Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Beloved Sponsors

It is no secret that J & I are gear heads. We couldn't tell you who is running for the next election, but we could tell you what the latest innovation is when it comes to sleeping bags, tents, clothing etc. Over the years, we have definitely upgraded our gear and lightened our load. We are not as hardcore as some, but we definitely count ounces when we can. When I look at our gear list for the AT, I laugh. We've come so far and while we are still open to trying out anything, we do have our preferences. 

Which is why it is so awesome that some of our favorite gear companies have decided to sponsor our NZ adventure!!!

Allow us to share with you some info about these companies and why we love them. 

Hi-Tec - Shoes

We will admit that neither of us owned a pair of Hi-Tec shoes until they sponsored our Gear and Go Tour with Backpacker Magazine. But, it was fate that they did and the marketing director, Ian, was our biggest fan (He attended more than half of our presentations!) I was on the hunt for a hiking shoe that would not give me blisters. I felt like I had tried them all. And I can show you some really nasty photos of the terrible results. Until I tried Hi-Tecs. Seriously, the most comfortable boot I've ever worn. Yes, I still wear boots when hiking. Go ahead and laugh, but my feet are happy. J wears low tops or trail runners and loves his too. For this trek, I am wearing Hi-Tec's Ohio Waterproof Boots and J is wearing their Altitude Trek Low Waterproofs. This is after we retired our previous Hi-Tec pairs with more than a 1000 miles on them!!  

Sawyer - Water Purification

Water filtration is extremely important to J & I in the backcountry. Everyone has their opinion, but J & I ALWAYS filter our water, even when it comes from the highest altitudes. We have used nearly ever water filter out there. Some were great, some were downright frustrating. When we were introduced to Sawyer, we were blown away. Their filters are unbelievably tiny and lightweight, weighing anywhere from 2 ounces to 3.5 ounces, but can still filter up to 1 million gallons of water. No one will ever drink that much, but it's a good guarantee. Last year through our Backpacker gig, we met and went on a backpacking trip with Amy, Sawyer's marketing rep. That's an easy way to really get to know someone and their company, and luckily, we were fast friends and learned a lot.  Sawyer actually has more than just water filters.  They will be providing ultimate protection from the sun (we will be in the Southern Hemisphere!) and bugs (have you heard of sand flies??) with travel-friendly, stay-put sunscreen and repellent in the form of permethrin and maxi-deet.  And just in case I get bit by an Asian Giant Hornet again, we will be carrying Sawyer's lightweight personal first aid kits.    

Therm-a-rest - Sleep System

We cannot sing the praises of Therm-a-rest enough. Their innovation in sleep systems (both sleeping pads--which they've been making forever--and sleeping bags--which they just recently launched) has literally rocked our world. There is nothing like a good night's rest in the backcountry, but you need the right sleep system to achieve that. We found it with Therm-a-rest. What they've done is created sleeping bags that are not insulated on the bottom of the bag, thus cutting weight. You don't need that insulation because the right sleeping pad will provide it. And instead, they have concentrated the insulation in areas where you need it the most. Plus, their bags are roomier, so you can move freely. J usually has a dance party going on in his sleeping bag at night. Fortunately, Therm-a-rest bags have a Synergy Link System that keeps the bags attached to the sleeping pads, therefore keeping movers and shakers, like J, on their pad. As for their pads, they have what's called ThermaCapture technology in them, which traps your body heat and reflects it back to you. And to think, my first backpacking trip in 2001 was done without any sleeping pad. How did I ever survive? Believe us when we say you don't know a good night's sleep in the backcountry until you've used the Therm-a-rest sleep system; it makes all the difference. Therm-a-rest is constantly evolving with the trends and their newest product (not even available to consumers yet) is a sleeping bag made with Nikwax and Hydrophobic Down.  You heard us right, the down feathers are "afraid of water." The 750 fill inner reflective lining boosts warmth with less down. I will be taking this bag with me, and our readers can keep an eye out for this bag in the spring of 2015. Justin is opting for the new Auriga 35 degree 750 fill down blanket weighing in at just 1.5 pounds!  We will both be taking the Neo Air Xlite pads, weighing in at just 12 ounces.  

GSI - Cookware

J has been using GSI products since he started backpacking and still has his first cook pot, even though he has upgraded to lightest options now. GSI has brought cookware to a new level. You don't want to carry heavy pots and bowls made of heavier metals and the feared cast iron. Their cookware is lightweight, compact and heats water at rapid speeds. Now everything we own for our backcountry is made by GSI. You just cannot find the quality and affordability anywhere else. GSI will be providing us a Halulite Microdualist integrated cook system, with a 1.4L alloy cook pot, bowls, cups, foons and carrying case for 18 ounces!! We can't talk about GSI without mentioning the Kung Foon. I believe this is J's favorite piece of gear. It is a foon (fork/spoon) with a handle extended by chopsticks! We will also have some good mugs, spice missile to season up our meals and of course the GSI trowel to … well you know?? 

Princeton Tec - Lighting

We were introduced to Princeton Tec at Trail Days last summer, when we met one of their marketing reps, Justin, and his wife, Beth, with whom we had lots in common. Having good quality lighting in the backcountry is a must. We spend half of our time in the dark and have been know to night hike once and while. Princeton Tec will be lighting up our adventures with the Vizz headlamp which has 165 lumens and last up to 150 hours on a single set of batteries. And for all our Jersey followers out there, P Tec is based out of the Garden State. Leave it to us to find the outdoor gear companies based out of good 'ol NJ. 

Gregory - Backpacks

We used and loved Gregory backpacks (J-Baltoro and P-Deva) on our AT thru hike. And when J's Baltoro pack broke in Massachusetts, Gregory sent a new one without hesitation. Gregory most certainly has hikers' "backs" and are awesome and easy to work with. We will both be taking the Baltoro and Deva packs again, BUT, we are getting the updated versions that aren't even on the market yet. They are a pound lighter than our AT bags, but still have all the bells and whistles we love. Now here's an even better surprise. If you have read this far and are in the market for a new backpack, the first reader who responds to us will get a Gregory coupon for 50% off any backpack!!!! The catch is you absolutely need to tell us which pack you purchased and what you think. I would say that's quite a deal! 

Superfeet - Insoles

A really easy way to upgrade your footwear is with insoles. When we were about 200 miles into our AT trek, we met 2 guys who were hiking Northbound and at the tail end of their journey. We were asking them advice and complaining a bit about our feet. They insisted we pick up a pair of insoles at the next town, promising a difference in our hiking. We followed their advice, had Superfeet insoles mailed to our next town stop and felt like we were actually walking on clouds from that point forward! We are happy to know we will be once again "walking on clouds" on the TA. 

We would like to publicly thank all of our sponsors. Gear can make or break a hike and we feel lucky enough to have connected with some awesome supporters. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Our Next Adventure: Going Tramping in Middle Earth

Tramp [verb]: to walk long and far, hike, march or trudge. to wander about as a vagabond. to walk for sport or recreation

To some (okay, most), backpacking means schlepping everything you need on your back just so you can get to a campsite where you'll sleep on the ground and be eaten alive by mosquitoes from eyebrow to ankle. To us, it is our lifeline. We feel most at peace and happiest when we are backpacking and living that simple life on the trail. 

So it was bound to happen. It's been 3 years since we thru hiked the AT. It's high time we go on another long-distance hike. And while the US has tons of hikes on our bucket list, we are going international for this one.

On November 22, we are leaving for New Zealand and will be attempting to thru hike 1,864 miles from the northern tip of New Zealand (Cape Reigna) to the southern tip of New Zealand (Bluff) on the world's newest long-distance hike, the Te Araroa Trail (Te Araroa literally means "the long trail" in Maori, the indigenous language of NZ). Our Visa allows us to stay until April 20 and we booked a one-way ticket! 

This is actually our first time traveling internationally together, because I don't count Niagara Falls. We leave on Nov. 22 from San Francisco and fly directly to Auckland, NZ, arriving on Nov. 24 (what happens to Nov. 23?). We'll spend 2 days there organizing and overcoming jet lag, then hit the trail on Thanksgiving Day. So while you all are eating turkey and stuffing, we will be walking away the calories and beginning our 4 million steps. 

The seed for the Te Araroa (TA) was actually planted during our 2011 southbound thru hike of the AT (to refresh your memory, this hike was 2,181 miles). At a shelter in NH, we met a BUNCH of northbounders, many of whom were international. There was this one girl from NZ. We got to talking with her because NZ was high on our "want to visit" list. She told us about the TA and that it would be officially open as a long-distance pathway on Dec. 3, 2011. We were hooked. In 2012, I read "Te Araroa: The New Zealand Trail - One Man Walks His Dream" by Geoff Chapple, the man who dreamed of a long-distance pathway in NZ and became the primary trail blazer, working on it for years and years to make it a reality. The trail is just starting to grow in popularity, with about 100 people setting out each year to hike the entire length. 

What will we encounter? A hike is usually all about the wilderness, but this time, it's about exploring the history of NZ, its Maori culture and becoming a Kiwi. The trail terrain is quite varied. It goes through 7 cities, farmland, spooky and jungle-like forests, across sandy beaches and coastlines, over high mountain passes, across raging rivers, on urban byways and of course, on same trails Frodo traveled. Lots of names of places we won't be able to pronounce, nor spell. Most will be walked via foot, but there are times we will need to jump in a kayak or stick out our thumb. Wildlife is very different than what we'd find in America. Our biggest danger is being run over by a sheep (there are 9 sheep to every 1 human in NZ). Oh, and I guess I should point out that though you all will be enduring winter, we will be walking into spring and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. 

And that's our short intro into a long walk. Please stay tuned for as we tell you about the amazing companies that are supporting us as we "tramp" through NZ.

As Bilbo Gaggins sings,
"The road goes ever on an on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many path and errand meet.
And whither then? I cannot say." 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Backpacking Oregon: Eagle Cap Wilderness - Lakes Basin

First thing first. Happy birthday J!!!!

Today he turns 38. This means, it's just 2 years until he hits the big 4-0! However, he still acts 18 or so. Anyone agree with me? But, I love that he doesn't act his age.

My shout-out via blog serves as my bday card to him. J & I don't exchange bday gifts (or any holiday gifts for that matter), but we always usually give each other a card. This is my first year not giving him a card, which pretty much makes me the world's "best" wife.

This past weekend, J's sister, Jamie (SILAdventure) came to visit! Our last--and as she would say, save the best for last--visitor. And as her nickname would predict, we went on a little adventure!
testing another tent for Backpacker Magazine … testing all angles of course!
You could say that one of our goals while temporarily living in the northeast corner of OR was a quest to find which of the 60 alpine lakes in the Wallowas was our favorite. And actually, on this past trip, which added up to 25.9 miles, we hit 8 lakes in the Lakes Basin region of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. We may not have reached all 60 lakes, but hit about 10 in total. Not bad for one summer. All drool-worthy, for sure. On a side note, isn't our most current GPS track shaped like Italy?

It was fun to show Jamie the dramatic landscape you encounter in the backcountry of the Eagle Caps, with the rugged 9,000-ft granite peaks, coniferous forests and crystal-clear, untouched lakes. After living in Colorado for 10+ years, she is hard to impress. But impressed she was.

We started at the Two Pan Trailhead and followed the East Lostine River Trail to the meadow with Eagle Cap peak as its backdrop. Back in July, J & I attempted this same hike, but encountered too much snow and had to turn back at the meadow. This time, we were in the clear (though, still some pockets of snow amazingly!).
We continued upriver to Mirror Lake, where we camped for the night. We hit the jackpot with the dreamy campsite, no crowds and perfect weather. We even kept our rain tarp off that first night to enjoy the diamond-studded sky. The moon was almost too bright!

Jamie is as competitive as Justin when it comes to games. So there was a lot of card-playing into the wee hours of the night … okay, just 8pm, but that is hiker midnight!
The second day, we did a 5-mile side loop around Mirror, Moccasin, Douglas, Craig, Crescent and Sunshine lakes. Natural beauty like this never gets old (and I'm not just talking about J!)

That second night, we ventured over to Minam Lake to camp, putting us closer to the car in the morning (and real food). My only complaint would be the lack of wildlife. What is up with these wildlife-less wildernesses? Say that 3 times fast.

And that will conclude our backpacking tour of northeastern OR. On Friday, we will leave the great state of OR and point Big Bird south to CO, where we will plant our feet for the next 2-3 weeks. Because the next adventure awaits … 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Backpacking Oregon: Timberline Trail

We may be leaving Oregon in a week, but we will be back. We have to be back. We have some major unfinished business in the Mt. Hood Wilderness of Oregon.

Back in May, J tried to climb the 11,240 foot summit of Mt. Hood and was turned back due to weather. And, as he said, that mountain will be there forever and will see him again.

In the meantime, he thought it would be a good idea for us to circumvent Mt. Hood on the 40-mile Timberline Trail.

Spoiler alert: Mt. Hood Wilderness beat J (and me) again.

Let me preface by saying that our research warned us about multiple difficult stream crossings, but one particularly tricky section halfway through the loop trail across Eliot Creek (mile 24.1 to be exact). The original bridge and trail were damaged by heavy rains in 2006, creating steep, eroded banks to get down to the wide and violent creek. Hikers reported finding their way across successfully, but their routes are not the safest. I quote:
"Follow an unmarked trail to cross the flood plain on the ridge. This could be dangerous because there are rocks and gravel covering the GLACIER underneath. It's really loose, so a big rock could shift when you step on it and you could break your leg, or you could fall in a crevasse."
"Rock hop across Eliot Creek with about THREE feet between rocks."

Autumn is a stellar time to hit some of the more popular trails. You beat the crowds and if you get the right weather window, you get the right weather window. Plus, this time of year, the glaciers on Hood are really just unpredictable and moving more, but the rivers/streams are running a bit lower, so we thought we would best try the rock hopping or scout out a safe crossing through the creek. We were also both breaking in our new Hi-Tec boots and knew the tread and waterproofing would be up for the task. On the other hand, autumn can turn into winter very quickly in the backcountry.

For this trip, we figured worse case scenario, we'd make it to Eliot Creek, assess the situation and determine it to be unsafe, turn around and retrace our steps instead of completing the loop hike. Turns out, worse case scenario happened as the weather took a turn for the worse. Pictured below: the creeks labeled as "easier" as the ones we would encounter in the second half of the hike.

Allow me to start at the beginning.

We set out Sunday as soon as RR closed for the season and got to the trailhead Sunday evening with enough time to hike 5.5 miles to camp before nightfall. The temps were really mild (low 40s) that night, even though we were up at 5,400 feet, and we thought maybe we might have packed too many layers. We were both testing multiple pieces of clothing for Backpacker Magazine, so had a little of everything to be prepared for all weather.

Monday morning, we woke up to a beautiful day for hiking. We wanted to get within 2 miles of Eliot Creek to tackle it with freshness, so that meant about 17.9 miles of hiking that day. We crossed a few creeks and again, found them to be on the low side and safe. It was looking hopeful.

Then the weather changed, as it so easily does in the mountains. It was foggy and misting. We got to camp and set up just before the real rain started. We camped a little higher that night (5,800 feet), and it was quite a bit chillier. It rained steadily all night and we just kept thinking, this can't be good for Eliot Creek. In the early morning hours, the rain sounded a bit heavier and when I opened the tent, I saw snow and ice on the ground!! Oh boy, this is definitely not looking good. Eliot Creek was a 1,000 feet higher. Rock hopping (3 feet, mind you) is dangerous on any DRY day. And forget glacier travel over slippery rocks while trying to determine if there is a crevasse underneath. Then we caught a glimpse of Mt. Hood through the clouds and it was completely covered in snow.
 Mt. Hood - Day 1 - No snow!!
Mt. Hood - Day 2 - No snow!!
 Mt. Hood - Day 3 - snow!!!

And so, as much as we HATED to retrace our steps, we opted for the safe decision. The safe decision is always the right decision. It ended up raining most of that 3rd day (and probably snowing at the higher elevations where we would have been headed), but we still made it about 16 miles. It was definitely cold and wet that night, but we knew dry clothes were less than 7 miles away the next day back at the National Historic Landmark Timberline Lodge, where we parked our car--and where a sweet lunch buffet worth the $20 per person awaited.

In total, we ended up doing about 50 miles on our out-and-back trek, practicing our rock hopping, meandering in and out of timberline. The Timberline Trail provides the Oregon I love: very, very tall and dense conifers in various hues of green that are moss-covered and surrounded by ferns, creating a fairytale-like forest and the occasional spooky burned section. Plus, it overlapped about 15+ miles with the Pacific Crest Trail (progress: up to about 95 miles done of that 2,600-mile trail!). We were surprised to see no wildlife, other than 1 deer and a bear on the drive from afar.

On our way out, we spoke with the Forest Service who just got word about funding to fix the Eliot Creek crossing. Yeah!! So we will be back Mt. Hood and the Timberline Trail, we will be back.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

End-of-Season Review

Today is the last day RR is open. Let me start by saying we had a good time this summer. Overall.

This week has been anti-climatic and deathly quiet compared with all the drama and challenges we faced this summer. Add to the fact that we let our SIXTH cook go last week (partly because we knew it would be slow during the last week and J could fill in again as the cook and partly because we agreed with RR's owners she had some big issues). 

Meet cook #4 and cook #7 this season. He has no professional experience in the kitchen, but he did an awesome job! 

I really didn't know what to expect this summer when we set out to manage a remote B&B perched on the edge of a canyon in eastern OR. And it was a good thing I had no expectations because it was a wild summer. A few times we wanted to run from the building screaming. The reasons aren't worth rehashing. Too many conflicting emotions attached to them, and at this point, we've moved past the problems and just want to remember our experience fondly. I will say that our ability to take accountability and emotionally process our environment without flying off the handle was surely tested. 

That junk aside, we had a really fulfilling summer and learned a TON. Overall, we hosted 882 guests in our tipis and luxurious inside accommodations. Our quasi-restaurant fed dinner to 818 guests (this is a mix of our overnighters and public reservations). I loved, loved, loved all our guests. J & I were just recounting which guests were our favorites and the list is very long. We met so many awesome people and this intimate setting made us all friends. The hospitality business tends to burn people out on … well, people. But that didn't happen to us this summer. And yes, we are ready for a break and to regain some privacy and us time, but it wasn't a burnout job. 

We also loved living in Wallowa County. For a backpacker, we hit the jackpot. Trailheads around every corner, high peaks, alpine lakes, wildflower meadows … I said it before and I'll say it again--we couldn't ask for a better backyard. And we utilized every bit of free time to hit as many hot spots as we could. It gave us a good taste of the area and I wouldn't be surprised if we came back down the road sometime.

I did learn more about ranching, logging and hunting than I ever wanted to know, but it just comes with the territory. At the hiker hostel on the East Coast, we talked about the Appalachian Trail. At the bed & breakfast in Wallowa County, we talked about cows and horses. We tried to play the part. In fact, J & I went to our first rodeo during Chief Joseph Days. We were hesitant at first, but it was the best spontaneous decision we made in a long time. Rodeos are extremely entertaining. And what's more dangerous than rodeos? Pinatas. I promise.  Now I can truthfully use the saying, "this ain't my first rodeo." And next time, I will be sure to make J wear his tight jeans, cowboy boots and 10-gallon hat. 

I don't think we'll ever be good enough for the rodeo.

For now, we say goodbye to the cowboys and Indians. J & I are still searching for our answers and our permanent home (if ever) and know that worthwhile endeavors aren't usually easy, but are character-building and clarifying. That was this summer in a nutshell. 

This winter should be very exciting for us. And I can promise you, it doesn't involve cleaning a single toilet. Stay tuned …