My Second Hiking Thriller–Mayhem along the Pacific Crest Trail

Available October 2016

Awol thriller-Available Oct 2016

This blog is about hiking, so it makes sense to me to introduce you to my newest Awol hiking thriller, Sierra. But first, I should back up a bit and tell you how these novels all started.

How does a retired Coca-Cola salesman living a quiet life near Boston, Massachusetts become an author of thrillers?  It all started in 2003 when I hiked the Appalachian Trail after taking an early retirement at age 60.  As I walked alone one day, I began to wonder “what if…?” and conjured up a serial killer loose on the trail, stalking other hikers. He collides with a Gulf War vet with PTSD who calls himself  “AWOL.”  That scenario became The Trail, my first novel published last year by Turner Publishing.  It’s doing well and has made Boston’s South Shore top-ten fiction listings several times.

This month, Sierra, the second novel in the series, releases. Sierra pits “Awol” against a drug cartel on the Pacific Crest Trail – which I’ve also hiked. I’m now working on the third novel in the series, set on the Continental Divide Trail. And I’m still hiking.

I hope my blog followers will check out Sierra. It’s available (as is The Trail) from bookstores as well as Amazon and other outlets. I’d love to hear from you about the novel. Thank you, and happy trails!

UntitledMA31117610-0015TheTrailcover4-30-15

The Triple Crown Hiking Trails

Continental Divide Trail-New Mexico

Continental Divide Trail-New Mexico

Hiking the A.T.

Appalachian Trail                      

        Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail-the High Sierra

Long-distance hikers commonly refer to America’s triple crown hiking trails. The pictures, top to bottom, follow the order below. If you want the newest (May 20, 2016) and best update of the Triple Crown I’ve seen, click here:  https://marmot.com/love-the-outside/the-lowdown-on-the-triple-crown-of-hiking?

Appalachian Trail (AT)  This is the grand daddy. It runs through 14 states from Georgia to Maine and is 2178 miles long. Many aspiring thru-hikers start with this trail. Most begin in Georgia, in Spring,  hoping to follow seasonal weather as they plod north. You should allow six months to hike the AT. By general consent, the toughest parts are the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Mahoosucs in Maine. It is still the  most popular long-distance hiking trail in America–maybe the world.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)  Incredibly scenic and gaining in popularity, the PCT runs from the Mexican border into British Columbia, Canada. It is 2650 miles long, longer than the AT, but most thru-hikers finish it in less than six months. This may be due to the long, wide, scenic traverses along the “crests” of mountain chains, which make for easier hiking. Where much of the AT is dense, the PCT is more open. The PCT includes part of the Mojave Desert, Yosemite, and the Cascade Mountains.

Continental Divide Trail (CDT)  Still a work in progress (almost complete) this rigorous but rewarding trail also extends from the Mexican border to Canada. It is about 3100 miles long and has a spectacular run through the Rocky Mountains. Navigation skills–map and compass–are needed to thru-hike this trail. Many sections are not well marked and one needs to constantly focus on bearing to avoid getting lost–lest you end up like the bones above, which I hiked by in southern New Mexico.

For a thorough description of these three trails, I suggest the book Hiking the Triple Crown, by Karen Berger.

The Pacific Crest Trail

new-background.jpg

Crater Lake-Oregon

Crater Lake-Oregon

For awesome beauty and majesty, nothing I’ve hiked compares to the Pacific Crest Trail. Parts of other trails may be as scenic, but for long stretches, such as the PCT’s course through Yosemite, it is, for me, incomparable. All these pictures are from my PCT hike and there were scores of others I could have picked that were just as impressive.

Crater Lake in Oregon is a keeper. Of course all the High Sierra is magnificent. Even the simple act of crossing the Bridge of the Gods, which connects Oregon to Washington is awesome on a nice day. As one walks the PCT over this bridge, just look down at the mighty Columbia River below. You’ll see paddle steamers, sails, and para-sails.

I’ll admit the southern most portion of the PCT is dry and forbidding, but even here the trail is different. I’ll never forget looking up at a panoramic night sky when I camped near the Anza-Borrego desert. I was puzzled by what looked like a large cloud looming over me. Until I realized it was the Milky Way!

Put the Pacific Crest Trail on your bucket list. And remember, you can do it in sections. You don’t have to thru-hike it. Happy trails!

why hike      sierra lake      raging river     sierra brook

My Second Hiking Thriller–Mayhem along the Pacific Crest Trail

Available October 2016

Awol thriller-Available Oct 2016

This blog is about hiking, so it makes sense to me to introduce you to my newest Awol hiking thriller, Sierra. But first, I should back up a bit and tell you how these novels all started.

