About Jana

I have always loved the outdoors, but my desire to hike and travel has just taken hold recently. I am so excited about the adventures ahead of us!

Gear Review: Cairn Subscription Box

Product: Cairn Subscription Boxes
Normal Cost: $21.67 to $25.00 per box monthly, depending on subscription
Where we got it: Ordered at getcairn.com with code, received through US Post
Our Cost: $0.00 per box, one for each of us
Conclusion: Was fun to try, but ultimately not for us

One of the benefits of being a part of Epic Social Adventures and Hell Hike & Raft was getting to test out all kinds of new gear. One of the first items we received was a Cairn subscription box.

I am a big fan of subscription boxes in general. I have sampled several beauty boxes, like Ipsy, and Thom and I are ardent fans of Plated, that delivers pre-portioned ingredients and recipes for dinner. Subscription boxes are an amazing way to discover new things and sample the best of whats out there.

Cairn is no different. Our boxes contained several goodies that included new snacks (ooh Bricks Grass Fed Beef & Bacon Bar) and gadgets (Bruton Pulse looks like it will be incredibly helpful on our short weekly hikes) that I am sure we will put to good use. It is a wonderful way to treat yourself for $25 or less.

I don’t think its a good fit for us, however. I was a beauty box subscriber for 3 years, but largely because I was clueless about makeup. I learned all kinds of stuff from my boxes and have gone on to use products that I discovered as samples. We love Plated because we’re empty nesters, and enjoy restaurant quality recipes without any of the hassle. We aren’t, however, out of touch with the hiking scene. We have a lot of our essential gear, and are *very* picky about what we buy.

Now that our kids have moved out of the house, we’re purging all kinds of stuff we no longer need. I am uninclined to accumulate small odds and ends that we don’t have a purpose for. If there were an outdoor box made up purely of hiking snack items, I would be more likely to consider an ongoing subscription. We’re always on the lookout for quality snacks and it is such a diverse market that it’s hard to know what is available. We certainly aren’t getting the full range of options at our local grocery store.

Links: Company: Cairn Outdoors LLC
Website: http://www.getcairn.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/getcairn
Twitter: https://twitter.com/getcairn
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/getcairn
Instagram: http://instagram.com/getcairn
How we got it: We applied for the Epic Social Adventures (ESA) trip called Hell Hike and Raft 2015 and became part of the crew. ESA leaders, Scott and Adam, found sponsors, including Cairn, to provide products for the crew to try and review. We each received one box.

Turkey Run and the Power of Social Media

Our grand adventure started with this photo. I took it while on our weekly Hopeful Hikers outing, at Allerton. There was this glorious swath of yellow flowers all over the floodplain.

That night, while scrolling through Instagram, Thom noticed another photo with yellow flowers that looked eerily similar. So he asked the poster where it was taken, because we’d seen some at Allerton – and he tagged me. The next morning she responded that it was also at Allerton, and that she was in town from Utah, and here for a short stay to visit her brother and his family. I asked her how long she’d be in the area, because it would be fun to go hiking, and learned that she was leaving the next morning!

Let’s bear in mind that I had never interacted with her before this moment. This is the kind of crazy wonder that I love about social media! She let me know that she and her brother’s family had plans to hike this day, and after some back and forth – I convinced her that Turkey Run was the best kept secret for our area, and not to be missed. I asked her when they were leaving, and she said, “Now!”

This was just at the start of my day, and I hadn’t even left bed yet! I ran to find Thom and told him that he was calling in to work and taking a vacation day – because we were going to Turkey Run.

We scrambled to get ready, and hopped in the car to meet up with Kayla and company. We all met in the parking lot, feeling shy but excited at the same time. Kayla’s brother Keith and his wife Heather had also brought along their 4 year old son, Sam. We didn’t know if Sam would be up for the glory of trail #3, but we figured it was worth checking out.

It is a show stopper of a trail, and the weather couldn’t have been more wonderful. We took off our shoes and waded into the canyon streams to begin exploring in earnest.

Trail #3 is about 3 miles long, and has surprises and glorious views around every corner. I am in love with this area, and how other-worldly it all feels. It was especially fun to share it with people who had never been there before. It’s like having a chance to see it all again with fresh eyes.

Sam was a real trooper. His interest never waned, and kept imploring the rest of us to forge ahead. He even started exclaiming “Eureka!!” at each new discovery. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself having more fun on this hike than I had ever before. I love sharing the outdoors with kids. They bring something unique to every experience.

We had a terrific time getting to know one another and sharing stories while being out in this beautiful place. The trip ended far too soon, but new friendships were forged, and there were certain to be other adventures ahead of us.

Altitude and the Appalachian Trail

We had a great time on the Ramsey Cascade Trail, and wanted to hike more. We were planning to hike Porters Creek, but our guide let us know that what we’d see would be pretty much the same as what we already experienced. We had several people suggest we hike out to Charlie’s Bunion from Newfound Gap. We had wanted to take photos with the AT sign anyway, so this sounded like a terrific plan.

