Tag Archive 'backpacking'

Jul 23 2017

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Adirondack Retreat

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After driving in out of downpours for 4 hours, then making my way up several miles of partially flooded dirt road, I parked my car at a trailhead and started hiking into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness. My dog Matika was right behind me, just as happy as I was to be slipping into the wild despite a light rain falling.

The rain stopped halfway to Pillsbury Lake but the trail was a stream by then and the forest was soaked. A rumbling in the distance. Hmm… Sounded like another storm approaching. We rolled into the shelter at Pillsbury Lake right before the next big downpour. Surprisingly enough, Matika and I had the place all to ourselves that night. So I strung a line inside the shelter and dried out my wet clothes and gear.

The next day was a different story: mist in the morning burning off to a warm, sunny day. Buggy, yes, but a nice day all the same. I looked around for a good place to camp but didn’t find one. So I spent a second night in the shelter. Again, no one came along.

The idea was to stay put instead of pounding trail, to hang out by a lake for 5-6 days, groove on the wild, and record my thoughts in a journal. That’s exactly what I did. On the third day, Matika and I grew a little restless so we went for a day hike to another lake in the area. That took a few hours. But for the most part we just sat. And we had Pillsbury Lake all to ourselves for a third night.

On day four, I was feeling pretty crunchy. Staying put had mellowed me right out. Ditto Matika. Chipmunks, sparrows, butterflies, and other critters started overrunning the camp. Neither one of us did much about it. Meanwhile, I just kept on scribbling in my journal.

At dusk when I went to put out my campfire and go to bed, I thought I had the place all to myself for a 4th night. But a pair of hikers came along an hour or so later. They were nice enough fellows. Still their sudden appearance broke the spell of my deep woods solitude. There would be more hikers on the way, no doubt, with the weekend fast approaching. So the next day Matika and I hiked out.

It’s hard to say what value the words I wrote in my journal have, or what exactly happened to me while I was out there, but I returned home incredibly relaxed, lighthearted and happy. My wife Judy found that amusing – so amusing that she waited a day before trying to have a serious conversation with me about anything. She saw the wild in my eyes. Hard to miss, I’m sure. Yeah, I went deep this time.

 

 

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Apr 27 2017

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Early Spring Overnighter

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Every once in a while I feel an overwhelming urge to spend a night alone in the woods. Either that or my wife orders me to do so when I become too grumpy. Yesterday the urge came hard and fast.

My dog Matika became very excited when the backpacking gear came out. She knows. She was all smiles during the ride to Johnson. There I left my car at the Long Trail parking lot and headed south.

I like to hike the LT south from Route 15 in early spring because there’s not much I can do to damage the trail. It crosses a meadow, tags a rail trail, follows a logging road, then becomes a skidder trail as it climbs into the mountains. By the time it’s a bona fide footpath, I’ve left it and am bushwhacking along a stream.

The loggers are taking a break during mud season so I had the woods all to myself. Just me and my dog, that is.

I travelled light, only taking with me what would fit in my old rucksack. A three-mile hike put me deep into the woods. I found a nice place along the stream to make camp. Afterwards I collected wood and made a small campfire. I can sit and feed sticks into a campfire for hours. Matika likes just looking around and chewing sticks.

An hour or so after dark, I slipped beneath the tarp to sleep. Matika was already there waiting for me. The sky broke open and the stars came out. You know what that means. Radiational cooling. I froze my ass off despite the fact that temps shot into the 60s yesterday and the 70s today. But it was worth it to crawl out this morning to a sun cresting the nearby ridge, deep in the woods. The mountain stream roared endlessly. And a breakfast campfire made it easy to shrug off last night’s chill.

Hiking out, I found a small patch of spring beauty, then a purple trillium in bloom – one that had still been closed the day before. Ah, spring! Matika crossed paths with a red fox that vanished in the blink of an eye. Something for both of us.

 

 

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Sep 22 2016

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On the Trail with John

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view-from-prospect-rockFor six years I made excuses before getting back on the trail with my old hiking buddy, John. It’s shameful, really. No one is that busy. But at long last we met in Manchester, shuttled cars, then set foot together on the white-blazed AT/LT, headed north.

John is section hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has done 70% of it so far. Six years ago, I did a 40-mile stretch in central Vermont with him, then shuttled him south so that he could do another section alone. This time I joined John for 19 miles, between Kelly Stand Road and Route 30. I didn’t think my flabby body couldn’t handle more than that. I set aside 3 days from my allegedly busy life to do it.

We went up over Stratton Mountain first thing, tracing the same route that I had hiked with my grandkids a month earlier. A steady rain kept us cool and John let me set the pace. As a result, we got up and over the mountain with little difficulty.

We talked our way through the first day and into the next. We talked and talked. Six years is a long time. We had a lot of catching up to do.

After spending a night at Stratton Pond Shelter, I was feeling pretty spry for a 60-year-old. I suggested that we push it all the way to Route 30 the second day instead of going just to Spruce Peak Shelter. That way he could get in a full day’s hike the third day. John thought it best that we go as far as Spruce Peak Shelter before making that decision. I agreed.

Our traverse through the dripping forest was a trip down memory lane for me. We skirted the edge of Lye Brook Wilderness where I’d spent some time alone some years back. Then we stopped for lunch at Prospect Rock. I had stopped there 21 years earlier while thru-hiking the Long Trail. This time John and I cooled out while watching clouds gather slowly over Manchester below. A pleasant break, indeed.

Sure enough, I was still feeling strong when we reached Spruce Peak Shelter early in the afternoon. With only 3 miles left, we went for it, popping out on Route 30 with plenty of time for a 2-hour drive south into Massachusetts. We parked my car at Dalton then hiked half a mile south on the AT to Kay Wood Shelter. There we stayed for the night. In the morning we retraced our steps back to my car where John picked up a 5-day supply of food before continuing north all the way to his car on Kelly Stand Road.

That was two days ago. Since then John has been hiking over Mt. Greylock and I have returned to my busy-ness. John and I have been having outdoor adventures together since we were Boy Scouts back in Ohio. We’re not done yet. Next year, I’ll join him on another tramp along the AT. No excuses. I’ve got my priorities straight now… and a year to get myself in shape so that I can stay on the trail with him longer.

 

 

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Aug 26 2016

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Sunrise at Stratton Pond

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Sunrise Stratton PondA loon cried out as predawn light filtered into the tent. Hearing it, Hunter sat up for a moment. Mason heard it as well but he just rolled over. I went out to investigate, leaving the tent as quietly as possible. Our hike over Stratton Mountain the day before had been a tough one so I thought it best that my grandsons sleep a little longer.

The air was still. Insects dappled the glassy surface of Stratton Pond. No sound. The loon was long gone. Out of habit, I went to put on my heavy wool shirt but set it aside instead. No need. I was perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt.

The sun peeked over the ridge rising towards the mountain, promising another beautiful day. I heard the boys stirring inside the tent. When they came out I put them to work fetching water for tea, dropping the food bag slung in the trees, and making orange juice from the powder on hand. I fired up the camp stove.

We sat on foam pads drinking juice and tea, and eating bagels. A chipmunk chattered. A bird meep-meeped nearby. “That’s a nuthatch,” I told the boys, then I shut up so they could enjoy the deep woods silence that followed.

This was their first bona fide trip into the wild.  Oh sure, we’d been hiking and camping before, and had even backpacked to a “remote” camp site in a state park, but this was different. Several miles from the nearest road, they were encountering Nature in all its glory. The look in their morning eyes said it all. I reveled in their quiet astonishment.

An hour or so later, we broke camp. The boys were eager to hike again. They enjoyed the easy walk along the shoreline and the relatively flat Stratton Pond Trail that followed. It seemed to me like we were coming out too soon, but they got a good dose of it – a couple days in the woods they wouldn’t easily forget. I was quite pleased with myself for having arranged it.

 

 

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Jul 08 2015

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Butterfly Camp

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NewHavenHeadwatersTen days after my brief stay alone in the Broadleaf Wilderness, I returned with my wife Judy to spend some more time there. We camped in the same spot where I had been before, along the edge of the headwaters of the New Haven River, miles away from the nearest road. With fair weather predicted, neither Judy nor I could imagine a better place to be on the 4th of July weekend.

A little rain fell the first night but we were comfortably situated in our tent by then. The rest of the time it was cool and dry – perfect weather for lounging in camp. Judy knitted or read while I gathered wood, tended a campfire, or puttered about. Twice I fished the mountain stream for brook trout, which Judy had for lunch. Our dog Matika chewed on sticks when she wasn’t following me along the stream. We napped. We listened to the endless rush of water breaking over rocks. Yeah, we did a lot of nothing.

Black and white butterflies overran our camp in the middle of the second day. Later we would identify them as the birch-loving white admirals. They gathered on the clothes hanging from a line strung between trees, on our tent, my backpack, and whatever other gear we had strewn about. They were not shy. I had encountered them on this stream before, but never in such abundance. Clearly the headwaters of the New Haven is their world.

Judy had some trouble getting comfortable in our primitive camp. I could relate. It’s not as easy to lounge in the wild at our advanced age as it was thirty years ago – not while living out of a backpack, anyhow. But we were glad to be out there all the same. We returned home on the third day feeling more than just a little relaxed. The wild has a way of massaging all concern into oblivion, temporarily at least. Wish there was some way to can it.

 

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May 12 2015

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Maine Book Reading

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UT coverJust a quick note to let all of you know that I’ll be signing my new book, The Unexpected Trail, at the Eloquent Page in Saint Albans, Vermont this coming Sunday. That’s May 17th, between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. I’ll be reading a few excerpts from it as well. Even if you already have a copy, come on down and listen to a few stories that aren’t in the book.

Unfortunately, my canine companion Matika will not be there. She’s gotten a little grumpy in her old age.

Truth is, I’d rather be hiking than promoting my books about hiking. But it’s always a pleasure to read to attentive ears. So come on down!

 

 

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Jan 28 2015

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Maine Hiking Narrative

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UT coverFinally the Maine hiking narrative has reached print. A lot of readers have been waiting for it, I realize. I’ve been busy promoting my Adirondack book during the past year and a half so I’m just now getting around to publishing this. At any rate, The Unexpected Trail is now available both as a paperback and a Kindle download at Amazon.com. Those of you would like to purchase it directly from me can go to woodthrushbooks.com. I’ll have copies in-house and ready to ship in a week or so.

The Unexpected Trail is a detailed account of my trek through the 100 Mile Wilderness, located in northern Maine. It’s the most remote section of the entire Appalachian Trail, where supplies cannot be acquired. That means anyone hiking it has to carry provisions enough for ten days, at least.

Fording rivers, traversing two mountain ranges, and slogging through bogs – yeah, it was a tough hike to be sure. But Maine’s sprawling North Woods is lush, wild and beautiful.  Most of its backcountry lakes and ponds are pristine. Well worth the effort, even for a chubby, old woods wanderer like me.

Matika, my longhaired German shepherd, accompanied me on this trek. She carried a few things in her doggie backpack and provided lots of comic relief along the way. I was worried about her ability to navigate the toughest sections of trail, but she stayed out of trouble for the most part.

This narrative is similar to previous ones that I’ve written yet it has its own distinctive flavor. I’ve done my best to capture the unique character of the Maine Woods – it’s history and ongoing land-use fight as well as its flora and fauna. I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

 

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Sep 10 2014

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Woods Retreat

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FrHillBkCampMonday morning I stuffed a few essentials into my rucksack and headed for the hills. I had plenty to do at home, but when the wild beckons the work can wait. I was overdue for a night alone in the woods.

I had my canine companion Matika with me, of course. Together we humped up the Long Trail two and a half miles from the trailhead parking lot to a small stream called French Hill Brook. From there we bushwhacked west, following the stream until I found a nice place to camp.

I didn’t set up camp right away. Instead I left my rucksack leaning against a tree and fished the brook for a while. In most places the overhanging vegetation made it difficult to cast, but I stumbled upon a few large holes where I could present my fly properly. There a couple wild trout rose to it, taking me by surprise. I didn’t expect to find 7 to 9-inch brookies this high up. I pulled them out of the water long enough to admire their beautiful markings then put them back.

I set up camp as late afternoon shadows overtook the forest. Matika lounged about, chewing on some of my firewood. Then I settled in for dinner and a little campfire meditation. The fire burned away all my concerns as I fed sticks into it. After the sun departed, a full moon rose into the cobalt sky. It’s light filtered through the trees. A cool September breeze kicked up. In the cusp between summer and fall… I reveled in it.

Up at daybreak, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before breaking camp. The hike out was easy: downhill all the way. Soon I was back home and getting ready for a half-day shift at the store. No matter. I got my fix of wildness so I’m all set for a while.

 

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Jul 18 2014

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Beginning Backpackers

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boysbkpkgThis week I took two of my grandsons, Hunter and Mason, backpacking for the very first time. I’ve been meaning to do it for years. They live in southern New Hampshire, nearly 200 miles away, so I dreaded all the driving. But sometimes, in order to make something truly worthwhile happen, the driving has to be done.

I took my dog Matika with me, of course. Wouldn’t dream of going in the woods without her.

I picked up the boys and took them to Pilsbury State Park where we hiked to a remote campsite. I parked the car in the main campground, just shy of the gate. Beyond the gate we had the woods all to ourselves.

We had a sweet campsite on North Pond, which has occupied only by ducks, geese, and other wildlife. The boys found wood frogs in an ephemeral pool and red efts along the trail. At dusk a barred owl called out. They thought that was pretty cool.

We were busy for three days. We did a lot of hiking and fishing. I taught them how to build a fire, purify drinking water, and sling a food bag in the trees to keep it away from bears. I taught them simple things, like how to stay relatively dry despite the rain. They knew nothing about how to be in the woods. Was I ever that much of a tenderfoot? I must have been, when I was their age.

Their favorite part of the outing, they told me later, was our short hike up to Balanced Rock. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe they liked negotiating such a twisty, narrow path. Maybe they liked the effort it took. Or maybe the reason is a lot harder to articulate. The wild worked its magic on us during the walk – that much is certain. That’s something I have come to expect. But it was new to them.

While driving back to Vermont by myself, I marveled at how quickly the outing went. Such a whirlwind of activity! By the time I caught my breath it was over. Some powerful memories were created in young minds, no doubt.

Next month, Judy and I will take all six of our grandkids camping. I can only imagine how intense that’s going to be.

 

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Feb 23 2014

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Deep Woods Talk

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Trail into WCLW copyOn Saturday, March 8th, I’ll be talking about the Northville/Placid Trail to my fellow Green Mountain Club members. I’m excited by the prospect. This will be my first time presenting to the GMC, and my first time using visuals.  Judy has helped me put together a slide show. If you live anywhere near the GMC Visitor Center in Waterbury Center, VT then come on down. $5 fee for members. $8 for non-members. The event starts at 7 pm.

If you miss that show, I’ll be at Stowe Library at 7 pm on Thursday, March 27th, doing something similar, reading from my NPT hiking narrative, The Allure of Deep Woods, and talking about the importance of wildness. As many of you know all too well, talking comes naturally to me.

While I’d rather be on the trail winding through the Adirondacks, talking about it with like-minded others is the next best thing. Like many Vermonters, I sometimes forego the lush, green mountains close to home for the sprawling forests on the other side of Lake Champlain. It’s a good thing to share.

When it comes to Adirondack wildness, the Northville/Placid Trail is the way to go. There are lots of people in the High Peaks region, especially during the summer. But it isn’t difficult to experience wilderness solitude on the NPT. That’s why I don’t mind talking about it. The NPT is the less-traveled path.

 

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