Thursday, December 10, 2009

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 6, 2009

[Top picture is from March 31, 2000 and the one below it from Dec. 6, 2009, both taken at Raven Rock, near Muskrat Creek shelter on the Appalachian Trail]

I didn't sleep well last night and woke up in a depressive funk. Maybe it was the town food and bad television. Maybe it was the facts of the matter. I was a stranger in a familiar, but forbidding environment, dealing with cold and isolation, and aches and pains. Why do I continue to do this to myself?

But I'd follow my own advice to sleep on a decision to leave the trail. Give it at least 24 hours. Otherwise, I may regret leaving.

After coffee and a ride back to the trailhead, my mood had not lifted. As I hiked and climbed steadily towards North Carolina I replayed everything wrong in my life. Unemployment, stupid mistakes I'd made, lost marriage and other lost loves, and friends fallen by the wayside. But once I recognized this as an emotional funk, it strangely lost its power over me. There's something to be said about removing yourself from a situation in order to gain perspective. Long-distance hiking provides plenty of opportunities for introspection. Its solitary nature can lead to many keen insights, but honestly, for the most part it is mostly a lot of navel gazing. Enough self pity, I told myself. I don't want to be one of those types of persons. The brutal climb out of Bly Gap dispelled the gloom for good.

Above 4,000 feet, the trail is snowy. It's not deep enough to slow me down. It just means wet feet, which, interestingly, is a euphemism for nervousness. But I digress.

I made a series of Year 37 resolutions, including finishing a novel I've started and getting it published, losing 20 pounds, getting another teaching job (and being more selective about where I go), blah blah blah. Just a bunch of boring personal stuff I won't bore readers any further with.

All of these petty concerns were transcended by a sunset view from Raven Rock, near the Muskrat Creek Shelter. One of my favorite pics from the 2000 thru-hike is of Sidewinder standing at this very spot. The view was just as stunning tonight.

In an effort to keep warm, I gathered five bags of leaves and put them on the shelter floor, draped my tarptent over that, and sleeping bag on top of that. Someone left a poncho in the shelter. When I bed down for the night I'll drape that over my sleeping bag and keep it in place with my parka on top of everything. Temps are in the low 20s right now and it feels like it's getting colder. I don't want to sleep in this open, mouse-ridden shelter, but the ground is snowy and there's a dearth of flat spots. I hope this set-up works well enough to keep me warm. We'll see.

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 5, 2009

For the second time in four days, I broke my promise to not pay for housing and forked over $35 to stay at the Hiawassee Inn. I resolutely planned to head right back out to the trail, but stopped when I saw the sign on the edge of town. "Hiker rates," it advertised. I went inside to investigate and the manager told me he'd even bring back to the trailhead in the morning. Sold!

This decision guarantees me a ride and hours upon hours of trashy television (PBS notwithstanding, most of what passes for television these days is trash). Since 2000 I have not lived with television channels at all. I own a TV, but only use it to watch DVDs.

A sign that I'm in the south: Local businesses use faith as a selling tool. One local dentist advertises, "Our business is our ministry." I have absolutely no problem with anyone believing in a higher power. Faith is a wonderful thing. But using it as a selling tool strikes me as tacky. Didn't Jesus throw the merchants out of the temple? Religion and commerce have always gone together, and to me it seems an oily mix. On a funnier note, I saw a home repair truck go by. The name of the business: "Gutter done!"

Woke up at first light to the tinkling slide of snow down my tent fly. The world is draped in a blanket of white, fat flakes lilting on a light breeze as I set off. The weekenders expressed admiration at the speed in which I broke camp. Practice, I said. Plus, I have town fever. It takes me less than 10 minutes to get everything together and hit the trail.

On the short hike to Dicks Creek Gap I came across a hunter, a quintessential Georgian with beady, close-set eyes and a thick, barely understandable drawl. Despite our language difficulties, we shared a love for this beautiful landscape. He offered me a ride to town if I was still around when he got back.

I didn't need his assistance. I kid you not, less than 10 seconds after I got to the road, the first vehicle to appear pulled over and gave me a ride. This has to be the fastest hitchhike in trail history. Inside the truck were three college students from nearby Young Harris College. The driver is an avid backpacker and has hiked most of the AT in Georgia. They dropped me off right at the post office in town.

I picked up my maildrop, loaded 6 days of food into my pack (no easy feat), went to Mickey D's for breakfast and hung out there with the senior citizens until almost noon, reading and journaling. After an AYCE at Daniels that I didn't do justice to (the hiker hunger hasn't kicked in yet), I was ready to head out of town. But I saw the hotel sign and descended quickly, fixating myself on pixelated stupidity. I also talked with Esther and Jonny for awhile and did some reading. I later went to the grocery store and bought some fresh fruit and potato chips. Yum!

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 4, 2009

I was a little sore and creaky after yesterday's 18 miles, but got moving as soon as possible because I knew today would be tough and full of breath-taking climbs and knee-jarring descents.

Today did kick my ass, but for the first time in days the sun appeared -- for all of five minutes. Its timing was great. I was standing at the high point of today's hike, the summit of Tray Mountain. For most of the day it was cloudy and cool, with high temps in the 30s. Breaks were hurried affairs. I have a more accurate gauge of temperature now because I found a clip on thermometer and compass in Low Gap Shelter.

Great views today, the best so far on the trip. To trail designers' credit, there were no PUDs (pointless ups and downs) today. Even the final climb of the day, up from Addis Gap, gave me a sunset view of distant peaks and the lights of Hiawassee below. I started the day in fog and all of the vegetation was covered in rime ice. As I descended, the ice fell off the trees in crackling lumps, startling me each time one hit the bill of my hat.

For the fourth day in a row I didn't see any other hikers on the trail. But as I took a side to Deep Gap Shelter, I saw a campfire in the distance. What a welcome sight! I talked awhile with the two section hikers. They'd hiked 3.5 miles up from Dicks Creek Gap, and were headed south. They marveled at my lightweight pack and the mileage I covered today. They were planning to spend the next two days covering the same distance. I didn't think the distance (15.3 miles) so great, but warned them that the trail is ALL up or down, a very tough section (or, as trail signs note, "strenuous"), but worth it for the stupendous views. I told them if they were lucky they'd be able to see Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, from on top of Tray Mountain, and to be prepared for a cold night if they planned to stay at Tray Mountain shelter.

I crawled into my sleeping bag shortly after dinner and fell asleep within minutes. I can't remember the last time I fell asleep so quickly. To quote Sisu, "the soreness has come and I am humbled." Yes, I am sore. But I have no blisters. I'm also sore in a unique place. I think I pulled a muscle in my ass! My right gluteus hurts, especially on climbs.

I came across a sign on the trail, "The Swag of the Blue Ridge." What the heck is a "Swag?"

From Hikes in the southern Appalachians: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee By Doris Gove:

"The AT goes along the almost level ridgetop and then down smooth, easy trail to the Swag of the Blue Ridge (3,400 ft., 4.5 mi.). This gentle depression in the midst steep rocky mountains (like the swag, or hanging fold, in a velvet theater curtain) was a rallying point for the GATC [Georgia Appalachian Trail Club] and the coalition of conservation groups that worked for so many years to save this high ridgeline trail from road builders. When Earl Shaffer, the first recorded Georgia-to-Maine thru-hiker, came through the swag in 1948, cows, pigs, horses, and sheep grazed in the woods. He found many of the shelters on this trail occupied by cows."

From Lapine Glossary in Watership Down:

Rah -- a prince, leader or chief rabbit. Usually used as a suffix. E.g. Threarah = Lord Threar.

Roo -- used as a suffix to denote a diminutive. E.g. Hrairoo.

These definitions make my trailname, Raru, appropriate for the AT, because it is a combination of superlative (up) and diminutive (d0wn) suffixes. That's what the AT is all about -- ups and downs. Rahs and Roos. Raru. Ha!

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 3, 2009

In all truth, I write the account of this day on Dec. 5, sitting in a McDonald's in Hiawassee, Ga. It feels good to have hot industrial food in my belly and to be warm and indoors. But back to a couple days ago...

I left the hostel at Neels Gap in a raging wind and fog. The mist moved wraith-like through the trees. Very creepy and ominous. But my heart was in a joyful mood and steps quickened by a couple cups of really strong coffee.

