Review of Outmersive Films documentary “The High Sierra Trail”

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to preview the latest documentary by Chris Smead at Outmersive Films (formally known as Chris is Productions) called “The High Sierra Trail”. I consider Chris as a friend of mine and when he reached out to me to asked if I’d be interested in watching the documentary and tell others what I thought about it, of course I said yes.

The documentary is captured with the essence that you are on this backpacking trip on the High Sierra Trail with Chris and his friend John, but at the same time you’re receiving a history lesson about the different areas you’re entering along the way. Historian William Tweed, a 30 year national park service veteran does an outstanding job both narrating and explaining the significance of each specific area that Chris and John entered as they hiked the High Sierra Trail. He explained the history of the trail is such great detail. Honestly I could sit and listen to William all day. The tone of his voice and his unending knowledge of the High Sierras grabbed my attention and had me hanging on for more.

I was also quite impressed with the animation in this documentary. Chris made it seem that the historical photos were coming to life as if it were videos instead of photographs. It brought each of these old photographs to life right before my eyes. Matching these up with Williams Tweeds historical knowledge was a perfect match.

Now Chis is a great videographer in is own right. I loved that he was able to capture the real essence of every situation. The humorous situations (which there were many) along with the reality of life on the trail, Chris captured it all. I also love that he wasn’t afraid to be real in front of the camera. It’s so easy to be fake or not be our true selves when we’re being filmed, not with Chris. He seems very comfortable and very much himself when in front of the camera.

After watching The High Sierra Trail I honestly wanted to cancel my up coming John Muir Trail hike and do the High Sierra Trail instead. It looked absolutely amazing. Even though both trails join together for about 15 miles and summit Mt Whitney ( the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states) together. The rest of each trail are very different from one another.

The Team Behind the Film:

Outmersive Films is a newly formed arts collective founded by Chris Smead. He had previously operated solo, under the name “Chris Is Awesome Productions” when the direction of his hobby was unclear. As things turned more serious and other collaborators began joining in, it became obvious that it needed to be reinvented.

Soon after shooting the film and making the trailer, Chris was approached by Bruce Goodman, a professional colorist who had worked on countless Hollywood films as well as Mile, Mile and A Half. Shortly after, Bill Meadows and Alex Knickerbocker (of Mr Robot, Fast and Furious) reached out and offered their post sound talents. Long time friend Jacen Spector joined the show to save Chris from his notoriously terrible marketing skills, and Emma Massick recently joined to help lead marketing and social media management. Gordon Gurley, an experienced videographer and audio engineer has provided a lot of guidance during the project and will be taking a much more active role for the next project. The Outmersive family is growing and we’re excited to see what we can create together.

Here’s another teaser trailer for Outmersive Films newest film, The High Sierra Trail! Be sure to check out his page for upcoming showings of the full film… it’s worth watching!!

Want to know where and when you can get a chance to see this film? Here is all of Outmersive Films social media accounts. You can follow them to keep up with what all is going on with the High Sierra Trail documentary.

To stay up to date about how to see the film, follow Outmersive Films on social media, and subscribe to the mailer on http://www.highsierratrail.com

Official Trailer: Official Trailer: https://youtu.be/Dnkv1uFZuyI

Follow Us:

Official film website: http://www.highsierratrail.com

The group behind the film: http://www.outmersivefilms.com

Social:

http://www.Facebook.com/outmersivefilms

http://www.Instagram.com/outmersivefilms

http://www.Twitter.com/outmersive

http://www.Youtube.com/c/outmersivefilms

http://www.Vimeo.com/outmersivefilms

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.

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..

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.

From Coach to Trail (A Great Smoky Mountains National Park Thru-Hike) Start to Week 3 #fastestgsmnp900miler2

1509798922414As most of you know by now, I’m thru-hiking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. And I’m attempting to set a new fastest time.

Not the Feet!

Back during mid summer, I ended up getting Planters Fasciitis in my left foot. I wanted it to heal up before my hike so I got everyone on board. I was being treated by my doctor Dr. Mike Rothwell at Well-Key Urgent Care, Dr. Alan Lensgraf at West Knox Chiropractic Group, Ryan at Tennessee Sports Medicine Group and my massage therapist Laura McClain. All out of the Knoxville, Tennessee area. Even with all of the professionals on board, it still didn’t heal in time for the start date of my hike. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

1508370116377Leading up to my thru-hike I only did 2 hikes that were no more than about 10 miles each. So I wasn’t sure how my foot was going to do once I started doing 20s each day. I simply just trusted in God that His will would be done out of this hike.

Mission Partners & The Mission..

