Sunday, December 27, 2009

Puppy Pacing: Slow-Hiking the AT Section 1 Part 3

When hiking, pacing is of the utmost importance, the slower the better. My hiking buddy Tara and I didn’t prepare ourselves in any rigorous way for our first outing on the Appalachian Trail. We expected to do penance for our foolishness. We expected pain. To avoid our comeuppance, we decided to pace ourselves. Some of us tend to push ourselves needlessly and heedlessly. This is bad.

Out of shape people are likely to do themselves an injury carrying a third of their body weight strapped to their backs for 8 hours. To avoid such nastiness, it is important to have a plan, or an excuse. On our first trip, Raleigh was our excuse. He was the perfect ploy, a puppy with tender little paws. (Yes, that is him pictured above. We are “resting.”) In our great concern for his tootsie-wootsies, we took a long break every 45 minutes or so. We’d unlace our boots, take off our socks and get some air between our toes. I’d prop my legs up on the nearest log (gotta love logs) and rest my back on my pack. We’d take a few deep breaths and stare up at the undersides of the leaves and bits of blue sky. Scandalous, I know.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Solstice: Hike or Watch TV

What better way to celebrate the winter solstice than hiking? Let the brisk cold air freeze your nostril hairs together. Wear several constrictive layers of long underwear. Pray for purchase as you crunch and slip over the unpredictable winter terrain.

Everyone should commune with nature on midwinter’s eve, unless you have a headache or you’re tired, in which case you should watch The Dark Crystal.

The reasons why one should watch this Jim Henson masterpiece are limitless, but for hikers and nature enthusiasts this epic film adventure holds special appeal.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Giant Mushrooms and Mad Scientists

You are hiking in the woods. Giant mushrooms attack. They are coming fast, red mushrooms with white dots. Thank goodness they seem compelled to travel in a straight line, single file like an old video game. As the menacing mushrooms float in for the attack, you crouch, muscles pulsing with anticipation. You leap and your legs fly whipping about in a round house super whammy kick fest. White puffy flesh flies; chunks rain down. You triumph.

It’s OK to harbor secret fantasies of invincibility, but they are fantasies. If you think you can really kick fungal ass so easily, you have some things to learn.What if you were not attacked by light and fluffy mushrooms but by one of the gelatinous, gooey indeterminant species? You can damage the indeterminant fungi but they’ll continue to grow. They can even envelope the living. Kick and scream all you like, but these rare mushrooms could grow right over you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Strolling the AT Section 1 Part 2: Accidental Paradise

In yesterday’s gripping post, Slow-Hiking the AT Section 1 Part 1, my hubris was hacked down before your very eyes. To add dramatic flair, I made it seem like we encountered nothing but toil and strife. By withholding some details I blew others way out of proportion, heh, heh. The focus of the story became the only two elements of the trip that could have been improved. In fact, what we found on our first AT excursion was near perfection.

We hiked southbound on a beautiful afternoon for a couple miles to some spot we saw on the map that had a shelter. I know it sounds boring, but I assure you we enjoyed it thoroughly. The mosquitoes were hibernating, but the late afternoon sun was warm enough to make Upper Goose Pond too appealing to resist. Swimming surrounded by the fall colors of New England is a most treasured indulgence.

Our trip was so idyllic it was unnerving.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Slow-Hiking the AT Section 1 Part 1: Hubris

“If you can’t be confident, be arrogant!” my math professor said. It was excellent advice. Yet I never managed to walk up to the chalkboard and write a proof with anything but dread and terror in my eyes and on my sleeve. It was, I believe, most unbecoming. Alas, at the time it was the best I could do. Though I do not posses the talent of summoning hubris on demand, I do parade around a fair bit of unfounded arrogance at odd times.

Unfortunately, I did so while packing for my first overnight hiking trip (AT in MA - Lee to Tyringham). “I won’t need this wussy camping pad,” I thought and tossed aside the heavily duct-taped blue foam. It is not surprising that my macho instinct kicked in. I have a long history of toughness-proving activities: riding red motorcycles, hitchhiking, eating roast guinea pig, wearing fishnets. All of these character building experiences bolstered my all important self-image as a badass (yet deceptively innocent looking) girrrl.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi Endorses My Method

Mahatma Gandhi believed that the ends do not justify the means (or so I have heard). He is most famous for applying this to India's struggle for independence. He condemned the use of violence to attain freedom. For hiking, we can extrapolate that one should not toil away in misery just to see sweeping vistas and panoramic splendor. One should only toil away in misery and pain if one finds at least a modicum of pleasure in it. I myself enjoy at little pain with my pleasure, but panoramic splendor just isn’t for me. Therefore, getting to the top of the mountain is inconsequential in the grand hiking scheme. (I know; I’m a rebel.)

I have been known to go to the tops of mountains but this is always a self-sacrificial homage to compromise. I suffer through being surrounded by open space and steep drop offs, in hopes that I’ll be humored on the way back down. On the descent I will doubtlessly be entranced by woodland sprites who’ll compel me to watch the light pass over fern fronds next to a babbling brook. Of course there will be a moss covered log or two. Rotting logs are my favorite, especially when they’re all fungusy.

