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Some folks have been asking about the gear I will be carrying with me on my thru-hike. The weather is pretty uninviting outside today, and Jodi is working so I am home alone, so I took some time this morning and did a little photo-essay on my gear. Rather than post a long series of photos here, I posted them to my photo gallery instead. You can find them here. Be sure to click on the photos to see the full description.

I don’t have the weight of every item. I don’t own a scale so I can’t weight them myself. Below is a list of some of the major items that I do have weights for. The weights given are the catalog weights so you can assume that the actual weights differ a bit, but hopefully not by much. Note that most of my clothing is not included in these weights, nor is food and water. You can figure roughly 2 pounds per day for food, so anywhere from 6 to 12 pounds depending on how many days until the next resupply. I usually start the day with 2 quarts of water, so that’s a bit over 4 pounds.

Cold Weather Gear list
Item Weight (ounces)
Backpack – Osprey Aether 70 76
Hammock – Hennessy Explorer Ultralite 41
Hennessy Undercover & Underpad 14
Thermarest Prolite 4 24
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0* Long sleeping bag 46
Lowa GTX mid boots 40
Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket 7
Westen Mountaineering Flight Jacket 11
Marmot Precip Jacket 14
ULA Equipment Rain Wrap 3.2
Sea to Summit Pack Liner 3.4
Jacks-r-Better pack cover / gear hammock 3.75
283.35 ounces
17.7 pounds
Warm Weather Gear list
Item Weight (ounces)
Backpack – Osprey Aether 70 76
Hammock – Hennessy Explorer Ultralite 41
Hennessy Undercover & Underpad 14
Western Mountaineering Summerlite 32* Long 21
Lowa GTX mid boots 40
Montbell UL Down Inner Jacket 7
Marmot Precip Jacket 14
ULA Equipment Rain Wrap 3.2
Sea to Summit Pack Liner 3.4
Jacks-r-Better pack cover / gear hammock 3.75
223.35 ounces
14.0 pounds

Mount Moosilauke

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I had an amazing weekend playing in the snow in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this past weekend. I almost didn’t find the cabin on Friday and was heading back towards my car as the sun set, when I ran into some of the others in my group who actually knew where the cabin is located.

On Saturday we snowshoed up to the summit of Mount Moosilauke. The krummholz was coated in snow and rime ice, and the sun was shining out of a deep blue sky, making it a real winter wonderland. It was ridiculously windy up there so we stayed for about 90 seconds before turning around and heading back down into the cover of the trees. We were fortunate to have such great weather for our winter climb.
I didn’t get any pictures of the mountain because I hadn’t charged the battery in my camera and it died before we got up high, but I do have a few pictures I took while snowshoeing around looking for the cabin on Friday, and at the start of our trip up the mountain on Saturday morning. Andy took some great photos and was kind enough to share them, so I added them to my photos in my photo gallery. You can see them all at:

Planning a Thru-Hike

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I promised someone I would write a little bit about planning my hike. There are lots and lots of resources for someone planning an AT thru-hike. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has kind of a thru-hiker outline page on their website. They also sell a host of books about the trail, including the “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner”. I also have the complete set of AT maps purchased from the ATC.

There are also a number of websites devoted to the Appalachian Trail and other long distance trails. Among these are WhiteBlaze, which hosts a number of forums about the AT, and TrailJournals, which hosts journals of hikers on the AT and other trails.

There are also three different “data books” to choose from for the AT. These books distill the most essential info from the guide books (which I own but will not be carrying) for the entire trail into a list of mileages between shelters, campsites, springs, and road crossings, and add info about the services available in the towns most often used for resupply by hikers. The one I am carrying is “Appalachian Pages“.

Working from information I gleaned from these books and websites, I worked up a spreadsheet that has a tentative schedule that lists all of the town stops I expect to make in order to resupply with food and other consumables, with the number of days between stops based on a typically average thru-hike pace. Then I did my best to determine which of these stops provided adequate shopping to be able resupply locally, and which would require a mail drop from home. I have a total of 12 mail drops on my schedule, and at the appropriate time Jodi will send off a box with food, maps, and whatever else I might need.

This spreadsheet resides on a server that I can log into from any internet-connected computer, so I can access it and update the schedule as my real pace unfolds on the ground, and Jodi can access it to keep track of what and when she needs to send things to me.

What people might not think of is that a large part of the planning for a long-distance hike isn’t about the hiking at all; it’s about keeping the rest of your life running back home while you are not there for an extended period. Things like mortgage and car payments, license renewals, tax bills, health insurance premiums, and whatever else. This is all a lot easier for me because I have Jodi who will be still be at home keeping that part of our lives humming along. For single people or couples who hike together, this can be a huge part of their planning. I do all of my banking on-line already, and I’ve set up my credit card to be automatically paid every month from my checking account, so my plan is to have a set amount of money transferred to my checking account every month, then use my credit card and debit card to pay for things along the way.

As for keeping in touch with home and the rest of the outside world, I will be carrying my Treo smartphone and the same folding bluetooth keyboard I used last summer while Jodi and I were bicycle touring. I hope to keep up a more-or-less daily journal, although I do not expect to be able to actually upload entries daily.

So, I’ve created a plan. Planning is important, but only a fool would expect his or her plan for such a long undertaking to actually play out flawlessly, so I hope I am capable of being flexible enough to yield to reality as my hike unfolds.

Thirty days and counting!

Appalachian Trail Map

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To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea-"cruising," it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I’ve always wanted to sail the South Seas, but I can’t afford it." What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the routine of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense. And we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.
Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

Sterling Hayden

Fully Committed

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I gave my notice at work today. Come March 6 I will be officially unemployed, so it'll be either find another job or go hiking. I think I'll go hiking!

Allen F. Freeman

Challenges and Temptations

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Tom asked: “What do you think the biggest challenges will be? What
will tempt you the most to leave before you’re done?”

Of course I can offer only suppositions until I am actually out there
and doing it, but there are two things that I think will present my
biggest temptations to quit. The first will simply be missing Jodi so
much that it overrides any ability to focus on and enjoy my life on
the trail. The other situation would be spending a week hiking in
constant rain, or a prolonged hot spell hiking through the
mid-Atlantic states, or maybe a hell of mosquitoes and gnats in
southern New England, and being so physically miserable that I lose
focus on the bigger picture and can see only the current, but
temporary, misery.

Bicycle touring is somewhat analogous. It is a deeply satisfying and rewarding way to travel, but it isn’t always “fun.” Sometimes getting from here to there is simply a job of work that needs to get done.

I am told that thru-hiking is more a mental and emotional challenge
than a physical one. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if I am up
to that challenge or not.

Allen F. Freeman

Six Weeks!

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Not much to write today, other than to note that there are just six weeks left between today and the day I climb the Approach Trail to the summit of Springer Mountain!

Allen F. Freeman

Pump Up The Volume

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Last weekend I said that I wanted to pull all of my cold weather gear together and try to pack it in my SMD Starlite too see how well it all fit. I never got around to doing it last weekend, but I did it yesterday. Well, working in the comfort and relative warmth of my living room I was able to cram everything into or on the pack, but it was tough. And I didn’t have 3 to 5 days of food in the food sack, either. There is no way this was going to be practical packing and unpacking every day for weeks on the trail. So now the question is: what to do?

I could just use my Kelty Super Tioga, which is a load carrying monster of a frame pack. It will easily swallow everything I need to carry, but that pack weighs 6 1/2 pounds with nothing in it! There has to be some solution that will fall somewhere in between the 30 oz of my Starlite and the 104 oz of the Kelty.

So I spent some time last night and this morning looking at packs online, then Jodi and I took a trip to our local REI to touch and play with the packs they had there. Two packs caught my eye; the first is the Osprey Aether 70 (, which in a size large weighs 4 lb 12 oz and offers 4400 cu. in. I also liked one of the Gregory packs, it offered similar volume and what seemed to be more convenient outside pockets, but it weighed 1 lb 2oz more than the Osprey, and with that weight it was approaching the weight of my trusty old Kelty frame pack, so I decided on the Osprey.

Now REI was offering the Osprey at full retail price, $259, and I knew I could get it substantially cheaper elsewhere. Usually the staff at REI is very attentive and someone would come over and ask if we needed any help, but that didn’t happen today so I didn’t feel like I owed REI this sale due to them investing time in me, so I felt no compunction about coming back home and ordering the pack from an online retailer for $60 less than REI charged.

So now I am waiting for the pack to arrive sometime this week, and I’ll go through the exercise again and see if I can fit everything in this new, larger pack. From the bit I played with the pack at REI I think it will be a very comfortable pack to carry, so I hope it is a good match for the volume of cold weather gear I will be carrying for the first weeks of my hike. Yeah, it’s pretty warm in Atlanta by mid_March, but the trail is in the mountains of northern Georgia, between 4,000′ and 5,000′, and the weather there definitely offers up a taste of winter.

Once the weather warms up and I am through the high mountain areas, I will have Jodi send me my light-weight summer sleeping bag and I will send some of my heavy clothes and my winter bag home. At that time I will decide whether I want to continue using the Osprey backpack, or whether I will switch back to my SMD Starlite for the summer.

I am also still waiting for the current 2009 edition of Appalachian Pages (,and once that arrives I can finalize my tentative schedule and decide where I am going to have Jodi send me food resupply packages, and decide little details like which maps need to be sent in which mail drops.

Well, there are now 51 days left until I fly to Atlanta, and 52 days until I start up the Approach Trail.

Boston Public Garden – Noon

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Allen Freeman


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My mind wanders. That’s simply a fact of life, and perhaps age. And this morning my mind has been wandering back to those hazy, lazy days of summer. You know, those days when I was fit and in shape. Every year I vow that I am going to somehow hold onto my fitness through the winter, and every year that vow comes up against the cold and the dark and the ice, and shrinks back in defeat.

Last weekend some of my GMC friends were up in northern Vermont staying at one of the cabins on Wheeler Pond that the GMC owns, and playing in the snow. I couldn’t make it, but I did see some of the pictures, and somebody took pictures of Jay Peak looming to the west. Those photos brought back some wonderful memories of the day I spent running the Jay Peak Half Marathon last summer, and prompted me to re-read my account of that day. I thoroughly enjoyed going back in time and am just conceited enough to think you might enjoy it as well, so here is that account:

