The journey from AZ to the PCT

We’re not in Washington anymore!

For five days we stayed with Amos’ brother Sam and his wife Lynné in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. During our stay we prepped gear and food for our first stretch of the PCT and hiked in Saguaro National Park, thanks to a stellar recommendation from a Triple Crown thru-hiker and employee at the local gear shop.

Below are photos from the 8-mile trek to Wasson Peak (elevation 4,687 feet), on the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham people.

We were very lucky to see the desert in bloom after an abundance of winter rain and snow.

Here’s one of my favorites, the desert Mariposa lily.

pink hedgehog cactus

Prickly pears cactus

buckhorn cholla

Staghorn cholla

The day before the trail we experienced a bit of an unexpected adventure… Sam’s initial plan was for us to have a chill first half of the day in Tucson, and then at noon we’d drive from Arizona to California to camp 20 minutes from the trailhead. That would set us up for an early start the next day, our first day on the PCT(!), and Sam would get to see Scout – a trail angel he knows from thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail last year.

However, life happens when you least expect it. While Amos was essentially learning how to drive a stick shift on the interstate, the front tire of Sam’s car blew… I mean it was fully shredded! Right before it happened, funny enough, Amos asked “How do I stop? Do I just break or do I have to hold down the clutch?”

Maybe his words alone caused the tire to burst, or maybe not? But right then a loud thud thud thud occurred, and Sam started to yell “Don’t slam on the break! Don’t slam on the break!”

Thankfully, we pulled safely onto the shoulder of the road just outside of Yuma, AZ. The brothers proceeded to change the tire in no time, putting on the spare with cool heads and steady hands. I observed in silence as the back of my legs baked in the sun.

Once the spare was on, the car very obviously leaned to the right. We slowly made our way into Yuma for a quick stop to Target – to pick up much needed sunscreen – and then parked outside of a small Mexican restaurant. We went inside and ordered dinner while Sam called people, trying to figure out how to fix his car. In-between bites of taco, he called tire shops, dejected. Come to find out, the nearest shop, Wal-Mart, was going to close in five minutes- daaaaang.

Well. Okay, then.

Guess we’re spending the night in Yuma.

Long story short, after being rejected by a few places, we found a spot to camp at a nearby RV park. Yes, it was slightly sketchy – an older man did encourage us to visit “the pyramid tent” for some “good vibes.” But as you can see in the pictures, it was a pretty spot along the Colorado River. We were also quite literally a stones throw from California, too.

While a peaceful place to chill in the evening, we got to experience a mockingbird sing all hours of the night from his perch… a bonafide bachelor pad… in the tree above our heads. From car alarms to squirrels to other birds, that kid could sing! What a boisterous and to be frank – annoying as hell! – little dude.

I woke up at 1am thinking it was 5am because of the bright desert moon and this incessant song! Which means we all experienced horrible sleep the night before Trail.

Though it all worked out well enough in the end. We arrived at Wal-Mart at 6:30am, got two new wheels for Sam’s car, drove the two more hours to Campo, California, and hit the trail by 11am! Woohoo!

What a hot and sweaty first day, but boy do we look excited in our southern terminus pic! I’ll post more soon, but this will have to do for now. I’m currently typing on my cellular device, using one bar of LTE to update y’all. Tomorrow we’ll hike into town!

Happy trails to you,



Life Update prior to PCT Thru-hike

Hi all,

Amos and I hit the Trail in a couple of  weeks?!

In March, I completed my Master’s degree in Environmental Education – woohoo! While I am happy to be a recent graduate, there are definitely confusing / conflicting feelings as I navigate the transition into #traillife. This past week we packed away most of our possessions into a 5×5 storage unit and said goodbye to life with our amazing roomie. Now, we’re living out of my car until we fly to AZ, and then we’ll catch a ride with Amos’ brother to the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail to begin our thru-hike attempt.

Before we moved out of the house, I laid out all of the gear I’ll start with, captured in the photo above. We also created an Instagram story about our food and resupply strategy – you can view that here! In my experience, your taste buds change drastically during a thru-hike, which is why we made only three resupply boxes beforehand. In Oregon and Washington, when we walk through nice big towns with nice big grocery stores, we’ll make boxes to send ahead. Some folks have voiced their desire to send us a box, too. If you’re interested, please let me know and I’ll share our itinerary with ya!

