Say it ain’t so Sandi!

I saw so many eager thru-starters this year carrying the 2020 AT tag as they prepared to leave the Amicalola Falls Visitors Center to take those first amazing steps on a northbound odyssey toward Mt. Katahdin. I serve as a trail ambassador providing a little friendly encouragement to this diverse group of people, and I know exactly what’s going through their minds.

I have seen so many like them over the years, ready to take on the challenge and see if they could measure up to it in a physical, emotional and spiritual sense. This year, sadly, the opportunity has been taken out of their hands.

In a decree I received by email from Appalachian Trail Conservancy Executive Director Sandi Marra, the 2020 class of AT thru-hikers is being asked to cease and desist from pursuing their dream. Oh man, does this ever hurt. All the dreaming, planning and training goes down the drain.

It seems cruel and unreasonable at first glance. Seriously, what safer place could there be from the Corona Virus than out in the wide open spaces of the AT? Well, think about it. Personal cleanliness is critical to avoiding this scourge, and anyone who thinks that trail hygiene is much better than hit or miss is kidding themselves. And even though you are in open air for sure when you are out there, so many hikers get in close quarters in shelters and shelter areas for hours at a time. Also, trail hostels — as friendly and inviting as they often are — are not conducive to healthy interaction and social distancing. And is it safe for trail angels to give people a friendly ride from the trail into nearby towns and back? Of course not; it is unsafe for both hikers and drivers. All told, it is not a good year to be out there.

So, I think back to 1973 when I was a 21-year-old out there having the most amazing adventure imaginable as I thru-hiked southbound from Maine to Georgia. I don’t think Sandi Marra or Mahatma Ghandi or God himself could have talked me into stopping. I am older now, and if not wiser, I am surely less impetuous. Impetuosity is harder to come by as you near the end of seven decades. I think I have to agree with Sandi. AT thru-hikers should delay until next year.

I am sure that Sandi feels terrible about her decision to ask hikers to call it quits for the year. But I am also sure that as a responsible leader, she knew she was correct when she pulled the trigger on her suggestion. Let’s hope this works out well for all of you out there. I look forward to bumping elbows with you at Amicalola Falls Visitors Center next Spring.






“Amicalola” goes video at AT Museum!

amicalolapic.jpgWhen I wrote THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, one of my characters named Sky Writer composed a tune as she hiked north to track the emotional experience of walking from Georgia to Maine — a sort of national anthem for the NOBO nation. It was titled Amicalola in honor of the first major landmark on the AT Approach Trail thru-hikers see as they hike through Amicalola Falls State Park.

I can neither read nor write music, but I can somewhat carry a tune. So, with tremendous self consciousness, I sang to song to a wonderful young woman named Emmy Law who recorded it on her smart phone. Then, she sang and recorded the song giving it a level of vitality I could never have imagined.

If you are interested in hearing it click on and give it a listen. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as Emmy and I enjoyed creating it. A million thanks to my pal Joe Harold who produced this outstanding video.



Hiking across England on Hadrian’s Wall

I love hiking in the British Isles. Having taken on the Dingle Way in Southwestern Ireland and Offa’s Dyke which meanders along the border of England and Wales, I decided to get some of my hiking chums together for the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path which runs from Newcastle on the North Sea to the Firth of Solway feeding into the Irish Sea. As is true with all hikes in this part of the world, it was not a wilderness experience. However, it is an elegant way to hike in a civilized manner.

I once again used the services of Will Ainslie of Discovery Travel who met the six-man group in Manchester, delivered us to Tynemouth and arranged B&Bs and luggage transfer. All we had to do was get up in the morning, scarf down a delightful full English breakfast and take off tramping on the well-marked hiking path paralleling the historic remnants of the border wall commissioned by Emperor Hadrian nearly two millennia ago. Not much of it is left, but what we saw was impressive.