On Saturday, July 26, 2008 Jodi and I were up in far northern Vermont so I could run the Jay Mountain “Half” Marathon. I put “Half” in quotation marks because the half marathon distance is 13.1 miles but the Jay Mountain Half is officially listed as 19 miles.Jay is a trail race. In fact, it’s official name is the Ultimate XC Vermont Edition, and the organizer, Dan, really does mean to make it the “Ultimate” race. One of his volunteers told Jodi his goal is to make you cry for your mommy before you finish. Well Dan, sorry to tell you that you failed. I certainly hurt plenty, but I was having way too much fun to cry.If I hadn’t run Jay this year I would have been in New York City to run the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday. I ran NYC last year in 1:53 or something like that, and I remember people complaining about the hills in Central Park.The Jay Half is a trail race so comparing it to a road race is completely unfair, of course. But let me start by telling you that it took my over 5 hours to complete the Jay course. My watch read 5:09:30 when I finished, though I haven’t seen the official time posted yet.A few minutes before the race started Dan called the runners together and went over a few points about the course. He told us things like “If you pass somebody stuck in the mud up to their waist, please help them get out,” and “when you get to the first culvert on the first stream portion of the course, stay to the left to climb up the rocks. If you go in the middle the water will be over your head and you won’t be able to climb up into the culvert.” Okay. Got it.That finished, we lined up for the start. Usually at the start of a race runners push towards the front, but in this event there seemed to be a general reluctance to go first and everybody hung back trying to be towards the rear of the pack. I managed to get myself about 3/4 of the way back. Dan counted down from ten, said “Go!” and we were off up the first grassy slope at an easy jog. In a few minutes we were into the woods and running along a path more or less in single file. We were heading steadily uphill but not very steeply and the runners were sorting themselves out as people occasionally passed or were passed. There were a few muddy stretches and at first people, including me, worked to skirt the mud and keep their feet dry. Later on during the run I would repeatedly think back on this and laugh.The first few miles continued like this, with a few more muddy stretches thrown in so that everyone got their feet wet and dirty and could quit wasting time trying to stay dry. Then we turned right and suddenly the world tilted up. In fact, it tilted up so steeply that there were actually ropes stretched from tree to tree to allow us to haul ourselves up the hill hand over hand. That was fun!Somehow I don’t remember a lot of detail of this section. I think the first aid station was at about mile 4. A bit after this we were running along through the woods again and could hear a mountain stream tumbling down over the rocks. Soon the sound got louder and sure enough we broke out of the trees and found ourselves right in the stream with the orange flagging we were following strung from tree branches over the stream. We all turned upstream and started wading from rock to rock in water that was anywhere from ankle deep to waist deep. We struggled up the stream for a long time, until we finally came to the first culvert. Here we had to climb up into the mouth of the culvert which we used to run under Rt 242, then back into the stream until we reached the second culvert. I’m not sure how long the stream portion of the course was. I have 1.5 miles in my head, but I’m not sure if I read that somewhere or heard it or what, so it may or may not be accurate. In any case, after the second culvert we climbed out of the stream and up to the second aid station at the base of one of the ski trails at Jay Peak. I believe this aid station was at something like 7.5 miles. From here it was about 2.5 miles, and about 2600 vertical feet, to the summit of Jay.There was a 3 hour time limit to reach the summit of Jay; those arriving after that limit would be pulled from the race. I reached the second aid station in just a few minutes under two hours. Two hours to go 7.5 miles! From here I could look up and see the summit of Jay w a y u p t h e r e. If I were hiking up Jay I would figure about 2.5 hours, using the 30 minutes per mile plus 30 minutes per thousand feet of elevation gain formula. I knew I had to reach the summit in about 65 minutes so I started off pushing a bit harder than I would have liked to. Absolutely nobody was even trying to run as it was way too steep for that. I started plodding up at a pace as fast as I thought I could sustain. I actually passed a few people on the way up, including one poor guy puking his guts out on the side of the trail. As we neared the summit the ski trail got even steeper and I and others were reduced to walking a few paces then stopping to breathe. Finally just before the very summit we turned off the ski trail and joined the Long Trail as it scrambled over the rocks to the summit. I made the climb in 45 minutes, with 20 minutes to spare! Whew!After drinking as much Gatorade and water as I could hold, eating some snacks, and refilling all of my bottles, I set off running down the other side of Jay, on ski trails just as steep as the ones we had just struggled up. Near the bottom we turned off onto a cross-country ski trail which soon turned into a sea of mud. For the next several miles the trail taught me a lot about mud; all the different varieties and consistencies and depths of it that can exist in the woods of Vermont after a solid week of rain. Sometimes it was only ankle deep, sometimes I sank in to my shins or to my knees. Sometimes it was so thick I would sink in and not be sure if my foot was ever going to come back out or not, and if it did whether my shoe would still be attached to it or not. Sometimes I swore. Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I giggled. There was another aid station in here somewhere, but I don’t remember exactly where it was. I do remember telling the volunteer that handed me a cup of Gatorade that I wished it were a relay so that I could stop there and she could carry on. She just laughed at me and refilled my Gatorade cup and offered me a brownie.So we ran in mud for miles and miles. How many miles? I don’t know, really. Finally the route broke out of the woods and I found myself running down a dirt road. Wow! I could actually run. I wondered how long this would last, and what nasty surprise this would lead to. The route signs pointed down this first dirt road, and I was passed by a couple in a car and I remember wondering what they would think when they saw me running down the road coated in mud up to my thighs with more mud splattered all over my back and coating my butt and even my water bottles since I had fallen in the mud just a few minutes before. The route turned left and uphill on another dirt road and I kept running, marveling that part of the course was actually runnable, then took another right turn and went gently down until a sign finally directed me off the road and back into the woods. To my great surprise the route here was mostly dry and wonderfully runnable terrain, but by now I had been going for over four hours and I found myself only able to alternate walking and jogging. Between watching my footing and checking out the piles of moose scat along the trail, I stole a glance at my watch and noted that while I thought I was doing great with my strategy of alternating walking the uphill and trickier parts with running the level or downhill parts of the trail, I was actually barely managing a 15 minute per mile pace. Oh well, barring catastrophe I knew I wouldn’t be pulled from the race and would be allowed to finish, so I just accepted my pace and forged ahead.Eventually this trail brought me to another stream, and this time instead of running up the stream we were running down it, which is even harder since the current tends to want to sweep your feet out from under you. This stream even went over a little cascade which objectively probably wasn’t all that scary, but by now my legs were showing signs of independence and were not always responding to commands from my brain, so I muttered something about this being “slightly insane” and managed to pick my way down without being swept away and carried on.Finally, we reached a point where the course sign pointed right up the stream back and we ran up to and across the road, then around the “infield” area and back through the same banner we ran out of to start the race. Just before the finish line there was a small drainage ditch and as I jumped over it I fell with my nose literally a foot away from the finish line. I jumped back up and over the line. Finished! Wow!Once we got home Sunday afternoon I downloaded the data from my Garmin into my computer and looked at the elevation profile of the route. The total elevation gain is shown at 4,561 feet. The profile looks like a huge, inverted ‘V’, with the summit Jay Peak in the center. My data shows a total distance of 17.0 miles, while the official distance is listed as 19. I’m not sure which is more accurate. I know the course does get changed a bit each year, and I don’t know how they measure the course. It really doesn’t matter. It’s not really about the distance, it’s about the terrain.I did carry a camera with me — a waterproof disposable — and took a few pictures. If any of them come out I’ll post them. Also, at the last minute Jodi decided to shoot video at whichever of the aid stations she could get access to so she brought her new camera with her. I’ve seen the raw footage and it’s good, though it’s only at the aid stations and she couldn’t access the really crazy parts of the course. Jodi will be editing the footage into something coherent, but I’m not sure when that will be. She shot in HD and needs to upgrade her version of FinalCut Pro before she can edit it as the version she has can’t handle HD. Oh, and of course she got me falling at the finish line on video for all posterity.


