As I mentioned on Friday, it’s a weekend full of
goings-on, most of which is family related.
I have a break this afternoon before the next event this evening, so I’m
taking the time to write this post while I can to update everyone on what’s
happening in my hiking life.
For me, I completed the White Mountain Four Thousand
Footers which is the “easiest” of the lists.
It’s definitely a worthy accomplishment, so being the easiest doesn’t
diminish from the work required to complete it.
I’ll be working on the New England Four Thousand Footers this summer as
part of my conditioning program. The
NE4k list is the WM4k list, plus the 4,000 foot peaks in Vermont (5) and Maine
(14), so I have 19 to go. There aren’t
any 4,000 foot peaks in Connecticut, Rhode Island, or Massachusetts.
I knew that the lists were popular. In fact, when I completed my list on Mt.
Carrigain in the fall, there were almost a dozen people on the summit at that
time who had just completed their lists as well. I was made aware of how popular the lists
really are when I drove into the meeting location at Exeter High School in
Exeter, NH and saw a packed parking lot.
The entire evening is a great celebration of the accomplishment
of completing whichever list(s) you have completed, but the highlight of the
night was the slideshow presentation. It
was exceptionally moving and well done.
I could relive the joy and pride of summiting many of the various
mountains pictured in the show, followed by deep compassion of hearing the
stories of others who, after significant lows in their life, pulled themselves
to the top of mountains to succeed where they previously felt like a failure.
Completing these lists is so much more than checking a
box next to a mountain and saying “Done”.
It means a lot to each of us, often in different ways, but we’re all
part of a hiking family now and that means the most, in the long run.
For me, while going through the emotional ebbs and flows
of the presentation, I realized that it had steeled my resolve to section hike
the AT. Not just to start section hiking
it, but to actually complete it. If I
could find a way to thru-hike the AT, I think I would plan to do that, but I don’t
see that possibility in the cards at this time.
Maybe later in life, but not now.
I also came to an understanding within myself that I need
to slow down and enjoy the experiences on each hike. Toward the end of my list, due to a variety
of self-imposed reasons, I hurried through the tail-end of my list to get it
completed. I hiked to a schedule, rather
than hiking to experience the hike and the natural surroundings. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the hikes, but I
definitely didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have. I’m going to make sure that my scheduling on
the AT leaves plenty of time for enjoyment of, and reflection about, the trail,
its history, and the wonders around me at the time.
As things stand, next weekend looks like it will be open
to allow me to go hiking. The weather
looks good for both Saturday and Sunday, but the weather in New England is
notoriously fluid, so we’ll see what the forecast looks like come Thursday or
Friday. There’s been a ton of melting in
the mountains over the past week and there will be a lot more snowmelt over the
coming days. Trail reports will do a lot
to determine my plans, but I definitely need to get out and put some miles and
elevation on my legs to prepare for a real push this summer.
Now, it’s getting close to time to prepare for the next,
and last, event of the weekend. I’m
planning to start the scripting of the various sections of the AT, beginning
with the southern terminus at Springer Mountain.
Based on everything I’ve read about hiking the AT, there needs to be a lot of pre-planning involved. Planning is in my nature, so it shouldn’t cause much problem. My basic plan for this year is: (i) to lose weight; (ii) to improve my physical conditioning; (iii) to research, select, and acquire needed gear; and (iv) to develop a general itinerary for the first two or three sections that I will be hiking.
In late February, I stepped on the scale for the first
time in a while. The display gave me a
number I wasn’t expecting: 242
even. I knew I had crept up to the low
230’s in the fall, but I didn’t realize I had grown so much over the
winter. I’ve been in the upper 220’s
often enough in the past, and around 230 occasionally, but I’d never been close
to or over 240. While this is part of
the drive to get myself back into shape and ready for the challenge of the AT,
I’m also going to use it to my advantage in the planning process.
