Groundbird Gear

cooper pond-1me and cooper portrait-3Thru-hikers come home changed. Almost all of us struggle to re-establish to “full-time town life.” As one of Powder River’s friends says, “You get in your car (a box) go to the store (a box) and then come home (a box). This is a very strange feeling after 5.5 months of living OUTside the box!

Powder River and I have had some really great times since my SoBo completion of the A.T. We got married, and this is really great 🙂 We got a dog and he has changed our lives. We went on our first great road trip West (with the dog) last summer and look forward to round two this summer. We have been on some short overnight hikes and more importantly have introduced several friends, including my mother to backpacking. We of course long to do a long distance hike together, hopefully with the dog (which trail you ask? Maybe the Long Trail in VT…). Which brings me to my next adventure: Groundbird Gear.

When we got our dog Cooper we soon bought him a pack so he too could enjoy carrying his food down the trail and become a gear nerd like us. Problem was, the pack was very heavy and massive on his skinny body. The pack itself with the hiking harness weighs 3 lbs! Our hiking packs actually weigh less. And so I began my mission to create for Cooper a lightweight pack. This has now become a full-time mission on behalf of other hikers whom also hike with dogs.

We bought a really sweet sewing machine, a Juki LU 1508. I have been cranking out the pack designs for about 6 months now. I am currently working with product testers who are on trail right now and are helping me to improve the design. I launched the website last month. You can buy one! All the packs are custom built to your dog’s measurements and pack+harness weigh around 1 lb.

Some of my product testers’ blogs:

This is a great adventure and I look forward to each new step as a business owner. Thanks for joining me and checking out my website:

20140501packs0005pack ranch-1betty-2custom made dog hiking pack


Frozen South

We enjoyed, as promised, many cold days in the woods. Our coldest night was well below freezing. We got water from a spring and it starting freezing right away in our water bottles! One of my friends had a story about being near hypothermic one night because it had been raining during most of the day and then the temp dropped and it was snowing. His clothes were wet then it got really cold and he had no dry layers. I’m not sure what he did, other than I know there were some friends at the shelter that night who helped him out.

Dealing with winter conditions is probably the number one reason a southbound thru-hike is ranked as more difficult than a northbound hike. (Although some nobos do face similar conditions in early spring). So, how do you deal with the cold when you can only take what will fit in the pack?

Jeff and I believe the number one safety measure for the cold is to have a sleeping bag that is warm enough. He decided that I should take his 5° bag and he’d use my 15° bag. Also, another huge consideration is the warmth of the sleeping mat. I quickly learned that my inflatable mat really is no better than a pool toy: it has no insulating properties whatsoever. Instead of buying a new one (my top pick for the winter mat costs nearly $200), we supplemented mine with a ridge rest mat that was already in our repertoire. As for waking, the only significant change was switching to goretex running shoes. I was able to find my exact running shoes in goretex (waterproof). The goretex is a pain when it’s warm, because your feet sweat. But on those several days we had cold rain or snow (or ice), they were an improvement to the mesh shoes.

We’d have to remember to keep our water bottles close to our sleeping bags so they wouldn’t freeze solid. The wet shoes have to go in a plastic bag and in the sleeping bag at night so they won’t be frozen when you get up in the morning. Jeff took the season as an opportunity to buy a “winter” backpacker stove. Fuel canisters don’t do well in freezing temperatures because the gas turns to liquid and then won’t burn. This new stove enables you to turn the can upside down so the liquid will flow through a hose that is routed past the flame. The fuel turns to gas in the hose.

Even though we did experience some snow storms, it would only be for one day and not enough would accumulate to pose a problem. In the south there are many hostels and we took advantage of staying indoors when we had the opportunity.

Sound fun? Actually, winter can be stunning. We had a couple of hoar frosts: when the humidity/mist/fog freezes on everything. Every branch, every blade of grass is covered in ice. From an overlook, the upper elevations are perfectly white, while the valleys remain untouched. Some of my favorite ice was the strands that grow up from the ground in clusters. They’re like ice grass. Also the crunch of the frozen ground is very satisfying. Did winter ever make me wish I was a Northbounder? NO!

November 22

Jeff rejoined me and Valerie at Watauga Lake, south of one of our favorite trail towns, Damascus. He slack packed us a couple of small sections and then Valerie left for Thanksgiving a couple of days later. Jeff and I had a lovely stay at Conney’s Greasy Creek Friendly hostel on the 21st. Conney likes to paint the bottom of thru-hikers feet and stamp their prints on the checkerboard floor in her kitchen. She says, but only the ones who will finish the trail. That means mostly all southbound prints decorate the floor, since we are near the end of our journey when we get to her place (close to Erwin, TN). Jeff of course successfully completed the trail as a nobo, and would be one of the only northbounder prints if he succumbed to the inking.  She asked if we’d like to leave our mark on the same square together, or separate. I laughingly said to Jeff, “I don’t know, same square? That’s a long commitment! We’ll be here together forever!”

