Feb 2015 – National Parks Tour

It all starts here….

In January of 2015 we ( Snuggles and I ) would leave our jobs, house, family, friends, and Hometown behind. Piling into a converted mini-van (The Black Stallion) to venture out into the world looking for Adventure, Culture, and the true meaning of happiness.We were on a mission to meet new people, try new food/drink, and discover all that we could about this amazingly beautiful country.

With plans of starting a Thru-Hike in early March, we had some time to kill and other business to attend to before hiking the East Coast for up to six months. We grabbed Bowie (our black lab), loaded up the “Black Stallion” with various camping gear and headed West to see as many National Parks as we could in a Month.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

dscf4437Rolling in late to Cortez, CO we camped in the Black Stallion for the night waiting for Mesa Verde NP to open in the morning. Bowie decided she would drive…


Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

dscf4394“The Palace” – Beautiful Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde NP

dscf4412Happiness Selfie.

dscf4413Exploring the Underground homes of an Ancient Civilization

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Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim), Arizona

dscf4474First view of the “Great Ditch”…

dscf4503Everyone needs a classic “Cheesy Tourist” shot.

dscf4505Desert View Watchtower

dscf4490Native art from various surrounding tribes dawns the walls and ceilings of the great tower.

dscf4478“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”  – John Wesley Powell

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Joshua Tree National Park, California 

dscf4665Joshua Tree, CA (right outside the park)

dscf4715Our great friends Dan and Lil drove over from LA to camp with us for the night

dscf4700Huge beautiful boulder piles cover the desert landscape

img_1157Standing atop the massive rocks and looking out onto Joshua Tree, you feel as if your peering into an “Alien World”…

dscf4679Lil, perhaps jealous of Bowie’s fine fur coat.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

dscf4802A long forgotten forest turned to stone, strewed out through a now harsh desert.

dscf4799Petrified Wood Modeling.

dscf4809Broken Monsters from another time…

dscf4816The beautiful “Painted Desert”

 

We would soon travel back to Indiana to park our van, drop of Bowie, and head to Georgia to start our next Grand Adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

 

Jamez Overnight Bikepacking

Trip Report By: Darwin

In preparation for my ride of the Arizona Trail, One last “Gear Shakedown” was in order…

On Sunday Snuggles, Bowie, & I headed 1 hour North West of Albuquerque to the beautiful Jamez Mountains of New Mexico. We drove up to Forrest Road 144 at the top of the mountain. The plan was, Snuggles and Bowie would camp off of the road for the night – while I did a 40 mile out and back of FR 144, meeting back up with them in the morning. Snuggles found a good old “Hunting Camp” spot right off the road, I packed up the ECR and we parted ways for the night.

When we first arrived at the top of the mountain it was a bit cloudy and looked like it would be a rainy day. To my surprise – after the 1st few miles, the skies cleared up and a bright blue color peered its way out. There was no “Real Route” to my trip, just a bunch of riding and getting a feel for how my fully loaded rig would handle. While heading North on FR 144 I would periodically peer off onto side roads and trails – getting as much different terrain and miles as possible. When I got to a 20 mile mark on the road, I decided to turn around and head back towards an amazing campsite that I had passed up earlier in the ride.

When I finally got to camp dark clouds started rolling in and the sound of thunder was present in the distance. I quickly unloaded my SMD Skyscape Trekker tent and set it up. As soon as my shelter was up and all my gear was off of the bike, it started to pour. Luckily I had everything in the tent and my sleeping pad inflated. There was nothing to do but lay there and wait out the rain. I woke up almost 2 hours later… seems like I had fallen asleep while waiting out the storm.

I finished fully unpacking my gear, made a fire in a nearby rock formation and cooked up some dinner. After I devoured a fine meal of  Instant Mashed Potatoes and TVP, I stretched out on a nearby rock to gaze at the starry sky.

When I awoke in the morning, I rode a few miles out from my camp to meet back up with Snuggles and Bowie. Everything seemed nice and dialed in with my Gear Set-Up.

 

img_0933The Aspens putting on their Sunday’s best for me…

img_0951Finally, Clear Blue Skies…

img_0949Fall had finally come to the Jamez – Slowly making it’s way up the mountains

img_0947The ECR gets a Fine View…

img_0955Perfect Camp Spot for the night

img_0957The Sun sets as the Campfire Smoke Rises…

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Vasque Inhaler 2 GTX

Full Review

Review By: Darwin

The Inhaler has no break-in time and is ready to go right out of the box. Overall the fit is nice & snug in the heel but very narrow in the toe box, not lending enough room for extra socks and/or swelling. The overall breathability of the Inhaler performed great in most climates, yet the GoreTex liner tends to make your feet overheat when hiking on a hot day. With a nice soft flexible upper and fast ride, the Vasque inhaler feels much more like a performance trail runner, rather than a mid hiker.

