guest post

There are eleven National Scenic Trails in the US, and this gal walked ALL of the them…

The Eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin marks the end of a 19-year odyssey.

Arlette “Apple Pie” Laan is the first woman to hike all eleven of the National Scenic Trails in the United States, with mileage totaling close to 18,000 miles. Born in the Netherlands, she began her quest with the Pacific Crest Trail in 2003 and just this month, completed the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin at its eastern terminus. I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with her and share laughs about some of the challenges of hiking and of the trails themselves, but also marvel at the sheer beauty of these wild places and the promise of adventure that keeps calling us back.

Blissful Hiker: Congratulations! How do you feel?

Apple Pie: It’s sinking in a little bit, but it’s still weird because I’m now just sitting here at my desk making dolls again which is a totally different thing, and then I’m reading about this thing I just finished, and thinking that just happened? Wow. The trail somehow feels far removed and I’m switching back on this different life right now and it’s all so weird. But then, when I’m on the trail, I forget about my other life. Is so surreal.  

BH: Do you come back from a hike and almost immediately have to plan for your next hike so you don’t go through withdrawal?

AP: Yes, logistically I’ve had to do that and I’ve learned that it’s good to have plans swirling around so that we don’t drop into that after-trail depression. It’s good to have something that you can look forward to.

BH: And it’s weird to stop walking after you’ve been walking for 20-25 miles a day.

AP: Yes, your body is like, what’s going on, why are you just sitting here?

BH: Why are you sleeping in a bed?

AP: Yes! I heard from people on the AT (Appalachian Trail) as their first thru-hike and weren’t able to sleep in their bed for the longest time so just set their tent downstairs. I haven’t had it that bad, but I have heard people have the hardest time.

BH: You’re the first woman to hike all eleven National Scenic Trails. Why did you make this a goal and what made you set out to do all of them?

AP: I started with the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2003. I just randomly found a brochure at the visitor’s center when I was hiking in the Sierra. And then I heard about all these people that hiked the Appalachian Trail and I thought hmmm, sounds mostly like trees, I don’t know about that one. (laugh)

And then I heard about the Continental Divide Trail and that one sounded really cool but I was like, I don’t know, that feels as little too far out of my comfort zone. But I ended up hiking the CDT the next year with people I actually hadn’t hiked with before, but it worked out really well. Then I took a little break but just randomly kept hiking, doing more of the National Scenic Trails before I even knew about that designation – the Arizona Trail, the Florida Trail just because it fit with our season when we had time off in the wintertime.

Then in 2018, I met Nimblewill Nomad when we were on the Pinhoti Trail and he’s done them all and he was like, Wow, you’ve done so many already, you only have a few left! Yes, but one of those was the North Country Trail which is extremely long and I wasn’t particularly excited about that trail.

I thought it would be cool to be the first woman to do them all and I thought thst if I did the North Country Trail, then the ones I have left aren’t that long. So from then on, I started making that my goal.

I was also following my buddy Buck-30 and he was kind of doing the same thing, also randomly finishing the list, so that’s how I made it a focus. But when I got started, I didn’t even know there were other long distance trails out there.

BH: I love how you say the trails that were left were not really that long, even though the Ice Age Trail is over 1,000 miles long. I mean we have to get some perspective here!

AP: Right! That’s true, but after doing the North Country Trail, which ended up for me being 4,800 miles, everything else is short. (laugh)

BH: How did you get into hiking? Is it part of your culture, something you family did or are you the first?

AP: No! I was born in Holland and we’d go camping, maybe in France with the giant canvas tent, set it up at the lake or the ocean. We might do a little day hike, but really just a walk. At home, we’d go biking because there are such great bike paths, why would you walk?!

When I was 18, my boyfriend at the time always went to Switzerland and I went with him. That’s when I started to get into hiking. We’d go out and back and I thought that maybe it would be cool to go over the pass and into the next town. But we were greenhorns, we didn’t know anything, so we went to an outdoor store and got backpacks and leather, ankle-high, heavy-duty mountain boots and I think I still wore cotton.

Then when I moved to California, I ramped it up because I went to the Sierra and thought, oh my goodness, this is so beautiful. You see more people backpacking and you think I can go for several days. I was 31 when I did the Pacific Crest Trail.

BH: In some ways older than a lot of hiker, I would imagine.

AP: Yes. Most were retired in their 60’s or right out of college in early 20’s.

BH: How did you have the time for this much hiking? Do you have a job?

AP: It’s the worst and the best when you have your own business or part time seasonal jobs! I make dolls when I’m home and sell online and the last couple of years I’ve been guiding in the White Mountains (New Hampshire)

There have been a few years where I was doing craft fairs every weekend in the summertime and then I would give myself one month off. So I tried to finish the Pacific Northwest Trail during that time in sections.

My husband has a seasonal business and doesn’t work in the wintertime, so that’s when we did the Florida Trail because we didn’t have work anyway. That’s also how we were able to do the Arizona Trail in early spring.

And some of the trails are short like the New England Trail at 215 miles or the Potomac Heritage (710) I was able to do that in a month in late November, so there are some trails you can fit it when you don’t have your 9-5.

BH: Did you hike some of these trails people normally hike in the summer, in the winter?

