Archive for June 2011

Trail-guide for the Soul: The Walk – Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail by Randy Motz & Georgia Harris

The melody lifted and soared as if born of, and upon, the wind itself.  Song formed from breath, shaped and made smooth and comely by the texture and soul of the cedar love-flute it flowed  through. I’ve been enamored with the first-nations love-flute from the moment I first heard it. This particular day we sat in the midst of a strange community of hikers pausing briefly on their pilgrimage to Katahdin to celebrate and rest. To our left along the grassy bank was a young  couple, he with long hair tied back, she with dreadlocks, in matching red raincoats. My eyes were drawn to them.  Something about their gentleness with each other, their smiles, their quiet laughter stilled and quieted my soul. To my right, just below the embankment was an average 50-ish man in jeans, t-shirt and round glasses sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, posture perfect.  Directly ahead of me was another gray-haired, bespectacled 60-ish man sporting a ball-cap embroidered on the back with the name “Strider.”  One of my favorite characters in all of literature.  Was that his trail name? 

The place was Damascus, Va.  The event was Trail Days 2011 and we were all, amid the distractions that are part and parcel of a street festival like this, basking in the music of Wind-talker, Randy Motz.  For an hour or so, his flute-song created a small sacred space for us. Few words were spoken but it was clear, to me at least, that Wind-Talker and I had a mutual Friend…Maker, Graybeard likes to call him. Earlier, as Wind-talker was setting up his gear we shared a little conversation.  To be fair, I did most of the talking. Randy and his wife Georgia (“Mom” as she’s known on the trail) had done a thru-hike several years prior and in the process of asking him about his hike, I found myself confessing my own desperate longing to do the same.  Familiar phrases fell naturally from my lips as I described this haunting, “The woods have become my sanctuary, the AT my obsession.”  He spoke little, nodded much and told me I might enjoy the book he and his wife had written:  The Walk: Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail.  Afterwards I took him up on his suggestion and he generously signed the copy I hold now in my hands. 

I spend most of my days in sweltering heat, covered in sawdust, surrounded by screaming woodworking equipment.  Each morning before starting my day I show up a little early, find a spot to sit down behind the building and as John Muir puts it let  “…nature’s peace… flow into [me] as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into [me], and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  Occasionally I’ll read scripture or some other book.  The Walk became that book for a while.

I began The Walk with high expectations.  I longed to hear echoed in these pages that same melody that had poured forth from Wind-talkers flute.  That’s not what I heard…at least at first. What I was struck by was the Motz’s command of the written word. Their writing style clear and concise, their vocabulary expansive but unpretentious, there was no confusion as to what they were trying to say.  They said it well. I wondered though, as I read, if I had made assumptions about Randy based on our short conversation, that were incorrect.

You see, I’m in a different place than many people who might read this post. For the past several years I’ve been discovering what it means to abide, to sink deeper into my Abba’s Love for me, outside the walls of the institutional church. Because of my distance from the Institution, I’ve become hyper-sensitive to and agitated by what I perceive to be religion. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I often get it wrong. If I’m not mistaken, Randy and Georgia are, at present, part of an institutional community of believers.  Having said that, they strike me as a couple able to walk in complete freedom untainted by their affiliation with the System.  Love, hope, encouragement and freedom are found in the pages of The Walk.  I found myself reading with a pen in one hand and my journal in the other, scribbling down the inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that headed each chapter and are peppered throughout.  The Walk is liberally seasoned as well with native wisdom from the likes of Lakota/ Sioux Richard Twiss and other native sages. Scripture quotations are taken from Eugene Petersen’s The Message which lends to it’s conversational feel.  These along with the excerpts from their AT journal serve to transport the reader, vicariously, right to the Trail with it’s sounds, smells, tastes, beauty and pain.

