Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Photo: AkunaHikes.
“I learned that I was capable of living, I was capable of leading,” said the 41-year-old Army veteran who had struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after Iraq.

I know that the Sound of Music is a little corny, but there is wisdom in the line “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,” which Maria (soon to be Maria von Trapp) sings. Nature can be healing.

Andrea Sachs writes at the Washington Post about an Iraq war veteran and how the mountains healed him.

“Will Robinson was about 100 miles into his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail when the dark clouds started to lift. Not the ones high in the California sky, but the ones clustered in his head.

“ ‘I learned that I was capable of living, I was capable of leading. I was capable of inspiring and motivating people. That was something I had completely lost for a decade-plus,’ said the 41-year-old Army veteran who struggled with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder after his medical discharge in 2003. …

“Since that first long-distance hike in 2016, his mileage has multiplied to more than 11,000 miles and counting. In 2019, he became the first Black American man to earn the Triple Crown of thru-hiking by completing the trifecta of legacy trails: the 2,650-mile PCT from California to Washington state, the 2,194-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail from New Mexico to Montana. Two years later, ESPN declared Robinson ‘the trailblazing superstar of thru-hiking.’ He also received the 2022 George Mallory Award, which honors exceptional outdoor explorers. …

“Before the PCT, Robinson had never seriously hiked, though the military had prepared him for similarly tough challenges. ‘The closest thing I did to hiking was drill marching,’ said Robinson, who grew up on bases with his Army father. ‘It’s a lot different with a 100-pound pack and an M16, but it gave me a basis for hiking.’ In the armed forces, he powered through his pain, a practice he had to unlearn as a trekker. …

“After six months in Iraq and a stop in Germany for medical treatment, he returned to Louisiana, where he often felt too broken to leave the house, much less pursue outdoor activities. He underwent multiple surgeries and tried various therapy treatments and medications, to no avail. ‘After Iraq, I was disabled at 23,’ he said. A chance ‘encounter’ with celebrity long-haul hiker and Wild author Cheryl Strayed provided the jolt he needed to recharge his life.

“On that fateful day in March 2016, Robinson was in his room, ‘like always,’ when he glanced at the TV and saw Wild on the small screen. In the film version of Strayed’s best-selling memoir, he watched Reese Witherspoon lug her pack by a PCT trail marker, a scene that stirred up a memory from Iraq. During his downtime, Robinson would often pore over a PCT guidebook that someone had sent to the soldiers in a care package. ‘One day I’d love to do this,’ he said, reminiscing about that period in his life when he envisioned a future filled with adventure.

Without waiting for the closing credits, he jumped onto his computer and acquired a free long-distance permit, one of 5,657 issued that year.

“On April 2, he arrived in Southern California and embarked on a journey of personal discovery and recovery that resembled Strayed’s transformative quest two decades earlier. …

“In addition to the physical benefits of hiking in nature, medical experts extol its psychological virtuesStanford University-led research from 2015 determined that walking at least 90 minutes in a non-urbanized setting can help alleviate depression, lower stress and anxiety, and reduce rumination, the infinite loop of negative thoughts. A 2019 study called ‘Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective’ also explored the wide-ranging rewards, such as a happier state of mind, more positive social interactions, a clearer sense of purpose and a sturdier grip on life’s demands. …

“Robinson did not initially set out to complete the entire PCT, which runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. His primary goal, he said, ‘was to try to see if I could find me again, regardless of how many miles it would take.’ With only a few weeks to prepare, he trained around Slidell, about 30 miles northeast of New Orleans. …

“Early in the hike, he found his trail family and earned his trail name, ‘Akuna,’ a riff on a Swahili phrase (and The Lion King refrain) that translates to ‘no worries.’ The nicknames are bestowed by other long-distance hikers or are given to oneself. They are often fanciful, silly or philosophical.

“About five miles in, he was resting on a rock, feeling sluggish, when a woman named ‘Cookie’ appeared at his side. She determined that he needed food and proceeded to stuff her namesake snack into his mouth. The pair forged a bond, along with ‘2Pie,’ a teacher from Ohio, and ‘Nothing Yet,’ a veteran who had tackled the AT [Arizona Trail] the previous year to quell his PTSD. The group hiked together for long stretches, a major breakthrough for Robinson, who for years had avoided social situations because of his fraught mental state.

“ ‘Being around people triggered panic and anxiety attacks, and I didn’t want any part of it. I just shut down,’ he said. ‘But on the trail, I ran into so many great individuals who were there for me. All they wanted was to be part of my adventure and help me accomplish my goal.’ …

“He said, ‘For me, every hike is like a therapy session in progress. I’m going through things in my head, working out problems. When I find a solution, I can zone out and be in peace.’ “

More at the Post, here, and at AkunaHikes, here.

Read Full Post »

New Zealand Christmas Tree, also called ironwood, according to my PictureThis app. The video shows only one very spread-out tree, our “magic tree.”

We spent last week in the Azores, courtesy of Suzanne’s organizational skills, Erik’s driving skills, and the kids’ school vacation.

It was beautiful. The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic. The temperature was 50s and 60s F. We were on Sao Miguel island only. I have a lot of pictures to show you, crossing my fingers that you like derelict buildings as much as I do. There were plenty of spiffy modern buildings — some probably vacation homes for people who can handle frequent air travel — but for me, the crumbling, mossy ones were more picturesque.

The entrance to the “magic tree” park features a lion gate. The lions are made in the local ceramics factory, where we bought tiles. The flower is bird-of-paradise.

We loved the volcanic hot springs everywhere. Some family members went in a muddy one (muddy from iron in the water). It was about the temperature of a hot tub, 102 F. I joined them when they tried the clear hot springs. Fences protected visitors from the boiling ones.

The streets are very narrow. I couldn’t imagine getting in an out of the green garage door below. The sidewalks are nearly nonexistent, and everything stops when the fish van with its loud horn gets stuck behind a grocer loading boxes.

The cemetery was unlike any I have seen before. Nearby, I saw cows grazing. There are more cows than people in the Azores (125,000 as of 2020). Wonderful cheeses. I think I have identified the main dairy cows as Holstein Friesians.

The grotto is in Porta Delgada in one of the many botanical gardens (really the whole island was a botanical garden). Next is the tea plantation, the only one in Europe (Europe because the Azores are part of Portugal).

Check out the close-up of the ubiquitous volcanic rock, basalt, used for everything. Water and gases in lava formed the fossil bubbles. The black ornamentation on churches and chapels is “basaltic relief.”

Many homes have early morning bread deliveries that get hung on doorknobs or left on the doorsill.

My granddaughter, 8, edited the photo of a market’s fruit baskets.

Nearly every home has some kind of saint watching over it, in the form of a ceramic plaque handmade in the factory on Sao Miguel.

A phone booth had been turned into a little library in Porta Delgada.

Nasturtiums, poppies, fresh-air laundry, moss. I worked hard at capturing one of each of these common sights.

Boiling volcanic spring.
The farm dog did not want me so near the goats.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor.
“Trail maintainer Russell Riggs digs an impromptu drain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, May 1, 2022. The drain helps water gently slope down the mountain and off the trail, limiting erosion,” CSM reports.

I grew up at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains and although I never became a serious hiker, I always loved walking in the woods there. The Ramapo Mountains are part of the Appalachians. Today we learn how volunteers maintain the famed Appalachian Trail. Even in a pandemic.

Noah Robertson has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “The view from Jewell Hollow overlook is hard to beat. More than 3,000 feet above ground in Shenandoah National Park, it’s a 180-degree window into miles of valley and mountains. Surrounded by a mossy stone fence and hiking trails, the sight is one of the best in Virginia.

“But today, Kris English isn’t focused on that. Instead, she’s looking at dirt – grassy green to tan to gravelly brown. 

“She pauses when the ground gets dark. Telling her three-person crew to stop, she teaches them to study dirt like paint swatches (every artist needs a canvas). Darker dirt is wetter dirt. Wetter dirt means the trail will erode faster. 

“Then Ms. English, a technical trail specialist for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, shows them how to dig a drain. 

“Grabbing a 4-foot hybrid rake known as a McLeod, she clears debris in wide brushstrokes and carves a gentle slope. Five minutes later there’s a comet-shaped channel to guide water down the mountain. …

“Ms. English, leading a training session that morning in early May, helped add a few volunteers to the roster of those who routinely preserve the Appalachian Trail – the East Coast’s 85-year-old, 2,200-mile hikers’ paradise. Her role is professional, but each year a 14-state network of trail crews from Georgia to Maine volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours to keep the trail sustainable, accessible, and clean. 

The pandemic has made it harder. When indoor gatherings were off limits, people went outdoors in record numbers. And, not knowing basic hiking etiquette, they made a mess. 

“That hasn’t stopped the volunteers. Last fiscal year, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which oversees 240 miles of the trail – 101 of which are in Shenandoah National Park – amassed 2,000 more volunteer hours than it did the year before the pandemic. [To] Wayne Limberg, one of the PATC’s district managers in Shenandoah National Park, … the response shows that people understand the Appalachian Trail’s inherent contract. It offers humans an almost unrivaled opportunity to interact with nature. But that agreement takes preservation. 

“ ‘We want to make sure that it can be enjoyed by those of us living now and also future generations,’ says Mr. Limberg, who helped Ms. English lead the training session in May. ‘Trails need to be maintained.’ …

“Humans want to see nature. But nature doesn’t always appreciate the interest. Trails solve that problem by concentrating folks into a single, relatively small path, she says. The arrangement maximizes people’s exposure to nature and minimizes their impact. 

“But this is a fragile agreement. Humans – particularly new hikers – can disturb the forest with litter, graffiti, music, and millions of footprints. Nature, for its part, will always try to take the trail back with weeds, moving water that erodes the path, and fallen trees known as ‘blowdowns.’ 

“Hence, the need for trails creates a need for trail maintainers. And trail maintainers need training. 

“After a series of safety tips, Ms. English walks her group to a set of tools. … The fire rake’s harsh triangles help clear gravel and debris. The mattock’s two ends can dig earth and tear roots. …

“ ‘I could nerd out about tools for a minute,’ she says. And briefly she does, even posing in proper technique – like the relaxed stance of a surfer, not the hunch of an ‘old witch.’

“Maintainers follow several simple rules. Preserve a 4-foot-by-8-foot rectangular ‘trail prism’ free of weeds and fallen trees so hikers can freely walk. Gather litter. Report anything they can’t fix.

“And, perhaps most important of all, guide water. Rain needs to flow down the backslope and off the edge, not pool on the treadway. Otherwise, the path will erode, gather debris, or change shape entirely as months of nature junk accumulates. 

“Official policy is that the treadway should slope down at a 5-degree angle. The reality is almost never that precise. If they want an impromptu level, Ms. English says, a half-filled, transparent water bottle will work.

“Ms. English, Mr. Limberg, and the crew’s other two members remove a rickety log ‘water bar’ and replace it with a fresh channel. Pulling the log up, Ms. English finds two curled millipedes. Mr. Limberg finds a AA battery. 

“In the last two years, litter like that has only become more common. ​​… The motto for seasoned hikers is ‘leave no trace.’ But many of the new visitors during the pandemic hadn’t yet learned the code. The Appalachian Trail has many access points and can’t record each hiker. But the multiple trail maintainers interviewed by the Monitor described a clear increase in use over the last two years. With it, too, they found an increase in waste and degradation – from little bags of dog poop left in a stack at the trailhead to spray-painted boulders. 

“ ‘When you see stuff that frustrates you, you don’t like it, but you realize that’s why I’m here,’ says Jim Fetig, who manages the PATC’s program of paid seasonal trail ambassadors known as ‘ridgerunners.’ ‘You just rise to the occasion and take care of it and move on.’

“To Mr. Limberg, the good news is that trail maintenance is getting back to its natural state. When national and state parks closed at the beginning of the pandemic, his trail crew’s work stopped as well. Even when things reopened, there were capacity limits and required social distancing. …

“It’s been more than 20 years since Mr. Limberg joined the PATC. Two decades of maintenance have reminded him that ‘the mountain always wins.’ No matter how many times he digs drains, whacks weeds, and lifts litter, the trail will need more work. It’s humbling.  But it also gives him a connection to the land he might not otherwise have.”

More at the Monitor, here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: