Ask The Tree: Volume 4

What first led you to walk years ago? Are there certain people who inspired/mentored you?

How did running for Coach Tompkins in Fremont help lead you where you are today?

Will you see the world differently after this journey and how will you keep this experience alive in the years to come?

Getting into the long walk

In 1989 I read an article about the Appalachian Trail in Reader’s Digest. National Geographic had done a feature article on the trail. Never did see a copy of the full length piece. 

My brother, David, happened to read the same article. In a conversation we found out we both had entertained thoughts of giving it a go. 

In order to attempt a thru-hike, you have to have time, money, and health. I’d just graduated from Calvin College with a BA in English Studies in May of ’89, so I had time. My mother, Peg, died in September, so the estate sale of her belongings and property brought the required monetary funds. I was 23, 195 pounds, and had played basketball for the Knights for the previous four years. I had the health. 

I can’t remember now what date we started on the trail the next spring. We were late in the pack, but still plenty of people around as the AT had its first boom in hiker population following the National Geographic article. 

Early on in that first long walk, I found a peace in the hard work and simpleness of measuring a day by footsteps, by feeling time go by instead of constantly measuring it. It let my mind bury my mother and be okay with it. 

This time around

In 2015 Michelle, Maggie, and I drove to California and walked 200 miles on the John Muir Trail through the Sierras. On one of the final days, we had to turn to climb Mt. Whitney where the JMT ends. The Pacific Crest Trail, which the JMT basically follows with a few small deviations, continued on south. I begged Michelle to keep going south. She and Maggie laughed and headed towards Whitney while I peered southbound and wept.

I knew then I had to go long again. 

Twenty-one years in Walkerville Public Schools with the last six as the K-12 Principal/Superintendent had worn me out. I had to be done. I had the time. 

Good financial choices along the way allowed me funds, as well as, the superintendent experience which should allow me to find employment when I return gave me the dollars needed. 

My fiftieth birthday comes in two weeks, so I knew it was now or never for a shot at a thru-hike of Continental Divide Trail. I’m 25 days in and I hurt all over, but that’s to be expected. I’m hanging tough. If I take care and stay healthy, I should be able to get this done. 

People in my head as I walk

First is always Michelle. My heart has a hole in it without her, but I’ve been able to talk to her daily lately and it’s helped. She has balanced my life. I’d have been lost without her. I say, “I love you, Michelle” a hundred times a day. 

My mother has surfaced in my head a lot too. It’s been 28 years, but it still hurts that she’s not here. I think she would understand that I had to go for this. That I had to risk it. 


Coach Tompkins has been in my thoughts too. He taught me about pain and discomfort in way that benefits me everyday. You push through. There might be ache sometimes, but you are not the pain. Your being is separate from the physical hurt. Put it aside and keep going. 

That and ibuprofen now that I’m old. I only take it at night, so I can sleep. I need to listen to the pain during the day. 

Looking forward

I needed this time to reset my brain. Wired too tight. I needed this shot to believe I still had the toughness to do it. That I was still an athlete enough to get it done. 

Those things will transfer well no matter how this journey ends. I’ll have spent time sleeping the ground watching the stars. I’ll have walked the spine of United States of America. I’ll have felt the grace of God as I stand as tiny speck of matter on the passes and in the valleys. 

I’ll be able to sit on my porch and share stories about “this one time on the CDT.”

Till maybe that wandering Jones hits me again. (But don’t tell Michelle yet.) 

If it ever does happen again, she’s going. My heart couldn’t do this again without her. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree


Hanging in Helena–Finding my groove

Sunday morning and the sun was fresh, and I was standing at the flashing yellow light in the middle of Lincoln pondering my route out of town. The only thing I knew for sure was I was leaving that ashtray of a town before it was fully light. 

Lessons

Lincoln had been fun. Pitchers of Heff, a night at an early 1900 haunted log cabin hotel, big burgers, and a bunch of aging bikers. It also reminded/taught me some lessons to remember down the rest of the trail. 

  1. When your pack is packed, get out of town. I’m independent operator. 
  2. Don’t stay in town a second night just for drinks. 
  3. Spend the money on a quality place to sleep.
  4. Make sure to accomplish tasks to improve hiking through the next section. i.e. Laundry, general cleanliness, consumption of food that will improve health. 

I did none of these things in Lincoln. I had a damn good time, but I didn’t set myself up for the next 50+ miles. Now, I’m in Helena making sure I don’t repeat those mistakes. 

We’ll see how I do on #1 and #2 tomorrow morning when I head out of town for Anaconda. 

I set myself up for #3 by sleeping just 5 miles from MacDonald Pass, so I could sleep later under my tarp than normal and still get into town by 10am or so. Extra rest on the trail and in a room of my own in town. I don’t mind sharing a room, but what I learned in Lincoln after sharing a room with Buckeye, Magpie, and Stoked, is that you get some sleep, but don’t get enough nor do you accomplish little cleanliness things that set you up to keep moving forward. 


Lincoln Log Hotel

I also learned that if you sleep in a tent site at an RV park you can leave your site at 7pm and come back at 10pm to find it flooded from the sprinkler system. Moving to a bivouac at 10 isn’t my favorite. Neither is then realizing that because you’re camped next to the highway, the Harley’s are going to be leaving town for the next four hours. 

Another night in town, more dollars and no progress on prep for the next section. 

Finding the groove

It’s 2pm in Helena. I’ve had a great breakfast with bowl of fruit, had a bath, dried all my gear, done a bit of snack shopping, and my wash is going. 

I’m going to take a nap! Dinner shopping and some route planning tonight. Hitch to the pass tomorrow morning and on to Anaconda. 

Beer checking the map on our alternate route. 

