Category Archives: Uncategorized

Early Bird at the Hike Inn

On the educational tour at the Len Foote Hike Inn, I show off the worm beds. For two decades, the Hike Inn has used worms to dispose of waste paper and food waste.

The worms do three things: Eat, defecate and copulate. I joke that worm activity is similar to what goes on at most college campuses. But when you think about it, the worms provide a useful service. They keep waste out of landfills by eating it and  converting it into feces which we euphemistically call “worm castings.” The castings resemble black soil, a material rich in nitrogen and useful as fertilizer on our native plants. I delight in teaching Hike Inn guests these simple lessons.

The Hike Inn is a back country lodge. I am privileged to serve as president of the board of directors. To get there guests hike 5 miles from Amicalola Falls State Park. The trail winds through oak and hickory forest, over crystalline streams and underneath laurel and rhododendron tunnels. Delicious meals, hot showers and linens are provided — a great overnight wilderness experience for people of all ages. Check http://www.hike-inn.com for details.

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

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THRU’s a Black Friday Natural!

8175LT3PJ6L._SL1360_.jpgHiking pals, it’s Black Friday, time to consider multiple purchases of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story for holiday gift giving. Anyone who loves the outdoors will enjoy this gritty — sometimes wacky — novel about a group of Katahdin aspirants who encounter each other early in their 2,000-mile odyssey. THRU captures the day-to-day texture of life on a long-distance hike and answers the question asked by thru-hikers: “What have I gotten myself into?”

All proceeds go to the nonprofit publisher, the Appalachian Trail Museum. The humble author receives no monetary remuneration, but he sure has fun on the ride. Make your shopping easy and boost a good cause. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!

 

Pine Mountain was calling

cascade.jpg

So much good hiking thus far this year, but I still hadn’t had enough. So, my buddy Steve Skinner, and I headed down to Pine Mountain to spend a few leisurely days on the Pine Mountain Trail. Most mountains run south to north, but the Pine Mountain ridge runs east and west between Pine Mountain, GA and Warm Springs. The area is famous for  Calloway Gardens and for the time FDR devoted to the region.

We started on the Pine Mountain side of the 23-mile trail about noon one recent day and hiked about eight miles to a backcountry campsite. Along the way we spotted a handful of day hikers. Otherwise we had a gently undulating hardwood ridge to ourselves. The campsites are completely primitive, and from what I can tell, they have excellent water.

The second day started with Steve spotting a bobcat. Then, we hiked about nine miles with lovely views, moderate trail and a stretch through a tornado-damaged area that must have been brutal to clear. After another nice night at a good campsite (we did have to pack out a few beer cans left by inconsiderate geeks), we finished with six miles that ended up being my favorite part of the trip. Much of the trail paralleled a meandering stream with a few little waterfalls spilling into limpid pools. The photo above is yours truly at Cascade Falls, one of Roosevelt’s favorite spots.

You will not be surprised to hear that there are rules and regulations for backpackers on the Pine Mountain Trail. Just check http://www.pinemountaintrail.org for details. Then, go out there. It’s a good way to stay vertical and keep walking.

Aside from day hikes, I do not have hiking plans for the near future. But you never know what might come up, do you?

 

40 Yrs of Effort Rewarded by a Man Hug!

About four decades ago, Tom LeVert (trail name Tortilla Tosser) began hiking the A.T. He likely was not thinking of completing the entire 2,190-mile epic walk until 2006 when he and I took on a three-and-a-half week hike from near Connecticut down to Swatara Gap in Pa. Over a dozen years, Tom and I found opportunities to knock off miles — sometimes long backpacks and other times stringing together long day hikes.

Finally a few years ago, Tom took on the 100-mile Wilderness in Maine, the single most difficult stretch he had left to finish. A couple days in, Tom got sick. To make a long story short, he got off the trail,  ended up in the hospital and took a while to recover. I have to believe he was beginning to wonder if — past the age of 70 — he had enough left in the tank to carry out his long-held dream.,

Hiking pal David Hiscoe and I joined Tom a couple of years ago for a second try. This time the Tosser was ready. I won’t say he breezed through the 100 miles, because few can. But he made it through without incident — even knocking off Mt. Katahdin.

