What I wished I knew before I starting backpacking and hiking, but didn’t…. Part 5: Cook system

This is the fifth part of a series.

The fourth item on the “Big Four” is your cooking system. When it comes to cooking, the choices are nearly endless but break down into several categories. You can cook over a wood fire, have a canister stove, an alcohol stove, or not cook at all. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method. I am not one of the people that can eat the same thing every day for multiple days in a row, so I generally use a couple of methods within an extended trip for variety. There are generally two categories of cookware: aluminum and titanium. Regardless of where you start, one common beginner mistake it to bring too much food! Food options and actually cooking will be addressed later in the food section.

                Cooking over a fire when camping is cliché but common. When I first started, I often planned on cooking over the campfire for overnight trips and still do on occasion. For prolonged trips, however, it isn’t practical. If your food isn’t cooked or preserved, it can spoil quickly. Gathering firewood takes a lot of energy – especially at established campsites where firewood has been gathered and burned by previous visitors. Add in a couple of rainy days before (or during) your trip, and sometimes making a fire is difficult, if not impossible. In the warmer weather, do you really want a fire? All of these are things to consider. For the beginner overnight trip in the cool weather, I still cook over the fire.

                The most common stove I see in the woods is a canister stove. These are the stoves that attach to a pressurized gas canister. They are very easy to turn on and off, and easy to light with some even have built in lighting mechanisms. I don’t know that I’ve ever had one NOT light so they can be very convenient. One of the major disadvantages is that it is difficult to determine how much fuel is left in the canister. This may cause either running out of fuel or replacing a canister before it is truly empty. Possessing several partially filled fuel canisters are a common issue with someone using this type of stove. Some types of canister stoves can seem quite loud when operating in the quiet early morning.

                The last type of stove that is gaining in popularity is the alcohol stove. These can be made out a variety of materials including uses aluminum cans, containers, and there are some models precision machined out of solid aluminum. They can be handmade or purchased from a variety of vendors. The advantages of an alcohol stove is generally they are much lighter, extremely quiet, and easy to operate. Alcohol stoves use a variety of alcohol (denatured alcohol or methanol are the two most popular) and the flame is nearly invisible during the day. There is not an on or off switch and it can be difficult to put out the fire if the alcohol is spilled. You must “ration” fuel for extended trips so you can still cook on the last day (this takes practice). For these reasons, this type of stove is not recommended for younger backpackers and care must be used regardless of the age of the user. In some areas, they are illegal during burn bans because there isn’t an off switch.  

                The last option of preparing food is not technically cooking. There is a growing trend of going “stoveless” or NOT cooking. Some people don’t cook to save the weight of a stove and fuel while others want to be able to eat at a moment’s notice. The food variety is more limited in this type of food preparation, but there are still plenty of options. One could carry “open and eat” type of food that requires no preparation (think of Pop Tarts, jerky, chicken and tuna in a pouch). Another popular option is sandwiches/wraps which I often eat for lunch when I don’t want to break out the stove. During the warmer temps, I will often use a food preparation method called cold soaking. I will add water to the food and seal it in a container and let it soak and rehydrate while I hike or do other activities (like setting up camp). This method takes longer, but if you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind cold food, there are lots of options. Cold soaking can be used for oatmeal, pastas (longer soak time), grains, or really any food that just requires water.

                Cookware breaks down into two materials – aluminum and titanium. Generally speaking, aluminum is slightly heavier, not as durable, but cheaper.  Titanium is slightly lighter, more durable, and more expensive.  I have used both in the past.  One thing that I noticed is that aluminum has a better heat transfer than titanium.  If you are wanting to simmer food over a stove, I would suggest aluminum cookware because I have experienced hot spots/scorching with titanium.  If you are going to boil water and pour the hot water into something else, either material will work.          

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What I wished I knew before I started hiking and backpacking, but didn’t…. Part 4: Shelter

This is the fourth part of a series.

The second “Big Four” item is shelter. You should NOT go build yourself a shelter out of tree branches except in survival situations. It devastates the environment, is time consuming, and takes a lot of energy. There are three basic approaches to shelter. The minimalist tarp, a tent, or hammock. I started my outdoor adventure with a tent as many people and it is probably the easiest way to go camping for the beginner. A quality tent for the occasional camper can be really affordable and easily picked up at a number of stores or ordered online.

                Some people prefer to sleep on the ground under a tarp. I call this the minimalist tarp. It’s not fancy and it works in nice weather.  However, when it begins to rain or the temperature drops, I’m not sure how they stay dry or warm. Others just cowboy camp or don’t set up anything and sleep under the starts.  These are not for me, but they are the lightest option. 

Which is better, a tent or a hammock? Tents can be set up nearly anywhere and hammocks rely on having two trees or two things to attach each end of the hammock and tarp. Tents are easier to assemble while hammocks take some practice to get right. Tents are more readily available from just about any outdoor outfitter and generally cheaper for the beginner. Tents systems can be lighter. If you have never camped before, I would suggest starting with a tent.

One thing to consider is a way to insulate against the cold on all sides. In a tent this is done by using a sleeping bag and a ground pad. Sleeping bags are filled with either a synthetic material or down.  Synthetic bag are usually cheaper, weigh more, don’t compress as much, and aren’t rated for really cold weather.  Sleeping bags are more expensive, weigh less, compress down very small, and some models are rated for below zero degrees Fahrenheit. As with all down products, a down sleeping bag is nearly worthless if it gets wet so you must ensure it stays dry so it can keep you warm. The sleeping pads come in many different styles and prices, but generally are either inflatable or semi rigid foam.  They are really there to prevent the ground from stealing all of your body heat, although there are thicker models that are actually comfortable.  Of course, the thicker and comfortable models cost and weigh more than something simpler.  You will need a ground pad if you are sleeping on the ground in all except very warm temperatures. A closed foam pad is much cheaper and you don’t have to worry about air leaking out in the middle of the night.  The can be pretty cheap and some models fold up to save space in/on your backpack.  Keeping warm in a hammock can be done by using pad and sleeping bag or down quilts on top and under the hammock. Of course, the down quilts are much more comfortable but more expensive. 

IF you want to plunge into hammocks, they do have some advantages. Hammocks don’t care about uneven or rocky ground. When it rains when using a hammock, all of the mud and rain are a foot or two beneath you. I think it is easier to set up/take down a hammock system in the rain while staying dry. The biggest plus is hammocks are much more comfortable (once you get it figured out). I would suggest make a commitment in one direction (tents or hammocks) before you buy too much expensive gear.  You can buy a cheaper hammock and tent and see which one you think you will prefer before investing a lot of money.

After a few years of sleeping on the ground, I began sleeping in a hammock under a tarp. The possibility here are nearly endless. There are many different styles, vendors, and ways to hammock camp. If you are interested, the best source I have found is www.hammockforums.net and nearly every question can be answered there. I personally use a tarp, hammock, and down quilts. I have several different items from different vendors that I mix up and use depending on the conditions and temperatures. I have been dry in driving rain and warm down to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but it does take practice to get it right. If you consider a hammock, I suggest getting a long and wide gathered end to start. These can be easily made with very little/no sewing on your own. There is one brand of hammocks (ENO) that are very popular and sold at many outfitters, but if you are over 5 feet tall they will be too short. A long and wide hammock allows you to lay on the diagonal and nearly flat. I often sleep on my side just as flat as my bed.

My wife makes fun of me, but regardless of your gear, ALWAYS try out/test your gear before taking it to the woods. I would rather it fail (not keep me warm or dry) where I can just go inside rather than miles from my car. Miles from the car is not when you want to realize your new tent is missing the main tent poles or your hammock setup is missing a critical component. It has happened….

There are lots of options (and prices) when it comes to shelter.  It is helpful to know the temperature/weather conditions you intend on experiencing the outdoors as that will give you a great starting point.  Get out and experiment, ask questions, and find what works for you.

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ANYONE can go hiking

While I am an experienced hiker/backpacker, I also enjoy introducing others to my hobbies.  Like many of you, I enjoy watching YouTube.

If you haven’t heard, there is an individual attempting to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which extends from Mexico to Canada.  This individual weighed over 400 pounds when he first began.  On his last video, he was on day 21 and had hiked 66 miles. His goal is to reach Canada and lose at least 200 pounds in the process.

While hiking for 66 miles isn’t a feat for most of us (especially over 3 weeks), he has made great gains.  The first day he struggled to hike 3 miles.  During the last video, he hiked over 10.  He was able to hike and talk at the same time, something he couldn’t do in the beginning.

Yes, he has people giving him advice but one of his biggest challenges is just body mass.  Equipment doesn’t fit properly (he can’t fasten his waist belt, for example). He does have a great attitude and I highly encourage you to follow him on YouTube.

His channel/trail name is Second Chance Hiker and his channel is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4DLytGAdFb-9ArE02HUHeQ/videos

I am not connected to him and any way but thought anyone that enjoys hiking or inspirational videos would enjoy his contribution.

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What I wish I knew when I started hiking and backpacking, but didn’t…. Part 3: Backpack

This is the third part of a series.

If you have been out of backpacking or hiking for several years, when you think of a backpack, you probably think of the ones with the external metal frame. Times have drastically changed. The majority of the backpacks sold today have internal frames. The backpack is one of the items called the “Big Four.” The “Big Four” refers to the largest expense and weight items overall in your backpacking system. The “Big Four” items are: shelter, sleep system, cook system, and backpack. While we talk about backpacks, two things need to be addressed. How big of a backpack do you need and how to pack it.

The volume of your backpack depends on your gear and how long/when you will be backpacking. For example, a down sleeping bag will pack down much smaller than a synthetic bag. Of course, a down sleeping bag is much more expensive than a synthetic bag. Another example influencing the size required is that more (bulkier) gear is needed in the winter than during the summer. I would suggest the opposite of what most people do. I would buy a cheaper backpack until I purchase the rest of my gear and then buy an appropriate size backpack. This comes from experience. I purchased one backpack and then after I upgraded most of my gear, it was way too large and had to get a smaller size of the same brand. Backpacks can be one of the more expensive pieces of gear so choose wisely. There are many great vendors selling quality products. I personally use the ULA Ohm 2.0 and love it, but packs are a personal choice and there are many great choices. Find what works for you.

Most of the internal frame backpacks have a suggested load of around 25-30 pounds or less. I would try – through experience – to get into the 15-20 pound range excluding food and water. This is known as your base weight. It will differ on the season and environment, but carrying less makes hiking more enjoyable and camping possibly less “comfortable.” This is why determining your priority is important. While you can hike with 35 plus pounds, it is not as fun as hiking with 20 pounds.

Some backpacks have integrated rain covers or you may purchase one separately. They do not protect from water running down your back and soaking the contents during a rainy day. I prefer to keep everything that needs to stay dry in a trash compactor bag on the inside of my pack.

So how do I pack my backpack? There are several different ways to think about this, but this is my way. I first put the trash compactor bag inside my backpack and insert everything that needs to stay dry. This will be the last things I pull out at camp. The last thing I would need are dry clothes, so they go in first, next would be my quilts (or sleeping bag), my hammock, possibly jacket depending on the weather, and anything else that needed to stay dry. I roll the top and fold it over so water cannot get inside the trash compactor bag.

