Weekend warriors and noob backpackers, I want to clear up some misconceptions that backpacking is necessarily a prohibitively expensive and back-breaking hobby. Below I have put together some of the information I’ve acquired over the years to help people who are interested in going on a summer adventure in the woods. I want to reassure people that getting outside is not difficult and that anyone can do it. The woods should not be thought of as a daunting hostile place that people carry machetes and guns into because frankly it isn’t. If you’re looking for a badass adventure, the backcountry in the Mid-Atlantic is not the place most of the year. But if you want a break from civilized life and want to relax, here are some tips I have, including a comprehensive budget ultralight backpacking gear list at the bottom. Continue reading 3 principles of ultralight backpacking
I’m excited to announce that I will be partnering with Wild River Outfitters for my clothing needs for my upcoming Appalachian Trail self-supported thru-hike record attempt!
They are a local outfitter here in Virginia Beach that stocks gear for kayaking, canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing. They also lead professionally guided trips and instruction for fly fishing and kayaking. I’ve grown up depending on them for my gear needs and am thrilled to be partnering with them for this upcoming adventure!
Check them out at http://www.wildriveroutfitters.com/
And on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WildRiverOutfitters
Overall my recent training hikes have been very uneventful hiking. But I do need to evaluate what slowed me down and each individual ache and pain. Back when I was racing triathlons I was extremely resistant to making excuses. I blew off every reason that could have slowed me down or made perform less than my best. But while in a two-hour race my stubbornness probably helped, with such long distance hiking, denying any ache or pain can turn into a brutal lesson.
On my spring break trip I had developed achilles tendonitis in my left heel. By the end of the trip it was creaking and severely inflamed. Because of the grueling punishment I had put my body through, I couldn’t be certain of exactly what had caused it. I suspected going from the flatness of Norfolk out to the high mountains of Smoky Mountain National Park had put additional strain on my tendon on the uphills and that stretching may alleviate it. I had also wondered if it had to do with my ridiculously small climbing shoes I had been using for several months at the climbing gym in Virginia Beach. And of course there was the distressing possibility that my body simply didn’t want to tolerate 40+ mile hiking days. Continue reading Evaluating setbacks
I sat on a toilet seat for the first time in a month a few minutes ago. I washed up, cleaned the travel grime off, trimmed the nails, shaved the beard, cut the hair, and now I’m ready to return to civilization, sort of. I’m actually scared out of my mind and can’t sleep. Believe it or not, after all the crazy scary things that I have done over the past three months, immersing myself in the social world and heading to medical school are scarier prospects than a lot of my adventures. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and paddling a kayak 70 miles from civilization out into open water solo is about as absurdly scary as it gets. But medical school is a close second. Maybe I’m overreacting, but it just feels like I’m starting all over again, and that’s kind of overwhelming. Continue reading Home
I like biking and I like going places, so logically I thought I would like the two together but I was wrong, dead wrong. The last 48 hours were absolutely torturous. I began a test ride from Virginia Beach to Richmond, VA to see if I would enjoy biking across the country. In reality, it was me beginning an adventure in secret after a highly announced and altered adventure before. It was tough changing my plans so severely from a Bahamas trip to a Tortugas trip, despite each being equally exotic and challenging. Continue reading Shyeah, no.
Thank you so much to drivers who share the roads with me on my bike each day. I really appreciate the room that most drivers give me and the slow speed and patience they have when they pass me. I am not asking for an entire lane. I simply appreciate it when, if drivers cannot give me much room, they pass me slowly. It makes my passion a lot more enjoyable.
To the drivers who try to get a point across and nearly run me over. Please remember, I am somebody’s son. Know that running over me will not “teach me a lesson”. It will only put you in jail and make for a very unhappy mom and dad. If you think I shouldn’t be on the roads, please write a letter to a politician in your area, or vote for the guy who advocates additional bike lanes. Trust me, I hate riding on busy roads just as much, if not more than you hate me riding on them.
The time just before the sun comes out, the intermediate of night and day. We drove, windows down, listening to the blues, strums of guitar accompanied by musty microphones and moaning voices. I felt like we should have been driving in a woody. Head out the window, my newly number 5 trimmed head let the wind tickle my scalp. I was going to the beach and I couldn’t be happier about it. I want to go swimming and I don’t care that it’s almost feeding time.
