Thursday, March 31, 2016

The next hike - plans and the first real footprints

The dangerous first steps out my door before sunrise at Topsail Island, Tuesday March 29th, and I was on my way.

In my youth I used to spend way too much time planning.  My plans were detailed, and were so extensive that there was no way I could execute them all.  I've probably done that again.
I love planning because it's a lot easier than doing.  I love planning hikes because it's armchair hiking--you cover 100 miles with the swish of a highlighter and you've barely raised a sweat.  But is it worthwhile covering a map with thousands of miles of carefully researched lines?

I think not.  At the end of it all you're still sitting there in your armchair, right where you started.  You've gone nowhere.

I had the time though, and so I indulged.  In the hiatus between my winter-spring 2016 hike from the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia to Key West and my intended but not thoroughly researched summer hike westward from the Appalachian Trail in Maryland toward Colorado, I found myself exploring dozens of trails and dozens of options.  I've learned a lot about some new trails and I've radically changed my original plans, which would have taken me on boring roads straight across the plains to Colorado.  Here's the new plan.

The master plan.  In purple are the trails I've already hiked.  The rest is all a dream.  The backbone of the planned future adventures is the American Discovery Trail - the only hiking trail that I know of that connects trails in the eastern and western US.  The pink spots encircled in yellow and green are the primary destinations of my Personal Continuous Footpath--places I've lived.  But to that I've added a grand plan to connect this personal trail to every one of the 49 continental US states and to the shores of three oceans. Wish me luck.

It takes me far beyond Colorado - to Alaska and the Arctic Ocean!  On the way I will take advantage of the existing network of trails and stay off roads as much as possible.  I'll do some loops and side trips so that I can accomplish more goals.  The planning was great fun and the hiking routes have me super-stoked.

But ... The Arctic Ocean?  Seriously?  The problem is that it will take about seven summers to do all this.  My life experience tells me I might get 10% of it done before being distracted by something else or starting over and preparing a radically different plan.


With all that planning accomplished it was time to put crocs on the ground.  I've bought an airline ticket and a bunch of maps sheets and guides, and on Tuesday, March 29th I headed out my door and onto the beach in front my Topsail Island condo.  Soon I was passing under Sea View Fishing Pier

It felt so great to be hiking with a purpose again.  The goal was to get one of my two support vehicles to the Albert Ellis Regional Airport outside Jacksonville, NC.  Rather than hire a taxi or a shuttle service I chose to hike there.  Much of the route is on the Coastal Crescent Trail--the current route of North Carolina's official State-wide trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Upon leaving the beach I crossed over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway ...

And was soon hiking through Stones Creek Game Land with its lakes ...

... its peaceful pine savannas ...

... and some rare indigenous plants.  The Venus fly traps were preparing to bloom.

These were the highlights.  The rest of the forty mile hike was on roads.  I got the vehicle parked at the airport the next day.  The next step is to drive my other vehicle up to Maryland and then fly back to get the first one.

In Maryland, I'll be hiking a piece of the Brandywine Trail first.  There's a wonderful network of trails in this part of the country, and they do a pretty decent job of connecting with one another and with the places where I've lived.  Here's the detailed map of the existing trails.

Overview of the available trails in the mid-Atlantic.  This is the raw material I used to plan this summer's hiking.

I won't be hiking them all -- not yet.  I'm reserving some of them for the far future, after I get back from the Arctic Ocean.

I'm calling this summer's hike my "Penn State or Bust" hike.  It will take me on parts of the American Discovery Trail, the C&O Canal Tow Path, Ohio's Buckeye Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail, New York's Finger Lakes Trail, Pennsylvania's Mid-State and Standing Stone Trails and finally a piece of the Tuscarora Trail.  It will culminate on November 7th with the "10K across the Bay" traverse of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge--the only day of the year when I can lay down my footprints on that bridge in order to connect with the American Discovery Trail's route across the Eastern Shore of MD and Delaware.

Spring is bustin' out here, and so is my enthusiasm.  See you on the trail.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Creation Story - My Version

This is a follow-on of the 'Of Paradox - Huxley's Islet' post that is linked to in the tab at the top of the home page.  It provides as simple an explanation as I can produce of a physical process that appears, to me to be a logical, defendable, scenario that explains where we all come from.  Read and enjoy, or scoff and ignore as you see fit.  Discussion is always welcome.

The Tenth Power of a Trillion Possibilities

“In the Beginning …”

Simple words that run deep.