I made good time. After a couple decent climbs and descents, the trail from Hog Pen Gap is almost PCT-esque as it gently rolls along the sides of the mountain. I felt a little low myself when I reached Low Gap Shelter for a break. The skies were still dark and cloudy and since leaving Gooch Gap Shelter I haven't seen anybody on the trail. I had hoped to immerse myself in the trail culture a little bit.

There was also a slight urgency to my steps. Sleeplessness and bad weather slowed my daily mileage enough that I needed to put on some big miles to make it to Hiawassee before the post office closed on Saturday. Luckily, the trail from Low Gap is easy as pie as it moves on an old tote road. All of the trees in this section (and, quite honestly, a vast majority of the AT) are second or third growth. The only challenge on this tote road section is getting around the countless waterfalls and stream crossings. But I love this, the white noise, the mossy boulders, everything.

The wind let up as well, and I could see blue skies overhead and dappled patches of sunlight in the valley. But the sun never shined on me. To the west was a dazzling line of silver, a brilliant buffer between the clouds and blue-tinged mountains. The Blue Ridges are appropriately named, and my mood lifted at the sight.

I used up all available light and made the beastly climb to Blue Mountain shelter at the end of the day. As I made dinner in the shelter, a mouse came right to my side and squeaked hello. My presence did not keep him from inspecting my spoon. Cute little bugger.

A heavy fog rolled in as I donned my headlamp to look for a flat spot to lay my tent, making the search all the more difficult. As I gathered leaves (5 kitchen garbage bags full) to lay on my tent pad, I noticed a bio-luminescent glow on the ground. Adding to the magic, just before I crawled into the tent, a nearly full moon rose, orange and haloed in its own light, above the mist, shining on peaks below that looked like upside-down cones suspended in the air.

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 2, 2009

As predicted, a tent-flap-flying fierce storm blew through. The rain fell hard and wind howled. I woke up briefly and checked to make sure my stuff was dry. The pile of leaves under me raised the floor of the tent enough to keep to the outside any rain that did come through.
An inability to keep out rain is a major drawback to the tarptent. It's single wall and has mesh openings on all four sides. It is essentially a tarp with bug netting and a floor attached. I like its light weight (34 ounces), but miss the confidence I had facing storms in my old Kelty Zen tent, which weighed almost 5 pounds. Is there such a thing as a lightweight bomb-proof tent?
It was still raining hard when I woke at first light, but I packed up, anxious to get moving after 13-14 hours lying prone. My sleeping bag was moist at the foot, but otherwise dry. I also kept my turtleneck and a pair of socks dry.
The trail was long and rolling up to the base of Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia (4,458 feet). Even in the hard, driving rain, mist and gale, parts of the trail looked familiar. I took the Freeman Trail, an alternative bad-weather route that goes around the side of Blood Mountain, instead of up and over it. Parts of it are a boulder field and today the boulders ran with countless streams and waterfalls. It was quite beautiful, despite the treachery of traversing it. When I rejoined the AT, it was easy trail all the way to the Walasi-Yi Inn at Neels Gap. It is here that many a prospective thru-hike has ended and/or countless pounds of gear mailed home or given away.
I stepped dripping into the outfitters and saw a familiar face and trail notable, the infamous Pirate. I got quarters for the dryer and debated staying at the hostel, which Pirate runs. Staying would go against a rule I set for myself -- to sleep outside each night -- but some rules were meant to be broken.
I write this sitting in a recliner. Pirate is off to bed. He said he didn't feel well, It's still raining outside and a soupy fog reduces everything to ghostly shadows. I made a good choice to stay here. I'm behind my so-called schedule a day, but the forecast calls for clear weather the next couple days. Besides, I set the schedule and can go as fast or slow as I want.
I'm the only one here at the hostel. Hiking the AT in the off-season makes me realize how much the hiker community makes this trail special, Seeing Pirate and the other hikers who live and/or work here has been good for me. Don't get me wrong. Solitude is nice. It's what I seek when I backpack just about everywhere else. But on the AT, and, to a lesser degree, the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails, there is a mobile community of hikers, supporters, wannabes, and other fellow drifters in the stream.
The hostel walls are plastered with photographs of people who have stayed here. Seeing these faces makes me realize all the more that these hikes on the major long trails are as much about the people as the scenery and connection to the natural world.

Appalachian trail journal Dec. 1, 2009

Last night, before bedding down, all of us at the shelter heard a flurry of automatic gunfire on the other side of the mountain. The muzzle flashes reflected off low-hanging clouds, Camp Merrill is nearby. Many hikers have encountered soldiers lost on manuevers.

Today is my 37th birthday, and except for the morning, when I said goodbye to the southbounders, I spent the day alone. I didn't sleep a wink last night. I was in the shelter's loft and the night was cold and windy. No matter what I did -- heating a bottle of water and wrapping my feet in my parka -- I couldn't stay warm. The cold wind robbed all accumulated warmth. It snuck in from all directions, creeping through gaps in the shelter walls. I know I wasn't alone in my insomnia. One of the hikers farted frequently and got up often to walk around. The moon was full and bright. I watched the shadows of the trees angle and lengthen throughout the long, long night. Low temps were in the teens and my food bag was caked in frost when I recovered it from the bear cable this morning.

Today's weather, while quite cold, was at least sunny and dry. Good views and relatively easy trail with only a few breath-taking climbs. I keep a fast enough pace to keep breathing through my nose. I even match breathing to my pace, inhaling in 2, 3, or four steps, and exhaling in time as well. If it gets too hard to manage breathing through my nose, I simply slow down. On steep climbs I count my steps and stop for 10 deep breaths every 200 paces. This makes long climbs manageable. I also try to look around at the scenery each time I stop.

The recent rain made the exposed rocks on the mountainside glisten. The sun and lack of foliage made hiking on the sunward side of the mountain a bright and warm experience. Maybe I'll get a tan.

I was about 3-4 miles from Woods Hole Shelter, my planned destination for the night, when I noticed a creekside camp site downhill off the trail. At the same time I looked down on the trail and found a dime. I picked it up, tossed it, and placed it on my palm. Heads I stay. Tails I go. Tails it was, but I stayed anyways. I was too tired to depend on chance. Besides, it's my birthday.

I forgot to mention earlier that one of the southbounders gave me his fleece blanket when he heard about my sleepless night. Even though he didn't know it was my birthday, it was nice to get a birthday present from a total stranger.

I was determined to have a warm nights' sleep. I gathered a huge pile of leaves and placed them on my tent pad in the hopes it would insulate me from the cold ground. It also makes soft bedding. I set my tent up and reinforced the stakes with rocks to keep them secure. I'd heard on the radio a gulf storm was going to blow through, bringing 2-4 inches of rain and strong winds. I hoped my creek side camp was low enough to avoid the brunt of the wind. After dinner, a fire, and reading some Watership Down, I bedded down before dark. I managed to stay awake until darkness, but fell asleep shortly thereafter, around 6 p.m.

Appalachian trail journal Nov. 30, 2009

There's a bunch of reasons why I decided to do this section hike of the AT. One reason is I recently immersed myself in reading the two-volume, 2009-page Hiking the Appalachian Trail, edited by James R. Hare (note that last name because it connects with the proceeding). Reading accounts of early thru-hikers makes me realize that, while times, fashions, and gear change, the essential experience of long-distance hiking remains the same.

But what struck me about these early accounts are people's fascination with snakes. There are at least 100 documented snake killings in these books. I've never killed a snake, despite numerous encounters on the AT and PCT. I've always thought it best to give rattlesnakes a wide berth and leave them in peace. These early hikers believed they were doing a service to fellow travellers by destroying snakes. This mindset is anathema to the Leave No Trace philosophy. The only justification I can have for killing snakes is if I find one nested in my dwelling. That's my environment and no other critters are allowed. But out here is their environment.

So, here I am sitting in the loft at Gooch Gap shelter listening to hikers below me talk about, what else, snakes. A section hiker from New Hampshire with a thick accent told the Sobo brothers about a huge ball python belonging to his friend. The snake was so big that it fed on rabbits, and it was a terrible thing to behold because rabbits scream like a human being when they are in danger. The New Hampshire man said he could hear the bones crunch when the python put a rabbit in its grip. And here I am reading an account about rabbit society in Watership Down.

