In a recent conversation with a hiking friend the topic came up of why we do what we do: multi-day backpacking.  What drives us to leave the asphalt and concrete for a week or more at a time to just walk?  Why leave comfort, ease of living, convenience, and “safety”?  Why hike off into the wilderness with nothing but the pack on your back and a goodbye wave?  This is the point were most of us get philosophical, etc.  Ok, I guess I will too.

The truth is I believe that from time to  time we need to be free from pressure…of any kind. Like wiping the blackboard clean to start over (here is the spot where the kids say “what’s a black board?”) anew and fresh.  Totally out from under the burdens of daily living that include payments, jobs, school, and especially modern communication.

Modern cell phones and social media have come to invasively permeate our lives.  Often we see this as a good thing, like drinking orange juice because it is good for us… but the person who drinks a gallon a day begins to have adverse effects from it with bad consequences.

I see my cell phone as a modern necessity, but I need to be free from it sometimes.  Analogy number 1: It’s like that person you really like but when you have to spend three months with them locked in a cabin you find yourself daydreaming about how nice it would be to quietly kill them in their sleep.  Just a thought…

Analogy number 2, and perhaps a more accurate one: My cell phone is like a fly buzzing around me.  It’s not a bother for the first couple times it distracts me.  Over time I can develop a tolerance for the fly, after all he isn’t hurting me, just bugging me constantly with unwanted and unneeded distraction.  I might even enjoy watching the fly occasionally as he circles around me, but… after a while that fly might just drive me a small bit, slightly, a little bit MAD…

I have had people tell me in disbelief that I must be crazy to walk off into the woods for days on end.  Why would I want to do that?  Sanity, that is why.  Who is really crazy here, the person who lives in an artificial, virtual world of needless harassment and distracting “entertainment”, or someone who walks in the real one?

Go take a walk… as your therapist, I demand it.


The AT Calls Me…Collect

Final preparations are under way for this year’s trip on the Appalachian Trail.  My excitement is building. The food is packed or mailed ahead.  My gear has been checked and double checked. I leave Monday afternoon for Erwin, TN and a possible 9 days on the trail.  I get tons of questions from friends about my trips, but again and again one question seems to reoccur and dominate…”Who’s going with you?”.  The response is still the same, ” Just me.”(Please insert the sound of mental tires screeching to a halt on a wet pavement at this point, thank you)

That is the moment. You know the one. That awkward, strained, pained look as they try to appear calm and normal. Instead, they actually have a deer in the headlights stare as they try to figure out what to say (and not look dumb).  It’s as if they cannot fathom that someone could even consider walking though the wilderness alone.  Have you gone mad?  Alone?

Then I get the second question…”Aren’t you afraid?”  “Of what?” The second unplanned pause barges into the room here as they try to pull themselves together. Afraid of what you ask?  Uh, hmmm, uh, you know…uh, scary stuff…in the scary woods…uh, in the dark…out there…stuff.

Looking into the wide eyes of my friends I see fear for my safety. I see concern for my well being. Mostly, I see incomprehension of such a “fool hearty” act that reasonable would never do.  They cannot see themselves doing this so why would anyone else want to?  In most cases they do not say these things but their eyes do.  I just smile politely.

Folks, the truth is that bears are just like big shaggy dogs, the dark is no darker there than here, and the boogie man is scared of backpackers. They smell bad.  No worries.  Backpackers do not fear adventure, they embrace it. Only then do they know how alive they are inside.

George Eliot was noted to say,

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.”

When I am asked why I go out into the wilderness I have to respond, “To go within.”. 

A New Kind of Knife

My younger brother, Loren, is a big outdoorsman: hunting , fishing, and general outside adventure. He is always checking out the latest gadgets and tools. I often hear about new innovations from him. This wonderful new knife is no different.

Loren gave a  Havalon Piranta Edge  knife to me as a gift last Christmas. He bought one for himself and liked the knife so much he wanted to share one with me. Have I mentioned that he is a great guy?  You probably are figuring that out.

Knives usually are pretty heavy if they are any good.  Weighing in at a miniscule 1.6 ounces, the Edge is not a “heavy weight” knife but it is a full sized 2.5 inch blade.  Add to that a strong, ergonomic composite handle in day-glow orange you couldn’t lose in a snow storm and you have a nice knife, but not an exceptional one.  To earn that badge Havalon knives use surgical steel!!!

If you look close you will see that the blade resembles a scalpel.  Well, for all practical purposes, it is.  The blades are replaceable.  They come in sterile foil packs and are surgical scalpel sharp. Yes, my doctor could use this.

Forget sharpening, just clip on a new, razor sharp blade.  Blades take a realistic two seconds to remove and replace.  It takes longer to get the foil package open on the new blade than it does to install it.  I did some checking and blades are not expensive.

Despite the ease of replacement, the blade mount is very durable.  All the metal parts seem to be stainless, including the belt clip.  There are four members of my family now putting the Edge through the paces and so far no one can give the knife a bad review, and we are tough on gear.

Havalon has produced 4 or 5 variations of this style knife with replaceable blades, each designed for different uses with different looks and different handle colors.

The one thing I will not use this blade for is prying on something.  Like most thin, high tinsel blades, they will snap off easily with moderate sideways pressure.  A flying razor blade is not a happy thing.  It is worth noting that I will not use a regular heavy bladed knife to do these actions either.  A good blade is not to be used in such a disrespectful manner.


Sharp blades with no sharpening.

Easy change blades.

Light weight.

Durable, comfortable handle in a hard to lose color.


You have to buy replacement blades.

Blades can break under pressure.


I can tell you I found it cheapest at Cabela’s:

Havalon Piranta Edge Knife       $39.95 at Cabela’s

Havalon Replacement Blades    $10.95 per 12 pack

The Art of Passing

Don’t look for us in this place tomorrow,

Our worn boots are just passing through.

No matter the boon or beauty here,

We may only tarry for a day or two.


The art of passing is what we practice,

With footprints on paths we paint the miles,

Passing rocks and hills, lakes and rills.

Our steps pass fields, cross stiles.


We pass people and oft we have to stop,

To pass pleasant time, the weather we discuss.

Then moving reluctantly on past lake and hill,

We jealously watch the clouds pass us.


When our day is past, the evening waning,

And our legs grow weary and tired,

We realize that to master this passing art,

We are not done, more practice is required.


So don’t look for us in this place tomorrow,

Closer to the grave we must daily proceed,

And one day finish a masterpiece of passing,

This wandering life we lead.


Hike Your Own Hike!

Trail Food! What do you like?

With warmer weather upon us, hikers are getting the itch to go out and get their shoes dirty.  But what do you eat out there?  I have seen some pretty amazing things come out of a backpack on long hikes, including a full size frying pan!!!  I kid you not.  So what does good trail food look like?

Breakfast- simple but good

You could go buy the expensive, pre-packaged foods at a camping store.  While convenient, it’s not for me.  The cost is prohibitive ($7-$10 per meal) for a long hike and the flavors leave something to be desired.

My favorite trail foods are those that I package up myself, like Shepherds Pie and Red Beans and Rice.  These kinds of meals can be light weight, nutritional, and good tasting.  I dehydrate most of the ingredients so the cost is usually low.

Meals like this can get complex and quite tasty.  My friend Chef Glenn has an entire web site devoted to trail food preparation he calls Backpacking Food For The Soul.  The site is at http://www.backpackingchef.com/.  He is wonderful cook and is well known for his creative trail food, hence his trail name “Chef Glenn”.

Re-packaging dry foods into smaller portions works great.  I zip top bag or vacuum pack soups, mashed potatoes, and stew mixes like this into individual meal portions.  This works great if you split food preparation up with friends.

I also like to take advantage of convenient dry packaged foods like individual packs of grits, oatmeal, and good ol’ Hamburger Helper Cheesy Macaroni (microwave- works just as good with boiling water).

Of course, there are the tried and true tuna fish, raman noodles, and individual pack peanut butter that are all easy, good for you meals.

So what do you do for food?  I’d like to hear what your favorite trail meals look like.  Give it a post…

The Stick Pic Review


The Stick Pic!  Cute name, small package, but big product!!! 


One of my favorite things in my pack is my little Stick Pic.  This ingenious camera holder lets me take pictures of…well, me, but in a great way. 