Stability in the Inhaler is less than ideal, with a very flexible EVA foam sole. With no mid foot shank, it loses a lot of its side to side stability on technical terrain. However the Vibram lugs on the outer sole provide great traction on slippery surfaces like wet rocks and mud.

The overall durability of the Inhaler is surprisingly good, with no delamination or undone stitching. The exposed EVA foam arch is starting to break down a bit and was chewed up by rough trail surfaces.

With a very soft exposed mesh upper and little to no toe bumper, the Vasque Inhaler falls a bit short when coming to protection from rugged trails and the elements.

Because of the lack of a mid foot shank and/or fore foot rock plate, the Inhaler is not quite stiff enough when rock scrambling or edging steep terrain. Off trail capabilities in the Vasque Inhaler are very limited.

Overall, I found the Vasque Inhaler 2 Mid to be a quick and light hiker that tends to perform more like a trail running shoe, rather than a full featured mid hiker. This makes it ideal for fast and short day hikes, but falls short when doing extended and loaded hikes.

 

 


Product Specifications

Price: Usually around $95 – $120

Weight: 2lbs 2oz

Check Them Out Here: Vasque Inhaler 2 GTX 


 

How I Tested Them

These boots were tested over a series of long day hikes & lightweight backpacking trips in the Sandia & Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. They were tested on a variety of trail conditions including muddy, rocky, sandy, & hard pack trails.

 

Oboz Scapegoat Mid

Full Review

Reviewed By: Darwin

With little break in time, the Oboz Scapegoat is a true to size comfortable fit, right out of the box. The mid upper hugs the ankle nicely without being too abrasive and gives great support. The “BFit” insole is a real game changer when it comes to stock footbeds, providing excellent comfort & arch support. The round laces lace up nice and even at first, but tend to come undone after about an hour of hiking.

The Oboz Scapegoat is great for lightweight day hiking and extended backpacking trips. I found the traction of the Scapegoat to fall a little short when dealing with slippery conditions like mud & wet rocks.

The Scapegoat has a breathable mesh upper and lightweight feel with plenty of synthetic leather overlays and rubber-coated bumpers to protect the boot through all the bumps and scrapes of the many hikes of the testing period. There were no visible delamination spots or undone stitching on the boots after the testing period.

The abrasion resistant rubber coated toe bumper was a great addition while descending and slamming into rocks while on the trail. The built in scree and debris collar help to keep out unwanted dirt, rocks, and sand making the overall protection of the Scapegoat stand out above the rest.

Off trail, The Scapegoat’s “Super Skin” forefoot shank keeps the boot nice and ridged when edging up steep accents and gives better control when crossing loose scree fields.

Overall, I found the Oboz Scapegoat Mid to be a true to size, lightweight, and breathable hiker that is packed with tons of features that make it really stand out in the backcountry. Light enough for summer day hikes and built tough for extended backpacking trips, the Scapegoat Mid proves to be a great boot for warm and dry conditions. This non-waterproof boot will be out of its element in wet, muddy and slippery environments.

 


Product Specifications

Price: Usually around $145

Weight: 2lb 7oz for the Pair

Check Them Out Here: Oboz Scapegoat Mid


How I Tested Them

These boots were tested over a series of long day hikes & lightweight overnight backpacking trips in the Jamez & Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. They were tested on a variety of trail conditions including muddy, rocky, sandy, & hard pack trails.

 

Keen Voyageur Mid

Full Review

The Voyageur has a very roomy, true to size fit that is ready to go right out of the box with no break-in time. A snug heel fit & a roomy toe box makes this a great boot for all day hiking as your feet swell. The ankle collar is a bit abrasive and I found it to be uncomfortable after hours of hiking. The mesh vent uppers let the boot breathe well all day and kept my feet dry from sweat.

The ankle support lacks in stability due to its flexible and soft build. I found that the ankle support wasn’t enough under a heavy pack load and Traction was sub-par when gripping to rocks and mud.

The leather and mesh upper held up against tough terrain, yet the sole came unglued in a few spots after only a couple hikes. The lace lock system was great in keeping the boots tied all day long and had a snug fit around the top of the boot.

The overall protection of the Voyageur was great with Keen’s signature thick rubber large toe bumper and rugged heal counter.

The Voyageur was not great off trail when climbing rocks due to being very soft and flexible in the midsole. The Torsion ESS Shank in the arch of the boot did provide side-to-side stability when on loose technical terrain.

