Inside the Mind of Trauma

Justin "Trauma" Lichter

Justin “Trauma” Lichter

Justin “Trauma” Lichter is most recently famous for completing the first ever winter south bound thru hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with his long time hiking buddy Shawn “Pepper” Forry. They began at Manning Park in Canada on October 21st, 2014 and reached the border with Mexico on March 1st, 2015. But this is just a small percentage of the long distance hiking Trauma has been racking up since 2002. Over the past 13 years, he has hiked over 35,000 miles, or “equal to nearly and a half times around the Earth.” This includes two Triple Crowns and hiking expeditions all around the world in places such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Kenya and Ethiopia.

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Trauma (grey in both photos) and Pepper (green in both photos) at the beginning of their journey and the end.

Trauma has been interviewed extensively and if you do any amount of Google searching, you will find evidence of this easily. There are videos on YouTube and Vimeo; multiple backpacking centered websites and blogs have asked him a round of questions; there are even news and radio stations clamoring for a bit of Trauma’s insight into his journeys. Look here for an interview of Trauma and Pepper on their PCT winter SoBo hike. Check out Backpacker Magazine’s interview on Trauma’s Africa journey.

Below are a few questions that I haven’t seen asked as many times as some others. I tried to delve into a variety of random topics with Trauma to get a more well rounded sense of his hiking style and experiences as a whole.

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Trauma leaning against the marker at the end of his PCT SoBo winter hike.

MTX: I know your trail name is a result of several traumatic experiences during your first long outdoor trip. Do you mind going into more depth about those experiences?

Trauma: I took an outdoor education class in college and the class would spend 12 to 15 days out at a time. These trips in southern Utah were my first experiences with backpacking and within the first few days I had suffered from several traumatic experiences. The first was on a day when I was hiking ahead of the group by a bit. They were about thirty minutes behind me and suddenly there were ravens dive bombing me from above. I tried to run away from them, first one way then another, but they followed me. Finally I found a boulder to tuck away under and wait them out until my group arrived. As they came down the canyon, the ravens let up and then I had to explain why I was hiding behind a rock. On the same trip, a few days later, I was running low on food. Thankfully, I found some MRE’s stashed away but they were in cans. The military stopped making MRE’s in cans in the 1960’s or 1970’s, but I was hungry so I took the risk. There was a can of cheese and a can of chocolate, both of which were in rusted over cans but I opened them up and ate them. There was a third can containing jalapeño cheese and when I opened it, the contents were glowing a bright green color. My hiking partners were convinced they were going to have to carry me out from severe food poisoning but I ended up being fine.

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This is probably more or less what Trauma was dealing with, but maybe with a bit more rust.

MTX: The transition from first being introduced to long distance hiking to putting down several major trails and their extensions seemed very quick. Can you tell me about what got you hooked so hard?

Trauma: I hiked with a few buddies from the Utah trips in college the year before. Those trips birthed the idea of thru hiking the AT. When we started out we had the same mindset as when we were in Utah. We were carrying about ten days of food, not thinking that we had so many resupply options long the AT. It also took us a while to get used to picking up camp and moving every day. In Utah we could afford to bring some luxury items like a big knife for making a bow drill or lines and hooks for fishing because we only moved camp every few days. On the AT, we realized that we didn’t have as much time for those sorts of things.

MTX: When you first began hiking, did you have any inclination that your life would pan out the way it has with so many trails, expeditions and miles under your belt?

Trauma: It was an organic progression. The days in Utah brought on the idea of the AT; thru hiking the AT was so enjoyable I decided to stay out as long a possible and continue on the International AT up to the tip of Quebec. After finishing up, I knew I wanted to do more, so I saved money and thru hiked the PCT the next year. It’s just continued on from there.

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Though Trauma didn’t tack on the southern half of the IAT through Florida and Alabama the first time he did thru hiked the AT, he did come back around and hike the entire length again at second time.

MTX: After so much time out on trails, what keeps you coming back for more and looking for new treks?

Trauma: You get comfortable with one thing and you want to step it up a bit. I look for new goals within each journey and new trials. I like to gain a new skill set either out on a hike or before I leave in order to take on the hike properly. Seeing new places is always a big pull. That and learning new things keeps it fresh.

