Trip Report: 5 Summit Challenge, and Happy Birthday MST!

This weekend, the Mountains to Sea Trail celebrated its 41st Birthday! Y’all all know how close this trail is to our heart, and we’re so excited it continues to grow year after year!

To celebrate, we opted to cross a hike off our bucket list that featured some MST miles on Sunday. We settled on the 5 Summit Challenge at Hanging Rock State Park. This challenge is a 10.2 mile loop that summits the 5 peaks within Hanging Rock State Park – Hanging Rock, Wolf Rock, House Rock, Cook’s Wall, and Moore’s Wall.

Our day on the trail was incredibly foggy. We’ve been to most of these peaks, and I typically enjoy seeing the different views we get from the different peaks within such a close area. This time, however, the views were all the same because of the clouds and fog! The fog also added a mysterious feel to the hike, and made me so excited for fall!

We spent all day Saturday kayaking, and I underestimated how tired I would be on Sunday. While my legs were fresh, I fatigued really easily and noticed some soreness in my back and shoulders. At least it was good training for getting up and moving when I’m tired!

If you’d like to take on this challenge yourself, here’s what we did:

  • Mile 0: Start at the Visitor Center Parking Lot and head up the Hanging Rock Trail to the top of Hanging Rock
  • Mile 1.3: Reach the top of Hanging Rock (Peak 1)! Turn around and head back down the Hanging Rock Trail
  • Mile 2.1: Turn left on the Wolf Rock Trail
  • Mile 2.9: Take the short spur to the left to reach the top of Wolf Rock (Peak 2)! Continue along the Wolf Rock Trail.
  • Mile 3.6: Continue straight along the Cook’s Wall Trail
  • Mile 3.9: Reach the summit of House Rock (Peak 3)! Take an immediate right to continue along the Cook’s Wall Trail
  • Mile 4.6: Reach the summit of Cook’s Wall (Peak 4)! Turn around and head back down the same trail
  • Mile 5.7: Turn left onto the Magnolia Springs Trail
  • Mile 6.1: Turn left onto the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail
  • Mile 6.7: Turn right to stay on the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail
  • Mile 8.0: Turn left toward the summit of Moore’s Wall
  • Mile 8.1: Reach the summit of Moore’s Wall (Peak 5)! Take a minute here to check out the lookout tower, if visibility is clear. Turn around and head back downhill.
  • Mile 8.2: Quick side detour to Balanced Rock, because its super cool! Continue along the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail back to the Visitor Center. You’ll pass the boathouse along the way, but continue to follow the MST (white circle) blazes.
  • Mile 10.2: Back to the parking lot finished!

If you check it out, let me know what you think! Its a beautiful trail, and surprisingly challenging given the low elevation.

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Trip Report: James River Float Trip

Last June, Andrew and I joined a group of our friends for a 4-day float trip on the Upper James River.  All told, we have 11 people and 6 kayaks/canoes out on the water.  This trip ran 42 miles from Glen Wilton to Alpine Station, featuring long flat water sections and several Class I – II rapids.  It was a great way to relax after a busy spring at work!

We took our Mad River Explorer 15 on this trip, and added a stern thwart and lacing for float bags to help improve the structural integrity and avoid swamping because of the whitewater sections.  We also picked up a Harmony canoe touring barrel to store our food in, to prevent it from getting wet.

The weather we had on this trip was some of the best weather I’ve ever had on a trip!  Beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds, nice and warm daytime temps with cooler evenings.  We even saw a field full of fireflies one night.

We caught the river at a pretty good flow level, but a very busy weekend.  The several weeks leading up to our trip had high water, so most people weren’t going out on the river.  A lot of folks living in the region took advantage of the good water levels to get out for day trips the same weekend we were there.  I love seeing lots of people out on the water – but I don’t love having to dodge inner tubes coming into rapids!

