Tag Archives: Maine

5 Anchors for the Appalachian Trail

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at Flickr

Photo courtesy talksrealfast at FlickrWill you anchor hold in the storms of life,

An anchor is defined as “a person or thing on which something else is based that can be relied upon for chief support, stability, or security; a mainstay.

The greatest anchor is Katahdin, whose looming summit entices when you first see it.  If the spirit of this summit doesn’t burn within you from the time you leave Springer Mountain your chances of becoming a thru-hiker diminish.  This is the “grail anchor,” and its majesty is compelling.  But Katahdin is many footfalls distant.  One needs other anchors — other goals — to guarantee a successful hike.  Let’s look at other anchors you can use to propel you to Maine

Towns.  Whether it’s to resupply for the next stretch of trail, or to find that all-you-can-eat restaurant you’ve been reading about in the trail registers, towns are significant anchors along your journey.  Town post offices also offer another drawing power as effective anchors.  Once I hiked 7 miles before noon to reach one in Stratton, Maine.

States.  The wonderful, bucolic hills of Virginia.  The rugged character of Pennsylvania.  Entering the magnificent Green Mountains of Vermont.  The remote north woods of the great state of Maine with its 100-mile wilderness.  Looking forward to hiking the trail through the wonderful terrain and characteristics of specific states is something to anticipate.

Peaks or mountain ranges.  I was passionately looking forward to climbing into the Great Smokies and standing atop Clingman’s Dome.  Being a native North Carolinian was one reason, plus I spent some memorable childhood summers vacationing there.  Mount Washington in rugged New Hampshire was also appealing for its volatile weather, grand views, and legendary history.

Parks and national forests.  Beside the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia can be a great anchor.  Thru-hikers often simply cruise through the park  due to the agreeable grade of the trail, but Shenandoah offers great views, Civil War history, and abundant wildlife.  I enjoyed the Green Mountains of Vermont so much I later went back and hiked the Long Trail through to the Canadian border.

Geographic features.  Rivers and stream crossings, like the mighty Kennebec in Maine, were things I looked forward to.  The waters of the Kennebec were low enough for me to ford on foot early one morning.  I’ve never forgotten that experience.

You get the idea — so look at the map and guidebook and considering drawing up a list of “anchors” to galvanize your journey to Katahdin!



Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Timothy J. Hodges

Warrior Hike — The Appalachian Trail — A Healing Journey for Veterans

I believe in the power of the Appalachian Trail to facilitate  healing at some level in most everyone who has hiked it.  Please check out warriorhike.com to learn about this vital non-profit whose work is supporting wounded veterans who are in transition from military service.  Some of those veterans are set to leave Springer Mountain for Katahdin.  According to their website:

June 3, 1948: Earl Shaffer

June 3, 1948: Earl Shaffer (Photo credit: national museum of american history)

“In 1948 Earl Shaffer told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” to work out the sights, sounds, and losses of World War II. Four months later, Earl Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Recognizing the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits of hiking the Appalachian Trail, Warrior Hike has partnered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to create the Walk Off The War Program. The Walk Off The War Program is designed to support wounded veterans transitioning from military service by hiking the Appalachian Trail.”


As a United States Navy veteran, I salute their cause and their efforts.


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Timothy J. Hodges

And the stars go with you – stargazing on the Appalachian Trail

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

Pleiades Star Cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The heavens are telling…  Are you watching?  Do you see it?  An often missed treasure of Appalachian Trail hikers lies above their heads after the sun sets.  Yes, I know long-distance backpacking is a draining endeavor, and the siren call of the sleeping bag after dinner is irresistible.  Yet, there will be evenings when you’re not quite ready for bed at sunset.  These are the times to find a clearing or nearby peak to take in the celestial show!  Sky and Telescope Magazine provides a handy PDF file to get you started on the wonders of stargazing.



Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

Farewell, dear Ferryman – Stephen J. Longley

Kennebec River Ferry, photo courtesy g63marty at Flickr

Kennebec River Ferry, photo courtesy g63marty at Flickr

Stephen J. Longley.  On the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail, he was an indispensable link across the Kennebec River for most hikers, who would otherwise have had to ford the river on foot.  His passing is a loss to the Appalachian Trail community; he will be greatly missed.


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

Appalachian Trail…and the one-match fire


Shelter (Photo credit: dianecordell)

The late afternoon is cold with occasional snowfall.  Low clouds scuttle overhead, threatening a more powerful storm may be in the offing.  Temperatures remain in the low 30s.  The walls and floor of Mount Wilcox North shelter on the Appalachian Trail are damp.  It’s not Marriott by a long shot, but home for this night.  My tardy arrival is accompanied by smarting muscles which have been punished by clambering over Race Mountain, Mount Everett, and tumbling off Jug End.  It was a long and unexciting tramp to Wilcox.  Only the weather is more surly than my mood

My synthetic fill sleeping bag is still dry, so I fluff it up and fling it on my pad to get some loft.  Normally, I wouldn’t look forward much to my next duty: gathering firewood.  I still relish a fire — I need a fire.  I already envision those red, yellow, and orange tongues of heat basking away the miserable dampness.  Only fire will dispel my mood.  What, until recently, had been a chore — bumbling about the surrounding area with armloads of wood, much of which would fall from my arms and have to be reclaimed by return trips — was now a cinch due to a short length of parachute cord.

The cord is twice my arm in length with a loop at one end, a simple but incredibly effective tool.  I commence by pickting twigs and light kindling, some  arm-thick limbs, and a substantial log.  I lay the cord out in a straight line in front of me and set the wood bundle across the middle of it.  Then I run the free end through the loop, and tighten the heap together by lifting the free end.  I can then wind the cord around my hand to carry it, or toss the load over my back for transport.  Then it’s on to the next harvesting site where I  loosen the cord and tuck more wood into the portable stack.  Four or five stops provide enough wood, laid in with minimal effort.

My Old Flame

My Old Flame (Photo credit: Just Used Pixels)

I take time to assemble the fire; I don’t just lob down tinder, kindling, and hurl a match expecting magic.  Such effort would be squandered and result in exasperation and used matches.

I start with a fist-sized bunch of cedar fibers, toothpick thin sticks, and dried grasses.  If I can find bark from a paper birch tree, so much the better.  The surprising thing about birch bark is that it burns even when waterlogged.  Touch a match to it; it will flare into life  every time.

Next, I manufacture tepee around the bundle.  The wood must be no thicker than a pencil.  I plant three or four of these supports into the earth to form a sturdy frame to hold up the weight of the remaining firewood.  I continue setting other wood of the same size on all sides of this cone, leaving space between the sticks so air can circulate.

Next I use kindling larger than a pencil but no thicker then a broom handle.  As before, I plunge three or four sticks in the soil to support the cone, then  continue adding wood as before.  Patiently, I build the layer thicker, still allowing space for air circulation.  I leave a gap in the cone so I can reach inside to the tinder bundle to touch a match to it.

Camp Coffee

Camp Coffee (Photo credit: RichardBH)

By now half an hour has elapsed.  I add a final layer of arm-thick pieces of wood.  Lastly, I make sure I have extra leftover birch bark, twigs and tinder, and kindling.

When it’s ignition time, I use a single wooden match from a Ziplock bag of kitchen matches.  I strike it and carefully touch it to the tinder bundle.  If the job is done properly one match is all that’s required.

As the core of the pyre catches and the flames lick the kindling, I feel an intense flush of satisfaction.  My one-match fire is blazing.  It will keep on burning through the night in all but the wettest conditions, with only intermittent feeding required.  In the morning, a handful of birch bark and tinder will have the flames roaring again without undue effort.

Dinner is over, dishes are cleaned, and I sit by the fire with a mug of piping coffee, the fire immersing me in welcome waves of heat.  My worn out muscles start to yield their tightness under the soothing flames.  My efficiency in gathering wood, patience and focused construction to build the cone, and a single match, have all come together into a blissful blaze without which camp on the Appalachian Trail would be dreary indeed!


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

The Appalachian Trail…adventure, personal achievement, and pain

May Morning on a Small Farm in Suches, Georgia

May Morning on a Small Farm in Suches, Georgia (Photo credit: UGArdener)

Welcome pain.  Welcome suffering.  Welcome hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail.  Welcome achievement.  Welcome personal reward and satisfaction.  Welcome to hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail.

Get fit as you like beforehand; you’ll still experience exhaustion and exertion will sit on your shoulder and cackle in your ear.  Road crossings will pull at you with terrific magnetism, drawing you with the lure of comfortable beds, hot tubs, restaurants clogged with food choices time spent on the trial will have you dreaming of.

Plan.  Inventory.  Stock up.  Choose gear carefully.  Pack, unpack.  Repack.  Got those pounds and ounces down just right?  By the time you’re passing the town of Suches, Gerogia a mere two miles west of the trail you’ll be mailing things home or ahead of you in a bounce box.  I remember being completely, utter convinced I had all the essentials and not one thing more.  Nothing has been unaccounted for, nothing over-purchased or packed.  I sent home ten pounds of gear in Suches and forwarded the rest for later use.  The postage I spent was well worth it.  And my trip was lighter.  Had I not shed the excess gear I would never have crossed the North Carolina/Georgia line.

English: The Nolichucky River, approaching Erw...

English: The Nolichucky River, approaching Erwin, Tennessee from the east, as seen from the Appalachian Trail just south of Erwin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the first 100 miles, around the ascent of Mount Albert, I had lost quite a few pounds of personal weight; down to 175 from 238.  I stepped on a scale at the Nolichucky Outdoor Center in Erwin, Tennessee and the truth sank in.  I was giddy, to be honest, and stronger.

Yet…there was always the mental exertion and demands of the trail.  I was physically fit and carried a lighter pack.  Still, my emotional and mental state was always in flux, always challenging me.  That’s what I’ve always believed to be the most important determiner of success for a hiker or backpacker on the Appalachian Trail — mental toughness.

If you’re planning on setting out on the Appalachian Trail this year, be prepared to handle setback, frustration, anxiety, some fear, disappointment, elation, despair, and a range of other feelings.  Be ready to make them your friends, because they will be your companions, whether you’ve invited them or not.  (See my article from 2008 by following the link below)


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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing

Wrestling with Frost Giants in Maine

English: Bigelow Mountain viewed from the top ...

English: Bigelow Mountain viewed from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

August.  Mid-August in the 100-Mile Wilderness of Maine.  You would think any inking of cold, chill, or frost would be distant impossibility.  You would be wrong.  The rule is simple, with elevation climb, temperature drops.  Another rule: clear skies at night lead to radiational cooling, which also ushers in cold.

My Old Flame

Climbing in the 100-Mile Wilderness of Maine, I had the foresight to retrieve from my “bounce box” a pair of ragg wool gloves, a wool scarf, and extra wool socks, plus a stocking cap.  My North Face sleeping bag, however, was only rated to -10 degrees, and a night of shivering was close at hand.  I knew it was coming.  I saw it in the frosted exhalations from fellow hikers huttered close by the fire.  I saw it in the occasional swirl of gentle snowflakes which danced near the flames before suffering immolation.  My digits felt it, so I put on every clothing item I carried.  Still, by the time obsidian pre-dawn hours ruled the shelter I was in, which was high on a summit ridge line somewhere in the Bigelow range, beings of ice and cold and frost had begun their merry dance, stamping their feet to trounce out the remaining heat of the coals in the fire pit.  There was no forgiveness with them.  “Rouse yourself or freeze!” they seemed to say.

Conan of Cimmeria

Sitting upright in the sleeping bag, I began the nimble dance of pulling stove and matches closer, lighting the burner, and pouring a generous slug of water into my cooking pot. The water could not heat fast enough.  Eventually, however, the perfect constellation formed – steam rose from beneath the pot lid to herald the acceptable temperature, thus time came to make some stout coffee; and the first ray of sunshine broke the eastern horizon, sending the last of the frost giants scattering into the spruce and balsam.

Giants dead, the day begun, I managed a steaming breakfast.  Within an hour I plunged my feet into stiff, frigid boots, lacing up their thickness like so much inflexible iron around my feet.  Only when I had plodded down the trail for nearly half an hour did warmth and a sense of sanity weave into my bones along with the reminder that, even during mid-summer in Maine along the Appalachian Trail, the frost giants can make a visit.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Writing