Friday, October 02, 2015

open source adventures

Enduring sauna and sand spurs, I finished a 24-mile training run today in 3:25 on backyard trails. Between bi-monthly long runs, I’ve been logging four to eight miles daily at a slightly faster pace with some planks and pushups thrown in to round things out. Nothing too crazy. Slowly but surely, the build-up is underway.

While running, my mind wanders and I begin daydreaming about the loftiest of local adventures. Since moving to Florida last year, I’ve had my eye on the 1,100-mile Florida National Scenic Trail. Even if I hustle, I won’t soon have time to thru-hike it. But it’s not completely off my radar screen, either. As a matter of fact, I recently mapped out the route a bit more.
Click image to open interactive map
This map was created using Tatu Joe's 2011 log, a handful of 2013 .kmz files from the USFS, and a 2015 .csv file from Google Maps data (a work in progress, no guarantee on accuracy!). I’m sharing it in case it may be of use to others. If nothing else, it's a good spatial tool to use when hashing out historical and hypothetical hikes. So let the brainstorming begin...

First, the history: kudos to Tatu Joe for sharing his stats (yellow pins) from an impressive 29-day onsight hike in optimal ENSO conditions. Having maintained several wet portions of the FNST, I can appreciate the advantage of waiting for a drier year. Even at its best, this trail is plenty wet... And we’re due for a strong El Nino this winter.

Second, the resupply points: most all of the blue pins on the above map represent food stops along the FNST. Although the majority of resupply options are mere quickie marts, few gaps exceed 90 miles in distance. The frequency gets me to wondering about how lightly one could travel along the trail.

Third, the application: I’m seeking out a free smartphone app to help navigate and track future adventures. I’m currently experimenting with Google’s My Maps to view location and drop pins on shared maps for others to see. Field testing is yet to come, but so far so good.

Conclusion: maybe in a year or two (just in time for La Nina), I’ll find a few weeks to take off for the adventure. Meanwhile, this weekend warrior will keep testing out tools for timely transparency and slogging through sand spurs on shorter sojourns in the Sunshine State.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

self-supported sans pack?

Entry fees, crowds and multi-loop courses don't do it for me. Although I'd been eyeing the Iron Horse 100 with my 15:05 PR in the cross hairs, I've since taken to looking at another local lark: a Cross Florida Adventure Run, self-supported within 36 hours, as originally envisaged a year ago this month.

To move faster, lighter and freer, I recently sewed myself some replacement running shorts with four lycra pockets. This utilitarian upgrade has challenged me to see if I could fit everything I’d need for a self-supported 150-mile traverse in my pockets. Reviewing my resupply, I compiled a minimal list of things to carry for this route. Here’s what I came up with…

Simplify! Simplify! View detailed gear list here.
It turns out there’s room for the following items: a collapsable 1L water bottle, 1,000+ calories of snacks, wallet, flashlight, phone, sunblock, vaseline, leukotape, alcohol wipes, extra batteries and homemade silnylon jacket. That’s what’s in my shorts, bringing the weight of everything worn and carried to just under five pounds. This list will likely keep evolving.

As for when I may attempt to cross the peninsula again, I’m leaning towards early February. The days will be 11 hours long, so to start at dawn and finish by sunset on day two, I’ll have to shoot for 35 hours (a 4.25 mph average). Ideally, I’ll have time to take a late-night catnap somewhere in Ocala National Forest to keep the Bartram sleep monster at bay.

Pockets stuffed for adventure...
I’m looking forward to the consistently cooler temps of late-October, but I’ll start upping mileage before then. Below are some tentative dates for my longer training runs plus their target times. Feel free to reach out if you’re in the area and want to join me for some miles. As in the past, I’ll try and post updates on the blog every month. Here’s to DIY local adventures!

9/19/15: ACF 24M @3:30 (3:24, ouch)
10/3/15: ACF 24M @3:30
10/18/15: First Magnitude Marathon @3:45
10/31/15: ACF 50K @4:40
11/14/15: The Citrus Loop (35M) @5:00
??/??/??: OAR (66.3M) @12:00
2/??/16: CFAR (150M) @35:00

Fondly thinking back to 4/13/15: midway on a sub-60 (hour), 150-mile self-supported Cross Florida Adventure Run. Good times! Let’s do it again… #TBT #SocialMediaSavvy #sorta
Posted by Matt Kirk on Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saturday, September 05, 2015


Five years ago today, Lily and I tied the knot in our beloved Southern Appalachians. What a perfect day! Every September, I think back to the amazing story of how we met up eight years ago along the trail. The following is an excerpt from Fast, Light & Free; Day 16- Serendipity:

July, 2007: Everything is gloomy on the inside and the outside. Uwharrie and I hike out of Massachusetts in a non-stop rain for days on end. We slip and slide northward through the rugged and muddy Green Mountains. Lily isn’t going to catch us. Maybe she never wanted to. She wrote me a postcard on the trail to tell me about her friend’s wedding in Williamstown. Days behind us, she’s now taking an entire week off from hiking.

