On Trails: An Exploration book review

On Trails: An Exploration book review

When hiking it’s easy to appreciate the scenery, but how often do we stop and think about the trail itself? In his book On Trails, Robert Moor draws from his own experience on the Appalachian Trail to contemplate the nature of trails.

He reflects on the intricacies and origins of all types of paths that serve to connect places.  Moor delves deeply into the process of trail creation by organisms ranging from ants to elephants and connects this process to the trail experience of modern hikers.

The book has weighty thoughts on trail origins and it is indeed interesting to consider the natural development process that creates trails and paths.

The foray into the intersection of ecology and trail-building can be somewhat fascinating, but a hiker may gravitate more towards the chapters on modern trails including an insightful glimpse into the development the International Appalachian Trail which spans continents and exists as a ‘trail’ that is not physically connected or continuous.

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International Appalachian Trail Marker

Moor also tells tales from the trail itself, recounting AT hiking trips and tagging along with the ultimate long-distance hiker, Nimblewill Nomad (whose mind-boggling walks have followed all the major trails and recently included a sweep across Kansas along the route of the old Pony Express Trail).

For trail buffs, this book will be a thorough guide to trails of all kinds and a reflection on how trails are ultimately shaped by travelers.

DRINKMaple – maple water review

Refreshing.

Crisp.

A touch of the flavor from licking the back of a fork after you’ve had pancakes.

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These were some of the responses I got after having various family members try out pure maple water by DRINKMaple. (I do realize that both crisp and refreshing are listed as tag lines on the bottle itself – but I did a blind taste test!)

Overall, the first thought was that it would be too sugary – that it would taste like maple syrup.

But once everyone tried it, the consensus was that it was unexpectedly light and tasty, and that it tastes best after it’s been in the refrigerator.

The water is pure maple sap, sustainably tapped from maple trees in Vermont – no concentrate and no connection to maple syrup production.

It’s closest comparison, in terms of flavored, slightly hipster seeming drinks, would be coconut water. But the advantage the maple water has is about half as much sugar as coconut water – maple water has 7 grams per serving (one 12 fl oz bottle).

It’s got manganese, calcium, and potassium — all helpful minerals. And it’s certified organic by Quality Assurance International (a USDA-accredited agency). To top it all off, part of the proceeds for every bottle sold goes to supporting MORE Than Sport – an organization that supplies clean drinking water to “individuals in developing nations beset by drought and disaster.”

Why not simply drink regular water? Maple water seems to stand in a sweet spot between water and sports drinks. For most of us, we aren’t exercising enough to really warrant needing the amount of electrolytes and sugars that are in sports drinks like Gatorade. But it does give you more fuel than plain water.

The website has some fun recipes you can try from the healthy to the indulgent (with far fewer additives and processed sugars) – wellness shots to pumpkin protein smoothie to watermelon mint maple water cooler.

Overall – tasty and good for you (as far as I can tell – I’m not a doctor!), better for you than sports drinks or coconut water, and great for drinking by itself or using as a recipe ingredient.

Product provided free of charge for review purposes, but opinions are all my own.

2016 Christmas Gift Guide

Looking for a unique outdoor gift for the trail-lover in your life? The annual Kansas Trail Guide Christmas Gift Guide features the best unique and inspiring products that are sure to be perfect for your loved ones (or yourself – we won’t judge!).  Without further ado:

1. A signed Kansas landscape print by David Welfelt

Welfelt captured some stunning trail imagery included in the Kansas Trail Guide and we’ve been consistently impressed with his landscape shots. What better reminder of your hiking adventures than a signed print that captures the grandeur of some of the greatest wild places in the state?

From David Welfelt's website.

From David Welfelt’s website.

2. Pocket Monkey Multi-Tool by Zootility

You can never have enough multi-tools.  Especially one shaped like a monkey!  This unique design is American-made and has a plethora of handy features in a compact design.

And did I mention that it looks like a monkey?

$12.99 via Amazon

3. A subscription to Cairn

Here’s the gift that keeps on giving – a subscription for a monthly or quarterly box of new outdoor goodies from Cairn. The boxes are always a surprise, but they include a variety of items from these categories: food, clothing, gear, skin care, and emergency/medical. They’ve also got a limited set of holiday gift boxes.

