AT section hike: Caratunk to Monson: Part 1

I was grumbly sweltering in the house, on another oppressive 80+ degree/90% humidity summer day. My wife Marcia encouraged me to head north to take a few days off to hike the Appalachian Trail, where the weather was predicted to be drier and cooler in Maine’s western mountains.

I pulled out the Map and Guide to the AT in Maine and decided that this section would be good for me to rehike. I’ve done this 36 mile section twice before.  I planned to spend three and maybe four days to enjoy myself. The route skirts Pleasant, Moxie, and Bald Mountain Ponds, as well as Lake Hebron. The path is relatively benign, except for climbs of Pleasant Pond (2477’) and Moxie Bald (2629’) Mountains in the first half of the section Five miles of downhill after Pleasant Pond Mountain and fifteen miles of downhill off Moxie Bald toward Monson sweetened the deal.

Day 1 start and finish

I called Shaw’s Hostel in Monson to schedule a shuttle to Caratunk where the Appalachian Trail picks up again after it crosses the broad Kennebec River. After paying the $70 shuttle fee, one of the staff trucked me over to the Caratunk AT parking lot just uphill from route 201. I started hiking at approximately 11:30, but not before I encountered some weirdness.

First, came a frustrating conversation with a fellow with Massachusetts plates on a completely loaded Subaru wagon that stuffed with camping gear. He was from Boston, had a European accent, and when I asked him why he found himself to be in the lot he indicated that he stopped to make some “adjustments” to his car. The conversation turned to hiking where he told me that he was headed to Baxter. When I asked him about his reservations he told me emphatically that they were not necessary, as he planned to day hike. I started to school him up on Baxter’s unique reservation system and he cut me off, then launched into a diatribe about how Baxter hates hikers and that Baxter won’t even take peoples’ garbage and trash. He went on to blame the policy for  “Trash all over the place up around Baxter making the towns look like garbage dumps.” I wished him luck and as I walked toward the entrance to the trail I gagged from the stench of a big dead bloating porcupine that had been placed on the signpost marking the trailhead. Not an auspicious start. When I  finished the trip I called an area game warden to report the problem.

Not the greeting I expected

Within 5 minutes of sweating in the heat and oppressive humidity, I removed my shirt, hiking shirtless for most of my trek, changing into my dry t-shirt each night before slipping into my tent. Prior to hitting the sack I‘m in the habit of rinsing off so that I don’t grime up my down bag. It cooled off enough each night that I draped the summer weight bag over my body after falling asleep unclothed on my pad.

No one was in any of the four shelters that I passed on the AT. It was understandable, as Appalachian Trail Conference discourages hikers from congregating in the shelters due to the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Sign = altered trail life

I became very angry about some graphically obscene graffiti in a couple of the shelter walls. I lost the one pencil I brought with me but none of the registers in the shelters had writing implements with them.

High point of the afternoon

I was forced to hike until 7 pm due to no water in the 6 mile stretch from the Pleasant Pond Shelter to a weak stream just before Moxie Pond Road where I scored a flat spot to set up my new Double Rainbow Li Tarptent ( review forthcoming).

Double Rainbow Li

A hawk had let up on his attacks:

I needed water to complete my dinner and breakfast as well and found enough to rinse the grime and sweat off, which was probably my most pressing want.

The problem was I couldn’t eat the freeze-dried ( Good-to-Go) Bibimbap, a spicy Korean mixed rice with sesame carrots and spinach. I was so tired I had no energy for hunger, and in my diminished state the “ immensely flavorful spicy sauce” tasted like spiced ground cardboard and was too hot for even me on one of hottest days of the summer. I ate about a third of it and packed the rest away to try again tomorrow. I usually can ingest Fritos, and had a fresh bag with me but only ate a little.

I did not experience the AT that I remember today where I only encountered one southbound hiker, who didn’t even look up when I greeted him as moved off the trail to let him pass by. The AT in Maine in mid-August is usually populated with northbound thru-hikers eager to finish up and chat a bit about their long hike.

It was a big afternoon of walking nevertheless with twelve miles down even with a zero morning of miles. I had hope for thunderstorms, showers, or even a downpour to come in while I slept, but no.

Exploring the St. George River- Take 2

Steve and I combined forces to continue our exploration of the St. George River from Searsmont to the Appleton Preserve. For this hike, we’re linking to the southern end of the Ridge to River section that we completed a couple of weeks ago.

The day was perfect, and although it became a bit warm in the less forested segments on the hike, there were ample opportunities for refreshing ourselves in the shady, forested segments, and if we so desired (we didn’t swim), a jump into the river could’ve put a stop to any sweating. We spotted my car at the parking lot on Route 105 , then drove back in Steve’s truck to put in at the Ghent Road trailhead.

If you don’t want to spot two cars, I’d recommend parking at the Ghent lot and hike to Magog Falls and return. You’d experience the best this trail has to offer in terms of proximity to the watercourse and the interpretive historical displays. You can come back another time to hike north to Magog Falls from the Route 105 parking lot!

Strava recorded this to be a 3.6-mile footpath that includes travel along the banks of the St. George River.

The St. George River is a bit shy of 3.0 miles from my house, yet I’ve never walked this trail before. Staying at home and exploring local trails opens up possibilities like this!

From the Georges River Land Trust:
“Canal Path is a 3-mile trail in Searsmont that traces a section of the historic Georges River Canal dating to the late 1700’s. There are interpretive displays along the trail describing the aspects of the canal system that are still visible today. The trail also features a self-guided tour of the sustainable forestry practices of our partnering landowner, Robbins Lumber Company. This a level trail that meanders along the St. George River for about 1.5 miles. This trail connects to the Ridge to River Trail as well as our Appleton Preserve, and offers some of the most scenic, undeveloped riverside hiking in our region.”

Photos:

A pleasant view for a picnic
Interpretive Display
Plenty of pleasant views

Magog Falls, a deep pool, and a sandy beach await the hiker

I plan to come back to more closely explore the river. My plan is to walk the trail south from the Ghent Road lot to Magog Falls to trek and even swim back in the river itself

.   I’ve never done such a “wild swim” before and the Canal Path might be the place for me to try it.

Info from the Georges River Land Trust:   Download the printable trail map

 

Looking for Uncrowded Hiking Options: Consider Stream Exploration !

While many of us are frustrated that our favorite trailheads for hiking are overused right now,  fresh options are available.

There has been enough rain that has fallen that streams are swollen and flowing strongly.

Maine is a very wet state. It’s been said that walking here for a straight-line mile in any direction will lead to water of some type, be it a river, stream, pond, lake or at this time of year vernal pool. One of my favorite activities the time of year is to follow streams in my neighborhood to trace their source, as well as walk them until they reach the sea.

I invited my friend Craig to join me in one of these microadventures after a strong rain. We walked out of my driveway and only had to venture a few hundred feet down the road until a large culvert was underneath us, swollen with clear, cold rainwater that came down off the South face of Moody Mountain. We both had on boots and gloves as it was a bit cold. Up we went, beside and in a meandering stream that passed along ancient stone walls, bordered by a lichen and moss encrusted forest floor that was alive with color and textures.

Wild walking is often punctuated by a shocking amount of fallen trees. This was an area where the only other visitors are hunters who venture these parts during deer season. I really enjoy the problem-solving of how to advance uphill, as we weave our way from one side of the stream to the next, moving around fallen giants and avoid thickly grown shrubs that would tear our clothing if we pushed through them.

At one point the stream took a 90 degree right turn as it fell through a gap in an ancient stone wall after the stream ran the length of the wall for fifty or so feet on the uphill side.

It was uncanny that the crumbling wall held the water so tightly for that length.

As Craig and I went further up, the stream began to peter out as it exited a large bowl-shaped ravine that was covered with a thick mantle of decades-old decomposing deciduous leaves. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it trickling underneath our boots. There was still higher ground above so we continued up. Eventually, we spotted small pools that punctuated the increasing elusive stream bed, as we reached the high point of the ridge. We walked across an old logging road and then there it was- an actual pool that I thought was the source of the stream.

I was wrong. Craig pointed up to a adjacent massive wild blueberry field that gradually continued uphill to a higher point above the forest. As we walked up to a ledge that was the viewpoint of the expanse of Penobscot Bay, Craig pointed to numerous small depressions filled with rainwater and said, “This blueberry field is the start of the stream!”

The source pool below us was likely filled by water seeping down from under the thin mantle of organic material that was itself atop the igneous granite bedrock, which served as an impermeable layer that funneled it to our tiny pond.

This kind of natural history analysis is a form of forest forensics, a term I picked up from the work of Tom Wessels, from his book, Reading the Forested Landscape.

Also, this stream exploration idea was not mine. It’s actually from a chapter in Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes.

Note: Be sure that you seek permission from landowners to pass through their properties if there is any question at all about possible trespass. And do wear tall rubber boots, as it is often easier to just walk right up a stream rather than stumble along through impassable thickets.

If you decide to explore the source or reach the mouth of a stream, post it up !

Happy microadventuring!

In my next post, I’ll explain how the hiker can use heat maps to seek out places where there is more dispersed social distancing.

Canoeing & Wilderness Symposium on Northern Travels & Perspectives

I’ve wrapped up my speaking engagement at the 35th annual Canoeing & Wilderness Symposium on Northern Travels & Northern Perspectives here in Toronto this weekend.

My presentation was entitled 9,000 Miles of Attitude: Aging and Endurance.

Last summer I worked for approximately 100 hours initially drafting my upcoming book about the topic.

This was definitely the largest audience I’ve spoken to; however, I was barely anxious. I’m crediting my friend Dave Kirkham for his coaching tips. Dave suggested that I record my spoken script and review it-for both content and quality of the spoken word. It made all the difference. I was limited to just 30 minutes and had to make the most of it. I tend to pack far too much info into my PowerPoints and this time pruning was the way to go.

If I had any regrets on the set up of the symposium, I would have preferred that questions and answer sessions be incorporated into the schedule, even if fewer individuals presented. Just to be fair, I made an offer to the audience at the conclusion of my talk. Since we still had a couple of breaks before the conclusion of the event, I invited any interested participants to connect with me during the breaks to extend individual conversations, and well as to sign copies of my first book, “In the Path of Young Bulls: An Odyssey on America’s Continental Divide Trail,” which just had its third print run.

It worked! I really enjoyed the feedback from audience members and was honestly surprised at which of my talking points resonated with the participants.

I’m a huge fan of exploring the wonders of Canada, particularly Prince Edward Island, Labrador, Newfoundland, and the displaced native communities that are impacted by the James Bay hydro projects in Quebec, and now Labrador. I have ridden my motorcycles though all of the Canadian provinces, except Nunavut.
I’ve appreciated the friendships I’ve made with numerous Canadians, and pleased to have met a number of the authors and expedition leaders that presented at this event. It is a very reasonable symposium to attend in terms of price and I encourage all of my American adventure pals to consider heading up to Toronto next February to experience a fun time learning about the amazing adventures that can be experienced when we say, “Yes” to opportunities that come our way.

Here’s a PDF of the full speaker schedule with biographies.  Do check it out!

Most exciting was “A New Home for the Canadian Canoe Museum and the George Luste Memorial” presented by Jeremy Ward and Carolyn Hyslop. The Canadian Canoe Museum is now well underway with preparation for a new world-class facility located in Peterborough along the Trent-Severn Waterway. The speakers offered a peek into plans for a brand-new $60,000,000 home for this Canadian treasure. It was a mind-blowing virtual tour and when the museum is completed few years from now, I’ll heading up to experience it.

I thank all of the volunteers and staff that made this event possible, especially Aleks Gusev for inviting me to Canada!

 

You Should Read the Jan/Feb 2020 Issue of Backpacker Mag…

Because it is their best issue ever.

I’ve subscribed to Backpacker mag for  over 25 years.  I plan to ride my mountain bike and hike for another 2020 miles this calendar year, so I spend a good part of my time outdoors.  While I’m an experienced backpacker my interest in reading about and acquiring new gear and clothing has almost totally diminished, as well as my interest in reading about all the possible places in the world that I could go  backpacking.  Most months  I am done with the magazine in less than a half hour.

Then “The Long Trails Issue”  came into my mailbox.  Hmmmm.

“What up?”  I asked myself?

Maybe its the new Editorial Director, Shannon Davis?

After the initial pages of the usual highlights of dozen or more of places throughout where I’m not interested in hiking, I came to page 31- “Skill Set:  The Thru-Hikers Handbook”.   It contained “Food is Fuel” where personalized meal plans, and sketching out of resupply strategies was of interest and reeked of experienced input from two thru-hiking record holders: Heather (Anish) Anderson and Jennifer (Odessa) Pharr-Davis.

I was suspect of page 34’s 10 multiple choice questions that result in knowing   “How Fast Will You Make It to Kathdin?” as a continuous hike.  My first  thru-hike was the AT in 2007 for 5.5 months.  My score resulted in a “About 4 months”.  I am certain I would take me approximately 5 months to do it again, so the quiz came out pretty close.

Page 35 was chock full of useful information, including rest day strategies, US Post Office decorum, and a great graphic –  “A 25 -Mile-Day-By The Minute” schedule, which is basically to start walking at daybreak, try to make 12 miles by noon, and then keep going until just before dark. Its not a big secret plan.  It does get boring some days , so passion for the sport better not be your main reason for thru-hiking.

I absolutely loved page 44 Warmup, Bed Down.  The whole page is hand drawn and colored, including the print and large image of a mummy bag.

Page 44 Backpacker magazine

I  now carry a small sketch pad,  colored pencils, and set aside some time to notice details that one misses when a point and shoot camera captures a place of interest.  Here’s my last effort, from Maine’s Namahkanta Public Lands :

Since I’ve decided to carry a satellite communication device the side-by-side review of four of the more popular products in this class was of interest to me, and convinced me that I had made the right choice in choosing the Garmin Inreach, paying $12.55 a month to be able to text back and forth word wide as well as trigger a rescue.

On page 59 Barney (Scout) Mann’s historical feature about one of the earliest thru-hikers that most people have never heard of was a home run.   In 1924 Peter Parsons burdened himself with a 60 pound pack and in one hiking season thru-hiked what would eventually become the Pacific Crest Trail.  The black and white photos only elevate Mann’s richly embroidered story.

Six more hand-drawn pages featuring double-page spreads of the three Triple Crown Trails come next, along with selected spots on each map linking the reader to successful thru-hiker commentaries.

 

Kidnapped On The Trail by Bill Donahue, is the last feature, and is a convincing argument that cautions us to understand that all is not peace and love on these National Scenic Trails.  The very nature of the accepting, inclusive community that welcomes the diversity of hikers into the backpacking family is exactly the same reason why a small minority of criminals find backpackers to be easy pickings.  I’ve experienced these folks up close and personal at least twice on the AT: one serial wallet thief and another criminally convicted harasser who triggered a multi-person law enforcement lock down and search near the Kennebec River in Maine.  It was bad enough that the police convinced the female thru-hiker to abandon her almost completed thru-hike and head for home as fast as possible.

One last shout out to the design team on this issue.  I cringe at the lack of clarity that some magazines produce when they fail to tone down the background color and then insert a typeface with inadequate contrast.  I cancelled my subscription to  Bicycling magazine after they were repeat offenders at obscuring the readability of their text.

So, I’m hoping that Shannon Davis is able to extend her  Editorial Director home run  streak with more to come.

Kudos, Backpacker magazine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canoeing and Hiking at Donnell Ponds Public Lands

I finally got around to exploring the mountains and waters Donnell Pond Public Lands for three days over this past Labor Day Weekend.   This is the first combo canoeing/hiking adventure that I’ve taken in several years.  My shoulders have just not been able to handle the paddling, but things worked out this time, due to the limited water travel involved.

Big canoe- compact car

This summer has been a bit of a bust in Maine due to the almost unrelenting humidity and heat, but now that September and cooler weather has rolled around, I am again interested in exploring the best of what Maine has to offer.

From the Natural Resources Council of Maine web site: “The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit includes mountains, pristine lakes, and remote ponds all spread out over 14,000 acres in eastern Maine. There are sites for camping along the pond’s beaches, and great options for those who enjoy paddling. The land included in the unit has grown over the years to reach this expansive size with the help of different conservation groups and generous private landowners.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Maine’s Public Lands, they are an option to the State parks, and Acadia National Park.  Permits are not required if you use established fire rings, and there are no fees for camping, where you are allowed up to 14 days at one campsite. Leave No Trace practices are encouraged.

Here’s a overview of the DP area ( top of map), located some 12 miles east of Ellsworth:

A bit of history from the DP website:   “No notable Native American archaeological findings have been discovered here. During the nineteenth century, attempts were made to extract gold, silver, and molybdenum from Catherine Mountain with little success. The logging that has long been part of the history in the area continues to this day. Recreation and leisure play prominently in the history of the area. For nearly two hundred years before the advent of refrigeration, ice from Tunk Lake was harvested during the winter and stored in sawdust-filled icehouses for eventual sale and distribution. A lakeside fish hatchery on Tunk Lake supplied small “fry” fish for sport fishing until the 1970’s. Wealthy vacationers established an estate on the south end of Tunk Lake in the 1920s. This estate would later end up in the hands of famed Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd and was a recognized historic landmark until it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.   The land conserved at the Donnell Pond Public Lands was assembled in phases with the assistance of numerous conservation partners-The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation.”

Our campsite on Redmond Beach allowed us to put in a full 9 mile day that took in Caribou and then Black mountains via the Caribou Loop Trail.

Approaching Caribou Mtn. summit
Granite land

Here’s a shot of our campsite.  I’m in the tipi, and my hiking pal Guthook is in The One.

Redmond Beach campsite
Another angle

The next day, we awoke early in order to beat the wind and explored much of the North shore of Donnell Pond, checking out the shoreline for possible campsites for future trips.

From our campsite on Donnell Pond

In my experience, the magic hour for wind picking up in favorable weather on lakes and ponds in Maine is 10 in the morning. It is uncanny.

My Bert Libby canoe

We eventually crossed over to the western side of the pond at the narrowest point where we followed the shoreline to the popular Schoodic Beach, which is more easily accessed by a 0.5 mile trail from the Tunk Lake Road/Route 183 parking area. As we were exploring the shoreline on our way down Schoodic beach we came upon two hikers with fully loaded packs trudging through the water heading for the Beach. We stopped and asked the two girls what was going on and one told us she was a student at Harvard University who came up here with her best friend. On the spur of the moment they drove up from Boston to Donnell Pond to camp on Schoodic Beach. When they experienced the overloaded level of camping and merriment there they had bushwhacked up the shore in order to have privacy and escape the noise. One of the girls had also been greatly distressed by the sight of a snake, so they took to aqua-blazing. They jumped at the chance to hitch a ride back to Schoodic Beach in our canoe. They asked us if there were any other places where they could camp for free Guthook steered them to Camden Hills State Park, where I agreed that they would find a better experience camping on the summit of Bald Rock Mountain in Lincolnville.

Tenzing at Bald Rock Mountain’s summit shelter
Schoodic Beach

We beached the canoe on Schoodic Beach and did a relatively quick hike to the top of Schoodic Mountain, a 1,069′ gem of a walk,  and 3 mile round trip that leads to  excellent views of Frenchman’s Bay and the mountains of Acadia National Park.

Schoodic summit view

Carey Kish’s AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast book was my best resource for hiking the Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail that we were able to fit in the last day of our getaway.

Another resource for exploring the area is ‘s excellent review, complete with video footage:  1-minute hike: Caribou Mountain near Franklin

Kish’s 4.9 mile, 3 hour, and 1,060′ elevation info was spot on, as was the description of the extensive open mountain ledges and far reaching views of the Downeast landscape, and full-on views of the Hidden Ponds.   Sometimes we walked over a rooty path, lending a Tolkienesque quality to the experience:

Where’s Guthook? Hint-blue blaze

It was a kick to see the occasional ATV churning up a cloud of dust on the Downeast Sunrise Trail far below, where I’ve biked and even camped on a few years ago.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail is an 85-mile scenic rail trail running along the coast connecting multiple scenic conservation areas, and providing year round recreation opportunities. It is open to snowmobiles, ATVs, horse-back riders, skiers, hikers, bikers, walkers, and joggers. It passes through several sections of the Donnell Pond Public Lands between Franklin and Cherryfield. Here’s the link to my bike-packing experience on the Sunrise Trail.

Exploring Donnell Ponds Public Lands is a must if you haven’t checked it out.  The foliage should be coloring up soon , which will only add to the experience.

I’ve planned several hiking trips for the next few weeks.  Next up- 5 days of  challenging backpacking in Baxter State Park, including a long hiking day which includes The Traveler Loop.

Stay tuned!

 

Summer is Officially Here: Get Moving

“Aires ( March 21-April 19). To get where you want to go, you’ll have to make your way through the crowd.  Start moving and people will get out of your way. Movement is what makes things change.”- Daily Horoscope-Holly Mathis, 6/25/2018

Nature is ahead of me on this one.  Somehow,  in a surprisingly short amount of time, the vista outside of my big kitchen window is a mass of slowly expanding movement of green: my lawn, the hay fields all around me, and the three hundred and sixty degree panorama of forest that surrounds our house.

My ever-expanding vegetable garden is fully planted and growing steadily.  I’m already harvesting lettuce, green onions, beet greens, parsley , and celery.  Unfortunately the deer are also moving in to eat my plants, and I plan to install my electric fencing tomorrow after this rain lets up.

Bugs are moving.  I’ve pulled out one tick and plucked off a dozen already.  Did you know that tics are blind, and detect animal hosts through body odors, breath, heat, movement and vibrations?

I’ve got a few mosquito bites decorating my neck.  I’m not much bothered by mosquitoes after experiencing the massive numbers of them in Labrador on several of my motorcycle and canoeing trips there over the years.  Its all relative.

On thing that has assisted me in maintaining a level of activity that has kept my weight down, and in shape for backpacking is setting movement goals.  I have two: biking 1,000  and walking 1,000 miles a calendar year.

I monitor my movement progress through the use of the Strava app, where one of the functions allows users to view distance totals by sport on their Profile page.  As of today, I am 26 miles ahead of my biking pace

but 52 miles down on walking.

I plan to get moving on this by doing several two-hour hikes this week to climb back to hiking pace.

Lifestyle changes matter.  People who live in cities often walk more daily miles than us country residents, where services are too far away to access without driving a vehicle.

Looking for ways to move that are functional helps.  For example, I amassed 17,369 steps (8.4 miles via Fitbit) last Friday where I spent the better half of the day tilling, planting, weeding,  fertilizing, mulching, and watering the veggie garden.

When it stops raining today, I plan to fire up my little tractor and attach a cart and move down to the woods where I have stacks of unsplit rounds that I’ll haul up to the wood shed to split and move under cover for heating the house this winter.  I still cut my own firewood which leads to all sorts of strength, twisting, and core work.

This afternoon I plan to walk thee miles to my friend Dave’s house in Lincolnville Center where I’ll cop a ride to my weekly Men’s Group get together.

But I’ll be competing for a place on the path with the ticks, who will be waiting for me as I walk through the unmown hayfield and the brush that is filling up the abandoned Proctor Road as I move my way down to the pavement of the Heal Road that will lead me to open space walking to the Center.   I plan to wear long pants, sprayed with Permethrin and hope for the best.

The solstice passed on June 21.  Winter is coming.  Get moving !

 

 

 

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.

Goodbye, Golf Clubs. Hello, Hiking Boots…..

William Widmer for The New York Times

 

Today, I ate my usual eggs and toast Sunday morning breakfast that precedes my regular “Bubba Church” mountain bike ride with my aging off-road posse. On early morning Sundays, I read the digital version of the NY Times and catch up on the news, fake or not. I didn’t find much of interest today, so instead I clicked on my Instagram feed where I download media to read later at my leisure. Instapaper is my own custom newspaper.

I don’t ever listen to podcasts when I eat breakfast, but today I am pleased that I did. I listened to Texas Parks and Wildlife Podcast’s Epidode 13: Hiking Across Texas.  It is short, only 12 minutes long, but it spoke deeply to me today.   It’s a refreshing interview with Dave Roberts, 72 years old. Dave is currently on a 3,000-mile “ramble” across Texas, weaving through at least 40 national parks.

I  remember reading about Dave a year and a half ago, and dug up the following article about Dave, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who has found his unique retirement groove- long distance walking, biking, and kayaking.  Dave’s on a $20-a-day budget for this Texas adventure, but more importantly appears to have exactly the right attitude to keep on doing what he enjoys best- being outdoors and having varied experiences.

As Dave puts it, ” If everything does according to plans, you are not having an adventure yet.”

Do listen via the podcast link above, and if you like what you hear, read the Jan. 2016 Times feature below, to learn more about Dave and other retirees who have stood up to leave the couch for later.

My own dream is to walk across the US, someday.