Last year and this year, Tom finished miles in Virginia, W. Va., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, bits and pieces he needed to complete his trip. All he had left was what he saved for the very end, .9 miles from the Springer Mtn. parking lot to the top of Springer Mtn. Tom’s wife, Joan, prepared a party at Amicalola Falls State Park while a small army of us joined Tom to Springer for the glorious completion of the hike he so desperately wanted to finish.

Tom is not a touchy feely guy. But he was accompanied by trail buddies who had journeyed with him on the long section hike — myself (left in the photo), Kevin Tanner (behind Tom with the beard) and Eric Graves (right). We know Tom is uncomfortable with man hugs, so we grabbed him in celebratory fashion while lots of pix got clicked. Tom’s face reflects the tolerance of a man who can’t wait to be released.

Later, as we enjoyed the celebration festivities, Tom described his struggles to complete the journey and focused on a couple of critical factors — his ultimately successful battle to conquer blisters and dehydration. Long-distance walkers know that these are among the most important factors to success, and Tom managed to work through the challenge.

Tom and I have discussed new hiking horizons. Tom loves his work as a CFP, so free time is precious to him. Still, I hope he and I — as well as others of us who delight in hiking together — will have fresh new adventures on open trails across the globe.

By the way, if you want to know how Tom got the trail name “Tortilla Tosser,” stay tuned. Someday I’ll tell the story on this blog.

No sheep jokes please!

Before I turn the page on the adventure in Wales, I need to display this photo taken by hiking pal Susie McNeely (triple crowner, i.e. CDT, PCT and AT). We had just climbed through morning mist out of the town of Knighton where the Offa’s Dyke Path HQ is located. It was a steep, relatively short climb to the grassy ridge where we came to the spot in the photo which had a sort of Mediterranean look to it. The inquisitive sheep added whimsy to the moment.

My friend Jay Dement who will soon be prez of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club observed that the Welsh word for Richard is “BAAAAAAA.” Clearly, I command little respect among my companions, nor do I give a sheep’s butt if I do. Jay and I spent several days swapping sheep jokes before we exhausted our repertoire. Wandering along the Wales/England border certainly provides a sheep jokester with plenty of inspiration.

I am moved to note that the agricultural element of the British Isles is a big part of the joy of the experience. We hiked through fields of corn, sugar beets and all manner of other cultivated vegetation. At other times we hiked through dark forests and across windswept moors covered in purple blooming heather. In other words, there was variety of experience. Each day stood out as an individual memory.

At the end of each daily hike, we bent over — testing our aging, aching vertebrae — and scraped mud and sheep/cow/goat excrement from our boots and trail runners. It’s just what you do there, and it isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve experienced the same thing in Ireland, the Balkans, South Africa, Nepal and myriad other adventure venues. Sheep and other livestock — even yaks — are part of the deal. You enjoy their curious countenances and live in the moment. Stay vertical, you all, read THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, and keep walkin’!

 

 

The End of the World in Wales

This photo taken one recent morning was in a part of Wales known as The End of the World. The path we followed tracked along cliffs and escarpments with views of sheep grazing in pastures, hedgerows, forests, streams and ancient dwellings.

My trip lasted three weeks starting in Chepstow in Wales and hiking north about 180 miles to Prestatyn on the Irish Sea. We followed long ridges topped with blooming heather cloud-walking with beautiful pastoral tableaus on either side of us. At times we dropped into the heart of the countryside traversing hardwood forests, across grazing land, past castle ruins and centuries-old houses, up incredibly steep ascents and down the inevitable precipitous descents. We kept score on falls, and I was tied on the last day with one of my companions with a total of three. She managed one last fall on the final downhill to Prestatyn, so I was spared the ignominy of being championship stumbler.

We followed an established trail known as Offa’s Dyke, a large berm and moat construction thought to date back to the eighth century A.D. A ruler named Offa required landowners under his domain to build the dyke as a way to establish a boundary and perhaps to fortify the territory. No one seems to know for sure. Regardless, at times, we actually followed a path directly on top of or beside the dyke.