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4. Adopt a Black-footed Ferret with WWF

The black-footed ferret, once thought extinct, is back on the Kansas shortgrass prairie. Show your support for the little animal and  symbolically adopt a black-footed ferret in the name of a loved one. They’ll get a cuddly stuffed toy ferret, and you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped keep a species alive.

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5. Fatboy Lamzac

Ideally suited for lounging at the campsite after a day on the trail, this is an innovative way to pack along a comfortable (and very cool) place to kick back and relax. You will most certainly be the envy of all your friends.  Just remember – you move it, you lose it!

Lounging on the Fatboy Lamzac

Lounging on the Fatboy Lamzac

6. Last Wild Places in Kansas by George Frazier

This is one of the best new books on exploring Kansas that we’ve read!  An instant classic for the outdoor lover; Frazier weaves vignettes of his own adventuring into a compelling page-turner.  For planning that big adventure while sitting by the fire this winter.

$17.49 on Amazon

7. TreePod Hanging Tree House

This totally makes me want to be a kid again.  Place strategically on your next camping adventure and keep the whole clan entertained.

Plus, for every TreePod sold, they plant a tree.

Treepod!

Have kids? Look no further.

8. LuminAID PackLite Nova Inflatable Lantern

Long name, cool product. This solar powered, rechargeable lantern is collapsible and weighs just 4 ounces. From one charge, you can get about 24 hours of light. And that’s not just any light – it’s 75 lumens of LED light. Plus it’s waterproof.

$14.99 from Amazon

9. A Signature Camping trip with REI Adventures

For you big spenders out there or those looking for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, go on a Signature Camping trip with REI Adventures. While backpacking and roughing it in the wild has its charms, so does someone bringing hot coffee to your tent in the morning and having a hot shower at the end of a day. Everything gets sorted out for you from tasty food to camp set up to transportation.

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We’re not in Kansas anymore! REI Adventures campsite in Canyon de Chelly.

All you have to do is show up ready to hike and explore. Their most recent addition to their Signature Camping trips is the Arizona Ultimate Adventure – Grand Canyon & Beyond. It’s eight days of awesome where you explore many of the legendary canyons of Arizona – Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Canyon de Chelly – and kick back at the end of the day. Next trip leaves April 29, 2017.

10. Flint Hills Nature Trail Patch

So this is more of something that you have to earn.  But what better addition to your patch collection then one that signifies the completion of the Flint Hills Nature Trail challenge? Give the gift of adventure and use a signed copy of the Kansas Trail Guide to plan an epic trip with your favorite hiking partner.  Only 2 patches that have been earned so far.  Will you be next?

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Flint Hills Nature Trail Patch

 

Electro-Bites by Fuel 100 review

 

On occasion, I try my hand at long distance running with four half marathons under my belt. It’s an ongoing process to figure out just how to best carry and consume the snacks/electrolytes/energy that you need after an hour or so of high-energy activity. Because while you obviously need to stay hydrated, it’s also vitally important to keep your electrolytes balanced to help prevent muscle spasms and cramps. Downing sugary sports drinks isn’t ideal. And your body, after a while out on the trail, needs calories to burn.

Enter Electro-Bites.

Made by Fuel 100, they bill their Electro-Bites as “designed specifically for endurance athletes to help extend training and improve race performance.”

They come in small pouches, and the first thing I noticed was how light weight they are. In each punch is a 23 gram serving size (100 calories), which adds up to about 2 dozen of the little bites/nuggets. This seems like a distinct advantage to my general gels – those little bits of weight add up! And these are infinitely less messy than gels and bars.

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Photo by Kristin Conard

The bites themselves are dry and crunchy with a bit of a chalky feel to them if you eat them without water, but once you get used it after the first couple, you don’t really notice. If you do eat them with a swig of water, they practically dissolve.