What goes on top of the trash compactor bag depends on the conditions, but it is generally things that can get wet and I’ll need shortly after reaching camp. This could be my camp chair (If I’m “camping”), tarp, food, stove, or possibly jacket depending on the weather. The outside pockets hold water bottles, water filter, map and compass, sit pad, stakes, snacks, and anything else I may need while I’m hiking. This way I can get to things I need without ever opening my pack during the day. The food for that day (not including snacks) sit on the very top near my First Aid Kit.

As I’m packing and unpacking my backpack, what I will use last goes in first and what I need first goes in last or fits in one of the outside pockets. This process is refined over time but just makes sense to me. I don’t use many stuff sacks. I have found that having everything in a stuff sacks is like packing little bubbles. There is a lot of wasted space between all the little stuff sacks, I only use a few and that allows me to compress everything in my pack together. The secret is learning what works for you and packing exactly the same way every trip so you know where something is without having to empty every pocket and part of your pack to find something. My pack pet peeve is dangling things. Everything is tucked in or put away so it doesn’t swing, bounce, or get caught on branches as I walk by.

Backpacks are a lot like shoes. An ill fitting backpack can make the difference between enjoying your trip and being miserable. I would suggest when you want to shop for a backpack, go to an outfitter and try a bunch on and walk around while wearing them. Some outfitters even have store models that you can drop a 20 pound weight in so you can feel what it feels like under a load. Get the staff to show the correct way to adjust the backpack for your body. Even if you don’t buy that model, most backpacks adjust in very similar ways. You have to find one that not only meets your needs, but fits you well.

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What I wish I knew when I started hiking and backpacking, but didn’t…. Part 2: Clothes

This is the second part of a series.

What do you wear? You may think a visit to the local outfitter store is needed before you can go backpacking or camping. If you go that route, the chances are they will try and sell you what they stock, which normally name brand top of the line clothing and gear. That stuff is not cheap or needed in most cases. While you may want to do that, I wouldn’t recommend it. My first “real” hike was in items I already owned. I wore gym pants (nylon baggy type not yoga pants or tights), a synthetic shirt, hat, rain jacket, tennis/running shoes, cotton socks, and used an old college backpack. It was a muddy and sloppy mess because it had just finished raining, but I had a lot of fun and decided I wanted to do more of this.

My clothes continue to evolve. Clothes are some of the heaviest items you carry. Extra clothes are super heavy. This is another reason you weigh and make a list of everything. One general rule is to avoid cotton. There’s a phrase that “cotton kills.” While you won’t instantly drop dead if you wear cotton in the woods for a few hours, it is highly discouraged for a couple of reasons. Cotton fibers hold or retain moisture and this is less than ideal. Moisture is heavy. Have you ever been caught in the rain wearing blue jeans? Did you notice they immediately got extremely heavy and took forever to dry? Moisture in your socks plus the friction of walking can quickly cause blisters. Cotton isn’t that warm compared to other materials, especially when it is wet.

Aim for wool or synthetic materials. I would suggest starting the clothes conversation in an area you wouldn’t think of starting. Two of the most influential areas to enjoy your time outdoors are your feet and undergarments. You want comfortable socks and shoes because walking with blisters is not fun. Neither is chaffing in the private areas. If you have never experienced either one of these, take my word for it!

Shoes. Historically, hiking boots were the normal and common thing to wear. Unless you have weak ankles and/or will be hiking on very rocky trails, I’ll suggest moving to a shoe. Merrill makes various hiking shoes and I wore a pair for many years without issue and Merrill Moab Ventilators are a very common choice. Last year I switched to a trail runner type shoe and I’ll never go back to Merrill. They are much more comfortable and durable to me. When you get serious, I suggest going to a store that specializes in running shoes. Talk to the salesperson and tell them what you are planning. Try on every single shoe they have in your size and find what fits you the best. The very last pair I tried on were my favorite. If you are curious, I am using Altra Lone Peak shoes.

While we are discussing shoes, let’s address the waterproof vs not waterproof shoe. The first pair I bought for hiking were waterproof. I thought it was a great idea. Waterproof shoes have a few issues, though. One, they don’t breathe so my feet stayed hot and sweaty. Second, if water can’t get in, that also means that IF water gets inside your shoe, your feet stay wet because there is no way the water can leave the shoe. After an experience where my shoes stayed wet for 3 days, now I prefer non-waterproof shoes. If (or when) my feet get wet, the water drains out and my feet dry out over time while I’m hiking.

Socks. Find socks that are specially designed for hiking. Generally, they are wool and remember to avoid cotton unless you enjoy blisters. Wool is one of the few materials that keep you warm even when it is wet. That’s important – especially because my shoes are not waterproof! These are not the loose thick wool socks your grandparents wore. My hiking socks are thin and fit snug. I have tried many brands and there are even more brands that I didn’t try, but I really like a brand called Darn Tough Socks from Vermont, USA. They aren’t cheap (around $20 USD for a pair), but it is worth every penny to not have blisters! Plus, the socks have a lifetime warranty. If you wear a hole in them, you can send them back and they will send you a new pair.

Undergarments. I’m not trying to get too personal, but this can make a huge difference in the enjoyment level of your outdoor adventure. Once again, stay away from cotton! Some people prefer the liners in hiking/running shorts or pants. I had a very unenjoyable experience with them so I either cut them out or look for something without a liner. Your experience may be different. I like a longer synthetic boxer brief that prevents the “high thigh” area from chaffing. As I mentioned earlier, trying to hike with chaffing issues is just a slow torture with every step! I prefer the 6” boxer brief from exofficio. They are comfortable, light, and dry quickly.

