Van Gough

Instead of going to any professional workshops at this school psychologist convention this afternoon,
I ducked out and viewed 40 Van Gough masterpieces at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibit here is the only one in the US on the tour. I was floored at how absorbing it was.
As explained within the hotlinked data about the exhibit above, “This exhibition focuses on these tumultuous years, a period of feverish artistic experimentation that began when van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris in 1886 and continued until his death in Auvers in 1890. Radically altering and often outright abandoning traditional painting techniques, van Gogh created still lifes and landscapes unlike anything that had ever been seen before. ”
The paintings were vibrant with energy, emotion, motion and wonderment. One painting the I believe was entitled “Undergrowth” compelled me to state to myself, ” This is the most compelling painting I have ever seen.
The paintings were accessible, you were allowed to walk right up to them, and experience them from close up, where the individual brush strokes were clearly visible, as were the globs of paint. There was a point I stepped back and had a completely different experience. From further away the paintings leapt off the wall and connected deep within me.
Viewing these painting made me desire to be back in nature again and walking for months.

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“What I learned from hiking ?” from Joe Niemczura

A truly enjoyable and very informative read from my friend Joe. I truly appreciate the time he spent on this entry. Please take advantage of the numerous hotlinked references.

What Have I learned from hiking 
 by Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

The guy who played accordion for my old polka band, Tom Jamrog, is also a long distance hiker and backpacker. He blogs about his trips, and has a vigorous writing style. He recently posed a question on his blog; “what have you learned from Hiking?” and I decided to answer.

Troop 4 Marlboro, Algonquin Council B.S.A., Camp Resolute

I have been a hiker and backpacker all my life, ever since Boy Scouts. Growing up, my mom generally refused to let us ever play inside the house, even in winter. “So what if it’s cold, put on some mittens and your winter boots and go outside and play!” and I vividly recall games the neighborhood boys would play in the woods around our house or on the nearby golf course. Usually some variation of Capture The Flag.

As a youthful prank, my friend Kenny Paul and I once threw some firecrackers at the house of a neighbor boy. (Yes, it was us – the Statute of Limitations has run out, and besides, I think I was eleven years old.) The boy’s mom called the police. Ken was the star of the crosscountry team, and when the cruiser pulled up with blue lights blinking, I was surprised that I could keep up with him. Two cruisers spent some time in our neighborhood while Kenny and I spent the next three hours eluding them in an apple orchard. hmmmmm……. Later this inspired me to join the cross country team. I ran the the half mile in spring track. (2:14 was my personal best, if you really must know).

Kenny recently retired from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and he still is a runner. My older brother finally rediscovered his whereabouts after thirty years. Ken was also an excellent baseball pitcher. Once while on a training run though the neighborhood, a dog came out to chase. Kenny picked up a rock and beaned the dog from fifty feet away, knocking it unconscious. What coordination. I laughed when he told me his USMC specialty was artillery. He spent his adult life throwing stuff at people…..

Misery in the Great Outdoors

Camping with the Boy Scouts included a lot of miserable experiences amidst the fun. I never cooked for myself at home before going camping and trying it there. Baking my first potato in a campfire was half-burnt/half-raw, for example, and one memorable hike during a winter weekend, our patrol ploughed our way through thighdeep snow for three miles on a hike to nowhere. Ultimately I got Eagle Scout. why? mainly because my older brother had done it, and I looked up to him ( still do!).

Other experiences

To answer the specific question, It’s hard for me to separate hiking from Boy Scouts, in terms of what I learned. Don’t disrespect the Boy Scouts – I have some philosophical differences with their current leadership, over the ir policy toward gay persons and atheists (each of which are just fine with me) but overall the Boy Scouts fill an important need. Paul Theroux summed it up for me when he described his experience with the Boy Scouts.

Taking a side trail

During the time I was in Maine I did all the outdoorsy stuff – cross country ski, canoe ( the Allagash and Upper West Branch of the Penobscot) , hike, telemark, etc. I climbed Mt Washington and Katahdin in wintertime more than once…. but by comparison, the last few years in Hawaii I went through a period of not doing nearly much adventure-type stuff in the outdoors. Oh well, yeah, I was spending every summer time in rural Nepal teaching with Christian Medical Missionaries and taking day hikes, doing the Asian Travel thing (no, I did not climb Everest at any time…….that’s the usual Nepal question I get from fellow backpackers…) and here in Hawaii I was going to the beach (Sandy’s) and day hiking… but .. it wasn’t the Real Thing. And the weather here is so nice that it’s missing an element …….

Passing it on

I always took my kids on outdoorsy adventures. Glad to have two daughters because then the pressure was off and I knew I would never have to be an adult scout leader. I was saved from having to spend any more weekends with bunches of eleven-year-old boys. (thank you God!) but taught both my girls all the skills anyway. Yes, both my kids learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, predict the weather by looking at the clouds, and read a topo map. When they were six and eight, we took them on a week long canoe camping trip, retracing Thoreau’s path on the Upper West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. When the younger one announced her intention to do a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2010, I was reminded of long-ago solemn promise made at a campfire, that I would join her on that quest, should the day ever come.

My 2010 hike

When the summons to hike long-distance came, I was old. And fat. But this served as a personal challenge to get into enough shape to be a respectable hiking buddy. And that’s where the learning began again. In order to keep up with Whoopie Pie, I decided I would do my own solo hike for a few hundred miles and get in shape before hand. And besides, she didn’t want to do the whole thing with me, she was going to hike her own hike. So in May I started off in the hundred or so miles that traverse Massachusetts, averaging eight miles a day through the Berkshires. A few days to recuperate and restarted in Vermont, about two hundred miles through the Green Mountains and into New Hampshire, by this time averaging eleven miles a day. Another hundred through Shenandoah National Park, and finally co-hiked with Whoopie Pie. By the end of the summer I was not so fat; and I learned that I was not so old, either. I hiked 475 miles in that summer.

Highlights

I think most writers focus on the physical challenge of doing this, but most of the highlights for me were a bit of the meditative variety, and a good hike serves as a daydream for a long time afterwards. A variety of mountaintops in seven states. Hearing loons on a pond on Vermont, for the first time in five years. The night at the Tom Leonard Lean-to listening to nesting hoot owls. Cleaning the dead leaves from a mountain spring, and the wonderment of finding a fist-sized jellylike clump of frog’s eggs. The evening Julie and lay in our bunks in a cabin in Vermont listening to the soft conversations of other hikers during six days of cold rain in the Green Mountains. The “problem bear” at Shenandoah when I was the only person in the lean-to that night. Having heatstroke on two occasions. The bedazzlement of thousands of butterflies, a cloud of butterflies, in a dewy meadow of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park. Being sick with bronchitis and experiencing SVT overnight after taking cough medicine, wondering how I would get evacuated from such a remote place. Walking out on my own the next morning.

And of course – Smarts Mountain

The people who comprise the subculture of the Trail are always a highlight, and I learn a lot from them. One day’s hike sticks out. I got to the Fire Warden’s cabin at Smart’s Mountain New Hampshire at the end of a fourteen mile day, knowing for the last five miles that I needed to beat an oncoming thunderstorm. The approach from the south is very steep, with iron rungs forming a sort of ladder over the steepest sections. The rain pelted down, forming a waterfall on the trail as I ascended. At one point my heart sank when the clouds parted and I realized I was nowhere as close as I thought I was, darkness was approaching and I needed to skedaddle. Lightning was hitting less than a half mile away as I got above timberline, dashing the last half mile like a frenzied animal.

To get there I had elected to hop past the Trapper John leanto, but to my surprise I was passed from behind at the last minute by Roaring Lion and Snow White, two through-hikers who had hopped past two leantos, and come from six miles even further south than me that day. One other guy was already there. The cabin smelled of dead porcupine but the roof was intact. RL, SW, and I each got out of our clothes and did what all long distance hikers do – get into the dry sleeping bag, eat something, and regain some strength. As we lay there we agreed that the lightning was – exciting.

Everything I learned in Boy Scouts told me not to do what I just did.

Then we had dinner, and the usual bull session as we got to know each other. We shared that special comraderie of people who know that what they just did, (hiking uphill into a lightning storm,) was crazy; and yet, who know they are also in the company of others equally crazy.

