Post Birthday Hike

     We got whacked again on Friday with another snow storm that canceled all local schools and meetings for the eighth time this winter. The good news is that the bare ground is now warmed up to the point that the snow that lands there is usually gone in a few days.


Today I finally pulled myself out of the house and into the cold and am so pleased that I did it. I did a 7 mile loop hike in Camden Hills State Park. I parked at the Stevens Corner lot, walked up the Ski Lodge Trail, then veered onto the Cameron Mountain Trail, where I went all of the way to the end. I then linked up to Zeke’s Trail, which eventually returned to the Ski Lodge Trail that I followed all the way back to the car. It was a great day to be alive. I had my beloved ULA Pack, my Leki poles, and took along Tiki Mon as my water bottle. I had the iPod filled with my AT sound track selection, and for lunch I packed a few prunes mixed in with Walmart Cajun Trail Mix. I brought along my snow shoes, that I strapped on the back on my pack. Jody came with me for companionship.

The trail was well packed from the parking lot all the way up past the 1.2 mile mark. It was a long time to go uphill. When I turned onto the start of the Cameron Mountain trail, I saw some ski tracks, but they only went in about 50 feet where the human on top of the skis sized up the narrow uphill ascent and quit.  I had to put on the snow shoes for the bulk of the afternoon, but never did sink down very far.  There were no flat places to put my feet on today; all of it was uneven, even sections of bare ground and also numerous stream crossings.  I had to take of my gloves, and jacket, and hat.  I was hiking in just a t-shirt and long sleeved polypro turtleneck.  It was really sunny and very bright out.  I was pleased I packed some sun glasess or else I’d be snow blind tonight.
I have heard from so many fellow backpackers these past few days.  Radar, Paddy-O, General Lee, Rockdawg, Marvin, v8, Peter, Auntie Mame, and Lifetraveler either called me or emailed me.  I am  also working on some AT thru hikers who don’t know they will be thru-hikers just yet.  I have kept it a secret.

One of my e-mails was  from Chronic, a two time thru-hiker of the AT , who has invited me ( No, I think I invited myself!) to do Trail maintenance.    His section is from Black Brook Notch (South Arm Road) UP to Old Blue, here in Maine. There’s a lot of snow up there, so he’s probably going to do a reconnaisance around June 4-5, without equipment, and then set a specific time to go up with chainsaws and the rest of the equipment after that.  Here is a picture of the two of us from last fall:


     I have also received a phone call today from Troutbum, a man who approached me at Trail Days last year and asked me if I’d mind talking to him about the AT. I remember spending about 45 minutes with him, and now he is on his own AT thru-hike, and doing really well. he sends me emails and calls me.  He will be at Fontana Dam in 2 days.

I also have received a paniced e-mail from a woman named Kristin, who is set to soon depart on her own AT thru-hike. She is confused, scared, worried, and petrified of going on her hike.

What I told her is what I’d tell anyone who would be on the verge of a similar great adventure:

     “Of course you should be scared. Anyone who sets off on such an adventure as yours has to have what appear to be unbearable feelings of fright, loathing, doubt and dread. These are all the genuine feelings that adventurers have had since the dawn of travel. We are so trained to be shoe horned into this world that it takes a superhuman effort to shed it, to turn our backs on it, and go to Springer Mountain.
I think you are correct in thinking you are dying, because you are. You are dying for change, yet you have no idea what will come to replace the parts of you that you will shed on the trail. The person your now are that leaves in a few days may bear little resemblance to the individual that will emerge from the top of the big K .
So I guess you can leave with huge feelings welling up inside you and lean on the part of you that knows this is what you need to do right now to enter your true life.
Take a bunch of Kleenex with you.”

Birthday 2008

     Today was my birthday, March 27, and also the first anniversary of my first day  of the start of my  five and a half month Appalachian Trail thru-hike last year.

