Trailers, backing, snow and DMV tests

First, I’m exhausted… to be completely honest. I’m pushing my brain to absorb as much information – permanently – as I possibly can. It caught up to me today. I felt so tired after class today that I wanted to cry a little bit. I was able to push through, get back to Richard and Meryl’s house where we’re staying, eat dinner, shower, exercise and study for some tests. I know I’m pushing myself pretty hard, but my hope is that I’ll get a lot of the reading material down and conquered so that while I’m at school I can use that time in an actual truck.

So besides feeling overall tired, I’m having fun, learning, driving, and taking what seems like big steps towards the goal of earning my Commercial Driver’s License. I have a ways to go yet, for sure, but here’s a totally random list of some things I noted from this week:

I learned about “alligators,” which are the big strips of truck tires you’ll see laying on the side of the highway. When truck tires are near or below the legal tread depth (4/32 for front tires and 2/32 for all others), they are sometimes retreaded, or recapped. They get grinded down and a new tread is sort of “glued” on to make an almost new tire. If the tire with this retread gets low on air, it essentially breaks that seal, causing the new tread to rip or fall off. So those “alligators” are retreaded truck tires.

Ever see a railroad crossing marked as “Exempt?” That doesn’t mean trains don’t use the tracks any more. It simply means buses and trucks hauling hazardous materials are exempt from having to stop at the tracks – they can roll right on through. That’s a pretty simple explanation, huh? I didn’t know that before this course. Learning is fun and useful.

Besides these couple of things that I learned and found to be generally interesting, I could go into detail on so many others… if you’re driving a 60-foot truck at 55 mph, how much following distance do you need? 7 seconds, of course! That’s one tiny morsel of example…

On another note, I bought a tire tread meter and a big honkin’ truck tire pressure gauge. Tools. Yay!


Does it make me a nerd if I'm excited about my tire tread measuring tool?

On Monday I drove a tractor with a trailer attached for the first time. I did great and got a sign-off, meaning I can drive around the school’s practice range on my own or with my partner. Learning to take corners and curves is fun and kind of scary. Thankfully we won’t be on real roads for a bit yet.

Tuesday was a big deal. School was cancelled due to cold temps, so Adam and I drove to the DMV and I took the first of three written tests that I need to pass so I can get my learner’s permit (basically my truckin’ temps). Once I have that, then I can drive on real roads, as long as someone over 21 with a CDL rides with me. Scary, isn’t it!? Anyway, this first test is called the “general knowledge” test. I hear it’s the toughest of the three so I was antsy to get it out if the way. And I did! Out of 50 questions, I only got two wrong!


Heck, yeah!

Wednesday we were LOADED with information, maneuvers, new things to know, lots of driving… and it was all hard-packed into a 12-hour day. We learned coupling and uncoupling, which means hooking up a trailer to the tractor, and then unhooking it. We learned all about the air brakes system (I’m getting to slowly know the anatomy of these beastly machines inside and out), and then… they started us on backing. This is the toughest thing to do in a truck with a trailer on it. First was straight-line backing, which is the easiest of backing maneuvers. I aced it from the gate with 4 perfect backs in a row. I was really freakin’ excited! Then I tried offset backing. You have to back into a lane next to you, but behind you. My instructor talked me through it, and I did it, but I honestly don’t have any idea how I didn’t run over 8 cones in the process! That one definitely needs work. I hope it clicks soon!

Today was tough. It was snowing like crazy and trucks were spinning on the uphills of our practice range, and I giggled when an instructor came up behind one of the tractor-trailers in a pickup truck with a plow on it… and gave the semi a little shove! It just looked funny! But guess what!? That was me a little while later. I took a curve a weee too tight and just rode my back trailer tires into some deeper snow. Along came plow-man to gimme a nudge! It was a challenging day, but it was fun.

When I left class I felt drained and grumpy, but I still managed to get in what I think is enough studying to maaaybe pass my other two written tests at the DMV tomorrow. I really don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll hear about how that goes, pass or fail!

Okay. I am going to sleep like a five-ton rock. G’night!

Tonight I love upshifting, but only because I’m starting to kind of get the hang of it. Downshifting, however, has not made my love list yet.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

My first time driving a semi.

Thursday. I sat in class that morning, eyelids heavy as a result from the first intense three days of class, studying and reading into the evenings, and Wednesday’s 11-hour day. The lecture was about shifting a 9- or 10-speed tractor. I needed to be alert because later that day we’d be putting this information to use. Day four and we’d be in the driver’s seat, chugging around the school’s driving course in a giant vehicle built to haul more than 40,000 pounds. Power. Responsibility. Safety. I couldn’t help but to keep thinking to myself, “Don’t break anything. Don’t crash into anything.” I was nervous, but those nerves were translating to excitement. I couldn’t wait.


I imagine not everyone knows what I mean when I refer to the “tractor.” I didn’t a few years ago, either. I just thought they were called semis and that’s it. So we’re not out there driving around a green John Deere, although that would be kind of fun, too. In this industry, the tractor is the truck part of a typical semi you see driving down the highway. As a whole, they’re referred to as tractor-trailers. So the part you drive is the tractor, and the tractor hauls the trailer.

So my first week is over, and I’ve learned a lot of stuff from very basic concepts and terms, to the anatomy of a tractor-trailer, to how many feet emergency triangles need to be placed from each other, where they need to be placed depending on traffic flow, and how crucial it is to place them withing 10 minutes of pulling over. You ever see the double-tire skids down the freeway and wonder why a huge semi would have to slam on the breaks so hard? I always did. Those happen when something goes wrong with the air brakes. If an air hose is severed or pops off while a driver is cruising down the road, the trailer’s emergency brakes are activated and the wheels lock up and leave behind some serious rubber while the driver has to keep in control and get off the road. While I’ve never seen it happen to a semi on the road, I’ve seen the skid marks, and I hope it never happens to me once I’m out there! It sounds pretty scary. These are just a few examples of things that are swimming around in my head. These and about a million other things.

