Athletically Challenged?

I’ve never been one to play organized sports. When I was in the third grade, I played softball… sort of. By “played softball”, I mean I hung out in the outfield with my glove on my head and dandelions in my hands. When it was my turn to bat, I rarely actually hit the ball. In my defense, it wasn’t long after my foray into organized sports that I got my first pair of glasses. It’s hard to hit a ball – even one as large as a softball – when you can’t see it!
image
Little Me

Because of my lack of success, I never truly considered myself athletic. I highly doubt anyone else did, either. I was gangly & awkward. I was never picked first in PE class, but I don’t think I was picked last. Maybe second to last? As a matter of fact, I know that I failed PE in high school at least once. I hated “dressing out” since there was this one girl (who shall remain nameless… for now) who always made fun of my legs. They were bony little bowed legs, and she teased me mercilessly from about the fourth grade until graduation. She made me hate PE.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I am not necessarily athletically challenged!! I’m pretty decent in rock climbing gym & dying to transition those skills to the outdoors, improving significantly at mountain biking (not quite ready for anything too extreme but better than someone who doesn’t try), I run when I want to, and I rock at backpacking.

Somewhere around Tray Mountain, I realized that backpacking counts. It’s not a traditional sport because it’s not competing (unless you are trying to break a record or something… which I’m not). It’s really only walking, but it’s slightly more challenging when you add the altitude gains and pack weight.
image
Mrs. Dirty being “athletic”

I spent almost 40 years believing I was athletically challenged. At 41, I learned an important lesson. A lesson that I hope to teach to as many kids as I can. Today, I will start spreading the word: labels suck.

You know you’ve heard it – or maybe even said it, “She’s the ______ one.” We add the labels to kids. The pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, the mature one, the funny one. Guess what? You can be ALL of them at once! You can be pretty, smart, athletic, mature, and funny. Don’t settle for less. Don’t let your kids settle for less.

image
I was blessed to hike with this smart, athletic group.

– Mrs. Dirty, a formerly athletically challenged kid.

Advertisements

Mountain of Youth

Growing up in Florida, I learned in elementary school about how Ponce de Leon explored the Sunshine State in search of the Fountain of Youth. If you watch any daytime television (I’m partial to General Hospital, personally), you will see that – nearly five hundred years later – we are still obsessed with looking, acting, and feeling younger.

Can I get an amen from all of my ladies who use wrinkle creme? How about you guys who use “Just for Men” grey coverage? We fight to hold onto what we’ve got, and some of us don’t have much left (I’m talking to you, Mr. Comb Over).

Over the last two weeks, I was blessed to have met some pretty amazing people who seem to have found Ponce de Leon’ s Fountain of Youth… Only, it’s not a fountain. It’s a MOUNTAIN.

For every 20 something hiker who I met on the trail, I met at least three hikers who were over the age of 50. The older generation brought it to the trail every day, and I never once heard them complain! No matter what the trail or the weather threw at them, they were smiling & having a great time.

I was in awe of these people. Literally.

image

(The Motley Crew from Virginia rocked the trail every day!)

image

(This is Carol with her grandson, Daniel. I was in awe of  Carol’ s drive and with Daniel’s dedication to Carol.)

image

(This is Marvin – trail name Ohio. He is 73 years old. When Mr. Dirty & I were taking a break because we were exhausted, he came strolling up the mountain like it was nothing! He said he walks seven days a week to “fight back the forces of darkness.”)

There is one photo missing. We met a Benton Makaye Trail Maintainer at the Siler Bald Shelter. He was 76 and had multiple bypass surgeries. And. He. Still. Backpacks.

Seriously. Apparently, there is something magical in the mountain air that keeps hikers young. Bottom line? I want to be like them when I grow up!

Want to stay young longer? Start hiking now! It’s never too late to start.

Fear Not!

I’ve learned a lot about fear this week:
– Fear can be debilitating.
– Fear can be motivating.
– Fear can be grounded in self-doubt.
– Fear can be grounded in knowledge & wisdom.
– Fear is universal… Everyone knows fear.

On my first morning out of Neels Gap on my solo adventure, I hit the trail at 6am. The sun was still struggling to climb the mountains, and a heavy fog clung to the ground in front of me. It made the trail look like it wound through a fairytale wood.
image

Feeling a bit giddy with nervous apprehension, I pretended I was a young (told you it was pretend, right?) maiden out to conquer the beast at the top of the mountain.

