Study vs. Action ? Improve Your Backpacking Success

People get better by putting time and effort into understanding and practicing the components that are necessary to complete a task,  job, or even a sport, like backpacking.  I recently read an article by Tim Herrera in his NYTimes Smarter Living column that challenged my thinking about improving my long distance backpacking skills.     Here’s the article:  Just Working Harder Won’t Get You Ahead. Working Smarter Will.    In sum, Herrera postultates about variables that affect skill levels in advanced  performers. Herrera claims that the strongest predictor of skill wasn’t time spent practicing; rather, it was time spent in serious study.  Unfortunately, Herrera draws on just one example- the “sport” of chess, as his example.

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In my experience hugely more productive to engage in the activities and practice the basic principles that bolster one’s chances of success than spend that equal time in serious study of backpacking books, websites, and videos.

Backpacking and hiking are activities that should be as natural as waking up or going to sleep- after all, once we learn to walk as babies, life is just putting one foot in front of the other, right?   Well, yes and no.

Walking is easy until you turn your ankle and sprain it, or worse.  It’s easy unless you find yourself off-trail in a unfamiliar area, or if you need to cross a raging stream that has the power to sweep your feet out from under you.

Justin Lee and Alan Widmaier in CA on PCT (2010)

Walking is no problem, until you are walking on ice slanted on an impossibly steep slope, or a bear rips into your backpack at night and absconds with your food.

Experience trumps familiarity, which brings up another pitfall of trying to master a set of physical and mental skills by reading, listening to,  or observing others engaged in the practice.   You fall into the pit when you follow up unreliable advice that comes your way  due to the ability of media to make a pitch look polished and professional when in fact it may even be uninformed ofreven false.  For example, I attended a workshop in April 2010 in Southern California as I was starting my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail  dubbed ” the foot talk” where a former PCT-thru hiker told us anxious group of wanna-bees that blisters were inevitable.  At the time, I had just switched to a pair of military issue desert boots that were supplied by New Balance that were loaded with mesh panels to dump moisture.  I was fortunate to complete that hike blister free, as I have with any other long distance hike since then.  Sure there were a few more things that I had learned bout taking care of my feet that I applied on my hikes, but the point is that experts don’t know what is best for you, and maybe not even themselves.

Edward tells me that , ” It’s still not right”

I bought a new tent this year- a 12′ diameter tipi , with one 6’10” pole, that required  serious study and practice to set up.  I brought my new tent to Florida this past January where I was camping with my best friend Edward.   I had watched two videos about setting the unit up as well as read the instruction sheet that accompanied the tent.  I also read all the customer comments on the website about setting it up.  I laughed when I read the comment about the poor guy who took 2 hours to set his tipi up the first time  in an actual snowstorm.   Would you believe that it also took Edward and me two hours to set up the tent, and that was in warm weather on perfectly flat ground ?  The written instructions were confusing, and we ended up devising a much simpler method for doing the job right, getting the setup down to 10 minutes after two hours of actual engagement in the act of putting the thing up taught and secure.

In Zen Body-Being, Peter Ralston writes about developing physical skills, power, and even grace.   In 1978 Ralston  became the first non-Asian ever to win the World Championship full-contact martial arts tournament held in the Republic of China.

Ralston writes about the wisdom of experience:  ” Studying techniques and training ritualized movement may be useful, but these are ‘details’ within a larger picture.  We need to  be able to discern the sometimes-subtle difference between just thinking about something and truly experiencing something.  One of the simplest ways to bridge this gap is to involve ourselves with hand-on experimentation and investigation.”

So,  make 2018 the year you experience the outdoors and engage in hiking and backpacking more than you spend those same hours on screen while sitting on the couch.  Set a goal to get out for many hours, where you might be blessed enough to be able to walk though rain, snow, wind, cold, and dark and have the realization that walking might just be putting one foot in front of the other, but it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t have to be done on blistered feet.



FEBRUARY 1 @ 6:30 PM-  8:00 PM

Tom Jamrog will present on Thursday, February 1 at 6:30 PM on his 5 months of experiences on the CDT, one of the toughest long distance hikes in the world.

The 2,500 mile National Scenic Trail is now 70% completed.  It starts at the Mexico border and travels along the spine of the Rockies as it winds through New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Montana into Canada.  The presentation  will draw on images and stories from his newly released book:  In the Path of Young Bulls:  An Odyssey Along America’s Continental Divide Trail.

