National Scenic Trails

Many people have heard about the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and maybe even the Continental Divide Trail, but that's just scratching the surface in terms of what long trails are out there.

The official National Scenic Trails map can be downloaded here (it's a pdf).

There are plenty of other medium length trails out there that don't show up on this map such as the Long Trail, the Baker Trail and the Tuscarora Trail. That's because this map only shows trails officially designated as National Scenic Trails, but it's a good start for dreaming.


Review: Underarmor Winter Weight Running Tights

I've had a pair of these since college, and it still hasn't worn out.

My use case

These are my warm base-layer for the lower half of my body... for all activities. My main goal is to keep the wind layer off my skin, keep my knees safe from freezing, keep the blood warm on the way to my feet.

I originally bought them to run to campus, I'd wear them under a pair of thin unlined windpants (specifically these http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2010/12/gear-review-montane-windpants.html) to run to school during the winter. It got down to -10F occasionally, and I'd run through a park up over a hill with relatively decent wind gusts, so I needed it.

Since then I've used them all over the place.
My default ski clothing, cross-country or downhill, is a pair of rainpants over these tights. My default snowshoe clothing is the same.

When I'm not active I add a puffy layer between the tights at the pants. This will get me down to about 0F in relative comfort (given good boots).

What they are good for

Here's the key. They are really not very warm alone. If you want them for serious warmth you really need to block the wind somehow. Even if they are soaking wet they are still pretty warm (as demonstrated by that snowcave trip) if something is blocking the wind. I think of them kindof like a wool sweater, but with way less wind-blocking ability.

No doubt had I gotten wool way back then I'd be extolling the virtues of wool tights. I really prefer my clothing to be biodegradable, which these aren't. That said, Jess has been through a couple of pairs of tights in that time. There's no question that these last longer than most of the wool tights available.

Will I buy them again

Probably not.

Although these have been amazing, when they wear out I will almost certainly try something more biodegradable... I.E. something wool. I expected that that would occur several years ago actually, but they are still going strong. Of course, if the wool doesn't doesn't work I'll quickly be back.

Can you get them?


Exactly what I got doesn't seem to be available anymore. Here's something that I'm pretty sure is sufficiently close though. Another similar pair is linked from our gear list:

Under Armour Men's UA EVO ColdGear® Compression Leggings


Great tights for a lot of situations, good as the base component of a layering system. They last a long time. They're not biodegradable. They are warm when wet. They're Mostly useful with pants over them (which is why I have so few useful photos).

Why do people buy pants that are waterproof *and* insulated? Occasionally the convenience seems worth it, but it's so much less flexible. Seperating the layers I can throw puffy pants in between the two layers, or swap the outer layer between wind and rain pants, or even just some tough 5.11's, or wear them alone if that's just right. Doing that I end up with way fewer pieces of clothing, which means less stuff to push around and choose between when packing, and a lighter pack in the end.


The most ethical meat

Eating roadkill... Gross right?

It can be, but it can also be the most ethical possible source of some of the best meat you'll ever eat... for free. While you're at it, you may want to grab a skin or fur too.

The catch? You have to learn about diseases in your area and watch for them, and it's often (but not always) illegal.

So, we've got 3 real issues. 1) how do you avoid icky meat? 2) how do you avoid getting sick? 3) how do you make it legal?

WAIT WAIT! Don't leave yet. Remember, this animal is already dead. You don't have to tackle an *entire* animal (like the photo below). The animal is going to sit there anyway. You can just take what you think you can deal with, and use. A foreleg, for example, is managable and very easy to remove.


Before I continue let me say that I'm not a doctor, a butcher, or a game processor. I have no credentials in this area whatsoever except having studied a bit and eaten some meat. Like basically everything we talk about in this blog understand the risks and weigh them yourself. Do your research and due diligence, and decide what risks you are okay with.

Avoiding icky meat

There's some basic rules. First, there's bad meat and there's icky meat. I've heard of people eating some pretty scary stuff, green, full of maggots, etc. Raw meat tends to grow things that die easily when cooked. So, don't worry if it's not icky it's almost certainly edible. But... that said, EEEEWwwwww!... The ick factor matters to most of us (myself included). So, how do you tell how "old" it is?

It's not actually age that matters. Meat that's properly stored can be good for a long time. If you were to store meat, you'd do it in the cold. So what indicators can you use to tell if it's turning

- Rigormortis. Contrary to popular belief rigormortis kicks in a little while after something dies, and goes away in only a few hours. It goes at the same rate as the meat goes bad, so it's a great signal to use. Rigormortis is usually a sign that the animal is still well within edible ranges. So, if an animal is soft it's either newly dead, or has been dead a while.

- Eyes. Eyes are initially clear, then they cloud over, then clear again, then they are eaten by birds.