Without doubt my two favorite chapters are 5 and 6.  The title of chapter 5, “Praise and Worship” , has mental associations for me of instruments, sound systems and compulsory singing and hand-raising.  There’s nothing of the sort here.  Randy and Georgia manage to capture the beauty and wonder of encountering God in what many would think an unlikely place, the wilderness.  They express with eloquence and emotion, the soul-gasp that seizes ones heart when you unwittingly stumble upon a thin-place in the midst of an old forest, or the undeniable sense of Presence when the rhododendron choked woods open to a breathtaking vista. There’s no religion here…only spontaneous gratitude…eucharisteo , no matter your spiritual leanings. Chapter 6 relates their journey into simplicity. Winnowing down your world to what you can carry on your back is wonderful practice for doing the same in your non-thru-hike life as well as your spiritual life. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. Realizing how our possessions can possess us and taking steps to change that may be one of the most important things we can do to reduce the clutter, noise and distraction that impede our walk with God. Randy and Georgia not only give practical wisdom on how to take those first steps but are open and transparent with the naked truth of how they struggle with this themselves.
Honestly, with chapter headings such as “Family and Community”, “Praise and Worship”, “Pride and Humility” and “Service” something in my anti-establishment gut churns and braces to be guilted with a reminder of  duty and obligation and how I should just try harder. Probably just the last tendrils of religion still clinging to my soul.  Or maybe these headings are sheep in wolves clothing. Familiar phrases that evoke old pharisaical emotions but hidden inside them is the life-giving message of grace, hope and love.  Hope I didn’t just give away your secret, Wind-talker and Mom. Oops.

Adventure Book: The Legend of the Firefish by George Bryan Polivka

What will you do with your life?  I have taught you swordsmanship.  You may be the most gifted pupil I have ever had.  But your heart, Packer.  Where is it leading you?”

       -Senslar Zendoda
It’s a commonly known fact that Appalachian Trail thru-hikers quickly develop a metabolism like that of a blacksmiths furnace, requiring a constant influx of calories. I hope, one day, to experience that phenomenon myself. As for now, my beer-gut physique remains relatively unaffected by the two weekends a month I’m able to spend on the trail.  Having said that, for much of my life I’ve experienced the literary equivalent. Allow me to explain: 

From the moment I discovered the myriad worlds hidden in books I’ve fueled my own adventures by exploring those of others. I love to read.  Probably a bit too much.  On any given week you’ll find me dividing every free moment between 4 or 5 books simultaneously.  It’s a never ending battle to feed the dragon. (Thank God for the library!) So, several weeks ago Dana surprised me with a stack of $2.99 paperbacks.  The first to grab my attention with it’s fantastical artwork (Sometimes you can judge a book by it’s cover!) was a “swashbuckling fantasy story”  by George Bryan Polivka called Blaggard’s Moon. I devoured it. Immediately I turned to Google-the-Gweat-and-Tewwible to see what else Mr. Polivka had to offer. I quickly discovered that he’d penned a trilogy. Paydirt! Wait. A pirate trilogy. Now, I like Jack Sparrow as much as the next guy but, really?  How many ways can one tell a pirate story? At least three more!

The Legend of the Firefish

“You deaf, boy?”

Packer Throme didn’t answer.  The last thing he wanted now was a fight. Dog Blestoe was a big man, bigger than Packer by three inches and thirty pounds, and Packer’s elder by thirty years.  Leathery, gray-headed, lean and muscular from a lifetime of hard labor, Dog stood across the table with hands knotted into fists. Packer stayed seated and silent.

Whereas Blaggard’s Moon wooed you slowly and kindly into the story, Firefish drops you harshly and abruptly into the action with it’s opening lines; into a palpable tension where through the eyes of young Packer you find out just what a mess he’s made of his life.

Orphaned by a father considered a nut-job by the rest of the fishing village he calls home, Packer blows his one chance at “success” by being kicked out of seminary for punching a priest. He, thereafter, finds himself in the tutelage of a master-swordsman.  He thrives in his newfound interest but finds himself longing for home and his one true love, whom he has left behind. This longing is part…maybe the deepest part of his reason for returning.  The other? To stow away on a pirate ship on a voyage to find the mythical firefish, vindicate his father’s name and maybe find some redemption of his own. Is this a suitable way for a failed priest to spend his life? How far young Packer has wandered from the path…right? Maybe his mentor, Senslar, can shed some light:

“Only one thing can put such a drive in a man’s heart as the drive I see in you.  God has made you for a single end, and even though you do not know what that end is, you know what direction you must go to find it.”

“To the sea?”

Senslar laughed and shook his head.  “You are not a turtle, Packer.  You are a man created in the image of God.  The sea will be too small for you.”

“What do you mean?”

The swordmaster grew serious. “The deep longings of your heart may take you out to sea, but the sea itself will not fulfill them.  Only the calling that God has put within you can do that.”

