Thank goodness it wasn’t the Whites

en-dur-ance (noun) the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions

I have survived. Had I ended up on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, our story might have ended differently. Yes, there were many ups and downs in my 29 miles, but the EKG line (as Katina calls it) of elevation changes looked like nothing compared to what she and my new thru-hiking friends will be facing very soon.

In such a short time, I sampled a lot of trail life – a hostel, shelter camping, lovely trail towns, fields and forests. Elm St. in Norwich, VT is well-known for its generous trail angels, who put coolers out along the road. This kind family offered cold sliced watermelon and homemade banana bread with a special flair.

Katina and I traveled well together, sometimes chatting away and sometimes (on the uphills?) lost in our own thoughts and the beauty of the trail. She kindly slowed down a bit and was always patiently cheerful about another water or photo break. A surprising amount of our second day’s hiking was on roads in the baking mid-afternoon sun.

I never knew sitting under a shady tree in the breeze, with the weight off my feet, could be so incredibly blissful. Dark oak leaves dancing against the blue and white above and the promise of a free cruller and icy cold iced tea ahead at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover, NH.

Shortly after I hauled myself up from under that tree, we crossed the Connecticut River and Arachne entered her tenth AT state, New Hampshire. Sharing this milestone with her was especially fun because the Connecticut River farther north is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), which we have both thru-paddled.


As we walked, a popular topic of conversation was comparing the two trails. There is far less company along the NFCT and only a handful of thru-paddlers on it at any given time. In fact, less than 100 people have been recognized by the NFCT as having completed the 740 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages in its 16 years of existence. That will change, we both agree, when we see the excitement in the eyes of all the people with whom we have been sharing the story of the NFCT. Katina, in fact, just wrote an article comparing the two trails for the online publication Appalachian Trials that is generating a lot of interest. And while I am having fun inserting links, here is the first entry from our trip on Arachne’s online trail journal.

So as I say farewell to Soft G and Just Janelle, Snail and Walking Mink, Oompah and Tuna Roll, they will linger in my thoughts as I wake to a warm shower every morning. I think being dirty was the hardest part for me. That and the fact that every morning seemed to start with an uphill struggle that left me literally dripping with sweat and pulling out my inhaler. To Katina, grateful thanks for including me in your journey, sharing your Desitin, and helping me lose a pound that I can gain back on the cruise!

 

Walk well, Katina…and next time, let’s PADDLE together!

 

 

 

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Surprising myself…13 miles on the Appalachian Trail

 

Arachne (Katina Daanen) and I ready for the adventures of the trail

The warm afternoon had occasionally been enlivened by cooling breezes and the AT had already taken us up and over several ridges by 2 pm. I stood beneath a newly crafted wooden sign, which spelled out our options. We could stop here at a shelter for the night, after a fairly respectable 7.9 miles for my first day with a full backpack. Or we could go on, 4.7 miles further, in search of a blue barn with a large, welcoming AT symbol to mark it.

 

We saw two red efts on the trail today

As we hiked, the barn’s purported amenities had drawn us on. A cooler of sodas on the porch, beside a river with a bridge for jumping in. And, of course, the barn would mean no damp dewy tent to pack up in the morning. I could go on. And on.

My slow trudge got a little slower as we crossed an interesting mix of terrain – meadows, fields, and mostly soft leafy paths under open forest. The beautiful surroundings and occasional mountain vistas inspired my weary body. For a time we had hiked by a long and ancient mossy stone wall. It was the Old King’s Highway, once the main route from Boston to Canada. I thought it surprising that there hadn’t been a flatter way to go.

 

We found it! The Hart family’s thoughtful hospitality even included omelets and toast this morning with lots of coffee and a warm kitchen visit. Thanks for the trail magic!

 

All powered up for another day, after Linda’s delicious breakfast.

 

Two quick trail dinner recipes

042015 Salmon alfredo
Salmon with parmesan spinach pasta…three ingredients…590 calories…under $2.50
041215 Ingredients
Ingredients for a “Backcountry Thanksgiving” from thru-hikers The Dusty Camel
041215 Thanksgiving in a bowl
Yummy, yummy and super easy to make…three ingredients…525 calories…under $2.50

In retrospect, not much else could have been wrong, short of a wrecked boat or a drenching downpour.  Twilight was descending swiftly over the endless curves of the Dead River, the time measured in stabbing back pain with every paddle stroke. Somewhere ahead on river left lay one last campsite. Here were no sandy beaches or rocky fir-clad bluffs, just mud and grass and tired alders.

In the end, the site was not too hard to spot, marked as it was by the dilapidated remains of an ancient dock. Even now, four years later, there is no need to look back into my journal to recall the misery. A steep and slippery bank to climb, the unpleasant evidence of roadside access, a dirth of branches for hanging my food bag, and THE BUGS, a solid cloud of black flies that made a terror of the outdoors. Supper that night was peanut butter crackers with water.

Luckily, few evenings feature all of these negatives, but many will have at least some challenges…bugs, a late hour, exhaustion, and sometimes rain.  In planning food, these are the rule rather than the exception.   So my mission this spring is to discover economical, nutritious, yummy meals that are absolutely the easiest to prepare.