Overall, I found the Keen Voyageur to be a lightweight, roomy, well venting mid hiking boot that is good for fast, lightweight day hiking on easy, dry terrain. However I would not pick it for any long distance hiking due to the poor construction.

 


Product Specifications

Price:Usually around $125

Weight: 2lbs 5oz

Check Them Out Here: Keen Voyageur Mid


How I Tested Them

These boots were tested over a series of long day hikes in the Sandia & Manzano Mountains of New Mexico and a section of the CDT. They were tested on a variety of trail conditions including muddy, rocky, sandy, & hard pack trails.

 

Appalachian Trail 2016

After 11 months away from our home on the Appalachian Trail,  June 3rd 2016 Snuggles & I jumped back on the trail in Great Barrington, MA to finish our Thru-Hike from 2015. With just over 600 miles to go, we again headed North to Maine to conquer the great Katahdin.

 

Similar to our 2015 Hike, we documented our journey again. This time with a Video Series. Enjoy!








 

Merrell All Out Blaze Mid WP

Full Review

Reviewed By: Darwin

There seems to be no break in time with the Merrell All Out Blaze, which makes them comfortable right out of the box. The toe box is nice and roomy with a wider fit that accommodates for thicker socks and/or layering. The All Out Blaze has a sewn in sock liner giving it more room through out the entire boot. At first the boot seemed to breathe well but over time during longer hikes, I found the All Out Blaze to not breathe as well as other waterproof boots that I have tested.

The overall stability of the All Out Blaze is good without being overwhelming. The ankle support is there when you need it but disappears when you don’t. The traction of the All Out Blaze is great when dealing with slippery conditions thanks to the Vibram Tc5+ outsole.

With features that range from a waterproof leather upper to its rugged Vibram outsole, the Merrell All Out Blaze was able to handle any type of terrain and will last for many hikes to come. There was a little bit of delamination along the sole of the boots, but overall the boot stayed intact after multiple hikes in rough terrain.

The molded TPU external heel counter, rugged toe bumper, and a bellowed tongue (to keep out trail debris), are all great features that make the overall protection of this boot excellent.

Off trail, The Merrell All Out Blaze was soft due to its “UniFly midsole”, making them fall short when edging up steep ascents or crossing skree fields.

Altogether, I found the Merrell All Out Blaze to be a very roomy, lightweight and full featured mid hiking boot that is comfortable to wear straight from the box. It’s perfect for warm weather hiking and lightweight backpacking.

 

 


 

Product Specifications

Price: Usually around $150

Weight: 2lb 2oz for the Pair

Check Them Out Here: Merrell All Out Blaze Ventilator Mid WP


 

How I tested them

These boots were tested over a series of long day hikes & lightweight overnight backpacking trips in the Jamez & Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. They were tested on a variety of trail conditions including muddy, rocky, sandy, & hard pack trails.

 

A Cold Day on the CDT

Section Hike Done By: Darwin & Snuggles 

April 10th 2016 – Continental Divide Trail – Cuba, NM Section

Over the weekend we decided to head over to Cuba, New Mexico to meet up with our good friends Geared Up & Cowgirl, who were currently Thru-Hiking the Continental Divide Trail  (CDT). We had never been on the CDT and since it covers 770 miles of New Mexico it is practically our backyard.  We had been dying to hike some sections of another National Scenic Trail and we were more than happy to accept an invitation to hike it.

We drove about one hour West from our home base in Albuquerque to meet them at their base camp in Cuba, NM at a small RV Park. Unlike hiking the AT and PCT, Cowgirl had arranged for friends and family to follow her along the way to act as support. Some sections she and Geared Up carried full packs and camped on the trail. Most days however, they would hike big miles to a trailhead and be picked up and taken back to their RV for a shower, hot meal, and a soft bed. Hiking in luxury!

Since we needed to get into hiking shape for our return to the AT in June, we decided to dust off our hiker legs. We were going to do a small 15 mile section with them, hiking South back towards The Los Pinos Trailhead. Once we arrived at the RV Park, we hung out while eating a few donuts and then loaded up in the truck to venture to the trailhead. Uncle Sparky (Cowgirl’s Uncle) was our chauffeur and dropped us off in a remote part of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness.

For the first handful of miles we chatted about random happenings in the world, gear, and our future return to the AT as we easily hiked along a very smooth dirt trail. We hiked along barbed wire fencing marking the wilderness boundary line and laughed as Jerry (Cowgirl’s dog) attempted to cross the barbed wire to the other side. As we climbed higher in elevation through the beautiful Aspen Groves, leftover snow from winter storms started to speckle the forest around us. The temperature started to drop from the wonderful 70° in Cuba to what now felt like the low 40s and before we knew it we were post-holing in knee-deep snow. At first there was much laughter as we tried to keep our balance when sinking into the frozen snow and had a good laugh watching Jerry try to hop from hole to hole that had been left behind by Cowgirl’s tracks.

We stopped off for lunch at a somewhat flat spot and tried to regain the feeling in our toes. We took off our boots and wrung out the frigid water trapped in our socks. Stopping only for a short time, we began to get cold and realized that we had to keep moving to warm back up. We continued to climb in elevation and slowly navigated though the frozen mess loosing the trail completely at times.  Coming to a widened section of trail we stopped to discuss how suddenly tried, wet, and COLD we felt. None of us were dressed for these conditions and we were fighting a loosing battle. With a trail that was continually disappearing into a white abyss and every mile getting worse with snow pack, we decided to turn around. We determined we had maybe hiked only 7.5 miles (it felt like so much more at the time).

After backtracking the 7.5 miles back down to the trailhead we had started at, we were relieved to see Uncle Sparky waiting with the truck. Cowgirl thankfully had a moment of signal on our way back down to inform him of our change of plans. We road back to Cowgirl’s RV in Cuba while warming up from the heater that was blasting inside the truck. When we got back we warmed up, devoured another donut or two and said or goodbyes to our Thru-Hiker pals.

Even though it didn’t go as planned we had the most amazing, tough, cold, wet, and crazy day hike we had ever done thanks to Geared Up and Cowgirl.

img_0120Cowgirl and Geared Up

img_0171Spring had not quite come to the high New Mexico forrest yet.

img_0167Gotta love Trail Badges. So Symbolic…

img_0175Our 1st signs that there was still some snow left at higher altitudes.

img_0174Wacky carving in an Aspen tree. Nature’s Pin-up

img_0169Tall Trees, Blue Skies, and More Snow…

img_0170When the trees opened up you could faintly see the Colorado Rockies capped with snow off in the distance.

img_0177When the trail started to turn on us… Snuggles post-holing up to her knees in what winter had left behind atop the mountain.

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July/Aug 2015 National Parks Tour

After getting off the Appalachian Trail earlier than expected in July of 2015,  We were instantly thrown back into fast paced society and had to come home to deal with the death of a loved one. With tons of instant stress, family, and dealing with things we had left behind for four months, we were scatter brained with no time to really contemplate  what had happened to us during our time on the AT.

We needed a Reset…..

Again we decided to pack up our van, grab our dog, and hit the road to visit more of the greatest National Parks that the North West & West coast had to offer.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks


Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

img_18361st View of the Rockies (right outside Boulder,CO)

img_1871Amazing camp site in the valley of the Great Mountains.

img_1887Elk grazed our camp site every morning we were there

img_1872We really didn’t “Tourist” around much in the park. A great campsite, good conversation, and relaxation is all we needed…


Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

img_1971We are connoisseurs of “Classic Park Entrance Signs”.

img_1903The majestic Jenny Lake is something everyone should take in for a moment…

img_1907The mighty Tetons hiding in the clouds. There was still snow on the peaks in July.

 

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

img_1996Told ya…

img_1961The awe inspiring “Grand Prismatic Spring” (pictures do it no justice)

img_1933Bubbling clear blue “Thermo Pools” fill the park with a sulfuric smell.

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img_1994“Old Faithful” is truly one of the greatest sights in the world (See Video Below of it erupting)

img_1978We stopped for a bit to watch a heard of “Wild Bison” roam the plains of Yellowstone. (I really need a new Camera)


Muir Woods National Monument, California

img_2014We hopped over to San Fran to meet up with our good friend Caron before crossing the amazing “Golden Gate Bridge” to visit Muir…

img_2025img_2019The amazingly tall Redwoods in Muir were no match for Caron’s “Big Red” hair

img_2029Super Tourist!


Sequoia National Park, California 

img_2080This one has been here for some time.

img_2063Enormous!!!

img_2087Snuggles is a real “Tree Hugger”

img_2088The Man! General Sherman is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth.

img_2083Becoming an Official Junior Ranger of Sequoia National Park.


Yosemite National Park, California

img_2047The “Tunnel View”,  Yes it really does look like every picture you have ever seen of it…. Without the frame.

img_2036El Cap

img_2043Massive Granite walls line the sides of the beautiful valley. Like you are in a “Cathedral of Nature”

img_2051Me and Bowie making Dinner on the outskirts of the park


 

Below is a video I put together documenting our July/August National Park Tour. Enjoy!