Category Archives: Adventure

How old is too old to thru-hike the A.T.? The Grey Bear Adventurer has your answer!

Dale on the Trail – The Oldest Man to Ever Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail 2017 from Adventureitus Productions on Vimeo.

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Filed under A.T., Adventure, aging, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Courage, Hiking, outdoors, seniors

Peaks and Valleys: A 30 mile GSMNP Loop

Thanks to Ryan for taking us on a peaks and valleys trek of the Smokies. It’s great seeing this park from a different perspective!

Ryan M. Ignatius

Much like life, I believe the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is best understood and appreciated only after both the peaks and valleys have been explored.

The Park’s high country along the Appalachian Trail offers spectacular views and miles of knife’s edge ridgewalking.  However, the lesser known (and lower elevation) trails explore the Park’s vastness, with massive trees, huge creeks, and large mammals (bears and boars) that dwarf the hiker.

We chose a nice weekend loop that offered a taste of everything.  Let’s get walking!

07-IMG_8885 Me, my brother in law Dylan, and close friend Jonathon on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).  As you can see, we’re pretty tough dudes, so the wild boar we stumbled upon in the Park absolutely made the right choice to just keep walking.  April 2017.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, outdoors, Weather

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

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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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Fear, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, outdoors, Poetry, stories

Jack and Wayne and the Nine City Southern Appalachian Bus Tour

Remembering Jack and Wayne along the Appalachian Trail!

Write in Front of Me

Jack and Wayne lookalikes.jpgThis is neither Jack nor Wayne.  It is the Real Hiking Viking.  But, when I look at him it reminds me of the wonderful wildness that was Jack and Wayne, and they looked very much like him.

The story you are about to read is true; photographic existence of the parties mentioned has yet to be discovered.

Straight up and down; then straight up and down again! Georgia trail maintainers seemed clueless about the need for switchbacks on the Appalachian Trail, which made the footpath through the infamous Georgia gaps more of a roller-coaster endurance test than a pleasant trail. Fortunately for backpackers and hikers tracing the AT through the southern Appalachians Jack and Wayne were there.  Or maybe not.

Jack and Wayne appeared with a shock – all laughs and boisterousness – on day three of my hike. The rigors of the trek had thinned the crowd into…

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Comedy, Dreams, Hiking, Laughter, Living, Outdoor sports, outdoors, Walking

The Dare Out There

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“On the street of by-and-by, one arrives at the house of never.” – Cervantes

The pressure is strong; the urge unrelenting.  The demands of life – work, earning a living, plus a thousand other things – quickly jam into each nanosecond of our existence, leaving little time to catch our breath, plan meaningful futures, or nurture things which matter most, such as relationships and finding a life purpose to fully commit to.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a leap of faith.  You have to simply put all other things aside and go; even if you don’t know how you’ll get there or what will happen when your backpacking boots move beyond the starting line at Springer Mountain, Georgia.

You just know: “I’ve simply got to do this.  Now!”

Somehow you just know.  The food that will fuel your soul, the sustenance which will galvanize you into going inside and giving yourself time to think and get to know who you are – lies in the glory of nature.  Yes, there will be a price to pay in pain and hardship, loneliness and ache.  But if you cross the zone along the trail (for me it was about the fifty mile mark) where it feels something has shifted and that you’ve somehow “broken through” the majority of your resistance and second-guessing, you will know you can achieve what you set out to do.  Hike from Georgia to Maine!

That’s when things will get really interesting.

Backpacking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine (or in any other configuration you choose) will always be a benchmark for the rest of your life.  Even if you should not succeed in completing the entire trail, you will discover your outlook is brighter, your spirit bolder, your boundaries of possibility expanded.

My advice is not to fuss too much about which gear to use or whether or not you should saw the handle off your toothbrush.  Not if it delays your setting out too long.  I spent a year in research, gathering equipment, and planning.  Even then, I hit the footpath with a pack weighing 55 pounds to start with.  By the end of my trip that weight had drastically dropped to about 30 pounds.  The thing to remember is that is plenty of room to learn as you go.  Stick with the basics and set out.

Treat the land as if it were your own back yard.  In recent years I’ve been dismayed to learn the trails has suffered from littering and graffiti.  If you care about stewarding the world you live in, leave shelters and campsites better than you found them.  You will be amazed at how good you will feel when you spend a few extra minutes sweeping out a shelter with a broom!

Take time to – as the old saw goes – “hike your own hike.”  Leave high-daily-mileage setting to those who feel the need for such accomplishments and focus on your own; the pace that enriches your soul and makes your spirits fly when you unload your pack at the end of the day.

