From Rescuer To Rescued (PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in First Responders)

View of Clingman’s Dome from Alum Cave Trail in GSMNP

The subject of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in the emergency service field is something I’ve felt like I’ve needed to write about for a while now, but never knew what exactly to say. And to be honest, I’ve actually been running from it like the plague. Why?… Because it hits a little too close to home for me. And well let’s face it. By writing about it requires me to possibly have to revisit some memories that are painful and horrifying.

Benny Braden: 1st Lieutenant, Rescue Diver, EMT, Swiftwater Rescue Instructor, Vehicle Extrication Instructor, Water Rescue Team Leader and more…. 📷: Roane Co. Rescue Squad in Harriman, TN[[[[[[

You see I was in the fire, emergency and rescue fields combined for a little over a decade. I’ve been a first responder, EMT, volunteer firefighter, rescue diver, swiftwater rescue instructor, water rescue team leader, vehicle extrication and EVOC instructor, first lieutenant and more.

If the alarm went off, I went. No matter where I was or what I was doing. One year I served over 2000 volunteer hours. That was on top of my normal day job. I sacrificed my time, my family’s time and my body. But little did I know then I was sacrificing my mental health too.

Some days we wouldn’t have many calls, but on other days it was nonstop. I will spare you of the details because I don’t want to put images in your head. But I will say I’ve see a person die nearly every way someone can. Those images stay with me day and night, 24 hours a day.

When I did that work I tried to block it out after the call. And initially it worked, but there comes a time that you see too much. So much that attempting to block it out no longer works. And back then we didn’t routinely practice debriefings. When the call was over, we would go home or go do the next call. It was never discussed of talked about.

I didn’t start noticing something was wrong till three years after I left the emergency services. I started battling depression that grew pretty severe. I was put on medication to help with the depression, but it still didn’t hit me that something was wrong. All the warning signs were there, but I wasn’t paying attention.

My Beautiful Bride Ashley’s first hike to LeConte Lodge in the GSMNP

After a couple failed marriages and relationships. Four years later I married my beautiful bride. She and her two beautiful daughters moved in. We began remodeling on our house. Adding more space for everyone. At the same time my brother passed away due to long term use of narcotics. And it wasn’t long then that we adopted my two nieces. Making my family of two (me and my son) into a family of seven.

It wasn’t till then that I became a monster. The high stresses of remodeling a house mixed with getting to know new people that were not only living with me, but also depending on me was overwhelming. It was triggering anxiety attacks. It seemed as if we were fighting all the time and it was getting worse by the day. Put all of that on top of the hidden wounds from the years of emergency service. It was then that I started experiencing the severe anxiety attacks.

After a few years of dealing with depression and anxiety attacks which made life an absolute living hell. I rediscovered hiking again. I use to hike a lot when I was younger, but slowly gravitated away from it. But this time I was backpacking. Loading everything on my back and going into the woods for days.

Sunset from the Cliff Tops on Mt LeConte. 📷 Dewey Slusher

I began to do longer hikes. Instead of being out for days, I was staying out longer. It was then that I began to notice something. I was starting to feel different afterwards. I was less stressed. I could handle the high stress without becoming a monster. The anxiety attacks and depression seemed to lessen. My beautiful bride began see the results which opened up opportunities for us to talk about what was going on.

The best way I can describe it is this way. It’s like I have a huge desk in my head and it’s a complete mess with piles of images of things I’ve seen and done. When I’m out on the trail it’s like I can pull one of the images out of the pile, pray about it, make some sense of it and then file it way where it belongs. This requires lots of pray and sometimes painfully revisiting those moments or events, but the end result is that I’m able to finally have peace from a memory that has haunted me for over a decade.

Sunrise from Max Patch, NC

Honestly, that is why I hike so much. It brings me peace and helps me come to terms with my past. It also gives me that one on one time with my Creator. I give God all the glory for revealing this to me and helping me slowly overcome this. Now my battle with PTS is far from over, but I now have a coping mechanism to help me deal with it. The down side to being gone so much is the loss of time with my beautiful bride and kids. But the time we now have together is quality time. More time is spent laughing, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Instead of everyone having to walk on egg shells, worried about setting me off and sending me into another anxiety attack.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be ran monthly here on Plug-it In Hikes blog. I will have guest bloggers who were once or currently in the EMS, fire, rescue or law enforcement field sharing their story about their battle with PTS and how they are coping with it. My hope is that these posts will help someone who is also dealing with PTS. As you can see I refuse to call it PTSD. Let’s drop the D (disorder). No one wants to be labled with having a disorder. In the meantime keep my beardedself and the other future bloggers in your prayers.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 NIV

Posted in Black Rock Gear, Goosefeet Gear, Great Smoky Moutains National Park, Hiking, National Parks, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), Ultralight Backpacking, Winter Backpacking, Zpacks | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Benton MacKaye Trail – Georgia Section (2/28/2018-3/4/2018)

The planning…….

Here in the southeastern United States we are blessed with so many outstanding trails and trail systems. Some are just a few miles to a couple hundred miles long and others are a little over 1100 miles long. With trails and trail systems like the Art Loeb, Fiery Gizzard, Foothills, Sheltowee Trace, Cumberland, Florida, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Benton McKaye just to name a few. And you can’t forget the grand daddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus is in Georgia.

Me and my good friend Will “Red Beard” Wood from Zpacks had been planning to thru-hike the 286 mile long Benton McKaye Trail (BMT) for a few months now. And in the end, we settled on a late February/early March hike. We felt like that would be a great time of year to do the hike. So we decided to start on 2/28 and go North Bound (NOBO).

Back in December I picked each of us up a BMT guide book from a local outfitter and started planning my daily mileages and food drops.

Our initial plan was to do the 286 miles long hike in 18 days. We had also decided to do just 2 food drops, one in Reliance at Hiawassee Whitewater Co. aka Flip Flop Burgers and then at Fontana Village. We also planned to stay at each place.

But I also chose to drop two days worth of food at the bear bin at Smokemont Campground. I checked with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) Backcountry office if it was ok.. and it was. I also went on ahead and reserved our campsites in GSMNP. They don’t have a thru-hiker permit for the BMT like they do for the Appalachian Trail (AT). So you need to reserve your campsites in advance, but not more than 30 days out. That’s the earliest you can reserve them.

The Gear..

When selecting my gear, I wanted to try some things that I hadn’t tried before since it was just a 286 mile long hike. I also was using this hike as a “shakedown” hike for the 220 mile John Muir Trail (JMT) that I’ll be doing in July with my buddy Chad “Stick” Poindexter of Stick’s Blog. I was also using this hike to prep for the 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont in June with my buddies Matt Favero and Will Wood from Zpacks.

I got my Zpacks “black on black” grid stop Arc Haul Backpack out. It’s a one of a kind pack that my buddy Will used for a year or so. It had about 300 to 500 miles on it when I got it. I stitched up a couple of rips in the back mesh pocket. I’ve since put 72 miles on it from our Florida Trail hike back in December. This was going to be a true real test for this pack though. How would it hold up, carry and would it keep my stuff dry.

I decided to NOT bring my umbrella on this trip and instead rely souly on my Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacketand Pants. It was going to be a big risk especially since they were forecasting heavy rain the first two days. I also chose NOT to bring a pack towel… Those decisions would come back to haunt me later..

Here is a run down of the gear I started out with for this hike.

What’s in my Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack?….

·Zpacks carbon fiber trekking poles
·Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket & Pants
·Zpacks Duplex Tent camo (2018)
·Zpacks titanium & CF tent Stakes
·Zpacks Vertice Tall Gaiters
·Zpacks 5°F Sleeping bag (2018)
·Zpacks Challenger Rain Mittens
·Zpacks Dry Bags & Stuff Sacks
·Zpacks DCF Multi-Pack (black)
·Thermarest Neo Air Sleeping Pad
·Sea To Summit Air Pillow
·Goosefeet Gear 8d Down Socks
·Goosefeet Gear 8d Down Hood
·Goosefeet Gear 8d Down Hand Muff
·Goosefeet Gear Down Jacket
·Black Rock Gear Skully Beanie
·Black Rock Gear Down Beanie
·Black Rock Gear Foldback Mittens
·Homemade synthetic mittens
·Patagonia Thermal Bottoms
·Outdoor Research PL 400 Gloves
·Vargo 450 ml titanium mug
·Ultra Pod
·GoPro Hero 5 Session
·Anker 13,000 mAh battery pack
·Darn Tough 1/4 Socks
·Exfficio 9″ Give & Go Boxer Briefs

What I wore hiking…

·Zpacks Trucker Hat
·Zpacks T-Shirt
·Columbia Silver Ridge Pants
·Columbia Silver Ridge Button Shirt
·Exfficio 9″ Give and Go Boxer Breifs
·Injinj Toe Sock Liners
·Darn Tough No Show Socks
·Brooks Caldera Trail Runners
·Patagonia Thermal Hoody

The Hike….

Since Will and I had decided to go NOBO. He met me at the trails northern terminus at Big Creek in GSMNP to drop his vehicle off. We loaded all the gear up in my truck and headed south to Springer Mt. But on our way we made a quick stop at Smokemont to drop my food box off and in Franklin to pick up some stove fuel Will was needing.

We finally made it to Springer around 4 PM where Will’s dad and brother was waiting on us. His dad was going to take my truck to his house instead of leaving it on top of the mountain unattended.

Will and I had talked it over and had decided to stay at the Springer Mt Shelter that night and get a fresh start the next morning. When we got to the shelter there were two AT thru-hikers there. So we spent the evening getting to know them and shared a few beers we packed in.

Day 1 / Feb. 28, 2018
Mile 0 (Georgia Monsoon)

When I woke up and heard the rain hitting the metal roof of the Springer Mountain shelter, I knew then it was going to be a wet day. I just didn’t realize how bad that was actually going to be. We only had 14.8 miles to do that day, but it was going to be done in heavy rain and it didn’t let up. Lunch and breaks were out of the question. There wasn’t a dry place to be found. I had also rolled my left ankle about 4 different times through out the day. By the final 2 hours of hiking that day, I was getting leg cramps bad. I had only drank 60 ozs of water. I hadn’t used any of my Skratch Labs hydration supplements yet….. Which I know would have completely prevented that. I contributed the leg cramps to me being on a new medication for my Type 2 Diabetes that I was diagnosed with just the day before I got on the trail. But after 6 hours of hiking in the heaviest rain imaginable, we finally made to to our campsite which was at the Toccoa Bridge.

We were both soaked to the bone. Our rain suits had wetted out, which I was very surprised. But mine did have a lot of miles on it. It had worked perfectly in the many rains storms in the Smokies I was in during my #fastestgsmnp900miler2 hike. But what I didn’t realize is that after a while, you need to reapply the DWR coating on the fabric….. I’ll not make that mistake twice.

We set up our tents as quickly as we could, being mindful not to set up too close to the river. With all the rain we had gotten, we were certain it would be rising out of its banks by morning.

With all cloths and gear piled up in the corner, I crawled into my dry slepping bag and went to sleep without eating. I was both physically and mentally exhausted.

I woke up during the night to the sound of heavy rain hitting the DCF material of my tent. I was thirsty and wanted to get a drink of water, but I realized I had drunk all of my water earlier. So I grabbed my Vargo Outdoors Titanium mug and a couple of YeeHaw Brewing cans that I had brought with me and sat them under the corner on my tent to collect the rain water. I collected enough to fill up 80 ozs of water which I drank half of it. Then went back to sleep.

Day 2 / Mar. 01
Mile 14.8 (The Nero)

That morning we woke to a very saturated forest and a very sore ankle. The river we had camped next to had risen 2′ overnight. And where our tents were set up was now a pond, but the rain had temporarily stopped. The air was very moist. The condensation on the inside of our tents was bad. Everything inside the tent was wet from the day before or very damp from the condensation.

The weather forecast for the next few days was going to be sunny and cold. But we still had more rain to come today. So we decided to hike to the next road crossing and hitch into either Blue Ridge or Blairsville, get a motel room and start drying all of our gear. I was slow getting going due to my ankle, But finally got up to speed…. somewhat..

We packed up and headed out. The road was still 3.7 miles from us so we hiked with a determination to beat the rain, but as we got to road, the rain started up again. We quickly set our tents up to temporarily get out of the rain till it died down enough so we could try to hitch into town.

About 30 minutes later a nice man and woman stopped and picked us up and took us to Blairsville. It felt so good knowing we were about to be able to get all dried off soon. They dropped Will and my beardedself off at the Best Western Hotel where we split the cost of the room. With the thru-hiker discount the room only cost $68. With the cost split, it was only $34 each person. That’s just a hair more than what you would pay at a hostel.

Once there I immediately began to try to line us up a ride back to the trail. So I announced it on my social media. Later that night one of my Instagram followers Kris Stancil responded and said he would be glad to take us back to the trail…… That was an answered prayer.

