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.
Food for the Trail
Let’s talk turkey! I don’t know about you but jamming thick peanut butter sandwiches loaded with candy bar nuggets, cereal, trail mix and whatever you happen upon -> gets seriously tiresome. 3500 or so calories a day is hard to squeeze into your backback and more importantly you are limited to the amount of weight you can carry. Trust me you will really need a break somewhere along your route … what I do is mail a few dehydrated Mountain House Packs every so many stops along the trail. I don’t eat them there at the post office or general store because there is usually decent food close by … but I keep them for the 2nd and 3rd day back on the trail. They weigh next to nothing and heat up in a jiffy. The downside … holy my goodness they can deflate your wallet quicker than a teenager going back to school. I buy mine in bulk from Amazon and mail them to strategic stops along the way. Its hard to convince yourself that the cost is worth it but there are a couple of things most long distance hikers know from experience. Its your Will -> your intestinal fortitude -> that keeps you going. Survival training will teach you the same thing. Keeping your spirits up … getting dry or getting clean or getting fed can get you over the highest peak and will lift your spirits quicker and stay with you longer. Every trail that I’ve ever hiked I find myself questioning if its really worth going on … it may only last a few minutes but after a setback, it can last for a couple of days. A good meal goes a long way in lifting your spirits. I check the maps carefully and look for the most difficult sections … I send the packs to the closest stop before the problem areas. I don’t know if every hiker is on a budget but I know that I am. Social Security barely covers the basics. Add that to the skyrocketing costs of good equipment that is made from all the space-age materials … you see where this is going. Food; you’d think it wouldn’t be a high percentage of the overall cost of that trek from A to B. (Loud buzzing) Wrong. Its hard enough looking at your poor blistered feet … so covered with Moleskin patches that they look like a quilt made out of bad fabric swatches. Your toe rot, your wrinkled and stinking feet are enough to keep the mice away -> when your thoughts start sounding like this -> you’ve got to put something in you that is going to HEAL your spirit. Often quoted is the phrase “an army runs on its stomach” a simple little quote that contains a great deal of truth. Your will is directly proportional to the way in which you fuel your hike … a snickers may get you up the next hill but a hot meal will get you over the next mountain. Don’t be as stupid as I’ve been on occasion … (brain says – hey its only a few days – all that food is going to break your back in the long run … they’ll be food you can get on the trail … you need to lose a few pounds anyways). Just stop right there and slap yourself … turn off the sing song in your head … put in a can of good soup and a means to heat it up. It may mean a pound or two but trust me … two days in when it starts raining and that store you were depending on is closed … you’ll open a soup can with a rock if necessary. Half way through a long hike you’ll be smiling remembering you forced yourself to settle for the tarp that was a few ounces more, or the tent that was not the best anyone could buy … but adequate … if it comes to “the latest and greatest doodad” or decent food for the trip … go with the food … you may be a bit less comfortable but you’ll have the strength and the will to make it. Trust me, spending a couple of hours thinking up some reason to text your significant other so they can meet you somewhere and bring you a bandaid
or some more bug spray and … oh by the way can you also bring some McDs or some -> fill in the blank – after all its your fantasy). Your rational will be as thin to them as the toilet paper you’re packing. Balance is necessary; it comes from experience … weight versus gear versus food versus water versus safety … seek balance and your journey will be easier, more enjoyable and provide you with a lifetime of great memories.