Since I’ve regularly hiked in the 220’s, I’m going to use
that as a base weight for calculations.
Some articles I have read use 20% of body weight as a guide for the max
weight of your pack on a thru-hike, including food and water. To keep things at round numbers, I’m going to
use 225 as my calculation weight, yielding a max pack/gear weight of 45
lbs. I’m also going to approach this
from a little different angle than the articles I’ve read.
Every step up or down, your legs are lifting or lowering
your entire body weight, as well as everything you’re carrying. With this in mind, I’ll be targeting a total
hiking weight of 270 lbs. for training purposes. My theory being that as I lose body weight
and add weight to the pack, my legs will be conditioned properly for that
weight. If I select gear appropriately,
I will hopefully be able to hike at significantly less than that 270 total,
making the actual AT hikes easier from a conditioning standpoint.
Beginning in late February, I started by changing my diet
in order to lose some initial weight. Right
now the “shoulder season” of hiking is in full swing and a hike right now in
the White Mountains (“Whites”) can have you hiking in anything from dry trail
to trail with running water to ice to three feet of snow and periodic
post-holing, even in snowshoes. These
trail conditions are more difficult to hike in than true winter or summer
hiking and with my lack of physical conditioning over the winter, the hiking
would have to take a lower priority to dietary changes to start.
A couple of weeks ago I took a vacation day from work and
headed to the mountains to get a hike in and boost my metabolism a bit. I’d lost about 6 or 7 pounds at that point
and my weight had started to stabilize at that level. I needed to get some exercise to kick my body
back into calorie burning mode again.
The weather had not been particularly great with warmer weather and
periodic rain making trail conditions less than favorable as the snow pack on
the trails softened up and less supportive of weight. However, I chose the day I did based on the
weather forecast of a nice clear sunny day, but, more importantly, a crisp cold
The cold night would solidify the trails and make hiking
easier until the temperatures warmed up enough to turn the snow mushy again,
hopefully avoiding the need for snowshoes for the bulk of the trip as well as
The hike I planned started out at the Lincoln Woods
parking area on the Lincoln, NH end of the Kancamagus Highway. This Scenic Byway is sometimes referred to as
“The Kanc” locally, and definitely shortens the typing time for blogging. Knowing I had nowhere near enough
conditioning to actually summit a mountain, particularly in the changing trail
conditions I was going to run into, I chose a route to accomplish what I needed
to accomplish, while giving me the flexibility to extend or shorten based on
trail conditions or how my body felt.
Starting at the Lincoln Woods parking area, I followed
the Lincoln Woods Trail, which follows an old logging railroad line for nearly
five miles. I started off bare-booting
from the parking lot, but quickly put on microspikes, as there was quite a bit
of ice and hard pack on the trail right from the beginning. There is very little elevation gain on the
Lincoln Woods Trail. I think it is about
200 feet total for the entire length.
The trail is wide and heavily traveled, making it an easy walk along the
East Branch of the Pemigewasset River.
At roughly the 1.5 mile mark the Osseo Trail splits off
to the left, which is the route had chosen to take. The temperatures remained below freezing at
that point, and the lesser traveled Osseo Trail had a solid packed foot path,
but only one person wide, rather than the sometimes 4 to 5 person wide Lincoln
Woods Trail. For another quarter mile or
so the trail remains mostly level with minimal gain, winding along the Osseo
Brook through bare-branched hardwoods.
At this point, I started the section of the hike that was
my main goal. I knew I needed to work on
elevation gain, but I also needed to get some mileage on my legs. I had done an easy hike of just under two
miles so far and would have to hike those same miles out again. Now came the part to work on my climbing. Having not been out at all since December,
and even that was more of a light hike instead of a mountain, I chose the Osseo
Trail due to its long, moderate climb with minimal steep sections until getting
close to the summit of Mount Flume. It
gave me what I needed, at a rate which would be good for my present condition,
plus, if everything exceeded my expectations, I could continue into the steep
section and ultimately summit the mountain.
