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Laurel Falls by Henry Mitchell: book review

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, – a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.‎”

 

– John Muir

 

If you’ve begun this review I’m assuming that, like me, you’re already in the Laurel and and the Laurel is in you. The third installment in The Benjamin Drum Trilogy couldn’t find it’s way into my greedy little hands quick enough. If you’ve read my reviews of either The Summer Boy or Between Times then you’re aware of my fondness for this Appalachian epic and it’s writer. I have resolved to, rather than ramble on with felicitations, let my words be few. Let’s let Laurel Falls speak for itself:

 

Eventually the day began to work into him and he let go of thoughts and puzzles and simply drank in the golden light, the piney air, the songthrong of
innumerable birds. He walked, shedding haste and urgency as he went, feeling the weight of the mountain moving up through his soles and ankles with each step, through calf and knee and thigh, through belly and chest and shoulder, until finally he knew himself a mobile attenuation of the constant presentiality of
the mountain. He stopped and stared long and often into the lovely and loving
faces of flowers, had leisurely and unwordful conversations with a bear, and two
wolves and a large cat he met along the way. All of them recognized him as
kindred soul, like them manifest of the soulfulness of the mountain they
traversed, strangers before their meeting moment, and forever after aware of
their eternal familiatude. The same mountain breathed in them all, the same sun
warming and lighting them all. The same waters quenched their common thirst, and if need be, the body of any one might nourish the life of another. One Soul
imagined them all. One Life sustained the becoming of every one. Crossing a
creek on stones slippery with drenched mosses, Talks To Trees heard the guttural gratings of Raven perched in a chestnut high above. He looked up at his face reflected in the corvidaes dark orbs, through Raven’s eyes saw himself tiny and foreshortened among the grounded leaves below. “I know you,” said Raven in his unspeakable tongue. “We are brothers bone and blood. ” Talks To Trees nodded and waved before walking on. “Yes, we are,” he said aloud to Raven, to the tree, to the path and the flowers and the light and the air and the water, to Owl wherever he might not be listening, to the boy and man pursued across times and worlds, “We are the same.” Once across the little stream, Talks To Trees strode away. He fancied he heard Li singing in the distance, but knew it to be earthsong, the music of the day. Before he took many steps, Raven called after him, “Brother two-legged, you are the Namer. What will you call this place of our sacred meeting?” Talks To Trees halted, turned, spread his arms wide and smiled as the word came to him across water and worlds and time. “Abalahci.” He laughed. “The Other Side.”

 

Did you read that?!

 

Did you?

 

If any passage has ever radiated the spirit of John Muir, this is it…and this is one small excerpt from a brilliant novel replete with beauty. Laurel Falls is the third book in the series…presumably a trilogy. If it ends here, it ends in resplendent glory…

 

Please don’t let it end here.

A Walk In The Woods: A Movie Review

I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. I dream of, one day, consumating that relationship with a thru-hike. For those of you unaccustomed to the term, a thru-hike of the AT would consist of me shouldering a back-pack, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia and following the white blazes, hiking north for 2,189.2 miles (This year. It changes each year.) until arriving at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (This is not the only way to thru-hike the AT; there are myriad options. This is how I would prefer to do it). And to answer your question, yes, people really do this…every year. Many more attempt and bail than succeed but still, a lot of people make it to Katahdin (Or Springer, for those contrary Southbounders.)

In the meantime, while I try to pay off my house, eliminate a mountain of medical debt etc., I bide my time by doing section hikes of this beautiful footpath, reading AT books, memoirs (I have a bookshelf full of them), poring over maps etc. The first AT book I ever picked up was Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. (For the hilarious account of how I discovered it, listen to the first few minutes of episode 2 of the All Who Wander Podcast: http://allwhowander.us/002-all-who-wander-becoming-odyssa-book-launch-part-2/).
I really, really enjoyed the book. I also care deeply for the guy in the aforementioned story who really, really hates this book. Jack, if you know him, is a hard-hiking, hard-drinking character with a heart as big as all outdoors. He so despises this book that he is often seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Bill Bryson is a Candy-Ass”. Was I surprised that Jack went to see the film adaptation of the novel? Yes. Was I surprised that he didn’t care for it? Really? Do I need to answer that? Jack posted a seemingly sincere query on facebook several days ago. It read,

“Well, someone else will, no doubt, start a thread like this, so it may as well be me…the film version of A Walk In the Woods opens nationally tomorrow. Some of you have already seen it. I’ve already viewed it and have my own opinion…but I’d much rather hear YOURS. Looking forward to hearing from lot of you.” I responded simply, “We plan to see it this weekend.” He replied, “Save your money.” Daniel Quinn, a mutual friend, commented, “So much for I’d rather hear from others. LOL”

 

Hee hee hee. Funny stuff.
So, notwithstanding Jack’s friendly economic admonition, Dana and I bought our tickets, mandatory $20 worth of popcorn and root beer and settled into our seats to see what Redford had done with this (mostly) beloved book.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned at the start I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. This, undoubtedly, colors my perception of all things AT…including this movie. Jack and thru-hikers like him (He has 7 completed thru-hikes under his belt) take issue with the fact that Bill didn’t finish the entire trail. Well, I’ve most certainly hiked fewer AT miles than Bryson so I’m not sure where this places me on the scale in terms of hiker-cred. In addition, I’m no movie critic. I’ve only known one and, true to his title, he was terribly critical of nearly every movie he saw and looked down his nose on anyone who actually took pleasure in a film. I’m not that guy and hope I never will be. I’m much more easily entertained. Also, this whole process is awfully subjective. Because I so love this trail, hiking, backpacking and all things wild…I’ve no idea how a non-hiker might perceive the film. But here it is through my eyes:

 

I liked it

Yeah, I know. With that lead-up you were expecting a little more.

Okay, here’s a little more.

I liked it a lot.

I didn’t love it but I loved parts of it.

 

It’s a movie about the Appalachian Trail. You had me at “hello.”
It’s filmed on the Appalachian Trail. You set the hook.
It’s a movie based on a (mostly) beloved best-selling AT book which stars Robert freakin’ Redford and Nick Nolte. Really, what more could you ask for?
Were some of my favorite parts missing? Yes?
Did some of the jokes play out better in the book than on the screen? Yes.
Was it too short? Sure did seem that way.
All things considered, I guffawed through much of the film. Because of my deep love for the Trail, moments touched me on a soul level and caused my eyes to well with tears. I guess part of me wonders if I ever will see my dream of a thru-hike fulfilled. I’m nearly 50, with a laundry list of ailments doctors haven’t found a diagnosis for, a boatload of debt, two aging parents that need me to be around and a love for my family deeper than my love for the Trail. Yes, I identified with both of the main characters, Bryson and Katz. Maybe that’s where the magic happens.That connection. Will that happen for everyone? I don’t know…but it certainly did for me. It made me long to spend more time on my beloved Trail. It inspired me to do more to protect and defend our wild places. Maybe, just maybe it’ll do the same for someone else. I’d say that would be a success.
The gist:

Good film. Grumpy Old Men meets Homeward Bound. I hope you like it. That’s my Trail up on that screen. I give it 4 trowels.

Wild: A Movie Review – Addressing the Criticisms

While anxiously awaiting the release of the film adaptation of the classic fly-fishing novel The River Why I read a comment by one of it’s creators that was critical of the classic movie, A River Runs Through It. They snobbishly dismissed the film for its lack of realism in the fly-fishing scenes. Over dinner I mentioned to Dana and Josiah how the comment had left a bad taste in my mouth for the person who made it and had sort of tainted my opinion of the upcoming movie before I’d had a chance to see it. My son Josiah, 18 years old at the time, said, “It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”

“It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”

Some of the biggest criticisms of Wild that I’ve heard have, unfortunately, come from the trail community. I heard comments like, “Want to learn what not to do while backpacking? See Wild.”

Strayed lays her heart bare in the book and on the screen. She unabashedly lays out a gruesome recounting of heartbreak, loss and bad decisions. She is beyond candid concerning her lack of experience as well as her moral failures. At no point does she claim expertise…in anything. In fact, she paints a picture of herself that is far from attractive. It is, at times, difficult to watch. I imagine it was even more difficult to endure. When confronted with this kind of raw confessional, our response is judgement? Really? Did we all come forth from the womb with an ultra-light pack, a 10 lb baseweight, practicing LNT ethics and obeying the levitical law to a point? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…or boot.

It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story.

Another criticism or complaint goes something like this, “Oh great, now everyone and their brother are going to hit the Pacific Crest Trail to try and ‘find themselves.” And that’s bad? My own story is not that different. Dana, Josiah and I followed Jesus right out of the doors of the institutional church and into the woods. The wilderness became for us a sanctuary and a place of healing. The trail community welcomed us with open arms and have become like family. Yes, I discovered myself on the trail. I discovered life and passion and saw a longing awakened that transformed my life. I know countless nemophilists who would echo that sentiment. Why disparage others from searching for the same?

A related concern is that the hordes of newbies will cause irreparable damage to the trails. Granted, more traffic is going to bring about wear and tear. That’s unavoidable. Why not use this as a teaching opportunity? Great organizations such as The Pacific Coast Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have. They’ve seized upon this opportunity to raise awareness, teach trail etiquette and draw attention to causes that desperately need it. In addition, think for a moment about how you felt about caring for the wilderness before you discovered backpacking…and after. Conservation wasn’t even on my radar before I found my place in the woods. Now? Don’t get me started! At this moment in US history the protection of our wild places is on precarious ground. I just recently signed a petition to try and prevent the logging of a great national treasure, Pisgah National Forest…just a couple of hours from our home. What if these hordes of new hikers were to become passionate about caring for wilderness? Imagine the potential!

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the film. I enjoyed it even more when I watched it with my wife. Dana lost her dad just a few months ago. I knew the early scenes would be difficult for her to get through. They were. I’ll admit, I strained to see her expression during those scenes and others. You know what I saw? Solidarity. She saw something of her own struggle in Cheryl’s tribulations. She resonated with the heartbreak. She identified with the call of the mountains and their promise of beauty and healing. She remembered what it was like when we were first starting out and had no clue what we were doing. She laughed sardonically with self deprecation at Cheryl’s bad luck, frustration and angst. When the boot flew off the mountain, I swear I saw Dana do a fist-pump. She rejoiced with Chery’s triumphs and gloried in the vistas attained. If for no reasons but these, I loved the film. C.S. Lewis said,”Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”  ” I’ve no doubt that were Dana and Cheryl to meet they’d be fast friends.

The gist?

Great story, great acting, great film making, struggle, heartache and redemption. Beautiful scenery, to boot. If you want to see a “How-To” on backpacking there are some good videos out there that’ll fit your need. If you want to laugh, be moved and inspired see Wild. You’ll be glad you did.

It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story. And it’s a good one.

 

http://www.pcta.org/

http://www.appalachiantrail.org/

http://www.cdtsociety.org/

Alaska Days with John Muir by Samual Hall Young: Book Review

John Muir fan?  I certainly am.  Thanks to Kindle (www.amazon.com), thrift stores and Librivox (www.librivox.org) I own nearly everything he’s ever written. His passion for wilderness…for the Creator revealed in His breath-taking creation throws fuel on an already raging fire in my heart for all things wild. I ache to have at my leisure weeks, months even, alone in the woods. I long to be able, like Muir,  to call things: flora, fauna geographic formations…all things, by their true name. When I read Muir I want to cast off restraints, “throw off the bowlines” as Twain put it and as Winton Porter adapted it,

“throw on my pack, dust off my boots and walk away from my everyday. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Each time I pick up one of Muirs writings I wish I’d met him. (Or course, there’s that little issue of us being separated by several generations) I wonder what it would’ve been like to have known him as friend; to have filled our pockets with hardtack and gotten ourselves lost rambling through forests, climbing mountains and sleeping beneath the stars… to share the wonder of reveling in this amazing world our God has created.  Samual Hall Young was that friend. It is grippingly clear the impact Muir’s friendship and shared adventure had on this young missionary…even on his writing style. His written voice is so similar to that of Muirs that I can effortlessly imagine a conversation between the two. Mr. Young entered the Alaskan wilderness in the hopes of bringing the “white-man’s religion” to the “savages” but I think both the savages and the wilderness, along with Muir himself had a profound impact on him. 

This wonderful little book belongs in the library of every Muir fan, every lover of wilderness if only for the insights into Muir’s beautiful, eccentric personality such as this one:

“Muir at once went wild when we reached this fairyland.  From cluster to cluster of flowers he ran, falling on his knees, babbling in unknown tongues, prattling a curious mixture of scientific lingo and baby talk, worshiping his little blue-and-pink goddesses.  “Ah! My blue-eyed darlin’, little did I think to see you here.  How did you stray away from Shasta?”  “Well, well!  Who’d ‘a’ thought you’d have left that niche in the Merced mountains to come here!”  ‘And who might you be now, with your wonder look?  Is it possible that you can be (two Latin polysyllables)?  You’re lost, my dear; you belong in Tennesee.”

Did you know that Mr. Young has the honor, also, of being the owner of the infamous “Stickeen” the cantankerous little mutt that accompanied the two on their excursions into the Alaskan wilderness and the subject of Muir’s own classic by the same name?  If you enjoyed that little book, you’ll truly appreciate seeing this pup and his relationship with Muir from Mr. Young’s perspective.

I’ve rambled on enough about this book . I own it on Kindle but plan to search for a hardback copy for my shelf.

The Gist?  Buy it.  Read it.  You’ll love it.

Here’s a link to the free kindle version through Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Alaska-Days-John-Muir-ebook/dp/B004TS9LOU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1341418426&sr=1-1&keywords=Alaska+Days+with+John+Muir

If you plan to purchase one of the other copies via Amazon, would you consider doing so via the Amazon link at All Who Wander?  We’d certainly appreciate it.  A portion of the cost will go towards keeping All Who Wander going.  Thanks!

 

 

 

Gear Review : Nikon AW 100 Cool Pix Adventure Camera

When Dana and I landed in Bozeman, the first thing we did was go in search of a replacement for my Samsung point and click. I’m loathe to spend money on myself but I thought, “How many times in my life will I get a chance to capture the beauty of this western landscape?” I figured it a well-justified expenditure.  The Samsung had actually served me nicely for several years but due to an open housing acquired moisture spots on the internal optics. I’ve talked a little about a couple of waterproof, shockproof adventure cameras here in the blog section so went in search of one of them.  My search ended at the Bozeman Costco where I picked up Nikon’s contribution to the adventure camera category, the AW 100.  I read over the specs, played with the display a bit and though it was well beyond my budget, thought good of my purchase and shrugged off my usual buyers remorse. After charging the battery, I experimented with different settings, functions etc.  The next day we ventured into Yellowstone where I gave my new toy a workout.  Over the course of the week I shot nearly a thousand pics/videos.  Here’s what I discovered:

Likes:

– Panoramic function. Didn’t realize this was one of the perks until I unpackaged it.  Simple, easy to use and gives great results.  Perfect for the wide open spaces and majestic summits of Montana.

– Video function.  “Easy button” on the back of camera gives me video capability with a single click. HD video, I might add.

– Macro.  Simple to use,  Beautiful, detailed results.  Love it.

– Landscapes.  Great camera for landscapes. Unlike my Samsung, it gave me nearly perfect focus every time.

-GPS.  Though I didn’t explore it fully, the AW 100 boasts onboard GPS which, as a hiker, I consider a phenomenal feature. I often return from a trip, sort through my pics and wonder, :Hmmmm, where was this?” Assuming it functions well, I consider this a huge plus.

Dislikes:

– Location of lens.  It took several screw-ups before I re-trained my finger away from the top left corner.

–  Rechargeable battery with heavy external charger.  Neither convenient nor practical for backpackers.

–  High maintenance.  This is supposed to be an adventure camera.  When you peruse the manual you’re given instructions to be careful about getting it wet.  Really?!  Don’t get a waterproof camera wet? If exposed to moisture of any kind, you’re to immediately dry the camera with a cloth.  Nice, Nikon.  Really nice.

–  Focus issues.  Though it performed admirably on macro and landscapes, anything in between was no-man’s land.  I have a slough of disappointing pictures of wildlife that I’ll  never get another chance to capture.  The automatic focus on this camera is a miserable, epic fail. Were it possible to buy a point-and-click adventure camera with manual focus, I’d be a happy man.

–  Digital zoom takes waaaaaaaaay too long to initiate. Missed a lot of shots waiting for it to kick in.

– Shutter lag. Pretty severe and at seemingly random intervals.

– Resolution.  The AW100 boasts 16 megapixels.  Again, great color and detail on macros and landscapes but anything in between is washed-out and sort of hazy in appearance.  Dana’s 8 mega-pixel Sony consistently gets strikingly better shots than the Nikon. Without exaggeration, many of the 2 or 3 mp shots from my crappy phone camera look better than the results from the Nikon. No excuse.

-It locks up.  No kidding.  This happened, not once, but repeatedly. If I left the power on for more than a few minutes without snapping a pic, it would completely lock up. The only way I could restore function was to open the battery compartment, eject the battery, re-install the battery, close the compartment and cut the camera back on. Geez.

The Gist

Nice try Nikon.  Some cool features but bells and whistles do not a camera make. Let’s start with the basics:  A good camera should take good pictures. Fail. Just praying Costco will let me return this since I left the inconvenient packaging in Montana.

 

Update:  Costco was amazing!  The store in Greenville gave me a full refund plus an adjustment in sales tax, with nearly no questions asked despite the fact that I purchased the camera in Montana and had neither the original packaging nor the receipt.  Thanks Costco!  You guys ROCK!

 

Montana, Days 7, 8 and 9: Paradise Lost

 

We saw our wolves.  To be precise, we heard them first. Several people had gathered by the roadside.  We pulled up, quietly pushed our doors shut and, as stealth as coyote, walked up to a wildlife enthusiast equipped with a tripod mounted lens nearly as big as our rented Subaru.  “What are we watching?” I whispered. “Listen,”  he replied. ”  We did as suggested and from far away heard two wolves raising a long, beautiful howl to the cloud covered Wyoming mountains. We lifted our little cameras, zoomed in and just barely made out two wolves, one gray and another that appeared distinctly cream colored.

I had been reading Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins, her well-written account of the role she and her compatriots played in re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.  Due primarily to man once again meddling in the affairs of the wild, the natural wolf population had been completely decimated. Her book details the long, hard battle to bring restoration to the natural order; to undo the damage we’d done. It was a pretty moving encounter to experience firsthand the fruits of her labor. Thank you, Renee.