Then I rounded a foggy bend in the trail to see two black rolls curled up in the middle of the trail. From a distance & with my over active imagination running wild, it looked like two smallish bears sleeping on the trail. I was paralyzed with fear! Seriously. Where there is a baby bear, there is mama bear.

I was cursing myself for thinking I could do this alone. Mister Dirty would surely know what to do. Should I call him & ask? No, he would think I couldn’t do this. So, I mustered all the courage I could find (reminding myself that Neal had just called me brave the day before) and tiptoed quietly up the trail to find this:
image

An abandoned backpack!

Yes, I felt stupid for being afraid; however, I also felt courageous for going forward when I was scared. I later learned that other hikers were scared here because they thought it was a dead body!

A few days later, I was passing a scout group when the leader warned me about two copperheads on either side of the trail. “When the trail levels out and you see a downed tree that’s been cut for you to pass through,” he said. “They will be right there.”

For the next five miles – every time I passed a downed tree in a relatively level spot – I lifted my trekking poles in the air and prayed to not get bitten.

When I made it to my campsite, I laughed at how afraid I had been. My hiking buddy (Break Time, who I met on the trail) confessed that he had also been freaked out at the idea of walking through a virtual pit of vipers… Which made me feel less girly.

When I finally crossed the border into North Carolina, I was traveling with a motley crew of hikers. Legs of Steel found a really awesome campsite on the ridge line at Bly Gap. He swore it would have a great sunset, then he continued north to the next shelter. Break Time & I were the only ones planning to stop at Bly Gap, so we set up our hammocks & settled in for the night.
image

(Twisted Oak at Bly Gap)

Little did we know, there was a storm brewing. Did I mention that I am terrified of lightning?? As soon as I had turned in, the sky went very dark, and gale force winds started blowing. Then came the rain. And the thunder. And the lightning. The normally-adequate stakes on my rain fly surrendered to the sheer strength of the storm.

We made a belated decision to move our camp to the site in the valley just below the ridge line. In the middle of the storm, we packed it all up and ran – praying the entire way. It turned out to be a wise decision: the storm didn’t die down until about 5am.

I’ve always been terrified of lightning. Because I am, I did research prior to my trip. Here’s the kicker: I knew setting up camp on that ridge line was dangerous. My fear when the storm blew in was grounded in the knowledge that it was as dangerous as the two copperheads.

Through it all – from the almost bears to the copperheads to the lightning – I knew I would be okay. Why? Because I am more valuable than many sparrows.

Trials and Tribulations of Trail Transportation

mustang2 mustang
When I, Mrs. Dirty, was sixteen, I received my driver’s license and the keys to my very own 1970 something Mustang II. It wasn’t shiny and new, but it was transportation! My bestie, BJ, and I drove that little car all over Panama City & Panama City Beach. Transportation provided us with the one thing we craved most: freedom! Of course, within a month of receiving my license, I received a speeding ticket & was in a slight fender bender. I guess I got carried away with the freedom.

As much as I love hiking, getting to and from the trail can sometimes be a challenge. Will your vehicle be safe at the trailhead for days? Weeks? Do you need one vehicle at the starting point and one at your ending point? (It’s for that reason that Mr. Dirty likes hiking loop trails.)

The Appalachian Trail hiking community has pretty much established a solid transportation framework that consists to shuttles – usually run by hostel owners (which means a ride, bed, food, and a shower!). These shuttles can be slightly expensive, thanks to those rising gas prices that I’m not even going to get into! If you came here looking for shuttle information, hold on. I’m getting there!

no fancy sports cars here

no fancy sports cars here

Most trailheads, at least the ones that are the most fun, are found within a maze of forestry service roads (read: dirty, gravel roads that are so washed out that you can’t really see the gravel). The type of vehicle you take (and how you baby it) is as important as having a map to the trail. When you survey the parking lot at the trailhead – especially the trailhead found on one of those long, winding forestry service roads – you don’t see many Mercedes or BMWs. Our outdoor adventures are the main reasons Mr. Dirty drives a truck, and I drive a Subaru (even though my friend Shawn says only hippies drive Subarus…. don’t even get me started on what the boss says about Subies!)

Mr. Dirty and I have had some rather unusual trail transportation trials (I’m sure that simply shocks you, right?). We can never do something the easy way; that would be, well, too easy. Are you ready for the Top 5 Fantastic Failures in Trail Transportation?!

