Category Archives: Decision making

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

The Appalachian Trail…thinking about the weather

Appalachian Winter

Appalachian Winter (Photo credit: Hunterrrr)

With the escalating popularity of the Appalachian Trail in recent years have come aspirant thru-hikers who want to start the trail early.  When once the traditional “start day” for an A.T. hike was April 1st, some now venture forth in early March, and it’s not unknown to hear of a backpacker leaving for Katahdin in late February.

If you or someone you know should be straining at the bit to get started for Maine, I offer the following information to help you be informed and prepared for situations you may encounter as you head for the trail terminus in Georgia.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy…

Appalachian Trail w/Snow

Appalachian Trail w/Snow (Photo credit: Shan213)

Weather. Winter holds its grip on the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine during the traditional “spring break” period of March and early April. Though temperatures in lowlands may be springlike in the South, the high elevations of the mountains experience weather comparable to New England. Annual snowfall in places (most notably the Smokies in Tennessee/North Carolina) exceeds 100 inches a year. Snow in March and April is common. But, wide temperature swings are the norm. Be prepared for temperatures in the teens (or even colder at elevations above 5000 feet in the South); also be prepared for some warmer days. Trees at high elevations will be bare until May in the South, so pack sunscreen. The least severe weather on the entire A.T. typically occurs in the northern Virginia/Maryland section of A.T., and Georgia, which have the most favorable combinations of low elevation and/or a southerly latitude. (published by the Appalachian Trail Conference [now known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy], revised March, 2005; accessed February 1, 2013 –


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Decision making, Hiking, Hiking in snow, Hypothermia, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Snow Foolin’ – Stranded in a snow storm – Part 2


Photo courtesy of Raymond Shobe at Flickr

Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order.  I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate.  I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent.  Yet, I harbored no illusions.  I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly.  I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting.  As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food.  I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue.  Hopefully that would summon help.

The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish.  I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows.  By late afternoon I became bored and anxious.  The storm had not lessened.  How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm?  At what point should I send for help?

Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me.  I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.

Morning came.  Silence.  Visibility out the windows was mere feet.  But sunrise had come.  The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows.  At least the battering wind was over.

I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on.  After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside.  Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above.  I reined in my elation.  This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.

Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen.  Elation changed to euphoria.  I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly.  It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground.  I was relieved the exit was unblocked.  Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak.  I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view.  The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.

Vermont trail cabin

Vermont “lodge” style cabin.  Picture courtesy Flickr

My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail.  After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground.  Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove.  A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood.  I was giddy.  That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont.  Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.

Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness.  My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.


Filed under Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Backpacking, Decision making, Fear, Hiking in snow, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Winter storm