Blue Hill Books will assist with book sales at the event.

Uncle Tom’s Adventures Looks at 2018

Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures slides into the first week of a frozen, record cold 2018.

Cold at Camp

Within a week of record breaking cold, the thermometer never got above zero for a couple of days.

I am still nursing my right shoulder after a fall I had off my fat tire back in The Bog on Dec. 9. I think I can get back on the saddle in a couple of days, when the winter’s course appears to turn another rough weather corner.  Right now there is a two foot thick snow cover on the open fields .

Heading home, sinking.

It’s been so cold that the snow hasn’t really compressed or refrozen, even on the snowmobile trails that have had a bit of traffic on them. Some winter riders have reported great conditions, but others have floundered a bit in the softer stretches.   That should all change in a couple of days. The forecast is for it to warm up to 50 degrees in two days and the rain from 4 AM on Friday until 4PM on Saturday when the melted mess will freeze solid when temperature tanks again into single numbers. Sheesh!

I just spent my first 2018 night out at camp.

Hobbs Pond camp

The place was a mess and needed tending. Last week I trailered over a used gas cook stove and a couple hundred linear feet of used pressure treated boards that will help upgrade the setting here. I  parked the trailer in front of the camp and left it.   I just managed to beat the latest snowstorm, with my shoveling and hacking a path for Maritime Energy to install the propane tank and gas cook stove. The moving dolly was still inside as the strewn about contents of the tiny kitchen, which had to be moved into the rest of the camp in order to haul the old electric range out and the gas unit in.  So, with Marcia still in Florida basking in the sun of Vero Beach this week, I put the Tempwood stove to use and got the camp up to a comfortable temperature for the night.

Main room w/ Tempwood on right

I must admit that split dry oak chunks seal the heat deal. With such a tiny camp, a couple of hours of attention puts things back into order. It feels good to get away and live lean, even if it is just for part of a day.

This week, I will likely sell out the few copies I have left from the first printing of my new book, “In the Path of Young Bulls”.

Front and center

I am lining up the second printing.  My wife Marcia uncovered several typos in the first press run. I made those minor changes as well as a text alteration to improve the ending. I plan to run a couple of “incentives” to launch sales of the next press run in 2018.

In the meantime, I continue to learn about heart rate variability as a training aid, because rest appears as important as activity in maintaining fitness.

I am also continuing my research into genetic testing and its application to training and fitness. I have just sent off a saliva sample to . I already have received genetic results from and am very interested in seeing similarities and possible difference in those sets of results.

I am checking out info on the micro biome : —>>”No Gut, No Glory: Scientists are calling the human micro-biome the forgotten organ.

And their discoveries about the trillions of bacteria living inside us may revolutionize how we think about diet, performance, and endurance. So in the name of citizen science, we subjected ourselves and seven elite athletes—including skier Cody Townsend—to microbial analysis, with eye-opening results.” —David Ferry, in Outside Magazine January/February 2018

I am also interested in drawing when I am outdoors. I received some sketchbooks, watercolors, and writing tools as Xmas presents.

I plan to head down to Florida in late January to camp out with my friend Edward for a week.

In February, I plan to spend several nights of winter camping at Blackwoods campground  in Acadia, testing out a new tent and custom titanium wood stove to heat it.  I hope I can get some pals to come along.  February will also feature me attending a Kimchi workshop with Hanji Chan and her mother, Sammai Choi, who will walk us through how to make authentic Korean Kimchi, the famous fermented cabbage dish served with all Korean meals.

The first weekend in March is set up for winter camping at Camden Hills State Park. I also plan to return to some winter activities in the Katahdin Woods and waters National Monument in March.  Here’s winter fat biking that happened there last March.

I have signed up for a mushroom identification class at Camden Hills High School with David L. Spahr in May. David is the author of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada: A Photographic Guidebook to Finding and Using Key Species.

I’m not sure what my commercial backpacking schedule will be for the 2018 season. The 2017 schedule was a bust for me. Marcia and I had to cancel our June Denali trip due to illness. I also had to cancel a full 100 Mile Wilderness Trip that was scheduled for early September , due to a sudden decline in the functioning of my 91 year old mother Isabel. She had exhausted the family in caring for her while I was off in Newfoundland on a two week thru hike in late August. No longer able to live in the home where she has spent the past 85 years, I stepped off the plane from Newfoundland in Boston to spend a week with her in her house. I then packed her up and moved her to Maine, but not for long.

Activity goals in 2018:
– via Strava: 1,000 miles on the bike, and another 1,000 miles of hiking.
– To read 35 books in 2018.
– Write outline and draft of new book.
-Post at least 2 blog entries/week in 2018

Let’s get going,  let’s get out there.

Polish Alpinists Attempt First K2 Winter Ascent

From the NYTimes ( 12/27/17) :

Tommy Heinrich, National Geographic Creative

A team of Poland’s most elite climbers just launched an attempt to scale one of the deadliest mountains on Earth—a feat no one has accomplished. The Polish team has been preparing for almost two years, purchasing the best climbing equipment and hiring a supplemental team of weather forecasters, dietitians, sports trainers, and doctors.

They encompass the world’s best climbers and is overseen by renowned Polish climber Krzysztof Wielicki. The 67-year-old made headlines in 1980, when he became the first person to climb Mount Everest in winter. He has led three winter expeditions to different peaks on K2, but never to its tallest point.

read full NYTimes article here:  Climbers Set Off to Be First to Summit World’s Most Notorious Mountain in Winter


Check out the award winning book about Polish climbers specializing in winter Himalayan ascents :  Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald. This book won the following awards:
2012 American Alpine Club Literary Prize (USA)
2011 Munday Award, Banff Mountain Festival (CANADA)
2011 Boardman Tasker Prize, Kendal Mountain Festival (UNITED KINGDOM)

Here are my two previous blog posts ( 2008) about Polish ascents of the winter giants:


Best Books – 2017 !

I’m a goal fanatic. One of my 2017 goals was to read more actual books rather than click bait and  fake news.

Goodreads helped me reach my goal of 25 books read in 2017 ( I ended up reading 37) . Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations.  Some folks balked when Amazon snapped it up, but I still enjoy using it for cataloguing books that I have read, and books that I plan to read. 

Goodreads is also useful for book promotions by authors, and since my first book came out in October, I have learned  lot about selling and promoting books.

I have a renewed respect for local bookstores.  My Christmas gifts this year were books for family and friends that I purchased at local bookstores. The discounts that authors offer local outlets to present our books are less than the 50% discount we are forced to take at national chains, including the big A.  Please support local bookstores!   

 I am also learning about  the marketing outlets that are available via social media.  For example, I recently had a Goodreads Giveaway where I offered three free copies of my new book, In the Path Of Young Bulls.  The Giveaway ran for a week.  457 Goodreads readers entered the “drawing”, resulting in 457 “Want to Read”  results for me. I gave a way three Christmas presents for people that I hope will offer me reviews, hopefully positive!

Here are the best books that I have read, or even re-read, this calendar year, including a few comments about the books themselves:

I own both editions of this excellent gear guide.  The Second version is the one to get, with additional material.  Between editions, Skurka started up a guiding business. This book reflects the changes in gear recommendations that Skurka offers that were based on not just his own preferences but those of many hundreds of hikers that were on those trips.  I bought a new set of carbon fiber trekking poles based on his tips. The book also contains many useful planning lists. Skurka coined the term ” stupid light”,  which describes the pitfalls of excessively reducing the items in your pack, as well as the durability of those choices.  This is a seasoned backpackers best thoughts about gear.


Snorkel, AKA Liz Thomas, writes with authority here.   She’s a relatively young Triple Crown Award hiker,  writes for Backpacker magazine, and conducts online training for thru-hiker hopefuls. From her excellent blog:  “Former women’s speed record holder for the AT and veteran of twenty long trails, gives you the tools to make this dream a reality. Included is trail-proven advice on selecting gear, stocking resupplies, and planning your budget and schedule, complete with gorgeous photographs of life on the trail. Along the way, enjoy sneak peeks into not only the Triple Crown trails, but also lesser-known long trails throughout North America.  She’s also a graduate of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and is currently Vice President of the American Long Distance Hiking Association West.   The book’s writing is excellent and contains strong photos, and is filled with up to date gear recommendations.  With this book and Skurka’s Gear Guide i hand you can’t go wrong on any post-Holiday sales.


I really enjoy growing  much of my own food as I can here in the shorter season that we have in Maine.  That means Asian greens, onions, cole crops, carrots, and certain pepper varieties.  I’m increasingly interested in fermented preservation of these foods.  This book helped me turn the corner on not only kimchis of various types, but stir fry combos that are quick and tasty.  I absolutely love the comic book format of the book, which makes the cooking even easier when you can see the steps in the process.  Cartooning cookbooks work really well!


Maine’s Bernd Heinrich co-wrote this book.  He’s one of the strongest naturalist beacons in the universe, with a Polish pedigree that includes world records for ultramarathon running. All the illustrations in the book were created by Heinrich.  This is a book you are asked to write in, with 5 full years of blank pages at the end to list daily calendar events of animal, weather, and plant activity that one observes in the natural world .  I have found it  useful it on hikes and bike rides. It has assisted me in seeing more of what is out there.  For example, one of the things that I want to do in the next month is discover a barred owl nest in the woods near my house.  Plus, I have already learned that beech trees favor well-drained southern slops in this area of the country and guess what?  It’s true !

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease is a book that I was exposed to as a Book on Tape, or rather on CDs.  I read it as a book this year, and gleaned much in terms of evolutionary biology.  It’s a gem of a book, and points the way to understanding how our primal tendencies are mismatched to our current modern society.  It also offers suggestions as to how to reconcile the dilemma. Readers of my blog will be pleased to know that brisk walking or 75-90 minutes a day paired with eating from the approach that Robin Ha’s presents in her cartoon cookbook noted above are parts of the solution.


improv wisdom changed my approach to long distance hiking.  I read this book for the third time .  I should commit it to memory.  Long distance hiking is about walking smart, rather than pushing  through pain and misery, although there is going to be plenty of that when you are dealing with the quirks of nature and the human body.


This book led me to explore the science behind  heart rate variability, which has been my daily three minute recording practice for the past three years.  I favor the Sweetbeat App. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats.  Heart Rate Variability is well researched and provides a quick and easy assessment of the Autonomic Nervous System function.It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval.   Greater Heart Rate Variability (a higher HRV score) at rest is generally indicative of better health, a younger biological age, and better aerobic fitness. Heart Rate Variability is affected by everything from your mindset, to air quality, to age, food choices and exercise patterns.  I use it to determine how much energy I have available each day to devote to specific workouts, as well as to let me know when I need a rest day.   A strap is placed around the chest that monitors three minutes of heartbeats, measuring the intervals between each heartbeat.


Ms. Proulx authored The Shipping News, one of the best American novels ever about Newfoundland, Canada. In 1993 it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the U.S. National Book Award. It was adapted as a film of the same name, released in 2001.  Her new book is historical fiction about the logging industry, starting off  along the banks of the St. Laurence River in Canada. Barkskins spans the years 1693 to 2013 in Canada, America and New Zealand.  Barkskins opens when two Frenchmen, Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive as indentured servants. The novel traces the lives of these two men and their descendants including the inter-marriages with the local natives.  I would strongly suggest printing out the two family history charts from the book as well as having a map of maritime Canada and New England by your side as you move through the 700 page plus book.  I feel the book was too long. I loved the first half of this book but lost interest as the centuries unfolded and the action moved away from my geographical connection to the story.


I recommend this book.  I still have a earlier popular work on the man- Black Elk Speaks on my bookshelf.  That book was eagerly read by many of us counter-cultural types back in the 1960’s.  It is the bestselling book of all time about an American Indian.  It presented Native American spiritualism as a contrast to modern-day capitalistic excess and the military-industrial complex.   This book is research-based, with some critics reeling with the minutiae of detail contained within .   He participated in a minor role at the Battle of Little Big Horn, was present at the death of his cousin Crazy Horse, and was fully involved in the notorious 1889-1890s events at Wounded Knee.


Wow!  I put off reading this book too long.   The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World contains recent research that I have not seen anywhere, yet.  Wohlleben is a German forester who manages a forest in the Eifel Mountains and has uniquely perceived aspects of his beloved trees, animals and mushrooms that ally with them,  and dangers that threaten their survival. 




Another Crash

I had hit my chest, ribs, and shoulder hard as I ever did before. The sudden pain that I felt lying face down on the single track caused me to scream wordlessly several times. Blaine had been riding his bike just fifty feet ahead of me on Chris McKearney’s Trail in the Rockland Bog. Blaine backtracked to assist me as I laid face down moaning, and  encouraged me to collect myself and take time getting up. Everything had happened so fast. I recall two immediate thoughts: I didn’t hit my head and no bones seemed broken.

Mudded up Ice Cream Truck

I was apart from my Surly Ice Cream Truck so my winter boot cleats must of released upon impact.  Blaine remarked that the rubber o-ring on my Bluto fork indicated that it had compressed to maximum travel. I was a hurting unit.

The crash happened at the end of a Saturday morning ride, which was not my usual weekend mountain biking schedule. Normally, I ride at 9:30 every Sunday morning with The Bubbas-a tight group of bike nuts that have banded together to ride three times a week, year round, for the past couple decades or more.

I decided to ride with Blaine and Monica because a snowstorm was predicted for Saturday night into Sunday, with a range of 4-8 inches forecasted for the area. Even though I have five-inch-wide lugged Flowbeist/Dunderbeist tires on my bike, I’ve put in enough winter riding to know that 5 inches or more of fresh power might not be very pleasant to move through. Clear ground on Saturday was my choice.

Except that winter Midcoast Maine trails  can suck.

Landowner might be pissed

Most of the leaves that had fallen off the hardwood trees had been blown off the path. Wet (and slippery) bare roots were running across the ground, as were the rocks, ledges, the moss, slimy lichens, and the sticks and branches that fly up and can get jammed into the drive train. The usual stuff for this time of year.

I need to listen to the quiet tiny voice in my head that knows better than me when to back off. I ignored three quiet warnings yesterday.The first message came in the form of my Saturday morning heart rate variability (HRV) measurement. HRV is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. My iPhone holds the app, which links to a heart rate chest strap for a three minute collection of HRV data.

HRV screen

HRV is becoming a useful tool for not only tracking the training adaptation of athletes, but for gauging the body’s readiness for pushing or backing off the intensity of training sessions. Mine was down some 20 points from my usual status, indicating that it was sub-optimal, suggesting that I engage in a more moderate level of physical intensity for the day.

The second message that I ignored was contained in my morning iChing reading.

According to Bill Scheffel, ”The I Ching, arguably humanity’s oldest book, conveys a wisdom that requires no belief, is not part of any organized system or religion and comes to us as a kind of DNA of how we experience time and its events and ourselves as a unique matrix of energy.” My hexagram suggested that, “We are not meant to memorize a path then slavishly follow it.” Which leads to the last message I ignored.

Monica, Blaine, and I were resting a bit at the entrance to McKearney’s Loop on the way back to my car. I was sipping water from my Camelback when Monica said, “ I think I am going to pass. You guys can go and I’ll wait right here for you. I’m beat.” I was also fatigued at that point, at the end of a decent ride where my heart rate was at or above 145 beats per minute for 53% of the 7.7 mile ride.

So, a couple days after the crash  I’m here packing ice on my shoulder and ribs and intermittently dosing with ibuprofen. I’m hoping the throbbing will settle down for the holidays so that I can get back on the bike and share the local trails with my two sons, Lincoln and Arlo, who will be in from Montana and San Francisco for a bit.

It’s so hard for me to listen to inner counsel, but with 500 combined hours of biking and hiking in 2017 so far, and just one serious bike and one bad backing fall this calendar year I think I am not going to beat myself up too much about it. Even so, I am presently acutely aware that so much can happen in just one second.

I already have my New Year’s resolution ready to go. For insurance I plan to tell my hiking and biking buddies to remind about it.

Why is backing off so difficult ?

Snowalkers Rendezvous 2017 ! 

I’m looking forward to presenting Friday night at the Snowalkers Rendezvous in Vermont in November. Great weekend experience!

“Walking Matters”- From the ages of 57 – 64, “Uncle Tom” thru-hiked four National Scenic Trails. Tom reviews the latest research on the physical and mental health benefits of walking and discusses physical training and cognitive techniques that bolster a greying snow walker’s experience on the winter path. Tom directs outdoor activities through Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures and is author of In the Path of Young Bulls: An American Journey on the Continental Divide Trail.

My First Book is Out !

English major makes good! 

My first book is back from the printers and ready for reading!

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The book is also available on Amazon, with the “Look Inside” feature online within a week.

The softcover book lists for $ 28.95, with 286 pages, including 34 pages of full color photos.  Most pages have two photos.  The book builds on my 2013 Trailjournal of my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike.   Originally written on my iPhone, additional dialogue and background was added. Over 50 hours of professional editing completed the process. Thanks for your support over the past ten years of hiking!

Uncle Tom

Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures