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.

 

 

My Book Review- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian TrailGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grandma Gatewood broke the mold. The first woman to solo thru-hike the AT in 1957, she went on to walk the AT two more times, the last at 75 years old. She was also the first person to thru hike the AT three times. This was all accomplished with no money to speak off. The $57 a month she was receiving from Social Security at that time was all she would need.
Spoiler: stop right here if you don’t want me telling you details that I learned from this book, a 2014 release. Hell, it’s a book review. I am going to write what I want. Your choice.
This story is not about backpacking, because Grandma Gatewood never wore one. She probably couldn’t afford to buy one if she did. Even so, she might have declined to use a 1957 model, as it would have been too heavy for her to want to carry. The word iconoclast fits her to a “t”. Instead, she carried her spartan kit in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. No boots, tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove for her, just Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket to wrap up in, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, a cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. That’s it ! Her food was no-cook high calorie stuff- dried beef, cheese, and nuts, supplemented by any wild food she was able to forage.
The AT is known for hardships: humidity, steep climbs, rattlesnakes down south, and periods of relentless rain. While the typical AT thru-hiker reports are all about the hike and how tough it is. For Gatewood, a thru-hike of the AT would have been a respite from the brutal life she led for her first 67 years. She married young to a bastard of an individual, who sexually and physically abused her on what appears to have been a daily basis, resulting in 11 children, 23 grandchildren, and a work day on the farm that would have crippled lesser folks.
Gatewood’s chance read of an old National Geographic article planted a seed in her heart that would not make growth until her last child was independent. When that happened, she just walked out of the house, without telling a soul where she was going.
She had to learn new skills, and really fast.
You may cry when you read this book, it is so well written and genuine.
While reading present articles about Gatewood, I learned that there is a movie about her that is currently in production ( http://grandmagatewood.wordpress.com/… ). This is one story that needs to be heard, a genuine American epic of a life saved and even graced by the open trail.

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 !

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?

My book review of “A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple’s Journey on the Continental Divide Trail”

