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 and Advice: Headlamps and Night Hiking

Between the AT, CDT, and Long Trail, I've hiked into or through the night more times than I can count. Last year on the AT, we night hiked to escape the heat of the day in the Mid Atlantic. This year on the CDT, we night hiked to push more miles per day. We night hiked to avoid the impending darkness that was approaching sooner and sooner. Really, I personally night hike because I enjoy it. 

If you night hike, you're gonna need a headlamp, flashlight, or a full moon. That last one works especially well in the Basin of Wyoming when you and your bud are trying to push through the desert as quick as possible and test your limits. (Yeah, I'm looking at you Mayor.) We hiked through the entire night in the Basin during our 63 mile push and maybe only used our headlamps for an hour at most. 

Anyways, a headlamp or flashlight will be necessary, and just like EVERYTHING else, the options are seemingly endless. 

What I've used: 

  • Black Diamond ReVolt Rechargeable Headlamp
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
  • Petzl Tika XP Headlamp

Black Diamond and Petzl are undoubtedly the most popular and well known choices when it comes to headlamps. Last year I used all three headlamps over the course of the AT. This year I strictly used the Petzl Tika XP. I have my gripes with each of them, but truthfully, they're all great headlamps, so here's some thoughts!

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

BD ReVolt: 

I originally bought this headlamp because of its ability to be charged directly from my Anker Battery Pack. I knew that it had the Lumen power I needed, the red lamp that would prevent hikers from getting angry at me at night, and it was fairly light. 

As far as specs are concerned, the ReVolt is 3.4oz fully loaded with batteries. Speaking of those, it runs off of 3 Rechargeable AAA's, lithiums, or gives you the option to charge via USB. The headlamp itself is labeled as waterproof which provides a little bit of comfort for a thru hiker. As far as the light goes, it boasts One Triple Powered LED, and a Double Powered LED, combing for up to 300 Lumens with alkaline batteries. The thing is almost overkill as far as brightness goes, but it really does come in handy in the Green Tunnel at night or anywhere where there is no moon light. The red light is a double powered LED providing more than enough glow when you're packed in a shelter trying to avoid waking everyone up with your bright headlamp. (Don't do that. Use your red light for the love of god.)

The headlamp is easy to use with it's memory lighting allowing for you to turn the light back on to the adjusted brightness without having to cycle through all of its options. It has pretty much everything a thru hiker would need as far as a headlamp, however: the reason I switched last year was because the rechargeable aspect of the headlamp failed not 500 miles into my thru hike. I was left without a headlamp until the next town so I immediately texted my dad and told him to send out my backup, which was the Black Diamond Spot. Enter the time period where I was carrying two headlamps. SO UL of me right?

BD Spot: 

Another formidable headlamp made by BD, the Spot is a lesser expensive option to the ReVolt listed above. For the recent 2017 model, it boasts the same 300 Lumen Power of the ReVolt, but is not rechargeable, making it IMO MUCH more dependable. Last years model only put out 200 Lumens so they've made some adjustments this year. Sure, the rechargeable aspect is nice, but at this point, I prefer batteries. I like knowing that another piece of gear (shouldn't) fail me because of an electronic problem. 

At 3.2oz, its just under the weight of the ReVolt, making it a little more appealing. They also claim that the headlamp was and still is fully waterproof up to 3.3m. The only fault in this design is that sure, the headlamp will operate if water enters the battery compartment, but eventually those batteries will corrode. Kind of pointless right? Nonetheless, it offers the red light that backpackers and thru hikers should have, is light, and was and still is a good headlamp. Along with the power and weight being pretty spot on, it also offers a lock for the light preventing it from turning on in your pack or pocket. It does everything you need it to at a fairly decent price with some fairly decent technical specs. Overall, an awesome and affordable option for lighting. 

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, Black, One Size
$29.96
Black Diamond Equipment LTD

I used it as a backup until I got to an REI in Asheville where I swapped my ReVolt for the Petzl Tika XP and sent the BD Spot home. 

Petzl Tika XP: 

The heaviest option out of all 3 headlamps, the Tika XP is also the most reliable of the three in my opinion. It boasts 180 lumens with 3 options for brightness and a red LED for those shelters and camp scenarios. It doesn't have nearly as many 'features' as the above headlamps, but it is my workhorse for how reliable it is. In the 3,000+ miles I've used this headlamp, I have yet to experience any fault or failure in the product. It's as easy to use as any headlamp out there, but instead of being laden down with tons of features to fail, it presents the most simplistic design out of all of the options. It has one button which controls every aspect of the light, and provides more than enough light and power for any endeavor. 

Honestly, there's not MUCH to say about this headlamp because it's so simple. It takes 3 AAA batteries, gets the job done, and won't fail on you. For that reason, I chose to bring it along with me on the CDT and LT this year as well instead of swapping to a lighter and more 'capable' headlamp that had a bunch of features I really didn't need. I tend to value reliability and design over features/aesthetic/ability. 

Night Hiking:

Night hiking is probably the most underrated type of hiking. The miles seem to fly by due to the lack of light and lack of interest in the time. I've night hiked roughly 300-400 miles over the last two years, and I enjoy it probably more than most. If it's the middle of summer, nap and take a siesta during the day and crunch out some miles when the sun goes down. Click the headlamp on and go. I really enjoy it because it offers a different way to experience the trail. Different animals are active at night. You think differently at night. The trail is completely different without light. The lack of light makes you think more carefully about your steps, in turn paying more attention to the trail and each moment. Although you don't get the views you do during the day, you get something much more. Solitude. Time to think. Time to enjoy the most basic of reasons I and hopefully you hike as well. To do just that; hike. Sure, theres a level of eeriness in the woods at night, especially if you're alone. Sure, it's a bit more dangerous to traverse technical terrain at night when you can't visibly see each and every root and rock. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

I night hike and truly enjoy it because of the stillness in the air. It's quite calming when the only thing you can hear is the occasional gust of wind ripping through the trees. I find comfort in making the most of each minute and hour on trail, and that means taking the opportunity to hike as much as possible, even at night. It's not for everyone, but to me it's something that is unavoidable during a thru hike, making it that much easier for me to enjoy. I've had some of the most mind blowing experiences while night hiking.

Mayor and I heard coyotes and wolves howling in the Basin this year on the CDT around hour 5 of hiking through the night. I pushed my limits more than I ever have this year during our night hike through the Basin of Wyoming. Last year on the AT, Shotgun and I night hiked for 9+ miles one night and 2-3 of those miles were spent trying to outrun a Bobcat that was stalking us. 

Conclusion:

There's a lot of headlamps to choose from out there, and these are just the three that I've used in the past, so don't limit yourself to these options. I know plenty of folks who have used headlamps from Walmart, or other off brand lights. Some are more reliable, lighter, and flashier than others, but generally, headlamps all do the same thing. I'm currently looking into some lighter options, specifically a flashlight. There are some sub 1-2oz flashlights out there that are brighter than most of these headlamps. Casting light from the hip rather than the head creates less shadows, allowing for a more clear step while night hiking. I'll be picking up some flashlights later on so keep posted for a review of those when it comes time. Night hiking is fun if you allow it to be. Hike at night to get some extra miles or to find the perfect sunrise spot. Wake up early, click the headlamp on and climb the next mountain to get the perfect sunrise.

It's not for everyone, but dang do I enjoy night hiking!