hike blog

Potato Bark

Food is not just eating energy. It’s an experience.
– Guy Fieri

Potato bark is versatile, lightweight and very tasty.

Potato bark is versatile, lightweight and very tasty.

I am always amazed that when I hike I crave all sorts of things I never eat at home – loads of salt, carbs and fat – and I still lose weight. The problem for me is that I forget how it feels on the trail when I’m back in life, so I need to remind myself to bring the right food to stay energized. Creamy, salty, buttery loaded potatoes is one such food, but I’m horrified by the junk added to store-bought potato flakes – and how overpriced they are – so I decided to save money and dehydrate potatoes myself, adding only what I wanted. They are surprisingly lightweight, versatile and easy to cook.

Here’s what you’ll need:

10 pounds potatoes (Yukon Gold mash really well, but you can use any kind)

8 cups broth

salt/pepper to taste

Optional add-ons:

Onion powder

Garlic powder

Herbs, e.g. dill, chives, parsley

Dried whole milk

Dried cheese

Dried peas, carrots, peppers, etc.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Boil potatoes until you can stick a fork through them. I leave the skins on.
  2. Mash the potatoes slowly adding the broth
  3. Place in a food processor or blender to make them smooth
  4. Pour onto dehydrator trays, almost like you’re frosting a cake
  5. Crank up the dehydrator to 140 degrees
  6. Occasionally check and flip. I cut the pieces smaller into strips as it dries for that “bark” look.
  7. Fully cool before packing into vacuum seal bags and store in the freezer until ready to use.
Pour the mashed mixture onto trays like you're frosting a cake.

Pour the mashed mixture onto trays like you’re frosting a cake.

Pro tips:

  • I add the powdered ingredients and dehydrated vegetables to the dried bark when packaging and not to the mash before drying.
  • The bark is so crunchy, it tends to make small holes in to vacuum seal bags, but I have never had a problem with spoilage
  • The rehydrated bark makes more of a potato soup than mashed potatoes. I often add another helping of dried broth on the trail for even more salt!
gear blog

Tarptent Notch Li partial solid w/silnylon floor review

The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in her field.
The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in its field.

The Tarptent Notch Li is a fantastic ultra light shelter for the solo thru-hiker looking for simplicity and durability, while not sacrificing comfort. Made of dynamee, the Notch Li is essentially waterproof. It sets up super fast with the use of trekking poles that remain outside the living space. The twin-peaked catenary ridgelines add rigidity in the wind and rain as well as create an enormous living space with two entryways and two vestibules.

Notch Li is my choice for a home away from home.

I bought my first Tarptent when I walked the John Muir Trail in 2012. The single-walled Moment was the envy of all my hiking friends because it set up literally in seconds and was roomy with an enormous vestibule. I have since added an inside layer provided by Tarptent to alleviate condensation, but when I planned to walk on the soggy Coast-to-Coast, I decided to upgrade to something more reliably dry.

Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It's lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.
Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It’s lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.

The success of the Notch Li begins with its fabric. Formerly known as cuben fiber, dynamee is considered the most revolutionary material used today to make outdoor gear. It’s technically classified as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. The fiber has low density that allows for high load dispersion. Fifteen times stronger than steel and extremely light, it is the strongest fiber in the world.

But wait, there’s more! It’s also waterproof, resistant to UV light and chemicals, and is extremely durable.

But that doesn’t mean you can just stuff the Notch Li in your pack. You need to handle it with care by rolling it into its dynamee bag. The feel is a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but I endured absolute downpours and there was not one drop in my tent.

The outside doors of the Notch LI are held back with magnets.
The outside doors are held back with magnets.

I opted for the partial solid interior made of silnylon which saves a bit of money on your purchase but I had a few other reasons for this choice. While dynamee is strong and waterproof, it’s translucent and I like a wee bit of privacy.

I also hike in places with blowing sand and heavy rainfall. The solid wall rises fairly high inside. It does cut down on views when supine, but it also keeps splash and detritus from finding its way through the no-see-um screen.

The partial solid silnylon interior adds a few more ounces, but I felt it was worth it. I did not purchase nor have I used a footprint due to the floor’s ruggedness, but I do choose my sites carefully.

The Notch Li sets up like a dream. It is a non-freestanding tent with each corner supported by carbon struts that create a triangle. You simply roll out the tent, stake down each end with the provided Easton aluminum stakes, insert your trekking poles – which remain outside the living space, entry and exit – and stake down the sides.

You should be able to do all of that without getting the inside wet because the two parts remain attached. The outer does not use zippers, which takes a little getting used to. I found I needed to slightly loosen the tension before attaching the poles into their loops and then ensuring the points of my poles stayed in place once I tightened up again. There is a little tab below the hook that helps when opening and closing the door but you do have to get the hang of it.

The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.
The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.

The tent held up well in wind, though there is an option to attach another set of guylines. That being said, you will need two more stakes to make the tent more stable in inclement weather. The six-panel design has advantages as does the ridgeline which makes the Notch Li more stable when loaded, though I have yet to take it out in snow.

Did I mention there are two doors? The Moment only had one, and that seemed sufficient, but once you are spoiled with two, you will wonder how you survived. This gives you two vestibules for storage, organizing gear and hanging out. But if the midges are as bad as they were this summer in the UK, you will be staying tightly zipped inside the tent.

But don’t despair because the inside is huge. Richard is 6’4” and crept in for a test and found he had enough room to lie down and sit up. I am smaller so had loads of room for my bod, my gear at both head and foot as well as room for a few items along the side.

I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite, which fit inside beautifully. There are also a couple of strategically placed pockets as well as a ceiling hook.

The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp "Spooky" in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.
The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp “Spooky” in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.

This tent is in one piece, the inner tent attached to the outer, but you can take them apart if you prefer to use one without the other. This requires more stakes and for my uses, it never made much sense to use the pieces separately.

However, I needed to have them apart when I returned home because I had so many squashed midge carcasses inside it was the only way I could clean the tent. It was a breeze to detach and reattach parts.

I love this tent and I should mention that my Notch Li was named by a contest. She’s the alicoop and will happily be my safe little chrysalis on the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Seasons: 3+
  • Weight: 21.76 oz.
  • Interior Height: 43 in
  • Floor Width: 20 – 34 in
  • Floor Length: 84 in
  • Minimum number of stakes: 4
  • Packed size: 16 in x 4 in
  • Doors: 2
  • Vestibules: 2
  • Materials: dynamee and silnylon
  • Support: trekking poles

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Notch Li from Tarptent.

La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.
hike blog

La Sportiva Akyra Trail Runners review

La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.
La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.

What do you get when you cross the speed, flexibility, the ability to stop on a dime and the wicking properties of the your favorite mountain running shoe with the ruggedness, stability and protection of those leather hiking boots you haven’t wanted to give up just yet? You’d get shoes that rock the long trails and my first choice for thru-hiking, La Sportiva’s Akyra Trail Runners.

I have only just begun wearing trail runners exclusively while backpacking. I made the switch from boots because my feet began to feel too hot and confined and once they got wet, they stayed wet. I had great success with trail runners on the Coast-to-Coast and ali-loop-of-the-Lakes and have never looked back.

The Akyra uses a complex “origami” design to keep the foot stable, while also allowing the foot to feel flexible and supple. The shoe is like a solid box with a bomber heel cup keeping me from over-pronating. Torsional strength is especially key when I contour overland on steep terrain.

The top layer is in three parts including a skeleton, mesh and a wrap that provides lateral stability when negotiating roots, rocks and sand.

The cushioned tongue holds easily adjusted laces and place no pressure on the top of the foot, which is crucial as my toes are slightly deformed from arthritis. And this may seem like a small point, but these laces have never needed to be retied mid-hike.

La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole to make the Akyra responsive in uneven and wet terrain.
La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole to make the Akyra responsive in uneven and wet terrain.

The Akyra is ideal for backpacking especially in mountain environments because the soles are made of a sticky rubber – much like approach shoes – that adhere to rock, even if wet. Using a tight pattern, the lugs provides superb traction at the same time they shed mud and clagg. My friend Stephanie took these photos and said the soles looked like mini-shovels displacing the sand as I cracked up and downhill.

La Sportiva uses a patented brake system that not only gives me confidence on slopes, but decreases impact and that’s a relief for those day-after-days walking on uneven terrain.

Sizing was a bit of a concern and the shoe feels a bit long and narrow, though I was able to find a good fit playing with the laces. I always wear men’s trail runners these days to allow room for my feet to swell. I did not keep the included foam insole but rather replaced them with Superfeet.

Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.
Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.

Specs at a Glance

  • Drop: 9mm
  • Stack: Heel – 25mm / Toe – 16mm
  • Weight: 11.35 oz.
  • Upper: AirMesh / TPU MicroLite Skeleton / Flex-Guard
  • Lining: Airmesh (heel only)
  • Midsole: Injection shock absorbing MEMlex EVA / 2.4 mm LaSpEVA
  • Sole: FriXion Trail Rocker2 with Impact Brake System
  • Cushioning: Midsole – 32A

Disclosure

La Sportiva supplied alison young with this shoe for use on the Te Araroa.

My Granite Gear Crown 60 is named Olive Oyl.
gear blog

Granite Gear Crown2 60 backpack review

Granite Gear's Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it's on your back.
Granite Gear’s Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it’s on your back.

The Granite Gear Crown2 60 is a superbly designed ultra light backpack ideal for multi-day backpacking and long distance thru-hiking. Weighing at its max at only 37.76 oz. this pack can easily be configured for different types of trips bringing the weight down to a minimum of 22.56 oz. while still offering a huge capacity. Small touches like three large mesh outside pockets and two zippered hip pockets make this pack my top choice.

I have been using Granite Gear backpacks exclusively for the past seven years and I’m always blown away by their simple, sleek design, their ruggedness in the face of extreme conditions and their superior functionality. This pack is lighter than both my Vapor and Meridian packs, but the material feels far more durable.

You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.
You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.

The Crown2 60 is basically a large bag that rolls up and closes with four adjustable clips. Inside is a zippered hydration pocket with a hang clip. There’s a removable top lid, two modest-sized zippered hip belt pockets, two very large stretch woven pockets on the sides and one extra large stretch-woven pocket on the back. There are two large ice ax loops at the bottom and four smaller gear loops on the top of the lid.

I love the top hatch, which is more solid on its own than past Granite Gear models and can be removed should I only need a “purse” on occasion or have no need for the full 60-liter capacity. That being said, when the capacity needs to be fully utilized, the six compression straps are well placed and easily deployed. The back mesh pocket is a great addition since the Vapor and Meridian days and will likely see lots of wet gear in rainy New Zealand. Though the hip pockets are small and a bit awkward to get into, they are the perfect size to hold this DJ’s iPhone and microphone – as well as compass and lipstick.

I am not much of a pack liner gal, instead I opt for Granite Gear’s fabulous eVent dry bags with compression capabilities.

Crown2 uses the “Vapor Current mark 2” compression molded polypropylene frame sheet. You can always remove it and replace it with a dual-purpose foam pad. The frame works in combination with the molded foam back panel that’s designed with ventilation channels, mesh and a slight lumbar bump. It molded well with my body and wicked sweat effectively as I struggled up some good climbs.

The shoulder straps are padded with an S-curve, great for us gals, and the hip belt is easily customizable. Note that there is a women’s belt option, but I found it far too tippy for my use with the unisex fitting beautifully on my curvy hips. The Crown2 has two tiers of side and front compression straps.

The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.
The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.

I am a hiker who loves top-notch zippers and this pack’s got them in spades. The buckles feel they’ll last five months with a satisfying click that says this baby is not coming undone, though I did find I needed to ensure I matched the outie buckle into its innie slot precisely or it would jam, but I noticed this only on the chest strap.

I did not opt for the rain cover as I use Granite Gear’s superb eVent drysacks – that easily compress to nothing even without straps – for all things that must stay dry. I find it helps me stay organized and allows me to set things on wet ground if needed while packing and unpacking. But there was one hike when I pulled a bag of clothing out of the pack, a green bag that blended in with the grassy bank. I left it there and never found it again.

While there’s a good argument for manufacturing gear in colors that fit in with the places we hike – and it’s certainly unlikely I’d leave behind my entire backpack – I would have preferred a brighter color like stoplight red or slow-children-at-play orange. Having said that, I must say that “ole drabby” is really starting to grow on me even if Richard says she looks like she was cut from an army surplus tent. I am falling in love and can’t wait to have her on my back on the Te Araroa.

I can't wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.
I can’t wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.

Specs at a Glance

  • Dimensions: 23.5″ X 13″ X 8″ (3660 cubic in.)
  • Max weight (medium unisex): fully configured, 33.9 oz./minimum, 22.56 oz.
  • Max recommended load: 35 pounds
  • Capacity: 60 liter
  • Removable components
    • Top Lid: 2.56 oz.
    • Frame sheet: 6.08 oz.
    • Hip belt: 6.56 oz.
  • Gender: Unisex, with optional women’s hipbelt
  • Torso lengths available: short/regular/long
  • Hip belt: adjustable
  • Materials: 100D High-tenacity nylon and DWR treated zippers

Disclosure

Granite Gear supplied alison young with this pack for use on the Te Araroa.

I hadn’t the faintest idea if I possessed the grit, the fortitude and determination, and the sheer pig-headedness to stick with a walk of 1,864 miles.
hike blog

Te Araroa, New Zealand – Oct-Mar, 2018—19

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

Mark Twain
I’ll begin walking New Zealand end-to-end this coming November on the Te Araroa.
I’ll begin walking New Zealand end-to-end this coming November.

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Today, my boss gave me the green light to take a personal leave of five months to take care of a little something that has been on my mind for the past several years: to walk one of the biggies.

While it would seem to make more sense to start with something close to home like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest, my chunk of time away will be in the winter, and it’s only logical to track down summer – and prime backpacking season – where it happens during our cold months, on the other side of the earth.

I must have been playing a long song on Classical MPR when I stumbled upon this long trail. I was surfing the web looking up top hikes of the world and this newish hike – or tramp, as the Kiwis call it – popped up, piquing my curiosity.

Te Araroa means “the long pathway” in Maori. Completed in 2011, it’s a 3,000 kilometer trail extending from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the south. It traverses the entire country; beaches, forests, mountains, volcanoes and cities, and should likely take all the time I have planned to finish it.

The Te Araroa traverses the entire country; beaches, forests, mountains, volcanoes and cities, and should likely take all the time I have planned to finish it.
Part of the Te Araroa is by boat.

Thus far the furthest I’ve walked all at one time was the GR5, 450 miles over the spine of the Alps. While taking on that challenge I wondered if I was made of the right stuff to sustain a thru-hike of not just weeks, but months.

Aside from the logistical nightmare and the risk that I might not be missed at my place of employment, I hadn’t the faintest idea if I possessed the grit, the fortitude and determination, and the sheer pig-headedness to stick with a walk of 1,864 miles.

Over the ensuing years, I decided there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to go and do it. Keeping in mind the fact that I’m not getting any younger and my arthritic toes are continuing to protest, I made the decision to request a leave of absence, and put myself directly on the path of enormous change.

Sure, it will be a change in scenery and routine, but also in how my life looks and feels because I am going alone. Don’t worry! Richard will be following my every step through the magic of GPS tracking – and I’ll stay connected by blog. I certainly hope you’ll follow me. I might need emotional support along the way.

So right now I’m absolutely tingling with excitement for this rare opportunity even as I make lists of all that has to get done, including applying for a visitors visa on an extremely thorough application which requires proof I not only have the financial means to return home, but plan to do so!