We walked the half mile stretch to the beach in almost total darkness, only able to tell our path by the little star light let through from the trees above. At the touch of the cool sand I was back in my element. Already without shoes, I took my shirt off and walked calmly into the warm water. With no breeze, the water was completely flat past the shore break. The waves broke two and a half feet high, perfect for body surfing.
All night my friend Nat’s girlfriend had been commenting on how we were going swimming during feeding time. I laughed and trusted Jamie and Adam had proved that myth busted. Sure enough, right when I stepped just outside of the break, I see a fin glide across the top of the water only a few yards away from me. I look to Nat and saw him looking with a dead stare at the spot where the fin popped up. I did what any sensible human would do, tried to run in waist deep water. Nat continued his stare and then called “Wait! They’re just dolphins!”
Other than a group of drunks that reinforced my commitment to not drink, we had the beach to ourselves. Cool sand, warm water, salty air, calming shore break, moonlit sky speckled with lights from across the universe. God, I love the beach.
The next day I returned to the exception to the rule that the older a person gets, the more boring the stuff they do on the beach is. Building sadcastles is fun. I don’t care if I am the only nineteen year old building them. A kid plays in the shore break and on the crest of the water in the maleable sand. A teenager throws a ball at another ball to see how close he can get them. College students lay on towels to see how much skin damage they can squeeze out of a few hours. Sometimes they play volleyball or other beach games. But mostly they do what I do between ten p.m. and eight a.m., sleep. Adults have kids who keep them young for an hour or so before they sit in a chair and read. I play and I love playing and I don’t really see myself enjoying anything else. My future kids will be in college remarking on how weird their dad is for body boarding and building sand castles. I’m fine with that.
I got to go surfing on Friday. The waves were pathetic but I managed to have a great time. I looked at my roasted back in the mirror, questioning how my eight layers of sunscreen did not protect me, and decided it was so worth it. During the great morning set of waves, my rusty ability led me to nose dives and wipe outs. But I had one great ride and that was enough to get me excited.
I’m taking the weekend off from racing and returning to the beach for the whole weekend.
I went to go hang out with my coach Michael tonight. On the way I shared viewing of an absolutely beautiful sunset with other commuters. The song “Your Woman” by White Town came on as I drove. I thought it was a pretty cool song.
I learned a lot about tents and stoves at blue ridge outfitters today. It looks like I am actually going to do this. Only around 500 people have thru hiked the Appalachian trail North to South and if all goes well I will be one of only a handful to complete the trail during the winter. I don’t have a death wish but I do want to be humbled. It’ll be such an awesome adventure. I want to be as prepared as possible which will still leave me with a lot of learning and adventure. It should be exciting. I’ve got three books to read right now though.
We found the perfect dog quickly. She was a long haired dachshund with a fiery temper and a total disinterest in us. To be honest I have absolutely no idea what attracted us to her. We brought her home on my brother’s birthday, soon to be declared a shared birthday. We did not know her age but we estimate she was about seven.
She, having been a dog solely used for breeding for most of her life, was not accustomed to the ways of a house. She could absolutely care less about what we wanted. We would call “Come here Maggie!” and she would glance out of the corner of her eye at us, and continue about her business. If we tried to pick her up against her will, she never hesitated to express herself less than peaceful.
Needless to say, she warmed up to us quickly. She fit right in. She was short, we’re all short. A match made in heaven. The disinterest in listening to us never stopped though. She was her own dog and she did what she wanted to do. We respected that and she usually respected not to push our tolerance.
Often I would here my mom calling up to me that Maggie had run away and she needed my help to go get her. The word run is not very fitting for those occasions however. Maggie typically would mozie off at a pace that could barely be called walking. Typically we would find her the next house down and even once she had not even ventured off our property. She could be gone for an hour and would only be a block down. Her sniffing was always the hold up. Walking her was torture because of her inability to leave a scent unsmelled.
Before Maggie grew into the family she did find it amusing to make a legitimate break for it occasionally. Thankfully she was a stocky fat little girl and while her leg length to speed ratio far outdid ours, we could always chase her down. One time my dad, my brother and I decided to let her off the leash on the beach. She was scared to death of water so we knew that wasn’t an outlet, and there was a wall on the land side of the beach. My brother and I waited a hundred yards down the beach while my dad let the beast off her leash. Unrestricted, she booked it right at us and thinking we had her trapped, she juked us out at the last second. I ended up tackling her later on down the beach to prevent the true escape of Maggie Cobb.
