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Trail Teachers: On Tour with BACKPACKER’s Get Out More Team

BACKPACKER's camping experts are coming soon to an outdoor shop near you. Learn what you can expect from this dynamic couple and their Get Out More clinics.
Sheri and Randy Propster relax in camp

JD: Do you have a favorite retail store, hike along the route, surprise or whoops moment?
Propsters: We would certainly have to include stores like Midwest Mountaineering, Half Moon Outfitters, and Great Outdoor Provision, but there are also some amazing experiences being generated in stores like The Trail Store in Louisville, KY, Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, VT, Mosquito Creek Outfitters in Apopka, FL, and Apex Outdoor Gear in Grand Rapids, MI. All of the stores on that list create connections with their community, motivate growth of outdoor sports, and maintain a staff filled with outdoor enthusiasm. Another addition to that list would most certainly have to be Massey’s in New Orleans. Blake, one of Massey’s managers, generates a fun, almost playful atmosphere amongst the Massey’s employees. Massey’s requires a personal connection with their community built on exceptional customer service, expansion of local trail networks for foot travel, bikes and boats, and Blake was the only manager we spoke with on Tour in 2010 that interviewed us to ask, “you guys have seen so many outfitters, what are we not doing, what can we do better, what do you think we are doing right, or wrong?” The way we see it, by simply taking the time and energy to genuinely ask those questions, Blake displayed the pride and passion that directly leads to Massey’s success.
    Life on the road/trail is certainly never boring.  It’s certainly not boring to pack up your tent at three o’clock in the morning to leave an Angeles National Forest campsite where your campground neighbors have decided to unload an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. It’s not boring to wake in the night as an entourage of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars pulls into the Stonelick State Park campsite across from you to pull a woman from a locked car in an attempt to derail her suicide attempt. It’s anything but boring to have an attendee interject into our presentation to declare that we had mistakenly left out an essential item, that item being a large caliber revolver, a revolver that was in his opinion an essential because, and we quote, “you just never know when you’re going to come upon a rowdy group of teenagers out there in the woods.” It’s certainly fun to watch the light bulb go off in an attendee’s brain when you explain that he could carry a lightweight water filter in place of that case of liter water bottles he purchased pre-trip at Walmart.  It’s almost comical to repeatedly wave back to the vehicle next to you thinking they were fans of the magazine (an almost daily occurrence) to eventually discover that they had been attempting to point out that your boots were on top of the Subaru for the past few miles.  As we said, it’s never boring!
   
JD: Having seen hundreds of retail stores and interacted with salespeople all over the country, what’s your advice to readers about shopping—to get the help they need, to find great deals, to know which questions to ask?
Propsters: Do your homework. Manufacturers offer tons of information on-line. Read the tech specs and compare the features offered in specific gear choices before you ever step foot in the store. Once in the store, get the right help. Retail salesmen and saleswomen are usually made up of outdoor enthusiasts; that’s why they work in a retail store. Remember though, they will usually have individual specialties. Don’t talk to a biker about climbing gear or a backpacker about bikes, find out about their individual passions and work with a salesperson that has experience in your desired activity. Also, give gear a test drive. If it’s boots you’re after, put them on and walk the store for a while. If it’s a tent you desire, set it up, break it down, and then set it up again to ensure it can be done quickly in a rainstorm. If it’s a sleep system you need, inflate the pad, get in the bag, roll around, take a nap even. Make your visit to the retailer an extended experience, not just an impulse purchase. Don’t rush into a purchase just so the gear can collect dust in your gear closet, if you won’t need that new bag until next month, find out if a sidewalk sale is in the retailer’s upcoming plans. Inquire about rental programs. You may be able to take last year’s model out for a test drive before investing in this year’s model.

JD: Have you learned anything while living out of a car that you now apply to hiking?
Propsters: Life in the car is similar to backpacking in that you truly have to evaluate your wants and your needs when it comes to what “stuff” makes the trip. If you don’t use it every day, or if it’s not required for health, hygiene or safety’s sake, it simply won’t make the cut. The required detachment from unnecessary “stuff” that coincides with life in a car translates seamlessly to life on the trail.  

JD: Having been all over the country, is there a place that’s jumped to the top of your hiking life list—and that you just can’t wait to have some free time to backpack?
Propsters: Without sounding spoiled, we must say we’ve become particular about choosing our destinations. We want the right place—at the perfect time. Give us the trillium blooms and  bear sightings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late March, the flowing waterfalls and camaraderie of excited thru-hikers starting the journey of a lifetime in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest in April, the mud-free conditions on the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskills after Memorial Day, the warmer days and endless views on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington in mid-July, the sights and smells of the kaleidoscopic blooms near Aspen’s Maroon Bells in Colorado’s White River National Forest in late-July, the elk, blacktail deer and black bear sightings that peak with the huckleberries in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness in August, the easier permits, smaller crowds and bigger rewards on the Lyell Canyon Trail of California’s Yosemite National Park in early-September, the bug-free conditions and the fall equinox for an intense glow of the Aurora Borealis as viewed from northern Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park in late-September, the changing of the seasons with a rust and gold blanketed oak canopy in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest in October, and the most vibrant reds as the maples change colors and reach their peak in Texas’ McKittrick Canyon in November and you will see smiles from on both of us. Fortunately, we’ll be hiking all of those on the Tour this year!

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