CouchtoCDT

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


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The Exceptional, the Good and the Ugly in My Pack

all my gear

Since I began hiking the trail, my gear has been with me the whole time and nothing tests gear more than thru-hiking a long trail like the CDT.  Here is the gear that I find exceptional, gear that is good enough and some stuff that just hasn’t met my expectations.

The Exceptional:

Hyperlite Mountain Gear WindRider 3400:

My pack is always with me and having a good one is essential to enjoying yourself on the trail.  Not only does it need to carry everything I need on my back, it has to be comfortable and a trusted friend on the trail.  The pack has held up great through these 1,300 miles. Its two lightweight stays keep it nice and formed on my back, while carrying everything comfortably.  The outside mesh pockets have held up well with all of my frequently used items like my rain pants, water treatments, snacks and anything else I can cram into them.  The large collar on the pack allows me room to roll it up when not full or to have it fully extended during those long sections that demand a full load of food and supplies.  The hip belt is comfortable and the hip pockets keep my snacks close at hand while I’m hiking.  Overall it’s a great pack and would recommend it for all your hiking needs.

Gossamer Gear “The One” Tent:

This shelter is my home away from home and has not disappointed.  Its storm worthiness has proved itself time again in heavy winds and rain.  It’s roomy enough to hold all my gear and its mesh has helped eliminate condensation, even in downpours and while camping near creeks, which usually bring lots of moisture to the air.  Its full mesh door and vestibule keeps the bugs out and my pack and shoes protected in bad weather.  Setting up the tent does take some time to figure out, but once you have it down with your two trekking poles, it’s a great shelter for all your needs.

EyeFi 8GB SD Card:

I don’t know what I would do with out this little card.  The SD card is Wi-Fi enabled so I can upload the pictures to my phone, which then upload to the Eyefi site when I have reception.  This lets me keep taking pictures even when I’m not near a computer.  I also don’t lose any pictures since they are already loaded onto my phone. Even if I did lose my camera (lets hope that doesn’t happen), I don’t have to worry that those memories might be lost forever.  Basically if you’re looking to buy an SD card, buy this one.  You won’t regret it.

Earplugs:

It might seem odd to include this, but I’ve found them to be indispensable.  At night, when you’re tired after hiking a long day, I don’t want to be woken up because of a strong wind or unusual sound in the woods.  I guess I’d rather be ignorant to the bear walking around my tent in the middle of the night then waking up and worrying about it.  Also if you hike with people that snore loud, you can’t hear them in your blissful sleep.

Nemo Equipment Zor Pad (Short):

At only 10 oz, this sleep pad has been my mattress out on the trail.  It’s quick and easy to inflate and makes any hard surface that I sleep on comfortable.  It’s long and wide enough to cover my shoulders, and its 3/4 length protects me up to my knees.  Its gives me the comfort that I need to sleep soundly and comfortably in any environment I encounter and packs up small.

The Good:

Delorme InReach System

Honestly I really didn’t want to carry any kind of SOS or tracking system while on the trail but for my family and friends it gives them comfort that I’m not dead.  The unit itself is not exactly light, at 8 oz.  It does have cool features like dropping a ‘tack’ of my progress every 10 min, 1 hr or every 2 hours, so you can see where I am in real time (See “Where’s Pete” in the navigation, above). Its preset messages let me check in my exact location at night .   The problem that I’ve had with the unit is that messages only go through about 70% of the time because the connection with my Android phone gets “unpaired” frequently. This requires me to do some technical work on it, when in town.  The service for it also isn’t cheap –  $69 per month,for the expedition package.  In the end, it’s good for my family and friends but it is a pain to deal with when it doesn’t work.

Goal Zero Nomad 7

This solar charger could have been in the Exceptional section as well, but I’m a little frustrated with it lately.  It is lightweight and is essential to keeping my phone, camera and headlamp charged when I’m not near an outlet.  The only problem I have with it is that when you have your phone plugged in and you go into shaded areas, it has a tendency to drain the battery in my phone and sometimes turns it on.  My phone charges much faster when it’s off.  I guess I’m not complaining, just annoyed with that little error in charging.