#5: Leave Your Valuables at Home

Mr.B

Mr. B

When you are going to be leaving your vehicle unattended for days or weeks at a time, it makes no sense whatsoever to leave valuable electronics (or wallets, purses, etc.) in the car. On our AT adventure, we prepositioned vehicles at strategic locations along the trail (my Subie at Springer, Hinky Di-Di’s car at Nantahala, and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Fontana). As we were dropping the Subie at Springer, Mr. Dirty’s (autocorrect keeps changing Mr. Dirty to Mr. Society. Ha!!) friend, Mr. B – who we were transporting to Fontana for a section hike through the Smokies – decided to do a “walk around” to make sure the car wasn’t appealing to thieves… for any reason other than it’s an awesome Subie.

Thank God for Mr. B, because Frodo the dirty footed Hobbit had left his iPad, a backpack, and money on the back seat! If the hike would have gone as planned, George (that’s my Subie’s name) would have been sitting at the trailhead for SIXTEEN days. Not everyone who passes through trailhead parking lots are honest people. It is so common for cars to be broken into at trailhead that the Washington Trails Association regularly posts this blog: Keeping Your Car Safe at the Trailhead. Luckily, we had Mr. B along for the ride. George still has all of his Windows, and Frodo still has his iPad (hence the reason this is #5 and not #1).

#4: Shuttles Save Lives!
So. I told you we prepositioned those vehicles strategically along the trail. IF the hike had gone as planned, it would have been fabulous. So much thought and planning went into prepositioning those vehicles. Here is how it was supposed to work: Mr. Dirty would drop us at Fontana then pick up Hinky Di-Di and the Ninja Lumberjack at Nantahala. Together, we would hike the thirty miles from Fontana back to the NOC. The Ninja Lumberjack would shuttle Mr. Dirty back to Fontana to get his truck. Hinky Di-Di & I would continue hiking to George where he was waiting at Springer Mountain. Yeah, right.

We were running slightly behind schedule – which totally freaked out Mr. Dirty. The soldier inside doesn’t like for a schedule to NOT be adhered to. Schedules are made for a reason, right? At around 5am on the third day of hiking, Mr. Dirty scratched on the mosquito netting of my hammock to tell me he was hiking out ahead of us. He wanted to get to the NOC and take a shuttle back to Fontana to get his truck. His goal was to be waiting when we came off the trail at the NOC so that he could hit the highway.

When he reached the NOC, he arranged a shuttle through Jeff Hoch at The Hike Inn. Mr. Dirty has nothing but good stuff to say about Jeff – who, according to Mr. Dirty, knows everyone on the AT and has great stories to share. If you are in need of a shuttle in the Fontana Dam or Nantahala area, give Jeff & Nancy a call at (828-479-3677). Shuttles Save Lives,right? Jeff is probably unaware of the role he played in helping us get Hinky Di-Di off the trail safely!

Oblivious to the day’s drama (if you are unaware of the drama, read Dirty Disappointment), Mr. Dirty sent me a text to inform me that he was at his truck and heading back to Nantahala. According to my little pocket map, we were about two miles to Wright Gap. Luckily, I had purchased the AT Trail1 iPhone app. I highly recommended this app. It has a GPS that shows you where you are on the trail. The mileage wasn’t always correct, and it didn’t always have sufficient signal signal strength to update your location. It WAS only $1. The map on this app showed that there was a road crossing at Wright Gap. This, by the way, wasn’t on my little pocket map (you know, the one that I paid $19.99 for on Amazon).

We were able arrange for Mr. Dirty to meet us at the road crossing in order to get Hinky Di-Di safely off the trail. See? Shuttles Save Lives.

#3: Lead the Way… Don’t LEAVE!

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Our little AT adventure wouldn’t end until we went back to Springer Mountain to rescue a stranded George – the beloved Subie. First, let me say that DRIVING to get George wasn’t part of my plan so it made me a little sad. Mr. Dirty grew up in Washington and is pretty skilled at driving those mountain roads. So skilled that as we drove to the trailhead to get George, I rode with my eyes closed. He was whipping around those twists and flying over those wash outs. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the way we got to the trail. Problem? Nah, I planned to follow Mr. Dirty home. Right? Wrong.

The drive down the mountain was good for a few minutes; those were the few minutes minutes when I could actually see Mr. Dirty’s dust trail. The dust trail didn’t last long, and before long, nothing looked familiar. Nothing. If you’ve been on the forestry service road to Springer, you know that there is a place in the road where you can turn one of four ways. Yeah, I took the wrong one. Smartly, I figured this out, turned around, and took another way. Yup, it was wrong, too. Mr. Dirty, of course, wasn’t answering his cell phone. When I finally reached Frodo, I was a bit hysterical. The boy’s eventually found me sitting at the crossroads acting like a blubbering fool.