We drove up the next morning and parked at Newfound Gap. It was windy and super cold. I was glad I had my puffer and soft shell jacket. It was awesome watching all the backpackers coming through the area. I’m certain a healthy percentage of them were thru hikers and we enjoyed seeing what packs and accessories they were carrying.

We got our coveted sign pics! We hope to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020, so have been reading and learning everything we can about the journey. Most of what we know about backpacking has come from the research about the AT. We had planned to hike it sooner, but we have been scheduling too many other exciting excursions, and we had to push it out. Ultimately, we would love to be triple crown hikers. (AT, PCT, CDT)

Hiking on this venerable trail was exciting, and incredibly beautiful. It was a perfect day, with the sun out and the view on either side of us. I was super excited about reaching the incredible photo op at our destination.

Unfortunately, I started feeling off. I was getting slightly dizzy, short of breath and my vision turned into a ‘fish eye lens’ perspective. I pushed on for a while, but started to feel insecure. With the steep drop offs and uneven trail, I began reconsidering the day’s hike.

Thom convinced me to try a little longer, and I’m glad that I did, because the surroundings were amazing. Ultimately, I decided that it was entirely unsafe for me to continue. We had hiked about a mile out, and I was feeling pretty stupid. I had just killed the 2,000 elevation gain the day before and couldn’t even manage an easy 4 mile trail. The tears welled up, and I compounded my embarrassment by crying.

We headed back, and all I could think about was our upcoming trip to Idaho with Hell Hike & Raft. Newfound Gap has an elevation at 5,049 feet and our time in the Seven Devils Mountains would take us to 8,300 feet! If I was having issues here, I was worried that I was going to fail at the big trip of the year.

After talking with others, we learned that dehydration may have been an issue as well. We were super glad we had decided to hike here, instead of Porter’s Creek, if only so we could learn about potential pitfalls for future trips. We try to take every experience as a learning exercise, and all of them are valuable. We knew from this hike that we were going to have to study up on elevation prevention in order to succeed in Idaho. That alone was worth the price of admission.

The Magnificent Ramsey Cascade Trail

After the robust education we got from the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, it was time to go out and see the splendor for ourselves. What better way to do this than to hike?

Our friend suggested we take a guided hike with A Walk in the Woods. She had been on a couple of their trips, and had loved them beyond measure. She found their knowledge of the area, the history and natural surroundings enriched an already incredible experience.

This would be our first time hiking with any elevation outside of the Midwest, and I wanted to see how my abilities stacked up. We chose the Ramsey Cascade trail, an 8 hour round trip hike over some challenging terrain. We would gain nearly 2200 feet in elevation to the tallest waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I was looking forward to every inch of it.

We met up with our guide Michael and our fellow travelers Ben & Meghan at the trailhead parking lot. The day threatened rain, but so far was beautiful and sunny.

Our surroundings were lush and green, and the first portion of the trail was pretty level, making a very pleasant walk. This gave us a chance to get to know one another better, and ask a bajillion questions about the incredible things we were seeing on the trail.

We were just a touch late for the wildflower boom, but there were still many gems to be found. It is so much fun to travel outside of your normal region and be surrounded by flora and fauna that are vastly different from what you are used to seeing.

About 2 miles in, we came across a footbridge that was looong and narrow – and about 20 feet over the roaring river below. Standing on the bridge, it felt 100 feet up, and a mile long. It took every ounce of convincing in my own head to make me put one foot in front of the other. My legs were jelly when I finally reached the other side, but I felt amazed that I was able to do it. My list of accomplishments were getting longer by the day.

Among the many highlights of the day was getting to hike through old growth forest. Some of these venerable trees include white oak, red maple, tulip poplar & hemlock among others. With the increasing loss of native species due to invasives and climate change, it is gratifying to see these old trees holding on.

After the footbridge, the trail became more challenging, and I was glad for all the training we had done on stairs. I was killing it though, and felt great. Perhaps it was the inspiring surroundings, but I was absolutely in my element.

With how lush everything was, its not surprising that we found an incredible number of new fungi. I want to know what every single one of them are, but with 50,000 different species of visible fungi, I have my work cut out for me.

The closer we drew to the falls, the more steep and slick the trail became. I admit to falling on my butt once – but was so graceful in getting back up that no one else noticed. 😉

Just before our destination, we spied this sign. Apparently, there have been deaths as a result of people climbing around and to the top of the falls. The area is incredibly slippery with all the algae, moss and mist. With as cautious as I generally am, and as badass as I felt after the footbridge, I was feeling pretty secure.

The Cascades were impressive and incredibly cool. In spite of coming across a handful of people on the trail, we were the only ones at the falls themselves. The mist was powerful and I pulled out my jacket to keep dry and warm.

We sat on the large boulders below the falls and ate the lunch we brought along with us. It was a fun way to celebrate and to linger in this incredibly beautiful place.

It began to rain on the way back. It was a light rain, and cooled everything off. It also brought out all the fascinating wildlife. I had never seen a salamander before, and I saw 4 that day!

It was an incredible hike, a magnificent day, and I fell in love with the Smokies.