This year, my wife and her twin sister are about three weeks in to the launch of their own AT thru-hike, a valiant effort for sure.  Those of you that are interested can navigate over to a direct link to Auntie Mame’s  on-line Trail Journal under my Blogroll section,   to the right side of this web page.  I think it is a compelling story.  Their own father died at 57 years , as was the fate of his own father.  The twins  are 57, and are making a huge statement about their own path.


I didn’t think ahead enough to clear the day today, but smacked that down at noon time, as  I  sat in my car in the parking lot at a school I was scheduled to do some consulting at today, and said, “ Screw it. I’m going hiking . It’s my birthday. ”

I saddled up the four pound Pomeranian dog , Jody  and together we hit the Uncle Tom ridge trail again.  These streets are quiet and it is easy going but it isn’t hiking in the woods.   This time I decided I didn’t need my snow shoes and paid the price.  The day was hovering at the mid thirties for temperatures, and while I was mostly able to stay on top of the 2-4 foot snow pack, there were times that I sunk in up to my crotch.   I should have had the snow shoes.  It didn’t matter, I racked it up to  “ training  for more difficult situations”  and  suffered through the mess as best I could.  It is the Polish way, for sure.  When I got home, I fired up the sauna and listened to Paddy-O’s Frank Sinatra compilation on my l iPod and tiny  iSymphony speakers.  I took a nap after that.

I will lay my head down on my pillow tonight thinking of the wise words of my 81 year old mother, Isabel , who called me this morning and offered the following counsel, after  I groused about scheduling some paid work on my birthday.  She told me, “Tommy, you should be happy that you can work, that you are alive, and have your life. “  Yup.

The Bare Earth

It is getting close to 3/27 , the first anniversary of starting my Appalachian Trail thru-hike .

A couple of days ago, I was back on the Uncle Tom trail, a local path through the forest right here in Maine . I took my snow shoes with me, as there was still two to three feet of snow in the woods. As I ascended up through the first pasture, I glimpsed areas that were actually clear of snow, an amazing occurrence this record breaking snowfall year, and the product of favorable drift patterns and the effects of the southern exposure. We haven’t seen bare ground around here since early November, when were were hit by the first of what have been unrelenting snow storms.

I moved over to the woods road that had at least two feet of snow covering it, my snow shoes still tucked under my arm. I kept expecting to drop through the crust, but the base here had been lying so long under the weight of the now melted/evaporated cover that it was like concrete.

I left the snow shoes on the trail where I would gather them up on the way back home. I was able to proceed without them, right up to the top of Moody Mountain , as I tentatively, but successfully crunched my path skyward.

Right near the summit, surrounded by ancient gnarled spruce and birch, lay a singular bare patch of ground, some six feet long and four feet wide. It resembled a plot from a grave yard. I was momentarily stilled to have these unsettled thoughts and feelings well up, to have my own transience surface. I thought soberingly , “Some day, for me.”

As I stepped past the snow pack onto the plot, it hit me that this was the first time since even before Thanksgiving that I was able to place my aching feet on bare earth. That moment, all felt so correct. I knew that more of this is what I achingly crave.

Pick up a hitch hiker and forget about the heart rate monitor

Been a busy week for me, with trying to run the house alone, update my wife’s valiant progress on her Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempt on Trailjournals, shovel some more snow, and try and work a bit to make some money to pay these bills.

Still pretty worked up about my excitement about the AT.
How does it affect my life right now? Well, I picked up my first hitch hiker in a long time yesterday while heading to Rockland.

Last year, at this time, I was forced to stick out my thumb, in my efforts to get from a road crossing on the AT down a dozen miles or so to towns where I could score food and a dry bed for the night. I swore on a stack of Pop Tarts that I would start giving rides to people that were hitching, at least if they didn’t have a bloody machete in their hands. The fellow that I gave a ride to had just suffered a major back injury. He had been fishing on a trawler out of New Bedford, MA the week before, and the deck was icy and slippery. He said that the ship was then hit by a 30 foot rogue wave that threw him against the metal rails, resulting in two ruptured disks in his back that he was in the process of treating it for a while so he could get back to work. Sheesh!

