Category Archives: Decision making

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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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, Hiking, outdoors, Persistence, Walking

Obvious Lostness

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 tar clogging my nostrils.

Over an hour I had stashed my topographic map. Who needed in on flat roads which were well blazed and a route which was obvious?

Parched, I dipped my bandana in a trickle of dirty brown water and situated in on my neck to cool down. My breath was labored in the thick air. I wiped sweat from my brown, the bill of my ball cap soaked through. I noticed another clear turn and ended up on a shady unused railroad grade. I felt a bit more energetic and my pace quickened. Before I realized it I had covered another mile or two at least. But what tipped me off to trouble was the time; by now I should be leaving the valley to climb to a ridgeline where I would descend the other side to a cool, shaded campsite.

I stopped along the graded path and fetched my map. Nothing indicated rail line, used or not. I had decided a compass was unnecessary. My keen sense of direction said I was a fool headed East. I paid attention.

That’s when my newly recaptured attention noticed something else. I looked ahead and turned to look back. No white blazes on tree or stone. I walked ahead five minutes; no blaze. I headed back. No blazes.

I was lost.

Frustration settled in. I had never, ever become lost before. Not in the wilds of Vermont of upper Maine, not in the southern Appalachians. Nowhere. But here, where one would least expect it, it had happened. I had not been paying attention and had become mislocated.

Long story short; by the time I followed the railway grade to a road and hiked another few hours, I rediscovered the Appalachian Trail crossing.

mountain-727449_1280A long, tough, hot climb — already exhausted — I fell into the campsite nearly at sunset and had just enough energy to pitch my tent before a late summer storm deluged me with thunder, lightning, and plenty of warm rain.

Later, after the storm blew itself out, I calculated my day. I should have ended up backpacking only nine miles. I had completed…twenty-two! It was the longest day of backpacking I had ever undertaken. Unintentionally, of course.

Simple lesson learned through misery: always keep your head up! Never assume you won’t require a compass check. And don’t assume that walking such a well-blazed trail as the A.T. means you can’t get lost!
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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Goals, Hiking, lost, Outdoor skills, outdoors, risk

Snow Foolin’ — Stranded in a snow storm – Part 1

Flashback Sunday: though winter is “officially” over, I’m reminded how fickle and unpredictable it can be!

Write in Front of Me

English: Photographer: HanumanIX

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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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Courage, Decision making, Hiking, Hiking in snow, Living, outdoors, risk, snow storms, Writing

Hiking in the year of discontent


Photo courtesy alex_ford @ Flickr

I was discontent. Employed in a vocation I loved (radio broadcasting) at 30 years of age, with friends and a place to live, in a town I grew up in and loved – yet I was discontent. I wasn’t sure why. My colleagues even threw me a super birthday party at work; I felt surprised, humbled, and happy. Something else was stirring. It felt like someone had come into the interior of my life and was rearranging the furniture while I followed them around shouting “No! No!! Don’t move that! Don’t throw that out!” Good luck with that. The rearranging kept happening.

Until the following year, when I read a book.

Driving to Charlotte, NC, to a backpacking outfitter, I wandered the store. I was just looking. Plenty of new gear; packs, boots, stoves – all the wonder-toys hikers and backpackers drool over. I wasn’t looking to buy, just looking to dream.

On the way out the door I stopped in the book section. I saw guidebooks, how-to manuals, and a few personal experience backpacking memoirs (compared to today!).

I picked up “Appalachian Hiker II,” by Ed Garvey. I took it home and devoured it, looking for an empathic experience of what it would be like to backpack a long-distance trail. Until that time I had only engaged in long weekends in the Carolina Blue Ridge, Linville Gorge, and Shining Rock Wilderness. I was testing myself. Often I backpacked alone, since no other friends I knew either enjoyed hiking or had the same flexible schedule I had. I digress.

Garvey’s book put the hook in me. By the time I closed the cover I realized that his reality could be mine. Almost without thinking, I began to work toward taking the same journey from Georgia to Maine. I bought all the A.T. Guidebooks. I began assembling gear and saving money.

In the spring of 1985 I told my employer “I’m going to take a hike.” I meant it. I left for Springer Mountain in Georgia in mid-April and began walking to Maine.

Alex Banakas

Photo courtesy Alex Banakas @ Flickr

Over the years I have thought about the real “why?” of hiking the trail that propelled me to go. After all, I left employment, a home, family, friends all to do…what?

My reasons for hiking the Appalachian Trail go like this:

  • I felt I had “hit a wall” in my profession. The job I was in seemed to offer little room for advancement and openings elsewhere were sparse. Digging deeper I found…
  • I wanted “a change.” I yearned to understand what my discontent was, and felt the trail would give an answer. Then there was, even deeper…
  • Adventure! After all, what I had read in Ed Garvey’s book was enticing. There were colorful characters on the trail, wild scenery, unexpected surprises around every bend. But, the real, rock-bottom reason I hiked the trail, these many years later, is…
  • I wanted to go someplace wild and have the force of nature strip away everything in me – to give me a baptism which would hollow out my emotional and psychological insides, refine my physical outside, and prepare me to be filled with whatever was to come next in my life.

