Im not going to lie, I may be a little biased about the Hiker's Highlight this week. Not only is he my husband, honey buddy and baby daddy, he's also an Appalachian Trail section-hiker veteran and my inspiration for hitting the trail. From making his own gear on a family budget, to planning all of our trips to keep us safe and sound, he is a badass outdoors man.
Casey, his best friend (Chris "Snickers"), and pup (Lucy "trash bag") hit the trail in 2009 for two months, planning on section hiking a month out of each year for 5 years to complete the AT.
"Hiking is the most addictive thing I've ever done. Planning, researching and following through with my prep made it even more exciting." - Black Cat
How did you acquire your trail name, Black Cat?
Ive always been bad luck, but my father named me Black Cat because everytime we went fishing, he never caught anything with me. So, when I was out on the trail, and things had gone a little south, the name stuck.
How long did it take you and Chris to finish the AT?
We did it over five years. The first time, 2 months, and the next few years a month at a time. We were lucky to be able to have the time off from our jobs and families, and I was lucky to have a great hiking partner.
What was your inspiration behind hiking?
I fell into hiking when I lived in North Carolina and attended Appalachian State. Chris and I would go out for weekends, then a few days, and then a week. One day just decided to start section hiking! We got addicted to being outdoors and pushing ourselves to see what we could handle.
What was your biggest fear when starting to section hike?
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it. Hiking has always been one of those things that is always more fun when you're done doing it. Feeling accomplished after finishing the trail was all I needed. I found that every year we went hiking got easier, just by having the mental confidence that I had done it all before.
When packing, what was your main focus?
Lightweight items. Every year, I got more obsessed with going ultralight. It was fun to challenge myself with bringing less and seeing what I could get away with in the wilderness. I found that by just focusing on the big stuff I could really cut weight without too much compromise. Ditch the boots for trail runners, spend as much as you can afford on a nice down bag, and try out a single wall tent. I've never regretted carrying 20 lbs when everyone else is lugging 40 up a mountain.
What was your favorite moment on the Appalachian Trail?
Mount Washington. Even before hiking, I had always wanted to hike it. It was 90F and sunny when we started up and 45F when we summited, with a 75 MPH breeze. It lived up to everything I thought it would be!
What was you're favorite state?
New Hampshire. It was by far the hardest, but the most rewarding. After those climbs I felt like I could have hiked anything. Also, as a Southern boy I may have heard some of our Northern neighbors could be less than friendly, but New Englanders were some of the nicest, most down to Earth people I have ever met.
What are your hiking goals?
To teach my son how to hike and how to enjoy being outside, so that we can share that special hobby together (Awwwwwwe). There is a lot of negative stuff going on in the world, but if I can show him how to find appreciation in the small things that mean so much out on the trail, I think that will give him a better outlook on life. I know that my time spent hiking really showed me what can be important when you aren't focused on the rat race of everyday life.
What type of gear have you made yourself?
Sleeping bag, storage bags, a trekking pole chair (see pictures), a lightweight pillow, pot cozies, a gravity filter, and I am currently working on a tent. There is an awesome community of people obsessed with making their own gear, also known as MYOG. When you can't get outside to hike the next best thing is making cool camping stuff! It's extremely rewarding to use something you out a lot of time in effort into as well.
What was your scariest moment on the AT?
Chris and I were stuck in a lightning storm on the forth of July. We just sat on our sleeping pads hoping we weren't going to get struck by lightning. We were above the tree line and it was the first night of our last section hike. You can't see that coming, you just have to sit, cross your fingers, and wait for it to pass.
What trails are you planning on hiking in the future?
I would like to hike the Colorado Trail and the John Muir Trail. I've been really drawn to the Colorado Trail due to the high altitude. It doesn't hurt that my wife lived at the finish of it either.
Any suggestions for first time daddies bringing their little ones out for backpacking trips?
Don't have unrealistic exceptions. It isn't going to be perfect, so be happy that you're able to enjoy your time outside at all! Patience was key the first couple of times. You just need to remember that you're extremely lucky to be spending time outdoors with your child.
Thank you, Black Cat, for being my inspiration and organizer for backpacking. You've opened my eyes to the beautiful outdoors, and couldn't imagine my adventures without you!
End sappy rant.. Thanks for being a badass!