In Maine’s Sunday Telegram.
Dateline: Spring Brook, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, ME
The normally staid water bottle, AKA Tiki- Man, barely survived a harrowing fall into the rushing, frigid Class V rapids along Spring Brook on March 16, 2013, in Midcoast Maine.
When Tenzing was getting refills for multiple water bottles near the bloated culvert containing Spring Brook, Tiki-man leapt from his hand into the raging torrent.
While Tiki-man remained collected, Tenzing became gravely distraught about the situation.Tiki-man was engulfed by the torrent that quickly propelled him under the multi-purpose road above. In panic mode, Tenzing scrambled up the embankment, only to become further frantic as he realized that the revered, purple, and ( at times) luminescent head was no where to be seen.
Glancing straight down the side of the road to the surface of the maelstrom below, Tiki-man was sighted, in an immobilized state within the backwaters of an eddy, but beyond human reach. Tenzing leaped into rescue mode, and quickly fashioned a three-pronged branch, that he used to dislodge and release Tiki man, only to realize that the valiant water bottle was facing yet another harrowing scoot down the icy water.
Tiki-man courageously traversed at a diagonal across the channel, where he eventually struggled to maintain a tentative hold on the far-side shore.
At this point, Tiki-man was clearly up against very thin ice.
The three-pronged stick guided Tiki-man past this last challenge into a still pool, where he was airlifted to safety by the selfsame stick.
Most importantly, Tiki-Man lived to tell the tale. He described his dunking as the most harrowing experience that he has ever been through.
Tiki-man is a seasoned, 6 year old water bottle. Tiki-Man has recently become increasingly despondent at his persistent failure to lose enough weight to qualify him as an ultralight backpacking accessory. He occasionally mumbles about being teased as “a bloated relic” by Platypi and even the young upstart plastic soda bottles.
The colorful character has risen through the ranks of backpacking water bottles through his persistent dedication to thru-hiker hydration.
A veteran of three National Scenic Trails, Tiki man has endured unparalleled adventures on the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Vermont’s Long Trails.
The closest the battered water bottle had come to the slag heap of also-ran hiker gear was in 2007, when he was dropped from a day pack on the AT and left for dead in a crevice between a rock and a hard place. Extracted from his impending tomb by a hiker named Big Sky, the revived Tiki-Man survived a dark passage through the US Postal Service, adorned with a mere one dollar and thirty-two cent stamp and a tattered Uncle Tom address label.
Undaunted by his early morning sub-freezing soak today, Tiki- man bucked up, and settled into place in the backpack, where the wizened vessel supplied his human partner, Uncle Tom, with hydration on a long winter day hike in the Camden Hills.
Riding in real cold, real dark, real steep, really difficult traction conditions in the Camden Hills State Park, overlooking Penobscot Bay under the last quarter moon. I don’t think it reached 15 out on the seven-plus miles tonight.
Five Bubbas made it out with the help of the lights: four guys on fat bikes ( Ian, Jason, John, me) and Craig Mac on his Tallboy outfitted with a brand new pair of Ice Spiker Pro 29″ 2.25 Studded Tires.
Here’s John’s brief clip of tonight’s actual ride at the start, which has some other local footage on it. I admit it casts a bleak aspect on the wonders of the outdoors, but heck, it’s night time and the lights we use aren’t flamethrower candlepower! As Craig so aptly quipped tonight, “At least we’re off the couch.”
We left from the Route 1 Parking lot. The ride was most difficult right at the start, with an immediate climb of 400 feet in the first half- mile. Ian and Jason took right off and Mac and I rode together.
The track tonight is not frozen in at all, despite five days of cold clear weather since the last snowfall. It’s a wide packed smooth snowmobile-graded skiing trail, wide enough to let the ski skaters fly along through the Park. Every once in a while, the 250 pound combined weight of me and the Pugsley broke through the top layer and started spinning a bit until the lugs on my Nate tires caught and on I’d move ahead. Craig Mac stopped a couple of times to dump air out of his tires. You need as much surface on the pack as possible in order to keep from sinking while you pedal.
On the way up, John Anders came at us on his Pugsley from the Lincolnville end of the road, a mile and a half downhill from here.
We caught Ian and Jason. Ian encouraged me to dump most of the air out of my 4” tires. I thought they were soft enough, as I had pumped them up to 9 pounds two weeks ago. He told me they were still too firm. A mere four pounds inside the tire didn’t sound like a good idea to me, but after I let the air out, I pulled up and away from Craig Mac, which NEVER happens.
We regrouped at the 3.5 mile mark, at the start of the Bald Rock Mountain Trail, where the young bucks headed up and Mac and I doubled back.
It was crazy fast and fun running down the long downhill. While the track was not frozen solid, it made it possible to lean the bikes over and keep rubber down as we twisted and skidded our way back to the parking lot. I’ve got to improve my footwear situation. I should of listened when Marcia told me to throw out these batteries,just because they were 6 years old.
[ Note: Be prepared to pay $1.50 each to enter the Park. Have the change ready. ]
The following article was just published in the Oct. 2012 issue of the Communiqué, the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists. Online access is limited to members, so I have listed the full article here.
I failed math but excel at backpacking.
While sitting in a presentation at the National Association of School Psychologists Annual Convention in Philadelphia last week, I learned that the foundation skills needed for student mathematics proficiency are “conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition”. Hold on there! Those skills that are critical to long-distance backpacking, not math!
I have been an active communicant of the “Church of Two Heels” since 2007, when I completed my 2,160 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, where I acquired my alter of Uncle Tom. Since “A Trail of a Lifetime: Getting a Midlife Jump-Start From the AT” was published in Volume 36, #8 of the NASP Communiqué, I have been back at it again.
In 2010 I spent 5 months completing another continuous hike, this time over the Pacific Crest Trail, where I left the Mexican border in April and walked some 2,650 miles thru California, Oregon, and Washington, eventually reaching Canada in mid-September just before the early snows. Luck, my own “productive disposition”, and“Polish Power”, got me there.
In August, I spent another month thru-hiking the 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont, where I dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Irene before I was able to again reach Canada.
Why would someone subject themselves to such madness?
I treasure the stripped-down experience of walking north, where I trade in my school psychology routines for unexpected adventures. In thru-hiking speak, I do enjoy my periodic lapses into the “hiker-trash” lifestyle. Long-distance backpacking embraces the best that America has to offer: freedom, initiative, creative planning, challenge, and total immersion in the healing powers of the natural world for vastly extended periods of time.
Walking forward happens within a framework of much simpler goals, framed by more expansive views (“ I have to get way up on that ridge today, then see where I might end up tonight”.). So much happens in a day when you wake up with the first light and move though the woods, desert, or fields and come across animals, insects, plant life, as well as others who are also moving about the countryside.
Long-distance backpacking demands a conceptual understanding of an array of survival skills. Life on the trail is easy when it’s pleasant and sunny out, but what about when things get downright dangerous? In the desert, it can range from a broiling 110 degrees to below freezing on the same day. How do you stay warm and what is more important not skid off a 13,000 foot ridge while walking over 400 hundred miles of continuous snow and ice in the High Sierra? How do you even find a trail when it is buried under 20 feet of snow, where you might be post-holing to your mustache in the melting afternoon footpath? How about avoiding hypothermia when you are walking in the Northern Cascades of Washington and it’s 40 degrees out, on the fifth day of continuous chilling rain, with a sodden taco of a sleeping bag to look forward to?
There is often no time in a thru-hike to adopt a reasonable, sloping learning curve. Procedural fluency is essential, so that daily tasks are completed promptly. Walking on unknown paths is a primal, universal experience that ties the ordinary adventurer to Odysseus, Daniel Boone, Shackleton, and other explorers who inspire us to go places. I consider myself fortunate to be on the short list of individuals who seek encounters with nature on a twenty-four hour-a-day, all-day, months-at-a-time period. Cooking meals, setting up a tent, avoiding bears, getting out of bed, and walking all day, day after day, is only possible when these actions are competed efficiently so that the 24 hours that are allotted each day are not squandered.
I learned to deal with adversity thru adaptive reasoning to move ahead, even if it sometimes meant walking in circles or even backwards. I strive to reduce the time I spend in tension, indecision, and even pain, all of which sap energy and diminish one’s capacity to fully embrace the astounding panoramic beauty that one meets with on these National Scenic Trails.
Here’s an example of an adaptive skill, termed the “Daily Inventory of Pain”, which has yet to appear on the VIneland-II, that I learned from “The Burglar”, my Canadian hiking pal. Backpackers generally wake up either at first light or even just before sunrise, climb out of their sleeping bags, unzip the mosquito netting on their tents, and eventually right themselves to standing. Every long distance hiker engages in some degree, conscious or not, of becoming aware of body pain centers. For me it was generally a some combination of sore lower left back, forefoot numbness, fissured heels, tenderness or actual sprain of one or both ankles, tender shins, inflammation of one or both shoulders, a dull head, thirst, digestive distress, chapped lips, minor lacerations, sore or cracked fingers, and downright fatigue. The Daily Inventory of Pain would be a conscious accounting of the cumulative effects of all these sensations, which may be unconsciously endorsed on a Likert Scale, and assigned a General Suffering Quotient which might be framed in the following manner: “I feel like crap. I am not going to be able to hike 30 miles over what’s coming, I‘ll cut it to 20, and pray for that.” I might add that it would be an additional advantage to foster some measure of a “productive disposition” at this later stage of a thru-hike.
Cognitive flexibility and shifting mindset allow the thru-hiker to reap benefits from the unexpected “open doors” that present themselves at intervals during a hike. It’s has been said that the weight of an individual hiker’s pack reflects their personal fears. I used to be a hiker who was locked into over preparation due to expecting a cascade of worst case scenarios, but have relaxed a great deal in my fretting about what could go wrong. See that bunch of local campers off the trail over there who might be having a good time? I used to put my head down and avoid them. I now walk over to them, smile, and ask, “Hey, what’s up, what’s going on?” When people learn that you have just spent several months walking thousands of miles from Mexico, most instantly warm up, and often become a welcoming committee. Good things can happen. I have reaped many a hamburger, hot dog, cold drink, and more from these encounters.
There are two major approaches to dealing with a long distance backpacking trip. The “be prepared” school of thought is exemplified by hikers like Terrapin Flyer and Granite, whom I consider paragons of executive functioning. They possessed the energy and forethought to cook, dehydrate, and pack 30 boxes of nutritious food for 175 days of walking, that were shipped to themselves along the Pacific Crest Trail. While I wouldn’t go so far to consider it strategic incompetence, a differing approach is one taken by Richard Wizard, who shuns mailing himself food and supplies, and instead prefers the challenge of making do with what he can sift thru along the way. His choice is one that requires cognitive flexibility, making do with what he can find in gas stations and out of the way, understocked convenience stores. One of Wizard’s most creative food adaptations was first observed along the western edge of the Mojave Desert, where he transferred canned chili to a used paper coffee cup that placed on the outside mesh pocket of his backpack where the sun’s intensity cooked his meals to perfection. No water to wash out the cup? No big deal, that sun will fry those germs!
Hiking is a hardware and software reset that restores my health and vitality. Most of America is on some sort of weight loss program, with over 50% of Americans now considered obese or overweight..Losing weight is easy if you backpack enough. A thru-hiker program is unique in that weight continues to drop despite consumption of vast volumes of food, up to some 6,000 calories a day. I have lost as little as 17 and as many as 33 pounds on my long hikes. I can remember times when I have felt like a superhuman, throwing down marathon length distances on a daily basis for weeks at a time. It just doesn’t seem like it could happen, but it does.
When we were in northern California and General Lee told Axilla, Wizard and I that we would not complete our hike unless we increased our daily average to 25 miles a day. I was crushed. I never conceived that I would eventually backpack thirty plus and more miles a day, on repeated days. It happened. Lee and I even teamed up around Mt. Hood to walk 41miles in one 24 hour period.
Lessons learned on the trail extend to life off the beaten path. Sayings that may ring hollow chime brilliant when you are walking all day long. “Momentum helps”, “Just get moving”, “Stop and smell the roses”, “Share”, “Hike your own hike”, “Early to bed and early to rise”- the list is endless. All of these aphorisms have deeper truths that reveal themselves with increased visibility under travel conditions. Every one of them also applies when off the trail.
People make the trail. I started the Appalachian Trail alone, on my birthday, on March 27. That night, at a campsite, I met several other hikers who eventually became my best friends. We reached the terminus of the AT on the Mt. Katahdin summit together on September 16, 2007. Three years later, General Lee, Richard Wizard, and I walked together to complete the 2,760 mile PCT. General Lee and I thru-hiked Vermont’s Long Trail this past August. My deepest memories are replays of scenes where there are other people present. My favorite AT photo is a blurry one taken into the setting sun in Virginia, with two men and a dog hiking in formation up a lushly planted hill. MeGaTex is what we call ourselves, and we are planning another big one for 2013. My conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition will accompany me, along with my iPod and a bottle of Advil.
I continue to blog about the outdoors on http://tjamrog.wordpress.com/ .
Uncle Tom’s complete daily PCT Trail Journal can be accessed on the web at http://www.trailjournals.com/tjamrog/ .
-Tom has been the Maine Delegate to NASP, and is past President of the Maine Association of School Psychology.
It’s almost August–if you want to have some real experiences that will reset your spiritual GPS, don’t put it off any longer. Excellent motivation to reserve an upcoming weekend to get out, backpack, and get real.
My hiking pal and fellow traveler on the PCT in 2010, Guthook, is back in Belfast. He’s returned from a month in the Wind River Range in Wyoming where he completed a National Outdoor Leadership School Course, spending the whole time off trail, roaming around above 9,000 feet, dealing with snow, insects, and polishing up navigational skills with a map and compass.
Check out this trip summary, posted on his excellent blog, Guthook Hikes!
Guthook shared dinner here a couple of nights ago, and gave Auntie Mame and I a mindblowing slide show of the time he spent in the Winds, where at one point, he was just a couple of hundred yard off the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
Guthook also saved me hundreds of dollars by working on my computer with the Internet here, where he migrating over to free programs that resulted in downloading maps into my newly purchased Garmin eTrex3o GPS receiver. I now have all the New England area on maps, as well as the initial CDT track in New Mexico.
I had a poor experience in LLBean this week concerning this GPS, where the salesperson sold me the wrong bike mount for this model. At the counter, I requested that we try and actually mount the store’s display eTrex30 to the mount, because I didn’t think it was correct, but she assured me we didn’t have to do that , that she was 100% sure it was correct. Later, over the phone, I was dismayed to hear that the best I could hope for was my money back , as LLBean was not going to be ordering any mounts from Garmin that would actually fit the updated eTrex line that they carry. This is not the LLBean I have dealt with over the years.
I was encouraged to send the misfit bike mount back to them, but was further disappointed after it was clear from the website that I’d be paying the postage for their salesperson’s mistake.
The cash machine keeps on kachinging for Cheryl Strayed. In addition to the recent announcement of being made into a movie, the book about her 1100 mile hike 1995 backpacking trip on the PCT is now the first selection of Oprah’s new book club . Check out the Oprah website with photos or Strayed on her hike, PCT photos, and loads of sidebars, ready for eager readers.
Guthook is profiled in today’s Bangor Daily News. He released his Camden Hills Hiking App, for iPhone, with plans for Android release. I was involved with field-testing the App when Guthook and I were hiking the trails in Camden Hills State Park last year. We both agree that hiking there is excellent preparation for any adventures on the Appalachian or Long Trail (in Vermont). The app is a interactive map with color coded trails from the park, with a moveable blue dot that places you right on the trail. Intersections and key features are backed up with photographs and fact sheets about those GPS points. Read the whole article below.
My thoughts turn to California this week where I was squeezed, dazed, uplifted, scarred, and imprinted for life. Take 5 at a quiet moment.