One for the Books | New Adventures are on the Horizon...

I've been relatively quiet as far as writing and blogging goes in the past few weeks, but it's not because I didn't want to write. It was actually quite the contrary. I wanted to sit down and write at my favorite coffee shop just a block over, but I haven't had the chance. I've been busy. Actually, I've been so busy I haven't had the chance to do anything but get through the holidays. I've been focusing heavily on my photography as well as strengthening and maintaining relationships with people who are close to me, and combining these things with the Holiday Season, well, you can imagine; I've been tired.

Leading up to the New Year, I had pretty much exhausted any last bit of energy I had left after this years hiking season. When I got home in late October of this past year, I wasn't sure what the hell I was supposed to, or even going to be doing for that matter. I was home almost a month earlier than I expected with no plan, or really any interest in forming a plan. I had zero clue in which direction I wanted to take the first step in. Slowly but surely, however; things have fallen and are still falling into place.

Slowly.

This past year was one for the books quite honestly. I finally traveled out West starting this summer off with Moab, the Pacific Northwest, and then eventually leading me to the start of the CDT in Glacier National Park on July 7th.

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 As the year crept along, I found myself so completely enthralled with the CDT that I didn't think I would ever want to quit hiking. As the jeep roads twisted and turned throughout Montana and Idaho, I found solace in the wide open expanse of Big Sky country. I met unbelievably good, kind hearted people who were all in search of something different out on the CDT. I scrambled across miles of scree and talus to get to the peaks that lay within the Wind River Range. I lost myself to the night skies in Wyoming each night. With millions of stars lighting up the sky each night, it was hard to not contemplate everything about my existence. I pushed my own limitations in the high desert of the Great Basin where I found what I was truly capable of. I enjoyed every minute of my walk from Glacier National Park to Winter Park, Colorado, which is where I left the CDT in search of something more. When I left, I wasn't quite sure it was the best decision. After all, the CDT was a beautiful, magnificently open trail that had hundreds of opportunities awaiting. However; proceeding on the CDT at that time would have put me in a situation I didn't want to be in, hence leaving the trail to pursue a thru hike on the Long Trail in Vermont, one of my favorite states.

Here I am though, writing this, completely into the idea of what would have happened if I finished the CDT on the road, jeep roads, or skipped ahead. Who knows. Just thought I'd add in that its always in the back of my head. Every day.

At the Wyoming Border

At the Wyoming Border

I said goodbye to Red Bass, Mayor, Stomp, Hummingbird and Merlin, and within seconds, everyone I had learned to care about over the last few months was gone. Along the roads of Colorado, my friends dispersed into their own, utterly terrifying place in time. When it all came down to it, as I knew would happen at some point, everyone wanted, and needed, to follow their own ideals. To continue on whatever path they desired. For whatever reason, I felt at ease when I finally sat there alone, smoking a cigarette, actually talking to myself. I waited for someone to respond, but no one did. I stood up, walked to the coffee shop with my pack on, and began writing on a napkin. I called Scooter and things fell into place.

I left the CDT in hopes of finding something more than the road. Something more challenging than just skipping ahead or walking around the problem, and then at the end of it all claiming something that I don't even feel happened. Seriously, I feel like if I would have skipped ahead, walked around, or taken some sort of bullshit route through 400 miles of Colorado, I would have felt cheated. I would have felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing. So I didn't do it. I took a flight from Denver, CO to Philly the next day. 

The funny thing is, when I was in the Basin in Wyoming, Scooter and Wankles had been taunting me with text messages of the Long Trail. However; at the time, I really couldn't fathom getting off the CDT, so I pushed it away in the back of my mind, but left it to hover, to manifest slowly in hopes that something would come of it. Although I wanted to hike the LT, originally, I was trying to convince them to do a Winter LT hike, but it didn't catch on. Surprisingly enough, I'll talk a little more about this later.

So there I found myself, in the airport for the first time to catch my first ever flight. Yes, I've never flown on a plane up until this year. You heard it right. No planes. Not once. Never. Not because I didn't want to, but because it never was an option I suppose. I arrived in Philly not too long after my brief conversation with Scooter and Wankles. The following day, all of a sudden we were in New England. The day after you ask? On the Long Trail. Within two days, I had left Colorado, flown to Philly, drove to New England with my buds, and hopped on the Long Trail. It was bound to be good.