But soon she was conscious of how great life was with us. She loved it. She loved every second of it. One year after a snow storm my sister and I played in the snow with Maggie. She always seemed to get a thrill of walking around in things that were taller that her. She loved monkey grass I guess for the thrill of a jungle like exploration. Everything’s bigger when you’re a foot tall. She absolutely loved the snow, at least until she ran smack into the curb. She stood up shook herself off, looked up at me as if to say “What, you mean to tell me you’ve never walked into anything?” This was a routine she had already established from leaf piles on the side of the road.
She had an attitude to her that I’ve never seen in an animal. She was a royal princess. She had the life of a princess, that’s for sure. She got to visit the Florida keys, Snowshoe, and Virginia Beach regularly for extended stays. And she loved it. She loved the thrill of new sniffs, and new territories to roam and new animals to chase. In Florida she got to chase me and my dad around the dock trying to catch our newly caught fish. At the beach she chased seagulls with an absolute vengeance set on catching those birds. In snowshoe the deer supplied her with a days full of barks.
One winter at Snowshoe, when my dad released the beast for her regular chasing of the deer, a deer decided this puny dog wasn’t worth running from. After the deer stomped its foot at Maggie, she returned inside with a sore pride. I could not let this down. After seeing my dog walk around the house for days with her head down, unwilling to chase or even bark at the deer outside, I decided to do justice to the deer that commited this crime against my little sister. I ran out the front door just as she usually would and chased them into the woods. Justice was served. Law was restored on the Cobb premices at Snowshoe. I returned back in a gave Maggie an extended belly rub, our version of a high five.
Maggie had an obsession with belly rubs. I swear I saw her on her back more than I did on her feet. Maybe my family just gives wicked good belly rubs, I don’t know. Sometimes to keep Maggie on her toes, my mom would give me a belly rub instead of Maggie. I know, I know criminal. Maggie would walk up and lay her head on my stomach, looking up at my mom with sad puppy dog eyes. If my mom would continue, she would make her best attempt at interfering with the action of belly rubbing, typically by standing ontop of me. If that did not work, she would harrass my mom with barking and glaring. It wouldn’t take long for the sympathy of me and my mom to outweigh our silliness.
Honeslty, the dog had mastered the art of the glare. She would turn her head to the side and look at you out of the corner of her eye. I’ve never been so intimidated in my life, not even by a human, as when that dog would glare at me.
But just as that dog was out to protect the law of unlimited belly rubs solely for her, she felt the need to prevent fights in the house. We initially discovered Maggie’s upholding of the law of the house when my dad gave a very rare and unexpected hug to my mom. Maggie was appalled! What was this thing he was doing to her mother? Was he hurting her? Maggie ran up and in a barking fury, nipped at my dad’s socks. So, being the cruel jokesters we are, we took advantage of Maggie’s vigilante trait. My dad would fake beat on me while I would scream for the help of the one and only John Wayne in our house. Maggie would run to my rescue, and sometimes not knowing who the true victim was, she would nip at my ankles. Geez she needed to understand fair trial before punishment.
Headstrong as she was, she felt no intimidation from her worst enemy. Joggers and bicyclists. Those jerks. I always loved seeing Maggie scare joggers and cyclists. Call me sick but I call them pansies.. At a foot high she probably couldn’t even give a bruise with her old lady teeth. Yet with absolutely no hint of fear, her short dog’s complex would set in and she would defend her turf, which seemed to be about every square inch as far as her eyes could see wherever she may be.
One of the many times her fearlessness brought her trouble, her height actually saved her life. My brother and I were walking her around our neighborhood and with a retractable leash, she was able to have some sense of freedom. A cyclist rode by and while I was quick enough to push the button to stop her from eating spokes, she was already a good enough distance to eat the underside of a following car. I though for sure my dog was dead, but she came up from behind the right front wheel unscathed. Stunned, but unharmed she stumbled away, looking back at the car like it was something she had never seen before.
For my senior spring break, my mom and dad, Maggie and I all road tripped it to the Florida keys. An old maid, Maggie acted like a puppy the whole week. She ran back and forth on the dock as I reeled in fish and jumped clear into the air trying to catch the hooked fish flying above her head. She had a countless number of rides in the golf cart, ears flapping in the wind. And she sure enjoyed her sniffing raids, scanning all the neighborhood’s smells at a block an hour. She loved it. And she saved the best for last.
There was no fade out in Maggie’s life. She lived till she died. On the drive home, with a simple yelp, she was gone.
Tonight I watched the movie “Marley and Me”. Laughing at all the antics of Marley, I sat there with my hand on one of my two new crazy nutcase dogs. Much of my giggling was at relating Marley’s antics to those of my new dogs. However, towards the end of the movie the lives of the two dogs laying with me became irrelevant. I could not relate the movie to them anymore. All I could think about now was Maggie.
I stood up and left. I miss Maggie. I miss her terribly. While I would never forget Maggie, I wish I could say I appreciate the joy she brought to me when she was with me and leave it at that. I miss the long haired dachshund that I grew up with for seven years. I miss her sass and I miss her stubbornness. I miss the princess that the house revolved around. And I miss my protector, my vigilante dog that protected me against all that’s wrong, and some that’s perfectly okay, in the world. I miss the dog that whenever I was upset, she knew it and she would sit with me, looking into my teary eyes with a look so compassionate that I couldn’t help but feel better. I miss coming home from school and knowing my absolute first responsibility was to serve the upside down dog laying on the floor.
George in “It’s a Wonderful Life” learned to appreciate the things he has rather than thinking about all that he has lost. And while I wish I could say I am as wise as George, I admit I am not quite there. Jimmy Stewart probably wished he could say he was as wise as the character he once played. And yet Stewart recited on Johnny Carson’s stage a poem he wrote about a dog named Beau. The poem ends just as the occasion always does. “And now he’s dead. And there are nights I think I feel him climb upon our bed, and lie between us, and I pat his head. And there are nights when I think I feel that stare, and I reach out my hand to stroke his hair, and he’s not there. Oh how I wish that wasn’t so. I’ll always love a dog named Beau.”
I wish I could say I have moved on. I wish I could say I accept reality and solely appreciate what I have here with me in addition to those memories of things that have passed. I wish, but if I said I was that wise, I’d only be lying. I miss a dog named Maggie.
When I was a little kid, I spent the whole summer at my family’s beach house on 53rd street in Virginia Beach. My brother and I shared a room, bunked beds. I loved it there. It was euphoric, and to have euphoria at such a young age is something extra special.
Not having a surfboard, I learned to manage just fine on my body board. I would paddle out into the surf and jump on in on waves right along with the older surfers. Being so light, I could stand up and ride the wave just like everyone else.
Additionally, my brother and I learned how to use a body board as a skim board. We would run from the beach as fast as we could directly into a wave to see how much air we could get. One day my brother and I decided it would be an intelligent idea to play chicken in a pool of water up on the beach.
I ran at him as fast as I could and jumped onto my board. Last second, being completely content with being the “chicken” I made a futile attempt to bail out. I did not quite understand the laws of inertia and friction. I pushed off my board, my board went flying to the side as my head went straight at my brother’s head. As we lay there in the pool of our own stupidity, my mom came running up worried sick that we had done some real damage. Hard to hurt that lack of brains though. With a wicked headache, loss of pride, and a heart full of shame, my mom decided no punishment for our stupidity would be necessary. We were already punished enough.
One summer I remember enjoying one of the greatest thunderstorms of my life. With every bolt of lightning, the power would go off, and then come back on moments later. Our doorbell would ring every time the power would come back on. My dad, every time the power went off, would say “I bet someone’s about to come to the door.” And then the doorbell would ring and me, my brother, and my sister would laugh like crazy. He must have said it a hundred times that night, and it made me laugh just as hard the last time as the first. I still smile when I think about it.
Another summer at the beach, my dad decided it was time for me to learn how to ride a bike. He took me out to the calm street with my brother’s old bike and told me the basics. He then proceeded to push me around while holding me stable. An epic moment in the life of a father, right? Teaching his kid how to ride a bike. Well I turned around and said, “Can I just try it on my own?” So he let me and I rode. I guess I was born to ride bikes. Needless to say, that is not exactly how any dad would want that day to go. Whoops.
Long after we have left 53rd street behind, I reminisce about the beauty of that place and remember my first home away from home.