Now that the Wonderland Trail is behind me, and I’ve recorded my daily notes in blog-form here, I thought I’d share a few things that didn’t make it into the entries. It might get a little long, but I’ll talk about gear, food, highs and lows. And shoes. For just a little bit, though. Promise.
First of all, the way I managed the blog for this trip was to first take notes each day on a tiny Moleskine notebook with a super-fine Sharpie marker. This notebook might be the smallest one you can buy. It’s 4″ x 2-1/2″, but it’s nice for backpacking because it’s so small. It easily fit into one of my backpack’s hipbelt pockets or my skirt pocket where I was able to access it without much effort. I oftentimes stopped on the trail, pulled it out, jotted a note down and kept walking. Once the trip was over and I no longer had to conserve battery power on my phone, I turned my notes into blog form while it was still fresh in my mind, typed out on that tiny phone keyboard (yup, every word) – and that’s how you see it in my posted entries. I save those as drafts until I have a strong internet connection, because adding the photos takes some effort on WordPress, and a strong internet connection seems to make it a whole lot easier. As for photos, picking the ones I want to show is the toughest, because I have LOTS. I place my chosen photos in a separate folder on my phone, then add them in through the app, and then publish it. I don’t hardly ever have access to a laptop or desktop computer anymore, so I always just hope everything turns out okay in that format. I try to review it on my phone, but that’s the best I can do. And I’m sure I still miss things.
I don’t want to get into every single piece of gear I brought along, because honestly, I know I could go on about gear forever. I don’t even think I’m that much of a gear junkie! I just don’t know how to keep it short! Anyway, before I left I weighed my backpack and it came out to 25 pounds – that included 40 oz. of water and 3-1/2 days’ worth of food (I learned later that I could’ve cut down my food by almost half). I was pretty happy with that weight. Below I’ll make a quick list of what I had along, and then I’ll pull out just a few things that I want to expand on. Footwear was the biggest one!!
A quick rundown of what I brought along:
Backpack – Gossamer Gear Gorilla
Sleeping Bag – Adam’s 20-degree quilt
Tent – MSR Hubba
Sleeping Pad – Thermarest Neoair
Pillow – SeaToSummit Aeros LW inflatable pillow
Stove – Jetboil & small fuel canister
Other “kitchen” items – Ziploc 2-cup container with screw-top, Long titanium spoon, two 4-oz. Nalgene bottles (for olive oil and MCT oil), one 2-oz. Nalgene bottle (for balsamic vinegar)
Clothing (worn) – Long sleeve hiking shirt from Duluth Trading Company, Purple Rain skirt, cheap Target sport bra
Extra clothing – short spandex shorts, extra sport bra, 2 pairs Injinji socks, Brooks running hat, Patagonia Nanopuff jacket
For sleeping/extra warmth if needed – Smartwool beanie, silkweight gloves, Buff, Patagonia lightweight leggings and long-sleeve top, knee-high Injinji socks
Footwear – Bedrock sandals, Topo Terraventure trail shoes (worn with Dirty Girl Gaiters and Injinji socks)
Other stuff -Black Diamond Spot headlamp, tiny 1″ swiss army knife, toiletries, first aid, toilet kit (trowel, tp and sanitizer), Aquamira water treatment, paracord bear rope, lightweight chrome hiking umbrella, Black Diamond trekking poles, two 20-oz Vitamin Water bottles, Trails Illustrated waterproof map, bandana, super-cheap but totally fun heart-shaped sunglasses, headnet, DEET, sunscreen
Raingear – Arc’teryx rain jacket, ULA rain kilt, REI pack cover
Camera – My phone (Samsung Galaxy S6) with Otterbox water resistant cover
Gear thoughts! I really love all my gear… but I’ll just pull out a few things that stand out for me. First of all, if I had known the weather was going to be insanely hot and dry and amazing, I wouldn’t have had to bring my tent rain fly, rain jacket, rain kilt, or pack cover – but of course, I will always carry these things, because obviously I can’t tell the future, and I always find it to be better safe than sorry when it comes to rain stuff! But I never once used any of these things – I never even put the Otterbox cover on my phone! It all stayed packed in the bottom of my pack all nine days. My warm sleeping stuff was also overkill. Never used the gloves or Buff and I could’ve used my hiking socks instead of the extra sleeping pair. I also barely used my Jetboil (I’ll talk more about that in the food bit).
Clothing – I really liked my clothing setup. First of all, the Purple Rain Skirt is THE BOMB. I love this thing so much!
It’s a great length (meaning not too short and doesn’t have one of those annoying liners underneath so you can choose if you want to wear underwear or not), and it’s got a nice big pocket on each side that I don’t even notice when I have my heavy phone in one and my notebook and pen in the other. Also, apologies for the TMI, but as a girl, it’s totally freeing to hike commando and so much easier to pee discreetly this way. And my new, latest awesome thing I taught myself during a training hike for the Wonderland Trail is that I can pee standing up if I need to. It really comes in handy on a busy trail (which the WT can be in some places). My shirt was a last-minute purchase at Duluth Trading Company because I loved the color so much. I know, vain, but it was great! It was super moisture-wicking and quick-drying, the sleeves rolled up really easy and weren’t too tight around my arms, and it was really easy to button them one-handed. And it was the best thing I could’ve had when I was up high and hiking through hot, sun-exposed areas. Besides a cheapo sport bra from Target, that’s pretty much all I wear. I love the simplicity of it.
Sleeping bag – this was the first time I used a quilt, and I loved it. I sleep with a 1/4-length inflatable sleeping pad, and then I put my backpack under my knees and feet (keeps them off the ground and my feet elevated, which is a nice bonus). I decided to try Adam’s quilt because it’s quite a bit lighter and packs down smaller than my mummy bag. I stayed plenty warm, and actually kind of liked the way I could wrap it around me in different ways – and I could kind of grab onto the edges and almost cuddle with it (I’m such a pillow/blanket/Adam cuddler when I sleep!). I might be a convert!
Umbrella! One of my newest pieces of gear that I really wasn’t too sure about. I didn’t really get too much of a chance to train with it, and when I tried to rig a DIY hands-free setup, it just didn’t work. But on day 2 of my hike, I was getting so hot, and heading into exposed snowfields. On one of my breaks I messed around with it a little bit and got it to hold pretty still – the trick was to put the handle under my sternum strap – then there’s two shock cords with cord locks that I could tighten – one up by my shoulder, and the other down by the handle. It was so slick and seriously saved me a few times on this trip when it got really, really hot. I still got a little too much sun on day 2, so I can’t imagine what I would’ve felt like if I didn’t have it! I love this thing! I also figured if it rained, I could use it then… but it never did rain.
SHOES! Oh my gosh! So, if you read my past blog about looking for the perfect pair of shoes after my trusty Altras changed their style and became too narrow for me, you know that I went through hell and back to find something that I liked. I settled on the Topo Terraventure. It’s a great shoe, lightweight, very comfy, pretty wide in the toebox, and only a 3mm drop (I prefer zero, though). Then later I picked up a pair of Bedrock Cairn sandals – mostly for a summer casual shoe that I can wear on a short hike if I wanted. Well, I wore them on an 11-mile training hike with plans to switch out to my Topos a little ways in, but I never took them off. I had a little foot fatigue on that first hike at about mile 8, and started feeling a little hotspot on my heels shortly after that. The most surprising thing was that the toe thong didn’t bother me at all! I barely felt it. I wore them for a few more miles after that on a couple of training hikes, and packed them for the Wonderland Trail with the thought that they would be mostly used for camp shoes, and maybe I’d wear them for a few miles of hiking. Well… I wore them for almost the entire trail – all except for maybe 7 miles. They didn’t perform well in the snowfields – I was sliding all over the place, so on day 2 when I got up high into the long stretches of snow, I wore my Topos. But know what? They’re sandals. So I don’t think less of them for not getting me through those long stretches of snow. But I did NOT want to take them off! Letting my toes out to splay and breathe how they naturally wanted to felt amazing.
They are very much zero drop – the soles are very thin, but very tough (Vibram soles), and I love feeling the ground’s surface under me as I walk. Small streams (or big ones, for that matter) were easy – just walk right through. In fact, it was nice to just stand in the streams once in a while to cool off or wash off a little bit. For some reason, the day before I finished, I got a couple of sore spots, but I theorize that I had them too loose for a couple of long descents, so they were putting extra pressure on certain points of my feet. I’m not sure. Also, I learned that hiking for a long time in sandals dries your feet out pretty quick, so I ended up with a small heel crack that was pretty painful. Next time I’ll apply some Aquafor overnight or something. Oh, and the bottoms of my feet were permanently dirty afterwards, but that was kind of a badge of honor. It just took a pumice stone and some time to clean them up.
So that’s all I’ll go into about gear for now. As I mentioned, I really like all my gear, but if I went into all of it… just imagine!
I already mentioned in my gear section that I could’ve left all my rain gear home. And I didn’t use the rainfly for my tent even one time. It was great. I expected to have some foul weather on this trip. It is Washington, after all! I’ve heard stories of it snowing in July on this trail… so I wanted to be prepared for anything. And I was. But as it turns out, all my rain gear ended up being extra weight packed way down in the bottom of my backpack and never taken out. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure! I love the sunshine and I love summer hot weather, and I got tons of both. In fact, while I was out there, there were heat warnings in cities outside of the park, and even a rumor that traveled along the trail that it was going to reach 100 degrees in the park! I kind of wouldn’t be too surprised. It did get insanely hot for a couple of days. (Thank you, umbrella!) The last few days of the hike started to get hazy from nearby wildfires in British Columbia, so my views got a little compromised from that, but I was very thankful for the crisp, clear views I got for the first part of my trip, and the unique beauty that the smoke brought with it for the last part – spectacular sunsets and a really soft, pastel touch to all the color in the landscape. It wasn’t bad enough to affect my breathing, so I was able to enjoy it for what it was.
This is another topic I could talk about way too much, so I’m going to try not to get into too much detail. You’ve probably read already that I was in a state of ketosis before starting this hike, meaning I eat a low-carb, moderate-protein, high-fat diet. My body has been trained to use ketones and fat for energy instead of sugar (carbs). It’s super-efficient and long-lasting – great for endurance sports – like hiking! In the past, when I hiked on a normal “hiker’s diet” of oatmeal, noodley dinners, Snickers, jelly beans, energy bars, cookies, sugary drink mixes, tortillas, etc, I would have to eat often as my body burned off the sugar quickly (like it’s supposed to do) then asked for more as soon as it was gone. With ketosis, your body uses ketones made by the liver and the ample supply of body fat that most of us already have, so it’s a steady, slow burn, and hunger is lessened, even when doing something active like running or hiking. But beware, cutting carbs on a hike would be a bad idea if you haven’t trained your body to be a fat-burner yet. There is definitely a transition period, and that wouldn’t be fun to do on something like a long hike when you don’t have access to food options in case you were to bonk. But I definitely encourage you to look into it and give keto a shot!
Anyway, some of the things I ate on the hike, with a few shout-outs to some products that I’m in love with:
-Raw, unsalted nuts (brazil, macadamia, cashew, pistachio) – this was one of my favorites. Ate them every day.
-Grass-fed beef sticks
-Cheese (individually wrapped – so easy) Fontina, mozzarella, and pepperjack
–Epic bites – they have a few different flavors. The bites are my favorite. And it’s an awesome company!
–Phat Fudge – check it out! This stuff is awesome. It even has caffeine in it, so it gave me a little extra boost when I had one (I am a decaf drinker, normally)
–FBomb nut butters – check this out, too! This ended up being one of my favorite things. There are three flavors of nut butters, they are made with totally clean ingredients, and no added sugars or flavors, so as low in carbs as a nut butter can get (nuts do have some carbs in them). They also sell packets of oil, which I might use in the future.
-MCT oil and chia seeds mixed in water – I made this up every morning and sipped away at it all day long. MCT oil is the same super-good-for-you-fat you find in coconut oil, but it doesn’t harden and has barely any taste so works great for mixing in cold drinks (also works great in hot drinks, actually).
-Artisana brand nut butters – I brought a few of these to supplement my FBombs. The FBombs have a plain macadamia nut butter (which is to die for), but Artisana has an almond, cashew and pecan butter that are very clean with no added ingredients. It just provided more variety.
-Pork Cracklins and Pork rinds – I had one bag for each leg of the trip. I used to carry potato chips on every backpacking trip, crush them up and eat them with a spoon. I’d also add them to a lot of my meals. The pork rinds ended up being the perfect replacement for the crushed potato chips. In fact, I liked them better.
-Baker’s chocolate – since going keto, things that used to be appalling to my taste buds because they were bitter or not sweet enough are now tasty to me – this is the best example. I used to spit baker’s chocolate out – now I love it. I would add a little nut butter to it and some crushed pork rind – YUM!
-My favorite “meal” – Avocado (I packed six total on the trip, two for each leg), tuna, olive oil (I use Villa Cappelli because I know it’s a good-quality oil and not cut with other oils – it’s a big thing, Google it if you get into food geekery), balsamic vinegar, pink Himalayan sea salt, and everything bagel seasoning (white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic and onion)
Pink Himalayan sea salt – I considered this one of my luxury items because I brought a small grinder of the stuff in rock form. This was important to my keto diet, because when in ketosis, your insulin levels ride pretty low, and insulin is a storage hormone. It stores fat, but also elecrolytes, so if it’s on the low side, you have to supplement with extra electrolytes, and the Himalayan sea salt is great for that because it’s not stripped of all the natural nutrients that normal table salts are – and I don’t do the sports drink mixes any more because of all the added sugar and nasty artificial colors and crappy ingredients. I would even sometimes just grind some into my hand and lick it (although I really don’t enjoy doing that – but I can tell it helps with my energy, so it’s worth the few seconds of displeasure). I do love it on my food, though.
-Decaf coffee (and a few Starbucks VIA packets) – I enjoyed a hot decaf coffee one morning, and a couple of evenings with my chocolate. I used a Starbucks VIA twice in cold water to give me a little boost midday – and it was a tasty addition to whatever lunch I was eating.
–Natural Choice pre-cooked bacon – DUDE. Must-have. I would hike, feeling frickin’ amazing, for a few hours in the morning before eating (totally a bonus from keto), and when I finally stopped, I would happily devour a package of pre-cooked bacon and love every bite of it. It’s the stuff you get in the grocery store that doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened. Perfect for the backcountry!
– Powdered bone broth – I wanted to take the benefits of bone broth with me on the hike, but the liquid form would’ve just been too heavy. So I found a powdered version on Amazon that wasn’t too bad as far as additives. It was actually super-filling, and I only ended up having two or three times, just because I wasn’t hungry enough for it. I would add dried garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and dehydrated red and green bell pepper to it. It’s good by itself, too, but the extra seasonings made it feel like I was eating a soup. I could easily have gone without this and the decaf coffee in hot form — and I would’ve been totally food-cold and wouldn’t have had to even bring my Jetboil and fuel, saving myself a pound or two. Next time!
Lastly, a few of my favorite things from the trip, my lowest point, and what will be different next time!
My favorites from the trip? All of it, duh! If I had to pick a few things, the first one that really stands out is the wildflowers.
They were seriously insane out there. I felt like I was walking through a rainbow, and I’m not even kidding you – it smelled like cotton candy in some places! Another favorite would be the views of Mt. Rainier every day, from a different angle each time. That’s a gimme.
Another? The glaciers. Carbon Glacier was my favorite, as I got to see it in action when some rocks came loose and went tumbling down along an ice wall that was melting in the summer’s sun – and the sound that came with it was just incredible. It’s a tough one to describe. But it was super-cool. The swims! I swam three times and could’ve swam a bunch more. I love swimming in those clear, crisp mountain lakes, especially after a long day of hiking and sweating! Another one was the solo aspect of it, being on my own schedule, and just being able to go and stop as I pleased. And lastly, the way it can be so hard (the first two days were intense with big miles), or pretty chill (I had a couple of low-mileage days that were pretty easy walking). The climbs are usually long uphills or long downhills, and that challenge was fun.
A few downsides? Well, not really a downside, but I did post-hole up in the snow on day 2 and ended up scraping my shin and knee pretty good. I hiked the rest of the day with a dried blood trail down both shins (I’m sure it looked totally badass, though!). It didn’t really hurt, as it happened really fast, so it wasn’t a big deal. I felt kind of proud. Like it was a souvenir for my hard hike that day. So, yeah. I guess not much of a downside. I loved hiking in the snowfields, but there are certainly some precautions you need to take to be safe.
One definite downside was the black flies on day 8. They just got to me. The bugs, overall, really weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be, considering the time I was going to be out there. I never even used my headnet! Well, if I had some sort of netted contraption for my ankles, though, I would’ve used it on day 8. I also found out later that my super-short fuse was also linked to a certain hormonal cycle that I deal with every month, and this one unexpectedly shortened on me by 6 days, so I was thrown off-guard. But a few bazillion flowers, sweat, caffeine and trail love helped me through it.
Last – the biggest downside? That it had to end. Awww…. So cheesy, I know. But it’s true. I did not want to stop hiking. It doesn’t matter if my hike is 2 days or 165 days. They’re never long enough.
For anyone that wants to go on a solo backpacking trip, but has been a little nervous about taking the plunge and doing it?
Do it here.
And don’t be at all afraid. There’s quite a few people on the trails, but not so many that you’re running into someone every few minutes. Camping at night is a piece of cake. There’s bear poles or boxes at every camp, so it’s super-easy to manage food safety out there, and the way the camps are set up, you’ll have neighboring campers that are at least a shout away if something were to go wrong. But I doubt animals would even be a bother. The few bears I saw were super nonthreatening. I mean, you don’t want to entice them or rub yourself in coconut oil (which I almost did before going to bed one night to help with dry skin, but quickly rethought the plan – saved it for morning), but it’s not really something to worry about if you take even the simplest of backcountry bear precautions.
So ohmygosh, I think I’m finally done blabbing! There is still probably so much more I could add, but I’ll just wrap it up here. The last thing I want to say, is this:
Mom and Dad – next time I hike this trail, you are both going with me, and I will not take “no” for an answer. I thought of you both every single day out there. The flowers, the waterfalls, the wildlife, the scenery – I know you would’ve loved it. So I’m dragging you along next time! (They won’t argue, my friends. Trust me.)
Tonight I love those of you that stuck it out and read this whole thing. You are my hard-core readers and followers! Thank you! I wish I could give you some sort of prize. You’ve got my love, that’s for sure. :)