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 great thing about living in Baltimore City is all the houses are row houses. You actually see and talk to your neighbors every single day. We live on a great block. Joe lives two houses down with his dog Henry. Henry is a Frisbee Dog Champion. Although Henry probably won't need a hiking pack, I asked Joe to check out the website to let me know what he thought. Today when he saw me out back on my way to take Cooper to the park, he said "wait a minute, I have something for you." And he handed me this hand stitched handkerchief, he said for Jeff. I was so impressed, I wasn't sure if he made this after being inspired by the products I've been making. But nope, Joe has made these for friends for some time I suppose. He said he tried to make some for ladies, but ran out of pink thread. He told me the "GT" stands for Gentlemen. And it is made from a plain white cotton T-shirt. A couple weeks ago, Joe handed me a CD by his old polka band. He was featured in the first three tracks playing the snare drum. Well, yes, things are always interesting here on Falls Road. Glad to have like-minded, creative neighbors like Joe! (Little does Joe know, between me and Jeff, I am the one who uses handkerchiefs!)
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.
Since my 2011 AT sobo thru-hike, my mom has been inspired to get involved in Trail life. She started with trail magic to me and my friends during my hike and since has joined her local chapter AT club, the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains one of my favorite sections on the entire trail, Reids (Reeds) Gap to the Tye River, including Three Ridges Mountain and the Mau Har Trail. I chose this hike for her first backpacking trip in the mountains for it's minimal elevation gain and fantastic final overlook at Spy Rock. Cooper fully enjoyed himself, as always!
We did not camp here, but this is a very nice campsite North of Seely Woodsworth, called Porters Gap.
During our annual snowshoe trip to Lake Placid, NY, we didn't get to even use our snowshoes -- but Cooper did! We bought him some Muttluks for the adventure, after reading about how famous little Atticus in the book Following Atticus by Tom Ryan wore them in the Whites. They worked pretty good, but we'll probably try wrapping the cuffs with athletic wrap to keep them solid on his feet and keep snow from entering the cuff. It always takes him a few minutes to get used to them, then he's off, running around like normal. He also sported his Groundbird Gear jacket.
We've met up with our trail friend Bigglesworth three different winters for snowshoeing. She's the one to go with! She lives west of Albany and has no power or running water in her little cabin. So when she finished her AT thru-hike in 2008, she ended up carrying on the lifestyle to some degree! Now she is on a quest to hike the 46 4,000 footers of the Adirondacks.
We stayed at T-Max and Topo's hostel in Lake Placid. David and Terri run the hostel. Terri was out of town but it was good to meet David. He has quite a resume of high peaks and trail miles. He certainly loves to entertain and host avid Adirondacks hikers. The hostel has a great industrial kitchen, dining area and living room. Each bed is named for one of the ADK high peaks. The resident old lady cat, Nervina, wears a "bikini" (diaper) and is still scooting around. Cooper was admitted because we had one of the 2 private rooms, but he was not allowed in to common area-- probably best for Nervina!
The night we arrived in Lake Placid it started to rain. Big unhappy face :( Most all of the snow covering the ground outside the hostel melted. And then directly following the warm spell was the infamous "polar vortex." So all the little streams running down the trails turned to shear ice. We only went out for a few short walks and rented MICROspikes from the High Peaks Information Center near the ADK Loj. It was zero degrees when we hiked from the HPICenter. Here's Biggles with her hair frozen from her breath:
Our favorite spots in the town of Lake Placid:
Liquids and Solids (weird name we know, but has a very creative and tasty menu!)
Big Mountain Deli and Creperie (they have 46 crepes, all amazing!!)
Lake Placid Pub and Brewery
EMS (we've found some great gear on clearance!)
Henry's Woods and a great dog-friendly local trail. There is a nice overlook of Mirror Lake.
The John Brown Farm Nat. Historical site has a nice field with view of the Olympic high ski jump tower-- locals take their dogs here to run around.
