Gear Review: Altra Lone Peak 4.5

I have had my Altra’s for going on 9 months now with several hundred miles on them, and I recommend them to every one that asks, so I figured it was time for a review.

To begin, this was my first time ever wearing a trail runner. When I first started hiking, I wore Merrell hiking shoes. I wasn’t fond of how stiff they were, and I had heard that trail runners were better, so I wanted to give them a try.

I went to my local REI not knowing what I was going to get, except for the fact that I definitely wanted to check out their trail runner selection. I spent about an hour or so trying on every brand they had several times–Hokas, Brooks, Solomons… you name it. I would put on a pair, walk around, take them off, and try on a new one. Then, I would put one brand on one foot, and another brand on the other, walk around, and compare the feel/comfort.

I remember my decision coming down to a pair of Hokas and the Altra Lone Peaks. I went back and forth for the longest time. Not to mention, I was also going back and forth between two different Lone Peak styles too. The Hokas had so many good things about them, especially the fact that they had the meta rocker feature. However, they majorly rubbed my pinky toe, so I chose the Lone Peaks.

I immediately took myself on a hike right after leaving REI to test them out. I could not believe the difference between my hiking shoes vs the trail runners! I was so upset at myself for allowing myself to be so uncomfortable for so long without even knowing. My hip had been prone to hurting on hikes, and I haven’t had that pain since switching!

Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Specs

  • Lightweight
  • Wide toe box
  • GaiterTrap
  • Flexible (not stiff)
  • Very cushioned and comfortable
  • Breathable (dries quickly, too)
  • Great traction

I love my Altras! The only downside is that they definitely didn’t last me long, being that I’m already on the lookout to purchase a new pair since mine are worn! However, it was expected that they wouldn’t last as long as hiking shoes since trail runners usually only last on the lower side of a few hundred miles. That’s definitely not keeping me from buying the newest version! I’m even going to get an extra pair for every day use.

Bennett Gap Trail, Pisgah NF

This weekend I had the pleasure of finally getting to explore Pisgah for the first time! I have been wanting to for a while now but just hadn’t been able to make the drive until now, since it’s a couple of hours from me. I originally planned to hike Pilot Cove and Slate Rock. However, when we got there, we were greeted by a closed gate. While I was pretty frustrated that we had driven that far to not hike the trail I wanted, I knew it was my fault for not calling ahead to check since I had read on AllTrails that it was closed due to snow several weeks ago.

Since I didn’t feel comfortable picking a trail off of the map that I hadn’t done research on, we quickly drove to an Ingles up the street to get me some cell service so that I could see what our other hiking options were. I found Bennett Gap that was 20 minutes away, and we agreed and went on our way!

Bennett Gap is a 5 mile out-and-back trail located in Pisgah National Forest. It has about a 1500-foot elevation and is primarily used by bikers. The elevation gain is steady but very doable for intermediate to experienced hikers. Bennett Gap offers a beautiful trail with a couple of breathtaking overlooks towards the top of the mountain. There are a couple of other trails that you can get on to off of Bennett Gap, so it’s important to pay attention to the blazes to stay on the right trail.

Unfortunately, I did not complete the entire trail before deciding to turn around with only less than a mile to go after having to part ways with my friend earlier in the hike who couldn’t make the climb any further. I didn’t want them to have to wait on me for a long time at the trailhead, so I turned around after reaching the second overlook and examining the rest of the trail. Because it continued to climb up the mountain, I knew that would take a good bit of time, so I made the decision not to continue on.

The hike was spectacular and one of my most favorites! We only passed two hikers that were hiking together. The rest were mountain bikers, and they fly down the hill so keep an eye out for them! There are a couple of small streams for your dog to enjoy if you want to take them but be sure to keep them on-leash. The trail is beautiful, and I would highly recommend it!

Bennett Gap Trail

  • Length: 5.6 miles
  • Route Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Elevation: 1500 ft
  • Dog friendly? Yes, but leashes are required
  • Location: Pisgah NF, Brevard, NC

Bearwallow Mountain Trail

Last week, I was in North Carolina and had the opportunity to visit Bearwallow Mountain while I was there. Bearwallow Mountain is an out-and-back trail that was created by Conserving Carolina. It is located in Gerton, North Carolina and is 2 miles long. It is rated as moderate with a 600 foot elevation gain. If you’re visiting in the colder months, watch for ice!

I will start by saying that this short trail is absolutely gorgeous. It has a breathtaking view at the top where you find yourself in a cow pasture. If you’re lucky, you may get to see some cows, or maybe even a proposal instead like I did. At the top of Bearwallow, you get to see not only an overlook but also a firetower. Unfortunately, you can’t climb it, but it’s still cool to see.

This trail is rated as heavily trafficked, so if you plan on going, I would highly suggest going during the off-season to help keep overcrowding at bay. I was very surprised that it was as busy as it was when I went because it was a chilly day. While this place was amazing, I do not plan to go back soon unless it’s on a very cold day. Despite there being signs every half mile saying to leash dogs, many were not leashed. Unfortunately, out of the roughly 10 dogs that I passed only 2 of those were properly leashed the entire time. I came across a couple with 3 unleashed dogs that decided to argue with us after kindly explaining to them that my dog was not dog-friendly and that their dogs needed to be leashed for their safety.

As hikers or trail users, having our dogs with us is a privilege not a right. When we are asked to leash our dogs, is it important to abide by those rules. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good off-leash hike with my dogs. However, there are so many reasons why places have these rules, especially heavily trafficked ones. Some of them are for the safety of other hikers, other dogs, your own dog, and the conservation of the trail so that dogs aren’t trampling on the vegetation. Quite frankly, though, there doesn’t need to be a reason. When we are asked to do something on property that doesn’t belong to us, we should follow. If there continues to be lots of people ignoring the leash law, we all may lose our privilege of getting to hike with our fur babies!

I would give this trail a 5/10. The trail was gorgeous and well-maintained. It is the unleashed dogs and heavy traffic that got me. I would probably rate it higher if I was to go on a hike during the winter where there would be less traffic! If you do decide to go, please consider going during the middle of the week or a time that you would think less people would be there.

Growing as a Handler/Trainer

Ever since I got my first shepherd, Bella, almost 6 years ago, I’ve loved training dogs. I spent a ton of time with her when she was a puppy training her different things like sit, down, stay, how to say her prayers, and more.

I followed a ton of trainers on social media and watched what they would do with their dogs and try to do it with mine too. I even went and watched countless training classes in different things like obedience and nosework at local training facilites across the Upstate. I loved watching these people work with their dogs. However, I knew that would never be me.

I’ve always been incredibly shy, and I’ve always, always, always hated being the center of attention. When I would watch these classes, I knew that at some point each handler would have to show the class what they were doing. This was a big turn off for me. I hated being watched by my family when I would train Bella, let alone have a whole class watch me!

For years, this fear of being watched even by just one trainer and no one else absolutely freaked me out. It wasn’t until the end of 2019 that I realized how much I was missing by letting my fear hold me back from trying something that I had always wanted to do. So, I finally bit the bullet and enrolled in private classes with Bella. I was so nervous my first class that my stomach was so nauseous going to the training facility.

Each class that went by, I started getting a little bit more comfortable each time. Despite being nervous every week, I was having a blast getting to learn new things and enjoy that time with my dog. It’s so rewarding seeing your dog make progress all while having just as much fun as you.

Fast forward almost a year, I now have enrolled not only Bella in classes but also my puppy named Oakley. I’m more confident now than I’ve ever been, but I still get nervous each class, haha. I have grown over the last year and now trying new things with my dogs doesn’t scare me so much. It’s gotten to the point where I can be asked, “would you be interested in joining this class for a few weeks?”or “would you consider doing this sport with your dog?” and it takes me no time at all to agree. Whereas last year, I would have wrestled with it in my mind giving myself all of the reasons why I’m too scared to do it.

I have now had my dogs do rally obedience, nosework, and dock diving classes with the intent of going to trials one day. We also have a couple more things scheduled for us to try in the near future.

It has been such a fun year of growth for not only my dogs but also (and mainly) myself. It took 4 years to get to this point, and I’m so glad it’s here!

Oakley’s First Dock Diving Session

Since my youngest German Shepherd, Oakley, was a baby, I’ve done what I can to encourage her to love water and swim. At just a couple of months old, I bought a bumper and took her to the lake to teach her to swim. In no time, she was becoming super confident in the water and swimming like a big girl!

Soon after that experience, I decided that dock diving might be a fun little competitive sport option for us. I had already bought a bumper, and I was building it up as a high reward toy for her. This means that she loves the toy so much that she would do just about anything to get it–like getting in the water and swimming to it. You see, for dock diving, the majority of the dogs love going after the toy more than jumping and playing in the actual water itself.

