Category Archives: The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail Eleventh Essential – Coffee!

coffee Let me be clear: no coffee – no hike!  Over and beyond the “Ten Essentials” of backpacking, there is an Eleventh Essential — coffee.  There may be a Twelfth, but that’s a post for another day.

Instants have come and gone, though I think Trader Joe’s Columbian instant would do in a pinch.  I’ve tried funnels and gadgets of various sorts.  I will not take an espresso maker; too much to fidget with.

A few years ago I found a lightweight, convenient method of taking fresh-ground coffee on the trail and brewing it with as little fanfare and difficulty as possible.

Enter – the coffee sock.  No, it’s not a “recycled” tube sock (ack!)  It’s a wooden handled gadget with a muslin “basket” which holds grounds through which hot water if poured.  Quick on the brew, good on the palate.  I can amp the coffee with as many grounds as I like and cleanup is a simple rinse.  Occasionally I will use some soap and water to wash out the oils which accumulate.

Viola!  Easy, fast, and most of all – effective!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, coffee, Food, Hiking, outdoors, The Appalachian Trail

The 2,000-mile barrier

hiker-1149898_1920There 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.

wrangell-1721526_1920Should 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…

the unknown!

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Apprehension, Backpacking, Courage, Fear, Hiking, Journey, nature, The Appalachian Trail, Walking

7 Reasons Thru Hikes Fail and How to Prevent Defeat

Stubbs provides great insight and wisdom which is crucial to upping your odds for a successful Appalachian Trail hike.

Stubbs Rambles On

Originally posted on The Trek on January 17th, 2017

There are numerous reasons why people quit their thru-hike, and some of them are preventable. Here are several examples of reasons why people fail their thru hike attempt and how they can be avoided.

1) A Negative Mindset


I met a hiker in the beginning who was extremely negative about EVERYTHING under the sun (Including the sun, actually). You would try to help guide her into thinking about things on the bright side and she would find a way to turn it around in hopes of making you feel bad for her entirely hopeless situation.

Prevention: A bad mindset when you’re constantly in a funk about everything will force you off trail as early as day one (unless you’re as stubborn as the hiker I just described).

  • Think Positive – The key is to try to rewire yourself to become more positive…

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Filed under Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Outdoor sports, outdoors, The Appalachian Trail, Writing

It’s hard to leave a trail town…

Thanks to Sarah and Jay for the tasty tip and positive review of one of the many eateries on the Appalachian Trail!

Sarah and Jay Hike

March 24, 2017

Midmorning, leaving Hot Springs, NC, brunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner called to us. Deviating from the trail slightly, we left our packs on the back porch, and came inside to discover every table filled! As we stood in the doorway, wondering whether we’d be eating trail food for breakfast, a lady about our age beckoned us over and said, “I’ll share my table, if you want.” We didn’t need to be told twice! We quickly sat down and introduced ourselves. Maureen was visiting the town with friends, and seemed enchanted to share a breakfast table with two thru-hikers. We, on the other hand, were delighted to spend time with a person whose interests were wide-ranging and varied. The conversation was lively and diverse.

When we each ordered two entrees from the menu, Maureen’s eyes bugged out a bit, then her expression cleared. ”Oh, will you be…

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April 1, 2017 · 2:05 pm

September Trail Song

In mid-September a telling chill laces the evening air.  In daytime, while hiking, there comes a moment when the breeze takes on an edge that says “autumn.”  That moment is both welcome and dreaded.  Autumn is my favorite season of the year, but since I don’t backpack during winter I find the promise of colder days unwelcome, unless they find me sitting beside a roaring fireplace with hot chocolate.  Still, this is the next spoke in the seasonal wheel ordained since time began, and I find it’s easier going from September until late March if I simply embrace the chilly guest who has come to share my life the next seven months.

One good thing about September and fall hiking is the change in the trail.  Less water and muddiness and more firm going underfoot.  The colorful pattern made by yellow-gold and burnished red fall leaves is a delight to tread through.  The yellow-jackets sometimes found nesting in the trail are the most unpleasant possibility, but I have only been stung once.  I learned that, yes, it is possible to run far while carrying a heavy backpack when their venomous sting is felt.

