Thursday, September 30, 2010

Manistique (Travel Tip Thursday)

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt that encourages us to write about places we’ve gone offering “tips” about places to travel. As one who is always up for a road trip (or train or even plane), I enjoy reading about other people’s travel. Today, I’m taking you to Manistique, Michigan. This is an easy post which is good, because the last month has wiped me out. October promises some changes, but will also be hectic as I’ll fly home to spend a few days with my parents, and then at the end of the month I’ll fly to Costa Rica for a week. Hopefully, I’ll gather a few stories from my travels.

Last summer, when I was in the UP (that’s Upper Peninsula for you non-Michigan folk), I made a stop in Manistique to have lunch with the local Habitat for Humanity director. I’d only been through Manistique once before and remembered the weird water tower in the middle of the town. This time, I took some time to walk around the old Soo Lines that cut through town (see the station below), and to tour the museum inside the water tower that’s only open in the summer. (the tower is no longer in use.) The museum told about the town’s special “Siphon Bridge” and flume built nearly a hundred years ago to channel water and logs into the town’s paper mill. I also checked out the beach, but for some reason didn’t bother to photograph the sand and water (and lighthouse) that was inviting on a warm July day.
I would have also loved sticking around to have watched the sunset over the lake, but in July, the sun doesn't set to nearly 10 PM this far north (and besides, I think the sun wouldn't have set over the lake as the lake is south of Manistique... but in the winter, when the sun sets southward, I think you'd get a nice view of it from the beach. Dress warmly! Probably a nicer view of the sunset (through much of the year) would be at Seul Choix Point Lighthouse about 20 miles east of Manistique. The point juts out into Lake Michigan, providing an opportunity to see sunrises and sunsets.

Manistique is at the end of the Manistique River (which I fished along with the Fox River back in 2007). It use to be a big lumber and paper mill area. The Ann Arbor Railroad ran a ferry to Manistique from Frankfort, MI (in the lower peninsula). The ferry was a small ship and carried no only automobiles, but train cars (and served as the Ann Arbor’s connection to the Soo Line. With the opening of the Big Mac (bridge between the upper and lower peninsula) in 1957, the ferries were doomed and stopped running in the 1960s.

My travel tip for today: take time to visit those less known places.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Climbing Katadhin and completing the Appalachian Trail

This concludes my posts over the past year on hiking the Appalachian Trail during 1987. (Here I refer back to the trip I took in 1983, that got me thinking about doing the entire trail and the short trip in 1988 that completed the entire trail for me. That's me in the first photo, toasting to having made it to the top of Katahdin.

I wake up again. It’s 4:30 AM; Chainsaw and Offshore Steve are talking. The last time I woke up, an hour earlier, the shelter was shaking from the snores that had earned Chainsaw his name. Dawn is still a ways away. I sit up, staying in my bag as the air is cool, and join the conversation. We’re all excited, anticipating the day, but talk quietly. A bit later, I try to go back to sleep, but to no avail. While it’s still dark, I fire up my stove, its roar piercing the silence for the last time this summer. I place a pot of water on the flame. As I wait for boiling water, I stuff my sleeping bag and roll up my air mattress. In a few minutes, I have boiling water. I pour the remaining of my oatmeal mix into the old margarine tub that has served as my bowl for the summer. Then, as I have done nearly every morning, I use my Sierra Club cup to dip out hot water and mix it into my breakfast cereal. Afterwards, I again fill my cup and drop a tea bag into a hot water and sit it all aside as I sit on the edge of the shelter, lacing up my boots. Even after the thirteen hundred they’ve covered since June and the thick calluses they’ve developed, my feet still hurt.

As I eat, I debate what I want to take in my pack. Bob, Jim’s father, invited us to leave stuff in his van. I could make the summit without a pack, but after months of hiking, it would feel like I was hiking naked. My pack is pretty empty, as I am almost out of food and fuel. I leave my tarp and a few clothes behind, saving maybe a pound of two. I pack up everything else and by 7 AM, Chainsaw and another friend of his who had arrived at daylight, along with Steve and I leave Katahdin Springs and begin our climb. We have a five mile hike, mostly uphill, with an elevation gain of 4000 feet. Soon, I’m out in front, leaving Chainsaw and company behind. It isn’t that I want to go this fast, but something is drawing me toward the top.

I take frequent breaks. It’s not that I need to break, but it’s a way to slow down. I stop and wait, looking at the changes in the leaves as I gain elevation. The poplar are already turning yellow. Up above the mountain’s peak, the clouds seem to dance across the top. I question myself, asking why I had taken the trip. I still don’t know for sure, but I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity that few have had and that I have prevailed. I listen to the birds and the waters rushing through crystal clear streams.

