Moving the Blog!

Hello again, everyone!

This is a bonus post, because I’ve got some excited news. About two weeks ago I applied to be a blogger for a fabulous website called The Trek, which makes content about all things backpacking. It’s really a wonderful site, and you should check them out if this stuff interests you. But the point of this post is that they accepted me, and I’m going to become one of their thru-hiking bloggers.

What this means is that And If I Stand will, for the duration of my hike, be a secondary blog, and I will be recording all the nitty gritty hiking details at The Trek. But this doesn’t mean that I’ll never update this blog again: I’ve entertained the idea of making And If I Stand not exclusively about hiking but more about anything cool I decide to do. For example when I’m done with this thru-hike I could return here and talk about the next project I’m working on, and follow that to its completion. This works well with my title too: And If I Stand is an intentionally ambiguous name, not linked specifically to backpacking.

Anyway I won’t be on the trail at all from December to early spring, so I’ll probably update this blog during that time.

TL;DR: I will not be sharing the details of my on-trail experiences at this website, but at this one. So if you’re interested in how my thru-hike is going to go, check out that blog!

I’m excited for what the future holds, you guys! My first on-trail post should come out on The Trek by the 9th of November.

Until then,

Eliza

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Gear Haul! (Progress Update #17)

Hello all!

As promised, today I bring you my gear haul. This is a list of absolutely all the gear that I’ll start the Appalachian Trail with. I’ve done separate posts on food and clothing so I won’t be including them in this post. Also, as in my clothing haul, I will provide links to the products where I can, but that won’t be possible with everything.

Alright, let’s get started! I’m going to break this down into groups. First group:

The Big Three

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Big Three

More about those three here.

Cook System

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The ideal kitchen, ladies and gentlemen.

Hygiene/First Aid

  • Trowel from REI
  • Small first aid kit with:  band-aids, gauze, duct tape, mole skin, antiseptic wipes, a needle, and duct tape.
  • Toilet paper
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Everything else. (I’ve lumped hygiene and first aid in with miscellaneous tools)

Miscellaneous Tools

That’s everything! A few of the things in the list didn’t make it into the pictures (namely the compression bags and silk sleeping bag liner; the one because it hadn’t come yet and the other because I accidentally left it in my sleeping bag sack) but other than that the photos are comprehensive.

Also, bonus photo of all my clothes, since I didn’t have them all together when I posted my clothing haul.

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Alright, that’s all I have to say about gear. As for actually leaving for the trail, that will be sometime this week although I don’t want to say exactly when for security reasons.

Anyway, you’ll hear from tomorrow, when I announce something which will have pretty far reaching implications for this blog (you’ll want to catch that), and then you won’t hear from me again until I’m on trail! It’s exciting, huh? This is really coming true.

Until then,

Eliza

Clothing Haul! (Progress Update #16)

Hello again!

One week until I hit the trail! It’s getting close.

Today I’m going to talk about the clothes I’m bringing on the trail and next week will be all about my gear. First, let’s go over my goals with selecting this clothing.

I wanted clothing that was:

  1. Insulating when wet. This is important because it’s going to be cool up there and if it rains I don’t want all my sopping wet clothing to freeze me to death. That’d be bad.
  2. Versatile. I want to keep many of these clothes through to the Spring, so flexibility, especially in warmth, is key.
  3. Durable. I’m trying to go higher quality in the hopes these items will last to Katahdin.

 

Alright, let’s get into it!

Darn tough socks

These are the exact Darn Tough socks I have.

Starting from my feet and going up I have one pair of Darn Tough* socks and one pair of thicker, Fits socks. Both wool. I want two, one to sleep in, one to hike in.  For shoes I’m bringing along Salomon Trail Runners. I love those shoes and I’ve been wearing them all the time, even when I’m not hiking. I also got gaiters for potential snow, and to protect my socks and shoes from getting wet and nasty. 

Pants now. I have a pair of yoga pants and one pair of synthetic joggers rated down to 30 degrees. The joggers are also super comfy and I’m looking forward to using them as pajama pants. I’m also bringing a hiking skirt. This might prove extraneous but if it is I’ll just send it home.

Oh, and on my hands I have lightweight men’s snow gloves by Isotoner.

puffy jacket

This is my jacket and it makes me happy. Okay? Okay.

For my torso I’m bringing, as my first layer, a generic synthetic sports T-shirt. It’s light blue and I like it. Then I have a black zip-up fleece. It’s a bit heavy, so I might have to switch it out, but it only cost me four bucks, so if that’s the case it’ll be okay. Plus it’s super warm. Then, over my fleece, I have a lightweight puffy jacket from REI.

Now, for my head. I’m bringing two buffs, which are probably my favorite thing on this list. I really like my buffs. I’ll also be bringing a bandanna, which may occasionally go on my head. All of those can cover my ears to keep in extra heat, if necessary. But I also have a generic wool cap, which will hopefully cover my ears too. I especially wanted a hat because none of my jackets have hoods and some protection from the elements would be nice.

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This is me wearing a buff from last Spring. 

Other than that, there’s only my Frogg Toggs, which is essentially a rain poncho. It does have a hood, so that will provide whatever protection from the elements my hat and buffs don’t cover.

So that’s my wardrobe! It’s given me a lot of headache over the last few months but I think I’ve covered my bases with as little cost/weight as possible. It’s a fine line between freezing to death, going broke, and breaking your back with weight. I’ll find out in a week if my choices were wise or not.

Until next time,

 

Eliza

 

*Where I can I have provided links to the precise product I am using. Some of the items,  for instance my joggers, I bought second hand and therefore cannot provide links for.

What I’ll Eat on the Trail + Backpacking in Ketosis (Progress Update #15)

(Quick Disclaimer: the ketogenic diet has been recommended specifically for me by my doctor, and I have worked with him to implement it. I am not experimenting on myself willy-nilly and I’d recommend doing a lot of research and possibly consulting your health care provider before starting any new diets.)

Hello there, all!

So today I’m going to talk about my diet on trail. I’m doing my best to follow the ketogenic diet at the moment and I hope to continue that on trail.  I’m not the best person to explain the mechanics of ketosis (this link should be helpful if you want an in-depth explanation) but essentially it means that my main fuel while hiking will come from fat, a bit will come from protein, and very little will come from carbohydrates. This means I will 1) carry less weight per calorie, 2) have more energy, and 3) not become a spiraling, food-manic mess if I’m deprived of a meal for a few hours, which is a common reaction among backpackers.

So anyway today I’m going to break down, item by item and calorie by calorie, what I’ll be eating on trail for November. When I return from my hike hopefully I’ll be able to let you know what I actually ended up eating, and how I’ll be modifying it for my hike in the Spring.

Alright, so this is a list of the foods I’m taking on trail with me:

  • Home-dehydrated ground beef
  • Ground Beef from thrivelife.com
  • Sausage Crumbles from thrivelife.com
  • Aldi Olive Oil
  • Peanut Butter Packets
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Tuna Packets
  • Assorted vegetables
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Chia Seeds
  • Dried apples

The break down of macro nutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates in this instance) from these foods is roughly this:

Second Pie Chart per calorie

Yes, I did indeed make a pie chart and I’m very proud of it thankyouverymuch.

So, again, that’s a pretty significant portion of calories coming from fat.

Really quick, before I go any farther, I want to note something: all the following calculations rest on the assumption that I will eat off my groceries for twenty seven days out of the month and eat at restaurants for three. I’ve allotted $70 to myself for those three days.

Alright, now let’s go to my handy-dandy spreadsheet:

second spreadsheet yea

 

There’s a lot going on here, I know. But let’s look at one thing at a time:

  1. The bottom right cell gives the total money I will spend on groceries every month. This comes out to about $14 per day on trail. Also remember this is plus the $70 I’ll spend on restaurant food.
  2. The bottom cell, second from the left, gives the average calories I will consume per day. This looks like too few but I’ve actually calculated the most pessimistic possibility here. In reality I will have more than one tuna and peanut butter packet per day, my home dehydrated ground beef will probably have more than 360 calories in it, I can easily buy more food if I’m hungry along the way, and I probably will not stay on the trail for a full thirty days. I like to calculate for the worst possible scenario and be pleasantly surprised when things turn out a bit better.
  3. The third column from the right shows how many days per month I will eat each food. Notice I am not eating every food every day, but swapping them out, especially my meats.
  4. I calculated the price per calorie (the third column from the left) by multiplying calories per serving by servings in a unit to find the total calories in a unit, and then dividing that by the total price.

There’s more to the spreadsheet but that’s the highlights.

Oh, and the good thing is that these calculations not only help me with my upcoming hike, but provide an outline for the whole thing. When November is over and I’m back home I will refine this model, with changes as appropriate, and it will become the model for my food consumption per month, which will certainly help with calculations for when I hit the trail again in the Spring.

That’s about all I have for today.

Take care, everyone.

Until next time,

Eliza

 

 

Starting in Three Weeks! (Progress Update #14)

Hello again!

Lots to say this time. For one thing I’ve moved my start date forward! Because of unforeseen circumstances I’ll need to be home for about a month in the Spring, right in the middle of my thru hike. So I’m leaving at the end of this month instead. I’ll hike all of November, come home for the winter, and leave again in the Spring as planned, coming home for a month in the middle of the Spring hike. It’s a little more complicated this way but it works out to be the same amount of trail time, which is all I need.

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Dehydrating ground beef

To summarize: I’m leaving around October 30th and hiking the A.T. all November. And… that’s in about three weeks.

So I’ve been cooking like mad to dehydrated all my food. I have pretty specific dietary needs so that’s turned out to be somewhat labor intensive. But it’s a little cheaper this way and I know it’ll be better for me.

I’ve also been buying up the last straggling bits of gear and clothing that I need. I’ll do a gear haul right before I leave and you’ll get to see all the bits and pieces I’m accumulating.

One more thing: I’m still working at the Nature Center, but only weekends now. And my last day is October 21st. After that I’ll be able to devote all my time to preparing for this hike.

I’m getting excited. I’ve waited and prepared for many, many years for this hike and watching it come together is both nerve wracking and exhilarating.

Until next time,

Eliza

P.S.

I’ll be going back to my weekly schedule of updates now. You can expect a new post every Tuesday morning.

 

 

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P.P.S. Oh yeah, and Butters says hey.

Total Solar Eclipse + Eighteenth Birthday!

Hello again, everyone!

I turned eighteen last week! I’m an official adult now. I had a good birthday, complete with pretty flowers and Chinese food.

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Birthday flowers ❤

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Foods.

I also got these trail runners for my birthday (thanks Mom!). I’ve worn them a bit so far and I really love them. My toe doesn’t reach the front of the shoe which can help prevent injury while hiking downhill. And it’s much lighter than a full fledged hiking boot, which I prefer.

 

Another thing: on the day of my birthday my family and I visited Middle Tennessee State University and got to check out the campus. Apparently I have a shot at some of their scholarships. That’s exciting, and it’s giving me something to work towards this Autumn.

I also witnessed the eclipse on Monday! Because I work at a state park within the path of totality I spent most of the day, running programs for the children and helping make eclipse day a success. But, honestly, when the sun started disappearing I was geeking out as much as anyone. It was kind of nice, actually: in the moment of the eclipse I wasn’t an employee and the strangers weren’t guests, instead we were united in an excitement that transcended our everyday roles.

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The dusk during the eclipse.

 

Also! Did anyone else see the elliptical shadows?

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This was light sifting through the trees during the partial eclipse. I was absolutely entranced. I’m not exactly sure how the science behind this phenomenon works, but somehow all the small dots of light on the ground (like if there was a tiny hole in a leaf) became elliptical shapes. It was really cool to see.

So there you go. I’m eighteen now, I have new shoes, I’m looking at colleges, and I saw the eclipse. It’s been a good few weeks.

Until next time,

Eliza

 

P.S. This is my frog birthday balloon. He says hi.

 

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Dealing with Fatigue

Hello again!

So there’s this stereotype in the backpacking world of a young, eager hiker who gets on trail for the first time and is really into it. They’re excited to make miles and because of this they tear up Georgia for a few weeks or months making excellent time. But sooner or later their break-neck pace catches up with them and they either injure themselves or just burn out. Either way they’ve so completely mentally and physically depleted themselves that it’s impossible for them to continue and they go home pre-maturely. Unfortunately this stereotype is firmly grounded in reality and it occurs often.

But this is isn’t a phenomenon confined to just backpacking. It can crop up anywhere. And it’s a problem that raises interesting conundrums: on one hand it’s important to accomplish as much as you can but on the other hand if you destroy yourself in the process then you won’t be able to accomplish anything else later. So where’s the middle ground?

This is something I’m constantly struggling to balance. For example I missed an update last week because I wasn’t feeling well and anything I wrote wouldn’t have been very interesting. And I knew that if I went ahead and pushed myself to write a blog post anyway then it might hurt my emotional capacity to write later. I knew this from years of feeling out that fine line and occasionally crossing it and dealing with the consequences.

Understanding this is also how I graduated high school early, how I’m planning my hike, and how I’m figuring out financial aid for college. Incidentally it’s become more important recently, as I’ve become more susceptible to exhaustion and simultaneously begun working full-time. Because of that particular combination I’ve given up martial arts for the time being, in order to be capable of continuing to bring in an income.

The point of all of this is that knowing your limits and making the most efficient use of your abilities is an essential skill, both on trail and off. And that sometimes it means prioritizing your goals.

Just some things that have been on my mind recently.

As a side note I’ve also decided to start posting more intermittently. Not exactly because I don’t have the energy but more because I’m working full-time right now and not doing much hiking. This summer contains all the boring parts of preparing for my thru-hike and none of the exciting stuff: I’m not buying anything and I’m not making any intricate plans. However I’m switching to only working weekends at the end of August and I’ll probably go back to a regular schedule at that point, mostly because I’ll have interesting things to say and I don’t now.

And of course I will still be posting between now and then, but not as regularly as I have been.

That’s all for now. I have a post or two planned and I look forward to sharing them with you.

Until then,

Eliza

 

Jackson Cave at Cedars of Lebanon

Hello all.

As part of my job I give tours of a quirky little feature of Cedars of Lebanon known as Jackson Cave. It’s great in person but I want to extend the pleasure to all of you, no matter where you live. So join me to go deep into the earth and explore the world beneath Cedars of Lebanon State Park.

As you initially approach Jackson Cave you’ll see something like this:

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You draw a little nearer and see that the entrance is only about four feet tall, so that you’ll have to crouch to enter. You stop at the mouth of the cave and peer inside. This is what greets you:

Jackson Cave

Dark. Lots of dark. Best to bring a light along. You’ll also note the uneven footing which, coupled with the low ceiling and occasional mud, makes navigating the entrance a challenge. But you’ve come prepared with light and shoes with a grip, so you resign yourself to stooping and make your way hesitantly forward. After about fifty feet, much to your relief, the ceiling rises and you can stand again. But there’s a new challenge now: water.

The entire cave sometimes serves as a creek bed to drain excess water off the lake, which is situated at the back of the cave. But the water never completely evaporates and so inevitably you will wade through at least a little water. Today it’s knee-deep and to help with balance you grip the walls, which you discover are covered in mud. It becomes apparent that you’re going to need a shower when you come back out.

Other cool things you see:

  • Giant crawdads, as long as your hand is from the tip of your middle finger to the beginning of your wrist.
  • Rock carved into miniature ravines by the water that’s flowed through it over the eons.
  • Sparkly ceilings. Thousands of tiny drops of water coat the roof of the cave and make it glitter. There are also shiny minerals in the rock wall that add to the effect.
  • More mud than you thought existed in the entire world and you get to wade through most of it.
  • It’s been raining just a little so you also get to see little underground waterfalls.

After three-quarters of a mile enjoying these sights you reach the underground lake. Standing there, on the gravely shore, you get the sense that the water goes on and on through cavern after cavern and rock hall after rock hall, filling a thousand cracks and a million crevices. If you’re lucky you might see a cave fish swim by. They’re blind (a little like the ones Gollum eats in The Hobbit) and where their eyes should be there’s only a shallow, scaly indentation.

Now is a good time to turn off your light and get a sense of how dark it really is down here. No light from the sun ever reaches this deep so even if you had the eyesight of an owl it wouldn’t help you much; you are hemmed in by darkness on every side. Not only darkness but silence. No sound can penetrate the rock that surrounds you and so, if you take the opportunity to listen, you may hear true silence for the first time in your life.

You turn your light back on and now, unless you decide to swim (some people do), you’ll turn back. There is a legend that if you follow the cave far enough you’ll come out at the town square, a full six miles away. But that’s for the spelunkers and scientists to decide; you’ve come as far as you can and now it’s time to head back to the surface.

So back you go, through the mud and water and past the tiny waterfalls. It goes faster this time because you know what to expect and before you know it there’s a hazy glow up ahead and you realize that it’s daylight. As you near the mouth of the cave the ceiling descends and you’re obliged to crouch again. You’ve already forgotten how hard it is to keep your balance during this stretch and you’re a bit over-confident, taking risks you didn’t take on the way in.

Then, at long last, you emerge into the warm, dappled sunlight of the forest.

Jackson Cave(2)

You stretch in relief, glad to be able to stand up straight again, but notice that while in the cave you have become immeasurably filthy. Mud has somehow gotten on your face, on your legs, all over your hands, and it’s doubtful whether it will ever come out of your shoes. But somehow this only adds to the joy of the adventure and you laugh as you make your way to the Nature Center where there’s a hose and (hopefully) a clean change of clothes waiting for you.


So there you go: a virtual tour of Jackson Cave. If you want the real experience come see me at Cedars of Lebanon and I can get you set up.

That’s all for this week, you guys.

Until next time,

Eliza

 

Jackson Cave(1)

The mouth of the cave from above.

A.T. Thru-hike Budget (Progress Update #13)

Hello again, all.

We’re now coming up on the time when I hope to finish my thru-hike next year. That’s a big deal and I t makes me excited. It also makes me want to jump into the specific financial logistics of this hike a little more, and that’s what I’ve got below.

Thru Hike Budget

Inital Equipment – $1,500

On-trail purchases – $500

Food – $2,000 

Lodgings, Travel, Fees, Emergency Trips Home, etc. – $1,000

Total: $4,923

Some notes on each of those categories:

Equipment:  I’ve spent $923 on equipment so far but I’ve built in room for roughly $570 more I n accordance with the lots of little purchases I still need to make.

On-trail Purchases: This for when my boots inevitably fall apart, when I need a new sleeping bag because mine is for some reason shredded, when I decide I hate my pack, etc.

Food: $2,000 for five and a half months roughly equates to $12 per day. I’m going to try to eat well, giving myself all the meat, protein, and fat I need, so if I go over-budget anywhere it’ll be here. It’s worth it though.

Travel and Fees: I’m probably going to keep a “no beds until Maine” policy which will deter me from spending nights in hotels as much or, if I do, splitting the price of the room with a buddy and sleeping on the floor. Hopfully in return for the comfy bed they’ll bear the greater part of the bill. I also need money for transortation to and from the trail and a little buffer in case I suddenly need to rush home.

Basically, I want to keep my expenses under $5,000 if I can. But I hope to also have some buffer room in case I go overbudget on any of these categories. Working full time right now I know I can pull together the cash for all of this. I’m just excited for the adventure to begin!

Until next time,

Eliza

P.S.

I didn’t post last week, for which I apoligize. I was feeling quite sick and figured it was best to wait until I had the energy to deliver something of quality. To make up for it here’s a beautiful picture of Jackson Cave I took the other day.

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A Guest Post from my Father

Hello again,

Today I have something a little different for you: a word from my father. He’s written a short personal essay for you, about a poignant and symbolic day for our family. For context, my sisters were both very ill for many years while they were young and this had a devastating effect on our family, though we ultimately pulled through intact and a little stronger (or, as the Mad Hatter would say, stranger) for it. It’s also worth noting that at the time when this essay takes place we had a small hobby farm, complete with a cow, that Jennifer is my mother’s name, and that Pearl is my little sister. She was three when this story is set.

I’ll let my father tell the rest.


 

When I brought Kate the cow to our property I set up an electric fence for her. I learned then how little I know about electricity and, though I had enclosed Kate in a small area, I wasn’t confident in the fence’s power. Nightmares often woke me in the middle of the night. I would hear someone knocking on the front door and always leapt up and ran across the house, fearing someone was there to tell me that Kate had escaped. Of course no one was ever on my doorstep and Kate was always where she should have been, except once.

It was ten years ago tonight. She was dried off, so I wouldn’t need to get up early the next morning to milk her, and we took the opportunity to stay out late at a friend’s house for an early celebration of the Fourth of July. But I knew the fireworks might spook Kate so I was a little worried about her.

A friend and I were outside lighting sparklers when Jennifer came out of the house and told me Pearl had pooped her pants. This was odd because Pearl had been potty-trained early, for months by this time, and we had never had any problems like this with her. We didn’t know it at the time but this was the start of all her medical problems.

When we got home I checked in on Kate, still concerned about the fireworks. But she seemed fine.  She was an older cow and, like most things, she had seen it all several times before. Satisfied, I returned to the house and went to bed. Later, in the middle of the night, I again heard a knock at the door. It was not the two loud knocks, one after the other followed by silence that I heard in my dreams, this was different. I jumped up quickly, climbed across the bed as I always did (much to Jennifer’s annoyance), and ran to the door.

There were lights in the driveway, so this time I knew someone really was here. And indeed, when I opened the door a couple of ladies stood before me. They said they loved driving by and seeing Kate grazing but had noticed, on this occasion, that she seemed far too close to the road. I thanked them and went to check for myself. Sure enough Kate was in the tall grass by the road as happy as could be. I pulled her back, got her secured, and went back to bed.

But, July 3rd will always be remembered in our family as the day the nightmare came true.

Author’s Note: I originally wrote a version of this nine years ago. Pearl had an indeterminate diagnosis similar to Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis with a liver disease called PSC.  Nika, my second daughter, was born that November with MCAD. We had three straight years of monthly hospital stays after that night. Thankfully the last few years have been better. A combination of miraculous (in the true sense of the word) events and a really smart and determined wife have allowed us to manage our health issues very well.  We have made mistakes along the way but our kids are okay.  Ten years ago tonight the medical nightmare started. We appreciate all the people who have walked with us since this started.