 

Darn Tough Socks:

Keeping your feet happy is a key to any hike.  These socks are comfortable but don’t last as long as I would like them to.  My system is to change out my socks mid day and wash the used pair to dry out on my pack as I walk so I can wear them the next day.  This continuous cycle of wearing and washing really wears them out quickly. It quickly creates holes and thin areas of fabric, which can cause blisters.  Luckily, Darn Tough has a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so they do replace the damaged socks when you send them to the company.  That’s good customer service, but having socks that don’t get holes in them would be even better.

 

The Ugly:

Enlightened Equipment-Revelation 20 custom Quilt:

I’ve been a quilt user for many years and find them superior to regular sleeping bags.  When getting ready for the trail I wanted something that would be warm enough, wide enough and long enough for my sleeping style.  This company had great reviews so I decided to order a custom quilt from them that was 58” wide, 84” in length and have 16 oz of down.  This quilt cost me over $300 and I couldn’t be more disappointed.  First, the quilt is designed with “Step Baffles” with the idea that you can move the down around to specific boxes on the quilt where you want the down to be.  This has been a disaster.  The down never stays in place, instead it ends up falling to the sides of the bag leaving me with just a thin layer of 10D nylon to keep me warm.  The advertised 2.5 inches of loft is completely wrong.  The down is so thin and uneven that I can’t see where you would find such a measurement of loft.  I would estimate no more than 1/4 inch of loft anywhere on the entire quilt.  I have to wear my down jacket when I sleep to give me the warmth that I need to sleep.  The adjustable neck closure is placed right in the center of the quilt so you have this annoying cord in your face all night as you sleep.  The design of this quilt is so basic, I think that an 8th grade sewing class could have designed it.  The quilt has been the biggest disappointment for gear on my trip and would highly recommend against buying this quilt, for any reason whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I am still using this quilt because I have nothing else to replace it with, and I did spend over $300 for it .  I did speak with the owner/designer of the quilt and he did offer to add 3 more ounces of down for me, but it would have just fallen to the side like the rest of the down already inside of it.


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Section 3: Emory Pass to Doc Campbells

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After 2 days of rest in Silver City, it was time to leave and get back on the trail.  I was happy to get out because I was starting to feel a little too comfortable with my soft bed, unlimited TV and showers whenever I wanted.  I wasn’t on vacation. I was thru hiking, damn it, and it was time to go. During my shopping at Walmart, which is the only place to shop in the last couple of cities, I bought a large piece of cardboard to help us with our hitchhiking. I used the term Sunday had used before but with a twist:  “Hikers to Emory Pass.”  This way people would know that I’m a hiker and not homeless. Also, stating specifically where I’m going might let people know that they won’t have to take me to Florida or something.  A smiley face wouldn’t hurt either…

After deciding to just go right outside of our hotel, we took our spot on the road and started the hitching process.  I took off my hat, cleaned up my shirt, put on a big (but not cheesy) smile on and held the sign. Two and a half hours later, we got a ride by a lady who was only going to the intersection of the road that would take us to Emory Pass.  She wasn’t from New Mexico so she didn’t know if riding in the back of a truck was legal or not, and at that point I didn’t care either, so I hopped in.  I kept a low profile just in case the cops drove by and just laid back and watched the clouds go by as the wind whipped passed me and gripped my hat so it didn’t fly away.  After about 10 minutes, we were at the intersecton saying good bye when another person that had seen us earlier asked us hop into her van.  It was only 10 seconds between hitches, which was fantastic, and gave us hope we might get to the pass soon.  We rode in the van with a woman and her son to the last intersection where any car passing us would be going to Emory Pass.  Surprisingly, it took another two and a half hours to get a ride up to the pass.  During that time, the sun beat down on us with no break.

