Well I am embarrassed to say that I certainly have not fulfilled my resolution to write one blog per month in 2015. I’d like to think that it’s because I’m so busy doing fun and interesting things that I don’t have time to write about them. The truth is, though, that I’m just a bit lazy when it comes to documenting my outdoor activities. I can only try to do better!
This past week I had a great adventure that is worth writing about and if I’m creative enough, I should be able to turn it into several short blog posts. Let me start by saying that the seed for last week’s adventure in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina began back in June when I volunteered to work for a week as a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s SWEAT crew. SWEAT stands for Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail. I don’t know about the “Elite” part but participating on the crew was a fantastically inspirational experience for me. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I volunteered for another week in August.
I’ll write more about my SWEAT crew experiences later because now I just want to let you know that last week I spent four days/three nights backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I covered forty miles of trails, camped in remote backcountry sites and thoroughly enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of early fall in the woods. It’s fall and it’s beautiful out there – so I encourage you to try to get out for a day hike, bike ride or even an overnight camping trip at one of your favorite locations.
The best part about this trip, other than just being out in the woods, was that I made a significant step forward in my backpacking skills. Instead of sleeping in my trusty Big Agnes tent I used my new tarp and bivvy sack combination from Mountain Laurel Designs, an outdoor equipment company that specializes in lightweight gear. MLD is located in Roanoke, Virginia just down the road from my home here in Lexington.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with tarps but in case some of you don’t know what a bivvy sack (just ‘bivvy’ for short) is here’s a photo…
It’s basically a fabric cocoon in which I place my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. When it’s time to go to bed you simply climb in and zip the bivvy up as much as you want to. Most bivvys have netting in the head area so that you can be fully enclosed while not feeling claustrophobic. My bivvy has a half-moon net area and an elastic cord which can be used to suspend the head area of the bivvy from the tarp so that it doesn’t lay directly on your face. The first night out a mouse was trying to get into the bivvy with me so I completely zipped the netting closed to foil its attempts to snuggle up next to me. He was a pesky little rascal!
I was a bit nervous about giving up the ‘security’ of my tent but I wanted to reduce the weight of my shelter system and I also wanted to try out tarp camping – which I feel is a more advanced skill. Well I need not have been nervous because I absolutely loved sleeping under the tarp in my bivvy sack – even considering the mouse attack. It felt much more open than the tent and I had 360-degree visibility which allowed me to keep a wary eye out for bears which are known to visit campers in search of food. The tarp is made of Cuben fiber, the same material used for sails in competitive sailing such as the America’s Cup race. Cuben fiber is very light, strong and translucent so I was able to see the brightest stars through the material. The tarp weighs 7.8 ounces and the bivvy weights 7.5 ounces, so me sleep system weighs 15.3 ounces – less than a pound (not including stakes and guy lines). That’s about two pounds less than my tent! Here’s a photo of my new sleep system…
The weather was great for my trip – cool but not cold and no rain until I started hiking out on Friday morning. I absolutely love the Smokies. There are so many beautiful trails to hike and areas to explore in the Smokies – can’t wait to get back down there!