“Who Will You Be?”

IMG_2558It’s a question I’ve heard more than once lately.  Usually, it’s in reference to the struggles people might be having dealing with the isolation precipitated from the Coronavirus “lockdown.”  Now, with things “easing up,” I’ve heard, or seen written, the question — “Who will you be on the other side of the pandemic?”  Or some variation thereof.

It’s a good question, and one which can foster deep reflection and personal growth if we each let it.

It also applies to backpacking the Appalachian Trail.

“Who will you be?  Who will you be when you step off the trail?”  And not just at Katahdin in Maine, but anywhere you choose or need to stop hiking.

I even still ask myself that question to this day: “Who did I become when I stepped from the trail in Maine?  What came next?  What have I accomplished?  What’s been positive in my life?  What do I regret?  What would I do different?  What can to achieve now?  What does my future hold?”

In the brief post, I commend that question to you.  You can ask it even if you’ve not hiked the trail!

Wishing you productive thinking!  Timothy

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Trail of Dreams

man in red crew neck shirt carrying blue hiking backpack

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Happy New Year!  I hope we have a fabulous year and decade ahead.  Remember, as you hike the trails, be they the Appalachian Trail, or just a random footpath in your neighborhood, to breathe in on each step.  And remember, you’re here on Earth to accomplish something with your life; find out what that is and live it out.  Time really is too short to waste on useless and selfish dreams!  I remember 40 like it was a minute ago; now I’m going on 67 years of age.  It really does move fast!  Invest in yourself, invest in others.  Have the courage and tenacity to find out what real truth is, not what some website or media outlet tells you it is.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that someone is your enemy because they believe differently than you do.  You’ll cheat yourself by doing so.  Be independent!  Check out the facts.  Get to know the person, stranger or neighbor.  Who knows how they will bless your life or you will bless theirs!  Blaze a trail of love from your heart, to your front door, into your community and city, and into the world.  Put aside factions and politics.  Remember why we’re all here on this little world.  Risk loving, even when it hurts (especially when you’re feeling the pain), because glory and dreams are on the other side of that wall of reluctance.  Put the past to rest.  Recover your soul and spirit.  Be fully in the moment; and when you forget to be, just get “back on the train.”  They’ll wait.  Forge the future with the iron of your spirit, the sweat of your brow, the muscle of your hand and heart.  Bring together people with differences and listen; don’t divide.  Humanity is born whole.  We are not meant to be divided!  Lastly, remember your moment will come; that day or night when your breath comes hard and your spirit yearns to be free of the body.  Live for that threshold.  Look into eternity while you’re alive, so you’ll know what to do when you arrive there.  You’ll want to have no regrets.  You’ll want the companionship of those who love you.  You’ll want to know you made a difference.  Like the trails you love to hike, take up the burden of the pack of daily living and move out.  There’s wonder and awe ahead of you.  Just waiting around the bend…

Love, Timothy

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A Lesson In Subtracting Fear

photo-11The tower was a medieval-looking structure – a tripod constructed of massive timbers which looked like over-sized telephone poles.  Wrapped with ropes the thickness of my upper arm, the structure rose into the grey afternoon sky.  There were climbing holds stapled along the legs at various points, and climbing ropes draped from its height.  There was a platform on top where one could stand and look out over the Connecticut countryside.  

My first impression was that it looked like a siege weapon from a Lord of the Rings movie, only missing a few attendant orcs.  It was at once challenging and forbidding.  And the closer I walked toward it the more uncomfortable I felt.

It was the afternoon break during a conference.  Participants could snooze, chat, read, play ball or –as in my case — check out the “ropes course.”  But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen.  Instead of cables strung between treetops there was this lone structure in a field, tended by a staff of three whose task it was to ensure the safety of climbers who would ascend while belayed in harnesses.

I was the first to arrive, and wandered below the three-legged device.  I looked up and felt slightly dizzy.  No one had come to climb the tower yet, and I had no intention of trying to climb it.  My plan was to hang out and watch more valiant souls do it.

Being curious, I peppered the climbing safety team with questions, such as who made the tower, how it was used, and how safe it was.  Admittedly, deep down, I had always wanted to address my own long-standing fear of heights.  Sure, I’d had limited encounters with vertical space, such as clambering up the Forehead of Mount Mansfield in Vermont and scaling Katahdin in Maine.  But those, while risky, never involved as much anxiety as the notion of climbing this tower seemed to stimulate.

After a few questions, one team members offered a candid comment.  “Even kids love climbing this thing,” she said.  OK, I could understand how fearless children, restrained with rope and safety harness, would not hesitate to tackle this over-sized Tinker Toy.  But then came the clincher.

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“They even climb it blindfolded!”

They climb it — blindfolded?”

The statement stunned me.  How gutsy was that?  A troop of kids exuberantly clambering up a height without the benefit of sight to maneuver.