Northern Terminus of the Long Trail

Northern Terminus of the Long Trail

The Long Trail brought a lot of much needed change to my year. I was so wound up and focused on beating the weather on the CDT that I kind of forgot how much I enjoy everything that revolves around hiking, not just the actual hiking. With Scooter and Wankles on the LT, we had big plans to not only have as much fun as possible, but to also produce something creative. Have something tangible that we could hold, or show people from the trail. The Long Trail is the oldest hiking trail in the US, but honestly, there isn't too much info, photos, or detailed accounts of it. It's not hiked nearly as much as the AT, PCT, or other trails, mostly because it's incredibly difficult. So anyways, after 20 days on the Long Trail, 273 miles were hiked through the rugged Green Mountains. Wankles was on trail for 65 miles, all of which were insanely hysterical, enjoyable, and one of my favorite weeks on trail. We were sad to see him go, but family took hold back in Indy and he flew out a few days after we stayed at his Aunts house. 

Scooter and I pushed through the LT in a relatively moderate pace, pushing some days, chilling most of the others. We had a blast staying at a hostel or two, taking our time on days where we were a little more resentment for the cold, one hundred percent focusing on having a blast, but also making our deadline. Time was of the essence, but we still managed plenty of time to shoot, record, push ourselves, and have a blast. We finished the trail with a glorious feast at Papa Johns, and went our separate ways. Those 3 ish weeks were three of my favorite weeks. I think I can speak of the both of us when I say that the LT was a blast. Life on the Long Trail is something that you can expect to see a lot of coming up.

Scooter and I at the Southern Terminus of the LT. 

Scooter and I at the Southern Terminus of the LT. 

My hiking season was suddenly over. From July 7th to October 24th, I hiked roughly 2,000 miles through 5 states, multiple different environments, and with a damn good group of people. I expanded my horizons, both physically and mentally while pushing every limit I had. I was challenged by not only the relentless weather, stress, and danger on the CDT, and even more so by the never ending ascents and descents of the Long Trail. Sure, physically, it was a tough year. The CDT requires big mile days, and the weather is volatile, but really, the mental fortitude this year took surprised me. I wasn't expecting to have to make the decision of getting of the CDT, but I did.

This year has really been all about realizing that my own intentions and ideals require my, and only my thoughts and opinions. The transition of hiking, and living for others to doing something solely for myself has been interesting. It takes a little bit of time to get used to the idea of giving up social interaction to better yourself, but in time it all feels right and falls, and has fallen into place for me. Taking that step to leave the CDT has really been the turning point for my goals and aspirations for not only the hiking I'd like to do, but my life in general. It's hard to take that step, especially when it requires a sacrifice that you don't necessarily want to make. Nonetheless, it's been the right decision for me.

I'm back home in Ohio now, dividing my time between Columbus, and Canton. My friends and passions lie in Columbus, however; my photography work is mostly in Canton where I grew up. It's been a productive few months since I got back from the Long Trail. I've honed in my skills on both photography and rock climbing. Robo and Beehive both are incredibly determined climbers, so being around these guys constantly really boosts my confidence and drive. All of my friends down here in Columbus are all like minded individuals who want to work together to better themselves and each other. We all have the same common goals and interests. From our conversations, I've made improvements and taken steps to better myself and I owe it to them for being there for those moments and being such a big part of it.

From Robo and I’s trip to Chattanooga this past week. 

From Robo and I’s trip to Chattanooga this past week. 

With the changing into 2018 comes new adventures. This year is going to be a long, strenuous, mentally taxing year. I have a lot of miles in store for me, and along with the miles will come many smiles. Everything will be changing this February. In right around a month, you'll see what I'm talking about. Other than the unexpected coming up in a month, the PCT is on my agenda as well as finishing the CDT. This year is all about continuing that search for whatever keeps me going. Sometimes it's photography, sometimes it's hiking. Both of those things together have made for a good combination thus far, and I'm looking forward to pursuing it even more. My plan for February involves a good friend of mine and something that hasn't been done before. We can't disclose too much information yet, but I will say, when we do, and if things go as we hope, it'll be worth the wait.

With a new year and new adventures comes new obstacles and challenges. It's not all just sunshine, rainbows, beautiful vistas and awesome campsites. To be honest, those are few and far between on the long trails of the US. Time is once again going to be of the essence this year. I'm going to have prioritize appropriately throughout the entire year if I want to accomplish my goals. 

All in all, 2017 was the best year of my life. With everything that happened, I'm surprised it turned out the way it did, but I'm ecstatic that so much occurred in such a short amount of time. I think with time comes appreciation, and the more I hike and the more I travel and form relationships with people, the more I'll appreciate the very reasons I hike. Time is going to keep ticking away, but I plan on making the most of it.

Cheers to another epic year spent doing what we each love.

 

 

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!