Thursday, December 17, 2009

Season's Greetings...

For those of you who check this Blog on a regular basis, I apologize to you for being a Blog Slacker.

The truth is... I only intended to keep people informed about my hiking adventure. And I never put any thought into what to do with this site after the hiking season.

More than a few people have asked why I haven't been Blogging. I think part of the reason is that I didn't know what to Blog about.

I never really considered myself a Blogger. In fact, I didn't know what a Blog was until someone helped me set up this site.

Most Blogs are "theme specific" or "topic oriented." But rather than have another Blog all about: sports, politics, dance, massage, etc., I would like for this site to be a free flow of ideas.

So when things happen in the world or in my life, I will try to make a point of jotting down some ideas about the subject or voicing my opinion.

If there is a topic that you would like for me to cover, feel free to send me an e-mail and (if I have an opinion on the subject) I will be happy to share my thoughts.

Another reason I haven't written is that I have immersed myself into the Grand Opening and marketing of my new massage office.

It seems that whenever I am not there massaging people, I am going about the business of marketing myself.

For many years I worked in sales, so I understand the concept of marketing. However, in the past, I was promoting a product or company. In this case, I AM the product AND the company!

I have to find ways to make me sound great without seeming like I'm "tooting my own horn" (which of course, I am).

This is why word of mouth advertising is by far the most efficient way to market yourself. When someone you know (and trust) tells you about a product or service that they use, you are more likely to try it than if you heard about it from a guy you've never met yelling through a megaphone on some street corner.

So far I have not paid for any advertising other than printing costs for business cards, brochures and flyers.

Last month my banker was nice enough to feature me as the business of the month. I had a nice display table set up with information about my work, the website and how to find me. (Thanks Rachel!)

I also set up a "Win a Free Massage" box that generated quite a bit of interest. We'll see what comes of that.

Before I sign off for today, I will make one last shameless plug for myself (since I'm in marketing mode)!

This is a reminder that if you run out of great gift ideas this holiday season--- keep in mind that I have Gift Certificates. Why not give the gift of health for the holiday?

Gift Certificates are always the perfect gift. It never has to be returned for being the wrong size or color. And Gift Certificates can be used for Massage or Personal Training.

Give massage gift certificates to anyone who needs to de-stress, relax or is in pain. Or give a personal training session to anyone you know making a New Year's Resolution to get back in shape in 2010.

Here is a list of potential candidates: your boss, your secretary, your nanny, your housekeeper, your kids' teachers, anyone who did something extraordinarily nice for you lately, stressed out college students, pregnant women, new mom's and dad's who are toting around a new baby (in and out of car seats and cribs, etc.), and also for the friend or relative who is impossible to find the perfect gift for.

Having said all that, I would also like to say that this whole holiday season has gotten a little too commercial for me. Now this could be something to Blog about! This is one of those things that has always bothered me. Even as a child I didn't like the whole gift giving part of the holiday.

This is another reason why massage is such a great gift. It's not like you are giving someone "stuff." They don't have to find a place to put it, or find the time to return it. They just get to enjoy it (or re-gift it so someone else can enjoy it).

So I would like to make a "Call To Action" this holiday season. I would ask that you do three things: 1) Do something nice for someone you know; 2) Do something nice for someone you don't know; and 3) Do something nice for yourself.

Keep in mind that when I say "do something nice" I don't mean give them money or a present. I mean spend a little time with your niece's and nephews so that your sister and brother-in-law can spend a little quality time with each other (for example). Or spend time with someone who needs help with something around the house.

And if you see someone in the parking lot at the shopping mall trying to load a heavy package into the trunk, but having a hard time lifting it out of the cart. Go over and help them out. Be careful to ask permission first, so they don't think you are trying to steal their stuff.

As to things that you can do for yourself... only you know what you really need. Remember that if you don't take care of yourself it will be much more challenging to take care of others. Treat yourself to a massage or just a little quiet time. Go for a walk. You know what will rejuvenate you-- just do it.

Enjoy the holiday season -- whatever it is that you celebrate....

I look forward to seeing and hearing from you all soon.

Peace and Love,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thank you...

I would like to thank everyone who helped make the grand opening of "Massage and Bodywork" a success.

It was a pretty big team effort for a one man operation.

I like to think of myself as self-sufficient. But some things require extra hands. (Moving furniture, for example.) And, have you ever tried to hang a mirror by yourself? You can't hold the mirror on the wall and then step back to make sure that it's not crooked.

"Why not just measure it?" you ask. This is New England... builders here are shooting for character-- not symmetry.

I also received some unsolicited help. Dad sent a great plant to make the studio seem more homey. And Mom made a beautiful afghan that is sure to come in handy in the upcoming winter months.

In a previous post I mentioned all the help I got with the website. That is way out of my league. And Paula outdid herself with my fancy new cards and the impressive On-Site Chair Massage brochure that will be on it's way to the printer very soon.

So I would like to put those brochures to good use. If you would like for me to come to your office or workplace to do chair massage, let me know. Also, if you know anyone who would be in charge of that type of thing (business owners, HR folks, etc.), let me know.

And I would especially like to thank all the people who sent in new referral business. That is the most important part. That is what pays the bills.

In fact, I am going to extend the Grand Opening Referral Incentive. Anyone who sends in five new clients before the end of October will receive a free one hour massage. And yes, this is includes last months referrals. So if you already sent in three new clients last month, you only need to send in two more for your free massage. (Or seven more to get two free massages!)

Here is a reminder of the rules: A referral is not a name on a piece of paper. A referral is a new client that I have never worked on before that schedules and keeps their appointment. That's it... easy. So send in everyone you know. Forward the e-mail of the flyer I sent out. If you didn't get one or deleted it, I will be happy to send it to you again.

And I will be happy to get some extra business cards to you so you can give them out to anyone who seems stressed, or in pain, or is pregnant, etc. You can even give one to the person in front of you while you are standing in line at the grocery store when you see them rub their neck!

Just be sure to write your name on the back of the card so that they remember who to give credit to when they fill out the "referred by" section of the Intake Form. This way we can add it to your list of five referrals. After the end of October, I will continue offering the regular incentive of $10 off your next appointment.

If anyone has any other suggestions or helpful hints that I may have overlooked, I am happy to hear them.

And I will say it one more time: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you... (OK three more times).

Peace and Love,

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Open For Business...

I just wanted to make a quick post to let you all know that the new office space is up and running.

And the new website appears to be a big hit. If you haven't seen it yet, go to and check it out. Feel free to give me feedback or suggestions. I want it to be as perfect as possible.

People are already using the online scheduling program. So far, everyone says it's VERY easy.

I had a brief "moment of panic" after my very first massage in the new space when the lady asked to book her next appointment. As I was writing it in my book like I always do, I realized that just writing it in my book is not enough. I need to block out the time online to make sure that someone else doesn't double book that time slot. But, of course, my computer is at home.

Then I remembered that I'm not as much of a technophobe as I used to be. I realized that I could use my fancy new phone (that I got to keep me connected to the web during my hike) to schedule the appointment. Problem solved. Modern technology is amazing!

I hate to admit this, but I am actually considering starting a Facebook page. Not a personal page-- but one for the business. This way people will be able to link to my website right from Facebook. Who knows-- maybe I'll start having people "Tweet" that they are on their way to or from a massage appointment with me! I'll take all the PR I can get.

The other dilemma I need help with is the correct terminology for the new "digs." What do I call my new workplace? Anyone that knows me, knows that I have spent my whole life avoiding working in an office. And even I laugh at the thought of these words coming out of my mouth: "OK, I'm going to the office now." :)

Technically, since it is one big room, I could call it a "Studio." Sometimes I just call it "The Space." And even though I lean toward what might be considered "Earthy/Crunchy," calling it the "Healing Space" might be a little too "Granola" for me. I am open to ideas. What do you think?

Also, I would like to thank everyone who has been so very helpful in the Grand Opening process. And thanks to all of you who have already linked my website to your Facebook pages. But a very special Thank You goes to Paula and Lisa for all their hard work with the new logo, graphics and the work on the website.

Feel free to help spread the word that I am open for business. And, if you haven't already, go ahead and link my site to your Facebook, Linked, Twitter or other social networking sites.

I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Peace and Love,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Opportunity Knocks...

They say that everything happens for a reason.

I have often wondered-- Who are THEY? How do THEY know so much? And why should we listen to THEM? Or even care what THEY say?

Over the years my answers to these questions, and many more, have changed. But it seems that (at least for now) THEY may be right.

As you know, my plans to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail this summer turned into a Section-Hike. It was not the adventure I was expecting, but it was still an adventure. I took a long overdue vacation. Met a bunch of interesting people. Spent some time in the great outdoors. Took some longer than average hikes. And did a lot of thinking. I highly recommend all of these things.

In between Section-Hikes I would come home for a week or so to rest the leg, resupply and plot my next section. Luckily there are plenty of easy access sections here in New England. And if you have been following along on this Blog, you know that not all of my hikes this summer were on the AT. I also spent time at Mt. Monadnock, Mt. Battie and several other local NH and MA trails.

It was on one of these in-between visits to home when I met a friend of a friend, that is a massage therapist who is moving out of state and there was an opportunity to take over an existing practice. I won't bore you with the details of the negotiations, but the bottom line is, I opted not to take the opportunity.

In the process of negotiations, though, the idea of having an office to work out of really started to grow on me. And in the end, I was inspired to secure a space here in Danvers, not far from home.

The space is not huge, but it's plenty big enough. There is a nice waiting area (with bathrooms) and plenty of free parking. And people can take a nice leisurely walk around the property after their massage. It makes me sad to think that people just cram themselves into their car after their massage and fight their way into traffic. Not to mention the stress of finding a parking ticket on their car because the parking meter ran out while they were on the massage table. It kind of defeats the purpose of getting a massage.

That is one of the things I like about doing outcalls. When I go to people's homes they just roll off the table after their massage and do whatever they want: take a nap, read, lay out on the deck or in the yard, etc. They get to enjoy the massage (at least for a while.)

In the past, this has always worked well for me because my dance rehearsals took me from Boston and Cambridge to Gloucester and Rockport. So I could work on people in all those towns as well as the towns along the way.

The dilemma now is that my travel time in between appointments leaves a lot of unproductive gaps in my day.

Working out of this new space in Danvers will allow me to accommodate more people in a day. Don't worry. For those of you who have been TOO spoiled over the past ten years... I am still planning to carve out time to do home visits. But I may need some help.

For the first time, I will actually have overhead expenses. Until now it was just massage oil, gas and occasionally some new sheets. But now I will have rent and utilities to pay.

So I will be asking you all to send everyone you know to see me. In exchange, I will be offering my best ever Referral Incentive Program.

In about a week, I will send out an e-mail explaining the details of the Referral Incentive Program as well as all the information about the new space.

Included in that e-mail will be information on the new business website. For now, I am using "Massage and Bodywork by Nick" as the name of the business. Boring. I know. But it has all the right keywords for internet searches. I am open to suggestions if you have any.

One of the things that you all need to know, is that I will be forwarding the domain name to the new business website to make it easier to find.

Right now that domain name is forwarded to this Blog. Once the new site is up and running, you will have two options to locate this "Nick's News" Blog. You can continue to use , which will bring you to the new business website. Then go to the Links Page and click on the link to "Nick's News."

OR you can come to this site directly by using "" . If you have any problems with that just give me a call or send an e-mail and I will try to talk you through it.

Of course, I would love for all of you to visit the business website to review it and give me feedback. (The site info will be available soon.)

The new website will have all the usual pages: Home Page, a Bio Page, Directions, info about the work I do and of course the Links Page. But one of the great bonus features will be the On-line Scheduling. So if I have an open appointment, you can just book your appointment on-line 24 hours a day. No more playing phone tag or e-mail tag.

The space will be available to me on September 1st but I will take the first week to set up and move in. I will likely start taking appointments on September 8th.

That is not very far away, is it?

I am hoping to hike one more short section this month before the craziness begins. Over the past few months, I have really come to appreciate my time spent outdoors. I plan to schedule some regular R&R time into my life. Maybe I'll take a weekend here and there to get away. In fact, I am definitely seeing a trip to sunny FL in the near future. I think I'll be ready to take a break from the cold by January.

So the question is: Does everything happen for a reason? Would things have worked out differently if I Thru-Hiked the AT rather than Section-Hiked?

The answer to the second question is: most certainly. First, I never would have been presented with this opportunity. And second, I may have just retreated into the woods. I think it would be very easy for me to make that transition.

As for the answer to the first question: Does everything happen for a reason? Well, I'll need to spend more time in the woods to ponder that...

You will hear from me in about a week. I'll make sure you all have the details on the new space, the new website and of course the amazing Referral Incentive Program. Thank you all for your continued support over the years. Wish me luck.

Peace and Love,

Friday, July 31, 2009

Family Vacation Photos...

Here are some photos of the family vacation:

Gear up!  Getting ready to go out on the kayaks.   

Family fun on the water.

Riding with Uncle Nick...  and don't forget the Paddle Boat!

Taking turns paddling.

Ryder is now a pro and wants to go out on his own.  

Synchronized tandem kayaking....

Things to do in your down time.  Color in the coloring books  and even four year olds have to check their e-mail.

The next group of pictures are my favorite.  These are of the kids interacting.

Sorry about the sideways photos.  I did rotate them but when they uploaded they turned crooked again.  I'm still working on my computer literacy.  

Playing with Sparklers.

I want to wear a bandana like Uncle Nick....   Me too!

"Rock on, Dude!"

The Bumper Car "Drag Race."  

Fierce competition -- Ping Pong and Air Hockey.

Uncle Nick slaving in the kitchen... 

My "Triple Chocolate Chaos."  Tanner reaping the rewards for being so well behaved.

"Is Grumpy really doing dishes??!!"

It's true... we have the pictures to prove it!

There are a million other pictures but I think you get the idea.  It was a lot of fun.  And we all lived to tell the stories.  

Sadly, there is no video of the dancing.  I'll try to get that at the next family event!

I encourage you all to spend some time with your friends and family.  You may surprise yourself, too.

Peace and Love,

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Family Vacation...

Last week was my Family Vacation.

If you have been following this Blog for a while, you may remember from a very early Post that I planned to have someone pick me up off the Trail (and then drop me back) so I could be there.

Dad rented a house (more like a mansion, really) on a lake in New Hampshire.  He invited us all up for the week.  By "us all" I mean... ALL my siblings, their spouses and children.  There was a core group of fifteen plus a few "Day Visitors" scattered throughout the week.  

My initial reaction was that this could be a potential disaster.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my family.  In fact, I get along with all of them on an individual basis.  Mostly in small doses and spread out over time.  Birthday parties, weddings, graduations, maybe a Fourth of July cookout... But 24/7 for a week?!   Thinking about it made me chuckle and I agreed to go.  This could be more entertaining than one of those "reality TV shows."

In my head I was calculating the odds on who would survive the week and who would NOT.  Just for the record, I had myself listed Very High up in the NOT column.  In fact, I brought my tent and gear just in case I needed to disappear into the woods for a day or two.  

For me it was a culture shock.  I live by myself and generally come and go as I please.  And, I admit to being a bit OCD.  I believe everything has a place.  After you use a thing, it goes back into its place.  Counters, floors and tables are not meant to be sticky.  Cabinet doors and dresser drawers are supposed to be closed until you need something from inside-- then you close them again.

Side Note:  Speaking of drawers...  The first of many passionate discussions that we had during the week was about the little space under the kitchen counter where you keep the utensils.  You know the one.  It has a handle and when you pull it, it gently slides out so you can grab a spoon or fork, then slide it closed again.  What is that called?  Is it a "drawer" or is it a "draw"?  Go ahead, ask your family... I dare you.

Another reason I was concerned for my mental sanity is that I don't do groups of people.  I am more of a one on one kind of guy.  I rarely do parties or events.  When I do, I have to psych myself up for it.  Often I will trick myself into thinking it's a part of my job.  I will take the opportunity to "work the room" handing out business cards.  Another favorite trick is to bring the camera and float around snapping photos.  This allows me contact with everyone (but not for too long.)  

This is why being a massage therapist is the perfect job for me.  I work with one person at a time.  I am completely in charge.  Even the "chatty" people are quiet within 15 or 20 minutes.  And I get to wear sneakers!

Anyway, during the past week I learned some things about myself and about my family.  

I LEARNED that almost everyone in my family is a Reader.  I read a lot but had no idea that they all read a lot, too.

I LEARNED that both of my brothers-in-law are better cooks than all of my sisters combined.  I did know that Shawn could cook.  He practically caters most of our family gatherings.  And it is common knowledge that he could rival any trained chef.  But Matt surprised us with the spread he laid out for us on his night to cook.

In theory, we were all supposed to cook a meal.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner.  But I don't really cook.  And the kind of food that I eat, most of my family doesn't consider real food.  So I volunteered for Peanut Butter and Jelly Night...  but that was not an option.  My four year old nephew has allergies, so all week we lived in a "Nut Free Zone."  (At least "Nut Free" in a literal sense.)  

So Shawn took pity on me and offered to "assist" me on my night to cook.  We made a fabulous pasta dinner complete with homemade pasta sauce, garlic bread and sausages (all made from scratch) and an awesome "triple chocolate chaos" for dessert!  That's chunks of chocolate cake mixed with chocolate pudding and topped with ice cream.  Very decadent.

Maybe Shawn did a little more than "assist."  He made his famous homemade pasta sauce.  AND he made the sausages too.  That is definitely not a job for me!  OK, I admit that he made the garlic bread, too.  But I was there when he did it.  

But really, I did cook the pasta.  I boiled the water, poured the pasta from the boxes into a huge pot of boiling water.  Probably the most dangerous part of the whole meal.  

And I did make the dessert.  Except for the cake (my niece baked that.)  But I did stir the pudding mix with the water and put it in the fridge to solidify.  And I did cut up the cake into chunks and mix in the pudding.  And I did scoop ice cream into anyone's bowl who wanted it.

Mostly, I think I hung out in the kitchen trying to look like I knew what I was doing.  But in reality I was just in the way.  But I think we have a picture to prove that I "cooked."  

I LEARNED that my niece and nephews are all creative.  It's amazing.  They range in age from two years old to twenty.  They are writers, artists, musicians and story tellers.  We have quite the talented family.  Apparently we come from the deep end of the creative gene pool.  

I knew my niece was an athlete but I had no idea she was an amazing creative writer until I read the first three chapters of her novel.  This is a work in progress.  The imagery, characters and narration are all believable and easy to read. 

It was so good that I am inspired to get back to work on a book that I started months ago but never finished.  I challenged her to finish her book and try to get hers published before I publish mine.  

All three of my teenaged nephews are musicians.  This I knew.  But this week, I was privileged to see video clips, read song lyrics and see works of art in progress.  

I was impressed all around.  So impressed that I commissioned one of them to create an artwork project for me.  

My four year old nephew is the story teller.  You can hand him any object and he can create a story-- past, present, future.  He can make it up on his own or you can give him guidelines to work within.  It doesn't matter.  Change the guidelines mid-story if you want.  He will adapt to it.  He is a master of improvisation.  

Even the two year old shows promise.  It seems his brain is working in overdrive, absorbing everything he sees and hears.  His older cousins sent him home with a whole new arsenal of words and phrases (some accompanied by hand gestures.)  

I wish I could be there next week to see the look on that poor unsuspecting Mom's face when he flashes the peace sign and says, "Peace, man!" to the two year old in the shopping cart across the aisle in the grocery store.  And I wish I could be there next Sunday when he raises his index finger and pinky finger (but keeps the middle two fingers bent down, tucked under his thumb) and says, "Rock On, Dude!" to the priest in church.   Note:  The "Rock On, Dude!" phrase is delivered complete with bobble head and slot machine arm.

I LEARNED that almost everyone in the family (with very few exceptions) enjoys being out on the water.  When I heard that the house Dad rented was lakefront property, I decided to bring the kayaks.  Come to find out there was a tandem kayak, a rowboat, and a paddle boat that came with the house.  But still, at some point all the boats were out.  

We took turns bringing the younger  kids out.  Between the beach and the boats, they couldn't get enough.  

I LEARNED that we all work well together as a team.  I brought a dry erase board so we could post daily chores.  But the board  never left my car.  Our chores seemed to rotate effortlessly.  Whoever didn't cook, cleaned.  When the trash or recycle barrels were full, they got brought out to the garage.  None of the bathrooms ever ran out of toilet paper.  It was all pretty organic.

The thing that I was most impressed with, was the interaction between the "cousins."  As I mentioned, they span almost two decades.  Ages 2-20.  The teenage dynamic is hard enough by itself, but toss in a two and four year old, and things can be very unpredictable.    

What happened absolutely amazed me.  The younger kids quickly became attached to the older kids.  And the older kids were very gentle with and very entertained by the younger kids.  

As a general rule, kids like me.  And I like kids.  But that may be because I deal with them in small doses.  Actually, as I am writing this, and thinking about it... the same is true with grown up people, too.  I can handle just about anyone in small doses.  

I was fortunate enough to spend some quality time with each of them.  Which of course is how I learned all this great stuff about them.  And about me.

My patience and tolerance quota got better as the week went on, but I found that I do have a maximum limit.  

Pay attention, I'm getting to the good part.  

It took me all week to notice this, or to figure it out.  And I don't know for sure if they consciously did this or if it was just coincidence, but I think the older cousins were "looking out" for me.  

Whenever I found myself getting close to my maximum little kid limit, one of the older cousins would magically appear and take the little ones away to play some game (or to read or color.)  

In my experience, most teenagers are self absorbed, but these kids played a big part in allowing the grown ups to feel like they were on vacation, too!  I know these kids will all grow up to be great parents... or teachers, or coaches, or leaders of some kind.  They each displayed great character and discipline.  And I am Blessed to have them in my life.

I LEARNED that I come from a family of debaters.  Some people might call it arguing, but in this case I do mean debating.  I have learned that my family is opinionated, but not in a radical sense.  Everyone was always willing to listen to the opposing opinion.

As an example, I return to my Drawer/Draw discussion.  Everyone was passionate in their opinion, intelligent in their presentation and polite while listening to opposing view points.  Sometimes our discussions got loud, but never angry.  And it never got violent.  In the end, it was tomayto vs. tomahto.  We agreed you could call it whatever you wanted (as long as the drawer stays closed.)  And nobody was shunned for going or not going to church on Sunday.

This passion carried over into our games.

I LEARNED  that the rest of my family is as competitive as I am.  We spent hours playing Pictionary and Catch Phrase (among other games.)  And who knew that Ping Pong was so addictive?

One evening we took the older cousins to a place that claimed to be the "largest Arcade in the world."  It had a miniature golf course, a few bowling lanes, air hockey, pinball, skeet ball and every retro video game you can imagine dating back to Ms. PacMan, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and even the original Atari game "Pong"!  

I'm not sure who "threw down" the challenge, but our Gang of Teens ended up in a drag race with a Gang of Local Teens...  on the Bumper Cars!  The funny part about it wasn't that Bumper Cars are not designed to go fast for racing.  It was that these particular Bumper Cars were specifically designed for kids age ten and younger.  I know this partly because all the cars had funny faces on them with goggle eyes and tongues sticking out, but mostly because it said so on the Sign.  

Luckily, it was late and all the little kids were gone for the day.  So the attendants didn't toss us out.  In fact, I think they enjoyed watching the race, too.  The kids all  looked like clowns in circus cars.  

And then there were the Riddles!  One of my favorite cousins got me hooked on the Riddles years ago, but I didn't realize the others enjoy the thrill of solving the puzzles, too.  

Here are just a few of the Riddles we solved during Vacation Week:

--- A man leaves home.  Takes three lefts.  Returns home.  He finds two masked men.  Who are they?

--- A man rides into Dodge City on Tuesday.  He stays three days.  Then he rides back out of Dodge City on Tuesday.  How is that possible?  

--- The more it dries, the wetter it gets.  What is it?  

If you know of any good Riddles...  feel free to share!

I LEARNED  that you don't need to be a little kid to appreciate coloring books.  At some point during the week, I saw almost every person in that house sitting with a box of Crayolas.  Some coloring inside the lines... some outside.  I know what you are thinking.  That big kids and grown ups were sitting coloring with the little kids.  But no.  More often than not, it was a solo retreat.  I would be willing to bet that if you look through all the coloring books, that you would find more adult pages than kid pages.  There is something very therapeutic about it.  I know.  I did it myself.

I LEARNED that we are all addicted to our computers.  One of the things I love about being out in the woods, is that I don't feel the need to go "on-line" to see what's happening in the world.  I feel like I'm already IN the world and I just look around and I see what's happening.  

I may have been the last hold out, but a few years ago, I finally broke down and bought a computer.  In my lifetime, I have been exposed to some peer pressure.  But never more so than in the past year or two.  It seems that just having a computer is not enough.  Now they want me to swallow the "FaceBook" Pill.  One of these days, I'll write a Post on Social Networking and my predictions about the Evils of FaceBook.  

I LEARNED that my family appreciates a very wide variety of music.  And I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by looking through their iPod.  (I have always felt the same way about looking through somebody's book shelves.)  

The music ranges from classical and oldies to rock, jazz, punk and more.  Some of it is interesting and some is just noise.  But....

I LEARNED that when Neil Diamond sings "Sweet Caroline" and "Cracklin' Rosie" everybody sings along or gets up and dances.  I got some pictures but this was truly a video worthy moment.  Sadly, the camcorder was not handy at the time.  Who would have thought Neil Diamond was middle ground?  Maybe we should send Neil Diamond on a concert tour through the Middle East.

I LEARNED a lot this week.  About myself and about my family.  I think if we were on one of those family against family shows that we would kick ass.  It seems that whatever differences of opinion that we had... we all pulled together when it counted.  I was pleasantly surprised by my family and a little surprised by myself.  We all survived the week and even discussed the possibility of doing this again.  Sometime.

I'll share just one last story.  Occasionally my siblings and I get wrapped in those "Reply to All" on-line chats.  Usually they are quick and have to do with what day or time is best for everyone in regards to planning a birthday party or other family event.  

But about a month ago we got into an on-line debate about the economy and how poor we were.  I don't know how we got on this conversation... we've never really discussed anything like that before.  

It turned into two or three days of, "I'm so poor that..." and "That's nothing, I..."  I have to tell you it was very interesting.  And funny.  That's something about my family I already knew.  Very funny.  And clever.  We grew up speaking "sarcasm" as a second language.  

Anyway, after about three days of this I got tired of the conversation and wrote something like:  "I suggest you ask Dad to compare all our tax returns to determine who makes less."  With that, I declared myself the "Poorest of the Poor" and the conversation over.  (Dad is a CPA and does our taxes!)  I never heard back from any of them on the subject.  So they either believed me or they asked Dad... and he told them.  

I love my family.  And they love me.  I know this.  Not because they told me (which they did!) but I know this because of how they acted around me and how they treated me. 

They love me even though I'm not a college graduate.  They love me even though I'm impatient and a little OCD.  They love me even when they get their birthday cards/gifts a little late.  They love me in spite of the fact that I'm a terrible cook.  And they love me even though I Clobbered them at Ping Pong (OK that part isn't true.... but the rest is!)  So after spending this past week with my family I would like to publicly change my status. 

My point is... with all this love around me, I'm finding it very difficult to uphold the "Poorest of the Poor" title.  So as of now, I hereby declare myself...

"The Wealthiest Man In The World."

I hope you all find such wealth in your lives.  

Note:  It has been my experience that the more you invest in it, and the more you give away, the more it comes back to you.

Good Luck!

Peace and Love,

P.S.  Thanks Dad.  Good week!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Layers...

When it comes to the clothes you wear on the Trail, there are some important things to keep in mind.

First of all, be practical. Whatever clothes you bring must be lightweight and "scrunchable." In other words-- no jeans. They are too heavy and take up too much space in the backpack. You can't roll them up into a ball and fit them (along with 5 or 6 other items) into your clothing Stuff Sack.

Second, they must be quick drying. So generally, cotton or jean material is out. A lot of hiking clothes are nylon or a poly-blend, which make them lightweight, quick drying and easy to fit in a Stuff Sack.

Also, don't over pack. This was one of the things they gave me a hard time about at my "shakedown." When I originally geared-up for my six month Thru-hike, I packed four sets of hiking clothes and one set of "Town Clothes." One of the books I read mentioned that it might be a good idea to bring "town clothes" so that when you go into town to resupply, you don't look like a homeless person. And so people aren't afraid to sit near you in a restaurant.

Now I carry two sets of clothes and a "town shirt."

Another important thing to consider in regard to Trail attire is layers. You should easily be able to add on or peel away layers depending on the conditions (weather, elevation, time of day, etc.)

Let's start with the Base Layer and work our way out:

Socks-- As with all hiking attire, cotton is out. When your feet sweat, those white tube socks will never dry. So, with socks you have two options: wool or silk.

It's really a matter of preference. Most hikers feel strongly one way or the other. I haven't met anybody who likes both.

Those who wear the silk say they are warm, comfortable on the skin and lightweight. They don't like the wool because they are too bulky or "itchy."

Personally, I agree with the wool wearers. I enjoy the extra comfort of the thick socks and find the silk a little "slippery." Some say the silk bunches up and causes blisters.

Either way, wool or silk, be sure to wear your hiking socks when you buy your boots. It will make a difference in how your boots fit.

Side Note: When machine washing your wool socks at home, be aware of what else is in that load of laundry. Many pants pockets (jackets, too) are conveniently made with Velcro. And in the course of the "laundry dance," when wool meets Velcro, they quickly become one and nearly inseparable. The battle to tear them apart is like trying to dislodge a tick that is well burrowed. It also compromises the integrity of the sock as a good portion of the fibers remain on the Velcro.

Underwear-- Trying to find non-cotton underwear was a challenge. There is the silk option which is great from a "sexy lingerie" perspective, but not durable enough for hiking.

I am not a big fan of the Under Armour products. I like the concept of "wicking" material but somehow the Under Armour brand seems to hold that sweaty smell.

Luckily, just before I left I found another option. A company called Exofficio makes a similar product. The material is breathable, wicking, odor-resistant and comes in whatever style you are used to wearing (boxers, briefs, etc.)

You just wash them, hang them out and they are dry in about two hours. Unfortunately, they are much more expensive than you would pay for your Haynes or Fruit of the Looms, but I am happy with them, so far.

Another Side Note on Laundry: Thru-hikers go into town about once a week to resupply and find a laundromat, but if you are section hiking there's no time to waste going into town (if you don't have to.) Of course, you can't do your laundry at the water source, because that is also the drinking water! So you fill your water bag or water bladder, bring it back to camp, wash the clothes and hang them in your tree. By morning they should be dry and ready to fold up and pack. The next day you wear the alternate clothes.

There is another Base Layer of clothes. The overnight wear. This time I did spring for the silk! I bring two sets of overnight wear. One silk and the other is a poly-blend. Both sets are long sleeve, long pants. Both are plenty warm enough. I admit that the silk feels great on the skin, but the price difference is substantial.

On REALLY cold days I can wear the poly-blend as an extra base layer under my hiking clothes and feel comfortable that it's durable enough to not fall apart. But that is very rare, because once you get moving your body warms up and the extra base layer is not easy to peel off. It requires stopping, removing all of your other layers and then redressing.

At this point you are sweaty from having the extra base layer, then cold again from stopping and taking off your clothes. Now you are cold and wet. Not to mention the time you wasted making the extra stop to change and repack.

You learn very quickly that just because you are a little chilly at 7 AM when you start your hike, that you don't necessarily need an extra base layer. Tough it out for an hour or so and see how you feel then.

Pants-- I bring two pairs of pants. They look like regular "cargo" pants with lots of (Velcro) pockets. But they are much lighter and have zippered legs that I can unzip to remove the lower part of the legs-- which turns the long pants into shorts!

Generally, I keep the pants long because a lot of the sections so far (especially in CT) are a bit of a tight squeeze. The branches brush against my legs and I don't want to get too scraped or bruised. Not to mention the spiders and ticks...

Shirts-- Because the shirts are so light and compact, I bring three regular t-shirt type shirts (in case I wear more than one in a day.) And I bring one "town" shirt. This is a Polo-type shirt with a collar made out of the same lightweight wicking material.

Outer Layer-- The Windbreaker is exactly what it sounds like. It's perfect for starting off in the morning, for windy days and even for a foggy or misty day. It appears to be a normal Windbreaker but when zipped all the way up, it covers the neck all the way up to the chin. And hidden in the collar is a hood with a drawstring that covers your head to leave only your face exposed to the elements.

Rain Gear-- For my Rain Gear I opted to NOT get the pants. Partly because the jacket is so long it covers my upper legs anyway, partly because I'm a "tough guy," partly to save space and weight in my pack, but mostly because I'm a cheap skate. Good Rain Gear is generally very expensive.

My Rain Coat looks similar to the Windbreaker, except it's bright yellow (not blue like the Windbreaker.) Also, it's longer and has elastic at the wrists. There is a drawstring in the hood and also at the waist (which is really lower than my waist.) And the big difference is-- it's REALLY waterproof. And breathable.

Cold Weather Jacket-- The one item I let someone talk me into that I wouldn't have bought-- but now I'm glad I did-- is my Mont Bell Jacket. It's 90% goose down, 10% goose feathers. It seems more like a ski jacket than a hiking jacket. The great thing about it is, it's very comfortable and very warm. It's actually too warm to use for hiking. But because it's so comfortable... it's perfect to wear at night while sleeping.

I've only had to wear it a couple times but it's so light that it's worth carrying!

Another Side Note: In the world of long distance hiking, size matters. All three of the outer layer items; the Windbreaker, Rain Gear and Cold Weather Jacket-- come complete with their own Stuff Sacks to keep them compact for easy storage. The Windbreaker and the Jacket each compress to about the size of a pair of wool socks, and the Rain Gear compresses to about two pairs of wool socks.

Also, because they are in their own easily identifiable Stuff Sacks, they are more easily accessible. When it suddenly start to rain, it's nice to be able to open the pack, spot the splash of bright yellow and pull out your Rain Gear without everything getting wet.

A Stuff Sack (for those of you not familiar with the term) comes in many sizes and colors. It is usually nylon or similar material, preferably water proof or at least water resistant, and has an adjustable drawstring. Using Stuff Sacks helps you compartmentalize and identify the gear inside of your backpack without having to empty your pack to find something. For example: small black Stuff Sack- jacket; big light blue- food; medium size grey- base layer wear; medium size green- mid layer wear (pants, shirts); small navy blue- windbreaker; and yellow mesh- Rain Gear.

You may also want to use a Stuff Sack for wet or dirty clothes. And you may use one as a Bear Bag. A Bear Bag is what you use to keep your food in at night. It hangs from a tree-- away from where you are sleeping. The last thing you want is a bear knocking at your tent door asking for the food it smells!

Every hiker I've talked to has their own system. I use a system similar to what I just described above, but some pack one Stuff Sack per day. One pair socks, underwear, pants shirt, etc. all in one Stuff Sack.

And everyone has a valid theory on whether the sleeping bag and tent should be at the top or bottom of the pack. What should be closer to your back and what should be in the outer pockets. What if anything should hang on the outside of the Pack. Weight distribution can change the way you move... which can change your hike.

It all depends on what is comfortable and convenient for you.

OK, so we're almost done with the Layers...

The only thing I would add to this thread (pun intended for my computer geek friends) is:

Accessories-- There are a few more items that don't exactly fit into the other categories. For example:

Camp Shoes-- When you get to where you are camping for the night, it's good to take off your hiking boots to let your feet (and boots) breathe. Some hikers use flip flops as their Camp Shoes. Mine are more like boat shoes or what you might wear on a personal water craft or kayak. They are rubber but have a removable insert to cushion the sole of your feet. And there are holes to let the air circulate.

Gloves-- I bring a pair of 3M Thinsulate gloves in case it gets really cold. I've never had to wear them while hiking but I have put them on at night.

Hats-- I have a collection of hats, but only bring the ones I think I'll need. I have a Rain Hat that I always bring just in case. It's the camouflage hat that you see in a previous post.

The other hat I always bring is the knit ski cap that I only ever wear at night. We lose most of our body heat through our head, so wearing the ski cap really helps on those cold nights.

Occasionally, I wear my "Life is Good" baseball cap which can also be seen in a previous post. It has a visor to keep the sun off my face. But I almost always wear sunglasses anyway so lately I've been wearing...

Bandanas-- I haven't cut my hair since I started hiking in March. Needless to say, my Flat Top has grown out, but not quite long enough to do anything with it, yet. So I have been sporting some type of head cover whenever I leave the house.

A Bandana is easy to throw on, it allows my scalp to breathe and I can accessorize so that the color matches what I'm wearing.

Besides being a fashion accessory, a bandana is a multi-purpose tool. It can be used to tie things together or to lash something onto your backpack. And if your water purifier is clogged AND your cookstove is out of gas... a Bandana can be a makeshift water filter. This, of course, should be a last resort and is not as efficient as the other alternatives. But it is better than no filter at all.

One last note in regard to the clothes. There is a very wide price range in clothes marketed to hikers. Don't be fooled by name brands. Look at all the fancy, expensive brands and then really compare it to the less expensive stuff.

You have to compare comfort, efficiency, size and weight, quality and then figure the cost in the Big Picture.

As frugal as I am I still opted for the good Rain Gear. There were cheaper brands that were very sturdy and I'm sure waterproof-- but they were bulky and felt like a heavy rubber straight jacket.

The pants I wear are a mid-range price. The less expensive ones looked like the stitching would fall apart after one or two washes. But there were also pants that cost twice as much-- I think just for a name brand label.

Shirts I go through very quickly anyway because I sweat like a monster, so I opted for the cheap ones.

That is one benefit of shopping at a place like Kittery Trading Post or Cabellas, they have a lot of options to compare. If you go to the warehouse outlets you only get their name brand with nothing to compare it to. So shop around. Do your homework.

The next post will be on Trail food. More than Trail Mix...

Also, anytime I use a term that you aren't familiar with (like Stuff Sack or Bear Bag) feel free to ask for clarification. And if there is a topic that I haven't discussed that you would like more information about, just let me know and I'll try to write a post about that subject.

Happy Independence Day!!

Peace and Love,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quasi Luxury Gear...

In the Essential Gear post I mentioned two of the other books that I carried along with the Data Book.  First is the "2009 Thru-Hikers' Companion."  This also is published annually by the ATC with the help of volunteers from the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).  

This Book provides more than just facts.  You will also find helpful tips on hiking, nature, basic safety precautions and Trail etiquette.  And it not only tells you that there is "lodging," but also tells you what your options are.  In some cases there are rough maps of hiker friendly towns to show the location of motels, restaurants, laundry facilities, post offices, convenience stores, outfitters, libraries and ATM's.

The second book I carried was actually part of a series of books published by the Appalachian Trail Conference.  This series of guide books breaks the AT down into 11 parts.  On the last hike I carried "The Appalachian Trail Guide to MA-CT."  

The Thru-Hikers' Companion covers GA to ME.  Because the AT guide books cover only a state or two at a time, there is room for more detailed information.   Things like local wildlife, vegetation and habitat, geology and even local history.

This information ranges from Trivial (how a shelter got it's name); to Practical (elevation and terrain); to Useful (areas famous for bears, snakes, mosquitoes, etc.)  

The local guide books also break the Trail down into even smaller sections with information on how to access the sections.  This is very helpful for me now that I am section hiking.

These guide books come with separate easy to read maps that show topographical contours and elevation profiles.  The maps are water resistant and tear resistant.  Very cool!

Since the guide books are compiled from information provided by real hikers, they are peppered with some colorful insights about what is worth seeing and what is OK to skip.  

Is it worth following a Blue Blazed Trail a mile out of the way to see a waterfall or a scenic overlook?  It depends.  Does your camera have batteries to preserve that view for all time?  Maybe that overlook is a perfect spot to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July.  

It all depends on your state of mind at the time.  But it is good information to have in order to plan your daily hikes.  

One of the best pieces of advice I acquired about hiking the AT came from an employee at Kittery Trading Post.  She made the hike a few years ago.  She said, "Hike your own hike."  How profound.  Of course, it just makes sense.  And as is true with so many other hiking analogies, it is a great life lesson.

Anyway my point about those books is that they contain very important, very useful information-- but they are heavy.

So on the next trip, I will bring the maps and the Data Book (the lightest of the three) for the "facts."  But I will research the particular section I will be on and photocopy pertinent pages that I think will be helpful.

And I just shed about two pounds off my pack weight.

Some people would consider the weight of a camera a luxury item.  Not me.  I have at least one of my cameras with me at all times.  It seems I have become obsessed with photography in recent years.  

Of course, I don't carry my big heavy camera with me on the  Trail.  I bring the Nikon Coolpix L20.  It's not bad for a "point and shoot" camera.  It shoots 10.0 megapixels, has a 3.6x optical zoom (Nikkor lens), up to 4x digital zoom and weighs in at a mere 4.8 ounces (not including extra batteries and SD memory cards.)  You have to love modern technology!

Taking landscape/nature photos often requires the use of a tripod.  If you are only carrying camera equipment and are hiking to a specific spot to set up all day, you definitely bring the tripod.  But on a long distance hike-- no way.

I did however find a sneaky way to overcome this obstacle.  It's the Sherlock Staff made by a company called Tracks.  The Sherlock Staff has become my favorite walking stick.  You can see a picture of it in a previous post.

This walking stick is very lightweight but strong and is easier to adjust (for height) than any walking stick I've ever seen.  At the bottom is a rubber end tip that easily unscrews to expose the steel tip underneath-- so it is functional on any surface.  It also has a foam rubber hand grip and comfortable wrist strap.  

But there is yet another feature that really makes the Sherlock Staff unique.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see that there is a wooden ball that sits on top of the Staff.  This wooden ball unscrews to expose the camera mount that morphs this walking stick into a monopod!  

Without getting into the pro's and con's of tripod vs. monopod, I will just say that one of the most important functions of both is to prevent "camera shake."  This is one of the things that will cause a picture to be blurry.  And when you have just climbed up a 3000 foot mountain and you are huffing and puffing, you can use all the help you can get to keep your camera steady.  

Some of the other technology I brought with me are my iPod and iPhone.  "But Nick" you ask, "Don't you know that your iPhone is an iPod, too?"  Yes, I know that.  But I downloaded some audiobooks onto the iPod so that I wouldn't have to carry (even more) books.  And I thought by listening to them on the iPod I would preserve the battery on the phone.  

And I won't bore you with all the interesting functions and apps on the iPhone.  Just know that I upgraded to this phone specifically for this hike.  Not just to be in touch by phone and e-mail, but also because I can upload posts to this Blog while out on the Trail.  And there is a great GPS function (in case I get lost!)  I can also check the weather, the Appalachian Trail website and a million other functions.  

One last piece of technology that I will mention here is the cookstove.  There are more cookstoves on the market than you can imagine.  Ranging from very high tech to campfire.  Again, without getting into the pro's and con's of cookstove vs. campfire, I will just say that in many places along the AT, campfires are prohibited (including some national forests and the whole state of CT, for example.)  So if you occasionally want to treat yourself to a warm meal, boil water for hot tea or just want to purify your drinking water-- you need some sort of cookstove.  

I chose the Jet Boil personal cooking system (PCS).  It is lightweight and compact.  In fact, I would call it "self contained" due to the fact that when disassembled, all the parts fit inside itself for safe easy travel.  

This PCS weighs 15 ounces (not including the 6.8 ounce fuel container) and holds up to 32 ounces.  It boils water in two minutes.  That's about 10 boils per fuel canister.

One of the things that sold me on this particular stove is that it all snaps together to make it more stable.  Using most stoves is a balancing act.  Unless you are cooking on totally flat ground (which is never) the cook pot can easily slide off the flame (base) spilling boiling hot water on you.  Even worse, you might spill your last hot meal on the ground!  This is sad on one hand -- to waste the meal, and unsafe on the other hand-- spilled food can attract animals (including bears) no matter how well you think you cleaned up the mess.

One last feature that I really like about the Jet Boil is the neoprene cover.  You don't have to wait for your meal (or hot tea water) to cool down.  You can just pick it up with your bare hands and even eat or drink right out of it.  It is shaped like a big coffee mug.

Another quasi luxury tool to have is an extra water bladder.  On the upside, I can bring most of my filtered water from home.  Depending on the section I am hiking, I may only have to make one refill from a water source.  

The downside of course, is that water is very heavy...  But the other upside is that the more you drink, the lighter your load!

All of these things so far, are carried in the main body of the backpack.  There are other somewhat important tools that I call "side pocket gear."  These are items that you want easy access to, just in case.  

Things like extra shoe laces and cord.  Safety whistle and compass.  Lighter.  Utility knife.  And the all time best "fixing" tool... duct tape.

Everything I carry is either functional or pure luxury, except one.  I have one totally gratuitous item in my pack.  That is my Trail Mascot:  the Lucky Lady Bug.  

She weighs about an ounce, is filled with "Beanie Baby" stuffing and can squeeze into the tiniest gap in my pack.  You would never know she was there.  

She only ever comes out for photo opportunities.  In fact she is quite photogenic.  I will try to post a photo or two  so you can meet her.

I am not superstitious, but I would like to note here that she was not with me that first day in GA (when I got injured.)  But ever since she has been hiking with me it has been a smooth trip.  

So far, the only pack items we haven't mentioned are clothes and food.  I'll save those for another post.

Hope all is well.
Peace and Love,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Mountain Man...

For those of you who have not seen me since March, I thought you would get a kick out of me with the beard...  Believe it or not, it does help to keep me warm at night while sleeping out in the woods.  Also, I have been wearing a hat or bandana when I go out in public.  My hair is getting pretty long, but not long enough yet to do anything with it.  So I just keep it covered for now.  

I haven't decided if I'm going to let the hair continue to grow or not.  I'll decide for sure by September.  We'll see how patient I am.  And even though I am getting rave reviews on the beard, I'm afraid that when I finish hiking for the summer, the beard will likely disappear.  

This is what I look like most of the time these days.  Very casual.  

This is a "Beef Cake" shot...  Mr. April in the Handsomest Hikers of 2009 Calendar. 

In this close up you get a better view of my rain hat (as opposed to the Life Is Good - Peace Sign hat in the top and bottom pictures.)    

In this shot, you can see my Chameleon walking shoes from the previous post and my favorite walking stick that I will write about in the next post.  

Peace and Love,

The Essential Gear...

You may be wondering how my pack got to weigh 40 pounds.  

There are different kinds of hikers.  From those who can't do without their creature comforts (and are willing to carry that comfort on their backs) to the "ultra-lite" hiker who thinks tents and mattress pads are for wimps.  They try to get to the shelters first and if they don't... well they have a tarp to hang from a tree to keep off the rain and the morning dew.  

There are also those who are considered "slack packers."  These people often travel in groups.  They hire a modern day sherpa to drive their gear from one shelter or campsite to the next, so they can just walk unencumbered by any gear other than a day pack or waist pack to carry water and lunch or snack food.  

I fall somewhere in the middle.  First of all, I am way too cheap (or poor) to pay someone to carry, set up and break down my gear.  It also seems a little like cheating to me.  Plus, I value my privacy, so I like the idea of a tent.  And as much as I want to be one with nature, I draw the line at nature crawling all over me while I'm trying to sleep.  Again, the tent is helpful with that.

So I do carry a certain amount of comfort in my pack, but I did upgrade some of my hiking/camping gear to keep the weight down.

Also, just from these last two trips out, I'm learning what I REALLY need and what is worth bringing because I enjoy the luxury.  There are things that I packed and never used.  With one exception, that should never happen.  It is just extra weight in your pack.  The one thing that you should pack and (hopefully) never use is the First Aid Kit.  

I have acquired most of my gear over time at EMS, Dick's Sporting Goods, Kittery Trading Post (in ME) and a few items at the new Cabellas (in CT).  Some gear I upgraded at the outfitter in GA at Neals Gap.  

Let's take a tour through my gear.  I'll try to give you name brands when I can remember them (in case you decide to come with me on one of these section hikes!)  Also, if you know of better or lighter equipment, feel free to share the info.  I still have lots of discount coupons for EMS. 

By far,  the two most important pieces of gear on a long distance hike are the Backpack and the Boots.  

I've had my Mountainsmith backpack for a couple years now.  It's where I store my survival/escape gear.  It came complete with two Ryolite Trekking Poles that velcro right onto the pack when not in use.  

Unfortunately, my original six months of thru-hiking gear did not fit into this pack.  So I went off to Cabellas to get a larger pack.  I really liked Cabellas own brand of pack as it had a built in water bladder with a drinking hose.  It felt like a good fit in the store, but with 50 pounds of gear in it (this was before "shake down") the waist belt would not pull tight enough to carry the pack over my hips.  It kept sliding down so all the weight was on my shoulders.  This is bad.  So ultimately, I switched back to my original pack.  The good thing is, this forced me to weed out the goofy stuff.  This pack is a much better fit.  Even at 40 pounds, it's pretty comfortable, but I'll bet that next trip out it will be much lighter.

Tied with first place in the "most important gear" category is Boots.  You absolutely MUST be good to your feet.  Since I love my walking/day hiking shoes so much (Merrell's Chameleon) I decided to make Merrell's hiking boot my first choice.  At EVERY outfitter they tried to talk me into going with a heavier boot with a wider base and higher ankle support.  But being me, I went with my gut instinct and chose the Merrell Reflex-Mid Gore-Tex.  They are sturdy and lightweight.  And like my Chameleons they are waterproof and breathable.  Not sure how they manage that, but my feet did stay dry- even in the rain and many water crossings.  

The base is plenty wide enough for me.  And traction has been good going both up and down hill, wet and dry, whether on dirt, rock or tree.  Yes, tree.  In order to pass over some water crossings you need to negotiate  a tree or log like a balance beam-- or wade through the water. 

And I opted for the Mid-Ankle support as opposed to the High Ankle support which seemed too restricting to me.

On top of the comfort and durability, they were reasonably priced and I am very pleased with my choice.  

Before getting into the luxury items, let's talk about what I consider the other Essentials.  

The Tent:  this is one of the items that I upgraded to accommodate the long distance hiking.   I love my old tent and will keep it for recreational camping trips that stay in one place.  It is a spacious  dome tent that  will comfortably sleep two (including gear or three without.)  But because it is a dinosaur it weighs about 8-9 pounds.  This is not practical for long distance hiking.  

My new Big Agnes Speed House 1 is very sturdy and comfortably sleeps me... alone.  The tent itself is less than 4 pounds, but weighs in at 4 pounds 4 ounces if you include the stakes and stuff sack.  

It is free standing and easy to set up.  There is only one aluminum pole that forks at one end,  and it is corded and spring loaded so it folds into itself.  The tent, pole and stakes easily fit inside the backpack.  My old tent is so big I had to lash it horizontally to the underside of my pack.

One feature I really like is that the top part of the tent is mesh/netting.  This is great on warm, clear, nights when you want to star gaze.  The nylon "fly" easily hooks into place in seconds if you decide it is too cold, windy or raining.  My old dome tent has a similar feature.  

Another item to be upgraded was my big thick, warm comfortable sleeping bag.  At first I was a little concerned about giving this up.  It has been very good to me over the years.  And these fancy new sleeping bags seem so flimsy and light.  How can they possibly be warm enough?  

Well I can officially say that my new North Face Wasatch sleeping bag is plenty warm enough.  And I not only cut my sleeping bag weight in half, but I am also using less than half the space.  

When I saw the stuff sack that came with the sleeping bag it made me laugh.  It looks big enough to hold about 3 pairs of socks.  But when you roll up the sleeping bag and squeeze out all the air-- it fits in this tiny bag!  It's amazing.  

And a related item to be retired is my old air mattress.  The old one is a full body, self-inflating air mattress with a built in pillow.  When fully inflated it's about 3 inches thick.  On the down side it weighs about 5-6 pounds and because it is so wide (about 26 inches) it also needed to be strapped under the backpack with the old tent.  

The new self-inflating air mattress inflates to about an inch, is only about 15 inches wide and is not a "full body" pad.  It just keeps my upper body off the ground.  It gets the job done, fits inside my pack and weighs ounces.  

The bottom line is:  my new tent, mattress pad AND sleeping bag together weigh less and take up less space than my old sleeping bag ALONE.  

Another fairly important item to have is a Water Filtration System.  What a lot of people don't understand is that when the Data Book (I'll explain what that is shortly) directs you to a water source-- that does not mean you will find a faucet with hot and cold filtered water.  

Usually that means a moving body of water like a brook, stream or river.  Sometimes you have to climb over the swampy, mosquito infested still water to get to where it flows.  

Your best bet for clean water is moving water.  Not a puddle, swamp or lake.  But just the fact that it's moving is not enough.  It still needs to be filtered, just in case.  

There are three common ways to filter the water.  First, I have a Katadyn Vario Micro Filter Water Purification System (15 ounces.)  This is similar to your home "Brita" system, but requires a little more work.

One end of a hose is dropped into the unfiltered water (either a water bag or directly into the source.)  The other end of the hose connects to a pump and filter.  You then proceed to pump the water into your water bottles and drinking water bladder.  

This is a little time consuming but the alternative is drinking potentially unsafe water.  So it's worth the effort.  

I've been told that the filters sometimes clog.  Most people don't carry spare filters because they are bulky and take up space in your pack.  So when you need a replacement, you just stop at the next outfitter and get one.  

In the mean time, you have two alternative ways to filter your water.  

The first is to use germicidal tablets.  This is less work than the pump but also time consuming due to the fact that you have to wait half an hour for the tablets to dissolve.  I do have the tablets in my pack as a precaution.  They are tiny and lightweight, but I don't like the idea of chemically treating my drinking water.  The pro's and con's are similar to using chlorine in your swimming pool.  

A less lethal method is to boil your water in the cookstove.  Unfortunately, there are also disadvantages with this option.  

Again, it is time consuming.  Actually, the amount of time to boil is very quick (I'll write more about the cookstove in the "Luxuries" post.)  It's the cool down time after boiling that's time consuming.  If you pour boiling water into the water bladder, it will melt.  Also, the cookstove is generally small in order to be lightweight and take up little space.  So it takes more than 10 "boils" to fill two water bottles and the water bladder.  

Which brings me to the other major disadvantage.  All that boiling uses up a lot of fuel.  So it is potentially costly but even more important, those fuel canisters take up valuable real estate in the backpack.

So this is my plan:  use the filter until it clogs itself to death.  Then depending on how close I am to the next resupply outfitter when the filter clogs, I would (1) use the germicidal tablets if the outfitter is far away to save fuel for cooking, or (2) use the cookstove to boil the water if the outfitter is only a day or two away, so I don't have to use the chemical tablets.  

The next item on the list is one that most people don't really think about.  Many of the campsites and shelters have privies that, believe it or not, are very well maintained (in my experience, so far.)   But as you know, Mother Nature does not always care if you are near the privy.  So all hikers carry a shovel.  Mine looks like a garden too.  It's six inches long (about two inches of that is handle) and weighs about 6-8 ounces.  

The shovel only ever digs in the dirt, but I keep it in a separate plastic bag just in case.  

And the last thing that I'll include in this Essential Gear post is the "Data Book."  This is a bare essential "Just the facts, ma'am" book that is published by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy annually.  It tells you how many trail miles from one place to the next and if you will find a reliable water source, campground or shelter.  It also tells you if there is a nearby outfitter, grocery store, hotel/motel/hostel, or even a post office for mail drops (and how far each is off the Trail.)  

Another helpful piece of information included in the Data Book is the elevation of significant points.  These are all important things to consider when planning your day.

As in real life, the more accurate information we have, the easier it is to make good decisions.  

For example:  Would you rather spend the night at a campground or a shelter?  What if the campground has a reliable water source but the shelter does not?  Would you stay at the campground to filter your water while you are already stopped for the night?  What if it's raining?  Would you continue to the shelter and then stop at another water source the next day?  

What if there is a campground in 12 miles and a shelter in 15 miles?  Would you hike the extra 3 miles?  Would you still hike it knowing that the elevation of the campground is at 1000 feet and the shelter is at 4,500 feet, which means your last 3 miles of the day will be almost straight up?  

There are many  factors involved in your daily planning.  In the next post on "Luxury Gear" I'll write about two other books that I brought with me to help with the decision making process.  And about the other luxury items in my pack.  And which of those will not make the next leg of the journey with me.  

Get outside.  Go for a walk....
Peace and Love,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trail Angels...

It's probably obvious from previous posts who Trail Angels are and what they do.  

Remember the old cartoon St. Bernard with a root beer barrel strapped under his chin?  He would appear from nowhere to rescue other cartoon characters by digging them out from under the avalanche, (shake up) then pour the stranded climber a martini, then pack up and run off to get help.  That St. Bernard was a Trail Angel.

Several of the books I've read to research the AT mention Trail Angels but all make it sound as if Trail Angels are rare.

In the short time that I have spent on the Trail, I have encountered more Trail Angels than expected.

I'd like to start off by thanking my own personal Trail Angels.  First, I'd like to thank Mom.  Not just for the rides, but for not getting too stressed out and for being a bit of a cheerleader.  And Dad, who this year sent a Bonus check for my birthday to cover "unexpected expenses" on the Trail.  I insisted that I did my research and didn't need that.  But as you know, after my first sad day on the Trail I did have an unexpected train ride home from GA.  Once again proving that "Father knows best."  

I also got rides from my sister, niece, nephew and cousin.  These rides range from train station pick ups to backwoods drop offs.  Some of these rides were very time consuming and I appreciate all of them.

Also, I would like to thank my cousin George and my friend Steve (the computer gurus) who are both responsible for this website.  

Another big thank you to my friend John (who is like a brother to me.)  He has carved out a space in his home where I have stock piled six months worth of trail mix, mini tubes of toothpaste, soap, Q-tips, batteries and other supplies.  John is in charge of my mail drops (to keep me resupplied.)  His military background was also helpful in the planning stages of my hike.

I would also like to thank my other sisters and the rest of my family.  Partly for their moral support, partly for not calling me crazy and having me institutionalized (OK they call me crazy, but I am still out free) and partly for the rides I'm going to hit them up for on future section hikes.  

This is my built in support system-- my own personal Angels.  The amazing thing about Trail Angels is that they are not family, not friends.  They don't know you.  They don't have to do what they do.  And sometimes they don't even know they are Trail Angels.

You may remember back to one of my earlier posts about my "shake down" experience at the outfitter at Neals Gap in GA.  On that day all the hikers coming through were treated to a picnic.  An outreach group took the time to buy hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, rolls, an assortment of condiments and cold sodas and bottled water.  They cooked to order on the grill and served like pros.  

One of the hikers picked up a pamphlet from under a rock at the back corner of the table.  He said, "Aha!  I knew there was a catch.  When does the preaching start?"  

The three servers just laughed.  One of them said something like, "There will be no preaching today, only serving.  The pamphlets are there for those who are drawn to them.  If you want one take it, if not just leave it under the rock.  We just think people should be nicer to each other and this is our way of setting an example."  

The hiker folded the pamphlet, put it in his pocket, thanked them again for the food and went back to eat with the other hikers.

In the whole time I sat there enjoying the picnic, the servers never mentioned God or their ministry.  And they never once suggested that anyone take a pamphlet from under the rock which was fairly well hidden.  You really had to be drawn to it.

On that same day, after shakedown and after the picnic when I was ready to return, my ride wasn't able to come for a couple hours so I was going to have to hang out.  But a "local" who was buying fishing gear at the outfitter offered to take me back.  He said he had heard a lot about this "Hiker Hostel" place and has been meaning to stop in and take a look.  This would be a good excuse.

So he and his son loaded my gear into the Jeep and off we went.  That's two Trail Angels and I hadn't even started yet.

On my first day at Amicalola Falls State Park, while hiking up the approach trail I took that tumble.  Two other hikers (with full gear-- probably not just day hikers) caught the action.  They were by my side before I got up.  Had I needed more attention there is no doubt they would have stayed to help me.  They were Angels in Training.

My favorite Trail Angels so far are Antonini (sorry if I butchered the spelling) and Matt.  I mentioned them in the "Breaking the Rules..." post.  Let me remind you.

I woke up in Kent State Park, broke camp and then was sitting by the waterfall consulting my maps when I was approached by two hikers that weren't hikers.  They were Trail Angels.  Sound familiar?

When they approached I thought for sure I was in trouble.  These guys were clearly NOT hikers. I thought maybe they were detectives of some kind.   They were over dressed (I'm talking crease in the pants and jewelry-- over dressed) and one of them actually had on shiny dress shoes.  

After a friendly enough greeting and some small talk, we got around to what we were each doing in the woods at such an early hour.  I told them I got dropped off at the wrong place (which is true) but I neglected to mention that it was last night and that had they showed up half an hour earlier they would have caught me stuffing gear into my backpack.  

They told me they were in town looking at investment properties.  They looked at some place the day before and were planning to see one more later today.  But they woke up early to see this beautiful waterfall (my waterfall) in Kent State Park that they had been hearing about.

What are the odds of two investors hearing about a beautiful waterfall and then being interested enough to make it a point to stop there early in the morning, to find the only other person in the woods is a misplaced hiker consulting maps trying to figure out the best way to get across the river? 

I'm thinking very slim odds!

As you have probably figured by now, my Trail Angels did transport me across that river.  I was extra careful to not rip the leather interior of the Audi with my backpack and gear.  We stopped at an outfitter who pointed us toward a Blue Blazed trail right off the road that connected to the AT.  The outfitter said, "Follow the blue blazes for about 45 minutes to an hour until you come to the white blaze.  Turn right if you want to go to Maine and left to go to Georgia."  

They also asked about the local fishing and then we were on our way.  

Thank you gentlemen.  I hope your investments worked out well.

My next encounter with Trail Angels was not as bizarre but definitely still worthy of being Angels.

In a previous post I wrote about the Orange Blazed Detour where I met John, who owns the auto repair garage.  John was nice enough to let me "plug in" to charge my cell phone.  I had been out of contact for three whole days.  Unfortunately, he did not have any AA batteries.  

John is the kind of guy who really gets a kick out of helping the hikers passing by.  He has this great idea for a way to set up shower stalls behind his garage.  It sort of works the same way as the car washes at gas stations.  Come inside to get your access code, then plug it into the keypad to open the shower stall.  I would have paid for a shower at this point and I had been out less than a week.  Unfortunately, the town is giving him a hard time about getting permits for that sort of thing.

While I was sitting there waiting for my phone to charge (and probably looking like a vagrant) I was chatting with Phil as he was artfully detailing the cab of a huge work truck.  The truck was interestingly a contrast of itself.  The back looked like your typical flat bed tow truck with a winch, built in tool box and all the grease you would expect on this type of vehicle.  But the cab of the truck was shiny red and looked brand new.  I bet the owner/driver washes his hands before climbing in, and doesn't allow his passengers to eat, drink or smoke in the cab.  

We got to talking about the bridge and how it is open for cars but closed to pedestrians.  Obviously it won't collapse if I walk over  it (even with the extra 40 pounds of my pack.)  

What I learned from Phil and John is that the company doing the work on the bridge was just fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by OSHA for safety code violations!  Well that's all I needed to know.  These guys are rule breakers too.  They would appreciate my civil disobedience.  Even better than that... when I got to the bridge, there was no sign saying that the bridge was closed to pedestrians.  

The only way to know that pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge is the small sign found coming out of the woods at the road crossing.  So if, for example, someone had dropped me off at the garage to start my section hike at the other side of the road-- I would never even have known there was a detour.

I got a few stares as I walked across the bridge but no one tried to stop me.  

When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me, "Look like you know where you are going, act like you belong here" whenever he was sneaking me into places that we weren't supposed to be.  Apparently I have acquired his "stealth-mode" talent.  A couple years ago, I totally snuck into a hospital well after visiting hours were over, to visit my sister when my nephew was born.  I wandered up four floors through several wards and passed doctors, nurses (who are the most difficult to sneak by!) and maintenance people.  No one ever really stops me anymore.

Anyway, thank you to John and thank you to Phil.  (I'm still waiting to see your auto detailing web page!)  

If any of you find yourself in western CT and need to have your car detailed... I would vouch for Phil.  Although, I didn't see John's handiwork, I'm sure he is equally as skilled in auto repair.  

Now if we could harness the power of "Trail Magic" and spread that into real life, we would be living in a whole different world.  

Long live Trail Magic and Random Acts of Kindness!  

I encourage everyone to do one Random Act of Kindness this week!  Good Luck.

Peace and Love,