Hike to Audie Murphy Monument

Yesterday I had a great hike with the Rockbridge Community Hikers to the monument marking the site where WWII Hero and Medal of Honor Winner Audie Murphy died in an airplane crash in 1974. It was a beautiful day and although I usually hike solo it was a lot of fun to be with such a nice group of people. I hope you’ve been able to get outside during this stretch of unseasonably mild weather — take advantage of it!AudieMonument

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Inchworm’s Remains Have Been Found

Sunset from Mt. Pleasant

Sunset from Mt. Pleasant

Late yesterday I hiked up to the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area for a one-night ‘micro-adventure’. I ate dinner as the sun set then crawled into my sleeping bag and watched the stars come out. Before it was fully dark I heard my phone signal an incoming text message. It was from Cathy and it read…”Inchworm’s remains were found!”

I can’t tell you how happy it made me feel to have the mystery of Inchworm’s disappearance finally solved. I can only imagine what her family must be feeling now. There are still questions to be answered but they will be answered soon enough.

Here is an article with more information.  Inchworm’s Remains Found

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So Much for New Year’s Resolutions!

Well I am embarrassed to say that I certainly have not fulfilled my resolution to write one blog per month in 2015. I’d like to think that it’s because I’m so busy doing fun and interesting things that I don’t have time to write about them. The truth is, though, that I’m just a bit lazy when it comes to documenting my outdoor activities. I can only try to do better!

This past week I had a great adventure that is worth writing about and if I’m creative enough, I should be able to turn it into several short blog posts. Let me start by saying that the seed for last week’s adventure in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina began back in June when I volunteered to work for a week as a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s SWEAT crew. SWEAT stands for Smokies Wilderness Elite Appalachian Trail. I don’t know about the “Elite” part but participating on the crew was a fantastically inspirational experience for me. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I volunteered for another week in August.

I’ll write more about my SWEAT crew experiences later because now I just want to let you know that last week I spent four days/three nights backpacking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I covered forty miles of trails, camped in remote backcountry sites and thoroughly enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of early fall in the woods. It’s fall and it’s beautiful out there – so I encourage you to try to get out for a day hike, bike ride or even an overnight camping trip at one of your favorite locations.

View from Mount Sterling fire tower.

View from Mount Sterling fire tower.

The best part about this trip, other than just being out in the woods, was that I made a significant step forward in my backpacking skills. Instead of sleeping in my trusty Big Agnes tent I used my new tarp and bivvy sack combination from Mountain Laurel Designs, an outdoor equipment company that specializes in lightweight gear. MLD is located in Roanoke, Virginia just down the road from my home here in Lexington.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with tarps but in case some of you don’t know what a bivvy sack (just ‘bivvy’ for short) is here’s a photo…

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It’s basically a fabric cocoon in which I place my sleeping bag and sleeping pad. When it’s time to go to bed you simply climb in and zip the bivvy up as much as you want to. Most bivvys have netting in the head area so that you can be fully enclosed while not feeling claustrophobic. My bivvy has a half-moon net area and an elastic cord which can be used to suspend the head area of the bivvy from the tarp so that it doesn’t lay directly on your face. The first night out a mouse was trying to get into the bivvy with me so I completely zipped the netting closed to foil its attempts to snuggle up next to me. He was a pesky little rascal!

I was a bit nervous about giving up the ‘security’ of my tent but I wanted to reduce the weight of my shelter system and I also wanted to try out tarp camping – which I feel is a more advanced skill. Well I need not have been nervous because I absolutely loved sleeping under the tarp in my bivvy sack – even considering the mouse attack. It felt much more open than the tent and I had 360-degree visibility which allowed me to keep a wary eye out for bears which are known to visit campers in search of food. The tarp is made of Cuben fiber, the same material used for sails in competitive sailing such as the America’s Cup race. Cuben fiber is very light, strong and translucent so I was able to see the brightest stars through the material. The tarp weighs 7.8 ounces and the bivvy weights 7.5 ounces, so me sleep system weighs 15.3 ounces – less than a pound (not including stakes and guy lines). That’s about two pounds less than my tent! Here’s a photo of my new sleep system…

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The weather was great for my trip – cool but not cold and no rain until I started hiking out on Friday morning. I absolutely love the Smokies. There are so many beautiful trails to hike and areas to explore in the Smokies – can’t wait to get back down there!

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Happy 2015!

Happy New Year, everyone! My #1 resolution for the New Year is to journal more and that includes trying to write at least one new blog post on The Man in My Shoes each month. I usually feel like I don’t have enough interesting things going on to write about, but that’s probably not true. 2014 was a great year with a great trek with Cathy on The Camino de Santiago, a fun hike in Vermont with Whiskers and his students, many days spent in the mountains near my home in southwest Virginia, and great times spent with my family, especially my two grandsons Jackson and Liam.

J&L are with us today and we’re going to do our first hike of 2015 close to home, on either the Chessie Trail or the Woods Creek Trail. They are full of energy and love to be outside so we’ll have some fun today.

Jackson and I went fishing a couple of days ago and didn’t catch anything but had fun exploring along the edge of the pond in our neighborhood. In previous posts I’ve mentioned my interest in getting kids outside to play and enjoy the outdoors and I’ve been doing that a lot with J&L for the past couple of years. As they get older it gets even easier!

In 2015 I want to add more paddling and fishing to my outdoor activities since we have such great waterways here in Virginia and in Florida where J&L live. Cathy and I have planned an extended visit to Florida this year and I look forward to exploring the creeks, rivers and sounds around Amelia Island as well as the nature trails in the area. I may even try fly fishing which is something I’ve been interested in for many years but only tried once – that’s a funny story for another blog post.

Here’s a photo of Jackson climbing a big boulder after our recent fishing expedition.

My fishing buddy.

My fishing buddy.

One final thought…the New Year is a good time to remember old friends and acquaintances and just this morning I found this article about Inchworm, the AT thru-hiker who I met in 2013, shortly before she disappeared while hiking in Maine. It’s the most detailed article I’ve read about Inchworm and provides an excellent update on what they’re now calling her ‘cold case’. It is good to see that the Maine Warden Service has not given up the search and the state search coordinator, Lieutenant Kevin Adam, plans to continue the search in the late spring when the snow melts.  How could a woman just vanish?

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Six Lessons From My Vermont Trip

IMG_3683I’ve been back in Virginia for a few days and have been telling the Princess all about my backpacking trip on the Long Trail with Whiskers and his students – B3, Toog, Jukebox, Aviator, and Sinatra. She’s encouraging me to write one last blog post to talk about what I learned while spending ten days backpacking with five teenagers so here goes…

1. I really enjoy hiking, backpacking and spending time in the great outdoors. Of all the sports and fitness activities that I have participated in during my life, the physical and mental benefits of hiking ten miles or more per day are by far the greatest. I encourage everyone to consider a backpacking or trekking trip for their next vacation. One or two weeks spent backpacking in the U.S. or trekking in Europe, New Zealand or some other interesting location is a fantastic way to see new places and rejuvenate yourself. If you don’t like camping you can still trek overseas with a small backpack and stay in hostels, eat in cafés and meet interesting like-minded people. Give it a try!

2. Vermont is a beautiful state and I hope to visit again soon. During my Appalachian Trail hike in Vermont in 2013 it rained every day and I was constantly soaking wet. On this recent ten-day trip it rained hard three times at night but only once during the day, and it was just a light rain. The Green Mountains of Vermont are green because they get a lot of rain but from what I can tell late summer and early fall are the ideal times to hike there.

3. Many young people have little or no experience walking in the woods and almost everything about hiking is new to them, so it is important to be patient and explain things in detail and demonstrate what to do. An example is following trail markers to make sure you stay on the right trail. On the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail there are places where side trails branch off and trail markings are unclear. This can cause confusion but there are clues to help you navigate. They can be subtle, such as determining which path has seen more use or noticing a tree limb laid across one of the trails indicating that it is not the main trail. This is an important skill for a novice hiker to learn and it takes time to gain experience and become a proficient trail navigator.

4. I know very little about teen culture – the films, books, music, etc. that they like. We talked a lot while hiking about all kinds of things and I was clueless about much of what they discussed. I’ve never read a Harry Potter book or seen a Harry Potter movie and this is something I need to work on. Interestingly, the students know a lot about pop culture from my college years such as the original Star Wars movie, which came out in 1977, and the B-52’s song ‘Rock Lobster’ from 1978. (The students said that if my trail name was not already ‘Walker’ it would have to be ‘Obi Wan Kenobi’, the wise old man from Star Wars.) As my grandsons get older I will make it a point to read books with them such as the Harry Potter series, or whatever happens to be popular with children their age.

4. I have had first aid training several times during my life but I am not currently first aid certified. When leading a group hiking or backpacking trip it is critical to have current first aid certification, ideally a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. I hope to get the WFR certification in the coming year.

5. As an adult helping to lead a backpacking trip for young people you are responsible for their well-being. I think that I did a lot to help the students learn about packing and carrying a backpack, hiking, campcraft, and enjoying the outdoors. What I did not consider are the legal ramifications of what would happen in the event that someone was hurt during the trip. This is what caused me to leave the program after ten days. I did not have liability insurance to cover myself in the event that one of the students was seriously injured while backpacking. Unfortunately I didn’t address this prior to the trip and only thought of it after a couple of incidents caused me some concern. In the future I will talk to my insurance company and a lawyer to make certain I am protected while leading young people on any sort of outdoor program.

My hike with this group was thoroughly enjoyable and I regret not addressing the liability issue in advance because I would have liked to finish the trip. Whiskers is a remarkable young man and his students are amazing. I know that they will all benefit from this experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a short time with them, get to know them and to help them get started in backpacking and enjoying the great outdoors.

P.S.   I recommend a book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods about how important it is for all of us, but especially children, to be able to play freely in the woods. My generation was probably the last to spend a lot of time playing in the woods without adult supervision. Today there are many competing activities for children’s time and we are so concerned with protecting them from harm that we are reluctant to let them out of our sight. Last Child in the Woods has started a movement that is getting children back into natural settings for free play and it seems that there are many positive benefits.

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Day Ten – Burlington

We got up early this morning and quickly hiked the 7.5 miles to our pick-up point where Sinatra’s mother, Rebecca, met us and drove us into Burlington. We checked in to the Anchorage Inn, washed our laundry at the laundromat and picked up some supplies at Eastern Mountain Sports. Sinatra got a new backpack that fits him better than his other one did, Aviator got some new poles (he dropped one down a crevasse on Mansfield), and others got high-tech clothing items to replace cotton items. Afterward Rebecca drove us to downtown Burlington where we window shopped and had dinner at a Himalayan restaurant. A hiking friend of mine from the AT, Lady Grey, met us at the restaurant and it was great catching up with her. Whiskers had never met her but they have a lot of common friends from the AT. She brought us some great trail magic (brownies) and the students enjoyed meeting her and she enjoyed meeting them. Now we’re at the inn and the students are playing in the pool.
I need to let you know that this was my last day on The Long Trail hike so this will be my last blog post. After hiking with the group for the past ten days I have come to realize that while what we are doing is not dangerous, there is some risk involved and that my personal liability is an issue. So I will be heading home on Sunday and Whiskers and the students will continue with the hike. I have thoroughly enjoyed the hiking and especially getting to know the students. They are all pretty special and I will miss being with them and Whiskers. But I know that this is the right thing for me to do.
Here are some pictures from today.

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Day Nine – To Buchanan Shelter

Today we hiked eleven miles through a thick forest with lots of maple trees and pines. There was some climbing in big rocks but we were not above the tree line like we were yesterday on Mount Mansfield.
We had one incredible overlook at Harrington Viewpoint with a view all the way back to Mansfield. It was amazing to see how far we had walked.
Other than that the hiking part of the day was pretty standard. We arrived at Buchanan Shelter at 4:00, set up camp and had an early dinner. Jukebox started a campfire and now were enjoying sitting around the fire, talking and waiting for bedtime. I know everyone will sleep well tonight.
Tomorrow we have a short hike of seven miles and then we’re going to spend the night in Burlington. Everyone is excited about visiting town and Burlington is supposed to be a very nice town.
Here are a couple of photos from today.

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