Getting ready to leave blues

“You are going to come back as a feral individual. I know that’s going to happen”, said my wife Marcia yesterday.

The last three days before my thru-hike attempt of the CDT were anxiety-producing and tiring. There is no downloadable list for life extraction.

My departure punch list grew daily, and I definitely saved the best and worst for last. The best was when we split up a pile of dry firewood for Auntie Mame to use on these last cold spring Maine days. The worst was cleaning out the composting toilet at the Hobbes camp. At least I am getting quicker at it. Definitely a rubber gloves situation.
Another unique chore was applying a couple of thin layers of Shoo Goo to the exposed toe stitching on my New Balance hiking boots.

I believe I’ve stockpiled enough to get me through, thanks to my brother Roy and New Balance.

I’m dealing with three flights to El Paso Today. I just learned that my Maine Driver’s license expired. I didn’t have that on the checklist. Soon I won’t be Tom Jamrog, and will revert to my trail alter ego, Uncle Tom.

Is the unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach my fear of the open trail ahead or is it perhaps me already missing my rooted connection to my family, wife, friends, neighborhood, and the little black dog’s perpetually hopeful eyes?

Part of me is embarrassed to whine about having to deconstruct the life I’ve led for the past three years to haul a relatively small backpack of objects across America where I’m likely I to spend some portion of the next 156 days being lost.

Who am I to grumble about how difficult it is to walk away from a good life, when most people are struggling ?

There are deep threads holding
Us where we are right now.
Freedom extracts it’s price.
I hope that I have enough
Inside to see me through.
What will
I be like if
I can keep walking
across America
for 5 months?

Backpacker 2012 Gear Guide- a VERY quick read

It took me all of 15 minutes to read the latest incarnation of Backpacker magazine’s yearly Gear Guide.  
The Editor’s Note column by Jonathan Dorn “Half the Weight, Twice the Fun started of reasonably well.  Dorn recommends owning a scale and to be ruthlessly obsessive in paring weight to the point of eating less on the trail, spending more $$ on light stuff, going “commando”- AKA no underwear (“All the cool kids are doing it”), and buying a few specific items that just so happen happen to show up in the ads and write-ups in the following pages.
I’m not definitely not following his recommendation to carry a 24 oz. IPad  (“Trade your paperback, maps, point-and-shoot, video camera, iPod and journal for tablet”.). My 6 oz. iPhone does all of that, plus let me use Guthook’s Hiking Guides, which you can’t do on an iPad. I suspect the iPad recommendation made the list in an effort to get you to pony up for an iPad Backpacker subscription.
You’d think that after me spending more than a year out of the past four backpacking that such a gear guide would be my bible, but no.  I don’t care much for new gear. I’m content with what I have. If is light enough, and it has stood the test of a couple through hikes, I’m down with it. New stuff is just sometimes too much money, or too much weight.
For example, turning to the “10 Essentials” is the Wenger Fidis lighter, that relies on wicks, flints, and liquid fuel, but costs $110.00 !  I prefer TWO Bics at about $2 for both and have been able to fire them up in some pretty windy situations.
In terms of weight, how about the “essential”, hefty Black Diamond Icon headlamp- whose 4 AA power source pushes the weight  to 9 oz. By the way, this has all been done before.  I have an an aged Petzl, with one of those same skull-numbing, rear AA battery packs that has sit in a drawer for 10 years now, and guess what, it was 9 ounces way back when.  At least a “ding” was included in the Icon review- ”Testers wished for padding on the battery case”.  Translate to ”if you are laying down and reading in the tent, the back of your head is going to feel like you have been resting it on a rock”.  Ding the unnecessary weight as well. Save almost a half pound ( 7 oz.) with the my recommendation- the Princeton Byte, with a red ultrabright LED, and a burn time of 146 Hours, via 2 AAA alkaline or lithium batteries.

Byte this

You can definitely read books with it, and also night hike through a moonless night.  Also, you save weight on carrying just two AAA’s rather than 3 AA’s.
I can agree with the Steripen Freedom’s selection.

Steripen Freedom

I haven’t used it yet, have a Steripen Opti now, but plan to check it out, as it is only 2.6 ounces and I am sponsored by Steripen, so I can get one.
An item that I do plan to check out is on page 126, the Nemo Helio Pressure washer.  It’s got nothing to do with backpacking, but we own a camp that pumps wash water out of a pond, and the plumbing is limited  a small sink, so I may check it out.  It would be great to get a pressure  shower, although jumping in the pond and swimming is fine so far.
My wife and camping pal Auntie Mame tells me that magazines are just packaged advertising. She’s made her point with this issue.

FSTPKR: Human power from Reno to the Bering Sea

FSTPKR: BLC to the Bering Sea.—-< Click. Now!
You absolutely have to check out what Krudmeister is up to this season. It is practically inconceivable to me that someone has both the interest and the skills to undertake a solo excursion that combines bicycling to Alaska from Reno, then backpacking the Chilkoot Trail out of Skagway, then assembling a kayak and following traversing the length of the Yukon River, all the way to the Bering Sea! What is even more inconceivable is that in this day and age, there will probably be no one who will read about Krud’s adventure in the sport section of a newspaper, where we are exposed to the daily whining of multimillion dollar base and basketball stars.
Krud is one of my virtual friends. He figured into a couple of my gear acquisitions.  I came to know  him when he and Scott Williamson broke the Pacific Crest Trail Speed record, I think in 2006.  I went to my local Patagonia outlet and showed them his blog. He was and maybe still is a Patagonia customer service employee.  He was trumping up their Houdini jacket, and one of the employees gave me one, that I used on my PCT and Long Trail thru hikes. It is still as good as new.

Then he posted a picture of some wildly garish New Balance shoes that I tracked down through my brother Roy, who works for the company. They are a product that is sold in Japan.
I though of Krudmeister yesterday when I was aglow with the shoes on my birthday.
Krud, want a pair to wear when you get back?

Eagle and the Overcoat

Sometimes what is real is more like a dream.
It happened to me on Friday, at about 8:30 AM , driving up Route 3 to Augusta for a legislative work session where the format was not familiar to me. It was an event that would be leaden with conflict, and as I was fretting about what to say, and how to say it, I encountered a most unique situation. We used to call such an event a Happening, like when you actually encounter a large tree spontaneously crashing to the ground in the still forest.
I was last in a line of several cars, behind a slower moving vehicle on the two-laned highway, heading uphill with several vehicles coming alongside us from the opposite direction. Suddenly, I caught the first glimpse of motion that appeared at the top of my windshield. A fully mature bald eagle swooped and hovered not 10 feet above the tops of the cars, it’s tail feather braking the descent, and although I passed below it rapidly, I understood that the giant raptor was likely waiting for a break in the traffic to lift some roadkill. The wingspan took up almost half of the roadway, and (I looked it up) likely approached the adult female maximum of 7 feet.
I didn’t know it then, but the eagle might have guided me on my long day in Augusta, where I had to be patient, dodge the oncoming traffic of ideas, and wait for the chance to get what I needed out of the day.
On the one hour drive back home, I plugged in the iPod and listened to the Podcast of my friend Lock’s Matinicus Wannabee 2/8/10 show on WRFR FM. Most of the music was familiar to me, but then I heard an beautiful deep voice speaking to me: Lock’s choice of Heather Masse’s I Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today, with the stunning repetitive last line of >
wake me up
pick me up
put an overcoat on me
and push me outside

You gotta love it when the universe gives you clear instructions.

Montana: Strike Two!

Montana Road

Montana Road

Thawing out tonight.

Lincoln and I were thwarted in our quest to climb up Elephant Peak, MT this afternoon, due to 18 degrees, 12 MPH wind, and the snow on the gravel road too deep to reach that trail head. We did walk along the plains for an hour. I ending up freakin’ freezing.

I had on three layers on top: Ibex wool  t-shirt, Patagonia Wool II midweight zip crew, and North Face 7 Summit softshell.  My Ibex winter gloves were a joke, as my hands were painfully cold walking back to the truck, and in agony as they thawed out in the heated cab.  It’s full blown winter conditions here.

