Author Archives: Doc Spice

You Put The Load Right On Me

For hikers, our packs our the center of our lives. We carry every single thing we have in our packs, and how much you like your pack can make your hike a wonderful thing or a terrible time.
I was talking with a very good friend of mine who is on her way to the Philippines in two weeks, and she asked my advice on her pack choice. She could either take her older external frame pack, a massive 80 Liter item, or a smaller internal frame 70L. She’s not really doing much backpacking, it’s more for base camp haul in/haul out – but she’s still worrying about it quite a bit.

So we talked about it – hikers can talk for hours about their gear. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to packs is to put all your stuff in it, and see how it carries the load – in other words you do the opposite of what comes naturally, which is buy the bag first and fill it up.

I hiked with a Granite Gear Blaze 60L pack in 2013 for over 2,000 miles. By the end of the trail, the back plate had broken completely once, was shattering a second time, it had a hole in the main compartment and water bottle web was completely gone. But it got me to the end, and I still use it today.

More trustworthy then the girlfriend

The spine is cracked as well in this picture

This pack took me all the way to the end. It never let me down completely ever. I didn’t always treat it as well as I should have, and it didn’t always treat me well either, but it was good. It shared my adventures and came with me everywhere.

Something my friend said though made me think.

I use the same logic when picking a mate. I see how they fit in my life and how they carry their load.

True statement. Finding someone to share your life with, and picking a backpack out are similar things if you think about it!

  • Packs carry your life when hiking long distances. Your mate carries your heart. Both are capable of damaging you if they fail in their duties.
  • Packs can be flawed of have a defect, just like your mate. When your pack breaks, you try and fix it – always carry your needle and thread, duct tape. Make-up sex and long conversations are the equivalent I think in relationships.
  • Packs can come with guarantees, showing how much the company is willing to stand behind their product. Your mate can come with a guarantee too – in the form of a life-long commitment to you – either via marriage, another social contract or just a promise.
  • You get to pick your pack, the same way you get to pick your mate – out of hundreds of other options. Some feel good, others don’t and you never really know if you’ve made the right choice until a hundred miles in.

In the end though, people out preform packs in one major area – they can grow and change. They may get worn out with you, but they don’t get thrown away – not really. Not the good ones.

But then I don’t throw out any of my packs either – I’ve sent a few off in Viking funerals, but I’ve never tossed one.

I have too much respect for my pack – broken or not

 

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4153 Miles in a Year

I met City Slicker on my 4th day on trail in 2012.

“I remember meeting you, you had that massive 50 pound pack and you had a 20 degree bag in the middle of July in Maine. You. Were. An. Idiot.”

I was. I knew it – what I thought I had known about the AT wasn’t anything like what it really was. I had thought that the camping experience I had would prepare me for what I was doing, where I was going. So very wrong.

City Slicker was hiking north to Katahdin with a young man named Figs. They were meeting Fig’s grandfather at the end so they could climb together, in three days. They were going to push 3 back to back 25 mile days – which is a challenge in Maine. We had all gotten to the shelter at the same time, right as night was falling. I was amazed as the unpacked their food – fig newtons, jerky, Oreos  and two lipton sides apiece. A an easy 1200 calorie meal, and they both were still hungry afterwards.

I stood in awe of them, and listened to their casual and practiced chatter as they ate and did their camp chores. I learned that City Slicker was going to ping-pong and head south from Hanover in a few weeks, just so he could keep hiking. They told me about where to stop in NH – Chet’s place was penciled into my guide book, and Rob Bird’s number for Dalton Mass was added. Important thing – like you have to be at the door of On The Edge Farm in VT if you want a fresh pie. The important things. And the next morning, they hiked out with a nod and twinkle in their eyes- they were almost done.

Going through the Trail-side museum - City Slicker knew all the history behind the animals.

Going through the Trail-side museum – City Slicker knew all the history behind the animals.