Walking, even with a pack, is now second nature. I reflect back on my hikes over the previous five years recalling that first trip in the mountains of North Carolina with Don, Reuben and Reuben’s son, Nathan, in early May, or was it late April, 1983. We were dropped off at Spivey Gap and that first day we cross the Nolichucky River. It was a fourteen and a half mile day and we all were dead. I’d never hiked that far with a full pack. But we kept going. On our next to last day, we hiked in the fog up Roan Mountain. On the trail, we’d begun meeting that year’s crop of thru-hikers and Nathan and I collaborated on a poem that began, “Georgia to Maine, you must be insane.” Our last night on that trip, we nearly froze in Roan Highland Shelter. All our feet were blistered. Don decided he wasn’t going any further and asked that once we got to the road and the car, if we could drive back and pick him up. Reuben, Nathan and I continued on that morning. The air was cool and clear and when we made our way across the highland meadows, the clouds were all below us. My feet no longer seemed to matter. I knew I was insane. I knew I’d be hiking to Maine.
Offshore Steve approaching the summit.
I was amazed at how much of Katahdin was above tree line. Ever since we first went above tree line in New Hampshire, the elevation required for the alpine meadows were dropping. I love the feel of the openness when there are no trees. I paid attention to the short grasses that blew in the wind. The trail also got steeper and at places, I found myself grabbing for the chains that had been embedded in the rocks to aid hikers. But I still kept moving, being drawn on. Finally, when I got to the “Gateway,” just a mile below the summit, I decide to stop and wait for someone else. I didn’t want to summit by myself. I watched Offshore Steve climb up behind me and gave him my camera. He got photos of me leaving Thoreau Springs and we walked together to the top. Steve had completed the trail a year earlier, having come back to hike summit and complete the trail with Chainsaw. Chainsaw, having been joined by another friend of his hadn’t spent a month on the trail, was moving slowly. At 10:50 AM, Steve and I reach the summit. I break out a fifth of Johnny Walker’s Black Label that Jim’s father had brought for me and Steve and I share a drink. Steve snaps a photo of me sitting on the rock cairn with the sign designating it as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail to my back. I lift up my cup in a toast.
Below: Slim Jim on the summit.
Dave Webster and two Japanese hikers arrive just a few minutes afterwards. John, the caretaker at Upper Goose Pond in Massachusetts, where I’d stayed back in July, also appears and comes over to congratulate me. As I wait for Jim’s family, I explore the top, walking out on the knife-edge that connects Baxter Peak to another nearby peak. Jim and family arrive at noon. More people have made it to the top, many talking other trails than the AT, which are easier to climb. In the wind, I hear Amazing Grace. I wonder if it is some kind of “audio” vision I’m having, but then we’re all surprised when a bag piper comes up one of the “easier trails,” playing his pipes. The music is fitting for the party developing on the mountain. We have plenty of drinks. In addition to the Scotch, Jim brought along a bottle of wine, Chainsaw’s friend brought a bottle of Champagne (and firecrackers) and Chainsaw has a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. We celebrate with friends and strangers alike, freely sharing drinks and food.

The only thing I remember about coming down the trail is that I worried about Chainsaw, who had a little too much to drink. I remember navigating the steep part of the trail and hearing him a few hundred feet above me, singing at the top of his lungs. But everyone made it down safely. I was the first of our group to get to the bottom and back to the campground. John, the caretaker from Upper Goose Pond, was there at his campsite, waiting for his girlfriend to come down. He offered me a beer and we talked for half an hour. Later, Jim and his family arrived, along with Chainsaw and his friend and Steve. Jim’s father fixed a huge pot of spaghetti and feed us all, with enough pasta, bread and salad to fill up a bunch of starved hikers. Afterwards, I went with Jim’s family to Millinocket, Maine, where we spent the night in a hotel. In the morning, we stopped by the post office where I picked up a package I had sent there with clean clothes. It felt good to wear clothes that weren’t ripped and stained. Around noon, we dropped off Jim’s mother and brother at the airport (was it Bangor or Portland?). Then, the four of us—Jim, Bob (his Dad), Ginger (his sister) and me—started the long drive south, alternating between sleeping and driving or riding shot-gun and keeping the driver awake. I remember driving through Pennsylvania around 11 PM, not far from the trail, with the windshield wipers working overtime. At 6 AM, we’re in Statesville, NC and they drop me off at a Shoney’s. We all have breakfast, then they head on south toward Florida. I wait an hour before calling my brother who lives about 30 miles away.

My parents are at my brother’s and they come to get me. I must have looked wild. Having spent the summer hiking, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on me and my beard and hair were long and straggly. As I’d hiked through the summer, I had sent my slides off for development at Kodak and then had the slides mailed to my parents who were able to watch my transformation though pictures. My mother said it was a good thing, otherwise she’d thought I had AIDS or something, as skinny as I was standing outside of Shoney’s, with a backpack, looking homeless.

I had seen no burning bushes in the wilderness, yet the trip had changed my life. When I came back from the trip, I had decided to shift my career focus. I had also decided that I wanted to spend some time in the West, and the next year I applied for internships which led to the year I spent in Virginia City, Nevada. It also marked a tranistion that I had been undergoing since my divorice. I had dreamed of my ex-wife many times that summer, but the next fall I found myself forgetting that I had ever been married which was good as she had long ago remarried and had a kid by a different man. I, too, needed to move on.C
I had only a few days with my parents, before I had to head back to Pittsburgh and to school. It was a bittersweet transition. I had a hard time being indoors for extended periods of time and, if it wasn’t raining, found myself doing most of my studying outside, preferably sitting up against a tree. That continued until cold weather arrived.
Katahdin, from Daisy Pond, taken the day before we climbed to the top.
Although I had hiked over 2100 miles, I still had one short section of trail to hike in Central Virginia before I could say I’d completed the entire trail. I had planned to do this over Thanksgiving, but a water pump broke in my car and I was unable to get it fixed in time to get to Virginia, hike the 40 miles and then get back to Pittsburgh. I ended up hiking the last section at the end of February. I was on the trail for three nights and never saw another hiker the entire trip. The last day it rained hard. I got to the road, cold and wet. A guy in a beer truck felt sorry for me and said that although it was against policy, he’d give me a ride. He dropped me off at a diner down in the valley. I went in, sitting my pack in a corner, and ordered lunch and asked those around the counter if they knew anyone I could hire to take me to my car, which was at the trailhead, 40 miles south. A guy at the end asked about my story and what I was doing. I told him that I’d just finished the last section on the Appalachian Trail and didn’t want to have to walk back to my car. He told me if I could wait around till 3 he’d give me a ride as he was going into work at a plant down that way at 4 PM. Another unknown stranger, like so many before, would help me out. That night, I drove back to Pittsburgh, kind of sad that I’d finished the last section of trail all alone. That February hike in Virginia stood in contrast to the day on the top of Katahdin.

