Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Remember November

Beau and I are enjoying some relaxing days off work/school from this thing they call a hurricane. A huge plus for growing up in this area is all the inclement weather days we got off of school in the winter.  I can remember more than one instance when we got a solid week or more off of school- and sometimes, just for a forecast for snow or, my favorite, "freezing rain". This meant I got to go to the barn extra days during the week, which is all I really cared about, anyway. The bad thing is that all this rain is really messing up  my running schedule.

It's almost November, and I have a lot of goals and things I want to commit myself to. Especially since we are moving next weekend about 45 minutes south to Manassas. Moving is always crazy, of course, but this apartment is furnished and we've been mostly packed up since we left West Jordan a year and a half ago. I'm mostly excited, but also kind of uncharacteristically anxious. I don't like the idea of having to find new running and cycling routes when I'm so comfortable with the ones I have in Ashburn, I'm not looking forward to having a slightly longer commute until my office moves to the new place just 5 miles from the new apartment, and I especially don't like that I'll be so lonely in the evening. Beau is hardly ever home, going straight from work to school or studying. Without having my parents and my sister's family around, things will be awfully quiet!

To help combat the couple hours of dead time in the evening, I've made up some goals for myself for November:

- Move into Manassas apartment and get things organized
- Come up with some DIY decor ideas to make it our own
- Continue to cook/eat the same way my mama does: creative, planned ahead of time, based around clean foods, and using meat sparingly
- Find good running routes around our new place
- Continue to run 35+ miles per week, with strength training and cycling on cross training days
- Establish our Mint.com budget
- Find good things to occupy my free time after work- scripture reading, learning to be crafty, journal writing, etc.

Too much? Possibly.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saturday is a Special Day

I love love love a jam packed Saturday. Jam packed with fun things, of course.

Last-last weekend (my original draft said last weekend, but.. I always start blog drafts and don't post them. So it has turned into last-last weekend), Beau told me he would be busy all day studying. At first I was a little bummed he couldn't come to my race with me, but then I started planning all these fun random things I'd been wanting to do.

First: the Freedom's Run half marathon. This event was awesome. I've never gone to a race completely on my own before- normally, even if I don't have friends to run with, Beau is my support crew. Not this time! It was weird parking and walking to the starting area and figuring it out all on my own. And not having anyone to look for in the crowd. But I ran fast on a hilly course, had a PR of 1:54, and felt great the whole time.  In the finish area, they had a fun photo booth set up with all kinds of props. It's possible I'm the only person who did this activity alone, but I'm cool with it.

"It's rude to count people as you pass them... OUT LOUD"
A half marathon pace of 8:41 tells me I am able/need to run much faster in my training runs! I guess I'm just lazy and stick with my regular 9:10ish pace. Racing is so fun. I need to find some winter races... locals, any ideas?

After the race, I went to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to a) check out the hiker book and see who passed through after us, b) complete my 2,000 miler application, and c) get myself (and Lady Forward, at her request) a 2,184 mile sticker for my car. You may recall this photo:

Every thru hiker stops in to the ATC and gets their photo taken and added to the hiker book. I, of course, was dying to see who I knew in the first half the hike and after getting ahead of them, never heard from again. I wrote down full names to find people on facebook. It's so funny to see people's real names after only knowing them by the trail names- almost like I'm finding out their real, more boring, identity. In June, they will publish all the names of hikers who finished the trail in 2012 in the AT magazine and we'll be able to see a complete list.

I also found out that they don't even make the 2,184 stickers anymore. They did have some old 2,179 stickers from 2010 (the trail length sometimes changes from year to year), so I got that instead.

Next, as I was driving home, I saw a flea market. Pullll over for some spontaneous perusing. I picked up a squash and some apples at the vegetable stand, then was on my way to Leesburg for some thrift store shopping. When I parked the car, I saw the car next to me had an AT license plate. I was all excited to put my sticked in the window so when he left, he could see that we were friends. In my favorite thrift store, Blossom and Bloom, I found a skirt and a top AND my Halloween costume. Get ready. It's awesome. Beau and I were assigned the task of heading up the ward Halloween party, so I feel like I should make a bit of an effort.

I'm sure Beau had as much fun as I did while he was studying, right?

In the evening, Beau and I tried to plan our AT fireside we were giving the next day. We made an outline, but it was so hard to try to script the whole thing! We ended up presenting it without ever having gone through the presentation, but it went really well.

