Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail Museum

Captain Stupid Lives, thanks to the AT Museum’s publishing program

Those of you who have read THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story are probably aware that the book was the first published by the AT Museum. The Museum has also published A Grip on the Mane of Life, a well written biography of Earl Shaffer, the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

I was at the museum recently and was delighted to see a new display showcasing the two books and highlighting the publishing project. By publishing books about the trail, the museum educates readers and excites them about how the trail can be a source of inspiration in their lives.

I love seeing people wearing Captain Stupid t-shirts. Captain Stupid is the morbidly obese character who was a side show in my mind as I began writing THRU. Ultimately, he became the center piece of the book, a symbol of rising up from the muck of helpless self loathing and using the challenge of the AT to find joy, redemption and, yes, even love.

If you have not read the book go to the Appalachian Trail Museum website and order it from them. Or buy it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or go to a local independent bookstore and get them to order it. If you buy from the museum, remember to buy a t-shirt as well.

When Larry Luxenburg, the president of the AT Museum, listened to my harebrained idea about a nonprofit group publishing fiction, he proved that brilliant visions are often disguised as goofy ideas. If you have purchased and read THRU, thank you. If not, now is the time to buy this book which is guaranteed to satisfy. Even if you don’t enjoy the read, you know your money went to support a magnificent institution, the AT Museum.

 

 

 

 

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Do Winners Finish Last?

Take a look at the lanky fellow in the photo above who proves my description in THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story of a long-distance hiker’s body: “A leg support system.” From the hips down, Karl Meltzer is a lean, sinewy beast. In the upper regions, he has muscle definition, but he is pretty reedy — the perfect build for a man who broke the speed record on the Appalachian Trail on Sept. 18. He went from Maine to Georgia in 45 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes. We’re talking about 47.5 miles per day. Say what you will, but you have to admire any man who could finish the last 83-mile stretch in 24 hours! That’s all of Georgia plus six or seven miles as I figure it. Good grief!

No matter how you feel about “supported” speed hiking, you cannot deny that Karl is a phenom. I averaged about 15 miles per day on my 1973 thru-hike, and that seemed demanding to my 21-year-old physique. I can’t imagine that there is enough Ibuprofen on the face of the Earth to control Karl’s aches and pains.

He did all this with “support.” He had a team of people that met him at crossings and did all they could to feed, hydrate, clothe and attend to his needs. I hear he is a nice guy, but people did not get much of a chance to talk to him for obvious reasons. He just kept moving.

I am not a proponent of all this, but if Karl and others who do this are courteous to other hikers and do not damage the trail, I think they are free to “hike their own hike.” Still, deep inside, I do not like to see the AT used as a venue for overt speed. I talked to Jennifer Pharr Davis after her AT record had been broken, and she was relieved that she no longer had to wear what I suspect had become a slightly dubious honor. By the way, Jennifer is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

Despite my “own hike” sentiment, I have to agree with a comment made to me in a 1974 letter from the venerable Benton MacKaye when I asked him about speed hiking. He said that if an award were ever given for speed hiking on the AT, it should be given to the person who took the longest time to hike the trail. I guess that’s enough said on the topic.

TIME FOR SOBOS

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As predictably as night follows day, SOBOS are gearing up to begin their annual lemming-like diaspora from Katahdin toward Springer. Those who have started already have borne the brunt of attacks by black flies and mosquitoes large enough to drain gallons of blood, not to mention the sloshy remains of last winter’s snow and this spring’s rain. SOBOs are an odd breed who begin their long peregrination by climbing the most difficult climb on the entire AT and then turning around to retrace their steps downhill to Katahdin Stream.

Then, after an easy stroll down to Abol Bridge, they enter the 100-mile wilderness. Here is an observation about the 100 miles from THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story:

Wilderness is a state of mind. For a NOBO, the view of Katahdin from Whitecap is as close to an expansive wilderness view as a thru-hiker will see. You may see vapor trails in the sky and a column or two of industrial smoke in the distance, but roads, structures and other signs of human impact are hard to pick out. It is a fitting finish, a cooldown at the end of a long workout, a century of miles to wind down the greatest adventure a person will likely ever have.

