Is is somewhere in the Himalayas? The Canadian wilds, perhaps? Maybe even the dark land of — Mordor?! Wherever you think this wild wonder is, take ten minutes with your journal and pen and imagine you’ve been dropped off in this vast landscape. You have nothing but a knife and a short length of rope and a small container of water. You have five days to get to civilization or summon rescue. What would you do? What’s most important first — food? water? shelter? fire? Let your imagination roam with the exercise. Enjoy the challenge of trying to sort things out on paper, as opposed to actually being right there in the middle of it. What did you learn about yourself? What did you think and feel? What skills did you have? How did your exercise turn out?
Category Archives: Courage
There is something which stands in the way of an Appalachian Trail backpacker and success. Something that makes even the day-hiker hesitant to head out the door into the wild.
Vast and dominant, it looms over the beauty which beckons the heart and soul, daring the brave who wish to enter the sanctuary of wood and stream, glen and crag.
There is something which intimidates and defeats, which cripples and discourages. Even the seasoned backpacker who is armed with profound skill might in a moment collapse into discouraged retreat. Rather than forge into the green, they will pack up and head for home, tail between their legs. Rather than return to the world with wondrous stories and rich memories, they bear the shame of having given up to a simple and pervasive enemy which will haunt them for their lack of fortitude.
Countless expeditions and numerous souls who might otherwise push hesitancy aside lose all sense and intention when faced with this one, single, seemingly-mighty barrier.
Should you be among those with the will and ability to endure this demon, you will find it accompanies you the entire length of your woodland sojourn. It will gawk at you across the fireside and pester you as you walk the miles.
Nevertheless, this creature which plagues the wilderness is deserving of existence. For it is the guardian and force which prevents lesser prepared travelers from crossing the boundary into the mystic mist of remote lands.
Should you be among the few who can tolerate its company, you will find that it does not disempower or distract you from the joy to be found in walking wild places. In fact, this jinn obstructs lesser souls, but nourishes those wise to the gift it can bring.
What is this force; this barrier? Simply this…
Flashback Sunday: though winter is “officially” over, I’m reminded how fickle and unpredictable it can be!
As I mounted the North flank of Jay Peak in Vermont it became plain that I was going to be snowed in. During my climb ponderous clouds unleashed snowfall. The wind lashed ice pellets at my face with shotgun blast intensity. My breathing was strained, my hands were losing sensitivity, and my field of vision was diminished to mere feet.
I knew the crest was within reach in about ten more minutes of hiking. Even so, I knew that if conditions continued to worsen at the rate I observed them, the trail would become concealed in a torrent of white and I would be stumbling for direction in a blizzard. Instantly I knew what it felt like to be apprehended by a blizzard without reference points.
I fished my compass from my pocket and formed my best calculation, slogging forward through drifts of snow which threatened to bury the way…
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Increasing the Chances of Finishing Your Long Distance Hike
Lest I dig down further into the essentials of preparing logistically for a long-distance hike, I feel compelled to back up and share what, in my opinion, is the prime essential determiner which increases the likelihood of a successful hike along the Appalachian (or any!) Trail – developing mental preparedness.
For an in-depth read about this topic, please see: Long Distance Hiking: Mental Preparedness
It began with Ed Garvey’s book “Appalachian Hiker II,” which I discovered at a backpacking outfitter. I read it to enjoy a first-person account of walking the legendary footpath which runs from Georgia to Maine. I didn’t realize I would find myself tracing Ed’s footsteps just over a year later.
Finishing my read, I considered what sort of preparation it must take to complete the 2,000-mile trip. Curious to find out, I purchased one in a series of Appalachian Trail Conference guidebooks. The “North Carolina/Tennessee” guide came with colorful but serious topographic maps. The chapters showed mileage, road crossings, resupply info, reliable water sources, local history, as well as the flora and fauna a hiker might expect to see. This was intensive logistical and planning material! I was amazed by the necessity of planning and preparation required of anyone heading out to hike. Walking the Appalachian Trail would not be a matter of simply shouldering a pack and hitching a ride to the trailhead. A successful hike meant planning and answering a lot of questions:
- how much money would it take to hike the entire Trail?
- how far could one expect to hike in a given day?
- what sort of food would a hiker need to eat to sustain their energy?
- what physical preparation was required?
- what risks/dangers were involved?
- what if it rains? snows?
- how much weight could a hiker carry?
- how big should a pack be?
The list of considerations seemed endless, and overwhelming at times. Priorities would need to be set. Decisions weighed. As if on autopilot, I found myself awash in the details involved in making preparations, which was where my own personal journey on the A.T. began.
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. 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 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 Katahin in Maine. But those, while risky, never involved as much anxiety as the notion of climbing this tower seemed to.
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!”