Category Archives: Writing

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

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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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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

“I want to go hiking, where do I start?”

As the backpacking and hiking season warms up and you’re wondering about hiking and where to begin, let Carolinatrekker be your guide!

Carolina Trekker

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“I want to go hiking, where do I start?”

I get asked this question – or a variation of it – A LOT. I guess for some of us, just knowing where we to go hiking and how to get started is something we take for granted. In my years of hiking, I’ve come to realize most people didn’t grow up on a rural, heavily wooded tract of land where you could hike every day like I did. They didn’t have relatives to teach them how to camp like I did. They didn’t have anyone to teach them about gear, or how to read a map. The great advantage to those getting into hiking today is the internet. It wasn’t that long ago that you had to do a little leg work to obtain a map or a field guide ( or guide book). Now, we can log onto…

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Appalachian Trail wisdom: “Cronin’s Law”

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Photo courtesy wesbl at Flickr

As late winter snow falls gently outside my window, my thoughts wander to the Appalachian Trail.  I open my WordPress blog reader and check on the brave souls who have already departed Springer Mountain for Katahdin.  My mental Rolodex flips past the memory of a number of people I backpacked with.  Most I remember quite a bit about.  A few hold a more tenuous slot.  Many hikers and backpackers I remember for what they did, and what they said.  But one stand out for his economy of words and actions; so much so that it has left a permanent impression which haunts me to this day.  His name was Mike Cronin.

What little I remember about Mike is that he was from New England, a resident of the Boston area.  And though I never personally heard him say it, I remember the six words credited to him which I would catalog in the category of genuine “trail wisdom.”

It came to be known as “Cronin’s Law.”  It is still as valid today as it ever was.

Having slogged over a sweltering sweaty week through the Georgia “hills” along the AT, I was impressed with two realities: the lack of switchbacks (the trail simply went straight up and straight down!), and how it seemed it took forever to reach a summit.  There were no signs which said “Summit in one mile” or anything like it.  On reflection, I suppose such things would have driven hikers half mad with frustration and unfulfilled anticipation.  Best to leave such things alone!

Dealing with the switchbacks was relatively easy, since my lower body strength was more than adequate to the muscle-burning task.  On the other hand, I suffered from the company of a few hiking companions who seemed more than impatient with making dramatic progress and who expected to enjoy attaining the “peak” experience in rapid time.  Should the trail wind or meander on the uphill side far too long  (which it often did) they would commence to spit and curse and often grouse “When are we going to reach the top?!”  Now, while I agreed with their sentiment and appreciated their desire, I also knew that you cannot force nature and geology and trail dynamics to acquiesce to your whim.

“We’ll get there when we get there,” I said, or something like it.  And while we eventually made each and every summit, it was not without the price of enduring their swearing and complaining and whining about how long it took to get to the top.

Enter “Cronin’s Law.”

A backpacking companion informed me about Mike’s method for dealing with “summit attainment frustration.” He call it “Cronin’s Law.” On hearing it, I quickly adapted those six magic words and became somewhat of a trail evangelist by spreading the gospel according to Mike Cronin.

It seems that adapting “Cronin’s Law” helped a hiker stop looking up expecting the peak to be just around the next tree or boulder.  Expectation could be tempered with patience and it would than be easy to simply enjoy the moments of the hike, to let go, and let the eventual arrival at the mountaintop happen when it would.  I experimented with the simple method and found it helped me greatly to be “in the now” wherever I was on the trail, instead of feeling the pressure to “bag peaks” or “make miles.”

Henceforth, whenever I heard other hikers and backpackers crank up the complaining I would say gently: “Remember Cronin’s Law.”

After the glaze melted from their stare they would ask me what that was.

Clearing my throat and smiling benevolently, I explained.

“Never assume you’re at the top.”

“That it?!” they would ask.

I nodded.

It appeared Cronin’s Law was unacceptable madness, and they sputtered and sweated and turned away, trudging down the trail leaving behind a string of verbal invectives.

In the silence which descended, I said the words softly out loud.

“Never assume you’re at the top.”

At that, I smiled again and resumed my hike.

While few others adapted this trail wisdom, I found it useful – especially when I entered the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where the “top” took a  long time coming.  I look back fondly over those words, which make up what little I know or remember of Mike Cronin after all these years.

I offer them to you, gentle reader, in the hope that when you encounter the slippery slope and elusive peak along a trail which twists and turns and seemingly mocks your efforts to win altitude, that you will find solace and expectation that you will attain your goal.  You will at last stride proudly to the summit, caressed by a cooling breeze, the echo of “Cronin’s Law” having been a part of what enabled you to stand where your hiking boots find you.

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Jack and Wayne and the Nine City Southern Appalachian Bus Tour

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This is neither Jack nor Wayne.  It is the Real Hiking Viking.  But, when I look at him it reminds me of the wonderful wildness that was Jack and Wayne, and they looked very much like him.

The story you are about to read is true; photographic existence of the parties mentioned has yet to be discovered.

Straight up and down; then straight up and down again! Georgia trail maintainers seemed clueless about the need for switchbacks on the Appalachian Trail, which made the footpath through the infamous Georgia gaps more of a roller-coaster endurance test than a pleasant trail. Fortunately for backpackers and hikers tracing the AT through the southern Appalachians Jack and Wayne were there.  Or maybe not.

