The Last Great Walk- my book review

The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why it Matters TodayThe Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why it Matters Today by Wayne Curtis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This 2014 book gets 4 out of 5 stars.
It really held my interest. I found out about a popular cultural phenomenon of the late 19th century-American pedestrianism. During the 1870s and 1880s, America’s most popular spectator sport wasn’t baseball, or football—it was competitive walking. Inside sold-out arenas, competitors walked around dirt tracks almost nonstop for six straight days, risking their health and sanity to see who could walk the farthest—500 miles was standard.

This book is about the “final” mega-stroll of Edward Payson Weston, who, in 1909, walked across the USA on a bet that he could ambulate from coast to coast in 100 days or less, demanding an average of 40 miles a day. Weston was 70 years old when me took on the challenge. He was the best known of the competitive walkers. We join the taciturn Weston as he is mostly angered, but rarely dismayed about the unexpected pitfalls that he encountered through the Great Plains-over the Rockies, across some deserts, and often struggling through deep mud. The upside of his western journey were the massive crowds that greeted him as his highly publicized venture was big National news.

At the time, there were far fewer roads into the West. The automobile was just gaining momentum at the time, and tarred roads were unheard of outside the more populated Eastern seaboard. Weston often walked the newly established railroad system, and was challenged by navigational issues, deep sections of sticky mud, and downright nasty weather ( He left new your on a chilly March day).

The book’s back story is about the loss of walking as a viable means to getting about one’s local communities, as well as a highly interesting discussion about the medical, physical, and spiritual benefits that are gained from spending hours moving about the countryside, on our own two feet.

The book is very well written, and authored by Wayne Curtis, the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year in 2002.

View all my reviews

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route From Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Three- Heat Exhaustion and Magical Desert Goldfish | CARROT QUINN

 

Me and Jess- photo by NotaChance

Me and Jess- photo by NotaChance

PART 3 ( out of  4).  The best backpacking writing in November 2014 is right here.

“But the endorphins of steep climbs are a thing without parallel, and that feeling you get upon reaching the top is a feeling, I am learning, to build one’s entire life around.”

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route From Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Three- Heat Exhaustion and Magical Desert Goldfish | CARROT QUINN.

Snow Walker’s Rendezvous – welcome to winter 2014

Last weekend, I attended the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Vermont .

Home made tent and stove

Learn by Doing

I experienced the weekend through a new lens-through the eye of a newly Registered Maine Guide.  Other Maine Guides were in attendance, including Master Maine Guide Tim Smith, and another new friend I made at the weekend, Portland-based Lou Falank.

I really enjoyed hanging out with Tim on Saturday night.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith has been finding his way into the conter of the bushcraft/backwoods survival skills spotlight for some time now. He developed and continues to run his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School,  the highly respected Maine-based ” University of Outdoor Skills” .  Tim’s long-term immersion programs are the longest and most comprehensive bushcraft, survival and guide training courses in North America.

What’s bushcraft?  The JMB website explains: ‘Bushcraft is the active component of our interaction with the natural world. Both art and science, bushcraft is doing, making, crafting, traveling, building and living in the natural world. It is an inclusive term for doing things outdoors and is composed of activities such as, but not limited to, primitive skills, modern survival, classic camping, expeditionary skills, prepping, hiking, paddling, crafting and outdoor living, as well as more specialized disciplines such as hunting, fishing and trapping. Bushcraft has no political agenda or worldview, isn’t about preparing for the end of the world, and isn’t an “ism”. It is made up of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who share a love for being active outdoors.’
Now Tim’s going to be on our living-room or palm-based screens in upcoming episodes of Dude, You’re Screwed on the Discovery Channel.  Tim’s episode should be entertaining us before 2015 rolls around, sometime in early December.  Stay tuned for more details.

The normally bushcraft-distant New York Times gave considerable column length to the show in their Dec. 20, 2013 review :  “Dude, You’re Screwed” centers on five men, most with advanced military training, who take turns running gauntlets designed for them by the others. Episodes open with essentially a staged rendition — the mark is kidnapped, hooded and bound at the wrists, then spirited off to who knows where. Unhooded, he’s left to fend for himself with just a handful of tools provided by the team. (As for suspension of disbelief, wouldn’t the participants know their destination when they’ve presumably gone through passport control?)
While the contestant in the game — all the men refer to it as “the game,” though there’s no prize — makes his way through various struggles, the other four men observe him remotely, and sometimes say grim things like “Moisture kills out here.”
But more often, their mood is light. Its like the home run contest before the All-Star Game, an essentially meaningless display of skills where titans watch one another show off. But the casual mood also serves to take the edge off the very real struggle of the man in the wild.
I want to see this show, but I don’t subscribe to the Discovery Channel.  If tell you when it’s on, can someone help me see it?  

