Into the Wilderness, Day 1 of My Appalachian Trail Adventure

On June 1st, I drove to DFW to fly to Bangor, Maine, and begin my adventure on the Appalachian Trail. For much of the trip there was cloud cover, but as we flew over Maine, the skies cleared and I could see the coastline. I was astonished to see how much water is in Maine. There are rivers, lakes, and streams everywhere!
When I arrived in Bangor, Phil Pepin, with 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures, was waiting for me. I was relieved, thinking I might have to make a call for a pick up, but he was there…greeted me with a smile and loaded my backpack. He drove me to the 100 Mile Wilderness Camp and set me up in the bunkhouse. On the drive, Mr. Pepin apologized, in advance, for talking so much. He said he hoped I did not mind, and I was polite and answered that it was okay. He spoke incessantly and repeated many of his statements several times. There was no conversation to be had; there was only Mr. Pepin telling me how he accepted Christ as his personal savior and how the town of Monson was unfriendly and tried to jeopardize his business. He elaborated on the mundane details of his business and like a broken record, began this monologue all over again. By the time I arrived at the camp, my nerves were shot and I needed respite. There was no enjoyment to be had of the scenery and no winding down from the plane ride. I began to think something was wrong with Mr. Pepin, but once at the camp, I did unwind and rest a little; however, as soon as I emerged from the bunk house, the monologue began again, although this time it was in the Camp Kitchen and Charlotte was there. Charlotte is a hiker from New York. She met Phil some time ago, and he asked her to work full time as his campground manager. She was very pleasant, and since she was a woman who had hiked the trail in its entirety, I had questions for her. Phil offered to go through my backpack and take out the things that I did not need, and I explained that I needed to go through that process myself as a part of the whole trail experience. He offered again, and again, and again. Each time I told him no. One of my goals was to let go of things in my life which were a hindrance or no longer useful to me, and I needed to lighten my load all on my own. Much later, I learned that Phil told Charlotte, “Now that woman has some serious issues…”
…As I started researching my trip, I was confused as to the logistics of getting to Mount Katahdin. One site I found would get you to Baxter State Park, but I still had to get from Bangor to Medway by bus. Then a shuttle would pick me up and take me to Millinocket for a night and then get me to Katahdin. Whew! I found 100 Mile Wilderness Outfitters, and Phil offered to pick me up at the airport, give me a room for the night and drop me on the steps of the Hunt trail, all for a reasonable price, and I didn’t have to reserve a plane ticket, a bus ticket, a taxi, and then still have to pay for the shuttle for Baxter. All done! Even though I appreciated the services Mr. Pepin offered, I was very put off by his behavior. He was cordial to me, but I was happy to be rid of him once we got to Baxter. When he did arrive at the gates of the park, he took time to chat with the rangers (I felt like it was MY time he was taking) and when I checked in at the ranger station, he lingered and tried to convince me to get a more expensive shelter than the tent site I reserved. This was aggravating as I planned the trip a year in advance and made reservations six months in advance to get exactly what I wanted. This was my adventure, not Mr. Pepin’s.
The most disturbing part of the trip to Katahdin was Mr. Pepin’s new dialogue, which was constant and irritating. He repeated the recital of the previous day’s monologue, but he also added some words of advice, saying he was trying to encourage me. He told me, multiple times, that I was basically fat and out of shape so I should not worry too much if I couldn’t summit Katahdin. He also reminded me of my age (he is older than me) and how with all those factors combined, I might not make it through the woods. Words of encouragement? I was so angry by this constant barrage of belittling assault that once the pick-up pulled in front of the station, I grabbed a day pack and took off. He called out, “Are you heading out now?” Under my breath I said, “Fuck YES!”
Phil Pepin has hiked the Appalachian Trail three times. He is a registered Maine guide, and claims to be the only one in Maine who specializes in the Appalachian Trail. He offers shuttles into towns to get laundry done or eat out. His camp is on the blue blaze to Monson making it very convenient. The camp itself has a rustic charm and it is near the shores of Lake Hebron. Nights are very quiet (or noisy with night noise) and fireflies dance a ballet each evening while loons lull you to sleep. The place is beautiful, and Mr. Pepin’s plans for it are well-thought out. Besides the bunk house and cabins, he has forested tent sites, a shower house and two privies. There are two fire pits for clients to use. It seems to be the perfect place to relax and prepare for the mental and physical challenges of the upcoming hike. It does seem that way.
Hunt trail rescued me from that hideous man. As soon as I was enveloped in the darkness of the green forest, blanketed with moss and misted with the icy waters of Katahdin Stream, I could relax. I let the mental pollution that Mr. Pepin burdened me with drain away into the spongy bog. Day 2 of my trip was underway.

Hiker’s Chili & Beans for the Appalachian Trail

When I created this recipe, I didn’t have equivalent ingredients for a home-cooked chili with meat, so I simply guessed at portions of ingredients. At first the chili was too sweet, so I cut the sweetness with mustard. By the time this was simmering on the stove, all three of my dogs were salivating, looking up at the stove top, and begging for a VEGETARIAN meal (if you skip the cheese). I shared with them, and they loved it. My son, who swears he is a carnivore, tried it too, and remarked how meat-like it was. He was willing to eat this meal too. So here it is, my chili & bean recipe, so easy to make on the trail, and so hearty and delicious you will not miss meat on the trail.

 

Hiker’s Chili & Beans
1/8 cup Augason Farms Beef Flavored Vegetarian Meat Substitute
1/8 cup Augason Farms Taco Flavored Vegetarian Meat Substitute
¼ cup Harmony House dehydrated pinto beans
1 tsp. Harmony House dehydrated onion
1 tsp. Harmony House dehydrated tomato dices
1 tsp. Harmony House dehydrated red and green bell peppers
2 tbsp. Harmony House tomato powder
1 tbsp. Williams Chili Seasoning
1 tsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. dry ground mustard
¼ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. blackening spices
¼ tsp. coarse black pepper
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 tbsp. Honeyville cheddar cheese shreds

Combine all ingredients except water and cheddar cheese shreds in a bag and seal with an oxygen absorber. Seal cheese. On the trail, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. Pour over chili ingredients and allow all the dehydrated vegetables to completely rehydrate. (I do this in the morning for a noon meal). When chili is completely rehydrated, place pot over medium heat until heated through. Sprinkle cheese on top.

What Hiking Trail Blogs Tell You

I have been planning my thru-hike for a year now. During this past year, I have read blog after blog and watched every video on YouTube that has anything to do with the Appalachian Trail. Most blogs that I have personally read, are full of information. They tell you distances between point A and point B. They tell you that a titanium spork weighs x amount of ounces. Blogs are so full of information that essays or books could be written on the information therein. My blog will not give you that kind of information. My AT guide from Miller gives me some of that information. Blogs have given me the rest. Let’s not forget the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and all the information they have to offer….information is everywhere.

Blogs also tell you something about the writer. When a blogger knows every minute detail about a product and the manufacturer, he/she might be doing gear reviews professionally. When a blogger takes nothing but ultralight gear, we can assume that he/she has loads of cash hidden somewhere because cuben fiber is prohibitively expensive. It also probably means that the hiker is going to hike his trail fast.When a hiker snaps on his headlamp for night-hiking, he isn’t interested in the views. When he is constantly booking a room for a zero day, he isn’t all that interested in the trail. These videos and blogs have intrinsic value. We can learn a lot from them, and I have. I even enjoyed the videos from bloggers whom I felt should probably never started the hike in the first place because of the constant complaining in their work. Still I found value and have watched these videos over and over.

What many hiking blogs don’t tell you is precisely what I want to know about. They don’t tell you what it feels like, looks like, smells like, tastes like. . .They don’t show you how they set up their camps and how they cooked their meals when they ran out of fuel. They don’t tell you if the hair stood up on the back of their necks when they encountered a bear. They don’t let you experience the severe weather with them, and describe in detail what it was like to hunker-down in a small stand of trees with hurricane-like weather coming from Cape Hatteras in the Carolinas….You don’t hear them tell you that at the end of the day, they are so hungry they could eat the leather off their soles, only to discover that they are wearing Vibrams and cannot eat them!! You might see photos that express their delight, but they don’t tell you what it was that delighted them in the first place. You can’t experience what it is like to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded in fog, and not able to find the blazes on the trees, because they don’t tell you. This is what my blog will do. Serious hikers need not read my blogs. The only thing I am going to take seriously is safety.

I want the experience, not the trophy. Lie #1 I WANT THAT PIECE OF PAPER THAT SAYS I HIKED 2000 + MILES! Okay, so I want the experience, plus the paper, otherwise some of my family will think I’m telling a tall-tale and will not believe me.

If I have to ford a stream, I want you to experience it with me, not only in a video diary, but in words. I will share my secrets, my trials, and triumphs. If you only follow along, we will never be lonely, and like good friends, we will chat along the way, and discover the trail and all it has to offer, together.

 

Camp Kitchen

ImageImage

There are minimalist hikers for a reason. Gear is heavy to carry, and carrying it up steep grades and back down again isn’t easy. Minimalist hiking appears to be for someone who has a goal to hurry and finish a trail. I have no intention of setting such a goal.My goal is to yawn and stretch in the morning and then do whatever I want. If I see an interesting blue blaze, there I will go. My hiking plan includes taking the time to experience life on the Appalachian Trail. It requires a little stealth to see wildlife, but it also requires that I observe and take my time. I intend to take my time. I also intend to cook some of my meals. I don’t mind carrying a little extra weight so that I can do that.

We will see how important it is to carry this weight once I’m on the trail. I may send half of it ahead in a bounce box. I might send half of it home. I love to cook, and food cooked outdoors just tastes better to me. If I send my little camp kitchen home, you can say, “I told you so,” but if it works out fine, I will share my videos of how I prepare my home-made recipes.

Hiker’s Sloppy Joes

Everyone loves Sloppy Joes. The best method for cooking Sloppy Joes at home is a slow-cooking process. It seems the longer they cook, the more sweet and savory they become. Here is a trail recipe that is best cooked soon after leaving a town because it requires that you purchase a bun from a restaurant and get a teaspoon of Worcestershire from them as well. Cracker Barrel does sell a five-ounce bottle of Worcestershire, but every restaurant along the trail will surely have it. Here is the recipe:

Hiker’s Sloppy Joe Recipe

3 tsp. Harmony House chopped onion
2 tsp. Harmony House chopped green pepper
¼ cup Auguson Beef Flavored Vegetarian Meat Substitute
3 packets Heinz® Tomato Ketchup
3 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
Coarse salt and coarse black pepper to taste
Honeyville freeze-dried cheddar cheese

Before leaving town, put all ingredients, except the cheese, into a leak-proof pot and add ½ cup water. Slip the pot inside a cozy and allow the ingredients to rehydrate on the trail. (I put my ingredients into a Ziploc bag and slip the bag inside my Stanley pot)

On the trail: Empty the Ziploc into your cooking pot and bring the mixture up to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for five minutes. Pile mixture on your absconded bun, and sprinkle cheese on top.

Chewbacca Legs on the Appalachian Trail, Andy’s Take on my Gear List

While discussing the essential gear I need to take on the trail, and keeping in mind that I have to carry all of it, I told my son I wasn’t going to take a razor. Why would I shave my legs at all? I’m going to be free in the great outdoors, and there is no audience I could offend with lycanthropic legs. He responded.

My son, Andy, AKA Willis, has a very warped sense of humor, which might be indicative of his upbringing. Anyway, in his humble opinion I should definitely take a razor. Why? Reasons are varied; he tries to look at all angles. First, he is afraid that I will summit some mountain and fellow hikers will mistake me for Chewbacca. If they are Star War’s fans, I might get kidnapped and taken to some convention in Las Vegas. Cryptozoolists might mistake me for a female bigfoot, and the Smithsonian would no doubt want me on ice. Star War’s enthusiasts might also think I’m an Ewok, since I’m short. Another convention kidnap. He isn’t afraid other humans will think I’m a Hobbit, because they aren’t real and they don’t wear hiking boots from REI.

He isn’t the least bit afraid for me, for ANY other reason. After all, I did live in Baghdad during the war. He is not afraid I will get lost, or tumble off the summit of Katahdin. He knows I have the gear to purify water. He helped me choose a bug net so he isn’t afraid of West Nile Virus. He is afraid; however, that I will look like Chewy.

Andy is my eldest son. He is currently in college and lives with me. You could say one of his favorite hobbies is tormenting me. He notices when I put my keys in the refrigerator. He laughs when I get lost in the town I was reared in. He remembers where I put absolutely everything because he knows he will have to find it. He also has a remedy for when I truly get on his nerves.

There is a newspaper ad, believe it or not it is true, for a free haircut when you place a family member in a particular nursing home. I’ve seen the ad; it is real. Anyway, when Andy gets a little frustrated with me, he has a habit of asking me, “Mother, do you want me to go get that free haircut?”

He will be glad to be rid of me for a while, but how do I know he isn’t worried?

Every piece of gear I have, he has tested. Even when my water purification system came in, he immediately poured tons of dirt in a water pitcher, filled it to the brim, and started pumping water in my brand-new Nalgene bottle. Then, he inspected it and tasted it himself. He knows it works.

I couldn’t afford a GPS, so he ordered all the maps of the AT, from Katahdin to Springer. He made sure he not only had my itinerary, but a PDF of my guidebook. He chose my cell phone. He bought my solar charger and made me demonstrate that I can use it.

He made sure I know how to tie the right knots.

He cinched up all the parts on my backpack to make sure it fit correctly. He checked zippers. He took my paracord for my bear bag and threw it, hanging my food in the tree in our front yard.

He ordered me “not to graze on the trail,” and to drink enough water.

He showed me how to use my trekking poles as a weapon.

Andy and I have switched roles. He is more like the parent and I am more like the child; however, I know I called him names, but I don’t think I ever called him Chewy.

Update on “Night Hatchet” and Good Advice from Timothy Hodges

I’ll admit it. The “Night Hatchet” story had me a little worried. As I read Tim’s blog, my anxiety level rose to monumental proportions (I have PTSD so I expect that). Anyway, as I told him, my fight or flight response kicked in just reading about this character along the Appalachian Trail. I made mental notes of how to handle the situation. I asked my son to teach me to use my trekking poles as a weapon. I thought, “my little saw would make a great ligature.” If I am stealthy enough I can ‘delete his post’. Timothy was kind enough to respond to me, and put my mind at ease. Here is his response to me:

 

“I thought it might be useful to give some additional feedback about the “Night Hatchet” story.  The individual in question was an aberration and I have found that 99.9 percent of those encountered during a through hike are wonderful and safe people to be around.  
 
Personally, I feel the A.T. is one of the safest places for hiking.  Fellow hikers look after each other, and local folks are more than willing to be helpful when you’re in need.  There was only one time I did not accept a ride into town while hitch-hiking — I had a “strange feeling” about the man who offered the ride so politely refused and walked away.  It’s important to hitch-hike in a group or at least with one other person you trust.  Either way, most people offering a ride are doing so to help out.
 
Insofar as weapons are concerned, I would not take a firearm.  Too much weight, too much trouble.  When I’m on the trail my defenses are a good hiking staff or hiking poles, and I carry a pocket knife.  I have never, ever had a need to use these against another human being.  I have, however, had to coax a snake off the trail or use my hiking staff to ward off a bear getting into my food in New Jersey.  Seems animals were more an issue than humans.  
 
Many woman are backpacking solo on the trail, and it’s rare to have any incidents.  Some common sense guidelines include not telling others where you’re headed unless they’re fellow backpackers.  Also, camping in shelters more than a mile from road crossings is advisable, since partiers on weekends are common at shelters within a mile or two and it’s not fun to try to sleep with drunk and rowdy locals.  
 
I cannot say this enough — “trust your gut” and your “intuition” during your hike.  But there is no need to hike in fear or anxiety.  I have made most all my trips solo over the years, and simply take not of my surroundings when I meet day hikers or locals, and behave politely and honestly.
 
The “Night Hatchet” guy was disconcerting, but I was in a group of at least eight other hikers and we kept notice of him.  He turned out to be a guy who was not a serious backpacker (you can spot one easily); he had no pack, tent, was drinking and carrying liquor, and begged food from hikers.  He bragged about hiking the trail and would leave it periodically only to appear at other trail-heads and pester other hikers.  Still, he was a rare bird.
 
Thanks to technology, there are things such as a SPOT locator, which can be used either to summon help during a life-threatening injury, OR can be used to send a signal at regular intervals to let folks at home know you’re “checking in” and are OK.  My wife and I are discussing my using such a system when I head back out into the wild.
 
I hope this information is helpful and will allow you to hike with joy and confidence, relying on your information and instincts when it comes to walking any trail you choose.
 
Sincerely,
Timothy Hodges”
 
Thank you Timothy. Love your blog, and the psychotic urge to kill someone on the trail has evaporated. 🙂

Thinking about personal safety on the Appalachian Trail (“Night Hatchet” Pt. II)

Tales like this are good to know. Better to be prepared than be caught totally off guard when human predators are near.

Write in Front of Me

More fall leaves... More fall leaves… (Photo credit: life is good (pete))

We all survived the night and “Night Hatchet” was gone by daybreak, but it changed my view of people who came to the Appalachian Trail and their purpose.  There are —

Serious hikers and backpackers who intend to hike the trail.

Day-trippers and weekenders out for shorter hikes.

Multi-week/month hikers.

Locals or tourists taking a stroll in the woods.

Partiers who raid camps/shelters.

People like “Night Hatchet” whose agenda you cannot fathom and need to be wary of.

I did not see “Night Hatchet” again, but I did meet people and situations that “put my antenna” up.  It’s important to keep in mind that most all the people you meet along the Appalachian Trail are solid, decent, friendly folks, many of who are extremely generous and will help you if you need it.

It is also vital to realize that while…

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Thinking about “Night Hatchet” on the Appalachian Trail

“Night Hatchet” is the only example of an animal along the trail that frightens me.

Write in Front of Me

Jack-o-lantern

Consider this the “Halloween” post for Write In Front of Me.  It’s not my intent to fuel undue anxiety or alarm but I would be less than upfront if this side of backpacking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t addressed.  Specifically, I’m talking about safety in dealing with other hikers and people you will meet.

First a tale…a true tale.

Cold Spring Shelter along the Appalachian Trail was home for the night for myself and a handful of other backpackers.  We’d left Springer Mountain mid-April and were among the rear guard bound for Katahdin.  Most of us were getting our “trail legs” and starting to feel we were managing the tests the trail set before us pretty well.

What we weren’t prepared for was “Night Hatchet.”

“Night Hatchet” was a young local man, about his early twenties, who was hitching from trailhead to trailhead, hiking in to shelters…

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