Firetowers East and West

About once a month I have experiences that can be described as surprising coherent.
This summer I have been devoting 2 hours each early weekday morning writing my second book. I learned a lot from publishing In the Path of Young Bulls already, which is closing in on a third printing. One of my lessons was that it takes frequent, regular, and focused work to crank a book about. I learned that at this stage of writing I am targeting amassing words on the page, ideas, angles, within an evolutionary process that is surprisingly interesting. Editing will come later, probably by a wood stove this winter if I can put in the time .
A couple of days ago,I picked up Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whelan, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades.

I’ve read it twice already and decided that I needed to re-read it for this new book. Luckily, I was able to head over to my local library and find the book in the stacks. The book is excellent, and harkens back to a time in my life when I was a teen and was just beginning to start backpacking in the New Hampshire’s Whites, which were a few hours drive from my house.
Today, I thought I was headed up to Mt. Waumbeck in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, one of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks. Instead I joined my old hiking pal Tenzing for a strong day of hiking up and down North Kearsarge, near North Conway, NH. Although it was not a 4,000 footer, Tenzing chose it as a practice run for some longer and more demanding hikes he and I will take through the end of September that will allow us both to finish up our individual 4,000’ lists.
Tenzing even printed out calendars for us to lock in our next three hiking adventures,

Much to my surprise, I discovered a very well preserved fire tower on the top of the 3,268 foot granite cone.

Originally built in 1909, the existing fire tower lookout was re-built by the the US Forest Service in 1951 and continued in operation until 1968, when the increased use of airplanes for fire detection replaced the need for lookouts.
What’s uncanny is that I’m sitting in bed here tonight at the White Mountain Hostel, and writing a blog post about today’s hike with a book by my side with a cover shot of a fire tower that is the same vintage as the one I entered at noontime today and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain squall and cold wind on top of Kearsarge North.

What are the chances?

60 Years of Bicycling/Reading

When men live long enough, we’re drawn to acquire things and experiences that eluded us when we were younger forms of ourselves: cars, motorcycles, and in extreme cases younger women, a cluster of behaviors that might be filed under the “midlife crisis” drawer.

I’m an example of this.

In the 1990s I purchased not one but two brand new BMW motorcycles. I had a decent job, paid off the loans, and enjoyed years of long distance motorcycle travel. In 1996 I squeezed all my gear on a spanking new white R1100GS and proceeded to spend six glorious (mostly) weeks spanning some 13,500 miles of adventure/camping, traveling from Maine to Alaska where my motorcycling mentor Alan and I explored every possible road, gravel or paved that we could find in that spectacular state. In 2007 my motorcycle infatuation phase faded after I completed my first thru-hike, of the Appalachian Trail. Simply put, I no longer experienced any satisfaction in putting in weeks of exploration while sitting atop an engine, even one as powerful and well suited for adventure as those BMWs. Eventually, my fleet of motorcycles dwindled from an all time high of 5 down to just one-a nearly antique Kawasaki KLR 650 that still has less than 13,000 miles on it, with most of those miles coming from tours of Labrador, where in 1993 Alan and I were the first motorcyclists to ride the “ Labrador Highway” from Churchill Falls to Goose Bay.
As far cars, I’ve never spent much on them, other than buying a new Dodge Caravan when they first came out in the 1980s. After the head gasket failed on the engine after the car passed out of warrantee, I’ve moved to used, practical vehicles, mostly high mileage diesel VW’s. I now run a 2005 VW Golf turbodiesel(224,000 miles). I mostly drive a 2006 Honda Element that I bought with 180,000 miles on the odometer that is now up to 227,000 and doing just fine.

Luckily, I had the fortune of marrying the right woman. Marcia and I had our 47th anniversary his past May. She still has my heart, and is also my best friend. I’m not about to trade her in for a newer model.

A couple of days ago, I hopped on my 1986 Diamondback Apex bicycle and rode the 20 miles back and forth to the Camden Library where I picked up a book that I requested through inter-library loan.

