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Feeling daring, feeling brave? Got phobias? Here’s an experience I had dealing with a lifelong fear of heights and how I pushed to overcome my anxiety and succeed!

Write in Front of Me

English: Warren Wilson College's Ropes Course ...

The 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 was my case — check out the “ropes course.”  But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen. …

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Filed under Adventure, Anxiety, attitude, challenge, Courage, danger, Decision making, Fear, Fear of heights, Goals

Y’all come sit by the fire now…it’s story time! (Tales, Poems, and Songs for the Appalachian Trail Hiker)

Northbound A.T. backpackers are nearing the New England wilds and, with it, evenings around the campfire as the nightly chill sets in. What’s more appropriate than a ghostly tale well told!

Write in Front of Me

What’s a hike along the Appalachian Trail without a good fireside tale?  Let Robert W. Service (1874-1958), known as “the Bard of the Yukon,” warm your bones with this classic chiller poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.

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Obvious Lostness

In our age of distraction it’s more important than ever to slow down and pay attention — especially to where we’re going!

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railway-2439189_1920If I had kept my eyes lifted and looked straight ahead of me, I would never have become lost. But since the sweltering blaze of a blistering midsummer afternoon in August on the A.T. in Pennsylvania kept my head down — literally — I must have missed the turn.

Time has wilted with my motivation. A long roadwork through a dusty valley seemed at first an easy endeavor. An early start to beat the rising sun, to outrun its zenith, was the intention. Never made it. Lots of “cameling up” kept me alive, but pouring sweat and drenching humidity did their evil best to sap my energy. Despite many stops to rest in what shade I could find, I ended up in a late afternoon slog. The white blazes had directed me through some newly sown fields and alongside a two-lane asphalt road, now redolent with the smell of cooked…

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Filed under A.T., Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Consequences, Decision making, Fear, Hiking, lost, Travel, Walking

Never Hike or Backpack Alone

daylight-environment-fern-2078864I never thought the day would come when I would say this, but the world has changed.

Never, ever, hike or backpack alone.

I say this as someone who has spent countless hours in the deep wild, thrilled by the solitude and awed by the silence.  It has always been my intention to encourage the soul that is drawn to the stillness of the forest and the trail which takes them there to answer that call; to go and experience something rare and breathtaking and enriching.

No longer.

I know it is sometimes difficult to find one or more persons who have the time to venture on a hiking trip with you.  I had that challenge, but I went anyway.  In fact, I preferred being alone on the trail, and relished the unknown difficulties of each day.

Most days, these barriers consisted of where to find water, or how to ford a river.  Others might be getting a hitch into town or finding a store to resupply.

It’s different now.  The factors have changed, and not always for the better.

I still hear it, as I did today when I read the news; the trail (Appalachian) is safe — but there are no guarantees.

The story this date (May 12, 2019) https://bit.ly/2HfXT8j  is one where a loner attacked hikers using a machete, leaving one wounded and one dead.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of such an act of violence intruding upon such a marvelous hiking path.  Still, this time it seems different.  I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because things have changed along the trail in the past dozen plus years.  Overcrowding of shelters, incidents of norovirus affecting hikers in greater number, the popularity of the trail compared to twenty years back.  Easy accessibility to the footpath, and plenty of media exposure seem to have only led to a more crowded outdoor experience.

What was once a near-hidden gem has become stained by the stress of over-use and violence.

Am I saying not to go?  Never!

But, I am saying one should be in a group of at least three or more.  I am saying, sadly, that more attention should be paid to other hikers and their mannerism and behavior, especially loners who seem not to fit in.

Use your intuition, your gut, your suspicions and, if you feel the least bit of doubt, avoid questionable company.  Report such individuals to rangers and trail officials.

The old saying is true: there’s strength in numbers.

For me, I grieve the loss of those attacked, who were enjoying the wonder of the wild in innocence.  I also grieve the loss of safety which I felt years ago, when I could walk the footpath without undue concern about my safety.  That does not mean I didn’t run across the odd character; I did, and more than once.  But I grieve the ability to enclose oneself in the emerald fastness of the forest without having to look over the shoulder to see who is following.

For me, the days of solo backpacking have ended.  I do not look down on those who feel the confidence and fortitude to venture out alone.  I only wish I could.

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Creating A Backpacker’s Journal — Because You’ll Surely Forget!

I would admonish you, my friendly reader; though you blog and video and snap the shutter, nothing will make your hiking memory become a valued legacy like taking pen to paper to document the details. Do it soon. Because — over time — you’ll surely forget!

Write in Front of Me

Photo courtesy Ray Dumas @ Flickr Photo courtesy Ray Dumas @ Flickr

In the fall of 1985, after a summer backpacking the Appalachian Trail, I spent extensive time at a donut shop north of Boston. I know, there’s no worse way to sabotage a svelte hiker waistline than keeping company with chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee.  But I wasn’t there for an insatiable sugar binge.  I was there to write (OK, I did have some coffee).

I was there to copy what I had journaled that summer from one notebook into another.  I knew the fuzzing of memory over time would dim the the events of those rare days.  The photos I’d taken could never express my feelings, and some entries were so sparse they barely described what happened.  To prevent the potential fraying of my recall over time from robbing me of a record of that hiking season, it was vital I transcribe and…

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The Appalachian Trail Eleventh Essential – Coffee!

coffee Let me be clear: no coffee – no hike!  Over and beyond the “Ten Essentials” of backpacking, there is an Eleventh Essential — coffee.  There may be a Twelfth, but that’s a post for another day.

Instants have come and gone, though I think Trader Joe’s Columbian instant would do in a pinch.  I’ve tried funnels and gadgets of various sorts.  I will not take an espresso maker; too much to fidget with.

A few years ago I found a lightweight, convenient method of taking fresh-ground coffee on the trail and brewing it with as little fanfare and difficulty as possible.

Enter – the coffee sock.  No, it’s not a “recycled” tube sock (ack!)  It’s a wooden handled gadget with a muslin “basket” which holds grounds through which hot water if poured.  Quick on the brew, good on the palate.  I can amp the coffee with as many grounds as I like and cleanup is a simple rinse.  Occasionally I will use some soap and water to wash out the oils which accumulate.

Viola!  Easy, fast, and most of all – effective!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, coffee, Food, Hiking, outdoors, The Appalachian Trail

“Sleigh what?”

Merry Christmas! I had forgotten this story, which appeared as I flipped through my blog archives. I hope you enjoy it; and I hope your New Year is filled with peace and joy!

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From the Archives:  Sleighing Sleighing (Photo credit: pmarkham) (Note the jingle bells on the harness)

What’s Christmas without a story?  Here’s a true one.  Happened to me a while back.  I was looking for a jingle bell, because my wife said she wanted to wear one on her winter down coat for Christmas.  Since I had buried the few jingle bells we had, I suggested she stop by a local, national-chain pharmacy to see if I could find one.  Into the store I went.  Up and down the aisles.  Tinsel, trees, lights…no jingle bells.  A second check…no bells to be found.  I asked a fellow who was rummaging through the holiday and Christmas decorations if he’s seen jingle bells anywhere; turns out he was a customer, not staff.  I apologized, thanked him anyway, and finally found a store clerk.  She was a woman in her mid-fifties or so.  “Do you have any jingle…

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