AP: We ended up doing the North Country Trail in winter because I ran out of time – the Upper Peninsula in December and the Lower in January. That was interesting…I wasn’t going fast enough to do it all in one season.

And sometimes it’s just for fun. We thought it would be interesting to do the Appalachian Trail in winter and start on Katahdin. We did allow ourselves some freedom and weren’t always on trail. We didn’t want to do the Mahoosuc Notch in snow and ice because we figured that just wasn’t safe. We initially had planned to but then got dumped with snow and thought no.

BH: It must be really special in winter – not as many people, it requires more skills, your days are shorter.

AP: Yes, the days are shorter and you have to carry a lot more gear, a lot heavier gear. But if you have a gorgeous day, it is absolutely amazing.

Up in Maine, we were on the Bigelow’s and we had this amazing undercast because you get a lot more of that in winter, which is like an inversion and you’re above the clouds. It feels like you’re in the Himalayas. We’re just poking out and you look over this sea of clouds and you see another couple of peaks in the distance. It’s a really cool experience but it’s also really, really hard.

BH: You mention “we” are you generally hiking with your husband, with friends, alone?

AP: I like all of it. In wintertime, I partner up with my husband because that’s just safer for me. He’s got better circulation. My fingers and toes get cold so I have to be really careful. And for him it’s better because when you get tired, sometimes you’re not as careful and you might not have your buff covering your nose, so even for him it’s better to have a partner even though he’s super strong and skilled in winter.

In summertime, I like to do sections by myself, I like to have company, it’s just a different experience. I did most of the North Country Trail by myself and I got really lonely because there’s not the thru-hiker culture like to AT or the PCT, so when you’re out there by yourself, you’re by yourself.

BH: Do you prefer thru-hiking or hiking in sections?

AP: I prefer thru-hiking, because that’s the challenge if I can do the whole thing at once. I also like the idea that you start at point A and finish at point B. I think if you section hike, you can pick better seasons! (laugh) You might not end up in the UP in snow!

But for me there’s something magical about doing it all in one swoop. I would really like to do the Pacific Northwest Trail again since I did it in three sections. Also, I did it in 2007 when there was hardly any information out there and there are new maps and I’d like to see what it would be like to do that again.

BH: For most people, the PNT is a bit terrifying because it’s more of a route than a trail. What was your most daunting moment and how did you overcome maybe thinking you were out of your depth on a particular trail?

AP: That would really be on the Hayduke Trail, which is not a National Scenic Trail. That’s a desert one where there is minor canyoneering and I have no experience and I ended up in this canyon where I thought I really don’t think I know how to do this bouldering thing.

That one had a lot of tears and tension, but I did eventually make it. The Pacific Northwest Trail I was completely by myself and there was no satellite phone, no inReach, I didn’t even have a smartphone because this was 2007. I would look at my map and up ahead at this mountain ridge and think I have to climb up over there? That does not look safe!

But, you know how things from afar can look way steeper? So I had to do it and I did, but yeah, that was intimidating especially because the margin of error was so small because I wouldn’t be able to reach anybody if anything happened. That was probably when I was most aware that if something happened, I’d be screwed.

BH: So you have this motto to not let life or the dessert tray pass you by. I love it! How did you get your trail name and what does that motto mean to you?

AP: I coined my own trail name. Love Apple Pie, I love Dutch Apple Pie. My mom makes it and it reminds me of my mom. I love my sweets and my deserts and it’s kind of like don’t let life pass you by. Enjoy the juicy moments of life. Live life to the fullest and don’t restrict yourself too much.

BH: I was thinking about your winter hiking, but in the pictures of finishing the Ice Age Trail, you’re in an orange polka-dotted dress. Do you always wear dresses when you hike?

AP: Yes, dresses fit my body type best. I always wore dresses, even growing up and I wear dresses and leggings at home, so for hiking, it just makes sense to me. I do wear shorts underneath to avoid chafing. That orange dress made sense because it’s a hiking dress by Lightheart Gear with wider straps. And orange was so I would be visible during hunting season and visible on road walks.

Even in winter, I wear a skirt because it has pockets and a little extra coverage. They don’t all have to see my bum!

BH: Ha! I was actually surprised that on the IAT you had your arms and legs exposed because at the same time, I was hiking the Superior Hiking Trail and had so many bugs. Did you have problems with bugs?

AP: Yes! I did try to wear a sun-shirt when I could, but I just get too hot. Then something I wore on the PCT early on is this cotton, sort of sarong-shawl kind of thing. I just drape that over my head and my arms and I look like a total idiot, but it works great because it flops in the wind and keeps the bugs away.

I tried to put pants on for two days for the ticks, and then I got paranoid that they would creep up my pants and I wouldn’t see them and I thought this isn’t any better than just having bare legs so I ditched them.

BH: And what about your shoes, because I see you’re hiking in sandals?

AP: I like to wear sandals for road walks. For the Ice Age Trail, I had two pairs of sandals because I wanted something with arch support because I did get Plantar fasciitis last year and I wasn’t sure if I could go back to my old shoes yet.

My Teva sandals have open toes, and I wanted something with closed toes for the woods. So I bought these heavy-duty Keen sandals that have great arch support, but they were super heavy. I preferred not to wear them, but then I was carrying them in my backpack. Ultralight? Not so much.