The count-down continues. It is now nine weeks until I start up the Approach Trail and my thru-hike commences. I do wish I was in better shape. Lately I have been running only on the weekends. We have gotten out with our cross-country skis a few rimes, and I hope we can do so again this weekend. I do walk several miles every day. I walk a bit over a mile to and from the ‘T’ each morning and afternoon, and on most days I walk a couple of miles at lunch time. But all in all I feel like a slug, as I do every winter. Hopefully if I start easy I’ll be okay on the hike.

Ten Weeks

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Ten weeks, seventy days, from now — well, actually just about 70 days and 57 minutes — my flight to Atlanta is scheduled to take off.

Ten weeks. Boy, time seems to be flying. That means in just about 9 1/2 weeks I will be leaving my job, which means in about 7 1/2 weeks I will be giving my notice.

There is lots to do in the remaining ten weeks. No, not at work. I mean to get ready for my hike. I am waiting for the 2009 edition of “Appalachian Pages” to be released and mailed out in the next couple of weeks, then I can finalize my schedule and decide where I will have Jodi send mail drops to me and where I will shop in local stores. And someday soon I need to gather all the warm weather gear I plan to use for the early, cold, weeks of my hike, and see if it actually all fits in my pack. But in the end that’s all just details. Those things need to be taken care of, but they are not the hike. When I start to worry too much I remind myself, it’s just walking.

Here are some words that I read long ago, and which somebody recently reminded me of.
They were written by one of my favorite authors, Edward Abbey, in the forward to “Appalachian Odyssey- Walking the Trail from Georgia to Maine,” by Steve Sherman and Julia Older, published in 1977.

Appalachia. Appalachia . . . Good God I lived there, in the northern
fringe, on a little sub-marginal farm in western Pennsylvania, for the
first eighteen years of my life.
Eighteen years. Good God. Finally rescued by Hitler and the war (The
war), the draft, the United States Army, God bless them all.
Otherwise, who knows, I might still be there driving a coal truck for
the strippers, or teaching English to sullen delinquents with
TV-shriveled minds in some grimy small-town high school, or even–God,
the soul curls to think of it–traipsing the Appalachian Trail from
end to end, for fun! for recreation! for re-creation!

Well, so I escaped. But my brother Howard, he’s still living back
there, making a living, driving coal trucks, building gasification
plants (he’s a high steel man), raising three wild kids. But he has
guts, unlike me. And my mother, and old man, they’re still there,
surviving in their little house by the side of the road where
forty-ton super trucks thunder past every thirty minutes, shaking the
foundations. The farm was sold, years ago, and the old house burned
down, and the wild blackberry are taking over the fields that the
strip-miners didn’t get to first, and over that whole remembered
countryside of childhood now hangs the awful sound of industry. On a
clear day you can see for maybe two miles. Powerlines draped from hill
to hill. Constant traffic on the network of highways that look, on a
map, like the red breakdown of varicose veins. Trailerhouse slums and
“mobile-home” ghettos spreading across the slopes of abandoned farms.
Most working people in America can no longer afford to live in real
houses, no longer have enough free time to build a real home for

But in the burgeoning towns and cities the skyscraper banks rise up,
tombs of tinted glass and frosty steel, towering above the surrounding
tracts of fiberboard and plywood, aluminum and formica, where the
serfs live. Death to the land. Death to all the old American dreams.
How absolutely prescient was Oliver Goldsmith when he wrote, two
centuries ago, of a similar malaise falling on England:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

No need to go on with this dirge. Harry Caudill has said it all, much
better, in Night Comes to the Cumberlands and in his recent book, The
Watches of the Night.
Thus our native Appalachia. In large part a commercial, industrial,
profiteering wasteland, America’s first great National Sacrifice Area.
(There will be others.) But the wonder of it all is that some of the
original beauty of the land yet remains. The flame azalea still blooms
in the Big Smokies, and the blue phlox, the Mayapple, the mandrake,
the rhododendron, the toadshade, the trillium, the showy orchid, the
hobblebush, the dogwood, the wild chokecherry. In our Appalachian
autumn a multitude of ancient hardwoods burst out in seventeen
different shades of red, gold, rust, the hues of October in infinite
number. From Georgia up to Maine, the rush of spring-green, the
exultance of ten thousand different species of flowers, and then in
the fall the movement of color in reverse, from north to south.
Lonesome farmhouses still hiding back on red-dog roads, down in
hardscrabble hollows, up near the summits of cloud-shaded hills. Coon
dogs baying at the smoky moon. The winding streams, the covered
bridges, the deep woods where the deer still flourish–now more than
ever!– and the black bear still raid the hogpen, the chickencoop, the
backpacker’s portable kitchen.