Skip forward a bit, some weeks passed and my pack got lighter, my days got longer and I thought I knew more about the trail. I did a fast 14 miles into the RPH shelter in NY for an early day, because a huge front was moving in and I had heard you could order pizza at the shelter.

I wander in and there is a thin man there, long beard and sporting a fresh mohawk not unlike my own, which I had gotten at Rob Bird’s hostel, the Birdcage. I said a hello and snagged the shelter log.

“Oh City Slicker has been here. Man I was hoping to catch up to him.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Oh I met him back in Maine when he was going north, and I was just starting. He had said he was going to yo-yo back down to Springer, and he seemed pretty cool.”

“Well you’re in luck – because that’s who I am!”

I hadn’t even recognized him. He remembered me though – and he had never expected to see me again. “Tough bastard to make it all the way down here.”

We hiked together for awhile – he told me all kinds of stories from the trail and his home of Boston. He’d been hiking for almost 10 years on the AT, and been constantly on trail for the last 4 or so. In the winter he used to go out to Colorado and ski, but he had decided this year to just hike through the winter. Just because.

I saw City Slicker again in 2013 at Trail Days, and then again at Harpers Ferry. He hiked together for a bit again we talked. He called me through the winter when I was off trail, and again when I finished this year. His advice helped me pull through the end of the relationship I was in, and helped keep things in perspective.

But the real treat was when he called me last night.

“I did the math for 2013 – I ended up with 4,153.4 miles this year.”

So if you hike in 2014 – you’ll see City Slicker out there. He’ll head north and then south – because he can. And when you do see him, tell him that Dr. Spice says hello, and loves him dearly. And then ask him where the next good bar is – because he knows every single inch of the trail. And he’s a wonderful human being for it.

30 Hours of Driving for Diva

When I reached Monson Maine in 2012, it was my first extended encountered with northbound hikers. It was the first I was able to sit and talk with them, learn from them and generally listen to their stories. They had so many, and were equally sad and thrilled to be finishing.

It is much the same way I would feel months later when I returned on my own Northbound hike.

The Lakeshore House was where I met Moldy Toe and Diva, the first Southbound hikers I would meet and hike with. They were mid 20s, had been married for less than a year and had started their hike together. Moldy Toe had been recovering at the Lakeshore House for about a week, as his toe had become infected in the last 2 days in the 100 mile wilderness, and turned into a serious issue.

Originally, Moldy Toe and Diva had started together, sumitted Katahdin and then set out south. 7 miles into the 100 mile wilderness, Diva decided she just couldn’t do it. But this was Moldy Toe’s dream, and she didn’t, couldn’t deny him that dream. So she said she’d go home and he should continue on the hike and finish, because this was something he had to do.

That’s some love right there. So Diva gave him the gear out of her pack that he needed, took the gear he didn’t need anymore and turned around to the Golden road and hitched back to Millinocket and went home to Ohio.

A week goes by, Moldy Toe gets his infected toe (which spawns his name) and he calls Diva to let her know what’s going on. Diva decides she can’t let him recover alone, so she drives from Ohio to Maine to be with him. A hell of a drive indeed.  She stays with him for a week while he recovers: they go sightseeing on the Maine coast, drive through the country side and generally have a good time. I meet them both at the hostel on their last day together, as Moldy’s toe has healed, he’s setting off in the morning.

Moldy and Diva

Moldy and Diva

Diva and Moldy say goodbye and I meet Moldy at the shelter out of town where we end up staying the night as Diva drives 15 hours home. He tells me the story and I stand in a little awe of it – a dedicated team that knows they have to let the other do what they want.

We set off the next morning and head south, hoping to cover about 17 miles so we can cross the Kennebec river by ferry early the next day. Around 4pm we stop at a shelter to refill water and snack, and figure out how much farther we’re going. “Another 2 miles should do it, there’s a water source and a ford – we can ford and then set up camp and eat.”

We depart the shelter. And run smack into Diva who is walking North.

