My thoughts on “The Three A’s” via The Hiking Life

Both on and off the trail I live each day with little projection of my hope and fears into the future.  On my last thru-hike (completing the CDT), the challenges that came each day were more than enough to deal with on a daily basis,  these difficult events forced me to stay in the present.  Being present is actual Being.  It still works for me.

I receive e-mails from legendary backpacker Cam Honan, and today he’s going on about what he refers to about the “Three A’s” – Accept, Adapt and Appreciate – of wilderness travel, a set of principles that have represented the cornerstones of all Honan’s backcountry trips since 1996:  Do read this.

I gave two packpacking presentations last week:  The West Bay Rotary and The Jackson Library in Tenants Harbor, ME.   A key message for both talks was my need to embrace the principles of improvisation.  At both events I presented this slide, a cover shot of a book that was given to me by Brad Purdy, who shares that most of his successes as a chef were largely due to his training in improvisational theater.  I may not be a thespian, but I carry a Kindle of this book on my iPhone and refer to it when I am out and about.


This book is short, but so sweet.  After reading Cam Honan’s blog post, Madson fills in the details of exactly how to adapt to unexpected challenges.  Pushing through the pain ain’t exactly the mantra that brings me results any more, as regular readers of my own blog post will acknowledge.  When I screw up now, it takes me so much longer to heal up and be off the trail.   Last season, a crash on my mountain bike and my last stumble of the trail each resulted in a month’s hiatus from engaging in both those activities.

I’m still learning.  For those of you that would like to learn more about how I translated obstacles to opportunities over 2,500 hard won miles in five all-encompassing months in 2013,  consider buying my new book,  In the Path of Young Bulls.  It’s real news.

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






Real Training Should Be Challenging

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

If you are interested in surviving or enjoying a  backpacking adventure this season  you better be ready to embrace some suffering.     At our house, I am constantly buffering my workout plans so that I don’t get into a disagreement with my wife and hiking partner, Auntie Mame. She is encouraging me to behave like a normal 68 year old guy and chill more often.

For example, I was falling behind in mileage regarding my goal of hiking 1,000 miles this year and outside the rain was falling.   Skipping today’s 75 minute hike in favor of better weather would be what normal people would do.

Well, if you are a backpacker, then  you will someday walk in the rain.  Better get used to it . Also, most of us have purchased rain gear but you won’t know how it works unless you wear it in the rain, drizzle, sleet, or snow.  Doesn’t it make sense to get out when you are close to home and you can warm up and dry out after the outing?

I am reading more and more about Stoic philosophy and mental/ physical training.

Check out this brief, but excellent email that I received from a Stoic website I subscribe to.  It’s perfect!   If ancient Stoics can practice in the rain or snow, why shouldn’t we ?

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Henry Flagler, a top lieutenant for John D. Rockefeller and one of the pioneering developers of Florida:
“I trained myself in the school of self-control and self-denial. It was hard on me but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.”
Like Cato, Flagler trained himself in doing without. He wore only a thin coat, he carried his own lunch, he economized. He did this so he could get used to feeling the sting of the cold, the laugh of his peers. He didn’t want these things to have power over him, and he never wanted to feel fear—the fear of what if something bad happens.
As a result of this training, he became stronger, he became invincible to fate and misfortune and as he said, tyranny. No one could be harder on Flagler than he was on himself, and while that might seem like hard living it was also free living. And that’s the point. It’s not easy to be a Cato or a Flagler, but when things get hard, real hard, you’ll regret being anything but a Cato.

(Want to discuss today’s meditation in more depth? Join Daily Stoic Life.)

Why I am going back to hike the East Coast Trail

First read this overview, released today ( May 9, 2018) –>>via Newfoundland, Canada: The travel spot that the natives love | CNN Travel

Not only are there no ticks in Newfoundland, the hiking is world class on the East Coast trail (ECT).


I flew from Boston to St. John’s there last year to hike the 170 mile East Coast Trail, dubbed one of the Top Ten Backpacking Trails by National Geographic in 2011.

This coastal trail definitely lives up to its description as a “genuine wilderness walking and hiking experience”.  Printed materials from the East Coast Trail Association describes the trail as passing directly over the most easterly point in North America at Cape Spear as it connects over 30 communities (some were abandoned) along the route.

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Hiking to Cape Spear lighthouse

I enjoyed visiting the communities along the way where people were welcoming and were interested in speaking with us.

I have written a daily blog report, complete with daily pics spanning my two weeks there that can be viewed here.

Here’s three minutes of drone footage from last August that was shot and produced by Mark Shaw of HMS Images, my hiking partner on this adventure.  Recently I have been giving presentations on this thru-hike.  Please contact me if your organization would like to have me present this summer.

Day Hiking in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

I spent Saturday on a longer hike than I expected in the northern half of the Monument. I was in the area presenting “The Allure of the Long Distance Hike” at  the Annual Meeting of the International Appalachian Trail – Maine Chapter on Friday.

A particularly strong thunderstorm on Friday night blew out the power to Shin Pond from 6 AM until approximately 6 PM. I moved one tree and drove around three others that had blown over the road last night between Mount Chase Village ( on Shin Pond).

I was concerned that the gravel driveway headed into the Monument would be too muddy but it was dry, solid and well-graded down to the lot adjacent to the gate. Copies of the trail map that were encased in a plastic bag at the kiosk by the gate.  I had the only car in the parking lot.  I didn’t see anybody else all day.

My plan was to hike out and back to Haskell Rock to view the swollen and majestic East Branch of the Penobscot River. The leaves were still off the trees, there were no blackflies, the footpath was (mostly) navigable, with immediate views to Baxter State Park’s Horse Mtn.  The backside of  The Traveler was still graced with abundant snow up high.

But make no mistake.  In this section of the Monument on this weekend the featured attraction is the Penobscot’s East Branch. I heard it roaring most of the day.  Copious streams of clear water and snow melt cascaded through the forest and fed the countless low lying areas that I walked through today.

I saw a variety of wildlife: a frog ( swimming in a pool in the main trail), a toad, a beaver, a mature Whitetail deer with a very dark coat, a garter snake, numerous birds and even one duck !

What I had planned to be a 10 mile day hike turned out to be a 15 mile trek, and I never reached Haskell Rock.

Why?  Water, in the form of river overflow.  I was here last year in March on a most succsessful overnight fat biking trip that I wrote up on my blog,  Back then, I stuck to the main route,  foregoing the side trails.  When the water in frozen solid in winter, you can go most anywhere you like, but not this weekend.  This time I wanted to take in all of the optional side trips along the East Branch.  That didn’t happen.

My first departure from the main trunk trail was the Old River Road.

I was happily trekking along, listening to the roar of the river when the trail came to this:

Old River Road Outflow

I should have brought shorts and crocks, but still, it would have been very painful to walk through such cold water for so long.  With no idea of how far the trail ahead was underwater, and no success in me trying to bushwhack around the massive flood to the right side, I backtracked to the main trunk trail (IAT).

The walking was high and dry, for the most part,  except for an area where beavers had been and still were prominent:

Old beaver lodge in center

After 3.5 miles on the Orrin Falls Rd. ( IAT) and reaching the Haskell Gate I decided to check out the side trail to Stair Falls.

Several blowdowns blocked the side trail to the Falls.

Haskell Hut

Eventually I dodged some large trees beside the trail that had been recently felled by more eager beavers.

Freshly cut


Being so close to so much thunderous, rapidly moving water was a powerful experience.

After bushwhacking through the overflow and then walking a half mile or so on the main trunk trail,  I took the left into Haskell Hut where I was blocked again. It was flooded too.  It took a while to bushwhack left.  I needed to get into the hut, take a break, eat lunch,  and then try and reach Haskell Rock Pitch.

Haskell Hut side trail
Haskell Hut

That didn’t happen, due to another river over flow half way between the Hut and the Pitch that reached into the path ahead as far as I could see. 

It was past 1 pm now, I was tired and I still had to get back to the car, so I decided to call it quits and head back.  I was dragging at this point and decided to listen to some of my music and give myself a lift in spirits and a lively soundtrack to pace myself.

In this last photo, looking west approaching the Haskell Gate you can see the snow up high on The Traveler, and some of the melt from that snow flowing right across the trail.  Last

Nature is powerful, unpredictable, and hugely refreshing.  I’m changed each time I spend a few days in this magical area, and treasure the new opportunities that will come with the development of this National Monument.   Thank you,  Roxanne and Lucas.

My reaction to “The Year I Learned to Quit”

Rather than resolving to do more, consider less. I’m heading into that phase of my yearly cycle- when I fret when I think that I haven’t done anything useful and then am propelled into activity.  My self-imposed spring frenzy is rooted in growing up on a daily farm in southeastern Massachusetts in the middle of an agricultural belt where I was surrounded by friends and neighbors that got things done in a visible manner. There was a fruit and vegetable farm on one side of our farm and a giant multistory chicken house next door. This is time of year when I pruned trees, dug  outdoors, worked in greenhouses transplanting thousands of seedlings, burned brush and weeds around the edges of fields, planted seeds in the tremendous whoosh of activity that propels farm families back into their 100 hour a week work schedule.

I’ve learned to handling this type of imprinted mental program. One of the best techniques is to let the feelings of responsibility well up and play out, and not necessarily responded to in a knee jerk manner. I am so far behind with outdoor work, carpentry projects here and at our camp 10 miles away that it could be a 100 hour a week deal for me to ever clean up the list over the summer.

And take a plunge into list making?  I learned this in college- make up a detailed list in my little notebook of all the unfinished things that I had that were popping up throughout the day and even disrupting sleep at night. I got good at to do lists, but now I do better with another sort of list.

The Done List

The done list is simply taking  look back on my day ( or my morning)  and jotting down what really did happen,


which often stuns me, as I am able to easily full a notebook page on some of the days where I felt that I was moping and slugging along.  I sometime am able to trace a pattern of progress or setbacks that I can reflect on and consider in a different manner.

This NY Times column inspired me to write this post- maybe you will be inspired to reframe the incessant doing and live in a manner where Being is good enough.

>>The Year I Learned to Quit – The New York Times