When doing a hike like this, it requires financial support along with support from friends and family. You need support for shuttles, possibly lodging if you’re not staying in the park and gear. For me I was able to save up enough money throughout this spring and summer to financially take care of my bills at home, but I needed the extra financial support for my hike.

That’s where the sponsorships came into play. But I prefer to call them “Mission Partners”. Because not every company gave the same support. They were made up of companies and private donations. But they all contributed to help me complete my mission and I am forever grateful to them.

So what is the Mission?……. My mission is simple. Thru-Hike the Smokies in the fastest time that I can, be a positive roll model and share the beauty of God’s creation and let His love shine through me.

Here is a list of the Mission Partners for my hike;

865life
SafeRingz
Tennessee Beard Co.
Vargo Outdoors
Salazon Chocolate Co.
Black Rock Gear
Goosefeet Gear
Justin’s
Well-Key Urgent Care
West Knox Chiropractic Group
Tristar Adventures
Bradford Beans

Special Assistance & Technical Support By:
Zpacks
Skratch Labs
YeeHaw Brewing

  The Hike Inn
▪ Laurel Park Inn, Maggie Valley, NC

Friends & Family

I also want to thank all of my family and friends who are helping me with shuttles, trail magic, lodging, support, and prayer. I appreciate it more than you know. It’s impossible to do what I’m doing without support. And to have that from the people that most to me is beyond awesome.

I’ve also gotten some support from my church family at Ridge Church in Oak Ridge, TN as well.

The Hike

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First sunrise on trail. Day 1. Photo by Dewey Slusher

I began my #fastestgsmnp900miler2 thru-hike on October 14th of this year around 3:am. The first hike was up Alan Cave Trail to Mt LeConte to catch a sunrise. What an awesome way to start this hike.

The first week I decided to do lower miles between 13 and 18. I felt like doing lower miles would give my feet a chance to get use to the work load, seeing that I basically went from the couch to the trail.

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100 mile mark celebration… Justin’s Almond Butter & Jelly

While hiking down upper Deep Creek Trail during the first week I rolled my right ankle. It would continue to give me problems for the next week or two. Overall everything is going as expected and planned. On day #6 I passed the 100 mile mark, day #12 I passed 200, day #16 I passed 300 and on day #21 I passed the 400 mile marker. So I’m well on my way to finishing Thanksgiving weekend, the 25th to be exact. I’ll be finishing at the same location as last time, Old Sugerlands Trailhead at Newfound Gap Rd.

It’s the beginning of week number 4 now and the leaves are in their prime. The Smokies are laced with their reds, oranges, and yellow colors. It’s an incredibly beautiful time to be hiking the park. Some colors are so bright that they nearly look neon. And even though the upper elevations got their first snow last week, it didn’t effect the colors on most of the hardwood trees.

The Real Reason I’m Out Here

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Hiking up a very wet and foggy Forney Ridge Trail in my Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket

But being out here is more about reconnecting with God, myself and nature. It’s very peaceful out here. It allows me to think clearly and put everything in its rightful place in my brain.

It’s almost like my brain has a huge desk in it which was covered up with images from the past. Just piled up in a chaotic fashion that need to be filed away properly. Images from my over a decade of service as an volunteer member of a Rescue Squad and Fire Department where I fulfilled roles as EMT, Vehicle Extrication, Rescue Diver, Swiftwater Rescue and more.. It’s kind of funny. I was always calm under high stress situations when I was doing rescue. And now I can’t handle high stress situations. I have to get out of it as quickly as possible. It’s almost like a panic attack, but more extreme. Some say it’s PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from my time in the emergency field. I’m not sure, but I do know that high stress triggers it. And it’s not good when it does.

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Little Cataloochie Baptist Church

So….. What do I do when I’m out on the trail? Well I pray a lot, hum tunes of worship music (cause I can’t sing my way out of a bucket), talk to God a lot and simply plan the next few days ahead on my hike. I also take in the beauty around me. I’m surrounded by His creation that He made for me to see and enjoy. I also take a few photos and shoot a little video to preserve those moments and memories.

The Photos

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The Giant Popular Tree on Caldwell Fork Trail

A few people have asked me why I’m up posting so many black and white photoson my #fastestgsmnp900miler2 thru-hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. No I’m not doing the black and white photo challenge. No I wasn’t inspired by the black and white challenge. I decided to post most of the pictures on this hike in black and white back in the spring when I made up my mind I was going to do this hike again. Black and white photos to me takes me back in time. They simplify what’s in the photo. I’m not distracted by the color so I can pay attention to the details of the image.

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Kephart Shelter on Kephart Prong

I decided to do black and white because it takes me back to the day that Horace Kephart roamed these Smoky Mountains and called them home. It takes me back to do what I would think it would look like if I was there at the time and someone took a picture of captures the true essence of the Smokies. It also reminds me of the gander that Ansel Adams captured Yosemite.

