Books That Took Me on Adventures in 2016

The finished books

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

This book took me off guard. It took my attention from the very beginning. The story of this multi-national family is both eye-opening and funny. I enjoyed reading in the perspectives of each of the main characters.

Based on the recommendation of a friend, I opened this book with absolutely no idea what it was about. Everything I Never Told You is the story of a teenage girl… and her brother… and her father… and her mother. As the reader, you’ll get the chance to delve into each character’s life – before, during, and after the mysterious disappearance of this teenage girl. You might think this story has been told before, but I guarantee it hasn’t been told in this way.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

First off, adventure-seekers of all kinds would most likely be fascinated by this true story of a man who sold all his possessions, left his traditional life behind, and chose to live a life off the grid and in the moment, taking each day as it came.

One of my greatest enjoyments and frustrations with this book is the amount of emotion it brought out of me. Unsurprisingly, the emotions were not always good ones, but I consider it a success when a story has the power to do that.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

You may be more familiar with the name The Golden Compass, as the controversial film (starring Nicole Kidman) was named. Unfortunately, the film trilogy was never completed, due to some supposed anti-Christian material.

This book series includes The Golden Compass (a.k.a. The Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. This story had such a powerful message. In my opinion, Philip Pullman didn’t send an anti-Christian message. More so, he suggested to the reader the idea of seeing a bigger picture that is not reliant on, or confined to, conventional religion.

The series, so full of adventure and action, reminds me that we are humans with the ability to act in the ways that we choose. We must use our own logic to decide how those small actions will affect the bigger picture.

The story follows loudmouthed, tomboy Lyra from adolescence to young adulthood, as she travels the world by foot, boat, balloon, and bear. She bounces from one world to the next, with an ever-changing mission, meeting friends of all ages and species. The twists and turns are endless. I would highly recommend losing yourself in this series for the next few weeks.

 

A Journey North by Adrienne Hall

Adrienne Hall wrote a well-researched book about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail with her boyfriend. The reason I say “well-researched” is because there are a LOT of facts in this book – scientific facts about plants, wildlife, and the environment. I was disappointed by the imbalance of the facts compared to the author’s memories of actually being on the trail. I found myself craving more story, and less science. However, I learned quite a bit about these topics, and I would have been a lot more bored had I not been interested in them.

Here’s an important heads up before you go out and read this book: It is not so much a thru-hiker’s memoir, as it is a conservationist’s soap box.

Two Coots in a Canoe by David Morine

My library has absolutely no adventure books. I must be the only person in twenty miles who enjoys this kind of story, because I’ve searched for dozens of titles with no luck. The only outdoor, adventure books I could find were A Journey North by Adrienne Hall and Two Coots in a Canoe by David Morine.

I checked this book out of the local library, based solely on the title. Once I saw the name, I burst out laughing and showed my wife (who also thought it was pretty funny).

I wasn’t sure if I would actually read the book, but I ended up doing just that.

The one satisfying thing about this book is that the title is incredibly accurate. Two Coots in a Canoe is about two funny, old guys (or just two old guys who think they’re funny) looking for an adventure, so they decide to take a trip down the Connecticut River in a canoe. The hook is that they stay with a different generous stranger each night of the trip.

It’s been a few months since I read this book, so I jolted my memory by reading a few reviews. I had forgotten how bothered I was by David Morine’s judgment of anyone who doesn’t live the traditional life that he lived. Throughout the book, Morine made very questionable comments about women, sexuality, mental illness, and about the current (as of 2003) expressive fashion trends. I guess I struggle to identify with the author (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but some of his judgmental comments made me cringe.

On a separate note, there was quite a bit about environmental conservation, as the author is a conservationist, himself . Morine brought to light a number of environmental issues that the reader might not be aware of, involving the pollution of our waterways and the state of the creatures living in them.

Overall, Morine entertained me with his tale. It was a different story than I had ever read before, although I’m hesitant to recommend it because of the reasons I mentioned earlier.

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller

This is the best Appalachian Trail thru-hiker book I have read so far. If you have ever hiked the Appalachian Trail, or plan to, you may have heard of David “AWOL” Miller. He is the author of one of the trail’s most popular guidebooks entitled The A.T. Guide, which he updates every year.

Miller hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003, and AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is his detailed and honest travelogue. I am so impressed by how Miller managed to keep such a consistent record of his hike, as if the hike itself wasn’t trying enough. I can’t say for sure, but I remember thinking that he didn’t skip a day of journaling.

I enjoyed this book so much, because Miller gave the reader what he promised: a day-by-day account of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. He didn’t get too off topic at any point in the book, but he also didn’t write boring, monotonous details. For those reasons, he had my attention from beginning to end. I would highly recommend reading this book!

National Geographic: The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka

I would not recommend reading this book, UNLESS you have a great interest in backpacking. It’s not frilly with stories, although Andrew Skurka does provide readers with a few bits from his adventures, as they pertain to certain gear items. For the most part Skurka sticks to the point of providing us with his gear picks, why he recommends them, and how they are useful in the field.

This guy has got tens of thousands of miles of backpacking under his belt. He has had such a variety of adventures, it’s almost silly to gloss over his advice. If you’re planning a thru-hike or an extended backpacking trip, pick up Skurka’s book at your local REI. You can also find some of his talks on YouTube.

Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide to Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail by Zach Davis

You have probably heard of this book if you are planning on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and you might have heard of this book even if you aren’t planning on thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. It has been fantastically marketed! The Appalachian Trials website (which is now called The Trek) pops up on the top Appalachian Trail page list of most search engines.

That totally useless information (unless you’re a nerd about hiking, like I am) said, this is not a memoir of Zach Davis’s thru-hike. It is a lighthearted, motivational book about how to obtain the psychological stamina required to hike the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end. Davis was smart enough to name his book accordingly. You’ll also find how-to-hike-the-Appalachian-Trail information, too. Davis gives his best advice on the more physical side of hiking.

The style of this book might throw you off, though, as it’s written more like a blog than a book. Luckily, I am a blogger so it didn’t bother me!

Overall, I enjoyed the book and read it from cover to cover very quickly. It’s an easy read, and it was refreshing to hear about Appalachian Trail thru-hiking from a different perspective.

The unfinished books (with explanation!)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Okay, I’m a big fan of the television series. What a story! The books… I’d go either way on the books. I still love the story, but sometimes George R.R. Martin goes a little too far to the obscene side for my liking. That said, I probably would have continued with the books if it were a different time. I’ve just got my mind on the Appalachian Trail, and have been primarily craving hiking books.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I do not have one bad word about this book. I’ve read more than half of it and I plan to finish it. I will probably read it again and again. It’s that kind of book.

Elizabeth Gilbert is such an interesting author, and I absolutely love the way she writes.

But here’s my warning: It is nothing like Eat, Pray, Love so don’t buy it thinking it will be.

This is the first of two motivational books I read this year, and I enjoyed this one thoroughly. Much of her writing, in this book, is about writing. Unsurprisingly, I (a lifelong writer) love it for that reason. But the book is also about creativity of all kinds.

Gilbert encourages the reader to grab hold of creative ideas, and to delve into them immediately. I absolutely love her theory on the relentless movement of these creative ideas. If we don’t own them and use them, they will move on to someone else.

Two Tents Down’s recommendation: Buy this book!

The current books

I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling

I finished this after the year ended, so I’ll call it a “2016 current book”. Anyway, I loved it! One of my coworkers recommended it to me, a few months ago. She read it in German and found that it was also published in English, so she suggested I read it.

I very much enjoyed this book about the famous German comedian, Hape Kerkeling, who decides to take a spiritual walk on the Camino De Santiago. He starts all alone, but gains various walking partners along the way.

The book is really funny! There’s no shock there. I like that Kerkeling doesn’t make jokes at anyone’s expense (unless he feels they deserve it). The greatest reason I liked this book, is because of Kerkeling’s clear transformation along his journey. His conscious and unconscious efforts to change himself physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially made this book very interesting to read!

The Harry Potter Series audiobooks by J.K. Rowling (voiced by Jim Dale)

No need for an introduction, here. I read them as a child, and then again as an adult (Check out the review I wrote last year!). Now I’m listening to them on audio. Talk about mixing it up! It’s such a refreshing way to explore this story!

I’m currently on book number five: The Order of the Phoenix. Of course, this is the part of the series where it gets really intense and serious. The narrator, Jim Dale, is fantastic! His voices will get you laughing, crying, or shaking with anger.

Two Tents Down’s recommendation: Please try this series on audio! I guarantee you’ll enjoy it!

The next book

The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit by Shirley Maclaine

On top of reading the stack of hiking books that just arrived from possibly every library in the state (other than my own), I plan to read about Shirley Maclaine’s spiritual pilgrimage on the famous Camino de Santiago. I found out about this European walking trail when I watched the movie The Way, and was intrigued by it, ever since. Now that I’ve finished I’m Off Then (the book by the German comedian), I’m hungry for more!

From the reviews I’ve read, this book is… different. A lot of people down-talk it, because of Shirley Maclaine’s non-traditional ideas about spirituality and extraterrestrial life. Well, I think it’s all the more reason for me to read it!

Hungry for more books?

Take a look at 19 Books That Took Me on Adventures in 2015.

What’s the best book you read in 2016??

Leave any comments or questions below, or feel free to email me! I promise I’ll respond! 🙂

Who am I?

My name is Lauren! I created and run Two Tents Down. I love all types of adventures, but mostly those of the outdoor nature (Get it?). Find out more about me, in my about page.

My next big adventure is going to be epic! I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end with my life on my back. My journey starts in March of 2017. Follow my thru-hike on social media by clicking one of the buttons to the right, or clicking on one of the links below.

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As always, thank you so, so much for reading!

If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!

 

 

Pre-Appalachian Trail Class of 2017 Thru-Hike: The First Step

So here it is: I’m thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2017. There, I said it. I’ve taken the first step. It’s real. And my departure date is less than five months away. This is happening so fast!img_9439

Wait, what IS the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that runs through 14 states, from the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine. According to Time, Brenton MacKaye came up with the idea of the Appalachian Trail in 1921. Inspired volunteer groups built and completed the Trail by the year 1937.

The elevation of the Appalachian Trail spans from about 100 ft. to 6,500 ft., running as a roller coaster of ups and downs throughout. Famous places along the Trail include Massachusetts’ Mt. Greylock’s War Memorial Tower, Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness, West Virginia’s Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters, Georgia’s Blood Mountain, North Carolina’s Hot Springs, and New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

I’ll answer more questions throughout this entry, but if you are still curious, here are 10 Things You Should Know About the Appalachian Trail, according to History.com.

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How long is the Appalachian Trail?

I can’t give you an exact mileage count because the Trail is constantly changing! Each source seems to have a different number: Wikipedia estimates the Trail to be 2,200 miles long. The U.S. National Park Service says the trail is 2,180img_9079 miles long. Regardless of the mileage, it is a heck of a long trail!

Who hikes the Appalachian Trail?

An easy answer is that anyone can hike the Appalachian Trail, and many different types of people have done it. People of all ages and backgrounds, with varying levels of physical abilities, have hiked this trail. Here is an interesting article by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that includes statistics, interesting facts, and a list of noteworthy A.T. hikers.

img_8496There are many different types of hikers on the Trail: Day hikers spend hours on the trail, section hikers spend days or weeks on the trail, and thru-hikers spend anywhere from 3 to 7 months on the trail.

Each hiker has a different technique. Some hike from the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail to the southernmost point. Others hike from South to North. Some carry nothing, and hike with a team that will cart their supplies from point A to point B. Some carry small, light packs, and might stay in towns and resupply as needed. And then there are hikers (like I plan to be) who carry everything from a tent to a toothbrush on their backs.

Note: There is no one way to hike the Appalachian Trail, and a common mantra for hikers is to “hike your own hike”.

The idea

This idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail has been in the back of my mind for a few years now. My wife and I put it on our adventure bucket list a while back. Between then and now, we’ve had many adventures, including:

  • Surviving record-breaking rains and flooding on a camping trip to the Lake District in England
  • Living in the United Kingdom and visiting cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Edinburgh
  • Spending a year teaching English in China traveling to cities like Hong Kong, Beijing, and Xiamen
  • Walking and eating our way through Manhattan upon our return to the U.S., from China
  • A cross-country train ride, from New York City to Chicago
  • Honeymooning on a camping and hiking trip in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks
  • Camping and hiking all over Wisconsin
  • Vacationing in Northern England, eating mounds of Indian food, trying new beers in Manchester, and hiking the rolling hills of the countryside

Ever since we got into camping and hiking, my wife and I have dreamed of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. In our heads, it was like the epitome of adventures! The dream was fuzzy, though. It never seemed close enough to grab hold of. It’s funny, really. I couldn’t grab hold of it, but the dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail sure grabbed hold of me. 20140719_111232

The reality

It has been a whirlwind of events over the last few years, while living in Wisconsin. When Rhesia and I returned home from traveling, we never imagined we would still be here three years later. We had plans to go off traveling again; plans to maybe spend another year teaching English abroad, or to work on an organic coffee farm. But of course, things don’t always go as planned.

Instead of going off to travel, we stayed home in Wisconsin. In that time, some amazing things happened. Most notably, I got married! What’s even more perfect than marrying the person I love, is the fact that my wife is my travel partner and my hiking companion. So together, we decided that we will embark on the epitome of adventures!

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The inspiration came to us last winter. Let me tell you, one winter in Wisconsin is enough to give anyone itchy feet, and I’ve been itching for years. In fact, when I went off to college my dad called me a “rolling stone”. I think he knew I wasn’t the type to stay in one place for too long. Anyway, Rhesia and I have now been in Wisconsin for two consecutive winters, and we are hesitantly heading into the third. We have certainly tried to make the best of the winters here, but after last winter, I think we both knew it was time to go. So that’s how the idea snowballed (You see what I did there?).

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A pleasant Surprise

The idea snowballed so much that two of our friends decided to drop everything and come with us. I think it started as a twinkle in their eyes. They casually brought up the idea of joining us, in conversation. They started asking us questions about the Appalachian Trail. Then they did their own research, and the dream grabbed hold of them, too.

Here is where they will be documenting their adventure: A Journey of Two Thousand Miles

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What have we been up to since making the plan to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Since then, we have been… training. In my mind, training includes hiking, camping, exercising, researching, planning, and buying gear. It pretty much means that we have been obsessing over the Appalachian Trail for at least nine dscn3424months.

I can imagine my friends, family, and coworkers have pretty much had it with me talking about this. But you know what? Zach Davis of Appalachian Trials gave me some great advice, in his book. He said to tell everyone I know that I’m planning a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He said that in doing that, the idea is real and I’m held accountable for my goal. His advice actually worked. The more people I told, the more real it felt, and the more inspired I became.

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t just a dream anymore. That fuzzy image had become perfectly focused, and strikingly spectacular! I’m ready. This is going to happen. I will thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017.

Further Reading

11 Things I Wish I’d Known before Hiking the Appalachian Trail by Maggie Wallace of the Matador Network

 

Five Myths about hiking the Appalachian Trail By Everett Potter of USA Today

 

Hike the 2000-mile trail that most people never finish by Dina Spector of Business Insider

 

7 Reasons Why Hiking the Appalachian Trail is for Lazy People Too by Megan Maxwell of Appalachian Trials

Until next time…

As always, thank you so much for reading! I look forward to hearing your feedback! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to send me an email: twotentsdown@yahoo.com. Come find me on social media. There, I post my latest blog entries, and articles I find interesting or helpful to fellow campers, hikers, and travelers. Add me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Bloglovin’.

