The Pitfalls of “Hike Your Own Hike”

Hike Your Own Hike is a term beloved by thru hikers. It gives validation to many of our weird little quirks other hikers may not understand. If you want to take 2 zero days a week, do it. If you want to take a blue blaze around a section of trail, do it.  If you want to carry a Katana, do it. It’s a term that helps settle any and all disagreements over these petty differences. No matter the context, it seems as if dropping the term “Hike Your Own Hike” is the cue for both sides to drop it and just enjoy the scenery. In a community where every person has their own opinions of comfort, ruggedness and everything in between, this little catch all has gone far to remind us that we don’t always have to be right.

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Origins of the term are hotly debated among hikers but many agree it came around sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Today, as the AT community grows in size with the rising popularity of long distance backpacking, this term has began to see a metamorphosis as well. It is increasingly being referenced not only to justify individual styles of hiking, but also individual styles of treating the Appalachian Trail. When “Hike Your Own Hike” becomes a cop out for proper “Leave No Trace” ethics, we as a community have a problem.

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You know it’s big when they make t-shirts of it!

Leave To Trace is also a widely known term on the AT. It was brought about in the 1960’s by the US Forest Service as the use of and need for management of our public lands grew. Leave No Trace has grown from just a saying with great intentions behind it to a full fledge non-profit that works tirelessly to uphold it’s Seven Principles. In a time when we are fighting to both protect our precious land and introduce people to the wonderful affect of Mother Nature for mental and physical health, it is massively important that we do not allow these two hiker adages to work against one another.

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Hike Your Own Hike never means it’s okay to burn your trash if you don’t feel like packing it out.

Hike Your Own Hike never means you are exempt from digging a 6 inch cat hole if you don’t feel like it. 

Hike Your Own Hike never means you get a pass on being polite and courteous to other hikers. 

The rights given to you by the term Hike Your Own Hike end where they become detrimental to the land you are on and it’s natural inhabitants. When making decisions for yourself on trail, first and foremost, go by the Principles of Leave No Trace. Only secondly, go by Hike Your Own Hike. If you want there to continue to be a Hike worth Hiking, you will gladly do so.

The Battle of De-Feet

It’s summer time, which means that everyone every where is letting their toes hang out. What a great feeling! Those poor, forgotten little digits deserve to live it up during the warm months of the year. Ditch the wool socks and closed toe shoes and get a pair of something your feet can rock and roll in all summer long! The question is, what sort of sandal do you want to wear? There are so many out there and many are vastly different. Here is a break down of the pros and cons of two sandals carried by Mountain Crossings that may help you make the best choice for you!

At MTX we carry both the ever classic summer adventure sandal, Chacos, and the new kid on the block knocking out the competition, Xero Shoes. Both these sandals are designed for summer fun in mind. They aren’t going to flip and flop around. They aren’t going to trip you up. They will seamlessly transition from hiking to frolicking in a creek to wearing around town. They are both your one stop shop shoe for summer time! But despite these similarities, they are SO different! Just look at them!

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Chacos

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Xero Shoes

As you can see, these sandals share a lot of design features, but there is one that you can can’t help but notice the two don’t seem to agree on. The Sole! Every pair of Chacos has a nearly clunky sole with a high arch. Xero Shoes have barely any sole at all and no arch support. What is a purchaser to do? Decide what kind of arch you have and buy that pair? Surprisingly, no! Either shoe you choose will become the new best friend to your feet! But let’s go over some specifications of each shoe and learn how our feet react to the different designs.

All About Chacos

As soon as you put on a Chaco, you can feel the stability and support of the sole. It is sometimes concernedly prominent. The first time I put on a pair, I immediately declared that the arch was too high and didn’t look back for years. (In the meantime, I wasted tons of money and time on other sandals that didn’t hold up for longer than a month and never did quite serve the high action, outdoor purposes I needed.) The next time around, I wasn’t so impulsive. Sure, I wasn’t used to the feel of it, but I could tell the polyurethane sole wasn’t going to compress like other sandals. I had seen friends wear the same pair for years as I cycled through countless shoes made of less durable materials. As I continued to wear them, my feet began to really enjoy the curvature and arch of the sole. Chaco calls their design the LUVSEAT Footbed and I began to see why. My foot felt cradled by the shoe! As for the straps, you have two options, one with a strap for the big toe and one without a strap for the big toe. All Chocos are designed with the straps as one long piece of webbing, making both versions  fully adjustable so your foot is perfectly nestled on the LUVSEAT Footbed and held in place by the straps. An added bonus to Chacos is the brand’s dedication to repairs. They don’t want you to have to buy a new pair. They will fix and repair any shoes they can, which is perfect because you will fall in love with your Chacos and not want to give them up for a new pair anyway!

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A diagram for adjusting the two different strap designs.

All About Xero Shoes

Xero Shoes have stepped into the footwear world and brought us a shoe unlike many others. As adventure races and ultra running are gaining in popularity in the outdoor world, Xero Shoes have come in and helped up the game of barefoot running as well. Many extreme runners site barefoot running as the ultimate form of running; the healthiest shoe for your foot is no shoe, they say. But the reality of that isn’t so pretty. It’s actually really dirty and dusty, might include a few cuts and scraps and definitely a couple bruises. That’s where Xero Shoes step in. These minimalist shoes are designed to train your foot as if it were barefoot but give you that extra edge to keep your feet safe. Contrary to what most believe, the thin sole with zero arch support is not bad for your feet, it is actually better for them. A minimalist approach like Xero Shoes actually helps build the muscles in the foot and strengthen the foot. The thin sole allows the foot to bend and move in all the natural ways a foot is designed to move. Because of the zero drop design of the shoe, meaning there is no difference in the height of the heel and toe of the sandal, the foot is allowed to strike the ground in a more natural way as well. Xero Shoes are built around a strong belief that a bare foot is already a perfect design. Now there is something out there to make it better than barefoot.

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The Takeaway

Feet are incredible and we don’t give them enough credit. They are versatile, strong, resilient and adaptive. There are many routes we can take on the path to taking care of our feet. Chacos and Xero Shoes are each a different path towards healthy feet ready for a summer of fun. Don’t cast away a good shoe option just because first appearances are vastly different from what you have seen or felt on your foot before. Trying something new may just be the best thing you could choose for you feet!

For details on Chacos and Xero Shoes in store at Mountain Crossings, call us at 706-745-6095.

Blue Ridge Trout Festival

At Mountain Crossings we LOVE to support our local community and there is always something fun and interesting going on in our area! Coming up at the end of the month is a new Festival that sounds like a great time and goes far to help protect some important land and wildlife in North Georgia! The Blue Ridge Trout Festival will be held downtown in the neighboring town of Blue Ridge in April 29th and 30th!

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In 2005, Fannin County was named the Trout Capital of Georgia. Many of the streams and creeks throughout the Chattahoochee National Forest provide ideal habitat for trout to breed and live. While most trout are introduced into the local streams by fish hatcheries, a healthy trout population can only be sustained by taking care of the creeks, streams and watersheds that are so pertinent to the survival of trout.

Besides the fun of it (and beers provided by Sweet Water Brewery who is one of the sponsors of the festival), we are in full support for this because, at it’s core, this festival is really all about protecting the land we love and helping our local community! Proceeds from the festival and all donations given are benefitting several local groups who in turn pour great things back into the surrounding landscape and community members. Blue Ridge Mountain Trout Unlimited, which is a local chapter of a national organization, Trout Unlimited, is dedicated to protecting and restoring crucial habitat for trout and supporting healthy creeks, streams and watersheds in our area. Project Healing Waters is aimed at helping war veterans of the Blairsville VA heal physically and emotionally through the peaceful and fun experience of fly fishing. And the Trout Adventure Trail is a self guided hiking tour of the best trout fishing spots in the Chattahoochee National Forest and follows both the AT and the BMT! Our kind of fishing trip, right there!

