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April 2016


Makin’ Biscuits in the woods, Pt. 5

April 28, 2016

Day 4
Still cocooned in body heat and sleeping bag, I squinted one eye and opened the other. Sounds of zips and tarps and nylon folding filled the dusty barn walls as thru-hikers slowly started clearing out. Knowing we had our longest day ahead of us, with over 9 miles to cover to get back to the Mountain Harbour Hikers Shelter where we started, there had been some discussion the night before about hoofing it a bit before stopping to cook up breakfast on the trail.

My jaw worked vigorously on a peanut butter Clif bar as I went about my temporarily typical morning routine. I worked methodically  – deflating my sleeping pad and rolling it tight, doing the same with my sleeping bag. Pulling on fresh socks and lacing up my boots. Putting everything back into my pack just the way it was the day before. Tightening the straps. Adjusting and stuffing and pulling. Less than a week ago, I’d been so intimidated at the thought of living out of this thing, and now it was second nature. It was familiar and starting to lose its fresh-from-the-showroom stiffness, which made me feel a sense of pride. Like I’d earned something. Like I’d dulled the giant scarlet letter that marked me a rookie.


I walked into the rousing, semi-frigid morning air, the sun boldly showing itself now over the picturesque mountains, to brush my teeth. This was it, I thought. It’s the last day of our big, crazy, I-can’t-believe-we’re-doing-this adventure. A few thru-hikers sat by the fire with their oatmeal and Oreos and coffee and I envied them. As far as they were concerned, this was just another morning in a 6-month-long string of mornings spent on a mountain somewhere on a seemingly endless trail. We would be getting off before the day was over. It was a bittersweet pill I wasn’t ready to swallow without any food in my stomach.

The General went ahead to start ticking off the mileage, and the Lieutenant, Just Mat, Gravy and I followed shortly after. If you’ve been following this series loyally, you might recall the hill we descended to get down to the barn. Hank called it a bitch and now, in the early hours of our last day on the trail, that hill was making us hers. After so many victories, I was humbled by Mother Nature for what would be the first of many times that day; My exhalations a mix of steamy fog and burning, strenuous gasps. The arduous climb from camp got us back on to the Appalachian Trail, but served only as an aperitif to the unrelenting slopes we’d soon be summiting.

It was roughly 8 o’clock in the morning and on any other Wednesday I would be settling into my cubicle with a thermos of hot coffee and an inbox full of asks. But not this Wednesday. On this particular Wednesday, I was gradually making progress on a steep gradient against a stiff, sharp, merciless wind. I wrestled my able-bodied opponent the best I could, but the beating was brutal. Lieutenant Blazer, true to form, went by. Just Mat faded first into a dot and then completely from the horizon. Gravy stood by me, I think only from the fear I would blow away or lay down and surrender myself entirely to the elements.

After nothing but up, we reached a bald that went, you guessed it, up a little higher. I shuffled like a snowbird on her way to bridge club and chipped away at the elevation in tiny, manageable doses. About a third of the way up I threw a message into the forceful wind and let it blow back to Hank, “When we reach the top of this thing … I don’t care what … it looks like … I’m stopping to make my fu@k!ng oatmeal.” After 15 years with a person, they become very attune to your signals. For instance, I know when Hank puts his hands on his hips, he’s about to call it quits on something, and he knows that if it’s been more than 3 hours since we had a sizable meal, I am likely a hangry, hangry turd.

Let me put this in perspective for you. When I was 3 years old – maybe 4 – my mom accidentally left me at home. She made it all the way to the ball diamonds before she realized that I, her baby girl, was still at home. The General and Just Mat, as a matter of fact, were both in the van that pulled away and left me, just a young pup, standing at the glass door. All because I didn’t get my shoes on fast enough. Anyway, my mother, who felt terrible obviously, still laughs about that fact that after she tore ass home, the first thing I said was, “I didn’t know what I was going to have for dinner.” Food – or the absence of it after a few hours – is a real source of stress in my life.

So, as I tortoised my way up that bald, there was no question about my resolve. And meeting my demand, the second we reached the top, I saw a handful of large boulders, dropped my back and fired up the JetBoil. It was like eating on the side of the road as a procession of semi trucks drive by at 80 mph, but I didn’t care. Wind be damned, my belly was empty. Lesson No. 8: Hiking before breakfast is not for everyone and can result in dramatic outbursts. In my blinding state of starvation I accidentally sporked more than my half of the oatmeal into my bowl without even noticing. “Man, you finished yours fast,” I remarked to Hank, not realizing my gluttonous error. I only found out I’d hogged the oats when he retold the story later.

We eventually caught up to the rest of our crew. “We stopped back there to eat,” I shared. “I knew it,” Matt said. “I told The General you have to eat. You always have to eat.” Hank just smiled. “Well, it’s good you did,” The General chimed in. “Because I think we have a big climb when we get out of this patch of woods.” Fine. Good. Bring it, you mother lovin’ trail. I got oatmeal in me now, son. And then I saw it. The bald, or mountain, or Everest, or grand finale, or whatever name indicates a monstrosity.


There was a long approach until you were actually on the incline. So you had plenty of time to anticipate the amount of suck you would soon be sifting through. “Find a rhythm or a count,” The General said. “I do a 1,2…1,2… and then I rest for 30 seconds when I need it.” On that final morning I learned a lot of things. I learned that the body will follow what the mind believes is possible. I learned that wind-burn is nature’s lipstick. And I learned what a false peak is. Do you know what a false peak is? Let me enlighten you. A false peak is when you work your ass off to get to what, you think, is the top of ginormous mountain, only to come around a turn and discover a mountain baby on top of the mountain you originally saw, and perhaps even more of an incline after that. See also: soul crusher, spirit smasher, and son of a …


The Big Hill3



After receiving my back alley thigh beating from the false peaks (they really did feel real), we reached the true top. It was one of those things where, in your mind, you’re thinking, I just wanna get there, I just wanna get there, but once we did, the wind was so deafening and violent, we just wanted to get outta there. We snapped some pictures and, as soon as The General made it, began the subtle descent down the ridge. We walked along a worn track, about 10 inches wide, through a vacant cattle pasture with rolling landscapes I’ve only seen on screens as part of other people’s lives. We endured a brutal wind bashing to earn those views, and I drank them in as deeply as I could.



