the habit of doing. Your local hiking store will be able to tell you what socks are available to do the trick. My preference is a fitted sock liner as opposed to a loose fitting one and any of several types of wool socks with reinforced padding on the heel and ball of the foot for the outer shell. Bringing an additional pair of each is also something that is more than cautious, but one of those better safe than sorry situations. 6. Liquids. Now let's assume you use the "We don't need no stinking backpack" method of hiking. Well that's fine. But if you do, do yourself and the park rangers a favor and bring liquids. Water is the most common to bring, but anything that "replenishes" the body will do just fine. And I'm not talking about coffee here. One of my favorite drinks is to mix about one part water with one part orange juice. This way, you have a nice constant sugar supply with each drink of water. 7. Foot repair. Ankle brace. Foot repair. Moleskin is the best for this. If you have Moleskin, bring it. If not, buy it. Moleskin is the best friend to the feet of the hiker. Learning to use it the right way also helps. Read the directions carefully as to understand that you have to cut a hole if a blister has already formed. This way, it allows the blister to breathe and your foot to heal better. Other foot repair items that you might want to bring along include gauze, tape, Band-Aids, Neosporin, and ace bandages, or at least something to wrap your ankle in if you happen to twist it. A million people have said it a million times, what's one more? Feet are the most important things to hiking. Once the feet go, so does the hike. 8. An extra few pack straps. Now this little tidbit is one that I classify as "being a friendly hiker" territory. There's really no reason to have extra straps when going on a day hike with just a small pack. But having a few of these may save someone else's back in a pinch. More than once have I been able to help a fellow hiker by having an extra one on me. Not a necessary piece of equipment, but what's a few more ounces among friends? 9. Rain jacket. The rain jacket is only necessary if you know it's going to rain, right? Well sure. This is one thing I've learned from hiking over the years. Another thing I've learned is that you never know when it's going to rain. Period. So bring it if you'll be out for a full day. Chances are, if it's sunny when you start, it'll be sunny when it rains. But you never do know. 10. Fleece jacket. A fleece jacket is a nice thing to have when you begin your hike in the wee hours of the nascent sunlight or you hike into the colder hours of dusk. For as much as you sweat out on a hike, there will almost always be a place and time for a jacket. Especially when it gets rainy out. 11. Watch. It's nice to know what time it is. Keeping an eye on how long it took to get somewhere is a good way to know how long it will take to get back. Seems pretty obvious, right? Well take it from me, things seem to slip your mind when you hike sometimes. Remember what I said about learning the hard way? 12. Maps and compass. Having maps is a good way to get to know the terrain you're on in addition to giving you an indication of what is to come and what you've accomplished. Planning your day hike can be the most important way to guarantee a good day. Neglecting to do so can have adverse effects. Trust me on this one. Let's just say that 15 mile hikes shouldn't be started at 4:00 in the afternoon. But as they say, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Another nice little tidbit to have is a compass to go along with your map. While not absolutely necessary if you're following a well marked trail, it never hurts to have. 13. Knife. A knife is a valuable thing for three reasons. First, it's a great thing to have, period. A knife is an essential piece of any hiker's assembly of gear. Secondly, if you pick up one of nature's own hiking sticks, a knife gives you a way to better shape it to your hands while you take a breather on the side of the trail. Finally, you never know when you're going to run into Crocodile Dundee on the trail. So having a knife can benefit you in many ways. 14. Pen and paper. Very few aspiring poets and writers have begun writing in nature without paper and something to write with. Don't make that mistake. 15. String. String is one of those things that you will always have a use for. String is the equivalent of having duct tape at home. If you don't have duct tape at home, go buy some. And while you're there, you might as well pick up some string as well. Several years ago, when the sole of my boot fell off in the middle of a field in Pennsylvania, it was a chord of string that got me through it. 16. Garbage bag. This one's easy. Pack it in, pack it out. And while you're there pick up any trash that other's have left behind. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. 17. Rubber bands. Rubber bands seem to be distant cousins to string in the fact that they come in handy so damn often. There's always the need to be bundling things together when you hike and there is no replacement for rubber bands. Keeping a handful strewn about the bottom of your backpack is a good way to ensure that you have some. 18. Reading material. This is one thing that I feel that I should mention because so many people like to prop themselves up against a tree in the middle of their hike and read. Having said that, very rarely do I bring something to read with me when I go hiking. Several years ago, when I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, I brought 3 books with me. I may have read half of one. I was so immersed with the maps and the trail guides that I brought along, I had no desire to pick up a work of fiction. The same can be said for day hikes. Whenever I have the desire to read, I open up my map or trail guide and read the little tidbits that it has to offer. Failing this, I just look at the trees. 19. Aspirin. This is a no brainer. While it may be noble to "grin and bear it," the fact remains that when your knee starts to hurt every time you step on a rock, you want aspirin. 