Nights come earlier and fire and wood smoke are welcome.  There is a sadness to the loss of the long summer days when I might come trudging into camp as late as eight-thirty in the evening.  Days are shorter now, so itineraries focus on making efficient miles and having time to set camp and gather wood.  The melancholy also has something to do with the absence of seeing more kindred souls on the trial than I did during warmer months.  Again, it’s both welcome to have solitude and be alone while hiking, but lonely not having others to share the joy with.

The September trail song is a bittersweet one.  Introspective, but not necessarily despondent.  There is more time as I walk to think and assess the lessons learned from the high season just gone.  Lessons that cannot be processed in a crowd, teachings that only come when I am the only soul gazing into the blazing campfire alone, staring up through the leafless trees into the naked sky of eternal starlight.  A late-arriving hiker at my site would not be welcome during such a holy moment.  I hold the hot cup of coffee close to ward the chill from my fingers.  I hold the moment itself closer still.  A gift of blessing seems to settle down on me from the upward curls of firewood smoke, and I feel a presence not noticed during the daylight or during the busy trail months.  Alone, yet not.  Wistful, but happy and content.  I place another log on the fire, lie back against a supporting tree, and gaze at the moon cresting the horizon.  I sip and swallow.  I muse and think.  No epiphany intrudes on my thoughts, just the comforting awareness of being alone at a specific place and time, in the wild, listening to the song of the barred owls and the whistling of the wind through tall hemlock trees.



Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Trails and Thomas Merton


Photo courtesy jimforest @ Flickr

Traveling trails — including the trail of life — takes many forms and evokes many prayers, such as this one by Thomas Merton. See if you can identify with his heart.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Contemplation, Continental Divide Trail, Hiking, Pacific Crest Trail, Prayer, The Appalachian Trail, Thomas Merton, Timothy J. Hodges

Guiding Light – A song for the trail

One song that haunts me wonderfully as I hike and backpack the trail is this one by Irish worship leader Robin Mark.  Ponder the lyrics; enjoy the video.


O the road is wide,

And water runs on either side.

My shadow in the fading light

Is stretching out towards the night.


For the sun is low,

But I still have yet so far to go.

My lonely heart is beating so,

Cause I’m tired of the wandering.


There’s a sign ahead,

but I think it’s the same one again.

I’m thinking about my only friend,

so I’ll find my way home.



When I need to get home

you’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.

When I need to get home

you’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.


And the night is cold,

and yonder lies my sleeping soul

by all the branches broke like bones,

but this weakened tree no longer holds.


And the night is still,

but I have not yet lost my will.

So think I’ll keep on moving still,

til I find my way home.



When I need to get home,

You’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.

When I need to get home,

You’re my guiding light, you’re my guiding light.


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

Breaking News: Liebster Award Nomination

liebster-award-main1Thanks first of all to Rockin’ for this unexpected and humbling honor!  Rockin’ has, I believe, the most cutting edge, practical blog out there when it comes to backpacking and the outdoors.  Jam packed with incredible photography and blog entries that take you out of your day-to-day and to wherever she is in the wild, “Lady On A Rock” is a unique, informative, beautiful blog.  Gear reviews are not merely interesting here; they are practical  reports which allow the reader to evaluate whether the same gear would work for them.  Reports from the field on her journeys bring fun and excitement to life.  You really feel like you’re hiking right alongside her and it’s a refreshing read.  There are very few writers whose posts I really look forward to reading, and this is one!

In keeping with the rules…

#1 –  My answers to Rockin’s questions.

Favorite outdoor guidebook?

I grew up with one book which put the hiking hook in me; “The Complete Walker,” by Colin Fletcher.  I even read lengthy passages aloud to a hiking friend, and we both smiled and enjoyed Colin’s sense of humor and exploits.  Even years later the advice on many issues Colin touches on still holds true.  I would also mention two books which, while not officially practical trail guides, still opened the Appalachian Trail to my thinking.  The first, which I ready before my hike and which compelled me to tackle the A.T., was “Appalachian Hiker II,” by the Ed Garvey.  I read it twice before my hike, and it made the impossible seem possible for me.  After hiking the trail, I read “Waking With Spring,” by Earl Shaffer, a wonderful window onto the early backpacking days of the Appalachian Trail.

Why do you walk? The answer cannot be “Because I am crazy”.

Nothing strips away the gunk from my heart and soul like walking; especially in wilderness.  I believe my Creator designed every aspect of the wild to draw me closer to Him.  I am “called” to walk there, and when I cannot walk my life loses some of the richness and luster I think was intended for me to have.  I walk to see, and to see what I see.  To sharpen my perceptions, to take my place in the created dynamics of nature.  Plus I simply feel exhilirated, fit, and healthy when I walk the long distances.

Having a stressful day at work? what gets you through? an outdoor experience perhaps?

Stepping outside.  Breathing in…

I am a peak bagger. Do you have any recommendations?

Living in New England, I would certainly recommend Katahdin in Maine at the northern terminus of the AT.  Mount Washington in New Hampshire is a challenge in any season, with weather unlike anywhere else.  Being a southerner by birth, I have to nod strongly to the entire mountainous range of the Great Smokies, especially during the spring wildflower bloom in May.  Just thinking of that makes me tear up.

What gets you through the last miles of a hard day besides crying? Again selfish.

That cold, clear spring waiting at the end of the day.  Of course, being sentimental I am apt to cry in any case.  Dressing an unexpected, deep blister is also going to do the trick!

Your favorite trail food? It would be great if you could recommend a gluten and dairy free option.

I have a few.  I take along some olive oil and tabouli mix, make it up, and chill it in a spring.  Great on a hot day!  On some morning when my tastebuds require decadent fare, I will break out indian red corn fry bread mix.  In a pinch, bannock on a stick over a fire in the evening with a spot of Irish tea is a nightime treat.

I have to ask…what are 2 of your favorite funny hiking quotes? Shamelessly selfish again. I am gathering quotes for this summer’s blog entries.

I can only offer one, but it’s memorable.  When first setting out up the AT in Georgia, I met a fellow from the Boston area by name of Cronin.  At a shelter one night, he was grousing about how the trail up the Georgia mountains seemed to 1) lack switchbacks (which it did!), and 2) the trail would wind this way and that so much that when you would think yourself at the summit, you were crushed to find you were not.  As a result, the frustrated man coined “Cronin’s Law,” which I have used when appropriate.  Here it is: “Never assume you’re at the top!”

We are all bloggers. What keeps you motivated to keep writing?

I often believe I was born then paper and pencil were tossed in my crib, so it’s in the blood.  I am motivated by the hope that something I say will inspire or comfort someone, or that they will be able to relate to what I share.  Plus I simply love words and the use of them.

Since I loved this question I am going to ask. How old were you when you first camped? hiked? backpacked?

Oh those thrilling days of yesteryear!  At about ten years of age a friend convinced me to shoulder an army surplus backpack and hike with him into the posted land some three or four miles behind my rural home.  “Farmer Brown” never discovered us, and we didn’t burn down the acreage, but we made our own trails and camped in the woods for years.  Army surplus mess kits and canteens were among out equipment; cans of Spaghettios and foil packs of hamburger, potatoes, and onions were often stuffed among the coals to cook.  We had a grand time!  After my military stint, I got serious in the 70’s and bought a Kelty Tioga frame pack and ventured into the Uwharrie Mountains of central North Carolina, which were hilly and packed with eastern diamondback rattlers for some reason.  Later I expanded my explorations into the Linville Gorge area of the Blue Ridge mountains, the Pisgah Range, and Shining Rock Wilderness.  I was hooked.  Later came the AT and then Vermont’s Long trail.

Who doesn’t love a good sunrise and sunset? Where have been your favorites?

I took a basecamp trek at Mount Mansfield in Vermont, where I parked my pack at Taft Lodge for a week and daypacked many of the summit trails.  One August morning, cool and filled with the fragrance of conifers, I woke early and ventured outside where about eight other lodgers were sitting on an eastern-facing shelf of rock.  No one said a thing, as if it might shatter the moment.  Then through the reddish-gray striations of cloud on the east a striking sun broke through, crepuscular rays spitting out across the surrounding summits like lasers, and bathing our perch with golden light.  I have no photo of it, but I’ve never forgotten it.  It was a holy moment.

So what is your next planned adventure?

There are a number of short/long options I’m curious about doing.  I might re-hike the Shenandoah National Park stretch of the AT next summer.  Meanwhile, possibly a return visit to the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway which runs up the center of New Hampshire.  A dream trail would be the North Country Trail, and the Great Eastern Trail has caught my attention as an AT alternative.

Rule #2 – Nominate bloggers 

LADY ON A ROCK  Following Rockin’s adventures will make your day!  (Reverse nomination alert!)

CHASING KATAHDIN “Dairy Queen” is living the dream on the AT.

A FORK IN THE ROAD  Yogi said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I’m following the white blazes.Rule (Jim Fetig)

WATERFALLS HIKER  Exploring the cooler, wetter side of western North Carolina.

#3 – Provide nominees with questions

What is the greatest danger/peril you have experienced or come close to?

How does your love of the wild enrich your life?

Which book, of all you have read, has affected your life the most?  How?

Would you be prepared, if necessary, to provide first-aid care to another injured hiker you came across?  What is the level of your skills/training in this area?

Which creature would you least like to encounter when outdoors?  (Excluding humans)

What is your threshold of risk in the outdoors; i.e., would there be a circumstance, place, expedition you would say no to?

If you have just one last walk you could take, anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Which is more important to you — physical stamina or mental toughness — when outside?

What’s the most hilarious thing that has ever happened to you when outside?

What do you value most in life?

Describe your philosophy of life?  Who are you?  Why are you here?  What legacy will you leave behind?


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

Appalachian Homesick

Alex Massengale

Photo courtesy Alex Massengale @ Flickr

Summer in New England, and I am Appalachian homesick.

Now don’t misunderstand me; the New England mountains are surely grand.  From the majesty of Katahdin in Maine to the prominent summit of Mount Washington — from the imposing Mount Mansfield in Vermont to the bucolic ridgelines of the Berkshires, there is nothing anywhere like hiking and backpacking through New England.

David McSpadden

Photo courtesy David McSpadden @ Flickr

But if the topography of New England juts out like an intimidating porcupine, the heights of the Appalachians down south unfold like a woman lying on her side, her sinuous and appealing curves beckoning the walker to sooth their soul amid her lush landscape.  Don’t blush.  It’s just the way things are down in the coves and valleys of that land.  Misleading, because the pathway to the peaks are sometimes without switchback, muddy, rock, stump-infested, and unforgiving.  The reward is hard won for the backpacker, yet the payoff is sweet.  From the cool and nestled springs amid the breath-taking green to the soothing breezes atop the ridges where redtail hawks glide lazily below the view.  There is nothing to compare.

cropped-6123543341_797587dc7a_z.jpgThe souls of the people are woven into the mountains, a common dependency which sustains a rugged and hard life, even today.  Why live there?  Why not?  Some things are beyond the ability of the dollar to procure, beyond barter or trade.  People give more than the shirt off their back.  I dare say “trail magic” is most powerful here and that others, hearing about its power, have adopted the tradition, giving in love without requirement, helping a hiker who is in need.

th-1Oh, bury me there, if it be possible.  Lay my tired and weary body down among the trillium and the pine, the balsam and the rugged hills.  Though my spirit go to God it will retain a thread spun around the Appalachians which will feed my nurtured soul all the more beyond the gates of glory.  I may be living in New England today, but I am Appalachian homesick.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Mount Washington, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

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