I started the moderate climb and I could tell from the
trail conditions that the temperature had gotten above freezing, even if only a
bit. The sun was well up and without
leaf cover, the snow was getting the full brunt of the spring sun. I ended up climbing for a mile, maybe a bit
more. The trail mostly ranged from one to
three feet of snow and traction was sufficient.
I had my snowshoes with me, but hadn’t needed them to this point. I did run into a couple of small areas where
the trail was open to the sun for long periods of the day and had actually
melted down to bare, albeit muddy, ground.
I started to find myself needing to stay in the very
center of the trail or else I started to break through the snow crust. I never really post-holed, but that was only
because I quickly shifted my weight back to the other foot when I started to
sink in. I even started sinking into the
trail’s monorail a bit at times as well, but never broke through. My legs were starting to feel like they were
reaching the end of their day, at least for going up, and the temperature had
continued to climb, so, with about three miles to hike back to the car I turned
around and headed back, hoping that the lower elevations hadn’t warmed up
enough to require snowshoes before I got back to the almost pavement-like
Lincoln Woods Trail.
Thankfully, the trail remained firm enough, since I don’t
think my hip flexors were in any condition to do any snowshoeing at that
point. I was able to return to the car
without any issues, had gotten a good early season conditioning hike in, and
tried to kick my body into gear to help lose more weight. In the two weeks since, I’ve lost another few
pounds and I finally dropped under the 230 mark, down to 229.4, however my
weight is back to fluctuating up and down with a very slight trend
downward. It’s definitely time to get
out on the trails to boost the metabolism again.
As for gear, I have some work to do. Over these past 8 summers, I’ve hiked a lot
of trails and completed the 48 4,000 footers in New Hampshire. I never spent the night on the trail for any
of them. For one long traverse I did
sleep in the back of my SUV and start my hike at 4 am to avoid the 2.5 hour
drive to start the day. With this in
mind, I have a sleeping bag, a self inflating pad, and all the necessities for
day hiking, plus some extra preparedness types of things for emergencies.
One of the major items I need to get is a tent. I need to research it, buy the right one, and
go out and use it a few times to get comfortable with setting it up, taking it
down, and packing it away. Doing this
will also let me assess my current sleeping bag’s usefulness on a backpacking
trip, as well as the inflatable pad.
Some of my reading suggests I should go with a foam pad, with similar
weight, but without the risk of leaks/repairs, and more easily strapped to the
outside of a pack for space concerns.
I also know I need a backpacking pack instead of the day
pack I have. My pack is on the large
size for a day pack, but it isn’t large enough to handle the gear and food for
a week or two. I originally chose large
so I would have room for the extra layers needed for hiking during the winter,
but that still doesn’t compare to the 45+ Liter capacity of backpacking
packs. I should be able to make due with
it for an overnight or a weekend during the summer, until I get a new pack and
trial run a several-day hike, hopefully mid-to-late summer.
Lastly, itinerary planning is something that I’ll be able
to do during evenings and bad weather stretches where I can’t, or don’t want
to, get out hiking. My intent is to have
a number of hikes planned in advance, starting with the hike up Springer
Mountain in Georgia. I’m planning to
have a 1-week plan for each section, as well as 2-week plans for upcoming
sections. In that manner, I can mix and
match the plans to be adaptable to the amount of time I might have available to
me when I’m able to take time off to hike the AT.
For these 1-week plans, I’ll be assuming a 9-day week,
containing two weekends and a full work week in between. Initially, I will be estimating a 15 mile
day, but I’ll adjust that based on how campsite options present themselves in
each section. The benefit to living
where I do and hiking the Whites is that I have probably the best training
ground in the east. Realistically, I
reach almost any part of the AT from Hanover, NH to Mt Katahdin in
approximately 3.5 hours or less. Many
thru-hikers feel that the Maine and New Hampshire sections are the hardest part
of the trail and this is where I’m conditioning myself. With that in mind, I think 15 miles a day
will be a good starting point. I know I
can do 20 miles when I’m in decent condition and that will leave some
flexibility for trail conditions and camping locations.