20. Flashlight. Yes indeed. No matter how much you plan, no matter how well you know your local hiking trail, or no matter how closely you keep track of time, once in a while things will sidetrack you and the sun will do it's daily disappearing act sooner than you intended. In the event that this happens, a small flashlight will come in more handy than you could have imagined. While a flashlight is no excuse for staying out later than you should, if the problem does arise, you will be prepared. 21. Clothes to wear back home. Once the day is over and you stumble back to your car after 6 hours of hiking and sweating up a storm, it's always a good idea to have a fresh change of clothes with you so you don't go stinking up your car for the next 2 weeks. Another option is to cover your seat with a big towel. While the former is preferable, if all you have is a towel, then so be it. One question you might ask is, "Why bother with so much crap?" Well, aside from being quite prepared while on the trail, it's never going to hurt to get used to having a pack on your back while you hike. After all, the more you like hiking, the more you're going to want to do it for extended periods of time. And then, all those times you walked for hours with smaller weights on your back might prepare you just a little bit for what's to come when you pack your bags to the gills for that week long trip. Besides, the feeling you do get when something you have helps another hiker is one that carries with you for an entire day. Thinking before you go is the best way to ensure you'll have a nice hike. As in life, it's always the little things that make or break your time spent in the woods. Hopefully, I've been able to help with a few of the little things. Happy hiking

Trail Magic: Angels Are Out There

The following is the first in a three-part on trail magic, which are acts of kindness to Appalachian Trail hikers, and the trail angels who provide it. Despite its benefits to hikers, trail magic sometimes has negative consequences. This installment focuses on the different types of magic that angels provide.<!--more--> It looks like a lot of food for the one man sitting at the table. There are two kinds of deli meat, turkey and chicken. Two kinds of bread, oatmeal and potato roll. Three kinds of salads, macaroni, potato, and garden fresh. Peanut butter and jelly. Salt and pepper. Ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Fresh strawberries. A stack of paper plates a foot high and a big box of clear plastic knives, forks and spoons. And drinks. Lots and lots of drinks. Icy cold green, blue and orange Gatorade, Mountain Dew, orange juice, apple juice and bottled water. It has all the standard elements of a Sunday basket lunch, only there’s more of it than the average family can handle. Presiding over this smorgasbord, covering an entire picnic table in a small pavilion at Gathland State Park in Gapland, Md., is its purveyor, Orval S. Nelson, and he’s waiting for his guests – not that he knows exactly who they will be or when they will arrive. Nelson wears an off-white t-shirt with the poem “Advice from a Tree” on the front, burnt-orange hiking shorts, and a gray paisley-patterned bandana wrapped around his head. His graying beard is full but the fact that it creeps down his neck indicates that it hasn’t been trimmed for a while and is still very much a work in progress. He has the fashion sense of a typical long-distance hiker, but in an apparent concession to comfort, he has traded in his hiking boots for a pair of more comfortable flips flops. A hiker clad in similar garb ambles down the Appalachian Trail, which runs right by the pavilion, and Nelson shouts out to him, “Trail magic over here!” The hiker eagerly joins Nelson. His guest has arrived and Nelson plans on serving him something intangible, something that won’t be found on the table: a big helping of trail magic. Providing food as Nelson does is just one type of trail magic, which can be virtually anything that helps a hiker along the way, including a ride to town, supplies, medical attention or simply advice. It can be a large, meticulously planned event or a small spontaneous act of kindness. Those who supply it do so for a variety of reasons but rarely expect anything in return. Despite all its positive attributes, a plethora of trail magic in recent years has caused some to question its impact and its value to hikers. There are concerns about large gatherings taking place on the actual trail, leftover trash from unattended magic and excessive amounts of alcohol or possibly even drugs being provided. In addition, too much magic, some argue, might cause hikers to rely too heavily upon it or might trivialize the accomplishment of hiking the trail. Nelson has only the purest of intentions, however, as he moves around the table in little bursts of energy, checking and rechecking his supplies, doing his best to provide his guest with everything he could want or need. Less than a week ago, Nelson was himself hiking the Appalachian Trail and was known to those whose paths he crossed as Jedi, his trail name. Trail names, chosen by the hikers themselves or given to them by fellow hikers, can be straightforward descriptions of appearance or personality, or they can have cryptic meanings known only to a few. Like most hikers on the Appalachian Trail, Jedi prefers to go by his pseudonym when he’s on or near the trail. Jedi was Southbound, having started at the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, but a foot injury forced him off the trail in Damascus, Va. Unable to continue his own journey and missing the interaction with other hikers of which he had grown so fond, Jedi sought solace by returning to the trail to offer what he could to those who still had miles to go before their own journeys would be finished. “You can’t stand to leave. You’re home, the television’s on and you start getting sluggish,” he says as he pantomimes moving about in slow motion. “What better way to stay in touch with the Northbounders I met while going South than to come up here and do a little magic for them?” Jedi, like most hikers, has many memories of being the recipient of trail