BH: Did you get Plantar fasciitis from road walking?

AP: Yes, I was pushing too hard on the road walk in Minnesota. I’ve only been injured twice – in Florida on a road walk and in Minnesota on a road walk. It’s just hard on the body.

BH: It is a completely different way of walking and I think we think that here is a chance that I can take large strides and go fast.

AP: Right, it’s better for me to go short stride because it’s not as much heavy impact and it doesn’t hurt as much, but I have to be very aware of it, like OK, I can do my long stride in the woods, I can do my power walk in the woods and let my trekking poles and my arms help me but on the roads I have to take short strides. I really have to pay attention to that.

BH: What is a typical day like for you? Are you an early riser, do you cook, are you ultralight?

AP: Lately I’ve been an early riser. I wasn’t always. I do cook in wintertime for sure, If it’s a little colder, I’ll cook too. If it’s summertime, I’m just too lazy. I might still carry my little stove and mug so I can have some coffee in the morning or tea in the evening. But you might as well just get some crackers or tortillas and be able to much right away when I get to camp. I don’t want to have to wait, it’s just too time consuming. I want it right there, right now. It’s a laziness kind of thing and not a weight conscious thing. I think I carry heavier food.

I’m not ultra-lightweight. I go through my periods where I think I should pare down and I purge and fit everything into my 36-liter backpack. I did that last summer and it was great until the temperatures dropped into the 40s and I was like, now I’m cold! I think if I was warmer sleeper, I could get away with it.

BH: Do you have a luxury item you take?

AP: I have my sock dolly, but she doesn’t weigh anything. I did adopt a pillow. I was making fun of everyone like, you can just use your sweater! And then I found a pillow in a hiker box at some point and I thought I could try this because I don’t have to pay money for it and it’s awesome!

I was such a snob. I was the same with the pStyle. I was like, why would need such a thing when you can just squat? And then I bought one for winter camping and this thing is awesome.

BH: I am also a long distance backpacker and so many people ask me, how do you shower? When do you take breaks? Where do you get food? How would you answer those questions if you were speaking to people who don’t normally backpack?

AP: I try not carry more than 4-5 days worth of food because it gets heavy and is hard to fit into your backpack. So I try to do research on towns and make a mail drop.

I carry wet wipes, if you can find them in a small package because I don’t want to carry 40 wet wipes! When it’s summer, you can just rinse out in a stream.

BH: Do you try to hike a certain number of miles before a break or do you just go with how the day unfolds?

AP: It’s nice when you’ve done half of your day by lunch. That doesn’t always work so I figure if I get up earlier, then I’ll feel better at lunch because I’ll have less to walk after lunch. I usually let dictate how I feel. If I get tired, I take a break. If I get overheated, I definitely take a break.

BH: How many miles a day to you hike on average?

AP: My body likes 17 and my ego likes 20. Somewhere between 15 and 20.

BH: And you get the job done.

AP: Yeah! It depends on the tread. On the PCT, on the northern end, I was doing 25’s and it was easy. On the Appalachian Trail, I don’t think I ever reached 25. It was just harder and slower and steeper and rockier. I’m really a pretty average hiker for thru-hiker mileage-wise.

BH: I sometimes found the “crushing miles” attitude and constant talk about how fast someone was going actually crushing of my spirit on long hikes. Does that talk affect you at all?

AP: Oh, I hated it when people would pass me. When I was starting, 30 was the big day. Now I hear that 40 is the big day and there’s no way in hell I’m going to do a 40! (laugh)

But you get caught up in it sometimes. I remember on the PCT I was doing high 20’s because it was easy and then someone asked me if I’d done a 30 yet and I thought, ok, I’ll do a 30. And then I never did one again!

My body doesn’t like it, but I see what you’re getting at, it’s that competitive thing like, oh, but they’re doing this, maybe I should be doing this too. You feel down on yourself for not doing it. But the older I get and the more I hike, the less I care about it. They’re doing that but I don’t have to unless I’m racing a season.

Last year I was trying to get 25’s so I would finish before winter, but then I get tired and grumpy, and I don’t have a good time. It doesn’t help my enjoyment so I have really learned to not care about what miles other people do.

BH: Gives a whole new meaning to “hike your own hike.”  Earlier, you told us about lots of tears and tension and I wonder how you keep going when things get tough. Do you talk to yourself, have a mantra?

AP: I guess it’s just to know there are going to be good time and there are going to be bad times and you just have to be goal oriented thinking I want to keep going, this will get better. Or, take a day off; take two days off! You’ll feel better and think it really wasn’t so bad.

But then you’re back on and realize it really was that bad, the mosquitos still suck! But most trails, it’s worth it like the Sierra. The mosquitos were terrible but the views were amazing. It’s something inside that keeps you going; a stubbornness! (laugh)

BH: I want to talk a bit about fitness level. A lot of aspiring backpackers say I could never do that, I’m too out of shape, I’m too old, I’m scared. What would you tell someone starting out to alleviate those concerns?

AP: Don’t get scared! Start with something that looks feasible. Don’t make it intimidating, like I want to do the Pacific Crest Trail and I have to hike 20 miles per day to make it to Canada before winter comes! But you don’t have to do that right now. You can make that as a dream and as a goal, but go back to where your fitness level is at this point and build on top of that.

You don’t have to be in top shape. Listen to your body, do what you can and build from there. Obviously I am not in top fitness shape, athlete, whatever. Someone just commented on Facebook this morning that I was sponsored by Little Debbie because I don’t look fit. I thought it was hilarious because I don’t care! Yes, I have some extra weight on me, but you know what? I got it done!

So don’t get intimidated. In the media, it’s still people that look fit and athletic and young. Don’t let it get to you. If you can only do a mile-and-a-half, get your gear, go out there and build from there to bigger goals, if that’s what you want.

BH: How old are you?

AP: I’m 50 and did my first hike, the John Muir Trail when I was 30. I was much heavier than I am now and I was able to do that, so there you go!

BH: Are there any mistakes along these two decades that you learned from that you might want to share?

AP: Listen to your body and don’t overdo it in the first two weeks of a hike. Make sure your body is used to hiking and the backpacking weight and start out with slower days so your body can get used to it.

I tend to get blisters in the desert, so I learned I needed a size bigger shoe or to do the sandal thing because my feet swell up and I hadn’t anticipated that.

BH: Do you take anything with you like entertainment?

AP: I have an mp3 player. I have music on my phone. I finally started listening to podcasts. I find it enriches my experience. People say you should just listen to the birds. And I’m like, well, you can listen to birds for five months and that’s a lot of birds.

Sometimes you want to listen to artistry someone has created that’s really gorgeous to listen to. Sometimes I listen to a song I listened to on trail and it puts me back in that moment.

Last summer, there was so much road walking in Ohio and it was so hot and miserable. I needed something to get my mind off this misery, so I listened to podcasts. I get to listen to other people’s adventures. One time, we were in a tent in a snowstorm. We took the day off because it was miserable and we weren’t feeling very good. We watched little videos of people in the Antarctic freezing their asses off and we thought we’re pretty cozy, life is good!

BH: So, if you were the marketing director for each of the hikes, could you give me one sentence to describe each one?

AP: I actually wrote them down because I am starting to forget each one! So here goes –

Pacific Crest Trail: Great vistas, beautiful trail, wonderful hike…you might die in the desert. (laugh)

Continental Divide Trail: Wild adventure, lots of wildlife and mountain scenery.

Appalachian Trail: Lots of trees, rocks and roots. You have to work hard to see lots more trees and rocks and roots. New Hampshire and Maine have lots of views…and rocks and roots. (more laughs)

Arizona Trail: Lots of variety. High sky islands, low desert, great tread, end up in the Grand Canyon.

Florida Trail: Swamps, alligators and great flora…just don’t focus on the road walking.

New England Trail: Don’t do it in the summertime…no wait….Stay away from the gun ranges…no, sorry…. Quaint little towns and ridge walking. It’s only 200 miles, it’s not too bad.

Pacific Northwest Trail: Long climbs, not a lot of ridge walking, adventure, challenging, and an amazing ending at the Olympic National Park.

Potomac Heritage Trail: Get a bike and enjoy it!

North Country Trail: Minnesota is the best! Don’t do it as a thru-hike….oh, that’s too negative…North Dakota has amazing views and skies and storms. It will make you feel alive when there’s a thunderstorm and you’re out in the open with no cover. If you hated Pennsylvania on the AT, hike Pennsylvania on the NCT.

Natchez Trace: Get a car and do some day hikes. You will love it as a car visit. Don’t hike it…(laugh)

Ice Age Trail: Eskers, potholes, learn about the glaciers!

BH: What’s next?

AP: I’m going to the White Mountains this afternoon to hike a peak.

BH: Are you checking off a list of the 4,000-footers?

AP: I’ve done those already! I’m just going to hike for fun and not for a list, how novel!

BH: It seems you have a nice tension between hiking for a list and hiking just for fun.

AP: That’s why I got so far into list because I just wanted to hike the PCT, the CDT, the PNT, the AZT, the Florida Trail. I looked at them and they looked intriguing not because they were part of a list. I usually finish lists when I’m always done with them including the 48 4,000-footers. I’m like, I don’t like lists, they’re kind of silly. And then when I realize I’ve almost completed a list, I think I might as well finish it and check it off.

That’s what keeps me going – the exploration, the experience, the adventure – and of course, the scenery.

Arizona Trail

GUEST POST: Music for a Hike by Marc Reigel

Don’t bother looking at the view – I’ve already composed it.

Gustav Mahler
On summer break from his duties as director of the Vienna Philharmonic, Mahler took long walks in the Austrian Alps, stopping to jot ideas in a notebook along the way.

Marc Reigel is an audiophile and Blissful follower. He’s interested in all kinds and genres of music and hosts a “Friday Favorites” each week to share in the listening adventure.
This week, he included one of my favorite composers along with this note: Mahler’s Ninth cuts right to the chase, and I think particularly appropriate as backdrop for a Blissful Hiker walk though a particularly difficult passage on the Arizona Trail. Just musing, of course.”

When our youngest daughter was at Northwestern, during the early 90’s, we visited her in Chicago – my favorite Big City, for inarticulate-able reasons – and I somehow got tickets to hear the on-tour Berlin Philharmonic at Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue, directly across the street from the Guard Lions of the Art Institute.