If you need me, I’m Two Tents Down!dscn3180-copy

 

 

 

Wisconsin Hiking: Nordic Trails

Recently, I had the pleasure of hiking 9 miles of the Nordic Trails with my wife and best friend. We spent the day laughing and swapping snacks, while walking. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, a challenging hike, and a fantastic post-hike meal at img_9430The Picnic Basket. I couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday!

The Nordic Trails feature extra wide, grassy paths lined with tall, skinny pine trees and plenty of easy-to-read signage. Wooden benches are dotted along the trail, and at the trailhead you’ll find a large parking lot and bathrooms with vault toilets and hand sanitizer.

img_9419Difficulty

The DNR website says that the 9.5 blue loop is an intermediate-level hiking trail. I would definitely agree. This has been the one of the hilliest, and most difficult trails I’ve been on in Wisconsin, second only to the John Muir Trail (which is right across the street!), and some parts of the Ice Age Trail.

If you are a beginner, enter this trail with warning. There are a lot of hills, so expect a challenge. Seasoned hikers, this trail doesn’t compare to the intensity of the hiking you might do out East, or in the West, but it takes full advantage of the uneven landscape of Wisconsin’s kettles (the result of glaciers that have melted long ago).

Nordic Trail Loops

Easy Trails: img_9439

Brown – .7 miles

Purple – 1.7 miles

White – 3.2 miles

Intermediate Trails:

Red – 2.1 miles

Orange – 2.7miles

Green – 3.9 milesimg_9408

Blue – 9.5 miles

Activities

Hiking and cross country skiing and sledding

Limitations

No Bikes

Nearby Trails

I was so excited to find out that that the John Muir Trailhead is located right across the street. There, you can bike or hike, but don’t expect to have any alone time. It is one of the most popular trails in Wisconsin!

Directions to Nordic Trailhead:

  1. Drive South on US-41
  2. Take exit 4 onto I-43
  3. Drive 22 miles and take exit 38A onto WI-20
  4. Drive .3 miles and turn right onto state road 20
  5. Drive 7.8 miles and turn left onto state road 20
  6. Drive 1.6 miles and take a slight right turn onto US Highway 12
  7. Drive 2.0 miles and turn right onto county road H
  8. Drive 1.6 miles to the destination on your right

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Address

N9084 Cty Tk H

Whitewater, WI 53190

Fees

Entrance to this (and every) Wisconsin State Park will require a day parking pass or img_9423an annual parking pass. You can find information about sticker prices on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources website.

Leave no trace

Recently, Wisconsin’s state park tax budget has been decreased to zero. This means that park entrance and camping fees will go up. The possibility of some parks workers losing their jobs or having their salaries slashed, is a real possibility.

This means that it is time for the volunteers and the visitors to step up. Please respect these beautiful parks! If you come in with trash, leave with the same amount of trash. If you see trash, consider picking it up and walking out with it. Practice the “leave no trace” policy. Basically, respect the park by being courteous to the plants, animals, and fellow humans.

Further Readingimg_9444

Trailville.com

 

Travelwisconsin.com

Nordicskiclub.org

 

I would like to pay tribute to the volunteers and park workers who put in hours upon hours to maintain these trails, for little or no money. Your efforts are appreciated by me and hopefully by anyone who uses the trails!

Thank you, thank you to my readers! I welcome you to return, anytime!

If you need me, I’m Two Tents Down!

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Wisconsin Hiking: Bong Recreation Area

The famous sign on Interstate-94

So you’re heading south on I-94 and you see that giant brown and white sign that says “Bong Recreational Area: Exit 340”. At some point in your life, you may have giggled a little. I certainly have! Weird thing is, I never actually knew dscn3000what this sign was all about. Recently a friend recommended I check out this so-called “recreational area”, so I did just that.

What is “Bong Recreational Area”?

It is exactly what is says it is: an area for recreation. Here, you can hike, ride horses, tear around on ATVs and snowmobiles, camp, swim, kayak, boat, canoe, hunt, fish, and more. Richard Bong State Recreational Area could appeal to anyone from a casual camper to an avid outdoorsperson.

Our hike

It was a mid-August afternoon, hot and sunny, when my wife I hiked the blue loop of the “South of Highway 142” trail section. Bong is definitely a dscn2940popular park. There were people everywhere! On the way to the bathroom, we saw a group of people chatting and walking. In the parking lot at the trailhead, we saw many more people, including a woman getting her horse ready for trail riding.

Humans were only some of many creatures we shared the blue loop with. We weren’t on the trail for more than two minutes before we spotted a handful of turtles and bull frogs in a murky pond. We enjoyed the view from the beautiful wooden foot bridge that stretched across the marshy area.

Hiking Trail Segments

North of Highway 142

  • Gray Trail (1.7 miles)
  • Yellow Trail (4.4 miles)
  • Orange Trail (6.4 miles)
  • Red Trail (8.3 miles)

South of Highway 142    

  • Green Trail (1.8 miles)
  • Blue Trail (4.2 miles)

Trail Difficulty

Like I said earlier, we hiked the 4-mile blue loop, South of Highway 142. This loop was very easy. It was well-marked and relatively flat. Even the most inexperience hiker could manage this trail.dscn2978

Address

Richard Bong State Recreation Area

26313 Burlington Rd.

Kansasville, WI

53139

Phone Number

262-878-5600

Trail information line

262-878-5600

Directions to Richard Bong State Recreation Area

(50 minutes from the East Side of Milwaukee)

  1. Follow I-43 South
  2. Take exit 312B to the right for I-94 / US-41 / I-43 toward Lincoln Ave./Becher St.
  3. Keep left onto I-94 E / US-41 S
  4. Take exit 316-319 to the right for I-94 E / US-41 S toward College Avenue (Follow for 20.4 miles)
  5. Take exit 337 to the right toward Mt. Pleasant
  6. Turn right onto 1st St. / CR-KR (Follow for 5 miles)
  7. Turn left onto US-45 / 200th Ave. (Follow for 2.5 miles)
  8. Turn right onto WI-142 / 15th St. / Burlington Rd. (Follow for 4 miles)
  9. You’ve made it!

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Trail Fees

A daily or annual admission sticker is required to enter the park. We already had one on our car, so the park worker just waved us in.

dscn3015All state parks require a daily or annual admission sicker on each vehicle in the lot. These fees go to maintenance of trails and facilities, and other things within the state parks. You can find information about sticker prices on Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources Website.

There are multiple ways to purchase your sticker. You can go to a participating local business, or purchase a pass online, but I think it’s easiest to do it right at the park. To do this, try to find an open park office, fee collectors at the park entrance, or a self-service payment tube on the premises.

The self-service payment tubes are usually located at the entrance to each trail section. You just grab a form and a pencil, fill out the form, put it all in the provided envelopes, and drop it into the tube. Lastly, put your ticket stub in your car window, and wait for your amazingly-designed Wisconsin State Park sticker to come in the mail.

Have you ever been to Bong Recreational Area? What do you like to do there?

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading!

If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!

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Gear Review: REI Flash 22 Pack

I bought the REI Flash 22 Pack after hiking with regular backpacks for a few years. The last hiking pack (the Karrimor Jura 35-liter Rucksack) I had was a true dream, and hard to compete with, but it wasn’t a lightweight day pack like the dscn3432Flash 22.

That said, I’ve had a roller coaster of emotions with this pack. From the get go, I didn’t like it. It was a disappointment because I absolutely love REI. So I fought it and complained about it through many hikes, but eventually I grew attached to it. Part of that reason was because I’ve had so many adventures with the pack.

This pack has been on my back on buses and bikes and trails all over Wisconsin. It’s been with me on several camping trips, and it’s also been to Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, in California. My Flash 22 has been filled with four seasons of clothing, snacks of all kinds, work stuff, my computer, and loads of books I’ve devoured.

I’ll give you my personal pros and cons, and final judgment of the pack at the end of the article. First, let’s talk about the specifications and features:

Pack specificationsimg_8819

Name: REI Flash 22 Day Pack

Size: 22 liters

Weight: 1 lb. 1 oz.

Color: Purple & gray (Note: You might notice the same REI Flash 22 Pack, in red and gray, on the back of another hiker in many of my hiking photos. It was unintentionally modeled, courtesy of my wife who is usually hiking ahead of me, unintentionally modeling.)

Bag style: Drawstring, frameless, backpack

Features:

  • Hydration pack pouch and tube outlet
  • Sternum/waist straps
  • Mesh/elastic side pockets
  • Daisy chain for outside gear attachment
  • Drawstring main compartment
  • Top flap with zipper pocket, key hooks, and buckle
  • Quick dry material
  • Inner mesh pouch with zipper
  • Breathable, padded, mesh back padding

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Pros

  • Accommodates hydration pack with water tube
  • Removable sternum/waist straps
  • Sternum buckle has safety whistle

Cons

  • Thin, unpadded straps
  • Not heavy-duty: Over time, holes have developed in the mesh material in the shoulder straps. The straps have also begun to tear away from the rest of the pack.
  • Uncomfortable: Although the back has meshed padding, the pack doesn’t sit well on my back, so I don’t really feel the benefit of the padding.

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Value for money

I bought this pack on sale for $24.99, from an REI store in Wisconsin. The pack was originally $49.99. With all honesty, I think the pack is worth something closer to the $24.99 price. It could be sturdier and more comfortable, and I think there are a few feature changes that would need to be made to make it a pack worthy of $50.00.

My final judgmentpacking-for-a-day-hike-sequoia

I’ve made good use of the pack, but I plan to upgrade when I have the cash. On one hand, the pack holds all my snacks, my rain jacket, my fleece, and all the other little bits I bring with me on day hikes. And I’ve enjoyed having the option to carry my hydration pack with me. Plus, it’s so convenient to be able to fit my 32 oz. Nalgene bottle in one mesh side pocket, and my phone in the other.

Unfortunately, my comfort level with this pack is low. I’d like a pack with wider, padded straps, and I’d like it to be designed to fit to my back a little bit better. Lastly, I want a sturdy pack that will last me a while, free of rips and holes.

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Important update!!

The original REI Flash 22 Day Pack has been discontinued, and replaced with an updated version! I read the specs on the updated pack, and they seem to be almost identical to the original Flash 22, but I went into the store and noticed several other changes to the pack.

Here are the updates:

  • Daisy chain traded for single tool loops at the bottom of the pack
  • Extra padding added to the shoulder straps
  • Extra zip pocket on the outside of the pack, for easy-to-access storage

I’m very happy with the updates that REI made to the Flash 22. After reading several reviews and comments regarding the pack, I think REI really listened and applied that feedback to the creation of a new and improved Flash 22. Anyway, here is a link to the new REI Flash 22 Day pack.

Thank you all for reading!

Feel free to leave a comment, or email me with questions!

Until next time, I’m Two Tents Down!

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Note: Two Tents Down did not receive any gear or money for this review. These are solely the opinions and observations of Two Tents Down.

8 Great Ways to Prepare for a Day Hike

Many of us outdoorspeople want to get away on multi-day hiking trips, but it’s not realistic for the average working person to do that all the time. We might have a free day, or two days if we are lucky. Maybe we only have a few hours to spare. This is what day hiking is for!

It’s only a day hike, right?

The detail of your planning will vary based on the length and ferocity of the hike you plan to take, and the current weather in your hiking spot. I live in Wisconsin and hike year ‘round. Although the weather here is unpredictable, we are pretty accustomed to it. In fact, Milwaukee made Weather Bug’s top 10 list of cities with the most unpredictable weather in the United States. Needless to say, I am careful to pack based on my knowledge that I have no knowledge of what weather today might bring!dscn2629

You are most likely familiar with the weather patterns in your hometown, so you’d probably feel comfortable planning a hike there. If you’re not hiking in an area you know very well, I suggest doing a bit more planning. Either way, it’s smart to be prepared.

But, how should I prepare?

It can be a pain in the butt finding a hiking route online, and then finding the correct directions to that location. I would suggest familiarizing yourself with local hiking guides, and of course with your state’s Department of Natural Resources website.

  1. Plan your route:

I’ve learned that the easiest way to find a hiking trail, is to type “hiking trails nearby” into your favorite search engine. If you are having trouble, feel free email me for help. Here are a few hiking guides I found:

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2. Check the weather:

As much as you think you know what weather the day will bring, it’s best to check. The temperature could drop in the early evening, or there might be some rain in the afternoon. In any case, you’ll need the proper clothing with you. It might be as simple as a hat for sun protection, a rain jacket to help you stay dry, or a pair of gloves to protect your fingers from bitter cold. I always err on the side of over-preparedness.

Here is a well-researched article about hiking safety, by Near Field Communication Tags.

3. Dress smart:

My two pieces of advice are to dress in layers and to steer away from anything made of cotton. This tip goes hand-in-hand with preparing for the weather. Just build onto your layers, as needed.

Start with a “base” layer. Something synthetic, like a lightweight, quick-dry athletic shirt is great for a base layer. On top of that, you’ll need an “insulation” layer. A basic fleece or a wool sweater would be perfect! Lastly, you’ll need a “shell” layer. This layer will protect you from rain, wind, and snow, so a rain jacket or a winter coat would be good shells.

For details from the experts, read this REI article on layering clothing for outdoor activities.

4. Protect your feet:DSCN2562

By “protect” I mean to shelter them from the harm of blisters, ankle rolling, lack of support, and even severe weather conditions. The best way to do that is to wear good quality hiking boots, trail runners, or some supportive athletic shoes.

Read Gorp’s 10 Easy Steps to Happy Hiking Feet to find out more about how to care for your feet, while hiking.

5. Think about hydration:

Whether it’s hot or cold, you’ll be burning calories while hiking. This means you need to stay hydrated. Always have some water with you.

The Hiking Life blog suggests that you should be drinking at least one liter of water when you are hiking in extreme heat and humidity, or in higher altitudes. In milder conditions, at lower altitudes, the Hiking Life recommends half a liter.

6. Stock up on snacks:

It’s amazing how ravenous you get while you’re hiking! Personally, I don’t need to be exercising to crave food, but I will say that the cravings become extra intense on the trail!img_8556

While hiking, the same rules apply to food preparedness as they do to water preparedness. You will be burning calories on that hike, and you will need to replenish them. Snacks are vital!

Everyone’s got their own energy snack secrets. Buzzfeed’s Christine Byrne has a well-rounded and mouth-watering list of healthy, homemade hiking foods. The recipe for curry and Sriracha roasted chickpeas sounds especially delicious!

My personal hiking munchies usually consist of anything from trail mix to granola bars. I focus on keeping my snacks lightweight, energy-rich, and calorie dense. Depending on the length and intensity of the hike, I might bring a small stash of carrot sticks or apple slices. If I’m planning to really blow through some miles, I will bring some sort of a sandwich. I’ve found that even something as simple as a cucumber hoagie with avocado spread is so refreshing at the peak of an intense hike!

However, there is nothing like the well-deserved, post-hike meal and carbonated beverage combo. I have devoured some of my favorite meals just after a long hike! This might be the perfect reason to keep to snacking on the hike, and save the gorging for after.

7. Pack the essentials:

Can you spot any of the 10 essentials?

Can you spot any of the 10 essentials?

There may be other things on your basic day hiking pack list, but no matter the hike, you should have certain items in your pack. The Backpacking-Guide.com has a great article about the simple items to pack for a hike. This website and many other hikers and campers refer to the basic survival gear list as “The 10 Essentials”:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Extra clothing
  • Map
  • Compass
  • Flashlight
  • Pocketknife/multi-tool
  • Fire-making materials
  • First aid kit
  • Sun protection

Even on my shortest hikes, I carry all but one item on this list. The one thing I don’t typically carry is a map. I usually DSCN2164use my phone as a map. I will freely admit, relying solely on a cell phone for navigation is a silly mistake. They aren’t 100 percent reliable. Carrying a map is a simple and reliable navigation method.

If you would like to learn how to read a map, check out “How to Read a Topographic Map” by How Stuff Works.

*Further reading: REI article with the updated “10 Essentials”. The new list contains categories of essentials, instead of individual items.

8. Spread the word:

Tell someone where you will be hiking! This is so important. Whether you tell a family member or a friend, at least one person should know where you will be going. Anything can happen, and you are much safer when people know where you are.

Every time I head out on a hike, I text my mom with information about where I will be hiking. It’s such a simple thing and, as simple as it is, it could save your life if anything were to happen.

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Further Reading:

These are only some of the things you can do to prepare for a day hike. Like I mentioned earlier, planning depends on many variables. Take a look at Section Hiker’s “How to Plan a Day Hike” for more ideas.

Here are some more great hiking articles:

Boots vs. Shoes: Outdoors with Dave has an article with pros and cons of each style of hiking ware, and the locations/terrains where each type of shoe would be most appropriate.

Winter hiking: Taking care of your feet, staying hydrated, and replacing burned calories are a few of the tips that The Active Network offers in their winter hiking article.

Thunderstorms: The Hiking Dude has a fantastically-informative article about what to do if you are hiking and get caught in a storm.

Wildlife encounters: Here is About.com’s collection of articles on preparing for wildlife encounters.

Communication: Informative and thought-provoking article on communication devices and techniques.

Hiking tips: Familiar tips, different perspective.

Signaling for help: This article covers everything from signal fires to signal mirrors.

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What are some things you do to prepare for your hikes?

 

Thanks to everyone for reading!

If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!

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Wisconsin Hiking: A Hike of Fireworks and Ice

Fourth of July on the Ice Age Trail

Fireworks? Definitely. Ice? Not so much. We started the Loew Lake segment of the Ice Age Trail in the early afternoon. By the end of mile one, I was glistening as a result of hard work on a hot day—in other words, I was a full-on sweaty mess!

Let me paint a prettier picture. We were hiking the Ice Age Trail in the Pike Lake Unit of Wisconsin’s gorgeous Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Oconomowoc River flowed parallel to the trail for the first mile, or so. Tall grass and cat tails decorated the river banks, and bullfrog-inhabited, green, bubbly swamp patches separated the river and the trail. The frogs generously sang us a song as we passed through the area, so we snapped a few photos and kept on walking.

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We hiked to a lovely soundtrack. Among the many voices were the calls of bullfrogs, the chirps of birds, the pattering of chip monk feet, and the random bang of fireworks in the distance.

After exiting the area along the river, the trail opened up to a spectacular field of tall grass, dotted with rainbows of wildflowers. To our right were patches of berries. There were quickly ripening raspberries low to the ground, and bushes of bright red round berries above them. To the left was a great field with a big, white farmhouse in the distance, and a line of old trees behind it. Way beyond them, was the beautiful Basilica of Holy Hill.

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Trail Difficulty

Easy/moderate for a few hilly spots

Trail Fees

  • No trail fees
  • Vehicle sticker not required

Pros

  • Variety of scenic views (Oconomowoc River, Holy Hill, etc.)
  • Good level of trail maintenance
  • Low traffic on trail
  • Beautiful, donated wooden benches located in scenic viewing areas

 

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Cons

  • Horrible mosquito pockets

Location & Directions

GPS Coordinates

006

Address

6186 County Line Rd

Hartland, WI

53029

Detailed driving directions:

  1. Take I-45 North
  2. Take County Line Road/HWY Q Exit
  3. Turn left (West) and follow HWY Q for 11.2 miles
  4. Turn right onto County Road K (Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive) and enter Pike Lake Unit parking lot

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Reference Materials:

Every Trail

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Ice Age Trail Alliance

Wikipedia

Discover Wisconsin

Which Ice Age Trail sections have you hiked?

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As always, thank you so much for reading!

Please direct questions, comments, or concerns to the comment section or to my email address: twotentsdown@yahoo.com.

I’m active on social media, so click on one of the links below to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, or Bloglovin’.

If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!

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Wisconsin Camping: Mauthe Lake Campground

My first camping trip of 2016 came the second weekend in June. Of course my wife and I had already camped in the yard several times this spring, but our trip to Mauthe Lake was the first time we’d picked a campground, made a reservation, packed up all of our gear, and took a weekend away from our everyday norm.

It was a lot different than pitching a tent at home. This camping weekend was a blur of weather and activities. We braved temperatures between 50 and 100 degrees, wild bolts of lightning, insects-a-plenty, kids-a-many, neighboring camping groups by the dozen; all the while enjoying a much-needed adventure!

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The Arrival

The night we arrived, we were barely able to finish setting up camp before a massive thunderstorm hit. We couldIMG_8912 see the thick clouds rolling in from a great distance, while shades of blue and gray flooded the sky. Then the winds arrived and blew our tent into a horizontal position—putting the poles to the ultimate test! The storm reached down and plucked several of our bent and worn stakes out of the ground, leaving our protective ground tarp exposed to the elements.

Meanwhile, the last members of our group were arriving. They were in mid set up of their tent, when the winds started hacking away at our campsite. While Rhesia ran to reset our tents stakes, I helped our friends get their tent in an upright position. Then Rhesia and I spent some time restructuring of our tarp shelter, which we had originally jimmy-rigged to hang over the picnic tables with bungee cords, rope, stakes, and found sticks.

It was a wild arrival, nothing short of fantastic. You see, this wasn’t the first time my wife and I camped in crazy weather. Our camping trip in the Lake District of Northwest, England was a doozy.  That weekend we slept next to a river that doesn’t actually exist, and hiked over three miles in footy pajamas and cheap Wellies—while carrying a waterlogged double sleeping bag, leather jackets, and a borrowed, broken tent. Luckily, this time around we were prepared with more experience and better gear.

Campsite detailsDSCN2786

Site number: 536

Cost: $23/night

Site type: Standard; Non-electric

Check-in time: 3:00 P.M.

Check-out time: 3:00 P.M.

Site amenities: fire pit, picnic table

Max # of cars: 2 compact/full-sized cars

Max # of people: 6

Distance from facilities:

  • Male/Female (multiple stall) bathroom: 1 min walk
  • Female (personal) bathroom: 1 min walk
  • Showers: 5 min walk
  • Water source: 1 min walk
  • Beach: 20 min walk

Neighboring areas:

  • North: walking path to showers; neighboring campsite
  • South: trees
  • East: grassy field of public space
  • West: trees

Campsite Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Trees on two sides
  • Close to bathrooms/water source/path to showers/Ice Age Trail entrance

Cons

  • Lack of privacy
  • Very small: This site could accommodate two cars and two tents, tops. With one car, you could fit three tents.
  • Excessively deep fire pit: We struggled to get air to our fire, causing it to keep dying out.

Overall campsite comments:

Our group was a little disappointed with our campsite (not the campground). We were out in the open, with a path to the showers on oneDSCN2790 side and a field directly in front of our site. This was the spot where groups of kids would come to play.

All of the campsites in the 530s surround the grassy field, and seem perfect for groups with children. Most of the 540s are in a separate section surrounded by trees. They have more privacy, and are even closer to the entrance to the Ice Age Trail (but further from the beach and the showers).

Reserve America suggested that site 536 could accommodate up to two cars and six people. I think this information was a little misleading. With two cars in the campsite, we definitely couldn’t fit more than two tents. I think the site description should [more accurately] suggest that you can either have two cars and two tents, or one car and three tents.

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Mauthe Lake Campground

(Information obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.)

Name: Kettle Moraine-North: Mauthe Lake Campground

Address:

N1490 County Rd. GGG

Campbellsport, WI

53010

Phone Number: (262)626-4305

Campground Details

Amenities in camping areas:

  • Vault toilet bathrooms with toilet paper and hand sanitizer
  • Private shower rooms with locking doors
  • Water source and water fountain

Amenities by lake:

  • Public beach
  • Picnic area
  • Flush toilet bathrooms with running water and soap
  • Changing room with shower stalls
  • Concession stand with deep-fried appetizers/ice cream/soda/chips/burgers/hot dogs
  • Hiking trails
  • Parking areas
  • Boat launch ramp
  • Firewood vending machine (No, I’m not joking!)

Campground pros and cons

Pros

  • Clean, well-stocked bathrooms
  • Clean and easily accessible shower facilities
  • Friendly park workers

Cons

  • Very busy in the camping areas, and even busier at the beach

Overall campground comments:IMG_8915

We had a fantastic time at Mauthe Lake campground, from the moment we arrived. Check-in was a breeze, and the park workers were friendly and helpful.

On the second night, we were approached by two park workers. They checked our ids and asked us to turn off our music. They were very polite and we had no problem complying.

Making a reservation:

I reserved the site on ReserveAmerica.com. It was a pretty smooth process. I searched for a site within the Mauthe Lake Campground by looking at a map of all the campsites. Then I picked the dates, and paid with my credit card. The hardest part was finding an available site, because I waited so long to make my reservation. I’d recommend reserving your site at least three weeks in advance.

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Until next time…

Campers, I hope you’ll make time to visit this lovely campground! Of course, If you have any questions you can leave a comment below, contact me on social media, or email me at twotentsdown@yahoo.com.

I’ll leave you with a question: What is your favorite Wisconsin campground?

Thank you so much for reading!

If you need me, I’m just Two Tents Down!

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