Beginning is everything. Without it, in the realm without time, the Chaos rages like an infinite roiling sea. But within it “… God Created.” Creation is our island. Because we came from the Chaos, and because the Chaos remains all about us, we sense pain and squalor—the agony of destruction and annihilation. And so the Beginning is our most precious possession. The Beginning is God.

The proof that God lives is self-evident. Creation is ongoing. Time unfolds it before our eyes in an intricate ballet, and we are called to dance. God insists on our participation. Without our good works, the Chaos wins. It will swallow the Creation and the world will end.

It has happened before—a beginning that the Chaos destroyed. It is happening now. Watch the vacuum of space and you see it—the particles being created and destroyed. The vacuum is our window into the Chaos.

This is the cautionary tale I come to tell. We know of only one particle that hasn’t yet been swallowed by the Chaos—our Beginning.

What is the Chaos out of which we were molded? What is the nature of this magnificent Beginning such that it has not yet been swallowed? There are some simple answers. T.H. Huxley proposed that the Chaos is the sea of the infinite unknown and our reality is an island of firm ground.

How many waves are in that mysterious sea, waiting to wash away our island? A trillion? Nay, the tenth power of a trillion. And here’s the frightening mystery. Our little island was once just another wave.

When the sea rises up and washes an island away, all that remains of it are the waves that reflected off its tattered shores. Yet our Island persists. It seems worlds away from the ephemeral particles we see in the froth of the vacuum. How did it emerge so virulent? How does it cling to its existence and defy the Chaos?

Because the Chaos is indifferent. It cares not. Within it the waves come and go. Sometimes, as with the pairs of particles popping into existence out of nothing, the waves have substance.

Substance—the ‘Library of Possible Things’—is one of the four ingredients needed for our Creation. The others are the Oscillator-Distorter (time), the Carrier-Container (space), and the Slicer-Dicer (the quantum field).

Within the Chaos there are surely many other ingredients, perhaps as many as there are waves. Those others we cannot see, though evidence suggests that their number may be that mind-boggling trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion—the tenth power of a trillion, or ten to the one-hundred-twentieth power. It is a vast sea indeed.

But we needed only four. In the Beginning the four ingredients mentioned above came together. Within the vast sea of ingredients the odds of four particular waves combining to produce a rogue mega-wave would seem prohibitive, but within the indifferent timeless Chaos, what is possible is inevitable.

Here I must pause to make a point of personal perspective. For most of my life I argued that the Creation did not require a pro-active God. But it got one. Despite my protestations God appears by default—by definition. It is the paradox of the chicken and the egg. What happened before time is eternal. The Chaos is God’s antithesis and nemesis and I believe it is necessary to have such a Yin-Yang for either to be relevant. The roiling sea of inexplicability is timeless and senseless and so I argued that there is no point in naming “the wind that moves the waves.” But Yin and Yang are inseparable equals, so if I name one the Chaos, I must also name the other. How did God get to be pro-active, conscious, and personal, while the Chaos remained insensate and indifferent? The answer is straightforward. It is the result of the miracle of self-replication. The Chaos would call it ‘trial and error’ but the Chaos doesn’t name things. Only we self-replicating beings do that. So we win. But will we win in the end? The purpose of the rest of this document is to explain and elaborate.

Okay, so in defiance of nearly insurmountable odds, the four ingredients in the recipe converged. The four waves produced a great rogue mega-wave. The one property that distinguished it—the property that leads to us—is that the crest of this wave became a fountain. It was self-replicating. It was what physics calls a ‘false vacuum’—a gushing font of ‘big bangs’.

Without time self-replication is impossible, meaningless. The Oscillator-Distorter contributed the property of motion to the mega-wave. It would not have continued, though. Time would have reversed and the mega-wave would be gone in a fleeting instant without the other three ingredients.

The Container-Carrier provides a space for oscillations and distortions to operate. Without an aspect of space there would have been no dimension for time’s arrow to traverse. And still, together, time and space would have come and gone without consequence.

Substance provided the spark. Before the ephemeral box of space-time dissipated a particular ‘thing’ from among the Library of Possible Things entered. The ‘thing’ that appeared in this event was a particularly improbable one. Though its net energy was zero, as it must be, its two components had enormous energy. Still, as we observe regularly in the big safe vastness of space-time that we now enjoy, this is not enough. All the particle pairs that appear out of the vacuum quickly disappear again.