Pants/shorts. I prefer to hike in convertible pants. Others people like shorts. Some men even hike in kilts. You have to wear something down there, and convertible pants work best for me. Once again, synthetic is the way to go since they are thin and dry quickly. One of the reason I prefer pants is tick/bug prevention. I treat all of my outerwear with Permethrin which lasts about a month with no smell and through multiple washings. If you are against chemicals, HYOH. Where I spend most of my time, the ticks and chiggers are relentless most of the year (even during the winter) AND I spend some time off trail. The treated pants protect me from ticks and chiggers and the pants material protect my legs (to a lesser degree) from the vines and thorns I always find myself in the middle of. Because they are going to eventually get holes in them from the fire or torn, I typically buy the cheapest pair of pants that I like. If I was hiking a clear and maintained trail such as the Appalachian Trail, I would probably switch to shorts.

Shirts. This may sound really strange – especially when the temperature rises, but try a wool T-shirt. Not only do they keep you warm when they get wet (such as in the rain) but wool has a natural odor resistance property, great moisture wicking properties, dry quickly, and the “new” merino wool is surprisingly not itchy. Sure, it cost more, but it is totally worth it – especially when you can find them on clearance online. If a wool T-Shirt is out of your price range, then there’s nothing wrong with wearing a synthetic shirt. I still have several that I wear on occasion. After several days, the synthetic will retain body odor much more than a wool T-Shirt, but for a day or two it will be fine.

Rain Gear. If you are hiking in the rain, you will eventually get soaked. Either from the rain or sweating in rain gear that doesn’t “breathe.” I personally wear a rain jacket with zippers in the arm pits. While it will keep me warm-ish from the cold rain and wind, I can unzip not only the front but the “pit zips” for ventilation if I get too hot. If I am cold I can close all the zippers to retain some body heat. You can purchase cheap rain gear or expensive rain gear. Find what works for you just realize you won’t stay dry if you are hiking in the rain. It’s about staying comfortable. Rain gear can be heavy but a rain jacket can also do double duty as a windbreaker. I try to find multiple uses for items when I can to keep from carrying extra items (and weight).

Headgear. I have really thick hair so I don’t really care for a hat most of the time when I’m not in the woods. Hiking, I almost always have one. It covers up the messy hiker hair and keeps the sun or rain out of my eyes. I will wear a trucker style (all mesh in the back) baseball hat when I’m hiking in sunny areas to shade my face. I don’t wear sunglasses when I’m hiking – that is just something else to lose. I also have a vented hat with a brim that goes all the way around I wear in the rain to keep the rain out of my eyes. When the temperature drops, I have a fleece or wool beanie I wear.

Spare clothes. This is where lots of extra weight can be added to your pack. I plan on hiking in the same stinky pants and shirt from the previous day. If it rains or I’m near a water source, they may get washed if possible. I do carry an extra pair of socks and underwear. I wear one and rinse/wash one. They dry overnight and are repacked for the next night. I also carry a pair of nylon short and another t-shirt to sleep in. I will probably carry a jacket except in the warmest weather. I DO NOT carry a full set of spare clothes. So I wear a set, only sleep in shorts/T-Shirt, and have a set of socks and underwear I rotate. That may seem gross to many of you, but when you discover how heavy and bulky clothes can be, it helps change your mind. If you carry two full sets of clothes and you hike for 4 days while alternating, you now have 2 full sets of stinky clothes.

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What I wish I knew when I started hiking and backpacking, but didn’t…. Part 1: How to get started

I’ve been told to write a book.  I’m not sure why.  I didn’t invent anything and I don’t have knowledge that’s not available to the general public.  I HAVE spent a considerable amount of time in the woods and I HAVE helped others learn from my beginner mistakes.  Instead of writing a book (at least for now), I will publish a series of articles on my blog.

Here’s the first entry.  Enjoy! If you have suggestions for topics or any input, please provide that in the comments.  As always, thanks for reading!

Like most things in life, often the most difficult part of doing something is just getting started. Hiking and/or backpacking is no different. What do I wear? What do I take? How will I _____???? The list is pretty endless and can be overwhelming to the beginner. My hope is that after reading this, many of those questions will be answered. I have taken many people into the woods for the first hiking/overnight trip and have seen the mistakes that I made when I began and the mistakes of others. They were surprisingly similar.

Hiking is nothing more than walking while carrying the stuff you need. While that is over-simplified, in many ways it holds true. You don’t need expensive and/or top of the line gear to go walking. The gear you carry will evolve over time as your comfort level grows through experience. From my first trip until now, I have replaced nearly every single item I carry into the woods. I’m hoping to save you some time and money by learning from my mistakes. I have broken items into the following categories: Clothes (what to wear), Backpack (a way to carry everything), Shelter (where to sleep), Cooking (how to prepare food), Tools/miscellaneous (Phone/GPS/Kindle, Lights, knife, Chairs/stools, etc.), Health and Beauty Aids – HBA (how to stay clean), First Aid Kit – FAK (what to carry for injury/illness), Liquids (what to drink including Storage and treatment), and finally, Food (what to eat). You need to have a plan for each category before you leave.

I suggest starting small and looking around at what you already have. Do you have clothes, shoes, and a backpack of any type? If so, start with just a short day hike. Build on that experience and go for a longer hike and eventually build up to an overnight trip (even if it’s in the backyard). After the first overnight trip, work your way up to a trip involving staying out 2 nights (or 1 night not in the backyard). Start small and then build on each experience. ALWAYS test gear out before heading out into the woods. One place I learned a lot was an online forum for people hiking the Appalachian Trail. The forum is www.whiteblaze.net. If you are not aware, the Appalachian Trail is a trail stretching from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. That is over 2000 miles and many people hike the entire distance in one year. A great article on how to start cheap is found on whiteblaze and the link is here: https://whiteblaze.net/forum/showthread.php/15329-Cheap-Gear-–-How-to-Dirt-Bag-and-Deal-Shop-Like-a-Professional

The first question that should be answered before you purchase the first piece of gear is: Are you primarily interested in hiking or camping? If I’m camping, I stay at camp well before sundown to well after sunrise. If I’m hiking, I am moving from just after sunrise to just before (or after) sunset. I enjoy both, just not on the same trip so my packing list is different depending on the goal of the trip. One has to be the priority or you will end up carrying 60 pounds of gear. For me, it depends on the trip. For example, if I am interested primarily in camping on a certain trip that means we won’t be hiking very far. I am willing to carry more weight in items that make camping more comfortable for a few miles. If I am primarily interested in hiking on another trip, most of my comfort items will stay at home because I don’t want to carry them for many miles to enjoy for a relatively short time in camp.

After each trip, I come home and physically or mentally make 3 piles. The first pile is things I used and will take again. The second pile is things I didn’t use, but will take again. Hopefully, your First Aid Kit stays in this pile! The last pile is things I took, didn’t use, and won’t take on my next trip. This is an ongoing process and how your gear evolves. What works for me may not work for you.

Another great tip is to buy a cheap digital kitchen scale and weigh EVERYTHING! There is a phrase that “ounces make pounds.” That means that while that item may only weight 6 ounces, three of them adds just over a pound to your pack weight. If two short sleeve shirt are nearly the same, but one weighs 3 ounces less, I’m taking the lighter one. The same applies for everything you carry. I would also suggest using a spreadsheet or there are multiple websites such as www.geargrams.com to add the weight of everything. By doing this, I can plan the weight of my backpack instead of it being a surprise when I put it on at the trailhead.

In backpacking/hiking, there is a term known as HYOH. It means Hike Your Own Hike. Do what fits you without criticizing others. In this, I tell you what works for me through my experience. If you disagree, HYOH. I’m not here to argue. Everyone has different styles and opinions, and that’s OK.

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CCU Staff (for lack of a better title)

Last week my dad was in the CCU (Cardiac Care Unit) unexpectedly after a heart attack. Although my dad was 79, it was a surprise. You see, dad was healthy for a 79 year old man.  He was still working, played sports (basketball and softball), and worked out in the “off season” of sports.  He had a heart attack playing basketball with people half his age (or younger) as he did on every Tuesday.

I have a new appreciation for personnel in the medical field – especially the nurses, doctors, and others that work in places such as ICU (Intensive Care Unit), CCU or other areas where they are caring for people in critical and/or traumatic cases. I can’t imagine having to interact with families in such conditions every day.  I’m sure many of the patients come in for a scheduled procedure, recover, and go home. But the odds are some have a very different outcome. I couldn’t imagine dealing with that on a regular basis. Even though you do your best, sometimes it just isn’t enough.  That has to be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.

I want to share just a small portion of my experience and introduce you to some people.

When we were informed about my dad’s heart attack, he was in the Emergency Room so the family gathered in the hospital. We listened to the many doctors and specialists. Every doctor that treated my dad was awesome. They were patient with our questions, while doing their very best with all of the knowledge, training, and experience the possessed.  They were honest with the answers and treating dad the very best they could. I can’t brag enough about the care and compassion of the staff at the hospital.  During dad’s stay we saw the doctors once or twice a day (greatly appreciating the updates), the people we saw and interacted with the most were the people checking on him (and with us) on a regular basis.  Everyone was excellent, but we interacted with the daytime personnel the most as we did try to sleep every now and then. I’ll assume they were nurses, but I’m sure they have a title with more words in it.  They were the ones administering the medicine, monitoring his vitals, and continually pushing buttons to stop the never ending beeping on one of his multiple IVs.

There was this one person that my family bonded with for some reason. She always had a smile and gladly answered every question from every family member.  Since we weren’t all in the room at the same time, I’m sure she answered the same question multiple times.  She was always professional, but not in a stuffy way.  She explained things in a way the average non-medical person could understand. She was compassionate.  You could just tell she had a true concern for her patients and she was good at her job.  I’ll say she was even great at her job.

She was patient.  Although things were crazy, hectic, and crowded, I never saw anything other than patience and understanding from her. Even when things got emotional and stressful, she was very even keeled. I know I appreciated that – in fact, I needed that and didn’t even realize at the time how important that was at the time. I’m sure once she left the room she had moments because we all did. She also demonstrated grace.  I could tell that she honored or respected our presence by the way she interacted with us. She was friendly and caring instead of cold and clinical.  She ministered to us – probably without realizing it – although my dad was her patient.

She was there through the rollercoaster ride of my dad’s short stay in the CCU. I could tell she loved her job.  I could tell she really cared for her patients and treated everyone with respect. She tried several times to distance herself from us, in a professional way. I remember her saying once she had worked in the ICU but had to change areas because the emotional attachment to all of her patients and family was just too draining.  I totally understand but there was something about her and my entire family felt a connection to her (probably against her wishes).

The last time I saw her in the room with my dad I could tell she was trying her best to hold it together as we all were. She was there with us from the beginning to the very end. I watched her as she verified his heart was no longer beating and then looked at the clock. I’ve watched enough television to know what that meant.

I don’t know why God put her there for our family, but I’m sure glad He did.  She wasn’t even supposed to be working most of the days she was there but was covering shifts for other people.  I don’t know if God knew we needed her or if she needed us, or if we needed each other, but He knew.

We will never forget her or the other people that treated my dad. For my family I just want to say “Thank you.” What you do makes a difference even when you do everything in your medical training and knowledge and things don’t work out. I know it has to be difficult for you, too. We appreciate your honesty while being sensitive to the situation. I have a new appreciation for your struggles and can’t imagine the emotional drain of your job day after day. Not only are you treating the patient, but helping the family through difficult times.  I’m sorry if we got too attached and made your job this week or in the future more difficult. That was not our intention. But my dad was one of those people you were going to get to know because that’s who he was. You were a blessing to us and I just want you to know we will never forget you, we appreciate you and you’re in our prayers.

