Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review of 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed.  That is a complete sentence ... with a subject and a verb.  It is also both the adopted name of, and a self-avowed characterization of the author of ‘Wild:  from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’.

'Wild' is not so much a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as it is an autobiography, using the vehicle of a hike, with ample flashbacks, to tell the story of the unraveling of Cheryl’s life following her mother’s sudden death.  And the hike was not so much a hike as it was a retreat, allowing her time for ample reflection to begin to repair that life.

‘Wild’ was selected by Oprah Winfrey as the first featured book for her re-launched book club 2.0.  As a result the book quickly catapulted to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list in July 2012.

‘Wild’ is a book about a tough woman doing a very tough thing, written for women who want to be tough, or at least to feel tough vicariously.  It’s not for men, and it is definitely not a book to give a hiker who wants to learn about long distance hiking, or about the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  It’s a carefully crafted story, and most of it does not even take place on the PCT.  Cheryl hiked pieces of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, skipped the High Sierras because of heavy snow cover, and bypassed several other smaller sections.  Her actual trail descriptions are well-done prose, but for the most part they are generic – the kind of stuff you find yourself wanting to skim through quickly.

Again, the book isn’t really about the hike.  The most memorable part of the book for me took place a year or so before her hike began.  Presented in the vivid detail that is her style, it is a description of the shooting of a horse.  It made me cry uncontrollably.  This was even more heart-tugging than the prolonged and agonizing description of the death of Cheryl’s mother, which just made me a bit misty.  More on her mother in a moment …

Despite the accolades, I didn’t like 'Wild' very much.  It really is targeted to women—a shrewd marketing choice, since polls show that women read more than twice as many books as men these days.  Women writing stories for women about women-with-grit sells big.  (That’s rather disheartening for me as a man writing a book about a man [Eden's Womb]). 

But more important than the gender bias is the fact that I just don’t like Cheryl Strayed as a person.  I can’t look at a photo of her without cringing – those eyes just creep me out.  When I read ‘Outlander’ I had the same reaction to its author Diana Gabaldon, though for different reasons.  And I’ve had the same negative reaction to a few male authors, notably Isaac Asimov.

Personality of the author is something that matters to me.  I sense it in their prose on many levels from subtle style cues and references to choices of emphasis and subject matter in individual scenes.  Strayed is fundamentally a slut and a mental cripple, permanently damaged by her mother and the life her mother lived.  As a result, she’s a ‘one trick pony’ when it comes to writing, or at least she has been so far.  She burst on the literary scene with her debut novel ‘Torch’ which is a thinly veiled recapitulation of her personal trauma at the death of the mother on whom she was (and remains) cripplingly dependent.  And ‘Wild’ is little more than a variation on the theme.  Her mother’s life, death, and cloying presence permeates the story.  Cheryl's hike was an attempt to force direction into her out-of-control physical life, and that succeeded, at least superficially.  But the text of ‘Wild’ is testament to the fact that she’s still as dependent on the cancerous relationship with her mother as she has ever been.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mythopoeia: Building a rich fictional culture

Example of symbolism from Eden's Womb- "6id" pronounced "six-id" is shorthand for "Seeks It", which is, in turn, an acronym relevant to humanity's end-time spiritual quest:  the Soul's Emergent Evolving Knowledge Sustains, Impels, Transcends.  The snake imagery is fundamental to the story, and the central mountain with seventeen-rayed sun represent the destination of the epic quest--the 'Last Fell Capital of the Unpunished', DunCanon.

“May the Force be with you.”

Did you know that there is a religion known as Jediism, officially recognized by the US military, among other government institutions?

Jediism began, of course, as pure artificial myth, rooted in the fictional construction of a venerable religious order in the Star Wars movie series.

The art of building artificial mythology is called Mythopoeia, and it’s an important part of a good Fantasy and Science Fiction tale.  Tolkien popularized the term when he wrote a poem with that title in 1931; and he was, of course, a master at the art. He formulated thousands of years of Middle Earth history and legend, beginning with a creation myth—much more than actually made it to the pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  For him, Middle Earth Mythopoeia was a passion and a life work.

A more general term for this ‘research’ that Fantasy/Sci-Fi writers engage in as they develop their tales is ‘World Building’.  I call it writing a ‘Back Story’—stuff about individual characters and their world that might never make it into the story, but which informs their motivations and actions.  And since every culture is heavily defined by its founding myth and legend, I've paid much attention to Eden's Womb's Mythopoeia.  I have extensive back story notes – enough to eventually write several ‘prequels’.  It was forty years ago that I began work on what has become 'Eden's Womb', so in some sense it already has a rich ‘real’ history too.

In coming posts I’m going to share with you some of my ‘back story’ writings.  Today I’ll share a little taste:  the four couplet poem written in the 'Tight Rhymed Fourteener' form that I've pioneered and written about previously.  It's a poem introducing the StrongMother Naja and hints at the course of the plot.  And yes, I have written tens of thousands of words of Mythopoeia underlying these eight lines:

Since primal dawn I’ve conjured spawn, and into Chaos hurled.
Now fly at need, my living seed—approach yon hapless world.

Descend from height by dark of night; invade their misted skies,
There make from cloud an icy shroud—a clever snowflake guise.

Thy prisms train, my devious grain: enslave the witless sun
To scour the land with beacon’s hand—and seize their Chosen One.

He dwells, ‘tis said, where glaciers spread – “For lo!” the prophet cries,
“From ice-bound womb, ere crack of doom, our final King must rise.”

—Strongmother Naja, Book of Collected Inheritance


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review of 'Becoing Odyssa'

Jennifer Pharr Davis has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail three times.  The first time (2005) she was a novice backpacker, fresh out of college.  The second time (2008) she set the unofficial women's speed record, hiking the trail with her husband's support in 57 days.  Then in 2011 she outpaced all the men, setting a new overall record for speed-hiking the Appalachian Trail, doing it in an astounding 46 days.

I always thought her trail memoir, 'Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail' was about her supported speed hikes, so I wasn't interested.  But no, talking with Laurie Potteiger at the ATC this October, I learned that it is about her first thru-hike, where Jennifer sets out to learn about herself and to set a course for her post-college life.  And Laurie highly recommended it as one of the most well written of the trail memoirs she has read.

Well, that was recommendation enough for me.  I bought it then and there.

The charm of 'Becoming Odyssa' is its emotional openness.  Jen shares her feelings without being gushy.  She shows her innocence (she was 21 at the time of the hike) without shame, and she shows her steel-gut strength at the same time.  Most of all, her writing conveys her love of the trail and of hiking ... hiking fast!

I picked up 'Becoming Odyssa' and couldn't put it down.  I read it cover to cover in under 24 hours.  Because I had just finished hiking the trail myself, the settings brought back vivid memories.  The consistent and readable writing style kept my interest.  There were touches of humor, and a few sub-plots with mesmerizing tension and human interest.

But despite expectations implied by the title, I didn't find this book to be primarily about a 'lost young woman finding herself'.  Jen started her hike with an unusually mature sense of self for someone that young, and with a firm faith that never wavered.  So the story conveys no overriding 'emotional/psychological journey', and therefore no strong unifying theme that runs throughout.  It's really just a travelogue, albeit a well-done one.

What you won't find in Becoming Odyssa is a lot of nuts and bolts advice or opinion (regarding gear, psychology, preparation, etc.), which many AT memoirs have.  Jen resists the urge to claim expertise. She hiked with an old external frame pack and a mop handle for a walking stick.  I found this very refreshing and endearing.

I've now read fifty Appalachian Trail memoirs, and I'd categorize all of them as primarily travelogues.  Only Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods takes a stab at transcending that orthodoxy, and it only succeeds during the first half of the book.  Interestingly, I felt the same sense of anticlimax in Becoming Odyssa.  She describes the northern half of the trail in just the last third of the book even though this part of the trail contains some of the greatest physical challenges.  I sensed that Jen was suffering from "Katahdin Fever", as most thru-hikers do: focusing more on 'eating the miles' and getting to the end, rather than smelling the roses.

Yet there's another reason why a northbound AT hike memoir 'tails off' near its end: simple exhaustion.  As I hiked the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Mahoosucs of western Maine, I found that the difficult trail left me with little energy for journaling at the end of the day.  The trail becomes a simple survival test, so the human interest stories and the inspirational descriptions and observations dwindle.

AT street scene, High St. Duncannon, PA
Despite the overall positive experience that I had reading this book, I have to object to one point:  Jen seriously disrespects Pennsylvania, and the towns of Duncannon and Port Clinton in particular.  Now, Pennsylvania's notorious rocks and reputed lack of views are the fodder for endless good-natured hiker jokes and even serious contempt.  But to flatly state that "In Duncannon, wherever I expected to see life, there was decay" smacks of stereotyping.  Just look at the scene I photographed on High Street as I walked through Duncannon last April 14th.  Excuse me: I see life.  In fact, this qualifies as the single most attractive Appalachian Trail town scene that I encountered anywhere on the trail.

When you 'dis' someone or something, your words usually speak more loudly about you than they do about the object of your disrespect.  In this case, Jen's view seemed to have been pre-conditioned by the opinion of trail legend Warren Doyle, who gave her the advice not to stop in Duncannon.  I'm left wondering whether Doyle (the man) had a bad experience at the Doyle (the hotel) back in the 70's, and hasn't bothered to revisit and re-evaluate since.

All things considered, though, I found Becoming Odyssa to be an excellent read.  If you read only two Appalachian Trail books in your life, this should be one of them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eden's Womb - the Appalachian Trail connection

“And this shall be peace:
when the Enemy invades our land and treads upon our fortresses,
we shall raise up against him Seven Shepherds,
even Eight Princes of Men.”
—Micah 5:5

The contest-winning novel I’m working on, 'Eden's Womb',  is, in simplest terms, the story of an epic hike.  As the tale begins, a young man named Adam BrownEarth is launched on a desperate quest to rescue his kidnapped mother.  Through the difficult journey he discovers himself, as many of us who undertake long hikes do.  Reluctant and even resisting at first, he learns to accept and wield the rare gifts he was born with.

Adam's hike turns out to be six thousand miles in length, more or less; and it is filled with deadly threats and detours.  The journey begins with just a handful of characters.  Adam’s mother Trilly is kidnapped by a nefarious world traveler, and he and his best friend Perfid Sam, his erstwhile girlfriend Evvie, and his severely handicapped twin sister Lissa pursue Trilly's abductor across five hundred miles of ice sheet (depicted above).  The sojourn concludes with Adam leading hundreds of followers, including exiled Princes from the eight original centers of highest human learning and achievement, on a climactic Appalachian Trail ‘section hike’ from Pearisburg to DunCanon (as it is then spelled, meaning ‘Stronghold of the Sacred Word’ from the old Gaelic ‘dun’ meaning fort, and the Greek ‘kanon’ meaning code or standard).

But this is the far distant future: 635,039 AD.  The world has been overrun by post-human super-species.  Pearisburg is long gone, smothered deep in the realm of a mysterious queen who lives atop a granite pinnacle called The Priest, and DunCanon is now at the edge of the glaciers and is under attack from the post-human monsters.  It has become the last remaining of the eight original strongholds of free humans.

If DunCanon is to survive, ancient prophecy must fulfill.  This prophecy—indeed available to us today in Micah 5:5 of the 'First Canon'—declares that in the end-time the Seventh Shepherd will appear and drive back the Hoards of Armageddon.  In Adam's world, history had already identified six undying Shepherds, all of virgin birth, who transformed humanity and elevated human spiritual awareness in progressive steps as humans became ready—Jesus of Nazareth being the first of these.  The Seventh is to bring humanity to final perfect oneness with the Infinite Creative Force.  Some call this ‘The Rapture’.


Most of Eden's Womb is written and now in various stages of revision and refinement and is being posted here on this blog.  I hope you'll come along for the hike :-)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Life after the Appalachian Trail

Everything’s official now: I’m a certified 2012 double thru-hiker.  The ATC sent northbound and southbound thru-hiker certificates, plus a Christmas card with the Roan High Knob shelter pictured ... and I ordered a custom oval sticker to display on the old trusty 'two ton steel tent'.

Nearly everybody who's done an AT thru-hike agrees: it changes your life.  I think about the Appalachian Trail daily.  I still dream about it at night.  I miss it.  I want to go back; and I probably will (see the end of this post).

But I have some writing to do first.  The trail’s influence is seeping into everything, including my writing projects.  Check back to this blog (or subscribe) for more details of how the Appalachian Trail features in Ice King (plus a new AT-focused ‘prequel’) and for more about a proposed AT guide book for day hikers who want to do as little as a mile or as much as the whole trail in a single year.

My writing ambitions are big – maybe bigger than a double thru-hike.  I have many months of writing planned.  And the laser-focus that I nurtured and sustained on the trail – the drive that allowed me to see the double hike through to the finish after ten long months – is *seriously* helping.  Because my mega-novel Ice King won that novel contest prize, it gets top priority … and it has a big finish that happens on the AT.  That’s the only part not yet written.  Stay tuned, especially you Duncannon fans.

But sitting at the keyboard all day is no balanced life.  As the sidebar on my blog says, I also plan to “hike to keep fit”.  The goal is to hike at least 100 miles per month, though I admit to slacking in the 6 weeks since I finished my thru-hike.

Upcoming hikes will be divided between strolling the beach and extending my ‘Personal Continuous Footpath’ from the AT to my new ocean condo in North Topsail Beach, NC.  This will include hiking a big chunk of North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I’m sure I’ll also be visiting the AT (Trail Days? Cullowhee?).

Since I bought my first hiker’s GPS in June 2010, I’ve logged nearly 6600 miles including 4722.6 official AT trail miles (4368.4 done in 2012).  Wouldn’t it be cool to get to 10,000 AT miles?  I’m seriously considering it.  My 2012 adventure was so much fun that I’m tentatively planning to do the same thing over again in 2014 or 2015.  Stay tuned ...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trail Recap 27 of 27: Gulf Hagas to Katahdin, ME

Katahdin as viewed from the shores of Pemadumcook Lake

Gulf Hagas (West Branch, Pleasant River) to Katahdin: 84.2 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Beaches.  Hiking through Maine's lake country, the trail passes several nice sandy beaches and even more gravel beaches, most with the added benefit of mountain views.  Lakes of note included Crawford Pond, Lower Jo-Mary, Pemadumcook, Nahmakanta, Rainbow Lake  and the separate Rainbow Dead Waters, and Crescent Pond.  In addition there was a five mile walk along the broad West Branch of the Penobscot River.

People:  Jonathan, the ridge runner in Baxter State Park, wearing a Len Foote Hike Inn visor from the other end of the AT; an 80 year old lady from Ohio, hard of hearing, who was hiking a 40 mile chunk of the hundred mile wilderness, planning to take 14 days to do it.  She'd been hiking sections of the AT since she turned 70, and still hopes to finish it all.  Thru-hiking couple 'Secrets' and 'Shenanigans', who I shared my Katahdin summit experience with after they had passed me on the way up.  I also met 'Secrets' near Daicey Pond the previous day.

Supply/Overnight:  Millinocket and the Hannaford grocery store there.

Worst Memory:  A 'double whammy' of flat tires.  First the right rear went flat, and the timing was the worst possible - Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, all shops closed for the next three days.  I filled the tire with liquid 'Fix-a-Flat' sealant and that slowed the leak enough so that I could drive 20 miles before pumping it again, so I decided to live with it through the weekend -- but then the left rear went flat two days later!

Best Day Hike:  I cannot honestly tip my hat to anything other than the climb up Katahdin from the day-use parking area at Katahdin Stream Campground, Baxter State Park.  This is a strenuous all day hike with some serious rock scrambling, so you have to be pretty fit to do it.  Also the exposed high ground leaves you vulnerable to sudden extreme weather changes, so come prepared.

Katahdin from near the summit of White Cap Mountain
If a Katahdin summit climb is too much, I highly recommend the climb up to White Cap Mountain from Logan Brook Road (part of the KIJM North Maine Woods system of toll roads, branching off from Jo-Mary Road).  The climb takes you to the exposed summit with gorgeous panoramic views, including a killer view of Katahdin.  And the climb itself is a treat, featuring more than 800 well-built granite stone steps.
Sampling of the stone steps on the north side of White Cap Mountain

Friday, December 14, 2012

Trail Recap 26 of 27: Stratton to Gulf Hagas, ME

Lake Onawa, Borestone Mtn., and pristine Maine wilderness from Barren Slide viewpoint.
Of the 10,000 +/- photos I took during this ten month adventure, this is my favorite.

East Flagstaff Road near Stratton, ME to Gulf Hagas ('Grand Canyon of Maine'), Katahdin Iron Works Road:  87.4 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Water.  I was inundated by a two hour Monsoon with thunder, lightning, small hail and at least five inches of rain while hiking past half a dozen gorgeous ponds.  I had more stream fords in this section than any other by far, and rode the official AT ferry across the Kennebec River.  And when I was well above the water it was still visible: Maine's glorious lake country was always on display.

People:  'Hillbilly Dave', Kennebec River ferryman and trail icon. 'Birdman', flip-flopper headed from Katahdin to Port Clinton, PA, having finished everything south of there already.  We had many mutual acquaintances.  Thru hikers 'Rainbow' (52) and her hiking partner, the intrepid 'Mammaw B' (71).  They left Springer on March 15 and March 5 respectively, hooked up early, and had remained together ever since.  Rainbow had seriously pulled a groin muscle near Sugarloaf Mtn. and was hobbling along at no more than a mile per hour.  Yet Mammaw B was sticking with her to the end.  I'm afraid Rainbow might have been unable to do the demanding climb up Katahdin to finish her hike.  The log book at Katahdin Stream Campground Ranger Station was ominously silent on this subject, and so I've worried about her ever since.  'Santa's Helper' who I met twice, once doing trail magic on a day off, and once on the trail, headed NoBo to Katahdin.  A couple of other hikers mistook me for him, as we both had significant white beards.  Last but not least was Audrey, the ridge runner for this section.

Supply/Overnight:  Jimmy's (an independent locally owned grocery store) in their expansive new location on the south side of Bingham, ME.  Robbins Hill overlook rest area near Twelve Corners.  Trailhead parking lots.

Angry torrent that I  had to push through, was a dry footpath an hour earlier.
Worst Memory:  The afore-mentioned Monson Monsoon:  Although this anomalous stationary storm happened in a tropical airmass with temperatures never getting below 60F, the relentless two-hour downpour, complete with plenty of hail,  brought me closer to hypothermia than at any other time on the trail.  I was slogging through calf-deep fast flowing water where dry trail had once been, then negotiating exposed bedrock as lightning crackled overhead.  This intense experience is seared in my memory forever.

The Lobster Claw, AT now stays right, should go left thru tunnel
Best Day Hike:  From Troutdale Road (Moxie Pond Road?) near Joe's Hole on the south end of Moxie Pond, head north on the AT over Bald Mountain, also called Moxie Bald.  This mountain is made of the most extraordinary solid granite slabs I've ever seen, unrivaled anywhere else on the trail.  Here are billion year old walkways that are smooth and level.  The views are to die for.  On the way up (NoBo) you'll pass under a massive rock slab (I call it the Lobster Claw) where there's an opportunity for a trail reroute through a narrow tunnel that would make the Lemon Squeezer and Fatman Squeeze seem 'half-assed' by comparison.
Landmark on Elliottsville Rd just off ME 6/15, Monson

The hike up to Barren Ledges is another great choice (photo up top) - it's a little known fact that this walk is a fairly easy day hike accessible by car from Monson via  Elliottsville Road, exactly 11.8 miles east of ME 6/15, through the Bodfish Intervale (cross the bridge after the 'private road' sign), then left past Otter Pond to the end of the road at a side trail trailhead with an 0.8 mile walk to the AT then just another couple of miles to those killer viewpoints.  If possible make this a one-way hike, continuing on north and coming out at Gulf Hagas, with great views from several more summits.

Finally, I also strongly encourage day hikers to take the AT northbound from the big Monson (ME 6/15) parking lot at least as far as the stunningly picturesque North Pond.  You'll pass three other pretty ponds along the way.
North Pond

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trail Recap 25 of 27: Oquossoc to Stratton, ME

Killer view, looking north from Avery Peak.  Katahdin is visible 180 trail miles away.

Height of Land overlook south of Oquossoc, ME to East Flagstaff Rd. near Stratton, ME: 62.0 miles

General Impression/Theme:  The best of Maine, still tough hiking but with the biggest payoff in terms of scenery.

People:  Several meetings with thru hikers Micah 'Man Cub' Goldberg and Anna 'Kit Fox' Tucker.  I also met her father who is from Maine originally.  Micah had a surprise for Anna when they summited Katahdin a couple weeks after I met them.  Micah blogged his hike at 'Walk Outside'

Second meeting with Flip-Flopper 'Night Walker', hiking with a huge GPS unit (being paid by the ATC to take the data).  He was on the summit of Springer, March 31, and was the person who snapped my 'first white blaze' photo.  Flip-Flopping couple 'Mandela' and 'Terranauta' headed from Katahdin to Marion, VA.  Hiked with them for a while and learned that we had several mutual acquaintances, including Micah and Anna, who they had met long ago on Blood Mountain, GA.  German thru hiker Johannes from Munich, who I first met at Rock Gap near Franklin, NC.  Thru-hiker 'Lasagna.'  A day hiking family consisting of a high school science teacher who had lived in Ft. Collins, CO the same time I did, and his three children aged 9-21 out peak bagging N. and S. Crocker on a rainy day.

Supply/Overnight:  the IGA on the south side of Rangeley, Trailhead and overlook parking areas, The Wal-Mart in Mexico/Rumford.

Worst Memory:  The battery in my vehicle woke up dead one morning. I had to call AAA.  Turns out my laptop was sucking more juice than I had believed possible - had left it on overnight for three nights in a row and had run the motor very little during the intervening two days.  The Rangeley mechanic from RP Auto Body and Repair showed up quickly with a jump start then led me to his little shop on School Street, with no sign (everybody knows him), and took the time to give me a free diagnostic of the battery and alternator.

Best Day Hike:  There are two good ones.  Saddleback's open summit can be reached via a trail up from the ski lodge or via the AT from the big parking lot on ME 4 south of Rangeley.  Be sure to hike north as far as you can go beyond Saddleback to experience more great open rock-slab views from The Horn and even Little Saddleback.

But my favorite for this section is the Bigelows, particularly Myron H. Avery Peak (shown up top).  This can be reached from the south on the AT from ME 27 and from the north from East Flagstaff Road via the Safford Brook side trail.  If you have support or two vehicles, I strongly recommend doing this entire section.  The views of Maine's lake country are unparalleled anywhere else on the trail.  Similar views are available from Katahdin, and from Barren Ledges (see upcoming reports) but for me this hike is more pleasing overall, particularly because of the close encounter with, and great views of Horn Pond that are thrown in as an added bonus.
The only privy that sports a white blaze on the entire AT, Little Swift River Pond Campsite

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trail Recap 24 of 27: Gorham, NH to Oquossoc, ME

Mt. Madison from Cascade Mountain, another of my favorite shots

US 2 east of Gorham, NH to Height of Land overlook, Mooselookmeguntic Lake, south of Oquossoc, ME:  64.3 miles

General Impression/Theme:  The gauntlet continues here in the 'hard part' of Maine, including the infamous Mahoosuc Notch.  It took me thirty difficult yo-yo day hikes (roughly two weeks for the average one-way thru-hiker) to get through the White Mountains and the Mahoosuc Range.

People:  'Gumpy' and 'Peeper', successful father-daughter thru-hiking pair, hiking with 'Hawk' and another couple whose trail names I didn't get.  Met them coming down off East Goose Eye and then again in Mahoosuc Notch. Their hike is reported in full on Trail Journals.  Second meeting with Harry and Leo, who did the whole trail virtually all by day hikes this year.  The hard working college kids of the Maine Conservation Corps, doing some exquisite new stone step work and stone water bars.

Supply/Overnight:  Gorham/Berlin, NH Wal-Mart, Trailhead parking lots; the Hannaford and Wal-Mart in Rumford/Mexico, ME

Worst Memory:  My second bee sting, with some allergic reaction - body rash for a couple days, just north of Grafton Notch.  Also ripped my trusty Columbia Titanium nylon shorts and had to make a major repair.

East Baldpate as seen from the summit of the west peak
Best Day Hike:  There are several outstanding day hikes in this section, but my favorite was the ascent over the massive bedrock slabs of East Baldpate, reached by hiking north on the AT from Grafton Notch, ME 26.

Second choice, and also a great hike, is a loop hike over Goose Eye Mountain from the Goose Eye-Cado  Col Trailhead parking area on Success Pond Road - great views.

Third, for the 'thrill seeker' whether fit or not, I'd recommend hiking the Notch Trail from the ample trailhead parking area off Success Pond Road up to Mahoosuc Notch and then hike down-and-back through the Notch - a little or a lot, as much as you care to do.  The hardest part of Mahoosuc Notch is on that upper end, so you immediately get a sense of what it's like and can turn around if it's not for you.  Amazingly, the approach trail - the Notch Trail - is a very easy two mile hike end to end, so that even the novice day hiker who wants to do a little rock scrambling can get a taste of this infamous toughest mile of the Appalachian Trail.

A fourth great hike takes you the other way (south on the AT) from the Grafton Notch parking lot.  This is the popular climb up to the Old Speck fire/observation tower via the AT and then an 0.3 mile side trail to the wooded summit (excellent views from the tower).  There is an opportunity for a loop hike via the Grafton Loop trail.

Dream Lake, Mt. Madison in the distance
Finally, though I didn't do this whole hike, there's a fine day hike coming up from North Road, Gorham via the Peabody Brook Trail (small roadside parking spot in what seems like a residential neighborhood) to Dream Lake (which I did visit).  From the end of the lake closest to the AT, the water frames a picture-postcard view of Mt. Madison.  There's a good loop hike from there past Dryad Falls and back down to North Road via the Dryad Falls Trail and then the Austin Brook Trail.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trail Recap 23 of 27: Twin Mtn. to Gorham, NH

Pictured above is the Crag Camp Shelter.
Seldom visited by AT long distance hikers,
it nonetheless gets my nod as the best overall official AT shelter.
('Official' because it is listed in the AT guide book,
best overall because of its architecture, roominess, cleanliness, and setting/view.)
Operated by the Randolph Mountain Club, it has three bunk rooms,
costs $13 (in 2012) to stay, has a caretaker and a killer view:
Sitting on the north slopes of Mt. Adams, the view from the picture window
overlooks the upper reaches of Kings Ravine with Mt. Madison looming behind.
Believe it or not the Kings Ravine trail climbs straight up that headwall!  

Zealand Trail junction to Hogan Rd. near US 2 east of Gorham, NH: 54.9 miles

General Impression/Theme:  The heart of the White Mountains - the Presidentials.

People:  Like the previous segment, this one was saturated with people, so I rarely had in depth conversations with anyone.  Talked with the Crag Camp Shelter caretaker for half an hour.  Ran into Beth 'Patches' for the third time on July 25 on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail (not even on the AT).  She had finished her thru-hike on July 13th and was just hiking around her adopted home grounds for fun - an amazing chance meeting.  The only other identifiable long distance hiker I met and talked at length with was 'Talks-a-lot' (who does).  She was on her way to Katahdin, doing a big chunk of the trail this year to finish the whole thing.

Supply/Overnight:  The AMC Highland Center (3 nights), Trailhead parking lots, the Gorham/Berlin Wal-Mart.

Worst Memory:  The only time in my entire 270 day-hike adventure that I got turned around and hiked the wrong way.  It happened as I was descending Wildcat Ridge toward Pinkham Notch.  I came out on a rock outcrop and lost the trail momentarily.  When I thought I had found it again, what I found was the way I had just come down.  Fortunately it didn't take too long to realize that if you're going down toward Pinkham Notch you shouldn't be doing an extended gnarly climb :-/

Inca-trail-like stone work, slopes of Mt. Adams
Best Day Hike:  This section is in a class by itself.  Who doesn't want to climb Mt. Washington from Pinkham Notch visitor center?  The Tuckerman Ravine route is the most popular.  If that's not your bag, then ask the friendly and patient volunteers behind the information desk there at the visitor center for a recommendation that suits your tastes.  There are more great hikes here than you can shake a stick at.  For me the hands-down pick for best day hike is the 'guts' of the classic Presidential Traverse: the arc of trail, virtually all above timber line, from Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison.  Shell out your $25 and drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, park and head north on the AT from there, going as far as you care to.  Make the return trip via some of the summits that the AT bypasses (Clay, Jefferson, and Adams).  The Madison Springs Hut, newly rebuilt and expanded in 2011, is a perfect rest stop along the way.  This is not particularly difficult hiking, but be sure you are prepared for sudden extreme weather changes: do not attempt this hike unless you have experience, adequate clothing, and some understanding of high alpine mountain weather.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trail Recap 22 of 27: Lyme to Twin Mtn, NH

Part of the 1000 vertical feet of cascades along the Beaver Brook Trail:
Despite the extreme trail difficulty, this is one of my most favorite places along the entire AT

Lyme-Dorchester Road to the Zealand Trail near the AMC Zealand Hut (the trailhead is near the town of Twin Mountain): 69.9 miles

General Impression/Theme:  The gauntlet is thrown down.  Entering into the White Mountains, the trail gets noticeably more challenging, and my pace slowed down.  I also began to need to take a rest day about every five or six days.

People:  The trails in the White Mountains during the peak of vacation season were packed with people.  Most of them were just that - vacationers, though often very fit and well-geared so they were indistinguishable from thru-hikers (except perhaps for the distinctive 'hiker-bouquet'?)  I had casual conversations with many and was able to help one woman hiking with three young boys headed for Galehead Hut from South Twin who had run out of water; but for the most part I found myself concentrating so much on my own effort, so that I rarely found the time to 'interview' or have in depth conversations with even the most interesting people I met.  It turns out that the only people I had sustained conversations with along the trail were 'officials': the Galehead Hut croo member whom I met one afternoon as she climbed up the Gale River Trail - got the lo-down on her experience and routine - and two shelter caretakers: of the Garfield Ridge and Guyot shelters.  The latter was up on Mt. Guyot rebuilding a distinctive cairn with built-in 'easy chair'.

Worst Memory:  Climbing up South Twin from the north I had my worst fall of the entire hike.  I slipped on a sloped rock while distracted by the flavor of an Oreo cookie (?!), fell forward and planted my face in the upturned root of a tree, cutting my chin and lower lip.  It bled for a few minutes, dripping blood on the rocks - the whole nine yards.  But not so bad as to need stitches.

Best Day Hike:  I'm offering my personal favorites.  There are so many wonderful day hikes in and around this southern half of the White Mountains that I'd refer the reader to the AMC guidebook, or to the enthusiastic volunteers at information desks at places such as the Pinkham Notch visitor center and the AMC Highland Center.  They'll be happy to take the time with you to help you tailor a day hike that will fit your time schedule and fitness level.

For me the hands-down best hike - in fact one of my top five hikes of the entire AT - was from the parking area on High Street above Glencliff, up over Mt. Moosilauke and down the Beaver Brook Trail to Kinsman Notch.  I did this both ways on the same day and loved every minute of it.  The attraction for me was the combination of my two most favorite types of trail experience:  a noisy cascading stream with abundant waterfalls and the open sky of a bald (tundra covered) summit - all in one day hike.  Beaver Brook Trail is notoriously difficult (among the top ten most difficult miles of the AT) but it also contains the longest continuous stretch of waterfall-side walking by far.  And Moosilauke's summit, though only a small patch of tundra, provides panoramic views and the full 'meadow-walk' experience.

Second in my personal list of favorites is the long tundra-walk along Franconia Ridge (Mounts Lafayette, Lincoln and Little Haystack).  This isn't my favorite high-meadow walk because it was too rocky to allow the alpine vegetation to really shine (and you can see rocks anywhere).  Also this section of trail is hugely popular, accessible by several side trails.  Sadly, many hikers don't respect the tundra, go off the trail and trample it, so again the natural environment here is not allowed to put on its best display.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trail Recap 21 of 27: Rutland, VT to Lyme, NH

Most urban piece of AT by far, downtown Hanover, NH

Cold River southeast of Rutland, VT to Lyme-Dorchester Road in western NH: 79.5 miles

General Impression/Theme:  The hills and meadows of Vermont - between the Greens and the Whites.  A very diverse and enjoyable section to hike.

People:  Trail angels and ambassadors extraordinaire Betsy 'Short-n-Sweet' and Bill 'Gray Beard' Maislen, of Norwich, VT; successful NoBo thru-hikers 'Pretzel' and J.C. who figured out who I was after seeing my van at multiple road crossings. 

Supply/Overnight:  Hannaford in Rutland; Trailhead parking lots; Mac's in Woodstock, VT;  24h Price Chopper and Kleen, Inc. Laundromat near I-89, West Lebanon, NH.
Only aluminum ladder on the entire AT, just S of 'Notown', Stony Brook Road
Worst Memory:  Worst of three bee stings, with allergic reaction.  I developed a red blotchy rash all over that lasted three days, and remained itchy for more than a week.

Best Day Hike:  Not going with some of the obvious ones this time.  My favorite was the highly varied little walk, about 1.8 miles one way,between Pomfret-West Pomfret road and Cloudland Road north of Woodstock VT.  This goes up over Dupuis hill and features sloped and high grassy meadows with fine views and pretty woods walking alongside stretches of well preserved old stone fences.

The climb to Killington's summit is my second choice for its excellent views and pretty walk through sub-alpine forest in the saddle between Pico Peak and Killington.  Come up from US 4 and do a loop hike with the old AT route, now called the Sherburne Pass Trail.

Another popular short day hike destination is the spectacular Holts Ledge cliffs in western New Hampshire.  Park at the Dartmouth Skiway parking area off Lyme-Dorchester Road.
In front of the Village Store, West Hartford, VT

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Trail Recap 20 of 27: N Adams, MA to Rutland, VT

Pine Cobble Trail near the VT/MA border to Cold River, SE of Rutland, VT:  91.7 mi.

General Impression/Theme:  Long Trail.  This section of the AT 'piggybacks' on the older Long Trail for roughly 100 miles between the Massachusetts border and US 4 near Killington Mountain.

People:  'Twisted Knickers' and 'Matchbox' - headed north from Dalton, MA on a twelve day outing.  We crossed paths on at least eight of those days.  'Corky', headed to Katahdin, hiking in her Crocs, as always - kept up with her strong pace for about an hour one day and thoroughly enjoyed her company.  Thru-hikers 'Swiss Miss' and 'Alien', a couple from Switzerland doing the trail on a 6 month tourist visa.  More thru hikers: 'Whistler' and 'Two Cents' and 'Orange Lightening'.  On a break from the trail to take care of business in MD and NC I stopped in at the ATC office in Harper's Ferry and ran into thru-hikers 'X and N Trovert', husband and wife team who reached Katahdin on September 25th.  'X,' who lives up to her trail name, went to the same High School as I did and is the younger sister of my brother's High School buddy.

Supply/Overnight:  AT trailhead parking lots, Municipal parking area in Bennington, VT,  Manchester Center Price Chopper and EMS outfitter.

Worst Memory:  Two:  First, losing the trail temporarily in dense fog on the open summit of Bromley Mountain.  Second, hearing the news (while in Harper's Ferry) that a hiker died on the trail and then immediately learning that it was someone I had met twice on the trail, Paul 'Parkside' Bernhardt.  It felt like I had been stabbed in the heart - could barely breathe for a while.

Best Day Hike:  This was a tough choice.  Because of its overall appeal along the entire length of the hike, I'll go with the two mile walk to (and around) Little Rock Pond from Danby-Landgrove Road.  The trail follows a babbling stream among lush, dense vegetation for most of the way.

Close second, with a fairly long hike to get to the 'payoff', is the climb to Glastenbury Mountain fire tower from VT 9.  This is a wilderness area and the panoramic view from the fire tower is of a pristine landscape.

Similar fine views are available from the Stratton Mountain fire tower, accessible via the AT or from the adjacent ski area.

Finally Prospect Rock, a fairly short hike up from Manchester Center (or you can even drive up via Old Rootsville Road), offers excellent views of the Manchester area and westward.
Red Eft (juvenile Eastern spotted newt), doing the AT road walk along Kelly Stand Road