Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trail Angels...

It's probably obvious from previous posts who Trail Angels are and what they do.  

Remember the old cartoon St. Bernard with a root beer barrel strapped under his chin?  He would appear from nowhere to rescue other cartoon characters by digging them out from under the avalanche, (shake up) then pour the stranded climber a martini, then pack up and run off to get help.  That St. Bernard was a Trail Angel.

Several of the books I've read to research the AT mention Trail Angels but all make it sound as if Trail Angels are rare.

In the short time that I have spent on the Trail, I have encountered more Trail Angels than expected.

I'd like to start off by thanking my own personal Trail Angels.  First, I'd like to thank Mom.  Not just for the rides, but for not getting too stressed out and for being a bit of a cheerleader.  And Dad, who this year sent a Bonus check for my birthday to cover "unexpected expenses" on the Trail.  I insisted that I did my research and didn't need that.  But as you know, after my first sad day on the Trail I did have an unexpected train ride home from GA.  Once again proving that "Father knows best."  

I also got rides from my sister, niece, nephew and cousin.  These rides range from train station pick ups to backwoods drop offs.  Some of these rides were very time consuming and I appreciate all of them.

Also, I would like to thank my cousin George and my friend Steve (the computer gurus) who are both responsible for this website.  

Another big thank you to my friend John (who is like a brother to me.)  He has carved out a space in his home where I have stock piled six months worth of trail mix, mini tubes of toothpaste, soap, Q-tips, batteries and other supplies.  John is in charge of my mail drops (to keep me resupplied.)  His military background was also helpful in the planning stages of my hike.

I would also like to thank my other sisters and the rest of my family.  Partly for their moral support, partly for not calling me crazy and having me institutionalized (OK they call me crazy, but I am still out free) and partly for the rides I'm going to hit them up for on future section hikes.  

This is my built in support system-- my own personal Angels.  The amazing thing about Trail Angels is that they are not family, not friends.  They don't know you.  They don't have to do what they do.  And sometimes they don't even know they are Trail Angels.

You may remember back to one of my earlier posts about my "shake down" experience at the outfitter at Neals Gap in GA.  On that day all the hikers coming through were treated to a picnic.  An outreach group took the time to buy hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, rolls, an assortment of condiments and cold sodas and bottled water.  They cooked to order on the grill and served like pros.  

One of the hikers picked up a pamphlet from under a rock at the back corner of the table.  He said, "Aha!  I knew there was a catch.  When does the preaching start?"  

The three servers just laughed.  One of them said something like, "There will be no preaching today, only serving.  The pamphlets are there for those who are drawn to them.  If you want one take it, if not just leave it under the rock.  We just think people should be nicer to each other and this is our way of setting an example."  

The hiker folded the pamphlet, put it in his pocket, thanked them again for the food and went back to eat with the other hikers.

In the whole time I sat there enjoying the picnic, the servers never mentioned God or their ministry.  And they never once suggested that anyone take a pamphlet from under the rock which was fairly well hidden.  You really had to be drawn to it.

On that same day, after shakedown and after the picnic when I was ready to return, my ride wasn't able to come for a couple hours so I was going to have to hang out.  But a "local" who was buying fishing gear at the outfitter offered to take me back.  He said he had heard a lot about this "Hiker Hostel" place and has been meaning to stop in and take a look.  This would be a good excuse.

So he and his son loaded my gear into the Jeep and off we went.  That's two Trail Angels and I hadn't even started yet.

On my first day at Amicalola Falls State Park, while hiking up the approach trail I took that tumble.  Two other hikers (with full gear-- probably not just day hikers) caught the action.  They were by my side before I got up.  Had I needed more attention there is no doubt they would have stayed to help me.  They were Angels in Training.

My favorite Trail Angels so far are Antonini (sorry if I butchered the spelling) and Matt.  I mentioned them in the "Breaking the Rules..." post.  Let me remind you.

I woke up in Kent State Park, broke camp and then was sitting by the waterfall consulting my maps when I was approached by two hikers that weren't hikers.  They were Trail Angels.  Sound familiar?

When they approached I thought for sure I was in trouble.  These guys were clearly NOT hikers. I thought maybe they were detectives of some kind.   They were over dressed (I'm talking crease in the pants and jewelry-- over dressed) and one of them actually had on shiny dress shoes.  

After a friendly enough greeting and some small talk, we got around to what we were each doing in the woods at such an early hour.  I told them I got dropped off at the wrong place (which is true) but I neglected to mention that it was last night and that had they showed up half an hour earlier they would have caught me stuffing gear into my backpack.  

They told me they were in town looking at investment properties.  They looked at some place the day before and were planning to see one more later today.  But they woke up early to see this beautiful waterfall (my waterfall) in Kent State Park that they had been hearing about.

What are the odds of two investors hearing about a beautiful waterfall and then being interested enough to make it a point to stop there early in the morning, to find the only other person in the woods is a misplaced hiker consulting maps trying to figure out the best way to get across the river? 

I'm thinking very slim odds!

As you have probably figured by now, my Trail Angels did transport me across that river.  I was extra careful to not rip the leather interior of the Audi with my backpack and gear.  We stopped at an outfitter who pointed us toward a Blue Blazed trail right off the road that connected to the AT.  The outfitter said, "Follow the blue blazes for about 45 minutes to an hour until you come to the white blaze.  Turn right if you want to go to Maine and left to go to Georgia."  

They also asked about the local fishing and then we were on our way.  

Thank you gentlemen.  I hope your investments worked out well.

My next encounter with Trail Angels was not as bizarre but definitely still worthy of being Angels.

In a previous post I wrote about the Orange Blazed Detour where I met John, who owns the auto repair garage.  John was nice enough to let me "plug in" to charge my cell phone.  I had been out of contact for three whole days.  Unfortunately, he did not have any AA batteries.  

John is the kind of guy who really gets a kick out of helping the hikers passing by.  He has this great idea for a way to set up shower stalls behind his garage.  It sort of works the same way as the car washes at gas stations.  Come inside to get your access code, then plug it into the keypad to open the shower stall.  I would have paid for a shower at this point and I had been out less than a week.  Unfortunately, the town is giving him a hard time about getting permits for that sort of thing.

While I was sitting there waiting for my phone to charge (and probably looking like a vagrant) I was chatting with Phil as he was artfully detailing the cab of a huge work truck.  The truck was interestingly a contrast of itself.  The back looked like your typical flat bed tow truck with a winch, built in tool box and all the grease you would expect on this type of vehicle.  But the cab of the truck was shiny red and looked brand new.  I bet the owner/driver washes his hands before climbing in, and doesn't allow his passengers to eat, drink or smoke in the cab.  

We got to talking about the bridge and how it is open for cars but closed to pedestrians.  Obviously it won't collapse if I walk over  it (even with the extra 40 pounds of my pack.)  

What I learned from Phil and John is that the company doing the work on the bridge was just fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by OSHA for safety code violations!  Well that's all I needed to know.  These guys are rule breakers too.  They would appreciate my civil disobedience.  Even better than that... when I got to the bridge, there was no sign saying that the bridge was closed to pedestrians.  

The only way to know that pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge is the small sign found coming out of the woods at the road crossing.  So if, for example, someone had dropped me off at the garage to start my section hike at the other side of the road-- I would never even have known there was a detour.

I got a few stares as I walked across the bridge but no one tried to stop me.  

When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me, "Look like you know where you are going, act like you belong here" whenever he was sneaking me into places that we weren't supposed to be.  Apparently I have acquired his "stealth-mode" talent.  A couple years ago, I totally snuck into a hospital well after visiting hours were over, to visit my sister when my nephew was born.  I wandered up four floors through several wards and passed doctors, nurses (who are the most difficult to sneak by!) and maintenance people.  No one ever really stops me anymore.

Anyway, thank you to John and thank you to Phil.  (I'm still waiting to see your auto detailing web page!)  

If any of you find yourself in western CT and need to have your car detailed... I would vouch for Phil.  Although, I didn't see John's handiwork, I'm sure he is equally as skilled in auto repair.  

