Category Archives: challenge

Trail of Dreams

man in red crew neck shirt carrying blue hiking backpack

Photo by davis pratt on

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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Filed under 2020 goals, Achievements, Adventure, Appalachian Trail, attitude, Backpacking, challenge, Courage, Decision making, Dreams

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.


“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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Filed under Achievements, Adventure, Adversity, Appalachian Trail, attitude, Blindness, challenge, Climbing, Climbing tower, Fear

The Importance of That Which Has an End

alone autumn mood forest cold countryside

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

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


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

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

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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Filed under Achievements, Adventure, Adversity, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Endings, healing, stories, Timothy J. Hodges

Vertical space

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)  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


Wild.  Wilder.  Wilderness.

Three words from one.


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.


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.


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…


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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.


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.


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