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!
Tag Archives: appalachian trail
Y’all come sit by the fire now…it’s story time! (Tales, Poems, and Songs for the Appalachian Trail Hiker)
In our age of distraction it’s more important than ever to slow down and pay attention — especially to where we’re going!
If I had kept my eyes lifted and looked straight ahead of me, I would never have become lost. But since the sweltering blaze of a blistering midsummer afternoon in August on the A.T. in Pennsylvania kept my head down — literally — I must have missed the turn.
Time has wilted with my motivation. A long roadwork through a dusty valley seemed at first an easy endeavor. An early start to beat the rising sun, to outrun its zenith, was the intention. Never made it. Lots of “cameling up” kept me alive, but pouring sweat and drenching humidity did their evil best to sap my energy. Despite many stops to rest in what shade I could find, I ended up in a late afternoon slog. The white blazes had directed me through some newly sown fields and alongside a two-lane asphalt road, now redolent with the smell of cooked…
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I never thought the day would come when I would say this, but the world has changed.
Never, ever, hike or backpack alone.
I say this as someone who has spent countless hours in the deep wild, thrilled by the solitude and awed by the silence. It has always been my intention to encourage the soul that is drawn to the stillness of the forest and the trail which takes them there to answer that call; to go and experience something rare and breathtaking and enriching.
I know it is sometimes difficult to find one or more persons who have the time to venture on a hiking trip with you. I had that challenge, but I went anyway. In fact, I preferred being alone on the trail, and relished the unknown difficulties of each day.
Most days, these barriers consisted of where to find water, or how to ford a river. Others might be getting a hitch into town or finding a store to resupply.
It’s different now. The factors have changed, and not always for the better.
I still hear it, as I did today when I read the news; the trail (Appalachian) is safe — but there are no guarantees.
The story this date (May 12, 2019) https://bit.ly/2HfXT8j is one where a loner attacked hikers using a machete, leaving one wounded and one dead. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of such an act of violence intruding upon such a marvelous hiking path. Still, this time it seems different. I’m not sure why.
Perhaps it’s because things have changed along the trail in the past dozen plus years. Overcrowding of shelters, incidents of norovirus affecting hikers in greater number, the popularity of the trail compared to twenty years back. Easy accessibility to the footpath, and plenty of media exposure seem to have only led to a more crowded outdoor experience.
What was once a near-hidden gem has become stained by the stress of over-use and violence.
Am I saying not to go? Never!
But, I am saying one should be in a group of at least three or more. I am saying, sadly, that more attention should be paid to other hikers and their mannerism and behavior, especially loners who seem not to fit in.
Use your intuition, your gut, your suspicions and, if you feel the least bit of doubt, avoid questionable company. Report such individuals to rangers and trail officials.
The old saying is true: there’s strength in numbers.
For me, I grieve the loss of those attacked, who were enjoying the wonder of the wild in innocence. I also grieve the loss of safety which I felt years ago, when I could walk the footpath without undue concern about my safety. That does not mean I didn’t run across the odd character; I did, and more than once. But I grieve the ability to enclose oneself in the emerald fastness of the forest without having to look over the shoulder to see who is following.
For me, the days of solo backpacking have ended. I do not look down on those who feel the confidence and fortitude to venture out alone. I only wish I could.
I just couldn’t resist dicing up your hiking Halloween without revisiting the chilling tale of this most unwelcome trail denizen! Trick or Treat!
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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Point, 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!
Sound nutritional advice from the Bostonblogger on how to fuel your hiking and backpacking adventures!
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!