“I like wandering through the woods and doing some light hiking, but I have absolutely no desire to camp out anywhere that doesn’t involve a cabin, a bed, and a hot shower. So it may surprise people that I thoroughly enjoyed a memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail. But I did!” — The Book Fetish Blog
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.
Yes, I’ve been at it again.
On last year’s road trip, I was repeatedly drawn to explore the many roadside attractions of yore that are disappearing by the day. What remains of these old trading posts, restaurants and gas stations says a lot about how we’ve changed.
The family vacation (and almost all vacation for that matter) has been replaced by work. And even when we are going somewhere, the focus seems to be on getting there instead of stopping to make discoveries along the way.
This trip I made the decision to go old school. To drive out into the desert wilderness on a whim. To take an exit when there was no compelling reason to pull off the highway except to see what the nearest town was like. What I inevitably found was bits and pieces of a time that were still powerful enough to make me remember that it’s not where we are going but what we are doing that’s the most important thing of all.
You can read a description of my book on the Blurb website.
Excited to announce that my new book “Blazing Ahead – Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the Rivalry the Built the Appalachian Trail” is now available for pre-order, with an expected release date of September 1, 2017.
The two men were, of course, instrumental to building the longest continuous footpath in the world. MacKaye was the visionary. His vision went far beyond the trail, which was the backbone of his regional plan that included collaborative farms, inns and nature tourism businesses along the trail.
On the other hand, Myron Avery was obsessed with one thing—getting the trail built, come hell or high water. It was perhaps inevitable that the two men would have a falling out. As it happened, it was quite the kerfuffle. But even that led to greater things, as MacKaye would be one of the founders of The Wilderness Society.
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!
I traded in my bucket list for an ever evolving “I’d like to do” list. I found that this approach suits me best. Besides, I can’t carry that many buckets.
It wasn’t always that way. In my 20s and 30s, I had peak bagging lists. I climbed the highest 50 mountains in Maine in a year, traversed the Pine Tree State on a bike/hike/canoe trip and climbed all but one volcano in Washington state (I tried to climb Glacier Peak twice to complete the feat, but got “weathered off” both times).
Chasing lists was motivating, fun and gave me a sense of accomplishment. But as I got older, something happened. I discovered that simply living my life gave me all those things and more. That the best life for me wasn’t a giant “to do” list to get around to when I could get time off. It was a life comprised of things worth doing every day with larger trips mixed in.
One of the things I’ve made more room for has been revisiting places I went to when I was busy checking off lists.
It is said that a section of trail is never the same place twice. Everything changes. The weather, the seasons and almost certainly, your perspective. It’s the same with anyplace you return to. One of the joys of ditching a list that’s forever driving you to visit new destinations is that your mind is open to giving places a second look instead.
In 1978, I was with three other guys driving across the Texas panhandle on the way to Denver. Like two of the others, I’d never been to the Rockies. The excitement to be in the mountains overcame any possible appreciation for the scenery around us. We declared it flat, boring and interminable. Something never worth seeing again. Something that had been crossed off the bucket list.
I carried that vision of the boring ride with me for 38 years. Right up until this past October. But I decided to give it another chance. This time, I discovered a place that was still flat, but indescribably wide open, quiet and beautiful. I was at once shocked and grateful. If the “been there, done that” mentality of a bucket list had been in control, I never would have returned. But here I was, discovering a remarkably unheralded state park and a gorgeous desert hike to boot.
There are a couple of other spots I’d like to visit in 2017. But I won’t put ‘em on a formal list. That would spoil all the fun.
“You have to give Jeff Ryan credit for his determination, stamina, and love of the outdoors. … He loved every hike, and that love and enjoyment comes through in his book, Appalachian Odyssey, published by Down East Books.”
— George Smith, Bangor Daily News
“Wonderful read; engaging story. Live the trail; read this book.”
— Rich K.
“Engaging and at times quite funny. Also a very different style of Appalachian trail book. It’s right up there with Awol’s book in my trail library.”
— Will S.
Now available in Kindle and Print formats!
Have a hiker on your holiday list? Here are seven gifts sure to bring lasting joy — each under $30!
If they already use gaiters, they can probably use a new pair, because the trail is tough on them. If they don’t use gaiters already, they’ll thank you! Not just for winter, gaiters keep sticks, stones and pine needles out of boots, thus helping to prevent blisters and keeping socks clean. I’ve also found that fewer ticks seem to hitch rides on the relatively smooth surface of nylon gaiters vs beefy socks. Ragged Mountain makes two styles of gaiters in the USA: Uncoated (which are most breathable and a good choice for warm weather) and Coated (preferable for use in wet weather and/or snow).
Ragged Mountain Equipment
Uncoated gaiters – $15.75 Coated gaiters – $23.75
2. Warm Hat
Helly Hansen Brand Beanie – $22.00
Like gaiters, an all-purpose Beanie hat isn’t just for winter. I’ve been carrying a Helly Hansen Lifa hat in my pack for decades. The only time I don’t bring it is in midsummer, but in every other season it’s my go-to hat when I start chilling down on a mountain summit, for sleeping on cold nights or when I’m out for a winter jaunt.
3. Hiking Socks
SmartWool Medium Crew Hiking Socks – $18.95
I’ve tried dozens of different hiking socks over the years and I can’t knock SmartWool off the top of the mountain. They strike the perfect balance between toughness and comfort, something you appreciate if you are out for days on end. You can find them in a lot of stores, but I get ‘em from L.L. Bean because the shipping is free.
4. Endless Film Adventures
2017 Mountain & Adventure Film Festival Subscription – $29.99
Every avid hiker I’ve ever met has an ever expanding list of dream hikes. Exploring new trails is in our DNA. So is finding out about other people’s adventures. I recently discovered Film Festival Flix — it’s like rocket fuel for every adventurer! A $29.99 subscription will give them online access to the 2017 Mountain & Adventure Film Festival.
5. An adventure book
If reading a book is more their cup of tea than watching films, a few recent publications come to mind.
The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why it Matters Today by Wayne Curtis.
Between the Civil War and the early 1900s, long distance walking was a phenomenon in the U.S. and Europe. The best known walker was Edward Payson Weston. Wayne Curtis’s terrific book chronicles Weston’s 1909 walk from New York to San Francisco — a remarkable feat at any age, but when Weston did it, he was 70 years old!
Beautiful photos and dream machine inspiring descriptions of North America’s epic trails.
Like a well prepared meal shared with friends, this three decade adventure is a fun read for people who have hiked the AT, people who want to or those who wonder what it’s like. (Disclaimer: I know the author.)
The All Time Greatest Adventure Story
Hands down, the greatest survival tale I’ve ever read. You can’t put it down.
6. Softshell Gloves
Back Diamond Softshell Gloves – Retail $59.95
On sale now at backcountry.com – $26.98
I love mid-weight gloves. They really fit the bill for keeping you warm for active winter sports and provide more dexterity than heavier weight styles. These fleece lined gloves also have touchscreen friendly forefingers and thumbs, so you can take photos without taking your gloves off.
7. A donation to or membership with a trail organization
While the major trails get a lot of airplay, lesser known regional trails could often use every cent they can raise to keep guidebooks current and to maintain trails. Here are just a few organizations that would be grateful to receive a donation.
Midstate Trail Committee
Taconic Crest Trail
Finger Lakes Trail
Pine Mountain Trail
Benton MacKaye Trail
Mid State Trail (PA)
Standing Stone Trail
One of my favorite places on earth is in North Dakota. I’ve only been to the sacred spot twice. The trips were separated by 13 years. The refreshingly open Badlands landscape had hardly changed and was comfortably familiar. But it wasn’t just the view that I came back for.
It was the silence.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had been enveloped by both grandeur and solitude so complete. There were no cars speeding by on highways. No clanging of factory or construction machinery. There weren’t even planes flying overhead.
It was remarkable.
The first time I visited the silent place, in 1998, I simply stood and listened. The only sounds I could hear were those of the slightest breeze moving across the open landscape and my own breathing. I literally held my breath for a time, then willed my breathing pace to slow down to a less invasive beat – one more in keeping with the silence that surrounded me.
In 2011, a friend of mine was moving from Maine to Washington state. I volunteered to share the driving duties as we traveled across the USA in a jam-packed Penske truck.
When we were driving across North Dakota, I suggested a detour to the silent place. On the way there, I didn’t say anything about why the place was remarkable, simply that it was remarkable.
We got out of the truck and I led the short trek into the middle of the great expanse. We stopped.
After quite a while, Mick spoke. “Unbelievable”, he said, barely needing to raise his voice. I had instinctively known that he would understand why this place was sacred.
I think about the silent place often. As our world is increasingly filled with people screaming from every available and imaginable place — gas pumps, taxi cabs, elevators, hotel lobbies, waiting rooms — the need for the silent place (and the few places left that are like it) only increases.
I recently spent four months exploring the USA, where I found two more completely silent places. There wasn’t a manmade sound to be heard in either of them. When I discovered them, I had the same reaction as I had those many years ago in North Dakota. I stood completely silent, wanting to allow the world around me continue its day uninterrupted. To seamlessly meld into the scene. To happily become the antithesis of a talking gas pump. It was a great privilege to stand in these spectacular, restorative and endangered spots.
Preserving the silence was the only appropriate tribute.