- Temperature. Keep the weather in mind of course, sun, material the animal is sitting on. But temperature can be useful if your other indicators are saying it might be recent.

- Fur. Think about the weather. Does the fur all still look absolutely perfect, or does it look just a little dirty. A good healthy wild animal will look emaculate prior to death. So if it's not it's either gotten mussed since then, or the animal wasn't healthy. Either way you might not want to eat it. Note that fur falling out indicates a pretty old kill... likely older than you want to deal with.

- Bloating. This actually doesn't work at all! Deer for example seem to bloat pretty randomly, it's generally slower in cold weather and faster in hot, but sometimes it can be days before they bloat, and sometimes they bloat within minutes of death. Surprisingly, it's not an indicator of much but the possibility of the stomach exploding on you (yeah... eww). If you don't like that idea, just stay away from highly bloated animals - or maybe just take the backstrap or a foreleg.

- Animal damage. Holes poked in the side, eyes plucked out, maggots. Keep in mind that animal damage is likely to introduce parasites as well.

- Circumstances. Given that this is here, this animals behavior, etc. When did it likely die? For example racoons are diurnal. If you find it midmorning it was probably hit that morning, or the previous evening. Use the other signs to tell which.

Avoiding getting sick

These rules are really the same as for hunting.

- Know your area and game. That's the most important point. Research the game you are likely to run into beforehand, and figure out what diseases run in your area. Chronic wasting? Trichinosis? Find out what the signs and relative danger of those diseases. Using that, figure out what game you are willing to take. Maybe it's not worth the risk for some species in your area, or maybe it's easy to identify a healthy vs. a sick individual so a disease isn't a big issue.

- Next, I simply don't eat unhealthy animals. When we find roadkill, if it doesn't look like that animal was in the pinnacle of health prior to death, we don't eat it. As we gut it we also look at the organs like the liver, for general health.

- Lastly, just in case, I use gloves. We always carry nitrile gloves with us in the truck, both for medical and animal kill use. There are a lot of blood-born pathogens, and other parasites, that are nullified by cooking. Given that, basic bodily fluid isolation practices seem worthwhile. 

Avoiding breaking the law

This is where it gets tricky. To be clear as I live in the U.S. that's what I'm writing about here.

Last summer for example Jess (and myself while I was visiting) were covered by her instructor's Washington roadkill license she got for teaching. In some places if you hit an animal and you call the local cops they'll check it out and often let you take it. In other places they'll let you take things you find as well if they come look at it first. In a few places you can even get a license to take roadkill. But... in some places there is no way to take roadkill legally no matter what.

Check your local laws and see if you can figure out something. If you choose to ignore legality that's your own business, and not endorsed here.


Consider the risks, educate yourself and make up your own mind.

Regardless it's hard to argue with the ethicality of eating something that has already died, and where your use is highly unlikely to influence the deaths of other animals. To me, using an animal that has died anyway is a way of respecting that animals life. The more I can use, the more I respect it. At the same time though, recognize that what you leave is not "wasted". It will be used by birds, mammals, and insects and plants, to continue and enrich their lives.

As a last note, let me pass on a little tradition. The folks who taught me how to do this like to share windfalls. So, once you are comfortable I would encourage you to share this meat (with appropriate risk disclosure) with other's. It's hard to use an entire deer for example, and the help in butchering is nice as well. If all goes well maybe you'll share more than this one animal.


Surviving a hospital visit

You may wonder why we haven't been doing quite as exciting things lately.


Well, around Christmas Jess had a medical emergency. She had a spleenal hematoma, basically a blood filled cyst on her spleen, apparently due to trauma. This also seems to have caused a secondary blood infection which is actually what we took her in for originally, a fever of 107. After a couple of hospital visits they figured it out and drained the hematoma of about 2 3/4 liters of fluid. It was so huge it was pressing on her heart. Shortly after she was sent home on IV antibiotics and with the drain still in place. Both have finally been removed now and she just isn't allowed to "bounce" for 3 months according to the doctors. No running, offroad driving, etc. But, she's basically back to normal already, no long term complications expected, and she gets to keep her spleen, yay! If you're curious, the spleen is part of the immune system, so it's a nice thing to have.

So, that's the news part. Now, in this process we learned a lot more about our medical system. For one, no matter what people say, the medical system is extremely valuable. Jess is extremely healthy, and does everything right. Apparently she fell causing the hematoma. There's no way we could've safely drained her at home, and with the level of infection full scale commercial antibiotics were very much called for. It was bad enough that at one point they had her on Vankomiacin, which as it turns out, is one of the major backup antibiotics of last resort, one used for highly resistant staph for example. It's also crazy toxic to humans and makes you pretty sick itself, happily after they finished the cultures she could be taken off it.