When you left the mountain top, you entered into a completely different climate. Suddenly we were among giant rocks and mossy carpeting. This leg of the section was probably the most technical. Every step required a strategy and, though all of our legs were burning, the boulders demanded athleticism. There are certain things that stick, for whatever reason – the smell of your parent’s house, the lyrics to Let It Go. For me, Hank in that part of the woods that day will stay with me. Maybe it’s because his shirt perfectly complemented the emerald spring growth, or that he looked so happy in this final chapter of the journey. I don’t know.


Our descent was long and there was plenty of time to catch up with each other and chat. When we stopped for a quick lunch with just about 1.5 miles left (as a girl walks, of course), Just Mat decided to tell The General that he, Biscuits and Gravy would not be staying in the hiker’s hostel tonight as The General had hoped, but rather, driving to find a hotel with a hot shower and a decent restaurant, the likes of which we could completely destroy with our forks. The General didn’t like what he was hearing. And thus began yet another playful-yet-truthful spat between Just Mat and The General.

You see, The General has been in my brother’s life since before I was born. I would argue that no one on this planet knows Matt quite like The General does, and perhaps, no one ever will. They speak almost every day and thrive under a communication style that borders on verbally abusive and tough love. Backpacking is The General’s jam. And Matt was kind of like burnt toast; he was there for the jam, but he wasn’t into it enough to get out of the toaster on time. He participated for the sake of the participants, but served more as comic relief than an enthusiast. But I tell ya, there were so many times his sharp quips and stupid movie quotes broke up the fatigue. Lesson No. 9: When shit gets real, everybody loves a comedian. 

They exchanged snarky jabs (hurt feelings under a veil of sarcasm, as identified by any woman who has ever been around any man) broken up by fits of laughter the rest of the way down the trail. The General felt it was typical of Just Mat to do what made him happy without regard for anyone else, and Just Mat hinted at the fact that The General couldn’t just be grateful that he joined them for the trip, regardless of whether or not he stayed in the hostel that night. I was just happy to have something to listen to, even if it was grown ass men bitching at each other one minute and regurgitating the Revenge of the Nerds song the next. Anything to take my mind off the lower half of my body. The exaggerated descent that made up the last part of our section hike was the part I felt the most the next morning. My knees and ankles screamed at me to stop. Every step down was like dropping an 80-pound bag of flour on top of your joints. They hated me. Lesson No. 10: Just because it’s downhill, doesn’t mean it’s easy. 


After what felt like hours, we came to the road that led right back to Mountain Harbour. The five of us strolled down the shoulder of the somewhat-busy street, swinging our trekking poles and salivating over various rewards. I wanted to take my boots off and eat my Snickers. The General had a cooler of beer. Matt couldn’t stop thinking about a shower. In the movie version, we would come into the shot at a slow motion stroll for effect. Our heads would be high. The dirt smeared across our faces and elbows would represent the obstacles we’d overcome and make us endearing. Someone would start a slow clap. But this was no movie and the truth was, we were just a stinky, battered group of nearly middle-aged (some of us closer than others) section hikers from the Midwest.

We didn’t linger long in the hostel parking lot, which felt anticlimactic considering the feats we’d conquered together over the last several days. Our goodbyes were brief but sincere. My brother was a man on a mission. We piled into his truck. “Ya know,” I said, “the scary thing is I can’t really smell us.” Matt sucked down a Gatorade. “I can’t wait to ask for something and have someone bring it to me instead of pouring hot water into a bag of shit and then having everyone ask me how it tastes.”

We made it to Middlesboro, Kentucky, where we stopped for the night. The smell of a clean hotel room shook something loose in my nasal cavity and suddenly I had all the smells. We should have been ashamed. I’m not even sure what parts of the body those smells actually come from, to be honest. The warm steam of the showers combined with, 5 days of travel and hiking were nauseating. After transforming back into humans, we went back down to the desk and asked for a restaurant recommendation. “What do you have in mind?” the gentleman behind the counter asked. “Cheese fries, or a bloomin onion or …” I began to dream aloud. Turns out, Mexican was the popular cuisine in Middlesboro. They had 4 options in that category, all owned by the same family. We picked the closest one.


The waiter knew he had us very shortly into the meal. “We’ll start with queso.” I said. “How big is the dish?” He pointed to the salsa bowls. “Or I have a $12 one, but it’s huge.” “Yes, that! We’ll take that.” I said excitedly. Carnitas have never been that good. I cleared a good part of the cheese trough and my entire meal only to take 3 warm cookies from a display next to the hotel checkin counter for dessert. I didn’t hate myself. Full and happy, I had one place left to go. I think the boys were watching Wahlburgers, but I climbed into that bed, with its tightly fitted, clean sheets and, for the first time in almost a week, I drifted off to sleep with a single thought.


Makin’ Biscuits in the Woods, Pt. 4

April 25, 2016

It was a seemingly uneventful Saturday night in early March. The chicks were having a sleepover with their little buddy from the sitter’s and everyone was chasing and screaming and actin a fool in the basement. After consuming half of a chicken club pizza and a warm chocolate chip cookie or 12, I figured it would be best if I went down and got in a workout. I grabbed my laptop and a big cup of water and headed south. I still don’t know if I missed the last step or I did all the steps right and am just my mother’s daughter or what, but I heard a crack! from my ankle region and went down. My water went flying and covered the wall … my laptop flew into the baseboard. Responding to my shrieking sobs, Hank came flying down the stairs from the kitchen. No words … I had no words. Until I managed to get out, “Is my computer OK?” “Let’s just deal with this situation first and then we’ll look at that, alright?” Then he half-joking, half-shitting-himself, looked up from my ankle and into my eyes and said, “We leave in 3 weeks to go backpacking. Three. Weeks.” A lot of ice, elevation and laziness got me in my boots by go time. But on the third day of our adventure, the crack! came back.


Day 3

I woke up from my last 20-minute stretch of sleep and heard footsteps and voices in the distance. The thru-hikers were breaking camp at Roan Mountain High Knob Shelter. I was alive. I looked over at Hank. “I don’t want to get out of my sleeping bag,” he said. “I thought I was dying from hypothermia last night,” I responded, in an I’ll-top-that tone. “What the hell were we thinking with this?” True to Princess Biscuits form, I grabbed what was mine and hauled ass to the shelter to get out of the thrashing mountain wind and in to Jetboil some coffee and breakfast. One by one our crew Frankinsteined their way into the small cabin; stiff and frozen and cranky in a way that the Starbucks Via just couldn’t thaw. I pulled a fresh pair of underwear and a new sports bra out of my pack and assessed my dressing room options. I could either go out to the tent or climb up a shady ladder to the formidable second level of the shelter to change. Based on my PTSD from the night before, it was looking like the attic had it. Let me ask you something … Have you ever stripped down to your birthday suit in a 30-something-degree log enclosure that’s too squatty to stand up all the way? Well, you’re missing quite a thrill. I gave those mice a show, I tell ya.

Between frozen water bladders and frozen spirits, it was slow going that Tuesday morning. The most exciting piece of conversation was around a splatter of spilled coffee on Just Mat’s boot tip that looked like an old man. The longer we stood, the more my 10 toes felt like 2 blocks of ice jammed into cement blocks. It was my brother who suggested he, Hank and I take off since we were packed up. Movement does wonders for numb appendages, I can testify to that. The three of us spent that morning alone, first strolling down a rocky bed under a canopy of soon-to-be green branches, frost from the night before blowing off the treetops, sending majestic flurries through the streaming sunbeams. Eventually the terrain turned to a more traditional forest. I spent those hours trailing my husband and talking to my brother. Really talking to my brother, without a million kids running around or tension about a businesses matter or softball schedules. I had drinks with a girlfriend after we got back and I mentioned this time to her. “That is such a gift,” she said. Kelly lost her brother when we were young and I’ve often thought what a slap in her face it is to waste my own sibling relationships. And it’s true, it was a gift. I’ll always have that morning to retreat to when I need it. A particular fondness, radiating that morning sunlight, will always coat that memory in my mind.

We passed a young man at a turn in the trail. “Go ahead,” I said. “We’re pretty slow.” “That’s OK, I’m waiting for someone.” he replied with a smile, and we trekked on. Eventually we came to a road. We crossed and searched for where the trail picked back up on the other side. No luck. A young girl emerged from the path we’d just left. “Huh,” she said. “My brother isn’t here and he usually waits for me. Having trouble finding the trail?” “Yeah. I think we did see your brother though about a mile back. Blue coat?” “That’s him! We must have missed a turn,” she concluded. She turned around only to save our bacon by yelling back down at us a minute later that we’d missed a redirect. In hindsight, the logs that were piled where we should have turned but didn’t were actually a fairly clear indicator. We probably gave ourselves an extra half a mile on the day, if that. The error wasn’t surprising given the fact that we were gazing down 90 percent of the time. Rule No. 6: Try to look up every once in awhile. You’ll like the view. That was one of the most disappointing parts of the journey for Hank. “You’re in this beautiful area, with these amazing views, and you spend the majority of the time looking one foot in front of you on the ground.” It was true, your best bet of avoiding injury was to constantly calculate your next step to avoid roots, rocks and ruts. A necessary evil if you want to stay upright.


A short time later, I heard a familiar voice, “Hey guys! There’s a real bathroom down here! It’s really nice!” It was Lieutenant Blazer. He’d found a visitors area for day hikers and took full advantage of the facilities. We were at the base of Three Bald Hike, a grassy section of the trail with vast views of purplish-gray mountains on every side. Almost as soon as we left the asylum of the forest, the wind began lashing out at my cheek pudge. I pulled the hood of my rain jacket over my ball cap and secured it to save my skin. The gusts carried any chance of conversation out of your mouth and back down the mountain like a dryer at the end of a car wash. Being as we were on a fairly challenging incline, I didn’t have much to say anyway. This section was interesting since, unlike when you were in the maze of the woods, you could see what was ahead of you, a feature that was both daunting and sobering.





It had been several hours since breakfast by this point and the balds led us down into a windy route with strange-looking scraggly trees. I was getting a little lightheaded and the twists and turns weren’t helping. Finally, I could hear The General’s voice. That meant they were stopped for lunch. I picked up my pace a bit and came down the muddy hill to where the men sat sorting through granola bars. I heard pack hit dirt behind me and turned just in time to see Gravy sliding down the path. First fall of the trip. “I’m OK!” he assured me as he pulled only half of his right trekking pole out of a mud puddle. The suction of the wet dirt clenched the bottom, stabbing side of the stick and offered only a slight struggle before he reclaimed it.

The Balds 6

Of course any time we eat, it’s a highlight for me, but I have to ask: You guys, have you had Justin’s Maple Almond Butter? I don’t know if it’s really that good or it was just that good on the side of a mountain, but I’m telling you, we slapped some of it on a flour tortilla during lunch that day and it was like a creamy hug for my soul. With a full tank of gas and the promise of one more night sleeping out on the trail, we pressed on. The afternoon was a woodsy decline full of switchbacks and proof of Mother Nature’s sense of humor: roots. They are the bark that bites. Even if you’re looking right at them, you still trip over roots. I swear, they’re a magical height designed to hook the toe of your boot and send you hurdling toward the earth for one frightening flash of a second. All while, I imagine, the forest fairies point and laugh at this America’s Funniest Home Videos montage. I love it when they really fall, they say. But on that steady descent on the afternoon of the third day, I hit one of those stinkers and felt a familiar crack! Game over, I thought. Hank knew it, too. The sound, my obvious hesitation moving forward, the fact that we’d just been through this 3 weeks ago. “I was thinking about how I could throw myself down so we had an excuse to get rescued and no one would think you were wussing out,” he later told me. Did everyone think I was going to wuss out?

My ankle was sore but sturdy enough to keep me propelling forward. The rest of the afternoon was quiet for this girl. I focused on my steps and kept my fears to myself and soon we came to The General standing at a small side path. After 7.1 miles (plus our morning detour), we’d reached Over Mountain Shelter, a large barn that stood at the foot of a post card-esque panoramic view. We made our way down the steep hill to the building and I remember Hank noting, “This is gonna be a real bitch in the morning.” I filed it away in the folder in my brain labeled: Thoughts to freak the frick out about in a few hours.


I walked into the barn and into the strangest adult sleepover of my life. We climbed the ladder to the second floor, which was essentially just a large hay-mow. We put our sleeping mats and sleeping bags down in a neat little row like preschcoolers preparing for nap time. I grabbed my snack (the Snickers) and went down to the fire. A girl about my age was whipping up some ramen and two older gentleman were working on the wood teepee over the fire. I struck up a conversation when it felt appropriate and waited a respectful amount of time before asking her what had crossed my mind the second I saw her. “So, how are you able to be out here for 6 months?” It’s the question I had for all the thru-hikers. How do you have the time and the resources and the ability to detach long enough to hike this entire trail. In some cases, it was easy to tell. They were recent college grads, or retired, or kind of a bum … But in a lot of cases I just couldn’t figure it out. It fascinated me. “Well, actually I worked for a tech startup in Seattle,” she said. “One day, I’d had enough, so I decided to go for a walk.” I sat on the log and stared at her like she was Deepak Chopra … or Oprah. “That’s so freaking cool.” I said, like a 7th grader to a senior. I was awe-struck. The super zenned-out gentleman next to her did fire and rescue in Wyoming and was a grade A badass. The third guy resembled Bob Ross and was so kind and calm I never pushed to hear his backstory. The one I came up with in my mind was far better than anything he could have said.


They started trickling in … some just to eat and then press on, others to shack up in the barn. Fanning my internal flame for the trail life, the thru-hikers would greet all of the new arrivals by trail name. “Hey, Ruffles! Where’s Willow?” “Hey, Johnny Walker! You made it. You must’ve hauled ass, man!” “Grill! I haven’t seen you since the Smokies. What’s the story?” It was a club and we were there on a guest pass. I wanted in. I sat with my eyes open and my mouth agape with a jerky grin. Then my body caught on to the fact that I’d stopped moving and, once again, I was cold. I shivered, at times violently, at times with control, as I spooned pasta from a pouch past my wind-burned lips. “Do you want this dessert tonight?” Hank asked. I shot him a what-the-hell-do-you-think glare. A Raspberry Crumble with chocolate cookie topping wouldn’t fix everything, but it sure as shit took the edge off. Just Mat knocked over the bag with the juices from his chicken teriyaki and we all watched, helpless as they ran across the sleeping platform on which we sat. “The mice are gonna come.” The General said. My brother, in an act I can only assume was a byproduct of exhaustion, reached out with his glove and pushed the liquid to the edge. We all scrunched our faces in unison and disengaged.


As much as I loved being a fireside voyeur and taking in all the trail talk and mile tallies, I turned in early that night. I was praying for sleep and warmth since we were technically out of the wind. I was also hoping the mice stayed away. I put on all of my clothes, including both of my jackets, and pulled every drawstring closure on my sleeping bag to keep me sealed in tight. I thought I heard one at some point in the night, but I can’t be sure. In the early hours of the morning, I (shocker) had to pee. I drunkenly climbed out of my sleep sack, put on my sandals and headlamp and scurried down the ladder. As I wondered out into the random smattering of trees behind the barn, I saw light from another headlamp and changed directions. Then I saw another light. And still one more. It was like a game of hide and seek with full bladders and bears. Or like the scene at the end of ET where the scary guys are coming for him. Rule No. 7: When you find yourself in the woods with other sleepy bathroom buddies, shine your light toward them, drop trou and get it done. They can’t see your fanny if they’re temporarily blinded. 

To be continued …


Makin’ Biscuits in the woods, Pt. 3

April 22, 2016

Day 2

My highest and lowest moments of the entire hike fell within the same 24 hours. We woke up Monday morning and putzed around our site for a generous amount of time. We brought out the GPS and had a brief powwow about the distance and terrain we had to knock out that day. “It looks like it’s about 5 miles, as a crow flies, and a 6000 foot elevation.” Lesson No. 3: A crow flies a much shorter path than a human walks. In all our time talking about water sources and elevation changes and mileage, I never did figure out why in the name of all that is sanity the term persisted. Those little punks, with their wings and their speed and their cocky attitudes, have a very direct route from Point A to Point B, whereas we had foot bridges and reroutes and natural roadblocks, like two-lane roads, to go around. It honestly made me crazy. The difference could be as much as 4 miles at times. “Yeah, but how far as a girl walks?” I began asking.

We ate oatmeal and sipped instant coffee and talked wilderness bathroom habits in great detail. (We talked about bathroom habits and body odors in great detail often over our 4 days together.) Lesson No. 4: Did you know you’re supposed to take your pants all the way off when you poop in the woods? That way, if a bear or a snake or a pack of girl scouts attacked, you could run, rather than topple over with your pants around your ankles. Not saying I did it, but I was told it was for survival … Anyway, eventually, we packed up our circle site and rolled out. The terrain was gradual at first. The section was beautiful and almost Secret Garden-esque as we maneuvered among rocks in the subtle shade of the towering rhododendrons. I tried to picture what our hike would look like with these sleepy buds in full bloom. How brilliant the border of bright magenta and powder purple blossoms would be along the trail. Maybe someday I’ll go back when the hills are really blushing. After what felt like about an hour and half of tricky scrambling, we came to a break and the view was the first breath-taking overlook of the trip. It was a boost we didn’t know we needed.



We stopped for lunch and injury assessments early in the afternoon. Chicken salad on a tortilla, a Baby Bell and beef jerky, and a nagging blister for the Mr. Athletic tape and Band’Aids adhered, we were ready to rock the rest of the afternoon. Looking back, I think it was a blessing that we went into that second part of the Day 2 section blindly. I mean, maybe some of the people in our party knew the hellish climbs that awaited, but if they did, they weren’t sayin.

First up for the afternoon, a long, gradual climb on a Jack and the Beanstalk of a hill littered with brown crunchy leaves. As our rhythms and pace settled, our group spread out a bit. Soon I found myself walking alone. This was one of the only times I truly walked by myself on the trip. When you do any sort of repetitive activity in silence for a significant period of time, your thoughts start to interrupt each other and get a bit like an 18 year old’s on shrooms, though they feel deep and insightful in the moment. Mine were something like … Holy shit, this hill is endless … Gosh, look at Hank up there … he really is such a good partner … This whole thing is like a microcosm of life in general; with ups and downs and challenges and victories and moments when you feel off balance and teamwork and basic survival … There’s gotta be a blog post in there somewhere … Everyone should do this … My legs are freaking burning … I wonder what Hank’s thinking about … I wonder if he thinks I’m a good partner … If I were a bear, I’d be right over there … Realistically, will we ever do this again … Why does this look easy for Matt … Is it too soon for a snack … I hope they’re waiting on a rock after this corner … Nope, damn.

While your thoughts meander through and crowd your mind like a gang of drunken cats , there’s an orderly cadence that simultaneously takes over your body. Your trekking poles swing and find the ground each time your right foot advances forward. Your breath quickens and stabilizes in response to the rise and fall in demand. The crunch of your boots on the trees’ lost leaves and your inhalations lay down a basic beat to which the rest of your senses sing along. Minutes pass both painfully and quickly. It’s called a walk, but it’s arguably a dance as well. The probing solitude is a meditation with merit, no doubt, but the best part comes when you round a bend on a switchback and see your trailmates waiting, drop your pack and take a 10-minute rest.

After completing the hill of infinity, the boys and I gathered at a boulder to regroup. Hank wanted to keep moving and I felt some momentum lingering in my stems, so we left the crew and soldiered on to tackle the second high elevation of the day. Lesson No. 5: If you don’t like the scenery, just wait an hour. Something that amazed me about the AT was how quickly the backdrop changed. The morning was rhododendrons and rocks, while the first big hill was a sea of bare bronze and tree trunks, and now we were pulling ourselves up over large boulders and jagged mountainside saplings. (We’d see ice before the day was over.)


I don’t know if it was the fact that we were out of the forest and the sun was hitting my skin, or that this particular section of this particular mountainside felt uniquely beautiful and challenging, or the fact that it was just us, Biscuits and Gravy, trekking poles-deep in this glorious climb … whatever it was, reaching the top of that second mountain was a high point for me; likely the highest of the entire trip. This was also how I got confirmation – if there was ever any doubt – that I will do damn-near anything for chocolate.

We’d packed 6 Snickers bars for the 4 days (that’s 1 a piece for 3 days, if you’re doing the math, which I most certainly was). At 2:45 I must have made an ugly sound whilst heaving my huge ass up a testy boulder, to which my husband responded, “If you can make it to 3:30, we’ll stop and have our Snickers.” Even if Jennifer Aniston herself came down that mountain and told me we could meet for margaritas and haircare secrets if I made it to the top, nothing could have motivated me more than that promise of chocolate, roasted peanuts, nougat, and sweet, sexy caramel. And God love that man, he gave me 10-minute updates for the win. “30 minutes till Snickers, Court!” “10 minutes and it’s chocolate time!” We came to the most breath-taking area on, what felt like, the top of the world, kicked off our boots, pulled back the paper and ate the shit out of those candy bars. We called the chicks from that mountaintop, too, and it all just felt so satisfying. Because, you know, Snickers really do that.



I rode my chocolate-coated high down through a flat section of forest and right to the base of, yet another, mountain. Hank spotted a blue blaze (indicating a water source)  and, respecting rumors of sparse water sources ahead and recognizing we had only about 4 ounces of H2O between us, he decided to make the trek to fill up. The terrain turned out to be a bit steeper than anticipated. As the grown men crossed my path one by one, they disappeared in Hank’s footsteps in pursuit of the blue blaze. Soon, it was just me and the 13 year old from our group left waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We stood in the shadow of our final summit for what felt like an hour until signs of life came shuffling and huffing through the sparse foliage. The staggering single file line of men emerging from the woods looked beaten, battered and as if whatever devilish descent took them down to that watering hole stole 5 years of their youth. The last to come out was my Gravy. And then it was time to climb just one. more. mother-lovin mountain.

With the exception of Lieutenant Blazer, who was an agile freak of nature, we were all running on fumes. The mountain, which would bring us to our highest elevation of the day, was a nature-made obstacle course constructed of unsettling ledges, rounded stones, tree root steps and puddles frosted in ice from the frigid overnight temps. Around every turn was a fresh ascending viewpoint and we put in a weary, weak performance at best. I will say I found it comforting that everyone in our group, and everyone we came across from that point on, acknowledged just how brutal our Day 2 route really was. It made me feel like my shaking limbs were a symptom of normal fatigue as opposed to fragility and a lack of preparedness.

When we reached the break in our third consecutive climb of the afternoon, we stepped out into the field where the Cloudland Hotel once stood and collapsed into various piles. My sugar buzz had evaporated as quickly as it came on, leaving me too disenchanted by this point to read the plaque that stands on this historical land. I tells the story of The Cloudland, a luxury resort that literally sat on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Consuming alcohol was legal in Tennessee at the time, but not in North Carolina. Guests could drink in the dining room, which was located on the appropriate side, but if they crossed the line painted on the floor they were in North Carolina territory and subject to the designated punishment. Where socializing and music once filled an entire building, now a handful of tired-ass hikers sat staring at its fluffy, billowy mascots in what was now an open grassland. There really are a lot of clouds up here, I thought to myself. Though had I been on an overlook with any other name, I might not have even noticed them. Once The General made it up the mountain we began talking camp. Our goal was to make it to Roan High Knob, the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail at 6,285 feet above sea level. But Lieutenant Blazer was giving the hard sell on a patch of pine trees about 10 feet from where we all sat trail wasted on the ground.


The General pushed for us to finish out the day and head just .6 of a mile down the trail to the water source at Roan High Knob. We had covered 7.9 miles at that point, but that last .6 was the longest of the day. And it didn’t get much better once we made the jagged climb up to camp. The wind on Monday night was unforgiving and somewhere along the way, the heavens decided to start spitting giant droplets of pestering water. Lucky for us, the Magician was on the scene. The Magician was a super-focused thru-hiker with a lot of advice and a vegan dog. That’s right, his dog, Pig, was vegan. I remembered seeing them flash past us on that first big hill right after lunch. The dog was built like a tiny brick shithouse; strong and solid. Every morning, The Magician would rub chapstick on the pads of Pig’s paws and give him a full body check. Pig had a special blanket and was just basically killin’ it in all aspects of the game. The Magician walked Hank around and showed him the only other flat spot outside of the shelter to set up our tent. We also peeked into the shelter. “The mice won’t bother you. You’ll just hear them,” the other hikers said. I made the decision right then and there to be a total girl and stick to our tent. It was the wrong decision.

We set our tent up in the dark gray drizzle that comes on a stormy evening just before night falls. The fire was smoky and constantly considering extinguishing completely, making my eyes burn too badly to stay. I ate my freeze-dried lasagna, watched Hank and the Lieutenant tie a bear bag up into a tree and called it for the night. Around 11pm or so, I woke up with that familiar call to pee. I was cold and pissy. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. But I did. And once you get cold like that you’re pretty much screwed. My teeth chattered and my whole body ached from shivering. Hank gave me his down jacket to put over the one I was already wearing. Nothing helped. This is how I die, I thought. I’m going to pass away from hypothermia on some stupid mountaintop because I read some stupid book and thought, hey, why shouldn’t I go find myself in the freaking woods. My poor girls are going to have to tell this story so many times. It was all messing with my mind in a way that unearthed vulnerabilities and insecurities I’ve only felt a few times before. It put me in a bad, bad headspace and poked at my inner pessimist. I didn’t sleep that night, either. The wind tugged at our tent cover and toyed with the idea of demonstrating its brut power by removing the thing altogether. By the time the sun rose, my spirits and boot soles were completely frozen. I had hit a low point on the trip.

To be continued … 




Makin’ Biscuits in the woods, Pt. 2

April 18, 2016

On the eve of Day 1.
His trail name was “T-Rex”. He was dressed from head to toe in shiny black nylon that was too small, both on the top of his bottoms and the bottom of his top. He often looked straight ahead in a stoner stare rather than make any type of eye contact with anyone in our group. He materialized from the darkness some time between when we left to stuff our excited pieholes at Smoky Mountain Bakers and our return. T-Rex must have mentioned his intent to watch Jurassic Park no less than 15 times, only to get up and put in The Thing instead, much to the delight of no one. The kid was just a few beats off the rhythm if you hear what I’m rappin’.

I’d felt some dull apprehension about who we might encounter on the trail. The timing was perfect for us to intersect a good number of thru-hikers (people hoofing it up the entire 2,000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine), most of whom started in late February-early March. Right outta the gate I was sharing my leftover cheese sticks with this joker; a guy who was, “Sent away to an island when [he] was young because [he] was very bad.” Great … awesome. I live in the suburbs with 3.5 children and have a secret crush on Sarah Jessica Parker, so … we have a lot of nothing really at all in common. Please don’t cut off my hair while I sleep.

While the accommodations were charming in a way that felt appropriate for this kind of adventure – I especially loved the pictures and thank you messages from past thru-hikers displayed above the deep wash tub sink in the corner –  T-Rex was adding a certain type of character that had me feeling unsettled. He was nothing like his calmer comrades, Ace and Calvin, who both ate their instant oatmeal and made polite conversation about “all the millennials who acted like the trail owed them something” and tendinitis.


At 10p.m. hikers who didn’t pay for a bed at the hostel are expected to head out and pitch their tent in the designated area (I mean to camp; get your mind out of the gutter). Ace had forked over the cash, but Calvin and T-Rex adjusted their headlamps and bid us farewell. The aggressive wind had been screaming at the tin roof of the hostel for a few hours at this point, and the gusts only seemed to be growing, both in strength and frequency. The barn was noticeably shifting and bending to nature’s bold breath. I could feel it. And so, when Calvin and his shifty trailmate came running back in about 30 minutes later, it wasn’t entirely shocking. “Nope … not doin’ it,” Calvin said with wide eyes. “Nope!” T-Rex chimed in for confirmation. “A tree literally just snapped and fell 2 feet from my tent! I could have died.” Calvin recounted skittishly. I’ll admit, I thought it was a clever ploy to catch a spot on the couch. I think we all did. (It wasn’t). We offered up some half-hearted sympathy and turned in.*


My thoughts volleyed between the hike and the roof literally flying off of the hostel as I shifted to find a dip in the mattress suitable for my soft form. As I settled, I heard voices from the loft area where the rest of our crew was nestled. “It’s gotta be something that goes together,” My brother’s friend, who went by The General on the trail, said. “Like peanut butter and jelly or, ya know what just feels right … Biscuits and Gravy. Biscuits!” He hollered in a jerky southern accent. “Biscuits! Get yo ass down here, girl! Damnit, Biscuits!” I knew they were working up trail names for me and Hank. And, like gum to a security blanket, it stuck.

Between the squalls, swaying barn structure and unplanned sleepover guest, T-Rex, (who must have gone in and out of the hostel at least 6 times throughout the night to do God only knows what … gather weapons and cut letters out of magazines for the note he would leave by our bodies, I assumed), I didn’t sleep. I can admit with little shame that it went against every instinct in my motherly being to curl up mere inches away from a stranger who may or may not have been a juvenile delinquent in some capacity and who may or may not have been shipped off on a boat by his parents to be treated for some sort of disturbing behavior, with nothing between us but a curtain. But this is actually good, I thought. Between staying up late to pack our packs the night before and this sleepless night, I should have no problems falling asleep on the trail tomorrow.

Day 1
People started maneuvering the vinyl folding door to the bathroom around 7:15 or so Sunday morning. I whispered my zero sleep status and detest for T-Rex to Hank before shuffling out of the area where our king-sized bed was nestled. I sat awkwardly on a chair next to my brother blinking away what little sleep had accumulated in my eyes and acclimating myself to the sausage fest in which I currently found myself. I looked over Matt’s shoulder to see a kind-faced guy, about my age, sitting on the deck. He eventually stepped in, friendly but timid. He was swinging through to pick up a resupply box and didn’t hate the fact that we mentioned there was a shower here. “Hey, man,” he was looking at my brother. “I’m Bro-seph.” “Cool … I’m Matt.” There was a moment of silence as the morning high dropped from Bro-seph’s face and he accepted the fact that this guy wasn’t feelin’ his trail vibe.  “I’m actually Matt, too,” he conceded.

See, trail names are a funny thing. Almost everyone we came across had one, and, for someone who is terrible with names, it actually made them easier to remember while also lending a bit of anonymity. I imagine there’s something freeing about being whoever you want to be on the trail. You don’t have to be “Sharon from Accounting” on the AT. You can be “Coffee Mate” or “Monarch” or “Shuffle Butter” or “Quick Cheeks”. It doesn’t matter. Anything goes. It’s a story you tell around the fire and your entry in the registry.  The exchange between the Matts was a testament to the fact that my brother was there for the climb and not networking with the intriguing trail folk. He wanted to hike, spend time with his best friend, sister and brother-in-law, and maybe have some laughs. That was it. He had no interest in dissecting the new Lumineers album and he certainly didn’t want to sit around a flame talking trekking poles with strangers named “Nacho”. Ironically, it was also that exchange that earned him his official trail name, “Just Mat”.


Around 10:25 an SUV and a truck pulled around by the General Store to shuttle us to the trailhead. It was frigid outside. It was so cold, you guys, that the hostel owners’ goat wouldn’t come out of a hole it dug for itself in the side of a hill. That’s freaking cold. Nonetheless, I wedged myself into the extended cab between Just Mat and Gravy. The General sat up front. It felt like we drove forever. As people made small talk and the cab filled with the smell of warm coffee breath and heavily applied deodorant, my attention went to how nonchalantly our chauffeur was taking these tight bends around the mountain; the mountain with no guardrails. One little sneeze, one sip of scorching-hot joe, one slip of the steering wheel and the truck would go violently tumbling. My eyes darted. No one else seemed to notice how close we were to plummeting to our deaths. Forget bears … we were never going to make it out of the shuttle alive.  The driver mentioned that after they dropped us, they were heading for a rescue. Apparently a couple of girls had gotten sick and couldn’t go on. Apparently a lot of hikers had gotten sick this year. “So we can call if we need rescued?” I inserted casually. He was playing a killer alternative radio station and I began to calm down.


We reached the start of our section at Iron Mountain Gap and piled out of the two vehicles. It was still bitterly cold. There was a stiffness and hesitation in everyone’s gate. Our bodies wanted to hibernate. “Good luck!” our escorts said before heading back down the winding mountainside. We gathered for a group photo, adjusted packs, poles and jackets, and took our first steps onto the Appalachian Trail. “We’re really doing it guys!” I said to Just Mat and Gravy. Just 1 minute later I was so winded I couldn’t utter more than 2 words strung together at a time. “Wow this … is so … pretty, huh?” To which my husband responded, “I think … we might … have … underestimated … the physicality … of this.” The good news was the heat came fast to my core and fingers. The bad news was the next 4 days were guaranteed to hand us our asses on a platinum AT platter.



The landscape on that first day was much like a Midwest forest with a mountainous backdrop thrown in for good measure. Gradual hills, barely budding foliage and the dried, leafy remnants of the past autumn carpeting the path. Honestly, the first section went so fast. It was a manageable 6 miles and I felt invigorated when we arrived at Clyde Smith Shelter – our end point for the day – in time for a stupid-late lunch around 2:30. The weather was beautiful, probably in the high 50s/low 60s and a sad tuna salad tortilla rollup never sounded so good. In the unforgiving light of the mid-afternoon, the shelter gave off more of a lean-to vibe. It had 3 walls, a roof, a few sleeping platforms and mouse mobiles (strings with bottles and cans attached to keep rodents from scurrying down the line to get into your food sacks). For some reason I pictured cute little playhouse-type structures with warm, sturdy perimeters. Not so much.

The Shelter

We opted to set up camp in a circular area behind the shelter. “It’s nice and flat, and it looks like only a few people shit back here,” The General proclaimed. Lesson No. 2: Always look for toilet paper before you pick your camping spot. He and Just Mat had hammocks they attached across from each other, as did the father and son in our group. Lieutenant Blazer (a friend of The General’s) made a last-minute decision to sleep in his bivy sack next to the fire. The fire … ah, the fire. There are spirit makers and spirt breakers on the trail and the fact we were able to have a fire was a huge maker for me. I had heard the only blazes permitted on the trail were the white ones you follow, so I was delighted when I saw a fire ring at our site, and even more geeked when I sat next to that fire with a little hot cocoa. As I savored my hard-earned pouch dinner and listened to the tunes coming from The General’s portable speaker, my husband bustled about putting the finishing touches on our tent and hanging our packs from the trees. “Gawd, look at Gravy just hustlin to get shit done while you sip hot chocolate,” Just Mat remarked, in a way only a big brother could. “Princess Biscuits. That’s your new name. Princess. freaking. Biscuits.” And like a bad first impression to your bunkmates at church camp, it stuck.


I didn’t sleep much that night. I typically catch my Zs on my tummy, and my mummified sleeping bag wasn’t really conducive to remaining in that position without suffocating. I was using my clothing stuff sack as a pillow at the General’s recommendation and it didn’t want to stay put, slippery little sucker that it was. I laid there, Princess Biscuits in the vast wilderness, as my sweet Gravy finally found some rest. Around 10:30 – which felt like 3am because we went to bed as soon as the sun disappeared – my hot cocoa kicked in. I suddenly had to pee. I had to climb over my poor, sleeping husband to frantically fight for release from the zipper and find freedom. He awoke to a knee in the liver from his beloved, but I did escape in time to water the nearest thirsty tree. As I climbed back into my cocoon, empty-bladdered and a bit sugar buzzed, I reflected just long enough to admit to myself that this shit was real. And this shit was tough. And this shit was really tough.

To be continued … 

*A note from the author: In hindsight, those poor kids really could have had their water shut off that evening. I felt like the worst kind of jerk the next morning when we saw the tree and can’t stress enough how happy I am that to my knowledge neither they, nor anyone else we came across suffered any serious injuries.


Makin’ Biscuits in the woods, Pt. 1

April 13, 2016

As I walked in a staggered single-file line on a mountaintop that parted clouds, in 40 mph sustained winds, 6200 feet in the air, I had to remind myself … I chose this. I wanted this. Sure, I hadn’t predicted the slicing windburn or grueling physicality of it all, but I made a thousand tiny decisions that put me right here on this trail, on this mountain, on this walk. And truthfully, coming out on the other side of it, it was worth every, single, step.


I’ve had a legit hiking excursion on my bucket list since about halfway through the pages of  Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild“. When I read it, I was a fairly new mom, in my late 20s, and the whole idea – from the balls it took to the peace it promised – just lit me up inside. For many, including the majority of my friends, the thought of spending any amount of time isolated in nature with nothing but a bag of dehydrated noodles and your thoughts is more of a nightmare than a vacation (“Where will you poop?” “But, can you have cocktails?” “What do you mean, mice?”), but for whatever reason, it whispered to me relentlessly over the years. Somehow, likely by drowning him in my insistence, I convinced my husband to spend a handful of our precious, too-few vacation days on the Appalachian Trail chasing down our inner, zenful mountain personas.

While I might have talked him into going, I had no idea how to coordinate the logistics of such a thing. Sure, I’d been bitten by the wanderlust bug and could speak in the most romantic way about how the hills were calling and what would happen to our souls once we completely unplugged, but honestly, I’m worth shit when it comes to navigation. So, around Christmas, I began researching group adventure packages through various outdoor retailers. When I asked my brother’s friend, a backpacking enthusiast, for his opinion, he offered to organize  a trip in the spring. We would leave on a Saturday, hike for 4 days, and be home by Thursday afternoon. It would be the perfect experience for two people looking to dip their big toes into the intimidating backpacking stream.

