CDT

ten things I learned while thru-hiking…

…that are helping me get through this moment right now

two beautiful new titanium hip joints are going to keep me walking well into my 80’s.

1. Take Risks

There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even possibly, your own.

Meryl Streep

The most important thing I learned even before I set foot on the Te Araroa or the Pacific Crest Trail is that security is a myth. Life itself is full of risk no matter how much we try to control its outcome.

I was terrified when granted a leave-of-absence from my job that I’d risk losing a career I loved. But I desperately needed this pause in my life. I needed to find out what would happen to my body, mind and spirit on a long distance walk, especially with a body already in serious decline from osteoarthritis.

I did all I could to mitigate the risk, ensuring things would be the same when I returned. But it made absolutely no difference. I still lost that career.

But what did I gain? An adventure, experience, self-knowledge, self-reliance, and the realization that I wouldn’t wonder someday in the future, when I’m not capable of walking like I could for those two thru-hikes, why I hadn’t taken the risk.

The truth is we never really know what’s around the corner, so sometimes you just have to take a calculated leap of faith. Funny thing? That day-in-the-future is now and I am in the process of replacing both hips.

On one particularly awful morning after surgery when I was nauseated and had a splitting headache, I told Richard all I needed was hope.

His response? “The most hopeful thing you are doing is taking these months to repair your body for the next hikes.”

2. Live in the present moment

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

Alice Morse Earle

A thru-hike forces a kind of single-minded focus that is unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered in life. I find it difficult to plan, at least specifically, too many days in advance. And even if I could, I find that circumstances change and I need to go with the flow.

That being said, I was shocked by the number of hikers who wore headphones and walked at night seemingly just to get in miles. That approach is anathema to me and I became a kind of ascetic of the trail, never listening to music, always hiking within daylight and taking the time to really see things.

My friend Myra, a.k.a. “Wonder,” takes pride in having carefully planned each day on the PCT, very much in the vein of her real life work as an engineer. Since she’s not a fast walker, she knew going in she’d have to stick to some sort of schedule or she’d never make it to the finish line. That being said, she describes in a Guest Post how delicious each day was because she had the spare time to really see everything.

I’m not afraid to be face-to-face with my own thoughts, even if they’re sometimes unpleasant! Part of walking a long distance thru-hike is staying present with all of yourself – the good, the bad and the ugly – and not looking away or trying to distract yourself.

Right now, my thru-hike is slowly recovering from one hip operation and having the courage to go in for the second one. I have suffered setbacks, including catching Covid 19 and developing painful – but temporary – neuropathy in my calf and foot. I use the lesson of staying in the present to experience fully what each day brings, the tiny victories and surprises that my body can heal itself.

3. Practice patience

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.

Joyce Meyer

I’m not a huge fan of FKT’s (Fastest Known Time) I understand the motivation for such a challenge and certainly celebrate the athletic accomplishment of someone running, say, the Appalachian Trail in 40 days.

But for me, walking a long trail is about sauntering, a word which John Muir preferred to hiking because it connotes a kind of mission like a holy pilgrimage as opposed to a physical endurance test.

Over the course of ten months walking two major trails, I discovered this phenomenon that no matter how much I desired to get somewhere faster, I couldn’t really walk much faster. It was simply going to take the time it was going to take.

Much like living in the present, patience is all about letting go of the need to control and giving things time to percolate.

The nature writer Edward Abbey explains it beautifully. He writes, “Walking takes longer…than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed…Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details.”

So patience, my friend, gets us where we’re going and forces us to become observant, which in turn opens us to the possibility of experiencing the divine.

The worst part about my recovery at the moment is this pins-and-needles electric buzz in my lower leg. It was likely caused by my sciatica firing up while they had my femur pulled out. The surgeon told me nerves heal about one millimeter per day, which means this could take months to go way.

That does not sound pleasant at all. But, it should go away and I take into this moment patience with that long process. And just like planning for where to camp and how much food to carry, along with practicing patience, I take vitamins, massage my legs, and keep up good blood flow to encourage recovery.

Read Next: Blissful “Bionic” Hiker

The miracles of modern medical science that I am walking without sticks two weeks after surgery.

4. Let the day unfold

I think that’s what I love about my life. There’s no maniacal master plan. It’s just unfolding before me.

Cate Blanchett

Carpe diem – seize the day. I get it. I do. This idea that we need to put on our big girl pants and Type A personalities and make things happen!

There’s another side to this approach that really becomes apparent on my thru-hikes. For sure, you have to put yourself out there on that trail and be bold, brave and brilliant.

But sometimes, that attitude became too confining, not allowing the flexibility to maybe go a bit further, camp somewhere unexpected, accept a kindness from a trail angel or scrap a tightly held plan altogether.

This was a biggie for me, to wake up each day and just allow things to occur. I may practice mindfulness, but in the back of that mind is a control freak who wants to know what’s ahead, what will happen, where will I end up.

That attitude has often caused me to miss opportunities right in front of my face. We all could sharpen our skills at being nimble, willing to change our minds, our plans and our direction. It can invariably lead to unimaginable wonders, like when I hooked up with a local to climb Mount Taranaki for the sunrise, being the first to summit in 2019.

At this moment, it means developing curiosity rather than certainty, to delight in the twists and turns of my life – like today, when I was finally able, with the use of my cane and the handrail, to walk up and down stairs, one foot after the other on their own step.

A huge accomplishment in comparison to what happened on my “walk.” My right hip is rapidly deteriorating and I simply can’t walk as far until I get that one replaced in December.

And yet, it was warm enough to take a break on my porch and watch the world go by – dog walkers, children on various wheeled forms of transport and neighbors wishing me well.

Not a bad afternoon at all.

5. Trail Angels exist

That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.

Simone de Beauvoir

I had heard the term “trail angel” for years before walking my first major thru-hike. I certainly benefited from kindnesses on every backpack trip I’ve taken with people offering rides on seemingly abandoned roads, shared meals when when I might have skimped on nutrition and offers of a spot to set my tent on someone’s property.

But I had no concept for the depth of people’s generosity until I arrived in New Zealand. From Day One when Irene offered to pick me up at the airport in Kerikeri and get me to the trailhead to meeting Rob and George in Whanganui who opened their home to me and made me feel part of their Whānau (family) to Ian offering a totally lost and frustrated blissful hiker a ride to the supermarket and back to the trailhead, driving way out of his way and on and on.

And then there’s just the thousands of little things, the beers offered at the right moment, the words of encouragement, the invitations to camp on the lawn and share a meal, not to mention how the “trail provided” in mysterious ways at precisely the moment I needed something.

None of these acts made me feel entitled. Rather I felt deeply blessed and changed inside, wanting to pay forward what I can and be the person that helped me.

You can see in my video that a patient is up and walking soon after a full hip replacement, but for about a week, it’s necessary to use a walker. Richard and I found one at a thrift store in Waconia, Minnesota for $3. It was fine, but clunky, even when we affixed tennis balls to its feet.

I was dreaming of a rollator like my mom’s. with fat tires and a smooth ride. The very next day, someone posted in my “Buy Nothing” Facebook group, the exact rollator I had in mind. Greta gifted it to us with the expectation we’d pass it along at the end of this saga, just like my feelings of passing along trail angel kindnesses.