Remember, if you are leading the way… don’t leave the way!!

#2: Battery Blunders, aka We’ll leave a light on for ya’

Summer 2004 - Panther Creek

Summer 2004 – Panther Creek

Summer 2012 - Panther Creek

Summer 2012 – Panther Creek

Over Spring Break, we took Frodo to Panther Creek to do a little hiking. We love Panther Creek, because it is such an amazingly beautiful place. It’s a 3.5 mile hike from the parking lot o one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state of Georgia. The hike can be nerve racking in spots and the water is frigid… but is so worth it!

Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

On this particular trip, we drove George. The truck is great, because you can load lots of gear in the bed. My Subaru gets much better gas mileage. Much better. George just happens to be an Outback – which means he has a roomy cargo area. This cargo area is large enough to hold at least four fully loaded 65 liter backpacks (3 of which are from the Osprey family, just saying) and is well lit by an over head dome light. This little dome light has one of those nifty little sliding switches that has three settings: on, off, door. The on and off are pretty self-explanatory, right? Door means that the light only comes on when the door is open. Genius. This is where I like to keep it. This is where it makes sense for it to be. Right?

As we were unloading our gear, one of the fully loaded 65 liter bags (probably the non-Osprey variety) brushed against that little sliding switch, putting it into the ON position. For three days. Upon returning from our wonderfully fabulous hike, the key fob wouldn’t open the door. Whatever could be amiss? Hmmmm, why won’t the car start?

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, Panther Creek is a very popular hiking destination in Georgia. The parking lot was packed! Every parking spot as full, and cars were parked along the side of the road. That is typical or this trailhead. That’s what happens and. The destination is that amazing. It makes it rather difficult when trying to jumpstart a dead battery, unless the car parked in front of you happens to have the driver close by…. which was not the case in our situation, of course.

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

We were lucky to have have two very willing young ladies who were eager to exchange a jumpstart for our parking spot, but we had to first push George backwards out of his resting place. Normally, you would put the car in neutral and push. Right? Have you tried this lately? The stinking thing wouldn’t go into neutral. A quick perusal of the Owner’s Manual led to an answer: there is this little circle cover just North of the gear shift that that you have to remove and insert the Subaru screwdriver (which was, thankfully, in my glove box) in order to put the car in neutral. I’m certain this is some kind of safety feature. Mainly because I once had a friend whose son knocked her car into neutral, and it does through the neighbor’s front door.

We, eventually, pushed George to a position where he could get some juice from another vehicle, and we were on our merry way. A lesson was learned: always check to make sure all lights – both interior and exterior – are turned off before leaving the trailhead!

#1: Who Has the Keys??
Yeah, it’s happened… twice.
Our first key trouble was last summer at Panther Creek (our luck tends to not be so good there). We like to mountain bike as well as hike; therefore, I have a handy dandy bike rack attached to the rear of my Subie. It’s the kind that drops down to allow entrance to the roomie cargo area. As we were unloading our gear, someone – I really can’t remember who – sat the keys on top of the bike rack… which has an open, hollow tube that is about three feet long.

41JNK-JnoTL__SX385_

The keys, of course, slid all the way to the bottom of the tube – inside of the bike rack. It took some scientific genius to use a magnet attached to the end of a hiking pole to retrieve the keys. Grrrrrr.

The second key incident was entirely Mr. Dirty’s fault. Really! Mr. Dirty and Frodo went for an overnight hike with our friend Brat and his son, the Ham Man. They prepositioned vehicles: Brat’s truck at Springer and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Three Forks (at least I think it was Three Forks). They set off hiking north in the rain, because it always rains on the AT. When they made it to where Mr.Dirty’s truck was waiting, he realized that his keys were… in Brat’s truck. Oh, Mr. Dirty, you rock.

Frodo, being an adventurous young lad, volunteered to run – literally – back to Springer to retrieve the keys. Along the Way (for some reason autocorrect insists that Way be capital… I guess it’s the Way it’s done), he met some kind hearted folks who shared some snacks with him. Thanks, kind hearted folks, whoever you were.

Shortly after Frodo took off for Springer, the always persuasive smooth talking Brat used his lawyerly skills to CONvince a young couple who were driving a small Yugo-ish vehicle to drive him to the trailhead. Apparently, and I’m going off hearsay on this, the young woman rode in the hatchback with her large dog so that Brat could have her seat. Yes, he’s that persuasive.

