Tag Archive 'Appalachian Trail'

Aug 05 2018

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On the AT Again

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Once again I accompanied my old buddy John Woodyard in his decades-long quest to hike the Appalachian Trail one section at a time. A couple years ago we hiked together in southern Vermont. Before that, I joined him on the 40-mile section of the AT between the Connecticut River and Sherburne Pass. This time we started at Route 25 in New Hampshire and hiked south to the Connecticut River.

It was a tough hike with plenty of elevation change. Originally we had planned to do it in 4 days, but soon found out that we needed more time. With a bad right knee making it hard to train, John wasn’t in as good a shape as he usually is. As for me, well, I’ve never been a strong hiker, and my sedentary bookselling lifestyle isn’t helping matters. Whatever. We shouldered our backpacks and did the 46 miles in 5 days. Not bad for a couple of 60-somethings.

While we were on the trail, about a hundred northbound thru-hikers in great shape blew past us with little effort – a few of them being our age. That psyched us out. We kept telling ourselves that for every thru-hiker whizzing by, another ten had left the trail between here and Georgia. Still we huffed and puffed uphill, grimaced at our joint pains going downhill, and sweated all day long wondering why we had let our bodies go. It’s hard, sometimes, to keep from comparing yourself to others.

The weather was great for the most part. The bugs weren’t bad, and the wild, forested landscape was just as beautiful as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed being out there hiking hard for a change, and I’m sure John also enjoyed the trek. But it would have been an even more enjoyable outing if we had been in better shape. Ah, well…

John will be back, I’m sure. He has hiked three-fourths of the AT so far, and is not the kind of guy to be satisfied with that. He still has the better part of New Hampshire’s White Mountains to do, along with most of the Berkshires is western Massachusetts. So he’ll be asking me to join him for another leg, no doubt. I’d better be ready.




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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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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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Mar 03 2011

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Journey’s End

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Eighteen months ago I leaned against a big rock, making one last entry in my field journal.  I was exhausted from a punishing hike across north-central Maine on a section of the Appalachian Trail known as the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Judy came along and took this picture of me.  Not very flattering, but telling in more ways than one.

I remember feeling both a deep sense of satisfaction in that moment, and tremendous sadness.  These are predicable sentiments at journey’s end.  But I also remember thinking that the easy part was behind me.  Now the hard part – the telling of the tale – lay directly ahead.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.

This morning I reworked to completion the final chapter of the Maine hiking narrative, thus finishing the journey in another sense.  The physical effort of hiking and the mental effort of writing are behind me now, and all that remains is publication.  That’s always anticlimactic.  So now the trek truly is finished.  Once again, I feel both satisfaction and sadness.

I don’t really know whether I hike in order to write or vice versa.  The two are so much a part of me that I can’t untangle them any more.  What I do know is that I love to hike as much as I love to write, and that journey’s end – actual or literary – always leaves a void in my life.  No doubt there’s another book in my future, along with another trail.  But there are times, like now, when it seems like a crazy way to live.

At midday I went for a walk along the Rail Trail despite a biting cold.  The trail had been groomed for snowmobiles so I walked in the tracks of those fast-moving machines.  Occasionally I stepped aside to let one of them zip past.  And it seemed like the perfect metaphor for the literary life – especially one steeped in wildness.  I plod along at a snail’s pace while the rest of the world races by.  How very Thoreau-like of me.  Am I the lucky one or a pathetic creature?  I know what Thoreau would say, but I am not he.

I’m still on the greatest journey of them all and have, as the old poet said, “miles to go before I sleep.”  That means I’ll be an old man before I can answer that question with anything approaching certainty.  Even then, I might not be able to sort it all out.  Perhaps it isn’t for me to say.

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Sep 15 2010

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Vermont’s Foothills

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A week after hiking the AT with my friend John, what stays with me is the dreamy nature of Vermont’s Piedmont – that sparsely populated stretch of hilly country between the main spine of the Green Mountains and the Connecticut River.

Some would call it the better part of Vermont, far away from the hustle and bustle of the much more urban Champlain Valley where I live and work.  Some think of it as Real Vermont, still largely untainted by “flatlander” influences.  Its wooded foothills and pastoral valleys have their charm, no doubt.  As a deep woods wanderer, the Vermont’s Piedmont isn’t my turf.  Not really.  But I’ve definitely come to appreciate it.

“Excuse me,” I said to the cow standing in my way, right in the middle of the trail.  Fact is, I was walking a high pasture through which the AT was passing.  No, not my deep woods wandering at all.  Yet quite charming in its own way.  Yeah, this is picture postcard Vermont.

On a cool, overcast September afternoon these foothills have a quality that is hard to describe.  A cricket chirped incessantly while John and I took an extended break after a long, gradual climb.  Otherwise, all was quiet.  The ridges we saw from the open field seemed to go on forever.  Houses were visible from every lookout.  Sometimes we could see a highway in the valley below, a ski area carved from a hillside, or some other kind of development.  All the same a piercing silence persisted, as if the passage of time meant very little here.  Perhaps it doesn’t.