Our original plan had been to hike to the summit of Emigrant Peak in Livingston, just a few miles from our cabin in Paradise Valley.  18″ of snowfall on our second day in Montana added to an already frozen summit had rendered that dream a risk not worth taking. The boulder covered approach would have been treacherous enough without it’s icy coating.  Now? Darn near impossible. In lieu of breathing the rarified air at 11,000 feet we hoped to instead find a few hikes in Yellowstone, at least getting into these woods we’d so longed to wander in.  My run-in with the boulder changed that plan as well.  We spent nearly all of our remaining 3 days driving through Yellowstone, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to snap a picture. It’s a difficult trap not to fall into, especially when one of us (Uh, yeah…that’d be me) had the misfortune of being run over by a boulder. Would I recommend seeing Yellowstone from behind a car door?  No.  Definitely not. Friday came so quickly that both of us had to stay vigilant in fighting off remorse for not using our time in this idyllic setting better.  It was a blur. I convinced Dana to get a two day fishing license to at least wet a hook in these legendary waters.  On our last voyage into the Park we headed toward Cooke City, again taking in the majesty of these spectacular mountains.  Along the way we stopped off at Soda Butte (Yeah, I know.  Funny. It’s pronounced “byoot”) Creek, where I hung my hammock, lost myself in Norman MacClean’s classic and watched Dana try her hand at enticing a few trout to rise. I watched ground squirrels play beneath my nest and observed the cartoon-like antics of a yellow-bellied weasel as he darted in and out of the ground squirrel’s tunneled home. Although Dana never saw much success we both enjoyed our few short moments of relaxation…something we wished we’d spent a lot more time doing. An hour or so after we arrived the sun was once again swallowed up in grey clouds, while rain and sleet drove us back to the car and on toward Cooke City for lunch.  That old adage applies here more than anywhere I’ve visited,”  If you don’t like the weather here…just wait 5 minutes.” Unfortunately for us, we saw a mere 12 hours or so of sunshine in our entire week. Take it like it comes, right?  Well, as disappointing as the weather and my accident were, the wildlife just about made up for it.  Over the course of the week we saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote, bighorn sheep, bison (Yup, I realize I mentioned bison already), osprey, a yellow-headed blackbird, magpie, a badger, ground squirrels, a hoary marmot, a yellow-bellied weasel, wolves, a moose, bison, more bison, bison calves, black bear, black bear cubs, grizzly, (did I mention bison?) and more.  At one point there was so much wildlife in one location I half-expected Rafiki to step out with Simba raised over his head.  Instead we saw a herd of bison convince a grizzly to find something other than a bison calf for lunch.  Pretty amazing stuff.

So many people have asked if we’d go back.  Absolutely.  Would I hope for better weather?  Yup.  (And less boulder contact as well.)  Would we try to return with only a week?  Probably not. The jaw-dropping magnificence of this incredible country was other-worldly and more than the eye could take in…especially in 7 or 8 days. It was indeed a balm for two heartbroken and war-weary people.  Had we not gone….I don’t even want to think about it.  Would we like a do-over?  You bet. We’d love to see Paradise Lost redeemed. Next time, closer to summer with a month to spend….maybe a year. Next time we’ll see it from the midst of the wildness, rather than the safety and convenience of a cozy Subaru.  Next time, maybe from the Continental Divide Trail.  Next time…

 

I’ve posted some pics from our trip at the All Who Wander Podcast facebook page.  Here’s a link:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.381032811943464.81325.146364628743618&type=3

 

Montana, Day 6: The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

“Your sunshine’s here,” Dana intoned sweetly while I shook off the residue from the previous nights sleep.  (Amazing what a muscle relaxer can do.) I dragged my bum leg and bruised body to the back door where I feasted my eyes on Emigrant Peak, it’s sisters, and the valley below all lit up with sunshine just as Dana promised.  Beauty, unadulterated beauty. A perfect day for hiking. Unfortunately, hiking was no longer an option. Nearly all of the day was spent with my leg propped up and covered in ice packs while my new Osprey Aether 70 sat in the corner taunting me.  The good news is that it gave me a little time for writing. Occasionally I’d look up at a magpie in a burst of flight, with the Crazy Mountains as a backdrop.  I’ve gotta tell you,  it wasn’t a bad way to spend a day. It also gave us opportunity to visit Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa for lunch where I discovered I most definitely do not like the taste of elk. Life lesson. Short and sweet entry today. We plan to be up by 4 am and on our way back to the Park, this time heading through the Lamar Valley toward Cooke City. Hoping to spot some wolves. So early to bed, early to rise…

Montana, Day 5: It’s Not A Vacation Till…

It’s not a vacation till a boulder rolls across your leg.

We rose early, jumped into our rented Subaru and pointed it toward Yellowstone.  The day before, I’d spotted a couple of signs in Gardiner boasting breakfast buffets and despite the fact that “nary a grit were to be found in these parts” (Tom Conlon quote), the organic, farm fresh eggs common to this area more than made up for it.  Unfortunately, either I’d imagined the signs or they’d been taken down since yesterday.  We ended up having breakfast in a little diner that was overflowing with sightseers as well as locals, staffed by one frantic, flustered and overworked waitress.  Almost 2 hours later we finally left the diner and drove under the Roosevelt Arch, the giant monolith that marks the Northwest entrance to Yellowstone. Most everything was still obscured in the billowy whiteness of snow and fog but we held out hope that the God who had made these mountains and had brought us here would lift the clouds to give us a glimpse of his handiwork.

Today’s destination was Old Faithful, 51 miles from the entrance. Neither Dana nor I were overly excited about seeing the geyser itself but moreso in walking for a while in footsteps my dad had  left there years before.  As a young soldier he had driven his Studebaker through the area, spending his nights sleeping under the stars. The summer evening he spent camping just outside of Old Faithful Lodge a family invited him to join them for dinner.  He thanked them for their generosity but explained he had some hot dogs he planned to roast over the fire. They told him to save his hotdogs for later, tonight he would eat steak.  Of course he couldn’t say no to steak. Years later the kindness offered to this young serviceman lives on.  I have to admit, I was combing the area looking for a soldier not unlike my dad I could extend the same generosity to…pay it forward.

We were told that no matter what we did, we just had to enjoy a meal at the Old Faithful Lodge. Famished, we sat down to what we anticipated would be a sumptuous meal, served buffet style. Unfortunately, like every other meal we’d had inside the park it was a huge disappointment, bland and overpriced. All of the concessions for the park are sub-contracted to a company called Xanterra. Seasonings, apparently don’t figure into their bottom line. Take this not so much as a criticism as a suggestion to bring a picnic lunch.  We looked jealously all around us at those who’d had the foresight to do this very thing.  Yellowstone is made for picnics…and its unbridled splendor more than makes up for a lack of good food.

The clouds parted just in time for us to see the 2pm eruption of Old Faithful. The old geyser must be getting along in years for it erupted with a whimper, not a bang. In the midst of it’s whimper , the clouds moved in and a cold rain began to soak us as we ran to the car.

If you know me at all you’re aware of my disdain for gloomy, white skies.  This had been our weather, with occasionally interruptions of rain, sleet and snow, since we left the airport. As hard as I fought to not let this affect my disposition, the weather coupled with hours of 30 mph driving, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to hop out and snap pictures had left me in a sullen funk. I looked on longingly as I saw 4 guys hoisting their packs for what must’ve been a multi-day backpacking trip into the wild. It didn’t escape Dana’s notice.  “Want me to let you out?”  “Nah, I’m fine.” “No, you’re not.” I wasn’t and I knew it. Surrounded by this veiled beauty and stuck in this horrid pattern of starting and stopping had made it’s mark on me.

At the sight of a sign marking the Continental Divide, we stopped again to snap a pic.  Pointing to a steep embankment, Dana said, “Crawl up there and let me get your pic.” The soil was loose but I made it a little ways and posed while bracing myself on an exposed root from a fallen tree. Once done, I scrambled the rest of the way to the top to find a spot out of view to, ahem, “make water” as my dad calls it.  I returned to the top of the hill and warned Dana and an older woman who’d arrived in my absence to move out of the way, in case this went bad.  Dana hid behind the sign and the woman moved to the side.  Best I can tell, when I began to slip I instinctually reached out and grabbed a boulder that sat loosely in the soil, dislodging it to chase me down the hill.  I was nearly at the bottom when it overtook me, slamming into my right calf, driving my knee and right shoulder into the gravel. Dana, the older lady and her husband all screamed as I fell. I hopped up quickly, dripping blood from multiple places and hoping, praying I’d not done serious damage.  7 hours later, after our continued “start-stop-snap-a-picture” method of travel back into Emigrant, I limped bruised and battered back into our cabin and took inventory of my injuries. Best I could tell I had a mild ankle sprain from hyper-extending my foot when I attempted a “Superman” off the embankment, a torqued and bruised knee, one seriously bruised, scratched and swollen calf along with an assortment of cuts scrapes and scratches from my trip through the gravel. Like I said, “It ain’t a vacation till you get run over by a boulder.”

 

Montana, Day 4: A Stay-cation, Plumbing Trouble and Samoyeds

Exhausted from the previous days adventure we opted to hang around the cabin today. We drove down to the Howling Hound Cafe (www.facebook.com/pages/Howlin-Hounds-Cafe/248852179382) in our snow-covered Subaru for some delicious, farm-fresh organic eggs, bacon and huge-chunked-fried potatoes for breakfast. You’ll not only find some great grub at this family run restaurant but you’ll also feel like you’re one of the family.  The effusive, amicable conversation makes this one of our favorite spots so far.   As I’m sure you’ve realized this day held little adventure and a lot of food. A rib-sticking lunch at the historic Old Saloon and Livery Stable held us over till the next day. Since we didn’t go looking for adventure, it kind of came to us. Twice our water at the cabin was reduced to a drip.  Local plumber Don Hinks interrupted his Memorial Day weekend to get it going again. Thanks Don.  Don and his four spoiled-rotten- snow-white Samoyed sled dogs that accompanied him everywhere were a great interruption to our lazy day and good medicine for our bruised and grieving hearts.

 

Montana, Day 3: Yellowstone

Subtle notes of her fragrance drift toward me on the breeze.  Intoxicating. My head swims with longing. I imagine her shadowed eyes sparkle with whimsy…a touch of the demure. Draped in opaque, pearl lightness she conceals her breathtaking beauty, teasing my imagination, revealing only a little at a time in her sensuous dance.  Seduction is her art and she is a master. We’d traveled thousands of miles, driven for hours and arrived in Yellowstone to discover that the spectacular mountains we’d come so far to experience were draped in mist.  The sun and wind would occasionally work together to expose some far-away summit radiant white or a snow-covered grassy slope low on the mountainside. It was most certainly a strip-tease.

2 hours earlier…

Awaking early and finding the sun already up (Had we taken a wrong turn and ended up in Alaska?), I stood in the living room, pointed my camera at the bedroom door and waited like a hunter for Dana to rise from her slumber. She opened the door, laid eyes on the winter wonderland on display through the huge windows before her, gasped and squealed like a little girl. I grinned like I’d planned it that way.  Even though we’d been greeted with snowy precipitation, this was late May!  We figured there was no chance there’d be any accumulation.  Boy, were we wrong. This kind of snow at home would keep us hunkered down, subsisting off of bread and milk.  That’s just how we do it in the South.  But we weren’t in the South.  This is Mon-freakin’-tana. We’re going to Yellowstone!  First stop?  Breakfast. We returned to our little bakery and enjoyed Montana’s answer to the McMuffin: Scrambled egg with pepper-jack and canadian bacon on toasted Ciabatta and freshly brewed black, dark roast coffee to wash it down with. A hearty, wholesome, tasty start for our first foray into Yellowstone.

As the Subaru took us into Gardiner, the mostly veiled landscape began to change before our eyes.  Even the few feet visible beneath the fog stood in stark, geologic relief against the snow covered mountains and meadows. Enormous jagged rock formations came into view just beyond the Yellowstone River paralleling Highway 89.

Main Street in Gardiner boasted a wide array of little shops and businesses.  Spotting an outfitter with the compelling name of Flying Pig Adventures  (www.flyingpigrafting.com) we parked down the street, blinking at the falling snow as we took the sidewalk back to the entrance.  We found a very similar inventory to the other store.  We also found the same friendly, courteous staff…if not more-so.  We took turns alternately chatting with the owner and playing with her sweet white lab. She listened intently and compassionately as Dana told her of our recent loss of Scooby. I picked up a small container of gas for my stove and our newfound friend threw in a really cool lightweight cordura shopping bag emblazoned with the Flying Pig logo. Her part to help assuage our grief. I responded with, “So if I tell you that Dana’s Dad just had extensive scalp surgery to remove melanoma and my mom just had a stroke…what do we get?”  She answered, “Chocolate?”  We all laughed and said goodbye.

This, our first excursion into Yellowstone, didn’t provide much in the way of scenery but plenty in the way of wildlife.  We were in awe at our first few close-up encounters with these giant, otherworldly creatures called bison. (Apparently, North America has never had a buffalo…only bison.  Who knew?) After a while, though it became nearly routine.  They were everywhere! Our exclamations of wonder were replaced by, “bison,” or “Another roadblock.”  “Bison?”  “Yup.”  Deer and mule-deer were everywhere, evidenced (even around the geyser vents) by their abundant scat. Every so often we’d come across a traffic jam caused not by bison but by a bear-sighting.  Of course, everyone (us included) wanted to spot a bear, especially a grizzly. Sightseers in rented RV’s would often stop in the middle of the road because they caught a glimpse of a black bear.  We’d all put it in park, jump out of our vehicles and run to the side of the road, camera’s flashing until a ranger showed up to break up the party.  This “start-stop-take-a-pic” mode of travel would become our way of life. Fun for a while but not a very efficient way to get from point A to point B.  It took us all day to get from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower Falls and back and left us exhausted. It was well after dark by the time we made if back to the cabin. That’s saying something around here.  (Until this moment I wasn’t convinced it ever got dark.) We looked forward to a long soak in the hot tub (this was a 25th anniversary celebration 2 years late, for goodness’ sake).  Unfortunately it was not to be. T’was broken and would stay that way for quite a while.

Montana, Day 2: From Bozeman to Paradise Valley

After a decent nights rest in the Holiday Inn (Don’t they have great beds?) we had a delicious skillet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, packed up, bought a few necessities for the week and made our way toward Paradise Valley (or more specifically, Emigrant), Montana. Just a mile or so down the interstate, we were welcomed to the area by a snowstorm. Undaunted by the white stuff, our rented Subaru just kept on going (Oh, we could get used to this! The Subaru, that is.) Of course we stopped and snapped a few pics; snow is a rarity in our neck of the woods.  On the way in we stopped for lunch in a town called Livingston, eating at a little cafe/ coffee shop (the name eludes me) where we enjoyed a chicken wrap, organic fair-trade coffee and friendly conversation with the owners. We were there quite a while.  We’d soon learn that the pace of life is slower out west…at least in the restaurants. We visited the local outfitter, Timber Trails (http://timbertrailsmontana.com), where we were welcomed by friendly staff but a limited inventory. It was a small store. This seems to be the case for most of the outfitters we’d visit.  Instead of catering primarily to hikers, most of them were bonafide outfitters offering guided horseback and/or river rafting trips. The stores usually offered less in the way of gear than they did in apparel.  I mention this to encourage you to bring most of what you’ll need in the way of adventure gear with you unless, of course, you plan to avail yourself of the guided trips.  We did find that nearly all of the stores carried both iso-butane propane as well as bearspray, two items not allowed on commercial airlines.

We arrived in the sprawling metropolis of Emigrant (Population 372…make that 374) around 4pm. Since we couldn’t check in until 5pm we wandered through a few of the local haunts: The General Store, Howlin’ Hounds Cafe (www.facebook.com/pages/Howlin-Hounds-Cafe/248852179382), the Old Saloon and Livery Stable and our favorite, the Matson Rogers Anglers West Fly-fishing Outfitters (www.montanaflyfishers.com). We swapped fishing stories with two great guys whom I suspect are the owners. Dana picked up some Smartwool baselayer at a drastic discount.  If you think backpacking gear is expensive, and it is, you’ll be shocked at the price of fly-fishing gear. Finding a bargain in a fly-shop is unheard of.  So, needless to say, next time you’re in Emigrant drop by and see these guys. You’ll be glad you did.

We made one last stop at The Wildflour Bakery where we picked up a fresh-baked loaf of flax-bread loaded with sesame, poppy, flax and a dozen other seeds I couldn’t identify. It made hearty, delicious toast!

We arrived at our cabin via a series of telling road names such as Aries, Sirius and  Hilarion, taking note of an interesting trail nearby called the Buddhist Path.  After the last week we wondered just what we’d gotten ourselves into. The cabin itself, however, did not disappoint. Though the surrounding peaks were obscured by fog and snow, the house itself would make a nice home for a week. We loaded in our luggage and gear and fell asleep while it was still light to soft snow falling on the grassy meadow surrounding the house.

Montana, Day 1: From the Carolinas to Big Sky Country

I peered out the window just beyond my new friend Ed at the awe-inspiring mountains that encircle Bozeman International airport.  An absolutely perfect, stunningly clear day displayed the beauty of the snow-capped mountains as if created just for us.  The past week had left us stunned, senses-dull and wondering if we’d ever see this moment. Dana’s dad had undergone a scalp removal and skin graft (taken from his abdomen) in order to remove his melanoma;  Our big, beautiful, goofy, lovable friend, trail-guide (and yes, retriever/ St. Bernard mix), Scooby had undergone a series of daily seizures culminating in one that lasted over an hour forcing us to say goodbye to the best dog ever; and My mom experienced an eschemic stroke which brought her to the hospital by ambulance and destroyed her short term memory, caused hallucinations and rendered her speech 70% gibberish. We hadn’t slept much in over a week and up until 12 hours ago weren’t sure whether we wouldn’t end up cancelling this trip of a lifetime after all.  But at the last moment Mom had haled and improved pretty dramatically, Dana’s dad had shown continued improvement and though we were still devastated by the loss of our Scooby, we excitedly packed and re-packed last night missing yet another nights sleep.

