One Journey Ends and Another Begins

WHATS NEXT YOU ASK?

Or maybe you don't ask...but if you do, here ya go.

As most of you reoccurring readers know, I'm off of the Pacific Crest Trail for the remainder of the year. If you're new to the blog, well, now ya know. When I made the decision to get off of the PCT, it wasn't easy. I was making a decision that was going to impact the rest of my year, and who knows what else. After I left Portland and flew home back to Ohio, I was immediately welcomed back by all of my friends and family. The first day back in Ohio I was lucky enough to attend one of my best friends' wedding reception. It was a beautiful night as everyone laughed and hung out into the evening. After three days at my parents house in Canton, OH, I meandered on down to Cincinnati to do some work for a friend of mine. He needed some photos of a few houses taken as well as some appliances moved and general labor help. I needed some quick cash, so my buddy Danny and I went down for a couple of days. Cincinnati is a pretty rad city, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I almost stayed in Ohio because of the opportunities in Cincinnati. Although my decision could have been easy, I decided to stick with my original plan. 

Orignial Plan?

Surprisingly enough, while I was in Lassen National Park eating breakfast at JJ's Cafe, I was on the phone with the same good friend mentioned above, Danny. I'm talking to Danny on the phone outside of the cafe and all of the sudden a man walks behind me as I'm mentioning something about Denver, CO. He interrupts briefly to inform me that him and his wife own a gardening service in Denver. "Come over and talk to us after you're off the phone, man!" he belts out as he strolls away. I did just that.

After about 20 minutes of conversation about the trail, what I'm doing, and what I'll be doing after the trail, both Chris and Amy, the two owners, offer me a seasonal gardening gig in Denver whenever I get off trail. Now, to be honest, I really didn't give it much thought at that very moment. To be completely open, at that point I hadn't give anything much thought other than how I was going to finish the PCT. Although I had obviously thought about what I would do, and when, after I got off trail, I wasn't sure what that would be. I knew I had 100 days, I guess I was just obvious to the fact that the time was finally there. Ducky and I strolled off into the National Park and the moment passed. 

Fast forward to the last day on trail before I headed to Portland. 

I was debating on exactly what I wanted to do as we all sat in the hotel room. I knew it was decision time, but I just wasn't sure what I had in store for me. As you may know, I had a few options. One of those said options was taking the seasonal gig in Denver for the rest of the year and figuring the rest out once I got there. I mulled over it for the rest of the day, and when the time finally came to head to Portland with Scooter, my mind was made up. Now, it wasn't just an 'easy' decision, as some would probably like to assume. I really could have gone, and still could, go back to corporate if I every so choose. I could stay in Canton, and pay $200 less per month just for rent alone, not even calculating in other expenses that are higher in Denver and other cities. I could have gone back to Columbus, only to fall rightly so back into my routines. I could have stayed and been comfortable. 

I asked myself, "Would I regret this? Would I take a risk?" 

I answered yes to both questions.

I would go to Denver after a week at home, work for Amy and Chris, and figure the rest out. My main motivations weren't for the money, because after all, gardening doesn't pay too much, but more for the location. After working in corporate sales for the majority of the last three years in between thru hikes, I knew that I didn't want to immediately go back into an office, but I definitely needed to work. Although gardening isn't the most lucrative job, I'm at the point where I'll gladly sacrifice some pay for a less stressful, more enjoyable gig that doesn't drive me up a wall into insanity. 

I drive a 2009 Nissan Versa. I bought it after I got home from the CDT. Funny enough, I sold my Honda Element before I started the CDT. It's white, has a slight rattle in the exhaust, is manual, and is the very base model they made. No power anything. No cruise. No AC. Neemor, Scooter and I took it 7,000 miles across the country and back with no problems. Well, next to no problems. I trusted it to get me to Colorado once more, so the 1,100 mile journey began out of Cincinnati. I said my goodbyes to Danny, Jiries, and Jay and got ready to here the hum of a car for the next 24 hours. I don't mind driving for long distances, just like I don't mind walking for long distances, I suppose. I got some quick snacks at the gas station, filled up my Nalgene and hit it. Indiana and Illinois flew by, and then Missouri felt like it dragged on forever. Not until I got to Kansas did I realize how much I truly hate 70West. It's one road. Forever. 

I slept for 6 hours from 11-5 and woke up in a daze. I tried to drive for another hour and a half before I ended up pulling off on a country dirt road and zonking for another 2 hours. I was exhausted, but with only 7 hours left, it would be over before I knew it. I pulled into my good friend Justin's apartment as my eyes began to get heavy again. Turns out, Justin's roommate is traveling for work and never even moved into the place. His open room is going to be vacant for the foreseeable couple of months. I wasn't planning on getting a place due to the cost of the rent here in Denver, but the opportunity was too good to not take it. Although the apartment isn't in Denver Proper, it's not far. Just a short 20 mile drive outside the city is the Centennial / Aurora area. Only about 40 minutes from Boulder and almost equal distance to Colorado Springs, it's a damn good location. I was planning on living out of my car and spending most of my time at the coffee shop, in the mountains, or at the climbing gym, but life always has a different plan. I brought in the two boxes of clothes and gear that I brought with me an that was it.

I'm now living in Denver. 

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

Sonic ascending Bierstadt last June

I have a few goals while I'm out here, and they all revolve around photography and the mountains. I'm in the process of putting a list together of the 14'ers I'd like to summit before the season is up, and my hopeful and maybe ambitious goal is around 20 of them. I only have Saturday and Sunday each weekend, but I'm going to make the most of each day. During the week I'll be going to work, just as most of us do, from 8-4, then either writing, editing, or filming. Somewhere in the time after work I'll be fitting in some training runs at the local state park near me to work on sprints, hills, and tempo runs. I want to be in shape to where I can link together a dew 14'ers in one go, meaning I need to keep the shape I'm currently in.

As far as the photography portion of the reason I moved to Denver; I'm going to immerse myself in the outdoor industry here and really try and start working more with brands, small companies, and people who have an awesome product or idea. I want to film for companies. I want to take photos for brands who represent the values and ideas that I value and hold close as well. I want to shoot rad climbers sending insane routes. I want to hop out on the trails and shoot Ultras and work with people who have a vision. Not only that, but with the real estate market as good as it is here, I want to capitalize on some additional work in that market. Although real estate photography would never be my first option as a profession, it is something I'm relatively decent at and enjoy. Some of the houses I've shot are quite pretty and have some intricate architecture to them. Really, when I look at it from a broad perspective, Denver is a place I think I can really thrive at. I think there's enough of what I love here to make it worth while for me to pursue something here.

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

Red Bass climbing the ridge towards the summit of Parkview on the CDT

After all, I moved here voluntarily with the initial intention of living out of my car.  

Be on the look out for a Trip Report from every 14'er I summit this year. My next project is based here in Colorado, and I'm incredibly excited to share it with you.

Gear Review: Insulated Jackets (Down VS. Synthetic)

Down VS. Synthetic

The never ending debate for thru hikers and backpackers alike is whether synthetic or down is a better option for insulation. Really, I think it depends on the climate and conditions you'll be hiking in, especially when talking about jackets or worn layers. As far as sleeping bags or quilts go, down wins every time, no questions asked.

As far as insulating jackets go, I've tried 3 different pieces over the last 4,500 miles. Three different brands, three different weights, and three different prices. Some swear by synthetic for every application due to its ability to retain heat when wet. Some swear by down due to its warmth to weight ratio. It should always be left up to the user to decide which is best for which condition, but here are some thoughts on the subject based on what I've used and where I used it.

What I've used:

  • Patagonia Down Sweater
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
  • Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka

Patagonia Down Sweater:

Before I had even set out on my first thru hike, I had picked up a Down Sweater from Patagonia because it looked nice, was Patagonia (I thought that automatically meant it was amazing), and it was fairly inexpensive for a down jacket. I had seen this jacket used plenty of times on my section hikes of the AT. People swore by Patagonia so I picked one up in the Fall of 2015 to test out on a section hike and the weekenders leading up to my attempt at a thru hike. 

I was actually fairly impressed at first with the fit and cut of the jacket. It was comfortable, fit quite nicely, and seemed to be exactly what I needed. It seemed to be of a high quality design and build, and it definitely seemed to be warm, living up to its' 800 fill claim. The jacket compresses into it's own pocket, making it the about the size of a small water bottle allowing easy storage in your pack. It's constructed of 100% recycled ripstop and has a coating of DWR for moisture repellent. 

As far as weight goes, it's a moderately light piece of gear clocking in at 13.2oz. By no means is it a UL option for insulation, but not too heavy either. With Patagonia comes a fairly decent price tag as well. At $229 from their website or REI, it's a moderately expensive piece of gear. 

My first hike with it was a little 20 mile stretch on the AT in Virginia from Catawba to Daleville. I didn't have to bring the jacket out until night when the temperature dropped into the 40's, and when I did I was fairly happy. It immediately struck me as a warm piece of gear. I could feel it trapping heat underneath which was a good sign. I loved the pockets both on the outside and the interior chest pocket which is where I stored my phone when it was cold. For my first night out with the jacket, I was pretty happy.

When I got home from the little overnighter, I not only found that there was a snag in the jacket which was leading to feathers falling out, but I also realized that I wanted a hood. I'm not sure what I was thinking purchasing a warm jacket without a hood, but I immediately realized that it was a mistake on my end. 

I honestly really do enjoy the jacket for what it is, however; I believe there are some both lighter and warmer options out there for the price. If you pick up the jacket, you'll be satisfied with it thats for sure, but keep in mind the lack of hood and the weight! 

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer:

At this point, the Ghost Whisperer is probably the favorite among thru hikers. Last year on the AT and this year on the CDT I saw more than a handful of people using this jacket. I was one of those people last year on the AT. After I returned the Patagonia Down Sweater to REI, I picked up the Ghost Whisperer on clearance because it was a color scheme from the previous year. 

The sub 8oz Down Jacket had killer reviews and everyone was raving about it online, so as you can imagine I was INCREDIBLY stoked about it. I'll be upfront about it. This jacket is awesome.

It's incredibly warm as it's packed with 800 fill down, it's incredibly compressible as it packs into its own pocket, and let me reiterate, the jacket is SUB 8oz. The price point for the MH Ghost Whisperer Jacket is a whopping $350 from their website, however; you can pick these up quite often on Amazon or REI for much cheaper. Whether it be last years model or a weird color, keep an eye out. 

I set out on the AT with this jacket packed away in my pack when I started my hike back on 3/13/16. For the first few days, the weather was unbelievably warm. I was able to hike in shorts and a t shirt up until Hiawasee when the temperature dropped below freezing and the snow started to fall. My first impressions of the jacket stayed true to the end of the trail. I used the Ghost Whisperer as my primary layer for insulation throughout the entire trail, and as  Spring tried to poke its way through Winter, I got to test it out in some frigid conditions. My first day in North Carolina, the temperature hardly reached above freezing, and as the sun dropped below the horizon, so did the temperature. That night I entered NC, the temp dropped to a freezing 8 degrees allowing me to put every bit of gear and clothes I had to the test. I had multiple base layers on, my Ghost Whisperer, and I was tucked away in my Nemo 20 degree Spoon Bag. To my surprise, I was warmer than I imagined I would be when I looked at the small thermometer I had attached to my pack. (lol). b

The jacket did its job. It kept me warm as could be down to 8 degrees, the furthest I've ever pushed my gear in the cold. For the late spring and summer months it was TOO warm. This thing is incredibly puffy, and the way they designed the cinch cords for the torso, it really traps the heat in quite well. I can vividly remember walking around Hot Springs with it on and feeling like I was going to pass out because of how warm it was. I ended up keeping the jacket in my pack the entire hike. It was completely useless during the summer, but once I started getting back to elevation in Mass and Vermont, eventually leading to NH and Maine, I was stoked that I had it again.

It's a fairly durable jacket. It went through 2,000+ miles of abuse on the AT and only suffered two holes that were spewing down feathers. One of them was caused by a snag on a thorn and the other I wasn't able to identify what caused it. 

This jacket is one of the more popular options for good reason. It's a piece of gear that should last you quite some time if you take care of it. Mountain Hardwear makes some of the best technical pieces on the market, and this jacket isn't any different. 

Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka:

Ah yes, the jacket I've been wearing all this year. On trail, I logged a little over 2,000 miles with this jacket this year on the CDT and Long Trail, and as I write this I'm wearing it as it's a bit chilly in the coffee shop today. 

The UL Thermawrap Parka is the hooded version of their UL Thermawrap which a few of my buddies have. (Neemor and Scooter). This cold layer jacket is stuffed with 40 gram STRETCH Exceloft synthetic insulation, providing plenty of warmth for 3 1/3 seasons IMO. The jacket has recently been redesigned with a better fit, and "strategically placed stretch areas", making for an incredibly comfortable jacket. It has hand pockets on both sides, and a chest pocket with a zipper on the left side making for easy access for your phone or anything that needs to be next to the body for quick access or importance. The price point for the Thermawrap Parka clocks in at $209 straight from Montebell's website. A much lower price than the Ghost Whisperer. 

Thermawrap in the Smokies / Cred: Kylie Torrence  

Thermawrap in the Smokies / Cred: Kylie Torrence  

I used this jacket to add a layer when it got below freezing on the CDT when I slept. I used this jacket as my pillow when it was too hot, but most importantly, I used this jacket to HIKE in. This was my number one concert on the CDT due to the trails volatile weather. I wanted a jacket that I could hike in if need be during a cold spell, cold rain, or even snow. I needed a jacket that could keep its warmth and dry out quickly if it got wet. This is that jacket.

This thing compressed quite small just like most jackets do. It's got all the features that I and most folks want; pockets, hood, warmth, and weight. Speaking of the weight, it clocks in at a low 9.2oz, making it just a bit heavier than the GW, but not by much. I find the warmth to be more than sufficient for most conditions, granted you have base layers beneath it. It's probably the most comfortable jacket I've ever worn, and even after 2,000 miles and then some, I still don't want to take it off. 

As of right now, it has suffered zero damages from the trail, even during some of the bushwhacks. It has lost zero warmth from when I got it, which means I'll be getting at least another season out of this bad boy. Honestly, I love this jacket so much that I'll probably never use anything else, well, except for maybe next year on the PCT. I'll talk about that more in depth at a later point. 

Final Thoughts:

Like I said, I think theres a time and place for everything. If I were to redo the AT, I probably would carry the Thermawrap for its ability to retain heat if it gets wet, which on the AT is a common occurrence. Just like the AT, the CDT brought plenty of interesting weather, and the comfort I felt knowing my warm layer could get wet if it came down to saving my life was more than enough to use it again. 

If you're planning a trip that has very little weather fluctuation, or if its a generally dry or warm climate you're going to, I would suggest bringing a down jacket. It's generally lighter and warmer, and if you don't have to worry about anything getting wet, why carry synthetic?

There are a literal ton of options out there for both synthetic and down, so take your pick really. Montebell makes some INSANE down jackets that I have my eye on. REI has a few of their own options that are comparable, as well as OR, Marmot, and just about every other brand out there. Overall, it's really hard to go wrong on a jacket of any kind, but to let you in on a secret; I pay close attention to weight and performance, as should you!

Take your pick and hit the trails!