Last preparations

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I retired. It is less than 2 weeks until I take thepexels-photo-906531 first step  on the Appalachian Trail. It was and is quite a mix of emotions. The last 3 weeks felt like 3 months. Thanks to all my work friends for the support and encouragement not just for this journey but the last 22 years. I can sincerely say  that you made my job a joy! The emotional roller coaster has now taken a turn toward the trail. The reality is, despite two years of planning and anticipation I will have to experience separation from family, fear of the unknown, doubt, and anxiety. As the impending first steps approach, these thoughts grow louder. All of us have these same feelings at different times in our lives. Walking the trail is one way I have purposely chosen to face my fears. Yes there will be excitement. There will be untold beauty and all the other things one can dream. But at it’s core the trail provides the perfect environment for a new mindset. Overcoming fears and instilling confidence as a result. It provides the time and place to heal, to grow, and to wonder!  Only three things are needed. Myself, the earth and heaven. Oh yeah maybe a little food

Something calls to me

The trees are drawing me nearpexels-photo-167698

I’ve got to find out why

The gentile voices I hear

Explain it all with a sigh

Moody Blues/ Days of Future Passed



Jack ponders life finally online

My grandson Jack had an idea for a podcast and I wanted to assist him and provide encouragement. (The link is found below.) It sounded like a good way to answer the many questions people have asked of me. I suggested I could be his first guest. So we went into the studio and recorded his questions about my hike. It was a challenge to learn all steps of editing and then getting it out on YouTube. Jack did an awesome job. The thoughtfulness of the questions really caught me by surprise. I stumbled a little bit and have found a few errors in my answers which we didn’t take the time to edit out. For a first effort I think we (he) did a great job. Can’t wait for his second episode. Having said that here are a couple of corrections or clarifications:

Minute 2:10 The comment is confusing. Actually Mike Simmons a friend and fellow hiker loaned me the book and many others about the trail. Frank Harrison was introduced to me as someone who had hiked the Trail previously. We became friends and hiked together from Max Patch to Hot Springs NC. His knowledge and experience have been a big help to my abilities and confidence for making this attempt to thru hike the AT.

Minute 4:50 I attended a class on 10 things to know about hiking the Appalachian Trail given by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Minute 11: A shout out to Zpacks the maker of my tent and backpack. Two of the best gear choices I made!

Jack ponders life link to YouTube


Music on the Trail

I’ve had some pretty serious blogs about the journey to this point. This time I’d like to have some fun! Often the quiet peace of nature is what I seek. Other times conversation with others can fill the lonely hours in a vast wilderness.  And yes there will be plenty of time to mix in some music to restore lost energy in the middle of a steep climb, encouragement when spirits sag, and to accent an inspiring overlook. Going back to my days playing sports I used music to pump me up, get moving, get in a rhythm. On days I feel good and miles are my goal, I think music can do just that.

Give me 4 or 5 songs you think might help on my hike. I’m a product of the 60’s and 70’s but I’m quite eclectic in my selections. Not sure why some songs stick with me more than others.

  1. A few Beatles naturally.
  2. Definitely U2
  3. The best of Creedence Clearwater Revival
  4. Bob Dylan for sure.
  5. Moody Blues/ Days of Future Passed and several more.
  6. Neil Young and CSNY especially Down by the River
  7. Maybe some Pink Floyd
  8. Canned Heat Going Up the Country and a couple others
  9. Mercy, Mercy Me, What’s Goin On/ Marvin Gaye
  10. Ravi Shankar from A Concert for Bangledesh, if you haven’t heard this it’s awesome!
  11. Tina Turner/ Proud Mary
  12. REM
  13. Santana/ Soul Sacrifice
  14. The Cranberries/Zombie
  15. Creed/ With Arms Wide Open
  16. Behind Blue Eyes/Limp Bizkit
  17. Coldplay/Fix You
  18. Hoobastank/The Reason
  19. AC/DC/Thunderstruck  (probably during my first twenty mile day)
  20. Norman Greenbaum/Spirit in the Sky
  21. The Proclaimers/ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)
  22. 3 Doors Down/Here Without You
  23. The Original Caste/ One Tin Soldier
  24. The Tokens/ The Lion Sleeps Tonight
  25. Last but not least Hillsong United/Wonder

That’s a few. I have more, let me know your suggestions!