Surprise snow cones when we scrambled down to a late season snow bank. 

Thunderstorms moving in. Forced us twice to take cover down hill. Ended up camping on a side hill. Had to shove my food and gear bags under one side of my sleeping pad to try to level off enough to sleep. 
Glorious sunrise the next morning. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on 

Tree 

Beargrass and Beyond-Climbing Piegan Pass

“I wonder if that tree branch will hold my weight,” I thought as I wiped the sweat off my face with my sleeve. Grabbing ahold I pulled myself up over the rock ledge. Half-way up Piegan Pass and I was bushwhacking out of fear and stubbornness.

Read the rest at The Trek!
Occasionally, I submit pieces to The Trek. It’s a hiking website. 


Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree 

Days 1–3. Chief Mt. to Many Glacier

Bears. Bears. Bears. There’s “danger bear” signs. Rangers giving bear presentations. Bear sighting notifications at the camp ground. And you have to have bear spray. I freaked out on bears before I even started down the trail yelling, “Hey, bear!” every time a bend in the trail came in sight. 

I survived. It does put a bit of an edge on the old walk though. My new line is: “This is a public service announcement…with BEARS! Thank you to The Clash for that one. 

Just stumbled through the first afternoon trying to stop looking up at the mountains. Camped at Gable Creek. Glacier is on a strict permit system, so I didn’t get what I wanted which made day two a little bit longer. 

Day 2 was a climb to Red Gap Pass (7200). Took most of the morning in a fierce wind. I was pushed around repeatedly. As I neared the pass, the wind gusts became intense slams that staggered me. I could hear the bursts coming up the mountain, getting louder, building and building, and then each one would rock me forward or backward depending on where I was on the switchback. 

I was happy to finally make the pass. A cairn marked the top. It was past time for lunch, so I was looking for shelter, but there was nothing at the top. So down it was. But I couldn’t find the trail. It just petered out on me. Sat down and had something to eat even with the wind. After that I went back to the top where I last had the trail and came back down again. I found the turn I’d missed. It’s easy to miss when everything is broken rock. 

Poia Lake was the next camp. Big mountain lake. Buggy and windy. Spattering of rain throughout the night. Quick 7 miles or so downhill into Many Glacier. I saw theses old bear scratches. 


Many Glacier is where a lodge was constructed in the early 1900s for worldly travelers. This is a shot from the back. Pretty nice looking place. 


Michelle picked me up and hauled me back to where she and Maggie are camped. I’m now standing in line to pull a permit for the next leg through Glacier National Park. 

T minus 5 days. On the Scale, the Ferry, and the Road

I won’t scare you with posting a before I walk photo. I will have one taken though, so I can post it at the end of my walk. Before and after photos can be pretty funny. A long walk will drastically change your body. Hiking 2800 miles will put on some serious stress. When I get back, I’ll have testing done to identify any deficiencies, so I can address them immediately. 

I will put my 238.6 pounds out there. I have to be careful not to lose too much weight too quickly on this walk. Protein is a specific concern. I’m taking several eating precautions to try to slow down the inevitable. 

Beans, rice, and cheese

This dinner staple is full of protein. I’ll be eating it three to four times a week. Before you say, “You’ll get sick of that,” please remember you’re talking to the guy who can eat Vidalia onion and tomato sauce sandwiches for a month straight. Food is food for me on the trail. I’m happy that I’m just eating. 

Nuts and nut butters

Peanut butter and cashews are staples. Peanut butter ends up on tortillas for lunch and in peanut noodle dinners. Cashews and almonds show up in breakfast, snack, and dinner mixes. 

Oil and butter

Lots of my pre-packed meals have individual .5 oz packets of olive oil. When I don’t have those to add to each meal, I’ll buy butter. A plastic container holds a butter package fairly well, and the calories are awesome to add to each meal. 

Milk

I have whole powdered milk in each mail drop. Whole powdered milk is good stuff. Three heaping tablespoons makes a creamy cup of milk. I will add it to my oatmeal and my Carnation Instant Breakfast packets. 

Underway


On the SS Badger headed across Lake Michigan. Took a scenic route through Wisconsin and spent the night in Duluth. 

Now waiting for petco to open because Althea “Bad Dog” Toldme chewed the zipper on her crate and rendered it useless for containing her. Margaret might have had a bit of lax supervision going on at the time that facilitated the infraction. Both were almost summarily executed at the AmericasBest Inn, but Michelle intervened before I could get it done.  

T minus 7 days. It’s Money Time

Maggie wasn’t happy she wasn’t in yesterday’s photo, so here’s a beauty of her in feral condition. It’s what thru-hikers look like after a month on the trail. Going to miss that pumpkin head while I’m walking.

Scrambling like crazy.  Gear is finally checked and checked again and checked again. 

Shed tears as I said, “Good-bye” this afternoon. Incredible people I worked with at Walkerville Public Schools. It was a fantastic 21-year run. 

My gear list is up at The Trek. Check it out. No dollar information going up from me. No way I’m telling what the prep for this thing cost. Still a bit heavy, but hopefully I’ll drop the spikes quickly and be able to let go of the fleece. Spice kit is probably a bit much. It will drop weight and I’ll see what I want to replace. I was surprised at how much my rain jacket weighed. Everyone of those little things adds up to a lot of weight.

I mailed my return permit for Yellowstone back with the required signature.

Threw some tortillas into the last two mail drop boxes to be sealed. Tortillas are amazingly compact and last a long time without spoiling. Boxes through south Colorado are sealed and addressed. Who knows what happens after that. 

Tomorrow we hit the Badger, a car ferry in Ludington, to head over to Manitowoc and the start of the drive west to Montana.

It’s money time. 

Kindness matters

Truckin’ on

Tree