Take a Hike
No matter who you are with, no matter what trail you take; in the end, you can only hike your own hike. You walk alone at your own speed; rarely do you walk with any trail mate for an extended time. The point is finding yourself while conquering the terrain. This may be daunting at first. You’ll find yourself staying awake an extra hour or so wondering if you hung your food bag; put out any fire completely – just like home – did you put out the cat, turn out the lights. Those feelings will evaporate quickly as you gain confidence in your abilities and you gain experience. Spend as much time learning about being on the trail as you spend on the trail and you’ll come home a more complete person than when you left. Kinder, happier and have a treasure trove of memories.
Navigation can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other on a clear path. It can also be a confusing, shifting & often a mentally taxing, dangerous and difficult task indeed. Here in Florida it can be a snake, alligator, and the state bird (mosquito) infested pathless challenge one minute and a rut that even the newest hiker can easily follow the next. How you prepare for your next hike makes all the difference. What research do you do? What navigational aids do you use? When do you break out the compass? When do you break out your Inreach Explorer? Of all the decisions you make while hiking. One of the most important you have to make is when do you NOT use your dead reckoning skills? Simple decisions; but they are some of the most important decisions you will make as a hiker. When and how you answer those questions will make the difference between being lost a mere hundred yards off course; to finding yourself lost, totally turned around, and at the mercy of Mother Nature. Remember the acronym KISS … always “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Define your level of navigational expertise and act accordingly; before you hike! Don’t make the mistake of overreaching. Don’t ever convince yourself that you know what you are doing. When the going gets rough and decisions seem to be a jumbled mess – remember SYAD – sit your ass down – don’t make stupid mistakes. Think your way through it. It is easier to hike back to the last point you knew where you were “exactly” or blunder straight ahead and get totally lost. Hikes should be broken down in segments. The more confusing the terrain, the shorter the segments should be. In the first photo, you better be taking compass readings and orienting your self to the sun often. By that, I mean every few minutes. In the second photo … you can go all day without taking a compass bearing. Its remembering that when the path changes. Get a bearing … start out on the right foot … and you’ll end up on a clear path shortly. It is so easy to blunder forward, look at the wildlife, the flowers, the fauna … opps which way is up? Its then that the decisions you make will define whether you have a great hike or an “O crap” I’m in the weeds now experience.
This series will focus on whether there is no path or one that is clearly defined. We need a simple and straightforward plan for each and every trail we take. It would be nice if all trails were a clear path that even the most challenged of us can manage. Each of the paths above presents unique difficulties. When do you admit that I’m a bit out of my depth? My take; it is ALWAYS before you begin any hike in a new area. Prepare for the worst case scenario and you will always be ahead of the game.
The same can be said for all the seasons. Its just as easy or perhaps easier to find yourself lost in the snow as it is in the swamp or a beautiful forest. Keep watching … more to come.
So, us southern boys have to trek around in the swamps, the streams, the bogs … who uses an indoor track. Bunch of sissies. While I was waiting for my Mother-in-Law to finish her senior sneakers class I had a brain storm … hey what the heck – why not utilize the time wisely – I’ll walk around the elevated indoor track while I’m waiting. Off I go at a good clip wearing my nice polished Nunn Bush loafers and thin dress socks. Small track, lots of laps … probably between 4 and 5 miles. Grinning because I’m lapping everyone … hmmm these folks don’t walk so fast. I tried talking to a few as I passed em and finally realized they were out of breath … it was a group of folks with heart conditions who walked together as a group every day. Yeah, thats me the speedster … out walking the heart attack squad! Do these type of things ever happen to you – you’re all puffed up and feeling like the king of the world only to either trip in front of the beautiful Miss you were trying to impress or something else that just brings you up short. Makes you realize just how insignificant and stupid we are at times. Well long story short. I got home, changed into something a bit more comfortable and went barefoot around the house … I immediately noticed something was wrong … it felt like I was walking on a pebble. Just like tripping and looking the fool … it hit me. Ahhh, you idiot! I stopped and began rubbing the bottom of my left foot … didn’t take me too long to figure out that I had a huge blister rising up on the bottom of my foot between the big and hammer toe. I’m talking quarter sized and filling with fluid at a good clip. The really funny part is that I have an 8:30 appointment with my podiatrist to clear me for the PCT … I’ll not only have to share with her the difficulties of the last few weeks and my mule headed approach to getting ready but that the trip is postponed due to idiocy and now look at the bottom of the my foot … see what an experienced hiker does when he’s trapped in the city! Well, at least she’ll have a good laugh.
