Guarding the Grub

Last weekend, Mr. Dirty & I were thrilled to have my fabulous cousin & his wife visit in order to start planning for our Appalachian Trail adventure.

In late May, just a few days after the last school bell rings for the summer, we will be heading to Fontana Dam where we will be starting our section hike. The plan is for the misters to accompany us south to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), then US ladies will continue a hysterical hike to Springer Mountain. If the hike is anything like this past weekend, I guarantee the entire trip will be one laugh after another.

With our hike quickly approaching, I – Mrs. Dirty – have been trying to become more proficient on some of the camp tasks that have traditionally been handled by the mister. We’ve done several multipurpose hikes with the intent of gaining strength and practicing some necessary skills. I’ve mastered hanging my hammock on my own and can light the Optimus Crux camp stove without setting myself on fire (the stove took a little work and I probably wasted a state’s worth of fuel… but no burns). The one task that I haven’t mastered is the hanging of the bear bag.

Those of you who are new to this backpacking stuff May not know what a bear bag is, so let me explain. In the woods – especially on the AT – there are these furry things called bears. There are so many types of bears: polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, black bears, koala bears, and teddy bears – just to name a few. Black bears (and maybe teddy bears) are commonly found on and around the Appalachian Trail.

Plush-Mother-and-Baby-Black-Bear-Toy

Under normal conditions, the black bear’s diet consists of assorted berries, buds, and bugs. It’s rare for black bears to eat homo sapiens; however, there have been a few instances when people were on the menu. There are a few stories, according to Snopes are nothing more than stories, in which mothers have slathered their baby’s hand in honey so they could get a picture of their adorable offspring being licked by a hairy bear. Some people would give their right arm (literally) for a vacation photo on Facebook. Anyhow, the black bears along the AT have learned to associate humans with yummy food like hot dogs and potato salad (think Yogi Bear).

Black Bear Eats from Hikers Backpack Minnesota Captive

It has gotten so bad in places like the Blood Mountain area of the trail that hikers who plan to camp in the area are required to use a bear canister to keep the animals out of their food.

BearVault-bear-canister

We, like I assume most hikers, plan to keep on trucking when we hit the Blood Mountain area and bear bag our food. Bear bagging is a “system” of hanging your food in the tree to keep it safe from bears, raccoons, and mice. You want your food to hang between 12 – 15 feet off the ground and about eight feet from the tree trunk. This would be the ideal, but we all know we don’t live in an ideal world.

When the cousins were here last weekend, Mr. Dirty took us out to a wooded area in our yard to teach us the PCT method of bear bagging. It’s a relatively simple method that involves throwing a bagged rock over a branch 15 feet in the air. Sounds simple, right? It is… if you can manage to throw the rock over the branch.

hanging-a-bear-bag

I played softball when I was in the third grade, but I spent most of my time picking flowers in the outfield. I wasn’t very good at it which is why I really stink at hanging a bear bag. Everyone enjoyed laughing at my feeble attempts at throwing the rock – even me. After much Facebook banter that centered on just guarding the bag in shifts over night, I decided it was important that I practice – and master – the bear bag.

Today, I headed to the state park with the intent to hike the full 8 mile loop and practice my bear bag technique. I hiked down to the first primitive site and pulled my beautiful(thanks Mr. Dirty) bright yellow Sea to Summit waterproof food bag from my pack. I attached my hygiene kit to the end of the rope, thinking it was as heavy as a rock. It had to work, right? Of course it didn’t!

I was quite psyched that my first two attempts at getting the bag over the branch were pretty doggone close. I actually HIT the branch, which was good for me. Then it happened. The bag went up and over the branch, but not the standard eight feet from the trunk… more like no feet from the trunk. The bag landed in the sweet spot where the branch met the trunk – and was stuck. The string from the bag was perfectly pinned 15 feet in the air and wouldn’t budge.

Stuck!

After calling Mr. Dirty to explain my awesome luck, I set out trying to retrieve my toothpaste & Dr. Bronner’s soap. Luckily for me, I am resourceful, if nothing else. A picnic table (that I had to drag about 15 feet) a rock from the fire pit and my hiking pole, all worked to create an adequate ladder. Imagine: me standing on a rock that is on a picnic table with my hiking pole jabbing at my bag that is stuck in a tree.

My Impromptu Ladder

Luckily, no one came by or they would have had a show… I was in a little skirt. Not so lucky, I read when I got home that my sweet friend Sarah and her family (to include her super tall hubby) just happened to be on the same trail about the same time. How convenient would have been to run into them out there?! Didn’t happen, but I did manage to save the contents of my hygiene bag. The bag was toast!

Rescued!!

Lessons learned: don’t be too lazy to look for a rock in the woods, be careful to throw the rock at least a few feet away from the trunk, or hike with a tall friend.

Seriously, I don’t understand how it could be so easy for this little boy but so hard for me!!

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Hiking in Nearly-Nekid Feet

Nekid or Nearly Nekid?

Dirty Feet

Dirty Feet

The barefoot running craze is sweeping the nation. Some people are running with true bare feet – their feet are nekid (yes, it is NAKED… nekid just sounds dirtier). Most people are wearing one of the many – and there are so many – brands of the barefoot runners; they run nearly nekid. Their feet aren’t nekid, but they have to realign their gait in the same way that the nekid people do. It takes some time to adjust to running either with nekid feet or nearly nekid (in barefoot runners). Both Mr. & Mrs. Dirty can attest to the fact that it can be quite painful.

Today, we decided to head out to Mistletoe State Park to hike – again. This would be the third time that we were there this week. It’s close by & gives us outdoor time. Mrs. Dirty is prepping for a 180 mile section hike on the Appalachian Trail with Cousin Awesome, and she needs to get some miles on her skinny little legs. We decided – after some research & a trial hike by Mrs. Dirty – to do the six mile hike in our Merrell barefoot runners (Mr: Barefoot Trail Glove; Mrs: Barefoot Pace Glove). The results were quite interesting so we thought we would share them with you here.

Mrs. Dirty – Barefoot Pace Glove

Mrs. Dirty sporting her Merrell Pace Gloves

Before I tell you about the Barefoot Pace Glove, let me tell you how hard this review is to write. I have been a very loyal KEEN wearer for the last 8 years. I have multiple pairs of KEEN shoes in every style: dress boots, sandals, sneakers, hiking boots. You name it. I still love my KEENs, but I’m not so sure they feel the same about me.

Last summer, we did some hiking in the Olympic Mountains while visiting Mr. Dirty’s parents. It was most amazing. It would have been perfect, if it weren’t for chronic knee pain. I couldn’t explain it. I had never had knee pain before. This made me want to gnaw my leg off above the knee. The pain came from iliotibial band syndrome. According to Wikipedia, iliotibial band syndrome is associated with running, cycling, hiking, or weight-lifting. I guess three out of four ain’t bad. For the record, I hate running but do it only to have the joy of getting down & dirty in a mud run…oh, and I don’t life weights. Since the summer, I have always worn a knee brace for hiking. I think I was scared to hurt that bad again.

When we hiked on Sunday, I wore my Merrell Women’s Barefoot Pace Glove shoe (which will hereafter be called the Pace Glove). I was more curious than anything. I’ve been trying to prepare for my upcoming section hike and attempting to lower my pack weight. These tiny little shoes weigh 4.7 ounces each, and they can fold up into a tiny ball – if you feel the need ( I frequently do – just for fun).

Sunday’s hike was fabulous. I carried my knee brace – just in case, but I didn’t need it. I went the entire hike without it. I did a little happy dance all night Sunday night, but awoke with screaming calf pain on Monday. That – I knew – was to be expected. You have to ease into wearing these shoes like you do a cold pool. You know, you inch your legs in and slowly let the water rise up your belly. Some people say just jump on in, but I can’t do that. I have to inch in. That’s how you are supposed to do the barefoot shoes… or face angry calf muscles.

By the time our hike came around on Wednesday, I had decided to try wearing my KEEN Palisades hiking shoes. They are great shoes and extremely comfortable. I love them; however, at mile 5, I had to put on my knee brace. I limped my way through the last two miles – cursing my leg and wondering if was possible to saw it off with a Swiss Army Knife.

That bring us to today. It was a glorious day: 45 degrees, sun shining brightly, and we had the trail all to ourselves. You just can’t beat that. Mr. Dirty & I decided to try wearing our barefoot runners on the trail today – again, out of curiosity. We didn’t just “go for a walk in the woods”. We carried 30 pound backpacks for seven miles (I know that seven miles isn’t really all that long, but we ARE easing into this slowly).

Guess what? Not one twinge of knee pain… AT ALL. None. I tell you, these are my miracle shoes! I wore them with a pair of Smartwool PhD Outdoor Ultra Light mini socks. You CAN wear these without socks, and many people – like Mr. Dirty – do this. Me? My feet get cold when it is 45 degrees, and these shoes are made of a “microfiber and breathable mesh.” Yeah, give me the wool socks.

Mistletoe State Park has a trail, the Rock Dam Trail, that is perfect for testing shoes – lots of ups and downs, stream crossings, compacted earth, and a pretty rocky spot with a fabulous drop off (which I did… drop off that is). We were blessed to spot a good size doe. She was blessed that Mr. Dirty didn’t have a hunting license.

When hiking in the Pace Glove, it is very important that you are cautious to how & where you place your feet. With hiking boots, you can stomp around and kick at rocks without doing a lot of damage. In the Pace Glove, you have to survey the trail and know where the sharp rocks are. You place your foot – gently and purposefully. I know that sounds like it would take you forever to finish a hike, but in reality, it only added five minutes to our minutes per mile. I will gladly take the extra time to not have knee pain.

You can compare hiking to dancing. Some people like to dance the body thrashing, head banging types of dances. Some people like to waltz. They are both dancing. They are neither wrong nor right. For me, hiking in the Pace Glove is like waltzing (which, by the way, I do NOT do). Take your time and enjoy the trail. There is no need to hurry (unless there is a bear behind you).

I tell you all of this to say that I will definitely be wearing the Pace Glove on my section hike this summer. I plan to purchase a more muted color – probably black – that I can wear to work in order to continue to train my calves and feet.

Mr. Dirty – Merrell Trail Glove

Mr. Dirty modeling his Merrell Trail Gloves

Well, I figured since Mrs. Dirty was giving the bare-foot runners a try, I would too. For some background, I’m active duty Army and an average runner. As a youth involved in several sports, I did have some issues with numerous sprained ankles; add that over the past 20+years of Army service, I’ve pretty much worn combat boots daily at work and even more when deployed. I’ve done a good share of backpacking and hiking through the years and was convinced I needed high-ankle support.

Fast forward to just this past summer when I redeployed (Mrs. Dirty here – that means he came home) from Afghanistan, I had my new pair of Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove running shoes. I felt like I was in pretty good shape coming back from Afghanistan; a couple hours every day in the gym including the treadmill and elliptical (the air quality was so poor I really limited my runs to sponsored 5/10K runs). Anyways, the week I returned, I grabbed my new, lime-green Trail Gloves, laced them up (no socks) and did a short three mile run. Well, they felt great; I was impressed and there was no pain in the knees or ankles. I did suffer the next couple of weeks with burning calves and quads! Needless to say, I slowed down and worked them into my running routines. My ankle strength has improved significantly and there are really no joint issues. It really can’t go without saying that the advice to work into these slowly is prudent. Running on the balls of your feet uses very different muscles than typical heel-to-toe methods.

After seeing Mrs. Dirty throw on her 30+pound pack and do a seven mile hike with her barefoot runners, I was a little intrigued. I had been hiking with some low-top shoes (Merrell Chameleons, which I also like), but the much lighter barefoot shoes looked even better! So, today, I laced them up and hit the trail with my pack (about 35-40 pounds in a Gregory 65 liter pack). It was a lovely 40 degrees when we first started. My concern was that Mrs. Dirty, being a “Dirty Floridian”, would complain about it being too cold. Much to my surprise, she was ready to go, layered clothing to adjust as needed and raring to hit the trail.

Back to my Trail Gloves, I probably should have used some thin socks as about mile five or so, my feet were getting a little fatigued and I could feel a hot spot. I was pretty good about hiking the whole time on the balls of my feet. No issues at all with the calves, ankles or knees. You do need to slow down and pay attention to your foot placement as I was scouting for deer and at times stepped directly on a sharp rock or root. Mrs. Dirty continued to lecture me on the proper method and to “pick your foot placements carefully”; yeah…whatever, just keep the yapping down so you don’t spook any game (that was my inner voice as she carries two long hiking poles and her “shenis” and isn’t afraid to use them; so I kept those thoughts to myself for peace, harmony, and self-preservation)! Those roots and rocks Mrs. Dirty harped about most likely contributed to the fatigue more than any real pain. Still, it was interesting and something I will continue to explore. My increased ankle strength and zero pain in the knees are worth the exploration.

24 hours Post-Hike

We were both a little expecting to have a bit of soreness this morning – especially Mrs. Dirty who had experienced some calf pain after the last hike. Neither of us woke with any soreness – or even tightness. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised and will continue to hike in our Merrell barefoot runners.

If you have any experience with hiking/backpacking in barefoot runners, we would love to hear your opinions!

Stay Dirty & Hike Nearly Nekid!

Essentials for the Dirty Offspring

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. e.e. cummings

Do you let your kids get dirty? Do you give them an opportunity to experience the mud-lusciousness of the world? Too many don’t. One woman I know literally broke into hives and gave herself a migraine on a camping trip. She was obsessed with washing the hands of her children and keeping them off the ground. Those poor kids never were allowed to experience the wonder of a puddle. Seeing as how Mrs. Dirty used to make – and eat – mud pies as a kid, she had a much more laid back mommytude when it came to dirt. Go figure. Mr. Dirty, being in the Army, fully enjoyed field exercises when he was paid to sleep, play, and poop, in the dirt. Mr. Dirty composed this little ditty – along with help from Mrs. Dirty – for friends who want to take their kiddos in the woods and have them come home in one piece. If you want to take your kids to the woods & leave them there, read a different blog. We haven’t quite figured that one out 😉

Dirty Boy and his sister, Dirty Diva, are pretty comfortable out in the woods…they’ve done quite a bit of camping and backpacking since they were both very young (in fact Dirty Boy got a real early start when Mrs. Dirty was about 5 months pregnant on a camping trip). As a tiny little spit, Dirty Boy donned his hiking boots and Spiderman backpack to hike a trail that he has become very familiar with over the years. His pack didn’t carry more than a flashlight, snacks, and clean socks, but he carried it himself. Now when we backpack, he carries his own shelter, clothes, food, and sleep system. You’ve come a long way, Dirty Boy!

july7 029

Dirty Diva has always been the girly type who resists heading out on camping trips, then takes over every detail once she arrives. Who is in the lead on a hike? Dirty Diva. Who wants to build the camp fire? Dirty Diva. Now that she is off to college, we don’t get to enjoy having her do the grunt work anymore. We are relearning a lot of the old skills.

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When the kids were younger, Mr. Dirty worked overtime putting together their essential camping gear so that we could decrease “the oops” moments on the trip. The intent was for light hiking and to have the essentials to survive just in case they had to wait for rescue up to 72 hours. (You never want your Dirty Offspring to get lost in the woods, but you want them to have the resources they need JUST IN CASE.) We’ve all read the horror stories of “the lost boy scout”. It’s a parent’s nightmare.

As a passionate outdoor family (with the exception of Dirty Diva… she would never admit to being passionate…yet), it was so important to ensure our little Dirty Offspring could handle themselves if we *somehow* misplaced them for a few hours. We worked to teach them skills necessary to survival – like what to do when lost, filtering water, building a fire, first aid, and shopping (Mr. Dirty dragged the family along on several purchasing expeditions to REI and Cabela’s).

fam

Safety in the woods has always been something we have stressed with the DO. Both Dirty Diva & Dirty Boy learned to be careful with knives – how to handle and use them appropriately. They weren’t born knowing this (Mrs. Dirty wouldn’t have quite as much gray hair if they were). They had to learn – sometimes the hard way. Dirty Diva cut her thumb while chastising Mr. Dirty on the proper storage of sharp objects. The Dirty Boy, also, carries a few scars; however, for the sake of a harmonious marriage, we won’t go into THAT story (unless you offered Laffy Taffy – I’ll spill my guts for that). Both of the kids were taught the Rule of 3s & what to do if you were lost, and they carried their “Lost Card” … well, after they learned HOW to read.

LostCards

For those of you with young children, I can’t say it enough: take them outside! Playing in the mud, climbing trees, and wading in a stream, is what childhood (and adulthood for some of us) is all about. Let them play & be kids, but while you are doing it, teach them to appreciate nature for its beauty and for its ability to bring you to your knees. Give them the tools necessary to survive and teach them to use them (if you don’t know how, find a scouting organization & sign Junior up).

What are the “Essentials for the Dirty Offspring”?? Take a look:

Always on Their Body

KidsEDC
– Break-away neck lanyard with whistle and a small Microlight LED
– Benchmade Mini-Griptilian (DB’s is Green DD’s is a more regal purple)
– Pelican Mini-Strobe

In Their Bag

5ddef987

KidsKit

Kids4
– Camelbak w/ bladder (we found that the kids drank more from a Camelbak than a water bottle, thus keeping the DO properly hydrated)
– Mora Clipper  (with Kydex sheath and piggybacked fire steel)*
– 55-gallon garbage bag for emergency shelter
– Space blanket
– Ziploc bags (1 gallon and 1 qt)
– Potable Aqua tablets
– Small Nalgene water bottle (16oz)
– Small nesting cup (Snow Peak’s 300, single wall)
– Clif Bar
– Peanut Butter
– Individual drink flavor packets
– Water tube (about 20” of Camelbak tubing)
– About 50 feet of 550 paracord
– Cigarette lighter
– Survival matches
– Large Tea-light candle wrapped in tinfoil
– Cravat
– PAL LED light/strobe
– Silva compass
– Swiss Army Knife
– extra pair of socks in ziplock bag
– Small fishing kit* (just something I added out of habit)

Small First Aid Kit w/ some extras

Kids3
– Band-Aids
– Large bandages
– Large gauze bandages
– Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin
– Antibiotic/burn cream
– Providone iodine wipes
– Sting-eze wipes
– Needles, spiderwire spool
– Dental floss
– Medical tape
– Moleskin
– Sliver Gripper tweezers
– Safety pins
– Large paperclips
– Pencil wrapped w/ 12” of duct tape
– Razor blade
– Rain-rite paper, 2 sheets
– 6 feet of surveyor’s tape wrapped on paperclip

Peeing in the Woods

Let’s face it. Whether we like talking about it or not, everyone who has ever ventured into the woods for a significant amount of time must eventually pee in the woods. It’s going to happen…unless you are severely dehydrated, which I do not recommend. For boys, like Mr. Dirty, this is such a small issue that it doesn’t event register on his radar as an issue. Boys are taught to pee on trees from a very young age. In fact, our son – Dirty Boy – went through a stage (when he was 2… not recently) in which he would ONLY pee outdoors. It disturbed the neighbors so we had to put up a privacy fence. For those of us who are less equipped for the situation (read: females), peeing in the woods can be traumatic. The misters who are reading this right now are probably thinking that I’m over exaggerating by using the word “traumatic.” Trust me, guys, I chose that word for a reason. Want an example?

Just this summer, Mr. Dirty & I took Dirty Boy and his friend (shall we call him Dirty Friend? I don’t think he would be offended) on a short backpacking trip to one of our favorite destinations: Panther Creek Falls in North Georgia. The trip was amazing. We pitched our hammocks right beside a large gazing rock that overlooked a small series of falls. It was perfect. Perfect weather, perfect food, perfect setting, perfect company. In summation, it was perfect. Except for the peeing in the woods part. Before I climbed my worn & weary body into my well hung hammock for the night, I had to venture far into the dark woods to pee. Did I mention that the woods were dark? I grabbed my yellow bandana (reusable toilet paper – just wash & dry) and forded a HUGE stream – okay, now I’m exaggerating. I hopped over this tiny stream to find a nice secluded spot, well off the trail and away from the water source, where I could do my business. I found an awesome spot with a downed tree that I could use to balance in order to avoid peeing on my shoes. It’s not as easy as guys might think. JUST as I was unzipping my pants and they were traveling to my knees, from behind me came a low but steady growl. It makes the hairs on my arms stand up when I even think about it! Needless to say, I whipped my pants up and took off running. I jumped that stream like I was Lolo Jones at the London Olympics!! All of the boys on our trip like to tease me about it being a rabid squirrel, but I know in my heart of hearts that it was something much bigger and with scarier teeth than that! After that trip, I made it my mission to find an easier way to pee in the woods.

I researched hiking in skirts – with or without undies. I was all set to go sans skivvies until my lovely mother informed me that I would be quite miserable if I happened to get ticks in places where ticks should never go. Thanks, mom. I had already purchased a few running skirts for my upcoming section hike of the Appalachian Trail. These are awesome skirts. They wick moisture & are quick drying. At the time, I planned to remove the inner compression short so that peeing in the woods would be an easier task. But that was before my conversation with mom – who, by the way, thinks I have lost my ever loving mind.

As I was stalking the trail journal of a female AT thru hiker, I came upon the mention of a certain product that I never knew existed: the pee funnel. Apparently, this is a big industry! A quick perusal of Amazon.com brought multiple options for how to pee in the woods ranging in price from $8 to $30. Being the cheapskate that my mother raised me to be (thanks again, mom), I knew that I had to find a cheaper alternative. Off to Wally World I went in search of a funnel that I could use as my very own pee funnel.

My search of the Wally World shelves made me feel a bit like Goldilocks. The first one I found was much too wide. It was bigger than both of my hands splayed side by side. It simply wouldn’t work. The second one was too long & much too phallic-looking. I could imagine the looks and comments that I would receive with THAT thing attached to the outside of my pack! The third one that I found was – as we all know from the story – just right.

“What funnel did you find, Mrs. Dirty?” you may be asking. Well, in the camping section of my local Walmart, I found Coghlan’s fuel filter funnel… (also available on Amazon.com)!! Let me tell you about this funnel. It is made of a yellow (love it!) polypropylene and is 2.25 inches in diameter. The best part is that it only weighs half an ounce and comes with a handy little chain that I can use to attach it to a small carabineer for hanging on my pack. I didn’t measure it; I promise. I looked it up.

funnel

Yesterday, Mr. Dirty & I went out for a small hike at our local state park. I wore my new North Face Cirque-U-Late running skirt – which I highly recommend for its total awesomeness.

JUIRD

When the need arose to pee in the woods, it was magical & completely liberating! What is to follow may be a little TMI for some of you (read: guys), but the ladies will want to know. So here goes. The compression shorts under the running skirt are very easy to move to the side; therefore, enabling the use of the pee funnel. I didn’t need to remove my pack to pee. I didn’t need to expose my backside to bears, bugs, boys, or baneful botanicals (read: poison ivy or poison oak… I needed another “b” word to keep up the alliteration). Another bonus of using the pee funnel, which I have dubbed the shenis (don’t judge, just laugh), is that it cut down on wasted time on the trail. We covered more ground in less time.
I highly encourage any hiker who is feeling emboldened to purchase a pee funnel. Yes, I said ANY hiker. Guys, help your lady hiker friend out… gift her with a pee funnel. Ladies, get you a pee funnel. It’s equal to the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Mr. Dirty’s Comments:

I will unfortunately admit, that although awkward looking from a guy’s perspective, it is actually quite functional!  What’s embarrassing is having your wife “stand” beside you and pee on the same tree…and then beat you to the finish!  I’m disturbingly impressed – Mr. Dirty