Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Navigating the Mental Trail

Upcoming Presentations:
*Feb 9th: AT Presentation at REI Tualatin (register HERE) 6:30pm
*Feb 23rd: AT Presentation at REI Hillsboro (register HERE) 6:30pm
*I will be announcing my 2015 hiking plans in December...pretty excited about what's ahead!

*NOTE: I'm finally on Instagram, so CLICK HERE to follow.

Many of you know that I'm a proud Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. I use and love their Mariposa pack. I wrote an article for Gossamer Gear on Navigating the Mental Trail. It's a thorough explanation of my strategies and techniques for keeping the mental edge while out on trail for an extended period of time. The mental aspect is always a work in process, but having hiked over 8,000mi, I've definitely come up with some good ones...Enjoy! Click the photo or link above to read the complete article.
Click the photo or link above to read the complete article, "Navigating the Mental Trail."

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Appalachian Trail Gear Review

Here is my gear review for the gear I used on the Appalachian Trail this past summer. I only changed/added a few things from my CDT hike last summer, so most the other gear and my thoughts on them have remained the same. For a complete list of my gear with prices and weights, you can go to my gear tab. I've attached links to some of the primary gear so you can easily click and find it online. I just want to say that gear preferences are a very personal thing and that everyone needs to find what fits them the best. Just because I use it doesn't mean it's guaranteed to work for others. There's a great variety out there and this is what has worked for me.
**This pack was just updated (Fall 2014) with new, stronger material, and adjustments have been made with the shoulder straps to alleviate the discomfort some had with the earlier version.
Pros: The only pack I've ever had that didn't give me pain when it was fully loaded and there were times I didn't even feel like I was wearing a pack! I like the variety in pockets and pouches of different sizes. There were multiple ways I could organize my gear/food/water as my weight and quantities changed over a leg. An added bonus is that the back pad can easily be removed and used as a sit pad or extension to my sleeping pad.
Cons: Somehow the way I wore the pack, the side hip belt pockets got rubbed by the bottom of the shoulder strap. This is not a common occurrence for most other hikers. Over time and with the extreme use of a thru hiker, the strap wore through the bottom of the shoulder straps near my hips and I used duct tape to prevent it from rubbing through. I also feel like the pack looks big for me (I'm pretty small), and that I could downsize to the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, but I love the option of all that storage when needed.

ZPacks Soloplex (1lb, 1.4oz, including 8 stakes) Pros: Light and spacious! It has become my favorite tent for a few reasons. A full bathtub floor and storm doors to make it fully enclosed. No need for a groundsheet so that saved weight too. Loved the space and the full side door with the option to leave the storm doors open (even in a light rain).
Cons: It's expensive ($535)! Even though it was stellar in a light or steady rain, it had glitches in the downpours and horizontally gusting rain. Maybe it was my fault of an improper setup, but I would get splashing and/or misting that gusted up under the elevated doors. Also, there was a small crack where the front storm doors didn't fully meet, so I would open my umbrella in the vestibule for added protection. I was fine and it only occurred a few times, but definitely worth mentioning.
Bottom Line: If you have the $$ and want to save weight, this is the tent to get. A very close second is the Tarptent Contrail, which I LOVE.

ZPacks 10 Degree Down Sleeping Bag (1lb, 3.8oz)
Pros:Oh man, I didn't think it could get any better than my Marmot Helium bag and then I found this baby! It is sooo warm and puffy. Very light and small. It doesn't have a hood, but I was fine without it using my beanie or down hoodie. It is very warm and I often would just use it as a blanket and lie directly on my sleeping pad. It was nice as a claustrophobic person to feel less restricted and still be warm. Just heavenly!
Cons: Expensive...but worth it! The zipper does not extend all the way to the foot to save weight, but I like to stick my feet out the bottom as I sleep, so that was an adjustment. I would just pull my feet out and use it as a blanket sometimes. Overkill on the AT and used as a blanket almost all trail.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's Sleeping Pad
Pros: Quite possibly my favorite piece of gear! Allowed me sink into the comfort of a bed every night. Light and compact. I upgraded to the XLite Women's because it is lighter, shorter, and tapered so I had more room in my tent. Also, there is a reflective layer withing the pad that reflects body warmth back to the person laying on it. Really amazingly warm!
Cons: Also expensive, but totally worth it! People say they don't like the crinkle of it at times, but I don't move much and it doesn't bother me. I know it could get a hole in it easier than other sleep pads, but it's now made it through two thru hikes I didn't have a problem all trail.

GoLite Chrome Dome Umbrella (8oz)
**GoLite is out of business, so here is the current option for buying this umbrella...
Pros: Oh man, I can't believe it took me this long to get an umbrella! My favorite new piece of gear for sure and I don't know that I'll ever hike a long trail again without it. It especially enhanced the enjoyment on the AT as it poured many times while the top of me stayed dry and I didn't have to put away my electronics and could take pictures as I pleased. I found a way to strap it to pack so it can be used hands free and loved it! Many ask how it worked in the brush and I found it to not be a problem as I am shorter, but I've also known taller hikers who also did just fine. Even if it was 3wks between rains, it was worth carrying for what it did for my moral in a day of rain. A couple bonus uses are for protection from strong sun, added protection in my tent vestibule, somewhere to throw ditty bags when packing up on a wet ground morning, and a nice hitching sign when written on with permanent marker, ha! It was not used in place of rain gear and I also used a light rain jacket when in cold rain.
Cons: On a more exposed trail I could see it being less effective in a gusting wind, but for someone like me that gets cold easily when wet, it's better than no umbrella at all. It is technically a luxury item, but well worth it.

Pros: I had the freedom to use my electronics all I wanted with this bad boy! It can charge anything that uses a USB and has two ports to be able to charge multiple devices at once. I also love that it has a meter that indicates in thirds how much the battery has left in it.  It is durable and reliable. I've now fully converted to this from using a solar charger as it's only a few ounces heavier and well worth the ease of use. 
Cons: It can take overnight to charge it fully, but I just would plug it in while eating in town to top it off or overnight in the hotel and it would be fine. It is heavy (I called it "the brick") and the big size isn't necessary for most people. I recommend their smaller chargers for most backpackers. This one would charge my iPhone ~7 times, but their lighter ones will do 3-4 iPhone charges. Oddly, it appears that they have changed their products and don't offer the two I'm most familiar with (PowerPak+, and 11.0) as they are no longer on their site...

Caldera Cone Stove Set
Pros: Light, efficient, simple, and sturdy. I'm a big fan of this setup and also used it on the PCT & CDT. I no longer use a cozy that I ordered separately that is pictured. No need.
Cons: Took some practice to use properly. It doesn’t have a simmer setting, so care is needed for doing more than boiling water. Hard plastic container can take up space, but I used the top as a cup. The base of the container gets way too dirty/sooty to use as a bowl as advertised. I bought a larger bottle to hold fuel for longer legs, but it still fits in the container. Sometimes the fuel would leak a bit through the threads of the tiny bottle, but it just evaporates when I open it.

Evernew Titanium Pot (.9L)
Pros: Wonderful! Small, light, gets the job done.
Cons: Careful not to burn things to the thin bottom.

Sawyer and Platypus Water Bladders
Pros: Light and collapsible.
Cons: On the AT, there are few big water carries, so I carried a 1L bag as a dirty bag for squeezing and a 2.5L bag to carry extra water.  All bags used for squeezing eventually break at the seal where the bag connects to the mouth, but they did last half the hike this time. The Platypus ones were almost perfect. Strong and good size, but over a month or two used with the Sawyer, the threads stripped and leaked slightly when I'd try to squeeze through the filter. I knew ahead of time this wear and tear would happen, so I had new ones in my bounce every two months.
Bottom Line: Nothing will last a whole hike, but they are the best options. Both bags seem comparable in durability, but I prefer the translucence of the platypus where I can see how much is floating in them.

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter
Pros: Really small, reliable, light, and versatile. It can be backflushed in the field. I could grab water and then choose to filter it at my convenience...often in the warmth of my sleeping bag in my tent at night.
Cons: For an impatient thru hiker not wanting to sit still, it takes time to filter through any filter and I preferred bleach drops to save time. I tended to use my filter when there were lots of debris or floaties, which wasn't often on the AT. With the really gritty stuff, my filter was slower, but that's understandable. Take extra care to sleep with it at night when it's below freezing so it doesn't freeze. With the excessive filtering needed on a thru hike, you will need to replace the bags probably mid hike.
Bottom Line: It's the best option out there for a light and efficient filter. I'll take it again on my next hike, but I'll buy a new one in hopes that it will flow faster. They are cheap enough to buy a new one each year. **Tip, I found out that you can do without the syringe if you carry a SmartWater Bottle top that is a flip top as it seals to the tip and can be used for backflushing.

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS19
Pros: LOVE this camera! A great wide angle that captured more than any other camera I've ever had. Great quality video. Sturdy shutter over the lens that is less likely to get dented or stuck opening/shutting with the bumps of a thru hike. I loved the powerful zoom that also worked in video mode. Also, loved the ease with which I could take panoramic shots! I was frequently asked what camera I used by blog followers as the quality of the photos are excellent.
Cons: Just be careful of the wide lens as I have a habit of accidentally touching it and getting smudges or sunscreen grease on it. One of my favorite features is the panoramic, but if the sun is shining at you, it can cause lighting issues and horizontal light strips on panoramas and that was annoying.

Eye-Fi SD Wi-Fi Card
Pros: Nifty little SD card that gives me the ability to transfer my pictures from my camera to my iPhone for blogging or sending out pictures.
Cons: This particular card would load ALL my pictures from the day, but I found out that you can set it to load individual photos, but it's time consuming and not worth the pain. I heard other SD cards (EZ Share) let you choose individual photos and some cameras now have this function built into it. I've been fine with this and have just stuck with it for now. Just great that my camera quality photos can jump to my phone so easily!
Sandisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player
Pros: One of my favorite pieces of gear! It would greatly impact my hike if I didn't have this little guy. Held all my songs and audiobooks easily. Also, small and clips to clothes or pack for easy use. Plus, it plays and records radio! Even takes mini sd cards so people were able to send me more songs and audiobooks.
Cons: Doesn't hold as many songs as more expensive players unless you buy a mini sd to put in it.

I had a lot of people ask how I shot my selfies and videos while I was walking. I used the awesome StickPic. It allows you to attach your camera to the end of your hiking pole for both pictures and video. Love it! You can order it online. Careful, they are easy to lose, so I recommend putting it on a carabeener. Also, if you lose the nut that tightens it to your camera, you can use medical tape on the screw and it tightens just fine.
Pros: Loved this bag! It was the first time I've used a wide mouthed food bag and it was such a luxury. I liked that it was easy to organize my food in it and it was waterproof. I used gallon and quart sized ziplocs to further organize my foods in the bag. I honestly only hung it maybe a handful of times on the AT, but it worked great! I'll add that I also didn't sleep near shelters where mice and other animals were habituated to seek food in tents.
Cons: Expensive...Over a thru hike, it will probably wear. I have a couple small holes worn in mine and I may need to get a new one each summer unless I try taping it.
Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Dry Sacks
Pros: My sacks have lasted me four years and three complete thru hikes. They come in various sizes and colors for organizing small things. Light, resilient, and water resistant. Those who used Cuban fiber sacks had difficulty with them shredding apart.
Cons: Not waterproof…even if they say they are. The black one I had drove me nuts at night and in the early morning because I always had trouble finding it in my tent or pack.

Dyneema Ironwire (50')
Pros: Super light and durable string for hanging and other random uses. I'm glad I carried it, but only used it twice all hike as most shelters have a hanging pulley already setup and I usually don't hang choosing to sleep with my food. 
Cons: Thin and tight so it can hurt your hand if you need to wrap it around your had to pull it up.
iPhone5 (with LifeProof Case)
Pros: Amazing! Service is best with Verizon. It was my own personal computer, phone, camera, alarm clock, and GPS all in one. Quick and easy panoramic shots and I really liked how vivid some of the scenic pictures were too. Good video when my real camera wasn't working. I loved being able to Skype or FaceTime family or friends. Of course watching TV in my tent is a great plus! Just amazing, love it!
Cons: It can drain quickly using the GPS or having it on LTE (if you have Verizon). Just keep it in airplane mode whenever possible. I wouldn't use it as my primary camera or video recorder, but it works great if you are looking for an all-in-one option.
LifeProof Phone Case
Awesome! Kept my iPhone protected from dirt and rain. I dropped my phone many times and it was always protected. I never submerged it under water, but it says it's fully waterproof...Totally worth carrying!

My headlamp and pocketknife are different than what's pictured here.
Petzel Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp
Did great! Honestly, I rarely used it and only changed the batteries once all trip. This was a new headlamp as I needed one with a red light at night so I wouldn't disturb others around me with a bright light while I was in my tent at night. They don't seem to make this version anymore so here's what seems most compatible...

MSR Packtowel Nano
Nice to have for washing off in streams. Dried very quickly. It is a bit of a luxury item as my bandana often did the trick just fine.

SPOT-Personal Locator Device
Pros: Reassure your family that you are okay on a regular basis. I know of hikers who had to use theirs to get emergency help from Search and Rescue, and it works. The customer service is very attentive and helpful.
Cons: Make sure you let it flash for a long time (possibly 15mins) to make sure it sends. It will go from flashing two lights to just one if it works. It worked every night on my trip, but would take longer under trees. There is no way to check for sure that it sends, but that's many small PLBs work. They are intended for use when there is no other way of contacting help. I trust it and think it's completely worth carrying on the AT, but I am considering getting a DeLorme inReach for more remote hikes as it can do two way messaging and I've been hearing lots of positives about it lately.

Sea to Summit Insect Shield Head Net
Pros: It saves you from bugs!
Cons: Don’t accidentally rub your eyes with the head net…trust me! Using a fully brimmed hat is the most effective. My neck and ears get bit unless I use my buff to cover them. I hardly used it the whole AT, but was very happy to carry it the whole way just in case!

Leatherman Style CS Multitool
Pros: Small, light, has multiple tools (including scissors!), and has a carabeener to clip it to my bag for easy access.
Cons: Could be considered by some to be a luxury item that just adds extra weight...but those were the same hikers who borrowed mine many times!

 iFlash 4 USB Quad Port Charger
Pros: Allowed me to charge four different things at the same time from one outlet.
Cons: Added weight and took up space in my pack. Didn't charge as fast as directly plugging one USB into a socket because it splits the charge.
Bottom Line: It's a luxury item, but one I use frequently!
OR Helium II Rain Jacket
Pros: VERY light and compact.
Cons: If you sweat a lot, it may not be the jacket for you because it has no vents. Also, to save weight, there are no side pockets. I used it many mornings as a quick warm up layer and it's definitely my stinkiest piece of gear, ha! It is as good as any other rain jacket and I've used a version of it on each of my thru hikes. I combined it with an umbrella on the AT and it was perfect! Not sure I'd have it as my only rain protection without an umbrella on the AT though. It's a bit thinner and less insulated than other heavier jackets.
Bottom Line: Great jacket! It is not meant for cold heavy rain. If you use it the whole trip and find yourself finishing closer to October, I recommend sending yourself a warmer jacket up north or waterproof it again before you hit the northern rain.

Sierra Design Hurricane Rain Pants
Pros: Hardly used them, but were a life saver the few freezing cold rain days I did have. I wasn't phased at all. They also worked as added warmth on cold days, but only a couple of times. Could be a little overkill after April on the AT.
Cons:With AT humidity/heat, I found chafing to be an issue and it never had before, so be ready for that!
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Jacket
Pros: Small, light, compact, warm, resilient, awesome! I think it is still the lightest down jacket on the market. Made for a great pillow at night too! I think I used it maybe 1/4 or so of the days I was on the AT, so it was mainly a pillow, but I get cold easily and it was really worth carrying.
Cons: Expensive.
Bottom Line: Loved it! I used the one with the hood because I get cold easily, but many hikers saved the weight without the hood.

Balega Socks
I loved these socks. They are just basic running socks. My feet had bad reactions to wool and these were great. They would generally last four legs or more depending on the terrain/distance.

Seirus Hyperlite All-Weather Gloves
I really liked these gloves! No gloves are truly waterproof, so I suggest getting a pack of latex gloves to wear over the gloves in the rain or in the mornings when taking down a wet tent. The latex ones lasted a long time, but I threw a new set in each resupply just in case. A simple thing that made my days so much more enjoyable! I hardly ever needed these on the AT...

ExOfficio Underwear
Loved em! I only needed two pairs that I rotated on the trip and I had a third for sleeping.
Diva Cup-Feminine Hygiene
Okay ladies, just like you, I worried about how I’d handle my monthly period on the trail. If you have to deal with it, then I suggest the Diva Cup. Look it up. I would definitely practice using it before going on the trail if you’ve never used it before. I like it because it’s minimal, I don’t have to worry about accumulating trash, and depending on the day, I could go the whole day without having to worry about it. I love that it is environmentally better AND saves me money. I have converted to using it in everyday life and I really recommend it.

Nike Pro Core Sports Bra
I had just one I wore all trip and it was great. Also, it doubles as a great swim top.

Lotion Infused Lounge Socks (Sleep Socks)
Heaven:) I forgot to pack my usual SmartWool socks and a friend of mine sent me these...OMG, such wonderfulness!

Teva Mush II Thong Sandals
Pros: Some consider camp shoes a luxury. I can’t imagine enjoying backpacking if I didn’t have dry clean sandals to put on at the end of the day and middle of the night for bathroom runs. I saved a lot of weight switching to these from Crocs and they were super comfy!
Cons: Wearing them with socks is a pain. I usually just slipped all my toes to the side of the thong when I needed to walk at camp.
Montrail AT Plus Hiking Shoes
LOVE these shoes I used on both the PCT & CDT...but they are discontinued! I'm working on finding shoes to replace these, which fit my wide feet perfectly...

Lynco L405 Sports Orthotic Insoles
I knew I'd need some type of added support to hike the trail and another hiker told me about the Lynco Insoles. I am a neutral walker and tend to need something for the ball of my foot. These are very unique and I recommend using them for a good month before the trail if your feet are new to them. They have a lump under the upper part of the arch of your foot. There are other styles for different needs. The unique form takes some getting used to, but I found them to feel great and also relieve a lot of the pressure on the ball of my foot. Totally worth the price for me. I bought a new pair with each pair of shoes. Many people bought insoles more/less often than that though. It's a matter of personal preference.

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Trekking Poles
I chose to go cheaper and heavier with my hiking poles, but they worked out great. I like the ergonomic cork handles and flick lot! I only had to replace one tip all trail, which says a lot for the rocky AT. They also doubled as my poles for my tent. There are pricier versions of these made of carbon. Mine were aluminum.I had the same poles last me through both the CDT and AT. The cork handles came loose at the end of the AT and I had to glue them back, but I'm amazed at the durability.

 White Sierra Teton Trail Convertible Pants
Awesome pants! They hung on with a few minor repairs and made it through the whole trail. It was nice to have the option of shorts or pants. They have lots of pockets for my gadgets and snacks. The only pants I could find that weren’t form fitting and tight in the thighs. I wish they came in XS because they ran a bit big in the waist for me and became very loose toward the end of the hike.

Smartwool Microweight Pajama Top/Bottom
It took me forever to buy these pricey pajamas, but they were perfect and saved me many ounces off what I was using before. The pants are slightly sheer and I'd only wear them in my tent.  Both could be used in emergency for extra warmth. For half of the hike, they were overkill and not necessary, but I get cold easily and was happy to have them.
Andiamo skins (unpadded) biker shorts(black)
Great for added warmth and those who experience chafing. They were also great to wear for swimming. A suggestion from the maker is that if they are being used for hiking, cut off the tight elastic band on the thighs. Just don't cut them too high as they will ride up on the thighs if you do. I've always used these and they save me from a lot of chafing issues.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Love em! I was able to use the same pair the whole hike, but I recommend buying two pairs and switching halfway. I once tried to go a week without them and I couldn’t stand all the debris that got in my shoes. Also, without them, my socks were quick to get holes in them. Just a fun company and unique patterns to fit everyone's personality.

The A.T. Guide
It seems that 90% of hikers on the AT use the AT Guide and solely that (without maps) to hike the trail. I know it's shocking that people don't carry maps, but the trail is so well marked that it isn't needed and if you go off, the blazes are a different color and you quickly realize it and turn around.I am in no way telling you to enter the woods without maps, but I am telling you that's what most hikers do. I would never go without some kind of map and I used an app which I'll recommend below for GPS backup. Some like the pocket profiles for an overview, but they are in no way needed to hike and the detailed elevation charts are on each page. It's a great guide and also includes all the town info you would need. It can be purchased Nobo or Sobo and with the option of having it bound as a book or loose leaf if you plan to ship the pages in sections. Only $15 and a steal for all that it gives you! I scanned it and had it on my phone as a backup and ended up using the scanned version instead and had the paper ones as backup. There is even an option to buy a pdf version that I heard has links that go directly to the website or phone number when you touch it. There are data books and companion guides created and sold by the ATC, but I rarely saw one in use and only heard about how they were not as helpful as the AT Guide. It is unfortunate as I know many would like to buy a product made by the ATC, so there is that option if you are one of those people.

Guthook's AT Hiker App
Um...Guthook's AT Hiker App is AWESOME!!! It isn't necessary to have this app to successfully hike the trail, but it certainly makes it a lot more enjoyable. I used this app just as much, if not more than the AT Guide. The two of them combined give you all the info you could possibly want. At the touch of a button, you can see your location on a topo map or elevation chart. There is a plethora of information as he has marked shelters, unofficial campsites, towns, water sources, viewpoints, road crossings, photos, and pretty much anything you can think of. This would not be in place of maps or a guide as it doesn't have all the same sites and sources in the guide, but it is a great supplement and sometimes has more info not listed in the guide. I know it seems pricey, but just buy one section and you'll be hooked! I loved seeing exactly where I was on a climb and the locations of the unofficial campsites which aren't mentioned anywhere else. No service is required as it works off your phone's GPS. He also has the app available for many other trails including the PCT and CDT. If you still aren't sure, here is the link to video demos of the app in action

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Triple Crowning Moment

I'm excited to share with everyone the culmination of this most recent chapter in my life. This past weekend was the Triple Crown ceremony where hikers who have completed the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail are recognized and celebrated for their achievements in long distance hiking. Each year, the American Long Distance Hiking Association West (ALDHA-West) hosts The Gathering. The name is perfect as it is like a reunion of sorts for so many long distance hikers and people from the long distance hiking community. It rotates each year to California, Washington, and Oregon(next year!) and this year it took place at Meany Lodge at Stampede Pass in Washington. I have to say that this past weekend was really meaningful for me and I'd like to share it with everyone as completely as I can since many of you have taken this journey with me the last 3.5yrs and I feel like you are an integral part of it. This is a long entry, but well worth it!

The weekend started earlier than I anticipated, on Friday night. Since I've been back from the Appalachian Trail, the kids I nanny (now 7 and 4) have been asking for trail stories as part of the bedtime routine. I have my journals printed and bound for my own keepsake and they sometimes choose to select a day at random for me to read to them. My little buddy (who I've been with since she was 2mo old) randomly asked me to read my journal entry from my first day on the PCT in 2011, which was my first trail. I couldn't believe the coincidence that I'd be reading that entry for the first time since I wrote it just 24hrs before I was to get my Triple Crown award.

The day it all began...
The entry starts with the sentence, "Today was one of the best days of my life!" Whenever people ask me to recall my best day on trail or a memorable moment, it's always that day. It changed my life and I never saw it coming. The PCT was a fluke and I went into it unsure of if I'd even like thru hiking. I just thought I'd go give it a try and if I didn't like it, I'd go home and return to substitute teaching. As soon as I saw the monument, I was overcome with emotion unlike anything I've ever felt before and I couldn't even describe what I was feeling. I did know it was momentous and managed to video myself as a puddled mess at the monument.

I couldn't describe it that day, but I now know that for the first time I was feeling what it felt like to LIVE life. I didn't even know I wasn't living life. I'd be going through the motions with one day rolling into the next, but for the first time in 31yrs, I was LIVING life. In that moment, it was as if I got a preview of all that was come, and it shot through my veins like lightning all at once. I've been on that high ever since and it's great to feel so ALIVE! In that first entry, you can see the immaturity in my blogging and writing and it's just really cool to see how it's all evolved and grown over the years.

So after working two 13hr+ days, I woke up early Saturday morning after a handful of hours of sleep to make the four hour drive to The Gathering at Meany Lodge at Stampede Pass. Oh man, was it overwhelming to see so many hikers in one place! There were over 100 people there and it felt like the majority of them had impacted and influenced my hiking either directly or indirectly. It's a very unique connection among long distance hikers. Hikers come from all over the world to hike on the trails and may overlap in brief or extended times through the internet, in towns, or on the trail. No matter how it happens, there is a connected bond and it was a great reunion. Here are a few of the highlights for me.

When we arrived to check-in, everyone gets a name tag with additional tags to indicate if you are a triple crowner. There were other random tags there for fun and my friends took the opportunity to add OCD to mine in honor of my obsessive compulsive was crooked, but I quickly fixed it, ha!
I got to spend time with Why Not!? and Shroomer. Both were influential in my CDT hike as they had hiked it the year before me and I used their journals to learn about the trail. They both hiked the trails in the same order as me and Why Not!? hiked each one of them the year before I did. She was my main resource going into the CDT and AT providing me with immeasurable resources and the encouragement I needed to lighten my pack. It was great to follower her footsteps in more than one way. Shroomer's love of the trail and descriptive trail journaling definitely influenced my writing as I kicked it up a notch on the CDT. Just wonderful to see them and tell them in person the impact they've had on me.
Shroomer & Why Not!?
PCT Map GOD Halfmile!!! Fresh off a PCT thru hike himself!

Ultralight Gear Makers: Ron of Six Moon Designs, Henry of Tarptent, and Grant of Gossamer Gear.
 While I was there, I realized how there were so many people there from each of my hiking "classes," so I gathered each of the groups together for reunion photos...LOVE THESE!!! You may not recognize all of these names and faces, but almost every single one of them are people I overlapped with at some point on my hikes in someway. I am sure each person feels this about their classes, but my PCT and CDT classes are especially bonded and badass hikers that I'm proud to be grouped with!
 PCT 2011: Marmot, Wired, Skinny D, Beacon, Malto, Dirtmonger, Balls, Sunshine, Drop-N-Roll
CDT 2013: Top: Steady, Q-Ball, Gangles, Bigfoot, Puck, Tatu-Jo, Steiner, Neon. Bottom: Wired, Papa Smurf, Drop-N-Roll, Estero. Not pictured, but there: Balls, Sunshine, Spins, Baboon.
AT 2014: 3D, The Punisher, Shroomer, Wired
Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors: Snorkel, Wired, Allgood, Dirtmonger, Bearclaw, Bobcat, Anish.
The day was great fun and I did my best to talk to everyone I could while we had this brief overlap again. It was an overload, but also such a great time. Everyone is just really supportive and connected and it was pretty much perfect! After dinner was the main event and this year's Triple Crowners were recognized. With the rise in popularity of hiking and the trails becoming more traveled and accessible, there was a record number of Triple Crowners this year. The cutoff date is Sept 1st, so you will notice many who Triple Crowned last season after the Sept 1st cutoff date included in this class. There were 34 hikers in this class and a record number of 19 hikers were present to get recognized. That brought the total of all time (recognized since 1994, but also awarded to any previous year) Triple Crowners to 230 hikers. I'm sure that actual number is much bigger as this is just those who took the time to apply for the recognition. If you're interested in seeing the list of all 230 broken down by year, here is the link. A note about this years class is the great number of women in this group. I've been told there are 30-40 women in that group of 230 Triple Crowners, so it's great to see almost as many women up there as men. Yeah!
Top: Steady, Papa Smurf, Balls, Steady, Car Hop, Neon, Q-Ball, Bigfoot, Puck, 3D, The Punisher. Bottom: Spins, Baboon, Estero, Why Not?!, Shroomer, Wired, Steiner.
I really enjoy the way they do the ceremony. It started with a slideshow of photos of all of this year's Triple Crowners from each of the three trails. Each hiker is called up individually to receive their plaque and they are given 3-5mins to say something if they wish. I don't know how common this is, but all the recipients spoke for a bit and it was really heartwarming to hear how much hiking has fulfilled so many people. I was really proud to be part of such a quality group of not just hikers, but human beings. A really great group! Each hiker this year was recognized with a plaque, bandana, crown, and a special Triple Crown hat made by Gossamer Gear.
Triple Crown plaque, bandana, and hat.
So, as if the Triple Crowning wasn't enough, some of my PCT 2011 friends and I decided to add on an epically AMAZING hike the next day while we were in Washington. The ceremony ended at 11pm, so we drove to the trail head and I was asleep in the car by 1am. We awoke before sunrise to start the 20mi hike through the Enchantments of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I've wanted to go here for years, but it is a difficult permit to get months ahead of time. The loophole is that although it is usually backpacked over multiple days, if you can thru hike it in a day, you don't need a permit. It was the perfect closure to the weekend and to this chapter of my life. Here are a few of my favorite photos from that day and the full (and enchanting!) slideshow is below. Again, to be able to view the whole slideshow, you will need to be on a desktop or follow the link here.
PCT 2011 Crew: Wired, Marmot, Daybreaker, Roo, and Drop-N-Roll
Boulder field below Aasgard Pass. Wearing my new Gossamer Gear Quiksak.
The climb up Aasgard Pass with Lake Colchuck below.
Isolation Lake

Sprite Lake

Lake Viviane
 Full Slideshow of the Enchantments

How Does It Feel?...
I've been asked how it feels now that all of these years of hiking have culminated in the triple crowning. It's interesting because the Triple Crown gave me a framework of trails by which I chose to hike and it had led me on an amazing journey. I don't know that I would have hiked more trails if it wasn't for the allure of the Triple Crown, but I also feel like it is like getting a prize for vacationing, ha! It's more of a great end to a chapter and I know I have many more ahead of me in hiking. This really isn't the end for me and I foresee doing a long hike each year as long as my body and pocketbook can handle it. Probably the greatest surprise in all of this is how I've been able to make this into something so much more through the blog and sharing this journey with all of you. I hope you all stick around for the ride and I'll be announcing this coming year's plans in a month or two. I can say I've never been more excited about and upcoming season and it's sure to be an adventure!...