1986 bike fine for 2019. Library transport.

After I read the book I added it to my list of books read in 2019. So far, I’ve read 33 books toward my goal of 40 for the calendar year. And then it hit me that this behavior of mine- riding my bike to the library, and recording my reads has been one that I’ve engaged in for more than 60 years !
The house that I grew up in was a mile from the Somerset Village Library. My mom let me ride my bike there and back from the time I was 7 years old. Early one June morning in 1958 I spotted the Summer Reading program announced on the wall near the main desk. It was a pasteboard that had names of kids aligned on the left side and then little boxes for dates under a line of digits that went from 1 to 20 books running across the top of the page. I was thrilled to be invited by the librarian to join the program, and slowly the blocks next to my name began to fill, mostly with Hardy Boys mysteries and books about dinosaurs. As a young boy it was immensely satisfying to me to plug into his program, one that has become a a lifelong habit.

My reading lists are now virtual, thanks to Goodreads,  where books I want to read, books that I am reading, and books that I have already read are listed.

After 60 years, I’m still pumped to ride my bike to the library, check out books, and enter data about books I read or plan to read.

Don’t need no new motorcycles, cars, or women- no, no, no !

Are You Ready To Be Challenged?

I’m at camp here the day after a very celebratory Fourth of July fireworks display last night on the shore of Hobbs Pond, Hope, Maine.

We’re at camp!

Holidays are for recreating, backing off, and celebrating an major cultural event. To me, the Fourth of July represents a celebration of freedom.

Our national day for embracing freedom is now past for 2019. I am the grandchild of immigrants from Poland, and that my presence here has only been possible due to the decades of hard work that have been put in by my grandparents, parents, and now my own family to achieve what we have.

I own a home and a tiny a camp in Maine, a couple of cars, four bikes, and an old motorcycle. Everything is finally paid for. it’s taken me 69 years to do it.

As much as I want an easy and expansive life, a little voice inside my chest whispers to me, “Don’t make it too easy.”. I’m not sure how the little commentator got in there, whether it is my Polish suffering gene, or my Catholic roots, but it is there and it is something I don’t need to return to therapy to obliterate. Today’s Daily Stoic message is just what I need to hear right now.

From today’s DailyStoic.com:

It’s very easy to get comfortable. To build up your life exactly how you want it to be. Minimize inconveniences and hand off the stuff you don’t like to do. To find what you enjoy, where you enjoy it, and never leave. 

A velvet rut, is what it’s called. It’s nice, but the comfort tricks you into thinking that you’re not stuck. 

The Stoics knew that this was a kind of death. That as soon as we stop growing, we start dying. Or at least, we become more vulnerable to the swings of Fate and Fortune. Seneca talked over and over again about the importance of adversity, of not only embracing the struggle life throws at us but actively seeking out that difficulty, so you can be stronger and better and more prepared. A person who has never been challenged, he said, who always gets their way, is a tragic figure. They have no idea what they are capable of. They are not even close to fulfilling their potential. 

So that leaves you with something to think about today: Are you challenging yourself? Do the choices you make push you or do they help you atrophy? Are you in a velvet rut?

Be honest. And then challenge yourself to do better.

New Book!

I’ve set aside time this summer to plunk away at my new book. While I’d prefer to head over to my hut to hunker down and go at it, I have too much that has been neglected in my life to go that route. I’m intending to average 10 hours a week, writing two hours early in the morning before the day’s responsibilities unfurl. Any work that skips a day will be made up on the weekend. I can be a disciplined workhorse when I need to be ! I may be floating some stuff over this blog from time to time. 16.5 pages down so far.

A Sunday Worthy of a Service

Even though its been 6 years since I completed the Continental Divide Trail my 9 year span of experiences gleaned from backpacking three of America’s long distance National Scenic Trails continues to affect my day-to-day life.