#1 Reason / A Pilgrimage

forest-sunbeams-trees-sunlight-70365  I hesitate to call this journey a pilgrimage. There is the adventure and challenge aspect, along with hopes and expectations of friendship and trail community.  Yet most assuredly there is a spiritual significance to this hike. When I first started planning,  my hopes were to duplicate what what I’d experienced on shorter ventures into the wilderness areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. On those trips I felt a closeness with nature and a sense of my place in creation. The natural world,  revealing itself explained how perfectly everything fit together. There was an order amongst the chaos and I was a part of it. In that I was humbled and peaceful at the same time.

Two years ago my thoughts focused on my expectations, hopes, and ambitions. Today I simply want to open myself to receiving whatever messages and meanings God has planned for me. What I hear and see is what is meant for me.norway-mountain-sky-blue Deliberately walking for days and months in and among creation opens a conversation within oneself, beginning as random thoughts that turn into questions. Questions which require an answer.  Being open to listening develops a pathway for inspiration and growth in faith and spirit. I don’t see myself as much seeking something, more like just being present and accepting of all that transpires. The end result may or may not provide answers or direction, but the effort is not wasted. My spiritual journey will continue far beyond the trail.

Let me explain what this hike is not. It is not true suffering. I am willingly foregoing the daily comforts surrounding me, with the intention to develop a deeper appreciation for each one of them. It is not penance seeking absolution. A hike is not needed for that. It is also not survival. The purpose is not to develop the ability to live off the land with no need for community. Without others there is no need for me.  Because it is deliberate and intentional, it is voluntary. That means I can go home at anytime. So what is it?

I spoke earlier of a conversation. A conversation has two sides. One side has to listen. I am mindfully going  with an open ear. The experience could at times be good or bad. How I respond or change is unknown. Yet I am thankful for the opportunity.  I openly expect to be humbled yet have faith that it will make me stronger. What I hear and see, is what is meant for me. Two people will take the same hike and yet have an entirely different experience. That is why the phrase (“Hike your own hike”) is so relevant. I don’t think I’ll come away a smarter or better person. I simply seek the conversation. I must be open to whatever happens. Listening mindfully, understanding that it is meant for me and me alone. In doing so I have a chance to respond. Become an active part of the conversation. What that conversation looks like is part of the adventure! The journey continues…pexels-photo-1690355




# 2 Mindfullness


Before I get into this I would like to say that Mindfulness is a very broad topic and has many levels in which it is taught and practiced. I am a beginner and my views and statements reflect my limited experience. Mindfulness began as part of the teachings of the Buddha centuries ago. In the United States its history starts in the 1970’s when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a stress reduction program based on a type of Buddhist meditation. There is an ongoing debate between those who see Buddhism as a philosophy and those that consider it a religion. I am not attempting to or desiring to answer those questions. I am of the opinion that stopping to smell the roses has become more difficult as the flow of information increases. And it’s not just the speed but so much of that information is useless, mindless, and banal. I hope to develop mindfulness to keep me on point, in hopes of realizing all the gifts and potential God has bestowed upon me. This was suppose to be a simple disclaimer of my limited experience, but is turning into the blog itself. . I guess I better get started. The Journey continues…with a few of my thoughts on mindfulness and an example from my life and what it has to do with my hike.

The human brain is a multi tasking marvel. It processes and evaluates the past, present, and future simultaneously. Often we have difficulty slowing it down to concentrate and focus clearly on the task at hand, the present moment. Mindfulness attempts to give us a tool to discard the distractions which cloud and negatively characterize our thought process. Mindfulness doesn’t require an emptying the mind of all thoughts but by deliberately and intentionally coming back to the present moment the focus becomes not on the problem itself but our relationship to the problems. This process is work like any other exercise program. Right away you will see how eager the mind wants to wander to anywhere but the present. To escape the clutter and distraction for a few minutes can be beneficial for our thought process and physical health. I will list some links to a few videos on this subject at the bottom of the post.

Our lives are shortchanged in many ways. Distractions permeate everyday life. To the point they thwart our ability to experience each day in fullness and vitality. In conversations we often aren’t fully present. Our minds are thinking about yesterday or off into the weekend ahead. We allow these distractions to pull us away to the past or to an imagined future. The present moments meantime tick away with little inspiration or purpose. Life is meant to be lived. Deliberately and intentionally. Even the small moments present an opportunity for a fuller relationship to others and to the world around us. Being awake and aware let’s us see the needs of others, enabling us to provide support and care. Being present internally helps us to see and understand ourselves, our concerns and worries. Freeing up wasted energy to develop a positive outlook and a loving spirit. That is living!

Here is an extreme example of how mindfulness could have been helpful in changing my life. The most important moments we have are the present. The past as they say is past. However the truth is, we often we carry it with us. The negative associations become anchors holding us back. Mindfulness can help us to let go of those feelings and attend to the present moment without reservations.

I grew up in a somewhat unstable home. I had two things in my favor, brothers and sisters who cared for each other and a safe accessible community. Not a bad environment,  just one where the future of our family wasn’t assured. I was young and had no understanding of the reasons nor the effects all this had on my decisions. I simply got through it. Seemingly I left it all behind. Once in the working world and modestly in control of my basic needs, a degree of security replaced my early fears. I held fast to my new found stability. Life was good. At the time I was looking forward not at the past. But in fact I was really living day to day the past feelings were below the surface. What really would have secured some stability in my life was a college degree. That would require a roll of the dice I wasn’t prepared to make. I simply wasn’t willing or able to risk losing the little bit of security that I had achieved. It meant I was not going to chase a college degree. To do so would require getting beyond those fears that in my mind were long since left behind. Because they hadn’t truly been left behind, I couldn’t visualize the real possibilities and the potential benefit. They had become an anchor. An anchor can do two things. It can keep you secure or hold you back. I used it both ways. My fear and doubt both became the anchor holding me back and at the same time I feared the unsettling changes which would be required. The anchor would keep me from drifting back to what I feared most. Instability. The past unconsciously controlled how I thought and thus my present actions.

Mindfullness, when developed through practice allows us to view hidden issues almost as if we are looking at ourselves from the outside.Once free of judgement and the emotions that shape our thought process, we can move forward. That is why mindfulness is so important. It allows us to make positive changes and choices by letting go of the past. Freed of our self judgement our thoughts become just that, our thoughts. They don’t define us and by coming back to the present in a mindful way we reestablish our true identity and purpose. No need to replay the past or wish for a future happiness. Understanding the present situation allows us to make that next step intentionally.

The routine and nature of modern life can lead to complacency and apathy, robbing us of precious moments in time. We can’t restore time, but a deliberate awareness of the present can restore life. I have heard it said “We have not one but two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one life”

Part 2

What does this have to do with my hike? I think that it goes without saying that at 63 I’d like to maximize my enjoyment and be fully present for each day going forward. Hiking is naturally mindful. Each step requires an alert body and mind. In life or on the trail very few paths are on perfect ground. A loose rock, a root, wet leaves all can spell disaster. A fall potentially can take you off the trail. Awareness of changing weather conditions is often important. Sounds of wildlife in the area can keep unintended interactions with bears or other potentially dangerous animals. Also though the Appalachian Trail is pretty well-marked mistakes in direction are often possible. Awareness of changes in trail direction is a must. Aches and pains need monitoring. Adjustments to stride or equipment can minimize the toll on the body. At the same time, when fatigued the mind tends to wander. While hiking, deliberately returning the mind to the present is an exercise performed over and over for hours a day. mindfulness becomes an important part of each day.

I can also say I have experienced a curious effect when these three elements come together. There is something about the step step step cadence, left right left combined with the feel of the ground beneath my feet and the natural world around me that stimulates my thoughts. When physical and mental tiredness sets in, my mind wanders. It’s as if the brain relaxes, resistance ceases and out pours thoughts and ideas previously hidden. Many times with more clarity and inspiration. Hiking is a sure-fire method whenever I am having trouble with solving problems or jump starting the thought process.

The 2,200 mile journey should provide sufficient opportunity to make mindfulness part of my daily life. I look forward to experiencing every minute of every day. I challenge myself to being mindful through the joyful moments of a sunrise, a beautiful mountaintop, a miserable cold rainy day or a parched dry throat while pushing up a steep incline on a hot sunny day. The goal will be to find a happiness, a peaceful mind predicated, not on a future time which may never happen, unchained from a negative past experience, but based on the present moment with a faith that when that future arrives it comes with the promise of purpose and fellowship. Thanks be to God.

Three links that speak on mindfulness

What is mindfulness explained by Science Guy  Youtube

Using Mindfulness to choose Love over Fear Dr.Narveen Dosanjh MD  Youtube

#3 Relationships

I was still 5 years from my planned retirement. I dared to think about it. What would I do? There were 5 things that came to mind. The trail was one of the items on the list. Four of them could wait, The trail could not! It had fervently become meaningful and necessary. Who knows what the next five years would bring. I gave myself two years to get ready.

Retire isn’t a word I like or accept. It is something you do to end the day.  Terminating a long  working career is a moment to celebrate for sure, but retirement  isn’t an end but a beginning. The joy of celebration may last a few weeks.  The opportunity exists for  new and exciting personal growth.  For me the six months on the trail will require all the lessons learned and effort put forth during my entire working career. It has the potential to be as rewarding and satisfying as well.

I prefer to use the words renew, redevelop, reconsider, and rethink. Renewal of  dreams, passion,and focus. Rethink and develop the gifts I have. Reconsider how best I can put them to use. One word stands apart and above all these words. Relationships.

It doesn’t take retirement to redefine my relationships, but that just happens to be where I am in life. There is no way to avoid making this adjustment. As for my coworkers who have played an important part in who I am, I’ll try to maintain our friendship and support. Even now new friendships at work have started since my announcement of the hike.  Hopefully  some of  these will grow and mature. As the date grows nearer, I have started to view this as an opportunity to reconcile old neglected or broken relationships while adding new like-minded ones along the way. The Trail, like retirement, isn’t just the beginning of a new journey. It’s a reset. A chance to grow with a renewed vision full of possibilities to give purpose and meaning to the days ahead. Thinking like that retirement doesn’t sound so bad!

Over 4,000 people are supposed to attempt this hike in 2019. I will only meet a small portion of them. Add to that the section and weekend hikers, people met in towns and hostels. The chance to interact and develop bonds will be plentiful. These short but intense relationships have the potential to exceed others developed over longer periods of time. There is also those back home. Family and friends are essential to the success of such a lengthy time away from home. In times of loneliness or low morale, they can instill confidence,  determination, a renewed spirit. Hopefully by sharing the experience, they in turn can be challenged or inspired to try something they thought too difficult to attempt. It might not be hiking but purely a personal goal. Encouraging and energizing each other.  Growing the relationship.

This leads to one last point about relationship.  My attitude and relationship to the hike. What seems like a sole endeavor or personal achievement is exactly the opposite. To do this by myself, for myself, and then take sole credit for the achievement would be empty and false. Yet to be part of a team gives purpose. A purpose that makes the effort worthwhile. I have been helped by many people to get to this point and give thanks for their blessings. Happiness is elusive when we focus on ourselves. To be part of something bigger rewards everyone involved. I hope to continue growing all these relationships, not only on my hike but throughout my retirement.

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Henry David Thoreau

#4 The Adventure

Originally these were just a scribbling of notes and ideas to develop into an essay. Maybe I was just lazy but they mostly  just came out this way.

Stepping off into the woods

now, no turning back

striding steadily

toward sunset and sleep

Waking up with anticipation

of sights and sounds

as yet unknown

A cloudy day

with winds and rain

or a rising sun

against a deep blue sky

A bear, a bird, a deer or snake

a rushing stream

a mountains majestic view

Witness to

an ever changing scene

with more depth

and understanding

more wonderment and awe

A cast of characters

parade in and out

some for a day, others weeks

a few for life


each with different motives


by  the shared experience

of an arduous journey

Towns discovered along the way

some small and others smaller

promising respite

from the constant marching

Food, rest, and fellowship,

restores a weary traveler

The trek continues

when the morning light appears

stepping off into the woods

no turning back

My 5 Reasons to Hike the Trail

#5 Challenge


Uphills and downhills, steep and long

In pouring rain and blowing wind,

a daily search for water,sleep and calories

sweat and dirt,  damp. wet clothes,

aching muscles seek the end of day

Quickly pitch the tent and filter water

prepare and eat the daily special

Time for bed and needed rest

Then plan to do the same tomorrow

only farther up the road

The challenge is on the one hand simple yet difficult to execute. Each and every day requires food water and shelter. What is the weather? Be prepared for anything. Take care of my body. If I’m tired stop and rest. Know my limits. If it hurts don’t be stubborn. Take care of it. When feeling good keep walking. Make miles if the sun is shinning! Remember to  appreciate the struggle and marvel in the beauty of creation.

Besides the challenge of hiking up and down for miles every day,  Hunger, Thirst and Sleep are the biggest concerns . Failure to satisfy any one of these can lead to a miserable hike or even much worse.  The challenge is always present. Determination, attitude ,and effort are the deciding factor. This mental aspect next to injury is the greatest  indicator of future success. Trying to remain positive despite mental and physical fatigue is tough. Staying committed to the goal requires a deep understanding of what I hope to gain from all this planning and effort. Despite aches and pains, deprivation of comfort and at times basic physical needs, there is something to be gained,  a strengthened body, a relaxed mind, and a richer spirit.

End of Last Gear Test

Waking up in the early morning darkness I heard Frank in his tent organizing gear. Today would take us 7 or 8 miles to Hot Springs and the end of my planned test hikes. The threat of bad weather passed with the storm, leaving potentially the best hiking conditions I’ve yet experienced. I lingered comfortably in my bag contemplating all I’d learned and experienced. Switching on my lamp I looked around the tent. All my equipment was right here.I was comfortable and pleased with my choices. My pack,tent, everything had served me well instilling confidence. My Zpacks duo tent especially , despite several storms performed perfectly. It will be my home for many nights. Inside I feel comfortable and protected from the outside elements.

Frank was out of his tent so I too began preparations. First light was beginning as each of us independently ate and disassembled camp. Frank was ready first and headed north on he trail. I filtered the last of the water and followed maybe 15 minutes later. It was still cold despite a bright sky but the sun hadn’t made an appearance over the surrounding hills. Warmer temps were still a couple of hours away. Today’s hike started with a slow downhill warmup. Frank waited for me at a parking lot at Garenflo Gap just before a 500 ft. climb. There would be several views of surrounding hills that mirrored our climb. Sometimes  that can be discouraging as you can see whats left to climb. Other times the same view can be encouraging. It depends on your mental and physical state at the time. Personally I’m always amazed that I can do it at all. The large trees and steep mountainsides command respect especially when one considers the scale and vastness of nature with that of a single man.

The sun followed us up the hill the cold forgotten. Sweat now ran down my forehead  burning my eyes. I stopped to wipe it away and thought of removing one of my two shirts I started with in the morning. I didn’t for now.  When the trail took a turn to the right the effect was like day into night. Stepping into total shade with a stiff breeze blowing head on the temperature dropped 5 degrees instantly, I was exhilarated yet happy to still be layered. I love those moments! Except for a few small ups and downs it was downhill to Hot Springs. 1300 feet down.

Normally I pick up the pace downhill but today my knee hurt again. It’s something I’ll have to deal with and seems to be related to pack weight. I changed my gait and attempted to shift the weight to my shoulders. With only two miles to go I kept moving. Descending toward Hot Springs I could see buildings from up high. Stopping for a second I heard a chainsaw and some cars. It’s always exciting to approach a town with expectations of food and rest. The two of us spilled  out of the woods at Laughing Heart Hostel, a place I may stop for the night on my way back home next year. We unloaded the packs in the truck and had lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner. I had a bleu cheese bacon burger, large fries and sweet tea.A perfect ending to this leg of the adventure.img_30871


Last Gear Test

Max Patch to Hot Springs

Part 2

The rain chased by the wind was gone by morning. Only puffs of clouds remained,  each one traveling fast towards Max Patch. img_3081The sun hidden behind a ridge brightened the morning sky with the promise of a better day. For the moment the cold remained so I decided to heat my morning granola using the pot to warm my hands. I ate standing while soaking in the surroundings. I shivered at the thought of those who may have slept the night on top of Max Patch. I was thankful to be where I was and excited about the day. The others awoke and we talked while alternately preparing breakfast and shoving items in our packs. All of us except the lone hiker who hadn’t yet shown any signs of life. Eventually he exited his bag and joined the conversation alleviating my concerns for his health.

Frank and I leisurely approached the morning but hadn’t intended a late start. It was 10:30. We all said our goodbyes. The other three-headed south and Frank and I went north toward Walnut Mountain.  The late start caused some issues later that day and forced us to make a decision to set up a quick camp just before a storm arrived. The problem we faced was lack of water. Our planned stopping point was a little past the water source. We were ahead of two hikers that would also want two of the three sites that were listed as unofficial tent sites in our guidebook. We decided to claim our spots before getting water. The unofficial sites turned out to be no sites at all. Thinking maybe this wasn’t the actual spot we headed further down the trail. There was nothing flat enough to pitch a tent. Eventually, going far enough that neither of us were going back for the water we had passed up.

Coming upon an old dirt road and darkness approaching not to mention rain in the forecast we decided to camp for the night. The problem was our guide listed no water in the area.  Frank was dry and I had about a cup of water remaining. We had passed up the last water source about a half of a mile back uphill. I went in search of water down the dirt road which was really not dirt but grass. Walking downhill I stumbled upon an old log cabin on its last legs. There was a little stream curving around the foot of a steep embankment. I hurriedly filled my 2 liters and headed back. Frank had also found a source in the other direction.Talk about a gift from God! I felt a few sprinkles so went about getting my tent set up. Then immediately ate a couple of summer sausage sandwiches and cheese crackers  followed  by some dried blueberries for dessert. img_3116We filtered our water and I took a long slug or two before heading into the tent for the night. There was a pretty severe storm that night with wind , rain, and evidently rumbling thunder and lightning flashing in the sky. I say evidently because somehow I slept through it. Frank had to tell me about it the next day. I must have been really tired! I did wake up at some point to gusting winds which came like distant waves. The shaking leaves grew louder and louder with the approaching wind until it passed over us continuing on for miles. This happened over and over again for at least an hour. The half-moon was bright.  The clouds blown far away. I went outside and marveled at the power and beauty of nature. Shadows from the moon and leaves danced around making the moonlit earth appear as if it too was moving. A sudden chill made me realize the temperature had dropped, back in the tent and covered by the warm bag I drifted back to sleep.

To be continued.