I bought new shoes….

Since my very first hike I have worn Merrill Moab Ventilators.  They are great shoes – easy to find, affordable, comfortable, and have served me well for many trips.  I typically buy a new pair every year because water crossings and being off trail are tough on shoes. Initially I wore the ankle high waterproof version. Then I progressed to the same style in a non waterproof version to a the lower cut non-waterproof shoe.  I have enjoyed them and put many, many miles on them.

Yesterday I bought a different brand hiking shoe for the first time in about 8 years.  I debated in the past about changing, as the Merrill’s have never treated me wrong.  Recently on a 15 mile day hike (yeah, you read that right and I have a blog entry about it here: https://wordpress.com/post/jnunniv.blog/1278) I found that afterwards my feet were a little more sore than usual.  That’s usually the sign for a new pair of shoes…

So yesterday I went to Fleet Feet in Huntsville, Alabama.  They have this cool little scanner that measures your feet and measures all sorts of dimensions.  Maria was the nicest, kindest, most patient person ever as I must have tried on every style of trail shoe in the store.

I settled on the Altra Lone Peak 3.5.  They are SO comfortable and almost a pound lighter per pair than my Merrill Moab Ventilator shoes.  I added a pair of lock laces because I HATE my shoes coming untied while I’m hiking. I’ll be wearing them this week in preparation for a 20ish mile training hike this weekend.  I’ll post a trip report and review when I finish.





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Fundraising: Basic First Aid Kits for Sale!

The price is $20 each and the proceeds are for my fundraising and go to the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge for Make-A-Wish. To donate (without purchasing a First Aid Kit) or learn more, click on the following link:
They weigh approximately 3.55 ounces (or 101 grams) each and include the following:
1 each Quart Ziploc bag with Make-A-Wish/Trailblaze Challenge sticker. (light and waterproof)
2 each 3”x4” sterile non-adherent pads
2 each 3”x3” Sterile Gauze Pads
2 each large (1/2”x2 ¾”) Butterfly Wound Closures
2 each Band-Aids (various sizes) but one larger and one smaller size in each kit
1 each Tick Key (ummm, to remove ticks) various colors.
4 each individually sealed Pepto Bismol chewable tablets
3 each 1 ½” safety pins
2 each 0.9 gram (1/32 oz.) triple antibiotic ointment packets
2 each packets of Ibuprofen (2 each 200 mg tablets per packet)
Approximately 24 continuous inches of Leukotape wrapped around a plastic straw
2 each packets of antiseptic towelette (unfolds to 5”x7”)
1 each plastic tweezers
1 each one oz. container of Gold Bond medicated powder
I have 50 kits ready to sell.
You may purchase one by PayPal (jnunniv@gmail.com), Venmo (@jnunniv), check, or cash in person.
I will mail within the Continental United States with the purchase of two or more kits.
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Do you need a basic First Aid Kit?

To raise money for the Alabama Trailblaze Challenge, I will be selling travel/backpacking basic First Aid Kits. It’s all of those little things you wish you had with you at some point. Throw it in your purse, your car, and/or your backpack. It’s identical to what I carry on a regular basis and there’s room to include other items you need.

Each kit will contain the following:

1 pair plastic tweezers (TSA won’t take them)
2 Band Aids (individually sealed)
2 packets of Antibiotic ointment
2 packets of Ibuprofen
2 non stick sterile gauze pads (individually sealed)
2 safety pins (great for popping the rare blister among other things)
2 sterile butterfly bandages (individually sealed)
2 feet of Leukotape wrapped around a section of plastic straw (first aid tape on steroids and great for hot spots)
2 Pepto Bismol Pills (individually sealed)
1 Tick Key (hopefully it’s never needed)
2 Antiseptic Wipes (individually sealed)
2 sterile 3×3 gauze pads (individually sealed)

This is identical to what I carry whenever I’m in the woods (or traveling). If I need more than that, I should be coming off the trail or headed to the store and/or doctor.

I’m going to make 50 of these with a roughly 3.5″ by 2″ sticker (picture below) on the bag. Currently, I plan on using a quart Ziploc bag because it’s waterproof, light, and easy to find the contents. I’m ordering the supplies this week and will be selling them for $20.00.
MAW sticker


Buy, share, or both!
If you are interested, let me know.  You can pay using PayPal or Venmo.  If you don’t live locally, I’ll mail for the cost of shipping (it shouldn’t be very much).
Thank you for your support.
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2018 Alabama Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge Update

Do you know there are approximately 100 kids in the Huntsville area (this is where I live) waiting for their wish to come true? There are approximately 300 in all of Alabama. I want to help grant wishes to these children with terminal illnesses through the Alabama Make-A-Wish by raising $2500 by participating in the Trailblaze Challenge.

I’m over 30% to my goal and I only have until April 11th – which is rapidly approaching! If 85 people contributed $20 each I would be done! Could you, would you, be one of those friends?

It is very quick and easy using the link below – there is no maximum (just sayin’) and the minimum is $5. Really, ANY amount helps! The money goes straight to them but I get credit AND you can print out your tax receipt for your 2018 taxes.

If you’d rather give me large stacks of bills or a valid oversized check in person (one can be hopeful) or single bill and normal sized check let me know and we’ll meet.

Thanks in advance!




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15.2 miles: Trails 210, 223, and 208 Loop hike in the Sipsey Wilderness

As you may know, I’m participating in the 2018 Trailblaze Challenge for the Alabama Make-A-Wish Foundation. You may read more about it HERE (https://jnunniv.blog/2017/11/04/help-me-help-others-2018-trailblaze-challenge/). Not only am I raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the physical  challenge is hiking 26.3 miles on the Pinhoti Trail in one day. That’s not something I can just wake up and do without preparation, so I wanted a baseline of where I stood and just how much training I needed to be ready in May for the official hike. I figured the best way to assess this was to hike around half the distance in one day and time myself.

After looking at the map and the weather, I decided on a route in the Sipsey Wilderness that should keep my feet dry but be challenging. I decided to park at the Gum Pond Trailhead and do a loop of trails 210, 223, and 208.

This hike would accomplish three things.

1. It would give me a baseline for time and distance.

2. Since this would be a solo hike, I would be testing out my new SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger (which you can read the review HERE (https://jnunniv.blog/2018/01/03/spot-gen-3-review/)

3. Give me an honest assessment of my physical ability. I haven’t been to the gym, hiking recently, or prepared for this in any way.

Keeping with my plan, I left the house early and arrived at the Gum Pond Trailhead. I powered up my SPOT device, sent my initial Check-In message (8:05 am), and got ready to hike. Knowing that layering is the key to hiking, I was wearing everything I brought with me in the beginning as the temperature was hovering around 20 degrees. I was a bit cold, but I knew that would not last long.

Trail 208 is an old road traversing the Sipsey Wilderness and is one of the few trails in the Sipsey Wilderness that horses can be ridden. It is wide and easy to follow.

I headed down trail 208 and 0.4 miles later came to the turn-off on my left to trail 207. I had initially considered including this trail in the loop but remembered there was a water crossing on Borden Creek on the southern end of the trail. Considering the temperature, I wanted to keep my feet as dry as possible so I decided against it and continued straight on Trail 208.

I continued downhill and crossed Hagood Creek using the bridge there.

After another 0.4 miles, I arrived at the sign to Trail 210 on my right. When planning I had decided to travel the most difficult of the trails first and leave the easier trails for the end. This was both a good and bad decision, but I turned onto Trail 210 and immediately began climbing up the hill.

PLEASE NOTE: Trail 210 is one of the least used trails in the Sipsey Wilderness and I would not recommend for a new hiker unfamiliar with the area. It is more difficult to follow that some of the more used trails that read like an Interstate. To me, that is the appeal of this trail. If you pay attention, it is not difficult to follow and since it is a ridge trail, offers views (especially in the winter when the leaves are off the trees) not often seen on most of the other trails that follow water. Speaking of water, there is water on the trail, but most of it is on the northern end of this trail.

The first time I hiked this trail I did not realize the trail climbs up on the back of the ridge. It does, so be prepared for that. After climbing the hill, the trail hugs the back of the bluff and many icicles were there to greet me.

As I followed the bluff around, there is the first manmade signal that the trail turns. There are rocks curving to the left. To the casual observer, you may miss these and continue straight. As you turn to the left, a series of steps can be seen climbing up to the top of the bluff. This is where I took of my down vest and gloves and stored them in my pack. For the rest of the day, I just wore a long sleeve synthetic shirt over a thin wool T Shirt with convertible hiking pants and a wool toboggan. The lack of traffic and the numerous leaves did make following this trail somewhat challenging and kept me on my toes more than once.

In MANY places, logs and/or rocks have been placed as a signal. There are many old roads on this ridge and the trail meanders in and out of them. Logs placed across the trail are almost always a signal. As you climb, this log signals the trail turns to the left and begins to follow the road for a short distance.

After a short distance, you cross another road and for some reason I wanted to turn right. This small tree is a signal the trail crosses this road and continues straight.

I noticed this tree the last time I hiked this trail and it appears to be an Indian Marker tree. Taking a compass reading at the ‘point” on the left, it points straight to the spring on 208 halfway between the intersection of trails 208/224 and the intersection of trails 208/210.

Not much further there appears a pile of rocks alongside the trail. It took me a few minutes to figure out the trail turns to the right here.

