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Tales from the Trail

(almost) funny, Tales from the Trail

7 tips GUARANTEED to make the most of your bear encounters

March 19, 2017
enjoying bear encounters

I smelled them long before I saw them. It wasn’t the flailing arms and hurried pace of a pair of day-hikers dressed in bright t-shirts and shorts rushing towards me that got my attention. It was their laundry detergent. Tide. Maybe Cheers. Either way, it was delicious enough to break the hypnotic spell that comes from hiking 20+ miles a day for more than two months.

“Hey!” the husband shouted. He was a little out of breath. “Hold up. There’s a mama bear and her baby cub back behind us.” The wife, also excited but a little triumphant, held up her cell phone. “I got pictures!”

Yup. I thought, Definitely Tide.

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Tales from the Trail

Want to hike like a Ninja? Better check with your Trail Mom first.

March 12, 2017
Miss janet

I’ve seen the movies, so I know all about Ninjas. These solitary creatures move unseen and unheard from destination to destination, accomplishing impossible feats with superhuman agility and stamina. For big moments that require every last ounce of awesomeness, there’s even a blood-curdling battle cry.

Those of you with experience in the outdoors probably already know that Ninja-ing is exactly the same as long-distance hiking. Sure, the metal cups, poop shovels, and Crocs dangling from our 40lb packs tend to make a racket when we stumble over rocks and roots, but if no one is around to hear it, it’s just as good as silence. And we all know that those bi-hourly Snickers breaks aren’t pauses to catch our breath or contemplate the sanity of climbing the mountain in front of us; we’re just giving the mountain a chance to submit to our greatness before we show it who’s boss. Our battle cry (which is sure to elicit a reaction from even the most hard-hearted): “Crap! Where the hell did I leave my toilet paper?”

I understand if you have a few lingering suspicions about your ability to join the elite ranks of Ninja-ing hikers. If it weren’t for the timely advice and encouragement of the Appalachian Trail’s Sensei, I’d probably be right there with you. Continue Reading…

Tales from the Trail

What Everybody Ought to Know About Hostel Personalities

March 4, 2017
hostel personalities

Spring is coming.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m not ready for winter to leave us yet. One more monster storm that gives me a week’s worth of excuses to stay holed up inside, binge-watching Netflix and not shaving, would be perfect. Ready or not, Spring is on its way. Which means we need to lock in this season’s travel plans.

I think Monica and I have a pretty good system once we’ve picked a location. Whether we’re heading someplace exotic that requires updated vaccination records, or returning to a familiar haunt, we split up the chores. This means booking flights, checking for those can’t-miss activities that require reservations, arranging ground transportation if necessary, and finding the right lodging. Of these, lodging is usually the sticking point.

For several years, one of us had unreasonably strict criteria for what constituted suitable accommodations: room with a locking door, bed, and private shower; nearby restaurants (or better still, room service!); and no uninvited bugs, rodents, or reptiles.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail and staying in dozens (hundreds?) of hostels, relaxed my standards. Aside from the bugs, I don’t really need all those extra bells and whistles anymore. (If it weren’t for my “tree-hugger” tendencies, I’d be waging all-out war to eradicate these nasty nuisances.)


Our next big trip will put my newfound flexibility to the test. We’re going to hike the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain. Together! This means staying in hostels, and churches, and if experience is any indicator, even stranger’s homes. It’s gonna be awesome.

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Tales from the Trail

Hiking the Appalachian Trail Against All Odds

February 16, 2017
Against all Odds

For 166 days, I traded the weight of titles and labels for an increasingly smelly backpack. No longer Dr. Burkhardt, or Major Burkhardt, or a guy with crippling depression; instead, I became an Appalachian Trail hiker called “Sketch.” Most were good days. Some brought me to my knees. However, October 2, at the summit of Mount Katahdin, was a GREAT day!


All things being equal, more than 80% fail to complete the 2,189.2-mile journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Continue Reading…

Tales from the Trail

To McAfee Knob… and beyond

January 25, 2017
Ideal Home

There is an expectation that once you heft that backpack and set foot on some dirt-strewn path that you are on your way to a destination. The destination may be far, impossibly far, but still, each step leads you closer. All around you, trees and wild flowers and scurrying animals and Nature extend father than you can see in an overwhelming vista of unexplored terrain. But you are in a well-marked corridor that allows you to be a part of all this without getting lost. Rather than limiting, this corridor is a reassuring tether.

I knew my hike along the Appalachian Trail would not be a direct march from Springer mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. There would be detours into town for rest and resupply, side trials to interesting views, the possibility I would need to bypass sections for one reason or another. This is a good thing. If the thousands of hikers that start the Trail each year all follow the same path and make the same stops, we would congeal into a monotonous, slow-moving conga line. But I couldn’t have predicted how circuitous my route would become. Continue Reading…