Tag Archives: nature

The hike toward Autumn

Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr

Photo courtesy Nicholas_T at Flickr

It’s bittersweet and sad, the hike toward autumn.  Yet, it’s part of the journey.  Necessary.  Painful.

My hike toward autumn was more challenging by my choice to “flip-flop.”  Those backpackers who “flip-flop” the Appalachian Trail have run out of time.  Dallying and delaying in the southern Appalachians results in their realizing that reaching Katahdin before snowfall is unlikely.  They travel to Maine, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and hike south from Katahdin.  The “flip-flopper” has leapfrogged hikers going north, and is now backpacking toward Springer Mountain in Georgia.  It’s a lonely choice, as he passes those he once walked with who are nearing Maine.  A “flip-flopper” is also lagging well behind those who set out for Georgia in June.

After I “flip-flopped,” and was passing through the 100-mile wilderness in Maine in late August, the air was already chilled with the foretaste of wintry days to come, and the leaves were turning in many places.  While it was glorious to see early color, I wished things would have remained green.  The autumn palette only foretold of a dying summer, only spoke of endings, and my journey winding down.

Weeks later, standing at Pinkham Notch Camp waiting for a ride to Boston and then a plane home, I weighed my pack.  46 pounds — the lightest it had been all season.  I kicked up gravel, paced,  and re-read pages in my tattered journal.  I wanted to go — I didn’t want to go.  I was relieved to finally rest from the wear and tear of trail life — I dreaded having to readjust to the day-to-day pace of urban living.

Photo courtesy maine_mike at Flickr

Photo courtesy maine_mike at Flickr

Still, autumn was coming and with it inclement weather.  Having no wish to continue under the capricious, near-winter conditions the White Mountains could deliver, I made for home.  At the time it felt like my heart was being left behind.  So much accomplished!  So many things I had done and risked that I’d never done before.  I enjoyed a new charge in my  confidence, self-esteem, and bolstered adventurous spirit!  Would that now be lost?  Would moving back to “the real world” drain away the person I had become during those months from April to mid-September?

Happy to say that wasn’t the case.  I did return to complete the Appalachian Trail section in the Whites, and walk many more miles.  But leaving the footpath in autumn, where I had spent the better part of six-plus months of my life, was one of the loneliest choices of all.

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

Trodding in “thin places”

It’s happening.  I’m picking it up reading the blogs of a number of hikers along the Appalachian Trail.  Here’s what I see:

Mid-May has arrived.  Those who began from Springer Mountain in Georgia in March have passed through.  Some have continued on and are now in Virginia.  Others have left the trail.  Reasons are many: physical injury, lack of funds, getting fed up with the early snows and heavy rains, or simply realizing that the trail wasn’t all they hoped it would be.

Photo courtesy Stuck in Customs at Flickr

Photo courtesy Stuck in Customs at Flickr

Then there are the blue-blazers who feel the need to mix it up and rearrange their journey.  That’s as it should be.  There is never any shame in a change of plans.  In fact, I believe that it’s been beneficial for some — because they’ve broken open like an egg, fractured like a brittle chrysalis.  It comes through in the words they use when they write.  No longer are they setting down a chronological journey.  Things have changed.  They’ve allowed themselves to be drawn into small towns, to gravitate toward people, to stand still, magnetized in the moment.  They strip themselves naked and look in the mirror.  The self they gaze upon is wondrous.  Like the surge of life  which emerges with spring, their anima is wandering in a land which cannot be fully apprehended.

Photo courtesy Skinnyde at Flickr

Photo courtesy Skinnyde at Flickr

They are in the “thin places” — the places the Celtic Christians said were so ephemeral that the barrier between the real world and the spiritual becomes blurred and ill-defined.  Bodies and souls and spirits move between places.  Paradigms are shattered.  Once-beloved goals are wrecked and reforged on the anvil of new determinations.  Dreams are flung to the ground and left in the dust of the trail as they open themselves to embrace something new, just beyond the bend, or at the moment they take a deep breath upon a summit.  The throw away the paper trail map and draw a new one to suit who they’ve become.

It is beyond spirituality or abstraction.  Call it a body-mind-soul-quake.  They matured past the identity they assumed when they took a trail name.  “There and back again” does not apply here.  Only the reaching of a hand through the “thin places” into what lies beyond.

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

Bittersweet Washout at Mount Washington

Mount Washington from Intervale, NH

Mount Washington from Intervale, NH (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stood at the base of Mount Washington, one of the majestic objectives along the Appalachian Trail.  I was wrung out.  Exhausted.  I could hike no further.  Regardless where my heart was, climbing the summit and backpacking south would not happen for me.  At least not this season.  My ascent would come three years later.  My heart was pressed by a bleak heaviness.  I felt my stomach had been scooped out.  There was a hollowness there, like the gaping maw of an infinite cavern.  My emotional feet were pulled from under me, my physical endurance spent.  A tempestuous sorrow nearly buried me, like the cresting wave at the seashore knocks over a little child.  Vertigo.  Even my 32 pound pack seemed like the 55 pound burden it had been when I departed Springer Mountain in Georgia.  There was no compromise; no getting past it.  “Not to be,” the summit seemed to say.  “Not this day.”  For all that, the depressing finger punched the chest of my psyche.  It pointed and accused.  “Failure!”  I fended off the lie.  It was the end for now, a bittersweet washout.  I retreated in wisdom, with grace.  The mountain, sheathed in lowering clouds, was inaccessible.  But there would be another day.

Mount Washington: Highest Recorded Wind Speed Sign

Mount Washington: Highest Recorded Wind Speed Sign (Photo credit: jimflix!)

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Hypothermia, Long distance backpacking, Mount Washington, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges

AppalachianTrail — Track of the cat

The cry was piercing, raw, and close, echoing through the humid late spring air of the Stecoah Mountains.  I was in my tent, which was pitched in a glade.  I sat up quickly, my heart hammering.  A chill ran through me.  I stopped breathing and listened, fearing there might be another — nearer — dreadful encore.  Nothing.

I’d never heard the creature before, but had read a description of its cry — “the sound of a woman screaming.”

Bobcat

Bobcat (Photo credit: Len Blumin)

Bobcat.

I parted my lips, exhaling slowly as the adrenaline kick fizzled out.  My afternoon siesta over, I packed up my tent and continued to the next shelter.  There I shared my experience with other backpackers, but chalked it up as just another “A.T. Adventure Moment.”

Now, years later, I wonder — was it a bobcat?  Might it have been a larger, more controversial and formidable animal now reportedly being seen in some places along the Appalachian Trail — a mountain lion?

Some website research recently revealed a page where debate rages in Connecticut.  There are reported sightings of mountain lions (puma concolor) over a wide area around Farmington (www.ctmountainlion.org).  The map on the site is of particular interest.  Comments there show how contentious the issue has been.

When I backpacked the Long Trail in Vermont I would hear rumors of mountain lions in the Green Mountains.  Vermonters call them catamount.  I never saw evidence for them, but then I wasn’t looking.

Encounters with mountain lions (also called panthers, painters, catamount, and pumas) reach back to the early settlement of America.  Their habitat, once abundant in the eastern range, dwindled, and they were considered extinct due to the encroachment of the logging industry as well as having been hunted.  Still, reports that they survived persisted among some scientists and locals, though definitive evidence was lacking.

Today, wildlife officials at the local and state levels agree that cougars exist in the Appalachian range, at least to some degree.

Which leads to the obvious question: what should you do if you saw a cougar along the trail in the wild?

First, do not run.  Cougars, though shy and wary of people, may chase anything that flees from them, including people.

Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

Another technique, sometimes used when meeting with bears in the wild, is to make yourself look bigger than the animal confronting you.  Stand up tall, raise your open arms in the air.  Stay calm, backing away slowly while maintaining eye contact with the cat, and talk loudly.  If you are attacked, fight back furiously.  Use your fists, any available weapon, tree limbs, rocks.  Putting up a fight can deter or drive the cougar away.

In my estimation, I believe it would be unlikely that I would see a mountain lion when backpacking the Appalachian Trail, nor does current news and reported sightings deter me from venturing onto the trail.

Still, when I look at that map of Connecticut sightings it makes me wonder.  What if?

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Cougar, Hiking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, 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.”

www.warriorhike.com

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

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Timothy J. Hodges

Rescue of hiker stranded on the Appalachian Trail

A potential human tragedy was averted in the rescue of an aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.  The story below highlights the harsh weather conditions which can prevail on the AT at any time of year.

http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/News/article.php?id=105260

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

The compass of your heart points North

Dramatic dawn - courtesy jjjj56cp at Flickr

Dramatic dawn – courtesy jjjj56cp at Flickr

There will be nothing to compare with it — standing at that iconic bronze plaque atop Springer Mountain in Georgia, with a journey of over 2100 miles lying before you.  You will feel exhilaration and anxiety, both creating a complex stew in your stomach.  You’ll snap a picture of the marker.   If someone else is present you’ll have them take a photograph of you standing by the tablet.  Then, hoisting your pack for the first of what will be countless times, you’ll take that first indelible step.  All is in readiness.  The months of reading and thinking and planning behind you.  The compass of your heart points North.

As you journey, keep this in mind:

Photo courtesy adaptiman at Flickr

Photo courtesy adaptiman at Flickr

The trip is a messy, dirty slog and you won’t get a decent shower or bath too often.  But you will find that a cool swim in a lake or stream, or a simple sponge bath at the end of a long hot day will restore your spirit.

Yes, you can hike in the rain.  The first downpour will saturate you to the bone.   Thunder will boom and shake you, lightning will spark the air.  Put on your rain jacket and pack cover and keep moving.  Days will arrive when you relish walking in the rain.

You can take a “zero day” off.  There will be “achievement hikers” buzzing by you along the trail like Tasmanian devils.  Let them go.  You may question whether you are doing something wrong by not keeping their harsh pace.  Rest assured you are not.  Kick back and take advantage of a relaxing day; Katahdin isn’t going anywhere.

You can trust your “gut.”  This is especially important when someone offers to give you a ride to town.  Most offers are safe and genuine and the driver is reliable.  Just in case, though, make sure your wallet is in your front pocket, and don’t jump out of a pickup truck bed when the vehicle stops leaving your gear inside.  I’ve seen packs go sailing away down the highway after a hiker too eagerly disembarks.   Set the pack outside the truck, then get out.  Oh, and thank the driver and offer to pay for their gas.

People will amaze you with their kindness and helpfulness.  “Trail angels” are quite real and always welcome.  That said, there are some quirky people who come to the Appalachian Trail for various reasons.  (See:  https://writer77.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/thinking-about-night-hatchet-on-the-appalachian-trail/)  Be alert, careful, and aware of the people in your surroundings.

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating — yes, you will be able to live with less gear than you started with.  If you simply cannot send something home, mail it ahead of you in a “bounce box,” for future consideration.

When starting out, you may be surprised to find that you haven’t developed a monstrous appetite.  This is normal for most backpackers.  Just wait.  The day will come when your inner fire engine burns and you discover you can eat just about everything in sight.

And did I say — you will fall down?  Wet leaves, tricky roots and stumps, slick rock ledges — all these will give you an occasional opportunity to take a tumble.  When you fall, just lie there a moment, gather your wits and do a physical inventory, then get back on your feet.  Hopefully, only your pride will be hurt.

Dare I speak this heresy?  It’s OK to leave the trail if you need to.  And you’re not a failure if you choose to.  There likely will be valid reasons.  You get bored?  Spend an extra day in town.  You get injured?  Don’t push through the pain.  That is foolishness.  Get well.  Tired with hiking the “green tunnel?”  Consider leap-frogging to a more interesting section of trail and coming back to finish the one you’re on in the future.

The Appalachian Trail will be your home for about six or seven months.  Embrace living outdoors.  Weather will be a fickle companion; deal with it.  Be flexible and adaptable when it comes to logistical and weather conditions.  Don’t hike in a lightning storm; lie low and take cover.  Your head must be in the hike as well as your body — use it!  Allow the emotions that will come in this “cauldron.”  You’ll be elated some day, angry on some, and sad on others.  That’s the Appalachian Trail stripping away the dross of life, allowing you to become clean.

Lastly, you are your own historian and this experience will provide you valuable insight into your life and yourself.  Write things down.  Record your experience!  Photos give visual memories; but chronicle your inner journey on paper.  You’ll be satisfied and surprised by what you learn when, finally, you step from the trail.

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Filed under A.T., Backpacking, Focus on goals, Hiking, Life direction, Timothy J. Hodges