Sophie, a 90 pound Great Dane, is one of my product testers this summer. I am happy to work with Sophie, because I can actually visit her in person and see how the big dog pattern is working! She is also the reason I love dogs. Several years ago her parents asked me to take care of her for 3 weeks while they traveled to Greece. Before living with Sophie for almost a month, I was a "cat person." Thank you Sophie for showing me how great dogs can be! Years later, here I am, a proud dog parent. Powder River, the Ulrichs and I like to joke about how Cooper is Sophie's mini me. It's true, maybe Cooper does have a little Great Dane in him. He would love to chase a bore, if given opportunity. I would also like to thank Sophie's dad, Jacob. I worked with him for 4.5 years making custom concrete countertops. He has been in manufacturing for ten years. I worked under him, and he constantly refined my craft and kept us both striving for the best. Jacob's blood is German and he loves good construction... I know he and his wife Liz will do a great job contributing to Groundbird Gear's design!
The Kallin Family is an inspiration. More than just the fact that they are thru-hiking the A.T. as a family (a family which includes Robin Hood, age 9 and Cartwheel, she just turned 8 and they have reached the half way point to Maine); I am in awe of their love for each other and radiant joy and youthfulness, all five of them. The fifth family member is Orion, a 6 year old Springer/Lab mix. Mr. and Mrs. Kallin: Dave "All In" and Emily "Mama Bear" said they had not seen Orion play the entire hike as they saw him play with Cooper. (Cooper will bring the puppy out in any boy dog about his size!) I mistook Mama Bear for being 10 years younger than her age and we laughed as she reminded me that Robin Hood is almost 10 and she couldn't possibly be in her early 20s (see her pic below!).
Follow the Kallin Family on their journey from Georgia to Maine at: http://kallinfamily.com/
I met up with the Kallins as they were just finishing their half gallon challenge at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store. Needless to say, everyone was sprawled out on the picnic tables. Robin Hood ate 3/4 of the half gallon, which is better than what I could put down back in 2011! Cooper and I hiked with them over to the lake and waited while the whole family (except Orion, he was content laying on the grass) jumped in the lake. It started raining and we decided to eat under the covered porch of the bath house. I brought them some trail magic in the form of lettuce, tomatoes, feta, watermelon and kielbasa. (Mama Bear grows all of her family's food in her garden and the salad was a hit.) Ginger and Gilligan were also with us. They are a thru-hiking newly-weds on a mission out of a backpack to spread the love of God. I was impressed as everyone ate the food I brought, and their own pasta side concoctions, only about a half hour after the ice cream challenge.
Follow Ginger and Gilligan's nobo thru hike at: http://missionoutofabackpack.blogspot.com/
I spent the night with the gang at a tent site a bit north of the lake. We hiked up the hill in the dark, Cartwheel's first night hike. Everyone set up their tents and the kids played with some sparklers. For hikers we got to bed very late, 10pm. The Kallins let the kids sleep in til about 7am and we were on the Trail by about 7:30. They needed to get the show on the road because today they are hiking 18 miles to Boiling Springs to pick up a box before the post office closes. Sound crazy? An 8 and 9 year old hoofing it over mountains on a rocky 2,200 mile long trail...day after day, most days around 18 miles? Nope, it's really not that crazy when you spend some time with the Kallins. It is their normal. The kids are doing such a great job and are genuine thru-hikers in manner and speech. Their ongoing accomplishment carries a message for us all: if we walk as joyous children, free of jaded thoughts, free of judgement, filled with curiosity towards the things we discover and new people we meet, we too can accomplish our goals. As a lover of God I will add- when we walk through life as children who know who our Father is and trust that He will take care of our needs, just as Emily and Dave so lovingly care for their kids and dog, we too can accomplish great things that make our Father proud and further the goodness He pours into the world.
Now on to building Orion's pack. I will mail it to them a bit down the Trail.
