Bootstrapped startups and the shit I learn in therapy

After finishing the Camino de Santiago last November, I wanted more. At the same time I decided to start a new business and promised my girlfriend I'd wait before taking off on another multi-month adventure.

So I set a goal to do a weeklong backpacking trip in 2024, and started looking for a trail.

Turns out, the perfect trail was right under my nose.

Growing up, I hiked sections of the Foothills Trail with my dad and sister. My dad and I had often talked about doing the whole thing, but never made it happen.

The trail is 76.2 miles through the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Upstate South Carolina. Most people hike it in 5-7 days starting in Oconee State Park and ending in Table Rock State Park. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained trail with lots of water, wildflowers, and bridges (so many bridges).

When I asked my soon-to-be 65 year-old Dad if he was up for taking a crack at the thruhike, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.

We finished in 6 days, averaging 12.7 miles a day. The trail lived up to all of our expectations. It was strenuous (despite the Foothills name, it's still in the mountains), but gorgeous and really meaningful for us. We swam in the Chattooga River and Lake Jocassee, saw thousands of blueberry bushes and wildflowers, and formed a small tramily for a couple of days.

In this post I’ll share my packing list (with the new gear I tried and what I would leave behind), our meal plan, the sections we hiked, and some musings on the experience.

Packing list and new gear

Here’s my full packing list with weights. We left a car at a parking lot 2.5 days in to our hike, so I ditched the midlayer and running tights there to lighten my pack.

We had great weather the whole time, but the weather can be variable in that area this time of year. If the weather had been different, I might have kept them.

Salomon Speedcross trail runners

I wore out my Nike Pegasus trail runners by the end of the Camino. They served me well but never felt perfect for me. I tried on several pairs at REI before this trip and settled on the Salomon Speedcross 6 trail runners.

My Salomon Speedcross 6 trail runners

I LOVED them. They had phenomenal arch support, were light and comfortable, super grippy, and easy to take on and off. Paired with my Injinji toe socks I didn’t get a single blister. Although I got a gnarly rash from wearing dirty socks, so I’ll have to find a solution for future long trips.

6 Moon Designs Lunar Solo 1-person tent

I ordered a Lunar Solo last year after realizing my hammock setup was heavy and getting into ultralight gear. It's one of the roomiest and most affordable ultralight 1-person tents on the market. But I didn’t have a chance to use it until this trip.

I really liked the tent. This was my first time using a trekking pole tent, and it was light and fast to setup and breakdown.

My lunar solo tent

I had condensation in the tent on our first night, but we were camped in a valley right next to a river. After that, I made sure to setup with the vestibule facing into the wind and farther from water, and had no more problems.

While the tent is well ventilated, I worry about it getting hot in the summer. I often started warm and got more comfortable throughout the night.

Nemo Switchback closed cell foam sleeping pad

I wanted to try a closed cell foam pad on this trip because while my inflatable Nemo tensor pad is super comfy it’s more than twice the weight and can be pretty loud (I move around a lot during the night).

The foam pad wasn’t too bad. If I setup in loamy soil instead of hard packed dirt, I was somewhat comfortable. But as a side sleeper, positions would start to hurt over time, so I woke up a lot during the night and had to roll over.

I found that using a shorter pad didn’t bother me (short enough that my legs hung off). So I'll keep looking for a quiet inflatable pad and order a short to save weight.

I loved having the pad easily accessible during the day for lunch or breaks to lay on or sit with my dad. I'd like to try the Gossamer Gear Thinlight as a sitpad with a short inflatable for sleeping.

No pack cover

My pack cover annoyed me in Spain, so I ditched it for a pack liner (I just used a regular garbage bag). We only got rained on one morning, so I didn’t get to test the setup. But my pack got noticeably wet, so I think I need to upgrade to an ultralight pack made of water-resistant fabric. Although I may try treating my pack with water-resistant spray in the meantime.

Far Out App

This was my first time using the Far Out App, a guide tool for thru-hikers. The app is free to download and you can pay a subscription fee for unlimited access to all guides, or pay-per-guide. I bought the Foothills Trail guide.

This was the best hiking app I’ve ever used. Every campsite and water access spot was marked, along with helpful extras like cell phone service spots. There are comments on most sites, and the mileage calculations make it easy to plan each day. I'll use it in the future whenever possible.

Meal plan

I initially tried setting up a spreadsheet for our meal plan with calories and weights for everything so we could try to maximize calorie density and minimize weight. My dad took one look at it and said I’m not using that, that’s way too much work.

So here’s where we landed instead.

Making final tweaks to our meal plan in the hotel the night before we left


  • Chocolate peanut butter “milkshake” x 2
  • Instant oatmeal x 2
  • Granola x 2

My favorite was the granola. My dad makes it from scratch and it’s killer. I ate some in the morning and some as a midday snack. I wasn’t crazy about the milkshake recipe my dad found, in part because I didn’t have a good shaker bottle so they were clumpy and messy.