We started learning about hours of service. There are rules about how many hours truckers can drive before they need to take a break. Withing a 14-hour period, you can only drive 11 hours. Then you need to take a 10-hour break. You can only work 70 hours in an 8-day period, and then you need to take a 34-hour break. We also learned the basics of filling out our log books. Once we’re working, we’ll be filling out a log for every single day, even the days we don’t work, and we have to keep them updated each time our status changes. There are a lot of rules and regulations we must learn, know and apply so we can be as safe as possible. It’s sinking in how much responsibility is held in a career like this. I thought back to my years in the office. If you do something wrong in an office job, you might get called into a private conference with your boss. That’s no fun at all. If you do something wrong in the trucking industry, there could be a fatality. There is just simply no room for mistakes, but we are being taught to take the precautions needed to avoid any accident that can possibly be avoided.


One of my first, very basic logs.

On Wednesday, our long day, we had lecture for the first half, then we were brought into the safety bay (basically a gigantic garage), where two tractor-trailers were pulled into. One had the trailer hooked up, and one didn’t. This was the first time we actually walked around the whole vehicle and got to look under the hood, squat and crawl underneath the trailer, look in between the tires, and visualize how everything works together. We were learning how to undergo a pre-trip inspection. There’s a list we were given with more than 130 inspection points that we will eventually need to memorize and look over as naturally as a reflex. It’s the first part of our CDL skills test, in fact. We need to point out every single thing, what we’re checking for and why. There’s the easy ones, like washer fluid, oil level, coolant level and any obvious damage to the body of the vehicle. There’s all kinds of new terms I’m learning like hub oil, glad hands, king pin, pitman arm, locking jaws… then there’s all the different belts, hoses, the tires, lug nuts, frame, splash guards, blinkers… Whew! Trust me when I say that it covers pretty much every single inch of both the tractor and the trailer. We are told that once we get the hang of this we will find our own routine to sort of “paint” over the truck and hit every single point on this inspection list. It all comes down to driving safely on the road.

Then came Thursday. Driving day. Ohmygosh, how exciting! In the morning we sat in lecture and went over a few different transmission types, focusing on the 9- and 10-speed, which is what we’d be driving later that day. We were separated into teams of two, and I was paired up with Steve, and I think we’re going to be a good team. We were assigned our truck and were the only team in a 9-speed, but that’s okay. We’ll get a chance to drive a few different trucks throughout the course.

We head outside to the trucks. We first walked around and did a few simple inspections, making sure the fluids were all okay and went through the important LAB (Leaks, Air warning device, and Buttons) test inside the truck. This is a routine we go through to check our breaks and make sure there are no air leaks that need to be addressed before driving. Everything looked good. I first went out with my trainer. She drove about 3/4 of the way around the range, demonstrating the double clutch and how to upshift and downshift. Then it was my turn. We stopped and switched seats. I hopped into the bouncy seat and positioned myself so I could reach the pedals, and then I placed my hands on the gigantic steering wheel to get a feel for it. The first thing I learned that I thought was totally cool, was I didn’t have to give it any fuel to get it going. I started in the lowest gear, clutch and brake in. I slowly let off the clutch, and when I felt and heard the truck’s engine wanting to go, I let off the break, and I was rolling! Holy crap, I was driving the truck! I turned onto the range and upshifted a few times. Some of them slid right in, and others weren’t quite as easy. I’ve driven a manual transmission before, so there were a few habits I had to break to drive this big guy. I had to double-clutch between shifts. Clutch to go out of gear, and clutch to go into a new gear – and not pressing the clutch to the floor. You only do that at a stop. Downshifting was a little trickier because there’s an extra step where you pump the accelerator between gears to bring the rpms back up to the spot where you can shift. There’s a rhythm to all of these movements, and you have to match speed and rpms… it was a process that I was trying to remember and talk myself through, but that sometimes took too long and I’d lose that “match,” have to stop and start over. I did complete a couple of smooth downshifts, and that felt awesome! My instructor told me to pull out and park so that Steve could get in and drive around, but before I got out of the truck, she took my purple sheet and signed me off on my first drive! Steve and I both passed, so this means that just he and I can drive the tractor around the range (without the instructor) to practice. I can’t wait to drive some more! We are told that we WILL get this down, and before we know it, we’ll be upshifting and downshifting like pros. That’s going to feel pretty good.

We didn’t drive on Friday, but we’ll be back in a truck on Monday. Next week we’ll also start learning about coupling and uncoupling, which means hooking and unhooking a trailer to the tractor. Then we’ll drive that around the range. We’ll still be focusing on our shifting, but also on how to turn corners and take curves without driving the trailer off the road. And then… dun – dun – duuuuunnnn…. we start backing! This will be the most difficult part of learning to drive truck, and it’s great that we start so early in the course because that just gives us that much more time to hopefully perfect all the different types of backs we’ll need to know how to do.

It’s been an exciting week, and class has been going really well. Fox Valley Tech is great, and the instructors are amazing. I feel like there’s some really important stuff that’s sinking in, and there’s a lot repetition, and that’s a great way for me to learn. I think I’m going to get this!

Adam and I have some road blocks we are working on in regards to his rollover accident last February. As it turns out, this might affect our ability to get hired right away, so we’re looking around at different companies (they all have different policies), and we’re coming up with a few different game plans. We’ll definitely be hitting the road once I graduate, in one way or another, just where and how will depend on a bunch of different things.

Also, I want to mention that I hope to post some photos in this blog as I go through school, but there might not be many, simply for safety reasons. There are strict rules that our cell phones need to be OFF while operating any FVTC vehicle. This is a great rule for obvious reasons, and I’m definitely going to follow all the rules we are given. So I won’t be snapping any selfies as I drive around the range. Yes, that would be a TERRIBLE idea. I hope to eventually see if I can photograph parts of the trucks to show my readers — I just think all the buttons, switches and gauges in these trucks are so cool! So we’ll see…

Okay… I must go and do homework. I’m reading through the Wisconsin Commercial Driver’s Manual, which is thick and full of tons of super-detailed information that I need to know for my first “written” test at the DMV. Once I pass this first “General Knowledge” test, I move on to the Air Brakes and Combination Vehicle tests. When I pass all three and hand over $30 I will be given my Instructor Permit, which means I can drive on real roads with another CDL-holder over the age of 21. So on to reading. I hope to head to the DMV on Friday and take the first of the three tests, and even though we get five tries, my goal is to ace it on the first.