Maybe our meeting on the trail isn’t meant to be. But how could I have been so wrong? I begin questioning everything. What are we doing on the trail? Uwharrie and I hitch into Manchester Center for resupply. After chores, I sit on a town bench wondering where we should go. Little do I know that Lily, her friend Dave and a thru-hiker by the name of “Breadless Horseman” have just driven for an hour from Williamstown to find us.

When they arrive to Manchester Center in the early afternoon, they first check in at the post office to see if Uwharrie and I have come by to pick up our mail. The clerk tells them that we were here first thing in the morning. Surely we’re back on the trail by now. Dejected, Lily tries to convince herself that the trip isn’t all in vain. Since they’re in town, they decide to run a few errands. Afterwards, on their way out, Breadless exclaims, "Stop the car! I see Matt!"

And sure enough, he does. When I first see Lily walking towards me with her big bright smile, the pieces fall perfectly into place. It defies all logic, but it happens. We walk around town and grab a late lunch. I learn her trail name: “Fast Enough.” Uwharrie and I catch a ride back to the trail. We hug and part ways with a promise to meet one another in ten day’s time. Lily catches a falling star and puts it in her pocket. Our lifetime journey together has yet to start…

Click here for the full story.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

education of an omnivore

We recently harvested our roosters. It was the first time I can remember killing an animal for meat. It wasn’t easy to watch the blood fall from their throats and the life leave their faces. I couldn’t help but think back to Kevin's beautiful post about Billy's last days. Our roosters lived good lives, too...

Sadly, most of the meat I’ve eaten comes from animals who’ve lived tortured lives. For this reason and others, there was a decade that I called myself a vegetarian. As meat trickles back into my diet, I want to be more conscientious of what ends up on my plate. If I can’t stomach it, then I probably shouldn’t be eating it. Thank you, roosters.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

reflections on a year of tiny living

Photos from Lily's blog
A year ago this week, we were busy preparing to move our 130 square-foot tiny house from North Carolina to Florida. After $15.5K and nine months of manual labor, it was time for our investment to hit the road. Stress levels were high, but thankfully this crux move went off without a hitch. We could finally start living in our humble abode down in the Sunshine State… 

Fast-forward a year: Lily, Uwharrie and I still live tiny in Florida. Some people are curious about how these accommodations are working out for us. First, I must admit that it helps to have a partner who is more of a minimalist than myself! Since we’ve been downsizing our existence for several years, we haven’t noticed any substantial changes to our living habits other than a composting toilet.

Speaking of permaculture: that’s a most exciting lifestyle change. Recycling nutrients from our waste is really a no-brainer. Our chickens help to accelerate the breakdown of our food scraps. Within a year, we've successfully made 54 cubic-feet of nutrient-rich hummus. Half of that has already gone to fertilizing our garden. To cut to the chase: we try daily to close the loop and conserve what we have.

Because we don't pay rent and work as caretakers in exchange for living on this land, we've recouped half the cost of our house in the first year alone. As an added bonus, we have an 8,000-acre backyard! One drawback is that we live 10 miles from downtown. But since bike paths and public transportation come within five miles of our house, we consume about five gallons of gasoline each week.

The trip up to Virginia and North Carolina in July was our big summertime splurge. Otherwise, we limit our travel and try and live locally. As conscientious consumers, we use about fifteen gallons of water daily. Our entire house runs off of 20A of electricity and that includes a 6,000 BTU air conditioner. We don't have solar panels. Most of these tweaks in efficiency are quite easy and inexpensive.

The other day, I listened to a healthy discussion over carbon dioxide regulation on the NPR program “On Point.” Having crunched the numbers, some think tanks say that technology isn’t there yet to free us from the shackles of a carbon economy. But isn’t it funny how our society neglects to explore simple lifestyle changes, which in the aggregate could yield big results? Living tiny is truly living large.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

biennial & beyond

Over a year and half ago, I was invited to come speak about my AT sub-60 hike at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s biennial conference in Winchester, VA. At the time, I wasn’t sure where we would be come July, 2015, but I wanted to pursue the opportunity. As it turns out, this engagement not only provided impetus for finishing Fast, Light & Free, it also gave us a great excuse for a summer road trip to visit friends, family and beautiful places.