I’ve finally caught up with clicking off 2019’s hiking and biking mileages to the point where I’m slightly ahead of pace to achieve my 2019 mileage goal –  2019 total miles for the calendar year, half hiking and the other half biking. May was a slim mileage month, where the flu whacked me down for a couple of weeks.  The majority of my miles are off-road, either on trails, or gravel and/or discontinued public roads. My steps and pedal strokes generally come from places here in coastal Maine that I get to by walking right out my door.

My choices in literature are also increasingly colored by these outdoor experiences.  I’m currently reading A World Apart by Gustaw Herling, a Polish author who spent two years in a northern Russian labor camp in 1940 after he was arrested for joining a underground Polish army.

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The book details the people he was imprisoned with, the hardships they endured, and the will and spirit that allowed some to survive. I find myself drawn to literature that embraces struggle and harsh natural settings. I have written about the Polish suffering gene in previous blog posts.

I came to Maine back in the 1970’s when my wife Marcia and I were hired to run Alford Lake Camp’s nature exploration program. Once I experienced the deep forests and lakes in Maine, with a shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean, there was no hope of ever returning to my previous life in Massachusetts.

At Alford Lake Camp this afternoon I attended a celebratory service to honor the life of Andy McMullan,  held in the Church of the Pines by the shore of Alford Lake.

Andy’s wife Jean ran the camp practically her whole life. Another circle in my life drew to a close today, and although more of life’s losses will invariably come, this day was a gem to be shared with my camping community.

My 45 year connection with Alford Lake Camp endures.  I own a camp on the shore of Hobbs Pond, located a mere 1.5 miles from Alford Lake Camp, as the crow flies.

camp

What are the chances ?

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How the Guthook App Revolutionized Thru-Hiking | Outside Online

Congrats to my adventure pal Guthook and the crew at Atlas Guides for making a difference!

Guthook Guides took an entire set of tools needed for thru-hiking and consolidated them into a single virtual location. Such an app might have been inevitable, but for ultralight-obsessed thru-hikers, it was a revolution.
— Read on www.outsideonline.com/2396304/guthook-guides-app-mapping-thru-hiking

My review of The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life

I picked up this book after seeing a brief review in an adventure magazine. It’s the third book written by Tim Mathis, who is behind the boldlywent.com website and promotional company.

“Partly a celebration of an underappreciated subculture of hiker trash, ski bums, and vagabonds, and partly a “how to” guide for adventure on the cheap, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life is the first solid attempt to define an outdoor movement that has taken root in backpacker hostels, long trails, and climbing crags around the world.” ~ Tim Mathis, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life

I would qualify for status in any dirtbag club. If you want to understand about dirtbags, I’d suggest Googling the term and then clicking the images tab, and you’ll see a comprehensive dirtbag photo gallery.  You’ll see images like these:

For those of you who are more linguistically oriented, here’s the Urban Dictionary’s definition: dirtbag – “A person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle. Dirtbags can be distinguished from hippies by the fact that dirtbags have a specific reason for their living communally and generally non-hygenically; dirtbags are seeking to spend all of their moments pursuing their lifestyle.”

I’m not sure that many folks who are standing at some crossroad where they are pondering a career direction would make the serious lifestyle alterations necessary to adhere to the tenets of dirtbag life, but if you have an interest in wandering, this book is a good start.

I’m reminded of a popular book of the 1980’s entitled Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. I have always wanted to re-read it and it looks like that book will be my follow up to this one.

I’d offer that any book’s references that back up a book’s premises reflect the best examples of successful applications to real life that are available to bolster their position. Within the pages are numerous examples of dirtbags that actually have money, as they have somehow captured a niche in society that allows them to live cheap and enjoy their hours on earth. Yvon Chouinard comes to mind. He’s a billionaire that prefers driving old cars. The Patagonia clothes that he wears are years old, and he hardly buys anything new. He continues to lead a very simple life, and describes himself as a non-consumer of anything. To this day, he claims that he prefers sleeping on somebody’s floor than in a motel room, which is clearly dirtbag behavior.

There is a downside to most dirtbags’ lifestyle (which gets harder as you get older), which is a perennial mandatory cheapness, often due to the lack of any reasonable retirement plan. If you don’t punch a time clock for decades, there’s no pension, and in some cases, those years of working intermittently for cash results in a very meager social security check.

