Sunday, October 10, 2010

Echo Lake - Snow in May!

We loved Echo Lake from the moment we set foot on that campground. It was off-season so there wasn't a camping fee which is always a plus. We set up our tent and noticed that we weren't the only campers there so we headed on over to the Echo Lodge to see what the story was. The lodge is so neat, they sell all sorts of touristy things and have some great food as well. We learned the other campers were a group of boys who'd just caught a good sized rainbow trout down at the lake. Echo Lake is very interesting. It's not too big and isn't actually very deep. In fact, it has to be restocked every spring because it freezes completely solid every winter. After learning a few things, we headed back to camp and met the other campers over there. It wasn't long before it began to snow, and what a surprise that was! We were up at about 10,000 feet so it probably shouldn't have come as quite a shock, but we were still in shorts and t-shirts! I'd missed the snow since I'd been living the past year on the coast in the southeast and I know Chuck was excited about it as well.

We changed into warmer clothes and made some dinner while the boys in the site next to us cooked their trout. We eventually made our way over there to see if they had any weed, and we smoked it up with them as we stood around the campfire. The snow came down quitely around us while we lauged and told stories as the sky turned dark. We all eventually turned in for the night, but Chuck and I were awoken sometime in the middle of the night to some sort of commotion. He went out to see what was going on and quickly returned to tell me that the snow was too much for their tent and it had begun to leak pretty badly. He grabbed the headlamps and went out to help them pack up. By morning, we were all alone with a blanket of white surrounding us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hitchhiking Tip #2: Stay Clean!

If you haven't had a shower in a week, at least try to look like you have! This, to me, is a very very important tip. Ask yourselves, if you were to pick up a hitchhiker, would you pick up one who looks like he'll stink up your car? Most people would say no, they wouldn't. So even if you do smell to high heavens, at least look like you're as fresh as a daisy. Once they realize you've just rolled in the dumpster it'll be too late to drive off without you!
Also, have some gear with you, a backpack at the very least. This gives you purpose. Again, many who picked us up said they did so because we looked like travelers, not hobos. Chuck always stayed clean shaven and wore a travelling hat. He swears by that hat to this day. So go get one! It'll keep the sun off your face and make you appear all "worldly and stuff."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 2: Mt. Falcon Park to Echo Lake

Once up and on the way, we still had a while to go before reaching the top of the trail. It was still just as rough on me; this was pretty much my first real hiking experience, and boy what a way to start! We stopped a time or two for a handful or GORP and to let more ambitious bikers ahead of us. When we reached the top we found a picnic table so we sat and refueled; luckily the hard part was behind us. I was really tired of puking my guts up from the altitude sickness. We got back to hiking and ran into a nice biker. She gave us her number and told us if we were going back in the direction of Denver to give her a call. She'd have been more than happy to let us get showers, have a beer, and let us sleep on the couch. We would have taken her up on the offer, but there was no way we were tackling that trail a second time! The shower and beer did sound nice though...3 days on a Greyhound bus doesn't exactly leave you smelling as fresh as a daisy. We moved on though, not realizing that we just experienced the first of what would soon become many generous offers from such amazing people. Before we knew it we found the Castle Ruins. What an unexpected surprise! We walked around them for a bit and ran into an older couple going the same way as us. We told them we were walking the American Discovery Trail and were on our way to Evergreen. They were heading the same way and offered us a ride! We walked and talked the rest of the trail with them until we reached the parking lot. They had a tiny white pick-up that would prove to be one of the most uncomfortable rides we endured. I had to sit on top of Chuck's lap which I know didn't feel good for him, but I still think I got the rough end of the deal as the entire ride was downhill and my knees were forced into the dash and my head kept getting banged on the ceiling. But honestly, we were just glad to have the ride and from such nice people too!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mt. Falcon Park, Colorado Day 1

We were picked up outside Starbucks in that nasty part of Denver and were taken over to Mt. Falcon Park where our backpacking was to begin. On the way there, my 'uncle' was stopped by the police for making some weird turn. He acted crazy too, getting out of the car and trying to make jokes with the cop; it was pretty halirious. We were let go, and made it safely there. The sun was already beginning to set and one look up the trail told us we had a ways to go before we could make camp. (Which was technically illegal there.) I didn't adjust well to the altitude, and to make matters worse had just started my period so horrible cramps and altitude sickness plagued me the whole hike up, up, and further up. Chuck was a complete gentleman though and stopped with me everytime I needed a break and even carried my pack a little ways! We finally couldn't go any further that evening and needed to set up camp. Unfortunately, we ended up doing it on a HUGE slope. We got off the trail a bit, set our tent up directly over some cactus the first time and then moved it. The next week was spent repeatedly saying, "Did you know there were cactus in Colorado? I didn't. Wow, that's crazy."