Leaving tomorrow morning for our big 10-day summer road trip. Shooting the loop: hiking/running with friends in WNC;...
Posted by Matt Kirk on Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Trying my hand at this social media stuff...

First up was a visit with Jen, Brew and Charley. Lily, Uwharrie and I were well fed and entertained by our good friends in Asheville. We then drove up to Cane River Gap to camp with our friend Elliott at the start of a familiar marathon-length traverse of the highest mountains in the Appalachians. We spent the next day plucking blueberries and bagging a few 6,000-footers before meeting Jessica, Forrest and Sam at the Mt. Mitchell Restaurant for supper.

7/16: Uwharrie near Potato Knob
7/16: Lily and Elliott descending Mt. Gibbes
7/16: Jessica, U-dog, Lily, Sam, me and Forrest; photo: Elliott Wilkes
We broke camp at Camp Alice and climbed Commissary Ridge to the summit of Mt. Mitchell the following morning. The day promised to be glorious for the remainder of our traverse across the rugged Black Mountain Crest Trail. We met up with Brandon at Deep Gap and got to explore an alternate descent route past a deep mica mine into Cattail Creek after bagging a few more 6,000-footers.

7/17: Ascending Commissary Ridge; photo: Elliott Wilkes
7/17: High elevation Turk's Cap Lilies
7/17: Brandon on the Black Mountain Crest
7/17: Elliott, Lily and me on BMCT; photo: Brandon Thrower
After a night spent at 4,100-feet at Elliott's cabin, we drove into nearby Hot Springs, NC to start the Hot Springs Half, part of the Pisgah Nation Summer Run Series. U-dog, Brandon and I were the only ones brave/stupid enough to embark on this adventure. Although it was hot and humid, we enjoyed the gradual climb up Roundtop Ridge to Rich Mountain Fire Tower before following the AT back into town. U-dog, Lily, Elliott, Brandon and I were thrilled to be joined by Kate, Kevin and Adalyn for lunch!

7/18: Atop Rich Mountain Fire Tower; photo: Brandon Thrower
7/18: Elliott, U-dog, Brandon, Kate, Adalyn, Kevin, Lily and me in Hot Springs
7/18: Elliott and Ashley's cabin in the woods
7/18: Evening hike atop Max Patch
Uwharrie, Lily, Elliott, Brandon and I returned to the cabin and had enough energy left over for an evening hike to the summit of Max Patch. This was Brandon's first time to the top! After another night spent at higher elevations. We said our farewells and left WNC for northern Virginia. Jess greeted us at her place near Bears Den and fed us a delicious meal. We were joined by our good friend Mark. The four of us packed and prepared for a hike up Old Rag early the next morning.

7/19: Jess baked us a pie with local cherries!
7/20: Hiking Old Rag Mountain
7/20: Lily, Mark, Jess and me on Old Rag
7/20: Mark rocking out on Old Rag
Uwharrie happily stayed home and rested in the A/C while we scrambled up this popular ridge in Shenandoah National Park. I'd been wanting to check out this climb for some time and was not disappointed. It was a fun hike and I'm glad we could go early in the morning on a weekday to beat the crowds. We had supper in nearby Berryville before heading over to the ATC biennial conference.

7/21: U-dog on "The Rollercoaster"
7/22: Brad and U-dog on Company Mill Trail, Umstead State Park
While Lily and Jess visited with her parents in WV, U-dog and I got in one last run in the mountains along the AT. It was time once again to hop in the car and head south. We visited mommy in Cary. Early the next morning, U-dog and I met up with Brad for a 7-mile run at Umstead. It was great catching up with him. As the 2009 winner of the Iron Horse 100, I was eager to learn more from him about this local FL race, which may become the next project... We'll see.

Our last stop was a vacation rental at Holden Beach. Mom, dad, Becky, Cora and Penny welcomed us to this wonderful place. We got to play together and run along the beach before driving back to FL. We couldn't have asked for a better 10-day summer road trip. Thanks for the memories!

7/23: Cora watching a storm over the ocean

Friday, July 10, 2015

fast, light & free

Over the past few months, I've shared some snippets on the blog from a book project I've been working on about my 2013 AT hike. It's finally done and available here!

Also on that page: podcasts/mp3s available for free download (scroll down). Apologies in advance for the quality of the recordings. A tiny house isn't the best studio and roosters aren't the best neighbors!