I’ve gotten some difficult news and wanted to take this opportunity to share it with my friends and fellow hikers. We train for months, we purchase our supplies, we’re all ready to go but sometimes; life just hands you some lemons. Preparing for my 2018 thru-hike of the PCT (kick off Feb 1) what seemed like a couple of minor injuries have snow balled into something more serious. Everyone around you says slow down, take a few days off, but do you listen – Doh no! What started out as some minor aches and pains i.e. some lower back pain, an old arthroscopic knee surgery, and some tendinitis has blossomed into some serious arthritic and inflammation issues. My knee is all swollen, my hip is killing me from 8 mile walks with a 70 lb pack – of course at a fast pace – carrying too much weight (you moron … my inner voice chastises me) – why wait for things to get back to normal? So I’m here thinking about the beauty that will have to wait until next year for me to soak it all up. Well at least I can get back to my blog … post up some nice stuff and of course – hide from the Mrs – she is the most supportive lady in the known universe but she’ll only listen to so much whining. She’ll be giving me a swift kick in the pants and tell me to get busy and quit moaning and groaning. She may even accompany me on a pity hike … a few miles with a day pack and sleep out under the stars and take the opportunity to get in some good bonding time. I don’t know about you but there is nothing more peaceful under a beautiful night sky than the quiet and soothing balm of a night breeze and a moon-lite or star filled sky. If things heal quickly enough – I may skip the desert section and start up a bit higher in the lower Sierra Nevadas. If not, there is always a N to S adventure. I have my heart set on a S to N thru hike and I don’t know that I can work my head around such a drastic change. I have everything from campsites, mail drops, rest days, breaks with the Mrs etc etc … its all worked out. It will take weeks to do all that again for an altered plan. I’ll keep up the postings and can take some time to post up good navigation basics using all the latest gadgets on the market, as well as, doing it old school. So for now I’ll go soak all the war wounds and plan the site updates. Take care; I’ll be watching all your posts, tweets, pics and will keep an eye on the weather, the news and the trail rerouting … I’ll keep in touch wishing every minute that we were doing it together. Go, PCT thru-hikers … every hike begins with a step. I hope you hit the magic lotto at Campo and get an early starting number, find all your water caches with jugs full and food from the trail angels waiting for you to turn the corner and find them. A special shout out to Warbler & Hot Lips … tweet this ole fart on occasion … maybe we’ll meet at Kennedy Meadows!
Every thru-hiker, trail rat, day hiker or just plain walker will be glad to sing you a virtual opera on the subject of blisters, corns, callouses, nail problems, planar faciitis. Just ask them and you’ll get an earful that could be the beginnings of a good blues song. I’d like to share some of my experiences and in some small way try to influence your hiking decisions. To me, IMO, the 2 most important things to a hiker – YOUR FEET – every journey, sojourn, thru-hike or a simple walk around the block employs these two marvelous and highly complicated contact points … where the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. I’ll list some of the more important issues concerning the health and care of these puppies and hope that you come away from this post with one thought – I need to take better care of these body parts. We can begin with shoes, I have another post on here about what I consider to be the best hiking shoe on the market but like every aspect of hiking we all have our favorites. Planar Faciitis; stabbing pain in the arches of your feet. Nothing to take lightly. If you develop this symptom – get to a Podiatrist.
