Tag Archives: backpacking

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’!

 

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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.

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

LNT is the Key to Hikeable Trails

One of my favorite hiking pals is a guy named Jay Dement. I have hiked to numerous places with him — including the Balkans and the Himalayas — and have found him to be a  constant source of witty cynicism, good humor and friendship. We have so many funny stories to share that it would take days to share them all.

Jay is also a persistent and stubborn son of a %$#@. He has several major obsessions, and he hangs onto them like an grouchy pit bull with a big soup bone. Obsession #1 is the whole Leave No Trace (LNT) philosophy. Jay has handouts, an elevator speech, detailed slide presentations, patches and an overarching commitment to the idea that anyone who goes into the wilderness should understand the basic precepts of leaving things as you found them. He also understands and preaches that just saying “take only pictures, leave only footprints” is not enough to get the point across.

Obsession #2 is the Trail Ambassadors program which pretty much goes hand in hand with LNT. Working with the U. S. Forest Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, Jay has worked tirelessly (Well, actually, I imagine he does get tired sometimes) to assemble a group of qualified, highly trained volunteers to assist in handling the onslaught of people who arrive in Georgia each year to head north from Springer Mtn. on the AT headed for Mt. Katahdin in Maine. There are professional caretakers and ridge runners in Georgia who help handle this yearly northbound diaspora, but Jay’s cadre of Trail Ambassadors are on the job to fill in when the hard working paid staff take days off.

I am one of Jay’s volunteers. Having hiked the AT twice and staying involved in the trail community for decades, I am somewhat qualified to size up what we call “thru-starters” and engage them in friendly conversation. I have seen all kinds of inappropriate gear and behavior out on the trail, and as a TA, it is my job to suggest — without being imperious — better ways to succeed on a thru-hike with an overarching emphasis on LNT. Jay’s training sessions helped me to do this job by using role playing to practice what to do if a hiker is committing such malfeasances as setting up a new fire ring, allowing his/her dog to run rampant and terrorize other hikers, carrying a three-pound handaxe, getting drunk or cluelessly indulging in all manner of other activities that are not good for them, other hikers or the trail. TAs have no authority and must call up their best powers of diplomacy and sincerity to persuade people to exercise good behavior rather than “lay down the law.”

What should be emphasized about Jay is that the program has been very successful and has resulted in many positive outcomes. He has been the main mover and shaker in the success of TAs, and he has done so despite the red tape and bureaucracy of dealing with the Forest Service. USFS personnel are very dedicated, but they will be the first to tell you that implementing new programs within a federal agency is never easy. My friend Jay has done that, and I tip my hat to him.

One anecdote: For those of you who have read my novel, THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, you may remember the Captain Stupid character, a 350-pound schlub who heads north from Springer Mtn. seeking his final shot at redemption on the AT. I actually met his real-life equivalent last year as I served as a Trail Ambassador at the Hawk Mtn. Shelter about seven miles north of Springer. This poor guy was morbidly obese, over equipped, in dark despair and hobbling on ankles he had twisted seven times (one incident per mile) since embarking from Springer. I had a long talk with this Captain Stupid doppelgänger, and he was ready to cash in his dream before it had a fighting chance to get started. I talked to a kind soul who was willing to give the fellow a ride out to Dahlonega, a town about 2o miles away. My suggestion was to lay up for a day or so and take stock of his morale and his body. Judging from the look on his face, his trip was about done.

Fortunately, most of the hikers encountered by Trail Ambassadors have happier stories. Some are eminently well prepared and need no one’s advice. Some are fine tuning their equipment and attitudes and are happy to discuss ways to improve. Most are having a positive experience, although many are asking themselves, “What have I gotten myself into?” As this year’s crop of thru-starters get underway, I wish them the best. And God Bless Jay Dement and his cohort of Trail Ambassadors who spread the gospel of LNT.

 

 

 

 

Legalized Pot!

Well, now that I have the attention of all you recreational drug users, this post is actually about a cooking pot. It has an amusing history you might enjoy.

Here goes: When I thru-hiked SOBO on the AT in 1973, I had limited funds. I sold appliances and worked layaway at a Zayre’s store in Athens as I wrapped up my senior year at UGA and banked as much money as possible to fund my trip, assembling equipment on the cheap. Examples include a cheap nylon Zayre’s windbreaker, an onion sack to carry my food, a cheapie swiss army knockoff pocket knife, and a threadbare sweatshirt.

Where I wisely put my money was into a really good Trailwise pack (recommended by the legendary Colin Fletcher and now displayed on the lobby wall of the Len Foote Hike Inn), a Swedish-made SVEA 123 stove that ran on unleaded gas, a pretty good spring-weight down sleeping bag and a slightly-better-than-mediocre pair of Raichles.

Easily, the most intriguing piece of gear was from my Dad’s old Boy Scout mess kit purchased in 1928. Its 32-oz. capacity was pretty limiting at the end of the day when I was always — guaranteed without fail — famished. A typical meal was a store-brand box of mac & cheese with something mixed in — often a 3-oz. can of tuna. I also occasionally mixed instant pudding for desert. Another culinary favorite was instant rice which probably had less nutrition than the cardboard container it came in.

But the old pot perched on top of my SVEA 123 which emitted a delightfully sibilant hiss to keep me company on lonely nights — Ah that pot was wonderful! It will turn 90 next year, and I have to believe it is one of the oldest items ever carried on an AT thru-hike.

My dad, by the way, was an Eagle Scout. As am I. As is my 2000 AT SOBO thru-hiker son Optimus Prime. And, to boot, my 2004 AT SOBO thru-hiker daughter Steady is a Gold Award Girl Scout. Scouting has provided all three generations of us with a love for wilderness and a passion for adventure.

That humble little piece of cookware characterizes the whole experience. It’s a form of legal pot.

Rewind Shows No Sign of Winding Down

A couple of years ago, Susan Caster took off on a PCT thru-hike. With characteristic indomitable spirit and enormous levels of good humor, she averaged twenty miles per day, a feat people half her age would envy. Along the way, she was dubbed with the trail name “Rewind” due to her propensity to occasionally double back on the trail to retrieve lost items or see something she missed. As one of the laziest long-distance hikers in history, I marvel at anyone who is willing to add a single step over and above what is required in the daily grind of a thru-hike. That’s no problem for Susan, however, because she has a curious mind and high levels of energy far beyond that of normal mortals.

I took a walk with Susan the other day to catch up on her activities, and it was a delight to hear her enthusiasm for all the places she’s been, all the people she’s interacted with and all the dreams she is working furiously to bring to reality. After her PCT hike, she spent time traveling and exploring in New Zealand and Australia spending much of the time working on organic farms.

Now she is back in Roswell, Ga., but that will not last long. Her next step is toward Northeast Georgia where she is developing something she calls Little Toccoa Creek Farm. Her dream is to develop a small farming operation to supply local produce to farmer’s markets and restaurants. Her challenge is to decide where to plant, how to plant, interacting with her neighbors, developing outbuildings and constructing a small home — all the while keeping everything environmental sustainable.

Susan is a retired educator with a track record of success. She has great kids. She has suffered through the pain of losing a spouse. She is a cancer survivor as well which makes her PCT accomplishment even more amazing. Through it all she has spent much of her spare time dedicated to a variety of volunteer activities — many of them devoted to environment education. Frankly, if I were her, Little Toccoa Creek Farm would be a place where I would kick back in a rocking chair and watch bees pollinate. But Susan is not a contemplator so much as a “doer.”

I wish this whirling dervish of a friend the best, and I really look forward to visiting her new digs near Toccoa.

 

 

Triple Crowner Extraordinaire

I hiked the past couple of days with Susie McNeeley. Susie deserves to be loved and appreciated for putting in a career as a special education teacher. But beyond that, she is a spectacularly gifted and accomplished hiker.

She and I have spent lots of time talking about the old days of thru-hiking the AT. We thru-hiked SOBO in the 70s — me in ’73 and she in ’79 — back when there were still dinosaurs out there. She later thru-hiked the PCT in the early days of the 80s. Then, last year, she went out and took on the Continental Divide Trail. “Anyone who plans to do the CDT should have already thru-hiked one of the other big trails,” she says. “The logistics and route finding on the CDT are way more difficult than the other trails.” She stresses that finding reliable water sources and getting resupplied are Herculean chores out there.

Susie battled illness and minor injuries during her trek, but she managed to do her share of 35-mile days and did most days over 20. I could not have done that when I was 21 years old, much less at Susie’s (I’ll phrase it delicately, and add that she is younger than I) more mature age. But I think I understand what makes her tick. I hiked with her on the rugged Peaks of the Balkans Trail a few years ago. There, I learned that she has constant good humor, an indomitable positivity and energy that just goes on and on. She couples this with a remarkable level of physical stamina unlike any other I’ve witnessed. Any hiking group is improved by her presence.

It’s my guess that of the of 200-or-so Triple Crowners in the world, Susie is among the ones who have the longest gap between first and third thru-hikes — if not the single longest. Apparently, she will not be slowing down. I hope to have a chance to hike with her in future years.

Meanwhile, she is one of those rare, fortunate mortals who can eat all they want. The CDT left her stick-like, and she can scarf down great quantities of food as often as she wants.

Susie exemplifies what I love about the hiking community. If you enjoy being out there, you belong. You check politics and other opinions at the trailhead and enjoy people for who they are out there in the wilderness. Anyone hiking with Susie learns from her example. Stay vertical, Susie, and keep walkin’!