Treated Like a Vagrant

Monday morning was an absolute beauty here. Bright sunshine, barely a cloud to be seen and temps in the upper 50s. Perfect practice hike weather. I had been wanting to set up my tent in a smoke-free environment (both of my neighbors are diligent in their work as mobile chimneys) so I opted to load my shelter and some additional ballast (for a total of twenty pounds) into my trusty Osprey Kestrel 28 and head to my local recreation area. Last time I felt naked doing this particular trip without my trekking poles, so I brought them along for use on the off-asphalt sections (still haven’t bought those pole tips!) of my short five mile hike.

I had barely left the house, traveling less than half a mile down our road when a neighbor I don’t know who lives beyond us drove slowly past, then stopped and backed up. He powered down his window and, to keep the story short, essentially assumed I was a homeless drifter who had been camping in the woods nearby. After I convinced him otherwise, he moved on, and I did the same.

I guess I should have shaved before I left home.

The rest of the jaunt to the recreation area was uneventful, though I felt a bit paranoid after the above incident. I enjoyed a few miles of gentle hiking on the trail and fields, then stopped to do a quick pitching of my tent:


I roughly timed my effort at seven minutes which, considering I’d only pitched it once before, and that in my living room (without stakes, of course), I was pleased. Granted, I didn’t shoot for the perfect pitch. I didn’t bother adjusting the tensioners or fiddling with ideal staking. I also didn’t have to spend time searching for and prepping my site. Still, I feel that with practice I can do it a bit faster, which will no doubt come in handy on days out in the actual wild with pouring rain and/or high winds.

I slipped inside to check it out, then packed it up and headed for home. Less than five hundred feet from my driveway I spotted a couple walking down the hill towards me, and I decided to go on the offensive and crush any “Oh look, dear. A bum!” thoughts before they were fully formed. I gave them a big smile and said, “Good morning! Yes, I live here. No, I’m not homeless,” to which they responded by cracking up. After assuring them I was out doing a practice hike, we continued on our respective ways with smiles all around.

Moral of the story: Hike in the woods. Or shave. Or, if possible, both.


Tent Talk: I’m a complete newbie to backpacking, but it seems to me that, for a first tent, I made a solid choice, especially factoring in my limited budget. It pitches quickly and easily without instructions, and comes down and packs up just as quickly and easily. The weight is tolerable, too. The only mystery is why they only included five stakes when the tent/rainfly has six stake-out points. They do include a length of paracord, so I’m assuming that the sixth point, mid-rainfly on the back of the setup, is meant to be anchored to a tree, rock, or maybe even a trekking pole (on non-windy days). It’s definitely not a deal breaker. After all, the internal tent is freestanding, so it would be possible to just use one of the corner stakes on the back side. Body and gear weight would keep the tent from bouncing up and down in that one corner. I’ve read lots of good things about MSR Groundhog stakes, so if I try the included shepherd ones and they’re not to my liking, I might be willing to trade them in on a set of ‘Hogs.


Thinkin’ Like a Thru

Before I get into this post, I want to state right up front that I have practically zero chance of thru-hiking a 2000 mile-plus trail like the AT. I could manage it physically (sans accidents), but the cost in terms of time and money eliminate the possibility for me. I would definitely consider chewing up a shorter trail in one shot, though. Colorado, Muir and Long all jump to mind. But I’ve read so many books and journals where intrepid trekkers triumphed over the three major long trails in the U.S. that I sometimes can’t help but think in terms of thru-hiking, especially in regards to the weather.

Case in point: This morning I was enjoying an early run on a flawless first day of fall. As I’m trotting through the woods, my mind wandered to the hikers vacating Monson sixty miles from my location to begin their race through the Hundred Mile Wilderness towards Katahdin before Baxter closes down for the season. And I’ve done this many mornings since I was bitten by the hiking/backpacking bug. On a sweltering (for Maine, anyway) summer morning when I was battling a swarm of flies and oozing gallons of Gatorade onto my technical apparel, I thought of hikers pushing through the same for days on end, using their next blessed zero day as motivation to slog onward while I toweled off and slid behind the wheel of my air conditioned car for the short ride home where a shower, clean clothes and all the food I could possibly eat awaited my arrival.

Tomorrow morning these motivated souls will face a steady rain, wind, and temps much lower than the mid-50s I’ll see here. At elevation it will be a miserable morning, and they’ll be on soggy, slippery root and rock infested terrain, never-say-quit grimaces facing north from beneath saturated rain gear. I’ll pray for their safety and success like always, and might even guilt myself into a short run in the soggy woods near home.

The typical thru-hiker sees every kind of weather in the spectrum on their journey, and must tolerate and master it day after day after seemingly endless day.

It’s amazing to me what these people, plucked from every conceivable walk of life, endure as they pursue their dream…

The Ultimate Minimalist

I just finished reading “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery.


If you’re a hiker/backpacker and you’ve never heard her name before and/or read this well-researched book, I encourage you to check it out. The writer did a wonderful job of blending her often tragic personal life with her hiking experiences. Highly recommended.

In 1955, Emma Gatewood, mother of eleven and grandmother to twenty-three, bought a yard of denim fabric and sewed it into a bag. Into this bag she threw some food, a flashlight, some odds and ends of clothing, a shower curtain and twenty five bucks. Grabbing a walking stick from the woods, she tossed her bag over a shoulder and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

At age 67.

During that time, she slept on piles of leaves, walked nearly blind with busted glasses, battled blowdowns and poorly marked trail and burned through seven pairs of canvas sneakers. And she did it with one of the most remarkable never-say-die attitudes I’ve ever seen. She would go on to hike the AT twice more, once as a thru and the other as a section hiker.

She’s often referred to as the first minimalist hiker, but while today’s “gram weenies” sleep under practically see-through tarps on half a sleeping pad, intentionally cut the handles off their toothbrushes and trim down their decks of playing cards to reduce weight, for her it was simply a way of life transferred from the farm to the trail.

Her amazing story sure has given me pause as I agonize over gear lists and must-haves while contemplating my first overnight out on the trail. I look at what I already have accumulated and realize that if I took to the AT tomorrow, I’d be better equipped than she was. And be hiking a more defined, better maintained trail. With better glasses. And greater access to more hiker-friendly places. And more hikers to rely on for help should I need it. And so on.

More than forty years after her death, she still inspires. If you haven’t, read her story. And let her inspire you, too…