Good Day, My Beloved

The summit of Mt. Tenakourou, Burkina Faso. This Photo was taken by croucrou / Sylvain Crouzillat 

Sometimes you start out heading in one direction and you end up in a completely different location.  So it is with my post today.  This summer has proven a challenging one for my backpacking and highpointing plans.  After completing the Benton MacKaye Trail this Spring I underwent a medical procedure euphemistically described as “minimally invasive” that has required me to step back from rigorous exercise for an extended period of time.  I have found this layoff from serious hiking to be very challenging (translation: I’m about ready to lose my mind). 

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Into Wet Air:  Reflections on the “Why” of long distance hiking

Waiting for the Lake St. Clair ferry at the end of the Overland Track, Tasmania. Yes, it rained all day.

When I gave a talk at my local library a couple years ago about what it is like to thru hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), I started off with a slide showing a beautiful spring day on the AT.  The sun is shining, the trees are leafed out with that fresh green color that never seems to last long enough.  The trail meanders through the woods, perhaps slightly downhill and you can see that it is gently cushioned with pine needles and decaying leaves.  There is not a rock or a root in sight to cause you to stub your toe or stumble.  I make the point that this is pure fantasy.  My message is: be prepared for a struggle.  The problem is that it is very easy to forget this message.  I know because I clearly had forgotten this when I started my recent thru hike of the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) which more or less parallels the AT for roughly 300 miles.

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Star Wars

I’m leaving in a few days for Georgia to begin hiking the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT).  It is named for the guy who came up with the whole idea of the Appalachian Trail.  I had held out hope for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) this year but after an advisory against thru hiking the PCT was again issued, I didn’t even bother to attempt to get a permit.  Instead, I am going back east for my walk in the woods.  In its early stages the BMT intersects with and actually briefly follows the same path as the AT.  Like the AT, it traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but unlike the AT it clings mostly to its southern boundary.  It is just short of 300 miles in length and has the reputation for being the AT’s untamed, wilder little brother.  

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Two and Nine Tenths Summits

“Logarithmic plots are a device of the devil”

(Charles Richter, inventor of the Richter Scale, a logarithmic scale for earthquake severity)

I’ve volunteered to give a talk later this month at my local library about climbing volcanoes in the Cascade mountain range.  It will be a Zoom presentation as we are still dealing with the pandemic. Even though it is not with a live audience, I still love giving talks about hiking and climbing almost as much as I love doing them.  I’ll be talking about volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, lava and pyroclastic flow, etc.  I tend to really get into these things.  In developing my presentation I decided to dig a little bit into the biography of Charles Richter.  You know, the guy who invented the Richter Scale used for many years to measure the magnitude of earthquakes.  Who was this guy anyway?  I went to his Wikipedia entry and began reading.  Did you know that he liked to visit nudist colonies?  Apparently, he was an avowed naturist.  He was also a faculty member at Cal Tech.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why the writers for one of my favorite TV shows (The Big Bang Theory) never worked these important facts into one of their episodes since the main characters all worked at Cal Tech.  After much deliberation I have decided not to delve into this aspect of Dr. Richter’s biography during my library presentation.

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Highpointing (Confessions of a Peak Bagger)

No political views are expressed or implied by this map

According to Wikipedia, the first person to successfully climb to the highest point in each U.S. state was A.H. Marshall, who completed the task back in 1936.  Of course Marshall missed out on Alaska and Hawaii since they didn’t become states until 1959.  The person with the distinction of first climbing the high points in all 50 states is Vin Hoeman who accomplished this in 1966. Thus was born the sport of highpointing.  Some might dispute whether “climbing” is a necessary descriptor, since, according to at least one classification system, 21 of the 50 state highpoints are attainable via your car.  However, once you throw in Denali (AK), Mt. Rainier (WA), Gannett Peak (WY), and Granite Peak (MT), the difficulty ante is upped considerably.  Important factoid: there have been about 20 times more summits of Mt. Everest than people bagging all 50 state high points.

But, things really didn’t take off for the state highpointing phenomenon until around 1986 when a guy named Jack Longacre decided that it would be a good idea to form a club called the “Highpointers” to encourage people in this pursuit.  Once this became an organization, the idea of standing on the high points of as many of the 50 states as possible became an obsession for some.

I know this because I am one of them (the obsessed that is).  I currently have 20 in my bag, so to speak.

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I was rummaging through a box the other day.  It is filled with junk from what one might loosely describe as my “formative” years.  Why the rummaging?  Well, we are still dealing with COVID, the weather was bad and I was really bored.  Anyway, I came across an old scorecard from the Newfoundland Golf Course where my family played a round of golf.  Was this a memento from an epic family trip to the hinterlands of Canada? Unfortunately no, this Newfoundland is actually in Pennsylvania, somewhere in the Poconos.

Why did I save this scorecard?  Well, it is documentation of the only time in recorded history that I every beat my brother at golf.  Early on, we were both obsessed with golf.  We played incessantly around our house, primarily using wiffle golf balls to minimize the number of windows we broke.  Still, we drove our Dad crazy with the number of balls that ended up in the gutters.  We also decimated our small yard by taking huge divots after each shot.  It is a tribute to my parents’ tolerance that this behavior was allowed to continue.  Maybe they thought we’d end up making millions on the PGA tour.  Regrettably, that never happened.

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The Quest for Arbter Lake

At 4:40 p.m. Nov. 26 in Coloma Township in Waushara County a 26-year-old female was walking on the Ice Age trail when she was struck in the thigh by a bullet. The 51-year-old male shooter thought he was shooting at a deer (as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/28/2020)

This quote illustrates one of the challenges associated with hiking in Wisconsin.  To be sure there are other challenges, but when autumn arrives, a time of the year that is perfect for walking in the woods, knowing which hunting season is currently active is definitely worthwhile.  Curiously enough, some hikers are blissfully unaware of this.  I once gave a hiker a ride to the eastern terminus of the Ice Age Trail.  It was a lovely day, late in November, perfect weather for a hike.  Unfortunately it was also opening day for the gun deer hunting season in Wisconsin.  This is a date that a lot of people here take very seriously.  But this guy was from Illinois and had no idea that it was opening day.  He was not wearing a stitch of blaze orange but the park where he was starting his hike was crawling with deer hunters.  I tried to talk him out of his plan but he resisted.  I eventually gave up and just left him at the trailhead, insisting that he text me after he (hopefully) safely completed his hike.  Thankfully he did.

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War Games

You’re made to sit in a chair.  There are bright lights on, all around you.  A man comes up behind you, puts his hand on your forehead and pulls it back.  You notice he is holding what looks to be a switchblade and he moves it close to your exposed neck.  Your jugular is not too far away.  Have you been captured by terrorists?  Is this a particularly bad dream?  Well, instead, let me shamelessly misappropriate a metaphor, invoke Occam’s Razor and suggest that the most likely scenario is that you are sitting in a barbershop about to get your neck shaved.

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Dodging Bullets

The view from 270 Overlook on the Canadian Border of the Superior Hiking Trail
The Sawtooth Mountains as seen from Lake Superior

“The visible crest line thus presents a remarkable profile, resembling the teeth of an immense saw.”

So says Wikipedia about the Sawtooth Mountains which form part of the Lake Superior escarpment in Minnesota.  What they don’t say is that for the first 160 of its roughly 300 mile track, the Superior Hiking Trail often traces the ridgeline of these mountains paralleling the shoreline of Lake Superior, occasionally plunging down to lake level, before rising up again.  From what I’ve read this is an ancient mountain range. We’re talking a billion years old, in contrast to the Appalachians (500 million) or the various ranges on the West Coast which come in at an adolescent 100 million years or even much less.

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Be Superior

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Back in the summer of 1976, big things were happening in my home town.  It was the Bicentennial and Philadelphia was trying to capitalize on this event as a tourist opportunity.  To me, this seemed a bit of a stretch because at the time Philadelphia was in a close race with Baltimore for the title “armpit of the east coast” (I can say such things because I was born and raised there).  For me though, the Bicentennial was a job opportunity.  I had just graduated from college and was planning my immediate future.  My primary objective was getting accepted to graduate school in Portland, Oregon.  Failing that, my back up plan was getting on my bike and cycling across the country.  Back then lots of people were interested in doing this.  It was referred to as the “Bikecentennial”.  Clever, right?  Anyway, note that both plan A and plan B involved getting pretty far away from Philadelphia.  Either way I was going to need cash. Continue reading “Be Superior”