He's back at it!

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. My next big adventure will be the Israel National Trail starting in February 2017.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in this endeavor.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Permits and Fees

Let me start off by saying that I love the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). I have visited several times and I'm always blown away by the natural beauty. I also know that it's one of the most heavily visited national parks; I read that over six million people come here each year. 

When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in  2011, the GSMNP was certainly one of the highlights but I also remember feeling like it was the most heavily regulated forest I had ever been to. Hikers were required to register - we had to fill out a form and submit one copy to the National Park Service and keep one copy in our possession. Hikers were only allowed to stay in the provided shelters unless the shelter was full and then they had to camp within one hundred feet of said shelter. There were National Park Rangers and Ridge Runners from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy everywhere, making sure hikers were following all the rules. 

I was fine with all of that. My thinking was that if that's what it takes to keep this place as beautiful as it is, then fine; I'll gladly do all that they ask. 

New for 2013, hikers had to pay for a special permit. All the old rules still applied but now you also had to pay $20 to hike through the park. 


This is the first time in the 78 year history of the AT that hikers have to pay to hike the trail. 

Now, if you told me that this money was going directly to help improve the trail, I'd be fine with that. 


Maybe to clear some of these blow-downs?



Or for new signs?


Nope. This money just goes into the giant federal coffers. It's a shameless money-grab and I find it abhorrent. 

Just to be clear: I can drive around the park all day and all night in my '72 Oldsmobile, chugging out thick blue smoke (bad head gasket), blaring the stereo and honking the horn. I can run up and down all the trails I want and poop in all the privies for free. But if I want to quietly walk through the woods, Leaving No Trace, I have to pay $20. Does that make sense to anyone reading this? Cars enter for free but hikers have to pay?

So I'm not paying it. I'm fundamentally against it and I'm not going to do it. I'm going to quietly and carefully hike through the park. I will Leave No Trace (which is an important philosophy to me) and I'll keep a low profile but I will not pay for a permit. I will take the risk and I will suffer the consequences (possible arrest and a fine of up to $3000) if I get caught. 

I'm equally disgusted that hikers, as a group, simply caved in to this injustice. They reflexively type in their credit card numbers because that's what the government told them to do. No one asked why? Or, maybe, what do we get for our $20?

I have asked the NPS, via email, what the $20 goes toward and (of course) have received no response. 

If you agree with me, please leave a comment below. Or, if you think that hikers should pay to walk through a national park, then please do the same. Either way, I'd like to hear from you. 

And to those of you who would say "Oh, but if you look at the website, it's actually a fee to camp, not to hike and you can pay $4 per night instead of $20 to thru-hike",  I say, "Tell it to the judge, punk!" *in the voice of Clint Eastwood dressed as a Park Ranger*. The picture above is the sign posted at both the North and South boundaries as of 12/18/15 and that's  the law we are expected to follow: $20 for a thru-hiker permit. 







Monday, November 30, 2015

Hiker Trash Style


Blaze Orange Hat - Given to me by a hunter in Glasgow, VA. 

Running cap (brimmed) - Given to me by the Devil's Backbone Brewing Company in the heart of Virginia. 

Suspenders made of paracord 550 from the original 50' given to me by Randy Lanning. 

Moosejaw shirt - shameless plug. 

Medium weight base layer from REI with points gifted to me by Krystele Bodet. 

North Face snow pants from Miranda Lanning. 

OR gaiters from Kellie Richardson and the Burning Boots Trail Club. 

Asolo boots from Jeff Kindy.

Trekking poles belong to Hee Haw. Much of my gear is from him. 

The pack, actually bought in 2011. Kelty Lakota. It's got nearly 4,400 miles on it and it's had a couple major surgeries but seems to be holding up. 


That's a Marmot shell that Traci Rink got me on the CDT. 


Ready for the cold weather. 

 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Morning Routine

The first thought I have every morning is the same as the last thought I have every night: Holy Moses Roses it's cold! 

I'll usually stay snuggled up in my sleeping bag until there's enough light out so that I don't have to burn the batteries on my headlamp. I use that time to prioritize packing up to best make use of my hands while they still work; buckles and snaps come first since they take some dexterity. 