I also had a great time talking with Lou Falnak.

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou runs his Mountain Bear Programs and Guide Service.
Lou has provided programs as a director, instructor, and co-facilitator at camps & schools across Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. He’s a Registered Maine Guide. His L.O.S.T.(Learning Outdoor Survival Techniques) Program specializes in bringing youth from a wide variety of backgrounds into the outdoors to learn skills and experience community. He’s making a difference in the lives of children in the Portland area, bringing after-school bush-crafting skills to the next generation.

Lou and I hit it off. We’ll get together in the near future, after Thanksgiving, to do something together in the outdoors.

I  was recruited to kick off the weekend at Friday night’s whole group meeting ( the event cuts off at 100 registrants) with a half hour reading from my blog. This was old school, no iPhoto or Powerpoint, just one guy trying to entertain the faithful by reading a half-hour story of an actual deep winter adventure in the Maine woods.

I  read about my one-week walk across the frozen Moosehead and Seboomook Lakes.    Here’s the link to the talk- this time there are photos and three video clips -The Great Slush Walk of 2009.

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

I plan to include at least one more entry about the weekend.

There was so much to be excited about !

A nearby cabin

Hiking to Katahdin Lake- Baxter’s “Newest” Acquisition

With hushed celebratory internal fanfare, Marcia and I passed through the Togue Pond Gatehouse at Baxter State Park on Columbus Day weekend. We’ve been here many fall weekends before, but this time was unique. This will be our first time at Katahdin Lake.
We brought no printed reservations for our two-night stay at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.   I was asked to share my name, and the answer to “How many nights?”,  and was immediately handed a pass to place on my windshield.  We drove up six miles on the dusty Roaring Brook Road , where we parked at the old Avalanche Field group camping site, and prepared to walk 3.3 miles on the Katahdin Lake Trail to get there.
The walk in was magnificent.

Marcia on the puncheon beside the corduroy road

Marcia on the puncheon beside the corduroy road

It looked like peak foliage, with abundant fiery red leaves still thick on the deciduous trees. The beeches are bursting coppery, and yellow luminous.

Beeches show off

Beeches show off

The air is cool, but not cold.  The footpath is relatively flat, with puncheon walkways meandering through the wetter sections. Streams are occasionally sounding in the distance, as is the rustling of the leaves.
The first night, we rented a furnished cabin for $63 ( Friends of Baxter State Park discount).

Purgatory Lodge

Purgatory Lodge

Our second night we splurged and bought into the meal plan, instead of cooking in the cabin. Our place had dry firewood, fresh water, a big cooler with a frozen gallon of water in it (refrigerator), three propane lights, and a gas cook stove.  A wood heat stove, and a rubber tote bin with clean dishes and silverware rounded out the amenities.

The kitchen and wood stove

The kitchen and wood stove

There were four beds inside: two doubles downstairs, and two single beds set up in the loft.

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The bedroom and loft

The Camps are private, and are still holding on to a 20 year lease for these 30 acres on the southern shore of Katahdin Lake, the most recent ( 2006) acquisition to the Park in many years.
A brief history of these classic old Maine hunting/fishing cabins are featured in John Neff’s “Katahdin”. The Camps were established in the late 1880s, when they served men who lived in Eastern seaboard cities who wanted to hunt moose, caribou, and bear. The establishment was dealt an economic blow when moose hunting was banned by the 1918 Legislature. For a number of years, the camps were abandoned, but revived again in the mid 1920s. In 1925 a group of businessmen from New York set up a lease on the camp and ran it as a private fishing cub with rights to 12,000 acres surrounding the camp. Then the Depression hit and that venture ended. Around 1921, the Cobbs acquired the lease and after extensive remodeling and improvements, ran it for the next 32 years. The Camp leases were transferred to other individuals in 1965 and then again in 1970.
I was surprised to see the age on this cluster of buildings. They are ancient!   A staff member guided us down a path to Purgatory Lodge, our cabin for the weekend, with the shore of Katahdin Lake not 50 feet off the front porch.  We learned that this was one of the two oldest log cabins, dating back to around 1900. It is still solid, but thoroughly patched, with old pieces of newspaper plugging some of the holes and cracks around the window frames, new tarpaper shingles nailed to places around the sills, and ample use of insulating foam evident both inside and out.
These camps have no electricity, running water, or cell phone coverage.

A nearby cabin

A nearby cabin

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Maybe the smallest one?

