What Do You Do While You Hike?

Hiking all day, every day, can get pretty monotonous. I have had people ask me if I get bored, and the answer is actually, not really. Here are some things you can do while you hike to prevent yourself from getting bored.

Appreciate nature
I hike alone a lot and I mostly just appreciate my surroundings and let my mind wander. I think this is the best pastime while hiking. You can hear things rustling in the trees, you can focus on the trail ahead of you, and just think about whatever pops in your head. There are so many exciting things on the trail from plants, animals, and people, that I feel I don’t need anything else usually. When I start to feel tired or weary, I take a break and refuel to continue on the next stretch. There are many forms of technology now and we always seem to have something we are listening to, or watching, that taking a break from it is nice. That being said, I do occasionally appreciate technology.

Headphones
I do have a tiny little Nano iPod that I carry and there are a few things I like to listen to if I am just really needing a boost. Music is always nice. I only have a few of my favorite albums that I play and I listen to them while I’m hiking to town. I am usually anxious to get a nice meal and shower so having some tunes helps me not think about town too much.

Audiobooks are great to make the time fly by. I listened to a few on the trail and the day just seemed to disappear. It really distracted me from the monotony of hiking and I enjoyed the books. Be careful though because I know there was at least one good view I missed out on because I was enthralled in my book. Only have a few on your device so you don’t get carried away just focusing on books while hiking. Audiobooks can be expensive, so downloading an App like Audible can cut down on price of audiobooks with a subscription.

I recently discovered Podcasts and find them very interesting. They are shorter than an Audiobook so you can listen to them if you are waiting for a shuttle, or just need a quick 30 minute break. Podcasts are free if you have an iTunes account so you can download a bunch ahead of time and just have them on hand if you want them. I recommend Serial, S-Town, This American Life, and Up and Vanished. These are the ones I have listened to and I think anyone would enjoy them.

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Hiking with headphones

Social
Grab a friend and hike with them! Even if you plan to be alone, hiking with someone for just a few hours can be really fun. You can meet so many interesting people on the trail and everyone becomes an instant friend. Sometimes you like people so much you decide to just keep hiking together and you become a little family. It is hard to find someone that hikes your exact pace, but slowing down to talk with someone for a bit can be nice. You can also just plan to meet up for lunch and snacks throughout the day.

If you run out of things to talk about, there are other activities you can do. On trail trivia is fun. If you know more about say State Capitals, you can quiz everyone else. You can hum music tunes and have everyone else guess that song. I like playing “Who Am I?” where you think of a person, and everyone has to figure out who it is by asking yes or no questions. There are a zillion games out there! You can make up your own!

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Hiking with friends

Everybody is different. Do what you like the most while hiking whether it’s alone, with music, or with people. Enjoy the trail in whatever way you like!

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AT to PCT

This is my final week at Mountain Crossings before I head out to California to start the Pacific Crest Trail! This post is going to tell you about some differences between the AT and the PCT. I will also give you my gear list so you can see how it compares to what you might take on the AT.

Appalachian Trail vs. Pacific Crest Trail
Mileage is the first big difference. The AT is close to 2200 miles, whereas the PCT is 2650 miles. The AT travels through 14 states but the PCT only goes through three, California, Oregon, and Washington. Another big difference is the terrain. The AT is deciduous forest pretty much the whole way. “The green tunnel” is how some people refer to the trail. Rolling mountains and covered in trees, there aren’t too many changes along the way. Once you get up into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, there are more extreme mountains and exposed ridges, but the forest is similar. Out West, you start in the desert, with cacti, little water, and heat! After around 700 miles of desert, you ascend into the Sierra Mountain Range, where there is usually snow. Snow melt also means larger stream crossings, which can be tricky especially for a big snow year like this year. Once you  hit Oregon and Washington you enter into the Cascade Mountains, which are considered a temperate rainforest. This change in the landscape also contributes to the change in the temperature and weather. The AT has very little climate change. Of course it depends on when you start and finish, and there can be crazy cold days, but for the most part, you have similar gear and clothing the whole time. It does rain more and will be more humid, but in the warmer months, rain will be welcomed. On the PCT, you definitely start off with less, but you  need more sent to you at Kennedy Meadows before the Sierras.