AT cookies, anyone?
 We did about 40 minutes of telling about the AT and our hike, and then left time for questions. People had really good questions and we loved fielding them. We had a slideshow of photos and brought some gear for visuals. I had never done something like this, but it was so fun!

It was cool to see how many people came to the fireside and how interested they were in asking questions. A few people brought their children, and one girl (maybe 10 ish?) told me afterward, "I want to hike now, too!" YES, child, yes you do. While sure, there is girls camp, girls in the church do not have nearly the same exposure to hiking and outdoors experience that the scouts do. My 4th year hike at GC is what originally introduced me to backpacking, and I hate to think of all the girls that never had an experience that physically pushes their limits.  There is such a strong connection between challenging yourself physically and becoming a stronger person mentally. Go take a hike!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Buff Headwear Giveaway winners

Comments #4 and #11, so... "the Richards" and "the Black Rose"! Please email me by Saturday with your desired Buff product (www.BuffUSA.com) and shipping address!

Next week, we have another giveaway coming up for one of my favorite nutrition bar.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Buff Headwear Giveaway! (closes 10/19/12)

One random accessory I picked up on the trail was a Buff head wrap. I loved it! A lot of hikers, male and female, use these things in a variety of ways.

I wore it as a headband, especially needed because my hair too short to put in a good ponytail. When it was cold around camp, I would pull it down over my ears. Luckily, it didn't get cold enough to wear it as a balaclava on my thru hike... but I foresee some winter hiking this year!

modeling my Buff Original

The lovely people at Buff are helping me give away two items from their collection! Their selection can be found at BuffUSA.com. There are so many choices! I have the Original, or "Tubular" kind. But the headband style looks great, too! Oh, and how cute are the baby, kid, and doggie designs? The fabric is stretchy and wicks sweat away... and there are so many prints to choose from. Check out this one, with a map of the AT!

To enter the giveaway, comment with your favorite place to hike, Appalachian Trail or otherwise. Two people will be selected randomly on October 19th, so please comment by midnight to be entered.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Let's talk about.... Gear!

edit on 5/24/2013 -- I am selling my beloved Tarptent Notch to swap it out for a two person TT. It is priced at $200. Please email me if interested! mackenzieparks@gmail.com
When I was preparing to thru hike, I loved looking at packing lists on blogs and researching gear. Now it's my turn! Friends and family, get prepared to just skip over this post, but for future thru hikers or AT backpackers, read on.

If you talk to 100 hikers, you will get 100 different ways to plan your thru hike. This is what worked for me/us and my observations on other hikers.  Also, each hiker has a different budget or places a different importance on a cost vs. weight. I put myself in the middle- maybe leaning on the side of spending extra to reduce weight.  Depending on food and water, my pack weighed between 26 and 32 lbs. I spent about $1,000 on gear, and bought almost everything on a sale price.

This list is just for basic gear, and coming soon are some blog posts dedicated to clothing selection, food selection, and more. Looking for more gear lists and good ideas? Check out Nitrous Oxide,and while you're there, get a snack, a comfy chair, and go ahead and read his entire blog.

Since I started off solo, I had a one person Notch TarptentHenry Shires' Tarptent is a lightweight single wall tent design, and many use trekking poles as the support structure for the tent.  My Notch was awesome and only weighed 2 lbs 2 oz.  I loved the large vestibule space on either side of the tent. On the Appalachian Trail I met several hikers with Tarptents and they all had very positive reviews.  Aside from the Notch, I like the design of the Rainbow tent best.  The Rainbow has a larger footprint, so it may be a better choice for a larger solo hiker or a someone with a dog.  Both of these have super easy and fast setup times.  The only negative comment I've heard about Tarptents (or any single walled tent, for that matter) is that the condensation was really bad. I only had my Notch for four weeks, because then my husband came on, but in those four weeks I didn't have a problem with it. The only TT I wouldn't recommend is the Contrail.  I saw so many of these where the tent was totally saggy at the feet.  Maybe it's better if you're an expert at setting it up... but instead, just go for a different design that it is better and more spacious!