The backpacker? Who else? For through the middle of the capitalist
squalor and naturalist splendor runs the Appalachian Trail, a
ridiculous footpath 2,000 miles long running the length of the
Appalachian Mountains, up and down a thousand peaks, in and out of a
thousand valleys, across a thousand meadows, through a thousand forest
glades. Myself, I’ve walked only a few short stretches of it in Great
Smokies National Park. But almost everyone who’s heard of it, or come
across it, the idea–the ideal!–of some year actually getting into
harness and walking the entire Trail has always haunted the back of my
mind. It’s one of those outdoor dream-adventures we all dream and very
few have the nerve to realize. Like traversing the Grand Canyon from
end to end; like hitchhiking through the Sahara and into the Congo
past the Mountains of the Moon down the planet’s awesome curve to the
Kalahari Desert and the Cape of Good Hope; like skiing down Fujiyama;
like personally inspecting each and every active volcano on the face
of the earth.

Many talk, many write. Some do. Steve Sherman and Julia Older are two
who’ve done it. This is their book about the walk and it’s a good
book. In it you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about
hiking the Great Hike. Everything and then some–none of the misery
has been left out, none of the tedium, none of the chiggers, snakes,
mosquitoes, or odd-ball fellow hikers, and none of the glory,
exaltation and satisfaction either. They say they’ll do it again
sometime and I, for one, believe them. (You may not.)

Appalachia is in trouble, but that’s not news, the whole country’s in
trouble, under assault by the insatiable demands of an insane
expanding economy and what the journalist Tom Wolfe (of New York; no
kin to the real Thomas Wolfe, the writer) calls a “happiness
explosion.” Fueled by more Valium, alcohol and the St. Vitus Dance
than by happy people, this explosion is real all the same, and its
destructive disruption of the North American continent condemns our
children and our grandchildren to a form of poverty heretofore unknown
in human history: confinement for life to a wonderful department store
set in the midst of a steaming junkyard three thousand miles wide.
They will not love us for it.

But wait a minute! One thin ray of hope shines through the smog and
uproar. One thin bright ray: it is the conscience of the American
people beginning to stir at last, beginning finally to question and
sometimes even resist the Master Plan of industry and technocracy.
From the consciousness of loss and danger rises the glow of a national
earth-use morality. We call it environmentalism; the conservationist
cause; the light of sanity and moderation. Julia Older and Steve
Sherman speak for that cause, not with a sermon, as I do here, but
with the implicit meaning of their experience. In this Appalachian
Odyssey they have voted with their feet. All over America a million
others are doing the same. Some day soon these votes must count–and
be counted.

Edward Abbey

Home Pennsylvania

Allen F. Freeman

Getting There

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As my Christmas / Hanukkah gift this year, Jodi bought the ticket for
my flight from Boston to Atlanta on March 17. With that nailed down I
then made my reservation for a shuttle and a night's lodging at the
Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega. (

If all goes according to plan, this is how I will get to the start of my hike:

– Fly from Boston to Atlanta
– Ride MARTA from the airport to the North Springs station (the
furthest north station)
– The folks from the hostel will pick me up at the North Springs
Station and drive me to the hostel
– After a night in the hostel bunk room and breakfast, the hostel
folks will shuttle me to Amicalola Falls State Park on the morning of
the 18th where I will start my hike using the Approach Trail to get to
the summit of Springer Mountain

Allen F. Freeman


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Tom asked if I am doing any training for my thru-hike. I suppose
training would fall into two categories. One would be training in the
skills of backpacking. Well, I've been backpacking since my Boy Scout
days, so I haven't been doing anything special int hat regard. I did
start, a couple of years ago, revamping a lot of my gear to embrace a
lot of the light-weight hiking paradigm, so much of my basic gear has
been replaced. For instance, my old external frame Kelty backpack
weighed 6 1/2 pounds, empty! My new pack weighs something like 22 oz.

The biggest equipment change was the switch from tent to hammock. The
hammock is super comfortable for sleeping, and certainly makes site
selection a lot easier since I don't have to worry about finding
level, clear ground, but it does make managing my gear a bit different
as I can't just throw a lot of stuff inside the tent with me.

But I think what Tom was really asking about is physical training.
Certainly, I have never hiked day after day for months at a time, and
I am not sure how one would train for that, other than to hike day
after day for months at a time. But I do get out for the occasional
weekend backpack, and I know that I am capable of hiking 10 or 12 or
15 miles and getting up the next morning and doing it again. I am a
runner, and that keeps me in pretty good shape, although running is
not hiking. I completed my second marathon back at the beginning of

My hope, my plan, and my intention is to keep running through the
winter, and hopefully find myself starting my hike in decent shape
physically. And I intend to start easy, holding my mileage to 10 or 12
miles per day at first, and giving my body time to adjust to the daily
workload. Hopefully that will help me avoid any overuse injuries.

I always find it hard to stay active in the wintertime. It's not the
cold that bothers me so much as it is the darkness. When I get home
from work at 5:00 in the afternoon, and it is dark outside and all the
streetlights are on, my body feels like it is nighttime and time to
shut down and rest. For some reason getting up in the dark in the
early morning never bothers me the same way, so I have shifted from
running in the evening after work to running in the morning before
work. That's not working out as well as I had hoped, and my running
has slacked off a lot over the last month or so, but I still plan to
sign up for the Half Marathon (or maybe I'll sign up for the full,
what the heck!) at Myrtle Beach in February, and knowing I will be
doing that is going to drive me to get out more often and build my
mileage back up.

I figure I won't be the most fit person starting a thru-hike this
year, but neither will I be the least fit. And one advantage of age
over youth is that I've learned the value of perseverance. As long as
I don't give up mentally (and everything I hear tells me this is
really a mental challenge far more than a physical one) , I should be
able to deal with whatever physical ailments might come my way.

Allen F. Freeman

90 Days

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Ninety days from today, on March 18, 2009, I should be standing under
the arch in Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, starting my hike up
the 8.8 mile long Approach Trail to the summit of Springer Mountain
and the southern terminus of the Appalachian trail.

I don't think this is any kind of surprise to the few people who read
my blog. I think I've talked about my plans to thru-hike the AT enough
that everyone knows. But just in case I'm wrong, take this as an
official announcement: My plans for 2009 include an attempt at a
thru-hike of the Appalachian trail. This is something I have thought
of doing ever since I first learned about the AT back in my Boy Scout
days, and for the first time in my life it is something that I can
actually do. We have no mortgage, no car loans, no loans of any kind.
Anju is off on her own and I am no longer a day-to-day, hands-on
parent. Jodi earns a good living, and while it is certainly not
trivial to walk away from 6+ months of salary, neither is it

So come March of 2009, I will be resigning my current position and
heading for Georgia. If all goes according to plan I will reach Maine,
some 2,176 miles later, sometime in September or October. That is,
however, a big if. Only about 20% of the people who start a thru-hike
actually complete it. People drop out for many reasons; they get
injured, they run out of money, they get bored or discouraged by bad
weather. Sometimes a crisis at home brings them off the trail. That
20% is a sobering statistic. It takes a lot to put your everyday life
on hold to take on this attempt, and it sure would be a shame to find
myself off the trail and back home soon after I left.

Ninety days seems like a long time to wait to start this adventure,
but at the same time it seems like it is just around the corner, and I
have lots left to do before I leave. I won't bore you with those
details now, but I may write more about that later.

If you are reading this and you happen to be one of my co-workers at
Homesite, please keep this under your hat. Thanks!

Allen F. Freeman

Marathon Man

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This past weekend Jodi and I were in Hartford, CT for the Hartford Marathon. I ran the full marathon and Jodi ran the half. For those of you who want the executive summary, I finished the marathon in 3:57:34, a 9:04 average pace, and Jodi crossed the line for the half in 2:23:28, for a 10:57 pace.

It was a gorgeous day for a race. The temperature was a bit higher than would have been ideal, but it was a bright sunny day and the fall foliage was highlighted against a stunningly blue sky. A big chunk of the marathon course is an out-and-back run up the east side of the Connecticut River from East Hartford to South Windsor. The road was lined with old New England homes set in yards with huge trees sporting their fall foliage. I don’t usually notice the scenery when running, but for this race I did and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Tactically, my race went really well. The start was a bit chaotic. This is normal in big races, as the thousands of runners have to sort themselves out by pace and the field stretches out ss you have a bit of room to run. In this case, for some reason several groups of walkers lined up at the front of the race, and in the first half mile I remember having to maneuver around three separate groups of walkers, who had themselves strung out 4 or 5 abreast walking while thousands of runners tried to maneuver past them. I don’t know why they didn’t have enough sense to line up at the back of the pack, but since they apparently didn’t it’s too bad the race organizers didn’t explain it to them.

Anyway, this eventually got itself sorted out and after the first mile I was about a minute and a half over my target pace of 9:00 minutes per mile. Absolutely to be expected at the start of a big field so it didn’t concern me at all. After the first mile I spent the next couple of miles closely monitoring my pace and trying to settle back into my target and get the rhythm started. At mile 3 I was about 45 seconds behind my target time. I chipped away at the deficit slowly and got
closer and closer with each mile, though a quick pee stop just before mile 10 left me 44 seconds behind again, with a 10 mile split of 1:30:44. I made this up quickly, probably getting a bit of a mental boost from the turn-around at the northern end of the out-and-back section just before mile 11, so at mile 12 I was 4 or 5 seconds ahead. I eased up slightly and crossed the 13.1 mile (half-marathon) mat at 1:58:06, which is a 9:01 pace.

I was thrilled with the 1:58 split. That had me on target for a 3:56 marathon, and I figured I would lose a minute or two after mile 20 when my legs started to rebel but would still have a cushion to come in under 4 hours. Around mile 19 I had to make another pit stop but still managed to hit the 20 mile split at 3:00:37, just 37 seconds slow of my target pace. I had started to feel the real fatigue at about mile 18 and that worried me because I didn’t expect to feel that
way until mile 21 or 22, but it wasn’t the desperate fatigue I felt when I hit the wall and fell apart last year at Marine Corps. The last few miles included some minor ups and downs as we ran up and down some overpasses and on the slightly undulating paths on either side of the river. I started to feel the beginning of a charlie horse in my left leg when running the ups but managed to stave it off by slowing up slightly and some judicious pounding on the muscle with my fist. A lot of people were walking in these last miles, and my body really wanted me to join them, if only briefly, but I knew if I gave in to the desire I stood a good chance of blowing my chance of coming in under 4:00 hours, so I resisted and carried on running. This is when I find wearing my Garmin the most helpful, as I could look at my current lap pace — I have it set to automatically lap at each mile — and see that I was slowing down too much and put in a concerted effort to pick up my pace.

Finally, we were back into downtown Hartford and heading up the east side of Bushnell Park. I was looking desperately for the 26 mile banner, and felt great relief when it came into sight. Around the last sharp left and there was the finish. A hard sprint under the Soldiers and Sailors Arch, and I was over the line! My final time of 3:57:34 means I lost about a minute and a half as I slowed in the last 10k. I’ll have to work on that.

We celebrated our races by having dinner on Saturday night with my daughter Anju, my two brothers, and their wives. That was a great time and a highlight of our weekend.

I think now we might look for a half marathon in the next few weeks to run just for fun.

Wandering In The Wilderness

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This weekend I went hiking. Until I got home last night I didn’t know that WAMU had failed. I didn’t know that Paul Newman had died. I hadn’t watched the debate. I didn’t even care. And guess what? The world didn’t end.

I spent Friday afternoon walking through the woods in the rain. It was beautiful. The world was green and red and gold dripping with bits of silvery water. The rain stopped sometime during the night, and on Saturday I walked through the still-dripping woods all day, calling on some old friends; Branch Pond, Bourne Pond, and Stratton Pond. I passed Bourne Pond mid-morning savoring memories of a weekend spent at the no longer extant Bourne Pond Shelter one chilly October weekend years ago when I drifted off to sleep to the sound of dozens and dozens of Canada Geese landing on the Pond to rest overnight, then awoke the next morning to a cacophony of sound as they all rose, circled once, and headed on south.

A couple miles north of Bourne Pond I came across some recent beaver activity that had flooded a stretch of trail and forced me to bushwhack around it, getting myself soaked from head to toe but leaving me with a stupid grin on my face. There were about a dozen white birch trees in a little grove next to the brand new beaver pond, and the beavers had felled each and every one of them. I understand birch is one of their favorite foods.

On Saturday night I was camped above the shore of Stratton Pond and just before rain forced me into my little tent for the night I walked down to the shore and watched a beaver swim across the pond. When he or she was next to the bank opposite me, he smacked the water three
times with his tail. I knew beavers did this, but I never realized what a big splash they make. Each time the tail smacked the water a geyser of water shot several feet into the air. It was really quite amazing.

On Sunday morning the rain tapered off and I found myself in a tight little world about 10 yards around, hemmed in with a heavy fog. I picked my way around the shore of Stratton Pond and started up the slope of Stratton Mountain. For some reason I was feeling really good and just cruised up the mountain in one steady push and arrived just as the sun started to burn through the top layer of fog. It was still early and I had the summit all to myself, just the way I like it. I’m selfish that way.

I met no other hikers on Friday. On Saturday I did cross paths with two men who had spent the night camped at Bourne Pond. The rest of the day I had the forest all to myself. On Sunday while I was on my way down Stratton Mountain and nearly back to my car, I passed a few day hikers on their way up to the summit.

It was a wonderful weekend.


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I finally got the few photos we took uploaded to my web server. You can find them here:

Some Final Stats

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Here are some cumulative stats according to my GPSr. My plan was to turn on the GPS each day when we started out, and leave it on until we arrived at the day’s destination. I pretty much succeeded in doing so so these stats cover our travel day including any breaks we took.

Total Odometer Miles: 697.67
Max Speed: 45.3 mph
Moving Time: 66hr 53min
Moving Avg: 10.4 mph
Stopped: 24hr 23min
Overall Avg: 7.6 mph
Total Ascent: 29,681′


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Sorry for being a day late with this.

We left Ashland, MD around 8:00AM yesterday morning and had about 12 miles to go to hook back up with the ACA route. Actually, the ACA route used to pass through here and most of the roads we were riding are the old ACA route. It was a beautiful area with smooth though narrow roads lined with grand old trees and white fences running straight through the undulating topography delineating horse pastures. Unfortunately this area has grown a lot and these little roads carried heavy commuter traffic. Traffic was heavy enough that we couldn’t really enjoy the area, though we only heard one “Get out OF THE r-o-a-d” yelled at us, and that funnily enough from somebody in the opposing lane who wasn’t affected by our presence at all.

We were approaching the D.C metro area so none of the roads we rode were really quiet, but it was pleasant enough riding. We stopped for a second breakfast sitting at a picnic table outside the deli that cooked our breakfast, and had a nice conversation with a couple of workmen who had stopped for their lunch.

Eventually we reached a part of the route — Rt. 30 — where a major construction project was going on and the route was posted “NO BICYCLES”, but no alternate route was offered so we really had no choice but to press on. Most of the way we had a shoulder to ride on though for part of the way we had to cross the road and ride against traffic, but finally we reached a section with no shoulder to either side and both lanes constricted by jersey barriers, and there was nothing to do but take the lane and force the 50+mph traffic to slow behind us. Finally we were through it and turned off on a quieter road.

Mid-afternoon we reached Rock Creek Regional Park and turned in. We rode through this beautiful park until we reached the northern end of the Rock Creek Trail which leads in to Washington, D.C. We followed this trail south with a few navigational questions when there were unsigned trail intersections. Eventually we were far enough south to know that the spur trail through Bethesda should be close, and by questioning other trail users managed to find it and ride right into downtown Bethesda. From here it was just over a mile to Jodi’s sister’s house, and we arrived around 5:00PM after a 71 mile day, making a total of 698 miles since leaving Boston 12 days ago.

Right now I am sitting in my sister-in-law’s living room watching Stage 6 of the Tour de France and those young riders sure do ride farther and faster than we do, but they don’t carry their own luggage nor do they have to deal with motor traffic. Wimps!

Allen Freeman

Off Route

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It was a hot day today with a high of 94. Instead of riding up and down all those hills through the Pennsylvania and Maryland countryside on sunbaked roads, we rode west to the city of York and picked up the Heritage Rail Trail which took us south 20 miles to the Maryland state line and then became the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Maryland and took us another 20 miles to Ashland. It was really nice riding the easy railroad grades and enjoying all of the shade. I can’t say I love rail trails or would like to ride them day after day, but it made a welcome respite for us today.

We are at the Hampton Inn in Ashland and have about 12 miles to get us back onto the ACA route in Reistertown tomorrow morning, then about 50 more miles to get us to Jodi’s sister’s house in Bethesda, so it looks like we’ll be finishing up tomorrow.

Allen Freeman


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To those of you who have left comments on our blog, I want to tell you that Jodi and I read every one and are thrilled that you are reading along and hopefully getting something from it. We appreciate all of you.

Allen Freeman

Susquehanna River

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It was a hot and muggy night. Does that qualify for some kind of award for a bad opening line? Well, it was a hot and muggy night last night. We were camping and it was quite uncomfortable in our tent, but we managed to get a decent night’s rest. We were up and made our breakfast and packed up the tent and other gear and were on the road by 8:00 or so.

We found ourselves riding through rolling farm country with Amish men working the fields with horse teams. The weather was as it has been for days, heavily overcast but not quite raining. We rode for a couple of hours and while climbing one of the many hills noticed a couple on a tandem with panniers up ahead of us. We eventually overtook them and chatted for a minute before continuing on. They were the first and so far only other touring cyclists we’ve seen on this trip.

Soon after it started raining lightly. Finally I asked Jodi to pull over and I put the rain covers on my panniers. This is usually enough to make the heavens clear and the sun appear, bit it didn’t work today. Soon we were riding in a downpour and got ourselves thoroughly soaked. Of course there is nothing wrong with being wet, as long as you’re not cold, and it was a warm rain on a warm day, so we were happy to continue riding. Soon after the rain tapered off and ended, we arrived in Manheim, PA and it being lunch time we stopped at a local grill for lunch. The air conditioned restaurant soon had us in our wet clothes thoroughly chilled so we wasted no time in getting back out on our bikes. The sun was out now so the chill restaurant was soon a fond memory as we sweated up more hills.

Our original plan for the day was to cycle to York Furnace and camp for the night, but our laundry from yesterday had not yet dried and now all of our cycling clothes were wet. The forecast called for more rain as evening came as well as overnight, so we decided to get a room somewhere and get everything dried out. Looking at the map there were few options so we decided to stop in Columbia, PA on the bank of the Susquehanna River. That made a short day of only 45 miles and we arrived here before 2:00pm and had a very relaxing afternoon. Just as we were about to walk to a local restaurant for dinner another shower came through which we sat out on the wide front porch of the Columbian B&B where we are staying.

Our 45 mile day puts us 572 miles from home.

While I type this Jodi has been looking over the map for tomorrow’s route and it turns out there isn’t any place to stay–neither camping or hotel or motel — other than the campground at York Furnace which is too close for a day’s ride, for at least another 75 miles, and that only if we take the alternate route into downtown Baltimore. If we stick to the main route we would have to ride nearly to Bethesda, our ultimate destination, to find a place to sleep tomorrow night. It looks like we will have to depend on the POI database in our GPS to find us something off-route when we feel like we’ve ridden far enough tomorrow.

Oh, I almost forgot. Remember that tandem couple I mentioned earlier? While Jodi and I were on our way out for dinner tonight they were just arriving at this same B&B! Paul and Jane are from northwestern NJ and are heading for Reston, VA. Hopefully we’ll get to chat some more over breakfast in the morning.

Allen Freeman

Lancaster County

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After two big-mileage days back to back we decided to take it easy today.

We left Norristown along the Schuylkill River bike path and immediately crossed the river into Valley Forge National Historic Park. We took our time poking around the park and didn’t leave there until almost 11:00, then headed west and stopped at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Park after lunch. We spent a couple of hours there and didn’t leave until nearly 3:00, then pushed on a bit more until we reached a campground just across the Lancaster County line. The forecast had a 60% chance of rain today and it looked like it was ready to happen all day but it held off. Right now it looks and sounds like a thunderstorm is on its way so we may be cooped up in the tent reading very soon.

We made 47 miles today, putting us 527 miles from home, and probably about 150 or so miles from Bethesda.

Allen Freeman


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First, let’s catch up on Saturday. For some reason my little bluetooth keyboard wouldn’t sync with my phone last night so I never got to do this write-up.

On Saturday it happened; my brain slipped into touring mode. When we started out in the morning everything felt calm and peaceful and gentle. We rode lazily along quiet back roads along the Delaware River, and later on the D&R Canal Bike Path. We stopped for lunch in Lambertville after about 35 perfect touring miles. And yet again the ever-threatening skies held off and we got only the occasional stray raindrop.

After lunch we turned west and left the river headed for Norristown. Bucks County, PA is very pretty with prosperous looking, well-tended houses. It also seems to be growing fast with new housing developments going in everywhere, making the roads probably more trafficed than when the route was originally laid out. The roads here are laid out mostly in a grid pattern and we were traveling across the grid at an angle so we made a long series of right and left turns until we finally arrived in Norristown. The route actually skirts the town coming down to the Schuylkill River and it’s bike path at the western edge of Norristown, so when we got there we turned east on Main Street and rode into town looking for a nice place to stay. Well, we kept riding and riding until we rode right out the other side of town, and all we saw was slum after slum. Norristown is evidently a city on the wane and no place I would want to spend a night of my vacation, so we turned around and rode back through town and finally located a nice hotel out in the western suburbs located in the middle of mall hell; the typical suburban sprawl of big box stores and chain restaurants. After a tough 80 miles we didn’t care and had a great night in our comfortable hotel room.

Happy Anniversary Jodi Mary Silver, and thank you for agreeing to marry me!

As I mentioned we made 80 miles on Saturday, putting us 480 miles from home.

Allen Freeman