An idea that had escaped me until I started watching all those backpacking videos, was the simple concept of cooking in a pouch.  Sure, that’s what you do if you buy those expensive freeze-dried meals, but did you know that lots of thru-hikers are doing that with grocery store packages like the pasta in the photo above? The package may say cook for 7 minutes, but they are just dumping in boiling water and letting it sit for a while in a pot cozy. Super quick, with no dishes to wash.

My first experiment (other than successfully cooking instant oatmeal in its pouch) was salmon with parmesan spinach pasta.  For one person, use the entire 2-serving pasta package (480 cal), a scant 3 tablespoons of instant nonfat dried milk (40 cal), 1 3/4 cups boiling water, and 2.5 oz. pink salmon (70 cal).  I feel like this is a fairly nutritious combination, with the milk, salmon, and variety of vitamins from the spinach.  The result was almost chowder-like and delicious, although some of the pasta was clumped together and chewy. I need to work on how to mix it more thoroughly and perhaps create a pot cozy to hold in the heat while it is “cooking.”

Another recipe came from the January 2010 issue of Backpacker magazine, courtesy of thru-hikers Ian Mangiardi and Andy Laub.  For a one-person “Backcountry Thanksgiving,” combine half a package of stuffing mix (3 oz. dry and 330 cal), a 3.3 oz. can of chicken (70 cal), 1/3 cup of dried cranberries (125 cal), and 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir together, wait 5 minutes, and enjoy. (Both of these recipes could also include butter or olive oil to increase the calories and flavor, but they are fine without.  The directions call for 1 T. butter with the pasta and 2 T. butter with the stuffing, adding 100 calories to the pasta and 200 to the stuffing.)

Lisa’s homemade granola

032415 homemade granola

Have I already confessed how many hours I am spending watching videos or reading articles about backpacking food? Which, of course, sometimes segues into watching other people’s adventures, instead of planning my own.

One of the videos I watched suggested mixing granola with dry milk at home, then simply adding water for breakfast on the trail. So I purchased some fresh (not four years old) dried (not fresh) milk and tried it out. The milk tasted great. The sogginess of the granola is not for me, though, so I guess I’ll enjoy mine dry.

Later that same week, my friend Lisa was making homemade granola with our students at school. She generously shared the recipe. This is actually my second batch and the recipe as it has evolved so far. Lisa’s original recipe called for more salt and the raisins (or chopped dried cherries) were optional.

Ingredients:  3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (900 cal), 1 cup sliced almonds (480 cal), 3/4 cup shredded coconut (210 cal), 1 cup golden raisins (436 cal), 1/4 cup brown sugar (209 cal), 1/4 cup maple syrup (210 cal), 1/4 cup vegetable oil (520 cal), 1/2 t. salt

Combine all ingredients except raisins in large bowl, mixing well. Spread on greased baking sheets and bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes for even toasting. Cool on wire racks, then add raisins and store in airtight container or plastic bag. Lisa says it lasts quite a while.  So far I have eaten it too quickly to know! Total calories would be 2,975 or around 250 calories per 1/2 cup serving.

A roof over my head (my new tent)

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Fond memories of the old tent…
DSCN6441
…waiting to make some with the new one

Strategic planning.  Right up there with faith and courage, good decisions up front will help me go the distance this summer.  And strategic planning is ideal for a long, cold, snowy Maine winter anyway.  One goal has been to reduce the weight, volume, and sheer number of items in my gear.  Even eliminating a tiny unused item reduces the number of things to scramble through in the search for whatever I am looking for (usually found at the very bottom of the dry bag).  Today’s focus: Tent, fly, and footprint (another term for a groundcloth)

  • Old: Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, purchased in 2000 for a backcountry camping trip with my 7-year-old son in Shenandoah National Park (weight 5 lbs., 6 oz. including footprint.; packed size 6″ x 18″; peak height 43″, 2 poles)
  • New: Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 UL…yes, it’s the same model, updated and in the one-person version (weight 2 lbs., 15 oz. without a groundcloth; packed size 5″ x 13″ without poles; peak height 46″, 3 poles)
  • Major changes: Lighter (good), smaller stuff sack (good), poles too long for stuff sack (bad), attached fly (good), side entrance (good), plastic sheet replacing footprint (untested)
  • Cost: $178 from REI with member’s discount and free shipping (Christmas present anyway…thanks, Dad!)
  • To do list: Seam sealing is recommended, cut plastic sheet for inside tent rather than having a footprint, figure out where to pack poles

One winter evening, we had fun setting up my new tent in our living room, staked out to furniture and some metal weights Dad had in his workshop.  I crawled inside and was delighted that it felt roomy and there was plenty of space in its long length to put my gear bags.  I like to bring as much as possible inside my tent at night to keep it dry and clean (everything but food, cooking gear, and boat stuff).  The side entrance makes for easier access and creates a small vestibule similar in size to my old tent’s.  For future backpacking, trekking poles can be used in place of 2 of the tent’s 3 poles.  Lastly, the color works for me.  I was afraid it would be too bright, as I like to blend in with my surroundings.  My little tent will be the color of bright green baby leaves or grass…she sighs wistfully, thinking that is has been months since she has seen any green grass…