June 2011

Free Stuff Fridays: Caption Contest #1

Do you like free stuff?

Of course you do. I do too. All humans do. It’s coded into our DNA. It’s what separates us from chimps.

You know what’s even better than free stuff? Free useful stuff.

And that’s why you could be in store for a good ass day (figuratively, not literally – I’m sure your butt has 7 good days a week).

Badger’s official AT footwear and outerwear sponsor, Hi-Tec, has been generous enough to hook you guys with some useful free stuff.

I know- pretty damn sweet.

Here’s how it works:

Each Friday for the next four weeks, I will post a picture from the trail. In the comments section below, you provide your comical caption. Each week I will select the funniest submission as the winner. That’s it.

Also- I will announce the winner on the Good Badger Facebook page- so be sure to “Like” the page. You don’t have to actually like it, that’s asking too much. Just click the thumbs up button at the top.

This week, the awesome item up to be won is the V-Lite Altitude Max WPi (pictured below).

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And here’s this week’s photo.

Giant Slug

Insert Funny Anecdote


Make Zach LOL below (please use an active email address so I can contact you). The winner will be announced on Monday.

Get some.

Rolling With The Rocks: Learning Lessons From the Trail

It was early February of this very same year. My mom, along with one of her long time friends, had come to visit me in San Diego.

Over lunch, we began discussing my upcoming, seemingly insane adventure of an entirely inexperienced camper going into the woods for a half year backpacking trip- covering the length of the East Coast.

My mom’s friend asked how I thought I would respond to the trail’s more challenging moments. A very fair question, and one I had spent the previous two months wondering myself.

Quickly my mom interjected, “you know Zach, if you end up hating it, there’s no shame in leaving the trail early. There’s no good reason to force something you don’t enjoy upon yourself.”

At this point in my life, any response other than the one I had just received from my mom would have been a major surprise. She wants nothing more than for her kids to be happy, comfortable, and above all, safe.

That’s why I knew my response to her would cause alarm.

“You know what the weird thing about this trip is? I hope parts of it suck…I hope parts of it suck beyond belief. If I come out of this without any struggle- I don’t think I will have received the full experience. I will have missed an opportunity for growth. To answer your question I look forward to the trail’s challenges.

Fast forward to June 17, 2011

The day began with stiff joints and sore muscles. Not uncommon following a 27 mile day, especially one covering some of the rockiest terrain experienced on trail thus far. Fourteen hours of backpacking doesn’t exactly leave much energy in the tank for the necessary stretching or care taking. Upon rising I was immediately paying the consequences. As I sat up in the crowded, mini-shelter (known to be the home of a nearby Copperhead Snake as mentioned in the trail register), the swollen feet pain was immediately met by the realization that I had scheduled another 24 miles for myself today. ShitFuck.

As is usually the case- a few miles of walking tends to numb any sort of pain you were experiencing to start the day. Today was no exception. I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that the human body eventually gives up on sending pain signals once it realizes the individual is too stubborn to alter their behavior accordingly.

Before leaving the day’s first resting point- we note that the next spot to get water is 12 miles away. This span- would involve 85 degrees of direct sunlight and what appeared in our guide book to be a pretty serious climb- at least by Pennsylvania’s standards. I load my pack up with 4 liters of water (almost 9 extra lbs) to prepare for the upcoming stretch.

Upon crossing Lehigh river it was quickly apparent that this climb was not only steep and into a looming dark sky, but the terrain was a sheer rock face, rendering my hiking poles useless.

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(the iPhone wordpress app doesn’t allow me to rotate an image. Get your shit together wordpress)

Much of the ascent was so intense that I had to throw my poles ahead of me because climbing required the use of all four limbs. A misstep or faulty rock meant a steep fall and a very bloody Badger. Add 40 lbs onto my back and a heightened state of alertness became an involuntary response.

To my surprise, I summit the mountain without breaking my face open. Because this particular stretch is so rocky- there are very few tress to obscure my view of the awesome lightning storm happening to the mountain range just to the west. I just hoped it was moving in any direction other than towards me.

I wasn’t so lucky.

As the lightning storm moved closer to me – and my metal hiking poles – my pace began to increase. It wasn’t until I hit the rocky descent that the rain and lightning really intensified. Perspective was gained that what I did on the way up the mountain was more challenging than it was dangerous. Now I was hopping from wet, jagged boulder to wet, jagged boulder with lightning striking in all directions of me. This was more dangerous than challenging- and still very challenging.

Before I know it- I’ve reached the gap (the bottom of the mountain). The whole experience was so intense it felt like it couldn’t have lasted longer than 30-45 minutes. In reality- I had just covered 5 miles- in just over two hours. Apparently time flies when you’re about to die.

….

This is just one challenging day of many in the recent past.

Add to the above that I’ve been battling pretty severe headaches for over a week (enough so that I made a hospital visit to be tested for Lyme Disease) – a near constant battle with Mosquitos, ticks, and gnats, and a brutal heat wave – and, well…

I got what I was asking for.

This stretch has “sucked beyond belief”.

Well, at least, it should have sucked beyond belief.

Despite all of the elements going against what would be considered “perfect”- I’ve managed to keep a clear, appreciative mind-state (at least relatively so).

I’m learning to roll with the punches- whether the punches be rocks, lightning, dehydration, or parasites. The woods have a way of keeping perspective. A perspective that life will deal to you what it will – it’s up to you to decide how these elements are perceived.

I perceive a life of walking in the woods. What more could I ask for?

Om nom report: The Half Gallon Challenge

2,181 / 2 = 1090.5

Yesterday, I passed the 1,090.5 mile marker- also known as the half way point of the Appalachian Trail. A thousand miles is a long ass ways to walk, and I get to do it all over again.

It is tradition that once a thru-hiker passes the half way point that they stop at the Pine Grove General Store (the nearest convenience store) to take part in the half gallon challenge- eating a half gallon of ice cream in a single sitting. Clearly- I was extremely excited to take part.

Since I’ve gotten on the trail back
in March, my appetite has been reminiscent to that of a pregnant Godzilla. Although a half gallon of ice cream is a tremendous amount of food- not to mention 2,240 calories- I was not only confident in my ability to complete the task, but expecting to do so with relative ease. As is often the case, my expectations were a tad misguided.

Less than half way through the giant brick of mint chocolate chip ice cream, my stomach began to send signals of “cease to continue stuffing or hurl will happen”. Luckily for me- I’m an expert in ignoring my stomach and continued to press on.

It wasn’t until the last quarter where I really hit the wall. Although I was eating something whereby “ice” was built into the name- I broke out into an intense sweat and full body discomfort. As I put another spoon full into my mouth, a tight knot in my neck refused to let it go any further. I was in trouble.

Unfortunately for my organs- I am excessively stubborn and competitive. Two of the hikers in our group threw in the towel with less ice cream remaining. I don’t throw towels- unless it’s a towel throwing contest- then I will throw more towels further than anyone else.

I tried deep breathing, doing push ups, napping, walking around the block, doing wind sprints- nothing would get the now green frothy blob to go down.

At this point Whoop had finished his half gallon 30 minutes prior and Bear Sweats had been done with his for almost an hour. This was getting embarrassing.

It was then Whoop walked out of the general store holding a hot dog (personally, I think he was rubbing it in). Strangely the idea of the sodium-rich wonder meat seemed to be the perfect palette cleanser to the cream and sugar barrage I had just experienced.

“Hey Whoop- can I get a bite of your hot dog?”

He obliged.

Turns out, that was the answer. I was able to get a few more bites down. I ran inside and got a wonder meat for myself. Twenty very painful minutes later- great success.

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I then went on a quick 20 mile walk into an intense lightning storm.

This is my life.

Profound Truths on the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail Profound Truths

A large part of the reason I decided to embark on an adventure as epic as hiking the Appalachian Trail, was for a renewed mental clarity. I assumed that consecutive months spent in the woods would break life down to its simplest components and earth’s profound truths would be all that remained. Turns out, I was right.

Being the selfless person that I am, I have decided to share the profound truths that have found me along my journey so far.

Here they are:

  • Peeing into the wind is, in fact, a bad idea. Peeing downwind, however, makes you feel like a superhero.
  • It has been said that trail mix in fact tastes significantly better while out on the trail. This is true. Other foods that also fit this description: all of them.
  • White chocolate macadamia is scientifically the best Clif bar flavor.
  • Over the last two months, I have given an excessive amount of thought for food. This in itself has created food for thought, which unfortunately is not edible.
  • I have spent the last four weeks trying to determine which is sweeter, glucose or Glenn Close. The results are still inconclusive.
  • Psychedelic mushrooms grow wildly in animal feces. I’m guessing that the first person to try one, likely did not know of its effects. I am also guessing this person did not have many friends.
  • The best possible name for a product that removes mildew is- Mildon’t. The generic version will be called Milmaybe.
  • When hiking uphill, I rely very heavily on the use of my Leki hiking poles, where my arms brunt the majority of the work. If you listen very carefully, you can hear my arms saying, “I’ll take it from here, bitch.” Ironically, it appears that my arms wear all of the pants in the limb relationship.
  • There are few pains worse than the feeling of intense chaffing and then having to walk another dozen miles. Giving birth, is not one of them. Getting beat up by a Sasquatch, also not one of them.
  • When it comes to cell service trees have a much stronger interference level than do testicles. In regards to general decision making, however, the opposite is the case.

Aquablazing on the Appalachian Trail

Jeff was desperately fighting the river’s powerful current, saw in one hand, the other raised in the air to maintain balance to avoid falling back in. The exhaustion on his face was obvious. After what he had just been through, you couldn’t blame him.

As Jeff pulled himself up on to the river’s bank, I noticed a large series of cuts just below his right knee.

Me: “What happened?!”

Jeff: Breathing rapidly, “hold on, I need to shotgun a beer first.”

This was alarming. Not because Jeff doesn’t normally drink, but because he doesn’t normally require chugging a beer prior to telling a story. Jeff is the sort of guy who can keep a smile and steady heartbeat while swimming next to a great white shark. This was the first time I had seen him even slightly rattled.

Jeff chugs his beer.

Me: A little more anxiously, “so, what happened?!”

I was not so patiently waiting on the river bank on the other side of the bend for the first canoe to maneuver through what had been dubbed, the left turn from hell. We had approached some rapids set up in such a challenging configuration that an expert kayak’er would have had trouble navigating. A couple of 17 foot canoes operated by three novices and one Jeff, was a whole other level of intimidating.

Jeff: “So,” still panting heavily, “after Road Dog grabbed our boat to direct us through the first rapid, our canoe quickly got turned backwards. It wasn’t long before the current slammed us into the first big rock. Road Dog tried to grab the boat and reorient us, but I yelled for him to let go out of fear of the canoe snapping.”

“The way the boat was pinned, our canoe quickly began taking in a lot of water. After the boat sank down to the river’s floor, the canoe dislodged from the rock, both of us still inside, trying to paddle to safety. Within seconds, we slammed into another rock, this time shooting us out of the boat. We got up and tried to chase after the canoe, which eventually snagged on a downed tree further down the river.”

Me: In near disbelief, “is everyone alright?”

Jeff: “Well, Road Dog lost a Croc and cut up his foot on the rock bed trying to chase us down. Whoop too lost a Croc, also his glasses and trekking poles. All of his stuff is soaked. He’s assessing the damage now.”

Me: “What about you?”

Jeff: “Me, I’m alright.”

Me: “What about that ridiculous cut on your leg?”

Jeff: “That? Oh yeah, the saw got caught on my leg. It looks worse than it is.”

Me: Yeah, well it looks bad. So now what?

Jeff: “Now…. Well, here’s more bad news.” He hesitates, “now it’s your turn.”

——————————–

Aquablazing is the terminology used when Appalachian Trail thru-hikers canoe or kayak a portion of the trail’s length. It’s most commonly done through the Shenandoah River, just to the west of the Shenandoah National Park, a very beautiful stretch of the trail in northern Virginia.

I had gone into our mini-excursion expecting our 70 mile aquablaze to be a relaxing couple of days off. Man was I wrong.

Instead of boarding the Shenandoah river in Elkton and getting off in either the town of Shenandoah or Luray, which is the common aqua blaze course of action, we decided to take a slightly more uncharted approach. We decided to board in the South River, just north of Waynesboro, which eventually feeds into the Shenandoah River, where we would get off in either Shenandoah or Luray.

Jeff, as I’ve eluded to in the past, is a highly experienced outdoorsman. He makes all of his own gear, camps in the woods during business trips, he even has an entire room in his house dedicated to stockpiling his equipment. He’s hiked and boated every square inch of northern Virginia. Well nearly every inch…

Turns out the stretch of the South River was a portion he had yet to embark down himself, thus his excitement to coordinate our aqua-adventure carried a little more meaning to him. Whoop, Road Dog, and I were unaware of this fact going into the trip. It wasn’t until the second downed tree in the river in which Jeff had to either physically saw down himself, or we had to pull the boats onshore and carry our belongings around the obstacle, did someone think to ask: “so…Jeff, when’s the last time you canoed through here?”

Jeff: “I haven’t. But I Google Mapped it the other day. We should be good.”

Well, we wanted an adventure…

———-

Me: “….so now what?

Jeff: “Now…. Well, here’s more bad news.” He hesitates, “now it’s your turn.”

Me: “Wait…” completely stone-faced, “what? Is there no other way through here?”

Jeff: “Well, I noticed a path through the woods behind us earlier….I wonder how far off the nearest road is….”

Turns out the nearest road was only about 200 yards behind us. Instead of reproducing the sequel to Titanic, we carried the hundreds of pounds of gear to the road, and back down to the other side under a bridge where Whoop was sorting through all of his very wet belongings. Jeff and Whoop had the (mis)fortune of being the Guiney Pig (misspell pun) in this tragedy.

Assessing the Damage

Whoop definitely got the worst of the spill. Because most of his belongings were in his pack, which spent ample time under water getting slammed against rocks, everything he owned was wet. This included cell phone, guide books, food, first aid kit, etc.

To ease Whoop’s misery, the very next day, first thing in the morning, Road Dog and Badger had their canoe swept into a strong current where a downed tree quickly flipped their boat and also soaked all of their belongings. It just wouldn’t have been right otherwise.

Ruined gear aside, Aquablazing was a major win. I heavily recommend it to any future thru-hikers.

Just be sure to Google Map your course first.

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