My Mom and I went out for a second time, this time her neighbor Mic joined us, and it was Mic's first backpacking trip! My Mom so wanted Mic to have a good time, enough so, so that she might consider becoming my Mom's hiking partner. We had such a good time that we actually added a 1000' foot drop (and climb back up) down the blue blaze Jones Waterfall/Doyles River trail. At around 2:30 when we came to this side trail, we realized we'd be very early into camp (Black Rock Hut) and we might as well get some more hiking in. Adding this blue section was a good experience for everyone to see what climbing mountains is all about, because the A.T. through this section (Loft Mountain Campground to Black Rock Gap) is very very flat. And highly recommended to beginner backpackers. This section also has a great reward at the end, if you hike South from Loft Mountain, Black Rock is one of the best views in the Shenandoahs, next to Mary's Rock! ***Dogs must be on leash in the Park, and this is no joke. There are seriously bears everywhere and Mamma Bear will easily be able to kill a dog to protect her cubs. Cooper would surely die if he was off leash in the Park.
Night One: Car camped at Loft Mountain Campground (the campground was fully reserved, but we took one of the walk-in sites)
The Next Morning: We set up our car shuttle, with one vehicle at Loft Wayside and the other in Black Rock Gap (0.7mi hike South from Black Rock Hut). Mic's husband kindly dropped us off in Loft Mtn campground so we didn't have to hike up to the Trail from the Wayside. From here to Black Rock Hut is about 7 mi. Our blue blaze added about 3.5mi.
Night Two: pitched tents at Black Rock Hut. A few good tents sites here, great piped spring and decent shelter.
The Next Morning: very short walk out to the car in Black Rock Gap
We hiked through the boulder field at Black Rock from the back side of the overlook. Mom and Mic were not too happy with me for making them go the "long way." Oops. Made for a nice little workout before the view though! Cooper loves navigating the rocks and does a pretty good job. If he comes to a part and needs some help, the Groundbird Gear harness double handles make it easy to pick him up.
I had a great birthday hike on the A.T.! Powder River, Cooper and I drove down to Front Royal the day after my birthday and hiked to the Jim and Molley Denton Shelter from Manassas Gap, VA 55. A nice 3 mi hike and a little history. The Manassas Gap rail line, which we crossed over, was used by Confederate troops in the battle of Manassas, also known as the Battle of Bull Run. The Denton Shelter is pretty fancy, with a huge front porch, Adirondack style bench, a separate open shelter for cooking, and complete with tons of stink bugs! So we pitched the tent! That night Cooper lost a growth on his face that we had been praying over for about a week! It was a divine run-in with a vine or branch. On Friday morning, Powder River walked alone back to the car and I continued South to Rt. 522, (5 mi) where he picked us up and we headed for the Apple House. It's a really great spot for BBQ and fresh pork rinds. Cooper and I re-supplied to hit the trail for the next two days while Powder went to work.
Coop and I had a great time meeting a handful of Sobos. We met a group of three guys traveling together who seem quiet on track to finish up at Springer by Thanksgiving. We had fun hanging out with Slim (PA->Springer) and Warren (Southern PA->Front Royal) at the Dick's Dome Shelter Friday night (Manassas Gap ->Dick's Dome: 7mi). Slim shared with us some Paw Paws he had found that day. A pretty interesting native fruit I had never tried before. Kinda like a cross between a pear and banana. The next day we saw Handyman, Cake and Boulderdasher on the trail in Sky Meadows State Park.
My longest mileage day with Cooper was 15 mi on Saturday from Dick's Dome to Sam Moore Shelter, thru the first 5 peaks of the "Roller Coaster," a 13mi section with about 13 peaks. Cooper was already pretty tired from the first couple of days. He's only 2 years old and still learning how to conserve energy... And he was starting to firgure out how to take it easy. Cooper really lucked out on this hike because he (we think purposely) "forgot" his pack at home. Lucky dog.
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