On the topic of fungus, I’m on a mushroom quest. Regrettably the quest is in a sad state. I had such high hopes for my mushroom field guide, but beyond giving the common and scientific names, where it grows and a description, it really doesn't say much. I find this most irritating. I am generally quite content to make up my own names, thank you.

What I want to know is everything else. What that everything else might be is nicely summarized by this Science Friday interview of mycologist Roy Halling, president of the Mycology Society of America.

Yep, this is the kind of information I’d like to have… now I just have to get my fingers on more than a field guide.

[Note: If you want to know more about mushrooms, please check out the awesome blog written by Cornell's mycology department. I have also added a link to Science Friday, because they are just cool. Both are now listed in my "links of interest." I didn't photograph Gandhi. This particular photo is used so frequently that I can't imagine it is copyrighted. I hope this is true and that the piracy gods don't smite me.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking On the Wilderness Alone

Americans love stories about conquering nature. There are all kinds of famous books about surviving alone in the wilderness. I haven’t read them. As previously discussed, books are dangerous.

Keeping certain books closed is not always enough to safeguard from imprudent ideas. Some ideas sneak out of their books at night. They menace the unsuspecting and lurk about like mental ectoplasm. I must have walked through an errant pocket of the stuff once myself, for at one time I entertained fantasies in which I was alone. In case you have failed to insulate yourself from such notions, I offer you a cautionary tale.

Once upon a time there was a girl who had a week that needed killing. Semi-stranded in the southwest, she decided to go it alone. She set up a tent and lived on a creek with a can of sardines and some cheese. The first day she played harmonica in the early morning sun. She breakfasted and sat down to write postcards. All her postcards written, she looked around and could think of nothing better to do than launder her under things. She gathered them up and waded into the creek. A leech got her.”

Do not attempt such foolery, don’t go into the wilderness alone - there could be leeches. See the beatific picture at the top of this post? There could be leeches there too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Hiker’s Dress Code

1) Don’t dress like an REI or LLBean model. If you look “put together” you might as well wear sign saying, “I don’t belong here.” If you want to fit in, scrounge for your clothing, the geekier the better. This came surprisingly easy to me. Even on my first trip I probably fooled a couple of people on the trail into thinking I was a real hiker. I wore bright white long underwear with teal surfer shorts, a purple striped lycra tanktop and my light blue gardening visor. The one with little watering cans, trowels and hoes.

2) Display your ingenuity. Always tie things to the outside of your pack. (Unless you are day hiking – then you should carry only a mini-pack or if you’re really hip – a fanny pack). Tying things to the outside of your pack communicates ruggedness and resourcefulness, traits esteemed in the hiking community. What to tie on the outside of your pack? Sleeping pads, sandals, wet laundry, tortilla chips, a harmonica or a cello will do. Do not under any circumstances tie raw meat to the outside of your bag. It attracts wild animals and will potentially offend the real hikers (many of which are vegehoovians).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Just 2,134 Miles to Go – Section Strolling the AT

In a mere two and a half years, I’ve managed to hike 44 miles, an astonishing 2% of the way from Georgia to Maine. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. I’ve only gone 43.75 miles. But, I’m most definitely on the way to a major accomplishment.

Caution – Danger – Be Warned

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy website lists 32 published AT memoirs. The number of hikers completing the entire trail has roughly doubled every decade since the 70s. Obviously, these memoirs are contagious. The more people who hike the trail and live to tell, the more people hear about the AT. It’s an insidious process really.

One night at dinner, I found a thru-hiker had been deposited at my dining room table. She was a friend of a friend of a friend. Upon arriving she proceeded to eat a full portion of my beloved in-season brussels sprouts while declaring that they didn’t really “agree with” her. Unfortunately, I’d misplaced my BB gun.

Monday, November 30, 2009

With Henry It Was Love at First Sight

Or perhaps it was with Henrietta. When loving a caterpillar, does sex really matter? Technically, for identification purposes sex might be key, but in this case the “Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars” makes no mention of a difference between males and females of this species. It does, however, mention the beautiful shiny black face and thick lustrous hairs. Others may have white or cream hair, but Henrietta’s was yellow.

Yes, I’ve decided it’s Henrietta after all. Why not anthropomorphize on the racier side? Speaking of racier sides, Henrietta definitely has one. Little did I know it when I first laid eyes on her, but she is an American Dagger Moth.

Just the name gives me shivers. She is so bad ass. And I haven’t even told you about the pencils yet!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Dog or A Blog

My friend got a dog. My friend lost ten pounds. All of a sudden I wanted a dog too. Vanity motivates me to an embarrassing degree.

There I am, running through the woods in slow motion, smiling. Dog turns his big furry head and I can read his mind, “This is fun, let’s run together forever.” I think, “Yes, Dog, let’s run free forever." A glistening touch of perspiration on my brow refracts rainbows of light into the camera. Dog starts to do something strange with his backside, kind of hunkering down and quivering. Cut! I have to pick up warm fresh trailside deposits.

So, I hadn’t yet gone to the pound to find my own live-in personal trainer. I was innocently traipsing through the woods with my steadfast hiking buddy Tara. “You should write a blog, Annie,” she said. The topic of conversation previous to this frightening turn had been my speculative career as a writer. She said the words "write a blog” with apparent sincerity and a complete lack of malice.

I believe I stopped in my tracks. “No way. I would never blog."

Apparently this response angered my Muse. From that moment, I was a cursed