Snow in the Sierras!

It is a big snow year in the Sierras. has been a useful resource in realizing just how much snow there is!

Trail snow, not snowpack, is 154% of average. Their “Sierra Entry Indicator” currently estimates that hikers won’t be heading north of Kennedy Meadow until June 27, which is a solid month after our estimated arrival. So…who knows what this will mean for our thru-hike! It is not just snowpack we have to worry about, but unsafe river crossings from melting snow. Our plan B as it stands will be to skip that section, finish the rest of the trail and then go back to hike the Sierras after reaching Canada, partaking in what is known as a “flip flop.” While it is not ideal – and a bit of a logistical nightmare (!) – safety is our number one priority and who am I to complain about the weather? California NEEDS that snowpack.

With all of this in mind, Amos, our friend Marissa, and I practiced self-arrests with our ice axes to get mentally pumped for snow traverses, and to dial in the motions as muscle memory. My Floridan-childhood did not prepare me for snow, let alone falling down snow. I can easily count on one hand how many times I have gone sledding in my life (the answer is three). That makes self-arrest practice real interesting!

Starting Base Weight

On a final note, my base weight to start is 12lbs – a number that I admit is higher than I wanted, but still pretty freaking light. Right now I’m debating whether or not a Kindle e-reader and camp shoes are worth the 12.81 oz! My starting weight on the Appalachian Trail was around 16-18lbs. In the five years since, I’ve upgraded my gear closet significantly, and can thank having a job, living below my means, and the time to monitor discounts for the ability to do so.

Here’s my current breakdown, thanks to

You can view the rest of my items here (list is subject to change as I ditch or trade out items). In the past year I have spent $427.50 to upgrade “The Big Stuff,” meaning my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and the tent I’ll share with Amos. This money cut many lbs from my pack’s base weight; I bought all of these items on sale or through Reddit, so if you buy these items new and at regular price it will cost more. For all other gear purchases, I spent around $310. Most of the items I have listed were purchased over the past six years or gifted from friends and family. Hopefully this is helpful in you figuring out the cost of a thru-hike, or if you’re interested in upgrading gear for lighter options.

Now, Amos and I are sitting at a library in British Columbia – remember, I said we’re location independent for a while! I’m still trying to figure out how to spend my time now that I am out of grad school… Oh, what will I read?? Anywho, the sun is shining and that means we better get outside!

I’ll update soon?

– Montana

A San Juan Adventure on Orion: Exploring Yellow and Jones Islands by Boat and Boot


Bright blue camas flowers, yellow buttercups, scarlet paintbrush, chocolate lilies, and tall grasses swayed back and forth from the wind across the hillsides of Yellow Island. Phil Green, the Nature Conservancy Caretaker of the island for the past twenty years stated, “This is the second best bloom I have seen in all my time here.”

We were lucky. The whole island was in bloom. Birds were singing. The sun shining bright, and the beautifully-restored 1934 wooden sailboat in which we’d sailed on was anchored 300 yards from shore, waiting for our group’s journey back to Anacortes.


For the weekend of May 5-6, 2018, a group of North Cascades Institute supporters and I set sail on the Orion, a vintage yawl owned by Deep Green Wilderness and captained by Kevin Campion. Our mission was to embark on a natural history field-excursion in the San Juan Islands to see seabirds, marine mammals, island wildflowers, and yes, the prickly-pear cactus: the only cactus species native to Western Washington.

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Naturalist Notes: April in the Skagit Valley


Indian plum, or Osoberry, in bloom; photo by Amos Almy

One moment it’s sunny and then the next moment it’s raining. And then later in the day, rain is falling on sunshine. That is what spring is like here in the North Cascades. Below are photos and entries from my journal of the last month, documenting the Skagit Valley’s seasonal transition into spring. I hope you find something worthwhile in my daily observations, and have had the chance to get outside and note changes yourself! Enjoy.

April 1st: There has been a notable increase in birdsong around the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. As I walk around, I see flocks of Varied thrushes (Lxoreus naevius), robins (Turdus migratorius), and Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) hopping across trails. The other day, I heard Golden-crowned kinglet song ringing from the tops of evergreen trees by the Peninsula trail, and the cackle of a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus).


Indian plum, or Osoberry, in bloom while the last snowfall hit the lowlands of Rockport State Park on April 2nd

April 2nd: This morning I awoke to unexpected silence in Marblemount. I didn’t hear the usual birds sing, and there was no sound of rain on the metal roof of the cabin. With a cup of hot tea in hand, I peeked out the window and saw fresh snow blanketing the Earth. It was astounding – I had not expected there to be any snowfall overnight! After momentary awe, I worried about the climbing trip I had planned for the day. Friends and I were going to drive down valley to climb at Mt. Erie. Anacortes was predicted to be sunny and 50F – perfect for one’s first outdoor climb of the year!

I hoped for the best despite the weather. It snowed during the drive down to Rockport State Park. When I stepped out of the car, and walked through the groomed fields by the parking lot, I saw Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) in bloom. Its white flowers contradicted, yet resembled, the white mineral covering the ground. I pressed my nose into its pale, crushed up leaves in my palm and inhaled a cucumber fragrance. To me, these flowers – this plant – represents warmer days ahead.

As I continued the drive down Highway 20, Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) flitted back and forth across the road, and dark clouds began to part. Soon snow turned into rain, and then rain turned into sunshine around Sedro-Woolley. I looked back on the Cascade foothills to the east to see a veil of grey clouds covering their rounded summits. Towards the Salish Sea, the good ole’ Olympic Rainshadow was in full effect, with sunlight shining down on the prominent hill of Mt. Erie.

I was going to climb afterall.


Calvin Laatsch belaying graduate student Amy Sanchez on her first outdoor top rope


Evan Holmstrom’s cutest crag dog in the world, Freya, poses atop Mt. Erie

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Naturalist Notes: February in the Mountains


Amos Almy looks out at Diablo Lake during sunset; all photos by Montana Napier

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland

February is the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – the transition from winter into spring, and then spring into summer.

This winter I am finding myself drawn to the lowland forests and deciduous banks of the Skagit River. My time upriver has been the most wintery winter I’ve endured; I am now accustomed to the semi-regular process of scraping ice and snow off my windshield, and wearing microspikes as I walk down the icy road of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. However, a walk in the forest feels like a visit with an old friend. It reminds me of my island home at the other side of the watershed, Deception Pass. Everywhere in the forest, signs of familiar companions are appearing and talking and that makes my heart feel much warmer, though my toes and hands are just as cold.

These interactions have also filled my journal with many, flowery ramblings. In between classes, and now Mountain School trainings, I try to take a walk outside and note changes in my environment. February is especially a time of rapid change – one day it can be cool and damp out, and the next day there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and slush in my boots. Below, I’ve noted some of the changes witnessed within my little sphere of the world this past week. What have you noted, too?

Recent Naturalist Notes

On February 16 – I heard a Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) sing outside of my partner’s cabin in Marblemount, while branches cracked from the weight of freshly fallen snow.

February 17 – During a rainy walk in Rockport State Park, I found Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), or osoberry, breaking leaf buds all along the Suak-Springs trail.

Also spotted were young buds on the Vine maple (Acer circinatum), leafy buds of the Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and two of my favorite edibles popping up along the forest floor: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica). It’s only a matter of time until I can make a batch of nettle pesto!

And there were signs of moss reproduction everywhere, with the stalk-like shoots of the sporophyte popping up. The spore capsules are about ready to release spores that will grow into new moss. Next time, I will take my hand lens with me to get an even closer look.

On the drive home, I stopped at mileposts 100 and 101 to stand by the Skagit River. I saw three Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at 101 and noticed the snow line on the mountains and grey clouds. It felt good to stand close to the talking river and listen to the eagles.

The Skagit River’s mood during the evening

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Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River


In August, my cohort and I began our 7-quarter educational journey of earning our Master of Education degree. We are the 17th Cohort of students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency program through the North Cascades Institute and the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

Before beginning our year-long residency at the Learning Center, we engage with the natural and cultural histories of the North Cascades region through field excursions. This intensive six-week course includes canoeing on the Skagit River, learning about local communities and sustainable agriculture, hiking in alpine areas, cohort community formation and a culminating 10-day wilderness backpacking experience. 

Below are pictures from the paddling portion of our Place-based Learning Field Course, along with excerpts from our group journal. Enjoy!

