After the trail: The return of the existential despair

Occasionally I repost material written by others that I feel a connection with. Carrot Quinn has given us one of the best post-thru hike accounts of how it feels to stop walking after exercising 12 hours a day, for day after day, and months at a time.

photo by Carrot Quinn

photo by Carrot Quinn

It’s a bit long, but has good photos and deserves to be listened to.–> After the trail: The return of the existential despair.

I experienced some of this post hike depression in 2007 after I completed the AT. I was better after the 2010 PCT hike, and am almost back on track after completing the CDT this past September. I do have a great place to live, and a family and friends that love me.

It still feels feels selfish when I whine after being on “vacation” for 5-6 months a year, but thru hiking was definitely not a vacation. My MeGaTex buddies and I used to joke about how nice it would be to just be able to “camp” and walk a bit each day, but we were generally asleep after boiling up a pot of food, and staring at the campfire until the tiredness took us away into the darkness.

Gulf Hagas Winter Walk

Overlooking Pleasant River

Overlooking Pleasant River

I’ve visited Gulf Hagas a few times over the years, the last time in 2007, as I was finishing up my thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Back then, it was a warm day in September, and we took a whole day to detour off the AT to explore what many consider ” a wilderness setting unsurpassed in the 2,000 miles of the Appalchian”.  General Lee, Bird Dawg, Richard Wizard, Queso, Life Traveler,  and I showered under Screw Auger Falls at the beginning, and then soaked in a giant pool at the Head of the Gulf that day.   We were the only thru-hikers that month who took the day off to check out the gorge’s 100 foot high slate walls. Everyone’s rushing lately, even hikers taking five months off to walk in woods.

In January, it’s a completely different experience.  It was Bonelady’s day off from cooking meals at Little Lyford Camps and Lodge, so we were able to hike the 10.4 mile round trip together. We left at 9:30 am and were back by 2:30. Snowshoes were lashed to our day packs, but we never used them.  The rains and warm temps of the last week lowered the snow cover to about a foot.

Head of the Gulf

Head of the Gulf

The first two miles of trail were flat and hard-packed, due to the relatively easy access to the Head of the Gulf, where most of the LLC guests stop and return after viewing the winter watercourse of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Bonelady points out feature

Bonelady points out feature

The view today featured ice, and the roaring cascades of  unique, light brown-tinged water that is characteristic of the iron deposits within the bedrock here.  The canyon itself is three miles long, with a trail that ascends and descends a few hundred feet, mostly along the top of the cliff alongside the raging waters below. This is the third winter that Bonelady has worked at Little Lyford Camps and she said she’s never seen the water this high. This week, five inches of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have released unimaginable amounts of water from the melting snow cover.

Close-up of Billings Falls

Close-up of Billings Falls

Billings Falls was most spectacular.  Massive sculpted mantles formed a horseshoe of greenish ice that reached twenty feet from the top down to open pool of frothy churn below.  No summer rafting here- due to the numerous waterfalls over the 600 foot drop in elevation along the watercourse.  You can here it briefly here:

I’m not sure one could get through here today without traction devices.

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Long way down

Long way down

I wore a pair of Stabilicers and Bonelady was sporting her Kaltoonas. There were three steep, icy pitches on the walk where I was super careful not to fall. Thank God for vegetable handholds in the form of exposed roots and saplings.  On the way back, the firm cover had started to melt, welcoming us to post holing through to our shins, with no cuts or bruises.

By the time I made it back to LLC, I was seriously beat. This woman can move.  My right little toe was sore, but thankfully not blistered.  I am not used to walking this distance in LL Bean winter, rubber-soled boots.

I am staying in an empty bedroom in staff housing for the next two nights.  The building has been partly renovated this summer with a new wood stove and bathroom with flush toilet and hot water, heated by a Rinnai on-demand wall unit.

The rest of the day was laid back.  I took a hot shower, meditated for half an hour, and then hung out on the couch- reading, writing, and chatting with Bonelady.  After it got dark, we took a short walk onto the frozen surface to watch the full moon rise on one end of the pond, with Baker Mountain looming up on the other end. None better.

Then no rush getting over to supper of Alfredo pasta with chicken, broccoli, fresh bread sticks, and carrot cake for dessert.

The wood- fired sauna had been heating up all afternoon, so a couple of sweat sessions at 180 degrees made up the after dinner program.

I fought to stay awake unit 9 pm, when I trundled my way upstairs where I pulled back the curtains and threw open the window to let in the refreshingly cool night air.  A giant skylight hovered above me, flooding the full moon’s magic into the room.  Into the Silence I went.

Liking Little Lyford Cabins

I  left the house at 9 AM and rolled into Greenville down past the Indian Hill trading post exactly at 11. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the view of Moosehead Lake unfolding downhill stuns me.  Today, the surface of the lake is covered in standing water, with the temperatures above freezing after some 5 inches of rain and a unexpected thaw. It’s eerie.

I grabbed a quick lunch of corn chowder and a hot dog, then drove out of town past the airport along the Katahdin Iron Works ( or “KI road”) for ten miles or so toward increasing wilderness and the Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins winter parking lot at Hedgehog Gate.  It didn’t take long for me to become terrified. It was steadily raining now, and any sand that had been spread over the thick ice on the road had long been washed away.  The roadway is essentially a lubricated, smooth ice-rink. But ice rinks are flat, and this goes up and down and pitches from side to side.  The only reason I didn’t skid off was 4 newly studded winter snow tires on my 2000 Plymouth Voyager.  Even so, I was so anxious and hyped up that I settled myself by “pranayama-ing” along, with one hand up on my nose, alternating yogic nostril closures while the other hand gingerly worked the steering wheel at 20 miles an hour. I knew that one mistake would skid me into the deeper snow on the side of the road, and so far there was no one else dumb enough to be out here. There were also no ” rescue me” Verizon bars showing on my iPhone.  I was definitely on my own, creeping and sliding.

Toward the end of the road, I saw my first and only vehicle- a white 4 wheeled drive pickup traveling in the same direction way up ahead. I thought that if I could catch it, they would see me behind them, and rescue me if they watched my head lights flash sideways if and when I skidded off.

I knew I was in trouble as I advanced up the last long uphill.  I was coming up the hill faster than they were to the point where I had to start slowing dow or I would run into them- uphill!   Why were they going so slowly?  Momentum was the only way I could make it up.  If I had to stop on the hill, I would not be able to start uphill again, and would likely have to back all of the way down to a flat spot and try again. Miraculously, I crept to the top behind them, and there was the sanctuary of the parking lot.

The lot itself was so icy that I had to put on my traction devices just to unload my gear, including my Pugsley.  The three guys in the truck were also headed into Little Lyford. You unload your gear here into a little kiosk where a snowmobile trailers it into LL at 2 pm every day, allowing the unfettered guest to ski or snowshoe 6.2 miles into camp.

The driver of the truck was shocked to hear that my vehicle was not all wheel drive. They were experienced outdoorsmen, and worked in the military- aviation mechanics. I learned why they were moving so slowly. This was their second attempt at coming in this morning. The first time, they actually turned around and went back to Greenville where they bought  chains to attach to the wheels. The slow speed was necessary to prevent centrifugal force from stretching the newly-installed chains.  Slow and steady worked for them, as it did for me.

I am definitely an oddity with my bike here.  In fact, I had to get permission to ride to LL this winter season.  Yes, I’m the first fat-tired bike rider to cruise the winter road to LLC.  I gambled that the surface would hold me up and won. The other three Bangor guys walked in with the aid of traction devices, taking them two hours and 45 minutes, an average time for foot travel.  I, on the bike, clocked in at 1 hour and 3 minutes.  All my practice with recent ice riding trips in midcoast Maine for the past two weeks paid off.  Using my studded 45N tires made a fall-free entrance possible, running 3.5 psi front and rear.  I had a blast.

I’m here at the invitation of my new Triple Crown backpacking friend Bonelady, who is the head cook this winter, her third in a row. We had been Facebook CDT 2013 Group acquaintances until we met face to face on the Continental Divide Trail this season.  I have wanted to stay here for a few years now, but it has never materialized.  Turns out, the guest count is nonexistent at mid-week , and I promised to be no bother.

I’m staying in Little Lyford’s littlest cabin tonight.

My cabin

My cabin

I overheated it.  Bonelady warned me that it would probably be too warm, but even with a one stick stoke at 4 pm, by my bedtime after 9, it must have been over 80 degrees inside. The log walls and metal roof hold the heat.

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

One bed- propane lights illuminate ( and heat up)  the spaceOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a coupe of propane lights on the wall with an ancient outhouse out back.

My very own outhouse

My very own outhouse

Little Lyford camps have been in this exact location since it was started up as a lumbering camp in 1870. The Appalachian Mountain Club has owned it for the past 10 years. It is a thrill to experience this setting.

Main lodge- dining room and library

Main lodge- dining room and library

And yes, the food is superb, and plenty of it.

To read more about Little Lyford check out Village in the Woods from the January 2014 issue of Downeast Magazine.

My Favorite Books Read in 2013

Lists, lists, lists…

This time of year, it’s easy to scan countless columns of the best movies, best books.

I haven’t seen “Best Meals I’ve Cooked in 2013″, but there is a list for that, for sure.

I am tired of going to such lists online and then experiencing ads popping up in the middle.  Outside mag. is the worst offender, their content is generally great but they are killing me with their creeping advertising campaign.

Here are my one dozen best reads from 2013.    No ads.

Can't resist- Here's #1

Can’t resist- Here’s #1

Disclaimer:  I’m shooting you over to my Goodreads bookshelves via my blog.  You can see what I like, and then you can click on each book and get more details. I have reviewed most of them.  You can also friend me on Goodreads and then I can also see what you like to read and get more recommendations for like-minded folks.  Thanks to my hiker buddy Birdlegs for turning me on to Goodreads!

From Goodreads –> Tom Jamrog’s Favorite Books Read in 2013 .

Uncle Tom / Portland Press Herald

One should expect a lot of challenges over the course of a six-month backpacking journey, yes. But on the 3,200-mile long Continental Divide Trail, challenge takes on a whole new meaning.

Just ask Tom Jamrog of Lincolnville, who recently completed this epic five-month hike from Mexico to Canada through four states along the sinuous spine of the Rocky Mountains. With the AT and the PCT already under his hip belt, Jamrog has now joined a rather elite group of hikers who have achieved this Triple Crown feat.

Jamrog atop 14,440' Mt. Elbert, CO

Jamrog atop 14,440′ Mt. Elbert, CO

Kish’s complete article here –> Continental-sized challenges on the Continental Divide Trail | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Uncle Tom in the Bangor News- Lincolnville retiree completes Triple Crown of hiking

 

Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>

Lincolnville retiree completes Triple Crown of hiking, nearly 8,000 miles on the trail — Outdoors — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — 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.

via Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

<–check out the full story, with video trailer.

Four Dog Stove sponsors Uncle Tom’s CDT hike

Don pitching to the hikers at Trail Days 2011

Don pitching to the hikers at Trail Days 2011

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.

Four Dog stove, winter setup

Four Dog stove, winter setup

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.

Birthday present: Walking eight miles in the rain over snow

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:

First This !

First This !

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.

Double espresso, eggs, croissant, presents!

Double espresso, eggs, croissant, presents!

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.

screenshotAfter 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. !

La, La, la!

La, La, la!

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.