The World We Deserve

Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2023 by A lo Hawk

All of our problems are self-inflicted. We have the ability to solve them but not the will. Human nature doesn’t change, yet the technology to do harm becomes exponentially more lethal. As a result, the human race is headed for inevitable extinction. Who or what should we blame for the suicidal tendencies of humanity?

God? Satan? Homo Sapiens?

Science? Entertainment? Education?

Democrats? Republicans? Apathetics?

Fox News? The Catholic Church? The NFL?

Plastic? Hydrocarbons? Corn Syrup?

Assault Rifles? Antidepressants? Social Media?

Hormonal Imbalances? Violent Urges? Good Intentions?

There is nothing or no one to blame because this is the world we deserve.

From the Encyclopedia of Snarky Rants and Offal Nihilisms, Toxic Press (out of print)


Confessions of a Psychological Gigolo

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2023 by A lo Hawk

You pay for my time, but all we do is talk.

There’s very little touching, but feelings are exchanged.

You consider us friends, but you have no idea who I am.

We have weekly dates, which are prepaid and predictable.

We’ve been together for years, but it’s purely economic.

It’s time to renew our friendship, er contract.

Declaration of an Introvert

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8, 2023 by A lo Hawk

To me, fame is a curse. It’s a loss of freedom. I’m free because I am anonymous. I never wish to be known for anything. No one you know

Sensitive Nerve Irritant

Posted in Uncategorized on March 4, 2023 by A lo Hawk

Cold metal tips bite frozen snow. High pitched squeak sends shiver waves.

Bedrock Geography

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1, 2023 by A lo Hawk

A collection of stolen words from A History of Europe by J. M. Roberts

Geographical facts. A set of shapes. The subcontinent at the western end of the Eurasian landmass. A big promontory jutting out to the west from Asia. Not far from the sea. Offshore islands to the north, west and south. Subsidiary peninsulas of Scandinavia, Brittany, Iberia, Italy and Greece. Shoreline indented with multitude of inlets, gulfs and bays, some fed by rivers winding hundreds of miles inland. A place of history and millions of lives for thousands of years. Europe.

The first of several writing exercises from The Art of Brevity by Grant Faulkner

Where is the Water?

Posted in Trail Tales on June 28, 2021 by A lo Hawk

Post pandemic pent-up possibilities >>> Three amigos past their prime meet to regain middle age prowess >>> Six days of hiking the rocky spine of North America >>> A Collegiate stretch of high altitude passes, basins and peaks

A Lo Hawk, a Lobo and a Honey Badger blend in with the wilderness >>> Facing a steady stream of northbound nomads with lean bodies, light packs and a relentless pace >>> Trailside bouquets of blue, yellow, crimson and white wildflowers >>> Unfiltered dirt, air, water and discourse

An adventure perfectly planned and executed by veteran outdoorsman >>> Lasting impressions of the magnificent Milky Way splitting the night sky >>> An energy sapping quicksand slurry at 12,000 feet >>> A gigantic boulder of quartz protruding from the hillside >>> Lingering cornices and snowfields >>> Well used poles and unused spikes >>> The daily afternoon siesta >>> Mt Yale bonus 14er >>> The Buena Vista brewery mixing river and mountain folk in a downpour >>> Witnessing the magic of Happy Trails on dedicated hiking companions

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 17

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 21, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Seventeen (August 10th-19th)

Day 125: (ME) 22+ miles to camp north of Shorley Blanchard Rd

Today I bust out big miles in my New Balance street runners (I had been wearing Montrail trail shoes). It is partly cloudy and the terrain is not difficult. I meet a tall southbound hiker who tells me about a treacherous, chest deep ford of the Piscataquis River a few miles ahead. He insists I can do it since he did it but I’m not so sure. He looks like a strong hiker and claims the current was in his favor.

I know there is an 8 mile dirt road detour and decide not to risk the high water crossing. The lonely road walk is easy/relaxing/boring. No regrets, I camp north of Shorley Blanchard road after getting back on the trail.

Day 126: (ME) 9 AT miles plus 4 round trip miles into Monson

Today I split my AT miles with a four mile round trip detour to Monson to pick up my last mail drop from Oregon. Before the Post Office, I head directly for hiker’s favorite Shaw’s B&B Hiker Hostel. I miss main breakfast but for twenty bucks get to chow down delicious leftover pancakes (butter! syrup!), biscuits, oatmeal, great coffee and OJ as well as a shower and laundry service.

There is a large number of hikers milling around the hostel. Everyone seems to be in a gloomy mood, people are discussing the flooding in the 100 mile Wilderness (which begins north of town). Nobody wants to venture out, some are debating skipping this section. I had spoken to a pair of southbounders early this morning who told me it was not bad at all. I don’t feel like sharing their opinion so I escape the gloom tomb instead.

I get mail, visit the small general store, and motor on down the country road back to the AT. A few miles later, I see the sign for the 100 mile Wilderness. Although there are a few logging roads, it is the most remote section of the trail. The sign warns hikers to carry 6 to 8 days worth of food. Ridiculous. I find a sweet camp next to North Pond.

Day 127: (ME) 18 or 19 miles to camp north side of Fourth Mtn

It is my first full day in the 100 mile Wilderness and I am eager to get started. The weather begins well but doesn’t end well. I watch a porcupine cross my path. The views are good on the Barren Mtn ledges. I do not see another human being. Since my little digital camera malfunctioned in the Whites, there is no reason to stop for photos. I become Mr Roboto (my PCT persona).

The rain begins on the climb to Fourth Mtn. I power over the summit and set up a wet camp, boiling water for dinner from inside the tent.

Day 128: (ME) Good 20 miles to Logan Brook Lean-to

The weather has cleared overnight, it is an enjoyable day of hiking. Good views of the state from Third Mtn and West Chairback Mtn. Pleasant walking along endless shorelines. Walking boards over bogs that sink to my shins when I step on them. Easy climbs to wooded high points overlooking large bodies of water. In the lower elevations, fording is becoming easier as the water drains. An intricate network of tree roots are exposed.

Near the end of the day I climb 3644 ft White Cap Mtn. When I crest the summit, I get my first glimpse of the broad silhouette of 5269 ft Mt Katahdin in the distance. Just as hiker lore predicts, my heart begins to race. Lying in an empty Lean-to tonight, it takes longer to fall asleep with the image in my head.

Day 129: (ME) 28 miles to camp near Nahmakanta Stream campsite

I wake up this morning with a very sore jaw, a symptom of the Lyme disease I’ve self diagnosed after finding the tick between my toes back in Virginia. The thought of getting off the trail to seek treatment never occurs to me. Now its motivation to finish.

The trail spirits seem to be with me because today’s miles are the easiest of the entire trek. I have two moose sightings: a passive cow and a bull with large scoops standing in a pond 10 feet from the trail. I watch in awe for a quarter of an hour, even dropping my pack, until it decides to saunter away.

I follow the blazes through a maze of creeks, brooks and ponds; finally reaching Nahmakanta Stream (fast flowing river). My legs have that familiar feeling after running a marathon.

Day 130: (ME) 25 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to

I awake with tired legs but it is a beautiful day with clear blue skies and I do not have to walk through any water for a change. A leisurely stretch brings me to a broad beach opening to a large lake (Nahmakanta) extending to the horizon. It is so inviting I must stop for a swim.

Fully refreshed, I pound out another scenic marathon, mosquitoes providing extra incentive. I cross logging roads and see the first humans in days– a family out for a walk from a nearby fish camp.

I stop at the Hurd Brook Lean-to where I meet two former Rangers hiking SOBO. We exchange stories about falling asleep while walking (me on the PCT, they in the military).

Day 131: (ME) 13 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground then Birches Shelter

I leave the ex Rangers snoring the timbers off the Lean-to this morning. A minor climb to the Rainbow Ledges gives me amazing views of the Penobscot River, the Golden Road (to civilization), Abol Bridge and Campground, and the looming outline of Mt Katahdin. Abol Bridge marks the northern end of the 100 mile Wilderness and the end of my four and a half day march across it.

At the Campground store, I take a look around but the proprietor gives me the creeps. Later I hear stories of employees stealing from hikers. I continue on, crossing the boundary into Baxter State Park, Governor Percival P Baxter’s ‘Magnificent Obsession’ — “Man is born to die, his works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin, in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”

A few miles of pleasant walking along streams and old growth trees takes me to Katahdin Stream Campground and Ranger Station. At the Ranger Station, I spend a few minutes reading the inspiring messages written by hikers in the registry. There is a supply of daypacks that thru-hikers can use on the 9 mile round trip climb to the summit.

Not far away, hidden from sight, is Birches Shelter, reserved for thru-hikers only. It is early in the day and I am the only one here. I relax all afternoon, trying to comprehend what I have done. No other hikers show up.

Day 132: (ME) 10 miles round trip to Mt Katahdin Summit and Northern Terminus of the AT

I’m wide awake. The moon is full and I can’t wait. Using my headlamp, I pack quickly and return to the Ranger Station. The building is dark and silent but the porch door is unlocked. The clock reads 1:10 am. I load a daypack with food and water, reorient myself outside, find the summit trailhead.

I can hear large volumes of cascading water beyond the reach of my headlamp. Gradually, I can see the outline of boulders and trees. When I reach treeline, there is a pink line on the Eastern horizon. Fun parts of the steep route utilize iron rungs, handholds and railings. I feel so nimble without the big pack.

Closer to the summit, I watch the sunrise while navigating broad scree fields. The sky is crystal clear but fog covers the lowlands below. I ascend to the beat up summit sign without fanfare. I am alone taking in the spectacular view of the massive mountain lording over an expanse of green forest interwoven with sparkling silver lakes and streams connected by a patchwork of fog.

I sit and meditate, trying hard to live in the moment without letting emotion overwhelm me. As I sit here, I can see that the fog is rising quickly. The trail spirit is telling me its time to go. Aloha!

On the descent, the fog greets me before a hiker does. Suddenly, out of the mist appears Forest Gimp. She is leading a pack of mouth breathers, we exchange congratulations. Further down, the day hiking horde parades by. I don’t believe anyone else today gets the summit view I was given.

Back at the Ranger Station, I sign the registry and grab my backpack. The parking lot is packed, it is easy to find a kind gentleman willing to give me a ride to Millinocket, closest town to the state park. I check in at the Appalachian Trail Lodge then walk downtown to an internet cafe where I make plane reservations. The flight out of Bangor International Airport is in a couple of days.

Back at the lodge I run into Rhino, a man and his dog (name?) whom I first met in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and have been chasing ever since. I congratulate him but secretly am glad I beat him to Katahdin, Penobscot for ‘The Greatest Mountain’.

AT-1 day: Aug 18th, Bar Harbor

My body is in a state of confusion, its the first day I don’t have to put on a pack and hike. After breakfast at the cafe, I return to the lodge where I meet an elderly couple loading their car. They are willing to give me a ride to Bangor immediately. Although Millinocket is only an hour from the big city via I-95, they want to take the scenic/rural route. For two hours I entertain them with tales from the trail.

They deliver me to a car rental company near the airport (Mahalo!). I drive (first time in four months!) the auto to a nearby motel and rent a room. Later in the afternoon I make the 75 minute drive to Bar Harbor, popular tourist town on the coast at the main entrance to Acadia National Park.

I find a fancy seafood restaurant (white table cloth and napkins!) with outdoor seating overlooking the gorgeous harbor. I order the obligatory lobster dinner to celebrate my accomplishment. After I stuff my face, I find a bench to sit and people watch. I call Sue on the small flip phone with pre-paid minutes. Back at the room, I drink beer and watch TV like a lazy slug.

AT-2 days: Aug 19th, Acadia NP

One more day to play. The sun is out and I feel fine. Sit down for a quick breakfast next to the motel then hop in the rental for a second road trip to the coast, this time to explore Acadia National Park.

My body is in recovery mode but I drive directly to the trailhead for the Precipice Trail. The short, thrilling hike climbs straight up rock faces using iron rungs (like large staples) attached to the stone. The views of the Maine coast are incredible. A light rain passes over making the descent slow and focused. Other hikers arrive causing bottlenecks at the bars.

I drive the entire loop around Mt Desert Island, returning to Bar Harbor for a late lunch. I make a poor choice to eat crappy fish and chips at lame Route 66 restaurant then wander the shops looking at overpriced souvenirs. I return to the room, get dinner, call wife and watch TV.

Tomorrow I will return the car at the airport and fly back to Oregon. This adventure is at an end but the journey continues. Aloha and Happy Trails until we meet again. A Lo Hawk

Sidetrack August 22nd I enter Urgent Care in Eugene, take a blood test and pay $50 for a shot of Doxycycline antibiotic to treat Lyme Disease.

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 16

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 16, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Sixteen (July 27th-August 9th)

Day 111: (NH) 10 tough, roller coaster miles to camp at Mt Moriah

I get up early, pack quickly and move on before another hiker catches me lying in a ditch next to the trail. It is cloudy and cool, there are still great views of Washington and other presidents from massive, lumpy Wildcat Ridge. The roller coaster beat down continues with a drop to Carter Notch Hut then steeply up the side of 4833 ft Carter Dome and Carter Ridge. I end the day by climbing over 4049 ft Mt Moriah, camping near a trail junction.

Day 112: (NH) 5 easy, downhill miles to Rt 2, hitch to Gorham

Today is a much needed town/resupply day. I get it going with a short, easy downhill leg stretch to the blacktop of Route 2. Hitching into Gorham, NH is no problem, the friendly trail angel drops me off at Hiker’s Paradise Hostel located at the Colonial Fort Inn. A hiker named Cricket is the only other person staying at the hostel.

After a long shower and laundry interval I take a leisurely walk (without a pack!) along the main street of this pleasant little town dotted with pretty ponds. I pick up beer and food at the grocery and head back to the hostel for a quiet, restful evening indoors.

Day 113: 12 easy miles to camp between Gentian Pond and Mt Success

Today I will cross the stateline into Maine via the Mahoosuc mountain range. Sidetrack The southwest section of the AT in Maine summits rounded domes of granite polished by glaciers with names like Bald Cap and Baldpate then drops to skirt many lakes and marshes. Highpoints include seven 4000 ft peaks and thirteen 3000 footers.

I eat a hearty breakfast at the motel restaurant then wait for a shuttle ride to the trail. Back on the move, I cross the Androscoggin River Dam, head up Peabody Brook to begin the climb of the south end of the 30 mile Mahoosuc Range. The first summit to conquer is 2555 ft Mt Hayes followed by Cascade Mtn. A quick snack at aptly named Dream Lake. Just before Gentiam Pond there is a woody glen with a small wooden sign indicating the NH/ME border. Beside the sign sits Shiloh.

Shiloh is a New Englander a decade older than me who lost his wife last year and is hiking the trail to heal his grief. We get along well and decide to travel together. We hike past Gentiam Pond and find an agreeable campsite before the next climb.

Day 114: (ME) 8.5 tough, fun miles to camp on tent platform at Full Goose Shelter

It is a cloudy morning but the weather and views improve in the afternoon. Once Shiloh and I climb 3565 ft Mt Success, we spend an enjoyable day “walking the planks”, navigating the wide, open summits of mountains like Mt Carlo and Goose Eye Mtn. Seemingly miles of wooden boards link a route over the sub alpine bogs (they have to be airlifted in apparently).

We reach our goal, Full Goose Shelter, early in the day and are able to snag one of the tent platforms. The shelter itself holds 10-12 and is already full of geese. This is a popular site because of its proximity to notorious Mahoosuc Notch and dreaded Mahoosuc Arm.

Sidetrack Mahoosuc Notch (2461 ft) is a deep geologic cleft choked with huge boulders which have fallen from the unstable cliffs above. From 1918-1919, a one mile route was devised through the boulder field which requires scrambling over, under and through obstacles. It is known as the slowest mile on the AT and typically takes 1.5 to 2 hours to solve. Once through the Notch, northbound AT hikers must face the unrelenting 1500 ft (in 1.5 miles) slab climb of the Mahoosuc Arm.

Day 115: (ME) 12 big miles, stop at Bald Pate Lean-to

This is the day most AT thru-hikers await with nervous anticipation. As usual, I am the first to rise and pack. I have saved the last dregs of Hanover weed for my Wake and Bake Breakfast of Champions. There is a nice sunrise but a thunderstorm is forecast.

Shiloh and I summit minor Fulling Mtn then begin the thousand foot drop into the Mahoosuc Notch. The sky has darkened, the dim light creates a spooky atmosphere. A loud clap of thunder followed by light rain immediately heightens our senses.

When we arrive at the start of the scramble, I am jacked to the max. Conditions are intense and exciting. A sudden flash of lightning quickly followed by a deafening ‘CRACK!’ acts as our starting gun.

We trace the white blazes and arrows painted on the rock to show us the way. We must constantly remove our packs to squeeze under or toss over obstacles. We slide down 10 foot drops on slick granite. We must be extra careful where our feet land so we don’t twist an ankle. In the end, it is difficult but SO MUCH FUN!

In contrast, the slab climb out of the Notch on the Mahoosuc Arm is an exhausting challenge on a much larger scale. The rain has increased, sending cascades down the rock face. The rough slab looks like a steep uneven sidewalk below a hidden hydrant at full blast. Big leg moves and desperate hand holds of slick roots are required in an endless taxing variety.

After the Arm the weather improves. Upright climbing continues to 4180 ft Old Speck, tallest and northernmost mountain in the Mahoosuc Range. There is a fire tower on the summit. A crowd of day hikers have attracted a cloud of flies so we don’t linger.

A big descent brings us to Route 26 at Grafton Notch and State Park. We continue a bit further towards Bald Pate, stopping at last at Bald Pate Lean-to (in Maine, shelters are called Lean-tos).

Day 116: (ME) 8 easy miles to road with Shiloh, shuttle to Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover

After such an exhausting day yesterday, Shiloh and I need a break. A morning of relatively easy walking through the woods and around ponds brings us to a two lane road. Shiloh had called ahead so there is a shuttle van waiting to take us to the Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover (population 800+).

This small New England village is clean and tidy, full of old historic buildings. Once we shower, do laundry and shop at a small grocery store; its time to load up on calories. We have lunch at the diner, eat fried dough and ice cream from a street booth, then have dinner at the diner.

Day 117: (ME) 10 miles to South Arm Rd

We have breakfast at the diner then get the shuttle back to the trail. The calories are useful on the gigantic roller coaster of 2945 ft Mt Wyman, 3600 ft Old Blue Mtn, 3774 ft Elephant Mtn and 2923 ft Bemis Mtn. We drop finally to South Arm Rd where we find a group camp of thru-hikers. Piper, Forest Gimp, Memphis Tim and others become a new group of loose knit vagabonds that reunite at night.

Day 118: (ME) 14 miles to Maine 17, hitch to Riff Raff Friendly

Today is a mostly low elevation cruiser through woods, over creeks, around ponds. Several of us arrive together at Maine 17 where we miraculously get a group hitch to the infamous Riff Raff Friendly (NOT a hostel!). I call it the Delta House of the Appalachian Trail.

As we approach the bland two story apartment structure, the first thing we notice is the loud music. Once the front door is opened, the cacophony of chaos spills out like a wave of hiker audio trash. The pollution of the senses intensify inside. A large couch and chairs crammed with wiry men with beards stare at a large screen television. The kitchen is packed with people exchanging joints and beers. I don’t even bother going upstairs to see what depravity it contains.

I make a feeble attempt to join in the revelry but quickly tire. When the energy begins to wane, I stuff my sleeping pad, bag and myself between the couch and the wall and crash.

Day 119: (ME) 13 wet, sloppy miles to Maine 4, ride to Rangeley

Shiloh and I get a ride back to the trail to start a miserable day. It rains steadily, creating a flooded trail, body and soul. We arrive at Maine 4 completely soaked and dispirited early in the afternoon. Shiloh offers to pay for us to get separate rooms at the Rangeley Inn and I instantly accept.

Rangeley is the largest town I’ve seen in weeks. We have lunch at the Red Onion and shop at the IGA market. Forest Gimp and Memphis Tim arrive later and we have a picnic dinner in one of the rooms.

Day 120: (ME) 15 miles to camp along creek with Shiloh

Shiloh and I have breakfast at Mooseley Bagel then get a ride back to the trail with Shiloh’s connection. It’s my first day in Maine with clear blue skies. The views are beautiful along the massive Saddleback Mtn Ridge, especially lunch on The Horn. We find a pleasant place to camp along a bubbling brook at the end of this rejuvenating day.

Day 121: (ME) 17 wet, slippery miles to Stratton Motel Hostel

Today we pay for our good fortune yesterday. The rain returns with a vengeance. We get on the trail by 5:15 am to try to beat the weather but it is futile. A steady downpour all day. Shiloh and I keep pushing, not wanting to camp or shelter in this depressing weather.

After taking separate spills, we must pay closer attention to the murky puddles we are stepping in. We barely avoid hypothermia waiting for a hitch to the Stratton Motel Hostel where we eat, shower, resupply and do laundry in a sink.

Day 122: (ME) 15 miles to Little Bigelow Lean-to with Shiloh

Back at work early thanks to a ride from trail angel Sue at Stratton Hostel. We spend the day traversing Mt Bigelow, actually a long ridge of several peaks. It had rained all night; it is windy, cloudy and unsettled today. At the summit of each peak I pose for pictures with Shiloh, Forest Gimp and others. I tick them off in my mind but the poor visibility makes them indistinguishable — 4145 ft West Peak, 4088 ft Avery Peak, 3805 ft The Horns (Hook Em!), 3194 ft Cranberry Peak and 3070 ft Little Bigelow.

After a long, hard day Shiloh and I occupy space in the dry Lean-to.

Day 123: (ME) 17 miles to Harrison Camp Cabin with Shiloh

I don’t know if I am walking or swimming. It is the wettest day of hiking I’ve experienced. The trail is completely flooded, I can’t see where my feet touch the earth. Hidden roots are a constant danger, fording swollen rivers is a danger. The entire nerve-wracking trek is a traverse of this low elevation flood plain.

Shiloh and I stop for lunch at a lonely, empty Lean-to and try to dry out. Not succeeding, we keep pushing on, there is no other good option. Near the end of this excruciating day of water torture, we are stopped by the huge outlet of fast water coming from Pierce Pond. The waist high crossing above the falls is super sketchy and frightening.

Our reward is reaching a haven known as Harrison Fish Camp which has lovely log cabins for rent. The place appears empty except for us two drowned trail rats so the small staff gives us excellent service. In our cabin (generously paid for by Shiloh), we build a hot fire in the stove and hang all of our gear from drying cord stretched across the room, creating a steamy sauna.

Once we are dry and presentable, we head for a homey dining hall and take a table next to the large windows. We can look out at a wide deck ringed with hummingbird feeders. Waiting for our excellent meal, we watch hundreds of the darting birds in their feeding frenzy. When the food arrives the frenzy continues at our table.

Day 124: (ME) 8 miles from Caratunk to camp on rocks

Sidetrack The Kennebec River is the widest unbridged river crossing of the entire Appalachian Trail. Frequent dam release upstream makes it too dangerous to cross on foot so the Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintains a canoe ferry available to hikers during limited hours each day of the hiking season. It is considered one of the most iconic experiences of an AT thru-hike.

We had heard days ago that the Kennebec ferry was not running because of dangerously high water. Luckily, Shiloh has a solution. He had already planned to get off the trail at this point so he calls his son-in-law to come pick us up and take me to the other side of the river.

Before dropping me off, we make a detour to Skowhegan, a working class town, where we have lunch. They take me to a sporting goods store so I can purchase a new pair of shoes. I had been wearing the old pair since Harper’s Ferry (midpoint of the trip); they got completely destroyed by the rugged White Mountains.

They drop me off at the trail in tiny Caratunk and I break in my new shoes with a comfortable climb towards Moxie Bald. I cowboy camp on some flat rocks.

Mahalo Shiloh, for your comeraderie these eleven days in Maine. Aloha and Happy Trails

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 15

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags on March 6, 2021 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Fifteen (July 20th-26th)

Day 104: (NH) 12 very technical miles into the White Mtns

It is here. The day I have dreamed of and anticipated for months has arrived. My body is tingling with elevated levels of caffeine and adrenaline. I eat all the perishable food in sight, take a few puffs from the pipe and get a last look at the clutter of buildings and junk scattered around the property of this cozy hostel. Heavy clouds threaten an imminent thunderstorm keeping the other hikers from venturing out but I can’t wait. Aloha Amigos!

Hiker’s Welcome is a critical rest stop for hikers because it is conveniently located at the foot of the daunting White Mountains which form a rugged spine across the state. The Whites were created over 100 million years ago by magma intrusions of granite polished by glaciers. Now they are intimidating peaks of steep slabs and ledges occasionally covered by a thin layer of timber and vegetation connected by immense boulder fields and deep notches. It is common trail knowledge that previous pace and mileage will be cut in half on this highly technical but very scenic stretch of trace.

Sidetrack GPS analysis of the big three National scenic trails (AT, PCT, CDT) conducted by the inimitable GUTHOOK proves the AT; shortest in miles and lowest in altitude, nevertheless has the greatest overall change in elevation (917,760 ft).

New Hampshire has the oldest maintained trail system in the U.S. (typically with far fewer switchbacks than trails out west). There are more AT miles above treeline (roughly 4500 ft here) in NH than in any other state and it reaches at or near 24 of the state’s 48 4,000+ ft summits. The four steepest sections of the entire trail will be negotiated this week.

For now I am blissfully ignorant of these facts as I march down the lonely country road under ominous skies looking for the turn into the wilderness. It isn’t long before the pity party begins. I slowly and methodically ascend 3100 feet into the clouds where 4802 ft Mt Moosilauke sits in a grey void. The exhausting descent is a precipitous drop, second steepest section on the AT, 2200 ft in 1.7 miles (including 930 feet in 0.5 miles). Wooden steps have been attached to the smooth rock face in some places making the down climb with a pack less death defying.

I eventually make it to Kinsman Notch, 10 miles from Glencliff, my quads feeling like they went through a meat grinder. Drained and stalled, the inevitable downpour demands action. With no place to hide or camp, movement is the only answer. The afternoon consists of a slow, slick two mile climb to a ‘minor’ peak, Mt Wolf (3500 ft). Somewhere between the wooded east and west high points I try to find a flat spot not covered by mossy rocks or ancient rotting timber. Drops of rain from the saturated trees drip on the tent all night. I am reminded of the rain forests of my home state of Oregon as I tumble into deep slumber.

Day 105: (NH) 11 extremely difficult miles to Lonesome Lake Hut

Day two in the Whites continue the misery with more rain and ankle biting terrain. A seemingly endless sequence of large step down and step ups jolt the entire body. There is as much scrambling as upright walking; my fingertips are raw and my knees are scraped. The unforgiving parkour course brings me to the summit of 4355 ft South Kinsman followed by a rocky roller coaster down and up to North Kinsman 1.5 miles later. A long ridge trail descends past Kinsman Pond Shelter to a junction with Fishin Jim Trail.

Here the wet conditions turn torrential. Gravity brings all the water pouring down steep granite slopes directly across the trail in a massive, frothing flood. Each careful, deliberate step is a test of faith. For once, I wish I had a pair of trekking poles for balance. My nerves are frayed, my stomach is in a knot. I lock my mind in the hurt locker and mechanically move forward. I finally reach an oasis named Lonesome Lake Hut.

Sidetrack There are eight high mountain huts in the White Mtns owned and maintained by AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club). Most are made of stone, some are log cabin style. They are full service in the summer, offering dinner, breakfast and usually bunkhouse lodging for a hefty fee. Thru-hikers can inquire about vacancies, if any are available they may be offered a bunk in exchange for work such as washing dishes or sweeping rooms.

From south to north they are: Lonesome Lake (a fishing camp of log cabins built in 1876), Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds (largest, highest at 5030 feet and most popular due to its proximity to the 6288 ft summit of Mt Washington, highest point in New England), Madison Spring (built in1888), and Carter Notch.

The picturesque old log buildings are swimming in mist and appear mysterious but the allure of dry shelter is overwhelming. I aim directly for the largest structure, woodsmoke billowing out of the stone chimney. I enter a room bustling with activity. I meet the bossy caretakers and am told I can bunk with two other thru-hikers. One turns out to be Rhino, a hiker I’ve been chasing since the Smoky Mountains. The other hiker’s name is Dr Zayus. I dry out my gear, we head for the dining room for some bad soup, then I am tasked with drying silverware. At the end of this memorable day I gratefully crash on a warm, dry bunkbed.

Day 106: (NH) 14 awesome miles from Lonesome Lake to camp past Mt Garfield

Overnight the weather improves. Dr Zayus, Rhino and I sweep out the bunkhouses while the paying customers have breakfast, then we carbo load on leftover oatmeal and pancakes. The day trippers are generous with their spare food but I decline to load my pack any further.

It is a nice day and I am ready to go. A quick toke in the shadows and I take the Cascade Brook trail to the Franconia Notch and parkway. I pass under US 3/I-93 along the Pemigewasset River and cross via the paved Franconia Notch bike path bridge. I begin the ascent of popular Franconia Ridge, reaching treeline at 4760 ft Little Haystack.

The next section above the trees is referred to as the Presidential Range and it is spectacular. I climb up and over 5089 ft Mt Lincoln and 5249 ft Mt Lafayette on the north end of Franconia Ridge. Next up is Garfield Ridge which leads to 4501 ft Mt Garfield. The trail drops off the north shoulder of the mountain 970 feet in 0.6 miles (fourth steepest section of AT). I stealth camp near the Garfield Ridge (fee) campsite.

Day 107: (NH) 17 miles to Crawford Notch

Today is a big mileage day but thankfully it is mostly downhill the last six miles and the destination is worth it. Past the Galehead Hut, the trail ascends sharply 1130 ft in 0.8 miles to the 4902 ft summit of S Twin peak. A more gentle down and up to 4580 ft Mt Guyot followed by a steep one mile drop and steep climb to a highpoint on 4265 ft Mt Zealand. Jaw dropping views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from dramatic cliffs. Descend around cliffs to Zealand Falls Hut where I buy a yummy lemon bar. Across the Zealand Pond outlet to Ethan Pond trail which climbs through the stark terrain of Zealand Notch to the rugged slopes of Whitewall Mtn. Walk on an old railroad bed then climb to Crawford Notch State Park. Cross Saco River, climb Webster Cliff trail to 3911 ft Mt Webster then a series of ledges to 4052 ft Mt Jackson followed by 4311 ft Mt Pierce. After Mizpah Spring Hut, begin the big descent to Crawford Notch, major access portal to/from civilization.

From the congestion at the Notch, I walk down the road to the Crawford Notch General Store and Campground. I secure a spot in the bunkhouse and shop the well stocked shelves of the store. I am informed the shower and laundry area will close in 30 minutes so I take my six pack of beer and do some serious hiker trash multi-tasking before meeting new hikers in the bunkhouse in the evening.

Day 108: (NH) 11 windy miles to Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Sidetrack Built in 1819, the Crawford Path runs the length of the Presidential Range from Crawford Notch to Mt Washington and is the oldest maintained foot trail in America.

Up early, beat the crowds to the Notch. I am physically ready and mentally excited for this day. The weather is good but the wind is notorious above treeline in this area (Mt Washington holds the world record for wind speed at 231 mph). I warm up on a minor climb, drop to a col then make a big climb to the broad, open summit of Mt Eisenhower (4780 ft) where the wind begins to hinder my pace and stance.

Next is a minor peak, Mt Franklin, then a slow, halting climb to the east of the summit of 5371 ft Mt Monroe (4th tallest in NH). The wind is steady and brutal, causing me to bend forward to make progress and stop and brace during strong gusts. The only break is the occasional rock outcrop. It is clear any attempt to set up a tent and camp would be futile if not dangerous. I’ve got to keep moving.

Time appears to crawl along with my pace. I can only look to see where the next protective boulder is. I actually have to get down on my knees several times to avoid being blown away. At last I see the outline of a large two story stone building, Lakes of the Clouds Hut. If there was ever a situation for a thru-hiker to ask for shelter, this is it. I slowly inch my way to a set of stairs.

Once inside, I’m overwhelmed by the loud crowd milling around a big dining room filled with massive wooden tables. I see Rhino and another hiker I recognize. How does he keep getting ahead of me? He points out one of the staff and I am immediately welcomed. The Hut is booked to capacity but we are told we can sleep on the floor of the dining room this evening. Dinner is served, we take our plates to some benches near the coat room. On the wall is a chalkboard containing the weather report which claims the current wind speed is 72 mph.

After dinner, the staff put on a camp show with raucous singing and skits. I catch bits of it while washing and organizing hundreds of forks, knives and spoons in the kitchen. After the guests have left for their rooms, I spread my pad and sleeping bag under a table and go into deep sleep.

Day 109: 10 stunning miles to cowboy camp at Osgood tentsites

Today is the most glorious day of the trip. It is chilly this morning but the air is calm. I am anxious to go but we have to wait until breakfast is over to do our chores. Outside, I wander over to a group of shallow tarns (lakes) and enjoy the first of many tokes today. I decide to set a leisurely pace and take lots of breaks for a change.

At the summit of Mt Washington, I take a long break to explore the museum, observatory, gift shop and cafeteria. Non hikers arrive by car and cog railroad. On the descent, the AT parallels the tracks for some distance. It is hiker tradition to moon the train, one happens to pass by so I stop, drop my pack and pants, and deliver a hiker trash salute.

After traversing Sphinx Col, I climb 5712 ft Mt Jefferson (3rd highest), drop to Edmonds Col past Storm Lake. Next is 5793 ft Mt Adams (2nd highest) then descend to Madison Spring Hut. The Osgood Ridge trail initiates a major descent along the ridge. I arrive at the Osgood Campsite which has elevated wood decks to sleep on. I pick an empty deck, lay out my pad and sleeping bag, falling asleep under the stars with a happy grin on my face.

Day 110: 5 easy miles to Pinkham Notch visitor center then 4 challenging miles to Wildcat Ridge cowboy camp

I am looking forward to another memorable day so I leave the others snoring and quickly pack my gear. For a change its a pretty easy 5 mile walk down into the wide notch.

Pinkham Notch bisects the White Mtns providing major tourist access. A small town has built up at the mouth including the Visitor Center I am aiming for. There are essential hiker services here like showers and a free telephone. I call Kim Steward who works for the Forest Service and is a relative of my good friend from Oregon, retired Forest Service Ranger Zane Grey Smith. Her office is only a few blocks away and she arrives shortly to escort me around town.

First she takes me to a local sandwich shop where she introduces me to everyone. Then to the Post Office to pick up mail from Sue. After a quick stop at the local outdoor outfitters, we head back to Forest Service HQ. Mahalo Kim, you are a wonderful trail angel with a great job in a beautiful setting. I sit in the shade on the lawn transferring dehydrated food and supplies from the cardboard box to the nylon backpack.

Whump, there it is. Staring me in the face is the steepest climb I have attempted in my backpacking career. Four extremely challenging miles to the massive Wildcat Ridge; including a 2000 foot ascent in 1.5 miles with a 1000 foot stretch of exposed scrambling in a half mile. And I do it carrying a fully loaded pack!

It takes the rest of the day and uberhiker effort to reach the first of Wildcat Peaks A-D (4423 ft). Fortunately, along the route there are large ledges to stop and take in impressive views of Mt Washington. However, the terrain is so tough and unforgiving I see no place to camp or set up a tent anywhere. Finally I lay out my pad and sleeping bag in a drainage ditch beside the trail cowboy style. I eat a sandwich in the fading light and collapse from overwhelming exhaustion.

The Taxidermist

Posted in Sausage Makers Society on May 16, 2019 by A lo Hawk

Ajax Chaste was a virgin like his parents. When he was three years old he was adopted by a kindly, childless couple, Paul and Becky, who lived on an inland farm.  The Chastes were about the same height and weight and wore similar flannel shirts and blue jeans. They had matching haircuts and mannerisms; they kept a portrait of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust on the mantel over the fireplace in their farmhouse near Ketchikan, Alaska.

Ajax was a Native American Inuit. His birth parents were born on Baffin Island in the Nunavut Territories of Canada and had moved to the west coast of Alaska in 1982 so his mother could work the cruise-ship trade and father, an experienced whaler, shipped out on commercial fishing boats for months at a time. He disappeared with ship and crew in a violent Pacific storm in 1984. Mom used her own assets to attract a rich whale and sailed away on the Regal Princess, leaving Ajax abandoned behind the hedges of the local dog kennel.

In his new environment of verdant pastures and rolling hills, Ajax was surrounded by a variety of domesticated animals; plus he sought out all of the wild critters and creepy creatures he could find. Farm life was strenuous and regimented but daddy Paul taught him how to butcher hogs and snap chicken necks. Whenever he could escape his chores he would run with the Australian cattle dogs or stalk the barn cats.

Ajax felt a deep ancestral love of animals but he loved them equally whether alive or dead. He did not discriminate between animate and inanimate flesh. If a creature was behaving badly, a quick whack on the head with any handy blunt object would make it more cooperative. But if he accidentally killed it, the fun would be over and he would feel an unpleasant tingle of sadness. He decided when he got older he would do something to correct this sorrowful state.

Ajax became obsessed with herpetology. He had a pet iguana named Darwin. He dissected frogs in his room and began skinning snakes to make belts and hatbands to trade at the rural school he attended on Saturdays. Once, he found a dead deer in the woods. Apparently, it had broken its leg in an accident then collapsed and died of dehydration and exposure. He returned to it every day to watch the decay; fascinated with the eruption of maggots, the cloud of flies, the evidence of scavengers. To him, it represented the whole circle of life, death, and re-birth. It was the most significant spiritual experience of his young life.

Ajax was raised in the Church of Androgyny. When he turned 16, he submitted to the Nirwaan, the Sacred Rite of Castration where the testicles are surgically removed. This was the only time in his life he has taken a drug; he was injected with Ketamine, a potent tranquilizer and anaesthetic. The High Priest who performed the ceremony was a fully emasculated eunuch; he’d had his penis ceremoniously amputated in devotion to the faith.

Always a quiet, reserved kid, Ajax became an even more taciturn teen-ager, spending his days in his room listening to moody bands like The Cure, Bauhaus and Depeche Mode while working on his secret projects. When not secluded in his bedroom in the attic, he would roam the countryside hunting, trapping and fishing using the traditional methods of his Inuit ancestors. A lonely kid with no friends, his adopted parents convinced him to go to a psychiatrist to find out why he was so repulsive to others. After a series of tests, he was diagnosed with Schizoid Personality Disorder. His symptoms included Alexithymia, or the inability to express emotions, and Eccedentesiastia, which is constantly hiding behind a fake smile.

In high school, now using the nickname AJ, he became interested in robots and joined the Robotics Club. He enjoyed building the radio controlled metal war machines and he won many battles at state-wide death match contests. He even gained grudging respect from his fellow geeks yet they still refused to invite him to the post match celebrations. He was eventually kicked out of the club when he began covering his mechanical creations with animal hides and installing tiny speakers which emitted high-pitched predator cries.

AJ was born with Occular Amblyopia (a deformed, lazy eye) but it went untreated because his birth parents were suspicious of doctors and disturbed by the bad omen. Young master Chaste realized the grey, wandering pupil was repulsive to people so he usually wore an eye patch in public. Despite this superficial handicap, he was a good student and earned adequate grades to be accepted to the University of Alaska in Anchorage. His strong kinship to animals and the support of his adopted parents encouraged him to pursue a Veterinary Technician degree. If all went well he would eventually transfer to Fairbanks for veterinary medicine school.

AJ developed severe insomnia while at school and had to avoid all stimulants. He would walk the streets at night and find stray dogs and cats. When he brought them home he would break their legs or poison them to learn their physiology and how to heal them. He was never cruel; he performed these experiments humanely with a minimum of pain. He would often steal bottles of Acepromazine to sedate the animals.

After graduation, Mr Chaste was hired as a Vet Tech in a small veterinary clinic on the outskirts of the city. He got a tattoo on the inside of his left wrist of a traditional Ulu knife, his favorite blade for skinning hides. He began pursuing an amateur taxidermy hobby at night after the clinic was closed. Using the bodies of animals brought in for cremation, he filled their urns with wood ash and practiced his skinning and tanning skills on the corpses. The forms were sculpted from polystyrene, wood and wire. Gears and servo-motors replaced joints and muscle. This mobile menagerie was placed on every shelf and flat surface of his mobile home.

Eventually he ran out of space in his trailer and storage shed. One evening in his workshop he had an epiphany. Distraught pet owners were willing to pay exorbitant sums for pet memorials. What could be more memorable than your best friend preserved in an eternal, peaceful pose displayed in a shrine of honor in your home? He could create lifelike stuffed animals, place them in tasteful settings and charge premium prices.  The following day he formed an on-line taxidermy service specializing in deceased pet re-creations. He called the company LIFELIKE REMEMBRANCES. One rich client paid him $10,000 to re-make her poodle Trixie with motion sensors; a voice chip containing dozens of barks, whines, and whimpers; and fully articulating tail, ears and jaw.

With his new taxidermy business taking off, AJ was earning double his salary at the clinic. He fantasized about creating an exotic animatronic petting zoo if he could only acquire the valuable hides. All things considered, his future was looking bright. That was before he choked his boss to death.