In 1994, twenty-give years ago, I published my first feature article. It was about a two week motorcycle ride from Maine to the newest leg of the Labrador Highway- Churchill Falls to Goose Bay. My touring mentor and buddy, Alan MacKinnon and I had just read Great Heart, by Rugge and Davidson and were inspired by the book to explore the region.
To link to a .pdf of the article, complete with original photographs, clink the link below, where you will be able to download the .pdf in separate browser:
I’m riding a wave of opportunities to get out and hike again. In the past couple of weeks I’ve made two overnight trips to the White Mountains to target the remaining four of New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4,000 footers. I’m combining forces with my very good friend and hiking enthusiast Tenzing, who lives in NH. Tenzing needs a few more summits than I do (7) but neither of us mind a few extra mountain hikes, so he’s doing a few repeats and so am I.
We haven’t hiked together for five years. A couple of weeks ago we had a very successful trial hike of 3,268’ Kearsarge North.
This week, I drove up to Silver Lake, NH to stay with my brother-in-law Cam, who put me up for a night so that I couldn’t have to drive up and back from a long day of hiking three more 4,000 footers: Mounts Tom( 4051’), Field (4350’) and Willey (4285’) in Crawford Notch.
We picked the best day of the summer so far to hike. I awoke to 47 degrees, and rendezvoused with Tenzing at Intervale. The cold temps quelled any lingering mosquitoes or black flies. The views from on high were much better than average, although there was some cloud cover up high. We spotted cars at two ends of our route and were hiking by 8 am.
By 9:30 AM we had completed out first 2.5 miles, trudging upward at a very good rate of 2.1 mph. The summit of Mt. Tom was reached by 10:15 AM.
Tensing informed me that he had previously submitted Mounts Tom and Field on Sept. 18, 1994.
Number two 4,000 footer- Mt. Field
After short breaks for water and snacks, we meandered up and down the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Willey at 12:30 PM.
From there is was a long, and often treacherous descent to a segment of the Appalachian Trail, down to the parking lot off the highway.
The views from an outcropping were rewarding today:
Tenzing posted this additional information on his Facebook page: “A piece of advice anyone wishing to climb Mt Willey: try to avoid climbing and descending from/to the South. The trail is extremely steep, highly eroded, and the footing is frequently scree or loose gravel and very slippery!”
Tenzing and I have another hiking trip planed to check off two more 4,000 voters on 9/10-9/11. Then a 3 day, 2 night hike overnight in October to complete Tenzing’s last 5 and my last 1.
September and October are my favorite months to hiked spend time in the New England woods. I’m fortunate to be able to hike tough stuff and to have friends like Tenzing that I can share my experiences with.
One of the local AT thru hikers, AKA Blueberry, mentioned that she read this book in one day. It took me two days complete, the same as my wife who read it immediately after I did. The book is well phrased, and the author has the credentials to do a thorough job of bring the story forward.
I recommended to anyone, experienced hikers and outdoors folks as well as those who hold that that a long hike on Appalachian Trail is a piece of cake. In any given year approximately 30 people get lost while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sadly, 66 year old Geraldine Largay was one of them in 2013, when she had the misfortune of wandering 2 miles off the AT in Maine after she became disoriented when stepping into the woods off the AT to urinate.
I read all 39 comments about the book here in Goodreads. I am left wondering whether some of the reviewers read the same book that I did ! For example there were comments that Ms. Largay did nothing wrong, that she waited patiently in place for 26 days for a rescue that never came despite the coordinated efforts of hundreds of searchers doing close coordinated searches of the area on multiple occasions
As a former thru hiker of the AT who has since obtained his Maine Guide’s license I have received training on lost person behavior and I have also experienced the anxiety being left behind and/or temporarily disoriented myself. Ms. Largay lacked two specific skills that might have saved her life: land navigation and fire building. Her body was eventually found after keeping herself alive for 26 days while in possession of a compass and a map of the area. Ms. Largay had a lighter with her but the postmortem site analysis revealed that she was not able to maintain a fire large or long enough to call attention to her location.
Since Ms. Largay’s death I have added a satellite-based communication device ( Garmin InReach+) to my day hike pack, as an emergency back up. I pay 12 dollars a month for the subscription as I am out in all seasons. I’m not getting any younger and things do go wrong in unexpected ways in the wood and waters of Maine.
I also orient myself with a compass and map and complete a “handrail check” before I enter the woods or a large body of water. A handrail is a feature or landmark that leads towards your destination and one that you can follow or keep within sight. It can be man made or natural. For example, if Ms. Largay had done this, she would have known that Maine Route 27 was directly east of the section of the AT where she became lost. She might not have been able to see the Northeast handrail of Sugarloaf Mountain through the dense foliage, but that big old sun came up directly from the east on each of those 26 days that she was waiting for help. Route 27 was 11 miles directly from her location, and while she might not have been able to get there in one of even two days, she might have recognized the AT as she would have to cross it on her way to the highway.
Smart phone’s GPS/ mapping systems are great tools that I use myself, but Ms. Largay’s sad story only drives home the fact that rudimentary map/compass and navigation skills are necessary when all else, including our sense of direction fails us.
I’ve had four days of varied amount of outdoor experiences. I’ve taken time off from my usual routine of mixing work and the same old recreational routes to open myself up to what can best be described as microadventures, a term I credit to Alistair Humphries, author of one of my favorite books.
Both my sons Lincoln and Arlo are visiting for 5 days with their respective partners, Stephanie and Alanna. I’m blessed with family members who are adventurous individuals, that are vigorous enough that they can engage in little excursions that pop up as possibilities.
On Thursday, Lincoln and I joined up with a half dozen or so of my mountain biking group, The Bubbas, for a rock and root punctuated couple of hours of pounding the meandering trails built on Ragged Mountain’s Snow Bowl recreation area.
On Thursday, Alanna, Stephanie, Lincoln, and I went 4.7 miles up Ragged Mountain, from the opposite side of the biking that Lincoln and I did the night before.
This ascent is challenging as well with a relatively flat run at the beginning, with the trail turning much ore rocky and vertical.
Stephanie and Alanna hiked strongly in the lead and went even a bit further than this map indicates, and actually made it to the Ragged’s summit tower. Lincoln and I explored this view when we hung out for a short while waiting for Steph and Alanna to come down from the actual summit.
Swimming and hanging at camp was a welcome break from the heat and humidity.
On Saturday, Lincoln and I went fishing. In 2008, my friend Mike Gundel and I shared a canoe on our early season 8 day thru-paddle of Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Check out that story and view photos here. The theme of that adventure was, “The Russians are coming!”
Mike is a Maine Guide who specializes in fishing. He was available on short notice and provided the canoes, rods, and tackle we needed to catch largemouth bass. What are the chances that Mike chose to take us fishing on one of the bodies of water that are depicted in the Ragged ledge panorama depicted above ?
We met Mike at the put in at 7 AM, where the next four hours flew by as Mike guided us around the lake to where we actually caught fish! I caught three fish, including a largemouth that was eyeballed in the 3.5 pound range.
My 4 day run of fun included an outdoor wedding on the ocean shore in Tenants Harbor that took up Saturday after noon and late into the night. Marcia and I made the wedding but had to pass on the revelry at the reception.
The next morning, folks were sleeping in. I decided to make the usual Bubba Church Sunday morning mountain bike ride, again up Ragged Mountain with a different route than Thursday night’s ride. It was the most humidity I’ve ever remembered on a ride, some 96%. I left the parking lot and went up 15 minutes before the rest of the group started and decided to keep going at one of the designated intersections, due to unrelenting assault by mosquitoes. I tried to relay my plan via text to one of the guys but my fingers, phone screen, and every piece of cloth that I had on my body, and even in the pockets of my day pack were saturated and I couldn’t make the screen respond to input.
I left them this message of sorts. Uncle Tom is my rail name- has been since 2007:
Just before I took off I heard bikes clattering and surging through the rocky, rooted trail and we all descended the ext downhill on the slops: the G5 Connector, where I ended up flatting my rear tire. After I put a tube in the tire, I put my air pump to the task but that had to wait until I was able to reattach the pump’s air hose, which never happened before!
It’s been quite a different four days for me- this stretch this of mid-August microadventures- one that I’ll repeatedly appreciate as I fall under the spell of euphoric recall !
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.