hiker life

All posts tagged hiker life

In the last few weeks I’ve been working non-stop on the major 2015 updates to the iPhone versions of my apps, along with some trail data updates for the AT. With a bit of a break around Christmas, I took some time to look back at the past year— it’s been a mighty eventful one.

Looking at the newspapers, I was reminded that it was a pretty rough year to be a human on planet Earth. There’s been so much death and violence and injustice, from Ukraine and Syria all the way to Ferguson and Staten Island. That’s just the tip of the shitberg, but I’ll just assume you know at least some of what I’m talking about. The urge to drop everything and head out for a through-hike can hardly get stronger.

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But for me, personally, the year has gone better than any I can remember. The business and trail guides that I created with two good friends began to take off to the point where I can finally treat it as a job rather than a hobby. Having created something that people use and enjoy is incredibly gratifying, though I still can barely believe it when I see someone using the apps or mention them on their gear list. It feels a bit like a dream.

Of course, the stars have aligned pretty well to put me here. Being able to afford health insurance certainly helped, as did several years of experience living with next to no income. Mostly, I can attribute the success of the apps to blind luck, stubbornness, and lots of great friends whom I can ask for advice. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel thankful for at least one of those things.

This summer, I also finally fulfilled another dream by teaching for NOLS. I’d wanted to work for NOLS since the first course I took in 2005, but I’d been nervous about being able to live up to my own expectations. The first of two courses didn’t go so well, but the organization is filled with great people and has a very positive, feedback-oriented style, and I was able to learn from my experiences in the first course in order to improve on the second. I’m already looking forward to working more courses next summer, although there’s a lot to be done between now and then.

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Then there were some really wonderful backpacking trips (for work and play) on the Appalachian Trail and in Baxter State Park. While I can’t say the AT trip was as fun as my original through-hike, it did have some great points. The Baxter trip is definitely up there with the best backpacking trips I’ve ever been on, though. To top off the fall, I spent more time hiking in Acadia National Park than I have in years. And I finished my New England 4000 Footers, and thus ended my peak-bagging lists (for now). Hiking so many miles in two of the most beautiful places in the world highlights just how well the year has been.

So now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be. I’m busy, I have a useful outlet for my creativity, I get to hike fairly often, I can afford to live on my own, and I feel like I’m doing something good. While I don’t harbor any delusions that I’m saving the world from any major problems, I know I’m making a few people happy, and at least that’s something. Hopefully, in the coming year, I’ll be able to put my skills to use in more productive and helpful ways. Here’s to a better 2015!

A little over a week ago (January 5), I tramped up Stratton Mountain on a crystal-clear, chilly winter day, all excited to see my favorite southern Vermont peak in true winter conditions. I wasn’t going to write about it here, but I just realized it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog (again– this is turning into the norm at this point). And with warmer temperatures bringing on the mid-January thaw this week, I need to look back at those snowy pictures to remind myself that it’s still a mighty fine winter this year.

I would guess two or three feet of snow, considering how easily I was brushing my head against the canopy.

I’ve been spending most of my time over the past few months diligently working away on my computer, getting ready to turn out next season’s version of my iPhone apps. Last year at this time, I was doing the same thing, but this year it’s more exciting than stressful. I feel more confident about what I’m doing, and the features I’m planning on adding should make the apps infinitely more useful and more fun to use. But there is still some stress involved. Quite a bit, in fact.

The other day I had a conversation with a well-known hiker about making a living as an outdoor adventurer, and it somewhat reaffirmed what I’d found out over the past few years– seasonal employment in outdoorsy jobs is not generally a sustainable career path. Something else is usually necessary to live that dream. That’s where my programming comes in, but even that seems like a gamble. More on this in a bit.

The walk up Stratton Mountain was much like the previous week’s hike on Okemo– chilly, with lovely, fluffy powder. The area near Kelley Stand Road, where the Long Trail crosses, is plowed with space for several cars to park, but it seemed more popular for snowmobiles than as a hiking destination. I guess that’s a good thing, considering how poor the winter sports were last year in general. I was happy to see so many snowmobilers, even if they’re kind of noisy.

Fluff balls!

As we trudged up the mountain, the trees became more heavily laden with snow, and the wind took on an icy bite. There really is nothing more beautiful to me than a New England mountain forest covered in thick snow– although wait until springtime and I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about early springtime forests, and then summer mountains, and… you get the idea. We arrived at the summit clearing to find several feet of snow and a peaceful winter wonderland. Oh, what beauty!

You might be able to see from the picture that the fire tower was a bit encrusted in rime ice. Climbing the tower was a little dicey, so my companions and I only went high enough to see over the trees before carefully making our way down to the ground. I doubt we could have made it all the way to the top– I had to kick holes into the crust on the stairs in order to have something to stand on– but it was a lovely view even from halfway up.

When I started the app programming thing, I had a modest goal of making enough money by selling apps that I could combine their income with a few NOLS courses, and otherwise just hike a lot through the summer and fall. That’s not exactly how it worked out. Let’s just say the programming is a labor of love at this point. If I were to calculate out the hourly wage I’ve made, it might be more than a dollar or two. But I still envision the programming turning into a real source of income– it’s just going to take a little more time than I initially thought.

Sometimes I think all the hiking I’ve done since college has ruined me for normal employment. After the taste of adventure that the Appalachian Trail provided (and then the Pacific Crest, the New England Trail, the few NOLS courses, and on and on), no career path has quite lived up to what I’d convinced myself I’m capable of. The best jobs have been enjoyable and provided another taste of greatness. The worst have felt like total dead ends. The Guthook’s Guides business may be the one that meets almost all the criteria of a dream job for me. Produces something that helps others? Check. Makes people happy? Check. Keeps me connected directly with the hiking community? Check. Makes me feel important? Check. Makes me rich? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

What AT or PCT hiker doesn’t dream of finding a way to turn hiking and the outdoors into a steady living? I learned through several years of leading trips, working on trails, and caretaking at backcountry lodges that those jobs’s rewards are almost entirely spiritual and mental. Once the job is done, the money doesn’t go far, but the experiences and the mind set have stayed with me in a big way. So here I am with the crazy idea that I can make a sustainable business. It’s not certain at all, but it’s kind of exciting.

The view about halfway up the tower.

Sometimes, like in the case of climbing an ice-crusted fire tower, hitting your original goal isn’t even necessary to have a great time and make the whole endeavor worthwhile. Heck, if I hadn’t even set foot on the fire tower the other day, it still would have been a great walk in the woods. I’ll still keep my hopes up for the business to do well, though.

Yesterday, I sent my Long Trail journal and End-to-Ender certification paperwork to the Green Mountain Club to officially be included in this year’s list of Long Trail through hikers. I sent in the paperwork for the AT and PCT after I hiked them, but the Long Trail has the extra fun bonus of my journal being entered into the archives at the Vermont Historical Society. Along with all the other Long Trail journals, mine is now a historical document. I wish I had written something in it that actually made it worth reading generations down the line. Maybe next time.

Just add stamps, and it’s on its way!

Reading my old hiking journals always surprises me. Looking back at an AT through hike, you see yourself in an idealized past– badass hiker, endless appetite, constant freedom. Reading the journal, it’s all pain and complaining. There’s very little about the views (maybe because those are documented in the photos), or about the day to day routines that you will eventually forget. Looking at my Long Trail journal, I was surprised again, only four months later.

I remember the Long Trail being a most wonderful hike. Everything went remarkably well, I met dozens of really great people, and I had plenty of time to wander in the woods in the company of my thoughts. My journal tells me I was worried about the future with poor prospects for employment; I suffered from a handful of days of gastrointestinal distress; I tore up my feet at the end of the first week and had problem blisters for most of the last week; I got sick of the attitudes of the party crowd on the AT. But even then, I knew the complaints were minor in comparison to all the good that was going on. Every day that I hiked in meditative silence seemed like a gift. Even just two weeks of hiking had me totally addicted to the nomad lifestyle again. Coming home was hard.

I guess it wasn’t all sunshine and roses on the Long Trail.

Most long distance hikers can probably relate to that feeling. When you get home, all wearied and broken and sick of hiking, it takes about a day before the post-hike depression sets in. Two days ago you wanted nothing more than a normal life, a different path, a bed, a car, a kitchen. But today you have all that and instead of relief, you’re terrified of the new prospects of making money, paying rent, filling your gas tank, having to make more decisions than just where to camp for the night.

I’ve been in Keene for the past three and a half months, settled into a routine, and feeling better than after my other two big hikes, but things are still different. I have two jobs, one real one and one where I am my own boss, but there’s still lots of uncertainty ahead. I can’t just follow white blazes. I can’t even follow a herd path. I’m forging ahead on my own, hoping I end up where I want to go. It’s exciting, but it takes all of my time and all of my brainpower.

Sometimes I worry that devoting so much of my time to programming is taking away all of my will to write the blog, or to wander away into the woods and explore. In the past few months, my creative impulses for writing have been drained into the programming of iPhone apps, as has much of my time for hiking. I just promise myself (and Yvonne) that by working so frantically now, I’ll have more time for other things in the winter and summer.

So I take a bit of time now and then to go for a quick walk up Monadnock, or to write here. But mostly it’s work work work. The nice thing is, I still enjoy it. Just like any of those trails where my journals only tell of the pain, I still see plenty of good times.