MTX: What do you do during the toughest moments on trail that helps you get to through them?

Trauma: Some things on trail you can prepare for and some things you have to rely on experience. When it comes to gear, you can and should prepare for it. For example, during our winter hike, we had multiple ways of traveling. Sometimes we were just hiking but many times we were snow shoeing or skiing down a pass to get to a road that was open. We spent a lot of time testing out different styles with those modes of travel to see what would work best. There are several different kinds of skis and ski boots; some are heavy and bulky and other are made of lighter materials so we measured the pros and cons of each of our options before setting out on trail. We just found what worked best for us even though they weren’t made for what we were using them for. When you know your gear really well, you can wing it on trail really well if you have to. Being able to get your shelter set up really quickly in a winter storm, for example, is very important. If you can’t do that then other gear gets wet and the entire experiences becomes more of a struggle and more dangerous as well.

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Trauma’s hiking partner Pepper sporting their ski set up latched on the back of their packs.

MTX: What is your favorite piece of gear in your pack?

Trauma: My gear set up changes so much from one hike to another but I always enjoy my sleeping bag. I have a MontBell Down Hugger and it is the best feeling to climb into your sleeping bag at the end of a good day of hiking.

MTX: What do you think it is that makes you different from most other long distance hikers?

Trauma: Maybe my foundation. I really enjoyed thru hiking the AT and enjoying it is a big part. The most important thing is having fun. Each trip is different and that keeps it new for me. I just really enjoy walking, particularly in the early morning or in the evening. You see more wildlife and the lighting is beautiful.

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A typical day on the PCT in winter.


MTX:
This is definitely off topic but I am just really interested to know: what are the reactions people have when they find out that you’ve hike over 35,000 miles?

Trauma: Most are in awe but I don’t think they fully understand. It’s hard to really grasp the real idea of long distance hiking with out a reference point of having done it yourself. People are impressed but they don’t quite get the ins and outs of hiking.

MTX: Of all your trips thus far, is there one that you would count as the most impacting or your favorite?

Trauma: I definitely pull lessons from each trip I go on but I would probably say that my first AT thru hike was the most influential. It kind of started it all.

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Between big trips, Trauma often goes out for a week or so at a time with one of his favorite hiking buddies depicted here!

MTX: As far as trips go, what’s next? And how do you come up with your trip ideas?

Trauma: There is nothing on the horizon now but I am pretty creative in coming up with things. I find inspiration for future hikes while on a current hike. Like the winter PCT hike, I remember thinking on the first time thru hiking the PCT, “I wonder if this could be done in Winter?” Other times I will see pictures and be inspired to go explore that place.

MTX: I hear you have two more books coming out in the near future. Can you tell me a bit about each one?

Trauma: The first is a book of short stories; just experiences from the trail over the years. That one should be coming out just before Outdoor Retailer, so August-ish. The second is geared towards long distance bike packing.

MTX: Tell me a bit more about your bike packing experience.

Trauma: I’ve done on and off road bike packing but I prefer off road. Biking is just faster than hiking. You can cover more ground and it has all sorts of new gear set up possibilities. There is a lot out there about light weight backpacking gear but I want to look more into lightweight biking gear for long distance bike packing.

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A couple pages out of Trauma’s Ultralight Survival Kit.

For more info about Justin Lichter, aka, Trauma, go to his website and for more insight into his wealth of backpacking knowledge, grab a copy of either one of his books .

Trail Tested is an excellent beginners guide to all things backpacking related. Trauma goes through every type of gear you could imagine and thoughtfully breaks them down into pros and cons. He covers nearly all possible trail situations and best of all there are tons of photos to help explain everything.

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Ultralight Survival Kit is Trauma’s second book. It goes into detail about how to be prepared for any and every situation and still maintain a light pack weight. He covers worst case scenarios, the biggest noted fears among most hikers such as bears, lightening and injury and covers backcountry first aid for the ultralight hiker.

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Back from Bemidji

Mountain Crossings is happy to welcome back Rachel Munson to our Staff! Rachel worked with us for about five months back in 2011 before returning back to her hometown of Bemidji, Minnesota to go to college. She just graduated this May and is back with us until she departs for her own thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in March of next year. Below is an inspiring article by Brooke Wichmann of the Bemidji Pioneer, the local paper in Bemidji. She detailed the experience Rachel had several years back as a teenager out on her own for the first time, 1,300 miles from home, and how Mountain Crossings played a large part in growing her self confidence and teaching her to enjoy life.

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LIVING ON PURPOSE COLUMN: Munson discovers the power of letting go

By Brooke Wichmann on Aug 2, 2014 at 8:49 p.m.

BEMIDJI — “Growing up, the other kids probably saw me as a goody-two-shoes,” Rachel Munson says with a laugh while sipping her coffee outside on a sunny July day. “And I was. I was so good.”

Born and raised in Bemidji, Munson attended TrekNorth High School, where she worked hard and excelled academically. “I’m a perfectionist” she acknowledges, “and I’ve known that from a very small age.”

She was determined to stay on the path to success. Though she says she had great friends and lot of fun in high school, she also describes herself as “a bit uptight” and anxious. “Sometimes I wish that I could meet ‘high school Rachel’ right now.” she says, “She was pretty cool; but I would be like ‘Why are you freaking out all the time?'”

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Camping in the Paul Bunyon National Forest!

During her senior year, Munson began experiencing a growing sense of discontent. “I felt like I kept hitting this ceiling,” she said. “I felt like there was nothing else for me here in Bemidji. I just wanted to break that ceiling and find something new.”

Even so, leaving Bemidji wasn’t part of the plan she had designed for herself; and so she enrolled at Bemidji State University the fall after graduation. Yet, the feelings of wanderlust continued to follow her, even in this new setting.

Finally in 2011, after 18 years of living in Bemidji, Munson abruptly made a bold move: She dropped out of school, packed up a few belongings and hit the road. “I had never skipped a day of school in my life,” she said.

The decision to leave was exhilarating but also unnerving. “When I left, I really didn’t have a plan. This was a new sensation for me — I had always had a plan. The plans that I had put into place for myself just shattered. I didn’t really know what to do.”

She made her way south, settling in Georgia and taking a job at Mountain Crossings, an outfitting shop that had once provided resources to TrekNorth students during their field trips to the Appalachian Trail. There, she developed a strong friendship with the free-spirited owner of the store, a woman named George. “George definitely walks to the beat of her own drum,” Munson said. At the time, while Rachel was struggling to discover herself and define her own life path, George’s strength, courage and independence made a big impression. “George does what she wants, when she wants. The way she tries to maneuver through the obstacles of life is very inspiring, and just makes me realize I can do whatever I want.”

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Rachel and George in the breeze way here at Mountain Crossings several years back.

The idea that she could be all right without having a plan was a revelation for Munson. By not focusing so intently on the future, she found she could enjoy the present more. “When you travel, you just have to be willing to go with the punches and be spontaneous.” She admits this is something that is not typical for her, but sees that as all the more reason to do it. “If you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, I feel like that just means that you need to be pushed out of it more often,” she said.

After abandoning her normal routines, she began to discover more of her own inner strength and resourcefulness. Ultimately, she realized she didn’t want her peace of mind or comfort to be dependent upon being in a certain place, or around a particular group of people. “I want that comfort within yourself, where you know that you can go wherever you want to be and still have good relationships, surround yourself with good energy, and find the people you want to be with and make them your soul friends.”

After being away for nine months, she felt was ready to return to her Bemidji roots and enroll in in school again. “I missed the professors there,” she said, “and I wanted to feel more connected to Bemidji.” While the city hadn’t changed much, Munson’s perspective had. She says that coming back “was like being reborn.”

“I had left wanting to break that ceiling above me — and I did.” This was largely due to her own change in perspective. Where once she had felt bored and held back by a lack of options, she now sees opportunity everywhere. “The longer I live here, there are so many things I don’t know about Bemidji. Entering campus life, moving into the dorms, living in a house other than my parents’, choosing who I want to live with, having different jobs and working on campus were all new experiences.”

She realizes that she has a lot more freedom than she ever imagined over her life and her experiences. “If I want something different, I’ll find something different. I look for new places to go and hang out, just because there’s so much to look at. I’ll go find a new river in the woods, or go out to the state park and find a trail I’ve never been on.” Since being back, she’s recognized that traveling isn’t the only way to grow and evolve as a person. “Staying in one place and learning about yourself and how you function is really important.”