Thanks for following along. I wish I could share everything I’m learning, but seriously… there is so much! I hope I can pick out the most interesting stuff and not bore the crap out of you!

Today I love Saturdays. I slept in. It felt incredible.

The DOT physical

I don’t have a ton of time to write. This program has a LOT of information that I really need to immerse myself in, and I’ve got a pretty good handle on it so far… with a lot of work. And time. And brain power.

This morning was cool. We got our books, which includes a thick textbook, a couple of small manuals, the “bible,” also known as the Federal Motor Carrier’s Safety Regulations guide (small book but thick with info), a trucker’s road atlas, and a trucker-fashion clipboard document holder thingy that makes me feel all official. Sometimes the little things feel big. :)


Textbooks, logbooks and my fancy new clip board.

Speaking of feeling official, I passed my first “test” today, which is the DOT (department of transportation) physical. So I have my laminated Federal Medical card saying I am physically capable to safely drive a commercial vehicle! Woo hoo!

The physical itself is really quite simple, but absolutely necessary, by law, for me to train and drive a truck. So that pressure created a little anxiety as I sat in the clinic lobby with a very full bladder waiting for a nurse to call my name.

First up was a quick eye test, a hearing test, blood pressure and pulse. Easy. Next I had to pee in a cup for the drug test. Since I really had to pee, this was also easy. The temp of my liquids were in the right range, and I’m confident I passed that one with no problem.

Then I was tested on some easily-passed strength exercises – arms, legs, squats, balance – things like that. The thing I found the most interesting is when the doctor asked for me to take my shoes off to check to see if I had real feet. Apparently folks with prosthetics can’t receive their fed med card, so they have to check.

I had a small hiccup because I had seizures almost 15 years ago from my treatment for Aplastic Anemia. In order to pass me, the doctor needed to see records that prove the seizures were one incident caused by medication and that I’ve been free of any other incidents since. Thankfully I’ve kept up on regular blood tests to confirm I am still in remission, and there was a letter in the Affinity health system from my oncologist in Marshfield to another oncologist in Affinity regarding my history. It was enough. She passed me. Whew! Without that card, I wouldn’t be able to drive for training.

After class, Adam and I went to Fleet Farm where I picked up a small flashlight and my very first pair of super-stylin’ yellow work gloves.


Check me out... I won't drive in those pjs though... promise. :)

After Fleet Farm we went to Perkins and Adam helped me study for a few hours. I got a lot accomplished. Then back at home (which is temporarily our friends Richard and Meryl’s home *thanks to you both!*), I watched a long video that will help with the first portion of my DMV test. It was filmed in 1995, but had good information. My favorite part? When the narrator, who is clearly from the south used the term “bull twinkies” in place of bull sh**. That was a great way to end my night.

Tomorrow’s a long day. 7:30 am – 8:00 pm. Hopefully I can stay awake on the little sleep I’ll get tonight!

Tonight I love… bull twinkies. It’s my new favorite term.


Oh, and I saw this in the commons. Random.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

My first day of school

First of all, thank you to everyone for all the comments and thoughts as I entered into my first day of classes today! I love that nothing ever has to be done alone… I have a great support system — so thank you!!


I kind of had an idea that things move quickly in the trucking industry. I mean, the course itself is only 10 weeks. When Adam and I walked in this morning, on my first day of class, at 7:15 am, we stopped in to talk to the guy that will bring Adam through his refresher course. We told him what we were doing, and without much hesitation he said, “Have you considered Schneider? Here’s a number for a recruiter you can call.” Okay… so day one and we’re already being directed to a recruiter? I love this industry. Now it’s evening, and as I type this, Adam is on the phone with that trucking recruiter getting some questions answered. We have some time to look at other companies, too, so we’ll be doing that in the next couple of months. And from what I’m gathering, receiving a technical diploma and a CDL from FVTC is a pretty big deal. We were reminded that this school is a premier truck driving school that is one of the best in the nation and recognized globally. Wow! I feel pretty fortunate that this school happens to be basically in my backyard and close to home.

Anyway, wow. I, again, am all over the place. We had a lot of information given to us today. We didn’t get into any trucks, but we got a tour of the building and got to hop into a van for a ride around the Keller Range, which is basically a simple course built for us to practice on. It’s a loop of roadway on FVTC’s campus that has stop/go  lights, a railroad crossing, stop signs before hills, turns, a clearance beam… it’s basically a fun obstacle course for truckers. And since it’s on FVTC’s private property, we can drive on it before we have our Instruction Permit. It sounds like we will be shifting and driving a tractor (without the trailer) on Thursday already! That’s pretty crazy!

So after today, I have an information packet 1″ thick, and that is what we focused mostly on today. Rules and regulation for the school itself were covered, as well as for the trucking program specifically. Safety, safety safety! Cell phones off and no food and drink in the vehicles. Seat belts at all times. Good rules like that! We went over how to check grades, how to watch required videos, and find important links and take quizzes to help us prepare for our Instruction Permit (which is basically like a temps for truck driving).

A couple of cool things I learned today that kind of stood out:

Once I graduate from FVTC I’m like this lifetime member with their student and graduate services, meaning if I’m in a job 10 years from now that I’m just not happy with, I can call them and they will help me look for something better, revamp my resume – whatever I need to get where I want to be. That seemed like a pretty neat deal.

Throughout the course we will be dispatched on route assignments, and towards the end of the course, some of the routes will take us all over the state! On Wednesdays our class starts at 7:30 am and goes until 8:00 pm, so that would be the day we would be assigned a route like that. That is going to be really great experience, and I’m looking forward to it! This long day is also so we can get night-driving experience. They seem to really cover all the bases, and I’m impressed with how things are done so far.

Tomorrow I pick up my books and take my DOT physical and drug test. I am hoping my history of Aplastic Anemia (15 years ago) won’t bring up too many questions during my physical, otherwise my Federal Medical card could be put on hold until I can get paperwork sent to them. This could cause a serious cramp in training. I’ll find out tomorrow. As for the drug test, that one’s easy. I guess federal law states that a urine test is all that is needed for the drug test, so I will drink lots of tea in the morning to be prepared for that. Some trucking companies, including Schneider, also require a hair follicle test that can trace drugs back to 9 months. I thought that was interesting. But for now I get to keep all of my lovely locks.

And I WILL get to do skid pad training – in fact, it’s required. There will be one day towards the end of the course where they grease up a giant area of pavement and have us force the truck into a jackknife skid so we can try to correct it and get a feel for how to do that. The instructor told us the only thing he recommends we do to prepare for that day is to bring and extra pair of underwear. Haha! Yeah… good idea!

So much to look forward to in these next couple of months! And it’s going to go so fast!

Tonight I love butterflies of the tummy variety. Like fear and pain, hiking and happiness, love and tears, those butterflies make me feel alive.


An important checklist and lots of papers to read!

MACK: The beginning of a new phase.

Adam and I have this thing we do. We give the trips we go on some sort of name. They don’t have to make any sense, but sometimes they do. We also named a spider that hung around on our bathroom ceiling in one of our apartments. His name was Bob. Our Montana road trip was Gus. Our road trip and PCT thru-hike was Alexander Supertramp.

Next up? Trucking. We call it Mack. It kind of makes sense.

Mack starts tomorrow. My first day of trucking school at Fox Valley Technical College. I’m trading in my hiking boots for 18 wheels, at least for a while. Trail for road. Tent for sleeper berth. Pickle Jar for Tractor-Trailer. You get the idea. I sure hope we get to haul pickles at some point. Just because.

The open road

I am looking so forward to this! The open road!

So it’s the night before my first class. I’m excited, a tiny bit nervous, but mostly excited. Last Wednesday Adam and I drove over to the campus to find out where my first class was held so I wasn’t roaming around looking for it on my first day. The transportation department is a whole separate building from the college, so that was a good thing to find out. As we pulled up, I looked up at a parking lot full of huge, white FVTC semi trucks. One of them had a student in the driver seat backing out of a parking spot with another person directing him. I looked around and started to get butterflies in my tummy. I am going to… um… drive one of them things? Oh boy… what have I gotten myself into this time!?

…I love that feeling.

We head into the building, and the lady at the office stopped what she was doing to show us where the classroom was and answered a bunch of questions we had. We found out that Adam can do a refresher course if he wants to, and depending on how he does it could be anywhere from 1-3 weeks. He can fit that in anytime while I’m going through my 10-week course. Then we head to the financial aid office. Getting financial aid for these courses was a pain in the neck to be completely honest. I applied back in October and received my aid three days before classes started. Three. Oy! I was disappointed with how that whole thing went down, but thankfully I don’t have to unleash angry Robin (which is pretty mild, really) – they aren’t making me pay any past due charges since my tuition bill was actually supposed to be paid a couple of weeks ago. It all worked out, so I’m just going to move on and not dwell on it. Hopefully I won’t have to go through that process again.

My thoughts are kind of all over. I have to shower and pack my lunch and be to bed by 9:30 pm so I can get a full 8 hours of sleep tonight. Will I like my instructors? Will they like me? Will I be in a truck on the first day? How hard is this going to be? Will I get to do skid training? How about chaining up tires? I think I have a physical and drug test tomorrow right away. That should go just fine. All the wine I drank last night should be out of my system. No more of that! Is my new Carhartt jacket too big? Will I remember everything? When can we get our trucker GPS? Will I sleep okay in the sleeper? Adam described the “seatbelt” I have to wear when I sleep while he’s driving. It’s like a net. That’s going to be weird. I can’t wait to take photos of these things and share them here on my blog. I’m so intrigued by this whole trucking thing. How will my diet do? Will I be able to get in enough exercise?

Speaking of diet and exercise… this has been a huge thing on my mind. I’ve put a lot of thought into this because I fear that my history with easy weight-gain will work against me in this new career of sitting all day and being tempted by truck stop diners and their delicious meals served in portions big enough to feed a family. I’m aware of the stereotypical trucker lifestyle, and I am mentally preparing myself to fight it. I’ve already taken a few steps in the right direction. Adam and I went grocery shopping and he helped me pick out foods that are easy to eat while driving. My lunch tomorrow will be a peanut butter sandwich, carrots and celery, pineapple juice, almonds and a some sort of fruit, I think. For the last three weeks I’ve been trying out a bunch of different 10-20 minute workouts, and those are going great. I can do them all with no equipment. Perfect! And yup – I’m going to be that crazy trucker lady next to my truck doing jump squats and push ups. It’s going to be awesome. I’m pretty damn determined to stay in shape. It can be done. In fact, I found a couple of websites dedicated to trucker’s health. I even found a Facebook page that puts out tips and challenges, and it’s pretty active. I hear training is the toughest because you kind of go along with your trainer’s schedule, but hopefully knowing that going in will help me prepare for that.

Well, here we go! I’ve been so ready to start this phase of our journey – I miss the PCT a lot, and I’m holding on to the dream of getting back on sometime in the future when our financial and trucking adventure goals are met. But for now, I’m just so excited for this. I’m going to learn to drive a semi truck!

I sure hope I get the hang of shifting that thing…

Tonight I love comfortable, new blue jeans. Adam said to me as we shopped, “You’re entering a whole different world. On the trail you’d have been crazy to wear jeans, but in a truck you’d be crazy not to wear jeans.” Yeah, I suppose wearing a skirt as a trucker might be a bad idea. I dunno… steel-toe boots and a skirt? Could be a good look! :)

Night Driving

Night Driving. My next shots of the road will be from a much higher vantage point.