My muscles no longer ache and the blisters on my feet have healed.  All my backpacking gear is cleaned and put away.  Yesterday I went for a long walk on the Rail Trail with my dog.  It felt like the turning of a page.  Soon I’ll slip into familiar mountains here in the northern part of the state and groove with the wild the way I usually do.  But that walk across Vermont’s foothills will linger in the recesses of my mind quite some time, I’m sure.  That curious blend of field and forest seems like the best of all possible worlds, as if the Green Mountain State is actually capable of living up to the advertisements in tourist brochures.  Imagine that.

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Sep 10 2010

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Hiking Hard

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John Woodyard and I traded emails back and forth all summer long, putting together a plan to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail here in Vermont.  Last Sunday morning, we met at the motel in Rutland where he had spent the night after a long drive from Ohio.  Then we parked one of our cars at Sherburne Pass, drove to Norwich, and started walking.

We hiked over the many ridges and foothills between the Connecticut River and the main spine of the Green Mountains.  We hiked forty miles in four days – not a particularly challenging hike for John but a real workout for me.  Then I drove him to another trailhead where he commenced the second leg of his hike while I went home exhausted.

Forty in four was all I could handle.  I knew that from the very beginning.  I’m soft and fat from too many years in front of a computer screen and not enough exercise.  John also works on a computer, but he jogs on a regular basis so he’s in better shape than me.  We’re both in our mid-fifties.  John has been biting off big chunks of the Appalachian Trail for a couple years now and could possibly hike the whole damned thing by the time he reaches retirement age.  I have no desire to do that.  All the same, I’ll probably accompany him on several of his New England outings.  I enjoy hiking with a friend every once in a while.  For me it’s a different way of being in the woods: more social, less pensive.  And different can be good.

Trail pounding isn’t my preferred way of being in the woods.  I’d rather wander around aimlessly for a while then land in some remote place to sit and groove on the wild.  I thoroughly enjoy this comfortable philosopher-in-the-woods routine.  But sometimes hiking hard is just what the doctor ordered.  Burn that fat, build some muscle, and stave off the inevitable decline of old age a while longer.  Besides, it’s good to step outside of the comfort zone on occasion.  Different can be very good.

Then there’s friendship, which has its own value.  John and I have known each other since Boy Scouts.  We’ve been hiking together for decades – sometimes with multi-year gaps between hikes.  It’s all too easy to lose touch with old friends.  The years pass quickly and everyone is so busy.  Trail pounding is hard, but maintaining friendships is harder.

No, hiking hard isn’t my first choice, but any way of being in the woods is a good way.  As different as John and I are – the contemplative writer/philosopher and the go-getting electrical engineer – this is a point upon which we thoroughly agree.  Sometimes it’s best to put everything else aside and get into the woods any way you can.

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Dec 03 2009

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Muddy Trails

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I hiked around Indian Brook Reservoir yesterday just to exercise my dog and stretch my legs.  It seemed like the thing to do since I was in the area and had the time.  When I lived in Burlington, I went there frequently.  Back then the park was in the country.  Now it’s on the fringe of suburbia.  Burlington, like so many other cities, is growing.

As I was hiking, I noticed how muddy and worn the trail has become.  Essex Town now limits access to the park to town residents during the summer.  Can’t say I blame them.  The place has been overrun.

A friend forwarded me an email the other day about the sorry state of the Long Trail, as reported by some disgruntled hiker.  Yes, having hiked the LT end-to-end, I must concur that sections of it are a muddy, eroded mess.  But so are sections of the Appalachian Trail in central Maine, and parts of the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks – trails I’ve also hiked.  Here in the Northeast, it doesn’t take much impact to wear thin-soiled mountain trails down to roots and bare rock.  With fifty million people living within a day’s drive of these trails, I’m surprised that they aren’t in worse condition.

One can always find fault with those who are supposed to maintain trails:  Essex Town, the Green Mountain Club, or whomever.  But the fact remains that trail maintenance requires manpower and money.  Join a trail maintenance crew for a day and see how much you accomplish.  Meanwhile, anyone who’s in the mood can go for a hike.  And for the most part it’s free.

As I hiked around the reservoir, it occurred to me that someday this place will be regulated to the point where I won’t be able to come here any more, or won’t want to.  The Town of Essex will eventually clean up this trail and those using it will have to pay, one way or the other.  Regulations have recently been put in place in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks, effectively halving the trail traffic there.  Those concerned about trail erosion think that’s for the best.  Will the same thing happen to Vermont’s Long Trail?  Probably, in due time.

I feel like one of the fortunate few.  I can grab my pack and go for a hike whenever I want.  I don’t like turning my ankle on an eroded stretch of trail any more than the next guy, but in a world where a billion people don’t even have enough to eat, complaints about poor trail maintenance seem mean-spirited, small-minded and ungrateful.

We are lucky to have trail systems available to us, cars to reach their trailheads, and time and health enough to hike them.  If I had to spend all of my time in developed places, constantly interacting with others, I would go stark raving mad.  So excuse me for not complaining about trail conditions any more than I do.  I find merit in even the muddiest of trails.

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Sep 04 2009

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Weighty Matters

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Supply is the great challenge of the 100 Mile Wilderness.  This seems a rather abstract and unimportant consideration until you lift an all-too-heavy pack to your back and try to hike 10 miles with it.  Like many of those who have taken on this challenge over the years, I trimmed what I could from my load then shouldered the weight.  This decision set the tone for my trek.

AT thru-hikers running north from Georgia travel with the minimum amount of food and equipment.  Most of them have ultra-light gear and that alone sheds ten or more pounds from the load.  Since they’re accustomed to hiking 15 to 20 miles a day, they traverse the 100 Mile Wilderness in 6 to 8 days, sometimes less, even though there are signs posted at both ends urging backpackers to carry at least a ten-day supply of food.  I encountered one fellow who had only a four-day supply.  He was resigned to hiking long days and going hungry –– a regrettable strategy if anything goes wrong along the way.

Some backpackers get creative.  They have a support team that drives up one of the many logging roads in the area and supplies them on the run, or they pay the folks at Shaws Boarding House to do this.  Others take a side trail to Pemadumcook Lake, where they sound a horn and the folks at Whites Landing motor over by boat to pick them up.  At Whites Landing you can pretty much get whatever you want… for a price.  The owners advertise it as “an oasis in the 100 Mile Wilderness” and many hikers use them that way.

Make no mistake about it, the Maine woods are magnificent woods, and the 100 Mile Wilderness – that section of the Appalachian Trail cutting through the heart of it – is as wild and beautiful as any sprawling forest can be.  But its remoteness should not be underestimated.  I started into those woods with a 65-pound pack and cursed this ridiculous load all the way, even as it grew lighter.  Then again, I was completely self-sufficient, never having to rely upon AT shelters or anything else.  In that regard, it was a bona fide backpacking trip.

The logistic challenge of this trek was interesting enough, but next time I venture into the woods for an extended period of time, I’ll do things a little differently.  My big regret is that I spent too much time pounding the trail, racing against my dwindlng supplies.  Next time I’ll hike ten or twenty miles into the woods and land somewhere for a few days.  After all, what’s the point of being out there if you’re not going to take the time to groove on the wild?

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Jul 14 2009

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Planning a Trip

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A month from now, I’ll be commencing a long walk through the Maine woods.  Since this particular trip poses several logistical difficulties, it’s not too soon to prepare.  The section of the Appalachian Trail that I intend to hike is called the 100-Mile Wilderness because one can’t resupply along the way.  That’s means I’ll have to carry everything, including all my food – a true challenge for a hiker who moves as slowly as I do.  To further complicate matters, I’ll be taking my dog, Matika, with me.

To a casual observer it would appear that I like to make things difficult for myself.  Truth is, I’m willing to go to great lengths to spend a big a chunk of time in deep woods.  As for taking Matika with me, well, I couldn’t deprive her of the experience.  She loves the wild as much as I do.  Besides, she’s the ideal hiking companion.  She doesn’t talk.

Dog food is bulky so I’ve introduced dehydrated food to Matika’s diet.  I thought she’d resist it but, to my great surprise, she gobbles it right down.  Altering my own diet won’t be so easy.  After working out some calorie-per-pound calculations, I have reached a conclusion that is sure to make the readers of my Long Trail book laugh:  I’ll have to carry a lot of nuts.  Back in ’95, I swore I’d never do this to myself again.  But nuts are the perfect solution to the logistical problem at hand.

Clothing isn’t as much a matter of weight as it is bulk.  The solution is simple.  It’s all about the ability to stay warm so cottons must be kept to a minimum.  Cotton is comfortable but useless when it’s wet, and this is a wet year.  Besides, it takes forever to dry out.

Cooking.  I’ll build campfires whenever I can, carrying as little stove fuel as possible.  But, like I said, this is a wet year.  Hope I don’t regret this decision.

Shelter: a tarp only.  To keep it from tearing apart in a storm, I’ll reinforce the grommets with duct tape.  This spark of genius came to me while I was driving home from work a few weeks ago.  What’s that?  You think I’m crazy?  Hey, don’t underestimate the power of duct tape.

Luxuries, only one: binoculars.  I expect to see some wildlife on this trip.  Okay, maybe two: a disposable camera.  No, my journal isn’t a luxury.  That’s how I stay sane, both in and out of the woods.

What else?  There are a thousand details.  A long walk in deep woods isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.  A first aid kit, an emergency blanket, a full set of maps, a backup compass, a solid-shank knife, water filter, and water purification tablets just in case.  Yeah, I can’t wait to get out there.  I like being completely self-sufficient.  It feels like… freedom.  There’s really no other word for it.

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