It rained all day, a driving, sideways, wind-blown rain. Gusts sound like a banshee or some emissary of death. The rain stopped just before I got to the shelter, but the wind still roars and rattles the ridge line trees.

I met my first southbound thru-hikers today, Jellybean and Ledge. Jellybean already finished the trail, but went back up to rejoin Ledge for his finish. Ledge plans to bike back to Millinocket when this hike is finished. They were relieved when I told them they would eventually regain feeling in their toes.

We talked for about 15 minutes on the side of the mountain while a storm raged on us. The encounter reminded me of being 17 years-old and marching in the Cavaliers drum and bugle corps. After shows and at other times, we would play four-square in parking lots and sit around on the concrete talking. I remember someone saying that they've never just hung out sitting in a parking lot, that this type of thing could only happen in drum corps. The reason I remembered this so well is that it is only on a long-distance hike people stop in a driving rain to talk and pass the time, oblivious to the weather. In town, I'd dash for cover, umbrella blown inside out, in such conditions. But not out here.

Sassafras mountain was the major climb of the day, the wind growing in ferocity with each switchback. I half-expected the rain to turn to snow once I got to the top. Marble abounds in these mountains. There was a moment of disgust, looking to a hillside and seeing a jumble of white. From a distance, it looked like garbage strewn about, but as I got closer I realized they were marble rocks. On the drive to Amicalola Falls, Biloche pointed out three marble mining operations, the piles of stones illuminated by spotlights. The errant rocks exposed on the mountain look like mastodon skulls.

Left Stover Creek Shelter in mist and fog, the hemlocks and rhododendron carrying me back 10,000 years to a time when mastodons roamed the earth. Forest primeval. Ascending Justus Mountain, the primitive motif reinforced by a rock ledge overhang, a respite from the storm. No petroglyphs could be found.

I couldn't get "Fountain of Lamneth," an obscure song from Rush's Carress of Steel album, out of my head, in particular the lines:

"Yet my eyes are drawn toward
The mountain in the east
Fascinates and captivates
Gives my heart no peace
The mountain holds the sunrise
In the prison of the night
'Til bursting forth from rocky chains
The valley floods with light

Living one long sunrise
For to me all things are new
I've never watched the sky grow pale
Or strolled through fields of dew
I do not know of dust to dust
I live from breath to breath
I live to climb that mountain
To the Fountain of Lamneth"

Went to a spring to get water and see the late day sun shining above me on the trees on the ridgeline. Something about that moment, getting water from its source, direct out of the mountain and seeing the sun for the first time all day, albeit indirectly, seemed a most holy and transcendent moment.

Appalachian trail journal Nov. 29, 2009

[I am back from a section hike on the Appalachian Trail and am posting my journals here and at . Enjoy!]

I'm sitting at a picnic table next to the Springer Mountain Shelter and listening to the bug-searching thumps of a woodpecker. This place feels so lonely because the last time I was here in March 2000 it was very crowded.

My bus ride to Marietta, Ga., was uneventful. Trail Angel Biloche, who answered my request for a ride at, was true to his word and awaited me at the Greyhound station in Marietta. He was going to take me to The Big Chicken, a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Marietta that has a big chicken head peaking the top of the building with a mechanical beak that opens and closes, but I had said in an earlier correspondence that I wanted to try an authentic southern barbecue, so that's what we did instead.

After a rack of ribs, we stood in the parking lot outside for about 15 minutes, looking to the sky to see if we could see the international space station fly by. Biloche had information that said the satellite would be visible about 10 minutes to 6 p.m. As we stared up, others walking by looked up too, not knowing why we were looking up. For some reason, I thought that was hilarious.

We never did see the station pass by and hit the road about 6 p.m. It gave me a sense of relief when Biloche's wife called a couple times en route to Amicalola Falls. Here I was using an online ride board for the first time, not knowing anything about this person giving me a ride. And his wife was equally as worried about me, checking up on the safety of her husband. As it turns out, nobody needed to worry.

I got to the visitor's center at Amicalola Falls a little after 7 and said goodbye to Biloche. I asked him about his trailname. He said Biloche means "bowling" in Spanish, and is also a name given to shreds of tobacco left over from making a cigar. We said goodbye and I wished him good luck and godspeed on his prospective thru-hike of the AT next year.

I camped alone in the Max Epperson shelter behind the visitor's center and slept very well, awaking refreshed at first light eager to hit the trail.

The approach trail is just as ass-kicking as I remembered, even moreso because in 2000 we began our thru-hike at the top of the falls. I wondered about the truck chassis and bumper underneath the stairs leading up the falls. Bet there's a good story behind that.

I made good time and got to the summit of Springer Mountain by noon. As I write this, I'm already caked with salty sweat and taking on the all-too-familiar hiker funk,

The sun keeps playing hide and seek. There's very little breeze and the forest is quiet, but for the occasional leaf rattle from a squirrel or bird call, and the hollow whoosh of aircraft. I'm debating pushing on to Hawk Mountain Shelter or to just stop in a couple miles at Stover Creek. Someone left a bottle of Jack Daniels in this shelter and with each pull Stover Creek is looking like the more viable option.

Got to thinking and figured out the only piece of gear I have with me now from the last time I was here in March 2000 is the map. Oh, and my polypropylene long-sleeved turtleneck shirt. Times change, and so does gear.

I did stop at Stover Creek Shelter. The hemlocks and rhododendrons, along with the distant white noise of the creek were too enticing. I also love the Nantahala Shelter design. This would be a wonderful place to wait out a rain or snow storm. Alas, I am camping alone for a second night in a row. There were a bunch of people on the approach trail doing a weekend loop hike with the Len Foote Trail, but the only couple I saw on the AT went the wrong way on the Benton Mackaye Trail in their search for Long Creek falls. Solitude on the AT? What a concept. I noticed in the shelter registers that a bunch of southbounders have finished in the past couple weeks. I hope to run into a few stragglers. Their entries are enjoyable, wistful and exultant. I remember well that feeling of being at the end of a long trail, joyful and relieved, but also concerned and depressed about returning to the so-called "real" world.

The fire is finally going good after smoking for about an hour. Just as I'd given up and moved away from it, it sparked into life. Guess it was shy about being stared at.

Here's some quotes from Watership Down, by Richard Adams:

"Creatures that have neither clocks or books are alive to all manner of knowledge about time and the weather; and about direction, too, as we know from their extraordinary migratory and homing journeys. The changes in the warmth and dampness of the soil, the falling of the sunlight patches, the altering movement of the beans in the light wind, the direction and strength of the air currents along the ground -- all these were perceived by the rabbit awake." (53)

"A hlessi is a rabbit living in the open without a hole... which I have rendered in various places in the story as wanderers, scratchers, vagabonds." (135)

"During the last 50 years, the silence of much of the country had been destroyed. But here, on Watership Down, there floated up only faint traces of the daylight noise below." (136)

"The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine and pain a few days.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong
Incapacity is worse.
No one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes."

Robinson Jeffers, Hurt Hawk, as quoted in Watership Down.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Goin' hiking

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I will be doing a long section hike on the Appalachian Trail, from its southern terminus, Springer Mt., Georgia to, hopefully, Erwin, TN. I've got 22 on trail days allotted between bus trips. I bought two one-way bus tickets. One from Rockford, IL to Gainesville, GA, putting me about 30 road miles from Amicalola Falls State Park and the approach trail to Springer Mt. My return ticket is one-way to Rockford from Johnson City, TN, about 18 miles from where I get off the trail in Erwin, TN, but also accessible via a plethora of alternative bail-outs. Best laid plans, if weather works out and I develop happy feet, I could make it all the way to Roan Mountain, TN. There is an incentive for doing the additional 40 miles -- a plethora of beautiful balds, Roan Mt., and Overmountain Shelter, one of the coolest camp spots on the entire AT. I just don't know if I have the stamina to make it that far.

I remember riding through Johnson City on a Greyhound bus in 2001 en route to Atkins, VA, and a section hike of the AT back to Trail Days. The last time I was on the AT was in 2003, when Esther, Trainwreck and I, did a loop hike to Mt. LeConte in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On that trip, I finally got to see a clear view from Charlie's Bunion and overall had great weather. This is very unlike what was experienced during our 2000 thru-hike.

Who knows what the weather will be like through the Smokies this time around. I'm not worried too much about it. That kind of worry does no good. Make necessary adjustments, strap up, check one last time, and then hike on in whatever conditions present themselves. What I try to be alert to is wetness and hypothermia. The former begets the latter, and unless you're conscientious of the signs, hypothermia can sneak up on you. Luckily, I've got the right gear to stay dry and have been hypothermic a few times, so I know the symptoms.

I'm doing this hike on the cheap. All of my trail food will be either carried initially or sent to me in maildrops at: Hiawassee, Ga., Fontana Dam, NC, and Hot Springs, NC. My goal will be to stay in the woods as much as possible. I do have to allot some library time, though, to look for jobs online so I can collect unemployment. But other than that I will not spend any nights in town. I can't afford to. And I am only justifying the trip in the first place because I want to pay for it almost entirely with money earned collecting aluminum cans. It's a reward for practicing frugality, simplicity, and creative resource management (i.e. scavenging skills).

Let's break down the finances a little bit: I have $400 can money, but spent $255 on bus tickets. I have $100 or so extra non-can moneyto buy food and postage for maildrops. The remaining $145 will be spending money on the trip. This means I can spend at least $20 at every town stop and I won't have to feel deprived of much needed restaurant food/beer/extras. And since I can sleep indoors any old time, I will spend every night, no matter the weather, outside. That, folks, will be the ultimate challenge of this winter-time hike. Do I have the will and the stamina to leave the comforts of civilization in a snow or rain storm and camp out on the trail? The last time I was at Springer I would say No. In light of experiences since, the answer today is a qualified Yes. Let's just say I won't spend money to sleep indoors, but won't refuse a trail angel's offer. Fair enough?

I've also decided to post my journals from the trip on Trailjournals, so look for a link to that page. In the meantime, check this blog and sidebar for more words of wisdom about backpacking, dumpster diving, the differences between the old and new versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and any other crazy schtuff that goes swimming through the stratosphere..

Friday, October 02, 2009

There's gold in them there dumpsters...

... Well, not really, but there is copper, brass, and ton upon ton of aluminum.

I once groused that DeKalb does not have a vigorous recycling program. This was back in late 2006 when I was given the runaround requesting a recycling bin from Waste Management. Three phone calls and months later, I was never supplied one until I confronted the recycling truck in the alley. He had an extra one and gave it to me on the spot. A lesson on the power of direct confrontation.

But now I'm benefitting from the lack of recycling. I live on the far east side of downtown, where the buildings date back to the early 20th century and the neighborhood is mostly single family dwellings. The alleyways close to home are great to glean from before trash pickup because eco-minded residents put their aluminum cans in recycling bins for me. I like to go can picking in daylight because I make a ruckus crushing the cans and don't want to wake anybody up.

What has surprised me most is how kind people are to me, going out of their way to give me cans and giving me verbal support. This one old lady even grabbed me by the elbow, looked me in the eyes and said, "You know you're really doing a great thing, young man." Not really. I'm just getting some exercise and trying to make a little extra money.

But the real paydirt isn't in my neighborhood, but the huge apartment complexes on the northwest side of town. As John Hoffman notes in his classic tome, The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving, college students are "wastoid pukes." And this is so true. I've already gleaned an almost brand new Cannondale bike, fresh fruit by the bagload, a nice fleece jacket, and bag after bag after bag of aluminum cans.

I've been trying to figure out why I like dumpster diving so much. I think it is because it appeals to my outsider sensibilities. The wastoid pukes ignore me and, so far, from that little old lady who grabbed my arm to the young guy who ran back into his place to grab me a bag of cans, and the garbage man who told me where to find brass, all of my encounters while diving have been positive.

I also like dumpster diving because it is a form of urban exploration. You never know what you're going to find. And it is kind of like shopping because I always, without fail, return home loaded with as much as I can carry.

I've only got a few minutes left at the library, so I'm going to dispel a few myths about dumpster diving. First of all, I don't actually get into the dumpster. I may have to at some point, but so far I haven't done it. Everything I've grabbed so far has been in reach. Now, I've leaned over the edge in classic dumpster diving pose many times... Also, I do not get that dirty from diving. My hands get a little sticky from spilled soda and beer, but I just wipe them on the grass and go about my business. I have yet to see a rat, but did encounter a family of three raccoons huddling together asleep in one dumpster.

The good dumpster provides.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Some thoughts on frugality

I aspire to be frugal more than I actually am. Of course, despite not achieving my own goals (such as not eating out), I am probably more frugal than most Americans.

No cable TV, no Internet at home, no utilities, no car payment, no money spent on gas lately (my truck has been in the shop almost a month now as the mechanic is slow to correct his error), shop for groceries only at Aldi's, get most of my vegetables scavenging, usually spend less than $100 a month on food, including eating out, etc., rent is only $385 a month now (from $1,190 a month when I rented a house in Elgin), don't buy books or music, but get both for free from public library, gave up, rather reluctantly, my Netflix account back in January, and pay a fixed rate of $48 a month for cell phone. I figured it out and realize I live quite comfortably, including child support and student loan payments, on a little over $1,100 a month. This is below the poverty line. Why, then, don't I feel poor.

I can thank Esther for instilling frugal habits into my lifestyle. She still is, in many ways, more frugal than I. When we were saving money for long-distance hikes, we lived a very cheap and simple lifestyle. I've gotten so used to it that it has become normal. I find it interesting that in recent tougher economic times frugality has become de rigueur and even celebrities downplay their wealth. But the advice I read about only pays lip service to frugality, such as shopping at Costco instead of at a supermarket or riding a bike to work 3 days a week.

I've found, too, that most of my friends are pretty frugal. This is understandable because non-frugal friends are expensive to be around. It is a fairly common middle-class practice to make social occasions shopping occasions. Think about all of the different theme parties for everything from Tupperware to sex toys that are just a big sales pitch. And everybody has a friend who insists on eating out whenever you get together. Not my friends. They insist I make them something to eat, and don't grouse when I tell them their food was scavenged from a dumpster.

Frugality fits my lifestyle because I would rather do work that is fulfilling than slave away at a job I hate in order to pay for a bevy of things I do not need. Time is far more valuable than money, and experience trumps acquisition any day. When I loot through dumpsters and find perfectly good things thrown away, I think of all the labor that went into producing it and then into making the money that originally bought it. All that sweat and toil that I bypassed by doing something socially stigmatizing like lifting the lid on a dumpster.

Which is more fulfilling, all that wasted labor and material, or getting something for practically nothing? When I'm on a long-distance hike, days upon days removed from civilization, I don't spend any money, but I feel enriched and enlivened by all these experiences that are uncanned, unscripted and spontaneous. And I wouldn't be out there in the first place to enjoy that unless I eschewed the trappings of materialism. Gotta go. Library time up!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Go to a party in America and meet a stranger. Most likely you’ll be asked or ask the question, “What do you do for a living?” as if a job is a person’s most defining feature. Go to a party in Europe or Canada or just about anywhere else in the world and the inevitable question asked will most likely be, “What do you do for fun?” See the difference in priorities?

I got angry at my mother this morning because one of the first things she asked me was about work. I have been unemployed since the school year ended in June. And I’ve already asked my parents to not ask me about work. They don’t have any job to offer me or any leads in teaching, and I’ve assured them they’ll be the first to know when my employment situation changes. So don’t ask.

Their curiosity is understandable. Jobs are common fodder for discussion. But how many of us know what our loved ones really do for a living, the hour to hour tasks that make up their work day? I think it interesting that my parents are so interested in my employment situation, but when I had a full-time public school teaching job, the kind of job that begets a slew of interesting stories, they rarely asked, “What have you been teaching lately?”

Want to know what I’ve been up to lately? In the last week or so I’ve played open stage three times, six different songs. I’ve also read a bunch of books, seen a bunch of movies on DVD, visited a chiropractor, took my son to his first movie theater experience, a free showing at the Egyptian Theatre, gone camping, collected cans, played many rounds of disc golf, cleaned my place and organized my books, written some poetry and an outline for a novel. I’ve written about these activities here and at Why not ask follow-up questions to something I’ve written? Then, do something revolutionary: Actually listen.

More than 10 years ago, shortly after I graduated from college and moved to northern Wisconsin, I wrote each of my siblings and parents long letters, pouring my heart out to them, letting them know how they’ve affected and influenced me, in an effort to foster closer relationships with them. Did even one of them respond to these letters? No. We’re just not a very close family. It’s just the way things are. There’s love and acceptance, but not intimacy. Two out of three ain’t bad. Honestly, I now would probably back off if my siblings or parents tried to be closer.

