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.

screenshot 14

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.

The New Wisdom: 6 Long-Trail Legends Share Hard-Won Advice

Reblogging this 1/4/17 article from The Hiking Project!

Welcome to the low pay lives of some of the best hikers in the world!

Not A Chance,
Not A Chance, Billy Goat, Wyoming, 20 Pack, Freebird, Wired

I have hiked and sometimes camped with 5 of these 6 folks, on my 2010 PCT and 2013 CDT thru-hikes. They are all truly genuine individuals.  Freebird told me that his goal every year that he thru hikes is to be the first person on and the last person off the trail.

Here is a pic of me and Billy Goat on Sept. 8, 2014 at the Millinocket Hannaford’s in when Billygoat was resupplying while he was providing car support for a buddy who was hiking the International AT from Katahdin to Quebec.

Uncle Tom and Billygoat
Uncle Tom and Billygoat

Read the whole article here–>>>The New Wisdom: 6 Long-Trail Legends Share Hard-Won Advice

“Finding Yourself” and Post-Trail Depression ?

Since I was on the Maine Calling Book Club Maine Public Network radio show last week two lingering points have stuck with me.

If you missed the live-call in hour, here’s the link to listen to the 1 hour audio of the show.  We discussed Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  “Wild” is now a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon.

I tried to convey two points on the show:

(1)  The premise of the book may be over-reaching.  On an actual long distance hike where one spends months in the wilderness traversing challenging terrain, in difficult conditions, and often nursing some physical pain, there is often no psychic energy left  for one to process the stress, wounds, and psychic scars that we accumulate before we set foot on that trail.  In the book ,”Wild”,  Strayed devotes just as many pages to relationship/lifestyle issues (mother/daughter, sibling coherence, domestic violence, heroin use,  sexual habits, death) as she does conveying the actual walking.

It’s tough to average out 20 miles a day, week after week, month after month. The experience of moving across America on your own two feet on a National Scenic Trail is often so compelling that we find ourselves in a parallel universe where our old shells are dropped like useless antlers, or dwarfed to the size of a speck, as we allow ourselves to experience  force of  the real Wild world.   Like this-  “Problems?  What problems, I can’t even remember what they were?”

Bill Irwin thru-hiked the AT in 1990, and wrote, “Blind Courage”, one of the best hiking books ever. 9101-gEy5hL  I just started tearing up just looking at the pictures in my signed copy (with Orient’s foot print)  Bill was the first blind person to thru-hike the AT, where he  fell thousands of times, despite the aid of Orient, his seeing-eye companion dog.  If anyone needed it, Bill is the prime candidate to receive a redemption, but he is surprisingly realistic in his post hike appraisals.

From Bill in the Appalachian Trail Reader: “But it is unrealistic to expect the wilderness to resolve a lot of issues for you, issues you’ve never resolved anywhere else. The answer is not on the Trail.  It’s in you.

(2) Post-hike depression is an under-reported issue about long distance hiking.   Irwin was the first writer/hiker I came upon who warned others that it may be dangerous to  thru-hike.  He does not necessarily recommend the practice to others. He writes that, ” I have even heard of people  who have committed suicide because they couldn’t make that return.”

Here’s an an essential post from The New Nomads that details the kind of unexpected troubles that thru-hiking can bring you – ..My Notes on Post Trail Depression.  I might have reblogged this entry back in March, but it deserves another look, especially the Reader Comments section.

So did Wild (the book) ring true to you, the walker in the woods?

A Climb into the Wayback Machine- Growing up on the Pacific Crest Trail

With Wild, the movie making it’s way in theaters across America this week, let us not forget that there were people walking, and even riding the new PCT . Wild, the book harkens back to 1995. Back in 1969, this family demonstrated all that’s great about America.

Work, save money, and then have experiences that lift your life up, way up, but it ain’t easy.

Murray photo files

-Murray photo files

Growing up on the Pacific Crest Trail. <<<—Check it out

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Two- Mystical Water Fortresses and an Unbound Freedom I Didn’t Know Existed | CARROT QUINN

Lowest to Highest, a Backcountry Route from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, Part Two- Mystical Water Fortresses and an Unbound Freedom I Didn’t Know Existed | CARROT QUINN<<–

NotAChance and Orbit- photo by Carrot Quinn

Part two becons.  She’s at it again.

Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous 2014

Tent City at Snow Walkers' (2013)
Tent City at Snow Walkers’ (2013)

I am presenting a talk in Vermont at this event, upcoming in November..

My talk/ photo display will be : Winter Walking the West: Preparing and Adapting for Snow Travel in the Sierras and the Rockies

It’ a great weekend of all things winter foot- travel related.  It sells out at 100 registrants every year so far, so get in touch with Lynn if you are interested in going.

Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous 2014
November 7-9
Hulbert Outdoor Center
Fairlee, Vermont
Friday, November 7 – 5:30pm – 9:30pm
Saturday, November 8– 8:45 am- 9:00pm
Sunday, November 9 – morning – workshops & informal hike/ bike

Join us for our 20th informal gathering of friends (and friends of friends) who love to travel traditionally in the winter wilderness. We’ll have slides, and films and lots of information to exchange. Bring your favorite items from the North to display: maps, books, photo albums, sleds, tools, etc. All are welcome to display tents and share traditional camp set-ups.

Partial list of folks sharing their experiences:
Katherine Donahue NH Steaming North: 1st Cruise of US Revenue Cutter Bear,Alaska & Siberia,1886
Ruth Heindel VT Stories from the Poles: Science and Adventure in Greenland and Antarctica
Paul Sveum NH 21 Day Snowshoe Trip on the Boundary Waters
Mirelle Bouliano QU Skiing Northern Quebec
Craig MacDonald ON Richmond Gulf Traverse 1979
Bruce Lindwall NH Back Country Skiing the Sierra Crest Trail
Tom Jamrog ME Winter Walk the West: Preparing & Adapting on the Pacific Crest & Continental Divide
Scott Ellis VT Finding Simplicity in Winter Camping

WORKSHOPS:
Alex Medlicott NH First Aid for the Winter Trail – Cold Injuries; prevention,recognition;treatment
Ann Ingerson VT Sewing Your Own Winter Gear
Tim Smith NH Axe Handling
Ross Morgan VT Knots for the Trail
Paul Sveum NH Food Planning for the Trail
David & Anna Bosum QU (Tentative) Cree Culture
Film – “On the Wings of Mighty Horses” – Sakha Republic
Geoffrey Burke NH Build your Own Toboggan
Loranne Carey Block NH Felted & Knitted Sock Fiber Arts for Camping
Tour of the Tents & Stoves Traditional Equipment Display
Used Equipment – Sale/Swap Bring your fiddle, guitar or musical instrument for evening fun…
AND MUCH MORE…………………………..

Meals & Lodging: Simple lodging is available at the Hulbert Outdoor Center. Cozy 3-4 bedroom heated cabins provide comfortable accommodations. (As well as your tent!) Meals served buffet style in dining hall. The Center is located on Lake Morey, and is easily accessible from I-91.
Program registration -$60; student/limited income-$45. Registrations accepted until program is full.
Meals & lodging package for the weekend (Fri. Dinner through Sun. Breakfast, 3-4 occupancy/room)
Commuter & tent rates available (see registration form) Thanks for mailing or faxing your registration after Oct 1. Sorry we cannot accept phone registrations.

Registration Questions: Lynn_Daly@alohafoundation.org

Go Take a Hike! – NYTimes.com

Go Take a Hike! – NYTimes.com.<  Enjoy the hope.

Every once in a while, Nick Kristof, prizewinning journalist takes a long hike, and it’s national news. This time it’s 145 miles in Oregon on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  Kristof’s article calls to mind one of the most piercing quotes of all time, from the Grand Wanderer.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It looks poorest when you are richest.  The fault finder will find faults even in paradise.  Love your life, poor as it is.  You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.  The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. ”                                                                     -Thoreau

In 2010, on this exact date, I was 1544 miles into hiking the PCT, and in Etna California, about 100 miles south of entering Oregon.

Me entering the Trinity Alps
Me entering the Trinity Alps

Read my Trailjournal entry from that day, echoing my own renewed appreciation for hiking this particular National Scenic Trail.

When General Lee Saved Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal

Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010
Axilla helping Train exit South Fork of the King River in June 1010

I just received a repost of a June 24, 2010 Trail Journal entry from Dreams.  Dreams hooked up with MeGaTex for a few days as we all were backpacking through the  Sierra on our 2010 Pacific Crest Trail thru hikes.  This part of the PCT is not much for solo travel, and is where even seasoned hikers who prefer to walk the trail alone often find themselves teaming up with other hikers for situations just like this one!

I agree that this was the scariest and most dangerous water crossing on the whole PCT. I still have mild PTSD that lingers on, still triggered by the unique deep bass roar of these overflowing streams and watercourses.

So, enjoy the following report from a day way back back in 2010.  Thanks, Dreams !

Click here—>>>Dreams – Pacific Crest Trail Journal – 2010.

Day 4: wherein the desert becomes desert-like again | CARROT QUINN

Day 4: wherein the desert becomes desert-like again | CARROT QUINN.<—

The best writing about long-distance hiking is coming right at you from Carrot Quinn.  She’s back at it again this season a fresh new attempt at completing the Pacific Crest Trail.

I laughed out loud at the first line of this post.

I encourage you to follow her.  630 other readers are already enjoying this ride, which will be exciting, funny, and shocking.  She’s posting daily pics on Instagram this time, accessed at the bottom of her blog posts.