Remember when the silence woke us? We crawled out of the tent just in time to see the sun rise. Virginia's Piedmont region seemed to spread out below us.
Many AT hikers enjoy staying in trail shelters. Many avoid them if possible. I tend to be in the latter group. I will stay in a shelter if it’s raining or rain is predicted. Pitching or packing a tent in the pouring rain can be a miserable undertaking. If it is to be a pleasant evening, I’ll find a flat spot for my tent at the end of the day. The possibility of roving rodents or snoring humans places me in the shelter-as-a-last resort group. Rain drove me into shelters four evenings in row during my April section hike.
Are you in the shelter camp or the avoid shelter camp? Under what conditions would you sleep in an AT shelter?
Near the end of Bill Bryson’s speech in Frederick, MD the other evening, he took questions from the audience. He answered questions about all of his books, but this article addresses the comments regarding his book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Bryson answered a question about his and Katz’s inability to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). He commented that he really admires thru-hikers. He remarked that thru-hiking is tough, tougher than most can accomplish. One only has to look at the number of thru-hiking attempts vs. completions to gain an appreciation for the difficulty of accomplishing a thru-hike. Bryson said he was really bothered by their not walking the whole trail. He didn’t spend many words on it in the book, but Bryson said he was bothered by it for a few months.
Of course, thru-hiking isn’t the only way to travel the Appalachian Trail. One remark triggered an eruption of applause from the audience. Bryson commented that he believes section hiking the trail “seems the most reasonable.” After the applause finally quieted, he added, “for me at least.” It is hard to describe, and difficult to test, but there seemed to be a message in the extended applause. It seemed as if the audience appreciated a person of authority giving them permission to enjoy the AT without committing to a 6-month thru-hike. Finally, it was ok to walk less than 2000 miles.
Bryson added that the Appalachian Trail must be celebrated, whether by traveling nearly 2200 miles or strolling 2 miles.
Any reader who has begun to read A Walk in the Woods will tell you that Bryson was concerned about bear attacks. The author spent much time and quite a few pages describing the dangers of bears and other creatures along the AT. The book’s cover photo reveals Bryson’s main concern for wildlife.
After his book was published, some readers provided guidance on bear encounters in the wild. One letter included a story about grizzly bears out west. Bryson said he shares this story with all audiences. You’ll find the bear story at 25:57 in the video clip below.
What has kept you from completing a long hike?
What is your greatest fear in the backcountry and why?
Bill Bryson knows a lot about writing books, a bit less about producing movies. Last night he commented on the movie adaptation of his best-selling book, A Walk in the Woods, during a book reading event in Frederick, MD.
In answering a question about the movie, Bill Bryson was quick to point out two things – 1) he “liked the movie very much,” and 2) he had nothing to do with it.
Bryson sold the movie rights of his book to Robert Redford. The world waited for the movie as the idea sat for years. In 2014, Robert Redford began filming the movie. Bryson indicated he had little to do with the movie production after he sold the rights. He made it clear that he trusted Robert Redford.
Bryson first saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. He sat between Robert Redford and his wife (i.e., Mrs. Bryson). He reports that he and his wife were looking forward to seeing the movie, and hoped that they would be accurately portrayed.
Bill Bryson told last night’s audience that it took a while to get used to Robert Redford answering for him on screen. Bryson seemed very pleased with the choice of Robert Redford to play him in the movie.
Bryson shared that the only uncomfortable time during the movie screening was when his character (Robert Redford) and an innkeeper (Mary Steenburgen) began to flirt. The Brysons were afraid the flirting might lead to something less innocent. The movie quickly moved on without either character engaging further. Bill Bryson leaned over to his wife during the Sundance screening and said, “That didn’t happen!” He has told his audiences since the movie’s release, “That didn’t happen!” He told last night’s audience in Frederick, “That didn’t happen!”