“And what is that calling?” Packer asked, desperately hoping this man was wise enough to answer, to stop the bleeding caused by his severed call to the priesthood.

“I cannot tell you.  That is why I asked.”

 

Okay, maybe not.
Where is your heart leading you? If you, like myself, identify with Packer’s uncertainty in life; if you resonate with this divine discontent, this undeniable longing that often leads down a “road less traveled” then, like me, you’ll find encouragement, hope, adventure and maybe a few more questions in the pages of this beautifully written tale. I’d venture to say that by the time you’ve reached it’s final chapter you’ll be eager to dive into the second book of this trilogy, The Hand that Bears the Sword. I know I am.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”   – JRR Tolkien

 

A Hiker-dad’s Wish List for Father’s Day (No underwear, socks or neck-ties! But maybe…just maybe…a kilt!)

 

Our recent “Hiker-mom Wish-list” was one of our most popular blogs to date so here’s the companion blog for Father’s Day. Enjoy! 

 

 

1.  Adventure Camera

Just before our hike through Grayson Highlands, VA last year, Dana and I clambered to find an affordable high-res “point and click” to preserve the memories.  The process went something like this:

 
1.  Spend hours online researching cameras with the features we wanted.
2.  Find a store that carries said camera.
3.  Either ignore pesky, omni-present, high-pressure salesperson or stand around looking frustrated while being smartly ignored ourselves.
4.  Settle for a model similar to what we were looking for because our choice isn’t available at said store.
5.  Take it home, try it out, experience profound disappointment.
6.  Return to store, go through the laborious process of getting a refund.
7.  Start over with step one and repeat until lithium is necessary.

Days before leaving we decided we had to have something and that something happened to be a Samsung SL605. Until this week (one year later) I couldn’t figure out how to pull off a decent close-up.  That and the fact that it didn’t use disposable batteries were the biggest reasons for my discontent. 2 days into our hike, the battery indicator revealed a fully charged battery.  I was impressed.  Then I shot a couple of short videos of the wild ponies and the camera was down for the count. No more pics for the rest of the trip.  Months later I discovered that there’s some weird issue with the battery contacts.  If I had known, I could’ve popped out the battery,  popped it back in and quite possibly been “good to go.”  Oh well.

The camera I’d had my eye on is the Olympus Stylus Tough-6020.  They’ve recently released an even sexier version, the TG 810 which is 14 mega-pixel, shock-proof to 6.6 feet, freeze-proof to 16 degrees, waterproof to 33 feet and crush-proof up to 220 lbf.  I love the integrated GPS which allows you to “record landmark data in your image and then enjoy the photo surfing feature which lets you see exactly where your photos were taken by using a map display!” That’s freaking cool!  Since this beauty retails for $399.99, it looks like I’ll be sticking with “Sam.”  The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead.  Hopefully this healthy competition will lead to even better features and more affordability in adventure cameras. The competitors?  I thought you’d never ask!  Two of the contenders are Fuji’s Finepix XP20 and the Pentax Optio WG-1. With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!

2.  Warbonnet Blackbird

A couple of years ago for Father’s Day, Dana suffered from an episode of temporary insanity and bought me (what then was) the Hummer of hammocks, the Clark North American. I love it. The Clark enabled me to do what I’d never been able to do, sleep in the woods. I could rave about it’s many features but suffice it to say I bought one for Dana shortly after.  Several weeks ago I lost my mind and bought us each a new Deep Jungle hammock by Hennesy. We love these as well. We don’t need 4 hammocks but I can’t bear to part with any of them. Well, let’s take the insanity to an entirely new level: One of my goals for Trail Days was to try out and possibly purchase a Warbonnet Blackbird. I’ve heard so much about the Blackbird and have even been approved by the owner, Kenneth Waddy, to sell this amazing hammock…but I’ve yet to even see one in real life!  Sooo, not something I need but certainly something I’d love to check out! In case you’d like to check it out, go to www.warbonnetoutdoors.com.

3.  3 – Season Incubator Underquilt by Hammock Gear.

The one negative of hammocking is winter sleeping.  It’s very difficult to stay warm. The solution? An under-quilt.  An underquilt is just what you’d think.  It’s a quilt that attaches to the underside of the hammock where the fill maintains it’s loft and provides a barrier of insulation against the cold. Months of research led us to a near decision.  Over Thanksgiving I popped Adam (Stormcrow) at Hammock Gear an e-mail and he responded by calling me personally.  An educational 45 minute phone-call convinced me that when we were ready to buy, we would buy from Adam.  He says it better than I so check this out: 

The ULTIMATE underquilt for freezing weather… A full 12 oz of high quality goose down, the Winter Incubator provides unrivalled insulation to keep your back-side toasty all night long. Winter Protection to 20* (12* below freezing!) and only 22.5 oz packed!

For serious protection on chilly nights, trust your tail to the Incubator… it’s the full-length big-brother to the CrowsNest. This UQ will keep you warm and cozy, with 12 oz of Hungarian Goose down, and 9 differential baffles that run the length of the quilt. The differential baffles help keep down from shifting, providing more consistent warmth throughout the night.

The Incubator has a tapered cut, which not only reduces weight, but provides a more secure wrap around the hammock, eliminating drafts.The quilt is designed to mimic the natural position of the body as it lies in the hammock. Choose the Incubator for the ultimate in luxurious protection and comfort against the harshest cold, and keep yourself warm and cozy all night long! Comes complete with shock-cord suspension and stuff sack.   $239.00 from www.HammockGear.com.

4.   4 Season (4 Doors) Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp by Hammock Gear

 Yeah, hammocking can get expensive.  Both our Clark’s and our Hennesy’s have sufficient tarps to keep out the rain, but…this tarp…this tarp…is the junk.  Dana and I were in Franklin, NC for the Hiker Fool’s Bash this year (basically a bunch of thru-hikers, past, present and future hanging out in a parking lot and swapping stories) when we were immediately approached and befriended by a hiker named Bat.  Bat introduced us to his friend Storm-crow who just happened to be Adam from Hammock Gear!  We sat and talked hiking, hammocks, under-quilts and tarps until the sun went down. (Watch for an upcoming podcast) Bat uses this particular tarp and brought this 8′ 6″ x 10′ 10″ tarp out in it’s ridiculously small stuff sack and I was shocked at how light it was (6.5 ozs!).
$309.00  from www.HammockGear.com.

5.  New Backpack

I picked up my present external-frame Jansport Ranier for $20 at Nanty-fest a few years back and despite a steady stream of mild-mannered-ribbing from more “progressive” hikers it’s been a great, dependable pack.  The only downside as far as I’m concerned is it’s annoying habit of snagging low-hanging tree branches.  My son Josiah finds this hilarious and nearly every time he has to duck, he stops, turns, waits and watches for the inevitable tangle.  Always good for a laugh. Oh, I should mention that I nicknamed my pack Squeaky. I guess that’s pretty much self-explanatory.  Usually a little soap gently applied to the strap connections quiets that right down.  Soooo, having said that I have been flirting with the idea of stepping into the 21st century by exploring the world of internal frame packs. I tried out the ULA Catalyst while at Mountain Crossings but after walking around the store with 30 lbs in the pack I decided it wasn’t for me.  I was carrying nearly all of the weight on my shoulders.  I prefer to have 75% of the weight distributed to my hips.  (I don’t have much in the way of shoulders.) A few weeks ago Josiah and I were hiking north on the AT into Damascus, VA when we encountered some thru-hikers.  One of these guys had a Catalyst.  I told him of my qualms.  He said he had the same problem but when he called ULA, they explained how to adjust and bend the stays to conform to his back so that the weight was carried on his hips.  He said it made all the difference and he loves his Catalyst.  So, maybe I should give the Catalyst a shot. This 47 oz pack has an overall capacity of 4.600 cubic inches…plenty!  You can buy it from www.ula-equipment.com for $250.  These are also available at a select few local retailers including Mountain Crossings at Wa-las-i-yi, Neels Gap, GA.

6.  Books

I’m a voracious reader. On any given week, I’m usually reading 4 or 5 books simultaneously.  When hiking I struggle to narrow it down to one lightweight paperback. Usually it’s my tattered, stained, patinated paperback of The Hobbit.

Here are just a few I can’t wait to get my hands on:

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffery Overstreet.  The third and final book in the Auralia’s Colors Trilogy.

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.  I’ve heard this book quoted by many of my favorite writers.  I think it’s time I scored my own copy.

Anything and everything by Frederick Buechner.  No, that’s not the name of a book.  I mean anything and everything.  I love Buechner and the local library’s patience with me is probably wearing thin.

Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. This classic account of life among the people of the Southern Appalachians comes highly recommended from my friend and hiking partner, Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell.

Some more Annie Dillard.  I recently picked up Pilgrim At Tinker Creek from a used bookstore but I wouldn’t mind having everything she’s written.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I subscribe to Ann’s blog. Her writing moves me like nearly no one else’s.  Raw, poignant, relentlessly beautiful, lyrical and oozing with grace. I read an excerpt from this book on Amazon.com and was humbled to have glimpsed so deeply into another’s soul. She’s…amazing.
 

7.  Mountain Hardwear Elkommando Kilt

Damn right, I’m serious! I’m 44 years old, Anglo-Scot-Irish-Cherokee and I don’t give a crap! It’s light-weight, cool and incredibly…convenient, shall we say.  My frustration with pockets too small for a map or Appalachian Pages has soured my taste for hiking pants.  At Trail Days I spoke to a rep about my issue and he agreed but said that it wasn’t hikers who drive the market for hiking pants, it was ordinary consumers…consumers who apparently are more concerned about fashion than practicality.  I actually like the Utilikilt (www.utilikilts.com) a lot. Looks like something a Spartan might wear and can literally hold a 6-pack of your beverage of choice.  Gotta respect that!  Problem is the $400 price tag, not to mention the fabric.  Even the light-weight version is too heavy and contains 40% cotton, not apt to dry as quickly as synthetics.  So I’m looking at the Elkommando and the possibility of talking someone into adding some big ole pockets for my maps and guides…and maybe a stud or two just for effect! You can order yourself one through the REI affiliate link on this site for a much more reasonable, $75…and you’ll be supporting your favorite podcast!

8.  Puffy Down Jacket
     I know, I know.  sounds like something a 9 year old girl would want. I can hear it now, “That should go nicely with the skirt (#7)!” Yeah, yeah, yeah.  The Puffy Down Jacket has all but replaced the old fleece stand-by as the jacket of choice.  On average they weigh around half a pound, pack down to near nothing and have become the new standard of warmth for thru-hikers.  At the Hiker Fools Bash in Franklin this year nearly every hiker I saw was wearing and swearing…by their puffy down jacket.  So, I’m weighing my options.  The obvious choice would be Western Mountaineering’s Hooded Flash Jacket sporting 850+ fill goose down and weighing in at a whopping 9 ounces!  You can pick one up from www.westernmountaineering.com for around $260.00. 

9.  Back-country Boiler

I’ve known about chimney kettles for several years but due to weight, size and price they’ve always seemed impractical to me.  The pack-weight saved by using found fuel, didn’t seem to justify the loss in pack-space and the gain in stove-weight…until now.  The Backcountry Boiler from www.theboilerwerks.com is about the same size and weight as that Nalgene Baltimore Jack told you to get rid of. It can “depending on fuel and operator skill, boil 2 cups of water in under 5 minutes” using the stuff you’re clearing off the ground to make a spot for your tent.  That’s a big boast from a small kettle. I’d like to find out if it’s true. They range in price from $80 to $160, depending on the features.

10.  AT Thru-hike

Kinda hard to pick this one up at your local REI…but this is a wish-list, right?  If there were any method to my madness this would be number one on my list. If it were even a financial possibility I’d be happy to trade everything I’ve just rambled on about for an opportunity to “hike with spring” from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. It’s my dream to make this 5 or 6 month pilgrimage with all of the joys and pains, thrills and monotony…and live to tell about it. This past spring I nearly threw caution to the wind, quit my job and left for Dahlonega. I had it bad. Until that day I’ll continue to dream and spend every moment on the Trail that I can.  Average cost?  6 months wages + $4,000.00…give or take.

Hope this little list was inspiring and informative.  (If nothing else…entertaining!) What say next year we get started a little earlier and you let me know what your Hiker-dad wish list looks like? I can’t wait!  Happy Father’s Day to my Abba, to my dad, Deyerle Ray Longley, the greatest earthly dad a guy could ever wish for and to all of the other dads and hiker dad’s out there. Be blessed and Happy Trails!

006 All Who Wander – Cimarron: A Tenacious 88 Year Old AT Thru-hiker on Life, Love, Trail Magic and the Curse of Hiawassee. Part 2

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Join Cimarron and I for Part 2 of this “Zero Day” conversation in Hiawassee, Georgia. Music provided by Under the Appletree