the pta's busiest month to date ~ feb 2016 ~ 40,168 web hits
current weather @ pinhoti trail mid-point ~ 181.3 ~ cave spring trailhead
pinhoti national recreation trail / pinhoti millennium legacy trail
a southern region appalachian trail connector
* section and mileage numbering system example: "s7 ~ 0.2" / s7 = a section number and 0.2 = a landmark mileage *
* In case of emergencies, dial 911. This is the only public service that knows your exact location
Do phone reset first ~ go to settings / go to privacy / turn on location services *
the ramen chronicles.
the ramen chronicles: 1.
8 / 3 / 93
LETTER TO THE RAINBOW FAMILY
United States Forest Service
Shoal Creek Ranger District
Department of Agriculture Service
450 Hwy 46 Heflin, AL 36264 (205) 463-2272
Reply to: 2300 / 2600 / 7700 / 6700
Date: August 3, 1993
To: The Rainbow Family
Your cleanup and rehabilitation efforts following the 1993 National Rainbow Gathering on the Shoal Creek District has met or exceeded our expectations. We commend those Rainbow family members who have stayed these past weeks to work with us , in a spirit of cooperation, to return the site to as close a natural condition as before the gathering.
As you know, one of our greatest concerns during the gathering was to minimize potential impacts to threatened and endangered mussels in Shoal Creek. On July 16, the biologist from United States Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed the creek along the areas of greatest use. They found no degradation of stream habitat or harm to any individual mussels had occurred. Your assistance in stabilizing stream banks after the gathering as well as efforts by all Rainbow family members during the gathering to protect these rare mussels is appreciated.
We were also concerned about long term impacts to the Pinhoti National Recreation Trail, four miles of which was used heavily during the Gathering. We are pleased that adverse impacts are minimal. In the case of the "Cooperation Bridge" built by Rainbows during the Gathering, we have decided to move the two sections of bridge to new locations on the trail for continued use.
On our walk through inspections we saw no trash remaining. We acknowledge that your cleanup crews also removed some trash that had been on site prior to the Gathering.
All kitchens have been reclaimed, ovens dismantled and disintegrated, and compost and gray water pits filled in. Seed has been scattered and is already coming up in places. We found no evidence of latrines, social trails, or campsites remaining.
There will be some rehabilitation of the wildlife openings used for bus village and main circle that we will have to do this fall. The drought conditions here now and the need to deep plow to mitigate compaction does not make the reclamation practical right now.
(page) FS 6200 xxx (xAL)
In addition, the district will incur some costs to re-grade the main roads into the area which have wash boarded badly as a result of the extensive traffic during the gathering.
All things considered, we are very pleased with the overall cleanup effort. I know that many hard hours in the Alabama heat went into reclaiming the gathering site. Our personal thanks to those individuals who made the reclamation effort and cleanup a success.
the ramen chronicles: 2.
From My 3rd AT Thru Hike Attempt
Springer Mountain, GA to Harpers Ferry, WV
5 / 17 / 02
Not aware of buildings passing by until the sign; Gatlinburg. I am reminded of my hunger,
which reminds me of a moonlit night not long ago of yipping and howling in celebration of
the meal before me, which reminds me again of my hunger. 150 lbs, 4% body fat. Struggle,
release... struggle, release. The wind blowing through my leaves, the water flowing over
my rocky shoulders, the rain soaking my soil, the sun warming my fur. I am absorbed into
the environment part and parcel.
All is one.
6 / 7 / 02
My back to a rock, squatting high on a freezing, windy ridge a mile past Overmountain
Shelter eating cereal from a zip-loc bag at first light. The fog is curling over me and going
down into the valley below. I scan from left to right and back again. Suddenly something
big and dark crosses the trail 50' to the left in the fog. Not big enough to be a bear and
I'm not worried about a boar taking my food away. A small smile crosses my lips. King of
the jungle again today. Tomorrow...
the ramen chronicles: 3.
08 / 19 / 04
Tom and Normans Thru Hike
Every now and then I do an e-search for the Pinhoti to see if there is anything new going
on. I'm not sure how long Tom and Norman's Nov. 03 northbound trail journal has been
online, so some of you may have seen it already. If you haven't, then I think you will
thoroughly enjoy reading it.
They mention meeting us (ATCA) in Section 6 while we were cutting out blowdowns and I
remember them well. Great guys.
I liked it because it was honest. Sometimes the hiking, gear, trail, weather, sucks,
sometimes it doesn’t.
Yesterday I was up at the Hurricane Creek Bridge, which has a bridge log supplied by the
ATA. Sure enough, Tom and Norman signed it when they passed through last year.
On my Pinhoti Links page there are 2 other journals that I've found. One is by Waterfall,
who is a member of the Louisiana Hiking Club. It was the LHC that Tom and Norman
mention running across on the southern end of the trail. The ATCA (me, Miss Kenny, Tom
and Doug) and the LHC hiked together for 2 days from the USFS 500 Trailhead down to
Section 7, where we set up a base camp to do 4 days of trail maintenance in Section 6
while the LHC went on to Porter's Gap to finish up their thru hike. It was while we were
set up in Section 6 that we met Tom and Norman.
Any way, to make a long story even longer... Waterfall was not on that trip. I read her
journal several years ago and remember she was in a club in Mississippi or Louisiana so I
asked the LHC if they had ever heard of her. They all knew her and said she was a long
standing member and that she was very outgoing. They also told me something that I
never would have guessed in a million years. (If you read her journal you'll see exactly
what I mean.) She actually went on to complete a solo southbound hike on the AT, met a
hiker whom she married, came back and they each published a book on hiking!!
Any way, to make a long story even longer... I just thought it was kinda cool finding Tom
and Norman spore in 2 different places on 2 consecutive days and how time, people and
places can all come together to make a tapestry.
the ramen chronicles: 4.
08 / 21 / 04
Nothing especially important. Just something I came across a few weeks ago and forgot
CR 8 / Salem Church Road is the last vehicle access point on the Pinhoti before it crosses
over into Georgia. Remember how it was paved for about 1/2 mile and then dirt for about
1 1/2 miles? Well now it's paved all the way through. It was done this past spring.
This road has been dirt it's entire life, which may have been 50, 100, 200 or more years,
and now it's not. I feel like I have lost something. Even though I'm not entirely sure that
paving it is a good thing and my life is certainly not convenience based, it is good to know
that I have year round access to this trail crossing. Also, if you have ever lived on a dirt
road you know that the folks living here are thrilled.
There is a strong romantic attachment to old dirt roads, old barns and cute little cows
but the reality of living on a dirt road, is, dirt. Everything you have ever owned, do own,
will ever own, is covered with, dirt.
Also, you have the 3 headed monster; ecotourism, ecotourism and ecotourism. I grew up in
north Georgia when everything above Atlanta was 2 lane tar and gravel roads and dirt
roads. 50 years later, it's a really large version of Disneyland. I can honestly say that I
am beyond pleased that there are enough jobs now for local people to put food on the
table and give their kids a bath every night with running water. When I was growing up not
everyone was able to do this, me included.
Romanticism vs reality...
My consolation is that even in N. Ga., once you get far enough in the woods where it
becomes too difficult to haul a case of beer, usually 1 mile, there is just you and the
woods. Hopefully, probably, that will not change anytime soon.
the ramen chronicles: 5.
08 / 23 / 04
It's good to have a trail name isn't it? Usually the naming is spontaneous, but over time
the name will define who you are and hikers you meet can always sense this at a glance and
know it's a true name.
Naming yourself rarely works because the names are ego driven. True names are usually
spiritual and come from something sensed by someone outside yourself. Sometimes living
up to the name is hard and you may find yourself astray, but as the years go by you will
always come back to it.
Can you imagine the trials I've had over the last 25 years with a name like Solo? I didn't
ask for that name, but I've known all along that it was a true name. I like the way it
insinuates; be in the world but not of the world.
Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to discover the depth of your name and
always be true to yourself.
the ramen chronicles: 6.
09 / 13 / 04
Lynard Skinard / Simple Man
Mama told me when I was young: 'Come sit beside me, my only son, and listen closely to
what I say and if you do this it will help you some sunny day.'
'Oh, take your time, don't live too fast. Troubles will come and they will pass. Go find a
woman and you'll find love and don't forget, son, there is someone up above.'
'And be a simple kind of man, oh, be something you love and understand. Baby, be a simple
kind of man. Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can.'
'Forget your lust for the rich man's gold, all that you need is in your soul. And you can do
this if you try. All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.'
'And be a simple kind of man, oh, be something you love and understand. Baby, be a simple
kind of man. Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can.'
'Boy, don't you worry, you'll find yourself. Follow your heart and nothing else. And you can
do this, oh baby, if you try. All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied.'
'And be a simple kind of man, oh, be something you love and understand. Baby, be a simple
kind of man. Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can.'
the ramen chronicles: 7.
"The Wheel of Time"
Author: Dennis L. McKiernan ~ 1986
or: Zen and the Art of Long Distance Hiking part 2
"It ought not to be this way, Bomar," said Cotton to the grey-bearded Dwarf on the seat
beside him, and then the buccan turned around again to look far back over the grassland
toward the distant border-forest. "No sir, it just ought not to be this way. When you say
goodbye to your best friend, you just ought to disappear with a flash and a bang and maybe
a puff of smoke, and get the goodbye over with all at once. Instead, we said goodbye
almost three hours ago, and here I can still see the silver glint of his armor in the Sun,
and maybe he can still see the gold in mine. It just makes the parting last longer."
Cotton once more faced the mountains, but he could not remain that way for long, and
again he turned to look back over the plains toward the river. "Oh," he said in a small,
dismayed voice, for the argent glint was gone, and Cotton felt as if he had somehow
betrayed Perry by not seeing the glimmer disappear. Glumly he faced forward along the
direction of march.
Stretching out before him was the long Dwarf column, feet tramping and wheels rolling
toward the mountains ahead. Except for the Army, and an occasional distant scout, Cotton
could detect nothing else moving across the prairie, not even the wind. With little to
distract him, the Warrow rode along in silence, feeling all alone amid an army of
strangers, paying scant heed to anything except his own wretchedness.
"Put your sorrow behind you, Friend Cotton," advised Bomar after a while, flicking the
reins lightly to edge Brownie and Downy a bit closer to the ranks ahead. "Though you have
parted from a boon comrade, do not dwell upon the woe of separation; think instead upon
the cheer of reunion, for you will have a tale to tell that he knows not and will hear from
him an adventure new to you."
"But Bomar" protested Cotton, "if it's tales and adventures we're living, well then I'd
rather be in the same story with my master than in a different one."
Bomar tugged on his grey beard and scowled. "Friend Cotton, you are not in a different
venture from your 'Mister Perry.' Aye, you are now separated from him, yet the tale is
the same- separate or together, we are all of us living in the same story: it is a tale that
was started before the beginning, before the world was made; and it will go on after the
end, when even the stars are unmade again. And in any tale such as this there are those
whose accounts seem always to touch, and those who weave in and out of the tales of
others, and many more whose narratives touch but once or never. Even twins, or brothers,
or kindred, or just good companions will have times of separateness. We must savor the
times we are together; and store up the times we are apart. Let not the sadness of
separation dull these jewels, but instead look with joy toward your reunion so that they
will brightly sparkle."
"Why, you've hit the nail right square, Bomar!" exclaimed Cotton in surprise, seeing the
separation in a different light. "We ARE still in the same story together. And I've got to
start living my part of it, looking at things through happy eyes, not sad ones, so that when
we get together again, well, I'll have some of them bright jewels to show him."
Had it been an overcast day, perhaps Cotton's somber mood would have clung longer, but
the Sun was shining in a high blue sky, and the Warrow's spirits rose with every turn of
the waggon wheel, until they were as bright as the day. "Bomar," added the Warrow after
a long while, "I do hope that Mister Perry has someone as wise as you to set him right
about being apart from a friend." A smile flickered over Bomar's face, but he said nought;
and the waggon rolled on.
the ramen chronicles: 8.
1 / 21 / 05
Zen and the Art of Long Distance Hiking
Long distance hikes are great. Your mind and body will go to special places
they will never get to on a weekend hike. But beware, it can become habit
forming and there are a lot of long trails out there!
Trails like the Pinhoti are a good place to start. It's short enough that you don't forget
your name or where you live, but long enough so that the quietness has time to soak into
your bones. You may not realize how noisy your mind is until you do a long distance hike.
It's this quiet that is habit forming and once you go down that road there is no turning
There are other things that may happen to you on a long hike, some of them are good and
some are bad. Sounds a lot like your normal life huh? Well, it is like that. There are
always pluses and minuses.
For me, the big plus is hearing the quiet and most times I do hear it, but sometimes I
For me the big minus is hiking not living up to my expectations and sometimes it doesn't,
but most times it does.
I spent 6 months on the Appalachian Trail in 2002. About 2000 to 3000 people start out
with intentions of finishing the whole trail every year and I think the majority are new to
long distance hiking. Only about 300 finish every year. Why is that? I spent a lot of time
thinking about that and there are a lot of reasons. I think I managed to narrow it down to
Group 1 ran out of money. (me!)
Group 2 got homesick.
Group 3 was suited to long distance hiking, but not this long!
Group 4 thought it was going to be different somehow from what it turned out to be;
expectations exceeding reality.
I think group 4 was what I saw the most and could be applied to a lot of people weather
it's on the AT, the Pinhoti or any other trail. Here are some thoughts I've had on the
subject as they relate to the Pinhoti.
Sections 5, 11, 12 and 13 are truly rugged, isolated wilderness areas. Seeing other hikers
is rare and signs of humanity in general is fairly rare also. The isolation is going to be very
hard and some may be disappointed because this is not like an episode from a AT Trail
My opinion of trail journals is that some of them are mainly “after the fact how to
manuals” polished and ready for a discriminating consumer society. I've found very few
that will tell you how it really is.
The minute by minute reality of hiking is that it's like going to the YMCA every day and
climbing on a stair stepper and staying there for 10 hours. The only difference is that the
scenery is a lot better in the woods! Boring? can be, monotonous? can be, repetitive? can
be. It is also a pretty accurate reflection of true reality. Zen says recognize it for what
it is, without attaching an emotion to it, and move on.
You need to understand the extreme physical nature of hiking (reality) and place it above
all of your other expectations (non reality) before you head out the door with your pack
because you will be dealing with this for most of your waking hours.
Your ability to recognize, understand and deal with this in a patient manner will determine
not only your physical success but maybe more important, your mental success.
So there you go. The good, bad and the ugly. Now you’re ready for a nice long hike. Slow
down a little and listen to the quiet. It’s great.
the ramen chronicles: 9.
1 / 23 / 06
The Wheel vs. GPS, A Civilized Conversation
Bubba ~ Jay Hudson
Billy Bob ~ Hugh Hickman
Billy Bob, haven't talked to you in a while. I've been experimenting with a new GPS unit I got for Christmas. It's a pretty awesome thing. Purchased some software to download the tracks into also.
While figuring the thing out, I've been doing some section hiking on Section 4. I hiked from Bulls Gap all the way to Sherman Cliffs the other day, and found some oddities -- most notably the mileages. According to the GPS, the length of that section is 7.31 miles. I noticed on the HMTC website that you have it listed as 7.6 miles.
I don't know what to believe. What do you think could account for the differences? I stayed on the trail, and can't imagine that I didn't walk dead center in the middle of the trail (sometimes in the left track, sometimes in the right, etc.) the whole time would add up to 1/3 of a mile.
I'm attaching a jpg of the southern section (Bulls Gap to first power line easement) so you can see how detailed the software gets. By the way, there's a 546 foot elevation change in that first 2 miles.
From Billy Bob:
Hey Bubba! I've never been able to really figure out why GPS and wheels never seem to agree. If you add up the mileages from the USFS ~ Pinhoti topo maps they sell, you'll get 103.8 miles from Porter's Gap to the 278 trailhead. I came up with 108.8 miles on the wheel. That's a whopping 5.0 mile difference! (this was my reason for measuring the entire trail a second time a year later, which also showed the same 5.0 mile difference).
Who's right? I always have the same thoughts each time that the differences in the two methods are presented to me.
The first is that there are probably plus and minus factors to everything mankind creates / does. Is what you see on paper a true reflection of reality, or are there always slight convenience compromises made to accomplish the desired result?
Here's something I did regularly that would shock the true anal-ite. Whenever my wheel would come up against a blowdown, I would mark the spot where it stopped with my foot.
Then I would lift the wheel over and set it down on the other side. Then I would lean over the tree and observe the two spots for a moment and say, yep, that's about a foot and a half Bubba.
: ) Nothing major but it is still a convenience compromise. If I were a brain surgeon, you would surely die.
The second thought I have is about how each reads terrain. Here's an example. Say you have a stretch of trail that's 50' long that you can verify with a tape measure. Now say that there is a 10' deep gulley in the middle of that stretch. If you ran a wheel down into the gulley and back up the other side it would read more than 50'. The question I've always had is weather the GPS goes down into the gulley with you or does it read it as the crow flies?
There are probably answers, as opposed to opinions to these questions out there somewhere but I don't have access to them. In the end, I finally agree to let them disagree and view them as just two opposing, complimenting views.
Of course a lot of folks hiking from, say Bulls Gap to the fire tower, would be just as happy with; ‘It's about 10 miles and the average person travels about 2 mph, so after you add in a couple of breaks it will take you about 5 and a half hours.’ : )
Which reminds me of a third way to present trail information. Have you read MountainDog's journals on Lees board? He uses the hour method and I thought it was very credible and I've encouraged him all along.
I think GPS is very credible too and I assume there is probably a large group of GPS folks out there who would love to be able to access the info you're collecting. If you've ever thought about building a website or writing a book, I'd say go for it!
This probably doesn't say much for my life experience, but running that wheel up and down the trail for 50 weekends was the most exciting thing I've ever done. Between that and the HMTC website, I've been challenged on a lot of different levels.
I've tried to encourage people the last few years to build more Pinhoti related websites: Flwrhead / wildflowers, Dynamo / fishing holes, Philip Alexander / critter poop, MountainDog / a trail guide. Anyway, the map is great. I love maps. Keep it up!
Billy Bob, here's a view of the GPS map from the Sherman Cliffs area southward towards the big set of switchbacks.
From Billy Bob:
Hey Bubba! Another fine map. Thanks. You do know what's going to happen when people find out you can do this right?? This is great stuff Bubba.
Billy Bob, ever wondered exactly what the Cheaha - Pinhoti Loop looked like from space? 7.29 miles, 1,576 feet of total climbing, 1,576 feet of total descending. Starting at the Cheaha trailhead and making the loop, the low & high points are 1,871and 2,348 feet. I'm attaching the 2-D and 3-D versions of this map here.
Your idea made me think. I'd never really thought about whether the GPS could "see" gullies of actual walking, or if it skimmed over them looking for total distance. The GPS I just got has 2 distances listed within the data -- one for total distance, and one for total ground distance. For this map of the Cave Creek - Pinhoti loop, the total distance is listed as 7.25 miles, but the actual ground distance traveled is 7.29 miles. .04 miles difference - about what you'd expect allowing for terrain that the satellites can't see.
I'm gonna go back and look at the Bulls Gap to Sherman Cliffs file again to see what the differences are, then maybe re-walk the section again. Maybe that will explain the 1/3 mile in question somehow.
From Billy Bob:
Hey Bubba! Man, that must be some kind of wicked software you have! In order to read ground distance, wouldn't it have to do something like measure from waypoint to waypoint and then calculate that figure against the elevations it reads on the topo map??? Gee, that's too mind boggling to even think about!
I looked up the elevation that I have for Hernandez Peak that I got from the FS topo map and it is 2344' so your altimeter is dead on for the high point. The low point must be over on Cave Creek somewhere.
These maps you're cooking up are a prime example of why folks love maps. I love to see a bigger picture of what's around me, That's why I like to hike in the winter when the leaves are down.
Sounds like you're having a great time figuring this thing out.
Thanks for sending all of this along.
Here are some of the extended readings I have from Bulls Gap:
0.0000 ft. Bulls Gap
2.1919 ft. 1st Power Line
6.5464 ft. Big Power Line
7.5009 ft. Heath Cliffs
7.6049 ft. Sherman Cliffs
17.9852 ft. Porter's Gap
Billy Bob, you must be a technologically minded person! The software does indeed take into account the change in elevation from waypoint to waypoint, then computes that via some algorithm into the "distance traveled" versus the "total distance." As with anything, it's probably not right on -- but an approximation.
The software is called Terrain Navigator by MapTech:
Here's my GPS unit:
Thanks for the Bulls Gap extended readings!
From Billy Bob:
Hey Bubba! Pretty amazing stuff. Thanks for the links. This should give GPS'ers a lot of credibility in the eyes of us "old schoolers".
Of course with wheels, you're dealing with cheap little mass produced plastic odometers, so I'm sure we're doing a little approximation ourselves. : )
the ramen chronicles: 10.
Essay from High Country News
The death of backpacking?
Younger people don’t seem interested in this outdoors tradition.
Christopher Ketcham ESSAY July 25, 2014 From the print edition
Hailstorms, heavy packs, heat: Backpacking is hard work, and seems to be less popular than ever among young people.
I keep hearing that the art of backpacking is dying. Usually the messenger is an older person with the tone of the gentle curmudgeon who can't understand why the damn kids aren't interested in hauling 40 pounds into wilderness on a forced march day after day over rough earth, under rain and sun, in order to drink unbottled water of unknown provenance, with a slimy helping of beaver piss and dirt, eat gruel at dusk, be attacked from ankle to earlobe by insects, be watched by carnivores with eyes gleaming in the dark and by mice scheming for gorp, only to crash exhausted to the ground in a sleeping bag that quickly transforms (as the ornery desert scribe Ed Abbey observed) into a greasy fart-sack, and be woken far too early, with the cruel lash of sun-up and the birdsong bouncing on your tympanum like a pogo stick.
Steve Allen, who is 62, a backcountry guide, and the author of many guidebooks, which, if correctly used with several compasses, will get you deep into Utah canyons and possibly back out, tells me he and his friends – other curmudgeons, apparently – almost never see young people on the trails they frequent. Sure, there are outliers, the few Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School groups, and occasional college students who have a bolder vision of spring break than being a body cameo'd on Girls Gone Wild videos. "Mostly we see older folks in their 50s and even into their 60s and 70s," says Allen. He describes himself, proudly if hubristically, as part of a generation, the Boomers of the 1960s and 1970s, that "led the exodus into the backcountry."
His generation read Renny Russell's 1967 On the Loose. "It feels good to say 'I know the Sierra' or 'I know Point Reyes,' " wrote Russell. "But of course you don't – what you know better is yourself, and Point Reyes and the Sierra have helped." They also read Colin Fletcher's 1960s books celebrating his epic backpacking: The Thousand Mile Summer, The Man Who Walked Through Time – about hiking the length of the Grand Canyon – and The Complete Walker, which sold 500,000 copies, "still the how-to bible on backpacking," assures Allen. Maybe they even read Walt Whitman: "Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth."
"We wanted to get away from it all," says Allen, "to find peace and quiet as far from the noise of society as we could get. And we did."
The Complete Walker? Isn't that what my grandmother had to use in her last days? Yet this news of the death of backpacking is probably happily received by the likes, say, of Steve Casimiro, who runs the (much-visited, much-lauded) Adventure Journal online magazine, and who in National Geographic Adventure once confessed: "Backpacking leaves me cold. Maybe it's my Generation X chromosomes, but I've found walking in the woods with a heavy pack to be lacking in adrenaline payoff." (Editor's note: Casimiro wrote this in a 2003 review of shoes used for "fastpacking" -- backpacking at a fast pace with only a few pounds of gear. Casimiro often praises intense adrenalin-inducing sports, but says now that he does not perceive a decline in backpacking, nor would he be happy if it is in decline.)
I wonder about those evolved chromosomes, being Gen X myself. More important, I worry about becoming a backpacking curmudgeon. I just turned 40, and I go out backpacking every year for a few weeks at a time, usually solo. Why? Because I like to be alone, sure, but also because I often find that friends of my own age won't join in the wretched fun.
Even in Moab, Utah – the so-called "Adventure Capital of the World" – where I used to live and to which I return every year for a month or so to reconnoiter the sun-smashed redrock desert, I find that almost no one I know who is 40 or younger goes backpacking. This is a kind of heartbreak. The problem might be one of marketing. Backpacking doesn't require much gear (the less the better) or expertise (why trust the experts?), and, if you plan it right, it poses little danger (my own preference). Who wants to market such things? There's no money in it.
Another friend of mine – well-educated, well-read, in his late 40s, but de facto homeless, without a car, an inveterate hitchhiker, an itinerant laborer in Colorado and Utah who spends at least 200 days of the year backpacking in the canyonlands – tells me that he too can't recruit backpacking companions. Instead, he encounters "gearheads" – people who see the outdoors as an arena for deploying the latest technological toys, such as mountain bikes that ride for you, or carabiners that talk, or apps for both. People, that is, who spend a lot of time caressing, naming, oiling, sleeping and playing with inanimate objects, as advertised that they should do in the "Adventure Capital." Then, post-adventure, they recover in various homes with the masses, such as the double-wide tent by the river, with the cooler full of beer, the gas stove searing meat, or to the Motel 6 or Best Western, with the air conditioner and the TV making conversation, as promised on the billboards outside town.
Anecdotal evidence, I know, but it's reinforced by the experts who compile outdoor recreation statistics. Chris Doyle, executive director of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, describes "a well-known trend" in outdoor gear sales, wherein day packs take an increasing share of the pack market while technical overnight packs are a declining percentage of total sales. "The same is true for heavy, extended-trip boots versus light boots," says Doyle. "This is all part of a trend towards 'Done in a day' that reflects consumers' continued interest in outdoor adventures, but they prefer to be in their own bed or another comfortable spot (hotel or lodge) at night."
In Moab I notice the kind of herd activity that not only stimulates the adrenal glands, but also keeps the herd together in the front country for entertainment, offers a pile of expensive mechanical stuff for purchase or maintenance (kudos to the retailers, profits are up), and hopefully requires the services of as many paid professionals as possible (more money changing hands). Think rock climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking, guided group hikes, and river rafting on "Moab's Daily," the nickname of a convenient stretch of the Colorado River that must be one of the busiest whitewater runs in the West. Extreme "adventure" is of course about getting high, dosing on dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter. This is the pattern of behavior in drug addicts, drunks and gamblers.
The adrenalized relationship with the natural world is also an experience of human conquest – the peak-bagger's pathology. Ironically, it's not much different from the benighted mindset of corporate accountancy: How many cliffs base-jumped? How many extreme trails conquered? Faster, more. And always the adrenalin payoff Casimiro perceives – not dissimilar to the monetary payoff chased by capitalists.
Ronni Egan, who is 67 and happened to go on a backpack into Colorado's San Juan Mountains last summer with Steve Allen, tells me that "backpacking is dying" because younger people are leery of the unglamorous labor required for stepping off pavement, and too occupied with the easiness of TV, Play Stations, X-Boxes, Facebook, smartphones and "everything else with an electronic screen," along with organized sports and other scripted activities, which includes the gym, shopping and "mall ratting."
Aging backpackers like Egan of course mourn the consequences of the death or decline of what they like to do. But the issue is more serious than that. I believe that our 21st century civilization will miss the radical encounter with the non-human: the visceral experience of days in wilderness alone, in vast and complex natural systems not controlled by humans, not arranged entirely for human convenience, not plagued by human noise. This matters more than ever at a time when our natural systems, on a planetary scale, appear to be in full rebellion against human convenience.
The best action we can take to keep our kind of outdoor rec alive: Go backpacking. Demonstrate it and celebrate it, "not as a mere sport or plaything excursion," as John Muir advised, "but to find the law that governs the relations subsisting between humans and nature." Or as Abbey wrote: "We are committed, my legs and I; there is no turning back. I shoulder the pack, resume the trek, the step-by-step progress into ... an infinite regress. ... I am the tortoise."
Christopher Ketcham divides his time between Brooklyn, N.Y., and Moab, Utah, and writes for a range of national publications.
The Ramen Chronicles: 11
2 / 23 / 10
After hiking some 2000 miles, it has become pretty clear to me what I need and what I don't need in my pack. I wouldn't carry anything at all if there was an alternative. I don't like stuff. It's a major distraction from why I go to the woods. My pack only contains the most basic stuff needed for walking, eating and sleeping outdoors.
This is not a macho or survivalist attitude by any means (NO REALLY!). For me, hiking in the woods is a step back into a more sustainable reality ~ which is basic sensory living; an active lifestyle submersed in nature with few modern distractions.
Nature is a Life Classroom and there are certain things required to produce a successful student. The tools needed for class are the 5 senses and practical thought. But, in order to access these tools a mountain of distractions, both mental and physical, may need to be explored first.
Consider the lifestyle of all the creatures in the wild. What are their needs, how do they cope with weather, where do they sleep, what do they eat, how do they interact with other creatures and the forest itself, do they live their lives totally focused on their immediate surroundings by employing their 5 senses and practical thought?
Now consider your lifestyle vs their lifestyle.....
We all came from the same beginnings, as creatures in the wild.
How far from that sustainable reality are we?
BACK UUUUP ! !
(yes, you can keep your toothbrush : )