Staying at these camps in a huge step backward to a time when one left the hustle and bustle of life to get away from it all, with guests arriving by buckboard from the Roaring Brook Road, by pontooned  floatplane, or by walking.
Except for the buckboard and a couple of solar panels on the Lodge’s roof, nothing much has changed.

Katahdin and the Knife Edge Trail

Day 2
Chimney Pond up Cathedral Trail to Baxter Peak–>Knife Edge to Pamola Peak–>Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond
4.0 miles

It’s still a stirring call on that first morning in Baxter when I’ve signed in at the Chimney Pond register and write 7:10 AM on the going-up-to-the-top of Katahin column. If I make it, it will be the 17th time I have summited the 5,267′ mountain.
After Guthook and I checked into the Hiking Register, we headed up the most direct route to the top, the 1.7 mile Cathedral Trail. It’s initially a walk over increasingly large rocks, then a boulder scramble up the middle section. I highly recommend gloves, and leaving your hiking poles at the bottom.
It’s a tough walk that has parts that are definitely rock climbing. There are several times that foresight, picking a good line, and using your arms in pulling yourself up will be required. It’s a trail unlike many others, one that requires real focus and concentration.
” I’m calling this a primal trail,” I shouted out to Guthook as we took turns trading off leading the ascent. Primal in the sense that conscious thinking is not necessary, nor encouraged. Moving up here is best when instinctual- deciding foot placement, silently moving fingertips along the edges of rocks hanging above until a handhold is good enough.

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By 9:15 we reached the highest point in Maine at 5,267′ Baxter Peak, where we found just one other person, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who was just completing his 2,200 mile journey. Pics were snapped and then several other thru-hikers started coming up. All their heads snapped around to look at Guthook after he told one of them his trail name. One hiker said that he had found Guthook’s AT Hiker App very useful and accurate, and a couple of his pals chimed in with the affirmative.
But Guthook and I had other tasks to compete up above tree line. First off, Guthook wants to complete his first ever walk over the notorious Knife Edge Trail, a one mile traverse over a region of maximum exposure, where the trail may narrow to just a little point with the inside edges of both feet hugging the granite spine, as you experience a two thousand foot drop on either side of you.

IMG_3406.JPG It is a route that is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. I assured Guthook that it was a perfect day for the experience, with dry rock, full sun, and no wind.
It took us about an hour and a half to walk, and sometimes crawl along the blue-blazed path. There was a bit of a pile up at the Chimney, the one place on the Knife Edge that I still fret about. I have long legs, and have learned to keep facing the rock, and trust that by lowering myself with both arms on a thin rock handhold and then stretching my lower right leg I can gain the last foothold before the bottom.
We reached the end at Pamola Peak, a superb place to soak up the day’s warming rays, air the socks out, and savor the view of what we’d just experienced.

IMG_3757.JPG It was funny, partly incredible, and astounding to me that not only does Katahdin host that knockout view of the massive cirque from the Chimney side, but it also has this very unique Knife Edge trail radiating east from Baxter Peak.

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Not done yet. I head down the ridiculously steep and bolder strewn Leroy Dudley trail back to Chimney Pond. It is so much easier to get down with gloves on.
It’s also useful to be ready, willing, and able to jump. Jump ? Yes, jump. I ended up jumping off drops six times on the way down. It was something that I have been training for in the last few weeks. Proper jumping with both feet coming down underneath you, and cushioning the impact by using your knees as shock absorbers is a much more efficient, and in some cases safer, alternative to skittering down on your butt, or clutching vegetable handholds ( trees and shrubs) and wrenching an arm or an elbow. Brief, light jumping sessions a couple of times a week have been associated with reduced risk for osteoporosis, especially for women.
Guthook was headed down to Roaring Brook and back to assist with his garnering more GPS tracks in the Park.
Back at the campsite, our neighbor had been telling us about the difficult he’s been having with his boots. He just bought a $180 pair of Asolos at LLBean. He finally discovered the source of the irritation that was troubling his Achilles’ tendon. It was a manufacturing defect involving an extra piece of inner fabric that raised a protrusion of exposed stitching. The stitches were rubbing skin to the point that he was hobbling.
He asked me what I though of him cutting that area away. I told him that it the only practical solution that would result in him being able to do what he came here to do- hike to the top and do the Knife Edge. I gave him my sharp Moro knife and he went at it.
IMG_3766.JPG I looked at his work and suggested he remove even more material so that none of the irritated/ inflamed area would hit the inside of the boot. He handed me the boot and the knife and said , “Do it”, so I did. When he put the boot back on his smile got wider and wider.
“We’re up at daybreak and heading to he top in the morning now!”
Four miles felt like 14 on this route today. It was enough for me.

Guthook’s account of the day is here.

Hiking with Transient

I hiked with Transient, another Triple Crowner,  in the Camden Hills State Park today .  Here’s our 10 mile loop:

10 miles in Camden Hills

10 miles in Camden Hills

I had a 23 pound pack on, just for the weight. The weight was 90% rusted towing chain.  I’m putting the finishing touches on preparing for a week of backpacking in Baxter State Park here in Maine in two weeks.

On the way up, I saw something I had never seen before, a woman pushing a regular carriage containing  her baby up the Multipurpose trail.  She let me take their picture: IMG_3347 2

Transient came by for a brief overnight stay on his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I had maybe 6 encounters with Transient in 2010 in California, Oregon, and Washington while we were both thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  We camped together a couple of times and reached the California/Oregon border at the exact same day and time. The two of us had never hiked together until today. Transient talked non-stop the whole three hours of the walk. I loved it. He talked about people and events that happened on the PCT that I didn’t experience or that I had already erased from my memory.  For example, I did not know that Stick had spent 9 years in prison in California.

I followed Transient’s southbound 2012 Continental Divide Trail Journal.   Transient had a rough time with the June snowpack in Glacier National Park.  His journal persuaded me to hike northbound.

Transient is just one week from returning from a month long solo hike on one of the Caminos, starting in France, and ending at the Atlantic in Spain.  He is right now in total hiker shape, and I had to push myself to keep up with him. He still harbors thru hiker habits. Transient was leaned out enough that his shorts bunched around his waist.  He needed a belt.  I graciously declined Transient’s offer of a half an unrefrigerated egg salad sandwich that he dug out of his pack.

Transient came up with an great idea that I adopted on my own CDT thru-hike.

Transient's gift

Transient’s gift

He had made up a number of “Trail Angel” patches that carried with him and gave to individuals that assisted with rides when he hitchhiked, with rooms offered, and with instances of unexpected grace that came his way when he needed it.  He sent me a few dozen that I also handed out on my own 2013 hike.

Here’s the only photo of Transient and me that I have.

Transient and Me

Transient and Me

It was taken today by a hiker up near the top of Mt. Megunticook at 1400 feet.  It’s the best I could get, given the mottled sunlight and shade.  Transient was irritated that I was taller than he was so I slunk down a bit.  I think it conveys the reality of our lives, that we have blended in with the open trail.

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits<—from the NY Times

photo from iStock

photo from iStock

I’m a total convert to brisk walking.  In terms of evolution, walking is what got us to where we are today.  For a very interesting summer read, I’d recommend hitting the library and check out  “The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease” by Daniel E. Lieberman. liebermanbook Lieberman writes  that when we eventually stood up some millions of years ago, we could finally use our hands to reach for fruit on trees, and when we became more adept at walking, we were able to pursue living food sources, and in some cases escape larger predators that saw us as their next meal.

Walking, and it’s biomechanical sibling- running, may well be the key to your own personal longevity right now.

How long has it been since you have pushed your body hard, stressing your legs muscles and joints?  I don’t run anymore.  I tried that when I was in my 20’s and ended up with the frayed and torn cartilage being removed from both knees. Big heavy guys like me shouldn’t be training for marathons, or triathlons.

I then took up bicycling and am still at it, and enjoying it more than ever, but I’m fearful of the growing texting-as-you-drive phenomenon and try to stay off the roads and keep to the woods on my bikes. I don’t want to be taken out by a drifting, inattentive, possibly impaired driver.

The NY Times ran this most interesting article this past week, one that I’ve re-read three times to get it right.  It’s about the marked benefit of very brief running, like 5 minutes.  I like the NY Times health/fitness reporting, because the writing is science-based. They are wary of putting out fluff, and they have the people power to fact check most articles they publish.

This is a huge sample. The Times reports:  “..55,137 healthy men and women ages 18 to 100 who had visited a clinic at least 15 years before the start of the study. Of this group, 24 percent identified themselves as runners, although their typical mileage and pace varied widely. The researchers then checked death records for these adults. In the intervening 15 or so years, almost 3,500 had died, many from heart disease.”

On the surface it seems to good to be true, but I think there’s something for sure to be gained from ramping up one’s own activity level.  It’s not nuts.  What this appears to be is a very brief snapshot of Interval Training, or workout intensity bursts.

Five minutes of increased physical activity is definitely going to hurt, but only for a little while.  This could be a very good fitness deal  (Of course, you have to be cleared by your doctor for this level of intensity)!

I’m in!

Comments?