Flash Forward One Year

Aug. 6, 2014.  I took summit photos in two different shirts.

Aug. 6, 2014. I took summit photos in two different shirts.

Home Sweet Home, August 6, 2015 — I wasn’t going to write a one-year-retrospective.  Most of them are boring and trite.  As I have often said, being a successful thru-hiker doesn’t make you special.  It only means that you were fortunate enough to have a special experience.

Okay, so what happens when it’s over?  You go home and then what?  Post hike depression is well documented.  Of course, I thought it could not happen to me.

When your hike is over, if you’re lucky, you have to get back to work.  That’s true for most hikers.  If you have something lined up – say going to grad school – you’ve got it made.  But even if you have to job search, you’ve got a defined focus for your time and a purpose to pursue.

If you’re retired, that’s another story.  Recently retired people are the second largest, albeit, small category of thru hikers.  A lot of them shut the door to their offices and open the front door to the AT with little transition time. I met a hiker in Georgia this year whose time lapse was four days!

I prepared for ten months, but it’s almost the same.  I’d done nothing to prepare for retirement itself other than to know that I’d have to “keep busy.”

Boom!  The hike ends.  You take a victory lap. The the crowds stop clapping.  For months on end you’ve had a routine.  Wake up, eat and hike.  Following the white blazes was my job.  Where is the next white blaze?

Aside from the daily trail routine, hiking is heavy exercise that bathes your brain in a heavy flow of endorphins all day long.  Like distance running, the craving doesn’t stop when you end your journey.

Endorphins act like opiates.  These chemicals, manufactured by your body, make you feel really good.  When they go away, the funk can get very deep indeed.

I thought that returning to a strenuous exercise routine and increasing my volunteer activities would help me avoid endorphin withdrawal and the mental depression that goes with it.  NOT SO!

I did all these things, but in between, I sat in my easy chair and stared out the window or zoned out with ESPN on the idiot box.  My reading habit evaporated.  In the past year I have completed exactly one book; that compares to my 3 to 4 per month lifetime average.  My motivation meter was pegged at zero.

There’s more.  My weight began to creep up.  I did switch back to healthy foods from the ultra high calorie trail junk, but I ate a lot and drank more beer.  I’ve regained about 75 percent of my lost weight.

After my voluntary stint as a ridgerunner in Georgia this spring, my mind began to get a grip.  Maybe returning to the scene of the crime helped.

I remembered why I retired in the first place. My retirement routine couldn’t replace my previous career as an adrenalin junkie.  The 60-hour plus work weeks needed to be left to history.  The new normal needed to be new.

Now my volunteer time is structured around specific goals.  I’ve found opportunities with much more responsibility – to the point where I supervise five paid employees in one of the gigs.  Best of all, I’m beginning to have a lot of fun.

For now, one year after my hike, retirement has become a never-ending process.  I’m contemplating more hiking adventures, but I’ll tackle them differently.  For example, I’d love to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. (“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is set there.)  But if I do, it will be over three years in sections rather than all at once.

If I learned one take-away from hiking the Appalachian Tail it is that thru hiking takes a long time.  While I loved my hike and would do it again, I got tired of being out there “forever.” Moreover, making “forever” so is not a reasonable expectation.

Looking ahead, I’m hoping to better use my time because at this stage of life, you truly have to do more with less.

Post card I sent to those who helped along the way.

Post card I sent to those who helped along the way.

One of the best parts of my final day on the trail was to share it with my friend Karen (Tie) Edwards.

One of the best parts of my final day on the trail was to share it with my friend Karen (Tie) Edwards.

Here’s a link to a one of several videos I’ve made in support of speeches I’ve made this past year.




Harpers Ferry, WV, May 26, 2015 –There I was doing my best Captain Kirk impression as I sat in the command chair behind the counter of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) visitors center when the door opens and I hear a cheery, “Hi Sisu!”  (Sisu is my trail name.)

To my delight, in walks Emily Leonard.  At least that’s who she was when I camped next to her and her husband on Springer Mountain, GA in early March.  Now she is “Black Bear,” an awesome thru hiker who remembered me promising that I would take her ‘half-way photo’ if she reached ATC HQ on a Tuesday, my volunteer day.  Well, she did and there I was wearing a giant smile in salute to her presence and accomplishment.

Emily is a former teacher and soccer coach who lives in Maine.  She sounded and looked strong. After the formalities, I treated her to a healthy, read leafy green-colored, lunch at a quirky local restaurant. Our conversation quickly established that she’s having a wonderful time walking in the woods.  You can follow her blog at:  http://happyhiking.bangordailynews.com/category/home/  I really hope that Black Bear goes — ALL THE WAY!

By way of additional insight, I wrote about Emily anonymously in one of my blogs from Georgia.  She was a hiker with the ultra light Cuban fiber tent pitched with so much slack that I worried might blow away in a strong wind.  After staying the first night, her husband returned home to Maine and work while Emily hiked on.  That wasn’t the first time I learned to never judge a pack by its cover.

Of note:  It turns out she ditched that tent for a range of reasons and is using the one her husband had.  So much for hi tech.

IMG_2095Separately, a hiker named “Bonafide” aka “Winter Walker” phoned me from Bears Den hostel last night.  I first met him in Tennessee in December 2013 during my thru hike.  That year his doctor told him to lose some weight, so he walked from his home state of Vermont to Tennessee and back to Harpers Ferry.  This year he decided to thru hike and I met him plowing through the north Georgia snow back in February.

Sisu and Winter Walker in Mount Rogers Outfitters, Damascus, VA in Dec. 2013

Sisu and Winter Walker in Mount Rogers Outfitters, Damascus, VA in Dec. 2013

His call was to check in being that he was nearby. When I mentioned that the movie, “A Walk in the Woods” would be out in September, he unleashed a tirade about hikers who mess up the woods and don’t follow Leave No Trace principles.  It was instructive to say the least.  It seems like time and distance don’t weed out all the bad apples.

The “Walk in the Woods” trigger was this:  The Bill Bryson book features many scenes like the ones I reported from Georgia with people tossing trash and worse all over the trail.

He asked me what I thought the answer might be.  My response was one word:  Babysitters.  That’s what you get when you act like a child.

Here’s the trailer for “A Walk in the Woods:” It promises to be a fun movie.


The First Patrol


This tree was snapped off like a match stick

Hiawassee, GA, Top of Georgia Hostel, Sunday March 8, 2015 — My first patrol was over late Friday night.  The hiking was energy intensive at times, especially in the snow early on.  The ice and wind inflicted some serious damage on the trees, especially along the expose saddles between mountains.


Overall, the trail treadway is in good shape.  The water is draining properly and the mud is minimal under the conditions although my clothes were covered with it by the time I’d reached the summit of Springer Mountain.

IMG_2158_2 IMG_2159

IMG_2169_2 IMG_2170

IMG_2164_2 IMG_2165

Along the way I was able to clear several blowdowns that impeded navigation.

The hikers seemed strong and determined for the most part.  I did notice a propensity for them to hold at shelters or dive into town when it rained.  I can’t say I didn’t do some of that during my hike.  Hiking in the rain is miserable.

IMG_2168 IMG_2149_2

My patrol pattern will be changing for the rest of the time I’m here.  From now on, I’ll be hiking south from Neels Gap to Springer where I’ll spend two days while the caretaker there is off.  This makes sense since most of the need to help hikers occurs in the first 30 miles.

Naturally, Murphy was lurking over my shoulder.  I didn’t get back to Hiawassee until 11:30 p.m. Friday evening.  I was so tired that I locked my car keys in the trunk.  I had to go to Atlanta to get a new one.  Lesson learned!


This weekend was spent at the Appalachian Trail Kickoff.  It’s a hiking seminar at Amicalola State Park.  The presentations ranged wide and far from bears, to hostels, to lightweight gear.  It’s designed to help hikers learn what would be helpful for them to know prior to starting their hikes.


It was a special privilege to meet and talk with Gene Espy, the second person ever (1953) to thru hike the Appalachian Trail.

Next week we do it again.

The long down

Ethan Pond Campsite, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,837.0, Friday June 20, 2014 — The diabolical trail gods have a cruel sense of humor.

What goes up must go down. From the summit of Lafayette the descent to Crawford Notch (1,277 ft.) is sure and steady.

Why? Who would want the climb to the 6,288 ft. summit of Mt. Washington to be less interesting? But that’s yet to come. No sense dwelling on it.

Today the look back over the past three days was spectacular. Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield all in a single panorama.

The journey included a talus field reminiscent of several places in the Rockies. My bootsteps crunching on scree chomped up nostalgic memories of hikes long gone by, my brother Jack and other friends and me out for the kind of adventures 20-somethings enjoy. Those were good days.

We still have four miles of descent before the trail profile starts looking like a hockey stick with the long end up.

We plan to stay at Mispah Hut. If we can’t get work for stay, we’ll pay. There’s a fundraiser at Mt. Washington’s Lake of the Clouds Hut tomorrow, so my preferred destination is out of the question. Maybe we can score some left over caviar and drain the dregs of the Champaign bottles when we pass through?

Apologies to those having difficulty viewing the page. Since the app update, WordPress has had issues, so I can’t say for sure it’s browser compatibility. Unfortunately I am at WordPress’s mercy until I can get out of the woods and lay my hands on a real computer. 🙁



Willey’s store at the bottom of Webster Cliffs.


Reverse angle two hours later.


First view of Mt. Washington.


Galehead Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,825.2, Thursday June 19, 2014 — What’s on the menu?

So most all thru hikers “hate” the Appelachian ‘Money’ Club. Until we hit AMC territory trail shelters and campgrounds are free. Most hostels are in the $20 – $50 range and offer showers, laundry, resupply, phone recharging and access to real food. All that ends in NH.

Like the troll who hid under the bridge, the AMC charges to camp in tents, stay in ordinary shelters and or bunk at the huts. Nothing has a value add that a thru hiker would recognize. But, there is a hidden treasure.

In addition to the work for stay we’re doing for a second night, thru hikers can eat leftovers all day. You can actually eat your way through the Whites. That’s what we’re doing.

This is better than the New Jersey deli per day plan! Today we reached Galehead early , around three o’clock and negotiated work for stay, but also got to clean up a ton of scrumptious leftovers – pulled pork BBQ, lasagna, homemade bread and turkey soup. What a life!

It’s time to note that the climb out of Greenleaf was a no-strainer of less than 45 minutes. No buyer’s remorse here. The pic shows the hut after the weather cleared.

Trail conditions, not the climbing per se, make for slow progress. We met a guest who section hiked the AT beginning in 1956, ending in 1995. His description of changing trail conditions and culture were fascinating. The most profound difference, he said, was the extent of the erosion. It’s like hiking over broken and scrambled Jersey barriers.

So here I am, feeling like a stuffed turkey as I type. I can only hope this fare is equally filling. 🙂





It’s about getting high

Greenleaf Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,818.6, Wednesday June 18, 2014 — Heretofore miles measured progress. No longer. Now it’s all about elevation. How high is high?

This morning we punched out of the Kinsman Pond shelter, elevation 3,763 ft., passed through Franconia Notch at 1,443 ft. and closed the day’s forward progress atop 5,291 ft. Mt. Lafayette.

Not a bad day’s work for only 12 miles. Now you see why miles aren’t the coin of the realm in the White Mountains. It’s all about up.

Today we also decided to investigate the Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut system. The huts, strategically located throughout the Whites, offer a bunk, breakfast and dinner to paying guests.

Hikers can stop by during the day for leftovers, soup, cake and coffee for a reasonable fee. Each hut allows two thru hikers work for stay meaning free dinner and breakfast in exchange for a small amount of menial work. Not a bad deal considering that paying guests shell out $125 nightly.

We hit Lonesome Lake Hut in time for a late breakfast. The “croo” there suggested we stay at Greenleaf tonight in part because Greenleaf doesn’t see many thru hikers.

There’s a reason why thru hikers pass over Greenleaf. It is 1.1 miles and 1,000 feet below the Lafayette summit! Oh how we’re going to hate ourselves in the morning!!!

The day was long, but the climbing was much easier than yesterday’s hand over hand rock scrambles. The winds were howling up top on the socked in Franconia Ridge Trail as we staggered like wind blown drunks toward Lafayette.

On the descent the prop department displayed its finest work as the sun worked its magic and the landscape underneath transformed to an entirely new reality as dramatic cloud strings wisped along the ridge lines. It was a perfect ending.

One mile an hour!

Kinsman Pond Shelter, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,807.4, Tuesday June 17, 2014 — Expect to make about one mile an hour. Everybody said it. I believed it, sort of, but not really.

