Tag Archives: backpacking

National Trails Act and Wilderness Act are at the heart of so much that matters!

Forgive me for emoting a little, but I appreciate so little of what the government does without my asking that when it does something wonderful — I want to point it out.

Lyndon Johnson signed a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation 53 years ago called the Wilderness Act giving Congress the right to decree tracts of federal land as wilderness. I have visited a number of wilderness areas in the last half century and am a better man for it. I spent a career in the oil business and watched the Kabuki dance that went on between bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, environmental groups and public citizens about how “wilderness” would be established and where.

This year we celebrate another major half-century milestone, the National Trails Act which gave government incentives and funding to recognize and promote maintenance, development and protection of a number of trails including the PCT, the AT, the CDT and the Florida Trail.

I wonder if any of this would had happened if Benton MacKaye — the ultimate hiker’s hero — had not (1) Conceived of the AT and (2) Cofounded the Wilderness Society. Let’s just be glad he existed so we won’t have to find out. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!



Stealth Thru-hikers Up and Running!

This little piece of plastic is a common sight hanging off thru-hikers packs as they head up the Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park. Again this year, I am participating with paid ridge runners and volunteer trail ambassadors to talk to aspiring thru-starters at the park visitors center ready to walk through the stone arch and head up 604 steps to the top of Amicalola Falls.

Part of my job is to sign them up and hand them the little hang tag pictured above. The tag is a way of saying they registered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and that they agree to follow Leave No Trace rules such as bury your poop, camp on durable surfaces and keep your food away from critters — particularly bears.

I am seeing every type of age, nationality, race, gender and preparation level as we talk to people and send them off. Most of them are eager to sit down and listen to a brief talk about equipment, water treatment, Leave No Trace and common trail courtesy. What I love most is the demeanor of the hikers just as they are ready to take their first step — a combination of grim game face/eager anticipation/”What the %$#@ have I gotten myself into?”

In THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story I describe thru-starters who pass over Springer Mtn. as “starry-eyed Alices going through a white-blazed looking glass bound for a dream they don’t understand with shiny new gear, fresh faces and resolve in their eyes.” Since I wrote that, nothing much has changed — just the volume of hikers.

This year more than 4,000 hikers have registered with the ATC, and there is no way to calculate how many will actually be out there. Let’s hope clueless dolts are at a minimum. Most of the hikers are genuinely nice folks who join a supportive and congenial trail culture. Leave No Trace was never so important if we are to keep ourselves from loving the beloved AT to death.



Oh Lawdy, dem woods is on Fire!

When I was a kid, there was a Smoky the Bear PSA on TV showing an animated forest fire. Smoky — in his characteristic deep bearlike voice — shouted, “Fire! Fire! Run for your lives!” And all the little forest animals went dashing through the woods attempting to beat the flames.

Fire was dangerous in those days half a century ago, and it’s dangerous now. At least most of the time it is. But as you can see from the photo above taken in the Chattahoochee National Forest, experts who know what they are doing can start and control fires to burn underbrush, sticks, logs and stumps in an effort to reduce fuel and mitigate the severity of future unplanned fires in the risky fire season months. At the same time, the residue of fire leaves healthy minerals behind to nourish plants that will emerge from the forest floor in early spring.

In the 80s I was on a family vacation in Yellowstone Park when the uncontrolled forest fires ravaged the western woods. Fire had been suppressed for so long in the park that fuel had piled up. The result was utter conflagration. We watched from Yellowstone Lake as trees on the other side literally exploded in a cloud of sparks and smoke.

I returned to Yellowstone a few years ago to backpack into the wilderness. Even three decades later, there were still signs of the fire I had witnessed long before. Yellowstone is a patient place, and it will recover. But I am pleased to see that we now do a better job of taking care of our forests so that hiking, camping and backpacking remain safe and enjoyable ways to visit the woods.


Kicking off another THRU-hike season!


As sure as night follows day, another AT thru-hike season is gearing up. I plan to spend a few days working the Visitors Center at Amicalola Falls working as a Trail Ambassador for the lucky crowd showing up to get their AT hangtag and start on the Approach Trail toward Springer Mtn.

I will also be a speaker at the Amicalola Falls Annual AT Kickoff gathering on March 3-4 at the Amicalola Falls State Park lodge. If you are planning a thru-hike — or just dreaming about one — stop by and say hello. I will, of course, be happy to sign a copy of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story for you. There is so much to learn at the Kickoff as well as a chance to meet legends such as Gene Espy, the dean of thru-hikers.

Then, on March 5, the Len Foote Hike Inn will feature an after-dinner program celebrating the beginning of the 2018 thru-hike season. Hike Inn employees Diane Duffard and Gayle Edgar will join me to talk about the heritage of the trail and the thrill of a modern-day thru-hike. Thru-hikers share an almost evangelistic fervor about their adventures, so I imagine the three of us will generate some fun and energy.

The next morning, Diane will lead guests out to the Approach Trail and up Frosty Mountain as they head back toward the trailhead at Amicalola Falls, a great way to wrap up a Hike Inn trip.

If you want to join us, go to http://www.hike-inn.com to make an on-line reservation. You can also call 1-800-581-8032. As the Beatles once said: “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”




Dropping Down to Erwin

When I thru-hiked the AT in 1973, my parents visited me where the trail crossed the Nolichucky River near Erwin, TN. I recall that the bridge was an old trestle affair in those medieval days, but my Medicare-eligible brain may be fuzzy. What I most cherish about the visit was the steak I scarfed down that night in Johnson City.

The next day I headed up out of the river valley on a steady series of switchbacks that seemed to keep me hanging out over the river — sort of a lovers leap sensation. Years later — when I was working on a 15-year section hike — I came from the other direction headed north and descending to the river. That’s the spot where Uncle Johnny’s hostel is now, not as desolate as it once was. Lots of hiking and rafting in the area, not to mention good smallmouth bass angling.

My hiking chums Stoneheart and Trailbeard went through there this past fall and captured the heart-in-your-throat view down into the river. (Thanks to Stoneheart for the pic.) A northbounder has plenty of thrills ahead over the next few days heading toward Roan Mountain and the gorgeous balds north of there. Many AT lovers consider this region among their favorites.

Get out and hike this winter. Cold weather gets the juices flowing. Stay vertical, keep walkin’ and use your Christmas money to buy a copy of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story.

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


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.