Each night we dropped into a valley to a village, town or settlement and stayed in a local hotel or B&B. We feasted on pub food or whatever was considered best in the area for supper. At least three times I opted for fish and chips accompanied by a local lager. For breakfast we had a choice of any combination of the so-called full English breakfast which can include cereal, toast, coffee, tea, juice, black pudding, baked beans, stewed tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, two eggs any style, sausage and bacon. Obviously, the full monte was a bit much, so we picked what we wanted and were never disappointed.

Along the way we chuckled at the Welsh use of multiple consonants and minimal vowels in city names. We thrilled to the beauty of Welsh and English accents and wit as we meandered along the England/Wales border. We scraped all manner of mud and assorted livestock turds from our shoes at the end of each day. And we reveled at the shimmering beauty, clear sky, magnificent pastoral scenery and delightful culture we encountered — seemingly at every turn of the trail. Each day had its individual charms.

Setting up the trip for us was Will Ainsley of Discovery Travel. I don’t do plugs in this blog, but this guy became a friend for sure, and I would recommend him to anyone who wants to enjoy a trip thoroughly. Email them at info@discoverytravel.co.uk

Wales is not a wilderness. Still, the trip did provide a magical feeling of remoteness. At other times, we had the feeling of walking back in time, exploring ancient sites and wondering if much had changed since laborers more than a millennium ago toiled at building the earthen mound we followed for weeks. If you’re thinking of doing this, don’t let me discourage you. I still can’t quit thinking about it.

THRU: A Pacific Crest Trail Love Story

starcrunch.jpgHere’s a fine looking pair of healthy American youths. To the left is Andrew, a former naturalist at the Len Foote Hike Inn. To the right is Leigh (trail name Starcrunch after the tasty Hostess brand snack), another former LFHI employee who is also an AT thru-hiker. They are shown near the halfway point as they head NOBO on the Pacific Crest Trail. Since that photo was taken, they have made great progress and actually passed the Columbia River which means they are well into their final state — Washington.

A couple of thoughts about these two:  First, they appear trim and fit but not emaciated. Hikers in the 21st century are more fully aware of nutrition. They can carry food that packs far more into their stash — ounce for ounce — than was once the case. When I hiked the AT 44 years ago, I grabbed what was cheap in whatever grocery store I could hitchhike to. I did not know a fat from a protein from a carb. I snatched boxes of store brand mac & cheese and whatever else looked inexpensive, light and flavorful. I ended up looking like a scarecrow at the end of my trip. Fortunately for me, a 21-year-old body is forgiving. I felt fine even though my family doctor told me I was medically malnourished.

As for point number two, this hiking duo look fit, properly fed, svelte and very happy. I suspect some of the happiness is derived from being together and experiencing the kind of loving partnership many experience on the trail. They are living much of what I described in THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story. I hiked mostly alone in 1973. There were few young women thru-hiking in those days. When Starcrunch was working at the Hike Inn and we discussed thru-hiking, I used to kid her saying, “where were girls like you when I was out hiking?”

I was talking to Andrew a month or two before he embarked on his PCT trip. He was saying that his original plan was to hike the AT, but Leigh had talked him into hiking the PCT with her. He seemed a bit conflicted about his decision.

Being the wise old sage that I think I am, I said to Andrew, “Let me get this straight. You have two choices. Hike the AT alone or hike the PCT with Starcrunch. I’m having trouble seeing the problem.”

Andrew smiled sheepishly and replied, “Yeah, it really is a pretty easy decision.”

Duh, Andrew!

 

 

In the Eclipse Groove!

21032688_10154626056056097_4138275308027879275_n.jpgMany of you checked out the eclipse, so the photo above may match your experience. I chose to go to the Len Foote Hike Inn, a few miles out of the zone of totality but still a fine place to take it all in. Rachel, one of the Hike Inn naturalists, brought a colander out of the kitchen, and we saw a multitude of tiny bright circles with moon shadow crescents in them. A nice Kiwi lady (a New Zealander for those of you wondering) provided me with a spare set of protective specs. You can see me in the middle of this photo — the guy with the green Hike Inn blaze on his shirt — gawking away at the celestial display with all the other Hike Inn guests.

These are stressful times we live in. Sometimes we need to witness a massive visual extravaganza in the heavens, something totally out of our control and much larger than we are, to remember that the quibbling of nearly seven billion souls is but a small squeak in the cosmos. I believe human beings are a great miracle — perhaps unique in all creation. Nonetheless, there is power far greater and intellect far deeper than ours. A little dalliance between the sun and the moon are a good reminder of all that.

So, stay vertical, keep walkin’ and remember that nature is what brings you back to equilibrium, almost every time.

O.J. ready to tackle A.T.

O.J. and A.T. Those two pairs of initials don’t go together naturally.

But I’m hearing that as O.J. — the man who has dedicated his life to finding the “real killer” of his wife — rambles on about his future plans, one aspiration he has mentioned is a hike of the A.T. He reasons that even though it would really be hard, he feels he can do anything.

When you consider what he’s gotten by with in the past, it’s hard to disagree with his rationale. He has managed to literally get by with murder it seems. But I wonder if he can adhere to all the rules of parole while spending each night in a different wilderness setting. As I muse about this, I wonder if he could avoid a cold beer in a trail town which would violate his “no alcohol consumption” requirement. If he got in a heated argument around the campfire, could he resist brandishing a knife and jumping his ideological opponent? Would his parole officer be willing to have “on-trail” sessions?

For all these reasons, I doubt we’ll ever see a triumphant O.J. atop Katahdin. The A.T. can handle just about anything — including O.J. — but I doubt it will happen anyway.

In chapter 12 of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, one of my characters muses about a magazine ad he had seen. In the ad, a man is driving a luxury car and musing about all the items on his life’s bucket list. One of the items he is thinking about is owning the car he’s driving, and there is an X Mark next to it. Among unchecked items is “I will hike the Appalachian Trail.”

I don’t care for bucket lists. They can cause obsessive behavior that can dominate a person’s thoughts for years. I prefer to take on adventure as it comes. That’s just me. I really have to chuckle at a guy like O.J. adding the A.T. to his bucket list. I wonder how long he would last out there. Maybe, like so many other unlikely seeming characters O.J. would shock the world by exercising discipline and daily focus to the extent that he could complete a thru-hike. I doubt he will, and I hope he doesn’t even show up. The media circus would be way too odd.

 

 

Georgia’s most beautiful sunrise

Day after day, we always count on the sun coming up. But guests at the Len Foote Hike Inn get a bonus by seeing the most beautiful sunrise in the state. In my novel, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, I describe how pleasant it is to arise, get a cup of coffee and enjoy the glory of the sunrise, a colorful combination of sky, cloud, sun and shadow interrupted only by gentle murmuring of guests who share the moments with you.

Those who follow this blog know I do a lot of hiking. In the summer much of it is in and out of the Hike Inn where I do the evening tour and give after-dinner program. If pressed to name my favorite place on earth — and I’ve been a lot of places — it would likely be the Hike Inn. I have had the privilege of being on the board for many years and currently serve as president. During these many years, I have worked with great staff, volunteers and board members to maintain the facility in top shape and add sustainable features such as solar hot water in the bath house, a state-of-the-art food composter and now an enormous solar array providing 70 percent of the Hike Inn’s electricity. Many thanks to All Points North Foundation for a grant making the solar array possible.

My life is much richer for having been associated with the Hike Inn, and I strongly urge you to go there if you have not made the trip. Our mission statement is: Protecting Georgia’s natural resources through education and recreation. Many visitors who take this hike deep back into the Chattahoochee National Forest realize how true this statement is after working up a sweat on the trail and later realizing how much they actually learned. Every time I see a family sitting together in the evening playing a board game and laughing together, I think about how great it is that we ask guests to turn off their smart phones and enjoy the reality of the natural world.

THRU begins and ends at the Hike Inn. Go to http://www.hike-inn.com and learn why the place is so much a part of what matters to me.