For a couple of months, my main focus was getting her to want to go in after the toy and bring it back to me. She was doing really good at that! There were times where I was getting her to swim long distances to get that toy. But then, I was ready to start getting her to actually jump into the water. I have a fishing dock at my house, and I tried a few times but could never get her to do it. And then, it got to the point where she didn’t really even want to get in the water anymore. Not to sound dramatic, but I felt like my dreams of getting dock diving titles were crushed. Until, on a whim one day after a frustrating swimming session with her, I called a local training kennel and set up a session.

That session ended up being today! My only goal for today was to get her in the water. I wanted her to be happy to get her toy and get in the water, and that’s exactly what happened. We worked on building her confidence going into the water from the ramp several times and praised her as much as possible each time. She had an absolute blast, and so did I!

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to work on putting more distance between the ramp and how far she needs to swim to get her bumper. Over time, she will be able to be more confident which will eventually result in teaching her to jump.

I am so proud of how well she did today. Everyone at the facility absolutely loved her and were very impressed with how social she was. They even asked if I would be interested in doing some other sports with her, too, because of her personality and tug drive.

Dog Training Update with Bella

In December of 2019, I finally took the plunge to enroll Bella and myself in a rally obedience class after wanting to for years. I started to document how it was going on a former blog of mine just to be able to look back and see what all we had done. Little did we know, just a couple months later, we would have to cancel our classes for several months due to COVID. When we were finally given the go ahead to start coming back, I had just gotten a puppy that I wanted to enroll in classes, so I put Bella’s training on hold for several more months.

After taking my puppy to classes for a few months, she began enjoying going just a bit too much, lol. She viewed it as time to be crazy and get a whole bunch of nothing done, so I decided to give her a break and let her mentally mature and work on stuff outside of class for a little while before we try again. Because of that, I decided to start taking Bella again. Today was her second time being back in the room since March, and I am just so proud of her. It’s like she never left.

We worked on moving signs, and she kept up so well! She even had to wear a diaper, but that didn’t get in her way at all.

There was one point at the end of class where I was just talking with my trainer and Bella laid at my feet. In that moment, I reflected back on how far she has come as a dog. Four years ago, she was unmanageable, borderline aggressive, and I couldn’t take her anywhere. A year ago, she was still shy but being way more open to new places and things. Tonight, she was comfortable enough to 1) have an absolute blast and 2) to lay on the floor and take a nap. It took and still takes so much work raising this dog, but she’s the best! I can’t wait to get in the ring with her. I have a feeling that that’ll be in the near future πŸ™‚

Gear Review: Garmin Instinct Watch

This past year, my hiking goal has been to hike 500 miles starting in January and ending in December. Because I chose this as a goal, it was imperative that I have a device that could accurately and reliably record every single hike I went on. In the past, I simply used the NikeRun App on my phone, but it started causing me a lot of problems where it would randomly stop recording, or I would lose service and it wouldn’t track which made it impossible to keep up with my mileage.

In January of this year, I started doing some research on watches and what ones would work best knowing that I needed something sturdy and reliable. I knew from the get-go that I wasn’t interested in joining the Apple Watch community, and I’m so glad I didn’t because I actually quit using Apple as a whole recently, so it would have gone to waste! Instead, I explored other brands, read lots of articles, reviews, and asked around in some hiking groups.

I can’t remember exactly how I came across Garmin, but I saw the website one day and started exploring what they had to offer. I very quickly took a liking to the Instinct, not so much based off of its looks, but because of what all it offered. Plus, the price wasn’t too steep like some of the other ones were, and I really loved that it had an activity tracking option specifically for hiking. After reading all of the specs, within a week, I decided to purchase it.

I have now been using it for almost a year, and I absolutely love it! I have not one time had an issue with it tracking or anything like that. I’ve used it for hiking, biking, walking, weight lifting, and soon I plan to use it for swimming. I love that it automatically uploads to GarminConnect and that I can connect with other Garmin users too.

Here are some of the features that made me want to choose this specific watch:

  • up to 14 day battery
  • waterproof
  • LiveTrack (sends an email to a person of your choice giving your exact location when you start tracking your activity)
  • Back to Start (the watch can take you back to your starting point if you were to get lost)
  • Tracback
  • shows the weather
  • shows sunrise/sunset times
  • barometric altimeter
  • compass
  • stopwatch
  • sends me my phone’s notifications
  • find my phone/watch
  • menstrual cycle tracker
  • distance to destination

As you can see, this watch has a ton of features, especially when it comes to safety. It is totally worth the purchase!