Best summed in a saying

A friend is somebody who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is somebody who in handcuffed on the bench next to you saying “man, that was awesome”

Later that same summer, I did a 22 mile day in Shenandoah National Park. And a few other feats in which I picked them up and put them down. The highlight was to hold my own when I finally caught up with my old hiking buddy, Whoopie Pie.

From then on, for the rest of that summer, I knew: I can still push myself, further and harder than I thought.

And I have some best friends. On the Trail.

Bubbas Ride the Ice

Last Sunday I walked on a lot of ice. Yesterday I rode on even more.  What made my survival possible were the Nokian winter studded tires that I had on my Santa Cruz Heckler.  There were 9 of us out there. I rode from about 9:45 AM and was back to the car at 2 PM,  after 17 + miles in abnormal conditions.  The ride started with completely frozen surfaces with a completely different situation by early afternoon, when the sun had heated the mud up to muck, and the surface of the iced sections was collapsing . It was really tough work to churn my bike up through the mud on the edges of a blueberry field and a hay field at the end, to the point where I bonked and seized up my right quadriceps muscle right above my kneecap.  OuCh!

Ian doing his thing

The three of us ( plus Ian and Jason) who had studded tires completed the additional loop up to the Blueberry Ledge on Pleasant Mountain.

Jason and the Nomad at the intersection-note frozen mud

It was just too icy for the rest of the group to deal with the additional mileage, especially with the falls that were happening left and right. Neil, Ian, Jason, and even Eric, who did have Nokians, smacked down. I didn’t see much of Rigger or Nate, either upright or horizontal.

I was ready for this ride.  I thank Bubette Carol for selling me her Nokians, which were not needed as she moved up to a 29er.  I also thank General Tso for recommending the Fox protective armored bike shorts that I wore under my tights.  I did take a digger once and emerged unscathed. With the bite of the carbide pugs on the tires I was able to traverse smooth glassy sections of ice on ascents and descents without any undue treachery.  Top illustrate, here’s a 7 second clip of Ian demonstrating the technique of hugging the ridge at the edge of the ice, and them moving across the road:

I used to ride on home made spiked tires until I had a couple of flats.  Here is a shot of Craig Mac who double flatted his home made winter grippers on a downhill that had beaucoup rocks that pounded the crap out of both tires.

Bubba double down

Here’s the stats and the map from the ride, via Strava:

Time 03:07:06
Elapsed Time 04:02:44
Max Speed 21.2 mph
Avg Speed 4.4 mph

Moose River in Winter Day 3/3

Frigid in the tent, below zero.  BI’s cheap thermometer is broken, so no measure, but the frost covering the outside of my sleeping bag and the thickness of the ice over out water hole in the river this morning spelled COLD. The wind was loud enough to hear, and thankfully we were sheltered from the full force of it’s chill.
Unfortunately, Birdie is still not doing well. She shivers, even when bundled up in the down over quilt that is covering her. She’s still demonstrating some type of unfathomable pain, with intermittent sharp yelps that now happen when you don’t even touch her, when she’s walking outside. She runs outside into the cold and wanders back and forth, hunched up.  BI is worried enough about her that he decides to get her to a vet, which means walking out today, in the cold, and right into this wind. We’re baling.
Not that we could have done much else but hang right here, and maintain the camp for another day and night. After cutting more wood, we would stoke the stove, read, sleep, drink coffee and tea, and eat the piles of food from our feed bags.

Shelter

We tried going down river yesterday, but the over flow stopped us.  I would explore the edges of the open leads around Attean Falls nearby, plus walk out to poke around on the lower reaches of Attean Pond.
There are ample opportunities to explore animals tracks on this snow. Yesterday, Birdie led us to an otter den that was clearly active, marked by characteristic snow troughs and cylinder shaped scat.

