The Frozen Otter – my 2017 race report

I did it! 

I’m officially a two-time finisher! I first became one of the “Frozen Few” in 2010 (which you can read about here), but I’ve always wanted to do it again. This was my year. What a great race. I mean, I had a really good day. And I’m going to talk all about it here. 

Since it’s going to be a long one, this is how it’ll look – it’ll be in three parts. First I’ll include my stats, which are my times, pace, and miles between checkpoints – all the number-y stuff. If you want to skip over all those itty-bitty details, scroll down to the second part – the race report. That’s where I’ll jabber on about the day, how I felt and how many times I pooped. No, really. You’ll be shocked. Then third, after the race report I’ll list the gear and clothing I used/wore. Because I know some people (like me) are gear junkies and dig that sorta thing. Stuff worked for me this year, so… I need to remember. And share! So here goes… 

STATS

(I based mileage for these stats on the Kettle Moraine North Unit mileage chart, which can be found online. This totals 63.32 miles, whereas the GPS on my Garmin tracked me at just a little over 65 miles. But to make the breakdown between checkpoints easier on my brain, I used the chart.)

Total miles: 63.32

Total time: 22 hours, 30 minutes

Overall pace: 21:19/mile

Overall elevation gain (from my Garmin): 8,602 feet

Calories burned: 9,896

113 racers, 60 official finishers, 26 “Frozen Few” finishers. 

I placed 20th overall, and 2nd in my gender (only 3 ladies went the full 64 this year, including a 52-year old and a 17-year old! Age is just a number, peeps!) 

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):

7.43 miles / 2h 07min / 17:05 pace

In 12:07pm / Out 12:12 pm (5 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 2:34pm / Out 2:46pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):

7.09 miles / 2h 02min / 17:12 pace

In 4:48pm / Out 5:00pm (10min break) 

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):

7.09 miles / 2h 21min / 19:53pace

In 7:21pm / Out 7:36pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 9:58pm / Out 10:30pm (32 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):

7.43 miles / 2h 15min / 18:10 pace

In 12:45am / Out 2:21am (1h 36min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):

9.06 miles / 2h 49min / 18:39 pace

In 5:10am / Out 5:35am (20min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!

9.06 miles / 2h 55min / 19:18 pace

In 8:30am

THE RACE REPORT
As I mentioned, I had a good race day. All things went better than I’d planned. And to be honest, I can’t tell you why. But I can go over the things I did leading up to race day, and what I did the day of. Because something worked. 

First of all, my training for this thing was most definitely unconventional. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and frankly, I know I don’t have the time to “properly” train for an ultra winter race. So my strategy was to basically stay in shape and go for one long run/hike each month – to “remind my legs I need them to go far.” That’s in quotes because that’s literally what I said to myself – that’s why I did the long runs. In fact, here’s my schedule, which I pretty much stuck to, except December – because work got insane and I was sort of babying a hurt knee… Or maybe using it as an excuse to rest. 

So not your typical training schedule, but it was fun, for the most part. It was tough getting out on some of those, and several were on little to no sleep because I’d hit the trail immediately upon getting home from a run in the truck. But I figured it was good fatigue training – which I think was actually a huge help on race day. I knew exactly how I was going to feel in the 21st hour. Stumbly. That’s how. But I knew what to expect, and I knew when to drink coffee. And how to stumble without falling. I got kind of good at it. “Pick ’em up!” became a mantra I would say to myself out loud in the dark woods, reminding myself to pick up my feet so I didn’t trip and fall (which I ended up doing quite a few times anyway). 

For the week leading up to the race, Adam and I took the whole week off from work, so I had a chance to get all my stuff together (physically and mentally). I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day, spreading it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I had a list of food to pack. I had a list of gear to get ready. I had a pace chart and a chart to show when to take my Aleve and Tylenol so I didn’t OD and piss off my kidneys. I had a lot of lists. 

On Sunday before the race, I went for an 8-mile trail run on the course. It was 5 degrees, and I sweat my butt off. I also tested my new Kahtoola spikes on the very icy trail with great success. The next day, Monday, I packed up and hiked about 4 miles with a full-geared backpack to Shelter 2 – again, along the race course. I made a campfire, ate couscous, drank a beer and even sipped a little whisky before bundling up in my down booties and sleeping bag. I figured it would be nice to have a little quiet time to myself, and as a bonus, help me adjust to the cold a bit. I stayed toasy-warm all night. In the morning I hiked out 8 miles in the pouring rain. I was soaked and chilled when Adam picked me up. As long as it didn’t rain on race day, I’d be okay with just about any other kind weather. 

Sleeping out in the cold!

On Friday, the day before the race, I went for two short runs on the trail to test the conditions. But that was pretty much it – that’s all I did physically before the race, and I went into Saturday feeling pretty fresh and not sore anywhere. Dare I say I was… relaxed!? No. No way. I had jitters, big time! But without them, a race would just be another old run. Gotta embrace these special parts, too! 

Me and Adam at the start.

So race day surprised me. I usually go to the bathroom about 8 times before any race, whether it be a 5k or a 100k. But I only went twice, and I felt like a normal person for once. At the race start, I just mingled with my family, friends and other racers, tried to stay relaxed and keep my toes warm. Before I knew it, the race had started. No, seriously. Everybody was moving past the start banners and I was still putting my pack on! I jogged to catch up to the pack and with Rich, a friend who was going to run with me. 

The four of us racers at the start – Tony, Rachel, me and Rich

The first 8 miles went by so fast! I was so used to training by myself with only my annoying thoughts to keep me company, that when I actually had real people to talk to, I had so much fun – and time flew by. Rich and I reached the Butler Lake checkpoint together, but sadly, that was our last checkpoint together, and the last time I’d hike or run along with someone the whole race. But I sure enjoyed his company! I think it was in the low 20’s, and I still got so warm on that first stretch that I had taken off my hat, gloves, and even rolled my sleeves up – and I still sweat like crazy. But I felt great anyway, and my pace felt strong and steady.

The next checkpoint came quickly, too. I think I was so distracted by having other people around that I barely noticed the distance. I talked with a few people, and even passed a few other racers all while keeping my steady pace. I wasn’t out to win anything, and passing people wasn’t like a strategy or anything, as my goal was only to finish, but I hoped to keep my pace, so I did,and it felt comfortable. At the 16-mile checkpoint my mom and dad greeted me with cowbells, along with the Fox Cities Backpackers who were volunteering – it was great to see the familiar face of my friend, Matt, too. I filled my water and was just about ready to get back out on the trail when Adam and his mom, Tara, arrived. Just in time! But back into the woods I went! 

Coming into a checkpoint – photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc. 

A couple of miles before the 23-mile turnaround, I started to see the lead racers heading back. They were all really supportive saying things like, “great job!” and “keep it up, you’re almost there!” and “the checkpoint has sausages!” I think I heard “sausages” from every single racer that passed by. It was true, too! And it was completely amazing. It was especially amazing because I hadn’t been eating nearly as much as I’d planned, and I felt a little hungry when a volunteer handed it to me. For some reason during the race, without overthinking it, I just started to eat when I felt I needed to – abandoning the way I trained all summer to eat something every hour. And I think that is one of the major reasons I didn’t have to stop for a poop yet. Sorry to keep bringing that up, but it was a serious issue on every single training run I did, and was therefore a major concern of mine for race day. I never did figure out my tummy. But so far? 23 miles in and it felt pretty great! Maybe I was forcing myself to eat too much during training. Who knows… 

As soon as I left the 23-mile checkpoint it started getting dark, so out came the headlamp. It also started getting colder, and for the first time I had a little trouble getting my fingers warm. But I brought ginormous down gloves, and that did the trick. Before I knew it I was back to just my liner gloves. I also stopped sweating so profusely as the cold air settled in. I peed for the first time at the next checkpoint, which seems crazy. I felt I was drinking enough. I sipped from my bladder regularly enough to keep it thawed out, and I switched between my Tailwind drink mix and a cold coffee, too. Once I took my first pee, though, the seal was broken. Then it felt like I had to go constantly. I ate some mostly rehydrated Ramen at the next checkpoint, and it was almost as amazing as the sausage. I filled up with warm water and head back out again. I remember feeling amazed that my legs didn’t hurt. At all. I was squatting down to stretch my knees and nothing hurt. It was weird, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! Onward! 

During the next stretch I noticed my first real pain – I think my spikes were creating a new pressure point on the ball of my left big toe. I pushed on, still able to jog the straight stretches and downhills. When I reached Butler Lake my dad was there, and delivered the sad news that Rich had to drop because he was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. That’s some scary stuff – I was super bummed to hear he was done, but so glad he made the right decision, which can be so tough to do during a race! Especially in that condition. On the other side of the spectrum, I learned that Rachel kicked her goal’s butt. She made it 32 miles in 11 hours and 40 minutes! Woo-hoo! So many crazy emotions! So with that, my dad told me that everyone was waiting for me at the 46-mile checkpoint to cheer me into the last stretch. This gave me a boost, and off I went again! 

At the 46-mile checkpoint I chose to walk an extra quarter mile to the car to resupply, change and regroup. My mom and dad met me and walked to the car with me. Adam, his mom and Rachel were all waiting. Adam went to work trying to keep me on task. I grabbed a burger from the volunteers at the shelter, used the bathroom, tried to change out my injinji compression socks – injinjis are the socks with the toes – my mom had to help me. I just could not get my wrinkling toes tucked into those toe sleeves. Finally after some serious effort I was dressed and ready to go. I also recharged my phone and watch, filled my water, drank some coffee, and switched from spikes to yaktrax, which relieved my sore left toe. I was somehow still feeling incredible, but just a little tired. I took a longer break than planned, but still got out on the trail with plenty of time to still finish in under the 24-hour time limit. I was stoked heading back out into the dark woods! I had this thing! 

Smiling and feeling great at mile 46! Thanks, Tara for the photo!

The last 18 miles got colder. I pretty much hiked to the last checkpoint with my ginormous down gloves on and pulled my Buff up over my face because my cheeks and nose were starting to burn a little. I was feeling tired, and since I know this trail so well, I kept mentally checking off landmarks… And anticipating the next one. I knew that once I reached the sign for Shelter 1, it was just a steep downhill and short straight stretch to the Hwy H trailhead and my last checkpoint. So for about an entire hour I kept thinking I’d see it around the next turn. But I swear. It was moving ahead of me. I had to catch up! 

I did finally see the sign, and laughed out loud because I was so happy. But my happiness quickly turned to worry when just a short ways down the trail I caught up to another racer, moving slow with his pack draped over one shoulder. I asked if he was okay, and he responded with a head shake and a “no.” He said his back had seized up on him, and he looked really uncomfortable. I felt so bad for him. I offered to carry his pack to the checkpoint, but he said it was actually helping his balance. There was nothing I could do for him except encourage him by letting him know we didn’t have far to go. I let him know I’d alert the volunteers so they could get a ride ready for him. He did show up while I was still at the checkpoint, and he did get a ride out. I sure hope he recovered okay. That’s some scary stuff! Anything can happen out there. Read this story about a guy who had a mini stroke last year! The importance of being safe out there is no joke! 

My mom, dad, Adam and his mom were at the last checkpoint, which was a super-huge boost before my last nine miles. I drank a coffee mixed with hot cocoa, and man, did that taste good! I was thrilled – my appetite was pretty near gone at that point, so I wasn’t eating enough – but I was trying! The only thing I was tolerating was my Huma gels (like a Guu energy gel, but Chia seed-based and made with less crap ingredients). And that’s because I’d squeeze some into my mouth, bypassing my taste buds, and since I didn’t have to chew, directly down my throat. Huma gels for the win! After peeing and filling my water bottle I head back out for the last nine miles. 

I added a layer – my Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, which was perfect. I wore my giant gloves and kept my Buff over my mouth and nose off and on. I stayed pretty comfortable, and again plodded down the trail, still able to lightly jog a few easy spots, and played the mental landmark game again. This time I was searching around every corner for shelter 2 because I knew it was exactly one mile from the finish. When I finally saw it, I nearly cried! I knew that was it. I could literally crawl the rest of the way and still finish in time. But… I didn’t have to. In fact, I picked up my speed! Nothing was hurting, except for some heavy foot fatigue, which I obviously expected and can totally handle (another helpful benefit to my super-insane long training runs). My knee that I injured back in November even felt good. Which is some sort of miracle. For real. I’m not even kidding when I say the only thing that makes sense is that my 97-year old grandma was praying for me – our family all says that she’s got a direct line to the big guy. Thanks, grandma! Not even a twinge!! 

I passed by a guy in that last mile and couldn’t help but notice his epic ice-beard! I remember asking him if I could take his photo, but my words were coming out in slow motion. As excited as I felt to be nearly done, my fatigue, lack of caloric fuel and the cold air’s effects were obvious. I ate one slice of Salami, one Huma gel, five Reeses pieces, and half a bottle of cold coffee in the last leg of the race. Just enough to get me there, I guess! If I had been going any further I would’ve had to force more down. And it’s hard to describe how cold it can get out there, but dudes’ beards can give you an idea! I later learned this badass’s name was Sean and he finished just after me. 

Sean’s EPIC ice beard!! That is a face of the Frozen Few!!

I don’t remember much of what was said when I finished, as it’s quite a blur, but I had a small, but awesome crew cheering me in. My mom, dad, Adam, his mom and my friend and fellow racer Tony was there. Rod, the race director presented me with a congrats and a finisher’s dog tag, which I’m showing off in the first picture of this blog entry. It might not seem like much… A little dog tag, but I know any of the other “Frozen Few” would agree that that dog tag holds a whole lot of value – and symbolizes determination, heart, pain, adventure, fierceness, and accomplishment. So much more, too, but those are some biggies. 

A big, happy, frozen smile! FINISHED!

So in the end, I thought my knee would stop bending. It didn’t. I thought I’d poop along the trail at least five times – final trail poop count was… Drum roll, please… ZERO! Another frickin’ miracle! I thought my calluses would give me trouble. It’s like they weren’t even there. I thought my legs would get sore and stiffen up. They didn’t, and I still can’t believe it. I thought I’d have worse butt chafe, but my 2toms butt shield did its job (I know to some, this may seem like TMI, but trust me. My fellow racers don’t even blink at the talk of bodily chafe. It’s a thing. A super-horrible, painful thing. Wherever you get it!). I thought I’d lose my appetite, and I did, but my body handled it way better than ever before. I thought I’d eat more, but it took until race day to realize that maybe I was trying to eat too much – and too much “real food” like energy bars, candy bars, meat, cheese… things that needed to be chewed before swallowing and were more work for my already energy-depleted body to digest. My guess is that my body was able to process liquid calories like my amazing Tailwind drink mix and the Huma gels without much trouble. So I learned a lot about myself, once again! It never stops when you push yourself past what you think is possible, and I love that about endurance sports! 

I am 99% satisfied with my race performance and results. The 1% comes in because looking back I could have totally beat my time from 2010 of 21 hours and 49 minutes. But my goal was just to finish, and I did that. Next time maybe I’ll shoot for time. It always comes down to conditions, which I thought were quite similar to 2010 – maybe a little colder this year. 

Post-race? I showered, ate a huge breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, cottage cheese and coffee), slept for three hours, watched the Packers beat the Cowboys, had a grasshopper ice cream drink and went bed. That night I had some pretty terrible foot cramps that made me uncontrollably groan, and I woke up a few times in a pool of sweat, but otherwise slept okay. The next two days I felt a little normal muscle soreness and my feet swelled up pretty good, but I expected that. I will lose no toenails, but to be fair, my one damaged toe (just a gnarly blood blister) already was sans-toenail. I was tired and still feel I little behind on sleep, but as I write this I’m ready to start running again, and planning my next adventure, which you’ll read about in a couple of months, probably! Cliffhanger! Haha!

I know that was a super-long race report – so to reward those of you who stuck with me, here’s a photo of my gnarly toe. Sorry if you’re squeamish. I’m always kinda strangely proud of these things. 

The black big toenail is from early November, so that one doesn’t count… But it’s pretty, isn’t it? Who needs nail polish?

GEAR 

Yay! Gear! 

This is just about all of it!

What I wore:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji compression socks – I love Injinjis! I pretty much only wear Injinjis all the time, now. Best socks ever. 

Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeve shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – it’s synthetic (not down) so maintains some warmth if it gets damp. 

Altra Lone Peak Mid Neoshell boots – pretty certain these are why I have few blisters. So much room for the toes, so very lightweight, and zero drop. 

Outdoor Research tall gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes and Yaktrax Pro

Fat Otter buff 

Smartwool hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

My big, green down Black Diamond gloves hung off the waist strap on my pack for almost all of the race, but made great pockets for things like my hat and gloves that kept coming on and off. And they were nice for the few times my fingers got really cold. 

In the beginning I was so warm that I had no ear/head coverage, no gloves, and my sleeves were rolled halfway up my forearms. My layers performed perfectly. I got wet from sweat at the start, but my Patagonia layers wicked properly, so by the time the temperature dropped, I felt mostly dry (with the exception of my back which will sweat regardless when wearing a pack). 

My tights were perfect, too. One layer of thick, fleece-lined tights and my legs were comfortable the whole time! 

My Altra boots worked great, but with the low snow this year, the mid-height was probably unnecessary. It’s what I trained in, though, and the combo of my injinji socks, Altras, OR gaiters and traction worked great for me. 

Other gear:

Backpack – Out There USA MS-1 – I tried about 5 different packs throughout the summer. This was the winner. Comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and a TON of pockets accessible without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race. 

Black Diamond trekking poles – I’ve used these suckers for more than ten years. Great piece of gear! 

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries, and with the lithium batteries, only had to switch them out once. (And I was able to do so by moonlight!) 

Electronics – Samsung Galaxy S6 (which I kept turned off for most of the race), US Cellular pre-paid cheap flip phone (worked great for service on the trail and the battery lasted forever, even in the cold!), Garmin Fenix watch for GPS tracking and stats (recharged at about 16 hours. Held up great), Pocketjuice portable charger (didn’t need) 

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Petzl E+Lite headlamp, lighter, fire starter, heat blanket, small Swiss Army knife, hand and body warmers, blister pads, 2Toms butt shield anti-chafe wipes, medical tape, duct tape, blinking red bike light, blue blinking bike light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps (planned to use these but didn’t) 

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice), tampons (yes, lucky me – race day!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium (which was not needed!) 

Food and drink:

I maybe consumed only 1/3 of all this stuff.

Huma gels
Tailwind drink mix
Pedialyte – only drank one of these

UCAN drink mix – didn’t use on race day, but should have! Very good, and the liquid calories really would’ve helped me out! I think I was too hurried to mix it. Need to do this pre-race next time! 

Starbucks Via

Sweet – mini oreos, Reeses pieces, waffle stingers, mini snickers, dark chocolate coconut Ocho bars

Savory – potato chips, combos, Salami, string cheese, macadamia nuts, bacon

Ginger – I don’t like Ginger at all, but it soothes an upset tummy, and I did eat some at the 46-mile checkpoint. It works! 

Chocolate-covered espresso beans – I didn’t have any! Another weird one! 

A few more photos:

My name on the Frozen Few plaque from 2010

Inspiration

Pre-race jitters. I had just gotten my bib!

Crazy results on my Strava app – pulled from my Garmin GPS watch

I repeated this one to myself a lot.

My dad and my mom and my mom’s amazing hat.

Toots and Tears do the Frozen Otter! Adventure buddies!

I’m the one in pink. Another photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc.

My first time with spikes. Love them! I was running on glare ice during training with complete confidence.

Post-Otter, enjoying some swag. The shirt, the buff, and of course, the Frozen Few dog tag! Tired and proud!

Tonight I love these people, and you – my support.

Thank you:

Adam – You are my #1. This guy was at the race to cheer me on, kick my butt to keep me going, give me warm hugs, and a big smile at the end. On top of that, every time I did a long training run over the summer/fall, he took care of our trucking errands we always have to do on very limited time whenever we’re home. All so I could train. I know this was a big sacrifice of precious off-time, so I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this. I love you, Adam – thank you for being the best support crew leader guy ever! 

My mom and dad – they were there in 2010 when I finished, and they were here this year when I finished. To see their smiling faces and to get hugs of encouragement at checkpoints was a huge boost! My biggest fans, for sure! 

Tara – Adam’s mom, my mother-in-law came down this year. She was a great addition to my cheering support crew. She took a lot of great photos, too. Thank you so much for being there! 

Grandma Laatsch and family – I admit I had an unfair advantage compared to the other racers because my grandma was praying for me out there! I also received several well-wishes and love from my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Rachel, Tony and Rich – my fellow racer buddies. It was good to have you out on the trail this year – even if we weren’t able to trek side by side, it was still nice to share in the misery with you! 

My social media family – you all rock. I had so many good luck wishes and followers that there was no way I could’ve given up! Strength in numbers! 

Race directors and volunteers – without you guys, thus wouldn’t exist. You make it all happen, you make is possible, and you make it fun. And you kill at making Ramen. No. Seriously. Ramen tastes awesome when you make it! Rod and Karen – I’m glad that we’ve been able to become friends through this event. Thanks for continuing to put in the hard work and travel to keep this going! 

Other racers – I don’t know most of you by name, but your kind words when passing by, your blinking red lights and bouncing headlamps through the woods like beacons, and comeraderie is something that needs to be experienced to understand. It’s incredible. And after all those lonely training miles by myself, this made the miles slip away beneath me. Thanks! 

Gear companies – Thanks for making kick-ass stuff. If I’ve mentioned you in this blog entry, it’s because you make a great product in my opinion and experience. Keep it up! 

Robin and Adam’s Big Adventure

The rumors are true. Adam and I are leaving Wisconsin and going on a lengthy adventure. We’re going to live differently. And we came up with a plan, in phases. We gave these phases names, as we do with many things, mostly for fun. We have a counter in our kitchen we call “Bob.” Because if there’s a piece of mail on that one counter… in the kitchen… by the microwave… it’s a lot easier to say, “It’s on Bob.” Our Montana vacation was called “GUS.” We had no specific reason for that name – it was Adam’s first reaction to my question, “What should we call our Montana trip?” He replied, “GUS.” So it was decided.

These next steps in our life are more than a vacation, they’re going to be much bigger. So we planned it out and named it in phases.

Phase 1. Betty. This is the name we gave phase 1 of our adventure because it sounded like a household name. Betty describes our living “normal,” as society would call it. Work during the week to earn a paycheck so we can pay rent and bills, watch sitcom reruns on TV at night, and enjoy benefits like health insurance and gym memberships. During the last half of the Betty phase, we moved to a small studio apartment, dropped cable and internet, got rid of “stuff” and began to pay down small debts and save, save, save. The original Betty for us was a grind and made us feel stuck. Thankfully we planned this phase to be temporary — change had to happen. So while we had to embrace Betty for a while, we worked on our escape plan. It was… I mean, IS an exciting escape plan that will fulfill dreams and keep us close. I can’t express how excited we are for phase 2.

Phase 2. Alexander Supertramp. If you’ve seen the movie “Into The Wild,” you’ll know where we got this name from. But we aren’t mirroring our plans or travels to Mr. McCandless’ grand adventure. We just thought the name was fitting.

Phase 2 naturally split into two parts.

The first part is where Adam and I road-trip around the country to visit some family and places, then travel to Washington and drive the west coast all the way south to the Mexican border. This first part of phase 2 will take approximately one month, maybe a bit more. We will live cheaply — sleeping in the car, at friends and relatives’ houses, campgrounds, hostels… with one splurge in Bozeman, MT, while most of our meals will be cooked on our camp stoves.

The second part is when our road trip will bring us to the end of our west-coast drive, ending near Campo, California, where I will touch the wall that divides the US from Mexico, put my loaded backpack on my back and take my first steps north on my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Its a 2,650-mile journey through California, Oregon and Washington states and I will hike it all the way to Canada. This will take between 5 and 6 months, and somewhere roughly around 6 million steps. Adam will parallel this long hike by car and meet me along the way in towns to help with chores to keep me going. Resupply, laundry, blog updates, finding good food and places to get a shower. Once we reach Canada we will begin work on phase 3.

Phase 3. Mack. We’ll start this phase with some research so we can decide where I will go to school to earn my CDL to become a truck driver. Adam already has his CDL, so we will find a fitting company to work hard for and team-drive. I get a lot of interesting looks when I tell people about this part. I’ve worked in an office for over 10 years, doing a job that I honestly love, but why not dive into something you’ve always wondered about? For the adventure! Besides, it’s just another thing for me and Adam to check off of our dream list as a couple. And it seems like a good transition after living mobile along the PCT. We’ll just be living mobile in a new and exciting way while earning some dough. How awesome is that!?

Phase 4? We have lots of ideas and possible names for it. But we’ve got a few years of phase 3 to figure out the details. So first things first.

We’re excited and ready to begin. I hope you enjoy following this crazy journey. And it’s really okay if you think it’s crazy… because it kinda is. That’s just how we’re gonna roll. :)

This quote has been hanging in my cubicle for more than a year. It’s been a daily inspiration for me.

Don’t forget to add your email address to the right, at the top of the column. You can get an email notification whenever I post a new entry. Once I’m hiking, I’ll have a new post (with photos!) for every day, but they may come in bunches, as I’ll only be able to post when I get to towns with wi-fi and some interwebs for me to take advantage of.

Gear for my PCT Thru-Hike

Here is a listing of the gear I’ll be taking with me on my 2013 PCT thru-hike. These gear choices were determined based on my experience backpacking and the equipment I’m most comfortable using now. It’s also an attempt to save a little cash by not buying the newest, lightest and best gear out there, which would be awesome… but I figured I’d rather use that cash for a few extra burgers along the way. And maybe some bacon. Or a shower. No, bacon. You get the idea… So my hope is to get away with using what I already have and making it work. If I absolutely need to replace something, I’ll do so on the trail. As you go through this list, you’ll see that I am certainly not super-lightweight — my base weight (no food and water) comes in at around 23 – 25 pounds. But that’s okay. Gonna’ roll with it and see how it goes!

The Big 3 ::

Backpack — I use the Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude as my backpack of choice. The one I will be using has a women’s hipbelt and is teal in color, so it’s not exactly like the picture shown below, but close. It’s 3800 cubic inches, so it’s also a larger pack than what most PCT hikers use. I’ve just been using this bad boy since 2005 and it’s still got lots of life in it and fits me well… so it’s what I’m going to use! (I also used the women’s version of this pack on my ADT hike in 2006.) It’s not terribly heavy, either, weighing in at 47 ounces, or just under 3 pounds.

Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude

Granite Gear Nimbus Latitude

Sleeping Bag — I know this is overkill for the PCT, but it was expensive when I bought it back in 2005, lasted me on my entire ADT hike, and is still in great shape. It’s my Western Mountaineering Antelope 5° sleeping bag. I’ve used it in all kinds of weather, from hot desert camping to winter backpacking – with minor adjustments in each condition, I was able to use it comfortably. It doesn’t pack down quite as small as the standard 20° bags most people carry on the PCT, and one day I’ll upgrade to the WM Ultralite, but this will have to do for now. I will, however, be a forever WM bag owner. I’ve been spoiled and don’t think I could ever go back to anything different. This one weighs 41 ounces. Again, not terribly heavy — especially for a 5° bag.

For my sleeping pad, I have the Thermarest Neo-Air, which is super-comfy, but I have a feeling it’s going to be replaced with my Z-Lite because I’m not going to want to blow up the Neo-Air every night. I’ll start with the Neo-Air, see how it goes, and have the Z-Lite on standby.

Western Mountaineering Antelope, 5°

Western Mountaineering Antelope, 5°

Thermarest Neo-Air

Thermarest Neo-Air

Tent — I hope to cowboy camp for most of the trail (sleeping under the stars), but I will be carrying the MSR Hubba along with me for windy, rainy, or nights I feel like there’s critters around every corner. I love the bomb-proofness of this tent, as well as the versatility of it. I can use with or without the rain cover, or just the raincover if I choose. I have a feeling this will be a changing process as I go, though. Weighs in at 54 ounces (3.37 lbs.) for the whole shebang (tent, footprint, poles, stakes and stuff sack).

MSR Hubba

MSR Hubba

Clothing & Footwear ::

Bottoms — I became a skirt-hiker this past year and love it. I fell in love with my first skirt, which is a Patagonia Morning Glory skirt, but they no longer make that style, and I can’t find them anywhere online (can you see my pouty, sad face?). So I bought something similar, hoping it will work for the PCT – I haven’t been able to try them out on the trail yet, so we’ll see how it goes in the first week or so. I now use the Mountain Hardwear Better Butter Skirt with Nike Compression shorty shorts underneath as underwear. Super-comfy, super-breathable, and very versatile — I’ve even used my skirt to change under in front of tons of people on the beach! It’s great!

Bottom: Mountain Hardwear Better Butter Skirt

Bottom: Mountain Hardwear Better Butter Skirt

Bottom: Nike pro compression shorts/undies

Bottom: Nike pro compression shorts/undies

Tops — I have a couple of options for tops. I will be carrying a short-sleeve Patagonia Capilene 1 baselayer for warmer weather, and the REI larch long-sleeve shirt for sunny and/or buggy conditions. Under that I will be wearing some random sport bra that is comfy. I’ve got a few for running that I’ll just choose from when I go.

Top: Patagonia Capilene 1 short sleeve shirt

Top: Patagonia Capilene 1 short sleeve shirt

Top: REI Larch long-sleeve hiking shirt

Top: REI Larch long-sleeve hiking shirt

Feet — I am so happy to say that I have my feet figured out (or at least I’m pretty confident that I do!). I will be wearing Injinji socks with Brooks Cascadia 7 shoes. I’ve been using this combo since March 2012 and have not gotten a blister. I love the combo! I also have Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep junk out of my shoes, as I have a tendency to kick all kinds of crap up off the trail right into the backs of my shoes. These have been a life-saver for me.

As for those shoes? I will probably go through 5 or 6 pairs. As for socks, many more than that. You’ll be seeing holey pictures of toe socks, be sure of that!

Footwear: Brooks Cascadia 7 Shoes

Footwear: Brooks Cascadia 7 Shoes

Footwear: Injinji Toe Socks

Footwear: Injinji Toe Socks

Footwear: Dirty Girl Gaiters

Footwear: Dirty Girl Gaiters

Warm Layers — I’ll have a Patagonia R1 1/2-zip Fleece for a warm layer, and I might switch back and forth with my Patagonia Nanopuff Jacket. Both are warm layers that I love, so finding which one I will use the most is going to come down to trial & error while on the trail. I’ll also be carrying lightweight gloves and a warm hat at all times.

Warmth: Patagonia R1 1/2-zip Fleece

Warmth: Patagonia R1 1/2-zip Fleece

Warmth: Patagonia Hooded Nanopuff (LOVE)

Warmth: Patagonia Hooded Nanopuff (LOVE)

Sleepwear — I always carry a separate set of sleepwear in a waterproof stuff sack or ziplock bag so I always know whatever kind of weather I run into during the day, I’ll have something dry and warm to sleep in. I’ll have my Patagonia Silkweight Capiline 1 Bottoms (and they’re freakin’ pink because I got them on sale! Gah!). I’ll also have a random long-sleeve lightweight shirt and a set of fuzzy socks. Oh, and I will start out carrying my Mary Jane Crocs for camp shoes. I’ve always liked having camp shoes, but I hear of so many people that ditch them on thru-hikes, so we’ll see.

Sleepwear: Brooks L/S lightweight shirt

Sleepwear: Brooks L/S lightweight shirt

Sleepwear: Patagonia Silkweight bottoms for sleeping

Sleepwear: Patagonia Silkweight bottoms for sleeping

Raingear — I have not figured out my raingear as of yet, even though I’ve had a couple of major rainy training hikes. I should know this by now! I have a few options at my disposal. I have a Patagonia rain jacket, which is bulky and kind of heavy, but may come in handy if it’s a wet year in the Cascades. I may have this sent out for the last sections of the PCT. I also have a set of Mountain Hardwear Epic rain pants that I love and work really well, but again, kind of bulky and probably overkill for most of the trail. I’ll have these on standby in case I need them. I own a backpackers poncho, which is obnoxious-yellow in color, but I’m leaning towards this option because of its versatility. Could be used as shade, poncho, emergency shelter, and something to sit on. My 3rd option is to purchase a Frogg Togg jacket, which is uber-lightweight, packs down small and would only be pulled out in rain or high wind. I’m liking the sound of that option, too. So, needless to say, I don’t know what my rain gear will be, but I’ll figure it out!

Raingear: Mountain Hardwear Epic pants

Raingear: Mountain Hardwear Epic pants

Raingear: Patagonia rain shell

Raingear: Patagonia rain shell

Kitchen ::

Stove — I use the Jetboil stove. I’ve played around with the uber-light soda-can stoves that so many people use on the trail, but I’m just more comfortable with the Jetboil. I recently upgraded from my old, retro Jetboil that I used on my 2006 ADT hike to a brand-spankin’ new one. I love that I can simmer on this, and it boils water super-fast. I like my coffee in the morning, and I like it NOW! :)

Stove: Jetboil

Stove: Jetboil

Extras for kitchen — I also carry a long titanium spoon, a small cleaning rag, and a Sea to Summit collapsible coffee cup.

Kitchen: Long spoon

Kitchen: Long spoon

Kitchen: Collapsible cup

Kitchen: Collapsible cup

Water TreatmentAqua Mira. Been using it pretty much ever since I ditched the filter on my ADT hike in ’06. I just don’t like to pump my water. I also carry along a piece of nylon to strain any chunky water. Bandanas work in a pinch, too.

Water Treatment

Water Treatment

Water containers — I carry a Big Zip Platypus 3L hydration reservoir (bladder). I find that I don’t drink enough water as I hike unless it’s easy to get to, so the hose is a must for me. I will also probably have one or two 1L Aquafina (or similar) bottles on me to hold water, depending on the water situation — more in the desert, less in the mountains.

Platypus Big Zip 3L

Platypus Big Zip 3L

Toiletries & First Aid ::

Toiletries — I carry a ziplock or stuff sack with my trowel, toilet paper, wet ones, 1 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer, tampons, and a panty liner or two. This comes with me on my trowel-treks. I’ll also have a small bottle of Campsuds along in case there’s that perfect stream to wash my face, crotch and armpits in (not necessarily in that order).

First Aid/Meds — In a small zippered stuff sack, I’ll have a patch kit, mini Bic lighter, Deet, Mosquito Headnet, Safety pins, Emergency water purification tabs (in case AquaMira leaks or I run out), Ibuprofen, Immodium, Benadryl, Neosporine, Aquafor, spare chapstick and a sharpie pen.

Misc. — On a carabiner that is easy to get to, I will have my small Swiss Army Knife/scissors, whistle, photon light, and compass. I also have chapstick, hand sanitizer, and sunscreen on small carabiners that can be lashed to the outside of my pack so they are easy to get at because I use them so often. I’ll also have a small notebook and pen for taking notes during the day so I don’t forget all the awesomeness to add to my daily blog, and a rope in case I hang my food (I have a feeling this plan will go out the window early, as so many use their food bags as a pillow). A small wallet with ID and cash will be in my misc. bag, as will a mini deck of cards… and maybe a cribbage board.

Electronics ::

PhoneSamsung Galaxy S3. I’m still getting used to this (I recently upgraded from an ol’ fashioned flip-phone), but I hope to use it as a phone and for texting, of course, as well as taking photos and typing up my blog entries. I also have the Backcountry Navigator PRO app with Halfmile’s waypoints downloaded. It looks awesome so far! I will also be carrying hard copies of Halfmile’s maps to refer to as I hike so I can keep my phone on Airplane mode as much as possible to save battery life.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3

Camera — Even though the camera on my phone is pretty sweet, I’m still going to carry my Olympus Stylus Tough camera. I love this thing, and I’ve used it for a long time in all kinds of crazy weather. I like that I can take it out and confidently get some photos when it’s raining or snowing without worrying about breaking it. I currently have a Gorillapod tripod and a SticPic packed, but I might just go with the SticPic because it’s super-fun to use!

Olympus Stylus Tough

Olympus Stylus Tough

Headlamp — I’ve been carrying the Black Diamond Spot for a long time (I’m on my 2nd one, even!). It’s super bright, and works great for hiking in early mornings before the sun comes up, or late at night. The only downfall is that it’s probably one of the heavier backpacking headlamps out there. I plan to bring it, but I do have the Pitzl E+Lite as a backup. I may just end up switching to that one.

Black Diamond Spot

Black Diamond Spot

Electronics Misc. — I’ll carry my iPod for those situations I need a pick-me-up. Also a couple of extra phone batteries and a couple of extra camera batteries.

Well, that’s pretty much it, for now. Some of these things will be replaced, some will be tossed and not used, some things might be added, and some will stick with me the whole trail. But regardless, I’m sure if you follow this blog, you’ll hear all about what worked and what didn’t!