Jack and Wayne appeared with a shock – all laughs and boisterousness – on day three of my hike. The rigors of the trek had thinned the crowd into unplanned clumps of three or four backpackers. I was hiking with three souls. I don’t remember the third hiker, (who soon left the trail due to a knee injury) but Jack and Wayne: who could forget them?

Staunchly descended from Georgia roots, Jack and Wayne came in one color – camouflage (with a touch of Jerry Garcia thrown in for good measure). Each man was saddled by choice with at least eighty pounds of gear. Every needed or frivolous item could be found in their packs, right down to the quaint Sony cassette players with earphones jammed in their ears and Lynyrd Skynyrd punched up at full volume. Jack and Wayne sang along at the top of their voices. One need not have earphones to hear their musical gusto belting forth. It screeched from their earbuds, rebounded from the hills, and poured from their parched lips.

You might say Jack and Wayne were ready for the trail, if survivalism was the goal. Each was clad in long-sleeve shirt and trousers made of thick material with a camo pattern. One might think they had ripped them off a band of Army Rangers, who frequently engaged in military maneuvers in that area of the forest. But, no, they bought them at an Army-Navy surplus store.

All beards and bright bandanas, I first came upon the duo who were plopped right in the middle of the trail on a hot Georgia spring afternoon. A backpacking stove, which doubled as a small model of a NASA lunar lander, was at full blast. They were making popcorn.

“Want some?” Jack asked, his eyes all sparkle and vigor. I was speechless. “A bit early for snack time, isn’t it?” I said. Jack and Wayne both grabbed handfuls of popcorn and pushed them on me. I accepted, hesitantly. After a few pleasantries I walked on, leaving them in avid discussion about the Grateful Dead, each pulling playfully on their beard, laughter peppering the humid air.

Later, at a lean-to which would be my home for the night, I arrived. Jack and Wayne came in soon after, pots banging outside their packs, right next to their cutlery, which included of two splendid, fear-inducing machetes.

Now, I have to admit to having once owned such a blade, when I was younger. But I used it for strict utility purposes, striking off offensive limbs and briars in my back yard. But Jack and Wayne seemed to believe we were somewhere in the upper regions of Amazonia, and commenced to clearing some brush nearby and then used their machetes to cut firewood — lots of it! Soon, a fierce blaze was adding to the ambiance, though I thought it a bit too close to the shelter for comfort. Jack and Wayne cackled and hooted and continued cutting and piling on the kindling and fuel. I retreated from the heat. Jack pulled out the stove and, yes, “It’s popcorn time!” he screamed. Soon the shelter was filled with the combination of roasting popcorn – and pot smoke. Ah ha! I had discovered the substance which fueled the roaring laughter and stories Jack and Wayne regaled me with that night. Admittedly, I was soon laughing along with them as they told tales of “rabid” black bears roaming the woods, forest ghosts,  and various hand-fishing encounters they’d had. When I asked why they were hiking the A.T., Wayne said “We’re on a bus-tour of southern Georgia!” This made little sense to me but it was clear they were, indeed, traveling, albeit “herbally” fueled.

Snorers? Jack and Wayne held the medal in that category. But by next morning, they had clanged out of camp and were northbound while I was wiping the sleep from my eyes. The last I saw was the back of two huge backpacks (also camo!) on which were strung Coleman lanterns, the infamous machetes, bungee cords, a $20 K-Mart store tent, and other elements of their traveling circus.

I only saw them once or twice more, but they quickly became legends among the AT hiking community. I also have no photographic evidence of what they looked like, so you’ll just have to believe they were as colorful as I’ve tired to portray them (also see above “guesstimate” photo). Last I heard of them, they had completed seven stops of their southern Appalachian bus tour. I’m not sure if they reached stop ten, but the memory of them is drifting in a cloud of laughter somewhere on the Appalachian Trail.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Comedy, Hiking, Laughter, outdoors, Quest, Travel, Writing

I wonder as I wander…

…out under the sky.  No ceiling obscures my gaze of the heavens. There are no walls to shield me from wildlife. There I am witness to unfurling miles of forest. I tackle durable mountains, am lulled by rolling hills, and rest by springs of water. I am alive, in the wild, moving, breathing. My soul expands in the out-of-doors. Limits fall away even as summits rear themselves; they call, even as they provoke — “Are you up for the task?” I respond by embracing them with effort and sweat, slips and falls, muscle stretch and ache.  My recompense is in catching my breath, sleeping under the stars, being awed by the views.  Such endeavor brings reward — gratitude — and joy!

Merry Christmas to hikers and backpackers and lovers of the wild everywhere!

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Filed under A.T., Appalachian Trail, Christmas, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

“Fearing the beard” — shaving and long-distance backpacking

th-1I just love my beard, when I choose to grow it (used to come out nice and auburn; now not so much!)

But you would think I’d be glad to be free of the need to shave while long-distance hiking.  Such is not the case.

I take a disposable razor and engage in “elaborating the art” every few days.  thWith all the scruffiness and grime that comes with long slogs on the trail, I value certain hygiene regimens.  Among them: placing a nice, hot, wet washcloth on my face first thing in the morning to help me wake up.  Some days it almost out-does the need for caffeine.

Almost.

While I relish the wild, I still find hiking with clean facial features preferable.

But then — I look at those magnificent beards on “Duck Dynasty…

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