BIrdie tracks an ottter

A great resource for learning about ice, snow, animal signs, and how to forecast and deal with winter weather is Exploring Nature in Winter: A Guide to Activities, Adventures, and Projects for the Winter Naturalist by Alan Cvancara.
So the tedious procedure of breaking camp was launched.  Packing up on a cold morning in winter is one of my top least favorite activities, but it comes with the territory.  My hands have the circulation of turtle feet,  especially my left index finger, which was partially severed some 35 years ago when I slipped on ice while I was chopping wood. I use packets of chemical heat warmers out here. This morning I had brief periods of exposing my fingers while we released all the strings, bungees, and ropes that held the tent upright, and then we packed away the various bundles onto the two toboggans.  I’d work fast for maybe three minutes, then my hands would become unbearably cold and I’d have to slip them into my chemically heated expedition mittens for three minutes and then repeat the cycle until done.
Eventually we hit the trail, and after struggling up the only bump in the route, around the Falls themselves, we came upon a newly created crater in the ice where it appeared a snowmobile had plunged.

Avoiding the pit

There were numerous tracks all over the  bend in the river that were not there when we came in a few days ago.
We were careful to keep our toboggans from plunging into the hole. We both worked each toboggan around the pit, where we took turns standing on ice pieces in the hole itself as we braced against the loads as each sled passed along the foot wide shelf.
We made quick work of reaching the mouth of the river. Looking out over the expanse of ice and swirling surface snow ahead of us, we both exchanged a glance where we recognized that we’d be heading into the vortex of cold.
The next couple of hours of travel were among the most difficult I can recall. The cold was unbelievable.  To avoid frostbite, ever inch of your face had to be covered.

Uncle Tom covers up

I remember being in this same situation walking across Moosehead Lake, where stopping was not a reasonable act. It was zero out, and the wind was strong, steady and powerful enough that it pushed our loaded toboggans over more than once. Mine was heavy enough that it took me considerable effort to haul it upright.   BI and I slogged north over the frozen expanse, and survived by chunking down the work by aiming for the lee side of several small islands that were along the path ahead.

Extreme hiking

It was dramatic how calm, settled, and more tolerable the space was when we sat on the lee side of the islands.  I treasured the hot, rich, black coffee that was in my thermos. I devoured roasted nuts, peanut butter crackers, and cookies as we brought our pulses down to reasonable levels.  The cold soon had us up and moving; our rests never lasted reached 10 minutes.
Eventually the path veered toward the east, toward the parking lot. With the wind now from the rear, our lagging energy relished the good fortune. It was still cold and difficult for my hands. I stuffed all my gear haphazardly into my empty Voyager, and was done.  I high-fived BI.  We made it.  Our homes would now be cradles of comfort and warmth.  The wonder of the shower world, oh those hot showers.

Moose River in Winter- Day 2/3

Late yesterday afternoon BI’s leg busted through the thin ice near the water lead while he was chipping a hole through the ice for drinking and cooking. It submerged up past his knee, so his mukluk, felt liner, sock, long underwear, and pant leg were saturated with icy cold water. I had him kneel in some powder snow and we pressed it against  his leg, wicking off as much of the moisture as we could.
This morning we fired up the stove around 7 AM and kept the heat going  up but the wet footwear was still not dry. BI had left  his rubber boots in the car, which would have been his walking option, so our plans changed a bit.  He suggested that we use the day to head upriver to scout out a possible campsite for tomorrow night. With a lunch, axe, snowshoes, and a saw we could move much quicker than we would with loaded toboggans. We hoped to  pack down a tent space and even prepare the firewood for an easy arrival afternoon tomorrow.  I let BI use my rubber boots until I would need them, if  ever.
So, after breakfast, we stayed here a bit, found another half dozen standing dead spruce, limbed off the branches and had a complete day’s firewood sawed up ready to go when we got back.

The base camp that we hauled in

I also propped up the stove legs with wooden “floats” . The legs  had sunk down into a pool of melted water under the firebox, which refroze during the night when we let the stoves go out.

Unfortunately, I misjudged just how much the stove had cooled off, and the arm of my down jacket came into contact with the surface, quickly melting a series of holes in the sleeve that I patched with McNett clear non-stick tape, that held the down in until I could make a more permanent repair at home.
The air wasn’t too cold, and although there were snow showers coming on, the skies eventually broke  from the west.
There were two snowmobile tracks still heading upriver and we stuck to them.

Birdie and Bad Influence head upriver

There were sections of the river where the machines had  burned through deep slush that had refrozen. Mostly. We had been walking quickly for about 90 minutes when I stepped on the frozen track and my boot broke through the crust and went into slush.

Not Good

It is the bane of any winter walker, as it not only soaks through the moose hide of the mukluks, but if and when you shift over to snowshoes, which you eventually need to float on this icy soup,  they ice up in sub- freezing temperatures, gathering increasing thickness of ice, as the water cakes onto the snowshoes. It you are hauling toboggans it freezes to the bottom.  Both situations require stopping and beating or scraping off the ice on the toboggans with the axe head  in order to just keep  going forward.  It is not good.

The Grey Road to Unlimited Saturation

For more on the topic of overflow, and skill-based winter camping knowledge, I refer you to Snow Walker’s Companion, by Garret and Alexandra Conover. I consider them my mentors on all aspects of winter walking. No better guide exists.  They are also excellent writers.
Within the next steps, BI and I were both breaking through, in a section of river where the brush on the sides of the channel was so thick that it would have been close to impossible to move toboggans up and around the slush, which at this point appeared to be a hundreds yards or more long.  Of course, there could have been even more, or no slush around the bend. When 50 pound Birdie was repeatedly breaking through until mid leg in whatever direction she bounded , we both realized how fortunate we were to have used the day as a reconnaissance mission.
There wasn’t much discussion. We turned around and headed back, in relief that we hadn’t disassembled our camp and brought it up here to an impasse. Both of us plugged into our respective iPods while we walked back, and I got in a little air guitar to the tune of  Please Stand Up, by British Sea Power.

Uncle Tom shreddin'

Volumes of prepared stove wood awaited us when he returned to camp about 2 PM. The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking hot cocoa, and eating nuts, dried fruit, chips, and hummus.

Winter Digs

We both drifted in and out of naps as we took turns stoking the stove.   BI’s mukluks dried, ready for tomorrow’s adventures.

Day 1/3 Attean Pond Road to past Attean Falls on Moose River

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Sitting up in the heated tent out of reach of Verizon and anything else. I’m flat out beat. The pulling was hard. It started out at 0 degrees this morning, but by noontime, when we finally located the mouth of the River, all I had on was my thin woolen Johnson’s Mill long underwear top on and I was still dripping sweat.
My toboggan seemed overloaded for a four day trip because it was. Not only did I have all my winter gear on the sled, but my 17 pound Egyptian cotton 9x 12 wall tent, the big tent fly, titanium Four Dog stove plus stovepipe, and metal thimble that allows the pipe to pass through the tent. I had all the cooking and kitchen gear, saws, an axe, a big chisel for cutting through the ice, big first aid kit, candles, lots of rope- plenty of gear. I am. Adding so much stuff I am overwhelmed looking for things.
There are only two of us in the 4 person tent. I tried to get more people to come, but it didn’t happen. Most people. can’t take off Thursday to Tuesday , but thankfully my Vermont hiking buddy Bad Influence can. Truth be told there just aren’t that many people, even outdoor nuts, who want to camp out on the side of frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers after hauling loaded sleds across the ice and snow all day long, and it’s rumored to only get up to 5 degrees up here near the Canada border this Sunday with a night time low of twenty below zero.
I like to do these trips with four in the tent, it allows others to carry some group gear on their own toboggans, and distributes the daily chores over 4 people rather than two. We chop or saw down dead trees, then limb them out, haul them whole back to camp each afternoon. and then saw them up into 16″ lengths and sometimes split the biggest pieces. We have to set up the big tent, cook supper, wash dishes.
It’s why BI , his dog Birdie, and I are just about ready to blow out the candle, even though it’s not even 7 PM yet.

Whoopie Pie on “What Have I Learned From Hiking?”

Whoopie Pie is the trail name of area code 207 resident Amy Neinczura.  Amy thru hiked the AT southbound and has been writes frequently on her WordPress blog at http://mainethewaylifeturnedout.wordpress.com  about how tough it is to walk the line with one foot still on the trail and the other feeling around for the correct path in the “shower world”, as we hikers term the 9-5 work-a-day-Janie world.

So give Amy a warm welcome.

In the continuing series of “What Have I Learned From Hiking?”— Here’s Whoopie pie!

“if you keep going, you will get there.  if you stop, you won’t.”  i repeated this over and over again to myself on my solo southbound thru-hike of the AT, especially on the last 700 miles of the trail, when all i wanted to do was stop.  my trail love who promised to go to springer with me changed his mind around daleville, virginia. suddenly i was hiking alone again, as i had started in maine, only this time i was in the part of the trail that i knew the least about and feared the most, the south.  as an early southbounder, i did not have the comfort of a bubble with me, a bubble ahead of me, and a bubble behind me like northbounders do.  i truly felt the weight of the pack on my shoulders, weight that refused to give up but felt little enthusiasm to continue.  i would learn the difficulty of hiking, and existing, without a community.

in daleville, i bought pepper spray, perhaps as a symbolic gesture to soothe my fear.  a family friend and former thru-hiker who lived in roanoake suggested that i buy the trail maps in addition to the data book that i was using, so that i could triangulate camping spots furthest from roads, from civilization, the least accessible to weirdos.  i learned to spot the trail bums, the “hikers” clad in jeans listening to their radios and eating out of cans at shelters, and i take off as quickly as i dropped my pack to read the register.

it turned out that i did not need the pepper spray.  most section hikers, day hikers, and townspeople who picked me up hitch-hiking would exclaim, in the most incredulous tone imaginable, “you are hiking ALONE!?”  day hikers would give me every apple and granola bar they had packed, as if i did not have a pack full of instant mashed potatoes, dried cranberries, and cheap sugar cookies from food lion.  on the virginia creeper trail, i met a church group who promised to pray for me.  in the day prior, i met another hiker who offered to let me shower, eat, and spend the night when i reached big balds.  he was one of three strangers-turned-friends who put me up during my thru-hike.  i will always remember stopping at the parking lot at carver’s gap in the roans and having a man say in the most darling tennessee accent, “would you like some home-made tennessee molasses?”  somewhere around the smokeys, i was offered shots of home-made moonshine, and hated the medical predicament that stopped me from saying yes.

i met all of those people, and experienced that generosity, on good days.  i spent much of my last 700 miles in tears, and i did not have a community of people to cheer me up.  i wanted to physically challenge myself, but i made the challenge harder than it needed to be.  i did indeed make it to springer.  i would not realize until the following year how much more pleasant the AT could be.

in the summer 2011, i returned to the AT northbound, only for my favorite section, New England.  i started at the ny/ct line, and headed north, intending to switch to the long trail.  soon i realized the joys of hiking within a community, a group of people excited to see me arrive at the shelter or campsite, people who suggested shelters or campsites or dartmouth frat houses where i was not initially planning on staying.  with trail friends, i had a reason to build campfires and stay up late, or at least hiker late.  i had swimming partners-in-crime, and inn-at-the-long-trail partners-in-crime, and work-for-stay partners-in-crime.  needless to say, when i reached the maine junction, i turned east towards home.

hiking alone southbound, many of my memories consisted of, “yep, i cried going up that mountain.  oh yeah, wesser bald, i cried that day.  the smokeys?  yep…”  it starts to sound a little PATHETIC, really.  yet northbound this past summer, i left a trail of laughter.  i would say my same line over and over again, “NO LAUGHING ON THE DOWNHILL!”  then i would promptly burst into laughter, and lose my footing.

nevermind my digressions.  my need for community, and my ability to benefit from it, is one of my most cherished trail lessons.  my trail lessons are so pervasive that they are strewn across my memory like a gear bomb that i trip over when i need to use the privy in the middle of the night.  no, not a gear bomb.  true confessions: because i am such a minimalist, i created very unimpressive gear bombs.  my trail lessons are stowed and neatly packed in the exact same spot of my mental backpack, just like my aqua mira and alcohol stove and hubba hp and other possessions.  that way, whenever i need to pull one of my trail lessons out of my pack for strength, i can efficiently find it.

What Have I Learned from Hiking ?

What have you learned from hiking? A challenge to hiking bloggers
From newenglandoutside.com
“Hiking has taught me a lot about life and gear over the past 15 years. What has it taught you? My challenge to fellow hiking bloggers is to write a short post about what you have learned from hiking.
Maybe you learned the meaning of life or maybe you learned that wool is itchy, there are no wrong answers. Keep it simple and fun, I think it will be interesting to see what everyone is learning on the trail.
If you post to Twitter, then add hashtag #hikelessons”

I read the above about this challenge a few weeks ago , when it was reposted on my friend Guthook’s blog- Guthook Hikes !

