Doggone Cold! Winter Gear List for Dogs

Doggone Cold! Winter Gear List for Dogs

Winter on Mary's Rock

Here’s a list of the winter hiking and backpacking gear that M’s Seeing Eye Dog Edge used on our winter Appalachian Trail adventure in Virginia for New Year’s. This list includes the gear he used for climbing up to Mary’s Rock with wind-chills of -15℉, as well as the gear he used for his first winter overnight (with a record-breaking low of -2℉).

Winter Day-Hike Gear List for Edge

  1. Fleece-Lined Waterproof/Windproof Jacket (5/5): The jacket was easy to put on and take off, provided good coverage for precipitation, great mobility, and some added warmth. The jacket performed as described; I think it would have been perfect if the weather had been in the predicted range (lows of 15℉ to 25℉), but with temperatures dropping into the single digits and wind-chills making the effective temperature even colder, a warmer jacket with more coverage would have been better.
  2. Musher’s Secret Wax: It’s a barrier wax that helps protect paws that comes highly rated for winter trekking, but it accidentally got left at home this trip.
  3. Grip Trex Booties (2/5): I was surprised by how well edge tolerated the booties. For walking around the campsite and in paved/cleared walkways the boots did a good job, but while hiking the booties on his rear legs didn’t stay on very well, and we ended up losing two of them (both later retrieved by a kind stranger). To stay secured, I think the booties would have needed to come higher us his legs. It was also pretty clear that Edge had less traction with the booties than he was accustomed to. For icy sections of the trail we removed his booties because he seemed to have better traction without them, but his traction still wasn’t good enough on the ice. If I were to do it again I would try the Winter booties instead because they would provide more warmth and might stay on better in snowy conditions. Figuring out the traction issue is still an open problem.Edge Sporting his Jacket and Booties
  4. Quencher Water Bowl (3/5): This bowl worked pretty well. For winter something with an insulated bottom might be better as a water bowl, also something with a watertight seal or an easy pour lip to make it easier to keep the water that wasn’t consumed. The flexible nature of the bowl made it easy to break to the ice out of, which was nice.
  5. Food & Water: We carried extra food and water for Edge for winter hiking/backpacking. It takes extra calories to stay warm on cold winter days/nights, and winter air is so dry that you lose more water than you think. For our adventure I was guesstimating about 50% more food than usual based on the temperature and the planned exertion.
    • NOTE: Pay attention to how much they’re drinking, eating, and peeing:
      • Fewer pee breaks than usual may indicate dehydration
      • If pee breaks are really frequent and low in volume, check and make sure your dog isn’t cold and shivering.
      • If the color of their urine is really dark/yellow (or has a stronger smell than usual) it might indicate dehydration.
  6. Poop bags: It is what it is. For all day hikes dog poop should be packed out. For backpacking when the ground is frozen and you can’t bury it, you should pack out for your dog’s solid waste as well as your own (blue-bagging it as we used to say).
  7. Leash and/or harness: In most state and national park areas where dogs are allowed, they are required to be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at ALL times. Please be considerate of other hikers, dog-owners, the wildlife, and outdoor ecosystems when adventuring with your dog. Edge is a working dog, so his harness comes along with him too.

Edge in his Puppy Palace

Winter Overnight Gear List for Edge

  1. Highlands Sleeping Pad (4/5): This worked great as a winter sleeping/rest pad. This is a keeper and I’d highly recommend it for long winter day hikes as well as backpacking trips. In a perfect world I would want it to be a little bit bigger for a dog Edge’s size since his butt was consistently off of the back of it.
  2. Highlands Sleeping Bag (3/5): The sleeping bag just wasn’t big enough for Edge. For small- or medium-sized dogs I might give this bag a 5/5, but it wasn’t really big enough for him to be able to curl up into it. I ended up mostly unzipping it and tucking it around him like a quilt, and it did a pretty good job of keeping him warm. I was impressed by how well he tolerated being all bundled up. I’d be interested in upgrade options. With record-breaking low temperatures we ended up wrapping Edge with a second sleeping bag (a 30F bag designed for humans).Shenandoah Campfire with Edge
  3. Reflectix groundcloth (5/5): Used on the floor of the tent (the same way the humans used it) to provide an extra bit of warmth and insulation; it also covered a larger surface area than the sleeping pad, so if Edge slipped off of his sleeping pad he wasn’t on the bare ground.Edge inside the puppy palace
  4. Hyperlite Ultamid 2 Backpacking Tent (4/5): The hyperlite ultamid 2 worked great as a winter backpacking/camping dog house, but it is very expensive as a puppy palace. It provided good protection and extra warmth, and with one side of the door staked down, the door could be zipped ½ way down to provide a doggy door that Edge could enter and leave the tent through in case of emergency. The tent was plenty big so a person could have easily slept in the tent with Edge. I really liked the way the floorless tarp tent worked as a winter puppy palace. (I’m allergic to dogs, so it also had the advantage of being easy to shake it out, and then shower it off/wipe it down to prevent future allergen issues with the tent).

