What Ignited Our Interest In The Outdoors
Believe it or not, we actually met in high school and have been together ever since! That said, our paths to the outdoors look a little bit different. Kevin has always loved nature and the outdoors. His first backpacking experience was chaperoning students on a week-long trip in West Virginia where he built skills alongside his students and became inspired to pursue his own backcountry travel.
After moving to New England, Kathy, who did not identify as an outdoorsy person at the time, started joining Kevin on more hikes and found that she loved the solitude and quiet of being in nature. Hiking the 67 4,000-foot peaks in New England and section-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail together solidified our joint passion for outdoor adventures.
We keep returning to outdoor activities for the mental space that it provides us to live in the present moment, disconnect from the noise of daily life, and fully invest in ourselves. Over the years, we have both cultivated meaningful meditation and yoga practices which are absolutely deepened through our wilderness journeys. Traveling through wild natural spaces just fills us up more than anything else, so now we incorporate trekking into almost all of our trips!
The Frequency & Length Of Our Excursions
Every weekend! We are firm believers that adventuring can take many forms. You don’t have to go super far to experience the benefits of traveling. Living in New England, we drive to the mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont on the weekends to hike and ski. There are so many trail systems to explore.
Additionally, we go on a few “big” trips to somewhere further afield each year, spending anywhere from a few days to a few weeks traveling around.
For example, we spent two weeks walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a month driving across the United States to hike and camp in National Parks, and a little over a week visiting different cities in Morocco. Our next big adventure will be the longest one – we are thru-hiking the entire Appalachian Trail for 5 months!
How We Decide On Our Next Destination
We have a spreadsheet with a long and growing list of places we want to visit with details of how much we think each trip will cost. Before booking anything, we look at how many miles we have from our airline and credit card rewards to see what is most affordable and feasible.
Once we decide on a location and a trip type, we do extensive research using guidebooks and blogs to help us plan our activities. We like to see the top sights and hike the famous trails, but we also like to get off the beaten path when we can. Intentionally including time to explore new places on foot or by bike is a really important part of our planning process.
If there are any novels, articles, or movies about places we are visiting, we like to read/watch those in advance. For us, half of the fun of traveling and hiking is the planning and anticipation!
A Checklist Of Items That We Pack For Our Trips
What we pack and how we pack depends on the type of adventure we are going on. For general travel, a must-have for us is our soft duffel bags with backpack straps. They’ve been a great switch from large rolling bags that can be cumbersome to move around with. We also use packing cubes to keep everything organized in the bag which has been a true game-changer.
Being able to keep our clothing separated into neat compartments makes for much easier traveling, especially since we are often moving campsites or hotels frequently.
For entertainment, we always pack a deck of cards. We love playing gin rummy and cribbage; we’re even bringing a homemade lightweight cribbage board on the Appalachian Trail! Since Kevin has gotten more interested in photography, a camera is also essential on almost every trip.
For hiking and backpacking trips, we have become more minimalist and lightweight, while still allowing ourselves some luxury items. Since we are on our feet all day, carrying everything we need on our backs, investing in high-quality and proper fitting footwear, socks, and backpacks are critical.
Kathy has found that trail runners and toe socks are key to preventing blisters and keeping her feet light. Kevin maintains that a camping pillow is well worth the weight for a good night’s sleep.
We also care a lot about sun protection. Kathy always brings buff and polarized sunglasses while Kevin always packs a sun hoodie, sunscreen, and a hat.
Some Of Our Most Memorable Travel Experiences & Our Bucket List
We’ve gone on some incredible trips of different types over the years. Our first real adventure trip was the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. Since we like to take trails that are a little off the beaten path, we hiked this alternative to the Inca Trail with a local guiding company, SAM Travel Peru.
On our first night, we camped underneath Mount Salkantay glowing in the moonlight at about 15,000 feet of elevation. The next morning, we climbed over the pass, stopped at glacially carved lakes, made our way down into the jungle, and slept at a campground that was just somebody’s yard in a small town. Exploring different landscapes and cultures through hiking really sparked a love for international adventure and backpacking.