Weight loss on a thru-hike

It’s a popular subject and in some cases the main motivation for people to do a thru-hike. Weight loss. It’s a common question – will I lose weight on a thru-hike? How much will I lose?

eating from a block of cheese

During a thru-hike is the best (and one of the only) times to eat directly from a block of cheese. Yum!

While everybody is so incredibly different when it comes to weight loss – in any situation – I can pretty much assure you that if you embark on a journey that involves at least eight hours of hiking on uneven terrain with anywhere from 10-40 pounds on your back… every day for 5 months straight, you will lose weight. Whether that loss is a few pounds or 100, however, obviously depends on the person and so many factors like gender, metabolism and diet, to rattle off a few. But I’m not going to even pretend to be an expert and try to get into any of that in detail. What I will share with you is the experience I had on my 2013 thru hike.

A quick history about me and my weight/health:

I was always a bit overweight growing up. I lost a bunch of weight my senior year in high school and got down to 145 pounds from about 175, but it didn’t last long. I went to college and gained the “freshman 15” – times two. Then I got sick with Aplastic Anemia and was on heavy medications (including Prednisone) for a whole summer that caused me to gain at least 15-20 more pounds. By the time I graduated college, got married and started my career I was over 200.

I maxed out at about 235 – that’s how much I weighed when I decided to thru hike the American Discovery Trail in 2005. I joined Weight Watchers and got back down to about 175 before the hike, and after 9 months and 4,700 miles of backpacking I only lost about 5 pounds overall. I ate like crazy on that hike because I freakin’ love to eat… and because I could get away with it. Fried chicken, giant calzones, candy bars, pizza, burritos, milkshakes, milkshakes and more milkshakes! But I still came out five pounds lighter!

Between the end of my ADT thru hike and the start of my PCT thru hike (about 5 years), my weight bounced back and forth within a 15-pound range. I’ve never been one to keep a steady weight. One day I’d be 160, and two days later I’d be 168. The next week I’d be back to 160. I always had to have a couple sizes of blue jeans to wear, depending on where my weight was that week. My exercise was good, intense and consistent, so I figure the fluctuation was due to my diet being all over the place. I knew how to eat healthy, but actually doing it only happened in streaks. If only I could get myself to consistently eat healthy! Damn pizza, beer and delicious popcorn! And ice cream!

Banana Split

The banana split – this was one of my favorite off-trail treats.

I’m 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weight charts seem to think I should weigh 140 pounds, but over the years I’ve found that I feel my best around 155. Before the PCT my weight’s fluctuating weight range was usually between 160 and 170, but I exercised 5-6 days each week. I ran, hiked, went to cardio kickboxing, muscle conditioning and spin classes at the local YMCA. I felt as though I was in really good shape, but I just couldn’t break out of the 160’s while still enjoying my favorite foods and weekends out. I was doing a pretty darn good job at maintaining, though, so I couldn’t beat myself up too hard about that frustrating scale reading.

So what happened to my weight on the PCT? I weighed myself about a week before I started and weighed 172 pounds. I found myself eating more pre-hike this time with the mentality, “I’m gonna’ be hiking like crazy – it’ll come off.” And it did.

I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to step on a scale during the hike, but after the first couple of weeks I noticed my hiking skirt getting loose. I was able to continue wearing it by rolling the waist band over and yanking it up a little, with my backpack’s hipbelt acting as a belt to hold it up. I carried on like this until the early Sierras. Then I had a seamstress take it in while I zeroed in Mammoth Lakes. Any actual weight loss was usually noticed by how my clothing fit. It was somewhere in the middle of the Sierras when I really started to notice other hikers thinning out, too. Faces were thinner and clothes baggier. Some were really noticeable while others just slightly, but this shows just how everyone is so different.

And oh, the strength. I remember noticing how awesome I was feeling somewhere in the Sierras. I felt strong, healthy, and I had the energy I needed to hike up and down the passes with a smile on my face. I was just feeling… really, really good. This feeling lasted for the rest of the hike, too.

The first time I stepped on a scale during the hike was northern California – 150 pounds. I honestly didn’t really care what that number was at that point – meaning it wasn’t going to change the way I was doing anything – but I sure was curious. And here’s the funny thing – I weighed 150, but after a day in town it was easy (and sometimes necessary) to eat so much that I probably put on 5-7 pounds before getting back out on the trail! With my history of bouncing weight, this wasn’t a challenge – this part was fun. Eggs, bacon, toast and biscuits and gravy for breakfast? If it fits in my tummy, then why not!?

I learned from other hikes I’ve been on that a multi-day hike was no time for a diet. Skimping on calories just doesn’t work if you want to feel good thru hiking, because your body needs that food energy to move 20+ miles day after day. I ate when I felt hungry, which actually didn’t happen as often as you’d think because I was snacking so often to keep my energy up throughout the day. It wasn’t too far into the hike when I could sense what my body was asking for. If I was starting to feel just a little lethargic, maybe I just needed a little snack, a sip of water, a break, or a combination of the three. It’s fun and incredibly satisfying for me to be in a situation in which I can push my body to exhaustion, test myself and my strength, endurance and attitude… and in return learn, feel and know what I need to keep going while feeling good doing whatever it is I’m doing.

I would guess that my weight fluctuated between 150 – 160 pounds during the hike, but from start to finish I came out 15 pounds lighter. Some hikers figure how many calories their body will burn backpacking, then count, calculate and carry how many they need from one stretch to the other, and I commend those that do all that work. It seems like a smart way to go about things. For me, however, I’ve had to count calories for a lot of my life to maintain a healthy weight, and this was my chance to not think about that for five months. I needed that break, and it’s one of the things I miss most now that I’m home.  I ate a little smarter and healthier on this hike compared to my ADT hike, but I still always felt well-fueled. I think my key to a happy hike was that I continuously fed my my body on the trail, gave it what it craved in towns (strangely salads and cottage cheese), and adjusted both as I felt my metabolism speed up the further north I got.

Chef Salad

My favorite salad was this one. A chef salad at a cafe in South Lake Tahoe. Sadly, I can’t remember the name of it, though!

So… how about now? What happened to my weight when I suddenly stopped hiking 20+ miles every day? Well, it started coming back on pretty easily, so I immediately cut my portions once I was off the trail – not an easy thing to do! I did okay for the first couple of weeks and was able to maintain my weight at about 160 pounds. Then the holidays hit and all of a sudden my jeans no longer fit comfortably. Maybe I had too many consecutive days in my pjs. Maybe I just ate too many mashed potatoes, beers and cookies… but I got up to 168 again. I was actually starting to feel lethargic and slightly sick to my stomach on a pretty consistent basis. Not cool! And this was just a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been working pretty hard at feeling better. I’ve been annoyingly watching my calorie intake (temporarily – I very much dislike counting calories), watching portions and exercising daily, if only for 10 minutes. If I lose a few pounds, that would be a bonus, but I’ve already noticed my tummy feeling better and I’m feeling mentally stronger – and that’s what it’s about. I feel good again…

…but I don’t know that it’s possible to feel as good as I did when I was hiking the PCT. Unless, of course, I hike again. It is BY FAR my favorite way to keep my weight stable, eat for fuel and fun, all while feeling totally healthy… and unstoppable. Confident. Strong. Healthy. Happy.

A fellow cross-country hiker and good friend of mine, Gimpy Geezer, really said it best as we discussed long-distance hiking and weight:

“I just set it aside for six months and found it again when I got home.”

I just love it – that pretty much says it all!

Tonight I love sparkling water. It’s random, but it’s one of my new favorite things.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

A Green Bay Packer game – one last hurrah


Bundled up together at the Packer game.

Adam and I made a spontaneous decision last Wednesday. The Green Bay Packers were playing the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau field on Sunday, and we decided to buy tickets to see it. There was talk of a possible blackout because the game wasn’t sold out yet, but we weren’t too concerned about not getting to see it on TV – that’s not why we got tickets. The temperatures forecasted were well below zero, and even worse with the wind chill – but that seems to fuel Packer fans when it comes to watching a game at Lambeau. They were going to sell out. It wouldn’t hurt to buy a couple and help out, though!

Adam approached me with a grin and his idea to get the tickets. He had a couple of really nice seats already picked out and ready to add to his cart. I wavered for a bit, but only because of the money thing. Then I started thinking… it would be a super-fun thing for us to do together, it would be my first real game at the stadium (my only other live game was 18 years ago, it was an early pre-season game and we wore t-shirts), it was a freakin’ playoff game, and it had the potential to be coldest game in NFL history.

“Let’s do it!”

Giddy like little kids, we confirmed our purchase and immediately started coming up with ideas to stay warm, as well as make travel plans. We talked about the Ice Bowl of 1967 when the Packers played the Cowboys (and won) in temperatures that dipped down to -15º. We hoped it would be colder at this game. We hoped to be there for an NFL historical event – Ice Bowl II.

We gathered and borrowed some gear from family and friends and hit the road towards Green Bay. We left Saturday morning and visited with friends, stayed the night and got up the next morning to meet up with more friends at a pub (I got to see a bunch of my backpacking Meetup buddies!). We parked about a mile from the stadium at Bryan’s house (thanks, Bryan!) and walked over to Lambeau, bundled and ready to go.

We admired all the fans, the tailgating, the stadium, and the grandeur. It felt like the stadium was emitting adrenaline from its walls. I nearly cried the closer we got to the main gate. Lambeau Field really is a pretty magical place. Even if you’re not really into football that much, I urge you to visit it. You will feel what I mean.

We got wanded, entered the gate, got our rally towels, and bought a hot dog. Yes, I paid $5.50 for a hot dog. It was huge, delicious and worth every penny. I think it also helped keep me warm for the next four hours!

Once we found our seats, we settled in and looked around. The jumbo-tron above us was huge and playing some sort of football video, the field was brown with what I assumed to be frozen, dead grass, and football players from both teams were on the field warming up. We had great seats. We were right by the tunnel, only four rows up.

At kickoff we felt chilly, but not cold. I had toe warmers in my Sorel boots, long underwear, snow pants, my Patagonia fleece and super-puffy down jacket, a borrowed Packers balaclava, and my secret stay-cozy-warm layer – my sleeping bag.

Just before halftime I pulled my sleeping bag up all the way to my neck and within a minute I was toasty warm. I may have looked like a caterpillar doing a handstand, but I was warm. I could’ve sat there all night long. I know it was 5º with a -10º wind chill at kickoff, and it got colder from there… but who could be more prepared than a bunch of die-hard Packer fans? Or a backpacking Packer fan? Haha! Adam and I were ready for the worst of a Wisconsin winter day.


Who's prepared? This girl!

A little ways into the 3rd quarter my phone started to buzz. I took a peak during a time-out to find messages from friends saying they saw me and Adam on TV! How exciting!


Yay! We were on TV!

So in the end of it all, we stayed comfortably warm, we didn’t break any cold-weather records (to our great disappointment), and the Packers lost (to our greater disappointment)… but it was the most fun I’ve ever had watching them play. It was a fun way for the two of us to have “one last hurrah” before heading into our truck-driving adventure hardcore in a couple of weeks. What a fun way to wrap up a year of a nearly work-free awesomeness.

Tonight I love the Green Bay Packers. Win or lose, we’re their fans, and we love them always.




Stadium brat!


Warm-up kick


Adam's beard-cicles.


Pretty Lambeau at night.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

2013. It’s been quite a year.


I’ve been wanting to write a “year in review” for 2013, but I’ve felt stalled. The biggest reason is because there were so many amazing things that I saw, felt, touched, loved, lived and experienced in 2013. Where do I begin? I really didn’t know, and I still don’t know, but I’m trying not to hold back with what I need or want to say, especially the good stuff – so even if I ramble, I figure, “so what?”

Another reason I feel stalled even though I have the time to write today, is because it’s been a rather horrible day. I wasn’t sure I should be recapping an awesome year while in such a depressive mood. Then I thought that maybe this was the best time to do so. I know it will cheer me up. Even if my cheering up is only temporary, it’ll feel good… and I could use some “feel good,” so here I am.

I’m sitting at my computer, typing on a keyboard, listening to some relaxing music on my Pandora Jonsi channel. I’m already happier, having my musical ambiance and random flashes of mountains, flowers and so many smiling, happy people passing through my mind like a movie as I think back on the year. I’m slipping into my happy place. Okay, I’m ready.

SO… I love you, 2013.

The year started with a secret. A big secret that was going to shape my entire year… and a big part of my life forever. I was going to thru-hike the PCT. And after that I was going to change my career. I mean, completely change it… from a graphic designer to a semi-truck driver! The truck driving obsession would have to wait until 2014, though. First things first. I obsessed over PCT maps, books, plans, miles, blogs, advice, guides, gear, and winter weather conditions in the mountains. Looking back, this was one of the most incredible stages of a thru-hike. Exciting anticipation is a beautiful thing.

I finally explained to close friends, family and highly respected work associates that I was leaving my current, stable life for something more adventurous. I quit my great office job of 10 years to pursue this undying dream to thru-hike the PCT – a dream I’ve had for years. I hugged Kevin, the president of 4imprint, when I gave my notice. He said he was very sad to see me go, but wished me the best with a smile on his face and encouraging words. He is an amazing leader and person that I will never forget. I knew that I was leaving an amazing stepping stone in my life when I left that job, but I also knew it wouldn’t ever be left behind. Those 10 years will always be a huge part of my life, and temptations to return will always flicker in my mind because of some of the people that I met there.

Explaining my plans to friends, family and colleagues was scary, but totally exhilarating. My pits were sweating horribly each time I broke the news to someone. Thanks, adrenaline! The positive reaction and support I received from these people that I told of my plans reminded me of something really important – that I am loved.

After living in a small studio apartment for over a year in downtown Oshkosh, Adam and I placed important personal belongings in my parent’s basement and downsized to what we could fit in our car. Adam survived a bad roll-over accident caused by black ice with only a bump on his head – in my dad’s truck, totaling it and scattering bins of organized hiker food along the highway median. Eventually, after some road blocks, we finally hit the road and drove through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. Nineteen states. Nineteen! Our car needed several fixes during our travels that nearly broke my emotional strength, and our budget. We slept in the car at rest areas, camped in southern Louisiana, brushed my teeth under a Love’s Truck Stop sign before the sun came up, and drove and rode for hours on end. It was absolutely a fantastic time of the year. During this time on the road Adam and I were both reminded that traveling together is what we do best. We became closer and closer as the wheels turned underneath us.

I hiked. A lot. I loved it. Every step of it. If my feet hurt, I realized why my feet hurt. My feet hurt because I was thru-hiking the PCT. When I had heat rash on my legs and had to wear my long underwear pants in the desert, it was a hot challenge to overcome. And I loved it because I was thru-hiking the PCT. When there wasn’t as much water as I hoped there would be, I pushed on until I found water that I needed, and guess what? I loved the HECK out of that water! It reminded me of the basic necessities in life.

I survived hiking through a desert. I learned that I loved to survive hiking through a beautiful, sunny-skied desert. I was intrigued by rattlesnakes, poked by Joshua trees and cacti, had my shoes full of sand and released several gallons of sweat from my body while happily trapped between the unrelenting, beautiful sun and hot, soft sand.

I looked up at a bunch of mountains, smiled, then hiked into them. I hiked over them, around them, and continued northward through them. I climbed the highest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet – Mt. Whitney. I traveled by foot through several ecosystems. I visited a spitting, bubbling, steaming volcanic crack in the earth and realized how powerful this ground was that I took for granted every single day. I traveled past trees of all ages – tiny hemlocks only an inch high, others that were hundreds of feet towering over me like giants, and everything in between. I crossed rivers on rocks, branches, and sometimes just walked right through. I swam in shallow streams that filled my shorts with sand, jumped off of a huge boulder into an alpine lake, froze my ‘girls’ off in a couple of high Sierra lakes and waded through mud to bathe in a warm one. I followed a ribbon of dirt through meadows, over rocks, up switchbacks, down switchbacks, over sand and hills and flats and kept following it until I got where I needed to be for 165 incredible days.

I drank from mountain springs, crystal-clear alpine lakes, horse-poop infested ponds, milky glacial streams, and rocky rivers. I hiked through heat, sunshine, rain, huge hail, snow, and thought I was going to die during a lightning storm on a ridge. Looking back, I love that I had that experience. I felt more alive than ever – knowing I could be dead in a single moment. I was scared to tears when I was in that storm, but realizing how fragile I am compared to my surroundings, and how quickly it could all be over humbled me in a way I cannot explain. I’ve been there once before in my life… this was a good reminder.

I realized how much I love Nut Rolls, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, circus animal crackers, fresh fruit, Hostess fruit pies, Coca-cola, Take Five candy bars, Ramen, and chef salads with ranch dressing. I felt sadness when I didn’t crave a cheese burger, and also when I realized I was sick of oatmeal. I ate as much as my body asked for for over five months (which was a lot), and enjoyed not worrying and obsessing about my weight for that period of time. I learned the key to easily keep my weight under 160 pounds, staying lean and feeling incredible healthy and strong is to hike every day.

I carried 25-40 pounds on my back for months, and that was all I needed to survive and to live. I learned that surviving and living are two completely different things, and when you can combine the two into a simple lifestyle, a sense of freedom is acquired that cannot ever, ever be forgotten.

I completed 2,600 miles of a 2,660-mile trail. I was bothered with myself because I had small regrets about my last days on the trail, but took a lot of time to look back on the first 2,600 miles and realized those were the experiences I needed to let encompass my thru-hike. I left a beautiful section of the Pacific Crest Trail to go back to one day – an open invitation. I found myself holding out on a hope that I will have the time to completely rehike it in the future. Not at all because of a need to feel accomplished, but only because I would love to have the experience again in a totally different way.

Emotions that I experienced in 2013 were some of the most intense and raw I’ve felt in a very long time, and found that the best of them are brought out when immersed in something intense and beautiful while being surrounded by like-minded, happy people that were sharing the same struggles… and still loving it.

I left the trail behind with an emotional tie to it that will draw me back. I fell head over heels in love with the Pacific Crest Trail. I became a permanent part of its path and history.

I went home. I spent time with as many family members and friends as I could. I endured post-trail blues and tried like hell to not gain too much weight back. I tried and failed to come down off of a high created by freedom, majestic beauty and daily adventure. I struggled to deal with several relationships that, in one day, went from being close to long distance. I cried when I thought about some of the people I met and how much I missed them. I cried when I thought about how much I missed the trail. I laughed and smiled when I thought about why I missed both.

I began preparations to begin my next adventure in 2014. I enrolled in Fox Valley Technical College’s truck driving program so that I can receive my CDL and drive an 18-wheeler all over the country with my husband. I’ve focused a lot of thought on the challenges coming up and began mental preparations to deal with them, while imagining the great experiences I have yet to meet along the way.

When the clocked turned over to midnight, January 1, 2014, I was sitting on a couch with Adam, watching a movie. We kissed to a new year with hope in our hearts that our upcoming plans will go smoothly, knowing that they won’t, and glad we’ll be able to tackle the challenges and hardships as a team, while enjoying the highlights even more because of it all.

I know there’s a ton more that I haven’t mentioned, but by no means are any less special, but there ya’ have it. So long, 2013. I will miss you with an incredibly soft, strong and loving heart. You’ve been good to me. 2014, I am happy to see you. Let’s do this. I’m ready!

Happy New Year, and love to all of you!

Tonight I love new beginnings.


An Instagram A Day on the PCT

On my very first day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (2013), I got the idea to post one Instagram each day, mostly so that I didn’t flood social networks with a bazillion photos that I knew I’d want to share. It was a fun exercise in control since I know that I have a tendency to get post-crazy, especially when I’m doing sometime so fun like hiking. Each night on the trail, after writing my blog entry, I’d look through all of my photos from that day and choose one that stood out for some reason. I thought about what I wanted to do with them all when I was done hiking, and I have plans to frame them into one giant collage photo to remember my 2013 thru-hike of the PCT.

I wanted to add the entire project to my blog somehow, but I hiked 165 days. Posting all 165 daily photos seemed like a bit too much. I thought it would be fun to share a portion of the project instead, so I chose 30 of them for this entry (the captions are the original captions from when I posted them). If you’d like to see them all, as well as others I will post in my upcoming adventures and daily life, follow me on Instagram. My user name is rgrapa.

I hope you enjoy!

PCT Snowman

Day 14: Our first snow sighting – I couldn’t help it – I had to build a mini snowman.


PCT solo day

Day 29: A nice, long solo day… just me and my shadow.


PCT Aquaduct

Day 39: Hiking along the Los Angeles aquaduct. No water for 20 miles… except for the tons inside this giant metal tube we’re hiking on and have no access to! Darnit!


PCT Horned Toad

Day 40: He’s just the cutest horned toad in the Mojave desert!


PCT Gnarly Tree

Day 52: So many crazy-awesome trees today!


PCT Heart Lake Dive

Day 62: I couldn’t resist a perfect diving rock into chilly Heart Lake… above 10,000 feet in elevation!


PCT Marie Lakes

Day 63: Coming down off Selden Pass to Marie Lakes.


PCT flowers

Day 69: Crazy pretty little flowers that grow between rocks.


PCT flowers

Day 77: Flowers galore!


PCT Desolation Wilderness

Day 80: I <3 Desolation Wilderness.


PCT Ramen Noodles

Day 83: Ramen noodles in the setting sun… ahhh…


PCT camp

Day 87: Great little spot for camp.


PCT waterbug

Day 89: Waterbug in a still pool at Feather River.


PCT Shoes and gaiters

Day 90: Saying good-bye to these old friends. Thanks for the epic 800 miles, ol’ shoes!


PCT Trail shot

Day 92: A little pathway known as the Pacific Crest Trail – 20″ across and 2,650 miles long. Also my temporary home. :)


PCT Mt Shasta from Hat Creek Rim

Day 97: Well hello there, Mt. Shasta! (Hello to you as well, Mr. Giant Raincloud!)


PCT Burney Falls

Day 99: Burney Falls. 10 million gallons of water per day pours over that edge – all from a spring only one mile upstream. Amazing!


PCT roadside

Day 102: Hiking out of the forest and into town… still magical.


PCT Etna fire smoke

Day 108: Tears and G-Bird hiking into the wildfire smoke.


PCT Three Sisters Lake

Day 124: Morning fog rolling off one of the several glassy lakes in Three Sisters Wilderness. Amazing sight.


PCT sky

Day 129: A day of beautiful skies.


PCT Fuzzy Flowers

Day 130: The cutest little fuzzy flowers.


PCT Oregon

Day 132: Dear Oregon, You are perfect. Don’t ever change. Love, Toots Magoots. <3 XOXO <3


PCT Mt Hood

Day 133: Mt. Hood and some fabulous sunshine.


PCT Sign

Day 142: A morning sunbeam highlights a unique trail marker, leading me closer to Canada.


PCT burn area

Day 145: The last mile of a 26-mile day was through a really old burn area full of vibrant color… and loads of huckleberries!


PCT bee and flower

Day 146: I didn’t realize I caught this little buzzer on camera until later in the day looking at my photos… photobomb extraordinaire.


PCT Pika

Day 151: A super-duper-cute squeakity little pika. This pudger was in his hole but popped out so I could take his photo.


PCT Glacier Peak Wilderness

Day 157: A happy-jump for one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington. Wow.


PCT Washington Trail

Day 158: There’s nothing in the world like hiking down a path, towards mountains, with everything you need to survive carried on your back. This is freedom.


There are 135 more like this – if you’d like to see the rest of them, find me on Instagram. My username is rgrapa.

Tonight I love reliving memories through photos. When I looked at each of these, I was able to recall almost the entire day.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)