As for me, I’m ready to get out for another hike, but I
don’t have time this weekend. I have
some family things going on and I also will be driving to Exeter, NH on
Saturday to celebrate my completion of the New Hampshire 4000 footers with lots
of other people who completed their list last year and many previous members of
the club. For those in the northeast who
are interested in this achievement, you can visit http://www.amc4000footer.org/
for more information.
Now that you know something about me and my hiking plans,
I wanted to explain more about my blogging plans in this post. Part of that is to give a bit more background
on my hiking adventures to date and another part is to lay out my ideas for
where this blog will be headed. That
isn’t to say that plans won’t change, but I at least have an initial plan of
what I want to do and accomplish.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently 47 years
old. As life progresses, the time
available for fun activities dwindles as the day to day responsibilities of
family, home, and career weigh you down.
In college, at a Division I school (and probably similar for Division II
and III schools), playing a sport is close to the equivalent of a 24-30 hour a
week job, and that’s before factoring in classes and homework. It’s also a 12 month activity. Playing baseball in college started with fall
practices in September as soon as students arrived and continued into December
when we stopped to prepare for finals and the holiday break. We started again as soon as we returned from
break and didn’t stop until the season ended in May (or hopefully June). Once the season was over, we departed school
to join a summer league and continue playing for the 2-3 months before we
headed back to school and started the cycle again.
Then comes graduation.
For most of us, that means entry into the real world of adult life and
responsibility. The rare few that move
on to big signing bonuses and huge paychecks in professional sports may be
living in a real world, but it isn’t the same world the rest of us have to live
in. For me, this meant baseball was no
longer a 12-month, 6 or 7 day a week activity, for the first time since middle
I also got married that summer. The combination of all these things meant a
massive change in my lifestyle and hence my activity level. For a while this wasn’t bad. I’ve been blessed with a fairly high
metabolism rate, and combined with my activity levels through college, I used
to consume more than 3000 calories per meal and only weighed 150 lbs. Over the years, as most of us who have lived
through it know, your metabolism slows down at various ages and mine was no
Over this winter I peaked at 242 lbs. Over the past year there have been massive
amounts of turnover at management levels above me, creating a shift in the
culture at work which I haven’t been entirely pleased with. All of this has been the basis for the “midlife
crisis” I feel that I’m going through.
“Crisis” is probably too strong a word, but we can use the term for what
it represents: a need to make changes to
one’s life to better it and make life happier and more fulfilling.
This crisis is what has driven me to commit to myself
that I will start and attempt to accomplish the sequential section hiking of
the Appalachian Trail, rather than just toying with the idea of it. And as part of that commitment to a goal, I
wanted to blog about my journey. Not
just the section hiking. Lots of people
blog about their actual hike and many of them are very interesting blogs. I wanted to start blogging at, basically, the
inception of the decision to hike the AT.
I have a desk job.
That’s one reason for my weight.
My work schedule is also typically heavier from December through March,
making it difficult to get outdoors to do things. Weather plays a part in it as well, as I
don’t like to drive into the mountains on a snowy or icy day when wrecking the
car would be far worse than not getting exercise. I HATE using the gym. I hate workout machines, weights, stair
masters, and treadmills. I can’t stand
it and have never made it through two months utilizing a membership. I can’t make myself do it. This winter, I managed to get out and hike
twice between December 1 and today. It’s
been a bad winter.
I plan to share my experiences and adventures getting
myself into shape this year, reviewing and selecting gear that I will need to
do my section hikes, and map out my itineraries for actually starting out at
Springer Mountain sometime in spring of 2020.
I know I won’t be starting out with the early thru-hikers at the end of
April, but initially I’m targeting sometime in mid-May, prior to Memorial Day. That’s just a rough plan and there’s a lot to
do before that becomes more concrete.
So, I hope the premise of this blog interests
you and I hope that my experiences will ultimately help others to make that
decision and work on preparing for that great adventure that awaits us on the
It is now the (early) spring of 2019. I’ve passed my 47th birthday and
statistically, at least, I’m on the second half of my life. I’ve been hiking the White Mountains of New
Hampshire regularly since 2011 and I finally finished my New Hampshire 4000
footer list last fall.
I’ve been toying with the idea of thru-hiking the AT for
a few years now. It’s a challenge I
would love to undertake, but I also am a realist. My career and household finances won’t allow
that kind of a commitment. Even a record
setting 40 day thru-hike would not be feasible for work. With those barriers to a thru-hike, I’ve come
to the decision to section hike the trail, but with some self-imposed criteria.
My plan is to hike the trail from South to North, by
sections, but in order, as if I thru-hiked.
This would give me the sequence of a thru-hiker on the trail, but allow
for my “real life” commitments to be maintained. Vacation time isn’t generally a problem for
me. I usually have a hard time taking it
all each year and lose some. The problem
is the schedule and deadline responsibilities I have to maintain throughout the
year. As a section hiker, I can take a
week or two to hike as my work schedule allows and then return a few weeks
later where I left off.
I’m normally a pretty introverted and private
person. I often hike alone, after my
wife’s knees progressed to the point of being unable to hike and requiring
surgery. One has been done and she’s at
the point where she could return to easy/moderate hiking with that knee, if it
weren’t for the other one causing pain and problems. I’m happy hiking alone and many times I try to
select trails which are less popular and are likely to have less traffic on
them to enjoy nature and the sights and sounds that accompany the wilderness. There are definitely benefits to hiking this
On a hike early last December, I was doing a snowshoe
warmup to try to get into some semblance of shape before the real winter hiking
season started. I always have the best
intentions of doing a lot of winter hiking, but inevitably I fail, whether it
is from a heavy work schedule, family commitments, or weather conditions. However, on this hike I started out shortly
after a group of almost a dozen hikers.
The trail was fairly solid and pretty well packed after
some early season snowfalls, but it still hadn’t consolidated much and bare
booting or microspikes seemed to churn up the trail quite a bit, even if I
didn’t punch through the surface. With
this in mind, I opted for snowshoes. The
group ahead of me had also chosen snowshoes and they were taking a while to
find the proper pace for the group as well as selecting the right layer
combinations for the temperature and the activity level.
We leapfrogged each other for a little while, but
eventually I found a spot where the trail neared the brook which it ran
parallel to for most of its length. The
brook had only partially frozen, primarily along the sides and around rocks in
the occasional calm pool. I just stopped
and listened to the gurgling of the water over the rocks. It was peaceful and quiet and it also allowed
that group to gain some distance ahead of me so we weren’t constantly trying to
pass each other in the soft snow to the side of the packed trail.
After a period of time listening and relaxing, but not so long that my body started to cool down too much, I began to move forward again. A few minutes after continuing my hike, I caught a quick glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Not ten feet from me, ghosting over the top of the snow, was a pine marten. The only reason I managed to catch his movement is that he was only about 75% covered in his white winter coat. The tip of his tail was still very dark, and his back was a very light gray, but well on its way to being fully white. He definitely seemed curious about me and my presence. He was also brave enough for me to slowly pull my cell phone from my pocket and take his picture after he caught himself a nice mouse for breakfast.
This is a prime example of why hiking alone provides some
excellent experiences. He never would
have shown himself this close to the trail while the large group was going by
and even the noise of a two or three person group is typically more than most
wildlife wants to be around. I was
fortunate to see such an uncommon critter along the trail and really enjoyed my
time watching him.