A good symbol for my family is a model of the solar system. We are in our own orbits. Every once in awhile the planets align -- holidays, etc. -- but for the most part we live in our own worlds, oblivious to the activities on the other planets until their shadow falls across us. Our tides are pulled, but anything closer would be cataclysmic.

There’s this little game I play now and again. In interactions with a family member I will make a point not to reveal any details about my life unless asked. And I will only ask questions if genuinely interest. Otherwise, I remain silent but for the occasional uh-huh or nod of the head. Yesterday I did this talking with a sibling on the phone. I looked at the time on my phone when I went into quiet mode. 25 minutes later I had to interrupt the monologue to get supper ready. Did I feel slighted or ignored in this one-sided conversation? No. This is normal.

Family gatherings are, from my perspective, great listening experiences. And this manner of being has affected my life in far-reaching and positive ways. It feels very liberating to let go of the notion that I’ll be understood by loved ones. There are other benefits: An independent spirit; freedom from pressure to conform to family values; a journalism and, later, teaching career (both professions depend on good listening/decoding skills). Even the closeness I share with my son stems, I believe, from a hunger for intimacy and understanding.

But there are still rare occasions, like this morning, when it bugs the hell out of me how ignorant my family is of my life, despite my frequent postings and other writings.

This post was written at the request of my mother. She said I should air my complaints on the blog and just let it all out. And, as usual, I’ve done a half-ass job of it. Every time I try to let loose vitriol unfettered, in writing at least, an internal editor jumps in with a sense of perspective.




















Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review of 60 Hikes within 60 miles of Chicago

Ted Villaire's book is one of those guidebooks that will have to be replaced now and again because it gets lost under the seat of the car or is damaged by water, wind, sun, or animals. It is a worthy companion for daytrip adventures around Chicagoland.

My only complaints about the book are minor. As a veteran Appalachian Trail hiker who relied on elevation profiles to determine the difficulty of a day's hike, I found the elevation profiles for most Chicagoland hikes unnecessary. Maybe in the next edition just put up elevation profiles for particularly hilly hikes. There is also a near absence of hikes in Kane County, which has, by my estimation, some of the best hiking and well-managed forest preserve systems of any county in the state.

Some nice features include the hiking recommendations, which lists hikes and page numbers by mileage and other features, including good hikes for young children, urban hikes, solitudinous hikes, and hikes near public transportation routes. Most of the recommended hikes are loop hikes and of long enough duration to merit a special trip to them. Hikes are also listed by geographic regions, which makes for easier planning of multi-hike trips. And Villaire's route descriptions provide a good mix of landmark descriptions and tidbits about the natural and human history of the area.

While most of the information in this book can be culled from county forest preserve web sites, it is nice to have it in one easy-to-read, accessible place. I look forward to many happy miles with this book in my pack.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why do emergency vehicles ALWAYS get put into action when it's stormy? Anybody else notice this phenomenon?
Sent by a Cricket mobile device
I w/ send longer posts w/ pics bcuz the character limit is 1,000 instead of 150. Scintillating, right?
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I'm testing out my new e-mail posting address so I can use my phone to send abbreviated blog posts. We'll see how it looks.
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The Augusta Inn, a.k.a. The Bad Boy House

Today is a day where I feel as if my mind is moving in 1,000 directions at once, pulled like taffy, or a computer rendering of neurons and prions. But I’ll try to stay focused. Today’s task: write about the Augusta Inn, a.k.a. The Bad Boy House.

Last Friday I went on a walk around town and saw a family moving into the former Augusta Inn. It is no longer a rooming house. A family was moving in. I’m sad. The porch is no longer a welcome refuge for every rascal and roustabout in town. Of course, there are other rooming houses for them, but no other porch with a view to the river and the foot and other traffic moving down Augusta Ave.

I first became aware of the Bad Boy House in the fall of 2005 when I moved next door to the inaccurate, but quaintly-named Country Acres rooming house. Back then, the Augusta Inn was a party house. Every night I heard drunken, guttural yells coming from there and a sundry tattooed characters stumbling about pissing and throwing up. Smashing cans and clanking bottles were as a common a sound as the train whistle.

Back in 2005, the de facto king of the Bad Boy House was Michael, a burly ex-con with swastika tattoos on each bicep and another of the grim reaper, scepter in one hand, beckoning with the fleshless bones of another hand, first finger curled in a come on gesture, covering his entire back. He never wore a shirt and had the taut muscularity of a bulldog. Michael had a notorious temper and at least once a night tried to pick a fight with somebody. He had the biggest room, on the first floor, and a rotating array of women at his beck and call, along with the consequential dirty-nosed kids running around with sagging diapers.

At the time, I had really long hair and a beard, but no tattoos. And everybody knew I was a student. For some reason, Michael took a liking to me and called me over to the porch one evening to hang out, handing me a plastic cup and pointing the way to a keg. I felt out of place. Everyone else -- without exception -- was covered with tattoos. I had none. I had a hard time being comfortable because I’d already heard about Michael’s notorious temper.

I soon met other characters, many of whom I plan to loosely fictionalize for a Cannery Row style novel. There was Tom B., a huge black guy who drank vodka prodigiously and once stumbled over to pick a fight with me one night when my dad was dropping me off at the end of a weekend. “I’m a gonna kick your ass, college boy. Put up your dukes.” Instead, I handed him a sack of laundry, which he dutifully carried to the door for me. We’ve become friends and I always stop to talk with him a few minutes when I see him around town.

Crazy Lisa slathered in lipstick, eye-shadow, long, bleach-blonde hair tossed in disparate directions like sheaves of wheat, no doubt held in place by half a bottle of hairspray, wearing a tank top and mini-skirt. Rolls of fat hung over her imitation leather belt. They reminded me of that novelty toy that falls through your fingers when you try to squeeze it. She was nice, but it was easy to figure out how she got her name. It was difficult to have a conversation with her. In between moments of lucidity -- where I got glimpses of a real caring personality -- she spoke gibberish or drifted off into her own world, tilting her head sideways and staring up to the gray stucco ceiling of the porch. She had a squeaky/breathy voice that reminded me of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.

Every townie in DeKalb knows Crazy Lisa. Rumor has it she used to be skinny and “normal,” but was harmed by some unspoken trauma shortly after graduating from high school and hasn’t been the same since.

Steve T. looked like a large leprechaun. He was bald on top, red hair on the sides, and Irish. One night he fell off the back porch and gashed his head open. Michael turned on the garden hose and sprayed Steve with it, commanding him to stay put. Eventually, Steve got his senses together and stumbled through the spray. Despite, or maybe because of the dilution, the next day the gravel in the back lot was streaked with red.

I later saw Steve at a city park during Cornfest and noticed the deep scar above his eye from that night. He was homeless then, a couple years ago, and I haven’t seen him around since I’ve been back. I wonder what he’s up to these days. He told me that he slept in the lobby at the police station on cold nights. The cops would sometimes let him crash out in a holding cell.

The longest-lived resident at the Bad Boy House was also its most unobtrusive. Mackey suffered from horrible acne and some sort of rash that covered his arms with red welts and boils. I thought of Job when I saw his dermatological condition. He was very quiet, but always present at the parties, and liked by everybody. He once played lead guitar in a local death metal band, something I thought odd considering his gentle nature. He also collected horror action figures and covered the walls of his room in horror movie posters. In fact, he was still there as recently as three weeks ago. I helped him move out. He was the last one to leave and the only person in good enough graces with the landlord not to get an eviction notice. He told me he lived at the Bad Boy House for five years.

There’s more characters… I haven’t even described Andy and The Colonel, who I hung out with on the porch most recently. The Colonel used to be my house mate at Country Acres. He was eventually kicked out of that place after a second arrest for assaulting a fellow resident. After a bout of homelessness himself, he found a room next door. Then his father died and he came into a sizable inheritance. He’s currently in an apartment partying and pissing that away. We’re no longer friends, but that’s another story… No doubt The Colonel will play a prominent role in my novel.