It may be the advent of the hiking season again, but I am getting more recent e-mails and calls from folks that I consider friends from the Trail. Just last night I was laying in bed and reading when the phone rang, and it was Radar on the other end of the line. He and I spent a number of nights together on the Trail. He’s from Maine, made it all the way, and is just getting back into work again as a landscaper who builds stone walls. He has had a real hard time , like I did , adapting back to this “ shower world”, and says he’s not sure if he’s even back now. I agreed with him. We planned to do a bit of hiking back this season together. He’s faster than me, can do back to back 20 mile days, which would put me under, I think. Radar is fun to hang around with.

I have had a good week trying to keep in shape. I was able to make all 4 morning sessions of Spinning class at the YMCA this week.


Spinning is a cycling session where the instructor faces a phalanx of a dozen or so stationary cycles , shuts the lights off in the room, cranks up driving selections of tunes, and then proceeds to whip you up, down, and along simulated hills, straight-aways, and even mud pits that you emulate by cranking down a tension knob on the flywheel of the bike. I basically try and keep the wheel on a good amount of tension throughout the session, resulting in me grunting up a pool of sweat on the rubber mat beneath my bike. I rarely see even small drip zones when I glance around beneath the other people’s bikes and see dry rubber mats beneath them. It must be that Polish suffering gene in me in action again .

One of the instructors is real big on heart zone monitoring, and many of the people in the class wear these chest bands that are transmitting heat beat data. They also have these little lights strapped to watches that are strapped onto their handlebars. Too bad all the fuss is basically useless. I refer the interested reader to Gina Kolata’s Ultimate Fitness book. Gina is a health/fitness columnist for the New York Times who researched a number of the 10 commandments of fitness and found that most of them had no basis in research. The traditional heart rate formula ( based on age) was one big myth, as the original researchers themselves will explain in her book. The so-called “ fat burning zone” and the “ strength zone” are also bunk . I just am glad I am blessed with the Polish suffering gene . Don’t need no monitor to tell me what is going on in my chest, it’s generally “pedal to the metal” zone for me.

Snow walk week: Day 5, 2008


This morning, my hands were not so cold as I tugged on the bungee cords for the final time and anchored down the diminished load on my toboggan. We lingered over breakfast, all of us knowing that we would make short work of the day’s walk on the superhighway we had laid down yesterday. The final packing is so sweet; no need to remember where things go, or what you’ll need first, or next at the afternoon’s campsite. It is all going home today, so just cram it in there.

We had another cold night, with the morning sun brilliant, so our memories of this trip should shimmer in recall. I was way ready before anyone else today, so helped Tony take down the second tent, shake it out, fold it, stuff it in the sack. We piled up the unused firewood and laid it against a tree. Who knows, one of us may be back here, maybe even in the summer, to canoe this same section ?

We retraced our route, making great time, and then veered off the snowmobile trail to trudge through the woods again, where we were yesterday, back onto the frozen river just a bit before our end point at Pittston Farm.


This time deer were ahead, with a half dozen running from the river bank on our left over theice and then back into the woods on the right. They stopped and watched us, gazing at the other mammals that were traversing their world. I’m not sure they were are quiet and awestruck as we were.

To view these, and a couple of dozen other photos that I have of this trip click on my Gallery  .

Snow walk week: Day 4, 2008

Bad Influence in front of tent

We had a sort of layover day today, as we made enough progress on our intended route these past few days that we were able to stay at this camp site for another night. This is just the best, not having to move another day, no packing of sleds, just waking, eating, and walking without hauling toboggans today. We did have to devote some more time to the wood rendering in the afternoon when we returned. But is was very satisfying to know that tomorrow morning, we had out path set out for us , packed down firmly and refrozen by the below freezing night time temperatures. The toboggans should just fly then. Here’s a shot of Tony relaxing at the end of the ” work day”.

Tony at the end of the day

Breakfast was coffee, sausage, and super oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit in it. It was a lazy departure on our exploratory walk, leaving here at ten AM, with the goal of scoping out our last few miles back to the trip’s end point at Pittston Farms.
Today, we started from the dam near our camp site here on snow shoes. When we looked over the edge of the dam we were disappointed to see a very full and strong river current filling the channel. That meant, we couldn’t walk the river, and had to fall back on walking the snowmobile trailm that was paralleling the watercourse. The only times that we had to wear our snowshoes was when we veered off the snowmobile path to check on the possibility of walking on the river again.

I was able to spend some time walking and talking with Rangoon. We talked about the AT the whole time. What a relief it was to be in the presence of someone who walked the Trail with me. I have been reading several books by people who have walked the trail. It really puts things in perspective to read that from 1948 , when Earl Shaffer was the first, until 1972 only 36 people were known to thru-hike the AT.

We viewed life in the slow lane today. I was very interested to watch Bob and Tony’s post-mortem analysis of a couple of areas of the snowmobile path that had signs of wildlife incidents left there. One was where some blood on the snow was accompanied by animal tracks and actual wing impressions on the snow. The conclusion was that a Great Horned or Barred Owl had swooped out the trees and clawed a small rodent that was moving across the snow mobile path. The bird then carried it twenty feet and the dropped to the ground to consume it. Then there was evidence that small parts of the body had been left on the ground , and that a raven had landed and devoured the remains.

I have had a lot more dreaming out here than usual. We all were awakened in the night last night by the fantastic shrieking, cackling, demented screams of a pack of coyotes, no doubt discovering the body of a deer that we also viewed on our walk today. It is the real deal out here.

Snow walk week: Day 3, 2008

p1030413_2.jpg      When we woke up this morning and it was 15 below zero. That would be in the tent.  It took a long time for the tent to warm up. Today our task was just to walk 5 miles , on frozen Canada Falls Lake.  Here’s a pdf from Google Maps of the trip area:penobscotbrooktopittstonfarm1.jpg

      We have evolved a good food system out here.  Each of the seven of us has just one meal to prepare and focus our money and energy on. We eat really well, laying back and having the resident cook of the day hand  steaming grub over to us.    

         Take breakfast, for example.  Tony and Rangoon are the breakfast team.  We have sausages every day. We alternate the main morning courses between super oatmeal with nuts and dried fruits with pancakes, butter and maple syrup.  We have these great big blue enamel perking coffee pots, with the bitter, rich brew powerful enough to take the skin off the limbs. Just ask Bad Influence.

Here is a video of Rangoon cooking breakfast:  

One great feature of the day was  that the walking for me today was assisted by my Stabilicers, a Christmas gift from my sister and law, V8.  Stabilicers are traction soles that have stainless steel screws embedded all over the soles that allow traction on ice, which was what we had all day.  Two Velcro straps hold then onto the soles of your boots, which held tight. 

 Right now I have to stop and head over to the second tent for appetizers and hors d’oeurves.  I can’t even remember what we had for the main course on this day, but it was good. 

         Tomorrow it is my turn to cook.  I have a great spread prepared:   appetizers are three kinds of cheese with crackers and drinks Snake Bites ( Yukon Jack with lime juice).  The main meal is White Chili, with onion rolls/ buttter , with two flavors of Whoopie Pies, and mini eclairs for dessert.

   There is so much to do at the end of every day out here.  We burn a lot of sub par spruce dead wood in the wood stoves that we have in our two canvas tents.

We make like Alphonse and his Quebecois woodchoppers at the end of the day devouring the standing deadwood, where the 12″ rounds of buck  sawn cordwood are thrown over to the axe men who cleave the hell out of them, generating a pile of stove wood for the ever hungry stoves.  The cooks have to learn quickly how to keep the stoves burning hot enough to cook on, which requires putting in thick quarters of spruce in every 5 minutes or so, rather than suffing the firebox full of firewood, which generally takes a long time to heat up then burns very, very hot. 



Snow walk week: Day 2, 2008

Feb. 20, 2008 .
I was never so cold as this morning, when I was laying out my gear on my toboggan, with the wind blowing, ice underfoot, and huge logging trucks flying by us as we were readying for the put-in at Penobscot Brook.


I tore open the two chemical hand warmers and shoved them into my over sized mittens, hoping they would reactivate my already frozen fingers.  I took brief stints at securing my load with an array of bungee cords after wrapping boxes and duffles in a tarp. The rest of the guys were doing the same.

The drop to the stream was too great right at the bridge, so Tony and Deke had to bushwhack a snowshoe trail through some overgrown evergreens and alders to get down there.  We all assisted each other in pushing and grunting the 7 loaded toboggans through the pucker brush, all the while pivoting on my toes to keep the big ash/ gut snow shoes on my feet, as the branches we were walking over were trying to pull them off. It was already worth it, as we found solid ice underfoot, as we proceeded to move through the narrow waterway, which was about twenty feet wide at this point.


The day went slowly, as we soon encountered open water leads that required caution and good route finding skills to avoid getting our feet wet. Bob was frequently out in front, slowly moving forward , testing the thickness of the shelf ice with his axe. It we had 3 inches or so of solid ice, we went. If he hit slush under an inch or so if ice, we didn’t. Didn’t meant leaving the river bed proper, and hugging the shore where we could. You had to be careful to watch the rear end of your toboggan, to be sure it didn’t slide into the rushing waters so visible and bracing nearby. Guys were dipping their cups into the stream and gulping down water without filtering or purifying. Mt must have been OK, as no one got sick on or after the trip. So much for the common giardia panic.
We found a spot on the shore and out of the wind for lunch, where Deke laid out a couple of dry dish cloths on the snow and proceeded to heap all kinds of high calorie, quick-to-eat foods: salami, cheese, peanut and almond butters, blueberry jam, crackers, chocolate bars, hard candies, and Fig Newtons. He and Bob sprung two 1 quart thermoses on us, one filled with hot black, the other with herb tea. This lunch ritual and the same foods were to be the plan for the next three days. The great thing about winter camping with lots of snow around is that you easily get to sit for lunch. Here’s the routine: find a spot you like close to the ” table”, slide out of your snow shoes, lay them behind you to stand on so you don’t sink to your crotch, then jump forward and let your legs sink way down into the snow and sit on your snow shoes. Your feet will stay warm, as they are way down there where they can be insulated by snow.
We walked for a couple of more hours after lunch until it was three o’clock or so, time to start scouting for a good camp site.


What you are looking for here are three elements: close proximity to a water source, a sheltered spot from the wind, and a decent amount of standing dead spruce that is not too big around. After all, we aren’t carrying chain saws and fuel out here. We have just axes and bow saws. Finding the big three elements isn’t as easy as it seems. It usually requires the boys funneling out into likely spots above the water way and threading through the dense woods, in snow shoes. People call to each other, ” Check this out, this looks good, etc” until there is a sort of democratically aligned mutual agreement. Sometimes we fail to achieve and have to move on after 15 minutes of scouting around.
When we find a spot, we locate three platforms: the garage ( where the toboggans are hauled to) , and two separate tent sites. After dropping off our toboggans,  guys then stomp down the snow into flat areas for each platform. Then the work begins;  approximately two hours of real work. We chop down standing dry dead spruce that is not too punky and not too big in diameter.


Then those tree length poles get hauled near the tents into a wood rendering area, where a team of guys saws the wood into 12″ lengths, and one or two take axes and split the wood into small pieces, the better to cook with.

We need a lot of wood. While the wood team is on it, there is a team that is involved in setting up the two tents. This is usually spearheaded by the two tent owners, Roger and Tony. Not only do the tents need to be set up, by there is the fine tuning of guy lines, and digging out a pit in the inside of the tent to site the stove, and establishing a strong support for the stove pipe itself, which passes out of the tents through a firproof thimble sewn into the sidewalls of each unit. Tarps are laid in the back space of each tent, where sleeping pads, bags, and personal duffels are thrown in, awaiting activation. When there is enough wood, and someone has gone down to the river to chip through however many of feet of ice are there to reach water, and things are either leaned up or hung in trees to locate easier in the morning, is the titanium box stove loaded with wood and touched off. If you are good at starting a fire in a stove, things are soon popping, and smoke is billowing from the end of the pipe outside, and the inside of the tent is getting warm, rapidly. Just about everyone is really skilled at starting fires out here. The ultimate firestarter is standing dead cedar that is split down to pencil-thick kindling that is further shaved into curls with a sharp knife.
Each of us is handling a meal, and night one belongs to Bob . He has a great stew for us, some Jack Daniel’s ( if I remember correctly), and warm salted peanuts for an appetizer. I can’t remember what we had for dessert.
I was in a tent with Bad Influence and Rangoon. Roger, Deke, and Bob were in the other. Tony did his usual thing and slept outside , by himself, some distance from “snore camp”. He’s tough. He also has some claustrophobic problems if he gets too enclosed around his head in the sleeping bag, which might cause some problems when it gets down to 15 below zero , like it did on this first night. So far, so good.

I was also able to make a new friend out here this afternoon while scouting for firewood. He’s a friendly Canada Jay :


Snow walk week: Day 1, 2008

Things are pretty different here this past week or so. My Powerbook G4 is dead as a doornail. I am waiting for a new lap top to arrive, there is another ice storm here that cancelled everything today, and my wife Auntie Mame has been sick and hunkered down in a hiker hostel near Springer Mountain, GA awaiting her first step on her own thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

The good news is that I had a great time on a 5 day winter hiking/ snow shoeing trip up in the Maine North Woods two weeks ago, and my notes are somewhere lost in digital space right now, but I’ll do my best at reconstructing the event.

Feb. 19, 2008 Our route is on map 48 of The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer. We started on the far left edge near letter “D”, where we put in at Penobscot Brook, then connected with the South Branch of the Penobscot River, walking on that frozen watercourse, then walking the 5 or so miles over Canada Falls Lake, back onto the South Branch again, and finally arriving at our vehicles at Pittston Farm at the western end of Seboomook Lake. There were 7 of us. Other than second degree burns on Bad Influence’s leg that was due to boiling coffee, it went without too many hitches.
We started Tuesday night in a old log cabin at The Birches, where there were enough beds for all.


A woodstove kept us warm. The orange sunrise was awesome, and had us looking right over the edge of Mt. Kineo up toward Mt. Katahdin.


We were the only people staying at the Birches who were not snowmobilers. There was four feet of snow on the ground. This trip was a special one for me, as I was introducing Bad Influence and Rangoon, two of my AT mates, to the pleasures of warm winter camping. We would need snowshoes to haul long, home-made toboggans over the frozen waterways during the day, stopping early enough in the afternoon to set up two 3-man tents , and cut and split sufficient dry fire wood to keep us warm as we prepared supper and breakfasts, letting the stove go out when we went to sleep. Here’s a shot of me, ready to ward off the winter winds:


The Birches is a throwback to old times; rustic, worn, but welcoming. We ate supper and breakfast in the dining room, before shuttling vehicles and gear over ice covered desolate logging roads on Wednesday morning.

Ice Warriors

Polish power is alive and well in the Himalayas. Read all about it, featured in “Himalaya Ice Warriors”, within the Jan. 2008 issue of National Geocraphic magazine. Polish mountain climbers have a huge history as innovators in winter season climbing techniques. The article clarifies why my wife believes that everything I do for leisure time sports involves some degree of suffering.  This article is proof that it’s a Polish thing!

Quote: “Wielicki says he’s trying to ‘infect’ a new generation of polish climbers with ‘the joy of positive suffering- because if something is easy, you will not enjoy it, really.’ ”

and, this piece:
“Among serious apinists, Kukuczka is often considered the greatest high altitude climber of all time. Described as a “psychological rhinoceros” unequalled in his ability to suffer…”

Sent from my iPod