magic, and, in part, it’s those memories that bring hikers back to the trail to give to others a semblance of what they were once so grateful to receive. “It’s infectious,” Jedi says. “It’s been bestowed upon us and we want to pay it forward.” Those most thankful for and often in most need of trail magic are thru-hikers. The Appalachian Trail weaves its way for more than 2,000 miles through 14 states. A thru-hiker is typically someone who is attempting to hike north from Springer Mountain in Georgia the entire distance to Mount Katahdin in Maine (although some try it in reverse and others break it into sections over several years). According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website, www.appalachiantrail.org, in 2006 more than 1,100 hikers started the Northbound journey and a little more than 300 finished. Those numbers alone would seem to indicate that the sheer difficulty of the undertaking makes any bit of trail magic the hikers encounter along the way that much more special. Sometimes it’s the magnitude of the gesture that makes the magic remarkable. On the evening of March 17, Sunnyside, a 24-year-old thru-hiker taking a break from his studies at Indiana University, happened across “Apple’s Dome,” a giant, orange,15-man expedition tent set up in Burningtown Gap, N.C. Inside were an oven, chairs, and food and drinks, including, most notably, green donuts and Jagermeister to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Much to Sunnyside’s relief, there was also a heater. “It was 7 degrees outside that night,” he says. “The walls were frosted on the inside.” A photo of the orange dome lit up from the inside and contrasted against the night black sky reveals silhouettes of hikers inside savoring the warmth. Other thru-hikers have similar stories. Mr. TalkerMan, a 68-year-old Justice of the Peace from Cherryfield, Maine, recalls coming across a most unexpected sight just off the trail in Brown Gap, Tenn. Set up in “the middle of nowhere” was a University of Tennessee tailgate party. The trail angel, Ox, was a big booster of the school’s football team, the Volunteers. Mr. TalkerMan says he was treated to bacon, eggs, home fries and “these things they call ‘Bubba Burgers.’ He even had a big banner with the UT logo that said, ‘Welcome Hikers.’” Not all trail magic requires a vast expanse or expense, for that matter. Often, the trail magic that has the most meaning is that which is small and spontaneous, such as a car ride into town to pick up supplies or a cold drink at just the right time. Mr. TalkerMan and another hiker, Young Eagle, were near Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee when they had just about run out of gas with a climb looming ahead. “It was hotter than hell,” says Mr. TalkerMan. “I looked up that mountain and I said, ‘I just can’t do it. If we could just get a Coke or something.’ “Right then, this woman comes across the parking lot with a Coke in each hand. She says, ‘You boys look like you could use a cold soda.’ Then she says, ‘And I’ve got some brownies in the car.’ “That was about the best trail magic because it got us up that mountain and another four miles to the shelter.” Moonpie, a 29-year-old former car salesman from Raleigh, N.C., says “not all trail magic is about food.” At the top of 6,285-foot Roan Mountain in Tennessee, Moonpie and his fellow hikers were treated to a banjo and fiddle performance by a pair of musicians who “just played for us.” Many trail angels are people from local communities with no connection to the trail other than their desire to help hikers in need. “Trail towns are very knowledgeable about hikers,” says Jim (who doesn’t have a trail name, but doesn’t use his last name either), a 49-year-old tax accountant from Seattle. He tells of one time when he and another hiker, after going to town for supplies, were sitting near a Little League field “looking like bums” when they were offered a ride back to the trail by a lady. Despite their appearance, he says, she went out of her way to help them. Small, thoughtful acts of kindness are more reminiscent of the trail’s early customs, says Laurie Potteiger, information service manager of the ATC in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. Potteiger thru-hiked the trail in 1987, and was occasionally the recipient of trail magic herself. “It’s really part of the trail culture and always has been,” she says, “but the essence of trail magic has changed. It certainly has changed in scale and scope.” <div class="pagetitle"> <h1>Step Carefully</h1> </div> <div class="contentarea"> The following is the second in a three-part series on trail magic, which are acts of kindness to Appalachian Trail hikers, and the trail angels who provide it. Despite its benefits to hikers, trail magic sometimes has negative consequences. This installment focuses on some of the concerns about trail magic. Somewhere along the Appalachian Trail this weekend, a well-meaning individual or group will set up a large tent or canopy, fire up a grill, and serve up the best barbeque the thru-hikers lucky enough to come across it will ever taste. After they eat, the hikers might relax in comfortable lawn chairs and wash down their meals with a few cold drinks. The hikers’ stomachs will be full, as will the hearts of the trail angels who provided the trail magic. And everybody will leave happy. Well, almost everybody. Such elaborate instances of trail magic, which are acts of kindness to Appalachian Trail hikers, sometimes draw the ire of those who hike the trail looking to escape the creature comforts and materialism of civilization. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will occasionally receive letters from hikers who are offended or disappointed by trail magic that takes away from their intended experience. “The first one that really came to our attention was in the 100-Mile Wilderness,” says Laurie Potteiger, information service manager of the ATC in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. This section of the trail extends for 100 miles in Maine’s backcountry and, uncrossed by paved roads, preserves the illusion of wilderness. Potteiger says that a group hauled in a large amount of supplies and took over a “pristine” campsite on one of the most beautiful sections of trail. “It totally took away from the primitive experience,” she says. Many people would say “a trail feed is not magic,” she says. “We acknowledge it’s not true magic, but after starving and suffering – what the trail requires of you – it still seems magical. It still seems like an oasis in the desert.” The trail magic wouldn’t be magical if it weren’t for the contrast in the setting” The larger issue with such types of trail magic, says Potteiger, is the impact it has on the trail. She recalls a volunteer who maintains a section of trail in Georgia complaining about a backcountry cookout in a primitive setting. The site was too small to accommodate the number of people who showed up and plants were trampled. “It took an intensive effort just to rehabilitate the site,” she says. The problem is easily remedied, Potteiger says, by moving trail magic to hardened surfaces, such as road crossings, or other suitable areas, where those who want to provide and experience the magic won’t get in the way of those who don’t. In fact, many trail angels make their presence known only by the magic they leave behind, be it a cooler of cold drinks and candy bars at a road crossing, a six-pack of soda or beer in a stream, or a weather forecast for the next few days taped to the top of a cooler. “It’s all about timing,” says Mr. TalkerMan, a 68-year-old Justice of the Peace from Cherryfield, Maine, who, like many hikers, prefers to go by his trail name. “If you are desperately hungry and desperately thirsty and then you walk out of the woods and there’s a cooler full of water, then that is oh…,” he says, his voice trailing off. Jedi, a 51-year-old, self-described “nomadic” trail angel, has come up with his own term for such acts: stealth magic. “That’s a different kind of magic,” he says. “Stealth magic is when you do it, get out, and nobody has a clue who did it. That’s the best kind of magic.” That kind of magic also presents its own set of problems, however, the biggest of which is the trash that unattended magic can produce. A Styrofoam cooler can end up as hundreds of pieces blowing in the wind if an aggressive animal wants a taste of what’s inside. Leftover candy bar wrappers and empty plastic drink bottles end up littering the trail. And empty six-pack rings have a way of finding their way around the necks of small animals. As for the human element, thru-hikers aren’t usually the ones to blame. In fact, they are probably more diligent than anybody except trail maintenance volunteers about picking up debris, says Moonpie, a 29-year-old former car salesman from Raleigh, N.C. “I can’t see thru-hikers leaving trash anywhere on the trail,” he says. “We tend to pick it up, but there are a lot of other people on the trail this time of year who don’t.” And therein lies the problem. Without anyone to supervise who is taking what and what they’re doing with their trash, there can be a tendency for people, some of whom might not even be hikers, to be negligent. “Unattended magic is one of the problematic forms because that has resource impacts and affects volunteer morale,” says Potteiger. “A hiker finds a cooler full of cold drinks on the trail and thinks, ‘Wow, this is so wonderful.’ It has not only the tangible reward but also meaning,” she says. “The maintainer sees it in the form of trash.” Potteiger says trail magic can be a positive experience for all concerned as long as it is done “thoughtfully and responsibly.” There are some people, however, who exploit the trail magic concept. Some of them might present themselves as trail angels but ask for a donation – or even outright payment – to cover their expenses. “We’ve had problems in the past with commercial entities trying to pass off their services as trail magic,” says Rita Hennessy, an outdoor recreation specialist for the National Park Service in Harper’s Ferry. Jim (who doesn’t have a trail name, but doesn’t use his last name either), a 49-year-old tax accountant from Seattle, remembers a man in Damascus who had a cell phone outside with an unlimited minutes plan. He was advertising a “free hiker phone” but had an oatmeal can available for donations. “He could easily be making a profit on it, but I don’t know what his thing is,” Jim says. Sunnyside, a 24-year-old thru-hiker taking a break from his studies at Indiana University, says he has a problem with people who want to impose their beliefs upon him in exchange for their version of trail magic. He recalls one place that served waffles to thru-hikers but expected them to listen to a religious pitch. “We got a single helping of waffles and a double dose of Jesus,” says Moonpie. “It was good if you like a sermon with your meal,” Sunnyside says. “I’m not against thinking that way; I think that way. But I am against people telling you to think that way.” Trail magic can also come in the form of alcohol and, for some, drugs. If they keep their nose to the wind, thru-hikers can enjoy plenty social events in trailside towns. Jim says he recently caught up to a group of hikers who started nearly a month before he did. “These guys are partying their way up the trail,” he says. “If they hear a rumor of something going on, a party or something, I think they’ll adjust their schedule to go to it. “These guys can hike 25 miles a day, but they don’t do that every day. They might not finish before November at this rate.” He is quick to note that their style doesn’t make their experience any better or worse than his own. One is not more right than the other, he says, it’s just different. “It’s important to hike your own hike,” he says, “and part of that is to keep your mouth shut.” While reports of too much trail magic in the form of alcohol or drugs being provided at some events are troublesome, Potteiger says, it appears to be more a reflection of society than the trail. “Alcohol use and abuse has always been going on among the early twenty-something set,” she says. “I don’t know if the nature of the trail experience has changed or our culture has changed. I think a lot of these hikers are out of college and they’re just continuing the college experience. What you read in the paper would seem to bear that out.” Hennessy says that partying is not the reason young people hike the trail, however. “I don’t think that anybody would hike the AT for that purpose,” she says. “It might be something they do, but it’s not the reason.” She acknowledges that the prevalence of trail magic in all its forms has altered the landscape, though. “(Hiking the trail) has become much more of a social experience,” Hennessy says. “The thru-hikers that I know who did it 20 years ago had a much different experience than now.” While some of the younger hikers may enjoy the social benefits of trail magic, Mr. TalkerMan says they also benefit from what it teaches them. Many young people today are lacking something in the way they are raised, he says, and trail magic teaches them lessons in giving and in social interaction. “It’s good for these kids – I call them all kids at my age – to experience that. It’s a character-building thing for them,” he says. Jedi agrees that there are life lessons to be learned from trail magic. “Think about great literature in which characters face epic struggles,” says Jedi. “They all get something along the way that helps them accomplish their goal. “We can take this from the trail into our own lives – spontaneous acts of kindness, random acts of kindness – and I think that’s good. Any type of magic is good.” <h1>Giving Something Back</h1> The following is the third in a three-part series on trail magic, which are acts of kindness to Appalachian Trail hikers, and the trail angels who provide it. Despite its benefits to hikers, trail magic sometimes has negative consequences. This installment focuses on alternatives to traditional forms of trail magic. Some days are full of magic. For Moonpie, a 29-year-old former car salesman from Raleigh, N.C., who, like many thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, goes by his trail name, one such day occurred near Wautaga Lake in Tennessee. It started out simple enough when another hiker’s mother met Moonpie and a few other hikers at the lake with cold sodas and food. After they were finished, another thru-hiker came by and reported more “trail magic” on the other side of the lake. Trail magic is an act of kindness to Appalachian Trail hikers that helps them on their 2000-mile journey from Georgia to Maine. Moonpie and his companions went to investigate and on their way came across a fisherman who asked them if they wanted some trout. “He gave us 14 trout,” Moonpie says, still with a hint of awe in his voice. Once they reached their original destination, they were not disappointed. “They had beer, wine, and liquor,” he says. “As we’re there, a guy in a sailboat pulls up and takes us on a sailboat ride around the lake.” While they were getting off the sailboat, Moonpie says, a man approached them and asked if they wanted a keg of beer. They said that they did and he told them to wait there. Later that night, Moonpie says, “we see a headlamp on the water and here’s this guy kayaking a keg across the lake for us.” “That was probably the best day of my trip.” Despite Moonpie’s appreciation, some would contend that so much magic tends to increase expectations among hikers and diminish its impact, much like a magic act in that once the audience has seen the same trick several times, some of the “magic” is gone. A posting by “Rick” on www.viewsfromthetop.com, an online hiking community, offers a glimpse into the mindset of many of those who have reveled in trail magic’s excesses. He writes, “… when I did the Pa. section, I found a lot of five-gallon buckets near road crossings filled with candy, snacks and bottles of juice. The first few were awesome. However, I found that as I hiked, it wasn't so much a surprise, in that sometimes I started to expect something would be near a road crossing. I'd get to a crossing and there'd be nothing and I'd be slightly disappointed. “See how easily I was trained?? “I now think of trail magic as something that pops up out of the blue for a one time thing where all the stars are aligned … rather than something that folks can expect when they get to a certain crossing.” “Maybe we need a new term,” says Rita Hennessy, an outdoor recreation specialist for the National Park Service in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. “Maybe the serendipitous ‘magic’ term disappears from that. When it becomes an expectation, I think that the ‘magic’ is lost.” Hennessy was a ridge runner on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts from 1985 to 1987. Essentially a backcountry ranger, Hennessy was primarily responsible for educating and aiding hikers along her section of trail. According to Hennessy, the term “trail magic” might not have even been coined at that time. It wasn’t until she took a job with the park service in 1997 that she started to hear the phrase. In conjunction with the terminology has come an increased interest in providing trail magic. Many trail angels are former thru-hikers who are looking to give something in return for the kindness they received or simply want to keep a connection with one of the defining experiences of their lives. Jim (who doesn’t have a trail name, but doesn’t use his last name either), a 49-year-old tax accountant from Seattle, had his most memorable trail magic experience when he ran into a group of 1999 thru-hikers who had set up shop a little off the trail near Hogpen Gap in Georgia. The group of men, all in their 30s now, was having a reunion, complete with wives and children, says Jim. They had placed signs on the trail inviting everybody to relive their memories with them while enjoying hot dogs and cheeseburgers, cookies and drinks. That’s not uncommon. Laurie Potteiger, information service manager of the ATC in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., says that often a thru-hiker’s first impulse after hiking the trail is to return as a trail angel but that there are alternatives. “Trail magic is a good thing, but we may have reached the point where we don’t need to solicit more of it or encourage more of it, whereas there’s always a need for more volunteers,” she says. The volunteers who maintain the trails might just perform the purest form of trail magic. Without the time and sweat they pour into the upkeep of the trail, hikers would have a more difficult time with even some of the shortest sections. Many hikers don’t think of trail angels as being the people who use their own resources to go out on the trail and cut back poison ivy, pull weeds, and clear blown down trees, says John Hedrick, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club supervisor of trails. However, he says, the volunteers’ work is invaluable to the thru-hiker’s experience. “If (the volunteers) didn’t do it, sections of the trail would be closed down in a year and a half,” he says. He cites a recent storm in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia that knocked down 2,500 trees and required 3,500 man-hours to clear. “The trail was impassable,” he says. “Mother Nature does things that will close down the trail and volunteers have to clear it out,” he says. “That, to me, is trail magic.” Members of the PATC like to point out that they’ve been performing trail magic for 80 years. Often, however, their efforts aren’t labeled or acknowledged as magic. That doesn’t mean the thru-hikers don’t appreciate the work that’s been done on the trail, Hedrick says. “(At first) the hikers kind of take it for granted, but after they’ve been out on the trail for a while and they see the work and the effort that goes into keeping this trail open, I think they begin to realize that this is a phenomenal thing,” he says. “When they come up to us on the trail, they could not be more appreciative,” says Hedrick, who completed a thru-hike in 2000. Potteiger says it would be great if more hikers could channel their goodwill into trail maintenance, which includes painting blazes on the trees, maintaining and building shelters, and taking steps to fight soil erosion. Oscar Streaker has been hiking on different sections of the trail for years and for the last couple of months has been driving up from his Sykesville, Md., home to help rebuild a shelter at Rocky Run in Maryland. He says the trail has given him a refuge over the years, a place to clear his mind and refresh his spirit. “I just have the need to give back to the cause,” he explains. “It’s God’s sanctuary being up here. What could be better?” Rick Canter, Maryland district trails manager, has been doing trail maintenance for the last 16 years and knows what it takes to keep the trail in top shape. “Anybody who volunteers to come out here and not get paid a dollar, I have total respect for,” says Canter. “The thing about trail magic is that it’s really easy,” says Potteiger. “Go to the store, buy some food, go to a road crossing. A volunteer effort takes much more effort and planning. “We think people find it very gratifying, but it just takes more time.” Furthur (sic), a 49-year-old former culinary arts teacher from Pittsburgh, intends to do what Potteiger suggests. Having seen what happened to the trail after a storm came through and how fast the volunteers were able to remove trees and reclaim the trail, he was inspired to return the favor. “If I used a section of your trail that you’ve maintained,” he says, “why shouldn’t I go back and help you maintain it?” “Without them,” Furthur says, “you’d be sleeping under the stars or in the snow.” Jim says living on the other side of the country prohibits him from showing up in person to help with trail maintenance but that he intends to become a member of one of the clubs responsible for that sort of work and support it monetarily. Providing trail maintenance in lieu of hamburgers and Coke would certainly be more in line with the park service’s vision for the trail. Hennessy says the park service sees as the purpose of the trail to serve as a footpath that people complete with their own “unaided effort.” “Once trail magic comes to be an expectation and it will happen throughout, then the whole reasoning for the trail, and the concept we at the National Park Service want to preserve, is going to diminish,” she says. On the other hand, she points out, Earl Shaffer, who became the first person to thru-hike the trail in 1948, hiked it again in 1998. Fifty years prior, Shaffer had enjoyed the bohemian-type experience of connecting communities by walking on the road and going through town, where he was sometimes the beneficiary of acts of kindness, but at the end of his last thru-hike, Hennessy says, he complained that it had become too difficult and its location too remote. In fact, some feel that the pendulum swinging back in recent years to something that more resembles Shaffer’s original hike is a move in the right direction. To them, trail magic often provides evidence of humanity’s best attributes. “It’s reassured me that there’s a lot of good people in this world,” says Mr. TalkerMan, a 68-year-old Justice of the Peace from Cherryfield, Maine. Pebble, a 22-year-old from Waynesboro, Va., who recently graduated with a degree in English from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va., says nobody is being forced to partake in the trail magic experience. “If people want to be self-sufficient, they can walk on by,” she says. “(Trail magic) is part of the trail community.” “The truth is that there are not many people who turn down trail magic,” says Potteiger. “We wouldn’t want to see it go away, but there can be such a thing as too much of it without proper planning.” </div>

Ultralight Backpacking Gear & Techniques

Carrying a light pack is easy. Carrying a lighter pack is harder. In Lightweight Backpacking 101 (reference at the end of the article), we extol the virtues of lightweight backpacking. More important, we offer practical advice for lightening your pack.<!--more--> Following is the basic framework that nearly every ultralight backpacker considers when embarking on her quest to reduce pack weight. We call this, of course, the path to enlightenment. <strong>Evaluating your Equipment Kit</strong> The first, and most obvious place to start is your equipment kit. The two governing principles here are: Analyze your current equipment kit; and Select the lightest equipment. A computer spreadsheet and a postal scale provide one cornerstone to the foundation for lightening your load. The ability to visualize every item in your kit - and their weights - allows you to see the impact of gear selection on the big picture. Next (financial resources permitting), begin to replace your heavier gear with lighter items. The first place to look is in the "big three" - sleeping bag, pack, and shelter. But dont go too light with your pack until reducing the weight of the rest of your load - or your musculature will pay the price for an overloaded "ultralight" pack. <strong>Logistics and Planning</strong> Next, we consider the logistics phase of planning a trip. The most fundamental task during this phase is to: Plan according to season and weather. It doesnt make sense to carry a zero degree sleeping bag and a four season tent on the Appalachian Trail in July. Carefully look at your clothing, shelter, and sleeping bag, to make sure that its appropriate for the season. <strong>Philosophy</strong> Now we go a little deeper - and these areas typically divide the lightweight backpacker from the ultralight backpacker. The ultralight mantra, of course is: Take only what you need. I dont necessarily advocate leaving luxuries behind; just dont take all of them. Camp chairs, binoculars, self-inflating pads, books, personal digital assistants, and fishing waders are among the more popular luxuries carried by backpackers. Look for lighter alternatives, go without, or carefully select one or two key items for any particular trip. <strong>Getting Practical With Lightweight Gear</strong> The nitty gritty of course, is gear. Selecting gear is only half the equation, however. Knowing how to use it properly (and to its maximum potential), on the other hand, is another challenge altogether. Perhaps the most weight can be saved if you: Choose jackets and sleeping bags with down fill insulation. Down insulation in sleeping bags and insulating clothing has always been, still is, and will always be (at least in the foreseeable near future) lighter than synthetic alternatives for the same amount of insulating value. However, carrying down assumes that you possess the necessary skills and attentiveness to care for it in inclement weather - down provides precious little insulating value if it gets very wet. Replacing a Polarguard 3D sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees and a 1" thick Polarguard 3D jacket with down counterparts that are equally as warm can save as much as 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. Some other areas of weight savings are not so obvious. Lightweight backpackers have long been advocates of actually adding a piece of clothing to their kit. They: <strong>Wear a wind shirt.</strong> Wind shirts from GoLite, Montane, Marmot, and Ibex now weigh less than 3 ounces. Addition of a wind shirt to your clothing system can add tremendous comfort and significant warmth, allowing you to wear lighter base layers, lighter rain shells, and lighter insulating garments during active exercise in cold conditions. The bottom line: a wind shirt extends the comfort range of your clothing system, and allows the other pieces to be lighter. <h4><strong>And, if you find yourself hiking with a partner:</strong></h4> <em><strong>Share your gear</strong>.</em> Hiking with a friend, you can pool resources, especially shelter and cooking gear. With some creativity you can extend the concept further - sleeping bags, ground sheets, light, maps, camera. If your are both advocates of the lightweight philosophy, then you can hit the trail with some very light packs. If your partner refuses to buy in, then at least strap the poor sap with his share of lightweight gear! Perhaps one of the more advanced concepts that ultralight backpackers invoke as they lighten their packs, is to: <strong>Look for items that have multiple uses.</strong> Start treating your gear as a system of components that work together. The ability to recognize synergistic relationships between your gear, or to select gear that performs multiple uses, is a key skill in reducing your pack weight and increasing the level of simplicity in your approach to lightweight backpacking. The classic example of ultralight multi-use gear: the poncho-tarp, which serves as both shelter and raingear. The media, through the years, has successfully made the judgment that lightweight backpackers are survival freaks waiting for an accident that will put them into a state of hypothermia forever. Another way of putting it: "lightweight hikers provide great search and rescue targets". Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, lightweight hikers tend to study and practice more advanced outdoor techniques. So if you want to go ultralight, be sure to: <strong>Develop your skills.</strong> Expertise at backcountry hiking and camping is simply the accumulation of experience that allows you to solve problems using innovative solutions with minimal equipment or supplies. Facing challenges, and working through them, can allow you (over a period of years, probably) to comfortably reduce weight of your first aid and emergency kits, clothing, food, and other items. Attending backpacking clinics, wilderness medicine courses, wilderness survival programs, and of course, actually getting out there and logging some trail miles provides the best foundation for reducing your pack weight. Finally, we close with a little more philosophy: <strong>Recondition your mentality.</strong> If you want to go light, you really have to want to go light. Make sense? Exercise your will to reduce your pack weight, set some goals, and be willing to try different approaches, even if, after trying, they fail you. Try again. Learn as much as you can. Sleep out in the backyard a lot. Especially on rainy or snowy or windy winter days. <strong>Conclusion</strong> "Going Light" is not a task. It is a process - and an iterative one at that. It is as much a philosophy of mind as it is a philosophy of gear selection. Good luck on your path to enlightenment!

Travel and Car Maintenance

<b>Vehicles</b> need to be in good shape too before a trip. Getting stuck or broken-down in the great outdoors is much less convenient than in the city. For off-road travel, four wheel drive vehicles are preferred. Vehicles with high ground clearance, e.g. pick-up trucks, are often OK. Cars are occassionally acceptable (be sure of conditions if you must go in a car). The items below are intended for the vehicle and are above and beyond the supplies brought for people.<!--more--> Make sure your vehicle's fluid levels are correct before you leave and there are no leaks. Things to bring: tire pump (car battery driven ones are nice), Safety Seal Tire Plugger Kit, car cover, shovel, fuses, jumper cables, a good jack, a 1 ft. X 1 ft. piece of plywood (to support the jack in soft sand), a 1 ft. X 5 ft. roll of chicken wire or carpeting (for traction in soft sand), 30 ft. of 500 lb. min. test chain with hooks, duct tape, electrical tape, fire extinguisher, two quarts of motor oil, 1 gallon of water, 1 gallon of anti- freeze, one quart of transmission fluid, one pint of power steering fluid and one pint of brake fluid. Bring extra gas in a gas can (with funnel or pour spout) if your internal tank provides insufficient range. Bring some tools to do minor repair work. Screwdrivers, open and box end wrenches, tire pressure gauge, etc. are recommended. All hoses and belts must be in good shape (no chunking, leaks, bulges, splits or unusual wear). The duct tape mentioned above can be used to seal hose leaks. The spare belts will allow the vehicle to be driven if a critical belt (water pump or alternator) breaks. The battery must be in good shape and fully charged. Be sure the specific gravity (acid density) is correct and the cells are full. The terminals should clean, e.g. no corrosion build-up. The battery should not be near the end of its service life. The vehicle's suspension must be tight. Lubrication (grease those zerk fittings) is a normal part of routine maintenance and will help prevent problems. A car cover or window shade will help keep internal temperatures down. All tires must have good tread, adequate air pressure and don't leak. Tires with thin tread, high or low air pressure are more easily cut by sharp rocks. Make sure the spare has adequate air and is in good shape also. Your best protection from getting stuck is to TRAVEL IN PAIRS. One vehicle can pull the other out of a ditch. Use the chain with hooks to pull the stuck vehicle out. The carpeting and digging mentioned below will also help. Attach the hooks to the frame or other special attachment points. Do not attach it to (most) bumpers or suspensions. Do not jerk the chain as vehicle frames can be bent. Rope is not recommended as it can spring back and harm people standing nearby. A blanket draped over the middle of the rope or chain during pull-out can minimize springback. Chain has very minimal springback. Wire rope has enough springback to take precautions. Fiber rope and nylon straps are very dangerous and shouldn't be used. They can spring back and go right through your leg. If you get stuck and don't have a winch or another vehicle, follow this procedure: Dig the excess sand out from the front of the wheels. Tamp the remaining sand down hard in front of the wheels. Lay chicken wire or carpeting just in front of the drive wheels. Let about half the air out of the tires. Keep your steering pointing straight ahead and drive slowly out. Try not to spin the tires or you might dig yourself deeper. Don't let anyone stand behind the vehicle while trying to get out. They could get hit by items ejected by the drive wheels. Drive slowly but steadily to the nearest firm surface. Refill the tires with the pump. Off-road driving is forbidden in most areas. Park within 25 ft. of the edge of the road where feasible.

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