Teaching, Stargazing, and Testing

T-minus: 174 days

My senior year of college is in full swing, and with that comes lots of stress, work, and TRAIL PREP.

Last week I had the privilege of connecting with a classroom in Warsaw, Indiana. They wrote up a few questions about my hike and I answered them the best I could via Skype call. Convincing a bunch of teenagers that living in the woods for 5 months is cool proved to be a bit of a challenge, but nonetheless they came up with a ton a really unique questions and concerns about my hike. It was also evident that they have been reading my blog which was really nice to see. The class is currently reading A Walk For Sunshine, and learning all about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail– a foreign concept since there are not many mountains around them. Props to their teacher, Jill Jackson, for bringing the trail into the classroom!

Rock State Park, MD

With the beautiful fall colors completely covering Pennsylvania, I have been focusing on my landscape and outdoor photography in preparation for my hike. Since my 22nd birthday was on the 16th, I decided that it was the perfect excuse to take my boyfriend and drive up to Cherry Springs State Park. If you are not familiar with this park, it is one the the only places in Pennsylvania, and east of The Mississippi, that has absolutely no light pollution. This means uninterrupted views of the milky way, and if you’re lucky, the northern lights!!

However… we ended up not being so lucky. Not only did the recent solar storm that brought a huge wave of northern lights to the park clear up, but we were met by a mini snow storm almost as soon as we drove up to our camp site. The storm brought 40mph winds, below freezing temperatures, and a lot of cloud cover. This obviously made star viewing conditions less than ideal, but we stuck through it and waited until 4am to finally see the stars that we drove five hours to gaze at. The break in the clouds only lasted about 20 minutes, but the stars were unbelievable and totally worth it.

FYI, this is what zero light pollution looks like

FYI, this is what zero light pollution looks like!!

All of this has also made me come to the decision that I will (hopefully) be buying a new camera before I leave. The added expense to my thru-hiking budget is definitely going to take some planning, however I want to be able to create the best images possible of the absolutely gorgeous Appalachian Mountains. I also want to get a camera system that is more lightweight and suitable for backpacking and landscape photography. (You can view my most recent work here).
Finally, what’s a camping trip if you don’t test out some gear:

Kelty Cosmic 35 Sleeping Bag

I used this bag all throughout the summer, and I finally feel as though I have used it enough to write an accurate review: Throughout these trips I was toasty warm and very comfortable. In the winter however…. all of this goes out the door. Obviously, being rated at 35 degrees, this bag is designed for summer camping trips, so I will be buying a sleeping bag liner for when it gets colder towards the end of my hike. But overall this sleeping bag is an awesome investment, and I totally recommend it for warmer hikes. It is more than enough covering for the warmer months, and weighing in at 2.65 lbs. it’s relatively light weight. It’s also affordable.

Black Diamond Storm- Headlamp

Shining at 160 lumens, this headlamp is decently bright. I think where it really shines (sorry for the pun) is all the different settings it offers. You have the option to shine all 160 lumens, go into red light night vision, or shine really any amount in between. Being in a dark zone at Cherry Springs, we weren’t allowed to use anything except red light, so I really got familiar with this feature. The red mode shines a lot brighter than expected, and actually works pretty well for navigating around camp. One of the problems I had with this headlamp is that it is super confusing to switch between modes. I had to carry the instructions around with me the whole trip because there were just too many settings and clicks to remember how to get to them all. I’m hoping after a few times using it I will get used to this feature though. The other thing I really like about this lamp is that it’s waterproof up to 3 feet, which is awesome in case of an accidental drop.

In addition, I got a MSR Pocket Rocket this past week for my birthday. I also bought a Sawyer Squeeze filtration system and my pack (an Osprey Aura 65 AG) with my REI membership coupon. I will let you know all about them as soon as I get a chance to test them out!

Right now I am focusing on finishing the semester strong so that I can spend all of winter break hiking! My knee is feeling good, my gear list is almost complete, and my AT savings fund is growing. I am just so excited for May 10th!!

Happy hiking!

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