The Bad Boy House was always a place I could go and be offered a beer. I enjoyed hanging out there because the porch had a good view to the Kishwaukee River and its weeping willow-lined banks near NIU’s music building. And there was always an atmosphere of revelry and danger. You never knew what would happen or who would show up. Anything could happen and often did. Like Mackey, I enjoyed witnessing, but staying in the background during moments of alcohol-fueled drama.

Monday, September 14, 2009

[My father requested I write more about my recent homeless experiences. Since yesterday afternoon I have been brainstorming what to write about. I still have no outline or plan of action, so will do what I’ve made countless students do over the past couple years -- write a free write about the experience and see what winnows through the flurry of words…]


We were sitting on the back deck facing the old depot in DeKalb and Mom reminded me that when I was a teenager I had a fascination with hoboes and living the vagabond life. She reminded me that I threatened/fantasized taking an epic journey by rail and hitchhiking out west. “You still haven’t done that,” she reminded me. “But don’t you dare do it now!”

For good and ill, I have a fierce restless streak, something I have to constantly fight because I want to be involved in my son’s life and provide him the same protection and security that my parent’s did me. But that doesn’t stop me from reading National Geographic, Outside, and Backpacker magazines, studying maps, reading travelogues and planning potential trips. There’s no harm in that, other than the frustration of unfulfilled ambitions.

In the month before I moved out of the house I was renting in Elgin, I knew that I would be homeless for at least most of August because I did not want to commit to a lease in DeKalb and then get a full-time teaching job elsewhere. I debated going on a long hike on the Ice Age Trail or North Country Trail in Wisconsin, but finances and a need to be close to the area for a potential job interview kept me around.

I approached homelessness with an air of adventure. This would be fun, I figured, the vagabond lifestyle that fits so well with my tramp sensibilities. In many ways it was. But I was in for a few surprises as well.


The biggest and most frustrating surprise was the difficulty I had keeping track of my stuff. I rented a 5 x 8 foot storage unit and had my truck. I loaded the unit so that things that I deemed in need of easy access -- toiletries, clothes, outdoor equipment, etc. -- would be near the front. But as the days went on, I found myself having to move things around a lot to find things. By the time I moved into my current residence, the storage unit was in shambles and stuff flew out, eager to escape, whenever I rolled up the door. A domestic existence cannot be lived out of a backpack. This is why the stereotypical vision of a homeless person includes a shopping cart.

Another difficult aspect of the homeless experience is staying clean. I managed to avoid looking like a bum by showering at least every other day at the Anderson Hall pool locker room on campus at NIU. I also had access to a shower and free laundry at the Augusta Inn, a.k.a. the Bad Boy House, where I even squatted a couple nights. More on that place later. I was very conscientious about not looking like a bum because I know a lot of people in DeKalb and did not want them to know what I was doing, not because I was ashamed of my condition, but because I didn’t want to go through the complicated dance of refusing generous offers of housing.

I met a few homeless people during this time and all of them slept in their vehicles. I’ve always looked at motor vehicles as an opportunity for law enforcement to infringe on my rights, so while I used my truck as a base of operations, I never slept in it and always parked it in public lots downtown.

During the day, I carried stuff using a fanny pack or small backpack. After dark, I rode out to the storage unit and grabbed my GoLite Breeze rucksack loaded with tent, sleeping bag, rain jacket, etc., and rode my bike or walked out to my home for the night under cover of darkness. I NEVER set up camp in daylight, practicing tried and true stealth camping techniques (see an earlier post about these). The rucksack is smaller than a full-size expedition pack, but not nearly as inconspicuous as a daypack.

I camped in a variety of woodsy settings in and around DeKalb, eventually settling on two spots that were secluded enough for me to sleep without worry. One spot was in Prairie Park, nestled beneath the boughs of a grove of chokecherry trees. In daylight, I could walk 10 paces, look around, and not notice the tent. The other spot was in Eco Park, just north of NIU’s campus. This one was easier to get to -- about 20 paces off a trail -- but felt just as excluded. The Prairie Park spot required me to walk a long ways through tall grasses and other itchy brambles.

The worst spot was in a graveyard near the high school. I picked this place because a port-a-pottie and water was nearby, fully intending to camp in the woods that surrounds the graveyard. But when I tried to scout out a spot, I discovered the ground to be all hummocky and/or root covered, so I had to camp in a grassy area on the edge of the woods. During the night, people walked by and I heard a car door slam nearby. I think the graveyard is a popular hang out place for teenagers. It was a very fitful night of sleep.


I’ve seen DeKalb from so many different perspectives over the years. My first exposure was as a teenager, competing in drum and bugle corps at Huskie Stadium. I’ll never forget Larry E. and I hanging out with the girls traveling softball team in their hotel room, and being chased out and threatened with arrest when discovered by their chaperone. During these annual visits, I only knew the west side of town and NIU’s campus.

When I returned in 1994 to pursue my bachelor’s degree at the university, I lived in the dorms and eventually downtown, exploring campus even more and enjoying the bar scene. I also knew places along the bus routes and the shopping areas along DeKalb/Sycamore Road. Later, returning in 2005 to pursue a master’s degree, and with a couple long distance hikes behind me, I once again lived near downtown, but then discovered all of the parks, trails, and public lands. I realized, upon comparison with my former experiences with the town, how much my perceptions had been changed by trail life.

This is my third time back in DeKalb, and homelessness helped me discover the tasty, cold, clean, and functioning water fountains at nearly every city park. I also figured out which porta-a-johns were the least nasty and when the campus buildings are opened (7 a.m.). And now, living on the east side in a bohemian atelier, I have come full circle and see the city through musical notes, color and creative possibility.

Until now, I’ve always seen DeKalb as a wayside between points of greater interest, primarily because I came here as a student, a temporary condition. But now seems different. My son was born here and lives the next town over. I’m not enrolled at NIU and have no plans to do so. DeKalb has always been good to me. I’ve touched the Kishwaukee River, so why fight fate? I’m happy and accepted here. It feels like home.


The characters of the Bad Boy House and a description of my new home will have to wait for another post. Check out my twitter page --

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Zen mind, Abecedarian mind

Yesterday my son and I worked on spelling the long form of his name, Jonathan. He's been able to spell J-O-N for awhile and now the goal is to get him to spell his first and last name and know his mother's phone number in case he ever gets lost. It's funny, but he really struggles to remember the H. He's called it a U or W and even once a Q. We verbally go over it and I have him trace his finger over the letter as he pronounces it. But until we made a sing-song joke out of it, he really struggled to remember it. But why? I think it is because the H sound is so elusive, just a slightly forced exhalation is all it is. That's my theory, at least, and I'm sticking to it. Anyone with more than one graduate course in linguists or semantics out there want to explain the trouble with H?

Today's word of the day is Abecederian. That's what Jonny is, and I guess I am too for teaching him the alphabet.

H-H-H-Have a H-H-H-Happy Day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two original songs

These original songs have been in my repertoire for a few years and I have made numerous audio tape versions with friends, but never video taped them. At my friend Jim's insistence, he wanted to tape them and show them on YouTube. He is an organist at a local church and we go there from time to time to jam. He digitally records each jam session and liked the following two songs upon re-listening and asked me to make a video of them. The videos were shot in my new place. The ceiling is high and room almost bare, explaining the echoey nature of the sound, which I happen to like.

Here's the videos. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Updatus maximus

I'm still without a permanent address, though those days are more briefly numbered than I might have planned. This afternoon I am looking at a room above the Fargo Theatre in downtown DeKalb. I've been interested in this locale since spending an afternoon with a friend of a friend in one of those rooms back in 2002. As it turns out, the room available for rent is the same room.

I won't go into particulars now, but it seems to be a cool place with a deceptive amount of room. Of course, it is a rooming house set-up, with shared bathrooms and kitchen, but if I remember right, the room available is set off by itself and has a sleeping loft. I've always wanted one of those since living in a loft apartment in Antigo, WI, lo 10 years gone by. And while my old loft digs in Antigo were in an old train depot, my prospective place looks out on a depot.

In other news, all of my paperwork is in order and I'm back on the substitute teaching list in DeKalb. I was kind of bummed out yesterday when I drove by a middle school here in town and saw vehicles in the parking lot. Teachers are getting their classrooms and schedules ready for a busy school year. And here I am, once again, on the outside looking in. But rest assured, peeps, you can't keep a good man down. I'll be teaching and have a classroom of my own to ready in the not-to-distant future. I can either lament how fate dealt me a cruel hand or just pick myself up and keep on plugging away. Easy choice. Not even a choice. I was born for action.

Camping out is still enjoyable. I've found a couple choice spots that I feel confident no one could discover me at, and am still scouting out new spots all the time. Who knew there were so many camp spots in and around DeKalb.

Its been nice to see Jonny often during the week and reuniting with some old friends, many whom didn't even know I left DeKalb.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I've been having fun with Twitter since I got my qwerty keyboard phone about 10 days ago. But I am frustrated that the newest posts are shown first because I've been using Twitter to tell little stories and post quotes from books I'm reading. So those who read my page read an account backwards. I've looked into it to see if I change the order of posts.

A couple ideas I have are to talk about one thing for 10 tweets a day, and to also do an English/ grammar lesson a day in 2-3 tweets. A way around the Twitter posting format is to cut and paste the tweets in the order I want them to be presented here on this blog. Here's Saturday's 10-tweet about my old home.

1. The house was the last house on the left, and it had a creepy vibe 2 it. The kitchen was too small. It had four entrance doors.

2. Spiders were everywhere. Mice invaded the kitchen. I had 2 use poison bait and traps. In the spring an odor of decaying flesh in the walls.

3. There was this stupid little booth off the kitchen with a bench facing a wall. I kept fresh fruit on the table, boxes + bags on bench + flr.

4. The master bdrm was huge and 8 windows looked on serene hillside forest. Deck. Screened in porch. Firepit. Fox River Trail through yard.

5. The livng rm has hardwood floors + a fireplace w/ a brick mantel. I used it often in Nov + Dec, but retreated 2 a small bdrm in Jan.

6. Spectacular sunsets in the fall and winter when leaves off the trees gave a clear view onto the river. Golden rays on whorled wood wall.

7. Rent was so expensive I had no money for entertainment. The Gail Borden library was 1 1/2 miles up the trail. I checked out a lot of DVDs.

8. I sometimes felt the presence of someone else and heard strange noises at night. The place wore an air of unhappiness like a shawl

9. I saw my next door neighbor, an age 90+ man, only once. Butch and Julie lived across the street. We exchanged pleasantries now and again.

10. I realize now how isolated and lonely I'd become living there and, in spite of the quiet and natural beauty, am glad to be gone.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recent pictures of Jonny taken with my phone

As I'm slowly acclimating to my new phone and discovering how to use its dizzying array of features (and this is the cheap, no-frills phone), I figured out how to post pictures I take with it. Who knew I could use the phone to e-mail people too? Ain't that neat. The bottom picture is the best of Jonny. The other two are blurrier. C'est la vie.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A short bibliography on indigence

If you count the two thru-hikes I've taken in the past 9 years, this is my fourth stint at voluntary homelessness. why voluntary? Because I have enough money to rent a room or small apartment. I just used Amazon to compile a short (30 titles) bibliography on the subject of homelessness. I picked from memoirs and sociological texts. My tentative plan is to write about the topic and incorporate these other works into a first-person account of my experiences with homelessness.

I tend to glorify the condition because I actually enjoy the challenges and greater connection to nature that homelessness brings me. Those addicted to drugs, the mentally ill, and homeless families face worser travails than I. There is no way for them to romanticize their condition and little hope for a way out of it. I acknowledge the novelty in which I treat the subject. This novelty is now turning to research.

I've got 11 minutes left at the library's computers. I will order 3 titles through interlibrary loan when my time runs out. Any titles I've collected that don't fit in this timeline will be posted to my Twitter page ( ).

Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes -- Ted Conover
American Nomads: Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers, and Bullriders -- Richard Grant

One More Train to Ride: The Underground World of Modern American Hoboes -- Cliff (Oats) Williams

Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America -- Todd DePastino

Down and Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History -- Kenneth L. Kusmer

The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked - 21st Century Edition -- Ernie J. Zelinski

Making Room: The Economics of Homelessness -- Brendan O' Flaherty

Voices from the Street: Truths about Homelessness from Sisters of the Road -- Jessica P. Morrell

Ragnar's Guide to the Underground Economy -- Ragnar Benson

My 30 Days Under the Overpass: Not Your Ordinary Devotional -- Mike Yankoski

The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical -- Shane Claiborne

Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America -- Mike Yankoski

Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women -- Elliott Lebow

Reckoning with Homelessness (The Anthropology of Contemporary Issues) -- Kim Hopper

The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States -- Joel Blau

Down on their Luck: A Study of Homeless Street People -- David A. Snow

Down and Out in America: The Origins of Homelessness -- Peter H. Rossi

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The art and science of stealth camping

I've been put in a bind as my search for another teaching job enters its final month. I moved out of the house I was renting in Elgin on July 31, but cannot commit to a lease on a new place because I still hold out hopes of getting a teaching job somewhere, anywhere.

And I was going to stay with Esther and Jonny, but her landlord told her she couldn't have any additional tenants. I can still stay there a couple night a week or if the weather is horribly bad, but anything long-term is out of the question. Plus, her place is too small for three people. I feel cooped up when I'm over there.

Of course, I could stay in hotels or find other friends, but I've decided on a fun alternative that 99.9 percent of the population would shun. I've opted to be homeless. I'm renting a small storage unit for $35 a month that I have ready access to 24/7. Most of the month I've been camping out in and around DeKalb.

For more about stealth camping, check out the following links: -- This is a good site that explains the rationale for stealth camping on long-distance hikes or bike trips. -- Agglutination has posted four videos on his stealth camping experiences. This videos show the sights and sounds of stealth camping.

I'm not going to go into great detail about where I camp (it would detract from the "stealthiness" of it), but do show a Google map image of my favorite area.

View Larger Map

The key to good stealth camping is to scout out a good site during the day and mark the spot either with a ribbon, a colorful bandanna, or some other conspicuous marker that can be spotted at night, preferably without headlamp. Also ask the following questions: Are people likely to come around at night? Am I out of sight of any houses, roads, or trails? Are there any wild animals that might disturb my nocturnal peace? Can I enter the site inconspicuously?

Once this criteria is established, go about your business until night time, then find your site and settle in as quietly as possible. This method is so simple it's stupid. I think the biggest thing to overcome is the fear of being discovered, but if you follow best practices this fear is unfounded. Simply put: Most urban and suburbanites don't notice details of the world beyond the reach of their arms. They are blissfully unaware of their surroundings.

I've also had to get used to the night sounds of suburbia: trains, the low hum of traffic punctuated now and again by squealing tires and brakes, ambulance and police sirens, and the sounds of music and people talking being carried on the wind. Animals also make noises, mostly mice and other small mammals scurrying through the brush. Suburban woods are rife with deer. One of my nights a buck tried to roust me out with loud snorting. One of my stealth spots was besides a gently gurgling creek, so other noises were shunted to the background.

One downside to stealth camping is the need to break camp swiftly and quietly around first light. Most people don't like to be up this early. It's not a problem for me because I love to greet the sunrise and listen to birdsong as the world slowly awakens. There's no better way to start the day. Another downside is the lack of bathroom facilities in or near camp. I'm one of those people who wakes up needing to evacuate solid wastes, so I have to squelch the turtlehead until camp is broken. A third problem to stealth camping is getting to the site without alerting those who see you en route to your intentions. I pack my tent, sleeping bag and ditty into my GoLite Breeze rucksack and ride my bike through side streets as much as possible. I even have an excuse if I'm questioned about carrying a larger than normal pack around town: I'm on my way to do laundry. A final downside is the inability to have a fire (unless you have a really out of the way spot with an already established ring). I make up for this by lighting a few tea candles. It provides some of the flickery ambience of a camp fire.

Thru-hiking has spoiled me forever from camping in the third world tenements that comprise most campgrounds. I also heed the words of venerable thru-hiker BillyGoat, who told me once, "I only camp in places where no one else has camped before." This method, combined with a before bedtime urination around the camp site, prevents the likelihood of critters disturbing your slumber.

I do not recommend stealth camping for people not steeped in the ideology of Leave No Trace. I take pains to leave my site cleaner than I found it, picking up any errant trash and fluffing up the vegetation after I've lain on it.

So far, so good. I'll give an update if I'm hsuled in for trespassing or vagrancy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Video slide show of Pacific Crest Trail hike

As I'm packing things away to move, I come across near-forgotten mementos, such as a DVD of photos and videos from the Pacific Crest Trail edited by Esther's brother Carl. This was used in a few trail presentations and received positive feedback. I broke DVD into five segments and posted them to YouTube.

To check them out, go to my profile at:

Unfortunately, the sound has been cut out of the slide show for copyright reasons. Here's a couple more current videos, featuring none other than my son Jonny. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Compact Disc inventory

I've compiled a list of all of the "legitimate" compact discs I have in my collection for the purpose of selling them. I downloaded them all to my hard drive and have back-up files, so why not?

All discs listed have jewel cases and liner art, though conditions vary. I am selling them for $3 a piece, 4 for $10, or 10 for $20. Make a list and send me an e-mail at:

I'm also curious to know what friends and family think of this music. Although this only represents about a fourth of my collection (I have a ton of other albums through copies and downloads), it is fairly representative of the kinds of music I've been into over the past twenty years. If any disc stands out as fairly memorable, leave a comment. I'd love to read your feedback.

The Best of The Alan Parsons Project
Gerald Albright, Live at Birdland West
Tori Amos, Strange Little Girls
Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe
Louis Armstrong Sings Back Through the Years: A Centennial Celebration (2)

Bach Organ Blaster, Michael Murray, organ,
The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Beck, Odelay
Beck, Bogert, Appice
The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Chant
Georges Bizet, Carmen, London Festival Orchestra
Bjork: Greatest Hits, Medulla, Vespertine
The Black Crowes: Shake Your Money Maker, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
Bluegrass Number 1’s- A Collection Of Chart Topping Songs (2)
Blues Traveler, Four
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars
Brooks Brothers, All Jazz (various artists)
The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out
The Best of Ken Burns Jazz

Bob Carlisle, Stories From the Heart
The Cars, Complete Greatest Hits
Steven Curtis Chapman, Signs of Life
Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago II
Chick Corea, Return to Forever Chick Corea Akoustic Band, Alive
Chill: Brazil: 30 Sexy Soul Bossa tracks Chosen by Legendary Marcos Valle (2)
Christmas with the Stars, 1996
Eric Clapton, 24 Nights (2)
The Clash, Combat Rock
Classic Care: Music to Heal the Mind, Body and Soul
Classics from the Crypt
Billy Cobham, Spectrum
Coldplay, Parachutes, X & Y
Harry Connick, Jr Blue Light, Red Light, We Are in Love
Copper Label (various artists)
The Crash Test Dummies, A Worm’s Life, Give Yourself a Hand, God Shuffled His Feet, He Liked to Feel It (EP Single), I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind, Songs of the Unforgiven
The Cure, Disintegration

Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (2), Ken Burns Jazz, Kind of Blue, Love Songs, On the Corner, Sketches of Spain
Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
Claude DeBussy, Greatest Hits
The Decemberists, The Crane Wife
Depeche Mode, Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Some Great Reward, Violator
Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Ultimate Collection
The Doors, The Best of…(2), LA Woman, Morrison Hotel, Oliver Stone film Soundtrack, The Ceremony Continues (an interview with Jim Morrison)
Dream Theater, Images and Words
Antonin Dvorak, Slavonic Dances and Carnival Overture
Bob Dylan, Greatest Hits

Echoes of Nature: Frog Chorus
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery, King Biscuit Flower Hour (2), Tarkus, Trilogy
Enigma, MCMXC AD
Enya, A Day Without Rain, Paint the Sky with Stars (The Best of Enya)

Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Genesis, Live, Nursery Cryme, Trespass
Gomez, How We Operate
Gorillaz, Demon Days
The Grateful Dead, American Beauty
Gregorian Chants
Buddy Guy, Slippin’ In

Herbie Hancock, Headhunters
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?, Electric Ladyland, Live at Winterland
Lauryn Hill, Unplugged (2)
Tom Howard, Beyond the Barriers
Hunt the Wumpus, Preskool

Incubus, Light Grenades, Make Yourself, Morning View
Inspiral Carpets, The Beast Inside
Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World

Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
Jamiroquai, A Funk Odyssey
Jane’s Addiction, Ritual de lo Habitual
Jethro Tull, Aqualung
Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings (2)
Stanley Jordan, Stolen Moments
Journey’s Greatest Hits

Phil Keaggy, Town to Town / Ph’lip Side / Play Thru Me (2)
Alicia Keys, Songs in A Minor
King Crimson, Sleepless: The Concise King Crimson
Klover, Feel Lucky Punk
Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live (2)
Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way
Johnathan Kuss, The Anxiety of Influence Sessions (EP Single)

Last Gentlemen, theworldbehindyourback
Leadbelly, King of the 12-String Guitar
Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, II, III, IV
Geddy Lee, My Favorite Headache

Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, Appalachian Journey
Madonna, Music, Ray of Light
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Birds of Fire, Inner Mounting Flame
Marcy Playground, Marcy Playground, Shapeshifter
Bob Marley and the Wailers, Legend, Reggae Fever
Ellis Marsalis, Heart of Gold
Dave Matthews Band, Before These Crowded Streets, Crash, Everyday, Listener Supported (2),
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Live at Luther College (2)
John Mayer, Heavier Things, Room for Squares
Bobby McFerrin, The Best of The Blue Note years
John McLaughlin, Electric Guitarist
Medeski, Martin and Wood, Combustication, Friday Afternoon in the Universe, It’s a Jungle in Here, Shack-man, Tonic
John Mellencamp, Whenever We Wanted
Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust
The Steve Miller Band, Greatest Hits 1974-78
Moby, 18, I Like to Score, Songs
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Carlos Montoya, Flamenco Guitar
Van Morrison, Moondance
Morrissey, The Best of…

Nirvana, Bleach, Lithium (EP Single with lyrics for Nevermind album), Nevermind, Unplugged in New York

Pachelbel, Kanon and other hits of the Baroque
Parliament’s Greatest Hits
Pearl Jam, Binaural, Ten, Vs.
Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever
Phish, Round Room
Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments
The Postal Service
Primus, Pork Soda
Giacomo Puccini; Giuseppe Verdi, Tosca / Madame Butterfly / La Boheme / Aida / Il Trovatore / La Forza del Destino
Pump Up the Volume soundtrack

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack

Radiohead, Amnesiac, Kid A, OK Computer
Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire, Rage Against the Machine
R.E.M., Automatic for the People, Green, Monster, Out of Time
Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street, Tattoo You
Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
Rush, A Farewell to Kings, All the World’s a Stage (live), A Show of Hands (live), Counterparts, Different Stages (live) (3), Exit… Stage Left (live), Fly By Night, Grace Under Pressure, Hemispheres, Hold Your Fire, Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves, Power Windows, Presto, Roll the Bones, Rush, Signals, Test for Echo, 2112, Vapor Trails
John Rutter, Gloria: The Sacred Music of John Rutter

Motoi Sakuraba, Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile live concert (2)
Carlos Santana, Santana (2)
Joe Satriani, Surfing with the Alien
Paul Simon, Graceland
Simon and Garfunkel, Greatest Hits
The Best of 60s Psychedelic Rock
Snoop Doggy Dog, Doggystyle
Soul Train Christmas Starfest
Spin Doctors, Pocket Full of Kryptonite
Spring Showers: Relaxation and Meditation with music and nature
Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad
Steely Dan, Aja, Can’t Buy a Thrill, Countdown to Ecstasy, Everything Must Go, Katy Lied, Pretzel Logic
Sting, Ten Summoner’s Tales
Walkin’ Jim Stoltz, The Long Trails
Sugar Ray, 14:59
System of a Down, Toxicity

Talking Heads, Naked
Tenacious D
K.T. Tunstall, Eye to the Telescope
U2, Achtung Baby, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, The Fly (EP Single), Zooropa

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, The Sky is Crying
Suzanne Vega, Nine Objects of Desire, 99.9 F, Solitude Standing, Songs in Red and Gray
Victor (solo album by Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson)
Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

The Who, Magic Bus
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
John Williams, Guitar Recital (2)
George Winston, Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors
Winter Holiday Greetings

Yes, An Evening of Yes Music Plus (2), Fragile, Going for the One, Keys to Ascension Vol. 2 (2), Keystudio, Symphonic Music of Yes, Tales from Topographic Oceans (2003 re-issue with bonus tracks), Yes, Yessongs (2)