Since then, we’ve biked through Vietnam and Cambodia, walked the Camino Primitivo and Camino Fisterra in Spain, thru-hiked California’s Trans-Catalina Trail, and have so many more treks on our bucket list. Up next is thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail! That’s a bucket list item that we’re excited to attempt starting this summer.
Beyond that, we have way too many adventures to count on our bucket list, which keeps life exciting. Our biggest hiking ones are the Tour du Mont Blanc (we had to cancel this trip in 2020 due to COVID), the W Trek through Torres del Paines National Park in Chile, the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route in Japan, the Dolomites in Italy, and the GR20 across Corsica.
Our adventure trip bucket list includes visiting Tibet, South Africa, Antarctica, the Galapagos, going on a safari, seeing the Northern Lights in Finland, and campervanning through Iceland and New Zealand, to name a few!
Why We Started Our Blog
When we first started hiking and putting together our own travel itineraries, we found reading other people’s blogs super informative. We wanted to pay it forward and write a blog that would help other travelers and adventurers now that we have some knowledge and tips to share.
Our blog is a place for us to record our impressions of the cities and natural places that we explore on foot and offer some information for like-minded travelers. We include detailed trip itineraries, travel tips, reflective travel pieces, gear recommendations, hiking trip reports with stats and turn-by-turn directions, poetry, and artwork. Since we are both visual learners and creatives, we also include a lot of pictures to help orient hikers and travelers. We recently launched an art shop on our site where people can purchase prints of photographs we’ve taken along the way.
We named our blog Trekking Sketches because it encapsulates the essence of what we love about traveling: physically moving through space while sketching images, thoughts, and poems about how we experience the world around us. Really, we just love sharing our experiences and helpful information with our friends, family, and community of adventurers.
Meeting New People & Exploring With Them
When we were in Vietnam, we had a cycling guide for a few days between Hue and Hoi An. Our guide, Vu, invited us to have dinner with his family at a local restaurant after his official “tour guide hours.”
The two of us hopped on the back of his motorbike and went to an outdoor restaurant where we shared a meal with his wife and children. The restaurant was just a couple of tables in a courtyard. We could see the small kitchen where our food was being prepared. Vu ordered for us and we felt like we were just enjoying dinner as locals. The food was incredible and more importantly, this experience gave us a much better insight into daily life in Vietnam and was a highlight of our entire trip.
In terms of meeting new people, when we were walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, we could not believe how quickly we built a community. We walked The Way alone during the day, but once we got to an Albergue (pilgrim hostel) in cities and small towns each afternoon, we shared drinks, dinner, and conversation with pilgrims of all ages and from all around the world.
Simply by sharing the experience of hiking the Camino, we all had something in common which made it really easy to form friendships.
True story: we met one woman along the Camino who decided to take a bus with us and bypass one section (we were on a tight schedule). We saw her once more in town, but not again after that. Months later, she reached out to us and said that because she decided to change her plans and take that bus with us that day, she met the love of her life and ended up walking with him for the rest of her Camino. A couple of years later, she told us that they got married. If that doesn’t highlight the incredible reaches of the Camino community and the value of meeting fellow travelers, we don’t know what would! You just never know what impact you may have on people along the way or what kind of impact they will have on you.
One Of Our Most Exciting Outdoor Experiences
We’ve had so many exciting outdoor experiences, but one that stands out most is hiking Katahdin in Maine via the Knife Edge Trail to complete the list of the 67 4,000+ foot mountains in New England (NE67). This is an infamously dangerous route that traverses the spine of an exposed ridge with sheer drops on both sides - hence its moniker, “Knife Edge.” With the winds whipping across the open terrain and clouds rising from the valley below, we scrambled along, literally crawling in some sections for security. At a section called The Chimney, we had to downclimb a rock face into a cleft in the ridge and then climb almost vertically up the other side.