Additional Links/Resources for Winter Backpacking with Dogs

A Walk in the Woods: A Thru-Hiker’s Movie Review

cardinal_lady-3

The view from the Chestnut Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

I was cautiously optimistic as I walked into the theater with my mom and dad to watch A Walk in the Woods… the trailer looked good, the cast sounded awesome, and I believed that there was plenty of comedic gold in Bryson’s book for the screen-writers to work their magic with… My optimism didn’t last long… The movie lacked coherency, character development, and to my surprise, it even managed to dilute the parts of the book that I thought were funny, and highlighted the parts that I thought were awful… I didn’t love the book, but I’d recommend it over the movie any day!

  • Title: A Walk in the Woods
  • Release Date: September 2, 2015
  • Duration: 104 minutes, rated “R”
  • Starring: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, and Emma Thompson
  • Producer: Robert Redford, Director: Ken Kwapis
  • Screenplay: Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman
  • Bechdel Test: 1/3

The Good: Emma Thompson did a great job setting the scene. The chemistry between Thompson and Redford at the beginning of the movie felt believable and provided the context for Redford’s character, Bryson, to be 70 instead of the 40-something he was in the book. As expected, the moment Nick Nolte came on screen, he stole the show… His character, Katz, was well-written (actually had a character arc) and Nolte did a good job playing the part. He was believable, he was funny, and I completely agree with the folks that suggested he was the one good part of the movie. Although some of his jokes were offensive, and not all of them hit the mark, by the end of the movie I couldn’t help but love Katz… His character felt like a refreshing breeze of honesty flowing through the muck and mire of the rest of movie.

The Bad: Despite getting off to a good start and having a scattering of funny moments throughout, the movie felt very disjointed. The introductory segments felt like they had been thrown in as an afterthought to try to explain why Redford seemed so old and senile during the rest of the film.  As soon as Bryson (Redford’s character) and Katz (Nolte’s character) hit the trail, the screenwriter from the intro must have taken a hike too, and a different, less skilled writer, must have taken up the reins… Sure, most of the comedic moments later in the movie came straight out of the book and would apply to people whether they were 40 or 70, but there weren’t any obvious tie-ins to the intro scenes, and many of the scenes felt like they were slapped together without meaningful transitions… After Bryson and Katz reached the summit of Springer Mountain, the movie started to unmistakably go downhill.

card1

Pushing myself to get over my fear of heights and sit on the edge of McAffee Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.

Although I didn’t expect A Walk in the Woods to be a movie about the trail, I had hoped to see a lot of beautiful shots of the Appalachian Trail (or at least Appalachian Mountain scenery). I was disappointed there too; they only showed two great sweeping shots from the Appalachian Trail: one from McAffee Knob, Virginia and one from what looked like Carvers Gap, North Carolina/Tennessee… The shots seemed like they were both taken by drones, and little to no effort was made to integrate them into the flow of the movie… Perhaps they were intentionally making the beauty of the AT feel detached from the characters that were hiking it? When they did eventually decide to immerse the characters in the scenery, it was so obviously a sound-stage that it was painful!

The Ugly: The movie removed some of the funniest scenes and mishaps from the book, the ones that resulted from Bryson and Katz’s ignorance about the trail and the inevitably steep learning curve that was thrust upon them as a result. Instead, the movie focused on the caustic and arrogant side of Bryson’s humor… This meant that most of the humor ended up relying on unsophisticated fat-shaming, class-shaming, and slut-shaming jokes… Comedy that’s really hard for a thin middle-class white-guy to pull-off successfully… In this, I thought that they sold Bill Bryson short. Though the comedy in the book was largely based on Bryson’s arrogance, ignorance, and negativity, it felt like it was handled in a more sophisticated and well-balanced way…

My general advice is to walk into this movie with very low expectations… That way if it exceeds them you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and if it doesn’t you won’t have lost anything more than 104 minutes of your life and the price of admission. On IMDB, A Walk in the Woods is listed as an adventure/comedy/drama movie. Roughly divided by genre, here are some of my thoughts about the movie…

Comedy/Buddy Movie (5/10):

  • A Walk in the Woods is primarily a comedy that I would put in the buddy movie sub-genre.
  • The central struggle or theme of the movie seems to be the friendship/relationship between Bryson and Katz. Though at times their dynamic is undeniably funny, the chemistry between Robert Redford and Nick Nolte never quite clicks. Despite the fact that Katz (Nolte’s character) is given more depth as the movie progresses, Bryson’s character remains aloof and seemingly unchanged… Does the friendship between Bryson and Katz evolve over the course of the movie? It seemed a stretch to me, but maybe that’s at least in part because they were trying to stretch the first part of Bryson’s book into a full-length feature film?
  • Do: watch the movie if you love Nick Nolte and want to watch him sneak in some funny lines.
  • Do: watch this movie if you’re looking for a comedy and don’t care about character development or plot.
  • Do: expect a lot of scenes with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in the woods.
  • Don’t: watch the movie if you expect your buddy movies to include the development of characters, relationships, or plots.
  • Don’t: watch this movie if you are offended by humor derived from fat-shaming, slut-shaming, or class-shaming.
  • Don’t: buy any of the gear shown in the movie for your Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Action-Adventure/Road Trip Movie (3/10):

