Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Beach hiking - It's kinda my Thing

Broad Bay beach hike, First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, VA, March 31

This spring I was planning to head to Wisconsin and resume hiking where I left off when winter chased me off the trail last November.  I was waiting for the weather to break first, and it was taking forever for winter to loose its grip.  Snowfall and hard freezes continued through March, then in mid-April a mammoth blizzard rolled through, leaving two feet of snow on the ground.  Earth Day came around, and the Ice Age Trail was living up to its name.  The snow finally melted by the start of May, but by then I was beginning to be tempted in a different direction.

You see, to stay in shape until the Wisconsin conditions improved, I was doing a lot of hiking locally.  I have a place on the beach in North Carolina.  Spring arrived there in February, and by early May it was feeling like summer.  Beach weather.

March 21: the beach grasses are sprouting

My sunrise beach hikes were accompanied by that special briny smell of salt spray, the hypnotic white noise of the surf, chattering shore birds, the warm fuzzy feel of tropical breezes on my face, the glorious explosions of color and form that sunrises provide--a different show every day.  Beach hiking fully engages all five senses into a natural experience that is hard to top.  I was getting hooked.

May 21: The sky felt like a gateway to heaven

Add to that the prospect of World Cup soccer this summer.  Four years ago I was hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail when World Cup came around, and I just had to get off the trail.  I didn't want to miss the action.  Once every four years the best athletes in the world compete for the biggest prize in World Sport.  This year the games are being played during prime hiking time.  Three games a day, 8AM to 4PM.  No chance of getting anything more than a sunrise hike in before the action starts.

Beach sunrise hiking and World Cup.  They were beginning to look like an ideal match.

March 17
May 24

Even when I traveled to visit family for Easter, I managed to fit in two beach hikes.  The first was at Virginia Beach and incorporated two very different beaches--the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Henry, here seen from my hotel room,

and the beach along Back Bay, a sheltered tidal wetland protected by First Landing State Park.

The headline photo is another view along that low tide beach walk.  Here's the GPS Track of that special day of hiking.

The other hike I fit in was my first official hike of the 'Fifty Trail' after its conception.  I've hiked lots of other parts of my Fifty Trail in the past, but that was before it was officially 'a thing'.  That hike, also part of the American Discovery Trail, connected the crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Annapolis to Kent Island, with the Cross Island Trail, a bike path.  My route included the beach along the bay in Terrapin Nature Park with its perfect bridge view.

On down the trail are some great Chesapeake Bay wetland views--another kind of beach, so to speak.

Here's the GPS Track of that day's seven mile route across Kent Island, which started at the finish line of the "10-K Across the Bay" race, currently the only way to walk across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge:

Beach hiking seems to be my thing.  If I had to choose one hike in all the world as the only hike I could do, this would be it.

April 14th

It's the only hike I never seem to get tired of, because nearly every bit of it is new every day.  The sand is refreshed as waves sculpt a new setting. 

March 1st

The changing weather provides as much variety overhead.

February 20th

The color palate, the wildlife, even the waves themselves seem to offer a new experience every morning.

March 10th
May 23rd

In the end, I'm grateful that I don't have to choose--that I don't have to limit my hiking to this one place.  But for a few weeks, at least, it's not going to suck.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Twelve hiking gear recommendations the stores don't want you to hear

  1. Crocs or huaraches (the flip-flops that the Raramuri-Copper Canyon Mexico long distance runners make themselves from old tires). If you pay more than $50 for a pair of shoes for hiking or running you’re being conned by the gear industry. I hiked in trail running shoes as a novice and my feet were sweaty and screaming to be free. I couldn’t wait to rip them off at the end of the day. Crocs and huaraches dry instantly, let your feet breathe, and lets them support themselves in the way that two million years of evolution intended.

    My preference is for the Crocs without vent holes—either the ‘bistro’ or ‘specialist’ line. They provide some toe protection against trail hazards but most importantly they keep my feet dry in dew and shallow water.

    Dry feet are essential for long distance hiking. Crocs and huaraches take almost no time to dry out. Hiking in wet feet is a prescription for blisters. I wear socks under my crocs, and carry a second pair in a zip-lock bag. If the socks I’m wearing get wet I change them and ‘hang’ the wet pair outside my gear to air-dry as I hike. If it’s raining I stop hiking or I break out my Go-Lite umbrella. In all the climates I’ve hiked in, rain is actually only falling less than ten percent of the time. Do not avoid hiking because of a *forecast* of rain. You’ll waste loads of good hiking time. Trust me on this. I’m a professional meteorologist.

  2. Walking stick. Essential piece of gear, but you’ll need only one. You will want to keep that other hand free almost all the time. Gear sellers sell them in pairs because it means twice the profit.

    Do not buy a walking stick. Find one. It’s called a stick for a reason. The best wood I’ve found, commonly available in most areas east of the Mississippi, is yellow poplar, also called tulip poplar. It’s amazingly light weight and super strong. Do not get a big honking crow-bar of a stick. It doesn’t have to be more than about half an inch in diameter—just thick enough to support your entire weight without bending or snapping. My favorite—the one at left in the photo—is ergonomically superior to, has more uses than (e.g. for hooking things out of reach), and weighs less than the collapsible Leki stick (second from left) that I bought as part of a pair back in 2007 when I was a total hiking novice.

    A walking stick is most essential for keeping balance in situations such as fording streams. Second, it helps you climb when your legs are weary. Your arms become your third and fourth legs. Two hands on one stick work just as well for that as two sticks. Third it is a weapon, and you’ll use it more for that than for any other purpose if your trail has any road walks—against neighborhood dogs. You’ll never hit one. Dogs are fast and they’re total cowards. But you’ll want to have the stick to threaten them.

    In the picture you’ll find a couple of broom handles. I picked them up for free, recalling that Jennifer Pharr Davis famously used one in her first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (see her book ‘Becoming Odyssa’). They’re not wooden but hollow metal with a plastic stub and handle. Very light. But I’ve not yet field tested them. I’m too attached to my Tulip Poplar stick.

  3. Ground-cover/tarp/poncho – and Tent. Get the biggest black plastic trash bag you can find. Carry two or three. One serves to keep your clothes dry. One is a spare. They do puncture easily. Cut a hole in one for your head if you really must hike in the rain, but no arm holes. But if you do that you’ve just ruined a perfectly good 50 cent piece of essential gear.

    If you think you really must sleep in a tent, I’ll bet it’s because of privacy issues. If it’s because of wind or rain, the bag will do. Instant shelter, almost no set-up time.

    Do not buy any sort of rain jacket. The more experience you have hiking the less you’ll use it. A good hooded zip-up fleece with lots of pockets is a much more versatile layer for the weight.

  4. Sleeping Bag. Grandma Gatewood had the right idea. She carried a blanket and made a bed of leaves or boughs—both beneath and as cover. As with the hiking stick, let your environment provide. I actually carry nothing--no sleeping bag--because even a blanket is a useless lump of weight except when you’re standing still. Wear your clothes. Make a cocoon of leaves and boughs for that extra warmth.

    Hikers these days seem to have diverged from survivalists; but we are blood kin. I blame the incessant propaganda from the gear peddlers. Get back to your roots. At least give it a try. Go out into the woods with a fire starter, a good knife, a plastic water bottle, a piece of paracord, the clothes on your back, and the *KNOWLEDGE* of 100,000 years of hunter gatherer existence, and you’re good to go.

  5. Belt pack. A big one. The bulk of mine holds my food and water, and it’s been with me for 15,000 miles. Also pick clothing with lots of pockets (cargo pants, fisherman-style shirt, big pouch pockets on fleece and jackets). Anything you carry on your back is dead weight unless you stop to take it off. I stopped using a backpack about two years ago.

  6. Underwear: Cotton, not polyester. Briefs, not boxers. Worn with a half-wedgie at all times. (Do I need to explain this? TMI, dude.) This is the only sure-fire, non-medical protection against chafing. If you have found another one, I’d like to know about it.

  7. Bandana. This is perhaps the most essential piece of gear there is—a cotton square of cloth about 2x2. It serves as a towel to dry your feet after a ford. It keeps the biting bugs off your neck and head. It’s a sweat band and a hat and a balaclava. One of its unheralded but critical uses is as an emergency layer of clothing, most effectively worn under your t-shirt, spread out to cover the front of your core from shoulders to belly. This has saved me from utter misery several times.

  8. Zip-lock freezer bags. Carry a dozen or so. Keeps your stuff dry.

  9. Sawyer water filter. A small concession to modern technology because the world I hike in is no longer pristine, even in many seemingly wild places.

  10. Camper knife/multitool, including tweezers. Ticks carrying Lyme disease are a big deal. Good idea to even carry a small mirror and self-inspect daily.

    No other utensils or pots. Bring food you don’t need to cook. Learn what you crave on the trail because it’s completely different from what you think you like back home. Use your knife to make any utensils you need.

  11. Minimal first aid—Band-Aids (the “Sheer Comfort-flex” version of that brand name sticks best and lasts longest) and Neosporin (or equivalent) and some Benadryl (antihistamine) tablets because I get allergic reactions to bee stings. Sun screen because I’ve already had a skin cancer scare. That’s it. Never needed anything else (yet) in 15,000+ miles.

  12. Leave no trace. This does *NOT* mean ripping up the ground, disturbing the ecosystem, by digging cat holes. It means going far from the trail, then a little further (marking your route as needed), and presenting nature with your treasured gift. This is a big pet peeve of mine. If you bury that nutrient rich bundle, some other animal is just going to dig it up.

Nimblewill Nomad has said that every piece of gear you carry is a concession to a fear. The best piece of gear you carry is between your ears. Learn from those who have gone before. Tap into your storehouse of common sense and self-understanding. Customize what you learn to fit who you are. Then step boldly into that wild realm.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Introducing the 'Fifty Trail'

Chances are you've already hiked on it.

The Fifty Trail is so-named because it connects the 49 continental US States and the District together into one trail.  It also connects and uses all eleven of our famous long distance trails, the National Scenic Trails.

And that's the other reason for this trail.  It celebrates the Fiftieth Anniversary of the signing of the legislation that sanctioned these trails--the National Trails Act.

Here's a link to the on-line Fifty Trail 'Guide.'  It's accessible via the 'Fifty Trail Guide' tab on this blog too.  It's a work in progress, and I'll be adding more detail as time permits.

This year, as I head to Colorado and complete my "Personal Continuous Footpath" journey to connect every place I've ever lived with a trail of footprints, I'll be hiking portions of the Fifty Trail.

You see, as I'm coming close to finally finishing that 'hiking home' project, I've begun thinking about what's next.  And the idea that kept recurring was to continue my continuous footprints and touch every state.

For several years now I've been gathering information and thinking about routes that might accomplish that.  The Fifty Trail is the culmination of that planning.

Completing that entire route is surely beyond my personal capability, given that I'm now turning 70 years old.  But it provides a framework and a purpose for all the amazing hikes I will do.

Below is a small album featuring some of the highlights of the Fifty Trail.  It starts in Alaska, on the Pacific Ocean at Resurrection Bay.  It follows the Iditarod Trail then the Alaska Highway and picks up Canada's 700 mile Great Divide Trail through the Canadian Rockies.  Into the US at Glacier National Park it heads west to Washington via the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.  I'll let the photos take it from there:

Mt. Rainier via the Wonderland Trail
Yep, the Death Valley Traverse is part of the Fifty Trail
Mirror Lake, one of the remote parts of Rocky Mountain National Park, the north side of the park.  The Fifty Trail follows a lot of the Continental Divide Trail, but here it is on its own route through the remote Comanche Peak Wilderness.
South Dakota via the Great Plains Trail
Devil's Tower, Wyoming
Upper Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  This is the Escarpment Trail.
Wisconsin's Dells of the Eau Claire along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio, the Grandma Gatewood Trail.
Pine Log State Forest - a view from the Florida Trail
Chief Vann House, Pinhoti Trail and Trail of Tears, Georgia
The Roan High Balds on the Appalachian Trail, border of NC and Tennessee
Delaware Beach State Park, headed to the eastern terminus of the American Discovery Trail at Cape Henlopen.
Comprehensive tour of both banks of the lower Susquehanna River, PA, via the Conestoga and Mason-Dixon Trails
New York City skyline as seen from the Appalachian Trail on Black Mountain, the oldest section of the Appalachian Trail.
Sunfish Pond on a misty early May morning, Appalachian Trail in New Jersey
Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts High Point, as seen from (obviously) the Appalachian Trail
Avery Peak, Maine, named in honor of the AT pioneer Myron Avery, first person to hike the entire trail
The Fifty Trail ends where the sun first shines on the United States, at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse on the eastern tip of Maine.

The Fifty Trail.  More to explore than you can shake a stick at.  Check the guide pages for more inspirations.  Then get out there and take a walk!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Stones Creek Game Land - the Six-Lake tour

Five years ago this week I first scouted this little gem of public land near where I lived.  My purpose was to try to get it approved as part of a planned major 500+ mile reroute of the Mountains-to-Sea-Trail. 

I fell in love with it. It just *had* to be part of the trail.

I returned for a more comprehensive scouting trip that fall and documented a route much like the one that is now officially open.  On November 14, 2013 I met Executive Director Kate Dixon and then Board President Jerry Barker of Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail and showed them Stones Creek.

I guess they liked it too.  The board approved it as part of the provisional new route, which was then called the Coastal Crescent Route, within a month or two. 

Four years ago today, on February 15, 2014, I started at the eastern Terminus of the trail, at Jockey's Ridge State Park on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and embarked on an end-to-end hike of this brand new trail.  I was the first to hike this 500+  mile route, finishing it on April 24th at Falls Lake Dam north of Raleigh where the new route rejoins the old established trail. 

Firsts are rare.  In keeping with my new "Life and Legacy" theme, I think this is one of my more memorable accomplishments.

Last year the NC State Legislature finally put its stamp of approval on the Coastal Crescent Route; and now it is an official part of what is far-and-away the most ecologically diverse State Trail in the United States.

Besides the hundred-foot high shifting sand dunes of Jockey's Ridge, the trail features high elevation sub-alpine forests with nearly arctic climate where the trail starts at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. 

It passes through one of the most peculiar geological oddities in the world, the so-called Carolina Bays--elliptical lakes and basins of many sizes, all oriented in precisely the same direction.  It passes habitat of rare carnivorous plants including Venus Fly Trap, which can be found in this tract of Stones Creek Game Land along with loads of other rare species (see The Wayfarer's comment below and check his amazing blog).  Here are some mini-venus fly traps with more abundant carnivorous sundews.

And by the time the trail reaches the Atlantic coast at Surf City, NC, the climate is sub-tropical and the trail is lined with Palm Trees.

I can't stress enough what a bold, visionary move it was for Kate and the Friends-of-the-Mountains-to-Sea Trail to undertake this complete reroute of nearly half their trail!  It's unprecedented.  I can hardly imagine the hours of work it has taken.  But Kate has been tireless, enthusiastic, always up to the task, even relishing it.  The part I played pales by comparison; but I sure was glad to have Stones Creek included in the final product.

So, back to today's hike.  Though it's only Mid-February, that's typically the time for signs of spring to begin appearing here in coastal sub-tropical North Carolina.  The red maple trees are in full bloom.

The first of the Carolina Jessamine, this a ground hugging sprig of the normally climbing vine, was ready to burst into bloom.

It was a cool, comfortable day--start of hiking season here.  So glad I got out to enjoy the views.

Here's a GPS Track map of the area.  My route is marked by the red line.  The yellow dots mark the route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

I did about six miles of the official trail, passing six of the seven lakes in this tract of public land and hiking along fire breaks and through long leaf pine restoration areas, not to mention beaver-pond wetlands.

The Diversity, even in this one little tract of just over 2000 acres, is amazing.  Get out there and check it out!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Life and Legacy: The numbering of my days

I have an announcement to make.  I am dying.

I just got back from the doctor's office and the news was ... well ... unexpected.

My blood cholesterol levels are a little high.  According to the American College of Cardiology on-line risk assessment test, I have a 10.9 percent chance of dying of ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) in the next ten years.  Worse, according to the Social Security Actuarial Life Table, I have a 50-50 chance of being dead in fifteen years.

Okay, so maybe my announcement was a bit overdramatic.

But  it's undeniable that my days are numbered.  I'm well past the milestone of having lived 25,000 days (about age 68½).  I'm bearing down on the biblical three score and ten.  And according to the tradition of the distant future culture in my 'Eden's Womb' novel series, I've completed the fourth and last of the seventeen-year life stages (Child, Hunter, Guide, Sage), at which time I am considered an 'Ancestor' even if I'm still clinging to life.

I will be lucky to live another 5000 days, and indeed, even if I live that long, I can't expect to be very productive.  I can hope, but the statistics paint a bleak picture.

So here's my real announcement:  As far as this blog is concerned, today is Day One of 5000 and no more.  On Wednesday, October 22, 2031, Lord willin' and the crick don't rise, I will write my last post; and this blog will become a reference source, my long-winded 'Epitaph', my Legacy to the world. 

An old African proverb says that when a man dies a library burns to the ground.  By Day 5000, I hope to have filled this library with most of the stuff from my life that is worth preserving.  Thus the new topic label 'Life and Legacy'.

I chose today to begin this numbering of my days for several reasons, but perhaps the most meaningful is that it is a distinctive holiday.  It is Darwin Day - the day that commemorates the birth of the man who taught us that all life is descended from a single ancient ancestor.

Deep Ancestry and family connections (Genealogy) are themes I'll be exploring much more in coming posts.  Turns out that Charles Darwin is a 9th Cousin, six generations removed.  Today is also Abraham Lincoln's birthday.  I was surprised to discover that Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day, February 12th, 1809, one in Kentucky and the other in England.  Although I can't find a family link to Lincoln, we do have family blood-line connections to six or seven other US Presidents including George Washington, whose birthday comes in ten days.

Yes, I am dying.  It's only common sense to face reality square-on.  But this prospect does not cause me despair.  I look forward to the 5000 days ahead.  And best of all, I have found true immortality.  Not in the words I leave behind here, not in the teachings of the faith-traditions, but in the words of a much greater book.  To find out just what I mean by this, you'll have to wait another day or two ...