Surviving a hospital visit

Get basic medical training

Jess quickly learned to tell just about everyone she talked to that she's an EMT. Once she did they often actually relaxed when trying to explain things. They could just use the words in their head instead of trying to simplify and use normal terms. She also used the jargon herself liberally to encourage them to.

There are two reasons jargon is important. Once they know you are technical in the area they know you are likely to react as a medical professional, rather than a patient. Second, the jargon is far more precise, and allowed Jess and the doctors to communicate quickly and efficiently..

I wouldn't try and get an EMT just for this purpose, it's too much work just for that. But I would recommend getting a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). It's not quite as good, but still gives you the basic terminology, and it'll help you get to the hospital in time. Even though Jess is an EMT she was so sick that I ended up making a lot of calls. The evacuation criteria I learned as a WFR were useful even in the front-country as they gave me lines to say "No, this is bad" and stop trying to rationalize not going to the hospital.

Keep asking questions

Make sure you know *everything* they are doing. Every medication you take. Every procedure they do. Understand what they think is going on, and what the other possibilities are. What are the other options besides what they are recommending. If it goes poorly what happens then?

This is especially true if you won't be conscious, or all there. Jess was quite adamant that she wanted to keep her spleen if it was at all possible. She told the doctors this, but also checked in when they did the drain procedure, asking what happened if her spleen started bleeding out, and how much they would do "on autopilot" that is, before she had a chance to be fully conscious again and tell them what she wanted.

Usually all of this didn't matter, but sometimes it did. Frequently doctors didn't know exactly what was going on, or what other people had told her, so being the center of information can be useful. She frequently corrected doctors as to what her status was, what her diagnosis by another doctor was, or other critical information about what was going on.

In fact, in one case she went against the recommendations and self-transported from one hospital to another. We drove her. She asked a lot of questions, and they couldn't give her any good arguments why she shouldn't. After some consideration she concluded that she would get help faster if we self-transported as non-emergency transports are the lowest priority for hospital companies. We moved her that same day and as a result they were prepping her for procedures by midnight that night.

Be pushy

This ended up mattering a lot more due to Jess looking quite young and being female. In general there were no issues, but some of the doctors required her being pretty pushy to really get all of the data and all of the answers.

In the first hospital, Jess was sent home and neither Jess or I was happy with their diagnosis. It just didn't make sense. We knew she had more than a simple infection, yet we let them send her home anyway. Had we pushed harder we could've avoided a second ER visit, a couple of days of unpleasantness, and her problem getting as bad as it did. If you think they're diagnosis is wrong say so, and explain why.

One of the more interesting instances involved everyone being wonderful actually, but Jess hadn't eaten since midnight due to a planned procedure. Their were many doctors on her case as it was an interesting one, and they were debating about what to do. Doctors came in occasionally to tell her what their plan was, and invariably got paged about new information and new plans. This was all due to everything working right, the doctors all debating and considering deeply, and yet pushing to make progress soon. The problem was, Jess had barely eaten for over a week, at some point her blood sugar was crashing. She started pushing really hard on the nurse to get the doctors to either let her eat, or commit to a procedure. This resulted in them settling on the procedure, but swapping her saline solution for a glucose solution for one bag of IV fluid - so she'd be okay for the procedure.

Know your body

Jess' blood pressure runs a touch low, her temperature runs a touch low as well, but she gets fever's at the slightest provocation, almost any stress. This was really important to know and pass on to the doctors, to explain what her baseline was. No the slight fever doesn't mean she's fighting an infection, and similarly low blood pressure doesn't mean her heart is having trouble. During the procedure her skin got blotchy due to elevated blood pressure from the pain. The nurse got really nervous and Jess had to explain that that wasn't an allergic reaction, her skin just does that when her blood pressure spikes.

Remember that you can refuse treatment

This is a big one. You can always say no. During the Vankomiacin, which was inflaming her veins really badly, one of the nurses actually reminder her of this. Jess had planned to refuse the next dose, but they canceled it due to a culture coming back negative. She never had to, but this is a power you have. In particular if a doctor or nurse is pushy or doesn't want to explain, you can always say no until they explain to your satisfaction. Jess got a lot of encouragement actually from the nurses for her dogged push to really understand what was going on. So don't be mean, do it politely, after all these people are trying to help you, but realize that asking and pushing for answers is your job.

Get to a good hospital

Lastly, Jess started at a little local hospital. It was pretty mediocre overall. The medical director was from Infectious Disease, and was really cool, but her other doctor really didn't want to explain things in detail, and didn't understand Jess doing things like rejecting pain medication because she wanted to know if the pain got worse.

Once that hospital decided they couldn't handle her she transfered to UVA. They were absolutely amazing. She slept better at night because they tried to keep it quiet instead of emptying the trash at 1am. Her bed didn't shake continuously (since it didn't need to, she could shift herself easily). The doctors explained things and had Jess direct what happened. Progress was made in hours upon arrival while it had taken days at the previous hospital. Their radiologists could tell orders of magnitude more from the same MRI and CT scans than the ones at the other hospital could.