  • A Walk in the Woods is not an action-adventure movie, although it does in part fall into the road trip movie sub-genre.
  • Based on the book and the trailer, I expected A Walk in the Woods to have a central struggle that involved traveling, and a progression/resolution that demonstrated a change in Bryson’s perspective on his everyday life and interactions… While it is true that Bryson did travel, it wasn’t clear to me that his perspective on anything changed…
  • Do: watch the trailer and consider skipping the movie… all the best parts are in the trailer!
  • Do: watch this movie if you are a Bill Bryson fan and want to let me know what you thought of the movie… I expect that you’ll like it.
  • Don’t: watch this movie expecting Bryson and Katz to go on a road-trip from Georgia to Maine.
  • Don’t: expect this movie to show realistic depictions of hikers or the Appalachian Trail
  • Don’t: watch A Walk in the Woods if you’re looking for an action/adventure movie… You’ll be bored out of your mind.
  • Don’t: expect the movie’s tagline, “When you push yourself to the edge, the real fun begins,” to have anything to do with the movie… the characters don’t push themselves to the edge of anything (stumble maybe, push, no), and they don’t ever seem to have any fun (except at other people’s expense).

Drama/Coming-of-Age Movie (2/10):

  • Despite the introductory scenes that suggest the central struggle of the movie might involve Bryson dealing with the challenges of finding his place in the world as he deals with aging and retirement, the movie abandons those themes as soon as Bryson hits the trail.
  • Do: Enjoy the funny bits in the beginning between Emma Thompson and Robert Redford.
  • Do: Enjoy Nick Nolte’s performance.
  • Don’t: Expect the movie to have any character development or to deal with themes of retirement and aging outside of the first 15 minutes of the film.

DSC05887

I was actually surprised that I disliked the movie as much as I did… I suspected that it might not be 100% my type of movie, and that I might not love it, but I thought that it would be good for what it was… After watching the movie I’m not convinced… It didn’t quite have the dynamic, acting, or scriptwriting it would have needed to be a great comedy, and I thought that that was it’s best genre…

In terms of my reactions to the hiking component… Well, it was laughable, but not in a good way… How is it that Bryson and Katz never seemed to get dirty? or sweaty? Did they consult with anyone about what modern (or period) hikers wear or look like? Did they consider making the packs weigh more than 5 lbs so they’d look believable? From a hikers stand-point there were too many errors and inconsistencies to keep track of, but if you’re curious about some of my more detailed impressions of the movie, read the spoilers section below…

Look out, spoilers below (though I’m not sure there’s anything *I* could do to spoil the movie, the screenwriters did a good enough job of that without any of my help).

(begin spoiler alert) “Wow, Robert Redford looks really old!” was my first thought as the film started, and a host of unforgivingly bright lights focused on Robert Redford’s face. It’s not like I expected him to look young, but… I thought Bryson was supposed to be in his 40s in the book… As the opening sequences continued it became clear that instead of being a mid-life crisis road-trip/buddy style movie, this was going to a retirement crisis road-trip/buddy movie… The official movie trailer had sort of prepared me for that, but wow, they must have photoshopped the heck out of all the movie posters and magazine articles that talked about the movie, and they must have chosen the timing and angles of the shots in the official trailer very carefully… “Well, show biz,” I thought and shrugged, still hopeful, “let’s see what they do with it!”

(continue spoiler alert) In the first part of the movie the dynamic between Robert Redford and Emma Thompson was believable, and the dialog was more comic and witty than not… So I was still on-board with the movie especially when the screenwriter worked in a line letting us know that Redford (now 79) was playing a 70 year old Bryson, instead of the 44 year old Bryson in the book… My hope that a good screenwriter could make a great movie out of the book seemed justified!!

(continue spoiler alert) As the movie progressed the story arc started throwing in nods to hiking, and I started getting really confused…was Bryson shopping at an REI… Wait?! What?! Where would he have found an REI in New England in 1994… Sure, it was possible… He could have driven almost 90 miles to the REI in Redding, Massachusetts (which is still the closest REI to where Bryson lived), but REI was mostly a West Coast chain… In the ’90s and ’00s, people in New England either went to local outdoor stores (that’s what Bryson did in the book), or they went to EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports, which currently has a store 5 miles away from where Bryson lived). It was a noticeable, but trivial point… I figured that they were using some literary license and framing the movie as happening now, instead of in 1994, that was fine… But then they started talking about gear, and even though they were filming in an obviously modern store, they were talking about the equipment using antiquated terms, sizes and weights. In the movie Bryson ends up carrying an 85L Osprey pack (in the book it was a Gregory pack), which is huge by 2015 standards… There’s no way a modern REI employee would recommend an 85L pack, but in 1994 that size was pretty much standard… So, which was it, 1994, or 2015? I was never quite sure… Maybe 2015?

(continue spoiler alert) “Ugh,” I thought, “I hope people don’t get the impression that this is what people hike with nowadays!” But even though I was confused, I knew it was a minor point… If there was anything I learned on the trail, it was to be flexible and go with the flow… Besides, the movie was just getting started… They didn’t have to have the right gear for the movie to be an awesome retirement crisis/buddy movie… And Katz (played by Nick Nolte) still hadn’t come on scene yet… I thought the best of the comedy was yet to come!! I was wrong… When Nolte first came on screen, I was hesitant and unsure… The comedy felt a little stilted and awkward… Perhaps the fat-shaming had too much reality and not enough comedy to it, or maybe the dynamic between Nick Nolte and Robert Redford just wasn’t doing it for me… Nick Nolte definitely had some funny lines though, and he was holding up his end of the bargain.

(continue spoiler alert) “Ugh,” I groaned again, watching the scene at the restaurant in Amicalola Falls unfold… Did they really just do that? Say that? It was hard to see the comment about the waitress and Katz standards for women as anything other than downright offensive… “At least the scriptwriters didn’t seem be having any trouble translating Bryson’s contempt for other people to the screen,” I mumbled… It made me forget for a moment that the scenery outside the lodge was all wrong for March at Springer Mountain (I got there in May, and didn’t see anything approaching the lushness of foliage they were showing)… The poster inside the lodge for the Appalachian Trail “Kick-Off”(ATKO), cinched it… ATKO didn’t exist in 1994, so the movie must be set in 2015 (probably).

(continue spoiler alert) As Bryson and Katz began climbing Springer Mountain, I found myself laughing at the relatable image of everyone zooming by Katz and Bryson, including the troop of scouts. I had been overweight and out-of-shape when I started the AT, and the scenes depicting the first 1/4 mile of their journey resonated with me and kept me laughing and feeling fairly positive about the movie. There were a few nit-picky things about the scenery being wrong, but the writing and scene transitions seemed decent enough…But, as my dad always used to say, “sh** runs downhill,” and that’s exactly what happened to the movie as Bryson and Katz headed down Springer and onto the Appalachian Trail proper… From the “How to sh** in the woods” scene all the way to the final credits, it was hard to come up with positive things to say about the movie….

(continue spoiler alert) Sure, I was glad that they showed Bryson digging a proper cat-hole for his poop (6-8 inches deep, and 4-6 inches wide), but he was doing it within sight of the camping area!!! There was no way he was the requisite 200 feet from the trail, it looked more like 20 feet to me! I sighed and reminded myself that the movie was a buddy movie and not a hiking tutorial, and tried to withhold judgment… But by the time the next scene hit the screen my hopes that I’d find the movie enjoyable were diminishing…

(continue spoiler alert) “Hmrph…” I thought as Bryson and Katz interacted with Mary Ellen… Well, I guess they did a good job of portraying her as really irritating… She is the one and only female hiker portrayed in the film and she reminded me of a lot of the negative stereotypes that people have about women on the trail, and the dreaded “Wild Effect”-the fear that irritating, incompetent women would be hitting the trail in droves after the movie Wild came out… Was it funny enough to make up for reinforcing the stereotype? I didn’t think so… Have we all met irritating know-it-all’s on the trail and tried to avoid them? Yes… and it’s definitely true that figuring out how to get away from them can be a real challenge, but… I sighed and tried to muster positive feeling about the movie… “I suppose that means there’s at least one female character in the movie that isn’t a sex object, and that’s good, right?”

(continue spoiler alert) As the movie continued I discovered that the scenes from the book that I thought were funny had mostly been cut, and the comedy that I found offensive, the comedy at the expense of women and southerners, remained… It started to become hard to find good things in the movie to focus on, and easy to focus on the unrealistic interactions with other hikers and the trail… How come they never seemed to get dirty? How come their packs looked like they weighed less than 5? How come they never took their trekking poles out of their packs on the rugged terrain? Wait, a southbound hiker in Georgia in March that looked really buff?! So wrong, in so many ways… Thru-hikers don’t look muscular and buff like that, especially not if they’re finishing in Georgia in March… That would mean they’d started in November and winter-hiked the trail! Possible, but unlikely…

(continue spoiler alert) The number of funny bits in the movie steadily dwindled and my focus strayed… “How long is this movie?” I wondered as I realized that the movie hadn’t even come close to covering the material in the first half of the book yet… I tuned back into the movie as a bunch of scenery and cliff that I didn’t recognize from my hike hit the screen… “Wait,” I thought, “I’ve hiked the entire AT and the trail doesn’t have anything that looks even remotely like that!” Sure, the Pacific Crest Trail would run you along the edge of cliffs like that all the time, and it’s possible to find terrain like that on the East Coast in places like the Knife’s Edge on Katahdin, but on the AT? In Virginia? Nope… Never! It was also weird because I just finished reading that section of the book, and I didn’t remember them tumbling from a cliff in Virginia… “Hmmm….”

(continue spoiler alert) “Really?!” I thought, as the scene continued on a poorly matched sound-stage… so much beautiful and epic scenery on the AT, and this is what they ended up with? I don’t know what the movie’s budget was, but it was clearly less than I thought… I watched as they tried to get out of their newest predicament… There was definitely humor in it, but the more serious side clearly focused on the character development of Katz, and didn’t do much with Bryson (also the close-ups of their faces that were now supposed to be dirty and/or tan was confusing)… and then… and then the movie ended!

(continue spoiler alert) The movie ended with them getting rescued and deciding that the trail wasn’t for them, so they just headed home, which is what most novice hikers attempting a thru-hike end up doing, but not exactly what happened in the book… I watched the credits with disbelief and a strange sense of awe… They’d left the road trip out of the road trip movie! In the book Bryson and Katz had decided to take a car and do a highlights tour of the trail, but in the movie they’d self-righteously decided to keep hiking instead of driving… In the book, it was clear that Bryson’s motivation for hiking was to write a book about it, while in the movie he vehemently denied it, and tried to frame it as a noble journey of self-discovery or something…

(continue spoiler alert) One of my criticisms of the book was that it hadn’t felt honest to me, it had felt like Bryson was deluding himself and us with him… The movie felt like it was trying to make Bryson a more honest and approachable character, but ended up mashing everything up and feeling even less honest… When the credits finally rolled, I thought they were the best part of the movie… Finally we were getting to see the epic scenery of the Appalachian Trail, and we were getting to see it without interruptions from the constant prattling of poorly scripted dialog.

(end spoiler alert)

20130613-083806.jpg 20130612-210312.jpg 20130611-075800.jpg 20130618-110925.jpg

Coming up next: 7 Movies to Watch Instead of ‘A Walk in the Woods’

Links to other reviews of the movie: ‘A Walk in the Woods’

Heat Wave (Days 70-74)

20130718-175435.jpg

Virginia has definitely been full of weather extremes. We went from record breaking rains and flood advisories directly to record breaking high temperatures and heat advisories.

At first it was exciting to finally see the sun again! Such a novelty, but as the heat index rose higher and higher it became apparent that excessively high temperatures, like excessive rain, make hiking a challenge.

20130726-220705.jpg

Trail rumor goes on and on about how nice and easy the terrain in Virginia is, but I’m not sure that I buy it. Sure, there are some nice easy rock-free stretches, but North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee all sported some of those as well. There are also lots of rocky, kind of obnoxious sections of trail, like “the roller coaster”.

I got to the roller coaster in the middle of the heat wave. From the elevation profile, it was clear that the roller coaster was named because of the rapid succession of ups and downs. I was hoping that it also meant that it was nice, fast trail… Roller coasters are fun when they are fast, right? Unfortunately, this was not fast trail. It was all incredibly rocky and full of ups and downs. The heat index of 119F might also have colored my opinion of that stretch of trail.

I trudged up and down and up and down through the roller coaster as buckets of sweat poured off of me. I was just as wet as I had been in the rain! Though this was a warm, sticky, smelly wet…

20130726-220848.jpg

My mom had assured me that she was going to bring the sunshine with her when she came to visit me, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this much warmth. She is exceedingly good at everything she does and this was no exception, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

On the upside, mom and dad supplied me (and all of the other thru-hikers they met) with lots of food and cold sodas. They also hiked in the heatwave to celebrate the 1000 mile mark with me. Patches and Patches’ parents… You can see the resemblance in our packs (all lined up at the 1000 mile sign to mark the historic occasion).

Snow White (Days 66-69)

20130717-120945.jpg

Sometimes my life on the trail feels a little surreal. Most mornings I start my hike with my head in the clouds… Or at least a dense fog. The fog hangs in the trees and gives the forest a certain fairy tale quality.

I stepped out of the typical morning cloud, crossed Skyline Drive, and paused on the other side to read the trail sign. I was definitely off in my own world when I heard a car honk. I looked up, and a car had stopped in the middle of the road about 20 feet from me. The women in the passenger side rolled her window down and asked, “Would you like a piece of fruit?”

Fresh fruit is akin to thru-hiker gold. It’s hard to come by on the trail since it’s heavy and bruises easily, so offers of fresh fruit are hard for us to turn down. It was a slightly strange scenario, but I thought about it and I did want a piece of fruit, so I said, “yes”, as I turned and walked back towards the car.

The woman in the car rustled through the paper bag beside her, pulled out an apple, and presented it too me with a flourish. “Here, have this apple” she said with a smile.

My stride faltered just a smidge and I said, “This feels very Snow White to me.” The women smiled again and assured me that they were hikers, and at the last overlook one of the thru-hikers had told them that fruit was better than candy out here on the trail.

I took the apple, thanked the couple for it and headed back towards the trail. As I re-entered the woods I kept thinking about Snow White. I had been offered (and gratefully accepted) peaches, bananas, oranges and even watermelon from strangers on the trail, but in those cases it just seemed like the weird and awesome trail magic that it was. Being offered an apple somehow came with more cultural baggage than I’d expected. Not just of Snow White, but of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Those stories both seem to suggest that you shouldn’t take and eat apples offered to you by strangers! Or should you?

I looked at my apple again. It was just an apple. I was thinking about this way too much. I took a bite and kept walking. Though it still felt like I was walking through a magically enchanted forest I didn’t fall into a deep, long slumber until after I’d hiked 20 more miles, and I think that slumber was related to exhaustion and not to the very tasty apple.

Inhaler Physics (AT Days 64 & 65)

The skies opened up once again and began dumping rain on me at 1-2 inches and hour. I sighed and resigned myself to getting soaking wet again… The same thing had happened yesterday and the day before. Today, however, I only had two miles of hiking left and then I was headed into town to a nice dry hostel.

Even though I’d resigned myself to getting wet, the thunder, lightning, and really heavy rain weren’t making it the most enjoyable of experiences. I was hiking at about 2 miles/hr so I figured I only had about an hour of uphill in the rain to go. Suddenly I had an epiphany, if I jogged I could be out of the rain in 30 minutes or less… That would be much better than hiking in the nasty nasty weather for an hour!

I tightened the straps of my pack and with water streaming down from the sky and through the trail I started running. It felt good to stretch out my stride and navigate around the rocks and roots.

Not long after initiating this plan the slope of the uphill increased and I realized that I’d forgotten something. I’d forgotten that I have asthma. Doh! I stopped running, pulled out my rescue inhaler (which I always keep handy), and almost hungrily inhaled the medicine that would make it so that I could breath comfortably again.

However, instead of getting the usual easing of my breath as my chest opens up and my lungs full with air, I felt a caustic burning of my throat and lungs and if anything it felt like my lungs constricted even more.

Shocked and confused and now definitely having an asthma attack I looked accusingly at my inhaler. Had I
Accidentally grabbed my pepper spray instead? No, it was definitely my inhaler that I held in my hand. Perhaps it had gotten some sort of particulate in/on it that I had just accidentally propelled into my lungs (everything gets dirty when you’re backpacking). I carefully wiped off the mouthpiece inside and out and took a second puff of the inhaler sure that I’d fixed the problem and would soon be breathing easy again.

F***!!!! Burning, searing, pain as my lungs really ceased up. I threw my inhaler onto the ground; I threw my backpack onto the ground; I threw myself onto the ground. Stupid inhaler, why was it hurting instead of helping?! For the moment I didn’t care. I closed my eyes, leaned forward onto my knees and focused on breathing… It was starting to work, but I was still coughing and feeling short of breath. I reached over and grabbed my water. It soothed my throat and after a couple of minutes I’d stopped coughing.

I was still short of breath, but at least I could think again. What the heck had happened with my inhaler? I remembered the trouble I’d had with my inhaler at the ice hotel in Quebec City over the weekend. It was so cold outside that the inhaler wasn’t working… A common problem with canisters of compressed gases at low temperatures… And suddenly I was thinking about the ideal gas law (PV=nrT), and the compressibility of gases, and thermodynamics.

Was my inhaler acting up because of the weather? It was around 90 degrees out, 100% humidity, plus a low pressure system with a severe thunderstorm raining 2 inches/hr on me. I decided that somehow I must be having the opposite problem from Quebec City, that the compressed gas from the inhaler was still rapidly expanding as it hit the tissue of my throat and lungs. Since the expansion of gas is endothermic, that could essentially burn my throat and lungs with intense cold.

I had a hypothesis… Could I test it? Hmmm… I reached over and picked up my inhaler, which was still sitting in the middle of the trail where I’d thrown it in frustration and anger, and looked at it for a minute. My hypothesis was that the weather conditions were causing the compressed gas in the inhaler to expand over a larger area than usually, so that a noticeable endothermic reaction was still occurring as that compressed air hit my lungs. Based on that hypothesis I would predict noticeable plume as the inhaler was puffed into the open air around me instead of into my lungs.

I pointed the inhaler away from me and delivered a puff over the trail. It looked liked the white plume of breath that you see when someone exhales moist air on a cold winters day… Except that it actually had a propellant, so the plume extended out for about 3 feet.

I was still short of breath, so now I needed a plan. How to get the drugs from my inhaler into my lungs without giving them frostbite? I decided to use my hand as a spacer tube, hoping it would allow the gases to expand in my hand and not my lungs, while still directing the medication into my lungs.

With some trepidation, I squeezed down on the inhaler and inhaled (rather cautiously this time). It worked!!! No horrible burning sensation, and my lungs started to open up. I took a second puff the same way, and my breathing returned to normal.

Now I *really* was drenched. The rain kept pouring down as I walked the rest of the way to the road. I made it in 45 minutes.

Extra credit assignment: Demonstrate mathematically the crucial parameter/s (was it the humidity? the thunderstorm? or a combination of the humidity, thunderstorm, and temperature?) that led to the inhaler doing more harm than good. If I were at home I would have modeled this already and figured out the critical parameters both for this story and for the ice hotel… I miss having pencil, paper, and the easy ability to look things up and research them!

The Bee Zone (Days 61-63)

I arrived at a rather decrepit shelter in the middle of a yet another thunderstorm and plunked myself down. It was the end of a long, wet day of hiking so I was very glad to finally be somewhere dry.

All of the shelters are not created equal, but as long as it was dry I figured it was good enough for me for one night. Unfortunately within minutes of sitting down dozens of bees started buzzing around me. I sighed and periodically brushed away the bees that deigned to land on me. They didn’t seem interested in stinging me, but were definitely annoying.

A few minutes later my friend Chuckwagon arrived, and half of the bees devoted their attention to him. He swatted at them and grumbled. I wondered aloud if the Deet in my bag would deter the bees, but Chuckwagon suggested that smoke was what we really needed. Everything was sopping wet, so we didn’t feel like fighting to try to get a campfire started. Instead, we decided to wait for Colonel Patches to show up so that we could encourage him to smoke one of his cigars and rid us of our bee problem.

A few minutes later Co. Patches arrived and with some encouragement lit his cigar. Unfortunately, the bees did not peacefully disperse as we had hoped, they just found a third target to harass.

Whereas Chuckwagon and I had been sort of idly swatting at the bees, Co. Patches was out for the kill. Armed with his cigar and a map he started targeting the bees and picking them off one by one. He’d take a puff of his cigar, idly blow it at a bee and then swat it out of the air with the map. One bee down… Two bees down… Three bees down.

Suddenly it seemed like a live action bee killing video game… “The Bee Zone”.

For some reason the bees were really attracted to the grips on my hiking poles… There were about a dozen of them peacefully congregating there at any given time, so we declared the poles to be the evil villains home base. The bees clearly always regrouped there between their flights of targeted annoyance and irritation. We decided that he couldn’t kill any of the bees while they were actually at their home base.

4 bees down… Five bees down… Six bees down.

Co. Patches had finished the first easy level of killing the bees, which was conducted while sitting on the floor of the shelter, but there were at least a dozen bees still flitting about. It was time to proceed to the next level of the game, which involved him standing up and actively chasing the bees.

Seven bees… Eight bees… Nine bees down.

We envisioned the running tally of bees killed and bees remaining in the upper corner of the video game screen.

10 bees… 11 bees… 12 bees… Co. Patches was really getting into the swing of it now. There were only four bees left on base (the hiking poles).

One took flight and Co. patches chased it down and killed it…13 bees… Then another… 14 bees… Then another… 15 bees.

With only one bee left on base I jiggled the pole and it flew out into the danger zone. Co. Patches chased it into the rain (almost gleefully) and before long he called out, “16, hah! Got them all”.

He returned to the shelter and sat down to bask in the glory of a mission accomplished. The shelter was definitely a more comfortable place without all of those pesky bees flying around.

Suddenly another bee appeared… Chuckwagon and I laughed as Co. Patches chased in down… “17 bees… Or is that 18?” Without the tally running at the top of the screen we were started to lose count.

Eventually Co. Patches rid the shelter of all of the pesky bees and we settled in to make dinner and to contemplate what the next level of the thru-hiker live action video game would be… We decided that the most obvious next level of the game would involve using a slingshot to go after the mice that skitter around the shelter and get into people’s food at night…

(Bonus points to anyone that puts together the phone app for level one, “the bee zone” of the thru-hiker video game and sends it to me).

20130718-222542.jpg

Caught… (Days 59-61)

20130708-084023.jpg

At least the rain isn’t lasting all day, everyday now, though I still seem to be getting caught by intermittent deluges where the sky opens up and dumps 1-2 inches of rain in an hour, and then sunnier skies return. It’s definitely an improvement over the last week, so I appreciate that.

Yesterday, for the first time, I found a tick on my leg. It didn’t seem to care that I’d coated myself in deet, or maybe the rain and sweat had just rinsed all of the insecticide away.

Ticks and Lyme Disease are constantly on people’s minds out here. I check myself for ticks everyday, and have been glad not to find them. Some of the other hikers have found as many as 29 ticks on themselves in one day! The hikers with dogs seem especially prone to collecting lots of ticks.

Hopefully that will be the first and last tick to try to feast on me, but I will remain ever vigilant in my battle against the bugs.

It looks like I might actually get a break in the weather so I’m going to get back out on the trail and soak up some sun while it lasts!

50 Shades of Grey/Rain (56-58)

20130708-064212.jpg

I think I’ve seen all of the shades of grey that the sky can muster, along with at least 50 different variants of rain. The skies have been grey and it has rained almost every day for the last month. Those of us on the trail are definitely tired of all of this rain.

Here in Virginia, we can at least take some solace in the fact that it is a record breaking amount of rain?! In the mountains the storms have been dropping 1-2 inches of rain/hour in bursts of scattered storms for days, which has led to record setting rainfall amounts and flash flood watches/warnings every day for the last week. Daily rainfall totals in the mountains have been: Monday= 3 inches, Tuesday= 4 inches, Wednesday= 8 inches, Thursday= 6 inches, Friday= 6 inches.

20130708-065354.jpg

Needless to say, this has caused the rivers, creeks, and streams to overflow their banks, and widespread flooding has been reported. This adds an extra element of excitement and challenge to hiking the AT. The trail becomes even more of an obstacle course.

The rainy day obstacle course includes the following challenges:

1) Trail or Stream? You have to try to figure out whether you are hiking on the trail or in a stream. White blazes may or may not be available to assist you in this quest.

2) Creek Fording. Just when you think that your boots couldn’t get wetter you come to a fast flowing flooded creek. Be prepared to take your boots off and pick your favorite route for crossing.

20130708-070524.jpg

3) Tree vaulting. With all the rain, wind, and the saturated soil, you can’t count on the trees to remain upright.

20130708-070741.jpg
When we’re lucky, the trees have fallen away from the trail and we avoid the obstacle, or the awesome trail maintenance crews have gotten there first and cleared the way for us.

20130708-070927.jpg
Sometimes, however, we come across a set of downed trees that the topsoil just couldn’t keep rooted anymore and we have to figure out if we’re going over, limboing under, or bushwhacking around the downed tree or some combination of all of the above.

20130708-071231.jpg

(Though the picture may not make it obvious, that was a combination of 3 downed tress, plus tree branches, that had freshly fallen. I had to climb branch to branch over as it was too dense to go under and the ravine I was in made going around it impossible. It created a blockade 5 ft tall and about 5 ft wide).

4) The mud slalom. Slick mud covers many parts of the trail threatening to either swallow your leg whole or to send you sliding down the slope in one awkward bound.

5) Critter craze. Try to hike faster than the snails, turtles, and newts in the trail. Also avoid stepping on and getting bitten by the snakes that for some reason prefer the wet weather.
20130708-082750.jpg
Here’s hoping for some slightly less rainy weather around here!
20130708-083129.jpg

If you’re curious about what this crazy weather is looking like in the cities near here check out: Crazy rain in Roanoke,VA area, where they report that there’s been 12 inches of rain above the average so far this year!

P.S. Speaking of the AT obstacle course, the stiles around the cow pastures are (too me) one of the most odious obstacles, especially when wet. Sometimes they are coated with poison ivy to make the challenge even more exciting.

20130708-082028.jpg

Earning My Name (Days 53-55)

20130704-210726.jpg

Patches. That’s the theme for this post. Patches of fog on the trail, patches of rain, patches of thunderstorms, and white patches on my throat (uvula and soft palette).

I’ve been feeling draggy and have been struggling with a sore throat for a few days, but had assumed that it was just allergies (probably from dealing with all of those dogs). When I got into town I spotted a mirror and pulled out my headlamp to take a peek at my throat. Sure enough, it was covered with white patches. The white patches meant one of two things: strep throat or thrush. Either way, I was going to have to take a day off of the trail and go to the doctors.

What do you do when you’re on the trail and need to see a doctor? You wander into the nearest clinic.

20130704-214212.jpg

So I wandered into the clinic and got checked out by an M.D. It turns out that the pretty, lacy white patches that were making my throat bleed were from thrush, which is a pretty common side effect from the daily use of my asthma meds (inhaled corticosteroids) in the backcountry. The doctor prescribed a nystatin mouthwash (which is annoyingly heavy for backpacking) and gave me a prescription for some systemic meds in case the mouthwash doesn’t eradicate those nasty white patches. I’m happy that my asthma is under control enough that the side effects of the asthma are worse than the asthma itself.

While I was there I also had the doc look at the patches of rash that have
developed all over my legs, hips, butt, and thighs in this hot, humid, and very wet weather. The doc determined that it was folliculitis and prescribed me some antibiotics for it after making sure I was doing everything else correctly first.

Dog Days (Days 52-54)

20130630-203954.jpg

These days I’m not much of an animal lover, at least not up close and personal. This is partly because all things fuzzy and furry strongly contribute to my asthma and allergies. I still think your cats and dogs are wonderful and lovely creatures, but I’d rather not touch them or have them share my local breathing space.

There are lots of dogs hiking the trail with their owners, and like their owners, most are quiet, respectful, and move off of the trail to let other hikers pass. Some try to get my attention, but when I don’t touch them they quickly move on to someone that is more willing to scratch them behind their ears or play with them.

The other day I used a zip line (see picture) to cross a creek so that I could sleep on the Captain’s (the Captain is a trail angel that opens his porch and property to weary hikers) porch after hiking 20 miles in the pouring rain. I was thankful for having a dry place to stay (and a refrigerator full of soda to drink), but I didn’t love his five wet, muddy dogs that were aggressively trying to get me to play with them. I used the furniture on the porch and erected an anti-dog barricade to aid me in fighting off their exuberant affection as I curled up to sleep in my sleeping bag. By the time I left the Captain’s porch the next morning I was convinced that I definitely was not a dog person!

A couple days later I came across a woman sitting beside the trail with a puppy dog that was panting heavily. As I got closer, I realized that the dog was wheezing and constantly gasping/gulping for air. It reminded me of how I feel when my asthma is really bad… Extremely short of breath, and gulping air like water in the hopes of somehow sating my need for oxygen, but finding that the glass I’m trying to gulp from is always empty… It’s a horrible feeling and I found myself commiserating with that poor puppy.

I was worried about the puppy, so I stopped and chatted it’s owner. She said that the dog had been getting worse and worse for the last couple of hours, but that she didn’t have the strength to carry her (the puppy) off of the mountain. It was really hot out (the dog days of summer are here), so when a couple of day hikers came by with water to spare, we doused the dog with it, hoping that she was just overheated and that if we got her cooled down it would help. It didn’t seem to.

Every now and then the dog would try to get up and move, but her hind legs weren’t working correctly. She got up, moved a little bit, and collapsed beside my hiking pole, still gasping. Her big brown bulging eyes looked up at me, and it seemed as if she was silently asking me for help.

I looked down at her. She did need help. She probably needed to go to the hospital. She wasn’t getting better and she definitely needed to get off of that mountain. Suddenly it occurred to me… I’m a thru-hiker, I’ve gotten pretty strong, I could carry the dog off of the mountain! I could help!

I threw my pack and hiking poles into the bushes and offered to carry the puppy down the hill (~ a mile) and to woman’s car in the parking lot. She nodded her ok, so I bent down and scooped the now muddy puppy up into my arms and started down the hill.

She weighed about 35 lbs and I had no trouble retracing my steps and carrying her down to the car. Her breathing never improved, though she did manage to slobber all over me on the hike down. Once I got her safely to the car, her owner whisked her away to the nearest animal hospital.

Trail angels are constantly doing things that make my life better. In that same parking lot earlier in the day, some day hikers had left fresh fruit, cold water, and sodas in a cooler for me. I was glad to get the chance to do something nice for one of the day hikers, and I hope that that poor puppy ended up being ok.