Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine, By Alex Barber — Just like the lost boy atop Mount Katahdin in 1939, two filmmakers are in the midst of a long journey with an uncertain outcome. Waterville, ME native Ryan Cook hopes his project turns out with a happy ending, just like the person whose story he’s telling — Donn Fendler.
On July 17, 1939, 12-year-old Fendler was separated from his family and became lost on Mount Katahdin. He emerged from the woods nine days later after the search for him had made headlines across the country.
<–check out the full story, with video trailer.
Four Dog Stove is the major sponsor for my upcoming ( April 17, 2013) attempt to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail, AKA “ King of Trails”.
I will be using Four Dog’s Bushcooker LT1 multi-fuel stove kit. In addition, Four Dog Stove has provided financial support for purchase of maps, solid fuel tablets, and 55 days of Mountainhouse freeze-dried meals for the remote sections requiring food drops.
My connection with Don Kevilus and Four Dog Stove goes back 15 years, when I purchased one of his 11 x 11 x 22 titanium Ultralight tent stoves. I still use it to heat my 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton wall tent in the winter and fall on toboggan/snowshoe and canoeing trips.
Since then, I’ve purchased saws, books, titanium pots, as well as the only titanium tent stakes made in the USA.
I first met Don in Vermont at the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous. He gave a couple of stove and fire building workshops and tended a vendor table, where he sold his handcrafted stoves, as well as a variety of survival and outdoor skills-related tools, strikers, books, videos, and knives.
I was intrigued by his newest creation, a small titanium backpacker’s model. I inquired about a purchase and Don encouraged me to make my own, and try it rather than purchase his $100+ creation. I liked him immediately.
I enrolled in his half-day workshop, where I had fun and successfully built my own twin-walled, secondary-burn multi-fuel stove. At the time I was backpacking with a highly modified ultra-light Sierra Zip stove, where the electrical components were the Achille’s Heel of the unit, and Don’s lure of lure of simplicity and efficiency appealed to me. After I built the stove, I made more of them at home. I was worked up about the little firepots, and gave them to my friends and family for Christmas gifts. I used that stove on my 2007 Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
In 2010 I completed a thru-hike of the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail. This time, Don provided me with a Bushcooker LT 1, a 2.5 ounce single-person alcohol, solid-fuel, and wood/charcoal burning titanium unit that that nested in a Snow Peak Trek 600 ml cook pot/mug. An alcohol fuel cup, a windscreen, and my MSR coffee filter also fit in the mug, capped by a custom titanium lid. Don recommended welding two titanium tabs to the top of the cup that secured a wired bail handle to the pot, for moving it in and out of campfires as well as on and off the stove itself. The stove performed flawlessly, boiling up two to three times a day for 156 days. What convinced me that I had the best unit out there was when my traveling companions used mine whenever they ran out of fuel and were unable to locate isobutane canisters for their Pocket Rockets or Jetboils.
Five years ago, Don presented at Snow Walker’s again. This time, he asked me if I would serve as an assistant in his build-your-own Bushcooker class. I agreed, and learned a lot, mostly what-not-to-do, and how things can go wrong. I also became more skilled at explaining the details of the stove, and learned additional assembly tricks and tips. As part of the course, Don has also expanded what he calls his “Potology 101” talk, a working presentation of facts and table-top examples on the current use of biofuel for cooking on the planet ( over 2.4 billion people), with practical physics of heat values of the fuel types, and the science of heat transfer and efficiency, when the flame meets the pot.
In 2011, I assisted in sales and stove demonstrations at the Four Dog Stove booth at Appalachian Trail Days in Damascus, VA.
I now have 3,000 trail miles on my present Bushcooker LT1 and I’m planning another to use it on my upcoming CDT hike of 2,800 miles. Readers can follow
my daily Trailjournal .
Since then Don, has encouraged me to offer these build-your-own stove workshops here in Maine, where I have sold-out two of the adult-education programs in the past 6 months. I Don continues to provide me with a custom fabricated, titanium base plate that we use in assembling these units.
Simpler is better.
In the wee hours of the morning ( 4:12 AM), I realized that the weather would not compel many friends to accompany me on my birthday walk in the Park today:
I don’t work on my birthday. At least one day of my life should be scheduled to be free of responsibilities to the economic machine! Tonight will also feature a full moon, plus today is the anniversary of my setting foot on my first National Scenic Trail thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2007.
Marcia got up to make me a birthday breakfast, along with providing a few cards and gifts. She’s the best.
I knew that I would be going it alone today, but hoped that I’d have some company in the Ski Shelter that I rented for tonight in the Camden Hills.
I’m fortunate to live here, where I can look out two big glass windows and take in a view of the valley and assess my destination today, up and over the sloping back side of the Camden Hills. After breakfast, I put on my Patagonia Specter rain jacket, shouldered my loaded pack, slide my hands into the rain mitts and under the straps of my Leki poles, and proceeded to walk across town, my own march to the sea.
I started walking on the crumbling snow coating the abandoned Proctor Road. It’s slippery underfoot, but I tried walking without traction devices on my feet and it seemed good. I’m getting used to walking again with a full pack. It feels familiar, but a bit uncomfortable, like a draft horse in a dry old harness that both need to loosen up a bit.
After I walked through some mud at the other end of the Proctor Road I wind my way down through Lincolnville Center. It’s been easy going so far, mostly downhill. Now the climb starts, first up the Thurlow Road, where it gets sketchier on an abandoned section that eventually crosses Youngtown Road, where it dumps me onto a snowmobile trail that heads up the back side of Cameron Mtn. This time of the year the terrain appears foreign, primarily due to the lack of leaves, so the tunnels seem lighter, longer, and more desolate. It’s cold, spitting light rain from the sky, and as long as I’m moving, I’m comfortable but I’m getting tired. I’ve been moving steady and at a good clip for two hours straight.
I forgot to pack snacks. I turned left at the base of Cameron and planned to take the downhill to link onto the Multipurpose trail. If you are following the map, I am right at the “4″ mark. I take a brief rest, reach into the pack, eat one of the lemon-filled cupcakes that Marcia made me for my birthday, and drink a pint of water from Tiki-man. My lower abdomen still is uncomfortable, residual healing from the hernia surgery from 5 weeks ago. The doctor tells me to walk through it, and assured me that I am healing well.
I really hope that more healing is done by the time I leave for the CDT in 16 days.
Two of my friends, Karl Gottshalk and Pat Hurley came by after 4 PM to spend the night in the shelter with me. Pat and I grilled up steaks out in one of the grill stations, and then we ate cake, provided by Karl. !
I plan to put in 9 more days of hiking, alternated with 9 rest days. I’m following the conditioning program favored by Ray Jardine, where I hope to culminate on a 12 mile day over these hills with 35 pounds in my pack. That should do it.
In Maine’s Sunday Telegram.
Dateline: Spring Brook, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, ME
The normally staid water bottle, AKA Tiki- Man, barely survived a harrowing fall into the rushing, frigid Class V rapids along Spring Brook on March 16, 2013, in Midcoast Maine.
Glancing straight down the side of the road to the surface of the maelstrom below, Tiki-man was sighted, in an immobilized state within the backwaters of an eddy, but beyond human reach. Tenzing leaped into rescue mode, and quickly fashioned a three-pronged branch, that he used to dislodge and release Tiki man, only to realize that the valiant water bottle was facing yet another harrowing scoot down the icy water.
Tiki-man courageously traversed at a diagonal across the channel, where he eventually struggled to maintain a tentative hold on the far-side shore.
At this point, Tiki-man was clearly up against very thin ice.
The three-pronged stick guided Tiki-man past this last challenge into a still pool, where he was airlifted to safety by the selfsame stick.
Most importantly, Tiki-Man lived to tell the tale. He described his dunking as the most harrowing experience that he has ever been through.
Tiki-man is a seasoned, 6 year old water bottle. Tiki-Man has recently become increasingly despondent at his persistent failure to lose enough weight to qualify him as an ultralight backpacking accessory. He occasionally mumbles about being teased as “a bloated relic” by Platypi and even the young upstart plastic soda bottles.
The colorful character has risen through the ranks of backpacking water bottles through his persistent dedication to thru-hiker hydration.
A veteran of three National Scenic Trails, Tiki man has endured unparalleled adventures on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Vermont’s Long Trails.
The closest the battered water bottle had come to the slag heap of also-ran hiker gear was in 2007, when he was dropped from a day pack on the AT and left for dead in a crevice between a rock and a hard place. Extracted from his impending tomb by a hiker named Big Sky, the revived Tiki-Man survived a dark passage through the US Postal Service, adorned with a mere one dollar and thirty-two cent stamp and a tattered Uncle Tom address label.
Undaunted by his early morning sub-freezing soak today, Tiki- man bucked up, and settled into place in the backpack, where the wizened vessel supplied his human partner, Uncle Tom, with hydration on a long winter day hike in the Camden Hills.
I am really relieved at the outcome of this two night survival story. This 17 year old boy amazed the authorities by surviving two nights on the side of Sugarloaf Mountain in 20 degree temperatures, along with 8 inches of fresh snow, freezing rain, and at times with a visibility of only 30 feet. The young man was found at the base of Sugarloaf off the Caribou Pond Road, where he constructed a shelter of branches and drank water from snow and Carrabasset Stream. This is an area familiar to Appalachian Trail backpackers. Nick Joy told authorities that he learned the techniques that saw him live through what normally kills people here in Maine from watching survival shows on television.
Joy eventually heard a snowmobile coming up the trail, climbed out of the shelter, walk over, hopped on and was taken out in decent shape.
This outcome drives home the point that one needs to be prepared when going out to the Maine wilderness. I strongly encourage those of us (including myself) to take along a charged cell phone, and now a lighter, on day trips into the deep forest, although it is questionable whether Joy would have had reception down that low in the valley.
I’m confient that if Joy had a means to spark a fire, he would have done so, and the rescue would not have been such a big deal for the hundred plus Navy Seals, border patrol agents, wardens, and mountain rescue individuals who looked for Nick.
I feel a bit less guilty about lying on the couch Monday night as I watched Les Stroud (Survivorman) instruct me on how to build such a shelter, along with what not to do- wander around, get wet, and succumb to hypothermia.
“Uncle Tom, why are you wearing boots? “ – One of the Kiwis, at Third Gate on the PCT (2010)
“I’m curious about your choice of shoes. Comment please…”- Dennis on tjamrog.wordpress.com (3/2/2013)
You’ll see a fairly regular number of hikers wearing boots on the Appalachian Trail. You won’t see many boots worn by long-distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I bet I’ll be the only long-distance hiker wearing boots on the Continental Divide Trail this season.
Here are some of the reasons from today’s Google about boot shunning, mostly from hikers on Whiteblaze.com:
Boots are considered so old-school as to be relegated to the slag heap of slide rulers and hand-held calculators that cost $50. They are considered unnecessary, and so heavy that they are a sysiphean drag on the energy required to lift each foot. They don’t dry out as fast as lighter, fabric trail runners. They supposedly “reduce blood circulation” (therefore your feet won’t be as warm than if they were in trail runners). Boots, ”increase the chance of ankle injury by masking features in the terrain that would turn an ankle”. Boots cost too much to replace when your feet grow on a thru-hike ( compared to trail runners). Gore-tex and other membrane boots don’t stay waterproof for long (Thru hiking “abuses the membrane” through dirt, sweat, and body oil….in as little as 45 days.)
Here’s an answer (whiteblaze.com) that begs critical analysis – “I thru hiked with boots. I had no issues with ankle support. ..Boots kept me from spraining or injuring my ankle”. This answer illustrates the generalization fallacy, illustrated by substituting one word to change the statement to, “ I thru hiked with sandals. I had no issues with ankle support. Sandals kept me from spraining or injuring my ankles”.
People do complete thru hikes in minimalist footwear. In fact, I saw a barefoot thru hiker on September 13 this year on the summit of Katahdin. It was this guy:
He swears in this most interesting blog entry, “I will never wear hiking boots again.”
Few plusses are found for boots: Boots provide “ankle support”, “keep feet cleaner”, protect if something heavy falls or whacks against your foot, and are, “more durable”. Here’s a durablility dreamer, “Do I want a pair that will see me through this hike and others in the years ahead?” Obviously from someone who is still contemplating a thru-hike.
So why buck the current trend?
History–> I started the AT in boots that were highly recommended to me from experienced staff up at Winterport Boot shop. They sold me a pair of Merrill Phaser Peaks
In 2007, I began to get blisters within a week of hiking in Georgia, and some of the people I was hiking with encouraged me switch to ventilated trail runners, so I went to a pair of New Balance, and the blisters stopped. I then switched to Inov-8’s in Virginia with Superfeet insoles that took me all the way to Maine. Unfortunately that combo left me with nerve damage and low-grade left forefoot pain. Despite physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, medication, custom orthotics, and consulting the best sports podiatrist in Maine, I’m still affected. It hasn’t gotten any better, but is no worse, even after two more thru hikes.
I was ready to start the PCT in April of 2010 in Asics Gel Trabucos when my brother Roy, who works as a costing manager for New Balance, told me that NB had just acquired a Vermont company, On the Beach, that manufactures military and tactical footwear.
“You are going to hiking in the desert, right? These are the exact boots worn by Navy Seals in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can get you a pair to try out.”
Long story short, I received free New Balance Tactical 802 boots for whole 2,700 miles, where I encountered NO blisters.
I did jump up to a size 14, with PLENTY of room in the forefoot, that ensured my toes were not able to rub when I walked.
That, plus 2 pair of thin merino wool micro-crew Cushion Darn Tough socks that survived the whole trip. There is no finer hiker deal than Darn Tough. There is NO other manufacturer whose hiking socks last like Darn Tough, and even better, the $20 that you spend on a pair is a lifetime deal. Made in Vermont. “If you wear these socks out, we’ll replace them. Free of charge. No questions asked.” It’s true, I have 2 new pair of replaced Darn Tough socks for the CDT.
People get blisters on the PCT, even General Lee, who is usually blister free, but whose feet succumbed to the volcanic grit that was present in Northern California and Oregon.
I now hike three seasons in the Bushmasters, now renamed the NB Tactical 802, which also allowed me a blister free completion of Vermont’s Long Trail (2011).
I like being free of blisters. The boots ventilate exceedingly well, and this trip starts in the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico. After they are soaked from rain or stream crossings, they dry our very quickly. The specialized Vibram soles wear and grip nicely. The laces don’t wear. They are fairly light, and don’t have any metal in them, which is a military consideration. They weigh 1.5 pounds each, where my Inov-8’s with Superfeet insoles weigh 1 pound each. No big deal.
My beef with the boots continues to be the exposed stitching on the toe and heel cups. I went through 4 pair on the PCT and in each case, the stitching rubbed through, and made a hole between the plastic cup and and fabric where debris entered, and the separations increased, primarily on the toe cups. I communicated my concerns back to NB. The primary manager for these particular boots assured me that there would be a design modification in future factory runs of the boot that would recess and then cover these areas, but it hasn’t happened yet.
My brother Roy has helped me to secure five new pairs of Tactical 802′s for this trip. One pair was free, and the other four were sold to me for 60% discount, with free shipping.
This time, I’m coating the toe and heel stitching with a sealant, probably more than one thin coat. Auntie Mame will send them to me when I need them.
That’s why I wear boots. These boots work for me, but as Auntie Mame so perceptively put, “You could also call them ankle height trail runners.” Enough already.
Soon it will time to “Stop Talking, Start Walking”
I have superb black shell Mountain Hardware Ventigators (gaiters) that I have become most fond of, but that are now a disappointment.
I have used the gaiters, off and on, since I purchased them Virginia when thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2007. Maybe I should not be complaining?
I have no problem with the gaiters. I especially like them because they have a zip away meshed ventilating quarter panel that is excellent for dumping heat in the warm weather. They have held up very well, no tears, no fraying.However, the waterproof coating is now peeling off the inside of the gaiters in sheets . Out of the clothes washer after a recent hike, I saw that hunks of the coating are now jamming up the Velcro on the front closure. From the outside, the gaiters look new. I sent the following picture to Customer Service at Mountain Hardware:
I wanted to choose a pair for half price, with the Pro Deal.
I changed my mind when i was told that I could not both get Pro Deal gaiters and also have my old ones sent back to me. PIck one or the other.
I’m spoiled by impeccable customer service. Patagonia honored their warranty of my Super Pluma rain jacket due to delamination in the forearms after 4 years. I’m done with these Mountain Hardware guys.
Lest the reader thinks I am a malcontent, who relishes the habit of trashing companies for poor customer services, I have experienced nothing but superb satisfaction from the following companies that have dealt with me and my gear problems, and want to give a LOUD shout out to: Leki, Tarptent, Patagonia, Steripen, ULA Equipment, Darn Tough (socks), Princeton (headlamps), Cascade Designs (Thermrest), and Ibex (wool) clothing.
The Friends of Baxter State Park give away 8-9 day backpacking trips within the park every summer. That’s why I donate to them. Please get the word out to fill these applications!