Tag Archives: backpacking

Review: On the Trail: A History of American Hiking

On the Trail: A History of American HikingOn the Trail: A History of American Hiking by Silas Chamberlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started hiking as a kid with my family and later as a boy scout, I never gave much thought to how trails were made or who made them. Even as a teenager and then as a young adult, I had some vague sense that these trails were probably created by the CCC half a century ago. It wasn’t until I joined a local trail organization myself and started working to maintain and build new trails that I began to understand the sheer amount of man-hours (person-hours?) that go into keeping the trails open and enjoyable.

“On the Trail” describes the evolution of trail walking and hiking, from its inception of nature and rural graveyard strolls to organized clubs to the current incarnation of largely solo and ad hoc group hiking. Chamberlin’s history focuses on a few key groups and areas, such as the Dartmouth Outing Club, the Sierra Club, the Appalachian Trail, and (briefly) the Pacific Crest Trail, though many other organizations and trails get some coverage. His work nicely bridges the gap that seems to exist in outdoors-nature writing, which often goes “Thoreau > present.”

If you’re a hiker, backpacker, or outdoors enthusiast, this is a book I’ll happily recommend. It’ll give you something interesting to contemplate or discuss while you’re out on the trail yourself and make you wonder: “who built the trail I’m on now? Who takes care of it?” It might even make you feel inspired to get involved in a local trail organization of your own; always a good thing! Certainly, I felt a sense of vindication and pleasure knowing that I’ve shifted my hiking style from “net consumer” of trails to “net producer” (terms that Chamberlin uses to describe the shift).

If you don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the outdoors or if your sense of what hiking should be is largely associated with forced family gatherings that are to be endured rather than enjoyed, there’s nothing here that’s going to make you want to strap on a pair of boots. But that’s okay, because this book is really aimed at the crowd of hikers who like to go out, enjoy the woods, but maybe haven’t thought too much more about how they can give back to their hobby. If nothing else, it’ll make you appreciate how much work went into, and still goes into, created all the paths we enjoy.

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Various Thoughts

Are we halfway through May already? How did that happen? The time, where does it go?

I’ve been busy over the past few weeks, as my lack of presence here on the old blog can attest. In no particular order, here are a few of the various and sundry things that I’ve gotten myself up to:

  • I took a backpacking trip through Aravaipa Canyon. This is my third trip to the canyon in the past four years. This is, without a doubt, my favorite place in all of Arizona. The Grand Canyon might be larger, but it’s also busy. Aravaipa is remote; really, really remote. We counted how long it took us to get from the canyon entrance to the first gas station: nearly two hours.
  •  My Challenge mode group finally earned all gold ratings, so now my night elf druid has a bad-ass looking set of armor. This is a World of WarCraft thing, so worry not if you understand what all of these words mean individually, just not in this particular configuration.
  • I completed my first oil change on my Z1000. I would have taken pictures of the event to commemorate baby’s first oil change, but my hands were covered in gross oil that I didn’t want to get all over my smartphone. You’ll just have to imagine how it went.
  • I managed to contract some particularly virulent plague. I had to stay home from work on two separate occasions within the same week, but even so, I managed to infect almost everyone I came into contact with. If I’d written anything during that time, it likely would have infected all who read it, so be glad I stayed away.
  • I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading. I like to set a reading goal for the year, which Goodreads then tracks and helpfully informs you of how far ahead or behind you are on that goal. For most of 2014, I’ve had a comfortable eight book lead but it shrank considerably over the past few weeks as I grappled with some particularly challenging philosophy reading. At last glance, my lead was down to four books. I’m hoping to build that back up with some lighter fiction reading soon.
  • No word from the agent that I queried. It hasn’t been four weeks yet, but I’ve got my list of who to send to next. In the meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about what novel I want to finish writing next. I’ve got a sequel to my current work that’s half-done, but there was also that cyber-punk novel that I started and am actually kind of proud of. Hmm, decisions, decisions.
  • The freelance writing thing is going pretty well! I can’t talk about it too much due to respect for client privacy, but I just finished working on a draft for a technical guide that I’m really proud of. I actually rather enjoy technical writing. I worry what this enjoyment indicates about my level of mental health.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Usually I check my own Twitter feed for reminders (I look at my Twitter account as a little archive of my life), but I haven’t been tweeting all that much, so there are no helpful reminders. So it goes.

What have you been up to? Anything fun?

Where I’ve Been

It’s been quiet on the blog for the past few days. There is a reason for this silence. This past weekend, I went backpacking in the Rincon Mountains with a couple of friends. Now, I’m a pretty experienced backpacker (in my opinion, at least), if not an avid backpacker, since I usually only make it out a couple of times each year. This is important background information.

I’ve been the Rincon Mountains once before and it wasn’t the best experience. At the time, I chalked it up to relative inexperience. I hadn’t been backpacking for several years and during those previous trips, I was always a follower. Everybody I went with had the necessary equipment. All that was really expected of me was that I show up and be able to carry my gear.

My first backpacking trip to the Rincons was difficult for a couple of reasons. First, I lacked some very important gear and second, I grossly miscalculated the water situation and ended up taking three gallons with me for the trip. You can Google the weight of that much water if you didn’t do the math in your head. Now add that number to the weight of a typical pack and you can see why this first venture was doomed before it even started. Perhaps doomed is the wrong word; we did survive the trip, after all.

It’s been a few years since that first effort and I’d completed many more backpacking trips since. I was familiar with my equipment and my needs. I felt comfortable trying out new bits of gear to see what worked. And since I’d been to the Rincons before, I knew the area and what to expect. These were all factors that I felt would guarantee a good trip and if we’re willing to redefine what makes a “good trip,” I suppose I could call it that.

There are two kinds of backpacking trips, in my experience. There are the ones that resemble a nature walk. Your mileage isn’t terribly high or the terrain isn’t terribly rough or both. You don’t really have to push yourself; it’s more about you and nature than any feat of physical endurance.

Then there are the other backpacking trips. The one that seems to be uphill the entire way. The one that burns your leg muscles until they feel like corded steel for days afterwards. The ones that aren’t as comfortable or relaxing as the nature walks, but they’re also the ones that, when it’s over, you can look back on your trip and say, “damn, I really achieved something there.”

This return trip to the Rincons was an achievement trip.

It started out well enough. We got an early start and the weather seemed cool enough. The problems didn’t develop until we were well underway.

1st problem: half my water supply leaked out in the first few hours.

I’d planned on bringing 6 liters of water for that day, with a resupply at the camp site. So imagine my surprise when I found that my 3 liter Osprey was already empty after only a few hours. Maybe I’d been drinking more than I realized? It wasn’t until I saw the puddle collecting in the bottom of my pack that I realized I had a major leak. That was bad. Now, instead of having six liters of water with me, I had three. Not good.

2nd problem: the “mountain spring” did not live up to its name.

This is a mountain spring.

This is not a mountain spring.

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Care to guess which one we drank from?

Fortunately, my water filter did its job well enough and prevented horrible giardia infections. Still, it was pretty gross to expect the flowing stream that I’d encountered on my previous hike and be confronted with a stagnant puddle that challenged me to relive all the best Survivorman episodes I’d ever watched. Even when I resupplied our water, I was still down to 50% of my intended carrying capacity, which meant I was running on empty almost immediately on the second day.

Anyway, this all added up to the fact that water was a huge issue for me during the entire trip and as a result, I was rocking a pretty good case of heat exhaustion and dehydration by the end of the trip, which contributed to my overall bleak mood. I’m glad that we toughed out the trip and I did have a good time. But it was more a result from what I achieved and was subjected to, rather than the aforementioned nature walk.

I’d be willing to tackle the Rincons again; I’ve yet to make it beyond the first camp and I want to see what else is out there. I have a feeling that there’s some pretty beautiful scenery hidden beyond its craggy borders. But for the meantime, I think the next trip will be something nice and restorative at good old Aravaipa Canyon.