Thinking about “Night Hatchet” on the Appalachian Trail

I just couldn’t resist dicing up your hiking Halloween without revisiting the chilling tale of this most unwelcome trail denizen! Trick or Treat!

Write in Front of Me


Consider this the “Halloween” post for Write In Front of Me.  It’s not my intent to fuel undue anxiety or alarm but I would be less than upfront if this side of backpacking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t addressed.  Specifically, I’m talking about safety in dealing with other hikers and people you will meet.

First a tale…a true tale.

Cold Spring Shelter along the Appalachian Trail was home for the night for myself and a handful of other backpackers.  We’d left Springer Mountain mid-April and were among the rear guard bound for Katahdin.  Most of us were getting our “trail legs” and starting to feel we were managing the tests the trail set before us pretty well.

What we weren’t prepared for was “Night Hatchet.”

“Night Hatchet” was a young local man, about his early twenties, who was hitching from trailhead to trailhead, hiking in to shelters…

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Filed under A.T., Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Halloween, haunting, Hiking, outdoors, terror, Walking


Wild.  Wilder.  Wilderness.

Three words from one.


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.


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.


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…


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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

Hello Autumn!

Steve Zigler unveils the wonder of the Great Smoky Mountains at the turn of the season!

Steve Zigler Photography

Hello Autumn!

It finally happened! It doesn’t feel like it, it doesn’t look like it, but Autumn finally began today. The autumnal equinox in technical parlance. My favorite season in Steve parlance. And just this week, the first traces of autumn began to appear in my back yard. Not much yet really, but a few leaves bear the signs of seasonal change.

Not finding much Autumn in my back yard, I went looking for signs of my favorite season with my buddies Richard and Brian at the Foothills Parkway this morning. We didn’t find it there either. It was warm, downright balmy even. No Autumn at Foothills. Rats! However, on a more positive note, we found a nice layer of fog blanketing the valley. It was like Summer had pulled the covers up to its neck in an effort to keep out the change of season. Nice try, Summer!


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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Great Smoky Mountains, Hiking, Living, Long distance backpacking, nature, outdoors

Backpacking Snacks that Will Keep You Satisfied & Fueled

Sound nutritional advice from the Bostonblogger on how to fuel your hiking and backpacking adventures!

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Food, Hiking, nature, nutrition, outdoors

What to do after the Appalachian Trail? “Strike Iron!”

It’s no secret that after completing a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail depression can set in.  There’s no shame it that, either!  “Coming down” from any extreme endeavor is to be expected, and you need to give yourself time to do it.

But what to do, and how long to take a break, and what then?

My own backpacking summer on the AT ended at Pinkham Notch at the foot of Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

I had been backpacking alone from late August until mid-September, and for the most part the thru-hiking crew had fled for home.  In an effort to extend my journey I flip-flopped to Katahdin and headed south.  Even the few I was hiking with at the time gradually faded away.  Some were bored or homesick.  Others had obligations take them off-trail.  Me?  I had nothing to prevent me from sojourning into the autumn, so I continued alone.

Not surprisingly, by mid-September the days were feeling way too short, and human company rare.  I was feeling out-of-place, alone.  To add to that bleak turn of events word came of an impending late summer hurricane bearing down upon New England with a bead on the White Mountains.  So, though the lure and spell of the White Mountains had called to me, a bout of norovirus put the nail in the plans I had made.


I called a friend and found myself quickly swept down to Boston, hopping a plane just in time to avoid the hurricane and land in North Carolina.  Being “home” did not feel like home at all.  I felt like I had landed on a distant moon!  Another friend gave me room and board for a month, for which I was thankful.  But all too soon moodiness set in, then things got dicey as I became irritable and argumentative.

One afternoon my friend sat me down and commenced to preach to me the “here’s what to do next with the rest of your life” sermon.  It did not sit well.

Before I realized it, I fell into a vortex of action combined with a series of what almost felt like knee-jerk responses.  I told my friend farewell on short notice, packed my few possessions into my old Dodge, and ditched North Carolina completely.

I drove north, landing at the hiker hostel in Pearisburg, Virginia.  I needed time to think, to consider options.  I also needed a “touch” of the hiker community.

Turns out the hostel had a few day hikers drop by, along with a guy who wasn’t sure just what he was going to do next.  We commiserated and traded ideas.  I wasn’t sure just what the “right” decision was, but one thing I did know.  For the first time in my young life I knew I needed to “strike iron.”  I needed, in other words, to act.  To make a move.  Not recklessly, mind you, but with enough consideration of what my heart was telling me to keep me heading toward something as joyously risky and bold as hiking the trail itself had been.