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PCT in Oregon

Even though the PCT is longer, and the mountains are taller, it takes about the same time as a thru hike on the AT. The trails on he PCT are graded for horses and pack mules, so even though you are climbing a tall mountain, the trail gradually ascends the mountain rather than going straight up and down like it would on the AT.

Permits
The AT doesn’t have many permit requirements. There is voluntary thru hiker registrations on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s website, but you do not legally need a permit for the trail. You will need to acquire a Smoky Mountain National Park permit before you enter the Smokies. You can do this at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. You will also need to fill out a form right as you enter the Shenandoah National Park, but this is free and easy to do. New this year is a the Katahdin permit. They have plenty of permits set aside for thru hikers and again, they are free.

The PCT has a few more requirements. You need to apply for a thru hiker permit. They only issue 40 a day and the registration date opened in January. When I applied for mine, the website kept going down and it would show the date I chose had filled up. After refreshing the page over and over, it finally worked. It seemed a lot of people wanted to secure their permit so everyone was trying at the same time. You will also need a permit for entering Canada. There is an application online for you to fill out and carry with you. There are several other areas where you will need a permit such as a side trip to climb Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US. These areas you can get permits on the trail a little ahead of time. As long as you have your thru hiker permit, you will be fine going through the John Muir Trail and other areas.

Town stops
The AT and the PCT have great communities that want to help hikers and provide trail magic or hiker feeds. That community might be slightly larger on the AT just because the trail is so accessible. There are also more towns along the AT than on the PCT. You can pretty much go the whole way on the AT without any mail drops. On the PCT you will definitely need to look ahead and send yourself a few along the way because some stops won’t have any sort of store or a very limited selection.

Hitchhiking is popular on the AT but sometimes you walk straight through a town, or within a few miles where you could just walk to town. You will definitely need to hitchhike on the PCT to go to town. Towns will be more spread out and farther away from the trail. Calling a shuttle service might work if you aren’t able to get a hitch.

I will have Halfmile Maps on my phone. It’s an app that has all the points of interest on the trail. This will help me determine when to go to town.

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Hitchhiking!

Gear list
I’ll just give a brief overview of my gear list for the PCT so you can get an idea of what to expect out there. I will be carrying the ULA Circuit pack.

Sleep system – ThermaRest Z-Lite pad, Western Mountaineering Alpinlite sleeping bag, ZPacks Duplex tarp.

I prefer the foam sleeping pads because they are easier to set up and they are light weight. I’m taking a 20 degree bag because the desert can still get chilly at night, and I can have a liner sent to me before the Sierras in case it gets colder. I will be hiking the trail with my boyfriend so we will share the tarp.

Clothing – I will hike in shorts, t-shirt, injinji socks, and one sports bra. I will be wearing Altra Lone Peak trail runners with small gaiters to keep the dirt out. I will sleep in MontBell merino wool long underwear pants and shirt, and one pair of sleep socks. Other clothes will be a rain jacket (windbreaker), and a fleece. My camp shoes will be Teva sandals and I will have two bandanas, one as an all purpose rag, the other as a pee rag.

Cook system – Pocket Rocket 2, 900 ml Toaks pot, 4 oz fuel canister, titanium spork.

My boyfriend and I will share the actual stove but will each have our own pots so we can keep our meals to ourselves.

Hydration – Sawyer Squeeze, two 1-liter Smartwater bottles, one 2-liter Platypus with a hose, one 2-liter Platypus.

This is six liters total. Hopefully, I won’t have to carry that much at once but it’s precautionary for the desert. I will likely send the 2-liter bladder home at Kennedy Meadows.

Toiletries – toothbrush, paste, floss, retainer (I know), sunscreen, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, trowel and small hairbrush (I have very long hair).

First Aid – moleskin, Advil, Benadryl, duct tape, tweezers, Neosporin, athletic tape, gauze.

