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 (or less) 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 five 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!

Friday, June 19, 2015

ghost town

Day 37, Afternoon: The sun beats down on Rockfish Gap. I’ve hiked twenty miles through forest and field, over hills and out of Shenandoah National Park to get here. My destination, King’s Gourmet Popcorn Stand, appears before me in a vacant parking lot. According to my guidebook, it should be open today, selling the delicious kettle corn, hot dogs, ice cream and other snack foods that I’ve been fantasizing about for several hours. But it’s not.

I should’ve known. A couple nights ago, while refining my resupply strategy, I stumbled onto information about this stand. I remember thinking to myself, “Really, there’s something in Rockfish Gap?” Over the past twelve years, I’ve passed through the gap on several occasions. On each successive visit, I found everything further along in a state of decay. But for one foolish reason or another, I counted on picking up half of today’s provisions in this ghost town.

Heat radiates off the pavement. I retreat to some shade to sit down and ponder over my conundrum. I could tap into the food that I’ve budgeted for tomorrow and hike on, but that would just pass this caloric deficit on to another day. With no stores near the trail for the next 140 miles, this would be a mistake that I can’t afford to make. As I debate over my limited options, I catch sight of a vending machine shimmering in the distance through the tremulous air.

It could very well be a mirage, but I’m willing to take the risk. Shouldering my pack, I emerge from the shade and cross a cracked blacktop desert. I expect a tumbleweed to blow by me any minute. Passing a boarded up convenience store, I begin the scorching climb across an apocalyptic landscape to the top of a far off hill. The mirage has yet to disappear. It could very well be real. Skepticism gives way to eager anticipation.

Shivering with excitement, I fumble for a couple of crumpled up dollars in my pouch. I desperately try to stick one into the machine. I try again and again. Finally, the flaccid bill gets sucked into the mechanical slot. But it comes back out, rejected. Eventually, I get two dollars in this cursed contraption and push the button for a coke. I hear a whirring motor inside. A plastic bottle heavy with corn syrup falls to the bottom opening with a loud thump. Success!

Feeling the need to repeat this exacting process in order to obtain another soda, I smooth out two more dollars with my hands. Some five hundred calories later, I continue south tanked up on caffeine and sugar. Although sheltered from the sun’s fury under the viridescent dome of a rich cove forest, I’m still chased into Mill Creek by the afternoon heat. I find a hole deep enough to submerge my entire body under the cold refreshing waters. I emerge a new man.

Click here for the full story.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

santa fe to suwanee

1 dog, 3 days, 5 boats, 9 humans, 10 springs, 40+ miles 
Good times

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

feet first

Day 18, 5:15 am: The only sound I hear is the rushing water in Stamford Stream. I quietly take down my tarp in the morning twilight. A damp darkness pervades the crowded camping area around Congdon Shelter. Most every other hiker is asleep. I need to get moving. Today is a critical day. I want to keep as close as possible to my schedule and hike 38 miles into Dalton. A motel room, soft bed and hot shower await. But first I need to deal with my feet.

For the most part, it’s just walking. That’s what I like about being out here, the simplicity. But occasionally, there are days filled with uncertainty and doubt. Today, I need to take care of a nasty and potentially debilitating foot fungus. My best shot at foot care is at a supermarket 14 miles in at North Adams and half of a mile down the road. Afterwards, I need to hike 24 miles further over Mt. Greylock and into Dalton for dinner, preferably before dark.

9:19 am: Already ten miles in at the Massachusetts border, I can feel the day smiling upon me. I’m on track to make it to the store by 11 am. There will be time to eat and tend to my feet until noon. From there on, if I can average three miles-per-hour, I will reach Dalton before dark. The sun shines down through a thick green tunnel of mountain laurel. Brilliant white bouquets of happiness bloom everywhere around me. My stress melts away. I can’t help but smile.

11:10 am: I’m an amnesiac in an artificial world. Fluorescent lights fiercely illuminate the plastic products on either side of an endless aisle. I feel inefficient and out of my element inside the Super Stop and Shop. I’m aware of my unkempt appearance and want to get in and out of here as quickly as possible. What exactly am I looking for and where is it? Toothpaste, tampons, cotton balls, multivitamins... I’m not sure, but I think I’m in the right aisle.

“Can I help you find something?” An older employee pauses from restocking shelves to offer his assistance.

“Well, I’m looking for something to help my feet. They’ve developed some itching and irritation. Maybe a foot powder?”

“We’ve got that over here.” The employee leads me down the aisle to a shelf. I pick up a bottle of Gold Bond Foot Powder and read the label.

“Hiking the Appalachian Trail?” He asks me.


“Did you hear about that woman who hiked it really fast a couple years ago?”

“She’s a friend of mine,” I say.

“Wow, that was really something,” he says. He gazes down the aisle and shakes his head. “Really something.”

I thank him for his help. Walking towards the deli with the foot powder, I stop to pick up a bottle of Neosporin spray and a small box of epsom salts. These three items will have to do the trick. If not, my hike may soon be over. I order a foot-long sub with lots of veggies. I also pick up a bottle of Kefir to drink and a few snacks to get me through the rest of the day. Outside and around back, I find a water spigot to fill my bottles. I rinse off my feet and socks.

While they dry out in the hot sun, I sit on the curb and lunch in the shade. After I’m finished with half of my sub, I spray Neosporin and foot powder on my feet. I powder the inside of my socks, too. By noon, I’m packed up and ready to go. There’s plenty of opportunity to eat the other half of my sub on a six mile and 2,700-foot ascent up Mt. Greylock. I climb slowly in the afternoon heat. I eventually make it to Bascom Lodge and refill my water on the summit.

5:00 pm: Shortly after descending Saddle Ball Mountain, I’m back beneath the boreal crest and crossing the quaint New England countryside into Cheshire. I stop at a small trailside shop named Diane’s Twist and order a large bowl of chocolate ice cream. I eat the soft serve and follow the trail through a neighborhood back into the woods. Only after finishing my bowl do I realize that I’ve left my hiking poles sitting outside at the shop. Talk about a brain freeze!

These poles were a gift to me from Greg and Geri at the White Mountain Lodge. Having seen me safely through New Hampshire and Vermont over the last nine days, they now wait on a northbound hiker in need at Diane’s Twist. I don’t miss the poles, the terrain is really beginning to mellow out. A rolling ridge walk leads me through a pine forest and into Dalton by 8 pm. While checking in to my motel room, I’m able to borrow a wash tub for my feet.

9:30 pm: Before the restaurants close, I walk over to a nearby pizzeria and order a salad and calzone for a late dinner. Back in my motel room, I shower and eat. I heat water in a coffee pot and mix it with the epsom salts in the wash tub. I study my infection. Rashes are visible between my toes and along the flexor tendons. It’s time. I plunge my feet into the scalding solution. Sweat beads up on my forehead. I grit my teeth and grunt, “This is the way.”

Click here for the full story.