April 28, 2014

Be Sure To Refuel

Last summer on a 14-mile hike, one of my hiking pals became extremely weak and shaky several hours into the hike.  Because of this experience, a recent article in Backpacker Magazine, National Park Guide entitled "How Crucial Are Electrolytes?" caught my attention.   I hope the following information will help you avoid a similar situation.    

Be sure to know the weather forecast before departing on any long, hot-weather hike. 

What are electrolytes?  "Electrolyte is a medical/scientific term for salts, specifically ions. The term electrolyte means that this ion is electrically-charged and moves to either a negative or positive electrode." Here is a list of the major electrolytes in your body:


"Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart, muscle) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Your kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant despite changes in your body."

Dressing appropriate for the heat is also important.  I like to keep the sun off my face and neck by wearing a hat.  

On a long, hot-weather hike, sweat clears away more of the electrolytes than you may realize (especially sodium and potassium). These four electrolytes--sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium--are important to keep fluids balanced, muscle contractions smooth, nerve impulses firing properly, and energy levels high.  

Below are some great food choices to help you stay refueled.  They are readily found in your local super market as well as easily stowed in your day pack:

SODIUM maintains water balance in the cells and regulates nerve and muscle function: salami, beef jerky, sun-dried tomatoes, and pretzels. 

If you didn't include on your grocery list, most convenience stores sell beef jerky. 

CHLORIDE aids in metabolism: salt, spam, summer sausage, peanut butter (salted), and sun-dried tomatoes. Many of your favorite salty trail snacks contain sodium chloride (salt).   

My personal favorite is a peanut butter sandwich made with crunchy peanut butter and topped  with raspberry or strawberry preserves.  Believe it or not, an "Elvis sandwich" made from peanut butter and banana (minus the butter)  is healthy too.

POTASSIUM helps regulate heart function: white beans, dried apricots, packaged salmon, bananas, dark chocolate, and nuts. My personal favorites are bananas and dark chocolate almonds. 

My favorite supermarket, Publix, sells dark chocolate almonds in their produce section. 

MAGNESIUM aids in heart and immune functions and keeps bones strong: brown rice, black beans, pumpkin, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews. 

Who doesn't love Brazil nuts, cashews, or almonds? 

Be sure to drink plenty of water on a long, hot-weather hike, but don't forget to refuel. Hikers who drink a lot of water but neglect to replace electrolytes can suffer from low blood sodium concentration (hyponatremia) which can cause cells to swell (including the brain). If you suspect hyponatremia, move to the shade and eat salty snacks. 

A bladder helps you stay hydrated. 

Most of the resources for this post were obtained through the internet or in Backpacker Magazine. Here is the June 2013 article if you would like to read. 

While I am not a nutritionist or health expert, I do like to be informed before I venture out on those long, hot summer days so I can Keep On Hiking. 

A good choice for dried apricots. 

April 12, 2014

Take the Muir Cure in East Tennessee

Recently I had the pleasure of returning to one of my top five favorite hiking trails: the John Muir Trail No. 152 along the Hiwassee River near Reliance Tennessee. This trail is beautiful any time of the year, but on this particular day, the wildflowers were abundant, the sun was shining, and the dogwoods were blooming. No matter the season, there is no bad time to walk the John Muir Recreation Trail in the Cherokee National Forest. That's why I call it the "Muir Cure." 

John Muir, 1838 - 1914.  (Photograph from http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/people/historical/muir/.)

A brief history about John Muir and how this trail received its name: John Muir was the founder of the modern environmental movement. He wrote over 10 books on the environment and environmental preservation and was the founder of the first group organized to defend the environment, the Sierra Club. In 1867, while living in Indianapolis, Muir was working as a mechanic in a carriage shop and was temporarily blinded by an accident. He fully recovered his sight after one month which no doubt spurred his commitment to his already developing kinship with nature and his desire to see, experience, and understand all of nature he could possibly find.   

Shortly after recovering his sight, Muir rode the train from Indianapolis, to Louisville, Kentucky to begin a A Thousand Mile Walk to the Sea  which was his first formal written work. Muir walked across Kentucky, passed through the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and then across the Ridge-and-Valley of East Tennessee where he passed through the small towns of Kingston, Philadelphia, and Madisonville. Muir continued through Unicoi Gap into North Carolina through Georgia to Savannah and from there to Florida. He then went on to Cuba. The next year Muir went to California, the Sierra Nevadas, and the love of his life, Yosemite. Here is more information on John Muir in East Tennessee.  

Childers Creek trailhead.    

Muir and his work have been honored in many ways. Tennessee chose to honor the man and the place he trod with the John Muir National Recreation Trail located in the Cherokee National Forest. The trail was constructed in 1972 and is 21 miles along the north side of the beautiful Hiwassee River.  

This trail is also part of the Benton MacKaye Trail. 

The western end of the trail starts near Reliance, Tennessee at the confluence of Childers Creek with the Hiwassee River. From here it extends upriver, reaching the suspension foot bridge of Appalachia Power Plant at six miles. It continues to its intersection with the Coker Creek trail where the trail leads north to the 40 foot high Coker Creek Falls. The Muir trail moves from this trail intersection east where it passes Tennessee State Route 68 and continues on for another three miles ending near to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line. 

 Hiwassee River 

On this particular Spring day, I hiked with the Chattanooga Hiking Club from the Childers Creek trailhead to Towee Creek, a one way 4.2-mile hike, or a 8.4-mile "in and out" hike.

Here are some of the wildflowers you'll see if you take the "Muir Cure" along the John Muir Recreation Trail in the Spring:

Blood Root 



Dwarf Crested Iris 

Fire Pink

"My path all to-day lead me along the leafy banks of the Hiwassee, a most impressive mountain river.  Its channel is very rough, as it crosses the edges of upturned rock strata, some of them standing at right angles, or glancing off obliquely to right and left."  - from John Muir's A Thousand Mile Walk to the Sea

Jack in the Pulpit 

Longspur Violet

Nodding Trillium 

Lousewort (Photograph courtesy of Wayne Chambers.) 


Pussy Toes

The section of the trail from Childers Creek to Towee Creek is moderate and easy terrain.  (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Robin's Plantain (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Rue Anemone (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Spring Beauty (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Yellow Trillium (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Violets (Photograph courtesy of Patricia McAlpin.) 

Even the snakes were enjoying the sunny day.  (Photograph courtesy of Wayne Chambers.) 

Whether hiking on the John Muir Trail or a trail near your home, it's a good way to enjoy the company of others. (Photograph courtesy of Reggie Jay.)

I'll leave you with the river and a splendid quote from John Muir:

 "All the larger streams of uncultivated countries are mysteriously charming and beautiful, whether flowing in mountains or through swamps and plains. Their channels are interestingly sculptured, far more so than the grandest architectural works of man.  The finest of the forests are usually found along their banks, and in the multitude of falls and rapids the wilderness finds a voice.  Such a river is the Hiwassee, with its surface broken to a thousand sparkling gems, and its forest walls vine-draped and flowery as Eden.  And how fine the songs it sings!"  - from John Muir's A Thousand Mile Walk to the Sea


Special thanks to Boe Rudder for leading the hike, to Wayne Chambers for help in identifying wildflowers, to Patricia McAlpin for photographs and camaraderie, Quentin R. Bass II for the great online article, and to Reggie Jay for being there.

In case you missed my first blog post ever of my "Top Five Favorite Hiking Trails"  here it is.