Moldy’s mouth was agape, his jaw somewhere down around his ankles.

Diva had decided upon returning to Ohio that shouldn’t couldn’t stand to be without him. She had gone home the first time because he pack was too heavy for her and she wasn’t truly invested in the hike. Now she was. She had put only the bare essentials in her pack, driven back to Monson and then gotten a hitch to Caratunk, where she had told the whole town to watch for Moldy and not let him leave without. Then she’d gone to the ferry, told the ferryman the story and asked him if Moldy had crossed already. “No? Well I’ll just hike north to meet him.”

Picking blueberries in Maine was always a worthwhile past-time.

Picking blueberries in Maine was always a worthwhile past-time.

She’d started hiking north at 10am. She only had a liter of water and snack since them, mostly Mike & Ikes. She’d stopped to read every register, checked every crossing to find her husband so she could be with him.

Moldy and Diva were back together and hiking.

We camped by the river ford that night, and pooled our food together to have cheddar and broccoli tuna melt. Diva and Moldy stayed up and discussed what they were going to do the next day.

I didn’t see them much the next day, they got into an argument over the car and what to do with it. They got off the trail. But I think they were okay with that decision. Diva because she’d finally told Moldy what she wanted from him, and Moldy because he’d taken the opportunity to at least try at his dream.

I’d like to think they are happy back in Ohio somewhere. Though really – who is happy in Ohio? (I kid I kid… except for Cleavland.)

“Your eyes always change color”

I’m wearing my hiking pants
They smell like the last fire we shared.

I’m wearing a shirt
That went 2000 miles

I’ve got a hat on
That still smells like Maine.

Its snowing here and I’m walking in the woods.
Missing things I can’t get back.

You exist only in memory now.
I’d give anything to go back.

 "Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead."

“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

solvitur ambulando

Light Pole Connections

While you shake off your hangovers, brush the glitter off your face and deal with the passed out friend on your couch (this was the routine result of New Years in my house for years) I’d like to share a story with you from last night. No, it’s not the story of the wonderful people I met and talked to (including a very smart and attractive teacher), it’s one of hope and missed connections.

Everyone today is talking about resolutions and their plans for the upcoming 365 days. What they are going to change about themselves, who they are going to become.

Instead we’re going to talk of the power of hope. Fate.

This was on every single light post for 6 blocks in either direction of the bar.

Every Light Post

Real-life missed connections are the best

Before we had such nifty things like facebook, craigslist missed connections or cell phones, you were so limited by ways you could try and get in contact with someone you missed. You could put an ad in the paper in the personals column. You could go back to the same bar every night and pray they would show up. You could try this tactic, and make posters and place them all over town. But all of these relied on hope that they’d see it, or that fate would bring them back into your life.

This lady made a mistake – I don’t know what it is, or how it came about. All that matters in my eyes is that she went so far, and tried so hard to rectify it. She made a grand romantic gesture and put herself out there. She used all of the means she had available and more than anything, wants things to work.

I want them to work out for her too. We all should be so lucky as to have things work out for us.

It’s a new year. You have all the opportunities before you that you wish to make. Some of us will sit back and let life takes it’s course. Let fate steer us along the path. Others will stand up and take action. Try and make the river flow in the directions we want, change the path we walk.

Some will learn that the directions they want to go in aren’t feasible, despite everything they wish and desire. They’ll build walls and dams to divert the flow as long as possible. But water always wins in the end.

I think the smartest among us will build boats – and follow the river. They’ll control their speed and course, make decisions on when to stop and what branches to take. They’ll work with fate, and become not as a master to the river of fate, but as a companion.

I encourage you to think about what you really want this year. What hopes you actually have that you don’t ever say – except in the dead of night when no one can hear. Those hopes you have? Those should be the ones you follow and act on. They are the ones I think that are important. Promise yourself you’ll listen to them.

Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a better day.

Roller coaster ride

If nothing else, one day you can look someone straight in the eyes and say “But I lived through it. And it made me who I am today.”
― Iain Thomas

At this time of year, we are all in the habit of looking at where we’ve come from in the past year, what growth we’ve made. We ponder what the new year will bring, and make promises to ourselves about what will do to improve ourselves.

For myself, 2013 was a roller coaster ride. I went from depressed and longing, to utter happiness and accomplishment, then back to being morose. I started the year in my eyes as a failure and ended as a winner when it came to hiking.

Highlights of the year 2013

  • Walked 2185.7 miles
  • Met some amazing people
  • Saw sights I never had before
  • Made discoveries about myself, and the person I am
  • Feel in love
  • Was cheated on
  • Made a grand romantic gesture, sans boombox
  • Started playing music again
  • Accomplished what I set out to do

Everything on that list, baring one, were things I did. I had ups and downs, good times and bad. I followed my dreams and was rewarded. I was also punished for decisions I made along the way.

In the end though, after 365 days I’m older and a little wiser. I’ve accepted the fact that my parents know what they’re talking about, and mom is usually right. I should follow my dreams and make plans for the future, budget and commit to things. I should let people know how I feel, and especially tell the people that I care for that I love them.

I don’t know what the new year will bring. I can’t look into the future like that, though sometimes I wish I could. All that really is for sure is that you can’t change what has happened, nor can you forget the things in the past. Embrace them. Accept them. Make them part of who you are. Take the things that hurt, the people that you miss and use those good memories of them to plug the holes in your heart and soul.

The things that hurt you in the past year have made you stronger – I know that because we’re still here.

I hope the coming year brings joy and happiness. It limits your sorrows and dulls your pain. May we all heal a little in the year 2014.

Rays of sunshine always break through the clouds somewhere, somehow.

Rays of sunshine always break through the clouds somewhere, somehow.

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Damselfy’s Insect Emporium

“Oh look at this one! It’s a (long sounding latin name I still never remember.)”

Just like she was

Damselfly was always finding new and interesting insects when we hiked. It was incredibly interesting to watch.

I heard about Damselfly long before I ever met her.

“Did you hear about the new chick that got on the Trail in Harper’s Ferry? She’s pretty hot! Smart too! She’s hiking with Uncle Buck!”

“I thought you said she was smart. Why is she hiking with Uncle Buck….”

When I met Damselfly it was really in passing into Duncannon PA. I had made it to town for the Billville hiker feed and a weekend of fun and zero days. She was stopping in town for 1 day to meet up with her step-dad, who wanted to hike with her for a week or two. He was leaving his car at the Doyle.

I don’t even remember what really sparked the conversation, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with her gear, and how it looked heavy from where I was, drunk and leaning out of the second floor fire escape door.

“No worries! Shakedown in 3 minutes or less guaranteed to lighten you by 5 pounds or an ice cream novelty!”

Her step-dad had all manner of interesting heavy things. His pack was… heavy. More than a little heavy. Possibly very. He had a solid core air mattress that weighed more than my shelter and all my sleeping gear.

Damselfly was a little better off, and she lost a few things there that helped. I tried to convince them to stay another day and enjoy the hikers and the festivities. But she wanted to hike. She wanted to hike a lot.

It was the first person in awhile I had found who was still eager everyday to get up and hike. Maybe it was because she still had fresh legs, she didn’t know what the score was, or how monotonous it had gotten. Or how PA sucked.

She was happy to be there. It was like being in Georgia all over again. For her it was.

I told her I’d catch up to her in a few days. When I did it was 100 degrees, awful bugs and terrible terrain. He step-dad had gotten off the trail already and was headed home.

Serious hiking faces here folks. She's terrible at hiding the smile even when she's tiffed.

Serious hiking faces here folks. She’s terrible at hiding the smile even when she’s tiffed.