While this was written from one situation with one patient, I do think it should be addressed and shared with all medical professionals that deal with critical situations. Your job is demanding in many ways I probably can’t even understand and there has to be days that get you down. When you have those days, think of my family and realize the difference you make. From one family to all of you – thank you for what you do.  It matters and makes a difference regardless of the outcome.

Posted in Everything Else, Faith, God, Thanks, Tradegy | Leave a comment

Trying to leave Okinawa – a not so funny trip (at the time)

Sometimes fact is stranger – and funnier – than fiction.  I had such an instance recently and I wanted to share my pain for your entertainment once again. I promise I did not embellish or add nonfactual elements to this. I lived every moment of the following.  Enjoy!

I was recently in Okinawa, Japan on a week-long work trip. While that sounds like the dream job, it really isn’t all that glamourous.  First, it is a work trip.  There is not much free time to explore or do non work-related activities other than enjoy the local cuisine. Another drawback was the weather.  I’m on an island in the South Pacific Ocean and you would assume the weather would be perfect. The first two days were nice.  Then things changed. We were under a typhoon warning so we received the associated weather – wind and rain.  This lasted until the end of the week and became an issue on my departing flight. 

Being delayed on departure normally is not a very big issue, but I had another location I needed to be on the following week for work several thousand miles away.  I had allowed was some room for flexibility, but I needed to be on-site Sunday afternoon to get ready for Monday morning. 

The morning my flight left, the winds were brisk. And by brisk I mean in the 40+ mph range. The airline website was checked many times before the 45 minute taxi ride to the airport and it stated all flights were scheduled to leave on time. Ok, let’s try this…. A taxi was called, the hotel bill settled, and off to the airport I went. I checked the radar and it did not look good. 

Screenshot_20180616-081746_The Weather Channel.jpg

Upon arriving at the airport I was trying to locate the check in area for my airlines. As I found it, something happened that I thought was a Hollywood effect.  Have you ever seen a movie where someone is looking at the list of departures and as they are looking at it, all of the departures change to delayed or cancelled?  Well, that happened to me. I thought I was dreaming or watching a movie.  I couldn’t believe I actually saw it.  My flight was delayed.  Initially that was not a big deal as I had a few hours at my next location.  Then I noticed HOW long my flight was delayed.  TEN HOURS!  I immediately called the airline to change all of my connecting flights.

After an hour on the phone, it was determined that I could either overnight in place (less than ideal) or overnight in Taiwan and  catch a flight out the next afternoon.  Either way, I was not going to make it to my destination without an additional overnight.  I decided since the typhoon was moving toward me, I would overnight in Taiwan (the opposite direction the typhoon was moving – plus new stamps in my passport – yay!).  I remained on the delayed flight and rebooked all of my remaining flights and notified my coworkers. I also decided that I would want a shower and a bed so I looked online and found a cheap backpackers hostel very close to the airport in Taiwan, and I booked it. I could at least take a shower and change clothes (I would get my luggage in Taiwan) to feel and smell better upon my arrival. 

I was at the airport two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart, then my flight was delayed 10 hours.  So nearly 12 hours later, I was ready to check in and FINALLY drop off my luggage. After waiting in a long line, it was finally my turn. After handing my passport to the airline personnel, she punched on the keyboard and looked on the computer, and punched on the computer keyboard some more.  She called over a supervisor. Finally, she said the words I didn’t want to hear: “Mr. Nunn, we cannot find a ticket for you.”

So I have waited 12 hours and my ticket disappeared?  I immediately called the airline again as I was pushed to the side and everyone else continued to check in for the flight.  We discovered that somehow my ticket to Taiwan was cancelled, but the remaining segments had been rebooked.  Yay me.  After another long wait on hold, it was determined this flight was full and there was another flight two hours later.  What’s another two hours at this point?  The ticket was rebooked, the remaining segments double checked, and finally my luggage was dropped off and off through security and passport control I went.

The flight from Okinawa to Taiwan was uneventful. I was just ready for a shower and some sleep.  As I left the plane and was walking down the hall to passport control, a thought came to me. Do I need a visa to be in China? Will I be able to clear passport control or will I be stuck in the airport?  I became apprehensive, but had no choice except to try at this point. I nervously gave the attendant my passport and with just a few simple questions, my passport was stamped and I was officially in Taiwan.  YAY!  It was time to gather my luggage, find a taxi, drive to the hostel, take a shower, and catch some sleep.  If it had only been that easy…

Luckily, the email confirming my lodging at the hostel had the address in Chinese.  Around 11 pm local time, I collected my luggage and went to the taxi line, showed the taxi driver the address, and off we went.  On the way, I felt like it was a bad Lifetime movie in the making.  We’re traveling down these dark alleys with all of the businesses closed and the metal doors rolled down. Periodically there was a door rolled up with people cooking things over fire on the sidewalk.  The taxi driver pulls up to an alley of the alley and points down the alley.  Are you serious? There is a hostel down here?  I felt like it was a mugging waiting to happen.  He must have sensed my reluctance, and pulled down the alley.  Sure enough, there was a glass front to the backpacker’s hostel. The door was locked, but a number was posted to call.  I called and they gave me the code to get inside and the gentleman on the phone said he was on the way and the taxi left.

Just a few minutes later a gentleman pulled up and came inside.  He said this location was only bunk beds and I had reserved a private room for a few dollars more.  He stated that he would take me there and it was only a few minutes away.  Against my better instincts, (and this was an adventure) I loaded my luggage and climbed into his vehicle. Once again, we went down more dark alley with random fires lighting the way.  We pulled up at a gate what looked like an office complex.  He punched in a code, we pulled in, and following him we climbed out and went inside.  This was it!  YAY! I was so ready for a shower and a few hours of sleep. 

As I was trying to pay for my room with my credit card, there were technical issues with his credit card reader.  After trying a few times it was obvious it was not going to cooperate. I had exchanged a little money to get me through the night, but did not have enough to cover the expenses of the room. The gentleman that brought me there said he could run me to the ATM so I could withdraw enough to cover the room.  While this was less than ideal, what option did I have?  So once again, away we went down dark and deserted alleys and out of nowhere appeared a brightly lit convenience store.  We went inside to the back where the ATM was located and there was a sign on it.  It was not in service.  It just so happened there was another convenience store a short distance away and away we went.  This time, the ATM was working.  I withdrew enough money to cover the room and bought a few things for breakfast the next morning. 

 We drove back to the hostel, paid for my room, and FINALLY I was able to see the accommodations for the night.  I will preface this with saying this was my first stay at a hostel.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Two beds, a small refrigerator, a patio, a bathroom with shower, cable TV (not that I could understand any of it), and it was air conditioned.  It was clean but not spotless, the doors were secure, and I’d stay there again.  I took a much needed shower and went to sleep. Check out was at 11 am and I told them I would check out then and need the provided shuttle to the airport.

After a week in Okinawa, I was almost used to the very firm mattress and this one was no exception.  It didn’t matter.  I was exhausted.  I set the alarm on my phone for 10 am and drifted off to sleep.  If I remember correctly, I woke up before my alarm and video chatted with the family.  That may have been the previous night – I can’t remember.  However, I did wake up before my alarm because this room was just on the outside of the boundary of the airport.  I could see the fence from my window and I was under the flight path for large planes taking off. 

Checking out of the hostel was uneventful as well as the short ride to the airport.  My flight didn’t leave until 5:30 pm so I had many hours at the airport – but at least it was a different airport!  I checked the departure board and followed the signs to find where I needed to check in.  I found my flight number without any warnings and thought I’d see if I could drop off my luggage. I figured it was too early, but the line wasn’t long and it was worth a try. 

I waited just a few minutes and finally it was my turn. I handed the female attendant my passport and put my luggage on the scale. She punched on the keyboard and looked on the computer, and punched on the computer keyboard some more. Finally, she said the words I didn’t want to hear: “Mr. Nunn, we cannot find a ticket for you.” This was Déjà vu of the worst kind imaginable! She asked if I had a copy of my ticket, but I was one step ahead of her and already had my phone out to call the airlines.  I pulled up my ticket and showed it to her.  She smiled and stated that I was in the line for Air China (with the same flight number) but my ticket was for China Airlines.  The China Airlines counter was at the other end of the terminal.  I apologized, collected my luggage, and embarrassingly walked toward the direction she pointed.   

When I arrived at the counter of China Airlines, it was vacant.  I found a locker to store my large suitcase so I did not have to wheel it around the airport for hours. I explored, found something to eat, and bought a few small items to use up the Chinese currency I had.  Several hours before my flight my storage time was almost expired so I collected my luggage and went to the China Airlines counter.

I need to take a pause here.  I’m in China and haven’t had much sleep for the past several nights.  All the attendants I could see working the airline counter were young Chinese women wearing identical uniforms.  Everyone working really did look the same (or VERY similar) to me – I was the minority in the largest sense of the word. Pause is over.

I rolled my luggage to the counter and presented my passport. Since it was still several hours before my flight, I asked if it was too early to check my bag. The attendant smiled at me and without looking at my passport said the following words.  “No, Mr. Nunn, I can take your luggage now.  I’m glad you are at the right counter.” If those weren’t her exact words, they are very, very, close.  WHAT? How did she know I was at the wrong counter? Was there an airport wide bulletin for a tired confused white guy? She must have seen the confused look on my face.  She smiled again and informed me she was the one that had assisted me at the other counter.  I was blown away.  

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but that is 24 hours (or so) of my life that will remain in my memory for a long time.  It is funny now, but when I was living it, I was not funny at all.  I hope you enjoyed a slice of my travel life.

Posted in Humor, Trip Reports | Leave a comment

Another interesting airline trip before ever starting the Make-A-Wish 26.3 mile hike

I need to address my 26.3 mile hike for the Alabama Make-A-Wish Foundation experience. There was so much going on that I really haven’t had time.  I first need to address the few days leading up to the hike.

I was on a work trip to St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.  Because of the flight time and layovers, I was scheduled to leave early Thursday morning and arriving at home late Thursday afternoon.  This would allow me time to recover from traveling, see the family, re-pack, rest, and then make my way down to the hike Friday afternoon.  Well, that was the plan….

When I got to the airport Thursday morning, it was a zoo!  The airport on St Croix is rather small and several flights were leaving around the same time.  I quickly turned in my rental car and walked over to the airline check in line. The lines were long to check in to check in and drop off your checked bag.  Once inside the airport, I had to go through Passport Control (another long line), TSA ID check (yes, another long line), and baggage and personal security screening (another very long and slow line).  I finally made it to the gate area as my flight was scheduled to begin boarding.

People were just standing around…. No one was getting on the plane.  That was interesting.  As we continued to stand and sit around, I saw the pilot on the phone at the check in desk.  That was not a good sign.  He was supposed to be on the plane getting it ready to take off.  After several minutes, he made the announcement.  We were delayed due to a mechanical issue.

Initially, that wasn’t a big deal.  I had a 3 hour layover in Miami, so I was good.  Then he continued…. The part needed to repair this issue was not on site.  They would have to fly it in from somewhere else.  It would be awhile – several hours.  I still waited somewhat patiently…  Finally they announced a part was located in Miami and would be inbound.  On the next inbound flight at 4 pm.  Crap. I quickly got on the phone with the airline.  I would not be able to make it home that day. After waking up early and getting just a few hours of sleep, I now had about 7 hours to kill in the airport.  If you have ever been to the St. Croix airport, you know there’s not much there. I informed work and family of the delay and plan B.

Once the part arrived on the next flight, our plane was repaired and test and we began boarding.  The 3 hour flight to Miami was uneventful.  Once we landed in Miami, I stood in the customer service line for several hours to print my new boarding passes, got meal vouchers, etc., then went to find my luggage for a much needed change of clothes and shower.  Once I got to baggage claim, my luggage was nowhere to be found.  I got to wait in another line only to find out my luggage was on the plane I was flying on the next day.  Yay.

I finally found the shuttle to the hotel and checked in around 10 pm.  A much needed shower was in order, but I had to put my dirty clothes back on the next day.  My flight departed at 6 am. Once again, another couple hours of sleep and back up to make it through airport security.  I boarded my flight to Miami and was happy to be on the way home.  We landed in Charlotte, and I had 20 minutes to go from E terminal to B terminal to catch my next flight.  Of course, I made it and was headed home.  I finally landed around 1030 am on Friday after leaving for the St Croix airport at 5 am the previous day.

I drove home and got to visit the family for a couple of hours before driving down Friday afternoon for the hike.  I left my large suitcase after pulling out the essentials and just packed the smaller overnight bag for the things I needed the next few days. I didn’t even have time to pack my backpack for the hike.  I just threw everything in the car and decided I would pack it once I got there. 

Around 5 pm I finally made it to the hotel and checked in.  I took my luggage and hiking stuff to the room (after initially leaving it in the parking lot). There was a scheduled dinner at 6 pm. I attended the dinner in the same clothes I left St. Croix in the previous day.  I knew once I took another shower I would be unable to stay awake much longer.  After a bit of food and visiting with fellow hikers, I headed to the room for a shower, fresh clothes, and sleep.

For the third day in a row, wake up was early.  Check in for the hike was at 4 pm.  I was up by 3 am to take another shower, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and double checking all of my gear.  I checked in, we loaded the vans, and was headed off to hike shortly after 4 am Saturday morning.

 

To be continued….. 

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Lessons learned during my 26.3 mile Trailblaze Challenge Hike for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

I completed the 26.3 mile hike for the Alabama Make-A-Wish Foundation this past Saturday, May 5th, 2018. I started at approximately 5:15 am and crossed the finish line at 4:13 pm.  There were aid stations/resupply points at miles 8.49, 13.44, and 22.21.  

Shoes/socks: I had great luck with my new shoes and socks.  I hike in the Altra Lonepeak 3.5 and Darn Tough Crew Hike socks.  I ended up with one small blister on the bottom of one toe that I didn’t even realize I had until I got back to the hotel.  This included multiple water crossings (wet shoes/socks) for several miles, tough terrain, and lots of miles. That is a win to me. I may try sock liners in the future. Find the socks and shoes that work for you and put lots of miles on them.  You can’t hike if you can’t walk.

Liquids: I carried a 2 liter water bladder to make drinking easier/faster.  It performed quite well, but the one issue I have with a bladder is it’s difficult to tell how much water you are consuming. Too much? Enough? This is especially important when resupply points are far apart and it’s warm outside. I actually ran out of water at one point but luckily I was about half a mile from the next aid station.  I also carried a quart of Gatorade in my side pouch.  This proved to be a smart move.  Sometimes I was just tired of warm water and wanted something different – plus the Gatorade provided things water didn’t.

Food: I didn’t eat enough on the trail and that’s my fault. I had snacks/food with me and I did eat at the aid stations, but I found myself running out of energy between resupply points.  I didn’t have time/didn’t want to take the time to stop, take off my backpack, get food out, and eat, but planned on snacking as I went. I should have packaged/carried easy to eat things in my pockets so I could grab and go. Although there was a time limit that I was well below to complete the hike, I had a personal goal and was trying to make it.  I just barely did.  I also should have included some type of electrolyte/energy gel because I was sweating so much. I’ll plan/pack differently for my next long distance hike. Most importantly, I will force myself to snack more because I know I’ll feel better/have more energy if I do.

Misc. gear: I was happy with the performance of my hiking pants, T-Shirt, hiking poles, and all of the other gear I took.  I probably won’t change too much if anything.  I’ll post a full list of what I took in another post. I am glad I wore thin hiking pants as the trail was overgrown in parts (including poison ivy) and I was glad I had the leg protection.

Prep: Because of my work schedule, I didn’t train enough.  The distance didn’t bother me as much as the elevation.  I needed more elevation in my training hikes.  Toward the end of the hike I REALLY dreaded any hills and there were a bunch of them. I could hike flat for miles, but the elevation REALLY put a strain on my already tired body – specifically my hamstrings.

Things I would include/change next time: I’ve already addressed the nutrition issue, but I should have included a way to distract myself when the going got tough.  Music (or the right music) would have done the trick.  I will have a way to rock out on the rocks next time. I may consider hiking with others also.  I was alone most of the hike and having others around (even if their pace is a bit slower) would have helped. I would have included some wet wipes to at least clean the funk off a bit or even a dry T-Shirt. Although I did change socks three times, I was drenched in sweat the whole time and a dry shirt/underwear would have been a huge mental boost. At one point I got almost TOO hot late in the afternoon (the highs were in the low 80s).  I should have slowed down but pushed through to the next aid station where I had to spend 30 minutes cooling down in the creek.  It almost cost me completing the hike.  Next time I will slow down and cool down.  I may even take a “cooling towel” to help.

These are the major points, but there may be others.  What changes have you made/lessons learned on long hikes?

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Trip Reports | Leave a comment