Baxter’s Traveler Loop hike

In two weeks, I depart for a week long backpacking transect of Maine’s Baxter State Park, where one of the days will be spent on this tough loop hike. I have done it once before, we’ll see how it goes this time. I remember it was a dry route, so I’ll  pack extra water, and a flashlight!

photo by Bridget Besaw

Maine: Hike and Canoe Baxter State Park. –from Beyond the Edge: National Geographic Adventure Blog, originally posted by Chris Kassar on July 30, 2014,

Walk one of the park’s newest, toughest trails, then enjoy an easy lake paddle.

What Is It? Looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds in one of Maine’s most heavily visited state parks? Try the Traveler Mountain Loop. It’s a lung-busting, 10.6-mile circuit that includes three separate mountain summits and climbs over 3,700 feet in total. You’ll spend two-thirds of your time above tree line, which means striking views but also rapidly changing weather, so be prepared.

Why Do It? Baxter State Park is an exquisite treasure in a state known for its beauty. The Traveler Mountain loop hike—which tops out on Peak of the Ridges, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler Mountain—rivals the popular Katahdin climb in vistas and difficulty. But it’s on the north side of the park, so you’ll likely experience solitude. Reward your intense effort with an easy paddle on a serene lake the next day, and keep an eye out for moose.

Make It Happen: Visit Baxter State Park’s site for maps, conditions, and information.



How to get into ultralight backpacking

Lightening your backpacking load can have dramatic implications, particularly for aging hikers who have followed the techniques in Colin Fletcher’s “Complete Walker” hiking bible.


    Last summer, when I was hitchhiking in Colorado, I met a 63 year old hiker who gave me a ride. He taught a course on Ultralight Backpacking at the local college. Bob said that the easiest way is go ultralight was to scrape up $1250, go to the website, and order their most popular cuben fiber pack, solo tent, and down sleeping bag.  This gets the “Big Three” on your back for total weight of three pounds. Expensive, but efficient.
For the rest of us, it’s best to start with keeping the big 3 under 10 pounds, which would lead to a fully loaded backpack of 15-20 pounds if you leave that Rambo knife at home.
Once you have cut the weight on your Big 3, you enter the “ we pack for our fear” zone.  Anxiety about what might go wrong on a hike may lead to placement of unnecessary items in that light pack.  For example, I once saw another backpacker pull a cast iron two foot long lawnmower blade from his pack and place it by the side of his sleeping bag at bedtime.  I asked him about it and he said, “ Wild hogs here in Georgia can attack you when you sleep.”  I used to carry a heavy ankle brace, “just in case” , but after lugging around-unused for 3,700 miles I now leave it at home.
I hike with three pair of thin socks, two for walking in, one for sleeping. Ultralight hikers don’t generally carry spare clothing like underwear.  Some give up long pants in the warmer weather, adding thin wool tights and rain pants if it gets too cold.
Another popular option to ditch weight is to go stoveless, and forget the cooking pot as well, opting for foods that don’t require cooking, or that can be rehydrated with water in a plastic container.
A Katadyne-type pump filter for water purification is not a typically in an ultralight pack- instead we see the Aqua Mira solution, or a Sawyer Squeeze gravity system.
The best resource for a quick lesson in learning about ultra and lightweight backpacking is the book “Lighten Up ! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking” by Don Ladigin. It’s inexpensive and filled with all you need to know. 51VeNaJAHsL._AA160_
Of course if you have $1250 bucks, you can get there quickly, but I would rather take that amount and use the money for a one- month backpacking trip.

Top Ten Hiking Tips From the Woman Who Hiked the AT Faster Than Anyone – Beyond the Edge

Photograph by Christoffer Sjostrom

Photograph by Christoffer Sjostrom

Top Ten Hiking Tips From the Woman Who Hiked the AT Faster Than Anyone – Beyond the Edge.

Excellent points, from Jennifer Pfarr Davis ( “Odessa”) , who was awarded Outside Magazine’s Adventurer of the year Award in 2012 for her record breaking hike of the Appalachian Trail.   Her 47 mile a day pace suggests that one might pay attention to her recommendations.  I’ve not seen tip #6  elsewhere on these types of lists — to personalize your hike, by incorporating your off-trail interests into your hiking adventure. For example, if you like to read, bring a book.

For those of us who use electronics like a smartphones or a Steripen , I  agree on the use of small battery pack rather than the often frustrating solar charger.  I love my 4 oz. Anker 5600 mAh external battery.

In a related story, the self-supported record for the Pacific Crest Trail was just broken in 2013 ( 60 days, 17 hours)  by another woman -Heather Anderson ( “Anish”) . The August 2014 Backpacker magazine has an excellent article about her and her hike, entitled A Ghost Among Us.


Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery
Anker Astro 5600mAh External Battery


My Book Review of Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park

Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National ParkDeath in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park by Lee H. Whittlesey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t be reading this book just before a vacation to Yellowstone National Park. You just might cancel your reservations.

Death in Yellowstone details the 350 violent deaths that occurred from the period of 1839-2012. When you have 750 bears, 4,000 buffaloes, and 10,000 hot springs, and precipitous mountain locations things go wrong, occasionally deadly wrong, and this book chronicles approximately 350 of those end game scenarios.

It’s a well researched, 2014 second edition effort, with close to 100 pages of notes, and additional bibliography, and extensive index.

Nature Can Kill is the book’s slogan.

Here’s a representative list of the ways you could get terminated: Stumbling (or diving!) into hot springs, falling off high places, crushed by a falling tree, freezing /hypothermia, grizzly bears, murders, suicides, accidental shootings, drownings, and a few lesser tier deaths under the noxious fumes/poisonous gasses cluster. There’s more, if you can get your imagination flowing into the macabre direction.

Some segments didn’t work for me, like the drowning chapter. It quickly became repetitive to detail who drowned, how they drowned, who found them, etc.

I found the Death in Hot Water, and Human Deaths from Bears and How to Keep Them From Happening chapters the most interesting. They are also the longest chapters. I have actually backpacked for a week through Yellowstone, which was a unique experience for me, one which gave me confidence and practice in avoiding mishaps from the few bear encounters that I have experienced. I saw grizzlies and I am here to tell about it, as are most of the many millions of individuals who have enjoyed their visits in the Park. The best part of the book was on pages 87-90 at the end of the bear chapter. The author summarizes all the data from bear attacks and reduces the advice to this sentences, ”The worst possible situation is a person hiking alone, who surprises a bear that is feeding ( as on a carcass) and also has cubs.”

I was just back in Yellowstone this week, where federal cuts resulted in no rangers observed supervising the hordes of summer tourists doing their best to illustrate stupid behaviors in the wilderness. I expect a thicker revision of this popular book, and sooner than later. Some of those people walking around the Park with their eyes glued onto their smart phones are going to figure into this.

View all my reviews

Yellowstone Revisited

Spent the day at Yellowstone National Park. It is the fourth time that I have visited there, and the first time that I have been in the Park in early summer, when the landscape is still green and not in shades of brown from the lack of rain, as the summers here move on, with day after day of pure blue skies.

I was last here in August (2013) when I spent a week backpacking north through Yellowstone, when it was hot and I was frustrated with trying to make dictated mileages between assigned campsites that were chosen for us without car transport in mind.  8.09 Old Faithful This time, I was driving around in a brand new rental car, and life is much different, so easy.   Today it’s mostly in the mid-50’s out, with showers coming and going, all day long. Who cares, we’re in Yellowstone !

Pleased to display to the Gardiner entrance ranger my lifetime National Parks Pass.

Senior benefit, finally!

Senior benefit, finally!

“Hold on to you $25 car fee, sir- pass right through. Have a great day in Yellowstone.”

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles. “Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano.”- from Wikipedia.

Given the relatively early date, the Park was packed. All the lots were all full, and required jousting with packs of motorcyclists, RV’s, and apparently clueless individuals who would stop their rented SUV’s right in the middle of key highway turns as they consulted their media maps.
We aimed at focusing our visit, and not try to do too much in one day. Our goal was to do the Fountain Paint Pots and the Midway Geyser Basin walks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was thickly clouded, frequently showering, with the air holding that sulfur smell reeking from these fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, and geysers.

I really wanted to show my mom, Isabel, and son Lincoln the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Such a cool name for a geographical formation. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is 300 feet in diameter and 160 fet deep. I have seen it four times, and while the obscured sun and the thick white clouds of vapor reduced the vibrancy of the colors, it still floored me.

Grand Prismatic Spring today

Grand Prismatic Spring today

Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue

I picked up a new book about Yellowstone here- Death in Yellowstone. 51d90Sg2MuL._AA160_      It’s the type of book that you absolutely can’t read just before you visit the park, lest you are so frightened by the stories of all the ways hundreds of people have perished from non-natural causes in the Park.
On the boardwalk around Grand Prismatic, we witnessed a young Asian family nearly become yet another dumb-hurt statistic. The wind was really whipping up, and we were walking on an elevated boardwalk bordering the spring that had no guardrails, with a walking surface a bit slippery due to the rain. Mind you, there is super boiling water flowing underneath us. The mom and dad were pushing a baby in a stroller that was draped with a heavy plastic sheet. Suddenly, the three-wheeled stroller escaped the grip of the dad and pitched completely over and crash to the boardwalk. It landed just a foot from the edge of the walkway, throwing the parents into a panic, while the little five year old sister started laughing uncontrollably pointing at the downed stroller and the little upside-down child that was smacked down on the deck. It was a miracle that the baby didn’t get catapulted off the boardwalk into the boiling water and also that one of those parents didn’t have to jump into the same cauldron to extract the baby.  What were they thinking?

We made the right choice to call it a day and headed back north through the Gardiner gate toward Livingston. We saw deer, buffalo, and elk today. I’ll be back again sometime to check out more of this most remarkable place. I’ll still  have my National Parks Pass !

When General Lee Saved Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal

Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010

Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010

I just received a repost of a June 24, 2010 Trail Journal entry from Dreams.  Dreams hooked up with MeGaTex for a few days as we all were backpacking through the  Sierra on our 2010 Pacific Crest Trail thru hikes.  This part of the PCT is not much for solo travel, and is where even seasoned hikers who prefer to walk the trail alone often find themselves teaming up with other hikers for situations just like this one!

I agree that this was the scariest and most dangerous water crossing on the whole PCT. I still have mild PTSD that lingers on, still triggered by the unique deep bass roar of these overflowing streams and watercourses.

So, enjoy the following report from a day way back back in 2010.  Thanks, Dreams !

Click here—>>>Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal – 2010.

40 sticks of butter and the vitamin D blues

Here's hoping!

Here’s hoping!

Summer is not official yet, but already it’s easier to get out and do things-walk around in shorts, forget concerns about taking a jacket, and what about those extended hours of sunlight where walks and rides are possible after dinner ?

The good news is that I feel I’m in better shape this year.  I have more stamina for biking and hiking up hills even though I didn’t renew my YMCA  membership in the fall. Instead, I have reclaimed those same hours driving there and back and am engaging in more authentic, functional movement-walking, backpacking, bike riding, lifting logs and rocks, hauling wood around in a wheelbarrow, doing pull ups on a tree branch, digging in a garden plot, and now pushing a lawn mower.  I have also cut out french fries, and reduced my intake of bread.

I just had a mini-checkup at my doctor’s, where I heard good and bad news.

The good news is that I am a full 10 pounds lighter than usual as I am going into the summer-I like to visualize a pound of fat as 4 sticks of butter, which is not far from the truth. So It’s immensely rewarding to think of 40 sticks of butter shaved from my mass.

The bad news is that I continue to be deficient in Vitamin D.  I have been checking my level of D since 2012 when my mom alerted me that she was deficient, and she is outside all the time.  What’s particularly troubling is that I have been prescribed 50,000 units of D2 a week since December.
My readings, with treatment, have been decreasing the last 3 years:  4/12 = 34 ng/mL , 10/12 = 28, 10/13 23, 5/14 22.

My doctor has just ramped me up to 100,000 units weekly-two pills of 50,000 a week, via prescription.  She’s not as concerned as I am.  She feels that my other bio-markers are fine, and that all the backpacking and walking that I do are protective factors, particularly for osteoporosis.

Nevertheless, I have been doing my own research . I have learned that Vitamin D is fat soluble, and that its best to be taken with fat. I eat the same thing most every day for breakfast except Sunday. Low fat yogurt, blueberries, home-made granola-a bowl full that’s not heavy on fats and that’s the meal I’ve used for taking the D pill.  I have also cut out pouring half and half into my morning coffees.  I just switched to taking my vitamin D intake to correspond with my dinners, which include salads with olive oil-more fat.

I am also going expose my skin to sunlight, and plan to be outside in shorts and no shirt for a half-hour in the middle of the day, when I can. Research indicates that  going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun—“in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen”—exposes the body to radiation that produces approximately 10,000 international units of vitamin D.

Here’s hoping.

Anyone else out there who has been successful at raising their D levels, or not?

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads

I am still benefitting from my most enjoyable, 5 day walk on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  The cool temps, abundant wildflowers, word-class terrain, challenging climbs, fragrant forests,  plentiful water sources, and the top-notch Kincora hostel all contributed to an experience that continues to enrich me, as I reminisce daily about that ancient path and the effect it had in uplifting my spirits.

In 1955, a most amazing story began to unfold, when a tiny, aged woman laced up her Keds and started walking from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Grandma Gatewood’s story needs to be heard today, when the complexity of one’s life begs for simplification.