The best treatment is injections into your arches; the best prevention is to utilize the 1/10 oz band the Dr will give you to stretch out your heel tendons etc by placing the band around your toes with your leg straight out and pulling the band which will flex your foot. If you develop this malady – trust me you’ll do your exercises religiously. Now, to the real nitty gritty; suffice it to say that your shoes need to have EXCELLENT arch support, they need to be the RIGHT size and most importantly – you need to keep them DRY. Here is a weird option but one I never fail to utilize; deodorant, yes just plain old unscented men’s gel deodorant (apply it liberally to all areas of your feet where you develop blisters etc) It will keep your feet drier and provide lubrication and prevent rubbing in the problem areas. Nails – keep your toenails trimmed – they will bend over and cause you so many problems you’ll be glad you took this advice.
Blisters – when you apply bandages around or on your blisters “tent” the bandage by putting the sticky ends closer together making the center puff up and provide a cushion for the blister. Another great homeopathic remedy is to brew “green tea” – allow it to cool then soak the blistered areas of your feet – it will allow the blisters to drain and heal. These are just a few of the problem areas we encounter. My primary remedy is to visit a Podiatrist – regularly. Their tips on how to trim your nails properly, how to use the proper arch supports and attachments is invaluable to a lifetime of successful hiking. I personally visit my Podiatrist several times a year – certainly more than my primary Physician. Here are a few tips and some readily available devices for making friends with your feet and toes.
Lets go over the items left to right. First, a good “professional” arch support; not a dollar store one … they range about $20 bucks per foot (not length) or so and are properly sized, cut and have the necessary pads applied by your Podiatrist to ensure your foot plants solidly on the ground. The pads are the white items applied to the bottom of the insert. Before using a good insert I would wear out a pair of shoes in a matter of weeks even when not hiking – wearing out the rear outside edges long before the rest of the shoe had developed signs of wear. The middle items are from top to bottom; a hammer toe sleeve – the toe next to your big toe – it slides over your hammer toe and prevents your big toe from riding over the top and side of your hammer toe which develops some very nasty blisters if your feet are so inclined. The bottom item is a silicone spacer that does the same thing as the sleeve but gives more distance between the toes. It is applied by sliding your hammer toe into the hole and putting the rounded area against your big toe. The far right device is placed under your hammer toe and the adjoining toes by slipping your hammer toe into the loop and pulling it loosely to hold it in place. Its great if you develop blisters on the ends of your toes. Remember the three devices on the right need to be removed before you go to bed at night. They can twist around when not in your shoes and cut off the circulation to your toes. A secondary and very important aspect of your visit to a Podiatrist is to have your callouses trimmed – VERY important. Callouses build up over time and when your feet get wet crossing a stream or the rain starts to fall … the callouses have a tendency to peel off … right down to the bottom layer of your skin – OUCH – and you no longer have the added cushioning they provide the problem areas on your feet. Treat your feet kindly, massage them with pure coconut oil (in its pure form coconut oil liquefies about 76 degrees – it should turn into a liquid when you place it in the palm of your hand. Rub it in and allow it to soak in. I don’t mean buy some coconut moisturizing lotion – but it in its pure form. So, in closing … use your deodorant to lubricate your feet – use pure coconut oil to keep your skin moisturized, include your legs if you like to wear shorts – visit your Podiatrist regularly. Apply bandages, devices, etc with the advice of a professional. After all, we all go to the professionals for advice on what tent to buy, what stove to use … the list goes on … use the same thought process concerning your feet. After all, they are going to carry you to some of the most beautiful, secluded and quietest places on the planet.
I’ve been asked so many times what “leave no trace” means. When I’m talking to folks about hiking I’m usually asked something along the lines of”: Does it mean hike while pulling a branch behind you to erase your footprints? Does it mean training in Ninja skills to evade detection and walking across rice paper without breaking the surface? The term is often misunderstood and often used to mean anything the writer is thinking about. The National Park Service puts out a DVD on the subject. There is a website dedicated to just this topic … its LNT.ORG . I could write for hours about the subject but I’ll begin this topic with a few generalized thoughts and leave the detailed explainations and opportunities to become involved to LNT. Some basic but vitally important points are simple common sense. 1. Don’t urinate or defecate near a water source – the common guideline is 100-200 feet. Don’t forget to dig a hole … carry a trowel for just this purpose. In the dead of night this can be a bit tricky and for some a bit scary. Its easier to scout a path and an easily identifiable spot for you to do your business in the daylight as apposed to waiting until midnight to realize you haven’t picked a spot. I’m in my 60’s so I have a bladder the size of a peanut and although it might be a simple slip out of the tent for a quick pee – this adds up to a serious threat to environmentally sensitive lands. Of course, don’t forget to bury and then step on the raised mound to truly leave no trace. Animals mark their territories with body fluids. Don’t threaten them with yours or they may come visit your tent. 2. Bury your trash including all wrappers, cans, leftover food, drink packets etc etc. There is nothing worse than hiking onto an absolutely beautiful overlook, open meadow, overhanging tree canopy to find cigarette butts, candy wrappers, food tins … it will make your blood boil. 3. Camp Fires – although pretty and they have a purpose to keep away the creepy crawlies – for the most part they are truly useless and often are a horrible waste of resources. If you have to have one – use only “wood you find on the ground” don’t chop, hew or otherwise cut down anything living. It is a true marker of our human hubris – our pride and the need to show we rule nature. Be one with your camping space – not only will it serve you but others for weeks, months and years to come. 4. Hammocks, Tents and lean-tos: If… you hammock, use a large enough rope with something between the rope and the tree to keep from marking and injuring the tree. If you use a tent, place your footprint on grass or readily renewable fodder. In Florida we use spanish moss pulled from trees (not that found lying on the ground -chiggers), leaves are nice – try to avoid pulling up moss, ferns and plants to make things a bit more comfortable for you. If you have to make a shelter because its suddenly snowing and your tent went down river during your last river crossing – again, use dead wood. So in a nutshell you can see the forest for the trees. Leave no trace – just means – don’t be stupid … you are not the first, nor will you be the last person on whatever trail you are following. Leave it the same way you found it … unless its been visited by a jerk … then clean up after the moron and know that its better than when you found it.
Oh, the natural beauty and of course the Southern ambiance of moss filled trees and paths lined with overhanging branches. So picturesque, so soothing to the spirit … I think I’ll stop for the night. Look at all this natural bedding … so nice, so soft, so easy to pile up and sleep on. You will only make this mistake ONCE. Spanish Moss is a great cushion for making your tent floor softer; the nice sleep you’ll enjoy with your sleeping bag raised up a bit off the tree roots is a welcome relief from the rib pokers … good ideas all but utilize this simple tip; Spanish Moss that is lying on the ground -> is riddled with tiny flesh boring bugs called chiggers. Just picking it up and packing it under your gear will leave you awake most of the night scratching yourself silly. Chiggers aren’t deadly but next to deer flies they are the most irritating little buggers on the planet. Pull your Spanish Moss from the trees before you use it for bedding or tinder to start your fire. Chiggers haven’t evolved to the point of learning to climb trees … they are ground dwellers only – they infest Spanish Moss that is on the ground and multiply into the kazillions. A common misconception among folks is that the Spanish Moss is the culprit and you need to leave it alone at all costs. That is simply not true, although it is not edible, many folks boil it up into a tea; not to drink but instead cool the water and use it in their gardens and on their potted plants and air plants like bromeliads and orchids. Its a natural fertilizer. You may occasionally see a horse nibbling on it much like a dog will eat grass … it may serve some digestive function but it is not fit for human consumption. Pulled from the low hanging branches of an old water oak it will make for some great padding under your tent and on a cold night up in the panhandle of Florida you can use it to stuff your sleeping bag for warmth. Just don’t pick it up off the ground.