Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nine Inch Nails - "Down in It"

            In the movie Forrest Gump, there is a point where Forrest finds that he is smack dab in the middle of a particular unpleasantness, to which he tells a bystander, who he hands the shirt that he has wiped his face off with, that “it happens.” The bystander clarifies as to whether Forrest means what he thinks, and Forrest indeed agrees that, yeah, “it happens.”

            And that’s the thing about having a hiking accident. It happens. We can plan and be careful. We can be here now. We can take breaks or stop when we’re getting tired. We can buy the best fitting clothing and all the coolest high-tech equipment or stock up all of our first aid gear and carry a heavy bag that contains all of it to make sure that we have everything possible for every possible contingency that we or someone else could encounter, and we can still find that “it happens.”

            Rain happens. Bear maulings happen. Bee stings happen. Rattlesnake bites happen. Avalanches happen. Unexpected flash floods and blizzards happen. Hurricane strength winds happen. Unruly hikers and their angry yipping and barking dogs happen. Thievery at group shelters happens. Feet plunging through snowy drifts on river banks happen. Swift rivers blocking progress happens. Hot weather that leads to dehydration happens. Faulty equipment happens. The inability to climb mountain walls happens. Sasquatch, chupacabra, extra-terrestrial, and pukwudgie encounters happen. Changes since the map and guidebook were written happen. Getting lost happens. Blisters developing and toenails falling off happen.

And of course, slips and falls happen.

Everything that Edward Abbey informed us that it was our right and privilege to have is something that can happen in the harsh forbidding desert, the huge rock-strewn mountains, the deep, wet swamps, and the gentle country parks.

And guess what? It can happen anytime, anywhere. In dry or wet conditions… on flat or sloped ground… with or without the assistance of rocks… in the presence of a jinx hiking partner or alone… every now and again, we all take a nice trip and have a good fall. I’ve bashed my shin up but good. I’ve landed on my arms forcefully while thrusting forward, out of control, and like every other victim of calamity, I’ve screamed out in profanity. Fortunately, I’ve always made it out OK or OK enough in that I’ve only ever limped out with a bloody bruise, which led to a good infection.

In short, I’ve had problems, but I’ve never really been down in it; however, I a lot of other people have, and this is the story of one of those people, who to her resume credit, now has a mega-accident to her credit.

Nevertheless, in the 7 years that we have been hiking together, we’ve seen and heard about our fair share of things that happened to others, and we’ve experienced some minor setbacks ourselves. Nevertheless, when “it happens,” the individual finds out whether he or she is ready for it or not.


Somewhere out there on the Internet is a list of all kinds of statistics that tell us how often and how likely it is that “it happens,” but truth be told, as we outdoor adventurers are entering into a potentially chaotic system, not too dissimilar from buckling up in a plane seat or behind the wheel of our automobiles, we run the risk of death or injury in everything that we do. It’s not quite the same odds that the guys who they made the movie The Right Stuff about endured, but it’s a significant number. Laurence Gonzales gets a lot of good mileage in his books regarding this scenario, and let me say that I heartily recommend all of his books since it’s important to think ahead about what we would do in these scenarios.

His books aren’t about what fancy survival knives that you should carry to be like Rambo, and for this, he does leave some people shaking their heads about what they’re reading. Instead, he talk about the mind as the most important tool available. This is echoed in the book Hatchet, where the main character Brian remembers how his English teacher once stated that, “You are your most valuable asset.” Being of sound mind allows the body to be controlled a lot better than to just have a strong out of control body acting against the interests of the self. Sure, a strong body helps us get over hurdles better, but in the end, the mind rules all. It can control some scenarios, but it can’t control everything.

Regarding survival, Gonzales knows as well as all of us know, for that matter, just the fact that other people enter into these risky activities puts the rest of us at risk by at least a small percentage. Planes could crash out of the sky and land on our house. A car could drive through our front doors. It happens. Nevertheless, the likelihood that we end up as a statistic somewhere should decrease with knowledge and preparedness; however, as Aron Ralston will attest to, the “it” of being a statistic can happen to anyone. Somewhere in the Venn diagram between hubris / adventure / chaotic systems is a bull’s eye that says, “Hey, guess what? You’re officially meat!”

That’s what happened to Aron Ralston in the canyon at Blue John. That’s what happened to Joe Simpson in the Peruvian Andes. That’s what happened to all of Jon Krakauer’s “characters” on Everest in 1996, and that’s what happened to the Sherpas on Everest last year. Outdoor magazines and newspaper articles blast headlines of missing / injured / dead hikers all of the time. We celebrate the successes, and we gasp at the failure because that could be us.

Let’s be honest; in the hiking community, we all make mistakes. We regroup and learn our lesson. We take our punishments when necessary, and we avoid repeating the same actions that led to mistakes again… theoretically. We grow and change to stop being what it was that led us to these places where the mistake occurred.

Nevertheless, sometimes, our mistake is the chaotic system. Other times, it’s our faults. In still other scenarios, we rely on others to help us when we shouldn’t necessarily be so trusting of our situation with them. In other scenarios, it’s our fear that seems to bring us to our demise.

There are many ways to get into a predicament that we can’t get out of. All we have to do is enter into the system. In other cases, we find that after the initial fear, there is something stronger and more powerful that is located deep within ourselves, and even if it takes being awoken by something powerful or assisted with a rescue from outside, there is a sense of transition that is going to occur, which will outweigh the situation that brought it on.

And that moment of becoming is what happened to my wife Heather in April 2015, when she and I went hiking at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Survivor - "Eye of the Tiger"

            The Standing Stone Trail is a survivor. Twenty years after the concept of this trail (originally named the Link Trail) was born in a flower club meeting, it seemed like years of hard work organizing volunteers to act on every stage of its creation (from politics to trail work) would vanish into last year’s leaves, dead logs, and overgrowth. However, many men stepped up to keep the trail going. It was their action of taking over the trail from the KTA and securing a tools grant, which led the way to the paths being cleared again so that we could invigorate the trail as we know it to be today.
            However, to just say what the Standing Stone Trail is in these words is to understate what exactly it is and it was. When it first began, it was meant by Tom Thwaites to be the “link” between the Mid-State Trail and a proposed rerouting of the Appalachian Trail. Nevertheless, this reroute never happened, but the land rights and the early efforts to create a connecting trail did occur. As a result, years of hard work and effort by strong bodies, wise minds, and committed souls led to the transformation of a rocky trail that progressed southward from Greenwood Furnace State Park to Cowans Gap State Park.
            Between those years, many things happened. The Rocky Ridge Area was morphed into Martin’s Gap Natural Area by people like Jean Aron. This section is now just as famous for a unique collection of wild flowers such as obolaria and also the putty root orchid as it is for the boulders that encourage brave souls to climb up, up, up! In addition, the showcase section of the trail, the Thousand Steps, was preserved as part of the 669-acre Harbison Walker Tract. With the efforts of the Keystone Trails Association and people like Carol Witzeman, Steve Stroman, and Joe & Betty Clark, Mount Union now gets to play host to a trail that rises well over 1,600 feet into the sky. In addition to the views of Huntingdon Township, which it provides, it preserves the history of the ganister mines that once gave Mount Union the moniker “Bricktown, U.S.A.” More than anything though, this section shows the love of nature that the trail community has for their sport since it involved purchasing and donating the land to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. This act represents the ultimate in trail commitment.
As a result of this and many other efforts by a myriad of people, too numerous to mention, who volunteered their time and effort, the Standing Stone Trail is the epitome of everything that a backpacking trail should be. First and foremost, it is well-maintained. In the beginning, there were only 8 maintainers! Today, that number is 20 maintainers for 27 sections. This has condensed the work load to a couple of miles instead of an average of over 8 miles. Because of this and the combined efforts of the Old Timer’s Trail Crew and our rock working crews, the trail stays traversable in all 4 seasons. In addition, many key players ensure that the trail is blazed, signed, staffed, clearer, and hiked. Because of this, people can see beautiful vistas like the Throne Room, which Pennsylvania Magazine named best hike up vista in Southern Pennsylvania for the May / June 2009 issue.
However, the Throne Room is not our only gazing point. In addition, there is also the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch Vista, with a wooden seating area. There is also Sausser’s Stonepile, the Hall of the Mountain King, the King’s Chambers, Butler Knob, Clark’s View, Windy Vista, Hooper’s Gap, and our patch’s image, which can be seen at Monument Rock’s vista.
In 2011, our trail became home to the Butler Knob Shelter. This beautiful and well-maintained wooden house provides a home away from home for trail weary hikers resting from or for the Thousand Steps, which are about ten miles away from it. While it is the only shelter on our trail, it represents a vision of the future for what our trail can become.
In this future, the proposed 9.11 Memorial Trail is overlapping a small part of our trail for their paths, which will connect Shanksville, the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers. In addition, we are a significant part of the Great Eastern Trail, which is a 1,600 mile trail that lies between Alabama and New York. While not as long as the Appalachian Trail, it offers the ability to connect to the Florida Scenic Trail and the North Country Trail. The first through hikers, Bart Houck and Joanna Swanson, began the successful initial trek in January 2013. Now, other hikers follow in their footsteps on this more “private” version of the Appalachian Trail.
But Bart and Joanna are not the only hikers to use the Standing Stone Trail. On a recent October day, over twenty cars were parked at the base of the Thousand Steps. While this doesn’t seem like a lot of cars, it represents a maximum amount of cars that fit in the Route 22 parking lot beneath the steps. In addition, while this staircase can feel crowded on the narrow passageway, it represents one of the things that makes our trail so special: it is a place you deliberately have to seek out.
In this, aside from the entrances at Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap, the trail is accessed largely from dirt roads. Thus, it’s possible to be the only person at a vista on some days. Here, we have a largely undiscovered gem in the middle of Central Pennsylvania. By becoming the DCNR’s 2015 Trail of the Year, we would be able to bring additional hikers to the small towns of this region such as Mount Union, Three Springs, and Mapleton, as well as Lewistown and Huntingdon. Not only would this help our trail’s visibility, but it would do much to improve the local economies of these towns.
Right now, our trails are featured in guidebooks such as Scott Brown’s Pennsylvania Mountain Vistas and Tom Thwaites’ 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania. We also have a webpage and a Facebook group page  .
However, for our increasing social media presence, we are what we aren’t. We aren’t trying to be a rails to trails path. Yes, many of our trails were made from existing paths such as the dinkey grades of the Thousand Steps, but we are not a waterside walk. We are a rocky trail that demands effort to ascend the four mountains that make up our trail (Stone, Jack’s, Cove, and Blacklog). We aren’t trying to be the Appalachian Trail either. Sure, the Great Eastern Trail is an alternative to that trail, but this path that goes through Rothrock and Buchanan State Forests is not as crowded as this internationally famous trail. For that, the Appalachian has a magnetism all its own, and that’s rightly so and will continue to be so. We will continue to be a special getaway.
We are the little trail that can and does. In this, it would almost be fair to say that what we are is a hearty weeklong backpacking trip or a rugged day hike through the “mom and pop store” of trails. What I mean by this is that is we aren’t a National Park. “All we are” is a relatively pristine series of beautiful photographic images waiting to be captured in their own private cathedral. You’ll probably see some deer, and you could even get lucky and see some turkey or bears on the trail. Many days, you’ll see more picturesque birds and wildlife than you will people. Isn’t that what it means to be roughing it?
Thus, for people who like their hikes challenging, we’ve got the place for you. There are many 1,000+ foot ascents and descents through our “manicured” trails and rocky paths. There are plenty of ridges to traverse between the rises and drops of Pennsylvania’s mountains. There are daydreams to be had. There are inspirations to feel. There are many hollows to leave your cares behind. All in all, the members of our club have continued to work hard to give people the best trail experience possible. They’ve sweated through summer days while braving the winds and rains to ensure that there will never be a time that we have to wonder if the Standing Stone Trail will be relegated to history. Whether this is rerouting Hooper’s Gap or rebuilding sections on Cove Mountain or cleaning graffiti or picking up trash or sharing pictures of the trail or telling stories about what the trail is and was and could be over breakfast before a trail clearing, we are an adventure waiting to happen. All you need to do is stop by and see.
Standing Stone Trail
Standing Stone Trail Club
We are located in Central Pennsylvania between Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gaps State Park. At its southernmost point, the Standing Stone Trail sits below the turnpike at mile marker 180. In the north, the trail is northwest of the town of Lewistown and east of Huntingdon. Much of our trail sits above the quiet farm country of Big Valley. Its 75.2 miles of trails are located on some private hunting club property, but it is also made up of Rothrock and Buchanan State Forests.
The trail goes through Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Fulton Counties.
The trail does run through the towns of Mount Union, Mapleton, and Three Springs. These feature convenience stores and other resupply / restaurant options. Other than those towns, there are not any brushes with “civilization.” However, there is camping and other state park supply opportunities at Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap State Park.

Becoming trail of the year will be a way that we will become recognized for these achievements and that we will showcase our achievements to combine with those of other hiking clubs in the area and the state. In addition we will continue to work with our partners (Greenwood Furnace, Cowans Gap, the Standing Stone Coffee Company) in an effort to continue to publicize through local agencies such as the Huntingdon County Visitors’ Bureau and our social media and Internet presence as well as our place in the Keystone Trails Association, in order to bring visitors and hikers to these mountains. Both Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap feature many yearly activities, which we would maintain a presence with. We are currently in the process of rewriting the 2006 version of our trail guide, and we have already updated our newsletter to reflect our current goals and efforts to be seen as an evolving and maturing hiking trail in Pennsylvania’s beautiful outdoor community. In addition, we have new brochures to give out to people who are interested in our club. As a result, it is our eventual hope that we can be seen as one of the premier destinations to escape into the stones and clouds for a hike.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Minutemen - "History Lesson Part 2"

For all of us that now walk the trails, we do so because other feet were once there to blaze the trails that we now wander down. We travel through the destinations that we do now because other voices have come back from the moment where their guiding eyes saw those great sights, and they sat down to speak about the inspiring and unique qualities of the magical lands that they encountered along the way. By doing this, they have done the legwork to ensure that there would be a second and more concentrated exploration that would follow in their footsteps and bring back further proof of the things that they had claimed to have seen along the way, and while doing so, they have also ensured that the sum of their work would be magnified with the efforts of time and understanding as their original deeds were repeated and furthered with more meticulous and deeper explorations into the heart of an unknown world that was as of yet unrealized.

This is how it has always been.


Having seen many parts of 43 of the 50 American states, it’s easy to see how the royal monarchs of Europe could have been swayed by the possibility of a journey across the ways to come to a magical place, but what part of the discussion about unknown possibilities allowed the bankrollers to free up the funds to make this journey a possibility? What could someone else’s adventure trek offer to the coffers of Europe or the world as a whole?

In school, we learned that these initial treks to the great unknowns of North and South America were done for glory, gold, and God, but was there really enough of a return investment on this to justify months and years of travel to a new world in the hope of stockpiling these things that weren’t even guaranteed? Was a “short” route to Asia really worthy of three ships and their crews? Did the riches of India really have enough wealth to justify the invested work of Columbus’s initial journey? And what was to guarantee said monarchs that these admirals of the high seas wouldn’t end up penniless and carrying back only stories of impenetrable jungles, rocky coasts, enormous mountains, raging rivers, savage inhabitants, wild beasts, and abandoned dwellings where stories of a Fountain of Youth and gold temples should have been told? And what insurance policy could be written out to ensure that the great conquistadors wouldn’t be run through by the blade of a spear that would leave their once strong bodies as carrion for the parasites of a distant land?

Nevertheless, the what-ifs didn’t happen, and the foundations of two continents were born as based on the myth that Columbus got here first. Sitting here now, I think about how there are so many questions that result in answers of what could have been, but all of the potential was destined to be, and so for the risks that were taken ages ago, we now have the formation of a story. For all of the “what ifs” that could have been asked, the brave men of centuries ago gave their version of “screw it,” and the doubts went anyway.

To Hell with the old maids, the nay-sayers, and all of those people that get off on telling people what they can’t do. These men simply went, and they did.

It was a different time then. History tells us that there were many times like this. I can think of the building of Hoover Dam and the long work weeks that grizzled and hearty men put in for $4 a day in a quest to divert a river, stop a river, and harness a river for energy while finding the money to feed their families.

Mike Rowe would be proud. I know I am.


In the years that followed, the boats vanished into the seas off of the coasts of Europe, and as they drifted off the edge of sight with the wonder of the crowds that had come to wish them good luck, all that existed was potential. For these men, that was enough.

Years later, enough of them returned to the adoring crowds brimming with the stories of adventure, treasure, and endless potential to say that it definitely was a good risk / investment strategy to start finding even heartier men to go off to other parts of this new world.

Nevertheless, the brave men of ages past pumped their chest as they flexed for the loving masses. They did this simply because of their ability to do great things that the crowds couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t do, and so glory was alive and well in the streets of Europe as a hero was born and hailed in a way that reflected a Renaissance Period ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes while back in the West, his handiwork began a 150-year massacre.


But for all of these adorations, there was also a need for preparations for future sailors and soldiers. To this, there was still the need for a full accounting and debriefing of what exactly existed on the shores of this “great mistake.” It wasn’t the known quantity of India, so what exactly was it? Thus, said powers that be would want their future adventuring proxies to be more educated as to what would happen on the next trip to be financed.

There might have been a paternal instinct in this, but there was also something to be said for not sending your men out to their death when they needed to be hauling gold back to the ports of Spain, England, France, Italy, and Portugal. For this, the experiences of those great sailors of the first wave would create the handbooks for all of those sailors who would come after them.


But there were also tales of daring to be told.

And so in the adventure stories that were told in the gilded palaces of the motherland, we sit and wonder about the things that these early adventurers would say in private consultation with the leaders, the investors, and the wannabe explorers to inspire them to join in the original cause and to have them sail with their own boats and crews to explore and accumulate the vast riches of the new world? The tales that they spoke to the public are well-documented, but what did they say to those who made the future adventures possible? What words did they express to make them want to repeat someone else’s adventure? How did the cathedrals of the natural world inspire these listeners / readers to daydream about a journey that was already taken and expressed in a way that was ultimately powerful enough to fill a lecture hall / book? Was the promise of the reward gained by visiting the destination enough to get some sailor from Nowheresville, Spain, Italy, France, England, or Portugal filled with the urge to risk life and limb to strike it rich by marching into the tree lines that sit beyond the distant and unknown coasts that stretch out thousands of miles from everything that these Europeans knew and found familiar? Were they promised the romantic love of every fair maiden and the undying admiration of every needy child struggling to find heroes, two things that could be filled with the unfiltered tales and manly exploits of a great sailing explorer? Was it really gold and God, or was the true make it or break it concept of setting out the fact that the explorer’s name would be hoisted up in fame for every single generation that would follow?

And yes, we must ask this of some, but did they have another more sinister lust for power and conquest through genocidal extermination, which filled their glory-seeking instincts as they killed all of the dark-skinned heathen for the Holy Trinity?

And it is obvious that this is true, but this wasn’t all of the great explorers. The violent impulse only goes so far before it needs to enact more violence on others, and this is never looked upon favorably. In addition, it creates a fierce resentment and resistance in the areas that it travels, and eventually, it is destroyed in much the same way that it has destroyed others.

As a result, the aforementioned impulse to quest for achievement is how it should be. This is good because it allowed many of those who came to set forth, and when then they came back and saw these lands for a second time, they established themselves in perpetuity, for better or worse of the actions and instincts of a completely different generation that took over all too many of these noble journeys.

But that’s a whole other story that needs a whole other work to explain it, attack it, or stand in historical defense of it.


A lot changed over the last six hundred years of the great written journeys of our country’s forefathers as their adventure instincts brought a myriad of documented voyages to this hemisphere’s shores. For many reasons, we, the discerning public, have looked for tougher and more extreme adventures that came before our “original” fathers as we dismissed our early feelings of excitement to the aforementioned historical revision that got annoyed with the feeling of a marching army coming to establish their will on a place and the need for more intense, dangerous adventures into the heart of a more unforgiving unknown quantity. Instead of soldiers in uniform, we looked for a manly and rugged form of individual conquest that involved more risk to those who set out to see what they could find. And in searching through the early histories of our country’s adventurous forefathers, we found historical gold.

These new stories ended up being as diverse as the landscape that these men had penetrated. Through the annals of this hemisphere’s history, we found that long before these celebrated journeys of marauding bands of soldiers for the King and Queen, anonymous men once sailed across the South Pacific in long rowboats to build mysterious statues on an island off the coast of South America. Hearty sword-wielding Vikings pillaged the northern world of America with a sense of this was how it was going to be as they left their runes on stones for Scott Wolter to fawn over. Even the Chinese were in on the action as Zheng took his massive naval fleet eastward with the desire to arrive at the shores of this new world. Nevertheless, they were all Johnny-come-latelies to the adventure experience because in their expeditions, they came across confused and astounded people staring back at them as if to say, “What the heck?”


History has unearthed many stories about these pre-Columbian people’s origins. For a long time, America was said to be founded by tribes of people who walked across the Bering Strait while chasing wooly mammoths when their stomachs felt empty. For those of us looking to imagine and document adventure treks, that definitely seems rather manly and fun to picture happening for the silver screen than some Spaniard planting his foot in the water as he claims someone else’s home for Queen Isabella. No, in this alternate image to the throne’s lackeys, men in gnarly furs made from the skins of past hunting trophies went out with axes and spears and fire, and they did what they had to do in order to kill an animal that weighed in at six tons while standing almost twice as high as the people who were out there to do it permanent damage. To put all of this in perspective, a mammoth would eat almost as much in one day as two of his hunters would weigh! Nevertheless, for the fact that this beast was a vegetarian, it was still armed with tusks that averaged in length to be about a foot taller than the men who attacked him. As a result, the peaceful herbivore of the north became an enraged, stomping cyclone of power that would wipe out anyone that dared to try to find two months of food on his bones.

But even for those tribesmen who were lucky enough to launch their weapons, there was a natural resistance on the bones of this great beast since between the fat, wool, and fur that these creatures lugged around on their frames, there could be up to two feet of insulation to keep them comfortable in the permanently chilled weather of the great North. This means that it takes some serious oomph and time and multiple efforts to penetrate Nature’s armor to drop a 12,000 pound animal. And after the long and concentrated efforts, enough of these men were successful that their kind survived. All it took was having the primitive version of Randy Johnson’s pitching arm to hurl that spear into destiny / lunch.

Thinking about that now, it’s clear to see that this is some adventure tale!


Other nameless groups who came from a time before recorded history also penetrated the heartland of America to live and to be. Many of them were killed or died out as a people somewhere along the way. Still, other anonymous adventuring people came to the unspoiled forests of this country, and along the way, they left their records in the form of tools, trash, and occasional bones. Archaeologists are only just beginning to find evidence of these quests below the dirt, rock, and dust of 20,000 years of history. In a time before roads and sidewalks, it was definitely a perilous endeavor to live in the wilds of the American outback since these places were filled with animals that were bigger and more dangerous and the men and women of the time didn’t have Emtek locks to reinforce the doors on their homes. Hell, many of these people didn’t even have domiciles that would be looked at as impenetrable.

Thus, it wasn’t a good time to feel safe and secure.


Other groups of Native Americans tell their stories of the history of this world through oral histories that speak of times that go back into the deepest recesses of what we have come to know as American history. Some tribes claim to have just walked out of the Earth to begin their existence, and others tell of how they were created by Gods that fashioned the world and placed them here to live and to be. However they got here, whether crafted in some alien spaceship or in some religious God particle, they came out of the womb with an instinct to make sense of their place in that harsh and unforgiving mountain and desert world. This meant living tough and spreading their seeds out by seeing and understanding what was around them while conquering the danger that would seek to wipe out their existence in the name of lunch or the name of destruction by some evil marauder. Thus, some of this figuring out and conflict was to obtain their own food. Other parts of it were to protect them from the great unknowns of their largely unexplored worlds. Be these the dangers of the two-legged or four-legged varieties doesn’t matter. Neither does the number of toes on each foot (be it 5 or 6). There were bad things out there, and adventure didn’t mean going to Tough Mudder or getting to use outdoor equipment from REI or Cabela’s in a whole new state or country. While it is true that other parts of their existences were for the sheer joy of curiosity of what awaits them around that next bend, that was secondary to feeding bellies and protecting the tribe. Nevertheless, with that curiosity came a sense of accomplishment for which each member of the tribe could tell the greatest adventure story.

And if the pictures of Newspaper Rock State Park and the Grand Gallery are any sign of what they saw, there was quite an adventure to be had.


We can only wonder if the winning storyteller got a prize, or perhaps, if he was awarded with some extra snuggling from a female member of the tribe who wanted her baby to be filled with the ancient DNA that was associated with the brave and manly adventurer that survived the lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!) of it all. Whatever the prize or the motivating factor of it all, the adventure went on and on, and eventually, it descended into us.

Thus we can clearly say that no matter how it began or why, in the beginning, one thing is clear; every journey begins with a single step for a defined purpose.

And while we never stop to comprehend just how many journeys it took to make America the safe and anemic experience that it is for all too many of us today, we still know that it is one adventure short of how many courageous pursuits need to be made into her inner sanctums in search of something else.

And that missing adventure is the next one that the person dreaming about it needs to take to accomplish that one missing thing that has to be learned.

So let us find our way to the Call to Adventure. Let us find our Mos Eisley of sorts. Let us find old Ben and head to the stars in search of the princess who needs our help with the aid of the rogue hero and his faithful companion. Let us learn the ancient wisdoms and skills, and let us be great. It is the meaning and the answer to who we need to be.



To the average person who doesn’t possess this trait, there is always one question that seems to get phrased many ways: why do we still choose to walk these paths that were already tread upon years and years ago by the feet of man? Is there anything left that still has to be mapped out because somehow, not even one pale-faced primogenitor, whether it be a transport from the East or the West, has walked these forests, fields, mountains, riversides, or deserts before we set foot here? And if there isn’t, would we really rather relive the journeys of men and women who we have designated as greater than us than to spend our time doing something more (Heaven forbid) “worthwhile” with our lives, something that can benefit humanity in some way that it cures cancer or advances technology to expedite the work process?

What these people who try to make sense of our journeys outward (or even those that go outward to go inward) don’t get is that there is something else to this wilderness trekking that we are so eager to do. It’s something in us that makes us who we are. It’s a part of the instinct of being an American, even if our birthplace was in some other country. To this end, there is no difference between the immigrants who came to this country from Europe to land at Ellis Island in search of a dream and the faceless ancestors that Thor Heyerdahl emulated in Kon Tiki.

While not all of our ancestors came here by choice, be they enslaved or indentured, these men and women were forced to journey through America in search of a proper place in America as well, and their adventures still resonate as powerfully (if not more so) than one that was bought and paid for. And while not everyone follows the words that this book will talk about in order to go into the woods in search of adventure, there is also the Kerouac vision of a life on the road, riding shotgun to a more interesting someone else (And yes, there is the Alice B. Toklases of the world, those who ride backseat to the shotgun riders and who offer nothing at all, so we won’t count them or offer their life as a point of interest), which presents an adventure to arrive at the door of the legends of a better America than the one we live in where we are.


And when we get there, there will be amazing people who will transcend us into something more vibrant and alive than the mundane world we were forced to exist in before we set out for where that “there” is.


As was mentioned in passing, adventure is not always outward since it can be directed inward into the soul of a person or the beating heart of what makes a country, too. And when we choose to go within ourselves and our understanding of cultures to make sense of the previously held limits of our worlds, we inevitably find ourselves journeying outward through the settings of the defined world to find something more in ourselves, which in turn will make a greater sense of reality than the people and ideas that we were so firm in our knowledge of when we began this pursuit.

And it is really for that reward of becoming Jospeh Campbell’s Master of Two Worlds that we adventure.

In between are many steps. We have much to learn to be able to understand and to utilize “the Force” for its intended purpose, but if we don’t begin to learn in the Padawan process, then we will always be average in our sedate, apathetic, and philosophically empty ways.

And that just will not do when I need to be guided to my destiny.


Nevertheless, other than the places in our hearts and minds that we have yet to understand and acknowledge, it is true that there isn’t much left that is unexplored, but there are still some things and some journeys that haven’t been created for the writers of the past to speak to us about. For this, we sometimes have to throw away comforts and expectations in order to be Christopher McCandless going back to a more primitive state without map or equipment in our need to risk it all to live big or die horrifically. I’m not saying that this is how every journey has to be for everyone, but it is a known truth that sometimes, the greatest adventures come with the most risk, but to not take risk means that there will never be a reward.

In many other cases, our adventures are solitary, but sometimes, they are with companions, if only briefly. We need to journey with the people who walk onto our paths. We need to teach them, and we need to be taught by them. That is how it has to be.

And while we are on these paths with these people, we have to listen to the voice of the universe when it is pointing us in a direction. Sometimes, it will tell us to abandon our attachments or maladies to go in this direction. When we don’t know where to begin, sometimes, the universe tells us how. In these divine moments of revelation and reprieve and the grand satoris that we come to have, sometimes, there is a moment of clarity. Other times, we need to be inspired by the learned voices, and for this, we need our guiding works to be clear and filled with details that will take us where we need to be.


For all that is discovered and ensnared in roads or visible by Google Earth, I would state it emphatically that even though there are no new worlds under this sun to journey to and there are very few roads that will take us to them, there are still places with long distances between civilizations (Utah’s 105 mile stretch of Route 70 between Green River and Salinas comes to mind as the most empty place I’ve ever been). However, nowadays, these places are just worlds without cellphone or Wifi connectivity as opposed to true blue places without people.

Nevertheless, any place that I’ve never been before in the great outdoors is still new to me. A million cars may have made that journey, but I still need to understand what I’m about to get into before I go there. A sign warning of no services between these points may alert me to potential dangers, but I need to be able to comprehend this risk fully before I enter onto the path that could leave me stranded without ability to be rescued.


In a midmorning journey, we are in one of these places. Yes, it is roped in by a highway collar around its middle, but on the outside are still mountains and places to be discovered. In one of these divisions, the path leads back between the walls and journeys into a canyon. It all seems so easy until the brown sign with white lettering pokes out of the earth to explain that this place is “wilderness.”

That means it’s wild and unforgiving.

If I were to turn around from this point, I could see the road and parking area where our rental car is located. We really haven’t journeyed far. The woman at the desk has told us that it’s a 2.5 mile roundtrip back to the waterfall, which may or may not be wet. Nevertheless, we are anxious for what there is to see, and so we walk into the nooks and crannies of this world to face what we must see for ourselves in our journey of discovery.


And there are ways to be prepared for this. The guidebooks and websites will tell us these important facts. Those who set out along the way will share their tales, and it will all be OK as we adventure into the new. They may not be the exact same places, but the similarity of stories will guide us to our destiny. And so, when we do walk these trails for the first time, perhaps we can feel like the great Europeans of the past: Ferdinand Magellan, John Cabot, Juan Ponce de Leon, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Hernando de Soto, Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortes, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Samuel de Champlain, and Marco Polo. Perhaps, we can be informed enough that we won’t be gambling with the investments that were placed into the successful completion of our trip without major incident that can’t be recovered from.

            The need to abandon recklessness and chance is the path to success. All true adventurers will tell you that. The words of Ed Viesturs ring true here as they always do, but understanding and expressing them is sometimes easier said than done.

Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.

The mission seems so simple, but as Laurence Gonzales explains when it comes to our actions, sometimes the programs by which our brains operate on respond in faulty ways and we do things that get us into more trouble than we can personally handle.


This brings us back to that repeated mantra: if we accept this adventuring lifestyle and head into the unknown worlds as a destiny for our lives, then we still need to know the essentials so that we can make the journey our own. For this, we will need to hear these men’s stories and guidance and directions. We still need to have these wise adventurers from the past help us to decide what adventures we will take and how we will take them. We will need to see their maps. If they have pictures, then we need to see them as well. If they don’t have pictures, we will need drawings or studies that include similar pictures to what we can expect to see. Whatever it takes regarding equipment, training, and understanding, let us have it so that we can be prepared for whatever will come our way in some process that will help us generate a “script” without going through an adventure to understand how to act out the movements.

For me, I am more than prepared to learn. I am more than prepared to do what it takes to succeed. This is also true of those who are like me in their desire for adventure. Nevertheless, it’s important to say that while I am open and receptive, I am only so trained for these moments.

And now that I am here on this adventure, I know what the “it” that I am undergoing has to be. I have made up my mind to where I shall go, and that place is to the places that are spoken of in hushed words. All I need is the time and the understanding to make it all happen.

Can you, the explorers of all that is known, give this to me in the way that I need it to be, or must I return from the journey to rewrite what you didn’t know and express correctly?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Richard Buckner - "Settled Down"

            My wife and I were walking down from the top of Colonel Denning State Park on our journey back from seeing the vista at Flat Rock just recently. Not far from Newville, Colonel Denning State Park offers a nice camping / fishing / hiking retreat for those people who live near Harrisburg. It also boasts a very traffic-ed vista in Flat Rock, which finds its way to many of the guidebooks.
            I’ve been there a handful of times, and this was the first time that I didn’t see the horizon behind the haze or raindrops, and let me just say, “It was good.”
            As we sat behind hikers gawking and meditating, it seemed like we could see forever. I know some people say all the way to Reading and the Shenandoah Mountains, and I too felt that there seemed to be at least one purple mountain majesty far behind some of the others, and it was pretty far away, but not necessarily Virginia far away.
            While heading back, our discussion turned to hiking gear and things that we have purchased over the years to make our journeys easier. This conversation came out of my feeling that having a Lifestraw or other water filter with would have opened up the clear mountain stream on top of the first ascent to our drinking pleasure. Nothing like the trail to make us feel like shopping at REI, Cabelas, or EMS.
In the midst of this conversation, I quickly remarked on how I love my Keen boots, especially since they fit well and don’t give me blisters, and I also spoke lovingly about how I appreciate my Cabelas ECWS winter base layers since I like being warm in cold weather without having to wimp out when the breeze bites too hard. Of course, there are other nice touches as well, but while coming down through the rocks, I concluded that my number one favorite piece of gear that I have is my trekking poles. While they’re not as expensive as some poles, I find that Black Diamond makes a nice pair of hiking poles, and they really do help me get up the trail (as thru-hiker Lakeland once said) “in 4WD” despite looking weird when you watch me walk with them (or when I watch other people walk with theirs). In addition, they also keep my hands from swelling up while stabilizing my backpack-clad body in journeys both up and down the hills. Finally, they brace me going downhill as well. That’s a nice touch since I prefer not to fall face-first into jutting out rocks. Sure, they feel like something extra to carry on the flat lands, but for what they do on those hills, the push and brake and oomph, I wouldn’t hike without them anymore.
            Finding ourselves on the flat section again, my wife nodded in agreement with my thesis statement of how 2 poles were more stabilizing than just using her walking stick. In addition, those 2 Black Diamond poles were much nicer than our cheap knock-around pair, which I use when she absolutely needs to use the nice pair. Here, the cheaper pair will sometimes break loose and collapse into themselves. Let it be said that’s not fun., and if it's going to happen to someone, then let it be me. Nevertheless, the only time we really need them occurs at times like when we went to Ricketts Glen this winter or other times when trekking poles are absolutely essential for every person on the trail at once (such as when we are on snow / ice / walking over streams / have relatives in town).
            Nevertheless, as I spoke my love of these 2 metal contraptions, I realized that I wasn’t telling the whole truth and thinking through what my real favorite piece of gear was since I wasn’t thinking completely about what gear could be. This opened things up to a whole new piece of gear that I "theoretically" use every time out. That piece of “gear” is identified by the English teacher in the book at Hatchet (by Gary Paulsen) in the following statement:
You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget it. You are the best thing you have.”
Now, I know that I’m an English teacher by day, and that means that I’m in solidarity with other teachers, but it wasn’t the profession that made these words stand out.  It was the basic and fundamental sense of what they were. I’ve heard variations to them in many other ways. “Be here now.” Pretty much every single page out of Bear Grylls’ A Survival Guide for Life book and Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival and Surviving Survival. Kevin Costner telling Tim Robbins, “Don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club” in the movie Bull Durham.
However, this quote was in the midst of a middle school book. This book, which now seems to serve as a replacement for Jack London’s Call of the Wild, is pretty hardcore when it comes to the concepts of what it takes to make it in the outback (the kind that doesn't have Alice Springs Chicken or Bloomin' Onions). This isn’t a term that I just throw out there. Paulsen is for real with the outdoors as anyone looking at his canon can attest to.
The main character in the book Hatchet is Brian Robeson, a 13-year old boy on a flight from New York to go see his father in the north woods of Canada. Before he is able to get there, the pilot, who is the only other person on the flight, has a heart attack, and Brian is forced to take over the controls until the plane crashes into a lake. From that point on, Brian is forced to survive on his own. Fortunately, to do this, he has a hatchet that he was given by his mother.
I won’t ruin the story for you since it’s well worth reading. Besides, it only takes about 2-3 hours to read the whole thing and it presents many conflicts that would make Mr. London proud that people are reading a book that follows in his footsteps. Nevertheless, for the youthful target audience, it’s a modern classic and a Newberry Honor Book. For an adult, it says what it means to survive simply and to the point.
This would be true if it was in the city or the woods, which is why it’s a great book for all lovers of the outdoors to read. It's also a book that would benefit kids who need to learn to use their own basic resources instead of falling prey to "thinking" and not doing.
Such lines as, “He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work. It wasn't just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that--it didn't work,” stand out to readers young and old, and they show why I was originally wrong in what my most important gear was since what is really best was what my knowledge and my mindset going in were. If I didn’t know how to use it, no GPS, axe, .357 magnum, water filter, tent, flint + steel, or iodine tablets were going to save me from permanent damage.
In short, I either had a plan going in or I didn’t. I either know what to do in case of trouble, or I don’t. I either remembered my stuff, or I didn’t. In short, what my mind does in case of an emergency is where I am or I’m not.
I remember one time I read a “who would survive” quiz, and they picked a lot of famous characters, but in the end, it was comicly goofy Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. This was based on how even keel he was as well as how resourceful he was. Sure, he might have been the anti-Homer Simpson, but in case of emergency, that’s not really a bad thing (even if people would rather have cold beverages with Homer).
For me, I think about instances like my first time seeing a bear in the wild. I had read a lot about what to do, but I was still scared when Ms. Bear roared to her cubs who were instantly descending the tree as if it were the Batpole. Fortunately, I just got a really good story and the three bears realized that the dorky, lumbering body walking through the woods was just a hiker who would have loved to take a picture of them as opposed to turn her into a rug on his wall. Thus, we all walked away unharmed and filled with knowledge of what the other side was all about.

By the way, I never did get that picture.
For what I once had never heard, the sound of a growl, I was more comfortable the next time around when I walked with my dad, and we heard a growl across the valley. That’s learning. That’s healthy respect and distance opposed to fear. That’s being comfortable in the woods. That’s knowing my dad, a man who really knows about the woods, isn’t as fast as me – I hope (well, actually, I kid – my dad is one of the wisest outdoorsman I know even if he never heard a bear growl before that day).
As for other good mantras, taking the President’s advice and not doing stupid stuff is other good advice. Don’t go off the trail in the dark to take a shortcut (or at all). Don’t know better than the map. Carry extra stuff just in case. Listen to your wife when she says we should bring water – even on the short hikes!
And learn from others who have hiked before us.
In this, I just read a quote by Everest hiker Mick Burke (who later died on the journey, but let’s forget that bit of irony). It said, “At some stage you believe you’re too exhausted to carry on. Then you take another step up and you realize you’re not too exhausted. You can take another step, and another. It’s your mind that’s exhausted, not your body. You realize you’re alone, miles from anywhere and nobody is going to help you. Only you can get yourself up the mountain. It’s knowing this that makes you think you’re too tired to carry on.”
To this, much of what keeps us going is our brain. Much of what stops us is our brain.
Ed Viesturs stated one of my favorite maxims when he said, “Getting to the top is optional. Getting to the bottom is mandatory.” That makes a lot of sense. After all, this was a man who turned around at the top of Everest because he knew he couldn’t make it back in time.
I’m glad my brain works well a fair bit of the time. I’m glad that I didn’t end up a popsicle or vulture food on “some damn fool adventure” or other that I took.
As a result, I share the wisdom of my follies and others’ successes to ensure that we don’t have more rescues like seemed to have happened a lot this winter.
Here’s hoping you have some great adventures this year.