Tag Archives: nature

Linville Gorge, NC – Where I cut my backpacking teeth


PHOTO-1565618247554-E014B319FE8A.jpegPhoto by Joshua Barker on Unsplash

Every hiker and backpacker has terrain on which they have “cut their teeth,” engaging challenges which took them past the borderline into an “undiscovered country.”  The Linville Gorge in western North Carolina was that terrain for me, in summer of 1984.

I did not know that setting foot on this network of rugged trails was the early seeding of what would soon become an Appalachian Trail thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.  But such is the wonder and surprise of the trail; you never know where you’ll end up!


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

I went to seek the challenge and also solitude, finding it in the cool coves and crevices of the eastern side of the gorge.  Reveling in the footway and wrapped in the magic of the rhododendron thickets ablaze with blossoms, I wandered intoxicated for about three days.

The running river and enchanting falls were always within earshot if not my vision.  I’ve always loved it most when I can hike beside majestic or wild rivers and streams.  Linville Gorge did not disappoint in this regard, providing a miniature “Grand Canyon of the East” in which to explore.


Photo courtesy Wikipedia


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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Hiking, Journey, Outdoor sports, outdoors, Travel

“Nature Don’t Care Who You Are!” The wisdom of Ricky Ruiz for the Appalachian Trail.

Risk has reward, and backpacking the Appalachian Trail – while tough – fills your life with rich dividends!

Write in Front of Me

A Walk in the Woods

Forget what Bill Bryson said in his book “A Walk in the Woods” about hiking and backpacking the Appalachian Trail.  Abandon the notion that your hike will be a thrill packed adventure.  Get the thought out of your head that the journey will unfold a certain way.  That’s a guarantee of disappointment.  When you leave your expectations at liberty, you’ll be prepared to experience the trail on its terms.

Despite its popularity, frequent foot traffic, and common road crossings make no mistake — most of the Appalachian Trail runs through remote land.  In some places, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, and upper reaches of Maine, you’ll be hiking some of the last genuine wilderness east of the Mississippi.  This is unbroken nature and, as trail philosopher Ricky Ruiz has said, “Nature don’t care who you are!”

Considered Long-Distance Hiking at Half Price ...

Ricky is right.  To sign on the hike the Appalachian Trail is to…

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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, Courage, danger, Decision making, Hiking, Life direction, outdoors, risk

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Ever heard of Forest Therapy? Want to know more? Keep reading!

The Big Epic

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail


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Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Camping, healing, Hiking, Journey, nature, outdoors, therapy

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 (Photo credit: Len Blumin)


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?


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