Once we were set up, we cooked our first first meal (some oatmeal), sat down in the darkness and smoked a joint while we watched all the lights slowly twinkle out in Denver. We had an amazing view but we didn't have a great camping spot. Because of the slope we were on, the entire night was spent sliding to the bottom of the tent and crawling back up. It was worth it in the morning though, we crawled out of our tent grouchy and sleepy only to see 7 or 8 deer grazing not 50 feet away. We took a picture and packed up ASAP so no one would know we camped there, fixed some oatmeal and headed on our merry way.

Ultralite Backpacking List

It's back up and revised. It's super detailed so check it out! I'll be putting it up here soon.

Backpacking List

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Make Dehydrated Hamburger

You want to bring meat with you on your backpacking trip, you say? You don't want spam or tuna, but something much lighter?

Well, let me tell you how to dehydrate hamburger. It's very, very easy!

First things first, figure out how much you want to take. We made two(2) five(5) pound bags. We brought one bag with us and had the other mailed with some more food supplies we had prepared when we stopped in San Diego for a week. Remember that when I say 5 lbs that means how much the meat weighed before it was dehydrated! One 5lb bag of meat probably weighed much less than half a pound, though I can't be specific.

What you'll want to do is make sure you have a dehydrater and know how to cook hamburger. Get the leanest hamburger possible as you'll repeatedly have to drain the fat.

1. Cook the meat thoroughly, draining all excess fat and breaking it up into small chunks. Make sure to get as much out as possible! The less fat, the longer it will last. It's said if there is little to no fat, your dried hamburger will last indefinitely. I take this to mean you probably won't be carrying it long enough for it to go bad.

2. Throw that cooked meat in a colander and run hot water over it to get all that grease off then blot off all excess liquid.

3. Put some wax paper down on your dehydrater sheets if you don't want the little pieces of meat falling through or if you have solid trays, even better. We dehydrated 5 lbs in a couple hours. I'm sure dehydraters vary, so just make sure it's hard and completely dry. It will look like gravel when you're finished.

And that's it! Fill up some ziploc bags with it, get the air out and throw it in the freezer until you're ready to take off! We carried 5lbs of meat in one regular ziploc bag. Now that's nice!

To reconstitute, we would put the hamburger in a cup of water while we waited for our noodles to cook and throw it in at the end to heat it up. It's not the tastiest, but it's nice to have some meat. In fact, we were of the opinion that it didn't really taste like anything. It does tend to take on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. We even made some "spaghetti" with it one night when we cooked it with some spaghetti mix and put it over our friend, ramen noodles.

Here's a more detailed list of dehydrating meats, and they have a slightly different way of drying hamburger: How to Dehydrate Meat

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in Denver

Denver is not a small city, I don't care what anyone says. So we were in the middle of Denver with no idea of where to go to get to Mt. Falcon Park, were in need of another cell phone charger, and we also had 40 lb soaking wet backpacks to lug around in the late spring heat. So I called 411 and found out where the nearest ATT store was. Now, I will give this to the people of Denver, I think you meant well. Unfortunately, every set of directions or bus info we recieved was wrong. We began to think people were out to screw us up. We finally found the ATT store where we had to shell out more than $30 for a stupid charger, we left it charging there and went off down the street to check out some thrift stores. I found a nice light fleece jacket and Chuck got himself one as well. Alright, now we just had to get the charger and phone and find out how to get to Mt. Falcon Park.

Well, we walked. And walked. Rode that free trolly. Walked a lot more. We somehow ended up in a very bad part of town with no clue if we were heading the right way. We were sitting on the lawn of some business across the street from a strip club, trying to relax and figure out what we were to do when we hear a female voice yell, "HEY! I like to FUCK!" To which Chuck replies, "Everyone does!" Then the nasty stripper was laughed back inside.

After realizing we couldn't afford another cab, we walked a ways more until we made it to a drive thru Starbucks where we took out our wet sleeping bags and laid them out to dry. A very nice lady who worked at the Starbucks brought us out some ice water. I decided to try my 'uncle' one last time, so I worked up the tears and dialed. "I don't know where we are *sniff* some horrible part of town *sniffle sniffle* please, please, could you come help us? *crying* We'll have to sleep on the streets *sniff cry sniff*" And we were in. "Ok, ok, what street are you on? We'll be right there!" So we packed our stuff back up and waited for our ride.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Greyhound: May 13

We printed off a Crew Change Guide but quickly realized we wouldn't be able to hop out of the small town we were in in Georgia. Instead, we bought a couple Greyhound tickets to Denver, CO and decided to begin our backpacking on the American Discovery Trail. We left on May 13th of 2009 and spent the next two days on crowded, noisy buses. I don't advocate drug use at all, but if you want a clever spot to hide your weed, zip it up in your sleeping bag. No really, it's a horrible idea, I was terrified. But it did work. Anyway, after arriving in Denver, we had the unfortunate realization that our backpacks had gotten soaking wet. I guess they just don't make those buses like they used to! What were once 25 lb packs were now more in the 35-40 lb range. We threw away our bus clothes and changed into our traveling apparel, washed up a bit, and hit the streets of Denver. First things first, a trip to REI. I'd never been to one and needed a compression sack pretty badly.

We got a cab, and within an hour of being in Denver, I lost our cell phone charger. Great. We moved on, got our bags at REI and I called my 'uncle' whom I was under the impression would be thrilled to take us out to Mt. Falcon Park where we would begin hiking. Wrong...

The Beginning

Our journey began long before we actually left. I moved to Georgia from the Midwest a couple of years ago. I met my soul mate and fellow traveler on Craigslist of all places. I knew he was the one the first time we met. We sat on my apartment patio smoking a blunt and soon he was telling me how he was taking off on a backpacking trip. I was in love. “Are you serious?! Oh my god, that’s my dream.” We talked and talked of hitchhiking, train hopping, and walking across the country. After I made the decision to go with him, we began planning.

There were backpacks, shoes, sleeping bags, cooking stoves and any number of things we needed to research and buy. We didn’t originally plan on hitchhiking. In fact, what we really wanted was to train hop across the country. We were of the opinion that it was impossible to get a ride in America. Surely, no one would pick us up. How wrong we were.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jansport Access 40

Jansport Access 40
The Jansport Access 40 was my pack. It was a great backpack but it wasn’t right for me. I failed to realize I needed a pack made specifically for a woman. Even though it was considerably smaller than Chuck’s Big Bear, it still just didn’t fit me right. This is not to say it’s a bad choice! What I loved about the Access 40 were the many pockets and compartments. It has two front loading pockets that I carried all the soap, toothpaste, brushes, etc in and a front stash pocket I actually managed to stuff our entire tent into. (The actual tent, not the poles or ground cloth) If that doesn’t sell it I don’t know what will! It has great side pockets, one of which carried our cooking pan, cup, and utensils. It’s got a little pocket up top that’s great for change, carrying numbers, id’s, or anything else that you don’t want to dig through your pack for. The waist straps could have been a little bigger in my opinion but what really sold me on the Access 40 were the Aircore shoulder straps. They were very comfortable and Chuck was always jealous of them. This pack also has a hydration sleeve. I never used it so I can’t comment on it.

Now for the cons: this pack compresses very well on the sides, but what I hated about it is how wide it gets when it’s full. It was extremely difficult to take on buses or hold in a car. The Big Bear was very long and slim when full while the Access was thick and bulky and would constantly cause me to bump into things. I compare it to driving a truck versus a car; when driving a truck you have to be constantly aware of the back end. Also, the two front loading pockets tore in my pack. However, I’m not 100% sure if this was the pack’s or my fault. I did constantly over stuff it and I also carried razors in those pockets. Speaking of overstuffing, 40 liters may seem like a lot, but it wasn’t enough for me, packing my bag in the morning was a thirty minute ordeal for me because everything had to be “just-so” for it all to fit. This would make a great weekend pack (which is what it’s advertised for anyway) and has a ton of versatility. However, if you need to stuff this thing until it bursts, I suggest you keep looking, it’s just too awkward when full. Check out the full specs here: Jansport Access 40

Tip #1: Don't Go Alone!

If you really don’t have anyone to join you, then by all means get out there. After all, I can only speak from our experience, and we were always together.
However, if you’re a woman, I really really must insist you bring a man along. Even if you’re some sort of master of self defense, it won’t deter psychos like having a man with you. Your chances of being picked up by some crazy person are greatly reduced not only for that reason but also because you’ll outnumber them.
The complete opposite is true for a man. Take your girl along. All those nice people who would have normally passed you up before will now be much more inclined to pick you up since there’s a woman with you.
Even if the above is completely false, having some company with you will do wonders. It won’t always be rainbows and sunshine, but it will bring you closer together than you could imagine.

Jansport Big Bear 63

Jansport Big Bear 63

This was Chuck’s backpack. I personally loved it. This thing is huge and it’s the smallest Big Bear they have at 63 liters. It has two huge side pockets, a good front pocket, a ton of room on the inside with a drawstring top. My personal favorite was the compression hood. It had a ton of room and Chuck carried both of our rain jackets in it. This pack compresses so well! He could do some serious shrinking from top to bottom and also on the sides. It has great waist straps that are very wide and sit perfectly on the hips. The only complaint Chuck had for this backpack were the shoulder straps. He said they really needed some more padding. My only complaint would be how long this pack is. It fit him perfectly of course, but I’m much shorter. I would have loved to have one but it was just way too huge for me. He got it on sale at Campmor for about 60 bucks. They still have this sale going on so check it out here: Jansport Big Bear 63

Also, order a free catalog from them here: Free Campmor Catalog You’ll get a new one every season! I absolutely recommend the Big Bear. It’s a great internal frame pack built for backpacking. They have three different sizes but unless you’re planning on permanently moving to the woods the 63 liter is probably all you’ll need.

Hitchhiking Across America

Whether you call it hitchhiking, thumbing, flagging, or just catching a lift, I’m sure you’ve all wanted to try it. If you haven’t, then you’ve at least thought about it. If you haven’t thought about it, then I’m sorry to say you have no sense of adventure. There are too few people out there willing to walk the road anymore, and I’ve decided to share our story in hopes of inspiring those that have always wanted to take a break and go on a journey but think it’s impossible in today’s America.

I’m starting this blog, first and foremost, to get our story out there. I want everyone who has every thought about taking a hitchhiking trip to know that their dreams shouldn’t lie dormant. That you can get rides and that you’ll meet some of the nicest people you’ll ever know. In addition, I want this to be a place avid travelers, backpackers, and hikers can come to for tips and also to give them, to read my personal product reviews, and to share their adventures as well.

Before my fiancĂ© and I took off for the trip of a lifetime last May, we spent days scouring the internet looking for backpacking tips, train hopping stories, and hitchhiking advice. We found a few golden nuggets, but honestly, I’m not satisfied with what’s out there. Most of it is outdated, too much is on foreign countries, and too little is in depth. I will share with you our backpacking trip from start to finish, valuable tips on how to get rides and stay safe, and hopefully inspire you to experience it for yourself. It was hard some days, but I’ve never regretted a second of it, and we hope to have many more like it in the future to share as well.

I hope you find this blog entertaining as well as useful. Chuck and I have always talked about writing a book about our trip and how when we did it would be called, West, Please! So I asked him if a blog would be alright in the meantime and he agreed. Names will be changed to protect identities and certain illegal activities. I will frequently update our story in acceptable lengths over a period of time. I have months to cover after all. I will also keep an updated list of Chuck and Callie’s Hitching Tips as well as give product reviews, lists of great towns to visit, and tell you how not to hop on a freight train!

Save a Kitten!

Simba is my newly adopted four month old orange tabby kitten. Unfortunately, I wasn’t told he was sick when I got him. He has an upper respiratory infection that he can’t seem to kick and suffers from terrible diarrhea. URI can be fatal in kittens and while I’ve done all I’ve been able to for him, I simply can’t afford to take him to the vet. I wasn’t anticipating this illness, and when I figured it out I was much too attached to take him back. I also thought he’d be much more comfortable in my home instead of in a room with thirty other sick cats.

 If you’d like to help save a super sweet kitten’s life, please consider donating. It will allow me to take him to the vet and get him the professional help he needs. Plus, he’ll love you forever!