A Trip to the Cottage…Manufacturers

I’m a big believer in supporting small local businesses. From clothiers to bookstores, if I can find what I’m looking for locally from the little guy, I’m willing to pay a small premium in order to drop a bit of fuel into the local economic engine.

The backpacking gear community is awash with cottage manufacturers, the internet version of the local retailer. And I’ve been so tempted by much of the stuff I’ve seen, and the sterling reviews of said stuff. Seriously, who wouldn’t want a Tarptent Rainbow? But being a bargain hunter by necessity on my initial gearing-up has kept me from this wonderland of full-price kit.

Until now.

In my quest for a sleeping pad, I cruised over to Amazon and discovered a self-inflatable from a mom-and-pop company I won’t name. Yet. The reviews have been impressive, the price is as good or better than comparable pads from the major makers, and it seems to me to be a good, low risk bet. So I’ll order one and, when it comes in, I’ll do a little indoor campout (still buried in snow here) and post a follow-up.

I hope it’s as good as other backpackers say it is. Giving a cottage manufacturer a small boost would give me great pleasure…


Spring? Tell That to the Snow

The poet might wax that spring in Maine is like no other. And given the excess of mud and the stubborn refusal of winter to take a hike (pun forcefully intended) that signal the start of the season here, said poet would be right. I do the seasonal affective disorder thing during these long winters, so when the calendar says “Spring!” I foolishly expect to take the protective tips off my trekking poles and start plotting sloppy day hikes in the woods.

But the emperor has no snowshoes. And my favorite woodsy paths still have a fair amount of snow on them. And it keeps snowing. Snow showers yesterday. 1-3″ on deck for tomorrow. I generally consider three inches to be an insignificant amount of snowfall, unless it’s the end of March and I’m waiting to get onto a tree-lined trail wearing a backpack. Then that tiny snowfall blossoms from slight inconvenience to full-blown aggravation.

Many, MANY have said, “Just get snowshoes!” or “Buy some good winter hiking boots!” And the few who don’t really know me have asked, “Have you tried cross-country skiing?” But this recovering marathoner is stubbornly addicted to lightweight and nimble footwear. Maybe I’ll make the change someday. Or maybe I’ll continue my personal quest to move to a warmer climate where those sorts of footwear/additions would be looked upon as unnecessary for the majority of the year.

Yeah. Unnecessary. I like that better.

Picking Two More

Last year I decided to follow the trail journals of a husband and wife team and a solo guy my age as they attempted their thru-hikes of the AT. The solo guy, an experienced hiker, blasted along and finished with apparent ease. The couple had to overcome a few struggles along the way, but they topped the sign on Katahdin too. I enjoyed reading about their exploits so much, I decided to pick two more to follow this year.

So I found a solo man and solo woman, both about my age. They bounced off Springer, full of energy and enthusiasm. The solo man, missing his life and wife, dropped off after fifty miles. The solo woman struggled on the trail for just over two weeks, covered less than fifty miles, gave the typical “It was never about doing the whole trail” speech and went home.

So I removed both of their journals from my browser’s “Hiking” links folder.


This isn’t a condemnation of these two souls. Far from it. I’m aware of the reality: Less than twenty-five percent of those who begin a thru-hike complete it. I post this to illustrate the enormity/difficulty of the undertaking, and the realities of such when the rubber finally meets the trail. But I have to admit to being shocked at both giving up before even leaving Georgia (78.2 miles currently gets you to North Carolina). Given the immense amount of planning and preparation involved, not to mention the cost of gear, my wife would have my head if I didn’t at least touch the GA/NC sign before calling it a hike.

So I’ve picked out two more to follow, a solo man who reminds me a lot of the one I followed last year who raced through the 2,189 miles, and a mid-twenties married couple hiking with a single friend who enjoy the added pressure-to-complete of having a story written about their exploit in the local newspaper.

I’ll be pulling for them all, of course. And if I’m still here in Maine when they pass through Monson, I’ll try to get out there to say hi, something I missed doing last year with the others.