Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for that.

Ann Zwinger
Judy met a guy with a much lighter tent while hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was a palace. That moment pissed her off, so she designed her own ultralight palace.
Judy met a guy with a much lighter tent while hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was not a “coffin” but rather, a palace. That just pissed her off, so she went and designed her own ultralight palace.

At a tent site high up on a ridge in Washington, I met two women sitting on logs next to their individual mineral green tents and passing a small flask betwixt themselves. They lifted their outstretched legs as I passed, since that was the only route to a tiny spring – described as a “crisp, cool, mystical, scoopable pool of water” below the trail.

As it goes with all backpackers sharing a space, the two were friendly, eager to share about their day’s hiking. For them, it was a return to familiar ground, which last summer had been shrouded in smoke with no views available at all of splendid Goat Rocks or Mount Rainier himself, shining high above.

Fortunately, it had been a gloriously clear day, so all had been rescued – and that might have explained the celebratory Scotch which was eventually offered to me.

I camped one night with two women who had returned to Washington to see its glorious views without a wildfire’s smoky haze. One of them is a tent maker.

Post-hike buzz aside, what really drew my attention were those two tents, their doors rolled back completely to reveal a roomy space within bug net. Cleverly designed, obviously light weight and sturdy, these homes-on-the-trail were as colorful as the women I was speaking with, including Judy Gross who, it turned out, was the designer and maker.

“While hiking the Appalachian Trail,” she told me. “I met a guy who had a tent that, quite frankly, pissed me off. It was a lot lighter than mine and it was huge – like a palace,” 

That started her down the road of teaching herself to design in 3D and notching up her already superb sewing skills to make her own tent, and eventually more colorful tents to order.

She also makes hiking skorts, rain skirts and hooded ponchos – which she happily modeled for me. That was a lovely evening indeed!

See for yourself and take a listen to our conversation from last July under the massive Doug Firs.

Judy Gross of Light Heart Gear demonstrating her hooded poncho/cape, about all a backpacker really needs.
Judy Gross of Light Heart Gear demonstrating her hooded poncho/cape, about all a backpacker really needs.

are you a dromomaniac??

On a side note, a follower wrote me this past week to share a word that happened to show up in his inbox, the moment I replied to his email!

Dromomania, a historical psychiatric diagnosis whose primary symptom was uncontrollable urge to walk or wander. Dromomania has also been referred to as “traveling fugue.” Non-clinically, the term has come to be used to describe a desire for frequent traveling or wanderlust.

Are you a victim/benefactor of this condition? I certainly am, though in these past weeks, while I’ve stayed close to home, my “thru-hikes” have been adventures that begin at the trailhead of my front door.

I suppose it’s bittersweet since I walked 5,000 miles last year and can only now look forward to a future time when I can take the next steps on a thru-hike, (fingers crossed, the Continental Divide Trail.)

And yet, even now, every step counts. It makes no differnece if it’s on the same routes day after day like down the Hill stairs, across the Wabasha bridge, up the rise to the High Bridge and back across the Mississippi – or just up Summit Avenue to the river, most of the time scooting to the side streets to keep a good distance from crowds.

It’s all in the attitude and what’s noticed along the way. I often wonder while I’m out, how many days of local walks will it take to add up to a thru-hike. Perhaps it’s better to think in terms of years, but that kind of misses the point. With the location of my walks somewhat circumscribed, I realize that it’s walking itself that continues to sooth and energize me, and help me untangle my problems and keep them in perspective.

I’m also forced to look for the small things that delight and surprise, something most hikers never mention about thru-hiking, that some days are just long and hard and even a little boring, but only if we let them be.

Let me know where you are walking these days and what you’re seeing. Or better yet, post pictures on Instgram or Facebook with the hashtag, #blissfulhikers.

Happy trails! ❤︎

On today's walk, I notice a crabapple blossoms carpet. What are you noticing on your walks?
On today’s walk, I notice a crabapple blossoms carpet. What are you noticing on your walks?


  1. Robin Raplinger

    Cool tents!

  2. Until I cowgirl camped with Ali on the PCT I did not care for views out of the tent. Now I so much want to camp under the stars; the climate and midges make it a challenge in our Scottish Highlands. With its side windows Judy’s tent would solve the problems admirably, the stars could once again accompany this hiker through the night. Ah, but when will our hills open up again?

    • I know! Just having a convo about that now and how much risk is worth it. I look at the long game and use the time now to prepare for the moment when we can backpack again.

  3. Alison…..tentmaker…fabulous…thanks for sharing her story…Zola

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