There was but one piece on the program, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, since the it takes nearly an hour and a half to play. Attending a live performance of a World Class orchestra is a visceral experience for me – the emotions the music evokes can range from joy to anger to peace to alarm to ecstasy to despair.

Oh, you mean, everything in the Human Experience of Living Life Down Here on Earth!

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.9 in D major – Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker, 1982 (live)

READ MORE about composers who hiked as well as the benefits of hiking at a walking tempo.

Yes, that’s what I mean about Mahler’s Ninth: you’ll get the whole shebang about the cost / benefit ratio of being alive.

And, Gentle Reader & Listener, I am aware most of you don’t have 1:24:40 to spend on hearing your life pass before you on a Friday in February. But as a reviewer for notes, “Quotations from earlier works appear alongside folk elements, and the Finale is a heartbreaking Adagio movement – all in all, a musical parable of living and dying: in the draft score, Mahler noted the words: Farewell! O youthful days! Vanished! O, love! Gone with the wind!

So, l recommend you go directly to the Adagio, the final movement, starting at 57:54. Even that section is 27 minutes in length, and I know that’s a stretch. Maybe, then, just go to 1:19:09, for the still-glowing embers of the music – although you’ll miss the soaring parts which come earlier in the Adagio.

I’ve selected this magnificent performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, recorded in 1982, and evocative of the the experience I had ten years later when I heard it performed in Chicago, under the baton of Claudio Abbado, the end of the symphony barely heard, fading away, like Life.

The audience was silent for several held breaths, and then erupted in thunderous applause, many of them – like me – understanding they had just heard and felt their lives summarized for them in the Sacred Space of a concert hall in a Great City by one of the World’s Best Orchestras. I wept.

guest post

GUEST POST: Hiking in Slovenia by Tadej Kožar

Just shy of 10,000 feet, Mount Triglav is the highest peak in the Julian Alps and the highest in Slovenia. Classical composer Mussorgsky’s telling of supernatural happenings Night on Bald Mountain takes places on this very peak.

As the world makes another trip around the sun and I move more into my late-50’s, (is that considered middle aged anymore, I wonder?) I’ve become obsessed with the sheer number of trails available to hike and the limited time I have to check them all off my list. It’s always a delight to hear from avid walkers living in far-flung countries who want to share their passion. Tadej Kožar is one of them. Founder of he asked if I might share his favorite hike with you as well as his passion for going to places where our hearts and souls feel at home.

Hiking to Veliki Spiček by Tadej Kožar

Have you ever been to Slovenia? Do you love to hike? If you like to hike and would love to visit European trails, I invite you to come to my country that has lots of beautiful trails for hiking.

Slovenia is very diverse. It has a sea, mountains, and valleys that are worth seeing. Slovenia belongs among the greenest countries in Europe. You can opt among 10,000 marked hiking trails all across the country. Most Slovenians and tourists like to visit the Gorenjska region which has magnificent mountains, with our highest mountain, Triglav at 2864 meters.

In addition to so many trails for an active vacation, you will also have a chance to spend the night and eat in one of many mountain huts to recuperate after a long walk. The trails that are the most famous are Via Bela Krajina, Zasavje Long-Distance Trail, Koroška Mountain Trail, Soča Trail, Pohorje Hills, Logar Valley, The Loka Mountain Trail.

To give you a taste of my life as a hiker, I’ll share a story of the trail that leads to the Špiček. It is a daily hike so you won’t need to have a tent no matter if you go alone, with a friend or in a group. My girlfriend and I hike regularly on Veliki Špiček since it is close to our home. It is the highest hill in the Brežice municipality at 686 meters. There are a few paths to reach it, and we opt to start at the the Pišece castle next to the lake.

The castle was firstly mentioned in the 14th century but we assume that it existed in the 13th century when the knights of Pišece lived. There is a beautiful English park with a 50 meters high sequoia and a lake that gives the place an aristocratic feel. The castle is not open to the public but I still advise you to look at its magnificence from the outside. We proceeded to the forest path that will lead us to our destination.

The castle at Pišece was built by the Archbishop of Salzburg.

Hiking gear

This is the gear that we usually use when hiking on Špiček.

Hiking shoes or sports footwear

You will start to walk on a rocky path that is meant for hikers and lumberjacks. The most appropriate footwear is a hiking shoe that is durable enough to handle those sharp rocks. However, if you will hike in ordinary sport’s shoes it will be fine as well.

Backpack for storage

We took a backpack with us. It is recommendable to have since you can store a water bottle, food, wipes, first aid kit, and bug repellent inside.

Oh, and the flies! You will not be alone at the start. If you will hike in the warm weather there will be annoying flies that will try to break your nerves.

Sunglasses and a bug repellent

Sunglasses are perfect to stop those flies from getting into your eyes. They are persistent, believe me, so put sunglasses on or a natural bug-repellent on your face. Don’t spray the face, just put some repellent on your hands and spread it on your cheeks, forehead, chin, and nose careful to avoid the eyes.

Hiking poles

Vanja also uses hiking poles that help her to overcome the hill due to occasional knee pain from broken bone after a bike accident.

A daypack, good walking shoes and a good attitude will take you up the rocky trail to the Špiček in Slovenia.