While in town we went and had us a burger and a couple of beers at Copeland’s. The burger was absolutely delicious. I also had a couple of Yuenglings with my meal. Beer always goes great with a great burger. I also went to the grocery store to pick up a few Zip Lock baggies as extra insurance for some of my gear. I also got online and ordered another umbrella from Zpacks and had them ship it to our first resupply location in Reliance. I chose to just order another one vs having my beautiful bride mail mine to me.

Day 3 / Mar. 02
Mile 18.5 (Back To The Trail)

Will and my beardedself woke up with breakfast on our minds, so we got dressed and headed over to the Country Cafe’ for some home cooked breakfast. It was a cute little mom and pop restaurant. The food was delicious and it was great being able to have a cup of coffee too.

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to get all of our gear packed up. We had it scattered all over the room drying it out. Kris was set to pick us up at 11:30 so we wanted to make sure we would be ready to go when he got there.

Like clock work, Kris showed up and picked us up. He offered to take us out to lunch, but we were still stuffed from the late breakfast we ate. We deeply appreciate Kris’s generosity and his willingness to help a couple of hikers out. It was really great getting to know him a little. Kris saved the day.

Once back on trail, we were glad it was sunny and cooler. It was a long day but we finally made it to Tipton Mt where we set up camp for the night. We had barely missed the sunset, but we could still see some beautiful colors in the clear sky above. But it was just dark enough that we needed our head lamps to set our tents up. It felt good to be back on the trail again…… and dry.

Day 4 / Mar. 03
Mile 31.2 (Toast & Jammz)

We woke up to a very frosty world. The temps had dropped to the mid 20s during the night, but we had miles to do and a restaurant along the way that had some warm food waiting on us. So we got packed up and got on trail pretty quick. A hiker will always be motivated by food…

We made it down to the Shallowford Rd which started our first road walk of this hike. After crossing the Shallowford iron bridge, the Iron Bridge Store & Cafe’ was right across the road. We couldn’t resist the urge to drop our packs at the door and go in and order a good warm meal. I had 2 bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, a salad with grilled chicken and coffee. I’m surprised I didnt order a milk. For whatever reason I always crave milk when I’m on the trail.

As bad as we hated to, we got back on the road and headed north. The power poles had blazes on them so we knew we were headed in the right direction. After about a 3 mile road walk, we were back on the trail.

We were excited to reach camp because our friends Eric and Jessica aka Toast and Jammz were going to meet up and camp with us. So we hiked as fast as we could. I was still banged up from the first day. I rolled my ankle on some wet rocks on the first day and my ankle had been very sore ever since. In fact, it was steadily getting worse. But I simply was trying to go slow and steady so I wouldn’t damage it any worse. My average speed was just over 2 mph.

Later I finally made it to camp where Toast greeted me with a nice cold beer and Jammz had a big hug for me. Jammz is pregnant and the baby aka Jelly Belly is due in around 5 weeks. That night we sat around the fire telling stories, laughing, making future hiking plans and simply enjoying each other’s company. This is what great hiking trips are made of.

Before we knew it, it was time for bed. It had been a long day. After we all made our way to our tents for the night, I laid in mine as I was editing photos and working on this blog post. My eyes would get heavy and I’d close them for a few minutes. As I did so, a bright light was shining in my face. I thought either someone wanted something or a ranger was checking on us. I opened my eyes and seen it was neither. It was a meteor shooting through the sky then breaking into many pieces. The whole forest was lit up. A few seconds later I heard a few loud booms from the meteor as it entered the atmosphere.

Now that was cool!!!!!!

Day 5 / Mar 04
Mile 47 (Trail Magic)

That morning when everyone woke up I asked them if they had seen or heard the meteor, but they all said no. So with excitement, I told them about what I had seen.

What made that so much cooler is when Toast and Jammz came and hiked with me in the Smokies last fall during my #fastestgsmnp900miler2 hike. We camped in the front yard of Ben King, one of the owners of Bryson City Outdoors. There was a major meteor shower that night so we all stayed up to watch it. As we were All sitting there watching the meteor shower. All of a sudden we seen a bright flash in the sky. It was like a camera flash. Then it flashed again, then dimmed. It pulsed bright and dimmed once again. Then it began to move in a short circular pattern, all while pulsing bright to dim. Then began to move to the side then angled off and faded out. We all just sat there and looked at each other afterwards not saying a word for a moment, knowing we all just seen something that none of us could explain.

Back to our thru-hike.. We all got packed up and headed out to the car. Toast drove us into Blue Ridge and we grabbed a bite at The Fry Shop. It was delicious! It’s located in the downtown area of Blue Ridge where all the shops and restaurants are. Afterwards we walked around checking out the shops and went to the grocery story to grab a few items we were needing for the trail. Toast and Jammz also treated us to some trail magic. They bought us a few beers and gave us a ride to the trail head so we wouldn’t have to do all of the road walk. (We ended up skipping an 8 mile section, taking us around Cherry Log and Blue Ridge. It wasn’t all road walk as we once believed. I am actually planning to come back in the fall and redo all of the BMT). Toast, Will and my beardedself shared a couple of beers before we got back on trail. We said our goodbyes and entered the woods once again. I’m very thankful for friends like Toast and Jammz. They are good people and I can’t wait till Jelly Belly gets here.

Once back on trail, both Will and my beardedself weren’t feeling this whole hiking thing. So we made it 5 miles and set up camp at Hatley Gap which had a excellent campsite. We enjoyed a good campfire (which I was able to start with my new firestarter that my friends Scott and Beth White got me for my birthday) and great conversation till it was time for bed.

Day 6 / Mar. 05
Mile 61 (Easier Day)

We had a few tough climbs that morning, but nothing too difficult. Once on top of the ridge we pretty much just cruised along. There’s nothing better than a good ridge walk. I was still nursing my foot, but it felt like it was slowly getting better as the day went along. My goal was to just be easy with it and make it last through this hike.

We made it to the intersection where the northern terminus of the Pinhoti Trail connects with the BMT. It’s really very remote and just seemed odd to have a major trailhead there. No thrills, views or epic finish point……. But it was pretty awesome to see the terminus. I plan to thru hike it in the next few years.

I really enjoyed the South Fork Trail. It has the same feel as the Smokies. The Cohutta Wilderness is a pretty rugged and remote section of forest. Definitely a beautiful area. The intersection with Jacks River Trail was a little confusing. It took us a minute or two and a little back tracking, but we finally figured it out. After a long day of hiking, we made it to Spanish Gap and the Hemp Top Trail intersection.

I noticed that I would get a second wind at the end of the day to where I would want to push for more mileage. Which my speed was slow and steady due to my ankle injury from the first day and I took less breaks. By the end of the day I still had enough energy to keep pushing for more. Will was really the opposite of me. He was much faster and took longer breaks (waiting on me), but by the end of the day he was ready to camp.

Tomorrow morning we’ll be back in Tennessee.

Posted in Benton MacKaye Trail, Black Rock Gear, Goosefeet Gear, Hiking, Ultralight Backpacking, Uncategorized, Winter Backpacking, Zpacks | 4 Comments

GSMNP (New Weather / Road Closure Protocols)

First and foremost I want to thank all of our Great Smoky Mountains National Park employees and volunteers for all of their hard work to keep all of our facilities, trails and roads open.

As someone who absolutely loves our Smokies, and sharing the gander and beauty that these mountains reveal. I spend days and at a time and sometimes weeks in the backcountry of the park. In 2017 I hiked over 2,200 miles in the park and completed 2- GSMNP 900-Milers. If I seen trails in bad shape or something that wasn’t right, I would alert employees and park officials so they could take care of the issues.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had an opportunity to communicate through email with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Management Assistant/Public Affairs Dana Soehn. I wanted to get a better understanding as to why the park was taking such an aggressive stance on road closures during bad weather. So at my request Dana sent me this email explaining why the park is closing roads so much now days. This is the email she sent me.

“Over the last year, our park staff has worked hard to develop protocols for road closures that best protect our visitors, park rangers, and emergency equipment operators. Our goal is to prevent people from traveling on a roadway that, based on forecasts and experience, we expect to become hazardous due to ice, snow, flooding, or falling trees. In order to meet this objective, our park rangers work hard to safely close roads before weather events occur so that we are not not placing visitors or emergency personnel in harm’s way during an active storm event. With our current ranger staffing levels, we are challenged to provide coverage across the parks’ 380 miles of roadways. Rangers perform safety sweeps along the roads to alert visitors to the closures. Depending on how widespread the weather event is expected to be, it can take several hours to safely effect a closure. We are trying to provide more timely notices to visitors by posting messages on our SmokiesRoadsNPS Twitter account about planned closures. Of course, sudden storms still pop up and our rangers respond as efficiently and safely as possible. With well-forecasted storms, we have an opportunity to implement closures in a manner that we feel is safer for all.

We understand that some would prefer that we only close roadways when conditions have left roads impassable. Unfortunately, this practice can unduly put our staff in hazardous situations when they are called to respond to wrecks and stranded motorists. Occasionally, we have implemented closures that became unnecessary when weather events did not materialize. We do work hard to reopen roadways efficiently, but this also takes time with our current staffing levels. We recognize that this is an inconvenience to our visitors and we work hard to balance the risks; however, our position is that we will always place safety first for our visitors and employees. We appreciate this opportunity to share our approach with you.”

I just want to thank Dana for sharing this information with us. It goes a long way to help clear things up and helps give us a little understanding to the parks new protocols. But I’ve also made a couple of suggestions that may help with a couple problems associated with the road closures. I feel there are a couple more things that the park could improve on that would definitely make these road closures less of an inconvenience.

So these 2 issues need to be addressed;

⚫Issue #1: If the park service closes roads or plans to close roads due to weather or a government shut down;
▪ List and post ALL roads and access points that are or will be closed on the website and the Smokies Roads Twitter page. Even the little side roads like Greenbrier, Cataloochie, Cosby Campground and Mt Sterling Road. Any access point to the park that is closed needs to be posted so the public will know.
‎▪ Notify those that have active & current backcountry permits that their access point will be closed via email or by phone. The park has the contact info for the permit holder. This needs to be a standard procedure in bad weather situations. The park service already sends emails to the permit holder advising them of approaching bad weather. Adding road closure information pertaining to the permit holders hike intenary needs to be apart of that system.

______________________

When camping in the backcountry, a backcountry permit is required. It costs $4 per person, per campsite/shelter. Currently the park service does not issue refunds on backcountry permits. They only offer to reschedule the permit, but no more than 30 days out. The average person typically can’t take additional days off from work within 30 days, especially week long trips. It’s like planning your vacation, making the reservations, traveling to there just to find out they are closed. Oh, and you don’t get a refund on top of that. They just offer to let you come back within 30 days…….. Who can take off additional time from work in the same month?…. There’s a better way…..

Here’s the a couple of suggested solutions to that issue:

⚫Issue #2: ◾If the park service closes roads due to a weather situation or government shut down, then the park service should offer;
▪ Option #1: Give a full refund to the backcountry permit holder. (It’s NOT the permit holders fault the roads are being closed. Therefore why should the permit holder pay the price and lose out)
‎▪ Option #2: Offer a credit in the backcountry permit holders name. The credit would be good towards future backcountry permits equal to the amount of the current permit. The credit can be good for the length of 6 months to 2 years.

These suggested solutions are small steps in improving the experience and the interactions the public will have with the park. As someone who loves the Smokies and appreciates the park service employees. To stand by and do or say nothing wouldn’t be good for our park or it’s visitors. There is always room for improvement and we can work together to fix things to improve the experience our park visitors have with our beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The level of concern the park has for the safety of it’s visitors and staff can’t be questioned. When you see a park employee or volunteer out, stop and say THANK YOU for all they do for our beautiful park and it’s visitors.

Posted in Great Smoky Moutains National Park, GSMNP, GSMNP 900-Miler, Hiking, National Parks, Winter Backpacking | 2 Comments

DiY Insulated Water Bottles (Winter Water Bottle Setup)

As an avid winter backpacker, I’ve delt with frozen water bottles way too many times to count. I’ve tried everything to prevent it. I’ve slept with the bottles in my sleeping bag, carried them in my jacket while hiking. Nothing really worked the way I was hoping it would.

So I started brain storming on ways to prevent my water bottles from freezing or at least put off the inevitable. After quiet a few trial and errors, I believe I’ve come up with the simplest way to keep my water bottles from freezing or at least not freezing as fast.

I typically care 2- 20 oz Gatorade bottles. I prefer these cause of the wide mouth on the bottles. I can pour my Skratch Labs hydration supplements, BCAA’s or Whey Protein in them pretty easy. I use 1 bottle to mix in and the other bottle I keep pure water in for cooking or simply just to have some nice clean water to drink. I’ve used this 2 bottle system for several years now and I don’t see my beardedself changing anytime soon.

So when I started experimenting with how I could keep my water bottles from freezing. I needed an item that could work with and fit around these bottles. I tried a series of different things like collapsible koozies, Neoprene, styrofoam, and so on..

Finally it hit me one day to try the old school, thick foam koozies. After a few hikes to field test it. I finally found what I was looking for. It worked! But I felt like there was still room for improvement. The cap was completely exposed to the elements which made it the weakest link in my new system. When carrying the bottle up right, water would freeze against the inside of the cap. Therefore either preventing me from opening the cap or once opened there would be a thick frozen layer of ice blocking my access to the liquid water inside my bottle.

Then out of the blue it hit me like a slap across the bearded face. The solution was to take a third thick foam koozie, cut it down till about 1-1/2″ (bottom part). Take this piece and place it in the bottom of the side pocket of the backpack. Making sure to place it with the koozie in the upright position naturally creating a foam cup in the bottom of my side pocket.

Once it’s in place, I put the modified bottle in the side pocket, in the upside down position so the cap of the bottle sits in the cut down koozie in the side pocket. By doing this the bottle is now completely enclosed in the foam.

Now I’ve been testing out this latest version and I have to say it’s been working out very well. To be honest, much better than I originally thought.

If you’re wanting to give this method a shot, you’ll need;

·3- Old School Think Foam Koozies (per each water bottle)

·1- 20 oz Gatorade or Powerade Bottle

These can be picked up at almost any store or online. As for putting it all together, just follow the instructions in the video. It only takes a few minutes to get each bottle set up.

So give it a try and tell me how it works for you..

Posted in DiY Gear, Hiking, Ultralight Backpacking, Uncategorized, Winter Backpacking | 2 Comments

2018 Winter Gear & Clothing List

  1. I never hike in the Fall thru Spring without my Black Rock Down Beanie.

What’s your “Winter” Gear List?……… I’ve been asked this question more than I can count. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t mind the questions. To be honest, I enjoy talking to people about the gear I carry and what they’re carrying. It’s the best way to learn what’s out there and how well it performs and lasts. Simple “word of mouth” holds more weight than high dollar advertising. 

Photo By: Dewey Slusher

People love to talk about their gear and to telling others about it. They are passionate about the brand’s and most are loyal customers. That’s why a lot of backpacking gear manufacturers put more stock in their customers and their ambassadors. The feedback they receive is awesome and the praise is absolutely priceless. 

Brooks Running Caldera Trail Runners

Having said all of that, there’s no secret that I’m a HUGE fan of Zpacks, Black Rock Gear & Goosefeet Gear. I’ve been using gear from all three companies for at least the last couple of years now. It’s gear I know and trust. 

Black Rock Gear Wooly Beanie

We’re talking about “Winter Backpacking” right?….. You’re one bad decision or gear failure from a life and death struggle while in the backcountry. You must know the gear you are using and trust that it won’t fail and put your life at risk. I know I can trust gear from Zpacks, Goosefeet Gear & Black Rock Gear. It’s been tested and proven. It’s the best fit for me and my cold weather, ultralight backpacking style. And to be open about my affiliation with these companies, I am an ambassador for Goosefeet Gear and Black Rock Gear.

Zpacks Nero Backpack on Mt LeConte, GSMNP

So back to the original question……… What’s my winter gear list?….. 

Here it is. I’ve hyper linked each item so you can see additional information like materials, weights and where you can purchase it at. 

#mybeardedself and my Goosefeet Gear down jacket. Photo By: Jeff Benefield of 

Jbensblog.com

2018 Winter Backpacking Gear List

◼Gear:

   ◾Shelter System:

    ‎    ▪ Zpacks Camo Duplex Tent

        ▪ Zpacks Carbon Trekking Poles

        ▪ Zpacks Carbon Tent Stakes (2)

        ‎▪ Zpacks Titani… Tent Stakes (6)

   ◾Backpack & Other Gear:

   ‎     ▪ Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack

        ▪ Anker 10000 mAh Battery Pack

        ▪ GoPro Hero 5 Session (2)

        ‎▪ Vargo Outdoors Dig Tool

        ▪ Black Diamond Spot Headlamp

◼Clothing:

  ◾Base Layers:

  ‎     ‎▪ Injinji Toe Sock Liners

       ▪ Darn Tough Socks

       ▪ ExOfficio 9″ Boxerbriefs

       ▪ Tri-Blend T-shirt

       ‎▪ Outdoor Research PL400 Gloves

       ▪ Patagonia Capilene Mid & Therm.. Weight  Pants & Shirts

       ‎▪ Buff Wool

 ◾Mid-Layers:

       ▪Patagonia Capilene Therm Hoody

      ▪ Columbia Silver Ridge Pants

      ‎▪ Black Rock Gear Wooly

      ▪Black Rock Gear Down Foldback Mittens

      ‎▪ Buff Fleece

Outer Layers:

 ‎     ▪ Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket

      ▪ Zpacks Vertice Rain Pants

      ‎▪ Zpacks Vertice Rain Mittens

      ▪ Zpacks Fleece Hoody

      ▪ Zpacks Trucker Hat

      ▪ Goosefeet Gear Down Jacket

      ▪ Black Rock Gear Down Beanie

      ▪ Synthetic Mittens (By: Tim McCall)

◼ Sleep System:

   ◾Gear:

       ▪ Thermarest Neo Air X Lite

      ‎ ▪ Zpacks 5° Sleeping Bag

       ▪ Goosefeet Gear Down Pants

       ▪ Goosefeet Gear Down Socks

       ▪ Goosefeet Gear Down Hood

◼ Footwear:

       ▪ Brooks Running Caldera’s

       ‎▪ Dirty Girl Gaiters

       ‎or

       ‎▪ Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX Boots

       ▪ Zpacks Vertice Snow Gaiters

       ▪ Kahtoola Microspikes

So,…. What’s missing?

There are a few items that I didn’t list since I don’t carry them that often. Such as my Sawyer Mini water filter. I hardly ever filter my water, especially in the winter. I don’t like having to worry about my filter freezing and I’m very selective of where I get my water though.

Vargo titanium BOT

 Another thing is my cook kit (Vargo Outdoors Titanium BOT Spork and my Soto Micro Regulator Stove). I simply don’t cook that much… if at all. The most I do is usually boil some water for my coffee.  I do want to say though that my cook kit is lightweight and in my opinion the best gear out there, but it something that I just choose to to carry all the time.

Posted in Black Rock Gear, Goosefeet Gear, Hiking, Ultralight Backpacking, Winter Backpacking, Zpacks | 6 Comments

Florida Trail Ocala Section Hike (Dec 8-11, 2017)

Sunrise on the Florida Trail near Hidden Pond

Day 1: Fri. (Dec. 8, 2017) – ~19 miles to Stealth Camp Past Farles Lake

US 441 in downtown Lake City, FL

My beardedself, Chad Poindexter of Stick’s Blog and his son Matthew, Craig Smith and Ben Smith of Goosefeet Gear road down in Craig’s vehicle together the night before our hike. We stopped in Lake City and got a bite to eat then headed on down to Gainesville (Go Gators). We were supposed to camp near the trailhead at Rodman Dam. But since it was raining so hard, we all decided to stay at a Quality Inn for the night.

Quality Inn in Gainesville, FL

The next morning we stopped at a McDonald’s for a very early breakfast( 4:30 am). Then we drove an hour and 10 minutes to meet up with Will Wood of Following Red Beard, Matt Favero, Stephanie Hare, Drew and Triston from Zpacks and Steve Kiaser at the trailhead at Rodman Dam. The plan was to shuttle down to Clearwater Lake to begin our Florida Trail section hike. We planned to hike NOBO 70+ miles in 4 days.

Sign at Clearwater Lake on the

Florida Trail

We hit the trail around 7:30 with cloudy skies and rain in the forecast. There was a cold front that was scheduled to push through the next couple days that would bring near freezing temps to the central Florida area.

#mybeardedself on the

Florida Trail

By 1:pm it was sunny and 80 degrees. And to make it worse, the water sources were less than desirable. Yes, I did filter……. But I raned my water till we made it to our destination (19 miles later) for the night where there was a manual well pump. And man did we take full advantage of that.

The Florida Trail is marked with an ORANGE blaze.

After cameling up and topping off ALL of our water bottles we had dinner and set up camp near by next to a lake. Our campsite looked like a Zpacks tent city. Haha. Nearly every model was on display….

Our campsite “Zpacks City” for the night.

As day turned into night we all settled into our tents and hammocks and prepared to greet the rain and storm which was just on the horizon. As the wind slowly ushered the storm in, we enjoyed the breeze and prepared for what was to come.

Farles Lake on the Florida Trail

Day 2: Sat. (Dec. 9, 2017) – 15 Miles to a Hidden Pond

Matt Favero getting miles in on the

Florida Trail

The next morning I woke to a very wet and cold surprise. I had a small puddle of water in my tent and it was in the low 50s or upper 40s. The wind from the cold front had blown in rain through on of my doors that I left open. It got my sleeping pad and sleeping bag wet. I hung them up to dry once we made it to camp later. We were on the trail by 8:am as Matt and #mybeardedself hiked together for a couple of hours.

Juniper Springs, FL

We took our first brake when nearly everyone caught up with us. When we made it to Juniper Springs we took lunch at the campground store. I bought a sausage, egg & cheese biscuit, chicken sandwich which I heated up in the microwave. The warm meal tasted absolutely delicious. I also bought a Gatorade, chips and an ice cream. The temps didn’t get much warmer during the day so the ice cream made my just a little cooler.

Joe Valesko (owner of Zpacks), Matthew Poindexter (Stick’s son) & #mybeardedself showing the various stages of wear on our Zpacks Hats.

Joe, the owner of Zpacks joined us at Juniper Springs and continued our NOBO hike with us. At least for the rest of the day.
At 3:pm we made it to our campsite at Hidden Pond. It was a short 15 mile day. It was definitely a beautiful campsite surrounded by several little ponds and one big pond. And as the sun set, it got even more beautiful. All I can say in wow!

My Zpacks camo Duplex tent under a live oak tree at Hidden Pond.

Once the sun went down over the horizon so did the temps. It was time for everyone to pull out the down jackets and the BlackRock down beanies. The temps dropped to near freezing that night.

Sunset at Hidden Pond on the

Florida Trail.

Day 3: Sun. (Dec. 10, 2017) – 20 Miles to Stealth Camp begins the 88 Store

Sunrise at Hidden Pond on the

Florida Trail

Little frosty…..

The day began with everyone waking up in “Zpacks City” around 6:am and we were on trail by 7:am. We all woke up to a frosty central Florida. The temps were around 32° as we noticed a layer of frost on everything. A few of us were all wearing our Goosefeet down jackets and BlackRock down beanies.

Cold enough for the BlackRock Gear down beanie.

Me and Matt paired up and left camp at the same time. We pretty much hiked together rest of the day. We walked through many different eco systems. It seemed like every road crossing was a different eco system.

Getting a hitch back to the trail…. #trailmagic

But at one point Matt and mybeardedself took a wrong turn and hiked 1.5 miles down a sandy road. Matt flagged down a local hunter driving by who gave us a ride to the campground we were trying to go to. That’s where we waited on the others to show up to get water, but only Will and Stephanie came over to the campground for water. The others had already passed it up. So Matt and I got back on trail and started catching up to as many as we could.

We ended up catching up with Steve, Drew and Triston. Then we took about an break at Salt Springs Trail Intersection.

The trail sign at Sinking Springs intersection.

From there we were 7 miles from Store 88 (according to a handwriting on the trailsign) where we were going to camp. 2.25 hours later we were at the store. We made it just 15 minutes behind Ben, Craig, Chad and Matthew.

Pizza delivered to us at Store 88 on the Florida Trail

There we called in a pizza and had a few beers. It was more of a roadside bar than anything. But the people were friendly and welcomed us smelly hikers to hang out.
Afterwards we set up camp behind the store down along the trail and prepared our bearded selves for our last day on trail. We were all tired and our bellies were full. These were days hikers dream about.

When at camp, I like to blend in with nature. My Zpacks Camo Duplex tent and

trekking poles

Day 4: Mon. (Dec. 11, 2017) – ~15 Miles to Rodman Dam

Black bear tracks in the sand.

It was the last day and most of us were ready to hit the trail by 7:am. We had 15 miles to get back to the truck and the end of our 70 mile section hike. So a few of us got going while the others broke down their tents and loaded up.

It was a nice and cool (so cold my fingers for numb) start to our day. The sun was up with clear skies. But the temps were slow to warming up as did my fingers.

Spanish moss hanging in all of the trees.

It was a great section of trail, But the section closest to Rodman Dam was incredible. Huge live oak trees with so much spanish moss hanging in them they looked like curtains. It was absolutely breathe taking.
Once we made it through this section I looked up and we were at the trailhead. Done! I couldn’t believe it was already over. Even as I write this I am ready to go back and do more.

Chad Poindexter for Sticksblog checking out the scenery.

My Gear List:

Zpacks Arc Haul (Black on Black)

Zpacks Duplex Tent (Camo)

Zpacks 10° Sleeping Bag (Blue)

Zpacks Carbon Trekking Poles

Zpacks Tent Stakes

Zpacks Food Blast Bag

Zpacks Hat

Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket (Blue)

Liteflex Silver Umbrella

Goosefeet Gear Down Jacket

Goosefeet Gear Down Socks

BlackRock Gear Down Beanie

BlackRock Gear Dryfit Beanie

Thermarest Neo Air Sleeping Pad

Mogix 10400 mAh Battery Pack

Patagonia Capilene Therm Hoody

Outdoor Research PL150 Gloves

GoPro Hero 5 Sessions

Wiley X Saints Sun Glasses

Brooks Running Caldera’s

Dirty Girl Gaiters

My “one of a kind” (Black on Black) gridstop

Arc Haul.

Summary:

In summary I would highly recommend this section of the Florida Trail if you’re looking for a 70 ish mile section hike in Florida. With roughly 700 to 800 feet of elevation gain over the 70 mile stretch of trail.

We went through many different eco systems that provided a completely different look and trail conditions. It left me looking forward to what I was about to see as I continued my hike.

The eastern Ocala section of the Florida Trail is absolutely beautiful and a must see.

Posted in Black Rock Gear, Florida Trail, Goosefeet Gear, Hiking, Ultralight Backpacking, Zpacks | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Finally of Epic Proportions(A Great Smoky Mountains National Park Thru-Hike) Week 4 to Finish #fastestgsmnp900miler2

#mybeardedself pointing out a spot to Jeff Benefield of jbensblog 📷 Dewey Slusher

With the first three weeks going about as good as they could possible go with me coming straight off the couch. And with me slowly recovering from rolling my right ankle. I was ready to put those days behind me and focus on getting this hike done.

I was starting to see my mileage increase by week 4 and finally getting my trail legs back. Now that made me happy. I was able to do the miles that I had been doing prier to me getting Planter Fasciitis (PF). Now I still had the PF in my left foot, but leg wise I was able to do the miles I once had done.

The Feet

As for the PF, it hurt every single day. I took lots of ibuprofen to try to dull the pain a little bit and I soaked my feet in the cool mountain streams every chance I got. It was a routine I repeated daily. But when it would rain and the trail would fill with water, it worked as cold therapy which felt amazingly great. It was the only time my feet wouldn’t hurt. So I always looked forward to the days I had rain forecasted which was only about 4 days or so.

During my 43 day hike I didn’t get a single blister, but my feet had to build up since I hadn’t hiked in months. In the beginning I used KT Tape and Mole Skin as a preventive measure. But after about two weeks I was actually able to phase out the Mole Skin and eventually the KT Tape. By week four (4) I was tape free.

I wore a single pair of Brooks Running Caldera’s. I chose to wear a size bigger (size 11 1/2) to compensate for the feet swelling. It was a decision that I mistakingly did not make during my 1st map back during the winter. And this time it would be my saving grace. My feet had plenty of room and were much more comfy than back during the winter when I chose to wear my Brooks Running Cascadia 9’s in size 11. And in case you were wondering, I didnt get a single blister with the Cascadia 9’s back during the winter, but my feet didn’t have as much room then either. By the end of this map, my Caldera’s would have over 1000 miles on them with plenty of life an tred left in them.

The Food I Ate

Zpacks Food Blast Bag

I found #mybeardedself not eating as much as I had thought I would. I also ended up eating more trail mix with peanut M&M’s than I did anything else. But the truth is I simply wasnt that hungry on the trail. But when I would come into town to do laundry and stay overnight with friends, I would eat pizza or burgers and have a beer or chocolate milk. And let’s not forget coffee. But I also would store bananas, apples, almonds and almond butter along with canned chicken in my truck (which I had access to every other day or so. I was also taking vitamins and drinking electrolyte mixes, whey protein shakes and BCAA’s which helped with my daily recovery.

Anthony’s Pizza 📷 By Dewey Slusher

So where were my favorite places to eat? If I was on the North Carolina side I absolutely had to eat at Anthony’s Pizza in Bryson City. I would always get a 14″ pizza, Alfredo base, grilled chicken, broccoli and bacon. My friend Renè Williams got me hooked on it. Every time I was near there and able to, I was going to Anthony’s.

Three Jimmy’s burger & YeeHaw Brewing Eighty 📷 By Dewey Slusher

Now as for the Tennessee side, it has to be Three Jimmy’s in Gatlinburg. Jeremy from YeeHaw Brewing took me there during my last week on the trail. He bought me a burger and fries which was served up with a nice cold YeeHaw Eighty beer. Jeremy interviewed me for their blog and we also talked about me becoming an ambassador for YeeHaw. But from that point on I ate at Three Jimmy’s for the next few days till I finished on that Saturday. And it was there where I had my celebration meal and a celebratory beer which was a YeeHaw Eighty (my favorite).

Yeehaw Eighty

The Gear I Used
· Zpacks (technical support)

Zpacks Nero Backpack on top of Mt LeConte, GSMNP

Nero Backpack

Duplex Tent (Camo)

Trekking Poles

30° Sleeping Bag

Vertice Rain Jacket

Vertice Rain Pants

Food Blast Bag

Tent Stakes

Trucker Hat

Stuff Sacks & Dry Bags

On this map I used a new backpack that I had never used before. I chose to go with a Zpacks Nero Backpack which is a frameless backpack made of the same Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF) as my Zpacks Arc Blast and Zero packs were made of. This pack worked perfect. It weighed a mere 10.9 oz and carried comfortably whether I was backpacking or just doing a long day hike. I carried on average 13 lbs in it. My base weight (not including food or water) was around 4 lbs. I honestly love this pack, but after my hike was over I discovered it was rubbing the garmats such as my t-shirts, my Goosefeet Gear down jacket, my Zpacks Vertice rain jacket and my Patagonia capilene thermal weight hoody severly. It had rubbed Vertice abrasion marks into the fabric over the kidneys areas and the upper back. It was the webbing sewn in place for the hipbelt attachment points that was doing the rubbing. When Zpacks sent me this pack it came with a foam cushion pad strapped to the back of the pack. It was held in place with shock cord. I didn’t like this option so I removed it immediately. At the time I had no idea that this was going to be a bad decision and nor did Zpacks. The pad was in place to provide comfort and stability to the pack. After I made the discovery, I contacted Zpacks and made them aware of the problem. They advised me that they would be looking into possibly trying to redesign that better. I’m still using this awesome pack, but this time I’m using it with the foam pad that came with it. #neveraltergear #ultralightbackpacking #teamzpacks #zpacks

· Goosefeet Gear (sponsor)

Goosefeet Gear Down Jacket 📷 By Jeff Benefield

Down Jacket

Down Pants

Down Socks

My Goosefeet Gear down jacket worked perfectly. It was provided to me as part of my sponsorship by Goosefeet Gear. This jacket was perfect for what I needed it for. I sent Ben Smith (owner) my measurements and my specs I chose. When completed, it weighed only 7 oz and was made with 3.5 oz down fill with 900 Fill power of Drytech down. The outer shell was made of Royal Blue 20d and the inner liner was Balck 10d. Once again, being lightweight, warm and durable were my main criteria. Ben met all of those. I also paid Ben to make me a pair of down paints as well. They met the same specs as my jacket except I had them made with an outer shell of Black 20d and an inner liner of 10d. I also used my down socks as well on the cooler nights at camp or at the shelter.

I also want to be clear too. With Goosefeet Gear, BlackRock Gear as with Zpacks and most of the other companies that sponsored me or assisted me. I was a long time customer before I was ever sponsored by them.
· BlackRock Gear (sponsor)

Down Beanie

Foldback Down Mittens

I used my BlackRock Gear down beanie a lot. There were many nights and morning that I absolutely depended on my down beanie to keep my head warm. It was like having a down sleeping bag for my head. And the great thing about this beanie was that it was SUPER lightweight (weighing less than 1 oz), it was compact so that I could just stuff it into my pocket when I didn’t need it and it was made to fit my head (which is a medium-short). I also used my Foldback Mittens a few times to keep my hands warm, but still have access to fingers when I needed to take a photo with my smartphone or check my downloaded park map.

· Brooks Running (not a sponsor)

Calderas Trail Runner

I used my Brooks Running Caldera’s on this hike every single day. They provided great support, soft sole, great traction, breathability and lightweight. I ended up keeping them in for 80 % of my stream crossing which were over 80 crossings. When I got them wet, they would dry out quickly. I wore them several days in heavy rains well. Each time the shoe dried quickly and didn’t do any damage to my feet.

I absolutely fell in love with these shoes which I wear as my everyday shoes (the same pair I hiked in). It has well over 1200 miles on them and counting. Since my hike I also have purchased several pairs of the Caldera’s. It is definitely my go to show now.
· Darn Tough (not a sponsor)

I used a single pair of light cushioned Darn Tough socks. They worked great for me. Last year I completely switched to Darn Tough’s and I haven’t looked back since. Occationally I wear a pair of Injinji toe sock liners to help If my toes start getting hateful with each other. Also, I didn’t get the first blister on this hike or any other hike I’ve been on since I started using Darn Tough’s.

· Patagonia (not a sponsor)

Capilene Thermal Weight Hoody

Capilene Thermal Weight Beanie

I have to be honest here. This is one of my favorite pieces of gear. I picked it up from BackCountry last year and I absolutely love this thing. It weighs only 7 oz and is super warm. I only wish it had a kangaroo pocket then it would be perfect.

· Outdoor Research (not a sponsor)

PL150 Gloves

I used these gloves about 30% of my hike. It honestly didn’t get that cold where I needed anything on my hands, but maybe an hour or so during the morning. And it wasn’t to the point that I needed my BlackRock Gear Foldback Mittens other than at night when I was in camp. But they worked great and did what they were supposed to do.

· Vargo Outdoors (sponsor)

700 ml Titanium BOT pot

Titanium Spork

Titanium Dig Tool

Vargo Outdoors sent me a 700 ml titanium BOT, a titanium Spork and a titanium Dig Tool. They all worked great. I really enjoyed the BOT (weighing 4 oz) a lot more than my old Snow Peak 700 ml titanium pot. I also love that the BOT has a sealable lid so if I need to carry water in it I can. The Dig Tool (weighing under 1 oz) did it’s job. It made digging my “cat holes” easy.

· Katadyn (not a sponsor)

BeFree Water Filter

Now this item gave me problems. I loved the weight (only 2 oz) and the flow rate on this item when it worked, but it didn’t work well for me. I used it maybe 5 time (max) and it clogged up on me twice. And I only filtered clear water so I’m not sure what the issue was. It was a good thing I usually don’t filter water cause this filter was very unreliable for me. I would not recommend this item. I’ll be going back to my Sawyer Squeeze which weighs 3 oz.

· Therm-a-rest

Neo Air X-Lite

I’ve used this sleeping pad for the last couple of years. Its worked very well for me, providing enough comfort to get a great nights rest and the regular size only weighs 12 oz.

I use this pad every single time I go into the backcountry.
· Sea To Summit (not a sponsor)

Aeros Lightweight Air Pillow

I actually used this same pillow for well over a year now. And after using several different types in the past several years I would have to say I like this one the most.

Weighing in at only 2 oz, this pillow is soft and very comfortable.

· Black Diamond (not a sponsor)

2017 Spot Headlamp

This is by far my favorite version of this headlamp by Black Diamond. At 300 lumens, easy to operate and weighing at 3 oz, it’s perfect for what I do. I actually own several of these headlamps. I like them that much.

· Mogix (not a sponsor)

▪ This battery pack is rated at 10,000 mAh and weighs in at 6 oz. I can charge my LG G5 2 times and my GoPro Hero 5 Session 4 times.

Now this pack has a few years of use on it so I’m currently looking to upgrade to an Anker 10,000 mAh soon.
· GoPro (not a sponsor)

Hero 5 Session

I used this camera to document my hike. I shot video everyday while I was on trail. It was lightweight and easy to use.

Memorable Moments

#mybeardedself and my “Beautiful Bride” Ashley

Hiking with my friends and spending Thanksgiving hiking Brushy Mt with my buddy Dewey Slusher will be something I’ll never forget. But the most memorable moment will be hiking with my beautiful bride Ashley the day before I finished which was our anniversary. We hiked 10.3 miles that day and it was Ashley’s biggest mileage day. We were tired afterwards, but she wasn’t too tired to surprise me the next day when she and our friend Dana Parish hiked in 3.5 miles to meet us so they could hike that last few miles with us. That meant the world to me.

Areas Completed

☑ Deep Creek

☑ Cataloochie

☑ Hazel Creek

☑ Balsam Mt

☑ Smokemont

☑ Twentymile

☑ Cases Cove

☑ Cosby

☑ Big Creek

☑ Elkmont

☑ Tremont

☑ Greenbrier

☑ Sugerlands
Summary

The first ever “Glow Tunnel”

GSMNP 900-Miler Club

So in summary, I hiked all the open trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fastest known time….. again. I finished my 2nd map around 9:30 PM at the Old Sugarlands Trailhead at Newfound Gap Rd under the “Glow Tunnel” on Nov. 25, 2017. The hikers wrapped their trekking poles with battery operated Christmas lights. It was an amazing sight. My ending mileage and time was 924.3 miles in 43 days.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment