March 2011

From the Low Gap Lows to the Hiawassee Highs


It’s late afternoon of day # 4

We stroll into Low Gap Shelter after a beautiful 13-mile hike. To this point, all hiking has been done in shorts and t-shirt. I have what could be considered the ginger version of a tan. After four consecutive days of averaging 10 miles up and down strenuous terrain with 35 lbs on my back – I feel surprisingly fresh. I have zero blisters (Hi-Tec FTW). Nature and I are doing a mental love tango. I’m smiling unconditionally.


A day-walker "tan"

Life is good.

Then, just prior to dusk, comes the cold front. After a hurried dinner (pasta + spices = barf) due to not being able to secure a spot close enough to the fire, I’m in my tent by 7:00pm because my Euerka sleeping bag (the anti-hypothermia zone) is the only place where I can retain feeling to my appendages. I can see my breath from inside of my bedroom – and the sun has not yet set. It’s going to be that sort of a night.

Although my body is fatigued enough to induce slumber, the repetitive intake of dry ice is less than conducive for rest. Finally I secure a spot that allows from momentary bouts of sleep: sleeping bag wrapped around my head with a 1-inch gap to let oxygen in, face down to let my breath reflect off of my sleeping pad and let the warm air back onto my face.

Life blows.


After a night of 15-minute naps which accumulated to maybe three hours of sleep, I am confronted with the task of getting out of my sleeping bag to put on slightly damp hiking clothes to prepare for the 15 miles that lay ahead of us for the day. I go from really effing cold to outer space cold when I enter into my layer of stanky wet clothes and my only pair of hiking socks (because I’m dumb) (don’t worry Mom, more are on their way). Although this might sound horrible to the inexperienced backpacker, this is actually good news since the ensuing physical activity is my only escape from the bone chill I’ve been battling the previous 10 hours. I make extra effort to ignore the fact that my rain fly is covered in frost, quickly and sloppily pack up my belongings, and get started with my day.

It only took about 30 minutes of hiking before I’m out of my John Candy hat – and back into my natural state – shorts. Fifteen miles to Tray Mountain Shelter was -again- easier and far more enjoyable than I had imagined. When you enjoy the process it’s not work. My “job” is to walk through the United States’ oldest mountain range. Compared to most, what I’m doing, again, is not work.

Good Badger in John Candy Hat

Good Badger in John Candy Hat

The campsite at Tray Mountain is positioned at the mountain’s summit. The view from my tent overlooks undulating terrain a hundred miles to the east. Although, a little chilly (maybe 50 degrees) the air is completely still – it’s either the most peaceful night we’ve experienced yet, or it’s the calm before the storm.

There's no way a picture could do justice to my bedtime view


Turns out it was the calm before the storm.

Whoop and Badger have 11 miles to our next destination, Dick’s Creek Gap, before we can hitch a ride into the closest town, Hiawassee, to shack up in a hiker hostel for the night. Relative to the previous days, we had anticipated 11 miles to fly by. What we didn’t account for was 1) it being the most intense up and downhill to date, and 2) a downpour, 40 windy degrees, and of course a lightning storm.

Now I don’t have waterproof pants because most of my wet days will be in Virginia where it’s 50-60 degrees and raining. Doing that in full waterproof gear doesn’t allow for heat to escape your body. Essentially you turn into a self-sustaining sauna. On a day like this, however, staying dry would have been a nothing short of glorious. On the uphills, although I can feel my body roasting from the inside, the outside is freezing – I can’t tell what I am. The downhill is cold- only cold. There’s a puddle in each of my boots. I can both hear and feel the heavy slosh with each and every step. I use my Tech4o Trail Leader to give me an indication of how far away I am from the 11-mile mark, but the slippery terrain and increased slopes have done serious detriment to my pace. I stopped one time to urinate, and immediately regretted not using the warm fluid on my own body (just kidding- not really). Just one day ago the miles were flying by. Today, barely creeping.

Finally, after the longest four hour hike of my life – we arrive at Dick’s Creek Gap where we can now finally call the nearest hostel to come pick our miserable asses up.

One problem – turns out there’s no cell service (Hiawassee is 10 miles to the east). Shit. It’s okay though, we’ll hitch into town. Although we have yet to attempt this, everyone has assured us it’s easy as can be.

Problem number two. A group of hikers who had just come in from Hiawassee inform us that all of the hostel and inn rooms are booked out through Monday. Turns out this is the busiest year on the Appalachian Trail to date (I’m assuming this is because everyone was inspired by my AT prep videos), and that no one wants to be outside in cold + rain. The perfect storm for being stranded in a storm.

Whoop and Badger, share the same mindset at this point, “ehhh, fuck it. Let’s give it a shot.” Within 5 minutes, a “trail angel” (a person who delivers “trail magic” – more explanation in a future post), offers us a ride to the Hiawassee Inn – a hiker friendly, low-rate motel. Totally booked. The Holiday Inn is booked solid too. The gentleman at the office desk suggests to give the Ramada a shot. We do. They have two rooms left. At this point our hands look like blueberries in yogurt – stark white with tiny spots of blue. “YEAH, YES, YA WE’LL TAKE IT.”

[This is where I would insert a picture of our miserableness – but I was far too busy expending all of my energy on staying warm and hate.]

We get to our room, dump our muddy crap all over the bathroom and carpet (sorry Ramada), and take a second of silence to appreciate something we haven’t had in almost 24 hours – warmth. I thought the previous hot shower was the best of my life, I was way off. This one was at least a googol (foreshadowing much) times better. The shower-head had eight different settings, none of which were freezing rain. There was free hot chocolate in the lobby, cable and wi-fi in our room, and cheap laundry on our floor. We called a shuttle service aptly named “Gene Shuttles” to see how much a ride to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet (a thru-hiker staple) would be. Gene answers his cell phone:

Gene: “Hello.”
Badger: Stunned by the informal greeting, “uh, ya, hi, is this the shuttle service?”
Gene: “Oh, uh, ya, I can shuttle.”
Badger: Slightly confused, “Cool. How much would it be to Big Al’s Pizza?”
Gene: “Pizza huh? I could go for some pizza. Don’t worry about it, what time do you want me to pick you up?”
Badger: “In 30 minutes?”
Gene: “See you then.”

Turns out Gene was just a super awesome retired guy who picks up side jobs not because he needs the money, but because he’s looking for something to keep him busy. He took us out for an all you-can-eat-pizza buffet that I will never forget, gave us a brief tour of the Hiawassee, and gave us a ride to the grocery store so we could stock up on beer (the next day was Sunday, no beer sales [insert sad face]) – all for free. We got lots of beer. Too much beer.

In a 48 hour span I went from high as a kite, to a miserable cold low, back up to a high equal to Tray Mountain’s summit, back down to an even lower low, and then finally to a state of pure euphoria. Then to a free Don Williams concert – true story (people over 40 and country music fans know who this is).

This monster really is a mental roller coaster- and keep in mind this is just a 48 hour span in the first week of a half year adventure.

I’m loving every minute.

As long as you ask me at the right time.

How Not to Dry Your Socks

Hey team. It’s night number four- it’s 45 degrees inside my tent (I can see my breath), AT&T is granting me 3 seconds of service per hour, and I just pooped in a privy. If that’s not the perfect equation for a trail update- I don’t know what is.

I’m going to keep it brief because typing on my iPhone prompts intense Zach rage and it even more so it requires me to have my torso outside of my sleeping bag (AKA my anti-hypothermia zone).

Lots of trail info to share- but only two quick notes for you today.

1 – So on the AT it’s very customary that you are granted a “trail name”. John got his on day 2, Whoop. When he passes people he makes a high pitched, Chris Berman-esque, “WHHOOOOP” sound to notify others of his presence. I get to hear this several times a day. The best part about this is that he introduces himself as the actual sound effect instead of the word. This is what transpires during almost every introduction:

x 4 more times
“With a “P””
“Oh. Hi Whoop.”

As for me, I decided to go a bit more incognito: “Badger”. “the Good Badger” got Zach and John a bunch of sweet gear- I figured I’d be doing a disservice going in any other direction. I already met a lady, Emily from Maui, who’s a fan of the Good Badger (she was impressed by my ability to bear proof tents). Emily doesn’t have a trail name yet so if you guys can come up with something based on the complete lack of information I’ve provided- she would be immensely grateful.

2 – Last night we got into a small crossing town and decided to treat ourselves to a night of luxury by sleeping 5 people inside a 2 bed cabin. Honestly- I’ve never appreciated the little things more – ever, ever, ever. Last night’s hot shower was the most satisfying 8 minutes of my life (yes, I’ve considered everything).

But I digress….

We had free laundry service (Blood Mountain Cabins are amazing). Apparently I was too excited to get back into clean clothes because when I went to pick up my laundry, my socks were not yet dry. I had been walking around in sweaty, dirty socks the previous 3 days- so I was okay taking them back slightly damp as long as they were clean…

The next morning- the socks are still damp (apparently 35 degrees and darkness makes for bad drying conditions). In need of getting ready to prep for the day’s 11 mile hike- I consult my Seinfeld problem solving skills database and decide to toss them in the oven for a minute at the lowest possible heat.

I step into the bathroom to quickly take advantage of a not freezing cold toilet seat and the smell of a weeks worth of camper feces, and by the time I get out, there’s smoke coming from the oven. This is the result…


Today’s lesson is that Hi-Tec socks are no match for a Low-Tec brain.

I will have some actual AT related content for you in the next post…

Oh by the way- this trail thing kicks a whole lot of ass.

Goodbye, Me.

So I’m leaving for a six month hike.  Today.

And I squeezed in one last guest post at the buzzer.  EHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Jen Friel – a super awesome human, lifecaster, creator of Talk Nerdy to Me Lover, and the one responsible for getting the ball rolling with all of our sponsorship, suggested swapping guest posts prior to my becoming a vagabond.  She’s good at ideas like that.

You can check out mine below:

Goodbye, Me.

The Good Badger’s Final (?) Gear List

UPDATE: I have since successfully thru-hiked the AT!  Who would’ve thought? (see: not most people)  This is what I recommend for an Appalachian Trail Gear List

Today’s task: figure out how to get six months worth of stuff onto my back.

zd total gear

After months of trying to obtain sponsorship from companies, diligent research, pestering The Daily Camel on a near-daily basis, and hours of aimless meandering through REI, I’ve narrowed down my assortment of belongings. This is what it looks like.

I realize that to the untrained eye, the above photo likely looks like chaos. That’s because it is. Let’s break this chaos down a bit, shall we?.

Good Badger clothes image

  • Sock Liners (2 pair) – REI
  • Medium weight wool socks (2 pair) – Hi-Tec
  • Heavy weight wool socks – IceBreaker
  • Bandana (4) – Stolen from friends in college
  • Awesome John Candy hat – North Face
  • Medium weight glove liners – REI
  • Gaiters – REI
  • Short sleeve Capilene 2 Base Layer – Patagonia
  • Long sleeve Capilene 3 Zip-up – Patagonia
  • Zip-up Wool Camp Shirt – IceBreaker
  • Capiliene Boxer Brief (2 pair) – Patagonia
  • Convertible pants – Patagonia
  • Wool leggings – IceBreaker

This is all of the clothing I’m bringing (aside from jackets & footwear) for a 2,179 mile trek. Two pairs of underwear. TWO. I will smell like a swamp creature no less than 98% of time (my current rate is 93).

Socks: Sock liners are worn underneath the wool socks to wick moisture away. Medium-weight wool socks are help to protect your feet, they’re good at not retaining moisture, and take longer to retain a stank. The heavyweight wool socks are used exclusively at camp – something clean and dry to change into at the end of the day and keep your feet warm.

Zip-up: The IceBreaker zip-up will also be used exclusively at camp. Again changing into something dry and relatively clean will help minimize backpacking insanity.

Bandana: You’re probably wondering why if I’m bringing only 2 pairs of undies (yes, undies) why in the shit would I be bring FOUR bandanas? Other than staying fashionably sound on the trail (priority #1), bandanas serve multiple useful purposes including: filtering large chunks of crap out of stream water when filling your water bottle, cleaning dishes, drying tears out of eyes (for John), and probably a bunch of other stuff that I have already forgotten.

(Also you may notice the blue bag in the top part of the screen. It’s a bug net to be worn around my face. Although the Good Badger does not love bugs, bugs do love the Good Badger.)

good badger jackets

My jackets.

The rain jacket is ultra-light weight and will be used primarily during the warmer rainy days. The Hi Tec fleece/jacket combo is my cold weather jacket and will get a lot of use in the first couple months.

Good Badger Footwear

One piece of advice I’ve been offered repeatedly – take care of your feet. I am in extremely good hands (reverse pun?) having the help of Hi-Tec.

Although this is the footwear I will be starting with, it’s not what will be on my feet come hike’s end. AT hikers typically go through 3-4 pairs of boots/shoes throughout the course of the trail. I purposely wanted to start with something a little heavier in the beginning as it serves to keep my feet warmer during the colder months. I will likely be switching to something lighter somewhere near the start of Virginia.

Good Badger Sleep Stuff

I broke in the above items last night by camping out in my friends back patio (cement). I slept like a baby. Like a narcoleptic baby. The Casper bag rocks my world.

good badger tent

Assorted gear[/caption]

  • GoPro camera – so you guys have video evidence of how dumb we are
  • Headlamp
  • 3L CamelBak Bladder
  • 1L Bladder
  • 1L Nalgene (Considering how much shit I’ve gotten for this already, it might be swapped out for a Gatorade bottle)
  • Trowel (to dig poop holes in the dirt)
  • Hiking poles

  • Harmonica (duh)
  • Everyday toiletries (basically chamois cream, toothpaste and condoms)
  • First aid kit
  • Assorted electronic accessories (headphones/chargers)
  • Multi-use towel (Shamwow technology!)
  • Waterproof journal (my tears will roll right off)
  • Assorted cooking supplies (matches/spork)
  • Benchmade knife

  • Backpack – Gregory Z65 (w/ rain cover in blue sack)
  • Compass – Silva
  • (Semi-hidden) blue rope to hang food in trees and away from tent (so bears don’t eat you in your sleep)

The mess looks a lot less intimidating once the clothes are in their stuff sacs

And this is what 6 months of stuff looks like on my back (knife in hand of course).

I haven’t showered in a while. I’m not sorry.

Post Notes:

  • No – I don’t know how much my pack weighs. I need to find a scale. I will get back to you on this.
  • There are still some items that need to be divvied (i.e. mini-stove), some items that haven’t yet been added (i.e. food), and probably some items that I’m forgetting (this is where you can chime in).
  • If you’re an experienced backpacker, and see and glaring mistakes that I’ve made (nearly inevitable) please speak up. I’m looking for feedback.
  • I’m leaving for Georgia this Sunday.
  • Don’t tell John, but I hid a 5 lb. weight in the middle of his pack.

The First 100 Days on the Appalachian Trail

100 days on appalachian trail

My friend- Lauren Lienhard- made a very nice card wishing me good luck on the Appalachian Trail. Instead of being selfish and hogging it all to myself, I made it into a video instead.

In this video, we learn of the radical transformation the Good Badger shall go through in his first 100 days on the Appalachian Trail. From sunny skies and smiles to tears and bleeding feet, this journey of a lifetime may soon be coming to an end.

I encourage all those who haven’t already – to “like” the Good Badger Facebook page as this will serve as the main feed while Zach is on the trail.

How to Prepare for the Appalachian Trail: Drunk Q&A

how to prepare for appalachian trail drunk Q&A image

The premise for this one is pretty simple.

1) You ask questions

2) I drink

3) I answer

A big thanks to everyone who submitted questions.  I’m going to try and squeeze in one last video before I embark, so be sure to like the Good Badger on Facebook and follow me on Twitter to get in on the action for the next one.

If you’re interested in watching the longer directors cut version of this video – e-mail me at theGoodBadger[at]

Lastly, if you haven’t already, watch the other Appalachian Prep videos on: physical endurance, how to build a tent, and diet plan.