In my never-ending quest to find the best gear for any situation, I thought it would be fun to try the Leatherman Squirt PS4 and see if such a small multi-tool would be adequate for EDC. By small, I don’t mean compact. This Leatherman is seriously tiny. It’s only 2.25 inches long when closed but […]
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Let’s get one thing straight; I was thankful before I set out the backpack the Appalachian Trail. But I was even more thankful after I finished the trip. Here are some way my perspective and appreciation changed as a result of the trip.
Going to the tap for a drink of water. We get the refreshment with a clean glass and simple twist of the tap. On the AT I once had to walk two miles to get water from a spring, and then freight two gallon water bags — one in each hand — back to camp. Uphill. In August heat!
I seldom fall walking up and down hills in the neighborhood. On the trail I fell many times, sometimes more than once or twice a day. Footway could be slick with ice or rain, plus falling with a heavy backpack hurts much more than when unencumbered. Once a fall on a rain-slicked log in Maine found my forehead slamming down face-first into it.
A spritz from an insect repellent or taking shelter indoors dispels the worry of mosquitoes. On the Appalachian Trail misery often dogged my steps and disrupted my sleep as hordes of the winged insect invaders sucked my blood and nearly maddened me with their incessant buzzing.
Air-conditioning gives blessed relief in mid-summer swelter. On the trail it’s often necessary to stoically press on beneath a blazing sun under a heavy pack while wilting in oppressive heat.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The trail is filled with fun and adventure. But it’s also filled with hard times and weary days. The upside, especially on reflection, is in knowing just how blessed I was to have the time and privilege to hike the trail, and to more deeply appreciate the common graces and conveniences of our day-to-day “real world.”
I think back on those times and feel deeply thankful. That has carried over into my life ever since, and I spend time especially at this season of the year counting the blessings I have received — and still enjoy. So, whether your Thanksgiving finds you alone, at a sumptuous feast among friends, or on a lonesome trail, remember: there is always reason to give thanks — and what you appreciate appreciates in value.
In the fall of 1985, after a summer backpacking the Appalachian Trail, I spent extensive time at a donut shop north of Boston. I know, there’s no worse way to sabotage a svelte hiker waistline than keeping company with chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. But I wasn’t there for an insatiable sugar binge. I was there to write (OK, I did have some coffee).
I was there to copy what I had journaled that summer from one notebook into another. I knew the fuzzing of memory over time would dim the the events of those rare days. The photos I’d taken could never express my feelings, and some entries were so sparse they barely described what happened. To prevent the potential fraying of my recall over time from robbing me of a record of that hiking season, it was vital I transcribe and clarify my brief journal.
First I reviewed the original material and jotted notes on entries which required expansion. I corrected misremembered points. I expounded on moments which had deep meaning. I used a fresh corps of words to conjure a picture which featured adventure and exhaustion, frustration and elation, sadness and loneliness. I penciled in what I felt and thought, all my regrets, misgivings, and moments when endorphins had me feeling I might take wing from the glorious summits I scaled.
I recorded it all: the pain and pleasure, the wrong turns and risks taken. I apprised the me I had then and since become, capturing in a net of ink and paper a person who, though different today, still lives. My journal became a lesson book that still reflects the vibrant risk taker I had become. Each time I read it, I feel I’ve come home. No video, photo, or electronic blog post can take me back to the intimacy, power and precious story of those days like my handwritten journal.
Thus I would admonish you, my friendly reader; though you blog and video and snap the shutter, nothing will make your hiking memory become a valued legacy like taking pen to paper to document the details. Do it soon. Because — over time — you’ll surely forget!
Daniel Wood left journals from hikes he had taken. Among those pages I discovered this document. I testify it was written by him. He requested whoever discovered it would post it online for all Appalachian Trail hikers and backpackers.
A Backpacker’s Code
I realize that choosing to hike this trail is a fulfilling, but serious endeavor. In setting foot here, I choose to be responsible not just for myself, but for those I meet on the trail. While I may never find myself in such a situation, I owe it to myself and others to hike responsibly and stand ready to help another backpacker should the situation arise.
I realize that I am to be responsible to myself first, and self-reliant to the extent of my backpacking and camping skills. If I do not have the basic skills of the art I will seek out seminars and workshops where I can learn how to hike and backpack properly. I will not simply stuff and shoulder a pack and lumber into the unknown.
I realize that the trail is a much-loved but much used space, and that I am a steward of it when I hike it, as well as before and afterward. I will not litter. I will not leave trash in fire pits. I will sweep clean all shelters I use, before and after. I will leave things better than I found them. I will respect trees and not engage in cutting or harvesting living trees for firewood.
Though celebration of the journey with others hikers is a wonderful part of the hiking experience, I realize the AT is not “party central.” Reckless behavior, selfishness, drunkenness, and drug use are not part of the trail. I will be mindful of how I would feel if I came across a hiker in distress on the trail and wasn’t ready or able to help them out because of my own incapacity. It is irresponsible and foolish. A clear head on the trail at all times shows good judgement and shows me to be a mature, experienced backpacker who is able to care for others along the way. As a result I will find greater enjoyment and respect on the trail.
As a long distance hiker I know where I am going. I don’t simply show up at a trailhead expecting to wander like an aimless nomad. I know the trial, how long it is, what rules and regulations (federal, state, and local) are to be followed. I study maps and guides. I know the terrain I will encounter and the weather concerns. I am ready to deal with snow, ice, blistering heat. I know what risks are genuine as well as the dangers (e.g., it is not bears and snakes). I understand the meaning of the word hypothermia and recognize if I were about to fall victim to this killer.
I know that the trail is more overcrowded than ever. My trip will factor in this knowledge and, if needed, I will choose an alternate route for my hike, or a different season. I will avoid hiking with a large group, which takes a toll on the trail and results in packed campsites and shelters. I will not camp on land or in areas where laws forbid. I will especially avoid stealth camping in ecologically sensitive areas.
I will practice rigorous hygiene as much as possible, realizing that outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases or norovirus spoil the journey for everyone. I will wash my hands often and keep my cooking gear clean and dry. I will carry and use hand sanitizer. I will use proper sanitation methods for my private toilet.
Before I leave home I will make sure I have the proper gear and know how to use it. I will know how to use a map and compass and will not rely on a cell phone or GPS while on the trail. I will not cavalierly place myself in dangerous circumstances which might require my rescue and put first responders at risk.
I realize that when I take on the choice to hike the trail I immediately become an ambassador and trail steward. Other backpackers, hiker, day-hikers, and the general public I meed will judge not just myself but the entire hiking community by my example.
I realize, lastly, that in passing along the trail I leave a legacy of behavior and reputation. Townsfolk and hostel owners will remember most the hiker and backpackers who were best behaved. I know that my stay at a hotel, motel, campsite or hostel will determine whether or not hikers behind me are welcomed or sent packing. I will be on my best behavior at all times.
Turn undulating earth abounding green.
Waking land escapes the winter sleep
And the voice of earth unfolds
And calls souls who hear it.
Hands reach for boots, tie laces.
Inventories and gear and maps
Result in pack shouldered and courses set.
A unique comfort,
Welcoming the footfalls that are put there.
Moving into the green,
Folded into forest,
Sanctified by mountains.
I once did a random, unscientific survey. I asked day hikers, backpackers, and visitors along the Appalachian Trail what they considered the greatest hiking risk. Instantaneous responses were rapid and predictable: bears, snakes, and strangers topped the list of what most thought were the greatest hiking risk. This was true even among some experienced trekkers. Yet the greatest hiking risk for people recreating in the outdoors is hypothermia – an answer that surprises many. Some are not even aware of the condition, which can arise without warning and quickly turn an outing into an ordeal.
My experience with hypothermia came during a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of Maine in the magnificent, rugged Barren-Chairback Range.
I had been hiking nearly a week and it had rained every day. The trail became a river and it was impossible to keep my gear rain free. My pack was soaked through. Some food had become soggy and much of my clothing was damp despite having an adequate laying system and wearing a Gore-tex parka and wool sweater.
Camping proved a unique challenge. Placing my tent down quickly, I tossed the rain fly on top, then wrestled to set it up without getting water inside. During the few days I was fortunate enough to use traditional lean-to shelters, I found that wind would force the rain in sideways and sometimes the shelter roof would leak. My synthetic fill sleeping bag was not drenched but it made for a damp and clammy night of rest.
During an afternoon hiking the ridgeline, after a grueling climb, I found myself exhausted and soaked to the skin beneath my rain parka. Even with my wool sweater beneath I experienced mild shivering. The wind picked up and temperatures began dropping. A hiker’s “perfect storm” was forming.
I first realized something was wrong when my thoughts became foggy and unclear. I began to undergo what I will call “disturbed time” – the sense of losing awareness of what time of day it was or how long I had been walking.
Next, my speech became slurred and I noticed I was having a great deal of difficulty putting my gloves on after wringing water from them. It was at that moment I realized the danger. I knew less about hypothermia then than I do now, but I knew enough to recognize I needed immediate shelter from the elements. Though I wanted to stop, sit down and rest right on the trail, I knew such a choice would be unwise.
I knew from studying my map that morning that there was a trail to a shelter nearby where I could find a safer haven. As I began walking I felt fear and clung to it, using the fear to help me battle against what I now know were classic hypothermia symptoms.
After a time the turnoff appeared and the trail descended into a more protected footway leading to the shelter. The lean-to was a poor structure and wind was getting in, but the nails on the walls allowed me to I affixed a tarp to block the elements.
Immediately, I lit my MSR Firefly cooking stove then tossed some Ramen noodles on to boil. I dug my space blanket from my pack, shed most of my clothing, and mummified myself inside it. After drinking hot soup, eating two energy bars, and spending an hour out of the wind, my thoughts began to clear. I was relieved. I had avoided a potentially fatal situation and I was sobered at how easily it nearly overtook me.
Hypothermia begins when exhausted hikers are exposed to wet and windy conditions outdoors, combined with temperatures 50 degrees or lower. Under such conditions body heat is lost and internal temperature drops. Hypothermia symptoms appear and unless these are treated the victim becomes comatose then collapses. Death soon follows.
As with most life-threatening circumstances, prevention is the best safeguard. It is important to remain as dry as possible when being active outdoors and to beware of windy and wet conditions and situations where the temperature drops to a range of 50 down to 30 degrees. Gear that is rainproof and windproof is essential to wear, preferably before weather conditions deteriorate. Once they do, it becomes vital to take shelter in a tent or other structure.
Next, it is vital to begin to restore body heat, which can be done by preparing hot beverages and eating high-energy foods. Take note of classic symptoms, which may indicate the presence of hypothermia such as uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, loss of memory, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
A victim of hypothermia must have all clothing removed and they should put in a warm sleeping bag. Another person should also strip and get into the bag with the victim to provide skin-to-skin contact to help restore lost body heat.
No one ventures outdoors without a measure of risk and there are many valid concerns, such as suffering a fall, lightning strikes, and other potential dangers. Yet hypothermia is by far the greatest hiking risk. With awareness and knowledge, you can be prepared and greatly reduce the chances you will become a victim.
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide, 27th Edition, Appalachian Mountain Club, Copyright 2003., pg. xiii-xiv.
Watson, Tom. How to Think Like a Survivor: A Guide for Wilderness, Creative Publishing International, 2005, pg. 16.
I’m still setting out. Just like I did that mid-April afternoon from Springer Mountain in 1985. I still feel the earth beneath my boots, see the leaves fringe the trees, notice the delicate bluets at my feet. The air smells different, like adventure. Expectation hangs in the air. A thread of anxiety born from that excitement fills me with an alertness unlike anything I’ve known. So many hikers have already passed toward Katahdin, and rather than feeling like I’ve missed the herd, I feel like the trail is somehow left to me more than it might have otherwise been. The gloss of so many years has not diminished the memory; it’s just sharpened it. It has magnified it, not distorted it. I’m still there, filling out the trail register and moving ahead into the span of spring, summer and autum days which will draw me to Maine. I just have to close my eyes to get there. And, most of all, it feels like the trail has never ended, because so many blessing have come from that turn in the road of my life. What would have my life been had I not decided to hike to Maine? As I look back today, I can see the unrolled skein of memory and decision which flowed from that first step to what my life has become now. And all is well.