My plunge back into hiking came at the end of my middle years, after being introduced to it by the UMass Outing Club, in 1967. Backpacking eventually was derailed by decades of hard work, family obligations, and the accumulation of too much stuff that eventually grew into a pile so cumbersome that I am still pushing my way through it all.  It took formal retirement in 2002 for me to return. I’m beyond thrilled to report that I’ve walked over five thousand miles, and have spent over a year out of my past four doing what I love best.

Uncle Tom in NY, 2007 AT

SO: What have I learning from all this hiking?

-I treasure the stripped down experience of walking north where I can trade in my routine, everyday life for unexpected adventures.  Walking forward can be unpredictable, yet it 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 by late afternoon or evening”.). So much happens in a day when you wake up early and move though woods, deserts, or fields and encounter animals, insects, plant life, and other people who are also walking around.
Backpacking allows me to embrace simplicity, resourcefulness, vitality, community, and adventure all in one fell swoop.  Hiking is a universal experience that ties the ordinary adventurer to Odysseus, Daniel Boone,  Shackleton, and other important explorers who inspire us to go places. I consider myself fortunate to be on the list of individuals who seek encounters with nature on a twenty-four hour-a-day, all-day, months at a time periods.
-I have learned to deal with adversity by conserving my psychic energy in order to focus on moving ahead, even if it means walking backwards sometimes. While I walk, I strive to reduce the time I spend in tension and indecision.
-I am more ready to pass through what I call the “open doors” that present themselves at intervals during a hike. There are two major approaches to dealing with a long distance backpacking trips.  One is to follow the “ be prepared” school of thought exemplified by hikers like Terrapin Flyer and Granite who cooked and dehydrated all the food needed for some 160 days of walking, then packed it all into 30+  boxes that were shipped to themselves along the PCT. The alternative approach is one taken by Richard Wizard, who never mails himself food, but prefers the challenge of making do with what he can sift through along the way. I used to be a hiker who was locked into over preparation due to expecting some worst case scenario, but have now relaxed a great deal in my fretting about what could go wrong.  See that bunch of campers off the trail over there who might be having a good time?  I now walk over to them and ask, “Who are you guys and what’s up ?”
-Hiking is a hardware and software reset that restores my health and vitality.  I have lost as little as 17 and as much as 33 pounds on my long hikes. Losing weight is no big deal- most of America is on some sort of weight loss program, but the thru-hiker program is unique in that the weight continues to drop despite consumption of vast volumes of food, up to some 6,000 calories a day. I can remember times when I felt like a super-human, 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.
-Lessons learned on the trail extend to life off the trail.  Sayings that may ring hollow chime brilliant when you are walking along a trail.   “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 single one of them also applies when off the trail.

-People make the trail.  I started the Appalachian Trail on my birthday, March 27, alone. However, I met several other hikers at the first campsite who became best friends.  Not only did those same people reach the Katahdin summit with me on Sept. 16, 2007, but three years later General Lee, Richard Wizard, and I walked together to complete the 2,760 mile Pacific Crest Trail.  General Lee and I thru-hiked Vermont’s Long Trail this past August.  My most satisfying memories are replays of scenes where there are other people present. Here’s my favorite AT photo – a blurry one taken into the setting sun in Virginia just past the Thomas Knob shelter.

Lee, Queso, and Denny Dog

In the photo MeGaTex is hiking up a lushly planted hill  “in formation”, with Denny Dog close on the heels of General Lee in the lead. We call ourselves MeGaTex, representing the states where the members live. We’re planning another big one for 2013.

Rescued hiker says White Mountains are out | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

Photo by John Clark

What brand and model of snowshoes broke?   How bad could the break be that it couldn’t be fixed with the all-essential backup ziptie ( it was just one shoe)  to be able to move through the snow?  Where can we find out the answer?  Clarkie, Guthook? Help!

“I think I’m done with the Whites for now,” Embrey said from his home in Buxton on Saturday, the day after guides with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department had to rescue him near the summit of Mount Lafayette, bringing him a replacement showshoe and helping him find his way back to the trail.

Rescued hiker says White Mountains are out | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.