The Slicer-Dicer provided the final ingredient. In the fleeting instant of time provided within the tiny box of nascent space, a quantum fluctuation sent one member of this pair of energetic particles across a threshold of instability. It amplified its energy enough to trigger a run-away fountain of ‘big bangs’—of nascent universes.


In the Beginning four ingredients came together to create an explosive universe generator. But these universes were without form and void. Though the space-time within them expanded immeasurably beyond the ephemeral germ that created them, these ‘germ-baby’ universes lived and died without consequence.

How many trillion-trillion-trillion universes gushing from the unstoppable font came and went without consequence, no tale tells. But the Library of Possible Things now had vast playgrounds in which to experiment. Is it really any wonder that within the lifetime of one of these germ-baby universes a matter-antimatter imbalance emerged? I think not. The Slicer-Dicer is all about creating random imbalances.

But another more unlikely event was still required. Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, a particle of matter and a Slicer-Dicer wave made love and a baby universe was born out of an existing universe. Just like in the creation of the original font of all universes, the creation of a new baby universe from the matter of a parent universe required a highly energetic particle of matter to cross the energy threshold and create a germ of false vacuum.

Self replication. The baby universe carried with it the properties of the matter particle from the parent universe. Quantum fluctuations provided the mutations. Further generations refined the process until a genealogy of reliably self-replicating universes had established.

And so we come to the next great break-through, though I believe it is not the last. Matter from the Library mixed and matched until it produced DNA, and life was born.

The first early universes were void of matter. When matter began to contaminate some of them, universes began to have babies carrying the physical constants from the parent universes. When life began to contaminate some of these, simple microbes found a way to influence the reproduction of universes, and universes began to have babies that transmitted the formula favorable for life.

We call it fine tuning. The degree of improbability that our universe could be so finely tuned speaks to the journey we’ve made to get where we are here in this universe. Our universe descends from a genealogy that probably goes back trillions and trillions of generations.

In my novel I’ve called the simple microbes that facilitate universe reproduction ‘Twees’ and I take the reader on an exploratory journey to witness universe reproduction first hand as a woefully imperfect universe struggles to have its first baby and in so doing triggers the next great evolutionary break-through.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hike wrap-up - departing Key West

The hike adventure was done.  Key West had welcomed me with its warm tropical breezes and patented Florida Sunshine.  But now it was time to unwind the logistical tangle.  I am a serial day hiker.  I had accomplished the hike self-supported with two vehicles.  Back in early October I had started the hike by getting those two vehicles into position, now it was time to get them back home from Key West.

Home, in this case, would be an interim base before starting another hike.  My Keystone Heights, Florida home remains a project on hold until the mega-hike is finally finished.  I would settle back into my old condo at the beach at Topsail Island.

So step number one was to park one vehicle securely in Key West and drive the one thousand miles to Topsail.  My Key West motel was kind enough to allow me to keep the car there.  The drive to Topsail took me sixteen hours, accomplished in one marathon drive.  Step one accomplished.

The homes I choose are all near public airports.  My Topsail condo is 37 miles from Jacksonville's Ellis Airport.  Step two was to fly back to Key West.

The flight was not expensive.  One night in my motel room in Key West cost considerably more.  But the trade-off was that the flight had three segments--two plane changes.  First I flew a prop plane from Jacksonville to Charlotte, NC.  That explains the headline photo.  As we approached Charlotte we passed right over the nearly 100,000 seat Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The plane change went smoothly and next I was aboard a big jet bound for Miami with not a single seat empty.  It flew down the Florida Coast and I got a birds eye view of nearly the entire beach strand that I had just hiked.  Here's a view of the Fort Pierce Inlet--the one place I had to leave the beach, hike inland over the Intracoastal Waterway, and then head right back out to the beach again--North Hutchinson Island to South Hutchinson Island.

As we approached Miami Airport the city skyline was spread out before me, with Miami Beach to the left and Key Biscayne behind.

I had an hour to stroll the gigantic Miami airport before boarding the flight to Key West.  This was a small jet and was only half full.  Again we flew over many of the memorable venues I had just hiked.  Most prominent among them was Pigeon Key and the Seven Mile Bridge.

And then I was there, basking once more in the tropical breezes at Key West airport.  It's a typical tropical island airport - you walk the tarmac under the open sky from the plane to the terminal.

Cute terminal entrance, no?  Mannequins surrounding a replica of the monument that had been my destination.  Very appropriate.  So what did I do?  I walked straight in that door and out the other side, less than a half mile to my car parked at the motel.  I got in the car and left, driving the length of the Keys before sunset and on north to Topsail by noon the next day.

