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.

Continue Reading…


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

February 21, 2017
Bridge over untroubled waters

I’m not an artist.

When new friends show me their baby pics, I have a tendency to respond by showing my latest sketches, often with similar paternal fondness. Bragging about barely fridge-worthy efforts? Guilty.

Artists devote years to honing skills that I do not have. A few of my sketches have turned out well, and I absolutely love those sleepy head-pats that Monica gives me when I wake her in the morning to show off my latest creation. But I get a lot of help from digital filters and editing apps to transform the best I can do into something more eye-catching. Real art? Probably not, but I friggin’ love playing.

I began sketching images for blog posts because I couldn’t find photos that would accurately convey the tone and emphasis I wanted. Digital painting relaxed me when I was too anxious to sleep, or too depressed to do anything. It became my art therapy, without the messy cleanup or expensive paint supplies. Continue Reading…

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…

(almost) funny, Bucket-Lister Pro-tips

I am sorry for myself, I no speak in this language very much

February 12, 2017

I don’t know about you, but I got into the Bucket-Lister business for the perks. Trying new things, traveling the world, and immersing myself in cultures most tourists don’t have time for. The pay isn’t great, but you can’t beat these benefits.


And I was a natural. I avoided food poisoning from meals that roamed around on the table, filled a passport or three with colorful stamps, and maintained a respectable frequent-flyer status.


I even mastered the international Bucket-Lister language. Initially, communication was mostly an intricate series of hand and arm signals that would make any Air Traffic Controller proud. It wasn’t pretty, but I could get a taxi, directions to a restaurant (usually not the one I was hoping for), and a hotel room. However, fluency evaded me until I discovered the real Rosetta Stone. With this handy tool, I rarely had to resort to embarrassing peeks at Google Translate, or flail like a duckling trying to find its momma in order to get my message across.


What is the Bucket-Lister’s Rosetta Stone? Continue Reading…

Lost in Romania

Bringing down the House of Cards

February 6, 2017
Corrupt politician

Recent weeks have ushered in historic change here in Romania:

  • 1 January– The populist Social Democrat Party (PSD) assumed control of Parliament under promises to continue the fight against political corruption, increase wages, and reduce taxes. As an interesting aside, the leader of the party Liviu Dragnea, is serving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud and 2 counts of embezzling approximately $24,000.
  • 6 January– Netflix became available in Romania; and I became unavailable.
  • 31 January– Using arcane parliamentary loopholes, an emergency decree w
    protesting corruption Bucharest

    Largest crowds since the fall of communism assembled to protest decree decriminalizing corruption.

    as passed without debate or full vote to decriminalize corruption. The decree will free hundreds of government employees previously convicted of using their office for personal gain if damages were less than $48,000. Ongoing trails (over 2,000), which impact several prominent members of the Social Democrat Party, will be dismissed.

1 February

  • Record setting crowds protesting corruption in Bucharest and most major cities throughout Romania.
  • Leaders of the European Union cautioned that this decree would cause lasting damage to Romania’s standing as a member of the EU.
  • Romanian President Klaus Ioannis formally challenged this decree in Constitutional Court (the highest court in Romania).

Continue Reading…