Stratospire II and Notch set up
For a two person tent, the Rainbow II would by my first choice.  I like that it is free standing, making it easier to clean out and set up in any situation. The Stratospire II (two person tent) also seems like a good design to me, but from what I have seen it has a bit of a learning curve to set up.  The living space is not symmetrical to the outer wall and is challenging to understand at first.  The footprint is very large, making for a spacious living area, but requiring a big clear area for setup.

My husband joined me a month into the trail and we used a Sierra Design Clip Flashlight 2 person tent. It was lent to us from a friend.  It worked out fine, but I strongly prefer the lightweight tents.  We didn't like that this tent only has one door- a huge pain for a two person tent! But, overall, it served its purpose and it was fine.


I began my hike with a pack I already owned, a Mountainsmith Maverick. Within a week or two, the waist belt was too big.  I switched it out in Gatlinburg, TN for a smaller women's version, the Mountainsmith Laurel. Immediately upon use, my left shoulder began to hurt.  I thought I could "tough it out" or adjust the pack differently, but it didn't really work.  In Daleville, VA I got a Gregory Sage 55 pack. I hiked the rest of the AT with this pack and really liked it.  The biggest benefit to me (besides that it fit me better!) was the pockets the Gregory had on my hip belts. I kept my camera and snacks in these, making it easy to grab while we were hiking.

Beau hiked with the Mountainsmith Maverick and liked it fine. Mountainsmiths are pretty cheaply made, but it gets the job done! The only pack I wouldn't recommend is anything from Mountain Hardwear. I knew of three hikers whose packs broke or tore enough to warrant a replacement, and they were ALL made by Mountain Hardwear.

A lot of people were interested in ultralight backpacks, like from ULA. These packs are super lightweight, but are designed to only carry a light load, and aren't very comfortable if you over pack them. These ultra light frameless packs are a good option if you are going to be carrying ultra light gear.

Sleep System

I used a Thermarest Prolite, and Beau used a Big Agnes my mom had lying around. (Remember, I researched for months and he joined on late and was kind of scrambling for gear!) I had used the closed cell foam pads in the past and pretty much woke up every few hours each night. I knew plenty of thru hikers that had closed cell sleeping pads, but I could not understand how they got a good night's sleep!

I loved my Thermarest. I was a little worried about a couple things when I got an inflatable mattress: 1) Getting a puncture 2) Not having enough cushion to be comfortable. Because of #1, I chose a self inflating pad because the material is a little thicker/less prone to wear out. They're also a little cheaper because they're not as light. It's only 1 inch thick, but it was plenty comfortable, even on hard shelter floors.

Beau's Big Agnes worked well, until the valve developed issues and it deflated within a few hours. We were a few weeks from being done, and he didn't care enough to replace it.

For sleeping bags, I had the EMS Mountain Light 0 degree bag. Ohhh how I love my sleeping bag. One of the most comforting thoughts in the world is the idea of cozying up on a cold evening in my sleeping bag, on my thermarest, with a bag of gorp any my kindle. 0 degrees is a little overkill for an April start thru hike, but it was super on sale thanks to someone who made a repairable hole and decided to return it!

Beau's bag was borrowed (same friend who lent us her tent!), and I'm really not sure what kind it was. But it's rated to 20 degrees, which would probably be fine for most hikers.

From mid June to July (Harper's Ferry to Manchester, VT) we wanted a lighter sleeping option. Rather than purchase a 40 degree bag (sleeping bags are so expensive!) we used fleece liners, like this one. That was still a little cold, so we got creative. We had my parents bring us fleece blankets we had lying around- like the kind you can get for $5 from Target in the winter. These two things together were perfect for summer nights, and inexpensive, too!

Trekking Poles

If there any item of gear you can get by with not spending a lot of money on, it's trekking poles. Both of us hiked with Mountainsmith poles, the cheapest you can find, and they worked fine. We actually liked that they were so inexpensive because we didn't mind if/when they got worn down or bent. Beau is SUPER hard on his poles and they ended up breaking in the last week of our hike. Oh well! I know of a few people who had really light and expensive poles that broke early on because they couldn't hold up to the pounding and terrain. If you're trying to save money in any reasonable area, get cheapo poles.

I knew a few thru hikers who didn't use poles at all, but almost everybody does.  I hadn't used them until I started preparing for my thru hike and now I can't imagine not hiking with them.  I think they saved me from a lot of slips and falls.


For reservoirs, We started with Osprey HydraForm water bladders, which were fine, but too heavy. We switched them out for the Platypus, saving six ounces. Beau got a 3 liter bladder but usually only filled it to 2 liters.  It was nice to have the option of getting 3 liters so we could have extra water to cook with or drink at night. We also each carried an empty gatorade bottle so we could collect enough water in the evening to last us till the next day.  When it got hotter, we using powdered gatorade or drink mix in our bottles. Don't bother with Nalgene bottles! They are heavier than gatorade and, obviously, more money.

For purification, we tried a few methods.  When I was solo, I had a Katadyn Hiker Pro pump.  We kept using this until southern Virginia, when the handle broke off.  The problem was that the filter was getting dirtier and the handle got harder and harder to pump until the stress broke it off.  Katadyn gladly sent us a new handle, and until that came, we started using iodine tablets (the only thing available to us in the town we were in).  These actually weren't bad! First you put the iodine in, then a few minutes later the tablet that removes color and taste from the water.  Once we got the new handle, we also got AquaMira as a backup. It was really easy to use and didn't have any unpleasant taste.  I still, however, prefer the water pump because it's easy to get water from shallow water sources and I feel like it is more effective in purifying water.

Stove and Cooking

We had the Soto-OD1R. Absolutely loved it. I picked it up at a very discounted price at an REI attic sale without knowing much about it.  I loved not having to deal with a lighter to get it going, I loved how quick it was, I loved that it regulated the gas flow by itself. The gas flow is asdjustable, so it was able to be stronger to get a rapid boil going and lighter for simmering.

Getting fuel for this stove was not a problem at all. It's the same canister as the MSR Pocket Rocket and the Jet Boil, the most popular stoves on the trail.  We found that for the two of us cooking breakfast AND dinner every day, one fuel canister lasted about a week or more.

We also carried one cooking pot (just a cheap thing that I don't even remember where it came from), a little plastic cup for each of us, and another bowl with a lid so we could serve two things at once. We both used LMF Sporks until they broke mid hike. AND, I wasn't a huge fan of having my grimy hiker hand on the fork end while I was using the spoon end.  Now I have a dirty fork!  After they broke, we used the cheapo 79 cent spork at the outfitter and that was fine.

Whew! That's a lot of information. Stay tuned for clothing and food talk in future posts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

this week

The mortal world lost a beautiful soul this week. My dear gram passed away in her home, surrounded by the people she loved most.  I am grateful that I have lived close to Gram my whole life and had a very personal relationship to her.  My favorite recent memory was when I called her from Maine on the day we finished our thru hike.  "Mackenzie, I have today's date circled in red on my calendar! And I don't even do that for new babies."

Gram always had a sense to know how to make me feel special.  As the youngest of four sisters and one of 8 girl cousins within a three year span (dubbed "the middle girls"), it would be easy to remain part of a group.   I remember one year when I was probably 11 or so that she got all the middle girls and older girl cousins pajama pants for Christmas.  I, however, opened my gift to find a toy stuffed lion. At first I felt a little left out that all my cousins and sisters now had matching pajamas... and is 11 too old to be receiving stuffed animals? But I quickly realized that Gram knew me well enough to know that I would much rather pet and play with a stuffed lion than I would enjoy flannel pajama pants, even if I knew I was getting too old to do so.

The week preceding her death will always be one of my most fond and spiritual memories. We all knew within a few days of her admittance to the hospital that she wasn't going to get better.  She had no fear of dying and was open to talking about things like who she wanted to speak at her funeral and who she wanted to participate.  Most notably, she looked forward to seeing her husband again.  Her last few days in the hospital and then at her bedside were a beautiful testimony of the plan of salvation and the atonement.

Her funeral was yesterday and it was wonderful to have so many family members gather together.  All 7 of her children and many of her 38 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren were able to come.  It was interesting and a little humorous to see people walk in the church with saddened or pained faces, then greeted with a very lively and happy crowd.  While we all miss her, the funeral was a happy occasion   We celebrate the life of Sarah Dickson.  Though there are tears in my eyes as I type this, I am happy that I know where Gram is and that she is happier there than she has ever been.

My dad's closing remark in the eulogy (and, by the way, I think he should be a professional eulogy speaker) told of him asking Gram a year after Poppop's death how she was doing without him around. After a pause, she said, "The atonement works. It really really works."