It’s All About the Bars

I’ve done something new while training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I’m trying out lots and lots of bars. Food bars that is. Nutrition is one of the most challenging parts of a long-distance backpacking trip. I struggled finding healthy, easy to pack and yummy food during my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Thank goodness for the proliferation of  protein bars, breakfast bars, or whatever bars. Simple to pack and easy to eat. By the end of my hike, there were a lot more bars in my life than when I started. And that turned out to be a good thing. Then I came home and discovered Thunderbird bars, which are made right here in Texas. Seriously?! I could have had them all along? Aargh.

You can’t imagine how long I would stand around in stores wishing I had better options. Even stuff I liked to eat became loathsome when faced with the same items at every store for months on end. Trail towns are usually quite small and always one of three particular chain stores determined your selection choices. Add in factors like portability, no refrigeration, little prep needed, etc. and your choices became a pathetic array of the same old stuff. Every time I walked into a store to resupply, I searched the shelves trying to find something new. I tried pudding cups and they were okay, but too heavy, and the containers didn’t squish down well once empty. I bought hard cheeses and those lasted a couple days before all the oil separated out. Even trail mix often came in large, heavy bags, or the same four mixes in snack bags.

All that time I could have enjoyed a dozen DIFFERENT flavors of Thunderbird bars, if only I had known about them and sent them in my resupply box.

Somehow I missed discovering them last year. Then my wonderful husband put a few in my Easter basket this year and I tried them. Pretty good. Made of real food, too. This summer our local grocery ran a special on them and I tried some more. Yum! I went to their website. Oh my goodness there were lots of different varieties and flavors. Right then I decided to pack a bunch into each of my mail drops for the Pacific Crest Trail next year.

While looking through their website, I found they offered an Ambassador Program and decided to apply. Ambassadors promote the brand and receive discounts and perks for doing so. I thought my experience reaching big outdoor goals as well as motivating others to reach theirs would make me a good candidate for their program. And guess what?! They agreed. So here I am, a newly minted Thunderbird Real Food Bars ambassador. I think it will be a good fit.

Next week, I kick off this ambassador role by hosting a giveaway. Thunderbird bars sent me a mixed box of bars and told me how to set up an Instagram giveaway. Hosting it will be another first for me. So if you are on Instagram, look for the giveaway posted by @lorriegirltx. You might find yourself liking a new kind of bar, too!

Day 44 – Hostel Territory

All along the trail, people open their homes and set up bunkhouses and B&B’s for thru hikers. Most are “primitive” as one owner mentioned, and others are more like quaint retreats. It rained a lot last week while Melynn was with me on the trail, so we stayed in three different ones during her adventure in the thru-hiker life.

Prices range from $5 to $30 for a spot in a bunkhouse or shared room, and usually include shower with towel and a “real” bathroom. Some include cereal breakfast, have a place to do laundry, and/or offer free shuttles to town.

Let me show you some of the differences and you can see how eclectic they are:

Mountain Crossings Hostel at Neal’s Gap less than 30 miles in the trail. Trail Angels came with dinner and the thunderstorm and cold were kept at bay… for us.

Top of Georgia is run by former thru hiker and they clean like maniacs. Bunkhouse was basic, but they had loaner clothes and washed your laundry for you.

We just had dinner at Standing Bear Hostel, as we wanted to put in more miles. It had pizza and beer and a little resupply place. Some hikers sleep in their tree house.

Elmer’s Sunnybank Inn is more of a retreat, with a few rules that made sense, like leaving boots on back porch, no cell phones in common areas, and sign up for dinner by 3 pm. The house smelled fantastic all afternoon as Elmer cooked for us. He’s also a former thru hiker. Dinner and breakfast were fabulous!!

Bob People’s is a former thru hiker and now trail volunteer. He runs Kincora Hostel and hikers make themselves at home whether or not he’s there when you arrive. It’s the first time I’ve gone inside and helped myself to clothes and a towel before showering in a stranger’s home when no one had been there to greet us. It was a very relaxed place.

CeeCee moved the tables in the top photo so seven people could sleep on the floor in a rainstorm. I was lucky and had a bed!

I camped at Boot’s Off Hostel, and still could use their shower, “privy”, kitchen, shuttle, and WiFi plus the cereal breakfast for $10. What a deal!

There are so many stories to tell about each one, the quirky owners of some, the rules, and adventures, but the trail waits and I need to hike on.

Day 27 – The Hitch

Hitchhiking is normal for thru-hikers. Often you arrive just a few miles from town and you haven’t had a way or desire to set up a shuttle, because you don’t know exactly when you will arrive or you don’t want to spend the money. Since timing your arrival at a road crossing is very challenging, many hikers will hitchhike on into town.

There are places where it’s known to be in “easy hitch” which just means that the town is so used to thru-hikers needing a lift, that the people are willing to pull over. Other areas are more challenging for hitch hiking.

When we arrived at Newfound Gap, Mexican Mainer and I were planning to hitch to Cherokee. We had heard there was a transit service from Cherokee to Newfound Gap, but when I had cell service for moment I found out there was not. There were plenty of free shuttles to Gatlinburg in the opposite direction, but we didn’t want to go there. We wanted to go to Cherokee.

We popped up into the gap and found it was a major tourist parking area for day trails and some good views. It was so foggy that day we didn’t really have any views, but as I came over the road a man asked if I wanted coffee and donuts. His name is Ed and he was a trail angel with a car full of wonderful treats and hot beverages!

Our friend Boorah had already been trying to hitch a ride for a couple of minutes. Boorah put his thumb out again and the second Mexican Mainer waved at the same couple in a truck, they immediately stopped.

We convinced them Cherokee was the very next town in the direction they were going and they let us pile into the back of their truck. It was pretty cold, so we bundled up and huddled together for 20 mile drive into town.

It was such a wonderful feeling to catch a hitch so easily and know we would have no trouble going to the town to stay overnight. We needed to resupply and the weather has been really awful the last few days so it was exciting to know we were going to be -in a warm clean bedroom with real sheets and hot cocoa and coffee in the lobby anytime we wanted it. We saw leafless trees whizzing by, winter was still there, and suddenly Mexican Mainer started singing a song of thanks to the great spirit in both Spanish and English. It was beautiful and I managed to pull my cold fingers out of their gloves and press the record button.

When they stopped to let us out we learned they didn’t even realize we were hitchhiking at first. They stopped because they thought something was wrong as there were so many people gathered around that parking area! Once they realized we were thru hiking though, they didn’t mind giving us a lift and had been talking about other people they knew who did long hikes. We spent about 10 minutes visiting with them after, answering questions about hiking and then getting their advice on hotels and restaurants to have stayed at in Cherokee.

When it’s just a short distance, it’s worth asking for a hitch. When you need to be certain of your ride, like I do next Saturday when I going to meet Melynn who is flying in to join me for a few days, then it’s worth setting up a shuttle and waiting a couple hours if you arrive early. Setting up a shuttle is usually not that difficult, but I haven’t managed to set up Saturday’s yet. No worries – there are plenty of shuttle drivers in Erwin and I will be able to get one last minute if I need one.

Coming back from Cherokee took a little longer, but we had two great people stop and give us rides, which took us back and the Baptist Church from another town had just arrived with its shuttle and set up another trail magic spot. So, before we took off on the day’s hike we had more coffee and donuts and put some candy bars in our pockets along with an orange and went on our way.