The Fungi of Summer 2020

If you went on a hike this summer, the odds of you seeing a mushroom or another type of fungus were very, very likely. They were everywhere! I seriously can’t recall ever seeing as many mushrooms and fungi than I did this summer. There were so many different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Every time I came upon a new fungus, I would take a picture so that I could ID after my hike. By doing this, I got to learn more about them–what their names were, if they were edible, or what they were used for.

Here are the different kinds of fungi that I came across this summer:

Norman Wilder Forest

Norman Wilder Forest is a preserve owned by Conserving Carolina located in Tryon, NC. It offers 3 different trails–red, yellow, and blue. None of the trails exceed more than .7 of a mile. However, if you do them all together, it equals 2.6 miles.

rock and bench at the end of the red trail

The red trail goes to something called the cliffs. Honestly, by the name of it, you would expect some gorgeous overlook. However, it is anything but that. You hike up a pretty skinny trail where it abruptly stops at a ginormous rock. There is a bench for you to sit on, but there is nothing to look at. The trail is still beautiful though.

the lookout halfway through the yellow trail

The yellow trail goes to drip falls. It’s also a gorgeous trail! While walking, you will reach a rocky lookout in the middle on the way to the falls. Keep walking and you will, like the other trail, abruptly reach the end–Drip Falls. It’s exactly what the name entails–a drip. Not much water comes off the rock, but it is surrounded by gorgeous wildflowers!

the bridge on the blue trail

The blue trail is what you will use to reach the red or yellow trails. You will pass a butterfly sanctuary, some ruins, and cross over a pretty bridge. Make sure once you cross the bridge that you keep to your left. I made the mistake of turning right which doesn’t lead to a trail. However, it did lead to a pretty creek for my dog to get a drink in. While you are on the blue trail, you will reach a gravel access road. Turn right and walk up the hill a little ways. Then, you will see a sign that says “Norman Wilder Forest”. Take that continuation of the blue trail, and you will run into the red and yellow trails soon after.

narrow trail

The preserve does allow for dogs on-leash. However, I would not necessarily call it dog-friendly. The trails are pretty narrow. There were several places where it just wasn’t safe for my dog and I to walk together attached by a leash.

I would definitely recommend doing all of the trails in one visit. I did not intentionally do that when I went, it was more on accident from making a wrong turn, but I’m so glad I did. While the trails are short, they’re very steep, so you still get a good workout! Plus, the scenery is gorgeous, especially the beautiful wildflowers! The parking lot is pretty small and not marked the best, so you have to keep your eyes peeled for it.

I will say, for a small place, it is well maintained, and I enjoyed it. I would give it a 10/10!

My Favorite Summer 2020 Adventures

Now that it’s September, summer is quickly coming to a close. So, before that happens, I want to reminisce on all of the fun adventures I got to go on.

There’s no better way to start than with my most favorite adventure from this summer–my second annual trip to Hunting Island State Park. Despite the many changes that have been made there and South Beach being closed for the majority of the trip which meant less hammock time, so much fun and exploring was still had! I got to bike on a couple of the trails there, and it was absolutely beautiful. My favorite memories, though, were getting to see an alligator, biking to Little Hunting Island and getting to fish there. It was amazing! I saw the biggest shell I’ve ever seen and also found a phone that had washed up on shore. You have to watch the tide though because when it comes in, the beach is non-existent!

My next favorite was probably taking my puppy to a more local state park and having her swim for the first time! It was so much fun and exciting because I have fun stuff planned in the future for her since she likes it!

My third favorite adventure was getting my fishing license and going fishing for the first time. I’ve only ever fished in my backyard so getting to go somewhere and do some legit fishing was awesome! Although I didn’t catch anything, it was still a fun memory because I also got to take my puppy with me.

My fourth favorite was hiking on July 4th. I had made a point to look for all things red, white, and blue and it just brought so much fun into the hike.

My last favorite adventure was all of the amazing biota I got to see and learn about this season. I saw so many different flowers like rhododendrons, daisies, and trumpet creepers. On top of that, I saw endless amounts of fungi this year! My most favorite of all being the snow fungus. I also got to see many different fruits and berries! I saw blueberries, blackberries, muscadines, and more.

Honestly, I could list so many more fun adventures because they all were amazing! I learned so much this season. Here’s to the fun that fall has in store!