For me, that was moving to Boston, Massachusetts.  To find a job.  To settle down.

Years before, while in the Navy, I had spent a year in the shipyards in Charlestown while our ship was being refitted.  We were docked right next to the USS Constitution, which itself was undergoing dry dock overhaul.  I fell in love with Boston; a city which combined culture and great people, wonderful attractions and places to dine, along with a weave of natural wonder.  Boston was a city of walkers, studded with parks and trees.  It felt like a combination of some place wild with civilization, but without the concrete sterility that one might find in Manhattan.  I knew that if I were ever to consider living and working in any major metropolitan city it would be Boston.  So when it came time to “strike iron” I knew I had to go there.


Transitioning there was more challenging than hiking the AT.  Finding work, looking for living space — all that and more challenged me in ways that required I cope differently than I had when on the trail.  But, after about a year of turmoil and toil I found my feet.

I think “striking iron” was a way for me to convert the self-reliance, bold action, and personal power into fulfilling what once seemed like an unlikely dream.

Looking back, had I not acted; had I fallen into uncertainty and discouragement, or succumbed to depression, I might have never made the move to Boston.  I would have “settled for,” though I’m not sure what that might have been.  I do know that I would have been miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled.

So, while I do not recommend reckless action; I do suggest giving yourself space and time to consider further bold options and perhaps dive into one.  It beats stagnation.  It’s healthier than getting depressed.  And it may be the wild seed of a fresh, vibrant dream which will transform the next stage of your life.

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Filed under Achievements, Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Appalachian Trail, attitude, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, risk

How anchors can help you along the Appalachian Trail


Days come when motivation is hard won on the Appalachian Trail.

Heat, humidity, incessant bugs, clogged springs, sunburn, boring food, sprained ankles…need I go on?  These are among the many factors that can have you slumped beside the trail, while a pesky voice in your head says, “Whatever were you thinking?  You? Hike the Appalachian Trail?!”  That voice is often followed by a cackling laughter.  I call it a “trail devil,” a  malevolent voice which will do all it can to sabotage your through hike.

But, what to do about it?

Some get off the trail and into town to rest, resupply, and refocus.  Others simply quit, dogged along their way home with regret.

I suggest pausing long enough to make a list in your journal of ready weaponry in the form of what I call “anchors.”

In a past blog entry I touched on this strategy.  It simply consists of using your mental powers to “pull” yourself along the trail by reaching one goals at a time by the use of “anchors.”

Look at the photograph above.

Do you see the “anchor” in it?

It’s the simple patch of light.

Now, you might be viewing it some yards away, sitting on a log and feeling discouraged.  The light is inviting and beautiful.  The quality of it is enthereal and it has something which you find compelling.

So, let’s take the observation further.  Let’s view that light as an “anchor” point; a spot to attain.  A goal.

So, you say to yourself, “I don’t have to do five miles on this sweltering day.  I just need to get to that patch of light.”

So, you lift your pack and intentionally take the necessary steps to reach that beam of light.    Then, you stand in it for a moment, letting the warmth bathe you.  You appreciate the light.  You allow yourself to feel grateful for making it to this one small goal, even if it only took twenty paces to reach.

There.  You’ve done it!  You’ve chosen an “anchor” and you’ve reached it.

Next, you consider what another “anchor” might be.  Maybe you check the trail guide and see a waterfall is only a quarter mile away.  So you choose to make that your next “anchor” and your walk to it.  You put aside the total miles you expected to hike in favor of a more appealing choice…a refreshing waterfall.  You reach that “anchor,” and you rest a while.  Then you select another “anchor.”

In this way, day by day, you motivate yourself to continue your hike.  Failure ceases to be a concern.  Instead, you’re focused on reaching specific, short-term goals, which will add up to miles, which collect into states hiked through, which lead to Katahdin in Maine.

Take a page in your journal and record the “anchors” you reached and those you have plotted to attain in the days ahead.  You’ll no longer be daunted by unfurling miles; you’ll be happily exploring the A.T. and ticking off “anchor” points along the way.

Using the power of your intention and thought, you have a new tool in your arsenal to transform your hike from the mundane to the magnificent.  May each “anchor” you choose lead you to greater adventure!


Filed under anchors, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, Goals, Hiking, outdoors, Persistence, thinking