The path of pine cones, flowers and greenery

We hike on the demanding path that is far more beautiful than the ordinary path that most hikers choose. The more you ascend, the more rocks there will be on the trail. So you must be careful where you place your feet.

I recommend that you go at your own speed, that you breathe normally, and lift your legs high enough so you won’t get injured. The most important thing to remember is to walk as you can no matter if your partner or a friend is ahead of you.

Hiking poles are of great help here since you will be like a goat with four legs. The regular use of the poles will strengthen up your arms and the upper body.

If you will hike in the spring and summer months you will see cyclamen and saffron. Pines are more at the top of the hill where you will see pine cones all over the trail. Vanja likes to pick them as she likes to decorate them for Christmas.

We had a special assignment yesterday as I lost my sunglasses when we were picking cones in a bag. Our goal was to find them and we were lucky that no one found them before us. I must say that some people even pick lost items and put them in a visible place so you can find them easier. This is a kind gesture!

We have our own log where we sit a little bit, drink some water, and talk. The top hill is near, you will need about 15-20 minutes to reach it.

A few up’s and down’s and you will be on the crossing where the two paths join. You will see a sign that tells you how much time you will spend to accomplish the summit. At that point, it’s only about 3 minutes to reach your goal.

On the top, you will see a little house with a bell and a book where you can sign. There is a signpost of different cities as Brussels, München, Slovenian places and kilometers to reach them.

We signed in the book and sit on the bench to eat our meal and drink some water.

The signpost at the summit.

The end of our daily trip

We were happy that we hiked our trail successfully and that we found my sunglasses. The hike on the Špiček is not so demanding. All you have to have is a good pair of shoes, sporty clothes, some food and water (food is not necessary) and the right attitude to reach the top.

I hope you enjoyed my story and wish for you to come to experience the hill by yourself!

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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
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
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
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
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. 


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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GUEST POST: Avoiding Ticks When Hiking

The tick may very well be the most dangerous creature you will encounter on a backpacking trip.

Paul Johnson is the Founder of The Tick and Mosquito Project and contacted me about a month ago with an offer to share one of his articles on a subject that could be of great value to those of us who love to tramp in the out-of-doors. Lions, tigers and bears may frighten us, but the lowly deer tick can cause tremendous harm to our bodies. Read on and take good care!

Sometimes, the most dangerous animal on the hiking trail is much smaller than you might assume.  For all the exaggerated stories of coyote encounters, bear attacks, or cougar sightings, it just might be that the creature you need to be most afraid of is a tiny tick.

Ticks transmit diseases in their bites, and the most common tick-borne illness is probably Lyme disease which afflicts at least 30,000 people each year in the USA alone.  The deer tick (which transmits Lyme disease) is a determined little creature whose range is growing by the year.  The deer tick is synonymous with the blacklegged tick.  While deer ticks are expanding their range each year, they tend to be most abundant in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

Take a few steps to be sure you are steering clear of ticks on the hiking trail or at the campsite.  Here are some things you can do.

Use Repellent

A good tick repellent or combination of repellents can do wonders in the effort to keep ticks away from you.  While many of us are not fans of using man-made repellents, a combination of DEET and permethrin has been shown to repel ticks as well as anything.  DEET is used on your skin (and it obviously repels mosquitoes too) and permethrin is applied to footwear and clothing.

When we hike and use this combination, we tend to experience a major reduction in ticks — probably an 80% decrease, although we have never scientifically measured it.

There are some suggestions of essential oil and more natural concoctions for repelling ticks as well, and some initial studies find that nootkatone, geraniol, and rosemary might be effective to some extent against ticks.  While we certainly like the notion of natural, essential oil repellents, we also say use them with caution.  Lyme disease is not something to flirt with, and if you for sure, positively are going to be hiking in an area known for Lyme-carrying deer ticks, go with the proven DEET and permethrin combo.

As lovely as it is to walk in, and often necessary, long grass is the favorite hangout of ticks waiting to attach to our skin.

Beware of Long Grass and Brush

Ticks typically live in areas with plenty of cover.  They prefer long grass to dirt or short grass, and some of their favorite habitat tends to be a brush pile or leaf pile.  As you are spending time exploring outside, you will be less likely to encounter ticks if you stay on the trail and out of the longer grass.  

For those who might be getting their kids outdoors, be sure to help them check for ticks.  Kids don’t always have the same thoroughness that adults have, so it is not enough to just tell them to check themselves.

Be sure to look for hotspots — ticks love warmer areas on the body such as the scalp, armpits, and are behind the knees.

If you are in a position where you have no choice but to go off-trail — perhaps are a photographer trying to get that perfect photo — then it is even more important that you use repellents before you go outside.

Check Yourself Regularly

It might seem obvious, but checking yourself for ticks is critical anytime you have been in contact with outdoor areas, long grass, or forests.  It is important that you give yourself a thorough inspection, not just a simple eyeballing of your clothing.

Make sure you look over yourself quickly after ending your hike or trip, because there is evidence that the longer a tick is attached, the more likely it is to transmit Lyme disease to you if it is infected.

Monitor Your Pets, Too!

If you are bringing your dog with you on a hike, be sure to help them prevent ticks from hitching a ride on their fur or coat. Because dogs often veer off into longer grass and brush piles, they are likely to come in contact with ticks even if you are trying not to.  There are some great tick repellents for dogs (outlined here) that will help your pet keep ticks at bay.  That way, your dog is less likely to carry ticks into your car or home when the outdoor time is done.

Though a real and present danger in the Northeast, lyme disease is spreading rapidly in the Midwest and along the Pacific Crest Trail.
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GUEST POST: The Yellow School Bus by Joyce Morehouse

Gotta take that adventure, in order to understand your journey.

Jennifer Pierre
Eric, Andrew and Alison Young, New York, 1969

My mother and I do not share the same name, but we share the same twisted humor, the same interest in watching tear-jerkers over and over (“Ross! You weren’t at the castle!”) and our voices are nearly indistinguishable on the phone, though we look nothing like each other. My free spirit and need to walk ridiculously long distances has always been a head scratcher for her, but I think this short essay on my first day of school many years ago, gives us all a clue.

The first day of school that year, it rained. Not hard, but enough that all three children – Eric, Andrew, Alison– wore their slickers. I, in my raincoat, stood safely waiting behind the screen door of our house on the hill, watching down the long, glistening damp drive for the school bus to arrive.

For two years, Alison and I had walked hand in hand to see the boys off. She called it the “cool bus,” and was just as excited as they were each day it arrived. She and I would wait until the boys boarded the bus and found their seats. Then, we would wave enthusiastically as the driver pulled away from the curb.

This day was different. It was Alison’s first day of kindergarten, and she was going to join her brothers – Eric, entering third grade and Andrew, entering second. There was a new intensity in our waiting.

The house was set on a hill above the road, and the driveway sloped down to the street. It was a large property, owned, as was the house, by the Presbyterian Church in South Salem, New York, which my husband served as minister. The house was three stories tall, a handsome Victorian with a bay window on both the first and second floors and decorative stained glass in the attic window. Not the first manse, which had been moved across the street, but the newest one, built in the 1870s. It had a full attic on the third floor and four bedrooms on the second, one of which we used as a playroom and study – a separate place to watch Captain Kangaroo and do projects together. We loved it!

The town was founded when New York was still a colony, so there were birthdates in the 1600s carved into the gravestones in front of the church. The church itself was founded in 1752, the first building built of logs. The current church, known as “The Old White Church,” was part of the older section of the town, so there were many homes that were built in the 1800s and a few that predated the Revolutionary War. It was a haunting, yet lovely place to live.

This morning, the air was misty, and the trees loomed dark against the vivid green of the grass. It was early September, so the leaves had not yet begun to change. The only bright color was the yellow of the children’s slickers and the bus itself.

“There it is!” one of the boys shouted, and all three dashed through the door, down the steps and onto the driveway.

I impulsively started down with them, but they were too fast for me.

At some point, I reached out my hand for Alison’s, but she was already chasing after her brothers. She never looked back.

When they reached the bus, they got on quickly. Without waving or even saying goodbye, Alison found her seat and was on her way. She had been waiting for this moment for a long time.

I remember standing there that misty morning with a smile on my face. I can still see all three of them running down the driveway in their yellow slickers, like three yellow birds in flight.

It was a bittersweet moment, of course. My little girl would never need to hold my hand to meet the school bus again, and I was happy for her. But my youngest yellow bird was leaving the nest, and I felt a momentary sadness. She and I had crossed a threshold and would not return the same.

Over the years, she and I have needed to “hold each other’s hand” during difficult times, “before the bus comes,” but this moment had been a triumph, a step in her growing up.

There we were, surrounded by a church, graveyard, and minister’s house, each filled with tales of triumph and loss, staying and moving on. And we were a part of the ongoing story –  my three little birds and me, standing there in the rain knowing its inevitability, torn between wanting to stop time and to hasten it on.

Granite Crag in the High Sierra.
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GUEST POST: Your Own El Capitan by Billie Jo Konze

Granite crag in the High Sierra, no where near as hard to climb as El Capitan.

I met actor and aspiring life coach Billie Jo Konze on the phone, when I decided to become a voice actor myself and needed the unvarnished truth on next steps. Billie doesn’t hold back, and told me it could be an exhilarating ride, but, like any life goal or trail we attempt to walk, it would require focus, patience and massive reserves of inner-strength. Billie Jo runs my accountability group, and there’s no one I’d want more in my corner than this wise woman!

What a Free Soloing Mountain Climber Can Teach You About Conquering Your Biggest Goals

Just before the beginning of the year, I was on a flight to the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend and his family, as always, trying to pick out a good in-flight film. Instead of joining my boyfriend in a lighthearted superhero flick, I decided instead to watch Free Solo, as I’d missed it in theaters, and knew I’d probably never watch it at home. 

I spent the next hour and forty minutes with my eyes glued to the screen, mouth agape, sweating, swearing, and occasionally emitting slight whimpering noises. 

If I’d known how this year was going to go, maybe I would have chosen the superhero movie, but Free Solo is an apt metaphor for any great undertaking, and I’m glad I came into this year high off the vicarious adrenaline of watching Alex Honnold prepare for and execute his climb

Whether you’ve seen it, haven’t seen it yet, or never plan to see it because your heart just can’t take it, here are a few things I took away from this amazing feat: 

  • Human beings are capable of amazing things. THIS MAN CLIMBED AN ALMOST COMPLETELY VERTICAL STONE FACE TALLER THAN THE WORLD’S TALLEST BUILDING…WITHOUT ROPES …IN LESS THAN 4 HOURS! For a really fun size comparison, image, click here. If someone can do that…and we can do THIS, then we can figure out almost anything. 
  • To do the impossible takes an insane amount of discipline. 

Free soloing is extremely dangerous. That being said, Alex Honnold is probably doing it as safely as a person could possibly do it. He works out. He eats extremely clean and healthy. He practices. Over and over and over. For me, besides the actual feat itself, this was the mind blowing part. The fact that he rehearsed the climb physically, on paper, and in his mind. He climbed El Capitan with ropes and studied the possible routes. He journaled about it. He discussed it with others. He analyzed it down to its smallest part. And when he found parts that gave him difficulty, he analyzed those parts even more, and practiced them with the diligence of a kung fu master. 

In only one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker's emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.
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GUEST POST: Making it to Day 4 by Alison Heebsh

Sometimes we become so focused on the finish line, that we fail to find joy in the journey.

Dieter F.Uchtdorf
In one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker's emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.
In only one week on the Colorado Trail, a hiker’s emotions resemble the terrain – up and down.

I met Alison Heebsh when the Minnesota Rovers Outdoor Club invited me and my friend Brenda to make a presentation for members about our hike of the Border Route Trail in Northern Minnesota. Her sunny nature and can-do spirit is infectious and I have to say, her hiking story rings true for all of us “blissful hikers!”

“Day two always sucks.”

Those were the words of my colleague, Joel, the day I returned to the office.  He’d asked about my week on the Colorado Trail and I replied, “Amazing! Beautiful!” Then I added, “Oh, except day two. Day two really sucked.”  

Joel was right. Looking back on my previous long backpacking trips, day two does, in fact, always suck, and pretty much for the same reasons. 

But if you can make it to day four…

Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

GUEST POST: The Pee Rag by Stacia Bennett

What is a pee rag? Let’s just say, it’s a tool that enables a female hiker to get the job done without fuss or muss, and focus on being her badass self on the trail.

Blissful Hiker, “The Pee Rag” Episode 1
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

It is not an overstatement to say reading Stacia Bennett‘s article on for The Trek “Gear Essentials for Women” changed my hiking life. My discovery began with a question posed in the private all-women Te Araroa Facebook , “Are any of you ladies taking a ‘pee rag’ on the TA?” I had no clue what this gal was referring to and obviously needed to get myself enlightened – or look the fool. Dr. Google led me straight to Stacia, a.k.a Tink, and once educated, I never looked back! I hope you enjoy this Asheville-based, former teacher turned nomad, Appalachian Trail thru-hike-attempt-turned-long-ass-section hiker’s explanation on a requisite piece of kit for every women’s backpack.

It’s super simple to start using a pee rag. The biggest decision you have to make is what material to use. For my long hikes, I chose to stick with a plain old cotton bandanna.

A bandanna is lightweight and since the cotton is thin, it’s pretty quick drying. Cotton is gentle on the skin and absorbent. So, pick your favorite pattern for $1 at the Wally World. Tie it to the back of your pack, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a pee rag.

Ok, I know what you are wondering. What the heck is a pee rag??

Actually, if you’ve spent any time at all on a long trail you’ve probably heard of them, and you’ve likely seen them hanging off the pack of the badass lady hiker in front of you.

A “peedanna”, or pee rag, is a bandanna or similar cloth that is designated for wiping after urinating in the woods. A lot of women opt to use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. There are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to make the switch to a pee rag. For me, the ease and convenience were the biggest factor.

"Wonder" with her throw-away suitcase filled with resupply boxes ready to send south.
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GUEST POST: On Hiking Slowly by Myra “Wonder” Kincaid

Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.

Jane Austin
Taking your time to hike a thru-hike allows one to enjoy all the little things.
Highly organized “Wonder” with her throw-away suitcase filled with resupply boxes ready to send south. Her goal was to avoid long stops in town that would slow her down.

I met Wonder in Bellingham, Washington, when trail angel Karl picked her up at the bus station. She’s an engineer and approached walking the PCT with an organized mind – and a few month’s worth of resupply already boxed, stamped and ready-to-ship in a throw-away suitcase. I was impressed and knew I needed to step up my game! We hopscotched the entire thru-hike and she finished one day ahead of me. I was most impressed with her self awareness when it came to managing the distances.

I sit in the grass about ten feet from the trail, eating dried fruit. My shoes and socks are off, letting the heat and moisture dissipate. Suddenly, another hiker comes crashing by, sunglasses on, earplugs in, head directly forward. They don’t see me in my bright red shirt and pink hat. It is as if I am wearing camouflage.

This scene repeated many times a day, during the five months I spent on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

I am not a fast hiker. I have been dreaming of a through-hike for over ten years, but I was unwilling to leave my job which had a fantastic vacation plan. For many years, I contented myself with shorter adventures, but my dream of through-hiking lingered.

Finally, I was laid off and I had my opportunity. But I had to go southbound. The southbound season is short and I knew I would have to move quickly if I wanted to beat the start of winter.

I prepared a spreadsheet as I planned my adventure, and discovered that I would need to average twenty miles per day, far beyond my typical daily mileage.

Could I even do it?