Inspiring people to get outside is the most rewarding thing I can imagine. Tonight’s event was fantastic. Thank you to everyone for attending and especially for supporting Teens to Trails.
Had so much fun appearing on New Hampshire Public Radio’s 10-Minute Writer’s Workshop to discuss the craft of catalog and online writing.
If you haven’t heard any episodes, I urge you to check out this podcast. Virginia has hosted an incredible range of writers, some household names, others aspiring to be. It’s inspirational, informative and fun!
One of my favorite sentiments regarding travel comes from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley – In Search of America. He contends that they sure way to ruin a journey is to think that you control it.
This is such a marvelous metaphor for every aspect of life — work and relationships come to mind— but one place that particularly requires you to let go of the tiller is when you are traveling.
Thousands of miles of walking have taught me to continually assess situations and adapt accordingly. I am most grateful for what that experience has added to my day-to-day living.
The most recent example goes like this:
Before I left Maine last July for my several month book tour, I installed an auxiliary battery and inverter to my van. This ingenious set-up allows me to plug in my phone and other peripherals, so I never need to duck into a Starbucks, library, etc. to recharge along the way.
Things were working splendidly until somewhere in PA when the auxiliary batter ran out. (An integral part of the system is that the battery recharges from the alternator as I’m driving.) Because my book signing schedule was now daily, I didn’t have time to have someone take a look at at. (I had ruled out blown fuses as the problem, which was the best I could do.)
Everything figuratively blew up on me last Sunday. I was due for a book signing in Pittsburgh at 1:00. My phone was on fumes, so I tried to plug it in using my cigarette plug charger, which suddenly decided to become useless.I pulled over at a rest area and plugged the phone in for the few minutes I had to spare. According to Google Maps, my ETA at the signing was now 1:00. I had to leave with my phone at 14% charged. But before I did, I wrote the turn-by-turn directions on a piece of notebook paper and put it on the passenger seat.
That would have worked just fine if Google Maps directions had been accurate in the first place. Instead, I drove past the exit for the book signing, went right into downtown Pittsburgh (where there was a Pirates game and associated gridlock) and back out the other side. By now, it was 2:00 and my phone was long since dead. I couldn’t even call the store where I was due for the signing to tell them what was going on.
In full blown WTF mode, I pulled off the interstate and into the awaiting arms of a Holiday Inn Express. My staccato, Rain Man-esque banter likely terrified and amused the manager at the same time.
“Need a ride.”
“Late for signing.”
“May need a room.”
The next five minutes were astounding. She looked up the venue, realized she had turn-by-turn directions in her computer, printed them out, handed them to me and sent me on my way.
Half an hour later, I showed up at my signing a bit harried, but ever thankful for the woman that got me there.
Which led me to my next great find in Pittsburgh.
On Monday morning, I awoke as a man with a day off and a new mission — get the inverter fixed.
After a few calls, I found Murray Auto Electric in Delmont, PA. It was an hour away, but one of the best one hour driving decisions I’ve ever made. The staff there was incredibly busy (I estimate they worked on 15 cars and trucks while I was there), but they squeezed me in.
I figured it would be a while, so I walked the 1.5 miles to the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, another tremendous local find. I enjoyed sitting at the counter and chatting it up with the locals including Earl, the retiree and his buddy who are regular customers. You get a real feel for a town when you take the time to find places like the Wagon Wheel. And I never would have found it in the first place if my electrical system wasn’t on the fritz.
After my noisy walk back up Route 22 to Murray Auto Electric, my van hadn’t yet been taken inside. I pondered writing for a while, but did’t much feel like it. Instead, I watched the clouds, as an intense afternoon downpour shaped up. It started with incredible winds that hurled dust for a solid 10 minutes before the rain came in sheets. Then as suddenly as it all came on, the sun came out again. Just relaxing and being in the moment was the best thing I could do for myself, especially after several days of driving from one venue to the next.
As the perfect metaphor, my van emerged from the workshop into the sunlight. After the hellacious mental storm of the day before, when I had felt like a styrofoam cup blowing across a parking lot, not knowing when or how I would land, I was back in the land of reliable power and serenity.
Again I had learned that Steinbeck was right. I am not in control of my journey. I can chart the course in general directions, but should never hold the reigns too tightly. For when I’m open to the unexpected is when I find the most satisfaction and joy.
Pre-Order Appalachian Odyssey now at Amazon!
Jeffrey Ryan sets no speed records on the Appalachian Trail, unless it is for the slowest time ever recorded getting from Maine to Georgia. But in a world which sometimes seems obsessed with velocity and superficiality, Ryan’s story is a reminder that the long slow journeys taken with friends are the best—and the most memorable. His Appalachian Odyssey, destined to be a classic of nature and travel writing, will inspire a new generation of readers to follow in his footsteps.
~ Robert M. Poole, executive editor (retired), National Geographic.
Order Appalachian Odyssey now at Amazon!
The idea to create the Appalachian Trail (AT) is widely credited to Benton MacKaye, a regional planner who envisioned a network of work, study and farming camps stretching from Mt. Washington in New Hampshire to Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.
Appalachian Trail Maps by State (north to south)
These maps are designed to provide an overview of the Appalachian Trail’s path in each state. Before you get on the trail, I highly recommend purchasing maps and guidebooks from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy or from the organizations that maintain the trail in each state. The money raised through the sale of map and guides helps keep the Appalachian Trail protected and maintained.
Appalachian Trail History
The vision for the trail was first publicized in October of 1921. By 1925, the first Appalachian Trail Conference was convened to get the project off the ground. Like most large scale projects, the creation of the Appalachian Trail happened in fits and starts. While the trail was completed as a continuous footpath in 1937, it wasn’t until 1968 that it was designated as a national scenic trail and afforded federal protection (along with The Pacific Crest Trail).
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy provides a detailed history of the trail on their website.
The Appalachian Trail is a mountain trail. It is mentally and physically demanding. There are precious few sections that allow one to stroll. The fact that many underestimate the terrain and what it takes to complete a through-hike is illustrated by a single statistic: 75% of people who begin the hike don’t finish.
Appalachian Trail Stats
Distance: 2,181 miles
Number of States: 14
Highest Elevation: 6643′ (Clingmans Dome, TN)
Lowest Elevation: 124′ (Bear Mountain State Park, NY)
Percentage of hikers completing the trail that are section hikers (those doing the trail in pieces) 20%
Number of section hikers completing the trail per year on average*: 116.5
Number of thru hikers starting the trail that finish in any given year: About 25%*
AT Mileage by State*
Maine: 281.4 miles
New Hampshire: 160.9 miles
Vermont: 149.8 miles
Massachusetts: 90.2 miles
Connecticut: 51.6 miles
New York: 88.4 miles
New Jersey: 72.2 miles
Pennsylvania: 229.6 miles
Maryland: 40.9 miles
West Virginia: 4 miles
Virginia: 550.3 miles
Tennessee: 287.9 miles
North Carolina: 95.5 miles
Georgia: 76.4 miles
*Based on 2006-2011 data compiled by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy
My first big hike was a 6-month trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. Back in the winter of 1982 when we were in deep in the planning stages, what we would be carrying for food was a major concern. The PCT was much more remote than its long distance counterpart, the Appalachian Trail. In some instances, we’d need to carry more than two week’s worth of food before we could resupply again.
Peanut Butter, Oatmeal and Ramen. Oh My!
Then, as now, peanut butter, oatmeal and instant soups were trail staples. Freeze dried foods were also an option. They were lightweight, but boy were they expensive — more than some guys a few years removed from college could afford.
So, how could we eat well, not break the bank and not buckle under the load of carrying it all? The answer turned out to be dried foods. I spent several months drying foods. First I burned through a cheap dehydrator that wasn’t designed to withstand the amount of use I was giving it. Then I burned out another, more substantial model. I also used the oven. By the time I was done, I had an exceptional array of foods — from zucchini to kale to onions to potatoes — all packed in separate vacuum seal bags, labeled and ready to ship to post offices along our route.
I am certain that the ability to eat varied and nutritious foods contributed to our ability to be out on the trail for a continuous six and a half months. Food preparation was a big part of every day and helped keep oatmeal and peanut butter at least reasonably palatable all the way through.
New Healthy Options Change the Backcountry Foodscape
Fast forward (a what seems to me as incredible) 36 years. I have continued to hike and to fine tune my backcountry menu with a premium on two things — deliciousness and ease of preparation. Yes, I’m still concerned with pack weight (less so on weekend or 3-day trips where there are fewer meals to serve), but I will choose to carry more if it means that my meals will be more flavorful.
Food choices are much more healthy and varied now than when I first toted a pack. Uncured organic hot dogs, bratwurst and luncheon meats were unthinkable back then. And breakfast burritos or Pad Thai served in a backcountry campsite? Forget it.
Free Tips and Recipes for Backcountry Cooking
All it takes to make great backcountry meals is the same sense of adventure that leads to any good cooking — a willingness to be creative. I’ve pulled together some of my favorite tips and recipes in a booklet I call, “Beyond Ramen.” It’s free when you sign up for my newsletter.
There’s nothing like eating an exceptional meal after a day on the trail. I hope my tips and recipes help you serve some memorable backcountry meals of your own.
A Quick Note About Leaving No Trace
More and more people are discovering the joys of being out on the trail. Unfortunately, that has resulted in people leaving more than footprints in their wake. Please do your part by carrying out everything you carry in and, if you are able, picking up what others may have left behind. It only takes a second to pick up a gum or granola bar wrapper from the trail, but that simple act prohibits everyone that follows from giving themselves permission to add to the mess.