21898991      This co-authored husband and wife book bears considerable resemblance to the last married couple thru-hike book I read-I Promise Not to Suffer- A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. That book was about the Pacific Crest while this one is about the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). In each book, the husbands set the pace, the wives suffer, with both women maintaining their connections to their steamrolling partners in spite of overwhelming stress, discomfort, and self-deprecation.
I was shuffling along the CDT in 2013 ( the same year detailed in this book) myself, where I eventually reached Canada but never encountered Optimist and Stopwatch, the “trail names” of Matt and Julie. They were probably walking through the night when they passed my tent. I also suffered through my own thru-hike of this “ shim sham of a trail,” but the Urbanski’s journey bears little resemblance to mine.
These Urbanskis are superhuman. With a self-imposed schedule of just 118 days to hike over 3,000 miles, they needed to backpack 25.57 miles every one of those days-day after brutal day. If they take a day off for any reason, their daily average goes up- so they don’t take days off. If you count the frequent episodes of “lost” or off trail the Urbanskis walked the equivalent of a marathon a day, day after day, while they were carrying their world on their backs. That’s a lot of miles, and an incomprehensible accomplishment.
Why this story was not covered on the sports pages of every newspaper in America beats me. It’s as much an achievement as running a marathon in record time, for sure.
Matt and Julie took turns penning chapters. Julie is the better writer, and works as hard at writing as she does moving through the challenges of the CDT. Julie’s writing conveys her nearly constant pain, anxiety, and what appears to be depression- which began on day one when she took sick in the unrelenting heat of the southern New Mexico desert.
I have never encountered any thru-hikers who are as hard core as the Urbanskis. They are extremely focused and unrelenting in their approach to thru-hiking. From the time they take their first steps away from the Mexico/New Mexico border, their first CDT evening camp fire was in Canada, at the end of their journey. They are so spartan in their approach that they shun little stoves. Ho hot cups of tea or coffee for them on the trail. They are hardened veterans of previous long distance thru-hikes. On their three previous long distance trails they didn’t take a day off in over 4,500 miles. Yikes!
I was incredulous to learn that when the Urbanskis reach a grocery store they include eating 4 cans of vegetables, and that they prefer Subway to any of the local eateries one encounters in over-the-top rural America. I looked at their long detailed lists of town food, and most don’t include any protein. It wasn’t until page 74 that we learn that they are on a vegan diet for this trip, posing additional challenges in actually find vegan options in some of the stripped-down convenience stores and gas stations that only rarely pop up along the way. The northern part of the CDT passes through meat street- Wyoming and Montana. Up there, I was compelled to order the largest steaks and burgers i could find when I reached that part of the CDT, after losing 33 pounds of body weight, which definitely included loss of muscle mass, particularly from my upper body.
Optimist and Stopwatch depend on prepared boxes of vegan foods that they mail to themselves along the way- lots of packages. Its great to have your own food choices, but even the US Postal Services takes days off- on the weekends, a practice that forces the Urbanskis to double down, hike through the night, or push through unimaginable mileage challenges so that they don’t have to “ lose” a day while they wait for their food resupply boxes to arrive.
It was a suffer fest for Stopwatch (Julie’s trail name), who reveals as the book goes on that she generally doesn’t like backpacking. Sheesh!
This book is painful to read. However, it’s a great account. I could not put it down. It’s brutally honest, and one of the rare opportunities a reader will ever have to get the full picture of the dirty laundry that a couple has to deal with on a real, month-long, backpacking trip across the spine of the Rocky Mountains. That laundry is a spare, but burdensome load- only the clothes on their backs. They have nothing left at the end but this incomprehensible achievement for these young folks to list on what must be the most impressive pair of vitaes in America.
I hope the Urbanskis can patch things back together after this crazy smack-down and continue to make it together on the Big Trail that we all are walking in the years to come.

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.

Riding Mountain Bikes on Mt. Rogers, VA

Last weekend I was down in the southern Appalachians.  The first 5 days, I was there, I walked 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  It was glorious.  The wildflowers were in abundance,  and were prolific . There were times when I was backpacking, sometimes over 5,000 feet in elevation, while at the same time inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of woodland plants and trees. It was a healing experience.

Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Rhododendron in full bloom

Rhododendron in full bloom

After my backpacking segment, I stayed at my friend Mike’s mountainside cabin that I reported on in my previous post about my week down south.

 

One of the activities that Mike and I shared was a 14 mile mountain bike ride from the cabin through the Mt. Rogers Wilderness, where we pushed our bikes uphill toward the Grayson Highlands.  Our ride then followed an abandoned railroad grade to the top of our ride, where we intersected the Appalachian Trail at a corral known as the Scales.

The Scales

The Scales

The other geographical feature of this area are the Balds,  which are large mountaintops that are devoid of trees.  here’s a panorama of a bald that I visited.

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Bald near Mt. Rogers

Riding bikes here was a unique experience.  My friend Mike owns two Diamondback bikes.  He rode a later model with a front suspension fork, and I chose a 1986 vintage Diamondback Apex for the day.  I have an 1985 Apex at home, that I have converted to a road bike.  On this ride, I was forced to remember why modern bikes often sport front AND rear suspensions. The ride up was not so bad, because it was a steady climb of 1600′.  The ride down was a real suffer fest, due to the constant pounding of the front end on the numerous rocks and ruts that littered the trail.  My forearm and wrists were toast.

The next day Mike, his wife Susan and I went uphill again, walking a new route.  The real treat of the walk was encountering two black bears.  Mike’s Blue Heeler Jackson had run ahead of us and treed them.  The dog came right back to us when Mike called it, when we were able to watch this giant fat black bear drop like a stone down a tall tree with it’s little cub doing likewise on an adjacent tree.

 

 

My New Gym – Outdoors!

I was complaining to My friend  Frankie the Tax Dude  about my feet, back, and neck after I got back home from 5 months of backpacking the Continental Divide Trail.  Frankie recommended that I have a few sessions with William Armstrong, up to Belfast, ME .

Just three sessions with Bill did it for me. I  found his approach fresh and useful.  My neck problem is gone.  Bill also assisted me in making the switch from the gym to the outdoors as well.  I have been a gym rat for the past 40 years, but no more.  I can’t stand spending sweat time indoors when I can be outside, with trees, streams, and rocks around me.

With just a foam roller, a couple of solid rollers, two dumb bells, and an eight pound medicine ball , I’m good, even if it’s too miserable to get out.  I can use this stuff at home too, if I  am watching backpacking or music videos on the TV.  20140412-095635.jpg Bill also suggested specific exercises for me to try, garnered from a variety of sources.  I am now engaging in backpacking and biking specific routines.

Some of Bill’s simplest recommendations surprised me. For example, after 6 decades of wear and tear on my body, I assumed that one needs some assistance with balance.  Bill was observing me put on my socks after one of his sessions.  I had one hand out against a wall to keep myself steady on one leg as I aimed my other foot into my sock.  “Bad idea”, he said.

“Don’t hold onto anything, keep wobbling.”  Interesting.

Bill also suggested that I could make several adaptations while I was hiking outside.  For example, with the deep winter snows now almost gone, I am able to  go into the edges of the woods lining the road and do some things that helped me, like using a natural chinning bar.

Here is a map of my outdoor gym.  It is a three mile out and back ciruit, and gains some elevation going up Moody Mountain at the end point.  If I have enough time, I keep going to the saddle at the top, where I do a turn-around :

The path, out and back

The path, out and back

I found my chinning bar today!  It was not 10′ from the side of the road at the 1.1 mile mark. It’s   a maple limb, about 8 and a half  feet off the ground, just at the right height for me to stretch my arms over head and leap up  and hang off the ground.  I could only do two chin-ups , and hope to work up to 10.  Yeah!

Next, I’ll make a final selection of a big rock that I can jump up and down from.  Then a distance from that would be a slightly elevated rock that I can step up and down from.   I started jumping a couple of years ago, after I learned that non-impact sports like biking do nothing to keep our bones strong.  It’s a good thing to do to keep osteoporosis at bay.

“Breeze”-Maine Triple Crowner, in AT magazine

In the current issue of AT Journeys ( April 2014),  Maine’s Brendan Drapeau ( aka Breeze) gets some well deserved  press coverage.  Download a PDF of the full article/with photos here  -Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s official membership magazine A.T. Journeys  (http://www.appalachiantrail.org). The latest electronic issue is not yet available on the ATC’s website, but thanks to Wendy Probst, Editor, the article can be viewed here in its full format  (please respect that it is not to be copied , or altered in any way).  If anyone has a better solution for me to get this this to you, let me know.  As it stands, the first link above will result in  you downloading a PDF of the article (complete with photos) onto your device/computer, where it can be opened with Adobe Reader.

I briefly corresponded with Breeze before we both started our thru-hikes and was hoping to meet him on the CDT.  Breeze eventually surprised me by walking up to me at the decidedly funky Gila Hot Springs campground, just down the hill from Doc Campbell’s post.  Here’s a few pics from our rendezvous.

Mainers meet in New Mexico

Mainers meet in New Mexico

 

Uncle Tom and Breeze sporting their Appalachian Trail tattoos

Uncle Tom and Breeze sporting their Appalachian Trail tattoos

Breeze hiked with MeGatex for a few weeks, before he turned on the accelerator and took off.  He taught me to leave a motel room cleaner than when you entered it, a most unique practice among the normally messy stuff that Hiker trash normally walk away from after a night of copious cleaning, washing, and consumption.

Breeze and and I were both in the habit of rising at daybreak.  Breeze has a huge long stride.  He makes his mega mileages by walking early, walking all day, and then usually walking a bit later after supper.  His through hikes of both the AT and the PCT were done in a startling short number of days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hikers! Lose weight, save $$$$ !!

from Outside magazine

from Outside magazine

Weight Loss for Athletic Performance | Nutrition | OutsideOnline.com  <–Click to read original Outside post

I’m actively trimming ounces of gear that lead to one less pound for my 2014 backpacking gear list.   While it’s a standard target for many backpackers to lessen the load they need to haul around, up, and down- I’m even more interested in keeping 15 pounds off my now reduced to 200-pound frame.

At the end of March last year,  I weighed in at 215.  It was less than a month before I was to step away from the Palomas, Mexico border crossing in New Mexico and walk some 2,500 miles over the Rockies to Canada.  I didn’t worry much about my weight, because I knew I’d lose lots of weight, even eating all the high calorie food I could carry.  By the 60th day, somewhere in Colorado, I stepped on the scales and I was down to 184. Pretty remarkable.  Thirty one pounds.

I like to visually imagine this weight thing, and default to a mental image of a pound of fat—-pound of butter, 4 sticks. Fat-butter, yes- they are pretty close in density.  Four times 31 equals 124 sticks of butter being trimmed off my body. Yikes!

I’m yo-yoed through this up and down weight thing before , as have most other folks.  This time I have been able to keep off those last 15 pound that I have said bye-bye to.  I was able to fit into a pair or size 34 pants when I came back to Maine from this last long hike.  I am really pleased to say I can still fit them, and would like to keep it that way.

Why?  Because I am now fitter than I have been in previous winters, even at any age.  I feel it climbing hills on my Pugsley bicycle, which I have been able to ride at least twice a week just about every week this winter.  I have good endurance on longer snowshoe expeditions, and winter hikes.

How have I kept the weight off?  Portion control.  I have always exercised enough, but my lower metabolic rate has always worked against me.  I have a new perspective- EXERCISING IS NOT ENOUGH  FOR ME TO DROP WEIGHT.

One of the factors that has correlated with staying 15 pounds lighter this winter is  not renewing my YMCA gym membership.  I’ve been a gym rat all my life,ever since high school.  No more.  It’s not logical, I just felt it wasn’t right anymore to drive 15 minutes down and then 15 minutes back to work out for an hour.  I stay outside and do things- walking biking, hiking.  I have even vowed to cut my own firewood, and haul and split it myself.

I do have a medicine ball, a stability ball, a set of dumb bells and a program of exercises that I can do in the house if the weather is really bad and I don’t feel like going out.  But it’s the last resort.

screenshot-2013-12-30-15-09-39

from Jordan Crook (@jordanrcrook)

I give some credit to the Fitbit app that I have on my iPhone 5s as a contributing factor to my weight loss.

It’s free from the App store.  If you own the 5s you no longer have to purchase the $100 wristband to use most of the features of the Fitbit app. Apple’s M7 chip — exclusive to the iPhone 5S (and new models of the iPads) — keeps track of a user’s movements and allows easy retrieval of that data without sacrificing battery life.   Just keeping the iPhone in my pocket allows me track all the motion of my body during the day, which automatically converts to steps, and miles. The app also allows for manual data entry about how many miles biked, etc.  The Fitbit app also allows me to enter everything I eat, and registers calories. It has a vast array of foods already calculated for entry.  Over time, I realized that there aren’t that many varieties of meals and snacks that I eat on a monthly basis- they can be entered and saved for really quick meal/ snack entry.  I like that I am prompted for consumption of a specified amount of daily water- in my case 64 oz.

Intake/ output food calorie is not new.  Ever hear of Weightwatchers?

It’s new for me, and it’s working so far.  Plus I’m saving money that I’d spend on getting those last few ounces off my back, by losing pounds off my stomach.