Hitchin'

Hitchin’

Another hiker came out from the corner of the road toward us and told us he was a CDT hiker who was headed back to Gypsum, CO. Apparently he had no maps and was hiking the CDT with only a road atlas which I thought was crazy!  He got a ride with us and ended up going all the way to Santa Fe with the lady and her kids, who gave us a ride. Once on Emory Pass we hit the trail and hiked the 5 miles to the top of Hillsboro Peak lookout in about 3 hours, due to of the long switchback trail that kept going on forever to the 10,009 ft summit.  At the top was an unmanned fire lookout tower, a cabin for the lookout person and a cabin that was free for all people to enjoy.  We settled into the cabin for a great night of playing cards. It had a small room with bunkbeds, wood stove and a great porch that looked east.  I sat on the porch for a long time, gazing over the open basin below and the distant views that it provided.  That night we had the most amazing time eating and playing poker using rocks as poker chips, by the light of my headlamp.  It was truly a great moment of the trip so far and will not be soon forgotten.  That night the wind howled non-stop, as I lay snug inside the creaking cabin safe from the elements.

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The next morning we headed out, winding around the mountain, up and down several of the saddles that the route traversed.  You could tell that the area was not well maintained, as trails fading into nothing and junctions pointing us in directions we didn’t think a trail could exist.  After a long lunch, we made our way down a newer looking trail, looking for the road we hoped to join up with.  The trail was faint, but was covered with cairns, as if a drunk person had placed them as a joke to the unknowing hiker.  After several hours, we finally reached the road and began our 15 mile hike down into Mimbres.  With no real camping available in Mimbres, we stayed that night 5 miles outside of town, happy to have gotten a signal on my phone where we watched Gilbert Godfried standup comedy, which was a great change of pace.

The following morning we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise of orange, pink and yellow that lit up the mountain and everything around us.  We made the 5 mile walk to town, ready to hit our next trailhead. It was next to the Forest Service building that also held our desperately needed water supply. Half way to the building a truck stopped next to us and asked if we were hikers.  We were easy to spot I guess, looking smelly, beaten and wearing packs… no real place to hide. Steve was a Mimbres local with a seasoned face and a hand-rolled smoke hanging out of his mouth.  We told him we were CDT hikers and started chatting.  He asked if we wanted to go to his house and take a shower and use the internet.  Under normal circumstances I would think twice about this type of situation, but being stinky and thirsty we agreed and made our way to his house, which was only a mile back the way we came.  We showered and chatted with Steve, who had actually built most of the trail in the area.  In his 30 years in the valley he had been everywhere, he said, working with scientist and the forest service.  He was a great guy and I was happy to have met him.  After that, we hit the trail, but not before stopping at the Elk X-ing Cafe to destroy a quick burger.

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Heading up the Allie Canyon trail we saw our first CDT marker at the top. It only took 200 miles to see our first marker!  That same day we met up with the offical route that the Crazy Cook hikers take and were happy to finally had made it to the lower Gila River.  It was like entering an oasis with all the water that we could drink.  Beautiful flowing water that wasn’t a nasty stagnant cow tank. A paradise you just wanted to jump into and never leave.  We stared down into the canyon and were excited to finally make it to the Gila River.

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We walked the next one and a half days on the lower Gila keeping a look out for petroglyphs, dwellings and mountain lions from all the prints that we had seen on the river banks.  This also started the river crossings, which for me was welcomed because of the cool and crisp feeling of cold water on your feet and thighs, at times.  We wound back and forth across the river to banks of drier ground, only to cross again.  Any time our feet started drying it was time to get them wet again.  This is where lots of mesh comes in to play and can make or break your feet.  Why you would wear water proof shoes or anything like that I don’t know. We made a nice camp in the canyon and listened to the first rain that night from 3 am until 7 am, when we crawled out of our tents.  We reached Doc Campbells after just over a day in the canyon and were happy to be there.  It was time for our resupply boxes and hot springs to warm our cold feet and aching bodies.  Next was the Middle fork of the Gila and a whole other story….

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Section 1: Border to Deming

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Well, I’m finally here.  I’ve made it back to Deming after completing the first 56 mile section of the CDT.  Its been an amazing experience already and am happy that I’m out on the trail doing it.  I’m no longer dreaming, I’m doing.