We drove through Harriman State Park on our way back to Baltimore and enjoyed a quick walk beside Lake Skannatati. Cooper tried out ice dancing.
The prayer I prayed the most when preparing for my thru-hike in 2011 was that I would have great friends, for the whole journey. God answered. I met Bogart, Tag and Coach at the Rainbow Springs shelter, 30 miles into the hike and finished with them on our very last day, 5 1/2 months later. I also met Twisted Turtle and Teeny in Maine. Teeny rejoined us South of Waynesboro, VA later in the hike and walked nearly every day with me for the last 800 miles (she did a flip-flop hike). For great stories and photos of my thru-hike, visit mainetogeorgia.wordpress.com.
We had a really great couple of days hanging out at the Mountain Harbor Hostel (in the town of Roan Mountain, TN) and a couple of nights on the Trail, one of the nights out was New Year's Eve! I made Teeny and Dana's little 30lb pitbull Donut a turtle neck jacket for the hike. Donut and Cooper did a great job modeling! For our first night out, we hiked 9 miles from the hostel to the Overmountain Shelter (photo above). It was an incredibly cold and windy hike over Hump Mountain. Cooper did not even seem to notice! He was rolling in the snowy grass and running back and forth. My Wyoming raised husband did not seem to mind much either. But I'll admit, that was one of the coldest experiences I've had backpacking. There was an added discomfort for me because my glasses kept frosting over! Our last 2 or 3 miles to the shelter were in the dark with Coach and Savannah. Savannah's first backpacking trip and first night hike!
The next day we went back to the hostel from Carvers Gap. On New Year's Eve we did a short 4mi. hike from Erwin, TN to the Curley Maple Gap Shelter (photo below). Teeny packed in a bottle of champagne for everyone to share. We all had a great time hanging out around the fire and stuffing our faces with kielbasa, mac and cheese and lots of candy.
Powder River, Cooper and I went on a short hike this weekend with two friends from Baltimore. It was our friend Lee's very first backpacking trip! We drove up through Gettysburg around 5pm on Friday. We decided to scrap our plans of cooking in the woods and instead ate at the Lincoln Dinner. After eating we drove up the ridge via a gravel road in Caledonia State Park to have a shorter walk to the quaint Quarry Gap Shelters. There was a group of guys already there, a college reunion tradition for them to hike together every year. Powder River and Lee played a riveting game of checkers. The "Innkeeper" of the Quarry Gap Shelter takes great pride in maintaining this place and keeps it equipped with a few games and hanging seasonal flowers! I met him on my thru-hike in 2011, he was just hanging out at the shelter as I was walking by midday. This is a great place to take friends to show them an exception to AT shelters. Most are NOT quaint or very well taken care of! Cooper posed for some pictures in the morning. He did a great job test driving the new Groundbird Gear hiking harness pack system!
Saturday held true to the weather report and was very cold. We relocated one of our vehicles about 12 trail miles South of Caledonia to Old Forge Rd. Our friends enjoyed seeing The Tumbling Run Shelters just up the hill from our parking spot. They have signs on each one: "snoring" and "non-snoring." And there is an Ent tree. We hiked to the Rocky Mountain Shelters that night. Christian had steaks marinating in a ziplock in his pack all day and they were a real treat, cooked in foil on campfire embers! A trail culinary first for me and Powder River. It flurried a bit and was a good night to test my new zero degree sleeping bag by Feathered Friends! Cooper enjoyed snuggling with me! I'm still working on developing a good sleep solution for him in cold weather. In the morning we made coffee and oatmeal and hiked our remaining 5 miles back to Caledonia. A very cold, windy ridge walk! All in all it was a fun trip with our friends! Capped with another fun expedition into Gettysburg, a happening place this month as we remember the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. We ate at the Appalachian Brewery and viewed the Cyclorama, a giant battlefield painting from 1884 that engulfs you in it's circle.
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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