However, despite being introverted and a private person, I often find myself very chatty on the trail. I seem to talk with other hikers more extensively and more often than I do with strangers in other areas of my life. Maybe this is a sign that I should be more involved with hiking groups and hike with others more often, even if they aren’t close acquaintances. The fact that I’m writing a blog about myself and my plans and experiences may be an indication that I’m not as introverted as I accuse myself of being, but instead just don’t find a connection with most people that makes me want to converse with them.
I also tend to be a very self-sacrificing person. My wife will back me up on this, since she
accuses me of sacrificing my own needs and wants far too often for the benefit
of her and our daughter. This includes
both time and money. However, I will
freely admit that hiking the AT is entirely about me. It’s something I want to do and I know that
my wife, considering her knees, will be incapable of enduring that kind of
activity for a week, let alone nearly 2,200 miles. She has offered up ways that she can help
support my efforts, such as driving me to a starting point and meeting me at
various road crossings along the section and restocking food in this manner.
Since I hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire,
it’s obvious I at least live in the northeast.
Specifically, I live in southern Maine and have easy access to most of
New Hampshire with a reasonable drive.
Hiking throughout the White Mountains, I believe I’ve hiked more than
half of the New Hampshire portion of the AT already, but it doesn’t seem as if
it’s been part of that ultimate goal.
The hikes are disjointed and, without that continuity, those sections of
the AT have been just portions of those other various hikes utilizing a trail
blazed in white instead of the usual blue or yellow blazes used in the White
This is the crux of the goal and the methodology I plan
to use to achieve it. I want the
continuity of the trail through this adventure, even if life won’t permit the
continuity of time.
Now, this being my first post, it’s pretty clear where
the “Hiking” part of the title comes from.
As for the “Center” part of the title, I could just stop and leave it to
you, the reader, for interpretation.
There are hints above, but since this is an introduction of myself and
the blog itself, and not some great literary novel where the author leaves lots
of areas for interpretation and reflection about what he/she really meant when
they wrote that memorable story, I’ll actually explain my choice of title. There won’t be Cliff Notes for this, so I
won’t make you think and ponder the meaning of life.
I’ve never been a yoga person, done meditation, or
anything like that. My stress relief has
always been good, solid, physical activity.
I played two sports in high school (baseball and soccer) and continued
baseball into college and beyond. At
least through my college years, no matter how stressful my days may have been,
it never seemed to bother me, whether that was because of age or the endorphin
generating exercise, I don’t really know for sure. Even for the many years after graduation from
college, whether it was continued baseball leagues, golf, or some other routine
sporting activity, life seemed fine for me.
I was slow to anger, rarely did stress affect me, and I could handle the
twists and turns of life without problem.
Now, I’m approaching my 14th anniversary at my
current employer; I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for almost 23
years, and we share the wonderful experience of raising our daughter who is
almost 5. However, for whatever reason,
I find myself easily angered at things which never used to provoke me. I sometimes dread going to work, even when
there is nothing on my calendar to worry about and deadlines are suitably far
in the future to allow the work needed to easily be completed. I find myself much more frustrated with unplanned
changes in schedules and problems disrupting my plans. I feel it is time to shake things up in my
In the context of this blog, “Center” refers to a few
things for me at this point: (i) the
center of my statistical lifespan (i.e. midlife); (ii) centering my spirit in
the yoga, meditative, or religious sense; and (iii) placing hiking, and
specifically this goal, near the center of my daily priorities. I’ll clarify a bit about (iii) to say that my
daily priorities will not ever exclude my family, which means I will continue
to make a living and support them and continue to spend time and resources to
make them happy and nurture them. Hiking
won’t ever take priority over that, as it just isn’t in my nature to abandon
them, but I will be making the effort to put more “me” in my life and make it a
Now, as I look back, this turned into quite an
introduction post and in my next (probably shorter) post I’ll explain my plans
for this blog, at least to start with.