The Progress..

So far I’ve completed the following areas of the park;

☑ Deep Creek
☑ Cataloochie
☑ Hazel Creek
☑ Balsam Mt
☑ Smokemont
◻ Twentymile
◻ Cases Cove
◻ Cosby
◻ Big Creek
◻ Elkmont
◻ Tremont
◻ Greenbrier
◻ Sugerlands

Art Loeb Trail (Mar. 25-26, 2017)

PicShop-977C13423A983C88CB53E21D92E01703.pngThe Art Loeb Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina has been on my list since last October when I attended a “Mens Gospel Campout” that my good friend Jeremy Puskas aka “Brother Bones” of Bonefire Gear hosts every fall. I had planned on doing the Art Loeb back during the winter. But once my #gsmnp900miler turned into my #fastestgsmnp900miler then that all changed.

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The following weekend after I finished my record setting  #fastestgsmnp900miler hike, I had an opportunity to thru hike the Art Loeb Trail with my good friend Tim McCall aka “Titanium Pyro” and his wife Lori. The trail is 30.1 miles long with 17,000 feet of elevation change and crosses 4- 6000 footers.

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We decided to hike it SOBO, so we began at the northern terminus located at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. The first 6.2 miles is an absolute butt kicker. Yes, I just said it “butt kicker”. This trail is no joke. The rugged and poorly marked trail demands your absolute attention or you’ll hurt yourself or get lost.
We were less than 2 miles in, while attempting to get some water from a stream, I slipped and fell square on my butt getting partially wet. No worries, I didnt get any brain damage. But some how I did manage to hurt my right shoulder, which bothered me for the rest of the day.
Around 1:pm we made it to Shining Rock. A huge out crop of white quartz that glistens like snow in the sunshine. Shining Rock is about 3 stories tall and about 50 yards long piece of white quartz. We climbed to the top of it where we took lunch and had an amazing view. It’s moments like that is what makes hiking all the tough miles worth it.
After lunch we topped off our bottles at the spring near Shining Rock Gap. The spring is located on the left side if the trail. Then we made our way towards the balds.

 Now if you like the Roan Highlands or Mount Rogers and the Grayson Highlands then you will absolutely love the Art Loeb Trail. It crosses Tennent Mt and Black Balsam Knob. Two Rocky balds that provide 360° views. The highest point on the trail is at the summit of Black Balsam Knob which sits at 6295′. One of the most magnificent sunrises I’ve ever seen was from right there last October during the Mens Gospel Campout. Tim and I had climbed up Black Balsam early the one morning and caught the sun rising above the fog which was still sitting on the valley floor. (I’ll add a picture of it).
After a few pictures, Tim, Lori and #mybeardedself headed down the mountain, crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and began making our way towards Pilot mountain.
We got to Deep Gap Shelter where we took a break, topped off our water bottles and got out our head lamps. It was night hiking from that point on. We had to make it to and across Pilot Mt and get down to Gloucester Gap where we were planning to camp. After crossing Pilot Mt and getting to the gap there wasn’t anywhere to set up, but next to the trail within 20 feet of the road. Definitely not my ideal camping location, but beggers can’t be choosy.

The Art Loeb Trail 

After getting a great nights sleep I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the cuben fiber of my camo Zpacks Duplex tent. We got everything packed up and I mentally prepared #mybeardedself to be wet and cold for the rest of our hike. We got started that morning around 8:am in a very steady rain. It didn’t stop till we were roughly 3 miles down the trail. The trail took us by Cedar Rock which is a large granite rock face and one very cool location. Other than Cedar Rock there wasn’t much to look at in this section of trail. Its pretty much a green tunnel. But as I was finishing the last 2 miles of the trail the sun came out. It definitely picked up my spirit and my step. I was ready to wrap this hike up and put this trail in the record books.

#mybeardedself with my good friend Tim McCall. 📷: Lori McCall

The Art Loeb Trail is one of the toughest trails I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most majestic. It is listed as a “Most Difficult” trail and they mean it (for at least the northern half).
Now something to keep in mind if you plan to hike this trail, is you’re required to use a bear canister from where the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway – north. That’s why we started at the northern terminus and headed south to get across the Blue Ridge Parkway before we made camp which was almost the halfway point. Beside your trail map, another great reference to check out as you plan your hike is the website hikinginthesmokies.com . It’s pretty detailed and has a little history lesson on the Art Loeb as well.
I’d like to thank Tim and Lori McCall for guiding me through the maze of trails and for helping me make this hike happen. They are truly amazing friends and I thank God for putting them in my life.

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