Trail Angels help with no desire to be repaid, and teach us how to be generous.

6. The point of a thru hike is not to triumph.

The goal of life … is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.

Hubert Dreyfus

When I finished walking the Pacific Crest Trail, Richard was waiting for me at the southern terminus in Campo as I walked up one last rise towards the blocky monument.

It was not an especially long day, just twenty miles through desert landscape and oddly shaped rock outcroppings. I met two thru-hikers along the way as well as a group of backpackers out for a weekend. The mood was festive, relaxed, and a little resigned. I didn’t feel exhausted or ready to stop, but neither did I feel sorrow that my life as a full-time pedestrian would be coming to an end.

The trail twisted through the mountains and skirted private land dotted with live oaks before I crossed train tracks and followed a road to mile marker number one and the final steps of my odyssey.

I could see Richard’s rental car parked near the razor-topped border wall and his tall body leaning against the door. I had a huge smile on my face as he applauded my arrival, all at the exact moment that another car joined. Richard handed me a margarita with fresh squeezed lime, reasonably tasty tequila and precious ice cubes served in a real glass.

He planned to take it with me as I sat on top of the monument for my finisher photograph, but it seems the man had other plans. He wanted his own picture taken – and taken before me. In a brusque manner – and without acknowledging that I actually walked to this spot from the Canadian border – he asked if I wouldn’t mind getting out of the frame while his wife snapped his picture.

I obliged, waiting for her as she snapped pictures from several angles of this man who walked ten steps of the PCT. At some point, he came down and headed back to his car and I climbed onto the monument.

It was such an odd moment, but it made absolutely no difference to me. I was done and this was just a marker in time and space. All my experiences and all my memories could not possibly be taken away from me whether I sat on the monument for my picture or not.

It occurred to me that there was a lesson in this. The goal to finish is a good one, and gives shape and direction to the walk. But accomplishment isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, to triumph by making it to all the way 2,685 miles to the end does feel good. But what feels even better, is being alive for every step.

This journey to new hips has had ups and downs, including both Richard and I contracting Covid, fortunately, as far as we know right now, we have only mild symptoms. But I challenge myself not to get lost in wanting to get over and done with everything, but to search for that feeling of being alive within the tumult of this moment.

It helps that Richard and I both are feeling more “normal” today, still fatigued and coughing a lot, but ever so slightly familiar to ourselves. That in itself makes all of it worth it.

Read Next: Set Your Sights Low

Every journey begins with the first step.

7. Everything changes

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. 

Maya Angelou

Every day on a thru-hike, you get a chance to redeem yourself. Think about that. It’s like a do-over every single day beginning with letting the air out of your mattress, packing your gear and deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast before lacing up your shoes and walking on.

I found that to be one of the most freeing truths in walking long distances. It’s nearly impossible to get caught in a rut, because by its very nature, the terrain and environment are sometihng new each day.

And there’s nothing saying you have to walk with the same people, use the same trail name or even be the same person. Maybe that’s precisely why people thru-hike, to “find” themselves, lose themselves, then find themselves again.

There’s also that bit about weather changing. Non-stop rain in New Zealand nearly gave me PTSD, and yet just when I couldn’t handle another day of wet, it would clear and I was given a beautiful gift of sunshine, views and easy walking. I guess it shouldn’t surprise you that I longed for hard trail when it got to easy and through myself back into mud when the trail offered no challenge.

It was Abraham Lincoln who told the story about a king who charged his wise men to invent him a sentence which would be appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And thistooshall pass away.”

Hardship, sorrow, confusion, fear, pain, the myriad feelings I have right now as I push through my bionic rebuild – all of these things shall pass, and eventually metamorphose into something else. I suppose that something else could be worse, but like the trail unwinding in front of me and taking me from rain forest to mountain pass to desert, our circumstances change with each passing moment.

8. You will never pass this way again

Sooner or later, we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.

Ann Landers

The most alluring part of a thru-hike for me is the fact that you rarely repeat any of it, rather you hike “thru” an environment. It offers a metaphor for life in being awake and aware as you go since it’s unlikely you will see any of this again.

Perhaps it’s because I’m middle aged and can see the other side of my life towards old age and death, I feel a bit more in touch with this concept. I know I wasn’t always popular with some of the younger hikers who got bored easily and found the trails a never-ending slog.

I would try to learn the names of the plants and creatures, to understand the geology and the cultures I passed through. In effect, I fed my curiosity so I wouldn’t see each day as on repeat and a series of physical challenges to be overcome.

That’s not to say it wasn’t hard as code word: tall grass attests to my complete and utter break down from a combination of hard trail and utter exhaustion. I earned true thru-hiker cred that day when I told it like it is and how hard it can be to keep going.

Perhaps like everything changing, it’s important to remind oneself that even unpleasant sections will soon go from the present to the past, and no amount of picture taking or journaling will help your recall what it felt like if you don’t feel if fully while you’re experiencing it.

When I first started walking on the sidewalk in front of my house, I thought of each place I camped along the PCT, recalling the sounds, the smell, the solitude or lack thereof. It was a fun exercise as I trained my new prosthetic to move smoothly.

I’m not wild about pain and nausea and being away from all I love to do as I heal, but I intend for this hip to last me most of my life and this time is one I hopefully won’t experience again, so perhaps it’s worth reminding myself to take each step deliberately and with intention since these are steps I will never walk again.

9. Let go and forgive

Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.

Hannah More

There’s nothing like a thru-hike to clean the cobwebs of your soul, especially if you’re like me and hike alone. You may have thought you were an ultralight hiker until the weight of excess baggage slowed you down and you knew you needed to deal with things.

I often argues with the air, spoke to old flames and old bosses and gave them a piece of my mind. But I found that interacting with other hikers – many pretty selfish and disagreeable – challenged me just as much.

Unlike our “real” lives, thru-hiking offers freedom from most expectations and demands. And yet, it stresses us to the point of breaking. Temperature extremes, hunger and thirst, exhaustion, injury, animal encounters, etc. can cause us to become selfish and demanding. giving little thought to each other.

In Northern California, I was left in a snowstorm by someone I had been hiking with for weeks and in Southland, New Zealand, I was threatened with physical harm by a Kiwi when I stole his chair. I felt betrayed, hurt and angry in those situations and worried over them for a long time before finally letting them go and deciding those guys needed to do what they did in the moment, and I’m not irreparably hurt.

When I’m vulnerable like I am now as I heal, I also “worry” hurt feelings from the past. Forgiveness is a tall order and not easy to practice even when we know it will set us free. What helps is to believe the people who hurt us did so for their own selfish reasons and not because we deserved it or had it coming.

While I won’t be hiking with either of those men again and there are many people from my past I have cut loose, taking it less personally has helped me move forward – and created the space for trail angels (see #5) to come into my life.

10. You are stronger than you think you are

If I waited for perfection, I’d never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

I’ve always had a talent for going uphill. Richard calls me a mountain goat. I can set a pace and just cruise. It’s just one of my gifts.

But strength is not just in going uphill or downhill, or long distances or in hellacious weather. Strength is something innate, something called upon when we find ourselves maybe a bit over our head or in unknown territory.

I guess I never doubted I’d walk a long way, even if I wasn’t entirely sure my body would hold up for all those miles. What I set out to do was to discover what would happen to my body, mind and spirit if I walked for months on end.

I wasn’t always strong. I cried. I complained. I doubted myself. And I often wondered why I was bothering and if what I was doing was worth it. But something inside me kept me moving forward, even if I had to take breaks or change my plans.

It’s almost precisely a year to the day that I sat on top of the monument in Campo, California after walking nearly 5,000 miles in New Zealand and the United States and I can tell you today it was all worth it. I’m amazed here in Saint Paul after walking just the block around our house, that I had what it took to put one foot in front of the other, make good decisions and see both hikes all the way through.

I got plenty of help from friends and trail angels, but in the end, I did it. We have more strength than we think we have, but we can only know that if we put it to the test.

So get out there, don’t put it off any longer that thing you want to do. Challenge yourself, get into the nitty gritty and see how it feels to be back at square one, like learning to walk again on new hips! You might surprise yourself how strong you really are.

Read Next: Titanium Fourteener

CDT

self reliance

Self-reliance is the only road to true freedom, and being one’s own person is its ultimate reward.

Patricia Sampson
Become a Patron!
It’s essential to take five navigation tools in the backcountry: map, altimeter, compass, GPS and personal locator.
To navigatehead for the sun
With first aid and knife on the run
Bring fire and shelter
Extra food is a helper
But water and clothes weigh a ton 

That’s the Mountaineers Ten Essentials limerick.

The ten essentials are navigation, headlamp, sun protection, first aid, knife and repair kit, the ability to make fire, shelter or a bivvy, extra food, a way to purify water and extra clothes.

Super important for day hikers who should always ask themselves the question if they could spend the night out here if something goes wrong like they get lost or hurt. Now a backpacker has all this stuff, but the thinking on navigation is to take five tools with us – including printed maps.

The Continental Divide Trail does have an official route, but, unlike most other long-distance trails, nearly every thru-hiker chooses alternates. Why? Because in some cases they’re more beautiful or more interesting or more challenging than the actual divide. The CDT Trail Coalition does make maps available – as does a very generous thru-hiker named Jonathan Ley, who marks the most used alternates – but there’s a couple that are not on maps, exactly.

And for those, I need to make my own. So I took a class.

I admit that on my last two thru-hikes I only had maps on my phone. Yes, it was risky because phones fail, they get crunched, lost, they die. I made it, but what bothered the most was a feeling like I was just following a line and not aware of the larger picture, or my options.

In the GPS Navigation class I learned a lot including navigational workflow, situational awareness and the ethic of self-reliance. Those are some big concepts and I’ll admit, I’m quite literally taking baby steps – and the class is for people like me who gotta start somewhere – and that’s with creating a map – a physical map with a route and waypoints customized to my needs – like, where I want to go, where I might want to stop and issues I may encounter along the way, like water sources or resupply options.

And that begins with learning to use software called Cal Topo. The story goes that founder and Wilderness EMT Matt Jacobs was sick of buying maps for every outing and 10 years ago, he set up mapping tools for search and rescue. He now has ten people on staff for this incredibly sophisticated tool.

With time running out before I head to Montana, I still thought cramming in all the material I’d need for class, including six hours of pre-work, reading and studying, practicing in the field and taking two quizzes (which I passed) – was worth the effort, even if by no means would I master navigation.

Read ‘Don’t shun (-tion) the “Ten Essentials”’

A CalTopo map I created for the Teton Crest Trail alternate from the CDT.

In addition to making a physical map, I’d also learn about the phone app Gaia GPS, which works in conjunction with the map software – you basically make your map, print it and then import to Gaia so you can follow it via GPS. But the key to success in the backcountry is to keep you nose out of your phone. And that’s because, well, you want to see the scenery, but also you are more aware of weather, how many hours left to daylight, if there’s a rattle snake in the middle of the trail. You want to NOT rely on these tools singularly, but rather as a whole.

And that’s when the magic occurs, when we combine the map making and gps with the lowly handheld compass. After our three-hour Zoom class, our next activity was in the field. I printed a map with a route and marked waypoints and went out and walked it. It’s at Lake Elmo again with clearly marked trails and a place very familiar to me using my compass to follow the bearing from the map I made now in my phone. One of the first things I learn, even after all those times walking here, I never has any idea which direction I was going. I also learn that heading towards something “as the crow flies’ is not always possible, and I can take intermediate bearings. The GPS gives me the distance, kind of like someone telling you, “walk fifty paces then turn right.”

And maybe the biggest miracle, is if I stay on my bearing, I don’t get lost.

Now back to why I took the course, to make that map for my big alternate on the CDT. It’s loosely called the Super Butte/Big Sky Cut Off – or the “Butte Scoot” – followed by Yellowstone and finally the Grand Teton Crest Trail. The good news is other people have walked it and have made their GPX data available online which I import directly onto my map. Still, I need to vary the route somewhat and create waypoints for water and possible camping. The greatest tool of all is a snap to OSM or open street map. No there aren’t streets in the wilderness, but there are trails and I can snap my route to them. It takes a bit of trying, but it saves so much time.

There are a couple of cross-country sections without trail, and here I can change the map layer from Map Builder to aerial or aerial topo hybrid, which allows me to see the terrain. I can see from the profile that there’s a 1,400 foot cliff over Lake Solitude, but there’s a section that looks doable and I know it’s doable because other people have done it. So I drop in waypoints to the easier part so I can navigate to when I get there.

I am no expert, but I am incredibly empowered. The ethic of self-reliance is founded on the principles of experience, preparation, skill and judgment. This is just one more arrow in my quiver that will help me when I move along the trail to make good decisions and be responsible for myself.

Listen to Blissful Hiker podcast, ep. 56 “CDT prep: maps ‘n food”

I plan to make “no cook” meals on the CDT.

You want to get overwhelmed fast? Try making food for a thru-hike.

To be honest, the only recipe that’s mine is for my magic vegetarian pemmican bars. That’s a calorie bomb of cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, wheat germ, flax flour, figs, dates and honey. Fortunately, I have about four pounds in the freezer ready to be packed.

For all the other recipes, I am using Backcountry Foodie. It’s a member-based backpacking meal planning site created by a dietician backpacker. Ultralight recipes packed with nutrition and high in calories and most importantly, gridded into meal plans, so you don’t have to think too much. You just have to prepare.

I watched friends on the PCT manage all 2600-plus miles without carrying a stove and I was jealous. I don’t like cooking on trail, and it’s not necessary. Backcountry set me up with a “No-cook 7-day meal plan” and I got to work.

The most fun to make was pasta. Sure you could live off of ramen for 7 days in a row on repeat, but I wanted to try others. You have to cook the pasta first, then dehydrate it. This enables it to rehydrate in about 30 minutes for a pasta salad. It does seem a bit ridiculous to pull out the water just to put it back in. And oddly, the pasta looks exactly the same. But it’s not. What works really well is penne and elbow macaroni. Not so crazy about orzo and definitely unwieldy is angel hair, which glued itself to the dehydrator. Still, for no cook meals, pasta works great because you make salads. Sun dried tomato pesto, spicy peanut, buffalo salad. And just how do you make these tasty? The trick is using mayonnaise and peanut butter packets and lots and lots of shelf stable parmesan cheese as well as olive oil

I was kinda tuned off to the mess of it, but oils pack a massive nutritional punch per ounce and I know my body is desperate for it on the trail. Does it go bad? I haven’t had any problems, but I’ll let my nose be the tester. You do have to pack it carefully in a leak-proof Nalgene bottle and its own baggie, but it’s worth it.

I made about ten or so of each main meal, packing the herbs and spices and pine nuts separately in their own tiny baggie. It’s just a glorified assembly line, but it still takes me the better part of two days.

Read “Backcountry Foodie review”

I’m less cooking show quality, and more “Swedish Chef.”

I have no idea why I was so opposed to cereal in the past on my thru-hikes. Maybe because it was always porridge over a stove, slowing down my morning. This time around, I make packages of granola and kashi with whole milk powder, berries dehydrated at home and nuts. I actually end up eating out the bag. I must look like a sorry little person, but wait until you hear about the dozens of shakes I created and also drink out of the bag – berry, chocolate, peanut butter – and a real cool trick of grinding up coconut and oats to a powder. I just might have the most flushed colon on trail!

For lunches, I have dips and spreads with chips and crackers. Have I gone completely off the deep end if I’m counting each cracker, measuring each pile of pita chips? Maybe the most complex of all my dips is a salsa. Lots of ingredients including a new discovery for me of True Lime powder, like one slice of squeezed lime juice and a miracle of flavor popping. In between meals are my magic bars, a truckload of Honey Stinger waffles sent to me by a follower, plantain chips, Pepperidge Farm goldfish and of course, gummy bears.

I am less a cooking show star and more a Swedish chef disaster of spoons, bowls, knives, cutting boards, food processor and baggie explosion – but I only had to go to the store twice for extra items.

Everything is assembled in quart-sized freezer bags and nestled into boxes ready to roll. Some I’ll send to my first resupply at mile 236 at Benchmark Wilderness Ranch. I need to send that this week so it gets there in time. Another box I’ll leave in east Glacier, and then there’s what I’ll pack in my new Ursack to take on day one.

And all the rest, my trail angel here in Saint Paul Richard will send as I move along, to Yellowstone, Atlantic City and Encampment, WY and Pie Town, NM – and maybe points in between. I’ve tried all the recipes and didn’t gag or die, but not cooking might pose its own issues. Let’s just hope Richard doesn’t have to send me an emergency resupply half way through Glacier with my stove.

Read “Behold the Bar”

All of this will be eaten by me
CDT

Backcountry Foodie review

People who love to eat are always the best people.

Julia Child
Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.
Backcountry Foodie's recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!
The Backcountry Foodie recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!

What do you eat when you thru-hike, Blissful?

The number one question I’m asked when making a presentation about my thru-hiking is, “What do you eat?” quickly followed by, “How do you get enough calories?

It’s no secret in my household that I am not much of a cook. When I hit my twenties, my mom gave me The Joy of Cooking for Christmas. Seemingly at the tail end of a vain attempt to convince me I’d come to like it too, she inscribed on the inside front cover, “It really is a joy!”

Is this a joke? I wondered.

Fast forward to today and the bible of cooking still sits on my kitchen counter but it’s more Richard’s than mine. Before we met, I subsisted on microwaveable dinners, ones I’d assumed were healthy since they came from the natural foods aisle.

Though I have improved and those of you who’ve followed my blogs from the Te Araroa or the Pacific Crest Trail, know my “balanced diet” includes a combination of healthy items I make myself including fabulous vegetarian pemmican bars, dried fruit and veggies and jerky as well as one-pot meals dehydrated and packed in vacuum seal bags.

What’s difficult for me, however, is that these items are hard to make in bulk and send forward as resupply. I’d come to rely on questionably nutritious packets of “food” picked up at random shops along the way.

What I ate left me constantly hungry and usually craving sugar. On the PCT in particular, I developed an addiction to gummy bears – well, to be perfectly frank, gummy anything. By the time I arrived in Southern California, I was consuming a full bag every single day!

My strategy to make up for the lost calories – and lost weight? Eat massive amounts in town. Surely there had to be a better way.

Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.
Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.

Introducing Backcountry Foodie

When Backcountry Foodie contacted me last year to see if I might want to trail test their company’s wares, I was under the impression the food was pre-made. Of course I said yes, send ’em on over! I’ll check them out on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic

Not so fast, Blissful.

Unlike any company I know of in the outdoor industry, Backcountry Foodie is less a provider than a partner in thru-hike meal planning.

Aaron Owens Mayhew is a registered dietician and ultralight long-distance backpacker. It would take more than fifteen years of carrying heavy military rations and unappetizing freeze-dried meals that left her feeling hungry before she thought to combine her passions.

She has created a spectacular collection of recipes in a kind of thru-hiker meal strategy, one that checks all the boxes – food that’s healthy and high in calories, ultralight and concentrated as well as cheap to create at home and easy to prepare on the trail.

One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.
One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.

How does Backcountry Foodie work?

Aaron must have been a straight-A student because she’s organized, passionate and thorough, covering information I hadn’t even known I needed, categorizing her meals by day part, calories-per-ounce, as well as cross referencing the use of ingredients for other meals.

I should point out here that it’s not necessary to own a dehydrator unless you want to dry your own ingredients.

The “pantry” is the extensive list of ingredients with a link to purchase each item. Many ingredients can be found at your local store, but some, like dehydrated refried beans or peanut butter flour, are harder to find and best bought online.

Every recipe is “freezer-bag” style, cooking fast (if at all) and using very little fuel and each one is designed like pages of a cookbook (The Joy of Cooking, anyone?) including home and field prep time, allergy and diet restriction information and if the meal works best cold soaked or cooked. Plus, there are individual labels to print and slap on your baggie with all pertinent information. This will definitely come in handy when you open a resupply box three months down the road.

As a member-based organization, Backcountry Foodie offers three tiers – the most basic – and independent – level providing access to 75 different recipes, with the more comprehensive levels including meal plans, webinars, group web calls as well as custom meal planning.

In case you thought maybe the meals could get a little boring, here’s a sampling to whet your appetite: Coconut Mango Porridge, Taco Scramble, Bivy Bran Flakes, Antioxidant Trail Mix, Spicy Hummus, Yosemite Yams, Chips & Salsa with Guacamole, Pasta Primavera, Reboot Espresso Trail Mix, Pina Colada…and on and on.

I should mention here that each recipe is vegetarian, still managing to provide the essential vitamins and minerals and calories needed from a hiker walking 10-12 hours per day.

Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also was not starved the entire time.
Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also wasn’t feeling starved the entire walk.

How did it go?

There are way more recipes than I could possibly have explored for my shortish hikes this fall. Working through the bounty one-by-one will take me most of the off-season. But from what I field-tested, I can say without reservation, Backcountry Foodie is a game changer.

I started this review mentioning that I’m not much of a cook, and that is made patently obvious on the trail where all I want to do is eat and get going. I want my meals to be simple.

And simple is the name of the game, one pot, just-add-water kinda meals, exactly the way I like it.

I made two items for breakfast – a Chocolate/Peanut Butter Shake and Banana Nut Crunch. These were beyond easy to put together even if I dried my own bananas. They tasted great in the field and I mixed and ate them directly from their baggie. They hit the two most important criteria – they tasted good (I wanted another serving the next day) and they filled me up.

I usually snack during the day on dried fruit and jerky, but I loved the Black Bean Dip made on my dehydrator and eaten with a bag of Fritos , a staple of every thru-hiker’s kitchen.

For dinner, I mostly stuck with the Ramen meals – yup, the same thing you had in college at 25¢ a pop. The secret is to remove the flavor packets, crunch up the noodles and add all sorts of tasty items like my new best friend, shelf-stable parmesan cheese, or freeze dried mushrooms, even cashews and red pepper flakes.

The only drawback for me is the recipes calling for the addition of oil. I just can’t make the leap to carry oil in my pack, no matter how carefully it’s wrapped. Maybe it’s because I’m generally a slob when backpacking and everything tends to get beaten up within an inch of its life.

I have no problem carrying nut butters, but I draw the line at things that might spill on my clothes and sleeping bag. Unfortunately without oil, the nutritional profile is not accurate. That being said, the meals I made tasted delicious and I found oil was not necessary.

Because everything was so delicious and I felt full and strong, I thought what the heck, why not give cold soaking a try on the Kekekabic. Cold soaking is exactly as it sounds – water is added to rehydrate the meal and it’s eaten cold. The advantage to the hiker is leaving the stove and fuel at home, thus saving weight and bulk. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at just how good everything tasted and I never felt the need for a warm meal even when the temperatures dipped at night.

I am now a convert to cold soaking and it wouldn’t have be able to accomplish this without the superb recipes from Backcountry Foodie.

Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • three-tiered ultralight recipe and meal planner with lifetime access
  • recipes sorted by meal type, cooking style, and dietary needs.
  • freezer-bag style meals that are easy to make, nutrition-packed and inexpensive.
  • “pantry” ingredient resource and where to purchase
  • monthly webinars, recipe subscription and meal plans available
  • custom meal planning available

Disclosure

alison young was given a demo account for testing by Backcountry Foodie.

Some of the links found on blissfulhiker.com are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to you; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, I promote only products and businesses that I consider helpful to you. Thanks!

CDT

thank you Summit Orthopedics!

Walking brings me back to myself.

Laurette Mortimer
Become a Patron!
The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone…

I am thrilled to announce that Summit Orthopedics is supporting my Continental Divide Hike. Thank you so much, Summit, for getting me back on my feet and on my way to #walkingtheworld!


Last October, I was told by lovely Doctor Stroemer at Summit Orthopedics in the Twin Cities that I had no cartilage left in my hip socket. It all came on fast starting with what I thought was a pulled muscle progressing quickly to barely being able to walk. They gave me a cortisone shot and I tested it by taking one last, limping thru-hike of the Kekekabic. The shot took away the pain, but it wasn’t going to grow back cartilage, so under the knife I went for two total hip athroplasty surgeries.

The surgeries were a success and I became very intentional about healing, walking the halls of local malls before progressing to snowy but flat trails using traction and finally a visit to Colorado and a snow shoe walk up 14,271 foot Quandary Peak (it the easiest 14er to climb in winter, but I was only five months out at that point!)

Summit Orthopedics is financially supporting my walk of the Continental Divide Trail.

Since March, I have been on a mission to regain my strength by doing planks and yoga, biking, and, of course loads of walking, like hours on end. You can listen to the Blissful Hiker podcast episode #53 that takes you through some of my getting-in-shape daily routine.

I’m by no means all there. Dr. Stroemer told me it could be a full year before the swelling goes down in my thighs which explains why absolutely nothing fits me right now! And I still have pins and needles plus numbness from neuropathy likely caused by a bruised nerve when they had to pull my thigh out of the socket. It seems to be going away, but it will take time and does get kind of tight.

All that being said, I am on my way to walking the CDT and things are getting real! I’ve taken over our guest room with gear laid out all over the place, I got my butt kicked in a class called GPS Navigation: Using CalTopo and Gaia GPS Workshop with The Mountaineers in Seattle, and I’m preparing meals, sorting out the ones to send ahead right now and making piles for Richard to send as I progress.

Dr. Stroemer at Summit Orthopedics gives me the thumbs up after two surgeries to replace my completely cartilage-free hips.
I was totally knocked out when they sawed off this part of my femur. Stroemer promised he’d snap a picture because we both think it’s pretty cool to see how our bodies are put together.
My “shakedown”hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to test gear and body parts.

There’s a lot to do, but I try and remember what Broken Toe said, advising to not plan too much and make the step I’m taking right now the priority. That’s not to say you don’t get organized, it’s more about adopting an attitude that not every bit of anything can be planned out. There’s always the possibility that I’m not quite as strong as I used to be and I’ll have to change plans or make adjustments – and then there’s the weather, wildfires…

The good news is the posse I’ll start the hike with are all in agreement that we take things slow to start – mainly because Glacier National Park is so astonishingly beautiful. So maybe, even I, the “Bionic” Blissful Hiker, can keep up with the kids on trail!

Thanks again Summit Orthopedics for your care and support!

Become a Patron!
CDT

support Blissful’s podcasting from the divide

Become a Patron!
The Continental Divide Trail stays above 12,000 feet for several days in Colorado’s San Juan mountains.

Hips are fixed, now what?

Today marks six months since my first surgery to replace my worn out hip joints. I would eventually have total hip athroplasty for both left and right, with about seven weeks in between. My surgeon was a bit skeptical pushing the recovery time, but since I’m a “full time pedestrian” with essentially no cartilage left at all on either side, he knew this was the only way to get me back on the trail for the 2021 season.

For those of you might be surmising that walking all those long distance trails was what wore out my hips, rest assured that is not the professionals’ opinion. Walking 20-30 miles a day has made me strong. My problem is that I am genetically predisposed to wear out my joints and there’s not much that can be done, but give me new ones.

The good news is I live in the year 2021 with modern medical miracles as far as joint replacement and I’m doing fabulously well. Running may not in my future, but I’ve been given the green light to walk as much as I want.

Another big trail…

Many of you have heard me speaking about the Continental Divide, one of America’s National Scenic Trails following the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. There is an “official” path, but most thru-hikers take numerous alternates and create their own route, which is precisely my plan.

I’ll begin with three women – “Girls v Grizzlies” – in mid-June at Glacier National Park, then take the Big Sky/Butte Super Cut Off and add the Teton Crest plus high routes in the Wind River Range. I might have time to add a 14er or two in Colorado, too.

The Continental Divide Trail of CDT spans five states for approximately 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico.

Audio narratives from the trail

For the past year, I have been producing a podcast blissful hiker ❤︎  walking the world that tells the story of my walks as a solo, middle-aged, female, long distance backpacker through personal essay and collected sound.

My artistic practice reflects an enduring curiosity in how we perceive this wondrous world around us, particularly through sound. On the CDT, I will continue sharing these audio essays while on trail. I’d love to invite you to follow and support my work.

…become a patron

As a subscriber, you will play a major role in helping me as I develop my story-telling skills and learn to produce exceptional work.In addition, you will have the opportunity to participate in exclusive Q&A checkins along the trail, reserved only for Patreon patrons. 

I am forever grateful to you for joining me on this unique, artistic adventure and on all of my walks in the world. 
Kia kaha and happy trails, Blissful 🐥🎒👣

Blissful collects the styrofoam-like sound of her footsteps on snow in -15 degrees.
hike blog

Superior Hiking Trail in spring

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood
The SHT crosses Beaver “Creek” thankfully on a bridge.

This past weekend, I packed up my new pack, slung it over my shoulder and headed out on the Superior Hiking Trail for a twenty-something mile section to test my new titanium hips doing the real thing. It was absolute bliss.

I started by visiting my friend Karen in Grand Marais, a follower who I had only met online. She’s the one to thank for helping me get to Isle Royale, The Kekekabic and up Quandary Peak since each time I used one of her homes as a base and her feisty spirit as motivation. We had a grand time talking, running the dogs and finally bounding up to the cliffs at Section 13 where she saw me off for my southern walk.

Weather moving in. The SHT is steep and rocky to one bald after another along the Sawtooth Mountains.
Beautiful planked walkways take the hiker over wetlands and through birch in early spring on the SHT.

I had forgotten how steep the trail is on the Superior Hiking Trail, taking the hiker from one ridge to the next with exposed cliffs and balds and giving the out-of-breath climber spectacular panoramic vistas. At the top of Sawmill Dome, my perfect, sunny and warm day with a gusty, cooling breeze disappeared into a threatening thunderstorm over the Boundary Waters Wilderness and appeared headed my way. Happily, I was well-supplied with rain gear and a tent, though a few drops pattered on my cap.

The trail wend its way from Canada to Jay Cooke State Park just south of Duluth mostly through the Superior National Forest and one state park after another. The geology boasts some of the oldest rock on the earth’s surface. Granites of the Laurentian shield, basalts and rhyolites laid down 1.1 billion years ago plus 2 billion year old iron ore, fossil mounds and breccias formed after a cataclysmic meteor strike. For the hiker – and rock climber – it’s heavenly out here to push yourself up steep sides or use technical gear to climb vertical slabs. From my perspective, it was a chance to see if I could pull together both muscle and pulmonary strength in the kind of symbiosis I was used to in my long distance hiking.

As glorious as the views were deep into Northern Minnesota and across the vast expanse of the “Big Lake,” Lake Superior, I was astonished by the quiet yet expectant woods. Just at the edge of the so-called “boreal forest” the flora is made up of balsam fir, white spruce, paper birch, and mountain ash, though entire pockets are home to mountain maple, which turn a brilliant red in the fall and can be viewed in a sea of color from the ridges. In early May, the forest floor is covered with their leaves, completely bleached to an almost iridescent egg-shell white, as if the forest glowed.

Peepers take over the tiny ponds, loud and insistent while black capped chickadees flute, and red bellied woodpeckers pounde into still standing dead logs, their tops and branches gone. Mostly the walk is quiet and totally alone, not a soul sharing this gorgeous section. Maybe it’s too long or too far from the closest town or state park. I love having it all to myself.

Massive shelf fungi amidst a bleached maple leaf carpet.
peepers peeping
Bloodwort about to unfurl. These were the only wild flowers I saw all weekend.

A seasonal spring crosses the trail, so I stop to filter water and have some food. My new pack is built with a sit pad, so it has to be removed from the back strapping to use. I don’t like faffing with gear, so I stand up to clean water and eat. I hope that won’t become a hassle on the CDT. Later, I come to Kennedy Creek with a bridge to cross, but I have plenty of water for the night and it’s time to look for a place to sleep. There is a campsite deep in the woods, but I’m alone and don’t plan to make a fire, so stealth camping is just fine.

High above again on the cliff, I see deep Wolf Lake below, steep sides of rock rising sharply above. I browse around here, but nothing is flat and there are too many branches and bushes. Sure, in a pinch I’d be fine, but I still have time until dark. The trail continues up, heading straight out towards the lake and suddenly I see a rainbow, bright and colorful. As if leading me on, I come out on the high ridge to get the best picture.

And that best picture spot is right at a flat area above the trail. I pop into a wee spot where I set up the new tent, needing to find a few stones to hold down the stakes on this rocky soil. Bed is set, gear is out and now food. I find a little log to sit on to begin dinner, a cold soak of marinated chickpeas which has become one of my favorites – savory, filling and easy to make. The sun goes down fast and with the evening comes a chill. I crawl in and open the entire front of the tent so I can look out.

All night the wind howls, shaking the tent but never knocking it down. OK, gold star right there. I snuggle deeper into the bag as a magenta moon emerges over the horizon, producing a pathway of light all the way to my shore. I leave the bug next off to see it better and one mosquito finds me. Where did you come from?!?

Rainbow over Gitchee Gumee.
“The One” tent and the “Gorilla” pack given to me by Gossamer Gear. Both worked splendidly and the tent withstood some fierce gusts on the ridge.

I’m up just as the sun rises and a man walks by. Later, he walks back and apologizes if he woke me, telling me he was just out for the sunrise. I am not too far from the highway to Ely, though I never hear it and as I pass a side trail to an overlook, I wonder why this man passed the overlook and instead opted for my spot. The day warms up and I look around for a suitable place to dig a cat hole. Up and down and steep and bushy, nothing appears for some time.

By the time I really need to answer nature’s call, I scramble to pull my pants down – a cute pair of zip-offs made by PrAna that I found for five bucks at Goodwill. And right there at my waist is an itsy bitsy tick. He’s crawling and hasn’t latched on, but where the heck did he come from?!? I pick him off and proceed to check the rest of my mostly naked flesh pretty sure he’s a harmless wood tick, then head on down – and up – and down again, a roller coaster to Tettegouche State Park and its massive waterfalls.

It’s a long day of walking, more up to spectacular balds like Mount Trudy the very first place I hiked to on the SHT when I first relocated here 13 years ago. That day I forgot my tent poles and ended up swaddled in my tent to stay dry. When a group of deer browsed too close, I heard them sneezing wildly unable to figure out who or what was in front of them on the cliff’s edge.

Wetlands, beaver houses and lakes appear below before I cut out onto a slab of granite above Bear and Bean Lakes. I see the first person of my trip here seemingly waiting to take my picture,. I tell her about camping below, once in deep snow where I had the place to myself except for a lone wolf, who’s tracks I see inside my snow shoe tracks; the other, after I buried Sasha, my beloved cat, when the sky lit up with wild lightning as I said goodbye to my furry friend.

Beyond I cross swollen and rushing Beaver Creek, one of thousands of waterfalls and rapids that empty the 10,000 lakes of the glacially formed Boundary Waters above. I see way more people now with massive backpacks all hoping to get the perfect site at the lakes or near the rapids. But I head on, more up and down, more spectacular views, and more deep forest along beautifully built boardwalks over wetlands until I meet another friend, Courtney, at Split Rock State Park. She immediately hands me a beer.

I’m tired but my body didn’t betray me, carrying me up and down on this perfect spring weekend. Am I ready for a long distance thru-hike? I think so. After all, thru-hiking is really just a whole lot of section hiking strung together. I learn that I need to go slow – at least for starters – and make sure I get plenty to drink, which became obvious after I slammed down two beers all at once. My pack is pretty small and most backpackers I met had no idea I slept out at all, but keeping it small helps me. Massage and stretching also help, loosening the muscles, though that tingly neuropathy in my left left still nags. Maybe it’ll be gone by the end of the CDT.

Maybe there will be me at the end of the CDT, having walked from Canada to Mexico.

Let’s hope!

Bean and Bear Lakes, inland from Lake Superior and hugely popular. I camped below one year in deep snow and shared the place with a lone wolf.
CDT

Kula Cloth review

Big dreams happen in small spaces.

unknown
Blissful gives Kula Cloth the highest rating, five Anitas.
Intentionally designed for all the places you ‘go,’ the Kula Cloth is one of the most important pieces of gear a women should have attached to her pack.

Can we talk peeing in the woods?

I know, I know, choosing the name The Pee Rag for my podcast got a few of you in a twist, but it was never intended to be vulgar, rather a play on words – “rag” being another name for a news source.

I also meant the choice to equate the unglamorous bits of thru-hiking with the grit and bad-assery required – especially from of a middle aged solo female backpacker carrying all she needs on her back to so many stunningly beautiful and transformative places.

To tell the truth, I had never even heard of a “pee rag” until a few days before my departure for New Zealand with an objective of walking the length of both islands on the Te Araroa. It was actually a Facebook post devoted to women hikers of the TA that piqued my curiosity, one where a fellow hiker queried, are you taking a pee rag?

Not to look uninformed, I researched this mystery and came upon Stacia Bennett’s informative and matter-of-fact article all about the subject. Like me, after reading you too will come to realize you just can’t leave home without a pee rag. Let’s face it gals, “drip drying” is no way to manage on a multi-day hike – or ever for that matter, and using wads of toilet paper does not align with Leave No Trace principles in any form or fashion.

So both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail saw me sporting bandanas on the side of Olive Oyl, one for the pot and one for me. But this presented a few issues – namely mixing them up, but also uric acid causing the bandanas to wear out fast, and I could never really find a way to keep them clean or dry. I also feared contracting an infection.

Kula Cloth is intentionally designed for all the places you 'go.'
Part of the Kula Cloth artist series, the “adventure sloth” Kula captures Blissful’s naturally sauntering and “andante” hiking speed.

What is a Kula Cloth?

And that’s where our story brings us to the remarkable Kula Cloth! Anastasia Allison is a former park ranger, blissful hiker, violinist, and entrepreneur based in the Pacific Northwest.

Like me, she toed a pee rag on her pack in the mountains, one made of microfiber. It became a kind of joke when rather than snap selfies, she would pose her pee rag in astoundingly beautiful locations. It wasn’t long before the thought occurred to her that maybe she was onto something.

Taking its name from Kula Khangri, the tallest mountain in Bhutan, the word Kula also translates as community, one she considers “a radically inclusive community that happens to sell a pee cloth for anybody that squats when they pee.”

What surprised me at first was how small the cloth is – just about a hand’s width in size, kind of like a potholder. My Kula is part of the artist series designed by Lyn Sweet and features an orange sloth backpacking with walking stick into the sunset. You could say, I’m carrying my Kula spirit of the “saunterer.

The pictured side is the “clean side” and waterproof, preventing moisture from reaching my hands. The working side is made of antimicrobial silver-infused absorbent material, which quickly and efficiently did its job on the many stops during my latest hikes on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic.

Other features include a cloth loop with a tough little hypoallergenic plastic snap that locks the cloth in place, as well as an extra privacy snap to fold the cloth over on itself into a triangle. Reflective thread is woven into each side so the cloth can be found when a night urge hits and a headlamp guides the way.

Read more gear reviews including La Sportiva and LEKI.

Leave no Trace Principles

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What you Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Others

Just to be clear, Kula Cloth and all pee rags are meant for use only when going Number 1!

So, how did it go?

Kula Cloth did its job perfectly – it fit beautifully in my hands, absorbed the urine and kept me dry and clean. The conditions on Isle Royale were very wet this season – rain, sea-fog and general humidity – so my Kula only dried out thoroughly when the sun was shining. When wet, it acted more like a “wet wipe” but remained surprisingly absorbent and kept my hands clean.

I don’t ever take soap with me on hikes and I simply rinsed my Kula in water. I should point out that it was only when it dried out that it became completely odor-free, but no soap was ever necessary to clean it on my nine-day hike.

The Kula feels weightier than a simple piece of cloth or bandana and the only wear and tear I noticed was some of the side threads shredding ever so slightly. Since I’m a pretty rough on my gear, this might become more of a problem when having to crawl under fallen trees and potentially snagging my Kula.

Are either of those issues a deal breaker? No! A pee rag is an absolute necessity and Kula Cloth is made with materials specifically designed to be absorbent as well as non-toxic, non-sensitizing, and non-irritating when in contact with the body. Although I have not yet suffered a urinary tract infection on a thru-hike, that is not something to fool with and I put my full trust in the superb bit of gear to keep me healthy.

With the pandemic still raging and a run on toilet paper reminiscent of Black Friday on repeat, many people have been considering pee rags a possible permanent solution. Why cut down trees when using a renewable resource is far more ecologically sound? Perhaps Kula and pee rags in general will become far more normalized as part of everyone’s good habits.

And besides, how cool is to have a work of art on the back of “Blueberry” (my new Granite Gear pack) something that gives a little character to my walking – as if I need any more!

Kula Cloth is coming with me on every hike and I give her my highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: .53 oz
  • Length: 6.25″ x 6.25″
  • Antimicrobial, silver infused materials
  • Hypo-allergenic snaps
  • Reflective thread

Disclosure

alison young was given this pee rag for testing by Kula Cloth.

affiliate links

Some of the links found on blissfulhiker.com are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to the consumer; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, we promote only products and businesses that we consider helpful to our readers.

CDT

a new trail, a new name!

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.

Gail Sheehy
Become a Patron!
Blissful Hiker podcast is a series of personal essays, found sound and flute playing.

This week I’ll produce the fifty-second episode of my podcast. She’s one year old! and what a great years it’s been, sharing stories of my hikes primarily on the Te Araroa in New Zealand, but also some shorter thru-hikes of Isle Royale in Lake Superior and the Kekekabic in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. 

I am so pleased you’ve come along for the ride – because going back and reconstructing the story of those hikes and all the feelings, the encounters and the sounds I heard was deeply satisfying for me. It quite literally changed how I remember my first thru-hike – and, I think, how I’ll experience thru-hikes going forward. For that alone, I’m so glad I jumped in and created a podcast. 

So here’s what I want to do going forward. In a little over three weeks, I will be starting the Continental Divide Trail. It’s one of the crown jewels of trails in the United States – a National Scenic Trail – and follows as closely as possible the highest parts of the Rocky Mountains through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. You’ve heard me talk about it and now it’s, at least becoming, more of a reality.

I am taking my microphone with me and plan to podcast on trail! I hope I can stay on schedule and drop new episodes each Thursday morning, but that of course depends on where I am and if I have decent wifi access. I also can’t burn up all my battery in my tent and not have enough to collect sound, take pictures and video as well as charge my Garmin Inreach mini – the 3 oz satellite communication system that keeps me in touch with Richard and has an SOS if things go sideways out there – so there are a lot of things to consider. 

That being said, this next phase of the podcast will be on trail and as it happens – with a few shows here from my studio as I prepare. I know mentioned that you can support me as a hiker/artist at Patreon – it’s a membership platform where you can give as little as $5 per month and get a bit more access to me – I’ll plan several Q&A cocktail hours along the CDT via Zoom and we can check in – that’s only available to patrons. So if you can support my work, I’d be incredibly grateful.

from “Isle Royale, Part 1”

Now the other big change is the name of the podcast. 

I had a lot of fun with the play on words that is The Pee Rag – the unglamorous bit of kit every bad ass woman needs on trail as metaphor for empowerment and not needing permission to get out there – also the play on Rag – being like a broadside. 

But, the name doesn’t exactly capture what I do – which is to hike. And any name you have to explain maybe isn’t quite working out. What I want is to clarify who I am and what I’m doing. Also, there’s this whole idea of “brand consistency.” I’m not a brand – I’m a middle aged solo female thru-hike. But I do want the name of my podcast to match my trail name and make it patently obvious what the show if about. 

So, the new name of my thru-hiking, personal essay, found-sound creation is – blissful hiker – walking the world! OK, I know it seems really obvious, but after some thought, a few conversations with some of you ardent listeners and a feeling of wanting to drill down and focus, this very simple descriptive name of my website and blog, my Facebook and Instagram profile, as well as the name gear manufacturers put on the packages when they send me stuff – makes sense to keep using. 

Moving on, I’ll have new sounds to collect and more stories to tell and this time with the CDT – all while I’m on trail – though next week, you’ll hear me preparing food, gear, getting permits and trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing on a long trail. 

Thanks for listening and reading and being a part of each step forward! Kia kaha, friends, and happy trails!

from episode 12, “the trail will provide”

guest post

GUEST POST: Five Beautiful Treks in Ladakh by Ondrej Svestka

The disputed northern reaches of the Indian sub-continent called Ladakh afford some of the most stunning trekking in the world.

Although I deeply love oceans, deserts and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty. They keep me continuously wanting to know more, feel more, see more.

Victoria Erickson

Ondrej Svestka Ondrej is an outdoor enthusiast and web developer from Ostrava, Czech Republic. His favorite multiday hikes are Alta Via 2 in Italy, Zentral Alpine Weg 2 in Austria, or basically any trek in Nepal. He reminded me of the stunning and wild beauty of the Himalayas. I trekked to K2 basecamp in Northern Pakistan in the mid ’90s, but have yet to visit India, Nepal or Ladakh. I hope Ondrej’s suggestions whet your appetite to plan a walking trip yourself!

Ladakh is a haven for adventurers, from casual hikers to expert mountaineers. Its vast mountains, valleys, and peaks are worth the challenges of its trails. The diverse types of circuits make the area popular among all types of adventurers. 

Families, first-timers, and solo travelers can take on the easy trails where they can explore the beauty and culture of Ladakh. Moderate to difficult treks are also available to those who are testing their skills and limits. 

The best season to visit Ladakh is around May to October. However, some circuits are only available beginning early June due to heavy snowfalls. So get your trekking poles ready; check out one of these beautiful treks in Ladakh.

Markha Valley Trek

Max Elevation5260 meters
DifficultyModerate
Duration6 to 8 days

Located within the Hemis National Park, the Markha Valley Trek is one of the most popular trails in Ladakh. The Markha Valley is wedged between Stok Kangri massif in the northern area and the Zanskar range in the southern part. The entire trek provides a spectacular view of snow-capped peaks, mountain scenery, and ranges. 

You will explore multiple high passes, isolated villages, and barley fields. Along the trip, you get to stay at homestays, where you will experience the hospitality of the locals. Participate in their way of life and try delicious dishes. The valley is also home to wolves, foxes, and Himalayan bears. You may spot the elusive snow leopards that call this protected area their home if you are lucky. 

Lamayuru to Alchi Trek

The Alchi Monastery in Ladakh has some of the oldest and most elaborate wall paintings in the region as well as massive Buddhas.
Max Elevation5,153 meters
DifficultyFairly Difficult
Duration5 to 6 days

The Lamayuru to Alchi Circuit connects two of the most significant religious sites in western Ladakh. Explore these breathtaking monasteries along with shrines, Tantric relics made of human bones, and observe the religious practices of the monks before and after your trek. 

The hike is quite challenging as you take on Stakspi La, the highest elevation in the trek, and Kongskil La, around 4,900 meters maximum elevation. These passes require trekking skills and experience. But, the reward throughout and at the end of the trip is worth it. 

You will pass through the Ripchar River and spend a few nights in your tent along the rocks, under clear skies. At the end is Alchi, a peaceful village with a monastery along a tall canyon. The village is home to popular wood carvings and stunning frescoes.

Sham Valley Trek

Max Elevation3,874 meters
DifficultyEasy
Duration3 to 5 days

If you want an introduction to Ladakh Treks or a beginner who wants to enjoy the beauty of the area, the Sham Valley Trek is a great trail. Aptly named “baby trek,” the circuit will take you through the picturesque lower Ladakh region starting in Likir. Start your journey with a view of the 11th-century Buddhist monastery, where you can see a golden statue of Lord Buddha. 

Throughout the three-day adventure, you will pass through homestays, where you get to enjoy local cuisine and know more about the people. While there are some steep slopes, the trek is even suitable for kids. You will pass through poplar-lined roads and a few other monasteries in Basgo, Lemisgam, and Alchi.

Stok Kangri trek

The mountain scenery is unparalleled for walkers in Ladakh.
Max Elevation6,153 meters
DifficultyDifficult
Duration4 to 6 days

For mountaineers who are ready to take on challenging trips, the Stok Kangri Trek is a great sampler for what a Himalayas climb will look like. The trail is not exactly technical, but you will have the chance to use mountaineering equipment such as axes, ropes, crampons, and more. You will spend about a day in the base camp to acclimatize to the altitude and gather supplies

The trek will be challenging physically and mentally, but the iconic view of the razor-edged summit of Stok Kangri is worth it. Along the way, you will face lashing winds as well as perilous slopes. The circuit starts at Spituk or Stok. You can also combine it with the Marka Trek. 

Nubra Valley Trek

Max Elevation5,438 meters
DifficultyModerate
Duration6 to 10 days

The Nubra Valley is known to be one of the most beautiful regions of Ladakh. The ancient gateway to Silk Road provides scenic views of purple mountains and white sand dunes. Besides following the age-old trade route, you will go through the Lasermo La pass, the trek’s highest point. This snow-covered peak offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Karakoram range. 

Once you are done with the core trail, you can explore the rest of the Nubra Valley. Ride on a double-humped Bactrian camel and explore the Hunder sand dunes. Then, visit the Diskit monastery, where you will see the 32-meter statue of the Maitreya Buddha. 

Conclusion

Ladak offers more than the scenic view of its peaks. The isolated villages with their friendly locals provide memorable experiences to any hikers. Its legendary monasteries are home to the most intriguing spots and artworks in the world. You can visit Ladakh over and over, each time taking home unique memories. 

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live presentation!

If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.

Erica Jong

Te Araroa, New Zealand’s Long Pathway

Friday, April 23 4:00 CST


“virtual” presentation by Midwest Mountaineering

What motivates a middle-aged woman to brave extreme weather, precarious river crossings, swarms of sandflies and epic mud?  Breathtaking scenery and a renewed sense of wonder!

Join me online for stories and images of this spectacular solo tramp of New Zealand’s 3,000 kilometer “Long Pathway,” Te Araroa.

*Also available on YouTube after the live presentation.