Another interesting site along this trail is this tree carving. It has been here a long time but I have no idea what it means or why it is there.

For the most part, Trail 210 is easy to hike once you learn the “personality” of the trail. It wanders along the ridge line and often you can see both where you are going and where you have been at the same time.

After following an old road for some time, the terrain somewhat levels out and I lost the trail for just a few minutes. If this happens to you in the same spot and you see this:

The trail turns to the left. I think it was at this point I checked my SPOT device and realized it wasn’t tracking. I have it set to drop my location every 10 minutes. I check my Gaia GPS app and it wasn’t recording either. Double electronic failure! I turned on my tracking on my SPOT and restarted my phone and began recording another track. I also moved my SPOT device to my shoulder strap so I could ensure it was working without removing my pack.
Here’s another log signaling the trail turned to my left.

Over 7 miles into my hike, I arrived at the intersection of Trails 210 and 223. I was roughly halfway done with my hike and the rest of the way was old roads/horse trails. I wouldn’t have to look for the trail – it’s like an Interstate compared to the pig trail I had been on for the past several hours. I made quick time traveling down the mile and a half to the intersection of Trails 208/223. I took a quick break to sit down and stretch out my legs and have a snack.

Turning left, I began the last trail of the day. Just a few minutes later and 0.4 miles I came to the intersection of Trails 208 and 224. I continued straight. As a note, the trails that allow horses on them have a tendency to be churned up and muddy at the smallest bit of moisture on the trailbed. Trail 208 did not disappoint me in this aspect and parts were quite muddy but partially frozen.  I managed to keep dry feet the whole way although my shoes did get quite muddy.

I FINALLY arrived at the spring just west of Braziel Creek. I had been looking forward to this for some time. I needed water, food, and a few minutes of rest. I filtered 3 liters of water and took about a 30-minute break for a late lunch. I ate Texas State Fair Chili from Packit Gourmet (https://www.packitgourmet.com/Texas-State-Fair-Chili.html) and it was DELICIOUS as always and drank about half of my water. I quickly got chilled and had to put on all my gear including a rain jacket to block the wind. I topped of my water bottle and decided it was time to finish this hike.

Leaving the spring, I quickly reached the bridge crossing Braziel Creek.

A few moments later I came across this:

This was crossing a feeder creek to Braziel Creek just east of the bridge. I don’t remember it being there from my last hike on this section of 208. It was only about 3 feet across and I easily jumped across the gap and continued along my way.

After what seemed like forever, I finally arrived at the intersection of Trails 208 and 210. I wasn’t about to do another loop today and said my goodbyes to the sign. I also knew from earlier I was less than a mile from my car.

The bluffs along 208 still had plenty of ice on them as I continued up the hill.

Finally, I had the bridge in sight! As a note, once you cross Hagood Creek, it is uphill all the way to the Gum Pond trailhead. I had forgotten this little detail and my legs were starting to feel it.

Halfway to the car from the intersection of Trail 210 I once again saw the sign for Trail 207. I wasn’t about to turn now – I was too close from finishing!

FINALLY. I made it to the car. I sent my final Check-In message signaling my family I had finished the hike and I was on my way home. The Check-In message was sent at 2:19 pm.

After I returned home, I joined the two tracks from the Gaia GPS app and realized I had hiked 15.2 miles between 8:05 am and 2:19 pm. I think that’s pretty good time in the Sipsey Wilderness considering that includes breaks, lunch, and navigation issues.


I like the SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger and so does my family. I will continue to use it but move it to my shoulder strap so I can just glance down and know that it’s working by the blinking lights.

I didn’t drink enough water on Trail 210. I knew there wasn’t any water on Trail 223 and not for several miles on 208. I should have stopped to drink and filter water on Trail 210 as there were several opportunities.

I should have taken more snacks. By the time I got to lunch I was hungry. A few snacks on the trail would have given me more energy and I probably would have felt better.

I need new shoes. I have been debating on getting some trail runners and I think I’ll make the change from my Merrill Moab Ventilators.

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report | 1 Comment

Distances between points in the Sipsey Wilderness

One of the frustrating things about planning hikes in the Sipsey Wilderness is finding the distances between trail intersections or from one intersection to the trailhead.  All that is officially listed are the lengths of the individual trails.

Well, I am here to help.  I compiled the following information from various hikes and tracks from my GPS.  While they may not be 100% accurate today (in part because the trail changes) they should be within 0.1 miles of actual distance.

It’s a spreadsheet and the easiest way to use it is applying filters on the “to” or “from” columns.  If you see anything I missed or an obvious mistake, let me know and I’ll check (or recheck) my data.