The bottom line is that living a simpler existence away from the consumer-driven life can lead to a heightened respect for the natural world. Many of us older dirtbags have more than than a thousand dollars in our bank accounts. In my case I built my own small house over 40 years ago from wood that I cut down fr0m my wood lot that allowed me to have a post and beam oak frame house in which I still live. I retired from full time work 17 years ago, which has enabled me to experience at least 18 months of a 100% dirtbag lifestyle in earning my Triple Crown of hiking in 2014.  I have patched together several “jobs” that allow me to continue to gather an adequate pile of those elusive pieces of rectangular paper with pictures of dead presidents.

I’m always fantasizing about hitting a long trail again, because I’ve understood that collecting experiences is more important to me than amassing creature comforts and material objects.

For those of you who are intrigued by the Google gallery of dirtbags, I’d suggest checking out the video Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey (96 minutes).

Hailed as one of the most prolific and influential climbers of all time, Fred Beckey has become a cult hero in the outdoor world Dirtbag explores in cinematic rapture the unmatched drive, superhuman achievements and enigmatic genius of this man who set the bar for what is possible in an uncompromised existence. Co-stars are Yvon Chouinard and Conrad Anker. I don’t know how long it will be available, but do check it out for rental at the present dirtbag deal of $0.99 .

Influenza and Me

I’m hoping that I am not sick any more. I have been 100% healthy for the last 4 years, which has been a long run of symptom free life-even no cold symptoms, but illness finally caught up with me. It has been two weeks since I came down with a bad cold that turned out to be the flu. I do get a yearly flu vaccination.  I have a newfound appreciation for folks with chronic fatigue, or any affliction that renders the body to limp along and experience distress.

I first noticed that something was wrong 14 days ago after taking my daily heart rate variability (HRV) reading:

Initial flu reading

It was dramatically different from the usual numbers that come up, in fact, I thought that the chest strap had malfunctioned and took the three minute HRV reading a second time, and it was no mistake.

At one point in the last two weeks, everything ached; my eyes hurt badly enough that I couldn’t even read. I was blowing my nose constantly, spewing various shades of mucus discharge and phlegm. I had zero energy. I could barely make it up the stairs to the bedroom. I slept a full 8 hours each night, but also up to 5 hours each and every day. To ever hike again or especially pedal my bikes seemed a demented fantasy.

Right now I’m sitting in the emergency room on a warm Sunday noontime, waiting for the results of blood work and a chest x-ray — for my wife, not me. I passed on this flu to her so she’s behind me a bit on the time frame. The staff here at the hospital informed us that many folks with this flu end up here at the ER after they develop secondary bronchitis and/or pneumonia.

I monitored my recovery by taking HRV readings and watched the numbers slowly improve until I was back at my peak a couple of days ago:

Back in Action

I went for a slow walk yesterday, cranking out four miles. It went OK. This morning I rode my bike on the road for a couple hours at an easy 130 bpm pace to see how I would feel afterward. I was ok.

My advice is that this springtime flu is still making the rounds here in Maine. I was informed that Tamiflu is effective in knocking out this strain. If you can start Tamiflu within 48 hours of initial flu symptoms and a positive flu test, it is more likely to work, but in some cases may only shorten your flu by one day. My flu started with itchy eyes, a runny nose, and lots of sneezing. I also learned that the symptoms of a flu start a day before one is affected and the contagion period is 5-7 days.

I’m humble and patient, as I experience being an actual patient again.

Get up to date weekly status on the occurrence and severity of influenza in Maine here.

Embracing Risk

Hank Lunn and I are co-leading a 90 minute workshop at Maine Coast Men’s weekend gathering of men. We were inspired to share our enthusiasm ( and fears) about if after reading the national bestseller Stealing Fire.

Consider attending! The price is right, and the risk of the weekend experience has proved to be transformative for many of us men.

For more info, including registration form and details go to mainecoast men.com .