Well, it’s true. We hiked 11.5 miles today in eleven hours. Bingo.

If Moosilauke is where Momma Nature set her first line of defense, we’re getting beyond the screen now. We made 1.6 mph until about noon, then an endless rockfall earned our total attention. The poles got stowed and hand over hand climbing ruled the day.

At one point I slipped on a rock and tweaked some tendons in my right foot. In response I doubled down on the vitamin I (ibuprofen) and laced my boot as tightly as possible.

We’re camped at a pond, so the water near shore isn’t cold enough to help decrease the swelling. I’m using my compression sock instead. We’ll have a verdict in the morning.

The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a series of huts throughout the White Mountains. Our goal today was to reach Lonesome Lake hut, 1.9 miles from here. We realized we couldn’t do it before dark, so we called it a day.

Normally the huts cost $125 per night for a bunk, dinner and breakfast. Thru hikers can to work for stay, or as we were told tonight, stay (as AMC members) for a highly reduced rate. We also can buy meals during the day. The huts could be a real bonus if everything works out.

Rain is forecast overnight. Rocky trails are dangerous. We’ll see in the morning.






Cooking dinner at Kinsman Pond

Can’t wait for Monday

Mizpah Hut Campground, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,846.3, Saturday June 21, 2014 — It’s like rush hour out here!

Good weather and low humidity are no friend of the thru hiker. Today the trail was traffic-jammed with weekenders. Tonight there’s almost nowhere to camp. Worse yet, I’m nearly in the shadow of Mt. Washington, the hiker magnet of the Whites.

Never thought these words would ever cross my lips , “Can’t wait for Monday!” That’s when the weekenders go away and the trail is ours alone for a few blessed days.

We took a bypass trail to Willey’s Store in Crawford Notch. There we had breakfast washed down with an ice cream sundae. We also stocked up on some protein bars and a chunk of fudge. Gotta have high octane energy when you need it.

The climb out of Crawford was strenuous, but not as challenging as it might have been compared to others we’ve done. Still, I averaged just under one MPH thanks to several hand-over-hand chunks of trail.

The view from the Webster Cliffs was, well check it out for yourself. The pics can do the talking.

Mizpah Hut was fully booked and the thru hiker work for stays taken. Consequently I’m in my tent in the adjoining campground. Swayed scored a work for stay.

I actually like the privacy and flexibility to curl up prior to hut lights out at ten. I’m lucky. Not many huts have nearby campgrounds.

One dismal discovery. The shock chords in my tent poles broke. That retards quick set up in the rain. 🙁

Tomorrow’s itinerary is up and over Mt. Washington to Madison Hut with clear weather and big views in the forecast.

Apologies. Due to WIFI issues. This blog was posted out of sequence.






Midnight raid

Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,544.6, Saturday May 25, 2014 — As darkness slipped its velvety cloak over the woods last night, the stars twinkled in a clear sky for the first time in three days.

The six of us at Tom Leonard Shelter drifted off to sweet dreamland shortly after hiker midnight with joyous anticipation of a clear day and dry rocks. It doesn’t get better than that out here.

Our sleep was shattered by ominous scratching noises. Now mind you that being inside a shelter is akin to the sound chamber of a guitar. Everything sounds loud.

These were loud. First thought: bear! Second thought: Why would a bear be scratching the walls of the shelter? That’s not where the food is. So we listened and turned on our headlamps.

Nada. We couldn’t see a thing, yet the persistent noise continued. Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t have scripted it better.

Enough already! I slipped my shoes on to go take a look. In the process I made some noise and the Poe-etic sounds ceased.

As my light swept the area around the shelter, the south end of a northbound porcupine could be seen as it waddled away. Mystery solved and drama over, we all returned to snoozing.

The porcupine sighting also explained a number of divots chunked out of the picnic table, the edges of the shelter bunks and the leading edge of the front platform. It appears they like the salt human touch leaves in the wood.

It was a long 20+ miles into Upper Goose Pond where an two story cabin offers hikers safe harbor, swimming and a free pancake breakfast. It’s run by volunteer caretakers and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Tomorrow will end just short of Dalton where my bruised feet will get a much needed day of rest. The weather was fabulous today and the walking worthwhile.