My arrival into Deming was good because I had my family with me to wish me well for the trail and it was great to have everyone here.  At 8 am, Saturday April 20th, I was picked up by local trail angel Keith to take me down to the border.  He’s been helping hikers like me for many years and is great resource not just to get to the trail but for rides around town and to stash water for you as well.  On our way down, he showed me important intersections and introduced me to some of the people who I could take water from when I got there.  I encountered a great collection of local people with big smiles, great stories and colorful personalities.

Me and the trail angel.

Me and the trail angel.

On the border

On the border

After a 30 min drive we finally arrived on the border.  It’s not what you would expect from all that you hear on the news about it.  It’s pretty much a couple of buildings, a big long fence and streams of cars coming and going.  Keith talked to the border patrol to let us walk up to the international line to get some of the traditional pictures of me standing next to it and the plaque that all hikers want to get their picture next to. I wanted to take more pictures, but I was told that they will confiscate your camera if they think you are taking pictures of the government buildings and I certainly didn’t want that to happen to my new camera.  After some more pictures, I said goodbye to Keith and started walking.  I have to admit, as soon as I started walking I started to cry.  I was overcome with joy that I had set a goal for myself to hike the CDT and here I was actually doing it.  It was a powerful feeling to be doing something that I had sacrificed so much to be able to do.  It’s an amazing feeling that I hope everyone might get to experience in their life, and I know that I will never forget it for as long as I live.

The long road...

The long road…

The first 56 miles is walking mostly on 4×4 roads back to Deming.  First was the town of Columbus, which looks like an old abandoned mining town that has no reason to be there.  Oddly, there are a bunch of people driving around in really nice trucks but houses are ugly, so it makes you wonder what kind of business they are in…. just sayin’. I passed by a older lady in Columbus who was watering a couple of trees and she waved over to me and said ” I hope your having a great day” and I stopped and waved back at her and said “Yes, I’m having a great day”.  She looked so happy and I was happy for her.  About 1 mile outside of Columbus I walked up to a border patrol car that was out looking for a pair of illegals who had walked around the border fence.  According to the border patrolman there aren’t that many illegals crossing in this area because the land is very harsh south of here; you mostly get illegal drug activity.  I told them I hadn’t seen anyone.  Honestly, had I run into them I would have probably just helped them any way I could, and wished them well on their journey.  Being an immigrant myself, I can’t talk bad about someone else trying to make a better life for themselves in a new country.

On my first day I walked about 15 miles total, following a fence and then a 4×4 road to my first water cache that was not easy to find.  Since I decided to not use GPS on this trip, I didn’t have a waypoint to plug in, only a dot I had made with my pencil indicating the general area of the water cache.  I was happy to find it 30 mins before sundown where I made camp to get out of the 40 mph winds that had been hitting me all day.  The sun, wind and sand takes a toll on your body that you don’t realize until you’re out here.

Morning, April 22nd

Morning, April 22nd

Day 2 brought a gorgeous sunrise that made me feel ready to tackle my first full day on the CDT.  I packed up quickly eating my typical 2 Clif Bars for breakfast, as I walked the 3 miles to Willie’s house where I could get water.  Willie was an old Vietnam Vet who has been helping hikers for many years, giving them as much water as they need.  After chatting with him for a few minutes and taking just over a gallon of water I started the 10 mile cross country walk to the back side of the Florida Mountains.  I was certain I would see plenty of rattle snakes during this section, but I didn’t see any, which was fine with me because I hate snakes. I’ll be happy if I don’t run into any this entire trip.

Moooo.

Moooo.

Nasty.

Nasty.

My only water source out here is the water provided by the wind mills that are for the cows.  So most of the water sources I found either smelled of cow poo or were swarming with bees.  I know that I have to drink out of these disgusting troughs but I can be a little picky when I know there are more options ahead.  To treat this water I have both Aqua Mira and a Sawyer filter system and this is the only way I’m drinking any of this water.  I finally found some good water towards the end of my day and decided to stay the night there because my right knee had started hurting pretty badly.  My knees had never hurt before on hikes so I didn’t want to push it and hurt myself early on this trip.  I setup camp and watched the sun set over the vast horizon with its stream of reds, oranges and pink.  For a place that has very little, it shows off a lot.

On my third day I was happy to be heading towards Deming and getting out of the wind.  I had only about 18 miles to go to get to town and 3/4th of that was road walking which doesn’t take much time.  I walked through the Florida gap to another trail angel that let me take water from their hose which was much better than the water I had gotten from the tank the day before.  After tanking up there and taking about 2 liters with me I made the final road walk back to Deming.  I’ve decided to take a zero day (no hiking) at the American Inn Motel which is only $39 a night to let my very sore knee rest.  I have had to make changes to my plan after hearing that the resupply in Mimbres is no longer there, forcing me to do a 8 day carry to Doc Campbells versus the 3 days I had planned for.  I’ll head to the local Walmart and get some food for this next long carry.

All things considered, I feel great and am excited to finally be out here walking the CDT.  I’m already enjoying my time on the trail and am looking forward to putting in even more miles.  I have to stay focused on staying hydrated and injury-free so I can make it to the end.  Now I’m off to get some good local Mexican food, because it can’t get any more authentic than this! 🙂

Welcome to New Mexico!

Welcome to New Mexico!


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New gear for the trail

I’ve picked up some new pieces of gear for my trip.  I don’t usually buy very much gear, but after years of using the same equipment it was time for something new.

Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HDMotorola Droid Razr Maxx HDThis is the newest phone I’ve had in 3 years and I’ve made the move from my beloved iPhone to a Droid.  The transition from an iPhone to a Droid is quite a change, but I wanted something that had a large storage capacity.  It comes with 32GB internal memory, with a microSD slot to extend it to 64GB.  All Droid phones have a built in GPS so I will be able to find my location on the built-in maps if I get completely lost.  It has a 3,300 mAh battery, which is the biggest on the market right now, giving me plenty of battery life.  The phone also lets me load up all of my documents, such as my data book of waypoints, my master excel spreadsheet of my trip that includes town stops and other vital information.  My microSD cards will hold lots of Dharma talks, audio books and music.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 degree Quilt:Revelation-Product-500x500  I’ve been sleeping under a quilt for a couple of years and like them much better then sleeping bags.  They are not only lighter in weight, but also more versatile.  I ordered this custom quilt from this cottage industry company because I wanted something wider (58”), longer (6’6”) and 20 degrees of toasty down.  I couldn’t be happier with it.  It’s super warm, packs down small and gives me the coverage I wanted.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider Pack:Windrider 3400   This is my first new pack in many years.  They are one of my sponsors and make packs that are pretty sweet.   It’s made of Cuben Fiber which is lightweight, but very durable.  Its going to hold all the things that I will need for my hike, hugging my hips with a wrap around hip belt and the thick shoulder pads will treat me right.  The 3 outside mesh pockets will hold all of my immediately needed items and my shelter, so it can dry in the sun after it rains and provide me with a nice warm and dry home at the end of the day.  It’s internal stays will keep form to the pack when fully loaded, but the straps will let me cinch it down when not fully loaded.

nomad7Goal Zero Nomad 7:  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ll be carrying more electronics during this trip then I ever have before.  All of these electronics will need to be charged somehow and this lightweight solar panel (.8 lbs) will charge my cell phone and my Petzl Tikka Core headlamp, all by USB cable.  It’s the lightest and most powerful solar panel, charging my cell phone in 2-4 hours and my headlamp in 1 hr.  Some would say you can charge it in town but, since I’ll be using my phone frequently for navigation, blogging, journaling, videos and some photos I think it’s worth its weight.

Suunto CoreSuunto Core A good watch is indispensable on the trail.  Not only does it tell time, but this watch accurately tells you your elevation and includes an elevation gain/loss log. It also has a barometer with storm indicator and weather trends, a loud alarm and a compass that is very accurate.  At $299, this watch isn’t cheap, but for the rich features and the durability that Suunto watches is known for, I think it was a great investment.

Gossamer Gear ‘The One’:  gossamer-gear-the-oneAgain this was provided by one of my sponsors, but this tent is great.  It uses two trekking poles instead of actual poles and is completely enclosed in mesh, with a bathtub floor and a vestibule to keep my pack and shoes dry.  It’s the right length to stretch out in, with a high enough apex to sit up in, comfortably, and a quick setup after you’ve set it up a couple of times.  This shelter will keep me nice and warm during the high winds, rain and snow that will inevitably hit me on the trail.

New Balance Leadville 100’sLeadville 100 These shoes are made for the crazy 100 miles race that is held in Leadville each year.  I don’t know how someone can run 100 miles in 24 hours but, if this is the shoe for them, then it should be able to take me across the country comfortably.  The shoes, themselves, are light (10.3 oz pair). They have a synthetic/mesh upper which will allow them to breathe, drain and dry out quickly when wet, and a great Vibram sole that will last.  The shoes I ordered are larger then I usually wear, but as I hike my feet will swell.    I’ve been breaking in the 2 pairs that I’ve bought already and they are very comfortable and I believe they will get me to the end.

Delorme InReachdelormeThis device will allow me to communicate with the outside world.  It’s just like the popular Spot system, but with much more features.  It will let me connect with all of you by sending text messages, and Facebook and Twitter updates .  In case of an emergency, like breaking my leg or being attacked by Bigfoot, it will let me send out a SOS message to get help.  A nice feature of this system is that I can communicate through text using my phone to say exactly what is wrong with me.  The Delorme system also allows me to drop ‘breadcrumbs’, creating a track of my hike that will be updated every hour, giving my followers the ability to know where I am each hour through a link that will be posted on my site.  Honestly, this is mostly for my family and friends for worst case scenarios, but if it gives them piece of mind, that’s good enough for me.


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Food Planning Tips for Backpacking

What will you take with you?

No matter the length of your hike, there is one common factor that everyone must contend with and that is Food.  Without food you will go nowhere.  The body is going to need its calories and if I know my body, I know that it’s going to be screaming at me!

While walking the equivalent of a marathon per day, more or less, I will need a ton of food to keep my body moving and in the proper spirits.

I want to approach my food planning with enjoyment, while considering the caloric density per ounce that will nourish me, yet not weigh me down. In other words, the amount of food I carry must not be insufficient for its burden.  How do I make sure that I’m taking the right stuff that my body needs and how much of it and when?

Food planning is going to be huge for this trip.  Some hikers, like Andrew Skurka, use spreadsheets to keep track of every meal, every bar that he carries.  He typically will do what he calls a ‘caloric drip’ to where he is eating 400-500 cal snacks throughout the day, so that his body is always running on some new calories and continues to burn energy all day.  Eating 9 meals a day, with only a hot dinner keeps the body going for long periods of time without bonking or causing a injury.

Excel spreadsheets help you keep track of what your bringing

Another veteran of backpacking, Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear, has written an article about the way he does his food planning for his vegan diet on the trail.  Mike Clelland, a long time NOLS instructor who has taken groups all over the world and into every kind of weather, wrote a great article on backpackinglight.com called * Food Planning using Pounds Per Person Per Day (PPPPD).  After working for NOLS for so many years he has developed a way to estimate a hiker’s food needs and he estimates that the average hiker’s needs are about 1.4 PPPPD.  Now this can change depending on other variables such as length. You need to add more PPPPD because you will get hungrier as you go for a longer hike and also depending on the weather.  He has also written an article called Groovy-Biotic Cooking:  Quick, Healthy Meals with an Ultralight cook kit.  This is one of the best articles out there about how your cook kit can be healthy and light, but also give you a ton of great options with spices, sauces and tons of calories.  I’m going to try making Super Spackle sometime soon!

Yummy!!!!

Many of the above articles will give you great information on what are some high calorie foods that are in the standard range of 125-150 cals per OZ but, these are some great sites to find out about the caloric content of most foods.

Small list of common foods caloric content per OZ

I’ll have a chance to put the above articles into action by starting to plan for an eight-day trip on the Hayduke trail.  I used to take a Thanksgiving day backpacking trip every year, but that hasn’t happened in awhile.  Unless a miracle happens by the PTO fairy, this will probably be my longest trip before I start the CDT.  I’m going to make the most out of it.

* The Mike Clelland articles might be only for Backpackinglight.com members but, these article are worth the membership fee!