Those months on the A.T. and the visits back in these intervening years, have accomplished this. They have made me someone I would never otherwise have been had I chosen to stay the course I was on, and the discomforts and hard growth which have resulted from that choice I would not trade for anything.


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

“What’s next?” The after-the-trail question.


Climbing Katahdin’s Knife Edge – Photo courtesy Sterling College at Flickr

The question begins to nag well before the ascent of Katahdin: “What’s next?”  It’s the after-the-trail question.

This morning I read about a fellow who lived in his mother’s basement, worked and saved money, thru-hiked the A.T., and is now going back into that same basement to figure out what’s next for his life.

Nothing shakes you from uncertainty like the trail.

I remarked to my wife about how amazed I still am that I worked and saved like so many others, gave notice at my workplace, then hiked the trail — all without a thought or concern about what I would do after it was done.  No anxieties about work, no worries about where I’d live.  Just the trail in my sights as my sole point of focus, one that was so powerful it obliterated all thought of what I might do when I finished hiking.  What might be more amazing is that I’m a thinker and a planner.  I like to know (and try to control as much as possible) what’s coming next.  That wasn’t the case when I backpacked the AT.  There was just the hike and only the hike.

Photo courtesy UGArdener at Flickr

For me, the most powerful and life altering experiences of those days did not include standing on Springer Mountain at the classic bronze plaque and taking the first step northward.  It was not the challenges of footway, high summits, hot days, cold weather.  It wasn’t in all the things I learned, skills I used, or people I met.  It was stepping from the trail at the end and entering the “decompression” process of dealing with what would come next.

To my surprise, the what-do-I-do-now question pretty much answered itself, and it led to relocating from one part of the country to another, a new field of work, new people and experiences, new ways of thinking, and taking new and rewarding risks.  Life on this side of the coin is much different from the pre-hike side.  Which is a good thing.

My best wishes go out to those standing on Katahdin who find this question settling on their shoulders, but I believe they can rest easy.  The answer will come of its own time and accord.  All they need to do is expect answers and be open to what comes.

Meanwhile, enjoy the glory!

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Life direction, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Transformation

You get a different life

Photo courtesy amish.patel at Flickr

Photo courtesy amish.patel at Flickr

I recently ran my eye over this comment: “Neil Postman has an analogy along the lines of what you’re saying about giving forethought to your use of a new technology: ‘When you put a drop of red dye into a glass of water, you do not get a glass of water with a drop of red dye in it; you get a red glass of water…’”

Nowadays, we’re disposed to leap on anything “new” like a jaguar on a capybara.  Why do we do this?  Why do we glom onto the latest thing without considering the consequences to our lives?  All of us are trying to employ some command over our lives and we do this by making what we believe are wise decisions.  Yet the truth is that we are swamped with tidal waves of options, more than we can manage.  It seems to me that what’s missing from our multitasking, do-it-yesterday world is contemplative time spent in full deliberation of the what, where, when, why, and how of the choices we will be making.

So it is with the decision to hike the Appalachian Trail.  So ask yourself —

What do I expect might be the outcome of my trip?

What time – what season – of my life should I choose to attempt the hike?

Where should I begin?  (Hiking from Maine to Georgia is definitely a different journey than hiking from Georgia to Maine.)

Why should I make this hike?  (Is having the time and money a valid reason to walk over 2100 miles?)

How might I be a different person after the journey ends?  What will I set my sights on next in my life?

While the final outcome of the trip cannot ever be completely foreseen, one thing is certain – a different person will step from the trail than the one who began it.

Which bring me back to the quote above:

“When you put a drop of red dye into a glass of water, you do not get a glass of water with a drop of red dye in it; you get a red glass of water.”

Likewise, when you introduce a new experience into your life (like hiking the Appalachian Trail), you do not get your life plus that experience, you get a different life.

Think before you drop that dye in.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Life changes, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Reasons hikers and backpackers leave the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

Photo courtesy asafantman at Flickr

The initial magnetic draw and appeal of an Appalachian Trail thru-hike can dissolve into a decision to leave the trail altogether for some backpackers.  Here’s a few reasons why:

The money runs out.

Some realize that they simply don’t enjoy walking long distances with a heavy pack.

Physical injury (stress fractures, tendonitis, falls, etc.).

An emergency on the home front necessitates ending the trip.


Getting homesick.

Conflicts with a hiking partner.

Hiking in cold, wet weather.

Hiking in hot, humid conditions.

Simply getting tired of walking.

Time constraints.

Emotional stress: depression, loneliness, anxiety.

The romance of hiking the trail wears off.

Hope for an epiphany or spiritual awakening has not materialized.

Expecting a hike along the A.T. would be a “cure” bad relationships, job loss, aimlessness in life, etc.

Poor planning.

Inadequate gear.

Carrying too much weight in the pack.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Decision making, Long distance backpacking, Timothy J. Hodges