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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

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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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, danger, Hiking, risk, Walking, wilderness

Wilderness

Wild.  Wilder.  Wilderness.

Three words from one.

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Wild…what I have always been seeking.  Since I was a child and could sit in Granddad’s back yard, feeling the roaring summer heat; reaching out, sensing the touch of a firefly at evening as it lit upon my small fingers (we call ’em “lightning bugs” in North Carolina).

Wild…what I saw as a young boy at the state natural history museum.  Wild, but wild that was “preserved,” with all the life-energy drained away.  Still, echoes of life abounded in the bones and skin and stuffed display.  Wild was always there — never to die, though the animal was but preserved carcass.

Wilder…when I was in my early 30’s and visited a zoological park.  Real wild — more so than in the museum — yet caged, restricted.  Wilder…looking me in the eye.  Wilder…telling me it would be a wondrous freedom to raise the latch and let it go; a foreign creature roaming free in the land.

Wilder…as I roamed into the forest and had a nerve-shaking encounter with a rattlesnake.  Wilder, fiercer, rattling rage which said “stay back, beware!”

Wilder…encircled while in camp by a black bear, who wandered around my tent coming ever closer.  I remember striking the cooking pan with a stick, blowing a whistle, all to no avail as wilder came…nearer.  Only striking the earth with my hiking staff in a desperate attempt to drive the creature off met with success.

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Wilder…jangling the nerves.  Storms ambushing me while I scaled great heights, pummeling the ridges with rain, savaging the peaks with lightning, causing me to pause and duck and dart beneath sheltering trees for fear of being struck.

Wilderness…in the deep balsam forest, amid a million mirroring lakes and ponds, across land studded with peat bog and few signs of human activity.  Wilderness at last…home in the deepest sense.  Wilderness!  What I had been walking for, seeking for, ever thirsting for.

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Wilderness…atop the high-winded peak at velocity enough to tip me over.  Elemental threats amid the glory of sailing clouds and bright sun and deep cold.  Wilderness that pounded my soul and heart with a message: This is life!  Breathe in, feel the caress; embrace the moment as the space between you and eternity becomes thin enough for you to reach beyond daily cares and concerns.  The mundane will soon return…but or now…

Wilderness!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Courage, danger, Decision making, Fear, Hiking, risk, Writing

What to do after the Appalachian Trail? “Strike Iron!”

It’s no secret that after completing a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail depression can set in.  There’s no shame it that, either!  “Coming down” from any extreme endeavor is to be expected, and you need to give yourself time to do it.

But what to do, and how long to take a break, and what then?

My own backpacking summer on the AT ended at Pinkham Notch at the foot of Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

I had been backpacking alone from late August until mid-September, and for the most part the thru-hiking crew had fled for home.  In an effort to extend my journey I flip-flopped to Katahdin and headed south.  Even the few I was hiking with at the time gradually faded away.  Some were bored or homesick.  Others had obligations take them off-trail.  Me?  I had nothing to prevent me from sojourning into the autumn, so I continued alone.

Not surprisingly, by mid-September the days were feeling way too short, and human company rare.  I was feeling out-of-place, alone.  To add to that bleak turn of events word came of an impending late summer hurricane bearing down upon New England with a bead on the White Mountains.  So, though the lure and spell of the White Mountains had called to me, a bout of norovirus put the nail in the plans I had made.

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I called a friend and found myself quickly swept down to Boston, hopping a plane just in time to avoid the hurricane and land in North Carolina.  Being “home” did not feel like home at all.  I felt like I had landed on a distant moon!  Another friend gave me room and board for a month, for which I was thankful.  But all too soon moodiness set in, then things got dicey as I became irritable and argumentative.

One afternoon my friend sat me down and commenced to preach to me the “here’s what to do next with the rest of your life” sermon.  It did not sit well.

Before I realized it, I fell into a vortex of action combined with a series of what almost felt like knee-jerk responses.  I told my friend farewell on short notice, packed my few possessions into my old Dodge, and ditched North Carolina completely.

I drove north, landing at the hiker hostel in Pearisburg, Virginia.  I needed time to think, to consider options.  I also needed a “touch” of the hiker community.

Turns out the hostel had a few day hikers drop by, along with a guy who wasn’t sure just what he was going to do next.  We commiserated and traded ideas.  I wasn’t sure just what the “right” decision was, but one thing I did know.  For the first time in my young life I knew I needed to “strike iron.”  I needed, in other words, to act.  To make a move.  Not recklessly, mind you, but with enough consideration of what my heart was telling me to keep me heading toward something as joyously risky and bold as hiking the trail itself had been.

For me, that was moving to Boston, Massachusetts.  To find a job.  To settle down.

Years before, while in the Navy, I had spent a year in the shipyards in Charlestown while our ship was being refitted.  We were docked right next to the USS Constitution, which itself was undergoing dry dock overhaul.  I fell in love with Boston; a city which combined culture and great people, wonderful attractions and places to dine, along with a weave of natural wonder.  Boston was a city of walkers, studded with parks and trees.  It felt like a combination of some place wild with civilization, but without the concrete sterility that one might find in Manhattan.  I knew that if I were ever to consider living and working in any major metropolitan city it would be Boston.  So when it came time to “strike iron” I knew I had to go there.

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Transitioning there was more challenging than hiking the AT.  Finding work, looking for living space — all that and more challenged me in ways that required I cope differently than I had when on the trail.  But, after about a year of turmoil and toil I found my feet.

I think “striking iron” was a way for me to convert the self-reliance, bold action, and personal power into fulfilling what once seemed like an unlikely dream.

Looking back, had I not acted; had I fallen into uncertainty and discouragement, or succumbed to depression, I might have never made the move to Boston.  I would have “settled for,” though I’m not sure what that might have been.  I do know that I would have been miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled.

So, while I do not recommend reckless action; I do suggest giving yourself space and time to consider further bold options and perhaps dive into one.  It beats stagnation.  It’s healthier than getting depressed.  And it may be the wild seed of a fresh, vibrant dream which will transform the next stage of your life.

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Filed under Achievements, Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Appalachian Trail, attitude, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, risk

How anchors can help you along the Appalachian Trail

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Days come when motivation is hard won on the Appalachian Trail.

Heat, humidity, incessant bugs, clogged springs, sunburn, boring food, sprained ankles…need I go on?  These are among the many factors that can have you slumped beside the trail, while a pesky voice in your head says, “Whatever were you thinking?  You? Hike the Appalachian Trail?!”  That voice is often followed by a cackling laughter.  I call it a “trail devil,” a  malevolent voice which will do all it can to sabotage your through hike.

But, what to do about it?

Some get off the trail and into town to rest, resupply, and refocus.  Others simply quit, dogged along their way home with regret.

I suggest pausing long enough to make a list in your journal of ready weaponry in the form of what I call “anchors.”

In a past blog entry I touched on this strategy.  It simply consists of using your mental powers to “pull” yourself along the trail by reaching one goals at a time by the use of “anchors.”

Look at the photograph above.

Do you see the “anchor” in it?

It’s the simple patch of light.

Now, you might be viewing it some yards away, sitting on a log and feeling discouraged.  The light is inviting and beautiful.  The quality of it is enthereal and it has something which you find compelling.

So, let’s take the observation further.  Let’s view that light as an “anchor” point; a spot to attain.  A goal.

So, you say to yourself, “I don’t have to do five miles on this sweltering day.  I just need to get to that patch of light.”

So, you lift your pack and intentionally take the necessary steps to reach that beam of light.    Then, you stand in it for a moment, letting the warmth bathe you.  You appreciate the light.  You allow yourself to feel grateful for making it to this one small goal, even if it only took twenty paces to reach.

There.  You’ve done it!  You’ve chosen an “anchor” and you’ve reached it.

Next, you consider what another “anchor” might be.  Maybe you check the trail guide and see a waterfall is only a quarter mile away.  So you choose to make that your next “anchor” and your walk to it.  You put aside the total miles you expected to hike in favor of a more appealing choice…a refreshing waterfall.  You reach that “anchor,” and you rest a while.  Then you select another “anchor.”

In this way, day by day, you motivate yourself to continue your hike.  Failure ceases to be a concern.  Instead, you’re focused on reaching specific, short-term goals, which will add up to miles, which collect into states hiked through, which lead to Katahdin in Maine.

Take a page in your journal and record the “anchors” you reached and those you have plotted to attain in the days ahead.  You’ll no longer be daunted by unfurling miles; you’ll be happily exploring the A.T. and ticking off “anchor” points along the way.

Using the power of your intention and thought, you have a new tool in your arsenal to transform your hike from the mundane to the magnificent.  May each “anchor” you choose lead you to greater adventure!

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Filed under anchors, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, Goals, Hiking, outdoors, Persistence, thinking

The persistence of Gimli and the Appalachian Trail

I still hold to the answer, whenever I’m asked, as to what “one thing” gets you to Katahdin more than anything else. One thing — one word — PERSISTENCE! Thus, we revisit the spirit of Gimli this Flashback Friday.

Write in Front of Me

Perhaps Gimli personifies the endurance it takes to hike the A.T.  For sure, he is uncomfortable, way past a long rest.  Yet he seems up for the game, and presses on.  Chasing orcs will take you out of long pursuits; after all, they’re Saruman‘s creations – mindless, heedless of discomfort, meant for speed and killing.  Humans, not so much.  Granted, Aragorn and Legolasare faring better and they also keep going, regardless of pain.  Because they’re focused and committed.  And, yes, the lives of the hobbits are at stake.  When hiking long distances, it’s likely the safety of friends or family is not in the balance, and Katahdin is not Mordor.  But you want to get there.  That’s why you set out – to get there and back again.  So the key is to accept the physical pain.  But don’t be reckless about it.  Don’t ignore blisters and aching…

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The risks and rewards of hiking solo as a woman

Aislinn gives an interesting perspective about backpacking solo.Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 11.21.26 AM

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Filed under Achievements, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, coffee, Courage, Hiking, risk, Walking, wilderness