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This map shows the Trout Adventure Trail along the AT and the BMT

On the evening of Friday, April 29th at 5:30 pm, take a train ride along the scenic Toccoa River, a true trout haven. The ride will include food, beer and wine, and a trackside auction at the train depot. Tickets are $60 and raise funds for the groups mentioned above!

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On Saturday, the 30th, from 9 am to 5 pm, there will be all sorts of festivities going on in the center of town including fly fishing lessons from the Atlanta Fly Fishing School, vendors of fishing gear, clothing and accessories, demos of many rods and reels, food trucks and beer and wine. The day promises to be a fun and educational one! Come check out the first annual Blue Ridge Trout Festival!
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3 Ways to Avoid Gear Failure

As a gear shop along the Appalachian Trail, we have folks pop in all the time to ask about a failed piece of gear. “Can it be fixed? If it can’t, what can I get that will be more reliable this time?” We always do our best (and a few of us are actually really decent at and enjoy trying) to fix whatever may land in front of us. Trekking poles are common and typically are straight forward. They are either broken for good or most likely just need a deep cleaning to function properly. Packs are common as well and the culprit is usually a faulty buckle or strap. We do our best to come up with a mate for it and have even gone as far as to sew it on for folks.

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Many times, a trekking pole that will no longer lock tight just needs to be taken apart and cleaned of any dust, rust and debris that has collected inside of it.

But if we are realistic, we hate seeing these failures. Sometimes it is the result of overly loved items that are coming by their failure due to honest use. Every now and then the failure is due to misuse of the item, like putting far too much weight into a pack, causing strain and stress on key structural points. Other times it is a result of plain, old, cheap gear. This is the most upsetting sort of gear failure because the owner feels as if they did not get the expected life of the product out of it before it left them hanging out to dry somewhere along the trail.

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Putting too much weight into your backpack can cause certain points of the pack to start taking too much pressure and strain, resulting in a failure of the pack.

Thankfully for avid backpackers everywhere, there are a few ways to easily avoid gear failure. There is nothing worse than when you are days away from your next town stop and a majorly important piece of gear like a pack or tent fails on you. When backpacking, you are so reliant on the gear you carry. Not to mention that fixing items with just what you have in your pack can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to avoid gear failure and be prepared for it if it does arise.

1. Buy High Quality Gear

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The easiest way to avoid unwarranted gear failure is to buy a good product to begin with. The backpacking gear world is full of small businesses creating gear for the love of living an outdoor lifestyle, not for a quick buck. Some of these companies have become mammoths in the eyes of thru hikers and avid backpackers because they make a such good product. Think Big Agnes, the most popular tent on all of the AT; ULA, the second most popular pack on all of the AT, every pack of which is hand sewn in America! (No wonder they hold up so well!) But no one or nothing is absolutely perfect. When one of these companies does have a reported failure, they stand behind that product and act in a timely manner to help out the customer. Working in the outdoor industry and being big time backpackers ourselves, we hear the occasional stories of broken packs and tents or parts from these companies (and several others) where hikers have been mailed replacement parts or replacement gear while on trail! So be smart and help set yourself up for success by investing smartly in your gear. The old adage “You Get What You Pay For!” has never been so true as in a sport where you consistently execute major wear and tear on your gear everyday.

2. Treat Your Gear Well

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Once you have saved your money, done your research and purchased that high quality piece of gear that will become the basis of your survival on trail, you must commit to treating it well. If the fabric of your sleeping bag gets stuck in the zipper, don’t yank it out, gingerly extract it. When setting up your tent, be sure to pick a good area, not a patch of rocky land or a cluster of thistle and briars. Make sure you are aware of the recommended base weight for your backpack and the max load it is meant to carry. Going over this rating becomes more of a recipe for disaster as time passes. Check the floor of a shelter for protruding nails or other sharp debris before placing an inflatable sleeping pad down. Generally speaking, be responsible and think about your gear and what is best for it! Just a little bit of forethought can save you so much grief on trail.

3. Use Preventative Measures

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Over a 6 month, 2,000+ mile trail, things will definitely begin to breakdown a little bit. Replacing or fixing gear is just a part of thru hiking. You will probably go through several pairs of shoes and multiple shirts but you should’t have to go through several packs or tents or pads. These are items that should last you throughout the hike and they will if you take care of them and give them just a little TLC. Carrying a small amount of thread or floss with a few needles means you can reinforce an area of your pack if it begins to show signs of stress or excess strain. Carrying a small amount of Tenacious Tape will assist you in fixing holes in a sleeping bag, down jacket or tent. Some people carry the patch kit to their sleeping pad in hopes of being able to find the hole while on trail to fix the pad. Waterproofing your rain jacket and tarp/rain fly with Seam Sealer before setting out on trail also helps insure their ability to keep you dry. Being able to stop small problems from becoming big problems is the key to keeping your gear functional for longer and extending its life to match the length of your thru hike.

 

NOTE: If you have a piece of gear fail on you, be sure to truthfully note why. Was it something you did? Was it a mistake or misuse of the item? If you are going to ask a gear manufacturer to replace a piece of gear for you, be sure that you are coming by that new gear honestly. Trail Karma is real!

Escape to the Mountains: Route 1

Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! And at the same time, we understand that hiking and backpacking in cold weather isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. This is a neat idea for spending a day off in the mountains that is much more cold weather friendly. You owe it to your sanity to break free of that cabin fever and we’ve got just the trek you need! Here is the first of two driving routes up into the mountains and out of Atlanta that can help you escape and offer fun things to do along the way! Stay tuned for Route 2 next week!

The Western Route: I-75/I-575/GA-515

This route takes you out of Atlanta through the North Atlanta suburbs. It is the most direct route for anyone in West or South Atlanta and suburbs such as Canton, Marietta, Kennesaw, Dallas, Douglasville, Newnan and McDonough. This route covers approximately 190 miles of road and takes just about 4 hours of drive time (from Atlanta). Of course, you will want to jump out of the car every now and then and check out some cool little mountain towns, neat country stores, beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous mountain views! They’re all along this route!

Your route in it's entirety

Your route in it’s entirety

Step One: Get out of the City

Get to I-75 and go North! Follow Signs for I-575N after passing Marietta and continue on as I-575N turns from a limited access interstate to state highway GA-515. The drive from Atlanta to Blue Ridge takes approximately 1hr and 3omin and gets progressively more beautiful after you get past Canton. By the time you make it to blue ridge, you may want to stretch your legs. Blue Ridge has an excellent little down town area for shopping and eating.

Here is each stop along the route and a break down of things to do there.

Here is each stop along the route and a break down of things to do there.

Step Two: Start Seeing Cool Things

As said before, Blue Ridge is a great little mountain town for shopping and eating. There are tons of mom ‘n’ pop shops and restaurants to choose from, all within an easy walking distance from one another. If you want to see something a little bit more unique in the area, head over to Mercier’s Orchards. Just a few minutes ride up GA-5, out of Blue Ridge, this place is hopping during the Fall when people flock to the mountains to buy apples but this time of year you can leisurely take your time to stroll this large country store and pick up all manner of wonderful fruits, pastries, baking mixes, ciders, wines and much, much more.

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Backtrack south on GA-5 from Mercier’s down to Blue Ridge again and take a left on GA-76 E towards Blairsville. This will take you to another mountain town of great shops and dining options. Take the ramp off of GA-76 towards downtown and grab a Cup o’ Joe at the Cabin Coffee Company in the town square or try out a few hard to find brews at Bearding Bottle Shop.

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From the center of town, take the roundabout and follow signs for Cleveland, GA and GA-129 S/US-19 S. In just a few miles, as you begin to wind up into the mountains, you will see Sunrise Grocery on your right. This little family owned country store has been a staple of this region since the 1920’s. You can find all manner of local goods and camp needs.

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Continue on up into the mountains and down GA-129 S/US-19 S and be on the look out for a road sign on your left called Helton Creek Rd. For the more adventurous, this will lead you to a great surprise. The road will take you through a little cabin community and turn into a dirt path. Keep following this road until you find yourself at a parking lot. A sign will direct you to Helton Creek Falls, one of the best in the area. You can see the falls well enough from the car, but even if it is a chilly day, the walk to the bottom of the falls for an up and close look is very short.

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After checking out Helton Creek Falls or opting out of adventure, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S until you hit the peak of the roadway. Here you will find the historic old building that houses Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi. It sits at Neel Gap along the Appalachian Trail and is an outfitter and gift shop. Stop and stretch your legs again and check out the view from the over look of the building’s patio. If you’re ready to brave the weather, take a hike up to Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the AT in the state of Georgia.

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After getting your dose of fresh Mountain air, hop back into the car and keep heading south. In approximately 2 miles you will come to another waterfall viewing possibility, though this one requires more of a hike to reach than Helton Creek Falls. Take a right into DeSoto Falls Recreation Area off of GA-129 S/US-19 S and you can choose wether to go to the upper or lower DeSoto Falls or both!

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If you’re over waterfalls, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S and take a right onto GA-60. You will soon come to the aptly named  Stone Pile Gap. Be sure to veer right to continue on GA-60. In about 5 miles you will cross back over the Appalachian Trail at Woody Gap. If you park on the left side of the road you will have great views down from the mountains out into Dahlonega. If you park on the right side of the road, you can take the one mile, relatively easy hike up to Preacher’s Rock, which offers a beautiful vista out over the mountain scape.

11335558_1115461315134753_1411027285_nBy the time you get back to the car, you may be a bit beat. If you took advantage of all the area has to offer, you’ve done a lot in one day!! Keep on heading north of GA-60 and enjoy one of the prettiest stretches of highway in the great state on Georgia! This will roll you right back into Blue Ridge, a perfect spot for dinner if you didn’t eat earlier. From there, take US-76 W/GA-515 S and follow signs for Atlanta.

All it takes is a day off and a little bit of gas money to get you out of the city and into the mountains for an enjoyable day of experiencing a quieter side of life and getting out into the vast openness of the wilderness. Be mindful of weather conditions and come prepared. Check the weather in Blairsville or Blue Ridge and then add 5 degrees for your mountain temps. Snow may also be a possibility if the right mix of low temperatures and precipitation happen at the right time. Bring an extra layer and if you come across snow, either drive carefully or pull over and enjoy something that doesn’t happen as much further south at lower elevations!

Find this Route on Google Maps

Stay tuned for another route coming out of Atlanta from the East side of the city!

6 Things Thru Hikers Can’t Have

Thru hiker season is just around the corner and most folks in the market for new gear are counting their ounces with hopes of carrying the product to Maine. But what about the rest of us?! There are all sorts of cool pieces of gear out there that are not exactly lightweight or may not be the best thing for a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, and those of us who are weekend warriors, section hikers, car campers and the sort can still indulge ourselves in these plush, luxury items. Check out these neat products on our list of 6 Things Thru Hikers Can’t Have.

1. Appalachian Trail Stoneware Mug

1960-TIt’s not exactly your typical thru hiker drinking vessel. Carrying any sort of coffee mug on the AT is often times reserved for the most hardcore coffee fanatics. When you do see one, it is made a lightweight material and is small in size. Sorry thru hikers! The coffee lovers among you will learn to really appreciate a full size mug once you get to use one on a regular basis again!

2. Appalachian Trail Wool Blanket

AT-Wool-2TAlthough wool is a great material for on trail, a wool blanket isn’t quite what you are looking for. It would keep you toasty if you got your burrito rolling skills to an expert level, but sadly thru hikers have to leave behind the security of their blankets when they hike. Thankfully the rest of us can snuggle up with this Wool Rich AT blanket and a cup of hot chocolate as we read their blogs and keep up with their adventures!

3. Helinox Ground Chair

HnoxGC-2TEvery thru hiker wants this but no one is crazy enough to carry one, at least, not for long! When thru hiking, if you’re lucky enough to get a log or a rock for a seat after a long day of hiking, chances are you’re not so lucky as to get a comfortable seat. That is the glory of a short trip! You can afford to bring a camp chair, a few potatoes to bake and a deck of cards! There is a lot to be said for a little trip where you can live it up!

4. MontBell Trahyon Anorak Wind Jacket

MB-WJ-01-2TIf there is anything on this list-of-things-that-don’t-serve-thru-hikers-as-well-as-they-serve-the-rest-of-us that would actually turn out to work pretty well for a thru hiker, it is this wind jacket. Throw this guy on over a long sleeve or a light fleece and you’ve got a great set up for a chilly late spring/early summer day of hiking. Problem is, for a thru hiker, you might as well be as multi purpose as possible and use your rain jacket as a wind layer. Sure, you’re going to be sweating to two minutes. Then you’ll take it off and freeze because you’re soaked, while you look at the toasty and dry day hiker who is wearing this jacket, but, hey, that’s a thru hike for you sometimes. You get to eat as many Snickers as you want and still be one of the fittest people alive, so you can’t complain too much.

5. Patagonia Women’s Icelandic Coat

PAT-008-2TSo this definitely isn’t the kind of coat you can wear on the Appalachian Trail, but it is a heavy weight, warm, fleece coat that allows you to get away with just a light layer underneath. Down jackets can be bulky and cumbersome and must be handled with great care in order to keep them functional and looking nice. This jacket by Patagonia brings the style back into being warm! Not to say that Hiker Trash style isn’t on point (trash bag rain coats can be en vogue!) but thru hikers definitely forego some fashion for some function!

6. Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0° Sleeping Bag

WM-KOD-MF-2TThis is the mack daddy of all sleeping bags. A winter outdoorsmen’s dream! Winter and early Spring backpacking in some seriously beautiful stuff. You see the mountains is such an intimate and quiet time of the year and if you’ve got the right gear and a little bit of coffee, hot tea or whiskey, sitting and enjoying the beauty of Winter is a joy!! But if you’re a thru hiker, sadly you don’t have nearly as much time to sit and stare at nature as much as you thought you would. You will be immersed in it for months and come to know it like the back of your hand, no need to stare deeply into Mother Nature’s eyes hoping she will love you back. Also, like the chair, if you’re carrying the weight of the hefty cozy log cabin of a sleeping bag, good luck with the day in and day out grind. You’ll want a much more reasonable weighted and degree sleeping bag  in no time. A 15° bag is substantial enough and will take you further into Spring than this 0°.

Reinventing the Shake Down!

Mountain Crossings has been well known for the gear shake down for many decades. Each thru hiker season, hundreds, now thousands, of hikers pass through the shop to dump what they have found they don’t want and to pick up what they didn’t know they needed.

Want a tiny pack like this that still has all the gear needed to keep you comfortable, safe and happy on trail?! Get a Virtual Shake Down!

Want a tiny pack like this that still has all the gear needed to keep you comfortable, safe and happy on trail?! Get a Virtual Shake Down!

Traditionally, hikers do this on their thru hike, about the 3rd or 4th day into their extended stroll. In recent years, more and more prospective thru hikers who are relatively local to the shop (Atlanta, Chattanooga, Greenville, Huntsville and even beyond) have been making a trip to Mountain Crossings to have a shake down before hitting the trail. The result makes their first few days on trail radically more comfortable in two major ways. One is physical: their pack is lighter due to not carrying unnecessary items and they also don’t find themselves lacking something important. The second is mental: they have asked all the questions they can and talked with experts about what to expect. The over all experience of the first few days is better. Plus, when they arrive at the shop all they have to do it eat, shower and relax instead of wait in line with tons of other hikers for a much needed shake down.

Full gear layout as see

A typical day during hiker season at MTX looks like 3 or 4 (way less organized) pack explosions like this one! It can get messy, but it’s fun!

As the shake down becomes more popular, section hikers, weekenders, and even boy scout troops are opting to receive this helpful service. It is beneficial to all backpackers, not only thru hikers!

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A Bit of Info on the Virtual Shake Down

  1. Anyone of any experience level or preparedness can participate in a Virtual Shake Down. (Whether you’re a former thru hiker looking to shed some pack weight or only have three pieces of gear, all are welcome!)
  2. A computer with video chat capabilities (built in or attached video camera and microphone) is needed for a Virtual Shakedown.
  3. Virtual Shake Downs happen over an application called Google Hangout. We will provide you with a dummy G-Mail account for use during the shake down.
  4. A Virtual Shake Down costs $100, but that cost is a 100% (absolutely full and total) rebate!!
  5. During the shake down you will have access to all the entire inventory of Mountain Crossings and we will help you locate the exact items you need to complete or update your gear set.
  6. After you have chosen what you need from that shop, you will have 48 hours to purchase these items and apply your $100 rebate towards your gear.
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Click on this Image to check out the Virtual Shake Down

The Real Hiking Viking Sets Sail Again

It is getting to be that time of year again. It’s the season where we all shut ourselves away indoors and wait until spring to go back out. There are the few hardy ones who brave the elements with the help of the right gear, but most only go out on the best of days, if at all. Thankfully, there are those few hardy ones! One of them is Thomas Gathman.

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Thomas “Tom” Gathman AKA Jabba AKA  The Real Hiking Viking

Besides his given name, Thomas is also know by his trail name, Jabba. But most people know of him not by his trail name, but by another moniker: The Real Hiking Viking. He solidified his love for long distance hiking when he thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013 with other veterans as part of the Warrior Hike Program. Jabba has put down a lot more trail miles since then. In 2014 he thru hiking the Continental Divide Trail and earlier this year, he hiked the Florida Trail, the Arizona Trail and nearly completed the Pacific Crest Trail until fire closures along the trail shut him out.

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A sneak peek of Jabba’s hiking style, which he indeed puts a lot of “style” into.

Its obvious that The Real Hiking Viking is the sort that likes to be out in nature a lot, but thankfully for us, he is also slightly insane and has signed himself up for a trip that will keep our adventurous mountaintop seeking selves satisfied from the warmth of our own homes. All we need to do is tune into The Real Hiking Viking’s Facebook or Instagram.

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A sampling of the beautiful kinds of images found on The Real Hiking Viking’s social media pages.

Starting December 1st, yes, that was yesterday, Jabba will be thru hiking the Appalachian Trail south bound through the winter! It is a trek that is reminiscent of Trauma and Pepper’s Winter Southbound PCT Thru Hike. The elements may not be quite as extreme and with a history as varied as that of the AT, he is surely not the first to take on such a hike, but he is bucking against tradition and traveling by foot over rugged terrain that is inhospitable at best in the winter. Join in with us in following along with his progress, which is sure to be full of gorgeous winter time photographs and fun stories.

Benton MacKaye Trail

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The Benton MacKaye Trail is a 288 mile foot path sharing its southern terminus with the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain in Georgia. It traverses through North Carolina as well and ends at Davenport Gap in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee. For those who are keen on AT history, you may recognize the name Benton MacKaye as the Massachusetts born forester who first envisioned the idea of a foot path stretching from Georgia to Maine. He is also the namesake of the trail that serves as an excellent AT alternative or add-on.

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The iconic image of Benton MacKaye gazing out into the Appalachian mountains he would help connect via the AT.

Following the white diamond blazes of the BMT, you will cover similar territory as the AT but take a more northerly route after crossing paths with the AT a few times close to Springer Mountain. The two trails meet back together again at the northern end of the Smokey Mountains. If the 288 miles of the BMT just aren’t enough, you can head right back to Springer Mountain via the AT, adding another 234 miles to the hike.

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Known as the AT-BMT Loop (or figure 8), this 521 mile hike takes you through a full sampling of the best the Southern Appalachians have to offer.

For those of you interested in day hiking, the BMT is an excellent scenic alternative if you have explored much of the AT already. It crosses over beautiful rivers like the Taccoa, Ocoee, and Hiawasee. It also takes you along a lesser utilized stretch of trail in the Smokey Mountains as well. For more specifics about accessing the BMT, check out the Benton MacKaye Trail Association‘s page.

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A tree in which the BMT and AT both have a blaze.

Bear Bagging Methods

Over the last few years, backpacking has grown greatly in popularity. As a result of Hollywood blockbuster films, long distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail have been highlighted as the place to be to experience the outdoors in a real way. Unfortunately, the more people there are coming out into the wilderness, the less wild it gets. It is important to treat our wilderness areas and the rightful inhabitants of those areas with the respect we would give a stranger’s well kept home. One way to do this is by bear bagging.

Benefits Include:

  1. Bears do not learn to associate human presence with food
  2. Your expensive gear doesn’t get ripped up
  3. You don’t soil yourself in the midst of an up close bear encounter and smell truly wretched for the rest of your hike
  4. The bear is left to be a bear out in the wild like it was intended to be
  5. Mice, Squirrels and Racoons (the real terrorists of the forest) are unable to get your food

Down Sides Are:

  1. You have to exercise a tiny amount of consciousness and care for the beautiful land you are standing on and offer up 10 minutes of your day to ensure that you and anyone else who may want to can keep coming back

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Here are several ways to hang a food bag. (Skip to the third one if you don’t want to waste your time. Continue reading if you’re trying to kill time or want to know what not to do.)

The Traditional Method

The traditional method of bear bagging calls for tying your food bag to a length of cordage about 50ft long. Then, using a rock or stick tied to the other end of the cord, hurl the cord up and over a study branch, approximately 6 ft away from the trunk of a tree. Hoist the food bag into the air and tie off the excess cordage around the trunk of a nearby tree. If you are lucky, only the rodents will have gotten to your food by morning. If you are camped in the prowling grounds of a smart bear, it will likely chew through your cord and eat all your food. You can blame your laziness for this one.

The Counterbalance Method

In the event that there are two  of you on your hiking trip, you can use the counterbalance method. Once again, tie your food bag to your cord, throw your cord over a high branch using a stone or stick, hoist the food bag to the very top of the branch. Now, tie the second food bag has high up onto the cord hanging from the branch as you can. Use a large stick or trekking pole to push the lower of the two bags up and let the high bag fall until the two are even. Make sure that your bags are well over 6ft away from the tree and at least 15ft off the ground. Sleep soundly knowing that no bear will get them but that you will spend a hour the next morning batting around your food bag like a piñata trying to untwist the two lines and off set the counterbalanced bags.

The PCT Bear Bagging Method

The PCT Method is the most commonly used because it is the most successful. It’s success has to do with the quality of the method. It is a more complex way to hang that requires a bit more time and even a bit of practice but because you are not cutting corners and being lazy, you are granted the mental security of it working very well. This method begins with securely tying a small carabiner to the end of your cordage (it can be one you carry just for this purpose or something that you use as dual purpose, switching out its day and night functions). Clip the carabiner to your food bag and proceed to throw your cordage up and over the highest and strongest looking branch within your throwing capabilities. Find a study little stick near by that is about 6″ long and hoist the food bag up to the branch. Securely tie the sturdy stick as high up on to the cord as possible. As you ease your food bag down, the stick will catch the carabiner, suspending your food bag in mid air.

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Derek Hansen of theultimatehang.com has a great illustration of the PCT Method. Click to enlarge.

Bear Bagging Tips

  • Always choose a strong branch that can hold the weight of your food bag
  • Choose a tree that is far enough away from camp as to no attract any bear who may try to get to your food
  • Always hang your food about 15ft above the ground
  • Always hang your food at least 6ft away from the trunk of the tree
  • 50ft of cordage is typically an amount that will be enough in any bear bagging situation
  • 550 Paracord is both light and strong making great for bear bagging