Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book - AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

About 2 years ago, I read "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, and got really into mountaineering books. I read a few more similar books, though none were quite like "Into Thin Air", then this spring I picked up Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods". I REALLY ENJOYED IT! Except... he didn't finish the Appalachian Trail (AT), and that made me sad. Bryson's descriptions of the trail and his toils and triumphs while on it are fantastic, and he kept me engaged and chuckling through the whole book.

I went looking for books of the same vein, and came upon "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail" on Amazon. Published in October, it is thru-hiker David Miller's 2003 tale of his completion of the AT. He decided to quit his job and hike the trail, obviously not without doubts and concerns. Leaving his wife and three young children at home, Miller began the trail at the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and travelled north. He began the trail at the end of April, and had to finish by mid-October, when Baxter State Park (home of Mount Katahdin) at the northern end closes for the season. Miller intended to do the trail quickly and finish in 5 months.

As his journey unfolds, Miller faces obstacles such as injuries, rain, doubt, and in some instances other hikers, and reflects on his inspiration for attempting the trail. In his life prior to the trail, he was a computer programmer and felt trapped in a cubicle. He decided to attempt the thru-hike as sort of a mid-life crisis, with his boss even asking why he couldn't just get a Corvette. Right off the bat he starts to have some knee problems, which come and go, and ends up seeing a doctor for an infected bunion on one foot early on in Virginia. Later, Miller sprains an ankle right around the half-way point of the trail and spends almost a week off the trail. He continues the trail with an aircast on the ankle.

He spends time in the book talking about hiking gear and shoe selection (he went through many pairs of shoes during the trek), and a lot of time on the other hikers he meets. This is one point of the book I particularly like - the encounters with other hikers: thru-hikers, section-hikers, and day-hikers. There are some folks he spends significant time with on the trail, some he sees periodically, and some are one-shots, but for me, the camaraderie is one big appeal of a journey like this. The stories are good and a lot of the people he meets are great characters. Not all his encounters with other hikers are pleasant, but the vast majority are.

Miller obviously encounters a lot of wildlife on the trail - deer, bears, mice trying to eat his food, bugs, and more. Early on, he spots a Luna moth and includes a picture in the book. I thought this particularly was cool because we saw a Luna moth on a hike in NH a few years ago, and I guess it's pretty rare to spot them.

(my Luna moth, Sandwich Range, NH 2008)

The descriptions of the landscape are one of the things I like best about this book and "A Walk in the Woods". I love walking the trail in my head while reading the book (makes me want to get out there!) While Miller was in NH I was able to actually follow some of his progress through the White Mountains, since I've hiked there so much. Another fun aspect of this book was the time he spent in hostels and trail towns. Hitching is (was? do people still do that?) a big part of hiking the AT - the trail crosses roads, but you aren't always close enough to walk to your destination for the night. I gathered from the book that the biggest things about being off the trail in town for a day are laundry, real food (buffets are golden), and phone/email to get in touch with family (Miller also wrote for a local paper & I think blogged his trip).

Miller triumphs and completes the trail September 17, just less than 5 months after he started. The book says the average thru-hike takes 6 months at about 12 miles a day; Miller was doing 20 mile days at some points. When I had started the book, at first I'd been expecting to be reading another Bryson, which this is not, but in some ways I liked "Awol" better. I feel like this book gives the lay-reader a much better idea of how life actually is on the trail, whereas Bryson is much more about the philosopical aspect of being on the trail (which I also loved).

This was a great book for me to read during the off-season and I will be looking for more like it to get me through the winter. "Awol on the Appalachian Trail" is available on - I definitely recommend picking it up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter... hiking withdrawl.

Wow, long time no post. Even though it's almost Christmas, I am still planning on trying to stay active outdoors during the winter, despite my intolerance for cold! I will definitely be snowboarding during the winter (I'm not very good though), and hoping to try a little light winter hiking close by. I will keep posting throughout the winter!

After my Flume/Liberty hike this year, I did do a few more hikes. Myself, my brother, and another friend of ours (both members of Team Badassa) hiked Mount Tecumseh in New Hampshire in August. Tecumseh is the lowest (and I think the furthest south) of the 4000-footers in New Hampshire at 4003', and is home to Waterville Valley ski area. The hike roundtrip was 5 miles, so a nice short-ish day, and very enjoyable, although with limited views. The summit isn't totally exposed but there were some views, and popping off the trail onto a ski trail to check out the surrounding scenery was nice, although muddy. Another nice thing about this hike is that it was a little closer than most of our White Mountain hikes are - only about a 2.5 hour drive.

(top: view from a ski trail on Tecumseh - bottom: brother at the summit)

My last group hike of the season was an overnight in the Presidentials. My fiance and one of our friends (again, all members of the larger Team Badassa, who can never all get together at the same time!) hiked mounts Pierce and Jackson. We started out on the Crawford path in Crawford notch and hike to the AMC's Nauman tentsite, where we would spend the night. We dropped our stuff off and headed up to summit Mount Pierce, a 4310' peak about 5 miles south of Mt. Washington. It was close to sunset by the time we got to the summit and the view was absolutely spectacular! Washington was a bit clouded in, but I still got some great pictures.

(top, on the Crawford Path: bottom, view of Mount Washington [clouded in] from Pierce)

The overnight at Nauman was pleasant, and mostly dry, but a little chilly. The tentsite is adjacent to the AMC's Mizpah hut. We broke down and headed back up to Mizpah cut-off, then south on the Webster Cliff trail to Mount Jackson (4052'). The weather was gray and it drizzled on us a little, but we had some decent views from Jackson.

(above: the crew at Mizpah hut)

As we hiked down from Jackson, the sky cleared and the sun came out, making for a real nice trip down. We took a short side trail up to an amazing overlook of the notch (photo below). This trip was awesome and really made me want to do more overnight trips, so I'm making it a goal next summer to do more backpacking trips.

I did one more hike this fall, a solo at Wachusett Mountain state reservation. I'd always wanted to hike Mount Wachusett (2006'), and I had Columbus day off and no plans, so I figured I'd hike it myself. I thought I'd have a nice solitary day, but there were TONS of people on the mountain. It was great though - the foliage was in full swing, views from the top were great (Boston and Mount Monadnock are visible from the summit), and I realized I enjoy hiking solo, despite all the other folks on the mountain that day. Risking sounding cliche, it was a very zen experience to hike alone & I hope to do it some more.

(view of Mount Monadnock from the summit of Wachusett)

I took some really nice photos on the trails at Wachusett, here's a sampling of them:

That was my hiking season in a nutshell. I do hope to do a little hiking over the winter, but primarily I'll probably snowboard/snowshoe when I can. I'm hoping to be able to do a hike on New Year's day, but that depends on what New Year's eve brings, lol. I'm already starting to think about Team Badassa's yearly Mount Monadnock hike, which will probably happen in April sometime. Can't wait! We've done Monadnock for the last 3 years as the kick-off to the hiking season.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and happy holidays to all!