Spring May Have Arrived

I had a great day yesterday, combining some decent work with spending time outside.  I have been traveling to work via tiny airplane to Vinalhaven Island one day a week for the past five weeks, and the weather yesterday made for the best flight yet. I was in the plane by 6:55 AM, riding out with the mail.  Inside the tiny storage compartment there was a racket I had never heard before on any of my prior flights.  Amongst the mail was a box of baby chickens, cheeping away like crazy. The ride only takes 10 minutes, with a takeoff from Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head.  A quick ascent to 2,500 feet then the descent to the scary, sketchy gravel rumble strip of a landing zone carved out between rocks and trees.  Here is a shot of the Penobscot Bay islands:

Penobscot Bay

Penobscot Bay

I finished work and was whisked off to my return flight at 1:15 PM.  The views were just as good as in the morning.

In the afternoon, I decided to walk the Uncle Tom trail, and took Jody the dog along.  It was really fun walking in the woods again, with soft easy footpath, and just a start of shoots rising up out of the ground. On top of the ridge up near 1,000 feet I found one huge cluster of daffodils near an abandoned stone wall, likely planted there by someone, who lived maybe generations ago.  When I came home, I played with Woolie in the field for a while.



In three weeks I take 10 days to canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.  We hope to squeeze some decent traveling days just after ice out and just before black fly hatch.

Tearing away..

I am not sure in what order to list these events in my life. I know that I want to write about the winter camping trip I took last week. But right now there is something more important to me that is on my mind.

I am actually living alone in this home . I have never lived alone in my whole life. Maybe there a a lot of us out here, but I wonder? My wife is off on her own 6 month hike of the Appalachian Trail. I know, because I drove her through the aftermaths of a snowstorm yesterday so that she could catch the bus to Logan Airport , then Atlanta, then Dahlonega, GA. She’s sick, and doesn’t have the fuel to start tomorrow , and we are all hoping that things brighten up her own layered palette.

I shared the same room with my brother until I went to college. I got married just at the end of college, and have lived with my wife for these past 35 years. It feels real different not having someone here to share the space and energy . Scary, and exciting.

I think about the Appalachian trail a lot.

I will quote from the legendary Trail Angel, Paddy-o, who states that,
“Where else can one go to get so much out of life? Day in and out, for our own unsought after betterment and that of others. Those that set foot on this Trail for any duration can receive more than they can dream.”

Next I will write about our trip outside on Canada Falls Lake, where it was 15 below zero in our tent one night.

“To Walk a Landscape Is to Know It”

Published: January 6, 2008, New York Times , Travel section

“COMES over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction. A double necessity then: to get on the move, and to know whither.” The unforgettable opening of D. H. Lawrence’s “Sea and Sardinia,” a work written in six weeks flat. “Why can’t one sit still?” he asks.

Why can’t one? For a million years we stalked elk, monkey, crab; we gathered nut, grub and leaf. We had to move to live. Then half a minute ago we stooped to sow seeds and the rest is history. Here we are, with the stock exchange, the Internet and the Hummer. Who wouldn’t want to bust out, to taste the air of the open range, to “swagger the nut-strewn roads,” as Philip Larkin put it, to be out in the weather, to feel the lay of the land vital beneath your boots? Travel is deep in the blood.

But we can still pull on pack and boot and head to the hills. Tread the coastal paths of Wales or Cornwall, say, where the day is one long rainbow of mist, crying gulls and sour heather, and evening brings a fishing harbor clustered in a cove, and a pub with a slate roof gleaming with sea spray, where pints may have been pouring for half a millennium and more. Or hike the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide — anyway travel with our own locomotion, and see close up what this planet has in it. Nothing brings satisfaction like that.

As soon as I could, when I was 14 and deemed old enough, my friends and I would gather sleeping bags, an old pan from the larder, a pack of sausages and a can of beans, and walk out our front door — up the river, down the valley. In the long dusk of English summer we’d find a place to spread ourselves and build our fire. No tent: we called it sleeping out. It was the first real travel I did. Nothing had ever seemed so right as a line of smoke climbing into an evening sky while the biting aroma of a frying sausage reached the nose. And the taste of the first sweet cup of tea boiled over an open fire with water from a stream — surely this was how we were meant to live, outside. The desert tribes say a house is a tomb for the living.

On one of these rambles I met Speedy. He was that all-but-vanished British phenomenon, a true tramp. Wrapped in an overcoat tied with string, with a plastic bag or two, sometimes suspended from a pole over the shoulder, tramps were like the sons in fairy tales who set off to make their fortunes, only years on, in bulky, stiff middle age, they were still wandering. You’d see their cryptograms chalked on town pavements, telling each other in code at which houses a cup of tea was to be had. Speedy’s migrations were like a wild animal’s. You’d hear he’d come back to the valley before you ever saw him. He bedded down in the derelict mill, and was a fount of homespun wisdom. “Less you have the more you have,” he used to say, standing stiffly in his coat that reeked of straw and cow-pats, of years under hedges. “Trouble is, most folks don’t know that.”

The first thing I did on leaving college, after three years in the library, was dig out my old backpack, tie a sleeping bag to it, and a sheet of plastic in case of rain, and walk out the door. I had no plan. It was summer, and I didn’t have to think about my life until the fall. I headed west because that felt right. I didn’t even bring a map, just a compass. I slept in the corners of fields, in copses, at the foot of oaks. I swam when there was a river, and when I needed to cross one I’d walk until I reached a bridge, however far that was. Or if it was narrow enough, I’d hurl my pack to the other side, then scale a tree, teeter on the end of an overhanging branch, and launch myself to the far bank. (Sometimes I made it, sometimes I got soaked.) I hitchhiked if I felt like it, making my way through the Cotswolds into Wales. I wound up on the Pembroke coastal path, which brought me to St. David’s, the country’s smallest city, dwarfed by its 12th-century cathedral.

Even then, in the late ’80s, England was still medieval. Thatched villages, pubs on village greens, little stores where I would stock up on minimal staples, and hill after rolling hill of field and meadow. There’s no telling what you’ll find once you start walking.

That was the best traveling I ever did. I didn’t know it then, but I belonged to a backpack generation. Nothing seemed more important in this brief life than to get out into the world and see it. I worked in Argentina and traveled up the Andes in the open backs of trucks, I hitchhiked across the Sahara, I slept under olive trees in Greece — anything to be out there. I even endured five days on a “Magic Bus” that limped through Yugoslavia with a broken suspension. Along the way I discovered what seemed wildly exotic food: chicken stewed in an oil drum filled with garlic; bread baked in sand; camel’s milk; and spit-roast guinea pig. But nothing quite matched the self-sufficient delight of walking with one’s needs on one’s back.

There are many reasons to have a holiday. Reculer pour mieux sauter, say the French: draw back the better to leap. We may want nothing but relaxation and rest. But as Sherlock Holmes knew, the best form of R&R is to do something different: a change is as good as a rest, if not better; and the best kind of change is to enter another world. And while all other cultures — like Lawrence’s Sardinia — offer a different world, there’s always the wilderness, the hills, nature, waiting for us just up the road, wherever we are. In the woods and hills we find not just nature, but our own past; we remember who we used to be, we rediscover our need not just to be outdoors but also to be of no fixed abode. Is it really enough to slide self and trolley bag into a steel cylinder to be ferried a thousand miles to loll on a sun lounger?

In the 1870’s Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Last summer in Scotland my two boys and I foraged for clams, mussels, samphire, wild garlic. The meals we made of them, at the end of salty, rainy afternoons on tidal lochs, with the umber hills brooding over us, tasted better than anything you could buy. To be out under the sky on our own two feet awakens something older, more content within us, a wild creature inside itching to break out, who knows where to go to heal all ills.

Readers’ Comments Wanted:

So, What are your most memorable camping and hiking experiences? Please share in the comments section below.