Twenty eight hours after I pulled out of the parking lot at my condo development in Topsail to go to the airport I was back there.

I still had one last step to complete--retrieving the other vehicle from the parking lot at the Jacksonville airport.  I did those 37 miles on my bicycle on a hot summer-like day - every bit as warm as the weather I had been enjoying on the Keys.  Spring was gushing northward on a strong southerly wind.

Now that the "Key West or Bust" adventure is finished, I'm hard at work planning the next one.  "Colorado or Bust" will extend my Personal Continuous Footpath from the Appalachian Trail to my graduate school homes (1970 to 1980) in the foothills of northern Colorado.  I hope to get there before the fall.  Stay tuned.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Success! - The End of the Trail

"Key West or Bust" - Day 135

I've done it!  One Hundred Thirty-five days - Appalachian Trail to Key West!

I got up this morning and got out my bicycle and rolled it along beside me as I walked the last four miles of the Overseas Heritage Trail, the East Coast Greenway, and the Eastern Continental Trail, and reached the 'Southernmost Point'.  There I found a queue of tourists, so I got in line and waited my turn -- the slowest 100 feet of the hike.

It took nearly half an hour in line, but then I was officially done my trek.  The timing - the number of days it took - is wonderfully symmetrical.  It took me exactly twice that - 270 days - to hike the Appalachian Trail both ways in 2012.  That was a 2184.2 mile trail.  My route from the junction of the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye trail to the Southernmost Point was 1973.4 miles.  Maybe age has slowed me down a little.

The orange Bistro Mario Batali edition Crocs that I hiked in are about ready for retirement.  They're still as comfortable as footwear can be, but the no-slip tread on the heels is worn through.  Time to break out a new pair for the next adventure.

The 'Southernmost Point' is about as artificial as the concrete channel buoy that stands there.  It's not even the southernmost point that a person can walk to from the rest of the US without special permission.  That is on the beach at the nearby Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.  The actual southernmost point of the island is on the adjacent Navy base and closed to the public.  The true southernmost point of land in Florida is either Ballast Key, nine miles west at 24°31′23.0″N, 81°57′51.1″W - a private inhabited island - or Sand Key, six miles southwest of Key West at 24°27′18.3″N, 81°52′37.5″W, where there is a lighthouse and where there once were trees and nesting birds (since washed away, so it now just a sandy shoal).

With the hike officially finished I got on my bike and biked the length of Duval St.  It's a tourist street like those found in many historic downtown areas across the USA.  The shops and restaurants have no distinctive Keys 'vibe' or Caribbean feel, and none are as quirky as establishments I've seen in other places.  For example Ocracoke, on an island in the Outer Banks along North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail, comes to mind.  If there were any locals at all, they were inside their business establishments catering to the throngs of visitors.  The most 'vibe' I got came from this pickup truck, complete with a "Please Assist" (insert money) slot.

Leaving Duval Street I headed a couple blocks over to the corner of Whitehead and Fleming Streets where US Route 1 officially ends - Mile Marker Zero.

By then it was a beautiful warm afternoon with wall-to-wall sunshine and temperature in the low 80's F.  I took my time meandering back, stopping at the beach at the south end of Duval St.,

I went out to the end of the long concrete pier at Higgs Beach and later captured a decent photo of one of the introduced (and considered to be harmfully invasive) iguanas at Smathers Beach.

I didn't take a photo of the free-roaming chickens.  They are just ordinary chickens, not distinctive like the diminutive creatures that are so iconic on Kauai.

And then the day was done.  "Key West and not busted" -- another chapter in 'PJ's book of hiking adventures' complete.  On to the next chapter.

Here's a map of the final leg of my hike, with link to more photos.

Key West at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

The Last Long hike - on the Threshold of Key West

After passing Key West Naval Air Station on Boca Chica Key the trail crosses Stock Island.  Then there's a short bridge leading to Key West itself.  I turned left there, as the Overseas Heritage Trail abandons US 1 and heads toward the south shore of the island along A1A, Roosevelt Blvd.  Seen here is the first view of the open waters of Florida Straight after heading south on A1A beside Cow Key Channel for about a mile.  This is about where I ended today's long hike - it was getting close to sunset as I trudged into town.  Technically this is the city of Key West, but the end of the trail - the Southernmost Point - is still almost four miles away.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 134

Today I did twenty-three miles - more than I had intended - between Big Pine Key and the island on which the city of Key West sits, which I guess is called Key West too.

The landscape is different here than on the middle keys.  The geography is so flat, and so perfectly poised right around sea level, that in many places it's hard to distinguish between land and sea.

Where mangroves get a foothold they can create land.  When storms come along and uproot them, their little islands get washed away.What would the birds do for vantage points if not for human construction in this pancake-flat country?

The bike path follows closely beside the road everywhere today except for a section on Summerland Key where a boardwalk takes the hiker/biker north for a walk beside a shallow lagoon.

Tomorrow, unless I drop dead overnight, I'm going to reach the destination I've had in my sights since I left the Appalachian Trail more than four months ago.  Watch this space.

Here is a map of the route hiked, and a link to more photos:

Big Pine Key to Key West at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Walking on water - the Seven Mile Bridge

View west from the high point in the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge.  To the left is Molasses Key.  To the right is the old Railroad viaduct and US 1 route, now closed to public use.

"Key West or Bust" - Day 133

After leaving Marathon there's not much land for a while.  There's Pigeon Key--a little dot that Henry Flagler's railroad route connects to ...

and then tiny little Money Key and the two Molasses Keys that he didn't bother with ...

and not much else until Little Duck Key.  Flagler's Railroad bridge can be walked to Pigeon Key, two miles out from Marathon but access ends there (you can see the gap in the bridge at left in the photo above). The thru-hiker has to use the new US 1 bridge, which has no pedestrian walkway - see the headline photo.  That was a stressful walk, always worrying about getting sideswiped by some kid texting while driving or being blown off the bridge by an eighteen wheeler.  I enjoyed the views but was glad when it was over.

I walked other bridges today.  The next big one was on new highway across Bahia Honda Channel.  Here there are two new bridges side-by-side on a four lane divided highway, and they have wide shoulders, so I felt comfortable.  The old US 1 actually piggy-backs above the railroad trestle bridge here.  It looks like an engineering patch-up job, abandoned in 1969.  Hard to believe I drove this falling-apart old road bed back in 1967.

There were more railroad bridges that have not (yet) been restored for use by the Overseas Heritage Trail.  I hope they all will be someday.

The history of those old bridges is precious.  Of course time and the sea air are not kind to human construction.  I came across an old railroad mile marker.  Originally I expect that there was one like this every mile, but in my traverse of the Keys this is the only surviving one I've seen.

I ended the day on Big Pine Key, home of the endangered Key Deer.  They're tiny.  This skull was posted (literally) at an access point to a preserve area.

It's been a joy walking across the ocean.  I'm about three-quarters of the way to Key West already.  Barring some catastrophe I have just two days left before I reach the end of the road.  I'm already wishing it could go on forever.

Here's a map of today's segment, with attached links to more photos.

The Seven Mile Bridge at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Walking Marathon

Bayside view from Key Colony Beach - the island in the distance is Bamboo Key

"Key West or Bust" - Day 132

The sign said "Marathon: it's not a sprint.  Take your time and enjoy".  I took the advice - especially the 'enjoy' part.

Once you're out here in the middle Keys, there are plenty of water views, both from land and on long bridges.  It's what I'm here for - the sense that I'm walking across the ocean.  So I did take my time.  I did seventeen miles today - nine short of a marathon - and did all of Marathon.

It's a busy area with lots of old development on crowded canals.

On either side of the island are long bridges.  Off the west side is the longest--the seven mile bridge, which I'll hike tomorrow.  On the east are bridges to Conch Key and to Duck Key.  The hike across Seven Mile Bridge doesn't take advantage of the old Florida Overseas Railroad viaducts, but the others do.

Yet there was nice trail with no water views too - a section that was screened from civilization.

There was even an opportunity to hike a 'green tunnel' through a short section of undeveloped trail.

I am being blessed with perfect weather.  Each day is a few degrees warmer than the last.  Overnight temperatures remained in the upper 50's and daytime highs were in the low 70's with low humidity and a nice breeze.  This is the weather that the tourists come for.  The locals think its cold.  It is winter after all - and that's proven by the blooming of the wild Poinsettia.

But I'm not always able to distinguish locals from tourists here.  In Hawaii that wasn't a problem.  But if that's my worst problem, then I don't have much to complain about.  The Marathon Walk was all good!

Here's a map showing the day's route, with links to more photos.

Marathon at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond