Category Archives: Writing

Y’all come sit by the fire now…it’s story time! (Tales, Poems, and Songs for the Appalachian Trail Hiker)

Northbound A.T. backpackers are nearing the New England wilds and, with it, evenings around the campfire as the nightly chill sets in. What’s more appropriate than a ghostly tale well told!

Write in Front of Me

What’s a hike along the Appalachian Trail without a good fireside tale?  Let Robert W. Service (1874-1958), known as “the Bard of the Yukon,” warm your bones with this classic chiller poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Fear, ghost stories, Hiking, stories, wilderness, Writing

Wilderness

Wild.  Wilder.  Wilderness.

Three words from one.

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Wild…what I have always been seeking.  Since I was a child and could sit in Granddad’s back yard, feeling the roaring summer heat; reaching out, sensing the touch of a firefly at evening as it lit upon my small fingers (we call ’em “lightning bugs” in North Carolina).

Wild…what I saw as a young boy at the state natural history museum.  Wild, but wild that was “preserved,” with all the life-energy drained away.  Still, echoes of life abounded in the bones and skin and stuffed display.  Wild was always there — never to die, though the animal was but preserved carcass.

Wilder…when I was in my early 30’s and visited a zoological park.  Real wild — more so than in the museum — yet caged, restricted.  Wilder…looking me in the eye.  Wilder…telling me it would be a wondrous freedom to raise the latch and let it go; a foreign creature roaming free in the land.

Wilder…as I roamed into the forest and had a nerve-shaking encounter with a rattlesnake.  Wilder, fiercer, rattling rage which said “stay back, beware!”

Wilder…encircled while in camp by a black bear, who wandered around my tent coming ever closer.  I remember striking the cooking pan with a stick, blowing a whistle, all to no avail as wilder came…nearer.  Only striking the earth with my hiking staff in a desperate attempt to drive the creature off met with success.

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Wilder…jangling the nerves.  Storms ambushing me while I scaled great heights, pummeling the ridges with rain, savaging the peaks with lightning, causing me to pause and duck and dart beneath sheltering trees for fear of being struck.

Wilderness…in the deep balsam forest, amid a million mirroring lakes and ponds, across land studded with peat bog and few signs of human activity.  Wilderness at last…home in the deepest sense.  Wilderness!  What I had been walking for, seeking for, ever thirsting for.

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Wilderness…atop the high-winded peak at velocity enough to tip me over.  Elemental threats amid the glory of sailing clouds and bright sun and deep cold.  Wilderness that pounded my soul and heart with a message: This is life!  Breathe in, feel the caress; embrace the moment as the space between you and eternity becomes thin enough for you to reach beyond daily cares and concerns.  The mundane will soon return…but or now…

Wilderness!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Courage, danger, Decision making, Fear, Hiking, risk, Writing

An effective way of processing a long distance hiking trip

pen-1342655_1920Point, focus, click.  Blog, take a selfie.  These are just a few of the ways to document your hiking and backpacking trip.  None of these methods existed when last I did an extensive trip around 1989.  The dawn of the worldwide web and the Internet was just breaking.  Now, with so many technological means of recording your trip, you might think it’s the best way to go.  And there’s nothing wrong with using tech to tell your tale.

I would like to suggest, however, what I think is the most powerful and personally meaningful means to putting your story down for posterity, and it involves not new, edgy innovations — it’s distinctly and intentionally “old tech.”

I had recorded my journey using pen and paper.  Not longer after “re-entry” when my trip was over, I looked over the water-spattered and smudged pages.  I noticed my entries were sometimes lacking detail and somewhat sketchy.  So, I decided I would do a complete revision of my journal, before the “little gray cells” lost their grip on the memories.

Here’s what I did.

First, I got a headquarters; a place I would go at least one or two days a week to get comfortable, grab some coffee, and have space to write in.  I chose a Dunkin’ Donuts.  I would camp out there about one or two hours, coffee and donuts at hand, and with a fresh, new notebook, I would transcribe my old journal into the new one.  At first this felt awkward.  But, then things began cranking along and I was remembering things I had forgotten which happened to me on the trail, and I also discovered that as I rewrote paragraphs I was expanding them, which made them more memorable and made for richer reading.

Next, I said I did the work by hand — yes, longhand!  That slowed my brain down and gave ample time for the memories to sort of re-process and for forgotten episodes to be remembered.  This was exciting and engaging.  It felt like I was reliving the trail adventure, which I was, but in a way I had not anticipated.  I used a pen and paper, not a laptop, so I could spend the time I needed to make the memories indelible in a way only handwriting can do.

The entire process took about three months, and I ended up with more than a record, more than a journal.  I created a keepsake that will be part of my legacy, and will have my own personal stamp of effort on it.

I suggest you try it.  Nothing will make your re-entry from the trail to daily life more meaningful, and process the experience at the same time, than revisiting those glory days on the trail in this way.

Try it and see!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, journaling, Journey, Long distance backpacking, 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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