A Look Back on 2014

I think it was in 2010 when I hit my highest body weight to date that I decided I had to stop fooling around with my life and focus on my health, both physically and mentally. I started training for a half marathon and dabbled in Buddhism. That year I teamed up with my wife to run the Vermont City Marathon relay (we both ran 13.1 miles of it). That started the ball rolling for more and more extreme activities in which I could partake to motivate my daily exercise.

In 2012 I ran my first full marathon (the Sugarloaf Marathon), completed a Tough Mudder mud run and (due to my increased appetite in hiking) attempted my first Presidential Traverse.

2012 Tough Mudder, Mt. Snow, Vermont

2012 Tough Mudder, Mt. Snow, Vermont

In 2013 things shifted more towards hiking as I completed the Pemigewasset Loop and the Presidential Traverse and started to seriously take on the New England 4000 Footers.

2013 Pemi Loop, Bondcliff

2013 Pemi Loop, Bondcliff

As this year winds down, I wanted to take a minute to reminisce on all that I have accomplished in 2014. One thing that I’ve taken away from starting this blog is that I appreciate all of the adventures that I’ve taken this year. I think by writing them down I’ve ingrained the activity in my memory and it affords me the opportunity of reliving the experience whenever I like. I highly suggest that everyone does the same, whether it is done publicly or privately.

Snack Break in Baxter Park, 2014

Snack Break in Baxter Park, 2014

I hiked 59 different peaks in four different states in 2014. I climbed 25 different peaks of the New England 4000 Footers, 15 of which were for the first time. Below is a list of the hikes and activities that stand out the most to me:

2014 has been an incredible year for me in many regards. I’ve had no shortage of adventures and as a result I’ve been a happier person on a day-to-day basis. I look forward to repeating the same in 2015 and possibly adding a few over-the-top adventures to test myself and share with you.

Nostalgia is a necessary thing, I believe, and a way for all of us to find peace in that which we have accomplished, or even failed to accomplish.
—R.A. Salvatore

References:
Pemigewasset Loop FAQ.” davidalbeck.com. David Albeck. Web. 18 December 2014.
Presidential Traverse.” earthlink.net. EarthLink. Web. 18 December 2014.
Sugarloaf Marathon.” sugarloaf,com. Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. Web. 18 December 2014.
Tough Mudder.” toughmudder.com. Tough Mudder, Inc. Web. 18 December 2014.
Vermont City Marathon.” vermontcitymarathon.org. RunVermont. Web. 18 December 2014.

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2 Days of Trail Work with the AMC

In the middle of October three coworkers and I volunteered two days with the Appalachian Mountain Club to do some trail maintenance. We met Thursday night in North Conway, New Hampshire, at Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewery for dinner and then drove to Barnes Field Group Campground for the night. We enjoyed age-old practices of beer by the fire and watching shooting stars.

Early the next morning our AMC representative showed up to lead us to the trailhead from which we’d set off to work. His name was Jack and we quickly started referring to him as AMC Jack. The trail we would be working on was the Carlo Col Trail near Berlin, New Hampshire. Carlo Col Trail is a yellow blazed trail connecting the longest and bumpiest dirt road I’ve ever been on to the Appalachian Trail right on the border of New Hampshire and Maine.

As we prepared to start hiking in and got briefed on safety the weather began to turn for the worse, rain was on the forecast for that day and evening. We hiked in a half a mile and dropped our tools at the first site marked for maintenance. It was a small section of trail where several inches of mud hid below a thin layer of leaves.

Trail Repair Gear

Trail Repair Gear: Pulaski, rock bars, mattocks, loppers, shovels, helmets and gloves

With the weather turning we decided to hike up to the Carlo Col Shelter and drop our packs and personal gear. The hike up was slow with all of the weight we were carrying and we got to the shelter late in the morning. We claimed our spots in the empty shelter and dug out the bear box which had been stowed for the season.

Carlo Col Shelter

Carlo Col Shelter

After a short snack break we headed back down to where we left our tools. The process for turning a muddy section of the trail into a passable section was simple yet required a lot of hard work and coordination. Simply put, we wanted to create a “corridor of sacrifice” through the protected land. We wanted that corridor to be as narrow as possible (to limit impact) and the best way to do so was to keep the trail dry. Even though people hike in bad weather and many wear proper foot protection, if they come upon a wet or muddy section they will walk through the forest and around the mud. This leads to a widening of the corridor of sacrifice and sometimes new trails. I know this to be true, because I have done so myself.

The primary way that we dried out the trail was to dig out the mud and replace it with very large boulders (we’re talking 200-500+ pounds) and to provide an easy route for water to drain off the trail with trenches and rock walls. We scoured the area around the wet trail for large rocks and then started to dig around the rock to get a feel for its size and shape. The rocks had to be large enough that they would not shift when stepped on or by frost in the winter. And, the rock should have a nice flat surface that would make a good foot tread.

Once a proper rock was discovered, two or three of us continued to dig up the rock and then leverage it out of its hole and to the trail using 18lb rock bars. This is where the coordination and teamwork came into play. The rocks were of such a massive weight that there was no way for one person to roll the rock to the trail. One or two people could lever the rock up partway and then the third would take a bite between the rock and the ground, wedging the rock in place. Then, the other two could reset their rock bars and continue to rotate the rock.

Slowly levering a large boulder into place with rock bars

Slowly levering a large boulder into place with rock bars

We also learned methods of turning rocks on a vertical axis by shoving the rock bar under one side of a rock and “rowing it,” moving the rock bar in a motion similar to one that is used to row a boat. Also, wedging the rock bar at the right angle at the right time could turn the rock’s course as it completed its roll.

While the rocks were being moved, someone else was digging up the soft, loamy soil (mud) and replacing it if possible with any soil that had a higher composition of clay or gravel. When the rock was ready to be placed in the trail, a conicle hole was formed in roughly the same shape as the rock. AMC Jack explained it like putting ice cream on top of a cone. The walls of the hole needed to be tapered so that the rock made contact with the walls at as many points as possible.

Once the rock was levered in place, it was rowed into the correct angle and then gravelly soil and small rocks were packed around the rock with the handle of a mattock or Pulaski. This was continued until the soggy section of trail was replaced with rocks spaced at a little less than an average person’s stride.

When we had the first section of trail completed we took a break for lunch. As we were eating a group of teenage girls headed up the trail toward Carlo Col Shelter. The shelter was to be their basecamp through the weekend for some hiking in the area. We informed them that our stuff was in the shelter and they were free move it aside to make room for themselves. Thinking like Web developers, we used this opportunity to test the usability of our newly repaired section of trail. All of the girls used our recently placed rocks to traverse the muddy area.

After lunch we started in on a larger section of mud a quarter of a mile further up the trail. The new section was much soggier and we had to source rocks from up a steep slope bordering the trail. As we started to work the rain began and it wasn’t long before we were up to our knees in muck and making more of a mess than improving the trail. At a point AMC Jack was up to his elbows in mud, using his arms as a shovel. He was very passionate about his work.

We decided that we should knock off early and made our way back up to Carlo Col Shelter. By the time we got there we were thoroughly soaked and the group of teenage girls has settled into the bottom half of the shelter and set up a kitchen on one of the nearby platforms under a tarp. A coworker and I had decided earlier that we would tent out on some of the platforms rather than crowd into the shelter with everyone else. We set to work pitching our tents in the downpour and howling wind.

Somehow I managed to get all of my gear and a change of clothes into my tent without everything getting soaked (it helped that my air pad covers the entire footprint of my tent). After making some dinner at the shelter I retired to my tent and changed my clothes in the tiny space between the fly and outer wall of the tent. I crawled into my sleeping bag to read, warm and dry despite the monster gusts of wind outside and the mid-shin depth of rain around the tent platform.

I woke in the morning and enjoyed a very satisfying breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. While I ate, I sat cross-legged on my sleeping bag reading and looking out into the wild while the previous evening’s storm shed the last drips from its swollen clouds. Once we had all eaten, packed up, and re-stowed the bear box, we hiked back down to our second maintenance site.

We spent the morning and into early afternoon wrapping up that section of the trail, which included moving the largest boulder we attempted (one that AMC Jack said was in the top 5 largest boulders he’d moved by means of rock bar).

Intense Selfie with Giant Boulder

Intense Selfie with Giant Boulder

Once we completed that section of trail it was early afternoon so we decided to clean up and head back to the trailhead. On hiking back out we discovered that the small brooks we had stepped over the day before had become mad rushing torrents. We had to carefully pick our routes across the brooks while carrying all of the heavy equipment.

Swollen brook after all the rain

Swollen brook after all the rain

Back at our vehicles we gave our thanks to AMC Jack who had been a very enthusiastic host and made our way back to Maine. My biggest take-away from the two days of volunteering with the AMC (aside from how slow and difficult it was) was an increased awareness of the amount of work and thought put into the trails. What I took for meandering trails with randomly scattered rocks and the occasional makeshift foot bridge and water runoff actually involved a lot of hard work and planning to keep the trail as dry as possible while limiting the impact to the wilderness around it. I swear from this point forward I will walk through mud and water in the trail, rather than leave the corridor of sacrifice.

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Appalachian Trail in miles: 2,189
AT in feet: 11,557,920
Total length of trail we work on in feet: ~65
Number of feet maintained per man-hour (our rate): 1
Number of AT volunteers in 2014: 5,617
Number of AT volunteer hours in 2014: 241,936
Percentage of AT maintained in 2014 at our rate: 0.05%

References:
About the Trail.” appalachiantrail.org. Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Web. 24 January 2015.
New Official Appalachian Trail Mileage Is 2,189.2 Miles.” chattanoogan.com. The Chattanoogan.com. Web. 24 January 2015.
Volunteers Donate over 200,000 Hours in Maintaining Appalachian Trail.” huntingtonnews.com. HuntingtonNews.com. Web. 24 January 2015.

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Winter Hike: Kearsarge Mountain North

Hike date: 23 February 2014

Each person has their own way of dealing with tragedies. Some collapse upon themselves, others lash out at those around them, some go on like nothing happened. While I’ve had the fortune of never experiencing a life-altering tragedy, I do know how I deal with small tragedies. I take a walk, often in nature, in order to process what happened and come to terms with the consequences.

When a tragedy struck my small community, I escaped to the White Mountains, found a mountain to climb and spent the entire hike processing what happened, remembering the person who was lost and tried (I’m sure with no success) to understand what the family members were going through.

Kearsarge Mountain North is a popular hike with its trailhead right in North Conway. Since its parking lot is small and the day was mild, I felt lucky to find a spot when I arrived. As I was checking over my pack a couple walked down the trail. I asked about the conditions, afraid the trail would be sloppy due to the warm temperature. They said the trail was fine as long as I had traction. As they got into their car to depart I looked at their bare-booted feet and wondered how far up the trail they actually went.

The first few hundred feet of trail went through private property. Since it was fairly flat and the trail was still stable in the cold shadow of the trees, I bare-booted the first quarter mile or so. As I came around a bend in the trail I was surprised by a skier coming down the trail directly toward me. I quickly hopped off the trail as he passed by with a muttered “thanks.” If I had been wearing my snowshoes, I probably wouldn’t have been agile enough to get out of the trail in time to prevent a collision. It made me think of a recent post for Cannon Mountain on New England Trail Conditions where someone was complaining about how the skiers should not follow the hiking trails down because it is dangerous and it messes up the trail for snowshoers (the same argument that cross-country skiers make about snowshoers). As I stopped to strap on my snowshoes I made a mental to keep an eye out for oncoming skiers, luckily I saw no others.

kearsarge-forest

Forest and boulders

I have had asthma my entire life, but these days it only bothers me when I exercise in cold weather. Typically I run all winter long and my breathing is not an issue as it seems to condition to the cold weather. This year I have been very lackadaisical with my running, and my asthma has been an issue. I got about a mile into this hike and my breathing was really rough. I stopped to consider going back to the car, but I rested for a few breaths and looked around me. I was standing in a quiet forest with a ravine to my left and the mountain to my right. The sun had cut through the clouds and was lighting the snow all around me. Scattered through the trees were large glacial boulders and beyond the ravine I could see Bartlett Mountain with blue skies above it. The breather was just what I needed for my lungs to get acclimated. Shortly after starting up the trail again my lungs loosened and I had no further problems.

I continued up the mountain and said hello to a father and son hiking down from the summit with crampons on their feet. Soon after I broke out of the trees for a spell. It was nice to have a limited view of North Conway to the south but the exposure to the sun was making the trail soft and there were many spots where bare-booters had post-holed. The trail soon dove back into the trees to swing north of the summit before switching back toward it. A group of about 5 people and a dog stepped off the trail to let me pass. A few had crampons but most were just wearing boots. When they stepped off the trail they went up to their waists in snow.

kearsarge-summit

Fire tower on the summit

I made short time of the last mile of the trail and broke out onto the summit. There was a thin layer of ice coating everything, so I made my way carefully up to the fire tower. The wind was gusting pretty hard, so I took off my snowshoes at the foot of the stairs and put them and my pack in the lee of the concrete footing at the base of the tower. A caution if you visit this summit (and probably any summit with a fire tower) in the winter, when the wind gusted it broke sheets of ice free of the tower and showered them down on anyone below.

kearsarge-washington

Presidentials from the fire tower

I made my way to the top of the tower and walked around to the lee-side where I had a great view of the Presidentials and Carter Notch. At this time the group of people with the dog had made it to the summit and there was an older fellow taking advantage of the warmth inside the fire tower. I checked my cell service and found that I had a good connection. I always let my wife know my exact plans when I go on solo trips, including any emergency exit strategies. I also check in with her at the end of the drives to and from my destination and when I reach the summit and back to the trailhead (if I have connection). I received a text from my wife saying that she was at the memorial service and I suffered a few moments of guilt. Here I was enjoying a wonderful view of my favorite place in the world and she and the rest of our community was mourning a sudden loss.

kearsarge-long-island

Looking toward Long Island

I turned away from the view of the Presidentials and peered off to the southeast where I could just see (or pretend that I could see) the Maine coast. I again tried to understand the recent events and feel for those who were hurting the most. I was interrupted by the group’s dog, so I made my way into the fire tower to warm up.

I usually make some small talk with folks I meet on the trail and on summits, surprising I’m sure to those who know me personally. I’m not one for small talk, or to talk at all unless I’ve had a few beers. I feel kindred to those on the trail in a way that I’ve never felt to those who like to gossip at home or talk sports at work. But, this time I was feeling too introverted to ask the normal trail questions (“Where are you hiking from?”, “Have you hiked this mountain before?”, “How do you like those [insert gear product name]?”, etc.). I merely warmed up and then headed back down the fire tower, downed a Clif Bar and donned my snowshoes.

I left the summit at about the same time as the older fellow and caught up to him before the clearing a mile below the summit. I stopped and we talked a bit about winter hiking. He was a troupe leader and gave me some tips on a few local mountains which have much less traffic and great trails. After leaving him I did not see another person. The trail was much softer from the warm afternoon, but the hike down was quick and without event.

I later found out that the person our community lost had plans to explore Acadia National Park this summer and climb Cadillac Mountain, many times. I felt a sense of relief at hearing this as it made the trip to the mountains feel a proper send-off to him, in my own way. Also, when I got back to the island I had the opportunity to see air lanterns lit and released in memory of the person lost and spend a short time with the family and close friends. It was a time I will not soon forget as so many of our small community came together and lit a little happiness during a dark time. There was an amount of support and love that can only be found in a small, self-sufficient community. If I had stayed home that day, I probably would have missed out.

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
—John Muir

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 3268′
Elevation Gain: 2588′
Distance: 6.2 miles
Book Time: 3:40
Actual Time: 3:05
Temperature: 45° F
Wind: 2mph WNW (10mph with gusts on the summit)
Weather: partly sunny

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
Mount Kearsarge North (Mount Washington Valley).” summitpost.org. SummitPost.org. Web. 19 March 2014.
New Hampshire Hiking Trail Conditions.” newenglandtrailconditions.com. NewEnglandTrailConditions.com. Web. 20 March 2014.

Wanderlust

From an early age we’re told how important it is to be a functional part of society. That what we make of our lives is what’s important. That hard work equals big rewards.

It’s the American way: do well in school, get a scholarship, land a career job, climb that corporate ladder, start and support a family, move into the suburbs. This is what life is about. Hold your head up high, you’re making a difference!

Unfortunately, I was never a great student. I was never able correlate the repetitious worksheets and textbook chapters to peace of mind and future financial security. For that reason (and many others that would cause far too much of a degradation to go into), I found myself trying to figure out how to not only take care of myself financially, but a family as well.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

The solution was, of course, to follow that American dream. I went back to college and got serious about a career. After four years of working full time, going to school online at night and raising a family I found myself at the foundation of a quality career.

But, in the years since I’ve found myself going to Google Images and searching for marvels such as Torres del Paine, Denali, Antelope CanyonAuyantepui. I had a creeping feeling that Google would be the closest I’d get to these marvels living the Career Life.

Baxter Peak

My Brother and Me on Baxter Peak

Then a few years ago my older brother and I started hiking together. We did Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire and Baxter Peak in Maine. As we continued to explore the wild and discussed the burdens of life, I came to a realization: you can plan your life to the smallest details and try to build a career, but in the end you control very little. Life is not about financial success and security, but about enjoying opportunities as they arise.

I found that there is a part of me that only feels fulfilled when I hit the trail. A stirring in the chest that only presents itself when a craggy summit is in view. A release from the weight of the daily grind and expected responsibility. As this new found part of me developed I began to question the logic of waking up each day just to spend it sitting in a big metal building staring at a screen of code.

So begin the the tales of my restless feet and the inner battle to apease my desire to explore the world while still supporting a family and not disappointing those who may rely on me.

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, A race that can’t sit still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Their’s is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don’t know how to rest.”
– Robert W. Service