When Frodo finally made it to the parking lot to get the keys, Brat was waiting in the warm, dry cab of the truck for him. Now, every trip we take, Frodo carries a spare key to the vehicles. He doesn’t trust his parents to keep the keys!!

Dirty Disappointment

In 2009, Colt McCoy became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with 45 collegiate wins. That year, Colt led the University of Texas Longhorns to the BCS national championship against the University of Alabama. Can you imagine? The national championship! He had to have been preparing himself for that game since he first held a football!

colt-mccoy-browns

Unfortunately – for Colt & UT fans – he was injured in the FIRST offensive play of the FIRST quarter. He got a taste of the lights, the crowds, the glory… but just a taste. He spent the remainder of the game watching from the sidelines as a freshman quarterback stepped in to fill his shoes.

I don’t know Colt McCoy, personally; however, I can imagine what was going through his head as he went from participant to spectator. Would he have done anything differently? Would Texas have won the game if he weren’t injured? Was his future with the NFL trashed along with his shoulder? The down right suckiness of the situation has stayed with me since watching that game. How do you come back from that kind of disappointment?

Last week, I got a little taste of how it must have felt for Colt McCoy. I’ve been dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail for years. It’s always been more of a fantasy than reality until this past Thanksgiving. The weekend before, I made a decision to hike from Fontana to Springer – even if I had to go alone. Over turkey and pie, it was decided that my cousin, the Ninja Lumberjack, and his wife Hinky Di-Di would join me for the trip.

The plan for our Appalachian Trail adventure was for Mr. Dirty, the Ninja Lumberjack, the Dirty Boy (who earned the trail name Frodo by hiking in his bare Hobbit feet), and the Hiking Ninja, to hike with Hinky Di-Di & I from Fontana Dam to Nantahala Outdoor Center. Hinky Di-Di and I were to continue hiking south to Springer Mountain. At least, that was the plan.

The Gang at Cable Gap Shelter
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns

On the third day, Hinky Di-Di began having some medical struggles. It was a scary afternoon, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I worry about what would have happened had her medical crisis occurred after the guys left the trail. Would I have had the mental clarity to successfully get her the help she needed? Would I have had the physical strength necessary to get her off the mountain?

I thank God that I didn’t have to find out the hard way. I like to think that I would have responded so well in the crisis that they would have given me an honorary Wilderness First Aid certificate. I’m grateful that Hinky Di-Di is going to be okay and that she didn’t have to rely solely on my abilities. I WILL be signing up for a wilderness first aid course so that I can be more confident in my ability to render first aid on the trail. During my time in the Air Force, I took Self Aid & Buddy Care. I’ve been hiking and backpacking for years, but I have never taken one of these courses. Now, I see just how important it is.

If you are someone who enjoys hiking – I assume there are some of you out there reading this, consider signing up for one of these courses. We really have no idea if or when someone will need us to step in and provide emergency care. It’s frightening to be on the side of a mountain with someone who is in medical distress and NOT be able to help. Wilderness First Aid Course Schedule

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” – Paul Coelho

This last week has been pretty rough. I’ve felt a lot like how I assume Colt McCoy felt in 2010. I’ve questioned every decision I made. I’ve sat at home watching General Hospital mourning the fact that I wasn’t on the trail where I really wanted to be. I cried as I drove my car away from Springer Mountain; I never envisioned being driven to get my car… at least not driven by anything other than an intense desire & passion for the trail.

“Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power – a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start again after a disappointment.” – Marsha Sinetar

Cheoah Bald
The passion that I have for hiking the Appalachian Trail hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there, pulling me back to the trailhead. As I type this, Mr. Dirty is repacking his pack and planning a section tor us to hike in early July. There are changes that we will make to our packing lists, because with experience comes wisdom.

In honor of those who have suffered disappointment with dignity & climbed back on the horse – especially Colt McCoy…..

Five Fabulously Filthy Finds…. aka a few of Mrs. Dirty’s favorite things

Every now and then, we get lucky. I don’t mean moderately lucky, like when the red light changes and you don’t have to stop. I mean totally lucky, as in the red light being the one thing that keeps you from being in the path of a speeding auto that would definitely put a dent in your head. Maybe lucky isn’t the word… maybe it’s blessed.