“Two things pierce the human heart, beauty and affliction.” -Simone Weil

Terminal to plane to terminal to plane to terminal to plane to terminal since 4:30 am. Dazed and stunned by pain and beauty…here we were.  Wheels touched runway and the pilot locked down the brakes.  Our bodies strained against the seatbelts and I asked Ed,”  I wonder if he’ll pull a Starsky and Hutch at the end of the runway?” We laughed, said our goodbyes and filed like cattle out of the puddle-jumper into the handsome, lodge-like terminal. Dana and I stared out the window at the mountains, still wondering at the idea of it all.  Were we really here? Surrealistic is the only word that captures the moment…and it’s insufficient. We wandered into the gift shop and after what must have been a half-hour, it occurred to one of us that we hadn’t picked up our luggage.  We scurried down the escalator and found our bags had either been tossed or fallen off the conveyor.  At least they were here.  We picked up our Subaru Outback from Hertz, loaded in our luggage and set off toward the city of Bozeman to find a hotel for the night.  We’d planned to camp the first night but I realized we desperately needed a little comfort from a Holiday Inn.  We found one, surrounded by majestic mountains, showered and headed to the restaurant for dinner.  Moments before my Black and Bleu Sirloin Salad arrived my internal organs seemed to dissolve in my gut.  My body had had enough.  The weeks of stress, sleep deprivation and a day of airport food had caused my digestive system to revolt. I stomached a few bites then raced back to the hotel room while Dana finished her Four-cheese Penne. Bedtime early tonight.

The Best Way: El Camino de Santiago by Bill “Skywalker” Walker – A book review…of sorts

“Really, babe, I think you’re gonna like him.  He’s a great communicator.”

2 years ago Scat and I had opted to hike from Woody Gap to Neels Gap, spending a cold night on Blood Mountain, rather than join the girls for the Amicalola Falls AT Celebration/ Backpacking Clinic.  I wanted to go to the event…just not at the exclusion of a walk in the woods.  While Scat and I trudged uphill through snowdrifts 2 and 3 feet deep, Dana and Ma Fred attended some great presentations. One of their favorites was Bill “Skywalker”  Walker.  Not just aware of, but sharing my addiction to AT narratives, Dana bought me a copy of Skywalker’s book, Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail.  She even had Bill autograph it. He wrote “Wayseeker, Katahdin is a mere 5 millions steps away.” Gotta love that! Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait to tear in. I quickly discovered that my high school diploma and limited college experience had not prepared me for the vocabulary I was to encounter…closely. Progress slowed to a crawl as I repeatedly reached for my Webster’s. Now, I realize that hackles are rising on the necks of Skywalker fans as you poise to fire off scathing e-mails. Well, let me have it…but at least finish this little review before doing so. I just didn’t enjoy it. I’ve been forthright about my sketchy education. I will most certainly confess that I have no right to pass judgment on another writers work.  Even that last statement implies that I see myself as a writer and makes me uncomfortable. Nonetheless…I just didn’t like it. C.S. Lewis has taught me that much…to be honest about my likes and dislikes. There were some good, even great moments but as a whole it was…and is my least favorite AT narrative. There, I’ve said it…and I pray Bill never reads this.

Flash forward to this years event. Digital recorder in one hand and event schedule in the other, I dragged Dana all over Amicalola Falls. (Not that she minded.)  Presenter after presenter entertained, educated and provided fresh new content for future All Who Wander podcasts.  We had a blast!  As I scanned the schedule I noticed something:  Skywalker’s presentation would be in support of his latest book and thru-hike…on the Camino de Santiago! What?!  I’d just discovered the existence of this ancient pilgrimage a year or so ago. I had waited impatiently for Emilio Estevez’ film on the Camino, The Way to come to Redbox since we had just missed one of the limited showings in Asheville. With my distaste for Bill’s writing warring against my confidence in my wife…we went…and were not disappointed.

Bill was absolutely charismatic.  His animated gesticulations, his passion for the Camino, his wry humor and engaging personality not only held my attention but struck fire to my imagination…enticing my heart to that ancient path and awakening a longing to walk this pilgrimage as well. My experience with the real Skywalker was as dissimilar to my experience with his book as it could possibly be. I thought, “Now, here’s a guy I’d like to share a trail with.”  I even began to re-examine my original assessment.

Just a few weeks ago all three of Bill’s books in Kindle format were free on Amazon.  I downloaded all three. I immediately dove right into his narrative on the Camino, The Best Way.  The very first couple of pages gripped me, It seemed so different from what little I remembered from his first offering.  I yelled to Dana, who was in  another room, “I like it!  This is really good!”  She laughed. Then I wondered…what changed?  Had Bill’s writing improved? Had he gotten an editor? Maybe.  Maybe it was the fact that I had met the real Skywalker and been captivated by his authenticity and his love for the Way. Maybe it was me that had changed.  Maybe both.

Well, since this is a book review…of sorts, I should give you my take.  The Best Way is part trail narrative, part travel guide, part history book and all Skywalker. I’d recommend that you pick it up on Kindle or some other e-reader format because The Best Way is also part vocabulary lesson.  Along with liberal splashes of espanol, Bill has continued his use of words unfamiliar…unfamiliar to me at least.  Whether Bill is trying to impress us with his expansive knowledge or he’s struggling to find words to express what can sometimes be almost inexpressible, I can’t say.  I can say that having a “close-encounter” with the real Skywalker has given me a whole new take on his books.  So would I recommend The Best Way?  Only if you’re willing to have a sehnsucht for hiking the Camino awakened in you.  (That one was for you, Bill.)

Blue Like Jazz the Movie: A Review – Nooooooooo!

 

 

 

I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud as the first scenes flashed on the screen.  I thought back to the grass roots effort by fans of the book to save the movie that was slated to die before completion, “There just wasn’t enough money to do this right.”  I thought, “No, don’t start like this…people are gonna get up and leave.”  I wanted to get up and leave. It was awkward…really, uncomfortably awkward.  In fact, I was afraid that maybe one of those awful, garish “christian”  production companies had donated a huge sum of money and hijacked Don’s book and Steve’s vision.  I honestly thought these things.  With dread and overwhelming disappointment, I thought these things. Then I remembered how much I had paid for the ticket and decided, “Eh, I’ll give it another scene or two.” Honestly glad I waited.

I would write this completely different if I thought everyone had already seen the film. But if you’d already seen the film you wouldn’t really care what I think…hopefully.  Okay, maybe you would.  You would probably be as excited as I am and wanna talk about it.  (So, I may actually write a “spoilers included” version of this just because I’m so stoked about the movie.) So, editing out the spoilers, there’s not a whole lot I can say that won’t ruin the genius behind this movie. But there are some things.  Here they are:

 

1. If you’re easily offended…don’t see this film. Wait, do see this film.  You need to see it.

2. If you’ve read the book, forget that you’ve read it. Watch this as a completely separate work.

3. If you’re expecting something akin to Fireproof…you’ll really enjoy the first 5 or 10 minutes,  then you’ll get up and leave.

4. Don’t leave.  Wait it out. I promise it’ll be worth it. (Have I said that already?)

5. That first scene…it’s awkwardness?  Intentional.  Genius. You”ll see.

6. Steve Taylor’s fingerprints are all over this.

7. So are God’s.

 

Yup, that’s all you’re getting out of me on this one. So go see it.  Then come back here and let me know what you think.  Save the spoilers for my private e-mail (david@allwhowander.us).

One last thing”  What does this have to do with wilderness, hiking, the outdoors, etc? Nothing, really. It has everything to do with God. With searching. With struggle.  With wandering. And you know…not all those who wander are necessarily lost.

The Mayans Got It Wrong! 2012 Reasons the World Can’t End in 2012.

The Mayans Got It Wrong! 2012 Reasons the World Can’t End in 2012.

 

Pardon me if wax eschatological but whatever your Long-count Calendar may say, the world cannot end in 2012. I enter into evidence a list of items in no particular order.
The world can’t end because I have yet to do the following:

 

1. North-bound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
  www.appalachiantrail.org, www.whiteblaze.net

2. Create a series of podcasts from the Trail on said thru-hike and see All Who Wander reach a million subscribers.  (Hey…it could happen!)
  www.allwhowander.us

3. Write a book inspired by said thru-hike.

4. Record a full-length album…well, you get the picture.

5. Thru-hike the John Muir trail and spend some quality time (say a year or two) wandering around Yosemite.
  www.johnmuirtrail.org

6. Thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail
  www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG3l5fGmidM

7. Thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail
  www.pcta.org, www.wizardsofthepct.com

8. Thru-hike the Camino de Santiago
  www.caminodesantiago.me.uk, www.theway-themovie.com/

9. Watch the sunrise from my hammock on Macchu Picchu
  www.sacredsites.com/americas/peru/machu_picchu

10. Spend some quality time wandering around Yellowstone, maybe do a little fly-fishing.
  www.yellowstonepark.com/

11. Spend a month deep in the wilderness of Newfound Gap doing nothing but
 watch the slow approach of autumn set the mountains aflame.
  www.cnyhiking.com/ATinNC-NewfoundGapToLowGap.htm

12. Trans-American bike ride
  www.renalriders.wordpress.com

13. Bike the Blue Ridge Parkway end to end
  www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=15

14. Thru-hike the Mountains to Sea Trail
  www.ncmst.org

15. Canoe the Suwannee River from Fargo, Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico
  www.backshortly.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/paddle-the-suwannee-river-days-1-2/

16. See the Northern Lights from somewhere deep in the Boundary Waters Wilderness
  http://youtu.be/jX8veLSvTAs

17. Take Dana to an all-inclusive resort…finally.

18. Break Jen Davis’ AT speed record…Oh come on!  That was just hilarious!
  www.blueridgehikingco.com

19. See Josiah’s dreams come true
  www.myspace.com/lullabiesforlostchildren

20. Southbound Thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail

I really could come up with 2,012 reasons.  What about you?  What would you add to the list? I can’t wait to read your comments!

 

Photo gratefully used with the kind permission of Paulino Romero at www.mayacalendar.com
Thanks, Paulino!

The All Who Wander Last Minute Christmas Gift Guide 2011

Last minute shopper?  Never fear. All Who Wander has 10 great ideas for every budget.

Last year for Father’s Dad I posted a “Hiker Dad’s Wish List”, in the hopes of providing some gift-giving inspiration for wives, family and friends of my fellow trail-loving dads. Well, Christmas is barreling down on us like Jen Davis headed toward Springer. Since, as of this writing, it’s “Black Friday” and I’ve elected not to participate in this particular holiday madness I figured I scratch out an updated list for Christmas 2011. You’ll probably notice that a couple of the items from “Hiker Dad” made it to this list as well. Well, they’re that good! Don’t feel limited by what I’ve suggested; I’d love for you to contribute your ideas as well.  Just post your suggestions in the comment section of this blog.  Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
 

1. A box of  the new Clif Mojo  Chocolate Almond Coconut bars ($14.99)


 Love Almond Joy? I do. While browsing at my local outfitter I discovered  that Clif Mojo had created their own version of this trifecta of flavors.  Toasted coconut, chunks of chocolate and whole roasted almonds. I scooped up a handful and hoofed it to the register. They are so much  more crunchy and delicious than their Peter Paul predecessor ever  dreamed of being and obviously a much healthier choice. A case might  last the winter hiking season!

2.  Amazon.com gift card. ($50 and up)
 
 Did you realize Amazon isn’t just about books? They have everything!
 When All Who Wander became an Amazon affiliate I was shocked to  discover the ridiculous range of products from books to music to outdoor  gear,  to (yes) even kilts, available for online purchase!  Try this  experiment:  Drop by www.allwhowander.us and type something…anything into  the search window. You’re gonna be surprised! Did you also realize that  by connecting to Amazon.com via the search window or product links at  allwhowander.us you help support AWW?  Just by doing what you would  normally do! 

3. Starbucks Via ($3.99)

 My MSR coffee filter has, sadly, been relegated to spending the remainder of  it’s days in the Land of Misfit Hiking Toys. The reason?   Blame it on the evil Starbucks enterprise. Once I had my first sip of this  micro-ground coffee I was sold.  I never dreamed so much flavor could  come from such a tiny foil sleeve of coffee. I won’t hike without it.  A three- pack sells for around 4 bucks.  Great stocking stuffer! (And yes, available  through our Amazon link!)  Sorry, MSR…we did have some good times,  though, huh?

 4.     Adventure Camera ($349.00)

For Father’s Day I mentioned how much I’d love to find an Olympus Stylus Tough- TG 810 wrapped up in a box in lieu of the Father’s Day standard of necktie, socks or underwear. Well, there’s still a spot underneath the Christmas tree just waiting for said box. The 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 is every hiker dad’s answer to the dilemma of balancing weight versus features, quality and endurance. 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!” This beauty has dropped nearly $50 to $349.99,  The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead. Still hoping the 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-With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!

5.  4 Season Cuben Fiber Hammock Tarp ($299.00)

On my previous list, the #2 position was held by the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock (available at www.warbonnetoutdoors.com).  I’m thrilled to say that due to the generosity of some amazing friends, not to mention Kenneth Waddy, I am now the proud owner of a Blackbird. If for no other reason, the suspension system places this hammock high on my list of favorites.  The only thing missing at this point is a  tarp.  The one I have my eye on right now is the 4 Season Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp (#4 on the previous list) from www.HammockGear.com.  This 8’6″ x 10′ 10″ beauty weighs a ridiculously light 6.5 ounces! Consider that a sil-nylon tarp of the same approximate dimensions weighs 19 ounces; still light but nearly triple the weight of the cuben fiber version. Yes, the price-tag is nearly triple that of the sil-nylon as well but I can tell you from personal experience that Adam (Stormcrow) and Jen’s exceptional craftsmanship and customer service make it worth every penny. How do I know this?  I just unpacked my beautiful new Incubator underquilt (#3 on the previous list) and reveled in their exquisite handiwork. They even re-arranged their schedule to get it to me in time for a hike up Cold Mountain. These guys rock! Watch for an upcoming podcast that’ll include a discussion of hammocks, tarps and underquilts with Stormcrow and thru-hiker, Bat at the Hiker Fool’s Bash in Franklin, TN. Great stuff!

6. E-reader  ($75 and up)

I love books. I mean real books. Ink and paper. Hardback, paperback, leather-bound…I love books. In fact, a friend of mine sent me the manuscript to a fantastic novel he had recently completed and I struggled to finish it because I had to read it on my lap-top via MS Word. So when another friend suggested I buy an e-reader for hiking because I could “carry a thousand books” I wasn’t even remotely interested….that is until I picked one up. I was shocked at how light it was.  In fact, I broke out my digital scale and started weighing my books. It was lighter than 90 percent of what I’d been carrying in my pack. I love simplicity. Hence I love low-tech. The last thing I want is one more piece of technology to maintain but I’ve gotta admit…maybe I need to give E-readers another look.

The list of features available on these babies reads like a NASA manual.  Most weigh in at less than 8 ounces. Looking for books to pre-load?  Here are a few on my list:

 – 46 Days by Brew Davis

 – Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

 – Lost In Wonder. Rediscovering The Spiritual Art Of Attentiveness.
  by Esther  DeWaal

 – Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

– A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

7. The Winter Tilley ($99.00)

  Every time I see this hat in an outfitter, I try it on. Due to it’s $100 price tag I’ll probably never buy it but I gotta tell you, I love this hat! This handsome wool noggin-topper sports tuck-away ear warmers, is crushable, packable, snow and rain repellent and dry-cleanable.  Not to mention it makes me look cool…and let’s be honest…I need all the help I can get.

8. Casio Pro Trek PRW2500-1   ($300.00)

Dana’s pick for the list features: solar power, digital compass, altimeter; barometer; thermometer; tide and moon data, backlight with afterglow, power saving function, water-resistant to 660 feet…oh yeah, and it tells time too!  (Need I say more?) Certainly a watch with this toolbox could help even the most navigationally challenged outdoorsman (namely me) get his (or her) bearings. Price tag? About $300.

 9. Sleeping Pad  ($120)

 I’m a hammocker and prefer not to sleep on the ground if it can be avoided. However, there’s a 70 mile section of the AT that travels through the Smokies in which it’s “strongly suggested” that you sleep in a shelter. Assuming one day I get to do my thru-hike, I’m gonna need a pad. Choosing a sleeping pad, as with all gear, is a dance between pack-weight and comfort. For comfort?  There’s no contest.  It’s the Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top.  (Yes, I just said “pillow-top.”) Even I could get a good nights sleep on the ground with this luxurious sleep system. And hey, it’s only 70 miles, right?  Not buying it?  Still too much weight? No problem.  Thermarest has a pad for you .  The  Therma-rest Neo Air packs to the size of your Nalgene and weighs a mere 14 ounces in the regular size. One warning:  Buy a set of ear-plugs for your gift recipient.  Surprisingly comfortable but crinkly-noisy.

 – Sleep comfort? Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top

 -Low-packweight      Therma-rest Neo Air
 
10. A Better Story (priceless)

 After the publication of his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller found himself glued to his couch with nary an ambition, aspiration or even an idea what to do next. When two movie producers show up on his doorstep and approach him about making a movie based on his book he realizes that his life falls somewhat short of an engaging read. Thus begins his journey to edit his real life into a better story. A Trans-American bike ride, a hiking trip to Machu Picchu and the foundation of a mentoring organization all contribute to his “living a better story.” “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” chronicles this journey. This scintillating and inspiring read stoked my own imagination. What about my life is book-worthy? Was there anything about my own story that would make a narrative you “couldn’t put down”?  By now most of you are aware of my obsession with doing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Yes, I’m still obsessed.  If I have a book in me, I think it would emerge during that pilgrimage.  What about you? Maybe a “better story” would begin with something smaller. Here are a few suggestions:

 –  A week-long thru-hike such as the Foothills Trail or the Art Loeb     Trail or if you’re nearer to Maine, how ’bout the 100- Mile Wilderness?

 –  Find a way to brighten someone else’s holiday…secretly help provide
                Christmas for a family in need.

 – A charitable donation made in the name of the giftee:  One of our   favorites?  New Jerusalem Missions. (www.newjerusalemmissions.com)

Here’s hoping you and yours have a Merry Christmas from all of us at All Who Wander.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

A Hiker-Mom’s Wish-List for Mother’s Day (And none of it has an electrical cord!)

It’s that time of year again!  For those boyfriends, husbands or offspring of Moms happier on the trail than in the kitchen, here’s a quick list of gift ideas straight from a hiker-mom-extraordinaire…my hiking partner (and wife) Dana. Most of these can be purchased through one of our hand-picked affiliates and you can support All Who Wander by shopping (Isn’t that cool?) Just click on the affiliate links on our site…and thanks!

1.    A Fork In the Trail by Laurie Ann March.  This practical how-to book on creative hiking cuisine through dehydrating is the quintessential reference manual for those who love to eat well on the trail with out a pack weight from hell.  (Clever, huh?) Now, I know I said maybe Hiker-mom wanted out of the kitchen but a girl’s gotta eat, right? Available at Amazon.com.

2.    Footwear that doesn’t turn my feet to hamburger.  Dana’s feet issues are a recurring problem.  We’ve tried so many different styles and brands; even had a custom fitting by a “professional” and she always ends up with blistered, oozing feet. One of her latest ideas is to try the SmartWool Light Hiking Socks for Women available at REI.  Maybe these in conjunction with her fitted boots will ease her pain.

3.    SmartWool Micro-Weight Long Underwear for Women.  Dana has transitioned from traditional zip-off hiking pants to a much cooler, hipper and more (shall we say?) convenient hiking skirt. (Heck, I’m thinking of doing it myself…I mean…a, uh, hiking KILT.) She still likes to wear summer base layer beneath for it’s wicking properties as well as the protection (albeit it minimal) it provides. As you can tell, we’re big SmartWool fans.  This item also available from your friendly REI store…via All Who Wander. :)

4.    Leki Khumbo Aerogon Anti-Shock Speed-Lock Trekking Poles.  Dang, that’s a mouthful!  This past summer, moments prior to our 4 day AT hike through Virginia, Dana’s twist-lock pole failed.  My duct-tape-fix got her through the trip but she’s (and, by neccessity, I am) plagued by issues. Leki is renowned for their durability, reliability and availability in outfitters all along the AT. A damaged or broken pole is generally repaired by the outfitter at no cost to the hiker.  Great company! Great product! These particular poles feature a simple “speed-lock” locking mechanism. I’m guessing my hiker-bride isn’t alone in her wish for these beauties. Yup, REI again!

5.    Nemo Cosmo Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad and Pillow-Top from Modular-Air Technology.  Dana and I are hammockers.  That probably won’t change.  However, our dream is to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  In the Smoky’s thru-hikers are, ahem, “strongly encouraged” to sleep in the shelters rather than tents or hammocks. This presents a problem for we who can’t sleep on the ground or wooden planks, as is the case here. This pad…oh, this pad…is amazing. Though it’s too heavy (With the pillow top it’s still less than 4 lbs) to use regularly it’s actually rather light for the comfort level it delivers. An extra pound or two to get us through the Smoky’s is a small price to pay to sleep in the lap of luxury. Just copy and paste the bolded words into the Amazon search engine on the All Who Wander site and be the hero of Mother’s Day!

I hope this short-list gives you some inspiration. It certainly gave me an excuse to get some ideas out of my wife! Hey, I’ve got an idea:  In the comment section of this blog, give me some of your ideas! You can tell the “Hiker-mom” in your life that you’ve just GOT to put some ideas up on the All Who Wander site! Sneaky, yes but it’s win/ win the way I see it!  Hope you and yours have an amazing Mother’s Day and if you’re a Mom (hiker or otherwise) we love you and are so grateful for what you bring to our lives, the world…and the woods!

The Launch of a Dream: Life, Love, Mystics, Adventure and the Road Less Traveled in a podcast?

  

 

 

“A journey of 2,000 miles begins with an episode of insanity.”
I read this pithy proverb somewhere recently and whole-heartedly concur. There are few things I want more in life right now than to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, for all my love of spontaneity, I’m also a realist. It’s a mortgage that’s keeping me from that dream and it truly would require an episode of insanity to ignore that fact. I can’t deny, however, that it’s perfectionism keeping me from a dream of another kind.
Perfectionism is a terrible, terrible trait. I battle it daily. It’s latest manifestation is in my “failure to launch.” No, I left home years ago. Another kind of launch. A year or so ago a seed of an idea formed, gestated and grew until I knew had to do something about it. The idea was for a pod-cast; a sort of audio journal that would invite others along as I explored this path that has lead me beyond the walls of the institutional church and into the wilderness…literally…into the woods.As I dreamed, I discovered fellow travelers on my journey. Topping a long list are Thoreau, Muir and Annie Dillard. Their writing served to encourage me along the way. I’ve also discovered a company of others who are even now walking the same trail. Maybe you’re one of those.
I quickly found that creating a pod-cast was not nearly so simple as I’d imagined. I was constantly realizing that I needed to teach myself to use yet another piece of software and never quite content with the end product. Even now I’m dissatisfied with my Word-press site and struggle to make even minor changes. I tell you this as a sort of disclaimer. If I continue to tweek until it’s “perfect” it’ll never launch.
I often hear seasoned AT thru-hikers give aspiring thru-hikers a piece of advice: Don’t put your hike off until you’re ready…or you’ll never go. Just go for it. Nothing wrong with preparation but the little things you haven’t worked out will work themselves out along the way. Good advice. Here’s my episode of insanity! I’m going for it! I invite you into my mess, flaws and all, and hope you’ll enjoy the journey as this thing grows and evolves. It is most certainly not yet what I hope it will become but I think it’ll be fun to watch the transformation. Disclaimer out of the way, who should subscribe (It’s free, by the way!) to All Who Wander?
You!

If:

– You have a hankering for adventure

– You hike, backpack or want to

– You enjoy discussing the finer points of noodles vs. trail-bars

– You enjoy (or have at least heard of) Thoreau, Muir, or Annie Dillard

– You find something dark and squishy in your sleeping bag and test it to see if it is edible. (Thanks to http://outontheat.blogspot.com for this one!)

– You’re disillusioned with the institutional church

– You’ve discovered what appears to be bear poop containing small

bells and smelling of pepper and wonder if you should be concerned.

– You have a long commute.

– You stand in long lines

– You enjoy making fun of my goofy, white-trash southern accent

– You want to help a 44 year old man leave his day-job and thru-hike the 2, 175 mile Appalachian Trail!*

 

 

*Most websites feature ads. On our site you’ll find “ads” that are actually affiliate links. We make a little money every time you link to one of our hand-picked affiliates such as Amazon, REI, or Mountain Life. We make even more if you buy something from them! We chose these because we love, trust and buy from them regularly ourselves.

 

 

What’ll it be like?

My hope is that the pod-cast will become a mixed bag of “audio-hike” field recordings, discussions about gear, conversations with artists, writers, musicians and everyday people like you and I who are discovering what it is to walk with God outside the box of institutional religion…exploring the “thin places”, dreaming of what could be, and talking about people, books, films and music that have helped us along this path.

What can I do?

Listen. Enjoy. Tell someone. Give us a review in the I-Tunes store. Patronize our affiliates. Post a link to an All Who Wander pod-cast or blog by clicking on the facebook button at the bottom of each post. Become a fan of All Who Wander on facebook. Join the conversation by posting a comment at www.allwhowander.us. Let us know what you think or what you might find helpful. Tell us if you know of someone who’d make an interesting guest on the show. (Maybe that’s you!) We really, really look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.                                        -Jeremiah 6:16.
 
“Not all those who wander are lost.”                                                                  -JRR Tolkien
 
 
 
 

 

How NOT to plan a dayhike

How NOT to plan a day-hike

 

Saturday night. (The Garrett house)

Dana: “Think we can do a day-hike next weekend?”

David: “Definitely. Really jones’in to get in the woods.”

Ma Fred: “Ohhh, I wanna go. Lemme talk to Chester.”

 

Tuesday (E-mail conversation from work)

 

Dana: “Thought any more about where we can go this weekend?”

David: “Let’s watch the weather and see how it goes.”

 

Wednesday (E-mail again)

Dana: “Have you heard anything about the weather?”

David: “Been slammed at work. Haven’t had time to breathe.”

Dana: “Me too. It’s crazy.

 

Thursday (Longley house)

Dana: “Know anything about this weekend, yet?”

David: “Called the ranger station. Looks like all the access roads for Jones Gap

and Caesar’s Head are shut down due to ice and snow. Not to mention,

I’ve already missed a couple of days this week and my deadline hasn’t

moved. I may have to work this weekend.”

In unison: “Uuuuggghhh.”

Friday around lunch (e-mail conversation from work)

 

David: “I hate it but the roads are still impassable. If it’s this bad here, I can’t imagine

what it’s like in North Carolina or Georgia. Maybe next weekend, huh?”

Dana: “Yeah.”

Friday around 2pm (e-mail again)

 

Dana: “I found a hike. There’s AT access near Hiawassee at place called

Dick’s Creek Gap.”

After a flurry of research, e-mails and phone calls I confirm that, somehow, the roads to this access are indeed clear. We can drive 2 1/2 hours south and get to a trail but we can’t get to one just up the road from our house. Go figure.

Friday around 3:30pm (telephonic communication)

 

David: “Fred, Dana found a day-hike. You guys in?”

Fred: “Where? What about the roads? Lemme talk to Chester.”

 

Friday evening on the drive home around 5pm (telephonic…)

Chester:Hey, yo….ho…hey, who is this?

(just something you have to go through with Chester)

David: “Chester…you called me.”

Chester: “What?! Uh, yeah. What ‘chu doing, Da-vid”

David: “Chester, are you guys in or what?”

Chester: “Whuh? Where? What time?”

Dana: “Tell them they don’t need to know anything. Just say yes or no.”

I give the details to Chester. He says he’ll call me back. He calls me back. They’re in.

We rush home and start to throw our gear together. It’s just a day-hike so Dana pulls some stuff out of her bag to lighten her load. Hours later she’s packed and re-packed several times. I try to leave my bag packed and ready to go. It’s just simpler that way. If I’ve brought something I don’t need…big deal, it’s just a day-hike; what’s a little extra weight? At some point I post our plans on facebook, just in case someone’s interested in a last minute hike. Anticipating tomorrows adventure, neither of us get much sleep.

We rise early, pick up Fred and Chester and point the Montero toward Georgia. We grab a biscuit in a drive-thru and become so lost in the near chaotic level of banter we missed our turn-off twice. (Okay, I missed the turn-offs! But I was distracted.) Somehow, in the midst of this insanity Dana manages to work into the conversation, “The shelters are supposed to be really, really nice.” Within minutes the ridiculous and corporate decision was made to spend the night in the shelter. I surmised while this was taking place that “really, nice shelter” looked completely different in the girls minds than it did in mine. I was thinking “not filthy, less than 50 years old, and maybe not infested with rats…maybe.” I’m pretty sure they were thinking, “fully-enclosed, well-insulated, with a fireplace and dare to dream…a hot-tub.” (maybe that last one wasn’t fair but I was on a roll) Due to my in-attentiveness we actually ended up driving to Franklin, NC. Since we were in town we decided to pay a visit to Three Eagles Outfitters where Dana and Fred loaded up on Yaktraxx, socks, mole-skin and various and sundry other items necessary for our expedition. A trip to Ingles for grits, bacon and a bottle of wine and we were on our way.

Once on the right road, true to our intel, the access point for the Dick’s Creek Gap trailhead was easy to find. We parked, scarfed down a roasted chicken I’d picked up at Ingles and a little over an hour later we were on our way.

We crossed 76 and stepped immediately into 4 or 5 inches of snow. Within a hundred feet or so, the trail began to gradually climb. The higher it climbed, the deeper the snow.

About 45 minutes into our ascent Dana had to stop and care for her feet. Despite having spent an obscene amount of money on blister prevention…she already had a blister. This in addition to (and possibly, in part, because of) a pair of new Asolo’s we’d bought at the REI Garage Sale just weeks before. Will we ever figure out her feet? A hiker’s single most important asset and her greatest and most troublesome Achilles’ heel.

One of my favorite things about winter hiking is tracking. The snow-blanketed ground is like wet clay: the perfect medium for critter-prints. All that’s required is to slow down and pay attention. Within the first mile we saw: rabbit, deer, some sort of wild-cat, raccoon and wounded dog prints. Before you get too concerned, a little CSI AT-style and we discovered the source of the bloody paw-prints. At some point the curious hound had set his foot down on a holly bush and spent the rest of his hike spreading his DNA all over the trail. Creepy and a little painful I’m sure, but I think he’ll live.

As we wound our way slowly out of the gap, we watched through tangles of rhododendron tunnels as the sun began it’s descent. The twisted web of shadows played across the pristine, sparkling white. It was beautiful. One of the other benefits of winter hiking are the views afforded by the lack of foliage. It was a crisp, clear day and you could see for miles…maybe tens of miles. Who knows? I really need to work on my map and compass skills. I see peaks on the horizon and have no idea what they are. I’d love to be able to point out a particular mountain or even be able to identify this range or that valley. This inability to navigate can bring an element of anxiety into a hike. Depending on terrain the average person walks at 2-3 miles per hour. This bit of knowledge can be extremely helpful in determining just how far you’ve traveled. However, hiking with a full pack, uphill through snow (Sounds like my Mom’s childhood trips to school…but I’d have to add “barefoot, both ways!”) has a tendency to change that. So it becomes tricky to determine just how far one has gone…or has yet to go. . Case in point: this hike. As the sun began to set I found myself second-guessing as to whether we’d even gone the right direction on the trail. Since trails rarely travel in a straight line but instead meander, snake around, and often double-back in the opposite direction it’s not nearly so simple as checking a compass. At any given moment you can find yourself traveling south on a north-bound trail, or west or east…well, you get the point. The AT is actually marked fairly well and regularly by 2″ x 6″ white rectangles called blazes. Even so, knowing you’re on the AT doesn’t tell you where on the AT you might happen to be. This topic of discussion has the unpleasant habit of rearing it’s ugly head on nearly every hike. I am of the camp that feels the onus falls upon the walker to hone his ability to read map and compass. My beautiful bride, on the other hand, has set up firmly in the other camp…the camp of those that believe something should be done by the trail maintainers to make it easier to get ones bearings: more signs, or perhaps some sort of mile-marker within the blazes. ‘Tis a “camp divided.” Needless to say this often leads to, shall we say, heated discussions. On this particular trip, as my quads began to burn from tramping uphill through what was now 8-10″ deep snow drifts, and I had no idea if we were even near the shelter, I’m not proud to say, I was edging toward the other camp.

We finally reached the summit of Powell Mountain and stared down a long, snowy descent. I ran…in long, loping strides. Dana sort of “ski-ed”. I think Fred and Chester shuffled and finally, finally we reached a sign pointing toward the shelter. I trudged down the trail and 1/4 mile later finally reached the 3-sided structure, pulled off my pack and collapsed on the gapped, wooden planks. No hot tub. Certainly wouldn’t have minded being wrong on that one. After resting for a few minutes I headed back to meet Dana and carry her pack to the shelter. “I’ve got it, ” she said with a smile. Wow. Cool. Unfortunately, once she arrived and sat down her body temperature began to drop and she quickly became chilled. She feared it was mild hypothermia. Fred layered sleeping bags on her and made her a steaming mug of hot tea. That seemed to do the trick. Since Dana hadn’t brought her hammock we surrendered the lower level to Fred and Chester where they were able to hang theirs. We took the loft. I spread my emergency blanket over the frigid wooden planks in hopes of blocking some of the nor’easter that was blowing up through the cracks. I draped an abandoned sleeping bag over the railing in an attempt to provide an additional wind barrier. We made our bed and prepared to sleep in it. It was around this time that I heard some of the most wonderful words I’d ever heard. It was Fred. She said, “Pass this up to David.” I was clueless until Dana placed in my freezing, trembling, bright red fingers…fresh from the pot, a steaming, hot dog, nestled in a soft, warm bun. I didn’t even realize they had bought them but I devoured two in less than a minute. I could’ve eaten an entire pack. We eventually settled down to a shivering, uncomfortable, restless night.

In the morning we made breakfast, visited the privy, packed our gear and stepped once more into the snow for the “back” portion of our “up and back.” A short stop at an icy, trickling spring refreshed our water supply for our return trip down the mountain. While the climb up had been 75-25 ascent to descent, the opposite was thankfully true for the descent. It made for a much easier and much more pleasurable hike. Nonetheless, by the time we’d arrived back at the car we were ready for a hot meal, prepared by someone else and with more than two ingredients! After asking some locals in Clayton where we could find a steakhouse with a salad bar we learned we’d have to settle instead for a “Mom and Pop meat and three” that offered a Sunday buffet. As is usually the case after a hike, all bets are off and I cast off restraint, quickly surrendering to the baser urges of my monstrous appetite. Fried chicken and macaroni and cheese it is! Chester witnessed in abject horror (and maybe a little respect) the ugly scene of me tearing through two huge plates of Southern ecstasy before his sandwich even arrived. It might not have been pretty but it was oh so good.

As I drug the napkin across my grease covered face and settled back in my seat with a satisfied groan, Dana said, “I thought for sure you’d have broken out the field recorder.” “Awwwwww, man!” I had completely forgotten! So I retrieved it from my pocket, gingerly balanced it on the table and we enjoyed a “lively” discussion about our trip. Stay tuned for an upcoming podcast for that conversation.

january update

DuPont Forest Covered Bridge

Just a quick update. You may have noticed that there’ve been precious few changes at All Who Wander. My apologies. I still look forward to a full-blown launch within the next couple of months but setting up the infrastructure for this is proving to be more difficult than I imagined. I’m not a tech-geek.  Fortunately there are those (such as Cliff Ravenscraft, the Podcast Answerman www.podcastanswerman.com) who are energized with passion by all of the details that, to me, are frustrating obstacles to the launch. I just wanna start making shows! I’ve returned to Cliff repeatedly for advice and he’s always responded quickly with much needed encouragement and input. However, Cliff makes his living at consulting and thus far hasn’t received a dime from me. Primarily because I’m out of dimes.)  I don’t want to take advantage of his generosity so I’m trying to figure this out on my own. Demands from my day-job don’t allow for much free-time to work through my technical dilemmas so I grab every spare minute to try to slog through this quagmire of confusion. I’m afraid Dana is beginning to view my laptop as “the other woman.”  Each time I log-in to Feedburner to try and discover why my cover art isn’t showing up in I-tunes I see more and more people subscribing to the podcast.  I’m at once thrilled and mortified. I’ve told nearly no one about the show and yet the subscription numbers continue to climb. For goodness’ sake, there’s not even a real podcast posted yet! The 7 minute clip is just a welcome from my heart that gives a little background on what All Who Wander is birthed out of. I just want to say thank you for your interest and especially for your patience. All Who Wander is coming soon.  I promise.  In the meantime I hope you’ll do as we did this weekend and find time to care for your heart with a walk in the woods. Not all those who wander are lost.