Superior, Stupendous, Sensible…Socks? Seriously.

Here I sit in the throes of December, dreaming about a hike but unable to take one. So I’m going to knock out a couple hundred words about an experience I had on my ten-mile AT excursion a few weeks back. And yes, it’s about socks. Socks. I can hardly believe it myself.

I have a peculiar problem with socks, specifically those worn on my right foot. See, no matter what type or length of socks I wear when I run, the seam of the hosiery in question will ALWAYS beat up my right little toe. I mean, to the point of bruising and leaving me with a semi-black toenail. I’ve tried a few varieties of seamless socks, and they were just okay, as I found myself having to give up other features just to have the one.

Then I started reading about socks when I became interested in hiking/backpacking, and heard lots of talk and read five-star reviews about a company called Darn Tough and their foot coverings. Well, Darn Tough is HQ’d in Vermont, and given that I’m a born-and-raised Mainer, I thought I’d give a pair from this company a shot. You know, for geography’s sake. That New England thing. If you live there, you understand.

So I went to my local outfitter and picked up a pair:

IMG_20171212_102004

I grabbed the AT version for two reasons: One, I like the logo and the cool little “map” of my favorite long trail on the socks. And two, straight from the company’s website: “We donate 5% of sales to help support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s outdoor education programs and maintenance of America’s first national scenic trail.” There’s another reason that had some impact on my decision, this eye-opening bonus: An unconditional lifetime guarantee. For real.

Talk about a trial by fire. I took a brand new pair of untested socks on my longest ever day hike. Usually, after a 4-6 mile trek, I’m dealing with a sore, bruised little toe for a week. I hammered those hardy Darn Tough socks up and down hills for ten miles. And came through so unscathed that I was able to go out for a normal run the next morning, something I won’t usually do.

Sold!

So, I’m ready to become one of the thousands of voices in the loyal Darn Tough crowd: I love these socks! Best money I’ve spent so far on hiking gear!

And I’m going to buy more. And some for running, too.

Guaranteed.

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Trial By Fire…Uh, Closet?

Several months ago, I purchased a self-inflating sleeping pad and a nice, toasty 20-degree sleeping bag. Events have conspired against their intended use so far, as I have yet to get out into the trees for an overnight.

Well, I currently find myself locked in a house brimming with the seasonal plague. As of this writing, I’m the only one not taking prescription or OTC meds to survive. And I’m the only one not coughing, which is murder at night when one is a light sleeper like yours truly.

The other night, ’round about midnight, the loudest and most egregious hacker in the house woke me from a dead sleep with a twenty minute wounded seal-sounding coughing fit. My living confined to a single room, there was nowhere for me to go to escape the racket and get some sleep.

Except the closet.

So in I went, pulling down my pad and bag from a shelf there, and after tearing them from their storage bags, I laid them out on the cramped floor and tried to sleep. I’m one who, when pulled from restful slumber between the hours of midnight and 3:00AM, takes at least an hour to fall back asleep. What can I say? I’m not a great sleeper. And I have no clue what a nap looks like.

I digress…

When I did fall asleep, I found the arrangement surprisingly comfortable, given that I was sleeping on a carpeted concrete floor in a small space, and considering I hadn’t added much in the way of air to my pad (it takes four or five breaths to bring it to full volume). The bag was beyond warm, though; I couldn’t snuggle into it without sweating, so I settled for being cool on my exposed side and roasting on my down side. Yes, I’m primarily a side sleeper…

So in attempting to make lemonade out of my sleepless lemons, I spent the next tired day counting my rough night as an opportunity to give my sleeping system a dry run.

Mission accomplished.

Note: This is my 100th post! Woohoo! 100 consecutive Thursdays of writing something ridiculous, sometimes with photos, and throwing it up here for a faithful few to read. Now for some serious marketing talk: When it comes to blogging, consistency is the key. Pick a schedule you can faithfully adhere to, and blog away.

For those who do read my nonsense, thanks. And, I’m sorry…

Take A Hike Day

I was all set to go out and slog through an easy 5 mile run last Friday morning when I discovered it was Take A Hike Day. Well, any excuse to hike will do, of course, so I gathered up my Airlite 22 and trekking poles and headed to the Appalachian Trail. I usually plan my hikes before I take them, but given that this was a spur-of-the-moment thing I decided to revisit an earlier hike southbound across the James River Foot Bridge to (and beyond) Matts Creek Shelter.

Along The River

‘Twas a beautiful morning along the James River, with bright sunny skies and a rich carpet of leaves that measured six inches deep in some places. Kicking leaves like a joyful five year-old made my day!

Once I turned away from the river to follow the creek to the shelter, I was pleased to discover that, unlike on my previous visit during the summer drought, Matts Creek had blossomed from a pitiful trickle into an actual creek:

Matts Creek

The giggling, bubbling water chortled off to my right for the mile trip to the shelter, and really added a level of ambience that I didn’t realize had been missing from my late August trip along the same path.

As I approached the shelter I discovered, much to my surprise given the time of year, gear piled on the picnic table and a fire burning in the pit. I passed a hiker in the lean-to putting on some outer layers to battle the 35 degree morning, threw a “Good morning!” his way and jumped over the creek to begin the climb that awaited me across the water.

Now, I’ve often lamented how I’ve seen more wildlife in town than out in the wilderness, and that’s still true, as you’re about to see. Because while I did see an animal in the woods on this trip, it was far from wild.

A half-mile after crossing the creek I was daydreaming when I heard a bell. Not the church variety, mind you. The jingle variety. I thought I was imagining things until I rounded a slight curve and saw a goat, horns, bell and all, chomping on grass in the center of the trail. In the middle of nowhere! When I recovered from my shock and gathered my wits, I grabbed my phone to try and take a shot (Seriously. Who would believe I saw a flippin’ GOAT out there?), but he bolted when he saw me. I continued on a bit further, fully expecting to encounter his human owner, but saw no one. Bizarre!

Laughing like a crazy person, I turned and headed back to the shelter. By this time, the hiker was out and about, so I stopped to chat with Tyler, trail name “Chicken Hawk” (named for the excitable little hawk in the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons) who was yo-yoing to finish up his thru hike at Daleville, 54 miles to the south. He was energetic and enthused but seemed relieved to be on the home stretch of his journey. A family emergency had taken him off-trail earlier in his quest, resulting in his late-season unorthodox completion of the AT. After a nice fifteen minute conversation, he gratefully accepted my gifts of a Gatorade and Clif bar, which pleased me as much as it did him. My first presentation of trail magic to a thru hiker! See, I always carry extra supplies for the purpose of giving them away, but have never had the opportunity to do so. I was thrilled! During the course of our conversation The Hawk did ask me the name of my blog, so if you’re reading this Tyler, thanks for accepting. It made my day, brother. And congratulations on finishing your hike!

He was a guy on a mission, so I left him to finish breaking camp and headed back towards the trailhead. I stopped to grab a shot of the Foot Bridge between the bare trees:

JR Foot Bridge

And a photo of two fallen trail sentinels that were just high enough off the ground for my diminutive 5’7″ (okay, 5′ 6.5″) frame to pass under without crouching:

Low Bridges

As I approached the bridge from the south I noticed something that made me smile and practically REQUIRED a photo. In all the journals and books I’ve read, I had heard lots about thru hiker mail. The electronic age (translation: ability to text, etc.) has done away with some of the creativity of leaving it, so I was excited to come upon this gem:

Thru Hiker Mail

I hope Swamp Donkey saw the note…

A successful, completely enjoyable Take A Hike Day trip came to its conclusion with one more trek across the bridge. By the time I got unlimbered and settled into the car for the ride home, I was already wanting to be back in the woods. I need to settle on and purchase a multi-day pack so I can do an overnight!

Next up? A northbound out-and-back on the AT to the Fullhardt Knob shelter from Daleville the day after tomorrow. My son-in-law/hiking partner has a new Gregory Zulu 40 pack to break in…