Miscellaneous – Umbrella, headlamp, external battery charger with cord, phone charger, phone, pocket knife, trash compactor bag (to line my pack), ThermaRest seat pad, notepad and pen, sunglasses.

Kennedy Meadows Box – I will have my winter hiking boots, tall gaiters, thicker hiking pants, thicker socks, Microspikes, ice axe, hat, gloves (two pair), puffy jacket, trekking poles, and bear canister.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of the differences between the two trails! I know the AT is awesome from experience, but now I can be a part of the PCT. I can’t wait! Thank you to Mountain Crossings for being so awesome this past year.

 

 

 

Wildflower Season

Each day I go out for a hike, I find more and more wildflowers blooming. I love this time of year when everything starts to sprout and turn green. This blog post is going to tell you about some of the wildflowers you can see on the trail, and some of the best spots to see them. These are just a few of the main ones on the trail, but there are so many different wildflowers. Get out there and see them for yourself!

Early Bloomers
Bloodroot – This flower seems to be one of the first that pops out of the ground. You can find it almost anywhere on the trail in Georgia. Bloodroot is named for its popular red natural dye used by Native American artists. A break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish sap which can be used as a dye.

Violets – The Common Violet is the most popular. It is usually purple and has more of a round leaf. There is also the Halberd Leaf Violet, which has more of a heart shaped leaf, and yellow flowers.

Dwarf Crested Iris – These beautiful purple flowers like to grow in moist areas, maybe near a creek or stream. The sepals of the its blue-violet flowers are distinctly marked with a central yellow or white, purple striped band. Go on a hike from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls on the Appalachian Trail. It follows the stream and you are sure to see this flower.

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Dwarf Crested Iris

Trout Lily – These flowers are known for their “trout like” leaves. They are speckled like a trout and grow in moist areas. The flower is small and yellow. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens inside. There are a ton by the Springer Mountain shelter water source. Go for a hike up to the start of the Appalachian Trail and check them out. Or find another wet area, they will likely be there.

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Trout Lily

Star Chickweed – These tiny white flowers bloom in a star like shape and they have brownish-red stamens that come out from the center. I saw some of these just beginning up Blood Mountain and there are more all along the trail.

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Star Chickweed

Mid-Season Bloomers
Mayapple – You will likely see these leaves early in the season, but the flowers don’t bloom till later on. People like to refer to them as “Gnome Umbrellas” because of the leaves. The females have two leaves with a single flower growing in the axil of the leaves. A great spot to see fields of these flowers is on the Approach Trail from Woody Knob to the base of Springer Mountain. They grow mostly in damp, open woods, and along lower ridges.

Foam Flower – Long, slender stamens give spikes of white flowers a frothy appearance. They grow in shady, moist areas. They can be found in many areas along the trail. I’ve noticed them on the section from Neel’s Gap to Tesnatee Gap, as well as going down into Low Gap.

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Foam Flower

Trillium – Trillium is the most well-known flower on the trail. There are many kinds of Trillium. The characteristics of these flowers include three leaves, and three flower petals. These flowers are found everywhere. The pictures below will show you the different kinds so you can properly identify the flowers.

Bluets – These tiny blue flowers grow at higher elevations, usually on the tops of mountains or ridges.

Pink and Yellow Lady Slipper – the Pink Lady Slipper is one of the largest native Orchids and is found both in low, sandy woods and in higher, rocky woods of mountains. A great area to find a bunch is on the Hike Inn Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park. About one mile from the Inn are clusters of them near the creek. The Yellow Lady Slipper is less common in the Appalachians. I saw one close to Chattahoochee Gap on the AT, but they are considered rare. They are beautiful orchids and look like little slippers!

Late Bloomers
Fire Pink – This flower blooms in May or even June down here in Georgia. A common name for members of this genus is Catchfly, which refers to the sticky hairs or exudates which trap insects. It is bright red and has five petals. I saw a bunch hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap.

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Fire Pink

Eastern Red Columbine – This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines. These tubes, or spurs, contain nectar that attracts long-tongued insects and hummingbirds especially adapted for reaching the sweet secretion. It is reported that Native Americans rubbed the crushed seeds on the hands of men as a love charm. Just two weeks ago, I saw the leaves of these all along Sassafras Mountain, just south of Cooper Gap. They will likely bloom in May and June.

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Eastern Red Columbine

Spiderwort – Spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers. Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. Again, hiking from Gooch Gap to Woody Gap is a great place to find this flower.

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Spiderwort

Jack in the Pulpit – One to two large, glossy leaves, divided into three leaflets, rise on their own stems 1-3 ft. The intriguing blossom of this woodland perennial occurs on a separate stalk at the same height as the leaves. It is a large, cylindrical, hooded flower, green in color with brown stripes. Distinctive Jack-in-the-pulpit formation grows beneath large leaves. I only saw one of these last season on the stretch of trail from Low Gap, to Chattahoochee Gap. The Smoky Mountains have more in abundance.

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Jack in the Pulpit

Galax – You have likely seen this evergreen plant along the side of the trail before. The leaves are round and they turn brown in the winter. The plant is said to have a pungent smell. The flower blooms in early – late summer and is a tall stalk of little white flowers.

Honorable mentions
These flowers are also all around the trail, but I did not have any personal pictures of these. Here is a collage of the flowers. Be sure to look for them on trail!

Rhododendron vs. Mountain Laurel 
Often mistaken for one another, Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron are flowering, evergreen shrubs that share more similarities than differences. These plants are often found growing side-by-side in wooded, mountainous areas throughout the eastern United State. To tell them apart without their flowers, look at the leaves. Rhododendron’s dark bluish-green leaves are thick and leathery and range in size from 4 to 14 inches long. Its oblong-shaped leaves are narrow at the base, wide in the middle and rounded at the end. In cold weather or times of drought, rhododendron’s leaves roll up into tight cylinders. The underside of the leaf is pale green or rusty brown. Mountain laurel has elliptical-shaped leaves with pointed tips. Leaves are glossy yellow-green to dark green and generally smaller than rhododendron’s, about 2 to 5 inches long.

Mountain Laurel flowers are either white or pink flowers, with a red stripe encircling the center. The flower petals are fused together to form small cups. Rhododendron flowers can range from pink, to purple, to white, but in Georgia they will usually be pink. Check out the pictures below to see the differences between the two.

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Rhododendron leaves on the left, Mountain Laurel on the right

There are many other flowers, these are just some of the main ones I’ve seen along the trail in Georgia. If you want to learn more, you should check out the “National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers,” which we have in the store. We have several other wildflower guides you can take on your wildflower walk. Wildflower.org is a great resource for checking out wildflowers. Take a lot of pictures while you’re out there, then do the research when you’re off trail. Be sure to look at the flower, leaves, and any other characteristics that can help you identify the flower. Stop by the store to show us your wildflowers pictures, we are always happy to talk about nature!

 

 

 

First Aid Kit

One item people tend to either pack too much of, or not enough, is the first aid kit. You tend to pack your fears, so if you are afraid of getting injured, you will have a bigger first aid kit. Other people have no worries at all and just want to be lightweight so they cut out the kit completely. Having some sort of first aid in your pack is a must. Not only for you, but to help others in need as well. This post will go over some items you most definitely want, some you might want, and the others that you should probably take out. Of course, these are just our recommendations but if you have more specific medical needs then by all means pack what you must!

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Blister Kit
These are the most common items you will find in a first aid kit. Most people will get some sort of a blister at some point during their hike. There are many different bandages made specifically for blisters that usually have some type of gel that prevents further rubbing and helps treat the blister. Most claim to be waterproof but when they are in a shoe or boot all day, they tend to come off. Moleskin is the more popular solution. You can cut it to whatever size you need and stick it right on the blister. These can also come off while hiking all day. The simple solution for both of these bandages is duct tape! Duct tape has many uses on the trail and is a necessity. Whenever I stick moleskin on a blister, I put duct tape around my whole foot and it keeps the moleskin in place and prevents further rubbing. Duct tape is also great for repairing gear and ripped clothing.

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Tape up those blisters!

Here is my method for treating blisters and it hasn’t failed me yet.
-Try to tape up a hot spot once you feel it rubbing. If it is too late and a blister has already formed, go ahead and put moleskin and duct tape on it.
-After arriving at camp, take off the bandage. Use whatever you can to pop the blister and drain the fluid (safety pin, needle, pocket knife, fingernails).
-Once the fluid is drained, use some sort of disinfectant to clean the open sore (neosporin, alcohol wipe, Iodine).
-Keep the wound open and let it dry out and possibly scab overnight.
-The next morning, you will want to bandage up the wound again for the day. Instead of using moleskin because it sticks right to your skin and could cause another wound when ripped off, try using a small piece of gauze or a bandaid if you carry them. Continue to use duct tape around the entire foot to keep the bandage in place.
-Take off bandages and repeat. Usually a new blister could have formed so cleaning the scab should suffice.

You should really only carry one type of disinfectant. I had a small tube of Neosporin that lasted me a long time and I used on all of my wounds. You also only need a few moleskin pads and gauze. Keep in mind you can stop in town every 4-5 days so if you need more supplies, you can get them. Duct tape can be wrapped around trekking poles, trowel, pencil, whatever you have! You definitely don’t need the big cardboard tube or that much duct tape.

Medicines
There are only two medications I brought on the trail but again, if you have specific prescriptions, or use other medication regularly then by all means bring it! I would recommend just one kind of Antihistamine, and one pain reliever.  You may not know your own, or others allergies. I got stung by a wasp on the trail and my hand swelled up to twice its size! Luckily, my friend had a Benadryl that helped with the swelling. Now I always carry at least two small Benadryl tablets just in case. Pain relievers can help with aches and pains and can also be good for your body. Taking some at night before bed will help with swelling and other pains overnight. Be careful to listen to your body and do not try to mask serious pain with pills.

Other medicines that people take on the trail are Antacid tablets, sting and burn relief, eye drops, prescribed Antibiotics, etc. I personally wouldn’t carry any of these as they add weight. If any sickness were bad enough I would just take care of it in town.

Bandages, wraps, wound treatment
A few band aids can be ok for minor cuts, or for open blisters on your feet as long as they are duct taped. Other bandages you should carry are things like gauze for bloody wounds, athletic tape to wrap a sprained ankle or wound, and an elastic wrap. The elastic wrap helped me when I was having shin splints. Wrapping my shins every night helped with some of the swelling. You can use them on feet, legs, knees, etc. Of course you will need alcohol wipes, maybe just a couple, and a pair of rubber gloves is not a bad idea either just in case you need to help a friend with a bloody wound.

If you are afraid of larger cuts, the butterfly closures can be a good thing to carry.They go across a cut so that it forces the skin to come together. Another item people sometimes carry is an irrigation syringe. If you fall and get a big cut with small debris and dirt stuck in it, using the syringe filled with water can help clean out the wound. If you are carrying a Sawyer water filter then you should already be carrying one of the syringes for back flushing your filter. Dual purpose!

Other
Of course there are many items you can bring in your first aid kit. Other items include; tweezers, splints, more assorted bandages, liquid bandage, blood-stopping gauze, glucose tabs, q-tips, thermometer, and CPR mask. I will say the tweezers are necessary for the Appalachian Trail because they will help you remove ticks. Everything else is up to you. Hopefully, you won’t ever have to use anything in your first aid kit, I know I rarely did. It is important though because even though it’s not something you will need everyday, it can make a difference in a dangerous situation.

Here is my total final list for my first aid kit.

  • Moleskin
  • Duct Tape
  • Neosporin
  • Small gauze roll
  • A few alcohol pads
  • Elastic wrap
  • Tweezers
  • Benadryl
  • Advil
  • A few butterfly closures
  • Iodine (I use this as a water treatment backup as well)

Hope this post has helped! Remember, it is easy to get to town so don’t get freaked out if you get an injury while on the trail.