Big Canoe and Community – August 9, 2017:

“With a little less smoke in the sky, Cohort 17 loaded into the Salish Dancer for a paddling orientation to Diablo Lake and the surrounding area. Before the canoe left the dock, we heard and saw two peregrine falcons – the fastest member of the animal kingdom – amongst the rocky cliffs of Sourdough Mountain.

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Wonderland Trail Thru-hike

Last summer I thru-hiked the Wonderland Trail in eight days during the shoulder season, and almost died. Maybe.

Now, it would have made sense to write my trail report um, last summer, but then I lost my journal for months before I found it in the most unpredictable place (think envelope within a kitchen drawer). Luckily the journal has been found, so now I must dive into the details of this incredible journey that everyone should do.

What the heck is the Wonderland Trail? It is a very scenic, 93 mile trail that circumnavigates the majestic Mount Rainier. In the span of a week, you see every “face” of the mountain and get a peek around every corner of the National Park. See?

And below is a picture of the Wonderland Trail’s elevation profile. What does it remind you of visually? To me it looks like a rollercoaster of thigh-burning hell. In fact, the trail challenges hikers with a strenuous 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

Now, what makes this place so special and treacherous trail worth the pain? Easy answer – everything.

Exhibit A.

P9261177.ORF (2)The Park (and mountain) is freakin’ gorgeous, and if you avoid the crowds at Paradise, you will find solitude in the backcountry. The Wonderland Trail in particular takes you through old-growth forests, right along the tongue of massive, breathtaking glaciers, through wildflower meadows, to the shores of alpine lakes and remote places where wildlife roam undisturbed. I fell in love with all the faces of Mount Rainier during my journey, and finished the Trail humbled by the unpredictable forces of nature. For more general info on the W.T., check out this resource.

This blog post series will be written in a journal-like fashion due to the contents origin – a trail journal. I’ve never shared anything like this before, so bear with me as I try something new. The events that happened on Trail were sometimes dramatic, and I hope will translate well in this form of storytelling. Without rambling on too much, let’s get started.

Day 1:

This morning Tina and I met outside of the Longmire WIC to solidify our trip itinerary. Tina is a leggy-woman with long blonde hair and a vibrant personality.  We don’t really know each other but are thru-hiking together. Last week, while sitting on the floor of the Paradise Visitor Center, I thought, “I wish I knew someone interested in hiking the Wonderland Trail with me.” Within a minute, Tina – one of Amos’ coworkers – approached me and asked if I was interested in hiking the W.T. with her. We’d only met once before. I said yes, of course.

Now I’m laying beside her in a two-person tent; life is funny that way. Today we hiked from Longmire to Nickel Creek with another one of Amos’ coworkers, Lindsey, and her friend Tyler. That’s a solid 14.6 miles with 3,000 ft of elevation gain. We started at 9am and made it to camp at 5 o’clock on the dot. A lot of uphill but tomorrow is supposed to be even more intense! And more beautiful.


A third coworker of Amos, Claire, showed up around 7pm after we’d all eaten dinner. My dinner was delicious, and a first – mac and cheese with cajun seasoning. Mmhmm. It’s the little things. I just got back from a .2 mile hike to Nickel Creek to fill up my “dirty” bag to filter water in the morning. It’s fun to fall back into old patterns such as water management and the tedious process of filtering everything you drink. After the A.T., I remember being amazed by the convenience of tap water. You just turn a handle and then you have beautiful, purified water ready to go (ideally)!  Now I’m enjoying the slow process of hauling two liters back to my site, and the mindful walk alone in the darkening forest.

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Trip Report: Snowshoe at Katahdin Woods and Waters

Recently Amos, Graham, Isaac and I snowshoed to a winter hut in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. We were in Maine for the holidays, and the guys like to do a winter trip when they’re all together. This year I was the tag-along-girlfriend, also know as Chris’ replacement (I don’t know who he is…).


#attentionseeker – P.C. Amos Almy

Amos chose Katahdin Woods and Waters over Baxter State Park because, at the time, it was our country’s newest national monument and he wanted to check it out. We had followed the Park’s story in the news and sided with Roxanne Quimby, a founder of Burt’s Bees, and President Obama in wanting to protect the land for future generations to enjoy. The idea of exploring this newly acquired, federal land was appealing.

So he reserved the Big Spring Brook winter hut via email, and we prepared for our 14mi round trip in the dead of a Maine winter. Did it matter that the projected temps were 10-15f, overcast, and maybe snow/rain? Nah.

What I wore/brought:

  • Snowshoes. Hiking poles (that I never used).
  • My backpack. 20F sleeping bag and polyester liner. Two sleeping pads.
  • A down jacket. A fleece jacket. A synthetic down jacket. A rain jacket. (And yes, I wore all four jackets!)
  • Long underwear top and bottoms. Buffs.
  • Hiking pants. Rain pants.
  • Waterproof leather boots. Wool socks.
  • A camera I never used.
  • Too many water bottles.
  • A titanium pot. Spoon. Food.
  • Gloves. Waterproof mittens. Handwarmers.

So, did I freeze my butt off like I expected? – Kind of.

We woke up at 5:15am and began the two-hour drive north around 6am. Eventually, after a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, the grocery store, and driving down several dirt roads, we made it to the privately-owned lodge, Bowlin Camps. When I stepped outside of the car, I immediately felt the snot inside my nostrils start to crystalize. My fingers also ached from the cold as I snapped on snowshoes. For me, hand warmers and mittens were essential.


The map we needed but could not find online: Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area Map Crosscountry Ski Trails

Above is a picture of a very useful map. We could not find this map on the internet, though it was needed to figure out our route and mileage. So now it is on the internet. Starting at Bowlin Camps, we crossed the East Branch of the Penobscot River by way of a suspension bridge.

Next we traveled north on the K-Comp Road /  International Appalachian Trail. Google International Appalachian Trail – the A.T. continues up the mountains into Canada.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur group traveled close to a mile-an-hour since we were “breaking trail.” If you haven’t snowshoed on ungroomed trail before, blazing a new path through crusty, deep snow requires a lot of effort. With each step we punched through 1-2 inches of thick “ice” and then sank a good 6-inches.

When leading the way, I felt as if I were on a stair-stepper, stepping straight into hell. My hip flexors and thighs screamed as I expended extra energy pulling each foot, and an entire snowshoe, out of the snow. If I didn’t lift my foot high enough to clear the snow I fell. Imagine a small woman, all puffy from three-jackets and a full pack, tumbling into a pile of white snow like a toddler. That was me. Once I fell forward and landed with my face smack dab on the ground – buuuuurrrrrr.

With that said, Graham lead most of the way, Amos a close second, me a meek third, and Isaac was a grateful “sweeper” with soaked jeans and a quiet demeanor. We walked in a single line, with our designated “leader” breaking trail. And then the second-in-line breaking in between the leader’s steps. Each step was a loud “crunch.” Conversation was impossible, and the noise was the opposite of a peaceful walk in the woods.


Walking back to the car on our beautiful broken-in trail from the day before… That next day we shaved off HOURS of time.

Hours passed. My nose would freeze to the point where I couldn’t move my nostrils, so I’d cover it with a fleece buff for my breath to warm it. But then my glasses would fog up. And then the fog would start to freeze.  So I’d quickly uncover my face and feel the sting of the cold air all over again. #rinseandrepeat

We all grew very very tired as we made our way onto the Little Messer Pond trail, and then Messer Pond – Orinn Falls. We barely stopped to eat or rest – the cold would set in and I’d feel chilled to the bone after 5 minutes. Audible grunts and sighs rang out among our noisy footsteps. Graham lost steam and Amos had a look of defeat. I tried leading a couple of times after “hitting the wall” but barely kept it together. I’d look down the trail, pick out a tree, and say to myself “I can lead until that tree.”

And then every step felt like I was wading through thick mud, or walking with cinderblocks for shoes, and I’d fall before reaching my landmark. It was also getting late. 3 o’clock came around and the sun was scheduled to set an hour later. Mild panic set-in but didn’t overcome us. I mentally went through the steps on building a snow cave, just in case. Now imagine how we felt once the cabin was in sight! The winter hut was a welcomed relief!!


Big Spring Brook Hut – P.C. Amos Almy


Outhouse and woodshed – P.C. Amos Almy

It included an outhouse and a fully stocked woodshed. As well as a kitchen, enough bunks to sleep a massive group, two lofts, and a wood burning stove (very very essential). I wanted to just move right in and live there; my life goals now include an A-frame house/cabin of sorts.

We got the stove cranking (I say “we” lightly. The boys jumped on that task. I made ramen.). When we arrived, the inside of the cabin was 20f so fire and warmth were of top priority. Outside it started to sleet. Isaac and I settled in by the stove and waited for big buckets of snow to melt, and then boil.

Eventually we made “second dinner” of three nonmatching pasta sides atop the stove. Amos made a timelapse of the process.

Bedtime by 9pm. We all slept in one of the lofts. I woke up in the middle of the night SWEATING and took it upon myself to delayer and open windows. It felt like freakin’ Florida! *Note to those who venture out to the Big Spring Brook hut, the stove does an excellent job. Open a window.

Outside it snowed and then rained. I awoke at one point to the loud sound of snow falling off the metal roof. In the morning the temperature outside rose to a balmy 40F (inside, it was 60!). Ready to skedaddle, we made hot chocolate and oatmeal and did house cleaning chores, i.e. packed up gear, swept, cleaned dishes, stocked firewood. Amos made another cool timelapse of use going in and out of the cabin with the clouds moving overhead.

And then we hiked back to the car on broken-in trail! It was significantly easier, and the sun actually made an appearance. Although sore, we were all in a much much better mood. Heck, the hiking was actually enjoyable! What was originally a 5.5 hour trip became a leisurely 2. 5 hour stroll. It’s funny how much of a difference trail makes.


I mean look at this. Glorious.



Our pace was so pleasant I could stop long enough to observe a couple of new trees. By smell, I identified the sweet, candy-like fragrance on trail to be northern white-cedars and the fresh scent of fir as balsam fir. I couldn’t help but break off young branches with my thumbnail and hold the needles up to my nose as I hiked, followed by deep inhalations. I also enjoyed the bright, burst of green from all the soft mosses and ruffled lichens on the trees.

Now, you’re probably wondering if this is a trip worth taking; the first day sounds miserable, huh? Short answer – yes and yes. If you want to do it, do it. The landscape, although uneventful, gave me a sense of happy satisfaction. I loved noticing the differences between trees and other plant-life, and spotting signs of wildlife. Isaac and I noted the fresh tracks of a bobcat next to the trail, and saw numerous scat/droppings. Our group also saw multiple trees with shredded bark, signs of a moose or buck having rubbed its antlers to remove dead velvet.


P.C. Amos Almy

These kind of experiences made my heart happy, and the treacherous journey made my body thankful for the Park’s amenities. I highly recommend making the trek out there during the winter with some friends. We were truly alone in the woods, and able to enjoy the solitude. One of my favorite things to do is stand completely still in deep snow and hear nothing – a few times during our trip, we all stopped moving just to soak in that silence. And peace. img_9182-1

So if you’re interested in staying at one of the winter huts at Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, contact Mark and Susan Adams at They are temporarily managing reservations for the National Park Service, and were very pleasant to communicate with, as well as helpful. I don’t know who exactly maintains the cabins but they do an A+ job. Thank you! I left a couple of shot-sized whiskey bottles on the counter, in gratitude.

Lastly, I want to state that THE day after our trip, President Obama designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada. My ability to say I had just explored our country’s newest national monument was over within 24 hours, although I cannot complain one bit. Woo-hoo for relevancy! I hope someday soon I can explore Gold Butte National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, too. To learn more about these places, and Obama’s latest effort to protect public lands, click here.


Insight on a Frugal Thru-hike

This post is a compilation of random tips, tricks, and gear advice that we believe is worth sharing to potential Appalachian Trail thru-hikers–or long-distance backpackers–who are on a budget. It’s the kind of stuff that Lucas and I wish we knew ahead of time.

In total, we spent about $3,000 each (gear included).

Hitch-hike, but be smart about it.


Lookin’ completely hiker-ish with a purpose, aka not threatening to strangers.

We stuck out our grimy thumbs at passing trucks from the get-go; since Lucas had already hitched around Europe, there was no hesitation. In the beginning, many hikers called up taxis or shuttles to pick them up. Up until Harper’s Ferry, the unofficial halfway point, we still witnessed people calling up taxis. That cost adds up!

  • Most locals near the trail are aware of thru-hikers. They know that you need to resupply in town and want to help/like someone to talk to.
  • If the driver doesn’t ask where you’re headed to within 30 seconds of saying hello, looks at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or has an open beer can in their hand, don’t get into the car.
  • Try not to hitch alone, especially if you’re female.
  • You are absolutely allowed to turn people down! Make up an excuse. Say you forgot something, or that you’re actually waiting for a friend.
  • Stand by the road in a place where a car can easily pull-off.
  • Take note if hitching is illegal in the area.
  • Make fun signs like a big thumb, smile, or dance.
  • Go to grocery stores. People will ask if you need a ride back to the A.T.
  • If desperate, approach drivers at gas stations. Tell them your story.

Unless it’s a jacket or shoes, don’t worry about hiking-specific clothing.

Rockin' the hand-me-down hat and thrift store tank.

Rockin’ the hand-me-down hat and thrift store tank.

Instead, simply think synthetics and comfort. We both started with polyester shirts from Target, which we threw away after 700 miles and replaced them with thrift store shirts.

  • Synthetics hold smell, bad. Even if you buy a name brand shirt, it’ll eventually smell like cat urine, so why not recycle shirts and support local businesses for $2?
  • I sent my pants home early on and wore my long underwear under my shorts. It’s less weight, plus you have all the pockets you need.
  • Check hiker boxes for gloves, hats, and even boots.

Why pay to sleep somewhere when you can sleep in the woods for free?


The morning after we slept in an alpaca barn at Four Pines.

…or on the outskirts of town…or (with their permission) behind a local’s house?

  • We stayed at hostels when all of our items were soaked or the owners were known for being awesome.
  • If you’re in the mood to meet locals, download the app Couchsurfing and give that a go, or simply talk to people you see.
  • If a hostel lists the price of every individual service in your guide book, beware. The nicest hostel owners (I encountered) have some sort of connection to the trail. They treat you like a human being not a profit, and then encourage you to leave donation.
  • Keep an eye out for work-for-stay options. There’s potential to learn skills/apply ones you already have in exchange for a bed.

It’s nice to be treated respectfully, so make sure to respect people in turn.

If the hostel is donation-based, leave a fair donation. If someone gives you a ride to the trail and tells you their story about how they’re struggling, politely offer a few bucks for gas.

Skip restaurants and hitch to the grocery store instead.

  • Load up on both nutritious and calorie-dense food to eat right then and there. For us, it was impossible to come into town not starving, so we’d do things like split a rotisserie chicken, eat a spring mix of lettuce from the bag, bananas, fresh loaves of bread and hummus, etc.
  • In cooler weather, load up on blocks of cheddar cheese; it keeps well for a few days. At times, Lucas and I ate a 1/4 lb. of cheese a day, and it was great. In New England, cheese that’s usually pricey ($4+) can be as low as $1.80.

Mail-drops are worth it, if you have enough time to plan ahead!


Christmas Day

About half of our resupplies came from mail-drops, which were sent to not-the-best resupply points. When I made sure to vary the food, mail-drops were like Christmas. So yeah, keep them random and exciting!

  • If you buy items in bulk, the mail-drop becomes worth it. Let’s say a box is $15 to ship, and you have 10 clif bars in it that you bought at $.80 each and a huge jar of almond butter for $7. Already, you’ve saved at least $15 versus buying it at the store off the trail, and you still have a box to fill with more items bought at discounted prices.
  • Check-out Baltimore Jack’s resupply guide. It’s on point.
  • If the mail-drops are overly planned and mostly the same, you’ll end up ditching their contents in a nearby hiker box.
  • Stick mini candies in all the box’s empty spaces, except butterfingers because the texture changes.
  • It’s nice eating the (healthy) food you like, especially when the only resupply option is a convenience store.

Have lot’s of Ziplocks at all times. 

Just trust me on this one.

In the near future, I’ll make an in-depth post specifically about gear, but for now, I hope this helps you with your planning!

Gear Review: Salewa Wildfire Approach Shoes


Photo courtesy of Salewa

Photo courtesy of Salewa

One of the most important pieces of gear for long distance backpackers are their shoes. For my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I chose the Salewa Wildfire Approach Shoes. I knew that if I planned on hiking anything more than fifteen miles a day with a 25+ lb backpack, foot love was top priority. I’ll be honest, what originally attracted me to these shoes was its style; the futuristic look and bright color scheme of the Wildfires caught my eye. In fact, my boyfriend/hiking partner, Lucas, saw me checking out the different colors online and said, “Wow. I want those.”

After a bit of research, we both ordered our first pairs. I figured the shoe’s design would function well on the trail’s terrain and, long story short, it does. Untitled2


Although the Wildfires are an approach shoe, their sticky rubber, stiff sole, and unique ankle design serve well for long distance backpacking through tough terrain. There are many sections of the A.T. where scrambling up and down rocks is necessary, and the Vibram Tech Approach EVO sole gripped those rocks with no problem. As a rock climber (and shorter person), I appreciated the rubber toe box a lot. Instead of being forced to lunge up a section of rocky steps, I could find little toe chips and pockets to use as intermediates.

The sticky rubber also allowed Lucas and I the chance to slip off our packs and climb up boulders we saw along the trail, which is something you can’t do in a pair of traditional trail runners! 10336792_470475323085364_6745281100402170421_n


They perform well on steep or uneven terrain, rocky descents, snow, dirt, and just about anything else. However, we did experience some slippage on mud and slick rocks, but I believe that becomes unavoidable to some extent. We purchased the shoes without Gore-Tex, and they dried overnight when laid sideways, which is important for a rainy Appalachian Trail afternoon. Lucas went the entire time without getting any blisters, giving credibility to Salewa’s “100% blister-free” claims. I, however, did acquire a tiny blister on one of my toes (it went away overnight though).

Many people use high-top boots on their hikes for the ankle support. During research, we came across theories that claimed the high-top ankle support actually weakens your body’s natural ability to stabilize itself. Since we have gone as far as we have without twisting an ankle (knock on wood), I’d say the ankle support in the Wildfires was enough.



For six months, Lucas wore his Wildfires as his everyday street shoe. He was obsessed with the fit from the moment he took them out of the box. During our thru-hike, the shoes felt right, as if everything was how it should be in a shoe and the toe box was wide enough. That is, until our feet swelled. I made the mistake of ordering only a half size up–big mistake! I encourage you to buy a full size up from your street shoe if you intend to hike over 100 miles within a short period. Feet swelling and collapsed arches are inevitable when long distance backpacking!

Thankfully, the Wildfires are laced similar to climbing shoes, and extend far towards the toe. Again, buy your shoe that extra size up and just tighten the laces for a secure fit. Both Lucas and I found the customizable insoles interesting, but I admit that I did not take advantage of this feature because I used my own super stiff, replacement insole (which I regret). The MFF+ Footbed system is definitely something to play around with and use to create the best fit for your foot. The wider insoles and extra cushion in the heel options will help with foot swelling. We ended up re-lacing our shoes 500 miles into the A.T. because our feet widened too much.

Note: this strange method does allow the shoe to widen, but it doesn’t take advantage of the Wildfire’s unique lacing. photo 3(1)


It’s not uncommon to see torn up shoes on the A.T.–seriously. Many thru-hikers sport duct tape on their shoes, or have a couple of toes hanging out the front. So, although parts of our shoes began to fall apart, there wasn’t much functional damage. Nothing that would hinder our hiking ability changed; there was no real tread wear and the toe box maintained its edge. I’m absolutely impressed with their durability!

The shoes only became less aesthetically pleasing with time. The first thing to show wear was the EXA shell that covers the bottom sides of the shoe–pieces of the beehive-like plastic began to fall off about 200 miles into our thru-hike. Next, we noticed the back and the sides of our ankle support wearing down to expose the inner foam. Luckily these changes did not effect the feel of our shoes–in truth, my heels couldn’t tell the difference. The rubber never separated from the outer fabric, and there are no holes either. photo 4


These shoes are absolutely superb/I highly recommend them. Wear them during a section hike, take them on a climbing trip, or sport them around town–it doesn’t matter, you’ll fall for their magical powers. If you plan on using them for a thru-hike, UP-size and enjoy! The quality of the Wildfire’s design and durability is suited for more difficult, technical hiking. This shoe makes a huge difference when scrambling over rocks. No joke, fellow hikers were envious of our gripping capabilities and asked to try on Lucas’ pair.

In the end, I wore my shoes for a little over 600 miles, and since Lucas wore his for 6 months before the trail, we guess his accumulated mileage is near 1,000. If we would have sized properly, I’d say the shoes could have easily handled 1,500 miles. Soon, we will be sporting new pairs of Firetails, which are the next model up in stiffness. We plan on walking in them all the way to Katahdin!