They’re simple enough – made of organic coconut oil, organic agave syrup, potato starch, sodium, magnesium and potassium. And they come in 5 different flavors – simply salty, salty vanilla, salty vinegar, apple cinnamon, and pumpkin spice. My favorite flavor was apple cinnamon, and despite my wariness before trying the salty vinegar, it was pretty good.

That overall salt theme, even subtly noticeable in the apple cinnamon and pumpkin spice, is good, since as you exercise, you lose salt. The bites do make you a bit thirsty, which is probably a good match up really – down a handful and then drink some water – balance out the hydration and electrolyte intake.  Just drinking water isn’t enough to keep you going hour after hour on the trail, and you have to replace those missing salts to be able to keep going; hypernatremia (too much water/not enough salt) can be just as dangerous as dehydration.

Take home message: Super lightweight, easy to open (could rip open with your teeth), not messy, and designed (quite literally) to let you go that extra mile.

Cool random fun fact: They were one of the snacks used by Heather “Anish” Anderson, long-distance trail hiker extraordinaire, who beat the unsupported Appalachian Trail thru-hike time last year by four days – She did in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes what takes most hikers 6 months.

You can buy them here. It’s $13.20 for a six pack – you can get all six of one flavor or a variety pack with at least 4 flavors.

Please note that the Electro-Bites were provided free for review purposes. Opinions all my own.

A Walk With Grandma – book review

A Walk With Grandma – book review

In the rich history of the Appalachian Trail, a more unlikely hero will not be found.  In the spring of 1955, a grandmother from Ohio decided to walk the trail from Georgia to Maine “on a lark” and captured the attention and adoration of a nation.  “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery recounts the story of the hard but captivating life of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, a now iconic hiker of the Appalachian Trail, whose walk along the trail characterized her life of determination and grit.  While many hikers today obsess about the latest gear, technology, and trail amenities, Gatewood had little more then a napsack, umbrella, and the kindness of strangers to see her through a 2000+ mile journey.

Gatewood Picture

Grandma Gatewood on the Trail

At a time when only a handful of people had hiked the entirety of the AT, she started walking at the age of 67 and just kept on going.  The challenges that she overcame on the Appalachian Trail alone would make for an exceptionally inspiring read, but the book also artfully recounts Gatewood’s earlier walk through a marriage filled with adversity and abuse leading up to her first epic trail journey.  Gatewood’s long walk is just the start of her remarkable hiking career and the book will certainly inspire people of all ages to dream big and hike on.

Grandma Gatewood Trail

Hikers on the Grandma Gatewood Trail in Ohio

“Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery is published and available through the Chicago Review Press

10 more Christmas gifts for the trail lover in your life

We’ve done it before here and here, and we’re back this year to do it again. There are still 11 days of shopping left until Christmas, and these are our top 10 gifts for the trail lover in your life. Some are ideal for on the trail and some are good for prep and recovery and some are created right here in Kansas. And they’re all awesome!

1. Well, let’s be honest. As the authors, there was really no way we’d be able to start a list with anything but our very own Kansas Trail Guide: The Best Hiking, Biking, and Riding in the Sunflower State.

But in our defense, it’s an ideal gift for any trail lover who might be passing through the Midwest. If you want your copy signed, send us an email at: kansastrailguide [@] gmail [.] com.

$24.95

2. Via the Trail Runner magazine website, honey can help keep you going.

“A Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that cyclists who consumed 15 grams (about a tablespoon) of honey, dextrose (a form of sugar) or a placebo containing no carbs every 16-ki- lometers of a 64k effort were able to go faster and produce more power with the honey or dextrose (no significant differences between the honey and dextrose). research suggests consuming sugar blends, such as honey, which contains both fructose and glucose, can be more effective at ramping up performance than sports gels or chews with just a single sugar source.”

You can buy local honey from places like KC Raw Honey, Chautauqua Hills Farm, Glenn’s Bulk Food, and more.


3. Pricey? Yes. Amazing? Also yes. Yeti has some of the best coolers around; we like the Tundra 35. You can stand on them, if the occasion warrants, plus they have up to 3 inches of insulation and are easy to haul around.

They have a 5-year warranty, and according to their website, they’re grizzly proof (though I suppose that’s not really an issue in the Midwest!). Pretty much the last cooler you’ll ever have to buy – not only for its ability to keep your ice from melting, but for its incredible durability.

From $299.99

4. Handmade, natural soaps. You have to (or at least should) clean up after a day or five on the trail, and why not use soap that’s handcrafted in Kansas? Try out Great Cakes Soapworts (you can also find them at the Olathe Farmer’s Market in season) or Foam on the Range.

5. Handheld GPS devices can be wildly helpful. They can also be a tad unwieldy to lug around off the trail. Fix that problem and be ready for adventure at all times with the Garmin fenix 3.

With the Sapphire version, you can get it with a leather strap or in rose gold and white. And with the standard fenix 3, you can get red or black. Oh, and they both do the requisite awesome GPS tasks from tracking your route to being waterproof to telling you altitude, pressure, and direction.

From $499.99.

6. The perfect fit to a stocking and at times ideal for trail prep (just don’t overdo!), a bag of heavenly smelling and heavenly tasting coffee beans. Try PT’s Coffee Lump O’ Coal blend with tastes of chocolate.

$17.50

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Image from usa.fabric.cc

7. If you’re a cyclist, you may already have these tools, but it’s pretty likely they don’t come in this nice of a package! Fabric has made its Chamber multi-tools in swish and smooth canister.

You get 13 easy to access tools in a container that won’t snag on anything in your panniers, and they have a fixed head and a ratchet head option.

From $50

8. Perfect for day hikes, which many of the Kansas trails are, Osprey has unveiled its 2016 Skarab 24 .

Along with a built-in 2.5 liter hydration reservoir, it has a hip belt to help spread out the weight, a scratch free pocket perfect for sunglasses or a phone, and an easy access outside “shove-it” pocket that, as it happens, will fit the Kansas Trail Guide!

From $100

9. Another 2015 book from University Press of Kansas is Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds. This large, nearly coffee table size book is full of color images and descriptions for the most devoted plant lover in your life, and you can see how many you can spot along the way.

$39.95.

10. You can give a membership gift to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy that will not only get you (or your loved one) a t-shirt, but you’ll know that the money will be going to making more trails and supporting the upkeep of rail trails already in place.

You can also donate directly to the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, which does work entirely within Kansas – they helped build the Landon Nature Trail and are working to finish the Flint Hills Nature Trail.

To add to your trail book collection – Dirt Work and Wild

Although winter may not be relenting enough to hike, the upside is that there’s no better time to put your feet up, sip some hot chocolate, and enjoy a good trail book.  Here are two of our top picks to add to your trail anthology:

Dirt Work by Christina Byl

While normal hikers appreciate big views, wildflowers in bloom, or clouds drifting overhead, I must admit to spending a slightly inordinate amount of hiking time checking out the trail under my feet.  A good trail can do much to enhance the hiking experience, but the worst are prone to erosion or just generally boring hiking.  Each step of a well-built trail is carefully planned and constructed with a great deal of muscle and sweat.

Dirt Work

Without being on a crew (and I highly recommend the experience), it’s hard to get a sense for the art, science and just plain dirty work that goes into building an excellent trail.  In “Dirt Work”, Christina Byl recounts her journey from a rookie crew member building alpine trails in Glacier National Park to a crew leader calling the shots in the wilderness of Alaska.

Byl has vast experience working on trail crews and she accurately portrays the “work hard, play hard” experience of the traildog life.  The book rolls the dirt and the glory of trail-building into a fascinating and insightful assessment into the proud blue-collar world behind your favorite trail and will leave you yearning to spend a summer cutting tread in the high country.

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

With a life unraveling and out of control, Cheryl Strayed undertakes an ambitious hike to try to make sense of it all. wildAnd by rather ambitious I mean she merely sets out to hike the majority of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Solo.  Of course she has scant experience, a pack much too big, and boots painfully too small.  Despite this prescription for epic failure she perseveres and chronicles the drudgery, pain, and elation of life on the long trail in wonderful detail.

In my experience, time in the woods alone brings a sense of perspective and clarity to life, and after months on the trail Strayed works through the crucible and comes out on the other side a truly different person.