How does a retired Coca-Cola salesman living a quiet life near Boston, Massachusetts become an author of thrillers?  It all started in 2003 when I hiked the Appalachian Trail after taking an early retirement at age 60.  As I walked alone one day, I began to wonder “what if…?” and conjured up a serial killer loose on the trail, stalking other hikers. He collides with a Gulf War vet with PTSD who calls himself  “AWOL.”  That scenario became The Trail, my first novel published last year by Turner Publishing.  It’s doing well and has made Boston’s South Shore top-ten fiction listings several times.

This month, Sierra, the second novel in the series, releases. Sierra pits “Awol” against a drug cartel on the Pacific Crest Trail – which I’ve also hiked. I’m now working on the third novel in the series, set on the Continental Divide Trail. And I’m still hiking.

I hope my blog followers will check out Sierra. It’s available (as is The Trail) from bookstores as well as Amazon and other outlets. I’d love to hear from you about the novel. Thank you, and happy trails!

UntitledMA31117610-0015TheTrailcover4-30-15

Speed Records on Trails: Good idea or bad?

Appalachian Trail sunrise in Maine's mountains

Appalachian Trail, Georgia's Springer Mountain

A.T. in fourteen states

Hiking the A.T.

Mt. Katahdin-Maine

Not that long ago, Associated Press ran an article about a woman who’d just completed hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes! Then last year, a runner shaved several hours off that time. Now we learn that a new record has been set. An ultra runner has just completed the A.T. in 45 days, 22 hours, 38 minutes.

While I’m in awe of these accomplishments, I’m wondering why they do this. What is the logic or meaning behind it? The article states at the site above that she never ignored the beauty of the 2,180-mile trek from Maine to Georgia. But did she stop to smell the wildflowers, rest by waterfalls, take the time to absorb the landscapes of nature, take the time to observe animals in their habitats? Bombing along at an average of 47 miles a day, I doubt it.

“Fastest is so relative,” the young lady states, “…what are you not going to see at three miles per hour?” That’s like saying, I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace yesterday, every word, so what could I have missed?

Maybe I don’t get it. Many others have tried for speed records thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. And I remember reading about one man who thru-hiked the triple crown (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail), about 7800 miles, in one year! Think of all that he glimpsed but didn’t experience. How much did he really see and absorb in the Rockies, Yosemite, the Sierras?

For all you speed demons, slow down. And take the time to smell the flowers.

Miscellaneous: In my post about cleaning sleeping bags, Carol Chubb of Massachusetts suggests throwing several tennis balls into the dryer with the sleeping bag. This will help break up any down clumps. Thanks, Carol.

Hiker-Hobble: Handling Knee Problems

Hiking the Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Falling Waters Trail–New Hampshire

On any extended hike, you risk knee problems. And, as mentioned in an earlier post, if you hike without trekking poles, you are asking for a knee problem. What do you do when a knee, shin, or leg begins to fall apart? This happened to me six weeks into my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

What frustrated me was that I’d used my poles religiously. Further, I had read that an A.T. thru-hiker is at his or her physical peak at the six-week point. After that, it’s a struggle, the book said, to take in enough nutritious food to replace the calories you burn every day. So I wasn’t happy that now I had to baby a shin that felt like a spike was being driven through it.

I did two things wrong: One, I ignored the first signs of discomfort. I was at my physical peak and felt the growing shin pain in my right leg would pass. I kept hiking sun-up to sun-down.

Two, I still kept hiking when I began favoring the other leg. Hikers call this hiker-hobble. I figured I could tough it out. Bad idea, and I had to get off the trail.

I did three things right: One, I went to the nearest clinic for an evaluation. X-rays determined that there wasn’t a stress fracture. Nevertheless, I was told to stop hiking immediately; it would only get worse, the nurse said.

Two, I did exactly what she told me to do. Stay off the leg; bathe it in warm to hot water, then ice it, three times a day; use an ointment like Ben-Gay. I got the cheapest room I could find that had a bathtub.

Three, I started out slowly when I went back to the A.T. one week later.

Although I’d lost my hiking buddies, and knew I’d never catch them, I realized I was lucky. I found out later that some hikers who had developed knee injuries never made it back that season. On my first day back, I hiked only three miles. I’d felt twinges and immediately set up camp. The next day I went five miles before twinges in my shin acted up again. In a few more days I was up to twelve miles and the twinges had left me completely.

The big lesson I learned: If you want to avoid hiker-hobble and worse, reduce your mileage and rest your legs at the first signs of discomfort.

Tip: Before an extended hike, do a shakedown with all your equipment.

IMG_0187

Before leaving on an extended hike, do yourself a favor–take a multi-night shakedown hike with all your equipment.

Unless you hike overnight several times a year, don’t try to wing it. And if you have new equipment, give it a test run. Set up your tent under trail conditions and sleep in it. The best way to make sure that you will sleep comfortably, is to test your pad and bag, and your sleep wear, on an overnight. Fire up that stove, whether it’s old or new. If you bought a new GPS unit, now is the time to learn how to use it.

During shakedown, you can organize your pack and gear the way you want it, so you’ll be ready to roll when you go on that long hike. You will be able to act quickly when the weather turns. You will be surprised at what you learn on a shakedown hike. Why doesn’t this food taste right? Should I bring seasoning? Is this water filter going to work, or do I want another option? How could I forget my packets of hot-chocolate? Yikes–I didn’t bring band-aids! I can never find my head lamp. I’m always losing my map.

You get the idea; it’s better to get the kinks worked out ahead of time. Or would you rather look confused and befuddled in front of your kids, the guys, your significant other?

Happy trails!         

Hiking Tip-bottle clip

Hiking tip--water bottle clipBackpacking and Camping tip: water bottle clip

Ever had to twist and reach to grab your water bottle? Ever had trouble slipping a canteen back into your pack without having to take the backpack off?

Hiking Tip: Use a bottle clip.

The green clip you see in the pictures fits snuggly around the necks of water or soda bottles. Look closely and you can see a thick black elastic, which keeps the container secure. I’ve hiked thousands of miles with this clip, and I love its convenience; my water hangs right from my pack belt, at my side.

In the PCT desert areas, I had four plastic water bottles clipped to my pack belt. For hikers who use a different hydration system, such as CamelBak, the clip may not be appealing, but I’ve seen even these folks carrying a spare bottle. I think most long-distance hikers go with plastic bottles to reduce pack weight. Other hikers may stick with canteens, or use wide mouth Nalgene bottles. Use whatever works for you, but a clip like this is light, inexpensive, easy, and convenient. That’s also true for the common plastic bottle.

I was able to order these “Quick Draw Bottle Clips” right off the internet. But now the site has disappeared. I did see them in a hiking store in New Hampshire. If anyone out there knows of a new web site, please alert me.

 

Before You Hike, Leave Critical Information

Vernal Fall in Yosemite...

Vernal Fall–image via Wikipedia

This continues a string of posts about hiking safely. Out west, extra snowmelt, combined with storms, led to deaths of hikers. A climber slipped while climbing the famous Half Dome in the rain. Hikers drowned trying to cross rivers. Backpackers were swept over Vernal Falls in Yosemite.

In New England and upstate New York, Tropical Storms, such as Irene, have contributed to problems for hikers and backpackers. However, there have been many search and rescue calls in New York’s Adirondacks in all seasons. Heart attacks, capsizings, drownings, falls, and lost hikers keep searchers and rescuers busy.

As I read through the reports, one bit of advice came to mind: Don’t try to do too much, too soon, too fast. I’ve been guilty of this too, and I’ve paid for it. Rushing in Virginia just so I could make it to a post office and pick up a care package before the P.O. closed for the weekend, cost me an extra week on the Appalachian Trail.

As I dug deeper into the reports, it was clear that some victims were not physically or mentally prepared to tackle so much. Extra snowmelt in the West should have meant extra caution and revised plans. In other accounts, hikers had left scattered information about their routes and destinations to loved ones. When they were expected to return and didn’t, families had to try to piece things together and scramble. Don’t forget, cell phones aren’t reliable in the wilderness.

This brings me to the planner and report forms at the bottom. I scanned the forms from the Adirondack Newspaper, Embark. These simple forms can make life easier for a lot of people and give you, the hiker, peace of mind as well. Searchers need specifics; rescuers need vital information.

Don’t forget to take it easy out in the wilds. Life is too short–enjoy it.

Backcountry search and rescue reports for hikers

Search and Rescue Reports–provided by DEC

Maps–Don’t hike without one

Map reading necessary in Rocky Mountains on Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail

Remember that hiker who was injured and lost in the Oregon woods? She had broken her leg and spent three days and nights alone. The available details were posted here on August 9th. Turns out that the injured girl and her boyfriend had become separated for a different reason (a spat), which explains how she really got lost—not by merely looking for a better place to set up a tent. See the follow-up article here.

Note what she says about maps. “My biggest mistake was failing to review maps of the area with my boyfriend before the trip.”

Besides proper clothing, water, and nourishment, you should always bring a map, or some type of field guide, when you hike. Have a map of where you will start, where you intend to go, and where you will finish. I keep my maps ready to see and protected in a transparent zip-loc bag. If I plan to follow a particular trail, I hi-lite it in yellow ahead of time. And when I invite my friends to hike, I provide extra maps, should we become separated.

Here’s another idea to avoid getting lost by Tom Mangan, who writes the hiking blog Two-Heel Drive. The ubiquitous digital camera can save the day.  “If the trailhead has a map of the general area you’re hiking . . . just take a picture of the map, then use your camera’s playback function and zoom into the area where you are hiking.” There are other excellent ideas on how to avoid getting lost in his post.

Easy for me to say, but work together when you hike with others. Arguments and disputes can happen, but if you are out in the wilds, try to suck it up and join forces, so you don’t get in a jam. In any event, bring maps. You wouldn’t want to hike in areas shown in the pictures without maps.

Hikers, backpackers must use maps on long-distance trails

CDT-New Mexico