This week’s Longreads Member’s Pick is the the opening chapter of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the new book by Ben Montgomery about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone—and who did so at the age of 67.  I  opened the following link and ordered the book after reading the introductory chapter.  It is so well written.  Check it out:—>>Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads.

Cabin in the Virginia Hills

Awoke this morning in Mike and Susan’s newly built cabin just one mile from the AT on the edge of the 150,000 acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It’s way up at 3,500 feet bordering Federal Wilderness. The view is spectacular, and there are no light visible in any direction at night.


A single solar powered light and an oil lantern illuminate the small cabin. It’s one open space on the bottom floor with a standing room loft that has a couple of hammocks strung up for sleeping.


I met Mike in 2011, when we both worked at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth at Trail Days. Don was the major sponsor of both my Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes. Don believed in me. He poured encouragement, cash, and gear my way in 2010 and 2013.
Mike is an avid winter camper and made the trip to the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Vermont the past couple of years. I liked Mike then and hoped to spend time with him in the outdoors for sometime. That’s happening right now!

Don and Mike share a love for mules. This part of Tennessee is one of the two major areas of the USA that celebrates the mule as a viable form of wilderness travel, and as a work animal.

Mike’s spot of heaven borders the Mount Rogers Wilderness, and is a stunningly beautiful situation. He harvested the trees to build his small off-the-grid cabin from white pine from the family farm, with his cousin milling the lumber for the cabin at his sawmill across the street from Mike’s actual house at a ridiculously low price.

In just two years, Mike and his wife Susan have created a sanctuary here that is heated with a wood stove, appointed with an outhouse with one of the best views in the Eastern US, and is supplied with crystal clear spring fed water that gushes from the slopes of Mount Rogers, at 5,700 feet, the highest point in Virginia.

My stay at Mike and Susan’s was the crowning event of my week of hiking and mountain biking in the Damascus, VA area.

I slept upstairs in the loft, sleeping one night in a hammock and the other on a lush pad on the floor.

20140520-080246.jpgI got to use a vintage metal bedpan, giving me an authentic cabin experience. No traffic sounds, just owls hooting in the night. It was in the 30’s both mornings when I woke up. Guthook is now likely fighting the cold under his 48 degree quilt.

Mike and I share a love for the same type of music- old time Americana, brought to us this weekend by a superb local FM radio station hosted by a fellow with a drawling Appalachian voice that was so thick I only caught half of what he said.

The other treat for the weekend was the southern food that Mike’s mother, Susan’s mother, Mike, and Susan prepared for us, mostly cooked on the wood stove.


The mainstay of the fresh food were the ramps that Mike, Susan, and I harvested. Ramps are a type of wild leek that we dug up beside one of the streams on the north side of his property.
The first night Mike and I ate them raw with home-made sauerkraut and sausages. The rest of the weekend, I ate picked asparagus, hummus, salsa, shelled beans, relishes, zucchini bread, tenderloin, berry muffins, free range chicken eggs, raspberry bars, coconut cheese cake, and several other scrumptious examples of local, real food. Oh, yeah- we went through a few growlers of artisanal beers. Most of the time, there was ancient soulful music echoing through the cabin as the whole deal was going down.

I bought a trail guide to Mt. Rogers and a High Country map at Mt. Rogers Outfitters.

20140520-080816.jpgI’ll be back!

A huge shout out to Susan and Mike, and to Don for hooking us up.


Sometimes traveling is a bitch. Like right now. I staggered into what I thought was Tricities airport in Tennessee at midnight last night after two flight delays of 5 hours total and a reroute. I called the motel shuttle and was looking forward to complete collapse when I learned that I was at the wrong airport- Knoxville, TN. There are no direct flights from here up to Tricities. Being fried, I had no clue how to deal with anything.
I was one lonely ranger after 14 hours of riding, sitting, but mostly waiting. I spotted the glow of a Hilton sign in walkable distance and scored a room for 6 hours of rumpling the duvet that cost me $130.
The next morning I walked back to the United counter only to learn that a flight up the Tricities would cost me 9 more hours of waiting and another $730. Nope.
Enter Bob Peoples, from Kincora hostel. He called me back after I cancelled the shuttle I was to take from Tricities over to Carver’s Gap, where I had hoped to walk north on the Appalachain Trail for some 100 miles this week.
“I’ll come and get you, be right there, hold tight, ” he said. The man is an angel.
It’s a shaky start that may still see more changes in plans, with 70% chance of thunderstorms today. I was to start walking between 4,000 and 5,000 feet in elevation- a poor situation to deal with up there, with exposure, wind, rain, and lightening strikes adding to the zings I’m dancing around right now.
But the faintest glimmer in my heart rests on an image of Mr. Calm and Capable, heading my way right now.