Lunches and snacks

  • Peanut butter and honey wraps x 5
  • Chicken wraps x 1 (with chicken packets)
  • Avocados x 1
  • Bars
  • Trail mix
  • Dried mango
  • Potato chips (my new favorite trail snack, light and packed with calories)

We started out with half chicken avocado wraps and half peanut butter honey wraps. The chicken and avocados were heavy and the peanut butter honey wraps were better so when we got to the car we ditched them for all peanut butter honey and were perfectly happy the rest of the trip!


The first night we made Skurka’s rice and beans, which were easy to assemble and really tasty. I put everything in one bag so the fritos got stale. But I brought extras so was able to save the meal. If you make this, pack the cheese, fritos, and rice and beans separately.

We tried a bunch of different freeze dried options. The best by far were the Pinnacle Foods Jalapeño Biscuits and Gravy (but they were also the most expensive) and the Peak Refuel Homestyle Chicken and Rice. I was not a fan of the two Trailtopia meals - the Jambalaya was the only one that ended up being too much food.

Trip breakdown

Day 1: Oconee State Park - Chattooga River

Miles: 11.4

My mom dropped us off at Oconnee State Park around 8:30, took a picture of us by the sign, and we were off.

Day 1 was supposed to be the easiest day of the trip, but it was one of the hardest for me. I hadn’t prepped for this hike, and I could tell. Plus, I nuked the foam in the shoulder straps of my pack trying to kill the bedbugs I picked up on the Camino.

We planned to walk further to reduce the mileage later, but found the perfect campsite by the river. It had a big sandy beach and a deep swimming hole. We were sweaty, tired, and my shoulders were killing me, so the water was calling our names.

We kept walking, but hadn’t gone 50 feet before I said we should turn around. If you can’t stop and enjoy a beautiful campsite like that, why are you even hiking?

The water was frigid, but refreshing. A quick dip, a nap on the sand, and a sip of port (a tradition of ours) capped day 1. We didn’t have a fire, but the bright moon reflected off the sand and lit up the site.

Day 2: Chattooga River - Ridge top campsite

Miles: 13.9

Day 2 was a long day as we tried to make up miles after our shorter start on Day 1. But I got the straps adjusted on my pack and my body started to adjust, so overall I was feeling much better.

We camped on a ridge top in the middle of an area that had recently been burned. We could see the sun setting on one side of the mountain, and just catch a peak of the Bad Creek Reservoir on the other side.

We camped with a trail friend named Jonathan. He’s a former marine who is getting in shape to hike the Appalachian Trail. He’s hiking this trail with his dog Holly, a beautiful white German Shepherd. She’ll grumble at you at first if she doesn’t know you, and then quickly turns into the friendliest pup in the world.

We also met a 72-year-old who is on his 6th through hike of the Foothills Trail. His trail name is Yet2Be and he hiked the AT when he was 67, and the Colorado Trail in between.

Day 3: Ridge top campsite - Coley Creek campsite

Miles: 10 + 1.4 off trail to resupply

Day 3 was a shorter day, but a good one. Leading up to this day, we were anxiously awaiting news on my sister’s Grad school applications. We left my car at a parking site a few miles into the hike today so that we could resupply and get cell service to check in with her and my mom.

Just before we got to the car we got the message that she got in to one of her top choice schools! So we took a long break at the car to resupply and celebrate, complete with cold beers and avocado wraps.

We left the car at the Bad Creek trail access parking lot. It’s behind a gate that Duke Energy locks at 4 every day, and so is a super secure place to leave a car. The only downside is we didn’t realize the lot is .7 miles off the trail, which means we added almost a mile and a half to our hike

We camped with Jonathon and Yet2Be at a nice campsite near Coley Creek. I promise Jonathon Oreos from the car, so he waited for us at the campsite. I wasn’t expecting to find a tramily on such a short thruhike, but it was increasingly feeling like that’s what we were.

Day 4: Coley Creek - Toxaway River campsites

Miles: 13.2

I’ve camped at the Toxaway River campsites once before and hiked the trail there twice. It is a really magical place. There is a massive suspension bridge that crosses the river where it flows into Lake Jocassee. After Yet2Be and my dad went to sleep (we camped again with Yet2Be and Jonathon), I went and sat on the bridge in the moonlight journaling and listening to the sounds of happy campers drifting over the lake.

Day 4 was a tough day of hiking, it was hot and there was lots of uphill. But I absolutely loved it. I spent a lot of the day reflecting on why backpacking makes me so happy, and chuckling as my dad cursed under his breath every time he saw more steps on the trail.

At this point it was feeling increasingly like we might need 7 days to finish the hike. Jonathon was planning to do a 22 mile day the next day so he could get off the trail early on Saturday, but my dad was worried about all the uphill and so we were still playing it by ear.

Day 5: Toxaway River - Eastatoe Creek

Miles: 13.2

This was the one day I went to bed in a bad mood.

The day started well enough. It rained on us in the morning, which kept us cool as we made our way up Heartbreak Ridge, a stretch of steep vertical hiking with 250+ steps in a row. Then it quickly cleared up and turned into a beautiful day.

Jonathon split off from the group at lunch, and my dad and I split off from Yet2Be around 4 o’clock. We decided to push through and get some extra miles in so that we could try to get off the trail early on Sunday or maybe even finish Saturday.

We ended up camping in a lousy campsite right next to the Eastatoe Creek parking lot. Cars were driving by all night, and people were pulling in and out of the lot.

I went to sleep with a headache, and an overwhelming feeling that I had started to focus too much on finishing rather than enjoying the journey.

I was conflicted. Part of the reason we were pushing through was to get to spend more time with my mom, which is definitely worth some pain. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that we should be soaking in the moment rather than pushing for the end.

Day 6: Eastatoe Creek - Table Rock State Park

Miles: 14.5

We woke up early Saturday determined to finish the trail in one more big push. We had 14.5 miles ahead of us with about 1,800ft of elevation gain as we climbed Chimney Top, Sassafrass, and Pinnacle mountains. Followed by a 2,000ft decent down to the Table Rock state park visitor center where we would end our hike.

It was a hard day. The uphill was tough, but we took it slow and made good time.

Most of the trail is covered in fairly dense forest, so the views are often limited except for rare spots. But this final day we were rewarded with some of the best views of the entire trip as we hiked across mountaintops and granite-covered balds.

While the uphill was toughest on my dad, the final descent was where I finally started to really hurt. The combination of rocky terrain, constant descent, and our longest day really started to get to my knees and feet. But we had a steak dinner with my mom, a warm shower, and real beds to look forward to so we kept pushing.

We had been hiking with our tramily for a couple of days, but today was just me and my dad. We’re good hiking partners, and so we kept each other going throughout the day.

My mom was waiting for us at the end, and we celebrated with cold beers, chips and dip, and pictures by the park sign.

Takeaways and musings

Don’t give yourself a deadline, and take it slow

There’s a piece of advice I read recently for thruhikers planning to meet up with someone along the trail. Pick a place or a time to meet, but never both.

We had an Airbnb booked and plans to meet my mom on Saturday at the end of the trail. Tthat, along with my craving for burgers and beer, led me to focus more than I would have liked on the destination rather than enjoying the journey at times along the hike.

I don’t regret anything. We had a fantastic couple of days with my mom, and the day after we got off the trail it rained all day, which would have made for treacherous and miserable hiking.

But I think to make the most of this trail next time, I'd take it slow, stop at the best campsites, and not worry about the miles I was hitting each day.

Thru-hiking is forced mindfulness

I spent a lot of time on this hike thinking about what I love about backpacking and thru-hiking. It’s hard, you hurt, stink, eat lousy food, and never sleep well. But I love it. I’m so happy when I hit the trail every morning.

I think it comes down to forced mindfulness, or flow state, or being in the moment.

It’s the right amount of risk, where I feel focused and challenged, but in control. Faster adventure sports like climbing, mountain biking, or whitewater kayaking can push the risk factor past the point where I feel in control enough to appreciate the moment I’m in.

I love the planning and preparation. I love the people you meet along the trail and the conversations you have. I love disconnecting from the world and technology. I love the simplicity and not caring about dirt and grime. I love how clear my mind feels.

A changing of the guard

One special thing about this trip was feeling the roles start to shift between my dad and I. Growing up he was my most consistent hiking partner. He taught me almost everything I know about camping and the outdoors. When I was younger it felt like he could carry anything, nothing scared him, and he never slowed down.

Now he’s 64, almost 65. This was his first backpacking trip in years, and he was nervous about how much he would still be able to do. He crushed it and was still teaching me all along the way. He organized our food and handled all of the logistics.

Following my dad across the Thompson River bridge

But for the first time, I started to take care of him on the trail. I slowed my pace on uphills so we stayed together and he could rest. I filled up water for us so he didn’t have to crouch in the creek. And for the first time, I had more confidence in what we could do.

I don’t want to twist things, my dad is still incredibly capable and he handled the hike well. But we both felt the shift.

It could have felt sad, a reminder that we all slow down at some point. But it didn’t feel that way, at least not for me. It felt rewarding. I was grateful to have the chance to return the favor, to give him a little bit of the support he's given me for so long. And I was thrilled that we still get to take on challenging things together.

Wrap up

If you’re interested in a super approachable, but challenging thruhike on a beautiful, well-maintained trail I highly recommend the Foothills Trail. A few final tips:

  • Plan for 1-2 extra days on trail and really take your time
  • Go West to East to build up your trail legs and save the best views for last
  • If you use the Bad Creek parking lot for a resupply point be prepared for an extra 1.4 miles round trip
  • Peanut butter and honey > canned chicken
  • Call your 64 year-old dad and ask him to do a thruhike with you
You’ve successfully subscribed to Andrew Askins
Welcome back! You’ve successfully signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.