Breaking News by Nevada Jack

Yesterday evening, Sage and I watched the news reports of Iranian President Ahmadinejad speech at the UN. We saw him wave a Quran and a Bible and talk about how he drew inspiration from both. He also went on to spout much nonsense, such as 911 being a ploy by the American government to help business and Israel. I’m glad our delegates and the delegates of a number of other nations walked out at that point in his speech. BUT, something drew my eye to the Bible the Iranian President was waving. It sure looks like he was holding a Gideon Bible, the type which is found in hotel rooms around the world. I immediately assumed he must have lifted his Bible from the nightstand by his bed. We can only pray that like Rocky Raccoon, Gideon’s Bible will lead Ahmadinejad to a revival. Just don’t hold your breath.
I normally don't do two posts in a day, so I'll leave this one on top for a day, then move the post about completing the AT back to the top.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (A book review)

Even after the big move, things are crazy at work. But it's good, all except for my head. Fall allergy season is upon me with a vengeance. I just want to sleep, but there is much to do so I plod on. Here is a review of a book I read back in the summer. I heard Dr. Janzen speak at Calvin College back in the spring and she was delightful. So is her book.

Rhoda Janzen, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 243 pages.
I love the title of this book! (But then, I’m a guy and the image of a wholesome woman wearing a lbd... well, let's not go there!) This is a memoir of overcoming tragedy by going back to her roots. At the age of 43, Rhoda Janzen’s atheistic and mentally ill husband leaves her for a “guy named Bob he met on” (12) They always leave after veracious veins, she quips. She’s left with a lake house she can’t afford (and probably never could have afforded it considering her ex’s poor work history). Ms. Janzen had been “raised on the notion that when a man cleaves unto a wife, he shall become one with her credit.” Such views created a situation allowing Nick (her ex-husband) “no obstacles” between “his style and her credit cards.” (84) Shortly after Nick left her for Bob, she’s in a car accident. Her plans for an academic sabbatical are ruined, so she goes home, back to her Mennonite roots.
As Janzen settles back in with her parents for an extended stay, we get an inside look at Mennonite culture. Although she acknowledges that the Mennonite history has mixed history concerning academic endeavors (she quotes a Low German proverb: “The more educated a person is the more warped.” [57]), her parents are well-educated and encouraged their children to pursue knowledge. They are also quite liberal, in contrast to their sons. (141) Yet, her mother seems to live in two worlds, the world of ideals and the domestic world that seems rather 1950ish, as she continues to make German foods that are a stable of the Mennonites. I found my mouth watering many times in reading about this strange culinary delights that was a horror to Janzen when she was a girl (other families didn’t each such stuff), but which as an adult she finds to be comforting. (I haven’t yet decided whether to store my book in my library with other memoirs or in the kitchen with my cookbooks.)
In addition to food, Janzen also explores the Mennonite world of clothing. As her father taught in a Mennonite college, he clothes came from “the Seminary Clothes Closet for Sacrificial Missionary Families Who Served the Lord with Joy and Gladness (and) were 100 percent polyester, with a humiliating elastic waist, and a crease stitched down the front of the leg, as if I were in early training to drive a Winnebago back and forth across the American heartland.” (80) Growing up, Janzen was tall and skinny and her mother had to sew additional strips of cloth onto her pants (but not in the hip way as “hippies” did to their blue jeans, for women would never wear blue jeans. In the clothing area, Janzen quickly revolted as she went out on her own, hence the name of the book.
Janzen also revolted by being drawn to guys who were opposites of what she had known at home. She saw intelligence as more important than nice, which is why she was attracted to guys like Nick. (83) She was able to overlook a host of issues (such as anger, a lack of responsibility, and an unwillingness to take his medicine for his depression) because he was smart. Of course, Nick only made fun of her Mennonite background which created a wedge between Janzen and her family. In the end, it was her family, not only her parents, but siblings and brother and sister-in-laws who proved to be faithful.
Throughout the book, Janzen discusses faith. Although she had stopped practicing any faith she acknowledges that she never completely gave up on faith. Just to talk seriously about religion in front of her ex-husband was suicidal; yet, she would hum hymns when he wasn’t present and kept hidden an Andy Griffith CD of gospel hymns. (156)
The book doesn’t end with a great revelation or with everything being better (and I’m still wondering why there’s that last chapter about Mennonite wagons, which was just weird). But it ends with the hope that things are going to be okay for Janzen. She’s dating again and getting on with her life. However, it’s a fun journey as Janzen is an engaging author. She has the ability to tell a story about being in a kitchen with her mother or sisters and have the reader in stitches, laughing. I came away feeling that Janzen has a good outlook on life and the old cliché, “laughter is the best medicine,” is true.
Now I’m waiting for Nick to publish his book and to get his side of the story…

Friday, September 17, 2010

1987 Appalachian Trail Journey (Monson ME to the base of Katahdin

One of these days, I’m going to get my readers to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I have spent more time writing about my journey than actually hiking. This was going to be the last post on my summer 1987 hike in which I essentially completed the trail by hiking from Central Virginia to Maine (I actually completed the trail in February 1988, as I had about 20 miles to do in Virginia that I’d missed). I need to finish this so I can write about my hike on the John Muir Trail. Enjoy the journey with me. The photograph to the left is of the Canadian Pacific Line that runs through Maine. The second photo is of me looking north, with my laundry out to dry.

