Tag Archives: travel

Creating A Backpacker’s Journal — Because You’ll Surely Forget!

Photo courtesy Ray Dumas @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Ray Dumas @ Flickr

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!

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

An Appalachian Trail Backpacker’s Code

Photo courtesy Jim Dollar @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Jim Dollar @ Flickr

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.

Photo courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Nicholas A. Tonelli @ Flickr

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.

Photo courtesy Ben Townsend @ Flickr

Photo courtesy Ben Townsend @ Flickr

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.

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Trail Call

IMG_0341Snowfall turn snowmelt

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.

alex_ford_flickrThe trailhead is an embrace,

A unique comfort,

Welcoming the footfalls that are put there.

Moving into the green,

Folded into forest,

Sanctified by mountains.

Home at last! BitoRjbIgAE2g-r

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Setting Out

Bzs8ZSIIcAEV__C.jpg-largeI’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.

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Filed under Adventure, Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Dreams, Hiking, Living, Quest

Thinking about…cooking on the Appalachian Trail

English: Svea 123R stove with windscreen and a...

Svea 123R stove with windscreen and adjusting key. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the roarin’ Nineties of backpacking gear, the choices in backpacking stoves were few.  I now carry an MSR Firefly backpacking stove (bought around 1987), but I’ve kept my old Svea stove.  It’s stowed away in a hallway closet, along with that broken hiking staff.  Sentimentality reigns!  But, also, practicality.  I know that old warhorse would fire up on days when the more complex Firefly may not.  As I consider the inner workings of the Firefly, compared to the Svea, I think I could rely on it much more should I need a backup camping stove or one to use during a prolonged power outage.

I’m reminded of a young man who hiked the Appalachian Trail who was a chef by profession.  He was the only long distance backpacker I ever met who disdained a cooking stove.  Instead, come dinnertime, come gale, wind, or high water, he would manage to gather enough wood to kindle a fire and used that to cook.  I still marvel today at his resourcefulness and how he could take food contributions from a gang of hikers and prepare a four-star feast!  Learning from him, I later spent occasions building and using cooking fires, and while I still carried my stove for backup, I came to enjoy the ritual and results of open fire cooking along the trail.  I recall a particular trip along the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts one early spring when I would tarry at camp long enough to cook up some Indian fry-bread and drizzle the golden brown delight with sourwood honey.  Now that’s eatin’!

Camp Cook

Camp Cook

Speaking of food and not just stoves, I found my trail diet developing as I hiked.  Though freeze-dried and prepackaged foods have their place in saving weight and providing good shelf-life, nothing will ever beat fresh produce.  If I’m out for a week, I will carry fresh garlic and onion, brussels sprouts, broccoli, red potatoes, carrots, green beans, and other trail worthy veggies to cook.  I eat these the first days out and save the dried goods for the last few days.  Nothing has lifted my spirits so much as fresh food for those first dinners on a trek.  The greatest validation I received doing this was when another hiker stumbled into camp on the Long Trail in Vermont.  I had just fired up the stove and was stir-frying onions and garlic in olive oil.  The fragrance wafted over to him.  Then I heard a low, curious voice saying, “Hey, man…whatcha’ cookin’ there?”  I went into defense mode even as I casually answered him.  “Oh, just some veggies I brought along…”  I though I was about to be mugged!  Fortunately for me that did not happen.  But it sealed the deal.  Other hikers, too, dreamt and drooled of fresh “real” food, and taking it with you is both practical and a tasty supplement to processed and packaged choices.  Bon appetit!

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