I want to tell you all about our adventure. Every character. Every victory. Every failure. Every elevation. How I came to be called Biscuits. But it’s going to take time and a little thought collecting. I’ll kick things off with a bit about the preparation.

A bit about packing 

When I was a junior in high school, my best friend Jenn invited me to join her family for Spring Break in Naples, Florida. The trip would mark only the second time I’d ever been on an airplane, an endeavor I found to be synonymous with rolling luggage. Because of this, I begged my mom to let me borrow her large canvas suitcase. Completely naive to the fact that we were actually headed for the retirement capital of the world and would not see a single person even close to our age for five consecutive days, I spent weeks curating the perfect Old Navy wardrobe for the trip. I would be prepared, with figure-flattering ensembles for oceanside bonfires and straw strappy wedges. By departure day, I had filled that generously sized suitcase till the zippers were bulging. I threw it in my Z24 and sped off to Jenn’s house. When I arrived, her dad, Freddie, a true blowhard from Boston with the kind of accent that naturally insinuates annoyance and impatience in all instances (except when he spoke to his golden retriever), was in the driveway loading up the car. “Cauwtney … ya bag in ya ca?” I nodded proudly and started toward the house. I heard an exasperated grunt and two plastic wheels hit pavement behind me. “Jeeezus!” Freddie strained. “Cauwtney, ya gotta body in here or what?” His grievances were confirmed and my humiliation rapidly swelled when my suitcase earned a caution-orange sticker with the word “Heavy” repeating over and over at the checkin counter. I’ll never forget the sight of my shameful bag with the obnoxious tape coming down the carousel and the snickering reception it received from Jenn’s family. To this day, her dad still gives me shit about that damn suitcase. I can only say this: I’ve always been a worrier. And I’ve always been an over-packer. Perhaps the explanation is in there somewhere.

So, four months ago, when Hank and I decided to go on this backpacking trip, I immediately began researching how the pros get it done.

The amount of information available to one hoping to pursue a hobby like hiking is plentiful and often contradictory. A quick Pinterest search or Google spray and pray gives hundreds of posts (much like the one I am writing right now) and reviews and suggestions. With something like backpacking, you’re talking about countless variables for each person. You have to consider the elements, the individual, the landscape … So, when I’m comparing sleeping bags or raincoats or water filtration systems, it can be tough to find an insightful voice among all the noise. I was lucky to have some experienced acquaintances and a bulging blog roll in my Feedly.

With a growing wish list, we asked for REI gift cards exclusively for the holidays and made a trip down to the closest location a few weeks before we left. There, I was fitted for my pack by a gentleman who looked much like a young Andrew Keegan (a la 10 Things I Hate About You) with hair grazing his shoulders. I made a few trips around the sales floor and decided the Dueter was it for me. We picked up some base layers and down jackets and the rest would be purchased by a click of the mouse. Amazon was our best friend, as every stranger’s blog post revealed an accessory we had to add to our arsenal.

It seemed the weeks were long but the months were short, and before we knew it we were standing over a room full of gear and grub making some serious decisions about what would come and what wouldn’t make the cut. With one modest backpack and an extensive packing list, contending thoughts of running out of TP on a brisk mountain morning and the ghost of the orange caution tape of ’99 wrestled in my frantic mind. To forget something life-saving, like my hot cocoa packets, would be devastating, but carrying too much would be humiliating. Our food alone took up an entire coffee table. I was beginning to doubt my inner Cheryl.

Backpacking Food

The night before we left, Hank and I were up until 2 a.m. eliminating items and condensing our piles. Once we identified what would be our essentials, we began the actual assigning of said items to pockets and pouches. Moving Martha Stewart’s entire house is less stressful than filling a backpack when you’ve never done it before. I had coffee cups strapped to sleeping bags adhered to a trucker’s cap. My pack was a steaming hot mess. There was no denying it. “Just bring it all and we’ll sort it out at the hostel” my brother’s friend said. “No judgement. I won’t laugh. Just bring it all.”

The next morning, me, my brother and Hank threw everything in the cab of Matt’s truck and made the smooth, beautiful ride eight hours south to the Mountain Harbour Hiker Hostel in Roan Mountain, Tennessee. The rest of our party had already arrived, so I hauled my mismanaged Dueter up the steps to the rustic sleeping quarters. I opened the door and saw 3 young guys I didn’t recognize sitting on a couch watching a VHS tape of The Fugitive. I made an awkward comment about being in the wrong place, turned and went back down the stairs. Turns out, I was in the right place. Lesson No. 1: On the trail, strangers are just roommates you haven’t met yet.

I entered the hostel a second time – this go-around I acted like a badass fresh off a 20-miler – and threw my weighty pack on the ground. Soon I was in the thick of a crash course in hiker packing. “Court, do you really need an entire tin of bag balm?” “You might have, like, 3 extra lunches.” And the nail in the coffin that solidified my amateur status, “So … creamer packets, huh? And exactly how many creamers do you put in your coffee each morning? And you want to carry them in the box, do ya?” [Laughter] I felt my cheeks turn cherry as my stack of items to leave behind piled up. Aside from my laughable luxuries, my organizational issues were resolved with a “keep it simple stupid” mindset. All I needed in the end was a stuff sack for food, a stuff sack for clothes and my sleeping bag in the front pocket. Sure I had new underwear for every day – a luxury to most on the trail – but fresh skivvies made me feel human. So, he let me keep them. Maybe I had mildly scented Burt’s Bees facial cleansing wipes, but once I purged a few creamers and stuffed my sacks, I had the room. So, he let me keep them. Here’s what went on with me in the end* …

What's in My Pack

*It’s important to note here that my husband and I were able to divide our load a bit. He took the water purifier, 2-person tent, pain meds and part of the food, as well as his own necessities. What can I say? Sharing is caring.

Final Food ListThe system was simple: Rain gear and sleeping bag in the bottom zip compartment. Stuff sack with clothes in the bottom of the main compartment, with the stuff sack containing food on top of that. Head lamp, toiletries and any food I needed during the day on the trail were stored in the very top zipper compartment. Water bottles and down jacket (when removed) on the sides and my sleeping mat rolled and fastened to the front. Bing. Bang. Boom.

Oh, and p.s. As we all huddled around our mugs of Maxwell House the morning we headed out, guess what was the hot commodity … What all the fellas were begging for … That’s right … Mama’s creamers, baby.

To be continued …