After a two day break, Jim and I left Monson on August 22. Somehow we missed the trail. A guy in a pickup stopped and asked if we were lost and then took us to where the trail crossed the road. When he dropped us off, we realized he’d saved us a few trail miles. It was sad to know we missed a few miles, but with the heaviest packs of the summer, we weren’t going back. This was the last time for the summer that our packs would be heavy and every meal we eat would lighten our load. Stuffed inside were extra clothes for the cooler temperatures along with extra food and fuel, enough to get us to the top of Katahdin. Ahead of us was nearly 120 miles of wilderness with the only public road coming at the base of Mt. Katahdin.

We stopped for lunch was at Bodfish Station, where the trail crossed the mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. My plan had been, after I climb Katahdin and then hitch-hike to Brownsville Jct, where Via Rail (the Canadian Passenger Service) had a whistle stop. There, I could take Via Rail into Montreal and then Amtrak back to North Carolina (I don’t think Via Rail still uses this line, but in 1987, it was the connection between Montreal and the Maritime Islands). But this planned changed when I hooked up with Jim. He’d offered me a ride with his father and sister, who were driving up from Florida to climb Katahdin with him. His mother and brother were also coming up but had to fly back home as they his brother had to start school. As I was running out of summer and also needed to get back to school, I decided to take him on the offer to catch a ride to North Carolina. As Jim wasn’t to meet his father until August 29, we could take our time and enjoy the last part of the trail.

We made it Cloud Pond Lean-to late in the afternoon. Camping at the shelter was a Junior Outward Bound group. The leaders were Dan and a Swedish woman (Oreaku, but I wasn’t sure of the spelling). She was in the United States for five months, working with Outward Bound. Around 9 PM, a severe storm rolled through and from the lean-to, we all watched the lightning show. The rain was heavy and the sound of rain on the roof put me asleep. It’s nice to have rain at night, when you’re dry under a shelter or in a tent, but it meant the trail would be wet in the morning and as we brushed up to leaves, we would too would be wet.

In the morning the air had cleared except for fog lingering along the lake. It was much cooler. We got on the trail and were surprise with a sighting of Katahdin, from the fourth peak of Chairback Mountain. Knowing the summer was coming to a close, I began to think of other trips I might take. One option was to take my bike to Florida and ride across the Everglades and down to the Keys or to Louisiana and tour through the towns in the Bayous (I never did either trip via a bicycle. I think I’d still like to do the Louisiana one and would prefer to travel through the Everglades in a canoe or kayak.). We only hiked about 11 miles, camping along the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Jim crossing a stream flowing into a lake

The next morning, August, 24, Jim and I were hiking together. I was in the front and we were talking as the trail snaked through a boggy area before ascending Gulf Hagas Mountain. All a sudden, a large cow moose was only ten feet in front in front of me. I froze, not sure of what to do. Thankfully, the moose didn’t have any interest in us and made a ninety degree turn and made a new trail through the swamp. More and more, it seems, Jim and I are hiking together. While I enjoyed the companionship, I find we’re talking a lot of trivial and I miss having time for original thinking. Yet, I wonder if I would be thinking anything as I know the trail’s end isn’t far away and I don’t want to deal with what’s going to happen when I’m done.

The trail was beautiful today. There was a nice waterfall heading up Gulf Hogas Mountain and when we got to the top, we had a great view of Katahdin. I celebrated by eating a large Tootsie Roll. Four miles later, as we crossed White Cap Mountain, we were again treated with a good view of Katahdin. Our goal is now fully visible, yet it there are still seventy miles of trail between us and it as we wind our way around the lakes that separate us from the mountain. The weather has begun to cool off considerably and in the evening the wind blew strong. We camped at Logan Brook Lean-to with two 1986 thru-hikers from Seattle and a girl with three dogs who all slept in her tent. In the evening, I read the opening of Voltaire’s Candide.

One of the many moose I saw in New Hampshire and Maine

As dawn broke on August 25, I realized that it was very cold. At 5:50 AM, I stuck my head out of my sleeping bag and decided to wait a while. On the distant ridge, I could see that the sun was just hitting the top of the trees, creating a matchbook appearance. I wrote in my journal about a feeling that I’ve experienced since Monson. When I feel like I’m slowing down, it feels as if a hand is on the back of my pack pushing me forward. On several occasions, I thought it was Jim (who seems to like to hike behind me) pushing me to go faster, but when I look around, I’ll see that he’s several yards behind me. I wonder if it is God answering my prayers to finish the journey, to give me the strength to finish the trail.

When the sun is fully up, the temperatures rose and it became a pleasant day with the exception of a series of rain shows. Interestingly, as soon as a shower was over, the skies would clear and everything would dry out only to have the showers return. Jim and I had lunch at Cooper Brook and I photographed the falls there. I also got photographs of a beaver playing in Jo Mary Lake. We put in a lot of miles today, hiking a total of 23 miles which is pretty good as the days are now shorter and because of the cool morning temperatures, we’re getting a later start. We arrived at the Potaywadjo Springs Lean-to at 7:15 PM, having hiked the last 11 ½ miles in 4 hours (including stops). At the shelter we reunite with Steve (Dharma Bum) and meet Dave Webster (Good News) a hiker who is doing the trail from Grafton Notch NH to Maine section. Dave is an American Baptist minister from New Hampshire. In my journal, as I conclude my days event’s, I write, “The mountain grows larger as my summer memories fade.”

On August 26, before daylight, I wake to Good News’ fire. It’s a bonfire, with flames reaching up into the limbs and I wonder what in the heck is going on. I haven’t built but a few fires on the trail, mostly relying on my stove. The fires I have built have been small, just large enough to provide some heat or to cook. This one is a monster and Dave hauls in down branches to throw onto the inferno. We all get up and stand next to the fire, warming ourselves in the cool morning air. It’s not quite as cold the day before, but it’s still chilly. We have only 47 more miles to go and I realize that yesterday will have been our last 20 plus mile day for the summer.

At ten in the morning, Jim and I stop for a snack along Nahmakanta Stream and I take time to photograph it. Some of the maples leaves are turning lighter and a few of the birch are actually turning colors. I’m reminded that fall isn’t far off in this part of the world. The guide book says that you can see salmon spawning in this stream later in the fall. We stop for lunch at Nahmakanta Lake, taking more photos of Katahdin. The wind is still strong and is causing waves of about a foot high to crash on the rocky shore. When I close my eyes, it feels as if I’m back at my parents, on the beach.

It’s taken me time to get into Candide, which isn’t a very long book. Today I read about a man from Eldorado who said, “We never pray. We have nothing to ask of God, since He has given us everything we need. But we thank Him unceasingly.” I find myself nodding in agreement for I am blessed.

There is excitement along the trail. It’s especially evident in the trail registers at shelters, where people I’ve been following since Virginia are sharing their thoughts about completing the journey to Katahdin. In a few more days, I’ll be there. Yet, as I remind myself, even though this pilgrimage ends, the journey will continue. In my journal I write:

I’ve been truly happy this summer. I’ve watched the light fade from the evening sky, only to see it return the next morning. I’ve meet lots of interesting people and made new friends. I’ve had hard and challenging trails, but none too hard; I’ve been wet numerous times, but the rain hasn’t been too bad; I’ve had several miserable nights with bugs, but overall the insects haven’t been that bad. There have been times of intense heat and mornings of cold air; there have been times I was lonely and other times when I’ve felt crowded, but overall it has been an enjoyable time and I’ve been happy. I thank God for providing us with such a wonderful world and providing me an opportunity to live intimately in this world.

In the next line, following the “prayer” above, I noted that I had been stung on my left hand by a wasp earlier in the day and that my hand was still swollen and very tender and sore.

We camped for the night at Crescent Pond. I fixed the last of my Mac and Cheese (from now on it’s either Lipton Noodles or rice for dinner). Jim and I ate our dinners on a large boulder at the water’s edge, where we watched the sunset.

On August 27th, Jim and I made a 15 mile hike to Hard Brook Lean-to. We had great views of Katahdin from Rainbow Lake and Rainbow Ledges and I took numerous black and white shots. Katahdin is closing in on us. Whenever there is a break in the trees or we’re looking north across a lake, the mountain looms high in front of us. Compared to Katahdin, Springer Mountain in Georgia seems so anti-climatic. Much of Katahdin is above tree line, while Springer is so covered with trees. If it wasn’t for the plaque noting the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, you’d have a hard time knowing that you were at the top of the mountain.

At the lean-to, we are joined by Dharma Bum and Stonedancer (Ron, who is hiking south to Virginia) along with a bunch of scouts from Quebec and a singles group from New York City. The latter group freely share their food and booze (and likewise offer hits off their joints). I spent much of the evening talking to Ginny, a psychiatrist from Mt. Sinai Hospital and Pat, a flaming redhead who is also a health food nut and another younger woman that I didn’t catch her name, who is a computer operator for an arts organization. Thanks to their hospitality, I go to bed with a full stomach, something that I’ve not done often along the trail.

On August 28, we take a leisurely hike to Daisy Pond, the last highlight before climbing Katahdin. We take long stops at Abel Store, which is just outside Baxter Park, at the first public road since Monson. I enjoy a Pepsi and ice cream. We stop and play in a rock waterslide along the Penobscot River and at Big Niagara Falls. There is a lodge and library at Daisy Pond and I sit in the library enjoying the view of Katahdin, watching the glow of the setting sun bounce off the mountain and reflected on the still waters. There is a Bible here (I only carried a copy of the New Testament and Psalms with me) and I turn to the 25th chapter of Leviticus, rereading the verse that gave me my trail name, Sojourner.
“The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” -Leviticus 25:23
Camping with us tonight at the Daisy Pond Lean-to are Dharma Bum, Good News, Ron (a guy out for a week hike) and the Quebec Scouts.

Photo from Baxter State Park, Maine

The next day, August 29, was one of rest. Someone had left pancake mix and oil in the library for hikers and we all experimented with making pancakes without a griddle. They weren’t pretty, but with enough syrup, the globs of partly cooked dough were a nice break from oatmeal. I then spent much of the day in or around the library as I finished reading Candide. Although the book is drenched with sarcasm, which I normally enjoy, I found I wasn’t in the mood for Voltaire’s humor. I noted that the man needed to learn to keep his mouth shut, to conceal his cards (and not flash his wealth), to pay as little as possible for his purchases and to keep modest goals. Had he done so, he would have prevented most of his troubles. Yet, I agreed with the overall premise of the book, especially the notion of work and how, at the end, he says that we must go and work in the garden (referring to having been placed in the Garden of Eden as gardeners). I realize that soon it will be time for me to return back to my garden, back to school.

After lounging around in the library, reading Candide and a stack of magazines, Jim, Offshore Steve, Chainsaw and I finally got on the trail at 4 PM. Jim’s parents were coming in that afternoon and we set out to hike the 2.4 mile trek from Daisy Pond to Katahdin Stream Campground. It was an easy 30 minute hike. Once there, we found Jim’s parents and they had a bunch of steaks for us all for dinner. Jim spent the evening with his parents and siblings while Chainsaw and I headed over to the lean-to where we went to bed early, hoping for an early rise for our climb up Katahdin.
Mount Katahdin from Daisy Pond

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Restrepo (A movie review and catching up on my apparent absence)

Restrepo: One Platoon, One Valley, One Year Directed, Produced and Cinematography by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (July 2010), 93 minutes.

This past week has been a whirlwind, but it’s been a good whirlwind as a project that has been in the works for over 5 years has come to completion. Things are good! Yet, the craziness of work means I haven’t been around much in blogland. However, my busyness didn’t keep me from seeing a movie this weekend. Restrepo is very moving (and a little disturbing). It’s a documentary by Sebastian Junger, a journalist (and author of The Perfect Storm) who was embedded in an airborne platoon’s deployment into the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. It was a dangerous assignment as this platoon was called to establish a small base in the center of a Taliban stronghold. They named the outpost Restrepo, for the platoon’s medic who was killed early in their deployment.

This documentary was filmed with handheld recorders. If you recall the opening scenes in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” in which the landing on Normandy was filmed on handheld recorders, it creates jumpy images and gives the viewer a sense of the chaos of battle. Unlike “Saving Private Ryan,” this documentary was real, the bullets coming in were live and dangerous and there were casualties.

The movie shows how the platoon changed during the course of their deployment. At the beginning, everyone was in uniform, but as the months wore on they became more lax. Uniforms were not always worn. The body armor was left off as the soldiers spent more time in the sun without shirts. In one of the later firefights at the outpost, the soldiers quickly jumped to their guns, firing while wearing flip flops and slippers (the one with slippers found himself in a bad situation when a hot shell casing fell into his shoe and he quickly had to get it out.

This was a personal movie for those of us who attended it. I was with a group of friends which included one of the soldiers from this platoon, who was wounded about five months into their tour. If you remember, back in October 2007, I solicited your prayers for Carl, a soldier I knew and whose parents are good friends. Sitting with Carl and his parents and other friends, I found it haunting when, in the firefight in which he was wounded, other soldiers were calling out his last name and expressing the fear that he was “bleeding out.” After the movie, we were all stunned and quiet.

Carl had seen the movie before, but his parents hadn’t. I could only imagine what they were feeling. Carl was airlifted out of the valley and into a field hospital where he had the first of many operations. Within 24 hours, he was in Germany, where his parents were able to be by his side. Today, Carl is a college student. There are visible signs of his wound on his left arm. He was honorably discharged with a 50% disability. But he’s strong and, after working with many physical and occupational therapists, he is working to join their ranks.

This movie is being shown primarily at art-type theaters. In November, it will debut on Cable TV (I think the National Geographic Channel) and will also come out on DVD. It may be hard for some to handle, but it reminds us of the sacrifices those in uniform often make. I recommend it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My Look Back at the Music of the 70s (and recanting my previously confessed sins)

Photo: Sage in Japan, November 1979

In my last post, I sarcastically repented of being a chauvinistic, misogynistic, homophobic racist for my hatred of Disco. Bruce Shulman, in his book on the 70s, essentially blamed the backlash against disco on white guys with such characteristics. In this post, I will defend my choice of music and to show why I’m none of those things because of my taste in music. Furthermore, I am going to try to redeem the music of the 70s. Despite Disco, there really was some good music from that decade and now, thanks to Pandora Radio, I’m again listening to it. Some of the music, like Rick Wakeman’s albums, I’ve not heard since I got rid of my vinyl records in the mid-80s when I left the South to continue my schooling.

It’s hard to believe now, but AM radio stations controlled the airways at the beginning of the 70s. Top 40 stations were all in vogue and on Sunday’s, after church, we’d listen to Casey Kasen’s weekly countdown. With AM radio, I don’t know how I ever became familiar with albums like “In the Court of the Crimson Kings.” As the decade progressed, the AM stations caught Disco Fever. Instead of playing the music of groups like the Eagles, Chicago and Elton John, they flocked to groups like the Bee Gees, K. C. and the Sunshine Band and the Village People. At that point, many of us made the switch to “album stations” on the FM dial. These stations played music that didn’t fit into the top 40 genre. Here, I became aware of wonderful music by groups like Yes, Steely Dan, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Fleetwood Mac, Jeffro Tull and Bad Company.

Now let me defend myself of my sarcastically repented sins. If I was a chauvinistic and misogynistic, would have own the first two Heart albums (“Dreamboat Annie” and “Magic Man”)? I even saw them in concert in the mid-70s. Or would I consider Carol King’s “Tapresty” one of the greatest all time albums? And if I was truly homophobic, would I have listened to Elton John (admittedly, this was before he sang at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding) or Joe Jackson (not the baseball player)? And how about Traffic’s “Low Spark of the High Heel Boys”? That may not actually be a gay song, but “high heel boys does create an image with which I have a hard time. And I hate to admit it, but I even once liked Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (now, when this song comes on and my daughter is in the car, I quickly change stations). As for a racist, during the late 70s I worked at a bakery and in the shipping area there were often radios blaring. Most of my colleagues there were African-American and they were certainly NOT listening to disco. In fact, most of them thought disco was a white corruption of their music. Of course, they always wanted me to “get down” whenever Wild Cherry came on singing “Play that funky music, White Boy.” Admittedly, we were all still more into the Motown sound, which I think is some of the best music ever recorded. And then there was Jimmy Hendrix.

So, Mr. Shulman, as much as I appreciated the rest of your book, your thesis about the disco backlash is full of crap. And as I finished this piece, Pandora Radio was playing the classic Yes song, "Yours in No Disgrace."

In Other News: This is crunch week as the big move occurs… In my spare time, I’m working on finishing up my 1987 Appalachian Trail posts, but am not sure I’ll get it done. It's taken me longer to write these than it did to hike to Katahdin.

I should write a post about that jerk down in Florida who is having his church burn copies of the Quran on Saturday (9-11). He says he wants to send a message, and he is, it just ain’t the message he thinks he’s sending. Enough said…

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Seventies (A Book Review)

Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 257 pages of text plus 77 pages of notes and an index and 8 pages of photos.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been enlightened and now need to do some serious penance. Back in the 70s, I was a chauvinistic, misogynistic, homophobic racist. I must repent of my sins. I just thought I hated disco and liked good rock and roll music, but now, thanks to Mr. Shulman, I see the errors of my ways. Shulman points out how those who shunned disco were guilty of a host of society’s evils. (73-75) Or maybe I’ll just revert to my redneck and anti-elite ways and ask, “what do you expect from a professor in tweed at from the northeast?” Of course, in this way, I’m sounding a lot like Richard Nixon who hated the Northeastern elite! (24) Bruce Shulman teaches at Boston University.

Now, despite what you might think by my opening comments, I mostly enjoyed this book. Although I disagree with some of his comments on disco, and also felt that he looked disdainfully on the South, Shulman provides a good cultural and political history to that decade in which I came of age (I became a teenager just a few days into the decade and had a bachelor’s degree slapped on my wall by its end).

The 70s is often seen as a lost decade, squeezed between the optimistic 60s and the opportunitistic 80s. Interestingly, as Shulman recalls, the 60s which had begin with the Kennedy Camelot ended with the widowed queen of Camelot (Jackie) marrying a rich Greek tycoon, twice her age. (4) Shulman strives to interpret several wide cultural shifts that occured between the 1969 and 1984. In this work, he explores music, books, television and movies, economics and politics. Several things are happening. America loses a broad cultural consensus as the era of special interest groups begin to rise. Many of these are explored such as ethnic groups which not only included an interest in African-Americans (black power movements to the mini-series “Roots”), but also Hispanics, Italians, Irish, etc. In addition, the 70s saw women’s issues rise to the forefront (remember the Rigby/King tennis match and the ERA), age groups (America began graying in the 70s and the elderly became a major political force in which Tip O’Neil referred to as the third-rail in American politics: Touch it and die!” [86]), and the gay rights movement. In addition, there were shifts in region. Shulman refers to the decade as the “Southernization of America.” (256) There were also religious shifts. Although religion became more important, it also became more personal and less able to lift up a common vision for society. There were also great changes in the American economy. The era gave rise to the “rustbelt” as factories in the northern parts of the country closed. The inflation of the late 70s caused Americans to begin to use credit (why put off buying when it will cost more tomorrow). Also, due to regulation changes, Americans began to look at saving differently and investing became more important than savings (which were being eaten up by inflation). And finally, the era saw the end of the old liberalism in American politics which saw the government as a force for the good with certain obligations to help those unable to help themselves to a new era that bemoaned any government involvement. Shulman discusses the tie between government involvement and civil rights in the 60s and how it took the decade for a new conservative coalition to arise out of the old conservative coalition. Racial prejudices slid into the background as the new conservatives found other issues to excite their cause.

Although I took offense at Shulman’s defense of disco, I must say that I think there is a lot to ponder in his view of the roles region, religion and race played in the shifts in American politics during this era. However, the nature of this book requires that it be very subjective and one could draw other conclusions (like I did with my opposition to disco). I do recommend this book for anyone interested in a trip down memory lane.

For another view of the 70s, see my review of Edward D. Berkowitz's, Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies

Friday, September 03, 2010

Caliente, Nevada (more on my recent travels in the west)

As a general rule, at least of late, my Travel Tip Thursday appears on Friday! This writing prompt is an opportunity to give a few tips about what to see in a new area of the country. Today, I’m ending the posts on my trip out west with a stop in Caliente, Nevada. After Caliente, we went to Cedar City (see my post about the Shakespearean Festival), then on to Las Vegas for a wedding. I've already posted on that, too.

We continued on across Nevada as the light faded from the sky. Somewhere around the turn-off for Delamar, an old mining town from the early part of the 19th Century that Ralph and I had visited back in the late 90s, a jack rabbit darted across the road, I hit my brakes, but at the last minute, the suicidal rabbit turned straight to my headlights and there was a thump. I’m sure the vultures enjoyed their breakfast unless a coyote beat them to it. Further on, as we entered Caliente, a large snake slithered across the road. With a car coming at me in the other lane, I couldn’t swerve. I hit the brakes, but still ran over it, feeling the bump of its body under the tires. I’m not sure what kind of snake it was. It had the thick body of a rattler but I thought the only rattlers in this country were Great Basin Rattlers, a cousin to the larger Diamondback found to the south. If a Great Basin Rattler, it would have been a huge one. Curious, I turned around and tried to find the snake, but it was gone. I must not have killed it, but I’m sure it had a mighty bad back ache and I wasn’t interested in going into the ditch at night to find a pissed-off rattlesnake. As a desert state, Nevada doesn’t have a lot of wildlife and after hitting two such animals, I was beginning to feel that I was single-handedly eliminating what life there was.
The coal train on the right (with one engine on the back to help it up steep grades), pauses while a tank car train makes its way north.
It was dark by the time we arrived in Caliente and the full moon was rising over the Clover Mountains. I had stayed in Caliente many times in the past when I lived in Utah. In the winter, when I needed a retreat, I’d head over to Caliente for a few days and enjoy the town’s hot spring baths and throw darts in one of the local bars while eating at the Branding Iron. Caliente provided me a respite from work and life. I’d even used the services of this town mini-hospital (the only hospital within 120 miles). During the trip Ralph and I took to Delamar, I’d put a nail deep into my foot and stopped by to have it cleaned out and to get an updated tetanus shot.
The town is situated in a broad valley, but surrounded by canyons on all sides. It’s a railroad town, built along the old Salt Lake and San Pedro Railroad, which is now Union Pacific’s mainline from Utah to the Los Angeles area. As there are narrow canyons on both sides, there is a double track that runs through the valley allowing slower trains to move to the side as the faster ones are given the green light. We stayed at the Shady Motel. It was Spartan yet clean and my only complaint was the room rate, which was as much as I paid for a much nicer hotel in Las Vegas. But I couldn't complain too much, as it was nicer than the Hot Springs Motel that I had stayed in many times before and was just across the way from the railroad tracks. I dreamt of trains throughout the night as I heard their wail and their clicking as they passed through town. There was little shade at the Shady Motel, but since most of our time here was at night, that was fine with me.
In the morning, I was up early and went exploring former haunts. The town has a beautiful mission style train station (which looks more like something you’d find on a Sante Fe line than a Union Pacific one). When I was first in Utah, there was still passenger service through this area, but those days are long gone. The downtown is separated these days by a wide and empty field. In the past, there was a large train yard here as this was the junction with the Pioche Railroad, which ran to an old mining town north of here. Although gold was discovered in Pioche in 1873, mining continued in the town until the early 80s. In addition to gold and silver, there was a large zinc deposit there which kept miners active long after the gold had been mostly dug up. The rail line to Pioche was abandoned as mining in the region ended, but one can still see evidence of the tracks north and the large yard where that line met the mainline.
I stopped for coffee and then walked down the boardwalk, past a furniture store, a variety store and the grocery store. At the end of the boardwalk, a woman was sweeping up in front of her shop that sold accessories for motorcycles and four-wheelers. We chatted for a bit. I couldn’t imagine how she could make a living with such a business, and she assured me she couldn’t do it if she had to depend on the store for her livelihood. But she had retired as a teacher, giving her a pension and allowing her to run a business. When she learned I was from Michigan, she ran inside and pulled out a photo of her grandfather, who was a motorcycle cop in Detroit in the 1920s. In the photo, he was wearing a police uniform and straddling his motorcycle.

Although there are still lots of trains that come through Caliente, none of them stop except to let other trains pass. The town appears sleepy. As it is down wind of the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were tested above ground during the 50s and early 60s, the town has a fancy weather station that includes radiation monitoring. There are also signs by several homes opposing nuclear dumping in Nevada. But the town doesn’t glow, at least not yet. Just before pulling out, a coal train came down from the Utah mines, probably heading to the large coal fired power plant at Overton, Nevada. This train, with its double-ended engines, came to a stop on the south side of town. I suspected that there would be another train coming true and got myself in position for photos. Sure enough, there was a northbound train that came through a few minutes later. I suspect the tank cars were empty, as they appeared to have been hauling corn syrup. After the photographs, we loaded up and drove on to Cedar City, two hours to the east.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Last Night on the River (The Manistee)

You don’t find a much nicer place to camp. The Manistee makes a big bend to the left and on the outside bend, to the south, Hopkins Creek flows into our river. The creek creates a small delta with a large sandbar jutting out into the river. We set the tent up back from the river, on higher ground. Knowing the bugs were going to be bad there with the tall grass, so we set up our living room and kitchen on the sand bar, where we could enjoy a nice breeze and listen to the water rippling around us on all sides. After hauling in firewood, Jeff cleaned the fish as I built a fire and lit up the stove. Soon, rice was boiling, followed by a can of beef stew as we didn’t have enough fish for dinner. We’d caught plenty of fish in the morning but had let them go as we had miles to cover and no cooler in which to keep them. In the afternoon, we’d only caught two keepers. These I placed in foil, sprinkled with Dash and laid slices of lemons on top. As coals formed, I raked a bed of them to the side of the fire and laid the foil package on top, turning it once. Soon, we each had a nice appetizer, a trout a piece to go with our rice and stew. We burned the can of stew and another one of fruit out in the fire to keep the raccoons from playing with it during the night, then sat and watch the light drain from the sky. The breeze died and the smoke from the fire hung over the river. Slowly stars appear. We had a clear view of the northern sky, the constellations around the North Star. The Dippers, Queen Cassiopeia, King Cepheus and Draco the Dragon were all brilliantly displayed in the dark northern sky. We sipped brandy and whiskey and smoked a cigar. I ate some peanuts, tossing the shells into the dying fire. But mostly we talked. I spotted several meteors, one fireball streaked from high above down toward the river, covering ½ the sky. When the bugs started to find us, we retreated to the tent and the security of netting.

I slept hard and woke in the predawn morning. The air was still. It was warm and humid even long before the sun peaked over the trees. I went over to our kitchen sandbar and fired up the stove for coffee. Interestingly, I realized that I’d left the bag of peanuts by my chair. A ‘coon had been into the bag and had left a nice collection of shells on the ground, but had not eaten all the nuts… After oatmeal and coffee and a period of time to read, we packed up and fished out way down to the bridge at US 131. There, we loaded the truck and headed south, stopping in Cadillac for a late lunch.

A friend and I canoed the Manistee from Sharon Michigan to the US 131 Bridge. We put in late Sunday afternoon and came home Tuesday night.