Once I let the air out of the mattress and stow my sleeping bag in its compression sack, there's no turning back. I've got to minimize the time between being warm in my sleeping bag and being warm hiking so I need to hurry. 

If I have them, I'll open a couple of those chemical hand warmers and put them in my gloves. I'll also use them to unstick frozen tent poles and, eventually, I'll put them in my boots. 

While pulling tent stakes out of the frozen ground and shaking the frost off the rain fly, I can feel my hands and feet getting numb. By the time I strap my pack on and grab my trekking poles, they are painfully cold. 

That's okay. I'll get moving as fast as I can and get my core temperature up. It will take a while until that warm blood circulates to my extremities. Sometimes, that's the worst part!

Finally, the sun comes up and the ambient temperature starts to rise. Time to stop, de-layer and cook up some coffee. This is my favorite time of day; time to stretch, to feel the sun on my face and to be grateful that I'm right where I belong: On the trail. 

Is your morning like my morning? Leave me a comment below!




Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Future of the AT

Having thru-hiked the trail in 2011, I can use the changes I've seen on the trail this year to speculate about what the trail may be like in the future. 

Mostly, I see more of everything: more signs, more restrictions, more fees... more hikers! I guess this was predictable. With the release of movies like 'Wild' and 'A Walk In The Woods', more people are going to explore the world of long distance hiking. Friends who started northbound on the trail this year said shelters and campsites were crowded.

The trends that tend to make me nervous are the increase in signs, permits and fees. Signs like 'No Camping' or 'Camping Only in Designated Areas'. Permits are more common, as well. Lots of agencies wanting names, addresses and 'itineraries'. These things fly in the face of thru-hiking culture. We come out here because we want to be free. They want an 'itinerary' of where I'm going to camp every night for the next week? I don't know where I'm going to camp. Can I just write "wherever I'm at when the sun goes down"?


We need more signs like this:


And fewer signs like this:


For the first time in the 78 year history of the Appalachian Trail, hikers will be charged a fee to hike through the Smoky Mountains. Technically, it's a fee to camp in the Smokies, not hike. Four dollars per night or $20 to thru-hike. Never before have we had to pay to hike this trail. Benton MacKaye must be rolling in his grave. 

Additional, federal regulations include the use of a 'bear can' (a cylindrical plastic container to store your food in) for part of the Smokies. Yes, it's a federal offense to hike with your food in an unapproved container. 

If I extrapolate these changes far into the future, I can picture hikers passing through the woods on a moving sidewalk; the kind they have in airports. Huge plexiglass walls on either side keep humans from interacting with nature. A permit to ride the trail will cost hundreds of dollars. Camping will only be permitted... scratch that. Camping will not be permitted. 

For those of you who say that these kinds of regulations are necessary to keep the trail as nice as it is, I agree - to an extent. I just think the pendulum is swinging way too far toward the 'manage the woods' end. It needs to swing back toward the 'let people enjoy their hike' end. 

Mostly, I'm just glad to be out here. Soon (hopefully) I'll have thru-hiked this trail twice. That's plenty. They can restrict, regulate and charge the hell out of future hikers. It won't do anything but make me sad. 

Got an opinion? Leave a comment.



Friday, October 30, 2015

Please and Thank You

Please, if you want to see me finish this hike and you're feeling generous, click on that 'donate' button. I'm sooo close to the finish but I need a little help. Note: If you're not on a desktop, you may have to click on 'View web version' at the bottom of the page to see the 'donate' button. 



Thank you to the following people and organizations for getting me this far:

Pam White has been helping me and sending me re-supply boxes this whole time. I first met Pam when her son, Gary Zaborowski and I were planning our CDT hike and we've been dear friends ever since. 

Roberta McCoy and all my friend's at Ollie's Bargain Outlet for all their help and encouragement. Roberta, especially, has been filling and sending me re-supply boxes and has encouraged me to keep going since I first sought her advice about leaving Ollie's and doing this hike. 

Jason Phelps (Hee Haw) really made this hike happen. He loaned me a TON of his own gear, let me stay at his place (thanks, also, to Pete Kotsimpulos!), gave me a guided tour of Katahdin and hiked with me every chance he got. No way this hike happens without his help. Also, Jason's dad, Donald Phelps and Don's girlfriend, Debra Morse angel'd me, fed me and let me stay at their beautiful lakefront home in Maine. I've been to Jason's work, met many of his friends and family and heard his band (Jerks Of Grass) play several times. It's no wonder he is so well-liked and respected. 

Manuela Petzhold for treating me to a wonderful weekend in New York City and for sending me books, letters, postcards and re-supply boxes full of delicious German chocolate!

My friend of 40 years (no kidding!), Susie Hollyer and her husband, Drew Chinarian. They are the foundation of what I call the Wolverine Lake Crew which includes Marlyss Hollyer who created my website and listens to all my crazy ideas as though I was an actual sane person. Susie, who knows that I am, in fact, not a sane person, has helped me with every hike I've ever done and was always there for me. Especially when I was down. Way down. That's a true friend. 

High school friends George Hughes and Ellen Paynter for their support. George re-supplied me and treated me to a fantastic lunch in Harper's Ferry. I was so glad to see him again. 

Nancy Smith for a delicious breakfast at McDonald's and for sending me re-supply boxes. Nancy was very kind to a stranger and I feel like the world could use more people like her. 

Suzie Kramer (Mother Nature), Sarah Michal (Sunshine Sarah) and Chelsea Gaunt (Surefoot) for the awesome (and healthy!) re-supply box. They even sent some delicious Michigan craft beer!

Dustin and Tiffany Newman for their generous donation and for walking with me in the middle of the night during the Relay For Life when no one else was awake. 

My landlords Candice and Luther Stacy for putting up with me living with them, for taking care of my stuff and for sending an awesome re-supply box. 

Of course, the founding members of Camp Champaign: Martha Rogers and Sandy Lowe. They give me advice, they send me everything from poetry to cold-weather gear and they are always there for me. 

Hilary and Louise Taylor aka Xena The Warrior Princess and her daughter for their generous donation and for inspiring me to keep going (Xena) and to be healthy (Louise). 

Alice Bodnar (Holstein) and Ryan Linn (Guthook) for providing me maps for the whole AT through Guthook's App. Anyone considering a long distance hike needs to download Guthook's App. 

Tom Miedema, Perry Keydel and all my friends at Moosejaw Mountaineering for all the good advice and gear. They support my hikes and my library talks and they are my friends. 

My dear sister, Carol Machak for making her delicious custom spices and sending them to me. They make plain old rice taste fantastic. 

Jeff McWilliams for loaning me his sweet Thermarest mattress that keeps me up off the cold ground. 

Jerry and Becky Patterson for taking me into their home and showing me what real Southern hospitality is all about. 

And, finally...

I'd like to thank all my friends on the Michigan Hiking and Backing FB Page, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, Stormy Kromer and the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church for all they do. Thank you. 





Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Devil's Backbone

People who know me know that I have two passions in life: long distance hiking and great craft beer. Sometimes, all the stars align and these two essential elements joyously collide. 

As I hike southbound on the Appalachian Trail, I'd been hearing about a place in Virginia - this goes all the way back to Pennsylvania - from beer snobs like myself about a brewpub called The Devil's Backbone. 


I thought about checking it out but beer is just not in the budget on this hike. It's gonna be tight until the end - IF I make it. Also, this place was about six miles off-trail. That's a tough hitch or a long road-walk for me. I was gonna skip it but I am extraordinarily proud of Michigan's craft brew scene and I wanted to compare what Virginia had to offer. I decided to go for it. 

The hitch was, indeed, tough. I had to walk a steep mile down hill to even get to a place that was safe for a car to pull over. A lovely woman in a van finally had mercy on me. She knew right where I wanted to go. "All the hikers stop there." she told me. I was trying not to get my hopes up because you never know what to expect but visions of a cold, hoppy IPA were dancing in my head. 


As we pulled in to the place, I realized that it was much more than just a brewpub - it was a huge compound! It had an outdoor stage, several smaller buildings that sold food and beer and big, open areas for RV parking and camping. It appeared to be a well-planned event center. I later found out they had just had a concert there attended by 8,000 people. 

As soon as I walked into the restaurant part of it, I received a warm welcome. They had a place for me to park my pack and they sat me at a table near an outlet so I could plug in my phone. I felt kinda bad when the server handed me a dinner menu and I told her I would only be having one beer. She was fine with that. 


All of this matters not if the beer is no good and I was NOT disappointed. I ordered an Eight Point IPA - their flagship beer. It hit all the targets dead on: color, aroma, temperature, carbonation and, most importantly, taste. A perfect combination of bitter hops and sweet malt. This beer was worth getting off the trail. 


Then things got even better when my server insisted I try (rather large) samples of both the Schwartz Beer and the Trail Angel Weiss. 


Both very well crafted brews. This place competes with just about anything in Michigan. The hostess welcomed me to camp on the property and told me to come back at 9am the next morning for a 'hiker's special' breakfast. 

That morning I had the pleasure of meeting Steve, the owner. He is both a builder and a hiker and this whole place was his idea. We shared some great conversation about the trails we had hiked. Breakfast was served to me by the chef and was one of the best meals I've had on this trail. 


All that good food for only five dollars! Before I left, Steve made sure to hook me up with some bumper stickers and a new ball cap. 


The whole thing was such a truly positive experience that I was glowing for days after. Sometimes, life is just really good. 

Have you a good experience at a brewpub? Leave me a comment about it below!



Monday, October 19, 2015

Cowboy Camping

I can sleep anywhere. This is a skill I mastered during my six years in the U.S. Army and it has served me well while long distance hiking. In fact, one of the things I really love about life on the trail is that when you pack up in the morning, you never know where you're going to sleep that night. Most likely, it's going to be in your tent alongside of the trail somewhere but you just never know. 

When I can, I like to cowboy camp; that is, to skip the tent and just sleep under the stars. It's a wonderful feeling to lay on your back and drift off to sleep as you watch the moon cross the sky. Plus, it takes far less time to pack up in the morning since you don't have a tent to put away. 


The disadvantage is that the weather could turn on you. You may fall asleep under the stars but you might wake up to fat drops of rain hitting you in the face. Thus begins the mad scramble of trying to get your boots on and quickly set up your tent before you and all your gear get soaked. Or, the wind can pick up. I've drifted off to sleep before in peace and quiet only to wake up with thirty mile-an-hour winds blowing leaves and dust all over me. It would be too much of a headache to try and get the tent set up in wind like that. Instead, I just put my back to the wind and go back to sleep. 



People often ask me if one could hike the entire AT without a tent and it's certainly possible. You'd have to cowboy camp or find a spot in a shelter every night - that's the part that I would hate. Shelters can be crowded and noisy. No thank you. I'd rather stop in at the shelters, water-up and enjoy the commroderie but then go find a quiet spot to camp by myself. 

This is about as late in the year as I can get away with (comfortably) cowboy camping. Soon, I'll need the tent just to hold in some heat. Until then, when possible, I'll shun the shelter and sleep under the stars. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dogs On The Trail

Let me start with the obligatory disclaimers: I like dogs. I have owned dogs. I like to hike with dogs.

Over the years and miles, I have seen hundreds of dogs out on the trail; the vast majority seem happy and friendly. Tails wagging, they usually come over to greet me and receive a quick scratch on the chest. Others just ignore me, perhaps worn out from the rugged terrain and looking forward to doing what they naturally do for about 12 hours a day: sleep. 

The owners, too, are overwhelmingly friendly, usually asking about my hike or wishing me well on my journey. Most have their dogs on a leash as is appropriate and, for those whose dogs are easily excited, they stand to the side of the trail and let me pass without getting jumped on. These are all like-minded people and they prove that a little courtesy goes a long way. 