For the SOBO, the 100 miles is an amazing beginning. After a one-day emotional tornado at Katahdin, the first long stretch of trail is an old Disney nature flick in gaudy color, with blue lakes, azure sky and accommodating wildlife.

Some accounts portray the 100 miles as remote, intimidating and so dangerous it can’t be finished by normal mortals — a canard disproven regularly by thousands of ordinary hikers. It has its challenges, but it is not overwhelming.

The reward of finishing for a NOBO is the view of Katahdin from Whitecap and later, just after emerging from the wilderness, the close view from Abol Bridge.

As I look back now, I remember the day I began the AT at Katahdin in 1973. I was 21 and just out of college. It was the day Grandma Gatewood died. I have just enough lack of humility to think that on that day, I took the WWII generation torch from Emma Gatewood and trudged  ahead carrying the banner of the Baby Boomers. This year, God bless the Millenials. The adventure is as fulfilling as ever!

 

 

 

The A.T. Museum, where trail lore lives

The A.T. Museum, where trail lore lives

If you ever happen to be traveling near Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania, you owe it to yourself to take a break and visit the Appalachian Trail Museum. It is just off the A.T. and pretty darned close to the half-way point of the trail. The museum has displays, artifacts, and precious relics of the trail as it edges toward its first century of growth. When THRU comes out soon, all proceeds will benefit this little trail cathedral which preserves the memories of people such as Grandma Gatewood, Benton MacKaye, Ed Garvey, Earl Shaffer, Gene Espy and many others. I’m proud to be associated with this project, and I hope you will buy the book and take part as well. Stay vertical, keep walking and put the A.T. Museum in your plans.

An excerpt from THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story

I worked with publisher Larry Luxenberg and designer Margy Schmidt while attending the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association meeting in PA a few days back.  We are working to get the e-book version of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story ready for purchase sometime before Thanksgiving with the print version following shortly thereafter.  Just for fun, I am placing an excerpt below to give folks a flavor of what to expect.  Because my friends at the AT Museum are publishing the book (and receiving all proceeds), I am placing a journal entry of one of my characters — Brave Phillie, a 63-year-old Viet Nam vet and thru-hiker — detailing his solitary visit to the museum.

June 7, Journal entry of Brave Phillie at the Appalachian Trail Museum

I stole away from the Bly Gappers after the ice cream craziness for a solitary stroll around the Appalachian Trail Museum. Trail folk created this place in an old stone grist mill, a labor of love for people who revere the endless trail, a resting place for a thousand odds and ends of many, many decades of A.T. memories and the people and places of the trail. 

I wandered from one display to another, recalling bigger-than-life personalities such as Gene Espy, Grandma Gatewood and Ed Garvey. I first started doing trail work before I was in the service. Over the years — aside from hiking — I’ve swung pulaskis, cut blowdowns with crosscut saws, dug out water bars, and worked on countless reroutes, never regretting a bit of it. This place is a sanctuary for all of us who love the miracle of it all.

I came across an old Mt. Katahdin summit sign, the one telling mileages to places near and far — including impossibly distant Springer Mountain. My God, what memories that sign triggered! Like a movie montage racing through my mind, I summoned mental pictures of all the characters and gorgeous locations between Springer and Katahdin.  I stood there and wept for so much — Marina, my sweet, unappreciated wife, gone forever. Earl Shaffer.  My new friends, who I try to deserve. The half of the trail unhiked on this trip with a new Katahdin summit sign waiting at the end. How can such a self-absorbed soul as myself sustain all the good this footpath has showered on me?

I walked out of that place feeling that good kind of exhaustion a man feels at the end of a hot day’s hike. Ready for water and food and sleep. Ready to gear up for the second half of the last great American adventure.

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Hope you enjoyed this snippet.  Soon, I will fill you in on some observations of my trip to the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association annual conference.  Remember:  Stay vertical and keep walking!