From Conney’s house we had a lovely hike through leaf barren hills. Our biggest climb of the day was up Unaka Mountain. The peak was covered in the most magical pine forest. These pine woods are common on the southern high peaks. Even on the windiest day, when you enter one, it is still and peaceful. All of the boughs and needles block out most of the light. The forest floor has no undergrowth, only fallen needles, which make for a spongy walking path.

From the top we started to look for cell signal. We had decided a couple hours earlier that instead of camping out that night (as we’d planned, with another 8mi walk in the a.m.), we’d see if the closest hostel could pick us up from a road crossing. So we’d spend the night at the hostel and leave early the next morning for Thanksgiving at the Beach. Jeff seamed really excited about this idea, actually, I couldn’t really figure out why he was so excited, even jumpy.

From the peak (and after successfully placing our call to book the shuttle) we descended down many switchbacks. It was so windy, my cap blew off and nearly hit Jeff. The sky was really moody. Dark clouds swirled and trekked across the sky, threatening a terrible rainstorm. I was pretty anxious to move fast and not get dumped on. We came to a grassy clearing and I stood awestruck on our first open view South — of the dramatic Tennessee mountains, somewhere in the distance were the Great Smoky Mountains.

I turn around to find Jeff had dropped his pack several yards behind me and came running over. “Look what I found! Some water!” He is constantly trying to get me to drink more water. I didn’t really want to drop packs and hang out up there, because the storm seemed to be on its way. But, it was a really awesome view. He leaned into my ear and whispered, “will you marry me?” I said “Of course!” And all of a sudden he was on one knee and busted out this giant rock to put on my finger.

So, we’re getting hitched sometime in October. Outdoor wedding with pig meat.

The Longest State on the AT complete!

(Note:  This post is written by Marie but I have added some captions to go with the photos.  Also the pictures are a mix of hers and mine, but mostly hers with more to come from the last part of the state.  I will update the post with those pictures.  Can you believe Springer Mountain is only three states away!?!  -Jeff)

The view from Blackburn Trail Center

I’m happy to report that I’m walking out of VA and into TN tomorrow! This is the longest mileage state on the trail at 550 miles. There is so much to mention, as it has also been one of my favorite states, next to Maine.  We sobos really have the timing right for the fall colors, it was amazing. And now they have all blown off the trees and it truly looks like winter. So far, the weather has been surprisingly warm. Yesterday we were sweating climbing  Whitetop Mountain. We were worried about staying on top of Mt. Rogers (VA’s highest peak at 5,729 ft) and were planning on not staying at the shelter up there, but decided to anyway because we knew the forecast was warm! Once again, I’ve really lucked out with the weather. Not meaning to brag or anything, but I’ve had good weather for all the renowned bad weather spots: Katahdin, Mt. Washington, Franconia Ridge, Mt. Rogers. Now, we do have a few more high peaks to go, so here’s to our winning streak!

Jake, Sophie, Mark, Christian and Bobwhite

My journey into VA began with a nice 3 night stay with Powder’s and my friends Redwing and Hopeful at Bears Den. This was the longest continuous stay I’ve had anywhere, it was nice to have the same bunk for 3 nights in a row! Our friends are the caretakers at this hostel, one of the nicest on the Trail. We enjoyed spending some time with them and going to their church on Sunday morning! They are very encouraging and some of my prayer warriors for the trip! During my stay there, I was still hiking during the day without my heavy pack: “slacking packing.” My good friends from Baltimore:  Jake (and Sophie the Great Dane), Mark and Christian came to visit and hiked 8 miles with us! Thanks Redwing, Hopeful, Jake, Sophie, Mark and Christian for an uplifting weekend to start off VA right!!!!

1,000 miles left!

The official sign for Virginia

The view from Bears Den Rocks. Sadly, we didn't get any pictures of Redwing and Hopeful or even Bears Den! My apologies to you both. We will just have to go back!

From there I hiked through the well-talked-about section the Shenandoah National Park. It was very nice. I saw no bears sadly. My friends saw 6 at once. Oh well. We especially enjoyed all the pit-stops for food throughout the park. It is a big tourist attraction, especially during the fall, and there are many opportunities to get “human food” as I like to say. Meaning: food that didn’t come out of a foil package, just-add-water.

My friends T-mello, Coach, Tag and Bogart (formally Effect/Dylan) had a running joke that we were just as much an attraction in the Park as the black bears. It’s true, there are lots of car pull-offs for views. Often, the AT is routed right down the hill from these over-looks. It’s very disorienting because you can hear the voices but it takes a second to figure out they are above us. We look up. They look down. “Oh! there’s a thru-hiker! Look at him/her go!” It doesn’t help that there are signs everywhere “Don’t feed the wild animals.”

My mom was longing for those VA mountains and came up to see us at Loft Mountain and fed us all. Thanks Mom!

Then we entered my favorite spot on the trail, where I’ve done all my hiking: Humpback Mountain, Three Ridges, The Priest to Hogback Gap. Good times. I asked the boys to get a traditional Reeds Gap shot (I plan to put all the past years Reeds Gap shots on Facebook). My hiker friend from Maine and Vermont, Valerie, came to meet me at Hogback Gap. She is now officially my hiking partner! (Trailname Teenie) It’s been amazing to always have someone with you! So I think this superwoman is one of the biggest reasons I keep goin day after day. I have had my moments of realizing how crazy this is, and why am I still walking? But, yes, it really helps to have a friend. My sobo buddies had some grand plans to hike 25mi days everyday (So I said “bye” to them at McAfee Knob). But they had some troubles and Val and I have been ahead of them for nearly 2 weeks. The boys just walked into this library where I’m typing! Yay for friends! Friends make this trip.

The James River Bridge


The trees are preparing for winter

Rush, rush, rush- we skid through the fallen leaves

All day long- swoosh, swoosh, rush, rush, rush, rush

They will stand naked once again this year to bear the cold

By the labor of my hands 

I earned these green leaves of paper that now prepare me for winter

The search for the very best feathers and fur has long since begun

The leaves fly off their branches and layer the path

I’m weighted down more than ever 

With these layers of warmth in my pack

And so we groundbirds march on

Hundreds of miles slip by on our epic journey south

South for winter

For now we’re in Virginia

The bears all around scrounge and root

To increase their weight for the cold

March, march, march

Rush, rush, rush

Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh

The ever-more naked trees

Stand to watch the progress

All the woodland creatures search

High and low to increase their weight for winter

And yes, we found the very best feathers and fur

And then, the first snowstorm!

Tag had a hole in his shoe

And with good timing, we all converged for Halloween weekend! Hilary and Susan

And Happy Camper in her Happy Camper costume!

Funny, this photo gives me a flashback all the way back to Maine...

Ah, yes! The Butterfly Moment, waaaaaaaay back at mile number 30

It's officially a party!

The girls cooked us all pancakes for breakfast.

An important lesson was learned about making pancakes in the woods. That is, don't mix the pancake mix with already hot water

Marie definitely won the Halloween costume contest! The rest of us kind of let her down, as Margot was the only other one to dress up. Marie is the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

"I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time for hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late!" Click for the video!

Pizza party on the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Peaks of Otter in the background

A northbounder and a southbounder

The girls! Teenie and Bobwhite

I nearly forgot, T-Mello had a costume too, as the "King." It's really a match! Click the picture for the video!

The iconic McAfee Knob

Having some cAffee

And yay for my amazing boyfriend who continues to shower us with trail magic. We’ll be seeing him the rest of the way to Springer. It’s a plus that he’s really into winter hiking.

Oh, yes! And I must mention the food has gotten better and cheaper since we’ve come into southwestern VA!!! When I came into town today, I got a mess of bacon, 2 fried eggs and a biscuit for $3. Whoohoo for the South!!!!

We have managed to stay in warm places on cold nights. Including my relatives near the Trail: the Twarks (my aunt and uncle Tom and Deb and cousins Emilee, Jessica and Taylor) and the Weavers (my cousin Tracy and husband Robie and their kids: Madison, Erin, Christian, Daniel and Matthew). I wanted to mention everyone’s names because you all were such a big help and encouragement! Teenie and I thank you for the beds and good food!

We also stayed at “The Captain’s.” It’s true, you take a zipline across the creek to get to his house. He actually let us stay in his house and watch Foodnetwork on his bigscreen TV. We ended up running into him and his friends a week later on the trail. They were out for the weekend! Great guy! He really loves Trail Days in the Spring in Damascus and feeds a bunch of hikers at his place every year.

Ah yes, and we really enjoyed the Grayson Highlands and Mt. Rogers. There are wild ponies all over those meadow top mountains. We pet them and Teenie gave them some potato chips and shrieked “THE PONIES!!!!” When we saw them.

So, Virginia was great. I moved on average the fastest I’ve moved yet. Everyone is picking up the pace, because honestly we are so close to being done and so ready to not carry 30lb packs everyday up and down 1,000ft mountains.


Virginia’s Fair Daughters

Hi Everyone,

I have the rare opportunity to be on a computer tonight. My hiking partner Teenie (Valerie) and I were looking forward to “the Captain’s” all day today. He is a trail angel who lets people camp in his yard. Turns out, we caught him at just the right moment and he’s letting us camp out in his house tonight! Hurray! This is especially nice because Teenie and I have committed to getting to Springer (the Southern terminus of the trail) before Christmas. Which means for us no more zero days! Tis the season to hike til you drop. Just kidding. We’re doing pretty good and taking lots of ibprofin! The weather has been good this week and we hope for more of the same. But I will say, with our freak snow and ice storm last Friday, my pack weight shot up with all my super-duper winter gear. That’s right, I’m carrying 3 pairs of gloves and one pair of waterproof mits! No worries, we’re hanging out with our new Canandian sobo friends, Daks and Spoons, a lot. They’ve lived in the Yukon! They know cold! But like I said, we’re doing fine and we’ve had lots of sun!

Virginia is amazing in the Fall! I highly recommend the section of trail from Waynesboro (Rockfish Gap) to Catawba, VA. This includes some great spots including Three Ridges, the Priest, Cold Mountian, Browns Creek, James River crossing, the Thunder Ridge Wilderness, McAfee Knob…. Awesome! And we’ve had some incredible colors!

I wrote a little poem about Fall. Powder River will be posting soon along with my pics. And I think he has some stories also about VA highlights. I’ll probably have little opportunity to blog over the next 7 weeks.

Onward South!

Maryland, My Maryland

Marie is cruising! Currently she’s somewhere in her home state of Virginia, knocking out 20+ mile days and shrugging off dayhikers who point out that this or that mountain up ahead is going to be really steep. Fall is here and there is no more beautiful time to hike! I thought I ‘d look back to my last visit with Marie in Southern PA, Maryland and Harper’s Ferry. This happens to be the closest she came to Baltimore, and also it is full of history! So yeah, of course I wasn’t going to miss it.

Everything south of Boiling Springs in Pennsylvania is really great. This part is called the Rock Maze- basically the entire ridge is crowned with giant boulders for miles and miles, and every now and then the AT meanders through them. There are still a lot of rocks underfoot that make the footing tricky, but not near as bad as north of Duncannon. Marie caught on to the fact that I didn’t hike with her at all through the worst part of PA. She’s on to me!

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park is the new Appalachian Trail Museum, which just opened last year. It is small but effective and it is graced with the very same sign that I stood behind on top of Katahdin in 2008! They replace them every 10 years or so, and the weather really does a number on them. It’s a bit like seeing an old friend for me, and I am happy that it has a permanent home so close to Baltimore.

And a sign from Springer Mountain!! Hmmmm is it weird to take a picture with this sign right now?

Pine Grove Furnace marks the approximate midpoint of the trail, (the exact spot marked with a sign a few miles south) and the tradition for thru-hikers is to eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate. Southbounders are at a disadvantage because the store is only open weekends after labor day, but luckily Marie’s timing was good and it was a Saturday. Now, we had just received trail magic from a wonderful couple who live nearby, who are former thru-hikers. They took us to their house and let us shower and do laundry and fed us burgers. Marie had plenty of time to contemplate what was about to happen at the general store.

Neapolitan, a great strategy! Being a good sport, I ate some ice cream too. About a cup's worth.

Nutrition Facts! 16 servings per box. 120 calories per serving, or 1,920 calories.

She put forth a very valiant effort, but in the end was defeated by the 1/2 gallon of ice cream. To be fair, it was not very good ice cream at all, and it wasn’t all that warm out. But she did some serious damage, eating 1/2 of 1/2 of a gallon!

There was a very nice lady named Barb who ran the general store, and she was very encouraging the whole time. She must have seen thousands of thru-hikers succeed or fail at eating way too much ice cream. Afterwards we were both hungry, so we ordered some cheeseburgers.

The long awaited halfway point! Marie has walked 1,090.5 miles from Mt. Katahdin, and just as many to go!

Pennsylvania still has some rocks in store

We were soon immersed into the most colorful world of yellows and oranges and reds. Every so often you would be struck anew at the beauty that you just have to stop and take it in. It doesn’t get much better!

This shelter has two shelters, because there are two kinds of hikers.

Don't encourage it, Pippin!

At long last, Marie has crossed into the South! She’s home! Now are those who would argue that Maryland is not the South. I wouldn’t disagree, however it is definitely not the North either. And for a Southbounder there is no greater landmark than getting out of Yankee territory. There was a great entry in one of the journals by a thru-hiker that read something like, [When the last Northbounder has crossed into Pennsylvania, and the last Southbounder has crossed into Maryland, then all will be right with the world.] Being Marylanders, we sung a rousing verse or three of Maryland, My Maryland, our state song. It is probably the strangest state song of them all, as it was a ballad written by a Louisiana man in 1861, pleading Maryland to join the Confederate cause. Robert E. Lee’s troops could be heard singing it both during the 1862 Maryland campaign and the 1863 Gettysburg campaign. Maryland never left the union however, thanks to Lincoln having several of it’s secessionist legislators locked up. Here’s some of the best parts of the song:


The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!


Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!


I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
The Old Line‘s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

I think most people find the song bizarre, but being a history nerd, and doing my best to convert Marie into one, I think there is no better song than one that lives so completely in a bygone era.

Maryland has rocks too, they are just more beautiful.

Maryland brings a little bit of Baltimore to the trail!

Raven Rocks

A very good portion of the trail in Maryland is on this old road, and nearly perfectly flat. A lot of history happened along here. The battle of South Mountain in 1862 was fought in three places right along this ridge, and there are countless old settlements, furnaces, charcoal pits, kilns and stone walls still visible.

We decided to treat ourselves to a very fine dinner at the Old South Mountain Inn, a fine dining restaurant dating back to 1732 as a tavern. Walking in soaking wet and stinking to high heaven presents a challenge for both us and the restaurant, but they handled it gracefully and we got the entire sun room all to ourselves. Marie ordered the quail, of course. We took the leftover wine to go!

I had no idea she had her own Brigade! This is at Crampton’s Gap, where the Union Army smashed through at the battle of South Mountain.

The War Corrospondent’s Memorial at Crampton’s Gap.

The C&O Canal, and the last few miles of Maryland. Strangely enough these were the hardest miles of the day, as the crushed gravel path is very unforgiving on the feet. I got blisters for the first time in a very long time, as it had been raining for several days in a row.

The Potomac!!

She was floating on a cloud walking across this bridge into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It is called the psychological halfway point, as it carries more significance in the mind than a sign post. It is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters, the John Brown raid, it’s where Meriwether Lewis got supplies for his expedition, and used to be home to the federal arsenal. And it is absolutely gorgeous!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the headquarters for the entire trail, and it is where thru-hikers get their official picture taken and a record is made of their hike. You can go there today and see that Marie was Southbounder #112 to come through this year!

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church

From Jefferson Rock

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. … For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

– Thomas Jefferson, writing about this very spot from his visit in 1783.

Climbing Everest

I came across a very interesting article recently on the Appalachian Trail site about elevation gain and loss on the trail.  A long time ago I read a statistic about the AT that the total elevation gain for 2,181 miles is akin to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times from sea level!  However, I have never known how accurate that figure really is.

The article is written by Steve Shuman and he apparently spent months coming up with the following data.  The problem is that while GPS driven programs can come up with a computer generated number, this data is based upon what’s called “centerline” data taken from GPS.  This data is not quite accurate because it does not account for very small elevation gains or losses.  That’s where Steve Shuman comes in.  He sat down with every USGS 7.5 minute topographic quad for the entire trail, and actually COUNTED each contour line that the trail rises or falls.  He has come up with a series of tables representing the staggering amount of climbing Marie has been doing!  Are you ready for this?

The first is the total elevation gain: 515,000 feet!  That’s 97.5 miles up, 97.5 miles down.  Or climbing and descending Mt. Everest 18.4 times.  Or… is anybody tired yet?  Let’s look at the tables.

Total Elevation Gain in feet:

ME 69,357.2

NH 52,969

VT 35,802.2

MA 18,761.6

CT 11,094

NY 19,139.4

NJ 11,584

PA 30,955.5

MD 6,421.3

WV 3,027.5

VA 129,103.7

NC/TN 103,577.6

GA 23,362.7


272……..380.8……..North Carolina/Tennessee
173………17.5………West Virginia
160………72.4………New Jersey
217………88.2………New York
329……..161.0……..New Hampshire

So for the state of Maine, which is 286.6 miles long, Marie climbed an average of 242 feet every mile,  or 69,357.2 feet total!  New Hampshire has the highest average elevation gain at 329 feet per mile, while Pennsylvania is the flattest at “only” 135 feet per mile.  Georgia is the second steepest state at 307 feet per mile.  And by the time Marie gets out of Pennsylvania, she will have climbed 249,662.9 feet and hiked 1,125.1 miles.

If anyone is interested in the full article you can find it at