I kept walking around the tower, looking up.  I checked to see if anyone else was coming to climb, but no one had yet arrived.  I stared up once again, and kept walking around the looming structure.  The climbing ropes trailing from the top battered against the timbers in the wind.  I heard carabiners clink and bang together like wind chimes in a gale.

The notion of tackling a ropes course made my stomach twist in a knot.  But the idea of doing it — sightless!?

Yet, there was something else beneath my amazement.  Something that bothered me, which I could not uncover —

I stopped in my tracks, frozen in place by an experience I rarely have: what’s called an “Aha!” moment.

Of course!  It was completely counter-intuitive to anything I’d experienced — the notion of tackling a long-held fear by simply subtracting an element of that fear — namely, sight.

Moments later I was breathing deeply to suppress my anxiety as I was strapped into a climbing harness and roped to the tower by the belaying team.  My head swam with thoughts, my gut with emotion.  I had just blurted out that I wanted to try a blindfold tower climb.  I was amazed the words came out at all!  But, I had crossed the Rubicon on this one, so I walked to the nearest timber and, with guidance, I slipped the blindfold over my eyes and reached out to feel for my first handhold.

My focus remained on moving up, working to discover my next gripping point with my right hand, and launching my body upward with my left leg.  Any sense of anxiety evaporated as my concentration increased, and I alternated between pulling myself up with my hands while using my legs to push, and feeling for hand holds farther along the timber.  I lost count of my maneuvers and put my effort and energy into scaling my way up.  My breathing was steady but slightly labored, and – most of all – I noticed a remarkable absence of fear.

A few minutes later I paused to catch my breath.  “How’s it going?” I heard a voice below me say.  It was good to know my climbing team was keenly focused on my well-being.  “Good,” I said.  “I think I’d like to take a look around.”

Surprised, again, by my unexpected boldness, I used a hand to lift the blindfold so I could see.  I was struck by my continuing absence of anxiety or fear.  In fact, I marveled that the solution to my dread lay in simply doing something completely counter-intuitive.

Have I overcome my fear of heights since that pivotal experience?  Not totally — but to a great degree.  More importantly, I’ve learned there is more than one way to handle fear, and a means to manage it may be found by considering an outrageous-sounding, out-of-the-box solution.

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The Appalachian Trail New Year’s Questionnaire

Is an Appalachian Trail hike in the works for you in 2020? If so, consider this questionnaire!

Write in Front of Me

Rather than offer you a set of resolutions for the New Year, here’s a list of questions I hope will prove useful to you as a hiker and backpacker.  Happy New Year!

Aircrew Survival Course - May 2010 Aircrew Survival Course – May 2010 (Photo credit: WSDOT)

What one item would most to increase the enjoyment of your hikes this year?  (New knife, candle lantern, whistle, etc.)

What new outdoor skill would be the most useful to learn this year?  (How to build a fire without matches, wilderness first aid, what to do if you’re caught in a snow or lightning storm, etc.)

What familiar trail would you like to explore further?  (Side trails off the Appalachian Trail: see my earlier post.)

What are the biggest hurdles you come across when hiking the trail (slow pace, too much pack weight, etc.) and what can you do to surmount them?

How can you improve your…

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The Importance of That Which Has an End

alone autumn mood forest cold countryside

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

One of the most sublime things about the Appalachian Trail is that — it ends.  In begins in Maine (or Georgia, depending on where you start), and it unravels for over 2,000 miles.

There were countless times I wished it would surpass its mileage limit and continue on, unfolding forever into a far horizon so my vibrant young self could trek forever.  Yet, endings are so very important; containers in which we nest our hopes and dreams and accomplishments for safekeeping — and for the future.

Now, many years down the “trail of life” since my hike in 1985, I have found all the memories of that exploit sustain my heart and spirit; bittersweet at times, but oh so vivid!

The sight of delicate bluets alongside the trail during the early days of May when the hike had just begun.  The cooling breeze emanating from standing near a crystalline waterfall on a blistering summer day.

 

cascade creek environment fern

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The lazy purling water of a glittering Maine river on an autumn afternoon.  Numerous sunsets, each unique, each its own benediction to the day.  The memory of writing the adventures down in my journal.

fire fireplace burning on fire

Photo by David & Christine Boozer on Pexels.com

The many laughs and tales with fellow travelers by the night-time fireside.  The curious and informative entries of hikers from the world over in trail registers.  The outreach of smiling “trail angels.”  The respite in many towns and cities along the seaboard through which the trail runs.  The grace of rides given into town.

All these, and more, populate my mind today, as clear as if they happened just yesterday.   And, in my heart, they did.  They still do, because the movie of my recollections continues to re-run this one outstanding experience of my lifetime.  But, if it had never come to its end I wouldn’t have the gift inside me to unwrap during times when I need to get away.

So, you see, the ending is important.  Without an end to the trail the joys of the hike cannot curl up into my soul to find a home in which, when the time is right, they can come powerfully alive again.  It’s then they most nurture me and bless my life.

man in black jacket and brown hat standing on rock near lake

Photo by Andy Vu on Pexels.com

So that I can say — “Yes, I did that!  I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  The memories and experience are mine to treasure and keep until I stand at the final trailhead.”

They are a story nestled within the larger drama of my life — one which still holds deep meaning — that began with something which has an end.

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I wonder as I wander…

Wishing all of you the peace of the season! May the trails wind before you in wonder and joy during 2020!

Write in Front of Me

…out under the sky.  No ceiling obscures my gaze of the heavens. There are no walls to shield me from wildlife. There I am witness to unfurling miles of forest. I tackle durable mountains, am lulled by rolling hills, and rest by springs of water. I am alive, in the wild, moving, breathing. My soul expands in the out-of-doors. Limits fall away even as summits rear themselves; they call, even as they provoke — “Are you up for the task?” I respond by embracing them with effort and sweat, slips and falls, muscle stretch and ache.  My recompense is in catching my breath, sleeping under the stars, being awed by the views.  Such endeavor brings reward — gratitude — and joy!

Merry Christmas to hikers and backpackers and lovers of the wild everywhere!

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Appalachian Trail winter skill…building a quinzee snow shelter

Gotta admit, doing this was fun for me — even if it was done in the back yard behind my apartment building! Got to “field test” these things before you *really* need them! Amirite?

Write in Front of Me

Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance. Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a three-season hiker and backpacker when on the Appalachian Trail.  That said, I’m always conscious that during any season at high elevations weather conditions may reshape into a survival situation with alarming rapidity.

As the first snowfall blankets New England, I’m reminded of a useful winter wilderness skill I learned some years ago: building a “quinzee” (also, “quinzhee” – from the Athabaskan) or snow-hut.  In constructing this emergency shelter I found it to be easier than any other type I’ve tried.

When you’re out with the kids making snowmen, consider adding this to your skill set.  Even if you never need to make one in under emergency conditions, you will find it fun for backyard overnight camping forays or winter weekend getaways in the woods.

The following link gives clear directions on how to build one.

Quinzee Shelter.

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How far is it? Tips on mileage and time on the Appalachian Trail

Roads go ever on, the author said. Often the question is not where one is going, but how long it takes to get there. Does anyone know?

Write in Front of Me

Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr

Not long into my hike on the Appalachian Trail I met day-hikers and southbounders asking me a common question: how far is it to _____?  (campsite, shelter, road crossing, etc.)  I would provide my best estimate, they’d be on their way, but I was left feeling a bit incomplete about the encounter, as if the information I had given was not of much use.  Later on I learned that a mile is an easy hike for one person and a grueling trek for another.  In those cases, distance has less meaning that time.  As a result, I would tell someone “how far” based on how long it had taken me to leave that particular point.  For instance, I would say “It’s about half an hour,” if it had taken me that long to walk from the requested landmark.  I would modify this advice depending on…

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Linville Gorge, NC – Where I cut my backpacking teeth

 

PHOTO-1565618247554-E014B319FE8A.jpegPhoto by Joshua Barker on Unsplash

Every hiker and backpacker has terrain on which they have “cut their teeth,” engaging challenges which took them past the borderline into an “undiscovered country.”  The Linville Gorge in western North Carolina was that terrain for me, in summer of 1984.

I did not know that setting foot on this network of rugged trails was the early seeding of what would soon become an Appalachian Trail thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.  But such is the wonder and surprise of the trail; you never know where you’ll end up!

Southern_End_of_Gorge

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

I went to seek the challenge and also solitude, finding it in the cool coves and crevices of the eastern side of the gorge.  Reveling in the footway and wrapped in the magic of the rhododendron thickets ablaze with blossoms, I wandered intoxicated for about three days.

The running river and enchanting falls were always within earshot if not my vision.  I’ve always loved it most when I can hike beside majestic or wild rivers and streams.  Linville Gorge did not disappoint in this regard, providing a miniature “Grand Canyon of the East” in which to explore.

Wiseman's_View_6

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

 

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Hiking with Christmas on the Appalachian Trail

Always in my memory — backpacking the high ridge miles of Maine while enjoying the fragrance of countless conifers. Just like Christmas! Alas, the closest thing I have as a direct experience is the balsam candle which is burning. But, oh, the vividness of the memory! May the light and fragrance of this season fill your heart and soul with joy, peace, and hope!

Write in Front of Me

36053068751_3fa78e423c_zOne particular thing I remember about Maine.  While all my senses were affected during my backpacking expedition, the continual smell of the evergreens in the 100-MileWilderness is something which stays with me to this day.  A powerful and marvelous recollection.  I remember thinking, “This is like hiking through a forest of Christmas trees!”  What enchantment!  Bunchberries at my feet, their intense green punctuated by the stark rubies of the berries only served to ornament the forest floor, which made the entire trail a holiday wonderland.  Nothing before or since has compared.  Only the snow was missing.  Just another reminiscence I keep and use to reconnect with the deep woods along the Appalachian Trail when I cannot be there in person.

Balsam fir sun needles

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