However, what I enjoyed most was the day-to-day joy of meeting people in small villages, hiking through forest, field and glen, and reveling in the true joy of experiencing a lovely part of the world on foot. Sure, it rained a day and a half or so. And at times we were a little closer to civilization and traffic than we might have preferred, but overall, the experience was idyllic. Peaceful. Serene. A good time to smoke a few evening cigars and enjoy telling sheep jokes with Boy Scout hiking chums I have know since childhood. (Actually, I’ve only known Tom for 30 years. But we hiked the entire AT  together, so he is like a brother.)

I guess I’m hooked. I plan to head back next May and hike in Scotland on the West Highland Way. Don’t worry about me though. I have not gone soft. I still get out in the wilderness. But man do I enjoy those hot showers and breakfasts!IMG_0553.jpg

Search for elusive Yellow Lady Ends

Last year I failed in my attempt to see a rare yellow lady slipper. My pal Georgia Peach was going to take me, but then she lost track of where they were. Then, when she finally rediscovered them, I had taken off to the Black Sea on a Danube River cruise. Alas, by the time I was back stateside, the girls had faded away.

This year I was determined to see one. Georgia Peach promised to take me again, but she went off on a well-deserved beach vacation. So, I went to Stone Heart, intrepid hiking companion and friend. I hiked to Nimblewill Gap on the AT Approach Trail. I met Stone Heart there, and we hiked north on a gloomy, foggy morning. Soon we found a single perfect YLS kissed by a delicate coat of dew, lemony yellow in the sunless morning light. I had that little thrill one feels upon finally sighting that which they have sought for years.

Feeling triumphant and a bit smug, I hiked back to Nimblewill, chatted briefly with Stone Heart and headed southward on the Approach Trail. Later, Stone Heart reported that right after I left he spotted a bear and followed it for a photo. He immediately discovered seven more yellow lady slippers. Darn the luck!

Oh, well. I finally saw one. Next year, I will travel back to see more. During the interval, I will think up some other species of flora or fauna I need to see. Life is more fun when you have things to look for, don’t you think?




Bob Marshall Wilderness, worth the wait!

Back in 1974, I read an article in Backpacker Magazine about the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana along the Continental Divide, one of the first areas designated as wilderness by the feds after the signing of the Wilderness Act in 1965.

(Side note: The Wilderness Act was bipartisan legislation that Congress supported as a unified body. This stroke of genius was followed three years later by the National Scenic Trails Act for which those of us who enjoy epic adventure can truly be grateful. Imagine — Congressmen from both parties uniting to pass wise legislation.)

Anyway, I was impressed that the Bob Marshall Wilderness was out there for me to explore at some future date. I do not keep a bucket list, because I love the spontaneous thrill of jumping on the next adventure to emerge. But the Bob was waiting for me, and when my AT thru-hiking son took a trip there years ago and raved about it, my interest was piqued all the more. As my friend of more than 65 years, David Chandler, was planning a trip for this fall, I tossed out The Bob as an option. He did his due diligence, and late last month David, Steve Skinner and I traveled out there.

Due to forest fires, we decided on an in-and-out hike of about 50 miles over six days. We put in at Benchmark and followed a route along the west and south forks of the Sun River. We were equipped with bear spray and made every effort to properly protect our gear from griz.

Daytime temps were perfect, and nights dipped to as low as 20 degrees. We had rain and snow, but mostly clear with occasional angry clouds and gasp inducing sunsets. One night before the full moon rose, we watched the International Space Station glide overhead. We spent hours around campfires retelling the same jokes and personal stories we’ve hashed over for over half a century. We also realized how fortunate we are that we can still haul heavy packs up multi-thousand-foot climbs.

The pic above shows me taking in the Chinese Wall, a massive escarpment that meanders a dozen miles along the divide. Most of the trip was along the Continental Divide Trail, and we saw several late-season thru-hikers plugging toward the end. For two full days we saw no one at all. We saw no grizzlies but plenty of berry-laden scat. We did see mule deer and elk.

It was because of people such as Bob Marshall and Benton MacKaye who founded the Wilderness Society that we have these amazing chunks of paradise set aside forever. So, read THRU, hike the Bob Marshall, stay vertical and keep walkin’!

Three weeks in the “other” Georgia

IMG_0636.jpgSo, I am nearly over jet lag from 23 hours of travel home from the Republic of Georgia via Istanbul airport where I got body searched multiple times and began to wonder if cavity searches might be next. (I’m surmising that Turks sought revenge for bad relations between Herr Trump and their guy).

Regardless, the real story is that I traveled with a group of friends from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to be led expertly across that lovely, diverse nation in a jammed-full Mitsubishi high-clearance, four-wheel-drive minivan. We traveled from city to city, village to village, mountain to mountain and up hiking paths so steep one wondered if it was possible not to blow out one’s achilles tendon (happily, no one did).

Our expert guide, Koba, steered us over what the BBC calls one of the five most dangerous roads in the world. Many times I looked out the window and saw nothing between moi and a 3,500-foot abyss. Not that I was nervous or anything.

So much to learn over there, not only about wildlife, geography and gorgeous mountains, but also about how people feel about their recent years of freedom being threatened by Russians hovering around their northern borders. Georgians are stoically philosophical about their history of being overrun by one conquering legion after another — Russians, Turks, Mongols and a host of others. That’s just how it is, and they all know they probably will have to take up arms again someday.

As for me, I enjoyed the hiking through wilderness, past villages and up to glaciers. I appreciated being able to dine in a fine restaurant and enjoy a superb meal for under $10. We stayed at a guest house in Omala where we got a huge breakfast, a trail lunch, a sumptuous supper, and a rudimentary but serviceable shower for about $25 per day. It gets a little more expensive in the metro areas, but what the heck?

I have spent a lot of time traveling in Eastern Europe over the past few years. I love the landscape, the cities, the people, the history, the culture and the food. But what I bring home with me is a brimming over feeling of gratitude for the freedom we Americans truly take for granted. I’m sure I’ll be jaded again in a few weeks as I get back into a normal day-to-day routine.

Anyway, read THRU, stay vertical and keep walkin’!

Idle musings for 2019 thru-hikers

Far be it from this writer to assume my opinion is worth listening to. But I have hiked the AT a couple of times, and I do have some gentle advice. After talking to hundreds of Katahdin aspirants over the years, I have learned what the fictional Springer Mtn. caretaker in my book, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, realized: “the only certainly in his mind was the uncertainty of eventual outcomes.”

In other words, as you watch the traveling circus move north, good luck if you think you can keep an accurate scorecard.

So, for what it’s worth, here are a few nuggets of advice if you are considering taking the last great American adventure in 2019 or beyond:

  • Before you take a first step, get serious about what is essential in your pack. Do you really need a hunting knife in a leather sheath? Do you need a bulky, multi-piece cookset? Is your pack one of those nine-pound super-padded numbers with so many surplus cubic inches that you can’t resist filling them with electronics and food that will take you days past your next resupply point? Remember the scene in the movie Wild where Reese Witherspoon puts on her pack for the first time and has trouble standing up? Don’t let that be you. Good grief, I met a man recently who was about to take his first steps on the Approach Trail with 160 pounds of gear including a one-liter bottle of vanilla extract.
  • Stay hydrated. If you start your day with a liter and a half, that is the smartest weight you will carry. And you can reduce the weight quickly by drinking — even if you are not particularly thirsty. Do not wait to hit camp to rehydrate. Some of the worst trail days I have endured were due to not taking my own %$#@ advice and getting dehydrated.
  • Take care of your feet. On the first day of your hike, promise me that you are wearing trail runners or boots that you have broken in with up-and-down trail-weight hiking. Otherwise, you are walking into unknown territory which may include grotesquely damaged feet. In THRU, my Captain Stupid character says this about his feet: “FEMA should be called in for this, plus the Air National Guard and a MASH unit of podiatrists and surgeons and EMTs. I cry when I look at what just two days have done. Blisters began on the Approach Trail to Springer. They demanded immediate attention, but I was so overwhelmed that instead of giving them first aid, I just kept slogging along and hoped for the best.” The Captain got help and survived, but his experience was not typical. Treat your feet better than any other part of yourself.
  • Stay dry. A pack cover will not keep the contents of your pack dry if you hike through a blinding rain storm that switches on and off for a couple of days. Anything you really want to keep dry should be in ziplock bags which weigh practically nothing and can save your sanity.
  • Leave No Trace. If you’re out there, you’ve heard the LNT pitch. If you are a human being, you leave urine and feces in your wake. Remember that nobody — at least nobody normal — wants to see any of that. Bury crap off-trail at least 200 feet away from water sources and camping areas. Also, pack out hand-wipes, uneaten food and general trash. I know most of you don’t need to hear this, but problems still exist.
  • Give it time! If the first couple of days out there are the worst days of your entire life, don’t stop. Give it a couple of weeks. It will get better. You will finally reach a moment of joy that will transport you to levels of transcendence you never dreamed possible. Just be patient.