Now if we could harness the power of "Trail Magic" and spread that into real life, we would be living in a whole different world.  

Long live Trail Magic and Random Acts of Kindness!  

I encourage everyone to do one Random Act of Kindness this week!  Good Luck.

Peace and Love,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Breaking the Rules...

OK, I admit that in the big picture I am new to this long distance hiking.  I have always been a day hiker:  climb up the mountain, take pictures, eat lunch, read a little, take more pictures (in the different light), then climb back down, go home and sleep in my nice comfortable bed.

So to prepare for this hike I did some research.  And, I found out that there are rules.  Now, I appreciate rules.  I'm a "rules" kind of guy.  In fact, many of the rules to hiking the AT are similar to my own personal rules.  

For example; "Leave No Trace."  This is a good rule.  They say, "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures."  This is a good rule and I agree with it.  In other words-- don't litter.  Whatever crap you bring into the woods, be sure to bring that crap back out.  That includes your cigarette butts!  No offense to anyone who might be reading here, but smokers are the worst offenders.  Maybe I'll make that rant in a future post, but for now I'll step down off my soap box.  You get my point.  

Some other good rules:  Be Respectful.  Be Courteous.  Share.  We all want to have fun, but not at the expense of others.  Sometimes "fun" can be loud.  Generally 9 PM is considered quiet time.  Most hikers wake up with the sunrise.  

On the subject of sharing shelters...  They say most shelters sleep six (but whoever decided that was thinking about Dopey, Sneezy, Doc and the gang.)  But they really sleep three or four comfortably.  But the rule of thumb is:  on a rainy night, the shelter is not full until everyone is inside.

Enough about Rules for now-- I could do a whole post on Trail Ethics.  Generally speaking, the people walking the Trail are some of the friendliest, most down to earth folks you will ever meet.

The point that I want to make today is that sometimes you HAVE to break the rules-- and sometimes you CHOOSE to break the rules.  Let me start with having to break the rules.

The day I got dropped off for this section turned into an adventure of its own.  My mother, my niece, and my nephew were nice enough to make the road trip with me to a deep dark corner of Western CT near the NY border.

As a way to thank them, I offered to treat us all to dinner.  What was supposed to be a quick stop turned into a marathon thanks to the worst waitress of all time.  In the spirit of always trying to be positive and "looking at the bright side," I will spare you the details of that nightmare.  

The end result was that it was VERY dark outside by the time we finally escaped from the restaurant.  

You have to understand that in this little part of the universe, there are no street lights and the roads are not well signed.  The people who live there grew up there.  They already know the names of the streets-- so why clutter up the countryside with signs?  

Eventually we did come to a sign that said, "State Park on right."  There was a nice big parking lot (just like the guide book said there would be.)  So we pulled in.

It was a cloudy overcast night so there was no moon and we couldn't see past the circle of light generated by the car.  

We jokingly took pictures in the dark which almost came out thanks to the flash, but we could not see what was in the view finder until the flash went off.  Then we said our goodbyes (which is an event all its own.)  At family gatherings the goodbyes can take as long as the main event.  It was not too bad on this night as there were only four of us and I really wanted to get them back on the road home.  

So I unloaded my gear from the trunk-- including my trusty head lamp (which is awesome!)  I could see some of the fear leaving my Mom's eyes when she saw how powerful my headlamp was.

Finally they were on their way home and I made my way into the Park.  I was reassured when I came to the typical sign that you find in these kinds of parks with a map showing the different trails and landmarks.  But just for a minute... because that's when I realized my dilemma.  

The map sign clearly stated that I was in Kent State Park which is one of those dawn to dusk day hiking parks with no camping allowed.  To make matters worse, according to my map, the Appalachian Trail is on the other side of the river!  

This is a time for decision making.  Do I (1) use the cell phone to have them come back to get me, consider this a fun day with the family and try again tomorrow?  (2) Brave the unlit (no sidewalked) country roads in Western CT at this late hour?  Or (3) make a conscious decision to break the rules and camp out in a no camping park?

You guessed it... the big winner is option #3!  

I'm sure the family would have been happy to come back for me.  We all would have added just one more laugh to the many laughs we enjoyed on the ride out, but it was already late and I think they were tortured enough for one day by our waitress earlier-- so option #1 was not really acceptable to me.  Option #2:  Too dangerous.  I like adventure but not necessarily life risking adventure.  That's why I do indoor sky diving and don't jump out of perfectly good airplanes!  

That leaves option #3.  I followed the powerful beam of my headlamp into the woods, being careful to stop moving and turn the light off whenever I heard a car coming.  No need to attract any authority figures.  I went fairly deep into the woods , almost to  the top of the mountain.  I didn't go over the top as I was just going to have to climb back down in the morning to make my way to the AT.

Somewhere near the top I came across a nice flat, leaf covered clearing just off the side of the trail in the center of an outcropping of rocks to block the wind.  And to add to the experience, I could hear a babbling brook not far in the distance.  Perfect.  

This is the first time I ever set up camp in the dark, but the headlamp made the job easy.  I even found the perfect tree (not too close/not too far) to hang my bear bag.  

After making a few phone calls to find everyone safely home, I slept like a baby.  It was beautiful.  I considered removing the top cover of my Big Agnes tent to sleep with just the netting, but realized that with the cloudy sky I wouldn't be able to see any stars and there was the potential of rain-- so I left the cover on.  

As a side note:  I didn't stake my tent because I didn't want to leave holes in the ground so close to the trail.  "Leave No Trace."  Rule #1 (especially when you are bordering on the criminal.)  

In the morning I broke camp at first light so I could be gone by the time the rangers came through.  I fluffed up the leaves so no one would ever know I was there and carried my pack down a little way to a bench overlooking my babbling brook to consult my maps.  

To my absolute delight, I found out that my "babbling brook" was a raging waterfall.  It's the last picture I took before my batteries died.  You can see this photo in the previous post.

As I was consulting my maps the first two hikers of the day stopped at my waterfall.  As it turned out they weren't hikers at all.  They were Trail Angels.  You can read their story in an upcoming post on "Trail Angels."

My Kent State Park story is an example of having to break the rules.  Next is a story of choosing to break the rules.

Right now in CT there is a 3-mile Orange Blazed Detour on the AT at the road crossing over U.S. 7 near Conn. 112, just below Sharon Mountain.  This detour, according to the southbounders I passed and/or camped with, follows a country road that is nice enough (for city folks) but still a road.  Had there been a store to buy batteries or a restaurant to sit in (while my phone was charging...) I would have been happy to go the extra three miles.  There are neither.

But, again according to the southbounders, cars are driving across the bridge.  It's just closed to pedestrian traffic.  

If I walk three miles out of my way I could still make it to a campsite by nightfall.  But if I choose to ignore the Orange Blazed  Detour, I could make it to the next shelter!  

At the road crossing where the detour is, I met John who owns the garage at the intersection  and Phil (the auto detail guy).  You can read their stories in the "Trail Angel" post when I get to that.  For now let's just say they gave me the information I needed to get across the bridge to ignore the detour.

Happily, I am uploading this post from home and not from the Danbury Prison.  Obviously I made it across and continued to follow the original White Blazes without incident.  Some of the other hikers were saying that they thought hitchhiking was illegal in CT but that if you stand at the side of the road and look pathetic enough, sometimes people will offer you a ride (which is very different from hitchhiking.)  

But I just chose to walk right across.  If you are going to break the rules-- do it like you mean it.  There is an old Buddhist saying:  "Whenever you sit, sit.  Whenever you stand, stand.  Whatever you do-- don't wobble."  In other words, if you make a mistake (or in this case- break a rule) do it with the full force of your whole being.  Or as I like to say, "Live life on purpose!"  In dance we have a similar term:  "Own the movement."  Meaning don't be hesitant in your dancing.  Move with conviction, in a way that says, "I meant to do that."  

So there you have the difference between HAVING to break the rules, and CHOOSING to break the rules.  Hopefully you won't think too badly of me for being a radical rule breaker.  Especially since I would break both of these rules again in similar circumstances. 

Having mentioned so many "Trail Angels" I think that should be the focus of my next post.  

I have also decided that I will continue to do 3-5 day sections.  This seems to be comfortable for the legs.  And being in New England it is fairly easy to access many sections of the Trail.

Hope you are enjoying my adventure as much as I am. 

Peace and Love,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pics from Day Hikes...

These are some shots from my Day Hikes to Mt. Battie in Maine and to Mt Monadnock in NH:

This is the view of the early morning fog rolling in off the water from a small outlook on Mt Battie 

Later in the day from the same spot is a beautiful view of Camden, Rockland and Hope Maine.

By walking out to the end of this breaker...

You will find... this lighthouse!
It is worth the walk.  I won't bore you with the pics I took of the birds, boats and people at the nearby park....  Just go there if you are around and see it for your self.  If you are in the market to buy a house in this area of Maine, I can hook you up with two really great opportunities!

Here is the view from my lunch spot at the summit of Mt. Monadnock.

And the answer to the question... how much does a kite cost these days?  Free, if you are creative enough to turn someone's trash into a treasure.

And you can read the story behind this little gem in tomorrow's post on "Breaking the Rules..." 

Peace and Love,

What is a White Blaze...

A White Blaze is a two inch wide by six inch high rectangular swatch of white paint.  Usually these white blazes are found on trees, but you may find them on rocks or telephone poles or anywhere, so keep your eyes open.

"On telephone poles?" you ask.  Yes, it's true, the AT crosses over some back roads as well as some busy roads (including the Mass Turnpike.)  Occasionally, there are times when you need to walk along the road for a while before heading back into the woods.  But don't be lulled by cars and civilization because your only warning to get back on the Trail is a 2" x 6" white blaze on a random tree (that may or may not have a worn path nearby.)  

It's these white blazes alone, that keep you trekking in the right direction.  In tricky spots with an awkward turn, you will find two blazes on the same tree (rock, etc.)  One blaze is slightly higher (starting about mid-blaze.)  If the higher blaze is on the right, the Trail makes a random right turn.  Of course, if the left blaze is higher the opposite is true.  

In places where the Trail is less obvious, white blazes will be found closer together.  Sometimes you can see the next blaze from the one you are standing next to.  

At other times, when the Trail is more obvious (at least according to the ATC Trail Runners who paint the blazes) they are more spread out.  Sometimes as much as a quarter mile.

This can be frustrating because it is easy to imagine missing a blaze.  It's not like you can stop and ask for directions.  Some days I only saw two or three people all day.  And sometimes they are going the opposite direction.

In these sparsely blazed sections, a white blaze is a beacon calling to you.  It easily adds a spring to your step.  It also squashes that thought of having to retrace your steps up or down a mountain, just to re-climb from a different angle.  

While planning my hike I thought it would be fun (or at least interesting) to create some sort of ritual of touching each blaze as I walked by (or at least counting them.)  

Touching each blaze is not practical.  In fact it's probably impossible.  Most are at eye level, but some are very high up in the trees to be more visible.  Some, as I said are on the rocks, which from the bottom of a hill appear to be at eye level, but once you climb to the top, you find that the rock is of course, low to the ground.  Trust me, no one wants to bend down to the ground with a 40 pound pack on their back-- no matter how cool a ritual it might be!

So I took to counting my blazes.  I got to fifty blazes before I decided it was stupid.  I have better things to think about than how many blazes there are from GA to ME.  

The lesson here is to plan carefully, but be flexible.  Now I am just grateful that they are there.  The blazes are a tool or a guide.  Not unlike our habits in real life.  We build good habits (or bad habits) and these habits guide us in our decision making.  We don't think about them much, but they have a huge impact in our lives... This is the White Blaze.

Intersecting with the 2,178.3 miles of white blazed Appalachian Trail is a whole network of Blue Blazed Trails.  These trails are mostly maintained by the local Forest and Park Services or by Volunteer Groups.

Mostly, a blue blaze will lead you off the Trail toward a shelter, campground or water source.

Occasionally, a blue blazed trail is a trail unto itself, looping around to connect back to the starting point (often a parking lot) and is situated not far out of a town.

A good example of this is the 24 mile Mohawk Trail in CT.  Some of the Mohawk Trail used to be white blazed until the Trail was relocated in 1988.  

Now it is a spider web of connecting trails that are great for day hikers of various ability and looking for different levels of challenge.  

Thru hikers will follow the blue blazed trails to get into a town to resupply, to treat themselves to a night in a motel (with indoor plumbing and a shower) or even to find a restaurant or bar for "town" food or social interaction.  

And then there is the little known Orange Blaze.  This is the DETOUR BLAZE.  I'll write more about this in the next post:  "Breaking the Rules..." where I'll discuss the art of illegal camping and ignoring the Orange Blazes.  

Why are you still sitting at your computer?  GO OUTSIDE NOW!

Peace and Love,

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I have the power...

Sorry to be out of touch for so long.  Modern technology is great, but without power, it's just extra (useless) weight in your pack!  My cell phone battery died the day after I got dropped in the woods!  And to make matters worse--my camera batteries died, too.  I do pack spare AA batteries but somewhere in the packing process, one of the batteries must have fallen out.  One battery isn't enough.  

Anyway, this has been a great section.  I'll take the next couple of days to fill in some of the details for those who are interested.  

I was hoping to be out on the Trail for another week but I am taking my own advice.  Many of you have heard me say this over and over again:  Listen to your body!

And my legs are saying, "That is far enough...."

The good news is; I didn't pull anything this time out.  I did occasionally feel some cramping coming on, but after stopping, resting (and massaging!) I could continue on.

I have found that I actually enjoy hiking in the rain.  There is something mesmerizing about it, but the slipping/sliding is not good for the leg.  So it was careful baby steps and a very short walk on that rainy day.

The next day was a little slippery to start but improved as the sun came up and dried things out.

Realistically, I could have done another day (or maybe two) but not much more... When the opportunity for a ride came up-- I took it.

Speaking of opportunities, I have been presented with a business opportunity which I will post as soon as the details are worked out and it's a "done deal."

So, check back over the next few days to read about some Trail Flavor.  We'll probably start with the basics.  Topics like:  "Following the White Blaze," "Trail Angels" and "Tools of the Trade."  

I will be spending the rest of the day unpacking, doing laundry and taking about ten showers.

Peace and Love,

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's pretty official...

For the past couple weeks I have been doing little "day hikes" almost daily.  Some have been shorter than others, but today I made it official by heading back up to Mt. Monadnock.  The campsite is still closed (as I said in the last post) but I got up there early enough to make it home for the night.  

Monadnock is no Mt. Washington (in the White Mountains) or Katahdin (in Maine) but it is a pretty good challenge and I'm thinking if the leg can handle this, then I can handle some of the flatter sections of the AT.  

Also, I got to hike with the gear.  I went from mini waist pack to "day backpack," to hiking with the big pack with about 30 pounds of gear.  So far, so good.  Today I went back to the mini waist pack to hike Monadnock.  And I'm glad I did.  It was very slippery from the rain yesterday and I got to see first hand why the campground is closed.  The trees were down everywhere.  It looked like a tornado went through.  It was a bit of an obstacle course.  But I managed, just fine.

So, here's the new plan...  

I will be staying in town this week Monday through Friday.  Then I will be going to CT on Sunday (I figure I might as well hang out with Mom for Mother's Day since I'm here.)  Then early next week-- I start logging some miles on the Appalachian Trail.  

That means that this week (Monday through Friday) I will be available to do massage.  So feel free to spread the word.  But schedule your own appointment first as times will fill in quickly! 

To schedule an appointment, please call me at (617) 543-0482 or send an e-mail to .  Please do not try to schedule your appointment on this website by making a comment.   

So finally, about six weeks later than planned, I will be out on the Appalachian Trail for the first real section.  Then it will be official.

Peace and Love,