Day 1 – Glen Wilton to Gala.  7 miles with 7 Class I rapids and 1 Class II.  This Class II (The Squeeze) was my favorite rapid of the trip – a large standing wave where the river narrows significantly due to shoals.

Day 2 – Gala to Horseshoe Bend.  17 miles with 24 Class I rapids and 3 Class IIs.  This was our longest day, but featured some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen!  We could see HUGE Muskie swimming in the water in some of the deeper pools we paddled through.

Day 3 – Hoeseshoe Bend to Arcadia.  15 miles with 13 Class I rapids and 4 Class IIs.  This was definitely the most crowded section, as we went through Buchanan, where most of the outfitters are located.  This seemed to be the popular section for people going on day trips in either kayaks or inner tubes.

Day 4 – Arcadia to Alpine.  Short day of 4.5 miles, with just a couple small rapids along the way.


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Finding New Focus

When we started this blog 4 years ago, our intent was to document our preparation and thru-hike of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  As our plans evolved, injuries occurred, and we had to delay our hike, it became difficult for me to come back to this blog to post.  It felt like a reminder of a failure.  But over the last year, we’ve focused on finding adventure locally – these might now be the big adventures we dreamed of, but they fill that need.  So over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting trip reports and race reports from what we’ve been doing, trying to get back to regular posting.  We’ll still hike the MST – one day – but in the mean time, I hope you enjoy our mini-adventures!

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Pushing Through the Pain

Our society puts a premium on pushing physical boundaries.  We’ve all grown up with it:

Push through the pain.

No pain, no gain.

What doesn’t kill you makes  you stronger.

At some point though, we need to listen to our bodies.  We need to hear when it is telling us that we’re pushing too hard, that its time to step back.  We need to adapt, so that we can overcome the pain and get back to doing what we love.

For the last year, I have been struggling with knee pain.  This pain pops up whenever I run or cycle, even rearing its head in the pool.  It’s cut backpacking trips short.  It’s had me on the couch icing my knee twice daily for several weeks at a time.  You all know how much I hate sitting still, so taking time off of my workout routine was really driving me crazy.

After many PT sessions and visits to 3 different doctors, we finally have a diagnosis and an action plan.  In both of my knees, I have a misalignment of the patellar tendon, commonly known as Runners Knee.  What this means it that my patella doesn’t sit properly in my femoral head, so that I have bone-on-bone contact between my patella and femur.  It has gotten severe enough that it is causing swelling in the plica bands in both of my knees.  I know, it even sounds painful!  Unfortunately for me, when PT stops working, the only option left is surgery.  This surgery is a doozy – they will break a piece of my tibia (where the patellar tendon connects) and move it, so that everything is in alignment.  It will fix the anatomical cause of my pain, meaning that once healed I should never have pain from this again.

This surgery is scheduled for 1 week from tomorrow.

So for the next 6 weeks, I’ll be walking around in one of those bionic knee braces.  It will take 6-9 months for me to return to full strength.  And they can only do 1 knee at a time, the second knee will be done next year.

I’ll probably spend the 3 weeks off work daydreaming about adventures I want to take in the future, after this year and a half of knee surgeries is finished.  This also means that our MST thru-hike has finally been rescheduled… for spring 2018.  I hate to push it back that far, but its finally time to listen to what my body needs.  I am not signing off the blog though, don’t worry.  We’ll keep posting our preparations and mini-adventures!

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Cycling Trip to the Outer Banks

On our original MST plan, we would have finished the thru-hike the first week of November at Jockey’s Ridge.  We already had the hotel reservation for that week when we had to delay the trip, and we certainly won’t let a week at the beach go to waste!  So we loaded up the tandem bike and headed down to Kill Devil Hills for a few days.

I had been having a lot of ongoing trouble with my knees and achilles, so we knew I may have to take it easy.

The first day, we rode the bike from Kill Devil Hills north to Corolla.  My dad was in town, so we met him at a few places in Duck to walk around the shops there.  I’m sure we were a strange sight – in matching kits and cycling shoes, wondering around silly touristy shops.  We also stopped for sandwiches to refuel.  My dad headed back to the hotel, and Andrew and I continued on to the lighthouse


We are a strange sight indeed

We toured the lighthouse and grabbed a cup of coffee (duh!) before heading back to Kill Devil Hills.  We timed the ride pretty poorly, and ended up riding through Duck at the beginning of evening rush hour.  Not that Duck truly has a rush hour, just more cars on the road than normal.  We got a great view of the sunset over the water on the ride.


Beautiful sunset

Lucky for us, we have a bunch of bright lights on the tandem, so we’re nice and visible even in low light.  By the time we got back to Kitty Hawk, it started to rain.  So the last 10 minutes of the ride were a bit wet.

My knee had been acting up on our ride the first day, so we decided to drive the second.  We headed south this time, stopping at Bodie Island Lighthouse on the way to Hatteras Lighthouse.  The drive to Hatteras requires crossing 2 bridges that I really don’t like – Bonner Bridge and what the locals refer to as “the lego bridge”.  Bonner Bridge crosses Oregon Inlet and is close to 20 years past its intended lifespan.  Oregon Inlet has very strong, dangerous currents moving through it, so there sand on the floor of the inlet is always changing.  This means that sometimes, there isn’t any sand under the center pylons.  The “lego bridge” is a Corps of Engineers bridge that was built after a storm, and looks like it was thrown together haphazardly.

We didn’t fit any more cycling into the trip, but had a great time on our two days away!

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Backpacking in the Smokies and Asheville, Part III

When last we spoke, I described us having to leave the trail, cutting our trip a day short.

We had an appointment in Asheville the following day, so we grabbed a hotel for the night.  Honestly, we’ll jump at any chance to spend some more time in downtown Asheville, we love it!

The following morning, we headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway.  In our wedding planning process, we had been tossing around the idea of getting married off the Parkway.  By now, you all know how important the outdoors are to us and our relationship.  Our first date was a hiking trip, we got engaged on a canoe camping trip, it only made sense to get married in nature.  So we spent our morning checking out some of the places on our list of possible ceremony spots.  At the top of our list was Craggy Gardens, an area 20 miles north of Asheville.  There are two trails in Craggy Gardens:

  • the Craggy Gardens Trail, which snakes through rock gardens
  • The Craggy Pinancle Trail, which overlooks the gardens and several other mountains

So, we checked out Craggy Gardens first.  The trail is short, and travels over mostly flat ground through short wind-gnarled trees.  It looks like a fairy forest!  After about a 10 minute walk, you come to an awesome shelter with a gravel floor.  Just past the shelter is


Craggy Gardens Trail

Next up was the Craggy Pinnacle trail.  The forest on the first part of the Craggy Pinnacle Trail is very similar to Craggy Gardens, but this trail climbs higher, out of the forest.  The trail is a bit steeper than Craggy Gardens, and is about a mile to the overlook.  Above the forest, the Craggy Pinnacle area is home to plants that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.  We came up to the lower overlook, and it was gorgeous.  On a clear day, you can see Mt Mitchell (where we had our first date).  We knew right away we had found the perfect place for our wedding.

Standing on the overlook, we noticed the stone was missing from my engagement ring.  The stone survived 2 backpacking trips and a paddling trip, but it didn’t survive a day hike.  We knew immediately that it was a lost cause trying to find my ring – a greenish-grey stone on a gravel trail surrounded by grass.  We were really bummed out about it, until we talked with a friend of ours.  Her take on it was that now, a piece of us will always be on this trail.


Lower Overlook on Craggy Pinnacle Trail

After checking out this area, we had to head back to Asheville to meet with a prospective photographer.  She asked us to a coffee shop in West Asheville (Odd’s Cafe) we hadn’t checked out before.  We knew we were going to like it when we walked in – there was a T-Rex holding a cup of coffee painted on the wall!  We had a good cup of coffee, and a great conversation with the woman we ended up booking for our wedding photographer.