As I say, I have done the AT a couple of times and I’ve hiked all over the world. I am an ordinary guy with average physical gifts. If I could do it, so can you. Have fun!

THRU Visits the Iron Gates

When last in the Balkans a few years back, I was hiking the Peaks of the Balkans Trail in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. It was hard, sweaty and glorious.

Over the past couple of weeks Patsy and I took a Danube River cruise from the Black Sea to Budapest — much cushier, but we still got to do some good walking, mostly urban strolls. One big highlight of the trip was a small boat trip with a WWF naturalist into the depths of the Danube River Delta, one of the most diverse areas on the planet.

At one point on our cruise, I got to visit the Balkans again as our pleasure ship motored gracefully through the spectacular cliff-studded Iron Gates. On one side the Serbian Balkans dipped down to the river, and on the other side the Romanian Carpathians kissed the water’s edge. It’s fun to visit mountains whether you are slogging on foot or luxuriating on a pleasure cruise.

Later this summer I’ll return to my old ways when I travel to the other side of the Black Sea for a long hike in the Republic of Georgia. I’ll be sure to report in. Meanwhile, get out and enjoy nature my friends. None of us will live forever, so stay vertical and keep walkin’!


The quest for the elusive yellow lady slipper continues

Trail pal Georgia Peach who thru-hiked the AT in 1991 has told me she will help me fulfill my ambition to see an actual, genuine, in-the-flesh yellow lady slipper. Ever since I heard the legendary Georgia wildflower expert Len Foote actually got the route of the Richard Russell Scenic Highway altered when he found a profusion of the rare orchids, I have been determined to see one myself.

So, Georgia Peach got me all optimistic recently when she told me she thought she could take me to see some. Unfortunately, she was unable to locate them. My hopes were dashed.

Then, just yesterday, she sends me this lovely photo of a YLS in all its yellow glory. Turns out she found some. Unfortunately, my plans will not allow me to join her for a look this year. She promises she’ll take me to them next year.

Meanwhile, the old Peregrine must patiently wait to fulfill his years-long ambition to soak in all that sunlit lady slipper glory. At least I can take some solace in knowing that just yesterday I was up close and personally involved with some perfect pink lady slippers.

Stay vertical and keep walkin’!


So close you can almost touch it . . .

I have seen Katahdin from Abol Bridge a few times. Each time I try to put myself in the hiking shoes of a NOBO who gets that gasp-inducing view from the bridge before trudging into Baxter State Park — bound for Katahdin Stream and that last big energy surge to Baxter Peak.

As a SOBO, I saw this view the second day of my thru-hike. I have seen it since a few times and always think, “What must this feel like for a NOBO? How much emotion can one heart take after coming nearly 22 centuries of miles to get here?”

I took this admittedly mediocre pic on my phone a couple of years ago while accompanying my buddy, Tortilla Tosser, as he wrapped up the 100-mile Wilderness, close to finishing his four-decade-long section hike. What a glorious spot to pause a little over long and contemplate MacKaye’s vision. How lucky all of us are — those who love wilderness — that this place clings to its sacred character.