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Rachel at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, just 45 minutes from Bemidji.

Munson says she finds herself naturally smiling a lot more these days, and feels a lot more carefree than she once was. Which isn’t to say that she doesn’t care about anything. She’s passionate about her studies at BSU, dual majoring in history and the humanities, and minoring in English. Munson’s advisor, Dr. Larry Swain, says she’s an active learner and participator in not only her studies, but the world around her. “Rachel’s very open to new ideas, new people, new places that she’s never been,” Swain said. “She’s very intellectually curious.”

Additionally, she strives to make a positive difference in the world around her. In 2012, Rachel began organizing and co-leading the One Campus Challenge, part of the One Foundation started by U2 singer Bono, where she actively works to raise awareness and support to fight extreme poverty around the world.

Munson says her travels have helped her become better at distinguishing what is important and what’s not, what she can control and what she can’t. “I like to fix things; I like to make people feel good. And when I can’t do that, it’s really hard on me.” But, more and more, “I know I don’t have to micro-manage everything. Not everything has to be perfect. It’s a conscious effort to remind myself not to freak out about the little things, but it is very powerful to recognize that you don’t always have to care.”

She says the gift of letting go, for her, is “peace of mind. I suffered and still suffer from anxiety, and being able to very actively tell myself that I don’t have to be in control all the time, and that I can just walk away is very liberating.” The ability to let go applies to her own future as well. “I don’t know what I want to do after graduation. There are several avenues that I am flirting with, and I don’t mind what avenue I end up in — I’m excited about all of them.”

Happiness, for her, is no longer about control or a properly executed plan. It’s an inner state of being. “I work to be at home wherever I am. I’m cultivating my home inside of me. She says she often says to herself: “‘Where am I? Here. What time is it? Now.'”

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Rachel loves Mountain Crossings so much that she is training up her niece to be a fan!

Brooke’s Tips For Applying Munson’s Wisdom to Your Life

  • Acknowledge what you have control over and what you don’t: “When I am freaking out about something, I need to ask myself: how much control do I have here?” says Munson. It’s impossible to control everything. Being able to recognize and let go of the things you don’t have control over frees up your energy to focus on the things that you do.
  • Recognize that even if you can control something, you don’t always have to. Munson says that she’s realized that even when she does have the ability to control situations, she still has a choice over her level of involvement. Sometimes if the situation doesn’t directly involve her, or “if the situation is really petty, I don’t need to deal with it” she says. There’s a quote she likes: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Consciously choosing when and where to invest your energy can help you avoid getting caught up in unnecessary drama.
  • Find ways of creating calm within the storm. There are two causes of stress: challenges that the external world throws our way, and the way we think about and respond to these challenges. Munson recognizes that “external stress is always going to be there;” instead of trying to create a perfect stress-free life for herself, she works on improving her ability to “be in the midst of things — but still being able to ground myself.” Try creating this for yourself by engaging in practices that help you create inner calm, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, being out in nature.

 

A Quick History of Walasi-Yi

Here at Mountain Crossings we answer a lot of customer questions about the history behind our shop. Its just the kind of place that seeps interesting tales and makes you wonder. For all those of you who are history buffs, this ones for you!

The building that stands nestled in Neel Gap is iconic in the state of Georgia and has a very colorful history to it that goes back long before white settlers came into the area. The Cherokee Indians were the first to settle the area. A small village formed just south of the gap, which they called Walasi-Yi, meaning home of the great frog. In 1838, the Cherokee inhabitants were forcibly removed during the tragic Trail of Tears and nothing remains of the village besides the name Frogtown Gap.

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A tiny picture of Augustus Vogel and Fred Vogel Jr. who donated the land.

Several decade later, the parcel of land the Walasi-Yi Center now sits on was donated to the state of Georgia by the Vogel family of Vogel State Park in the late 1920’s. They were in the logging business and built a log structure at Neel Gap that was used as a tearoom and entertainment area. In 1937, the Civil Conservation Corps moved in and made a work camp at Neel Gap. They took natural stone from the surrounding area and began to build up around the wooden tearoom and expanded the structure. They also built several cabins out behind the stone building you currently see from the parking lot today. All that remains of these cabins now are their stone foundations.

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Walasi-Yi under construction by the CCC boys in 1938. Note the unfinished breezeway and staircase.

The Civil Conservation Corp disbanded in 1942 as World War II efforts became the governments foremost priority. After the CCC camp moved out of Neel Gap, the building was used as a restaurant and inn. What is now the current day gear and gift shop was then a dinning area and ballroom for dancing. The hostel as we know it today was combined with the staff housing upstairs to make up the inn. Still to this day you can see the wrought iron numbers on some of the doors that denoted to the guest which room was theirs.

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Walasi-Yi functioning as a state run Inn and Restaurant in 1939.

The Walasi-Yi Inn and Restaurant was in operation by the state until 1965, when the building was temporarily left unused until a group of artists took it up as a studio space. In 1969, the artists moved on and the building laid abandoned. It was slated for demolition until a group of locals banned together to have the beautiful building placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1977.

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George and Logan Seamon, current owners, after being recognized by Outdoor Magazine as one of the Top 100 Outdoor Retailers in the US.

In 1983, Mountain Crossings as we know it today was created by Jeff and Dorothy Hansen. They moved into the building that did not have running water or heating and air and started from the ground up what we see today. Between 2001 and 2013, Winton Porter took over, the author of an intriguing book about the characters who are Just Passin’ Thru. Currently, Georganna and Logan Seamon are the owners. These 2009 thru hikers took possession of Mountain Crossings in November of 2013.

Know anything else about the Walasi-Yi Center that we didn’t cover?! We are constantly trying to learn more about the history of our building. Please comment below and give us your insight!

7 Waterfalls Near Mountain Crossings

North Georgia is famous for its waterfalls. The Cherokee Indians who first settled this area called it the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls”. Out of Georgia’s more than 200 falls, we can boast the 3rd, 4th, and 5th tallest falls in the eastern half of the United States. Even within a short proximity of Mountain Crossings, there are several great waterfalls to check out.

1) Upper Desoto Falls

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How far from MTX: 4 min, 2 miles
Height of Falls: 200 ft.
Trail Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Upper Desoto Falls is the tallest of the three falls at Desoto Falls Recreation Area. The Middle and Lower falls are on a separate trail.

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2) Helton Creek Falls

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How far from MTX: 9 min, 3.8 miles
Height of Falls: 80 ft.
Trail Length: .25 miles
Difficulty: Easy

Helton Creek Falls is barely a hike at all with the pay off being visible through that trees from the road. It is one of the more popular waterfalls we recommend.

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3) Dick’s Creek Falls

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How far from MTX: 17 min, 9.8 miles
Height of Falls: 15 ft.
Trail Length: 0.0 miles
Difficulty: Easy

Dick’s Creek Falls in the Chestatee WMA is a bit hard to get to because you have to drive over a creek but it is right on the road and worth the journey.

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4) Blood Mountain Falls

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How far from MTX: 25 min, 12.2 miles
Height of Falls: 80 ft.
Trail Length: .25 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Blood Mountain Falls is also over a creek or two inside of the Chestatee WMA and the hike down is fairly steep. Still the pay off is big, particularly on a hot day, because of the slippery rock slide on the bottom portion of the falls.

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5) Raven Cliff Falls

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How far from MTX: 29 min, 17.8 miles
Height of Falls: 170 ft.
Trail Length: 2.5
Difficulty: Moderate

Raven Cliff Falls is a very moderate and beautiful hike along the creek which flows from the falls.

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6) Duke’s Creek Falls

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How far from MTX: 31 min, 18.8 miles
Height of Falls: 250 ft.
Trail Length: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy

Duke’s Creek Falls

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7) Amicaloa Falls

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How far from MTX: l hr, 3 min, 41.2 miles
Height of Falls: 729 ft.
Trail Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Amicoloa Falls is a bit far from Mountain Crossings but it is the beginning of the Approach Trail up to Springer Mountain. 700+ stairs lead to the top of the falls.

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Much of this information was gather with the help of one of our favorite waterfall books here at the shop. For a book detailing all of the waterfalls mentions above and hundreds more, stop by the shop before hand to pick up Jim Parham’s Waterfall Hikes of North Georgia. Or click on the underlined, italicized title of the book to get it from our website.  It has photos of each waterfall and gives detailed information about each waterfall itself and the trail approaching the waterfall.

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