If not Redford and Nick Nolte playing Bryson and Katz in the movie, who? I would have liked to have seen Jack Black attempt to play a Katz. Who would you have casted for Bryson and Katz?
A campsite with a view was discovered on my recent overnight trip in the Delaware Water Gap.
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is along the New Jersey (NJ) and Pennsylvania (PA) border. The Delaware River cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, forming a gap. The geologic changes of the area began 500M years ago. A look at the topology suggests that water and wind erosion have been at work for a long time.
The 67,000-acre recreation area features fields that have been farmed for more than 1000 years. The area includes villages dating back to colonial times. Today, the recreation area offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails, 27 miles of which are the Appalachian Trail (AT). An adventurer can enjoy canoeing, rafting, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, and hiking in the recreation area.
My first experience in the Delaware Water Gap was during November of 2012. It was a joyous occasion. I was backpacking my last few miles of PA’s AT. PA is beautiful, but the AT is composed of tens of millions of toaster-sized rocks. As I was walking along the ridge of Mount Minsi at sunset, mentally checking PA off my section hike list, I decided to return to the Delaware Water Gap when I could.
My recent overnighter was four years after my first visit. I read about potential hazards (e.g., hunting season, black bear activities) to help prepare for the trip. A salesperson at my local outfitter encouraged me to pack bear spray. It would seem that NJ is just crawling with bears. My overnight trip was limited to PA, but PA is just a short wade across the Delaware River from bear-infested NJ. I purchased bear spray.
I parked at trailhead parking, hoisted my backpack, and began to climb Mount Minsi. It is a beautiful climb, along a gentle trail that crosses a couple of streams. Soon, I was reminded of the slope’s significant patches of Rhododendrons. These year-round leaf bearing shrubs could hide large sloths of bears. I climbed, with hand on bear spray.
The video shows a few views from Mount Minsi and the campsite with a view.
There are numerous parking lots for day hikers and backpackers. Review this interactive map to plan your visit of the region.
What interests you most about the Delaware Water Gap?
No backpackers were harmed in the making of this video.
The benefits of hiking in November include fewer creatures and more views. Few ticks, snakes, and bears are active in November. By this time of year, the leaves have fallen to the ground and a hiker can enjoy more views. I spent a week backpacking some of Virginia's Appalachian Trail in November 2013.
A backpacker usually has at least one bad day during a trip. A day when the pain outweighs the views. A day when he’d rather be elsewhere or anywhere else. Day 6 was the bad day of this trip. This day’s walk was relatively easy, but mentally difficult. The first four miles were downhill, along a winding creek and then a long lake. The day’s climbs were not especially long or steep. I was simply tired, in some pain, and my map reading skills were suffering. It was a day of many false summits and subsequent disappointments. I reached the Punchbowl Shelter by the end of the day. Punchbowl is a nice shelter near the Blue Ridge Parkway and features a nearby pond. It was the perfect place to end a dreadful day.
After a few minutes’ rest, I felt the urge to move on. The Punchbowl Shelter had everything I needed. Also, I only had a few more minutes of sunlight for walking. Counter to all logic, I lifted my pack and followed the trail up Punchbowl Mountain.
On top of the mountain, I did the usual camp stuff – found a flat area among the rocks and fallen branches, pitched a tent, and hung my bear bag. There were a few minutes of daylight left, so I turned west. I immediately knew why I was supposed to be on the summit. I had never seen anything like it. A day I wanted to forget culminated in a twilight I would never forget.
The sky was pink, violet, purple, blue, and black, and was changing by the moment. The mountain range just west of my campsite was a pale purple. I decided not to take a photo because I knew I would be disappointed with my phone’s inability to capture this sky. (The photo above is similar to what I saw, but is many magnitudes less stunning.) There was not any wind in the trees. There wasn’t any chatter among the squirrels. No sound. The world was completely still.
After a good long while, after the sky became black, I crawled into my tent and enjoyed a night warmer than previous nights. The temperature dropped to the 40s, as opposed to dipping into the high 20s. Day 6 may have been a disaster, but Night 6 was spectacular.
Has one of your bad hiking days been saved by something unexpected? If so, what was it?
One afternoon I found myself sitting in my cube staring at my computer monitor. My back was stiff and my eyes were sore. I was 28-years old and I felt mentally and physically weary, every single day.
My life had to change -- I was too young to feel this old. People are not designed to sit and stare at screens all day.
My quest to conquer the Appalachian Trail followed.
Trailiac is a resource to help you to plan your own, life-changing outdoor adventures. Trailiac is a hiker-supported initiative that is collecting the world’s information about long distance hiking trails.
It is difficult to plan hiking trips on unfamiliar trails. Sure, if you are headed out for an overnighter, you can probably figure out when to go, where to park, and how to pack. What about if you have a long weekend, or a whole week/month to walk a trail? Detailed planning is required or you may learn about hunger, cold, and trail hazards while walking the trail.
Information about long distance hiking trails is scattered among numerous resources. Planning trips to new places sometimes requires a hiker to jump from website to website. Some websites even encourage a hiker to pick up the phone and call a number. Is that the best we can do?
Trailiac is an ever-evolving online resource that presents what we know about long distance hiking trails on each of the continents. Long distance is defined as those hiking trails 400 miles or more in length. Admittedly, 400 miles is an arbitrary distance, but a distance had to be chosen. There are many beautiful trails less than 400 miles long, and one day we may bring those into the fold. For the moment, we are working with the 400-mile or longer distance.
On each of the long distance hiking trail pages, you’ll see what information must still be collected. We invite you to participate by contributing what you can regarding a trail. We are always interested in your photographs. We plan to keep sharing simple, so you can easily contribute to Trailiac by sending your material to editor@Trailiac.com.
Trailiac is for all those who work behind a desk and wonder, there must be more to life.
Some return from the backcountry, never to see it again. Once is enough. Others never really leave the backcountry. It is always with them. These travelers are trailiacs. For more on the term, trailiac, see What is a Trailiac?
My first trip on a long distance trail was back in the autumn of ’99. Bill Bryson had just published, A Walk in the Woods. I backpacked a section of the Appalachian Trail with my brother and his friend. It was unfortunate that none of us had ever backpacked. My pack was too heavy, my equipment rattled with each step, and a topo map was something we would learn to read.
We chose to hike from Maryland to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Virginia’s rollercoaster is a series of about a dozen mountains stretching about a dozen miles. There are few views of bucolic farm fields on this section. We seemed to walk uphill only to walk down the other side. This was not really the section to learn about backpacking.
It was a hard week of travel. New boots caused blisters in the most unlikely places. Sore muscles arrived on Day 2 and departed after our return to civilization. Walking, itself, was slow-going because we had packed for all weather scenarios. We couldn’t read a topo map, so we were disappointed by countless false summits. We were woefully unprepared for a week on the trail.
We found refuge at a hiker hostel on Day 3. Bear’s Den is 20 miles south of Harpers Ferry West Virginia, right along the trail. We stumbled into Bear’s Den after sunset. We quickly learned that hikers could stay inside and use a shower and the kitchen for $8, or stay outside for $3. We splurged and stayed inside. It sounds silly, but there is such a difference staying inside. Inside, we’d didn’t care if the dogs howling were really a pack of hungry wolves, because we had a door. Inside, we didn’t’ care if there was the infrequent October snowstorm, because we had a roof. Bear’s Den was a palace in ’99, and still is.
Most of our days were the same. Hike until twilight, set up tents, hang bear bags, and cook in the dark. My brother’s friend claimed to have surprised three bears one night, but there were no witnesses. Each morning we’d shake the frost off the tents and put all of our belongings in our bags. By the way, drinking hot chocolate on a crisp autumn morning cannot be described, only experienced. Hoist pack, and walk until sunset again.
It was a very difficult week of travel. I recommend it.