I have a friend, Jason Klass, in Colorado who is great gear reviewer.  I highly recommend his site http://www.geartalkwithjasonklass.com  for gear reviews and insights in backpacking.  We Skype occasionally about packing, etc. A long while back we talked about several products that we both liked, including the Stick Pic.  He liked it so much he made one of his review videos to show it…so why should I reinvent the wheel?  Here it is…


As I am sure you can see in Jason’s video this is an awesome little item.  I have used it for almost 2 years now with only a single complaint. I sometimes do not fit it snuggly on the pole end which lets the camera flip over to the underside of the pole at inopportune moments.  Humorous, but not funny at the time.  Chalk this one up to operator error (that would mean me).  On the bright side my friends all want to know who my photographer is that shows up at all the pretty overlooks just to take great pictures of me.  Cha-ching!  “Yes, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up now.”

One note:  you need to have the type of hiking pole you will use to properly fit your Stick Pic.  Since the diameter of poles differs with the manufacturer, the Stick Pic is made in several sizes.  Mine just happens to be a #2 that fits Leki poles.  Yours may be different.  Check before you order. 


  • Simple to use with great results
  • Ultra-light weight
  • Solves an old problem


  • None

The cost of a Stick Pic is only $13.99 plus $1.61 shipping anywhere in the U.S.  What a bargain! 

To get yours go to: http://thestickpic.com/index.html


The Ouachita Trail Section 6

My hiking destination for this past weekend was the Ouachita Trail in Arkansas.  The trail head my group of seven used was the Hwy 27 trail head.  From there we headed east.

The trail was moderately difficult, first climbing the .9 miles to the John Archer shelter and later climbing up and over Sandlick Mountain to the Irons Fork River on the first day.  The forest is a good mix of hardwoods and tall pines in this section, with a few good viewing points from near the top of Sandlick.  If you are in decent physical shape you won’t have too much difficulty if you take your time.

(L to R from top) Trevor, Taylor, Ray, Tyler, Hilton, Jimmy, and Wyatt.

The shelter journal at the John Archer shelter had a hilarious entry from a guy who made the trip up to the shelter with his girlfriend.  It was a disaster!  They took 3 hours to make the less than a mile ascension carrying a full size air mattress with a powered pump.  He made it pretty clear that his girlfriend was very out of shape.  Once at the shelter they found that they forgot toilet paper (who knew socks made a good substitute?) and were awakened in the middle of the night by an attacking raccoon!  I know they were not having fun, but we had a great time with the story.

The day finished six miles later at an absolutely beautiful site along the Irons Fork River.  Here the forestry service built a concrete bridge that makes for a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the sunset over the mountains.  An old forestry road about 40 yards off the river made for an ideal camping area without causing undue site impact.

The concrete bridge over the Irons Fork.

At the river we saw some small fish and several small snakes, but nothing to worry about.  The only great concern I have to caution you about is ticks!!!  Wear PLENTY of tick repellent.  The population in wooded areas is high.  We sprayed down heavily and checked our bodies regularly and had no problems to speak of; however, we saw tons of the pesky little buggers.  This is when it is good to have a close friend who will help you look for “riders” on your back, etc.  I sprayed down thoroughly and never had a real worry after that.

Day two saw us taking a late start around 9am.  After crossing the river we immediately started the only real climb of the day out of the river valley.  It was quite steep at places but manageable.  All in all, I found the hike relatively easy, but I tend to compare everything to hiking the Appalachian Mountains.  The Ouachita Trail, or OT, graciously has fewer ups and downs than the AT.

Great views were a regular treat as we continued through the day.  We stopped at the side trail for the Big Branch Shelter around 11 to have some lunch, but didn’t make the trip down to the shelter.

Trail conditions on this section are very good and our advance group of Wyatt, Taylor and myself had no trouble keeping up a fast 2.5-3 mph pace that took us the 10 miles we had for the day in around 4 hours, even with a nice nap at lunch.  We emerged at the Hwy 298 trail head around 1pm.  Hilton, Jimmy, Tyler, and Trevor rolled in about an hour and a half behind us with few problems.

Everyone is in agreement that this is a rewarding hike and we will return in May with our boys group to test their metal.  Jimmy and I did agree, after some discussion, that we would put some variation in our hike plan for the larger group.  In May we will make more use of the shelter sites and use lower mileage days to help the inexperienced kids in the group to cope.  I look forward to going back.