But you couldn’t keep Damselfly down. Even through all the awfulness of PA when I hiked with her, she was smiling and happy. She never expressed a moment of true despair or negativity. Sure she bitched a bit about the rocks, heat and bugs – but the whole time she did it she was smiling. Happy to be out in the world, in the woods and not at her old job or in school anymore. She was alive and unstressed.

It was like watching a bird fly for the first time. Beautiful.

Damselfly got her name because she’s an entomologist. She’s a bug person. A really really smart bug person. She knew the names of everything that was around – and even gave me the official latin name for the “no-see-ums” and biting gnats that plagued us in PA. Of course I don’t remember what they were, but she knew them. I remember camping with her one night and she knew all sorts of things about the fireflies that came out to play.

Sometimes you hike with someone who has good stories to tell. Someone who provides humor or life lessons through their tales. Other times your find people who have such a vast knowledge and intelligence on a subject(s) that you are awed by them. Others have the positive, always sunny attitudes that just lift your day.

Damselfly was all of that. Every single day I ever spent near her was a good one. She made the day better – instilled knowledge and positive feelings and love with every step and word, despite the pain she had and was dealing with. It left me in awe of her mental and physical fortitude. It made me a little jealous.

I knew she’d get to the end.

She’s a good person to be around. She’s one I miss quite a bit.

 

Embrace The Brutality

All books about hiking suck

-Johnny Thunder

The same can usually be said about movies. I mean lets face it – who really wants to read about the daily grind that hikers have  – we get up, we eat, we fart, we walk a bunch and then we eat some more. Sometimes we see things – usually we just eat more. Then we go to sleep.

We’re living the life!

When you see it onscreen it can be the same thing – boring. Sometimes to the point of being painful. I’ve seen more than a few movies and documentaries, and especially books that make me wonder what the point was. Reading or watching them is like pulling teeth. Painful.

Luckily I have a remedy for you… TBW Productions! Run by Jester! A Triple Crowner with a good camera hand and editing skills, a love of cheese and a wicked sense of humor.

I was lucky enough to see his newest film, “Embrace the Brutality” about the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) in Duncannon, PA at the Billville Hiker Feed and loved it.

I bought it when I got home to watch again, along with his first film, “Wizard of the PCT.”

It gave me itchy feet. It made me want to hike again. To forget all the pain in my knee and take off like a lunatic.

ETB is one of the better trail films of late in my opinion, and certainly much better than any of the books I’ve seen. It focuses on the things that matter – the hikers and what they do. Anyone can write about how much the weather sucked, or how many miles they did. They can show you pictures and movies of all the pretty sights – and this movie does that. But to show the soul of a long distance trail, you have to talk to the people.

It helps that all the people he hikes with are hilarious and full of wacky antics. They aren’t putting a show on for the camera either – they are just like this on a normal basis.

I could go on at length about this. I won’t. Instead I suggest you go out and buy this. I think that it’s well worth the price – and it certainly helps fill the void that winter leaves in you.

Head on over to http://www.tbwproductions.com/ and join the zany crew of Team Bad Wizard as they tackle the CDT – and even the PCT!

Presents for yourself.

Every year when I was in college I made sure to put away a little money so I could buy myself something nice that I wanted. Usually it was something I was going to get myself anyway, or something that would have been too complicated to ask for. My first real suit was a gift to myself at Christmas.  (Seriously guys, do yourself a favor and go get a good suit, shirt and shoes to match.)

This year I didn’t do anything for myself. Chalk it up to the plan that fell apart, the failed relationship that blew up in my face, post-trail depression. Lack of money is a big part of it. Whatever the reasons, I didn’t do something that had become a tradition for myself.

I got this in the mail yesterday.

Though I do appreciate hugs

Please don’t creepily track me down at my home and kill me. I have more hiking to do.

It’s just a piece of paper – but it carries so much meaning to me, and anyone else who has hiked the AT. You are official and in the books as being a thru-hiker.

There is always a lot of discussion among people, especially those who are getting ready to hike and those who have been done for a long time, about what exactly “thru-hiker” means. What the definition is. The generally accepted one is all 2185.7 miles (this number changes every year) of the Appalachian Trail within 365 days.

For me this was reached on June 3rd, when I reached the point where I had gotten off the previous year in November. I had completed all the miles within 365 days – my hike would have been counted as a flip-flop.

I kept hiking north.  I went back to Katahdin.

It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I’ve had a lot of ups and down this past year. I look back to where I was a year ago and remember how I felt. It’s a lot of the same feelings – longing for the trail, despair at being in my parent’s basement again, feelings of depression. But there is something bigger there this year – something important beyond my broken heart for a girl and lovesick soul for the people on the trail.

The realization of accomplishment of something so profound that it has changed my life in so many innumerable ways already.

My hike wasn’t defined by my pursuit of this piece of paper. It was defined by the people I met and the miles I walked. But along with everyone else who finished this year, I am now officially recognized as having done this.

It feels good to have that.

So merry Christmas everyone. I ended up with a gift for myself this year that I couldn’t be happier with. It didn’t cost me much – just 2185.7 miles and 6 months of my life.

And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I also lost a piece of my heart there

I found a piece of my soul and my heart in Maine.

The Shotgun Approach

When it comes to what I’ve experienced in life, I don’t always have the right words to express myself.

I’ve always know that I have to use the right words in order to make myself understood. When I write, it becomes a little easier – I have time to think about what I want to say, I’m able to double check and think through each sentence. Writing a real letter is so much easier for me in this way than say, having a conversation online through instant messages.

But when I start to talk to people in person, I don’t always get my point across. It’s hard to convey all the feelings and the depth that I want to.

How you do tell someone how beautiful a sunset was from a mountain top? The special pine scent that wafts up from the valley into the high mountains in the Whites? How when the last flash of light disappeared from the sky, the reds and oranges turned into midnight blues and blacks. How the air tasted sweet and fresh.

Pictures help – but they are just a frozen moment – only telling part of it.

Sometimes I feel like I'm describing the world to a blind man.

Sometimes I feel like I’m describing the world to a blind man.

How do you describe that feelings of joy when you wake up next to someone you love if they never have felt that feeling? Is there a way to make someone understand just how close you are to someone, how you know everything about them and can read their every twitch and feeling – read their mind so well that they don’t even have to talk?

 

For many years I took the shotgun approach to language. If I get enough words and sentences out there that are close to what I want, eventually the person I’m talking to will understand. They’ll be able to pull together enough of what I’m saying to make their own picture.

When I hiked in 2012, I came home and used a more concise method. Trying to get as close to the real feeling and moment as possible, making sure every word and phrase I used was as close to the truth as I could get it. I carried that with me into my 2013 hike.

I still wasn’t able to convey the things I wanted to say with enough certainty. I wasn’t able to communicate what I was feeling – or how I was feeling it with certainty. It was one thing that perhaps doomed my relationship – not being able to communicate what I was feeling clearly.

 

Last night I went to a open house thrown by my father’s girlfriend. There were two ladies about my age there. We talked for a little and they asked about my hike. I tried to tell them about it – the people, the places I saw. Things I felt. I knew I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I wasn’t conveying the magic and wonder that the trail gave me.

Until one of them said something that gave me hope.

“You speak about these things with such passion, it makes me want to go out and do this.”

I hadn’t said anything special – I was talking about hikers named Buckeye and Atreyu. Hikers like any other. But she heard the love in my voice. She heard how much I cared for them. What they meant to me.

She didn’t understand the story so much, or the reasoning behind it. It didn’t matter. She felt the magic through my voice, and it touched her.

I think this is one of the first times that I saw someone’s eyes light up with understanding. Not amazement or wonder at what I did – but understanding of why I went back.

The passion that I feel for these people, this trail that they walk on and 2000 miles we spent together came across in my voice and touched someone else.

It’s a wonderful and special thing to be understood, and no longer feel like you’re talking to nothing.