Unfortunately, these aren't the dogs that people remember. At least, they're not the dogs that I remember. As an example, I was hiking down the trail one day recently, lost in thought but enjoying the day when all of a sudden, a German shepherd comes barreling toward me. Barking, baring teeth, hackles up... He lunged at me before I even knew what was happening. I crossed my trekking poles in front of me to hold him off while his owners eventually came after him. "Fluffy! (or Cupcake or Rover... I can't remember what they called the beast) No!" They were a young couple. By the gear they carried, they looked like they were just out on a day hike. The woman barely had the strength to pull the dog away by the collar while she muttered apologies. The guy just stood back, looking helpless and embarrassed. "What the hell!?" I exclaimed, "That is SO not okay." The woman hauled the dog off to the side and fumbled with a leash while the dog continued to jump and bark - clearly out of control. "You just can't have a dog like that off-leash out here!" I admit, my heart was racing and the adrenaline was flowing, having just been attacked by this dog and wanting an explanation. Finally the guy spoke up "All he did was bark at you." he said, sheepishly. I was blown away. How could this guy say anything except "I'm very sorry, sir. It won't ever happen again." "So someone has to actually get bit before you'll take this seriously? Asshole." I shook my head and remembered that you can't fix stupid. Nothing I said was going to get through to this idiot so I shouldn't waste my time with him. I hiked on. The woman at least, did say she was sorry when she was pulling the dog off me and she seemed to be clearly embarrassed by the whole episode, never once looking me in the eye. 

It's a shame - GSD's are one of the easiest breeds to train. I should know, I owned two of them for years. They want to please. It takes very little time to teach them. This is the very reason I blame the couple and not the dog. If I try to make excuses for them, I could say well, maybe they just got the dog and haven't had time to train it yet. Or maybe it's not their dog - maybe they're just watching it for a friend. For all those reasons and more, they should have had it on a leash. Absolutely no good reason not to. 

Unfortunately, situations like this are part of the reason why dogs will be forbidden on more parts of the trail. They are already not allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains and the White Mountain National Parks, mostly, I think, because they disturb the wildlife and leave poop everywhere. Signs saying "Dogs must be on a leash" just don't work. There were plenty of signs in the vicinity where I was attacked. 

One of the most common questions I get asked about long distance hiking is "What's the most dangerous animal you encounter?" I think people ask this assuming I will answer with a story about a close encounter with a bear but the real answer is dogs. I've now had three or four close encounters and I know two other hikers whose thru-hikes were ended by dog bites. That officially makes them the most dangerous animal on the trail. 

Agree or disagree, please leave a comment below. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Finally... Sunshine!

   When I walk beside her
   I am the better man
   When I look to leave her
   I always stagger back again
                      Eddie Vedder

Sunday, October 4th. Middle of the night. I climb out of my tent to pee. I am surprised that it's not actively raining, as it has been for the past six days straight. I yawn and stretch out my arms. I am so sick of being wet. My body and every bit of my gear is, at the very least, damp; most of it downright soaked. Even the air is so saturated with water that I can see the clouds of my breath in the beam of my headlamp. Every time I exhale it looks like I just took a giant pull off a cigarette. As I look to the sky (as I often do when I'm peeing as there is no toilet at which to aim), I think that, just for a second, I can see a star! Could that be possible? The clouds quickly obscure it and a gust of wind blows the cold water off the trees, causing me to shiver and race back to the tent. As I force my wet body back into my wet tent and under my wet sleeping bag, I can't help but think about what I saw. If that really was a star, then maybe the clouds are thinning. I decide it's best not to get my hopes up. 

The morning is shrouded in a thick fog but at least it's not actually raining. I pack up my gear and hit the trail. I'm looking forward to visiting the famous Bear's Den Hostel. I won't be staying there but at least I'll get to warm up for a while. As I climb up and down the hills - they call this thirteen mile section of the trail 'The Rollercoaster' - I start to see faint beams of light breaking through the fog. Could it be? Oh, please let it be...


I see shadows! Finally, I see that great glowing orb trying to break through. It is indeed, at last, the sun. 

Now, I'm not going to admit right here in public that I cried. I am, after all, a big, tough man. But I will say that the sense of relief, of gratitude, of sheer joy was so overwhelming that it may have stirred up my emotions. 

At the top of each hill, the sunlight grew brighter and patches of dark blue sky started to peak through the thick canopy of trees. By the time I got to the hostel, it was a perfect, sunny day. 



The Bear's Den Hostel sits on a beautiful piece of property with big, open lawns and park benches everywhere; perfect to spread out all my gear and let the bright sunshine and gentle breeze do their thing. It felt so good to peel off (almost all of) my clothes and just soak up the rays. 

Another reason to celebrate: I had two packages waiting for me at the hostel. One was a re-supply box from my dear friend (and my bro Gary Zaborowski's mom), Pam White. She has been helping with this whole hike and this box didn't disappoint: She packed all kinds of yummy foods in there and some canister fuel, which I desperately needed (Thanks, Pam!). The other box was from fellow hiker Jeff McWilliams. He loaned me his inflatable mattress to get me up off that cold ground at night. Plus, he threw in some surprise goodies that I really appreciated (Thanks, Jeff!). 



Overall, things are really looking up. Ever since I left Pennsylvania (Hmm... Coincidence?), things are getting better and better. I got to hang out with my old high school buddy, George Hughes, in Harper's Ferry, WV. He treated me to a fantastic lunch and the chance to sit and just catch up on all we'd been doing with our lives. It did my soul good to see him (Thanks, George!). 

In the next few days, I'll be entering the Shenandoah National Park. As I recall, this is some of the best hiking on the whole trail as it offers gentle ups and downs, beautiful vistas and stunning fall colors. I can't wait!

To all who read this: I hope that if you've had a long streak of rain in your life (literally or figuratively) that the sun breaks through and shines upon you. Dry out your gear and hike on!



Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Big Disappointment

Ahh.. The ups and downs of life on the trail. Highs and lows. Achievements and disappointments. You'd think I'd be used to them by now but today really bummed me out. 

I'm not going to get to do the Four State Challenge. It just wasn't going to work out. Mostly due to this damn tropical depression (one news source mentioned Hurricane Joaquin - not sure if it was referring to the same storm). I've been getting pounded by rain for two days now and all my gear is soaked. 

As some of you know, the plan was to camp at Pen-Mar Park right at the PA/MD border (hence, the name) and to start early in the morning. Well, I arrived there today in the (still) pouring rain. There were 'day use only' signs everywhere and no where really to stealth camp (not even for the King!). Half the park was flooded with big puddles. There was a pavilion that I thought about camping under but I had seen notes earlier in a shelter journal that a caretaker routinely visits that pavilion and even busted some hikers for sitting on top of the picnic tables. Ideally, I would have found a dry, quiet place to camp, got a good night's sleep and got up at 4am for a 5am start time. None of that was going to happen. Plus, in this kind of rain, you can't even take out your map or your phone to make sure you're headed the right way. That also means no pics or videos to document the experience, either. Standing in the rain, soaking wet, staring at the sign for the Mason-Dixon Line, I had to make a decision. "Maybe some other time." I told myself. "This is just not the year to make this happen."  

I put my head down and kept hiking, feeling the sting of not just trying and failing, but not having tried at all. I almost turned around a dozen times but I knew that the same obstacles would still be there. I did get a break from the rain this evening and a chance to set up my tent here on the banks of Litttle Antietam Creek. 

Trying to look for the positives, at least I'll be able to spend some time in Harper's Ferry, WV, one of my very favorite trail towns. The Four State Challenge had me blasting right through there, probably at night. I'll remind myself to see the beauty in all kinds of weather - even the rain - and that these are the kinds of experiences that I'll remember most. 

I give thanks to everyone who wished me good luck on the challenge. Especially those of you who have been sending me care packages and good will. I'm going to continue to hike south, knowing that this rain has got to eventually give way to sunny skies. I'll dry out my boots and all my gear and smile at how much lighter it feels. I'll take the good with the bad and remember that if I'm lucky enough to be on the trail, then I'm lucky enough. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Still The King?

This is not good. 

I'm stealth camping in Palmerton, PA and I'm gonna get busted. Here's why:

The morning started off great. I had been hiking all day in the rain with a guy and his 11 year old daughter (DR and Baby Blue). They were loads of fun and their joy of hiking was infectious. They made the heavy rain and our soaking wet packs seem like not such a big deal.  We camped together at night and enjoyed some great conversation in the morning. They got going earlier than I did so I hiked alone today. 

The trail took me across a 'Superfund Site'. This was an entire hillside that had been decimated by zinc mining in the early 1900's. The whole area had a weird vibe to it with fences and warning signs everywhere. It put me in a funky mood. 



Then the trail twits and turns down the side of a very steep, rocky mountain and spills right out onto a super-busy highway (with no shoulder) that leads 1.5 miles into the city of Palmerton. There are plenty of hiker services here but they are very spread out. It was a long walk to the Dunkin Donuts to get a cup of coffee, an outlet to charge my phone and a wifi signal. 

Today is Sunday so I can't get my re-supply box from the post office until tomorrow morning. Usually, this is no problem. I just find a place to stealth camp on the edge of town, hit the post office in the morning and get back to the trail. The problem with Palmerton is that there is no where to camp! People who know me know that I have an eagle-eye for great stealth camping spots but nothing here was looking good. I ended up hiking out to the edge of town and finding a spot on the banks of the Aquashicola Creek. 



The vibe here is not good. I can hear lots of cars passing by and several people have walked past and seen me already. This makes for poor stealth camping but there really is no where else to go. I dare not hike the deadly highway back out of town because I'll just have to come back in tomorrow morning. 

If I get busted - that is, if I'm asked to leave - I certainly will but that will ruin my streak of never having been caught. I will lose the title of the 'King of Stealth Camping'. 

The question for the reader is: When is the last time you slept anywhere that wasn't on a comfortable bed behind a locked door? Leave a comment below and describe.

I'll post again to let you know how it turns out. 

Good Lord my boots stink. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Good Intentions


I want to write a post about a small market I happened to come across during my 2011 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Back then, the store was called 'Joe To Go' and it was on the south side of where the AT crosses (the very busy) State Road 206 in New Jersey. It was kind of a cool little shop. There was an old guy behind the counter serving greasy breakfast sandwiches and burgers. Back then, they weren't exactly known as 'hiker friendly'. Back then, a breakfast sandwich was $4. Back then, I stopped in, felt the unwelcoming vibe and immediately went back to the trail.

Recently, the store was bought by an older guy who re-named it Sunrise Appalachian Trail Deli. 





His intention, it seemed, was to cater specifically to AT hikers. That to me, is a great idea and it fills me with gratitude. He wants to help hikers! He started carrying some hiker supplies (Ramen noodles, Cliff bars, canister fuel,  etc... ) and he put out a notebook for hikers to leave recommendations on what products they thought that he should carry to better serve the hiking community. More great ideas!

The comments left on Guthook's app and in the shelter journals along the trail were all very positive. Everyone said how 'hiker friendly' this place had become and how hard the store was trying to attract and accommodate hikers. I can't wait! I thought to myself, to spend some (of my very little) money here and to show them how much I appreciate that they appreciate hikers. 

But the attitude with which I was welcomed left much to be desired. The guy who actually ran the place, day to day, you see, was not the guy who bought the place. The guy who ran the place had a different perspective entirely. He was the one who came in early every morning. He was the one who made the sandwiches and the burgers. His pay, I learned later, was based on how well the store did in overall sales. 

He wanted to sell cigarettes, lottery tickets and energy drinks. He wanted to have a big cooler full of ice for the tourists. But the new owner would have none of it. "Those things are poison!" the new owner exclaimed, "And those aren't the kinds of things that hikers need."

Back to the guy who had to work there everyday. He was not so hot on hikers. He didn't like it that they sometimes brought their packs (all smelly and dirty) into the store despite the obvious signage telling hikers to park their packs on the bench outside. He didn't like it that they complained that he didn't have wifi or group seating. And he really didn't like it when one of them stole the money out of his tip jar. 

The guy mentioned that the owner wanted to start accepting re-supply boxes for hikers. I had to warn him that hikers get really uptight about their re-supply. If a box isn't there when it's supposed to be, they freak out. Worse, they won't move on until they get that box and will literally camp near that business until that box comes in. They will check dutifully twice a day, every day because they literaly can't keep hiking until they get the food, fuel, maps, etc... that come in those boxes. 

My point is that thru-hikers are a tough bunch to handle. They are often strapped for cash and looking to get the very most for their few dollars. I hate saying it because it's trite but true about any small group: A few bad apples. Most of us want to support a business that welcomes hikers. We want to leave a good impression. 

My hope is that hikers, as a group, will get their shit together and respectfully patronize businesses that welcome us and that more business owners will recognize that hikers want to spend their money at stores like the Sunrise Appalachian Trail Deli. 


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Speed on the AT

If you call the Appalachian Trail Conservacy and ask them what the northbound speed record is for the trail, they will tell you that they do not keep such records. That 'racing' from one end of the nearly 2,200 mile to the other isn't in the 'spirit of the trail'. Indeed, when Benton MacKaye designed the trail in 1921, he never intended it to be hiked all at once (thru-hiked). But ever since Earl Shaffer became the first to do so in 1948, people have compared how long it took them to hike it. Naturally competitive Americans started doing it faster and faster and now use websites like Fastest Known Time to keep those records. 

I was thrilled to meet Scott Jurek near the Maine/New Hampshire border as he set the record for the fastest supported northbound thru-hike at 46 days.  Currently, the woman I consider to be the greatest long distance hiker in the world, Heather 'Anish' Anderson is out here trying to set the southbound unsupported speed record. 

Even I might attempt the Four State Challenge. This is an informal challenge  to hike across four states (44 trail miles) in 24 hours. While not nearly the feat that Jurek and Anderson are up to, it's still an example of a competition or a race on the trail. For me, a southbounder, I would start in Pennsylvania, just above the border with Maryland (which also happens to be the Mason-Dixon Line). I would hike across Maryland, through West Virginia and into Virginia within 24 hours. Why would I do this? I'm a competitive American, of course!

Is all this competition good for the trail? Not everyone thinks so. The management at Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin - the northern terminus of the trail, don't want to see their park commercialized or otherwise exploited. They made that clear when the issued three big fines to Scott Jurek for stretching the rules when he reached  the summit of Katahdin. There's talk that they don't even want the AT running through Baxter State Park at all. Someday, the trail may have to be rerouted. 

I'm curious what people think about speed records on the Appalachian Trail and about me taking a shot at the Four State Challenge. I'm hoping to attempt it at the end of September. If anyone wants to join me - to hike all or part of the 44 miles with me - or just to cheer me on and maybe slack pack me - just leave a comment below. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Just Plants


I'm not a botanist. I don't know much about plants. Still, I see a stunning variety of them out here and I think they're beautiful. 

These were in front a house in Yarmouth, ME. Azaleas, right?

No idea what these are. 


Some kind of mushroom. 


Also a mushroom. Looks like a flower buy it's not. I think. 

Mushroom as big as my hand on the side of a tree. 

No idea. 

Still no idea. 

Lots of these. 

This isn't a plant. It's a slug. 


Pitcher Plant? I think? Found them in a swamp. 

Same thing. Pitcher Plant?

I'm sure that was boring. 

If you leave a comment, you're a total nerd. 












Monday, August 10, 2015

Pics from the AT 2015

Me in peaceful, idyllic Yarmouth, ME three days before I started the hike. 

The Royal River in Yarmouth. So charming. A nice, easy walk to stretch out my legs after two days on the Greyhound. 

This is the school where my buddy Hee Haw teaches music (guitar and mandolin). That's him jumping in on the upright bass during an impromptu jam session on the porch. 

Well? Do ya?!

This is Hee Haw (on guitar) with his band, the Jerks of Grass. I got to watch them whip the crowd into a frenzy in a really cool bar in Portland, ME. 

And drink really good beer. 

Finally! The day is here. Hee Haw and I stayed a night with his dad and drove to climb Katahdin early in the morning. 

That day was so great. Hee Haw has been up there so many times before that I literally got a guided tour of Katahdin. We did a 16 mile loop and had perfect weather for every step. 

Hee Haw and I at the summit. Last time I stood here was July 20th, 2011. 

Katahdin from a distance. They don't call it Mt. Katahdin because 'Katahdin' means 'greatest mountain'. It would be redundant. 

The next morning, Hee Haw sent me on my way. In the rain. In the cold, pouring rain. Felt like I was home again. 

So I hiked south through the 100 Miles Wilderness. Took me nine days. 

Had to ford a ton of rivers. See that tiny white blaze on the tree across the river?

See?

I finally made it to Monson, ME and was rewarded with a plate of fries from the owner of the Lakeshore House. She remembered me from 2011. 

From there, Hee Haw's dad, Donald, and his delightful girlfriend, Debbie, picked me up and took me home with them. They fed me, let me wash up and get a good night's sleep before taking me back to the trail the next day. I really enjoyed my stay with them. 

This seems a good place to stop. Still working on posting from my phone so we'll see if this works. If you like the pics, leave me a comment below and I'll post more.