Needless to say, there are dire consequences for slipping or falling along the Knife Edge and we thankfully stayed safe on our feet. The hike was challenging, beautiful, strenuous, scary, and rewarding all at once. Making it to the summit and completing the NE67 were both huge accomplishments and we’ll remember that day for the rest of our lives.
Safety Measures We Take Before We Start Our Excursions
We always tell emergency contacts our travel plans and give them an approximation of where we will be and when. We are very clear that there will be many times we are unavailable or choose to be disconnected (especially when hiking), but it’s important for us to have someone we trust ready to call in a rescue if we don’t check in as expected.
While hiking, we carry the 10 essentials and purchase a hike safe card that supports search and rescue operations. Since we do a lot of hiking in unpredictable winter conditions, we also add extra safety gear to our packs during the winter months. We know that we might need to survive a night on the mountain if things turn for the worst, so we bring an emergency shelter and insulation to ensure we won’t freeze if caught out there!
Major Challenges That We've Faced & Our Plan For The Next 5 Years
Hiking and traveling together are our top priorities in life, but it can be difficult to find the time and resources to actualize all of our plans. Our most immediate travel plan is to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail starting in June 2022! We are taking 5 months to walk the 2,200 miles that stretch from Georgia to Maine.
Over the next five years, we hope to do a combination of international and domestic travel in addition to backpacking trips. For international trips, we are looking at a few of our bucket list items already mentioned such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, the W Trek, the Kumano Kodo, and maybe a safari in South Africa.
For domestic travel, we are primarily interested in exploring trails and National Parks in the American West. High up on our list are hikes like the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier, the Colorado Trail, and the John Muir Trail as well as National Parks such as Olympic, Crater Lake, Big Bend, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. We’d love to hear some recommendations if anyone has them for us!
GAFFL In Our Words
Meeting like-minded travelers can be so rewarding, but isn’t always easy. We often wish we had more connections with others who share a passion for adventure. GAFFL connects people so you can find travel partners and build that community of adventurers.
With our current priority being backcountry travel, we use Gaia GPS for navigation and route tracking. We also use FarOut Guides (previously known as Guthook) for intel on long trails like the Appalachian Trail.
Our Advice To First-Time Hikers
We would advise travelers to seek a balance between planning their itinerary and remaining open to change. Plans are of course essential to anchor your trip around a place to stay or a key travel date, but the unexpected experiences that arise along the way are not to be missed! We also recommend walking, biking, or taking public transport if you can to have the opportunity to discover the unexpected in between planned itinerary stops.
When possible, we would recommend that travelers use local guides and companies. Many of these are run by families with deep local knowledge and connections that will make for a more authentic experience. We were so grateful for this when traveling in Morocco because our guides sent us on local tours at each stop of our itinerary that we never would have found on our own.
For thru-hikers, we’d say it’s important to plan some logistics, but we expect to take much of it as it comes and adjust as needed. It’ll be part of the experience to figure things out as they unfold, but we’ll have the resources to plan along the way with maps and guides like FarOut.
Also, when you are out hiking, you will see people with all different types of fancy gear who have different ideas of what the thru-hiking experience should or should not be.
Remember, it is your hike! As long as you have all the gear to keep you safe and you are not negatively affecting the environment or other people’s experiences, you do you.
Want to stay in a hotel for a night? Great. Want to hike 25 miles in a day? Great. For some time, Kathy felt some imposter syndrome while hiking, but continues to remind herself that we all belong out there regardless of how much experience we have!
Things We Wish We Knew Before We Started Traveling
We wish we’d known that it’s ok not to see and do everything. Sometimes you need to prioritize depth over breadth! Now, we know that the most impactful experiences are those in which you fully immerse yourself, which can take a lot of time and may not be conducive to checking off tons of items on sightseeing lists.
One lesson we’ve learned is that you don’t always have to go to a restaurant for a meal. Picking up some food from a store or market and eating a picnic in a park or natural space is a great way to experience a city or other travel destination. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive if you’re on a tight travel budget!
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