So our trip, on the whole, had some ups and downs.  Our backpacking trip didn’t go quite as planned.  But we finally found the perfect place for our wedding ceremony, we decided on our wedding photographer, and we had some awesome food and coffee!

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Backpacking in the Smokies and Asheville, Part II

So, when we left off, Andrew and I had just arrived at Kephart Shelter at the end of Day 2 of our backpacking trip.

Kephart Shelter is one of the nicest shelters I have been to!  The shelter was 3 sides, with a stone fireplace and chimney built into one side.  If you’ve never stayed in a shelter in the Smokies, there is a certain etiquette everyone is expected to follow.  This shelter was designed to hold 14 people – 7 on each sleeping level.  You aren’t allowed to set up tents or hammocks inside the shelter.  Packs (smellables, at a minimum) should be hung on bear cables.  All cooking and eating should be done outside the shelter.  Cooking and eating outside the shelter is crucial to keep bears out of the shelter, since there isn’t a door or gate across the front of the shelter.


Inside Kephart Shelter

The fireplace was the best part about this shelter – it helped the shelter warm inside on another cold night.  You may recall from the last post that I experienced some pretty severe knee and achilles pain on the hike to Kephart.  After I got to the shelter and took off my boots, my achilles continued to swell and stiffen up.  Andrew and I hoped that being off of it and giving it a break from my boots (and a little anti-inflammatory) would help alleviate some of the pain and swelling.

After another cold night, we were ready to get up and get moving the next morning.  When we looked at my heel, the swelling in my achilles had actually gotten worse overnight.  We made the difficult decision to hike out to the road and cut our trip short by a day.  We never like having our adventures cut short, but we both know that it isn’t worth risking an injury before our thru-hike in the spring.

Now, hiking out was easier said than done.  Our train crossed a road not far from the shelter, maybe just over a mile.  But that was 9 miles up the road from our car.  We weren’t prepared to hitch hike, but that was our only option to get back to our car.  Unfortunately, folks don’t like picking up hitch hikers, and there was no way we could tell anyone we only needed to go 9 miles down the road.  So we started walking.  Luckily, about halfway back, we met someone who was nice enough to let us ride the last 5 miles in the back of his truck.

Overall, we had a great trip, with the exception of having to call it quits early.

Check back for 1 more post about this trip.  Coming off the trail early let us spend some extra time in Asheville!

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Backpacking in the Smokies and Ashevile, Part I

In mid-October, Andrew and I look a well-deserved vacation.  We had been overwhelmed with work, re-planning the thru-hike, and starting to plan our wedding.  So when our trip rolled around, we were thrilled.

We had this awesome 4-day, 3-night trip planned through the Smokies, starting in Smokemont.  Andrew LOVES the Smokies; one of his internships in college was trail maintenance in the Smokies.  I have never been backpacking up there.  So we were REALLY looking forward to it!  In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, campers are required to obtain backcountry permits, and are required to reserve campsites and shelters.  This helps to alleviate overcrowding at campsites and shelters.  We had to re-plan our trip a little bit because we waited too late to reserve our shelters, and the one we wanted one night was already full!  The re-route did mean we got to spend part of our trip on a section of the MST, which we always love!

So, our trip – we went into the Smokies at Smokemont, and reserved site 50 (Chasteen Creek) for the first night.  It was just over 1 mile hike in, which is what we needed after a long drive across the state.  The second night, we reserved Kephart Shelter.  Our last night we had campsite 52 (Newton Bald).  All of the backcountry sites in the park have a bear cable retention system installed – which makes hanging a bear bag very easy!


Ready to hit the trail!

So we got into the park a little later than we had hoped – good thing we planned ahead and had a short hike into the first campsite!  The hike into our first campsite was quick, and we still had enough daylight to set up our tent and shelter before it got dark.  We took our MSR Nook again – our second trip using it.  Setting it up on this trip was MUCH smoother than on the last one.  We also used the Twing again.  Now, you may recall that the waterproofing failed on our Twing on the last trip.  There wasn’t any rain in the forecast, but the Twing gives us a sheltered place to store gear, stay warm while we’re eating (it traps body heat and heat from cooking), and it distributes light from our lantern well.  So we set it up again.  We also took our new Gravityworks water filter for a spin.  This setup rocks!  I love being able to let it filter water while I go about other tasks setting up camp (review coming soon!).

I have never used the Bear Cable Retention System, so I was glad to have enough daylight to check it out.  If you’ve never used it before, the Bear Cable Retention System is AWESOME!  They have a cable strung between two trees, at the ideal height to protect from bears.  There are steel cables with hooks and pulleys hanging down.  So you can hook your entire pack into a hanging table, pull it up into the air, and clip into an adjoining tree.  It is strong enough to hold a pack, and a bear can’t chew or rip through the metal cables.  Genius!


Our camp the first night

The first night was VERY cold.  Andrew and I were both in our 35-degree sleeping bags and fully dressed, but it got into the low 30s that night.  I didn’t sleep much the first night because I was so cold.  My feet get very cold, and this night was no different – 2 pairs of socks and chemical foot warmers and my feet were STILL cold.  I had been thinking about adding a pair of down booties to my kit, and this confirmed it!

The second day we hiked from Chasteen Creek Camp to Kephart Shelter – 8.5 miles.  The 3 miles up Dry Sluice Gap were brutal.  You may recall that I had some severe Achilles pain on our last backpacking trip on the Neusiok Trail.  Well… the up and down of this trail re-inflamed that pain.  Every up step hurt my heel, and every down step hurt my knees.  I was SO relieved when we got to Kephart and I was able to take off my shoes!

Alright y’all… check back in a couple days for Part II of this trip.


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Backpacking on the Neusiok

In addition to the three “shake down” trips Andrew and I have planned, we decided to continue a tradition I started at work last year – to take new staff who are interested on their first backpacking trip.  I am thrilled that my staff are eager to learn more about the gear we sell at the shop, and I am happy that I work for a company that supports these kinds of trips.  At the beginning of October, we took two of my new staff out to the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest.  This is just an hour and a half away from Greenville, so its the perfect location!


The Neusiok isn’t a very popular trail during the summer, because it is in a swamp and there is a serious bug (mosquitos and deerflies) problem.  We went to the Neusiok 2 weeks later last year, and we didn’t see a single mosquito, so we didn’t think the bugs would be bad.  We didn’t take into account the 2 weeks of rain we’ve recently had.  So the trail was very flooded in spots (knee deep water, boardwalks washed away).

Overall, I think it was a great trip.  Some things that made this a memorable weekend:

  • mosquitos the size of small birds
  • wading through knee-deep water
  • seeing 3 hunters walk up to the shelter we were staying in at 9p carrying rifles and a machete
  • broken boardwalks we had to crawl across to not end up in the water
  • hiking through the ocean because of downed trees across the beach
  • seeing an eastern rattler in the wild for the first time
  • more mosquito bites than we can count

Hopefully we didn’t scare my staff away from backpacking!

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Canoe Camping on the French Broad

Because we had to delay the thru-hike, Andrew and I planned several short trips for the fall.  Our thru-hike would have featured backpacking, canoe camping, and bike touring, so we planned a short trip in each of those disciplines.  We’ll use these as “shake down” trips, to dial in our gear and nutrition ahead of the thru-hike.

The first of those trips was a canoe camping trip September 26-28 (Saturday – Monday).

We originally planned a 3-day, 2-night paddle down the Roanoke River utilizing the camping platforms built by Roanoke River Partners.  The forecast for the weekend was for 9 inches of rain and 4-ft swells in the sound.  The section of the Roanoke we planned to paddle has a strong tidal influence, so we had a strong likelihood of facing waves and heavy rain.  For my first taste of canoe camping, this seemed a little risky.

Given the forecast, we opted to head toward the mountains.  We settled on Section 1 of the French Broad.

Our gear setup for the featured a MSR Nook tent and a MSR Twing tarp shelter (both used but new to us, from one of our sponsors), SeaLect Designs 60L Storm Dry Bags, Fold-A-Carrier 5Gal Water Carrier, 35-degree sleeping bags, Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad (Lindsey), Thermarest Ridgerest Sleeping Pad (Andrew), MSR Reactor Stove System, and a couple of Sea-to-Summit Delta InsulMugs (these are our favorite for backpacking!).

Day 1:

We spent Saturday night at Davidson River Campground in Brevard, NC, just inside Pisgah National Forest.  If you haven’t checked out this campground yet, I strongly recommend it!  It was a beautiful facility that would have been even better in good weather – but it rained the whole time we were there.  We ended up being really happy we chose to stay at a well-maintained campground convenient to shopping.  We took a lot of sponsor gear out with us, thinking this would give us a chance to become more well acquainted with the gear we’ll be using on the thru-hike.  Our first night was a comedy of errors:

  • Our tent didn’t come with a ground cloth, so we had to run out to WalMart to get a tarp to keep the floor of our tent dry.
  • Our tarp shelter didn’t have any tent stakes with it, so we had to run out to Backcountry Outfitters/The Hub/Pisgah Tavern (they’re all one business – and a cool place to hang out!) to get tent stakes.
  • The seam tape on our tarp shelter began to flake off, so water was coming in through all of the seams.
  • I own 2 Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pads – one that has a couple of holes in it that I am working on patching, and one that is in perfect condition.  I accidentally grabbed the bad sleeping pad, so I had a flat sleeping pad after my first hour trying to sleep.


Day 2:

We got up early to give us plenty of time to get on the water.  We drove 20 minutes from Brevard to Rosman, NC, where we were planning to put our canoe in the river.  We worked with Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman to rent a campsite and get a shuttle from the take-out.  Headwaters was also nice enough to drop off a bucket of dry firewood at the campsite so it would be waiting for us that night.  Despite the rain, the French Broad was running at 2.3ft, just under the ideal water level of 2.7ft.  We put in a Champions Park in Rosman, and had a 8-mile paddle to the campsite.  The paddle was beautiful, and the scattered showers didn’t seem to matter once we were on the water.  There were several areas of very shallow water – so shallow the bottom of our canoe scraped on rocks.  There were 4 or 5 Class I rapids, plus a large Class I (which likely would have been Class II in higher water).  I am pretty new to canoeing, so even these small rapids were exciting for me.  The campground from Headwaters was well maintained, and empty except for us (I guess not everyone wants to go canoe camping in the rain!).  There was a steep ramp to take our canoe out, which was quite slick, but I don’t think this would have been a problem in dry weather.  Setting up camp was much smoother after we got all the kinks worked out the first night!  We had enough firewood from Headwaters to have a nice campfire for several hours.  The rain even cleared up for a while, so we could enjoy the campfire!

Day 3:

We had a short paddle to the take out (5 miles) to finish Section 1.  We loaded up our gear and headed back to Greenville!

Takeaways from the weekend:

  • It is TOTALLY worth the extra weight to carry a light tarp shelter.  This saved our trip, because we didn’t have to sit out in the rain, and we didn’t have to hide in our small tent.
  • Don’t let the rain ruin your plans – learn how to work around the rain.
  • Canoe camping ROCKS!  You can carry more weight than backpacking, so heavier food options and “splurge” items are fair game.

News from the weekend:

We’re getting married!  Andrew proposed this weekend, with a beautiful rose gold and green amethyst ring.  Now, I know you guys don’t come here to hear about wedding planning, so if you’re interested in the wedding, check out our wedding website:


More photos from the trip:

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