I’ve been blessed many times times in my life: Jesus, meeting & marrying Mr. Dirty, the Dirty Offspring, Dirty Nana & Papa, the Dirty Siblings, and the Filthy Friends. I don’t generally speak of material items as blessings, but they totally are. I’ve been blessed with George – my favorite Subaru – and Sweet Melissa, my Scott mountain bike.

Lately, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research (read: compulsively reading)  in preparation for my upcoming hike. I’ve been lucky, or blessed, to have found some awesome products for backpacking.  These are things that I know will ease the “trail torture.” Yes, backpacking is hard work…. but it’s supposed to be fun! Right?? You’ve GOT to check these out. (FYI: not compensated or bribed in any way…just enjoying some cool stuff)

1. Merrell Proterra Vim Sport

I have went back and forth on what shoes I want to wear on my section hike this summer. I thought that I had settled on my Merrell barefoot runners. I was so  certain these were the shoes that I would wear that I wrote an entire blog post about them!!. Are they? Nope. This spring, Merrell introduced the Proterra minimalist hiking shoes for men and the Proterra Vim for women. I finally broke down and bought a pair…

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports

The Proterras aren’t true barefoot shoes, but they are minimalist hikers. Difference? A barefoot shoe has a zero drop (meaning zero difference between the toe and the heel) whereas the Proterras have a 4mm drop (4mm of padding in the heel… not technical definition, but maybe easier to understand).

I’ve been wearing these pretty regularly – shopping, work, Dirty Boy’s soccer games – and they are pretty comfy for regular wear. The weather had been pretty crappy & kept us off the trails for the last few weeks. Finally, spring is here!! We took Dirty Boy and Hiking Ninja to the state park to get some hiking in… not much was accomplished after Mr. Dirty gracefully twisted his ankle and landed on his back. Ouch!

For the three and a half miles that we did get to hike, I was so pleased with the shoes. They provided more lateral stability than my pace gloves and weighed less than my Keen Targhees. I was reminded during a chilly stream crossing – when I missed the rock where my foot was supposed to go – that these are not waterproof hikers. Was it a problem? Nope. They dried out rather fast, and my feet were comfortable for all of the hike.

I went back to the state park on my own – Mr. Dirty was at work, the Dirty Boy was at the beach with Hiking Ninja, and the Dirty Girl was sleeping in – for an 8 mile hike. The Proterra’s were fabulous! No hot spots, lots of lateral support when going through the rocky part of the trail, dried quickly after stream crossings, close to the ground so that I could still feel the connectedness that I love.

Best part?? Mr. Dirty says this makes me prissy (me? Really??), but I love that they match my backpack 🙂

2. Osprey Aura (65 liter)

When you are carrying your house on your back, you want to be as comfortable as possible. An ill-fitting pack can make or break an entire trip. Any good turtle worth his weight in sea salt would tell you that it is important that your “home” move with you without being an encumbering nuisance. It needs to be a part of you…. enter: Osprey Aura.

Backpacking with the Aura at Enchanted Rock in 2008

Backpacking with the Aura at Enchanted Rock in 2008

This isn’t a new pack for me. Rather, it’s like a really good friend whose been hanging around awhile. I bought my Aura in 2008 and love her. I’ve loaded her up with about 35 pounds for backpacking trips (I no longer carry that weight) and hiked without complaints. Most of the time I feel unencumbered by the weight of the pack and can move, bend, jump, and dance (yes, dance) as naturally as without the pack. I’ve used many different packs, but this is the only one that actually feels like it is an extension of myself.

Right now, she is loaded with 26 pounds for the AT section hike. I’m comfortable with the weight – after 35 pounds, 26 feels like nothing! The weight rides on the hips, the straps are adjusted, and the hiker is ready to hike!

3. Smartwool

I grew up in North Florida; it was rare that we had a need for wool. While Mr. Dirty can cite the strengths and weaknesses of wool, I could speak to the benefits of cotton, lycra, and spandex. Don’t look at me like like that! Of course there are benefits of lycra and spandex!! It’s even better when it’s neon flavored, of course.

Neon Spandex makes you smile!

Neon Spandex makes you smile!

Anyhow!! Wool. We were talking about wool. Being a  Southern girl, I never had much need for wool. It was hot& itchy. No, thank you. Recently, Mr. Dirty turned me on to Smartwool. I don’t know how they did it (and the how really isn’t all that important, is it??), but this wool isn’t itchy.  I know it has something to do with the sheep… maybe they gave them allergy pills? Kept them well hydrated? De-bugged them?? I don’t know, but I like it!

Smart sheep make Smartwool!

Smart sheep make Smartwool!

In the interest of making this a somewhat thorough post – instead of the side tracked mess it can so quickly become – I googled it (not really. I went to the Smartwool website. I just like the word googled). Smartwool comes from merino sheep who live & work in the southern hemisphere. In the winter, these sheep need wool to keep them warm; however, they need something to keep them from scorching in the summer. Since neon lycra and spandex have yet to make it to the sheep world, their little bodies have adapted the wool to create one that keeps them warm in the winter & cool in the summer. The geniuses – they call themselves geeks – at Smartwool have created some kind of fancy blend that combines the wool with a synthetic; therefore, it doesn’t itch. Who knew we would get a science lesson today? Not me. I teach English.

After having Smartwool thrust upon me by my loving spouse, I started digging into it’s benefits, other than the itch factor: warms in winter, cools in summer, doesn’t retain odors. The odor thing did it for me. You know how after a big hiking trip you have to wash certain clothing items multiple times just to remove the stench? You don’t have that problem with Smartwool!

I’ve tested it by wearing the same pair of socks for three days. I know, I know. “That’s gross & unsanitary!” At least I didn’t test the Smartwool thong yet!! Yes, they have a thong. No, I haven’t gotten over the mental image of wool in the final frontier in order to try it. I shudder at the thought!! Anyhow. After three days, my feet still smelled like laundry soap! My poor Comrade-in-Arms (hereafter known as CIA) was subjected to me constantly sniffing my feet to see if they smelled. She, of course, thought it was hilarious when the kids asked to smell. Middle school kids…. you gotta love them. Maybe there is a reason I teach sixth grade instead of college. How many college professors sniff their socks??

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports with Smartwool socks

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports with Smartwool socks

If all Smartwool made was socks, I would be okay with it, because their socks are amazing…especially the super smart PhD minis. But the Lord sent his many blessings down to all of us in the form of a full Smartwool clothing line (remember the thong… it really exists… just not in my wardrobe). What IS in my wardrobe? I have the midweight long underwear tops & bottoms, in teal of course (these are not your daddy’s long John’s!), two short sleeve crews (of course one is pink), and more socks than I can count (remember, I teach English – not Math).

What would I add to my wardrobe if Smartwool weren’t so darn expensive? The PhD HyFi vest and the Cortina skirt. One day, I will make them mine! In all honesty, Smartwool is not cheap; however, there are some places where you can can find products at a reasonable rate: REI-Outlet, 6PM.com, Sierra Trading Post.

4. My Monkey Ball

Dirty Papa at Old People Camp

Dirty Papa at Old People Camp

According to most of the old folks at Old People Camp (love you guys!), this is technically called a monkey’s fist. Hiking Ninja doesn’t like calling it a monkey’s fist, because it reminds her of animal cruelty… like a rabbit’s foot for luck. I guess a monkey’s ball is less cruel? I love that girl. She’s awesome.

So, anyhow!! As you all know, I was having a few problems (understatement of the year!) with the hanging of the bear bag. Robsdak from BCUSA took pity on me and made me a monkey ball… in hot pink! It is much easier to toss the monkey ball over a branch than my toiletry kit. Duh, right? The heft of the monkey ball makes it easier to toss – like throwing a tiny baseball with a tail. The beauty – other than being hot pink – is that I can use it to keep Mr. Dirty in line (just kidding, Honey Bear…. LOL! I don’t really call him Honey Bear… Who does that?).

Monkey Ball courtesy of Robsdak via "BCUSA"

Monkey Ball courtesy of Robsdak via “BCUSA”

I was showing off my new monkey ball to my Sunday School teacher (doesn’t everyone do that at church?), and he was impressed with the quality of workmanship. I knew it was a beauty and well made, but having never made one before, I was unaware of how to tell a good monkey ball from a bad monkey ball. Mine? It’s one of the good ones… and it’s pink, hot pink! Now I really sound girly!

This past weekend, we met our hiking partners – Hinky DiDi & Ninja Lumberjack – at Old People Camp. While we were there, we practiced using the monkey ball to hoist the bear bag. We practiced and practiced and practiced. I know some of our crazy relatives thought we had lost our minds, but we eventually mastered it.

Mr. Dirty, aka Honey Bear - NOT! - trying to reach our bear bag

Mr. Dirty, aka Honey Bear – NOT! – trying to reach our bear bag

Monkey Ball & Bear Bag

Monkey Ball & Bear Bag

There was only one close call, but we learned our lesson. From now on, we will stand further away when pulling the string that is attached to a monkey ball which is dangling precariously over our heads! I felt sure that I was going to clock Hinky DiDi, and she thought I was trying to bean my own brains out. Luckily, no one was hurt, and we live to laugh another day.

Hiking Ninja & Dirty Boy being photo bombed by Mr. Dirty

Hiking Ninja & Dirty Boy being photo bombed by Mr. Dirty

Ninja Lumberjack & Hinky DiDi

Ninja Lumberjack & Hinky DiDi

5. Skirt Sports

I’ve never really been a girlie girl. I never liked wearing skirts and dresses. I refuse to wear heels unless it’s a formal occasion (more out of self preservation). No pink. No frills. No fake nails.

I don’t know what happened to me. All of a sudden, I have a pink striped mountain bike, pink helmet, pink pistol, pink rifle, pink range bag – complete with pink hearing protection & pink targets, pink monkey ball, pink iPod, and pink camouflage pants for the gun range! Who is this person, and why does it look like a Pepto commercial?!

Combat Barbie??

Combat Barbie??

Where did all the pink come from??

Where did all the pink come from??

Looking back, I remember distinctly reading an article during Breast Cancer Awareness month about the power of pink. (Mr. Dirty lost a beloved aunt to breast cancer. It’s a terrible disease.) The article talked about the hidden strength of women and about how they never give up. I think that article has something to do with all my new pink pretties. That combined with an arrogant young soldier at the gun range who said he was shocked that a “little lady” like me didn’t have a pink pistol, then proceeded to attempt to teach me to shoot. I don’t think he liked it much when I shot better than him nor when I offered advice on how to correct his stance.

But I digress… this is supposed to be about Skirt Sports!

I’ve recently started hiking in skirts, because the breeze is amazing! The added benefit of peeling in the woods is pretty awesome, too. If you knew me – and I mean really knew me – you would know how odd this is. My sweet friend, Susie, was shocked to read that I hike in skirts. In all the years that we’ve known each other, I’ve never worn them. Susie is a girlie girl… skirts, heels, pearls. The whole nine yards. Of course, this skirt thing would happen AFTER she moved away. Guess she’s going to have to come back to believe it….

While looking for the perfect hiking skirt, I stumbled upon Skirt Sports. The company was started by a runner, Nicole DeBoom, because she wanted to look more feminine while competing in triathlons. Just because you are enjoying a male dominated past time doesn’t mean you have to look like a boy! When Muddy Buddy & I participate in mud runs, we always wear our sequined skirts. Even dirty girls like to sparkle!!

Eeesh! I’m chasing rabbit’s again. Skirt Sport makes a hiking skirt, appropriately named Adventure Girl skirt. This skirt is what Title Nine (the company, not the law… look them both up, you’ll be glad you did) calls a Skirt With Benefits. Some people call them skorts. When I think of a skort, I see the back split like shorts with a Skirt front. Right? I like the “skirt with benefits” idea, though. After all, it’s the benefits that I’m interested in.

The Adventure Girl is made of this new fabric called S’cafe. It’s an odor resistant (you know how I love odor resistant!) fabric made from recycled coffee beans that also offers UV protection. If you get hot & sweaty, you can squeeze the sweat from the skirt like a French press & have a latte! Kidding, don’t try that unless your name is Bear Grylls.

The skirt has five pockets – three on the skirt and two on the compression shorties underneath. I’ve hiked 8 miles with my phone in the shorties pocket without really worrying about it falling out. Of course, the terrain was pretty flat. I also carry my pink Benchmade folding pocketknife in a shorties pocket.  One of the pockets is made for your iPod and has a headphone port for the cord (pretty standard feature for Skirt Sports). Check this out!

Skirt Sports has a full line of athletic clothing. I also have the Happy Girl, which I love for its longer length and pink shorties! These skirts give you the freedom to DO without feeling exposed or like a boy. I like that the compression shorts which are built into the skirt have these tiny air holes in the fabric (think lycra cheese cloth) which increases the air flow. It’s like tiny air conditioners for your booty!

By the way, like Smartwool, Skirt Sports can be pricey. You can find them at a decent price through 6pm.com, Sierra Trading Post, and Amazon.com

So there you have it. Five fabulously filthy finds. It would be nice to say, “tell them Mrs. Dirty sent you.” But who am I kidding, they wouldn’t have a clue who you were talking about!!!

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!!