Whatever date on the calendar you mark to begin your journey, remember that the dare out there will bring out everything that is within you, both good and bad.  And that’s OK.  You are about to grow in ways you could never imagine before.

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Filed under A.T., Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Discipline, Dreams, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, outdoors, Transformation

Jack and Wayne and the Nine City Southern Appalachian Bus Tour

Jack and Wayne lookalikes.jpg

This is neither Jack nor Wayne.  It is the Real Hiking Viking.  But, when I look at him it reminds me of the wonderful wildness that was Jack and Wayne, and they looked very much like him.

The story you are about to read is true; photographic existence of the parties mentioned has yet to be discovered.

Straight up and down; then straight up and down again! Georgia trail maintainers seemed clueless about the need for switchbacks on the Appalachian Trail, which made the footpath through the infamous Georgia gaps more of a roller-coaster endurance test than a pleasant trail. Fortunately for backpackers and hikers tracing the AT through the southern Appalachians Jack and Wayne were there.  Or maybe not.

Jack and Wayne appeared with a shock – all laughs and boisterousness – on day three of my hike. The rigors of the trek had thinned the crowd into unplanned clumps of three or four backpackers. I was hiking with three souls. I don’t remember the third hiker, (who soon left the trail due to a knee injury) but Jack and Wayne: who could forget them?

Staunchly descended from Georgia roots, Jack and Wayne came in one color – camouflage (with a touch of Jerry Garcia thrown in for good measure). Each man was saddled by choice with at least eighty pounds of gear. Every needed or frivolous item could be found in their packs, right down to the quaint Sony cassette players with earphones jammed in their ears and Lynyrd Skynyrd punched up at full volume. Jack and Wayne sang along at the top of their voices. One need not have earphones to hear their musical gusto belting forth. It screeched from their earbuds, rebounded from the hills, and poured from their parched lips.

You might say Jack and Wayne were ready for the trail, if survivalism was the goal. Each was clad in long-sleeve shirt and trousers made of thick material with a camo pattern. One might think they had ripped them off a band of Army Rangers, who frequently engaged in military maneuvers in that area of the forest. But, no, they bought them at an Army-Navy surplus store.

All beards and bright bandanas, I first came upon the duo who were plopped right in the middle of the trail on a hot Georgia spring afternoon. A backpacking stove, which doubled as a small model of a NASA lunar lander, was at full blast. They were making popcorn.

“Want some?” Jack asked, his eyes all sparkle and vigor. I was speechless. “A bit early for snack time, isn’t it?” I said. Jack and Wayne both grabbed handfuls of popcorn and pushed them on me. I accepted, hesitantly. After a few pleasantries I walked on, leaving them in avid discussion about the Grateful Dead, each pulling playfully on their beard, laughter peppering the humid air.

Later, at a lean-to which would be my home for the night, I arrived. Jack and Wayne came in soon after, pots banging outside their packs, right next to their cutlery, which included of two splendid, fear-inducing machetes.

Now, I have to admit to having once owned such a blade, when I was younger. But I used it for strict utility purposes, striking off offensive limbs and briars in my back yard. But Jack and Wayne seemed to believe we were somewhere in the upper regions of Amazonia, and commenced to clearing some brush nearby and then used their machetes to cut firewood — lots of it! Soon, a fierce blaze was adding to the ambiance, though I thought it a bit too close to the shelter for comfort. Jack and Wayne cackled and hooted and continued cutting and piling on the kindling and fuel. I retreated from the heat. Jack pulled out the stove and, yes, “It’s popcorn time!” he screamed. Soon the shelter was filled with the combination of roasting popcorn – and pot smoke. Ah ha! I had discovered the substance which fueled the roaring laughter and stories Jack and Wayne regaled me with that night. Admittedly, I was soon laughing along with them as they told tales of “rabid” black bears roaming the woods, forest ghosts,  and various hand-fishing encounters they’d had. When I asked why they were hiking the A.T., Wayne said “We’re on a bus-tour of southern Georgia!” This made little sense to me but it was clear they were, indeed, traveling, albeit “herbally” fueled.

Snorers? Jack and Wayne held the medal in that category. But by next morning, they had clanged out of camp and were northbound while I was wiping the sleep from my eyes. The last I saw was the back of two huge backpacks (also camo!) on which were strung Coleman lanterns, the infamous machetes, bungee cords, a $20 K-Mart store tent, and other elements of their traveling circus.

I only saw them once or twice more, but they quickly became legends among the AT hiking community. I also have no photographic evidence of what they looked like, so you’ll just have to believe they were as colorful as I’ve tired to portray them (also see above “guesstimate” photo). Last I heard of them, they had completed seven stops of their southern Appalachian bus tour. I’m not sure if they reached stop ten, but the memory of them is drifting in a cloud of laughter somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Comedy, Hiking, Laughter, outdoors, Quest, Travel, Writing

The Greatest Hiking Risk: Hypothermia

3991549566_9443de9096_oI once did a random, unscientific survey. I asked day hikers, backpackers, and visitors along the Appalachian Trail what they considered the greatest hiking risk. Instantaneous responses were rapid and predictable: bears, snakes, and strangers topped the list of what most thought were the greatest hiking risk. This was true even among some experienced trekkers. Yet the greatest hiking risk for people recreating in the outdoors is hypothermia – an answer that surprises many. Some are not even aware of the condition, which can arise without warning and quickly turn an outing into an ordeal.

My experience with hypothermia came during a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Maine in the magnificent, rugged Barren-Chairback Range.

Photo courtesy Pictoscribe @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Pictoscribe @ Flickr

I had been hiking nearly a week and it had rained every day. The trail became a river and it was impossible to keep my gear rain free. My pack was soaked through. Some food had become soggy and much of my clothing was damp despite having an adequate laying system and wearing a Gore-tex parka and wool sweater.

Camping proved a unique challenge. Placing my tent down quickly, I tossed the rain fly on top, then wrestled to set it up without getting water inside. During the few days I was fortunate enough to use traditional lean-to shelters, I found that wind would force the rain in sideways and sometimes the shelter roof would leak. My synthetic fill sleeping bag was not drenched but it made for a damp and clammy night of rest.

During an afternoon hiking the ridgeline, after a grueling climb, I found myself exhausted and soaked to the skin beneath my rain parka. Even with my wool sweater beneath I experienced mild shivering. The wind picked up and temperatures began dropping. A hiker’s “perfect storm” was forming.

I first realized something was wrong when my thoughts became foggy and unclear. I began to undergo what I will call “disturbed time” – the sense of losing awareness of what time of day it was or how long I had been walking.

Next, my speech became slurred and I noticed I was having a great deal of difficulty putting my gloves on after wringing water from them. It was at that moment I realized the danger. I knew less about hypothermia then than I do now, but I knew enough to recognize I needed immediate shelter from the elements. Though I wanted to stop, sit down and rest right on the trail, I knew such a choice would be unwise.

I knew from studying my map that morning that there was a trail to a shelter nearby where I could find a safer haven. As I began walking I felt fear and clung to it, using the fear to help me battle against what I now know were classic hypothermia symptoms.

After a time the turnoff appeared and the trail descended into a more protected footway leading to the shelter. The lean-to was a poor structure and wind was getting in, but the nails on the walls allowed me to I affixed a tarp to block the elements.

Photo courtesy IamNotUnique @ Flickr

Photo courtesy IamNotUnique @ Flickr

Immediately, I lit my MSR Firefly cooking stove then tossed some Ramen noodles on to boil. I dug my space blanket from my pack, shed most of my clothing, and mummified myself inside it. After drinking hot soup, eating two energy bars, and spending an hour out of the wind, my thoughts began to clear. I was relieved. I had avoided a potentially fatal situation and I was sobered at how easily it nearly overtook me.

Hypothermia begins when exhausted hikers are exposed to wet and windy conditions outdoors, combined with temperatures 50 degrees or lower. Under such conditions body heat is lost and internal temperature drops. Hypothermia symptoms appear and unless these are treated the victim becomes comatose then collapses. Death soon follows.

As with most life-threatening circumstances, prevention is the best safeguard. It is important to remain as dry as possible when being active outdoors and to beware of windy and wet conditions and situations where the temperature drops to a range of 50 down to 30 degrees. Gear that is rainproof and windproof is essential to wear, preferably before weather conditions deteriorate. Once they do, it becomes vital to take shelter in a tent or other structure.

Next, it is vital to begin to restore body heat, which can be done by preparing hot beverages and eating high-energy foods. Take note of classic symptoms, which may indicate the presence of hypothermia such as uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, loss of memory, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

DangerA victim of hypothermia must have all clothing removed and they should put in a warm sleeping bag. Another person should also strip and get into the bag with the victim to provide skin-to-skin contact to help restore lost body heat.

No one ventures outdoors without a measure of risk and there are many valid concerns, such as suffering a fall, lightning strikes, and other potential dangers. Yet hypothermia is by far the greatest hiking risk. With awareness and knowledge, you can be prepared and greatly reduce the chances you will become a victim.

Sources:

Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide, 27th Edition, Appalachian Mountain Club, Copyright 2003., pg. xiii-xiv.

Watson, Tom. How to Think Like a Survivor: A Guide for Wilderness, Creative Publishing International, 2005, pg. 16.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Hypothermia, risk, Timothy J. Hodges, Travel