Updated Sipsey distances 01072018

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SPOT Gen 3 Satellite Messenger review

Where I spend most of my time hiking is outside of cell phone service and I wanted a way to allow some communication with my wife and family. I have been debating for some time what type of device to purchase because of the many options and range of prices and services. I decided my best option was the SPOT Gen 3 device.  My main reason is because I just wanted them to know I was OK or to call for assistance should there be a situation where it was needed.  I got lucky – it was on sale for $75.00 until December 31st, 2017.  I purchased it straight from their website (https://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=100).  There is a required monthly service and I selected the $19.99 option.

If you are not familiar with this product, it allows the user to send one way predefined messages to sets of contacts as well as tracking abilities. The device is 3.43 inches tall, 2.56 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.  It weighs right at 4 ounces with batteries. There are a total of three types of messages you can customize as well as an SOS button.

Each of the three customized messages can be changed and sent to up to 20 different contacts if so desired via email and/or text message. This must be done before you leave as they are not editable in the field (unless you have an Internet connection, a computer with USB drive, and the cord included with the device). The email will include the text as well as a link showing the location when the message was sent.  The text is text only but includes GPS Coordinates. Here are my messages and reasons each would be sent. The following was sent to my contacts describing the messages and why they would receive each of them.

1.)    The “Check-In” currently reads: “All is well – Following plan. Either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp. There are no known issues.” The contacts should only receive one “Check-In” message every time I check in for a total of three a day. This requires no action.  I send as I leave camp/trailhead, at lunch, and when I reach camp.  They may/may not receive all three.  A “Check-In” also lets them know all is well as a follow-up if you receive one of the other messages.

2.)    The “Custom Message” currently reads: “I have been delayed/plans have changed but do not require assistance. Suggest checking track from my device.” The contacts should only receive one message every time I check in. This requires very little action.  I will send when my plans have changed due to condition and I may be delayed, or a minor injury such as a lightly twisted ankle.  If/when the situation is resolved/no longer an issue, a “Check-In” will be sent.  If the situation does not change, I will continue to send a custom message when either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp.

3.)    The “Help Message” currently reads: “I need nonemergency assistance and staying in place or making my way to an exit point. Look at my tracks!” This message will continue to send every 5 minutes for an hour unless cancelled by me. This does require action.  I am either unable to safely move or making my way to the closest pickup point, but DOES NOT REQUIRE EMERGENCY police, ambulance, rescue squad, etc.  If I’m on the move (by looking at the tracking) I need picked up at the closest road crossing.  If I am stationary, I do need assistance to exit my location. If the situation is resolved, I will cancel the Help Message and the contacts receive a Help Cancelled Message. If cancelled, I will also send a “Check-In” message to signify all is well when either leaving camp, eating lunch, or reaching camp.

4.)    The “SOS Message.” This goes straight to GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) along with my GPS Location.  This is a last resort – as in a critical life-threatening situation. This message is not customizable and will send every 5 minutes until the batteries are drained. GEOS notifies the appropriate emergency responders of my S.O.S. based on GPS location and personal information. Your account has emergency contacts and may be contacted for information.

I think another interesting feature is the ability for others outside your contact list to “follow” you.  This can be done by downloading the SPOT LLC app and giving them your user name and password or giving them the link to your Spot Adventures page (I think that’s what it is called).  For example, here is mine: https://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0V2XG14fKrY4UWEl2bNbWVV4crnvFmuhe

Last week I decided to test to see just how it performed.  I went to my usual area (Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead Forest) and went on a 15 mile solo hike. I’ll do a separate hike report in the next few days. According to plan, I sent a “Check-in” message as I left the trailhead.  Due to my excitement, I neglected to activate the tracking feature for the first few miles.  When I realized this was not active, I turned it on.  I have it set to save a tracking waypoint every 10 minutes. Once it was activated, it worked flawlessly.  Both my beginning and ending check in messages were received and I had no issues with the device.

I did learn one lesson.  The only way the user knows the device is working are when the lights are on/blinking.  Since this was my first time using the device I checked it often.  In the beginning of my hike, it was attached to the very top of my daypack.  Once I realized it wasn’t tracking, I moved it to the shoulder strap where I could simply look down and see the lights blinking. The only change I made was instead of using the Velcro strap and large biner included in the box, I simply used a small biner through the slot in the top of the device and attached it directly to the shoulder strap.  It kept it from swinging around and saved a gram or two.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the SPOT Gen 3.  It gave my family a piece of mind as I’m out wandering in the woods.  It performed as designed and was only a 4 oz weight penalty.  I don’t need two way communication at this point – but there are devices that do allow that.  For the price, weight, and performance I would highly recommend the SPOT Gen 3 to give loved ones a piece of mind while outside of cell phone coverage.

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report, Testing | 1 Comment