Archive for July, 2019

Jul 29 2019

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A Short Midday Hike

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The good thing about being self-employed is that you can take a break whenever you want. But actually doing so isn’t as easy as one might think. My little book biz makes demands. I’ve been working hard at it ever since I came off the Cohos Trail a little over a month ago. All the same, at noon today I felt the urge to pull on my hike boots and make a beeline for a patch of nearby woods right after dropping off the day’s shipping at the post office. So that’s what I did.

Midday, high summer. Okay, maybe not the best time to go hiking. With temps in the upper 80s and the humidity through the roof, the forest would be a sauna. But I needed to stretch my legs while traipsing through the woods, if only for a short while. And I was prepared to sweat. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

The hike wasn’t as sweaty as expected. The shady woods diffused some of the heat, and an occasional gust of wind made the humidity quite tolerable. I meandered along the trail happy to be back in my element again, if only for an hour or so. Had the woods all to myself, of course. That was a bonus. And the bugs were nothing like they were a month ago. Is there really such a thing as a bad time to go for a hike? Thoreau would have said no.

While walking through the sultry forest, I thought about my hike on the Cohos Trail last month. Told myself that I really should start writing about that outing while my memories of it are fresh. But I’d rather be hiking. Funny how it goes. Hiking and writing about hiking are two different things. Ah, well… I do as much of both as I can. I’ll be able to do both in August, now that my book biz has been squared away. It all works out.

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Jul 19 2019

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Civilized Camping

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Six years ago I discovered John Dillon Park tucked away in the Adirondacks, just north of Long Lake. Earlier this week I spent a night there again, while out promoting my most recent book, The Great Wild Silence. The place was even nicer than I remembered it being.

John Dillon Park is an unusual phenomenon, owned by International Paper, run by the students at Paul Smith’s College, and open to the public. The entrance to it off Route 30 is easy to miss, and the two-mile unimproved dirt road back to the Welcome Center is a little rough. But all nine shelters are well kept and easily accessible. Only one site can be driven to, but the five- or ten-minute walk to the others along a gravel path is nearly effortless.

“Making the natural landscape of the Adirondacks accessible to everyone,” is the principle behind the place, and both the paths and shelters are handicap accessible. Compost toilets, bear-proof food storage boxes, and bins full of firewood next to a metal fire ring – this is camping at its most civilized, I’d say. Roughing it, yes, but not by much.

I stayed in a shelter overlooking Grampus Lake, listening to a loon calling out at midnight and awakening to a chorus of songbirds in the morning. Only one other shelter was occupied and the air was perfectly still so I enjoyed the deep forest silence while I slept that night. Appropriate accommodations when one considers what I was doing on that trip.

I’d recommend the place to anyone young or old who wants a taste of the wild but doesn’t have the wherewithal to go backpacking. There are carts available in the parking lot for hauling in your stuff. Camping out doesn’t get much easier than that, short of car camping. And it’s free. All you have to do is reserve a shelter in advance.

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Jul 08 2019

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After a Big Hike

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Two weeks have gone by since my big hike on the Cohos Trail. All my sores and bug bites have healed now, and my joints aren’t bothering me any more. I’m well rested, well fed, and back into my work routine. I’ve been enjoying all the comforts of life here in the developed lowlands: fresh food, cold beer, soft chairs to sit in, being clean, and always having a dry place to sleep at night. And, most of all, the pleasant company of my wife Judy. There’s a lot to be said for civilized living. Yet I’m feeling the urge to get back in the woods again, hiking somewhere, anywhere. Effortless walks around the neighborhood aren’t quite enough.

As time goes by, I think less and less about all the hardships of the trail, and find myself recalling those precious moments in the wild: awakening to a chorus of forest songbirds, drawing water from a clear stream flowing around moss-covered rocks, and tramping down a narrow trail cutting through birches and ferns. The mind filters experiences before storing them away as memories. Yes, I also recall the bloodsucking bugs, the unpleasant boggy stretches, and that terrible last-mile exhaustion of the longer hiking days. But somehow those memories aren’t such a big deal any more. The highs seem to carry more weight than the lows.

Truth is, every extended solitary hike I do rocks my world in a way that doesn’t immediately make sense to me. Two weeks after my big hike, I’m still feeling a little off balance. It takes time to process an immersion in the wild – time enough to contrast and compare it to my regular routine, I suppose. Time for the mental journey to emerge from the physical one. Time for thoughts and feelings to resurface with a careful rereading of my field journal, or while looking at photos, or while simply reflecting upon a memory coming out of nowhere.

In due time, I’ll figure out what exactly happened to me on the Cohos Trail. Only then will I be able to write about it. But that won’t take place until I have a chance to get back in the woods again. After all, wild thoughts and feelings are best processed in wild places. My armchair reflections don’t quite cut it.

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