If what you need is a hospital now, go to one, but if it just doesn't seem good look at transferring - especially to a teaching hospital like UVA. After this experience, for something that can wait, I wouldn't hesitate to drive several hours to get to a better hospital.


Store 2.0

Sorry about the previous revision. Amazon's 3'rd party store system is WAY worse than I expected. So, I threw it away and built a new site myself.

The same philosophy for the store stands: About store.

Currently it's the same content, but this opens the opportunity for non-amazon related links, and we're really excited about being able to build a more complete gear list of our favorite stuff including non-affiliate links.

You're regularly unscheduled posts should be returning soon as well. Thanks!

UPDATE! The Gear & Book lists now contain a number of items from other locations like Gossamer gear, MLD, and feathered friends.


Books, and website revamp

We've added a new section over at the store. Take a look at our suggested reading list: BOOKS!. Of way more value than any gear we could recommend is information.

We've revamped the store a bit with some new CSS, so it's prettier and more usable. 
 You may have noticed I've been working on a new look for our website as well. Feedback is welcome. Thanks!

Review: Keen Bleecker Lace CNX shoe

A while ago my beloved Merrell Gloves wore out... nooooo! Here's my review of those shoes. http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2012/03/review-merrell-tough-glove.html

I loved them and would simply get another pair, but Merrell has stopped making any leather versions of their minimal models at all. So, as mesh shoes are not an option for me for reasons like grass seed (see http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2012/07/grass-seeds-and-burs.html) my search began anew.

I was looking for a pair of all leather boots with no lining and found myself in a Keen store. It turns out they've joined the minimal shoe craze, and with an all leather unlined shoe of classic design, excepting a modern sole. It's called the Keen Bleecker. I was dubious but I'd been hunting for some time already, so I picked them up. http://www.keenfootwear.com/us/en/product/shoes/men/casual/bleecker%20lace%20cnx/black#

Let me be clear about this review. These shoes are clearly not made for my use-case. That being said I've used many many shoes not made for my use-case and learned a lot from it. I've used dress shoes as running shoes, street racing flats as hiking boots, and hiking boots as running shoes. Surprisingly a pair of hiking boots was one of my favorite pairs of running shoes, and except for upper material racing flats with just a little more traction are basically my ideal hiking boot. With that in mind, here we go.

Short version

What these shoes are is an absolutely classic shoe design with a modern sole. What these shoes are not is a minimal shoe.

For me, sadly, this is just not what I need. I've tried various dress-shoe designs in the past, even those with slick soles, and found them usable for hiking. Usually not really for running due to the drop caused by a standard heal. This is like that but with a modern sole, and no separate heal. The problem? It's a modern sole, and not a "minimal" one.

In detail

The bad

  • The toe-box is terrible. This is a flaw with every Keen shoe. That signature wraparound toe constrains the toe box from flexing. It's also not tall enough at least for my toes. Keen branded socks have extremely thin toe areas and are thicker everywhere else. It seems probable that this is to help compensate for the flawed toe design. It *does* protect your toes from ramming into things, but that's really not a big concern of mine.
  • The sole is too thick and stiff. As mentioned above I've hiked in flat soled dress shoes before, with a heal, and they were pretty okay. These are about that good, with about that much grip, except a little less feeling of where the ground is. Obviously they weren't made as a hiking shoe, but I like to feel the ground in any shoe. They flex better than they look like they would, but no better than say a Merrell light hiker (What I used for most of the AT).
  • The sole has a drop (meaning that the heal is notably higher than the toe). When I first started running toe/midfoot strike this wasn't a big deal for me. As I've done it more and more and gotten a more natural comfortable stride having significant drop in the sole is excrutiating. It shortens my stide by several inches so I feel like I'm running super slow. It makes my knees hurt. And worst, it keeps me from properly absorbing the impact (and bouncing back up) with my calf, because I get stopped short by the heal touching down.

The good

  • Unlined leather! Woot! I really hate lining in leather shoes. It absorbs moisture and makes it so your shoes won't dry. It wears through long before the shoe giving you blisters when you wouldn't get any, it's awful. This doesn't have any. That was one of the big reasons I decided to try the shoes. Even better the leather is shiny, not suede or split, so it repells water. If the shoes were better otherwise I'd rub some waterproofing into them and that feature would be perfect.
  • Wear. They seem to wear very well. I probably won't wear them out because I don't like them, but the leather and glue is very good and after some wear this summer they merely look slightly broken in.
  • Ummm, the heal cup is good I guess? Everything else is kindof lack of flaws. It's a leather shoe, it goes on your foot. It mostly doesn't fall off. 
So, I've just purchased a new pair of shoes - they're in the mail now. We'll see how these fair!