hike blog

PCT Day 28, Rock Creek to Cascade Locks, 20 miles

In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. – Eleanor Roosevelt

The men are awake and out by 3:15. True to their word, they are absolutely quiet packing up. They’re heading north to ‘meet their wives,’ they tell me from a very snug two man tent. I sleep beautifully in my tiny spot under their clothes line, especially happy they warned me about mice and I hung my food and garbage on a mossy branch.

Everyone marches out early and I find it difficult not to succumb to the peer pressure to move faster. My body is only tired, not injured, though I have two small infections to attend to – a bear-grass slice on my pinky and an ingrown toenail. Sounds small, but out here it’s nearly impossible to stay clean.

audio narrative

TA audio narrative: no outcomes backpacking

If you arrive at a final destination, it’s a sign that you’ve set your sights too low.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

The great philosopher wants us to be wanderers, “though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist.”

gear blog

Hammock Gear Burrow quilt review

I am afraid of heights.

ali in the alicoop swaddled in a down ‘quilt.’

At least according to Ohio-based Hammock Gear, who – despite the name and mission – happily provides its superior quilts to us ground-dwellers.

I am delighted with the traditional mummy set-up I have been using for years. But lately I’ve read excellent reviews about sleeping quilts, and after a lot of nights of feeling a need for my legs to sprawl, I began to think hard about having more of a blanket over me than being swaddled in a cocoon.

At $180 for a 20-degree, extra wide, zippered-footbox, premium 800-down quilt, I thought what-the-heck and took a chance on Hammock Gear’s Burrow Econ. D-day is exactly two weeks from last night, so it was only fitting I have Olive Oyl schlepp the new purchase to the backyard, set up the alicoop and take her for a spin on a damp October night with temps dipping into the mid-30s.

Hardly backpacking, but a good one-night-stand to test out the Moroccan Blue before heading to New Zealand in two weeks.

First let me explain what a quilt is in the backpacking world. It looks like a traditional bag, but one that’s been sliced open like a seed pod à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That riven section actually goes beneath you. The idea is that you don’t need down under your body. In fact, what you compress with your weight loses its warming power and, the argument goes, is wasted. Quilt-makers put all the coziness where you need it, making it a more efficient piece of gear. I admit, climbing into my new Moroccan Blue quilt at first took a bit of trust as it was just my tender backside against my Therm-a-Rest, but in time, things came right up to temperature and I felt toasty warm.

I opted for a zippered footbox – rather than sewn – to stay flexible should temperatures rise and I want to transform my quasi-bag into a blanket. What is noticeably missing is a full zipper and a hood. This saves a lot of weight. A comparable 20-degree bag weighs nearly a third more than this 24.5 ounces of thru-hiker bliss. Less weight, less volume, less faffing about to maintain loft means a much more blissful hiker.

Hammock Gear understands that a hoodless, backless down ‘blanket’ with a box up to the knees is going to invite pockets of drafty air to any side sleeper. They recommend a wide width for tucking in, and cords to affix the quilt to your mattress. I ditched the cords, as anyone who has slept near me knows I’m a pretty fidgety sleeper, but opted to spend an extra $20 for more coverage. I am 5’7” and 135 pounds, and the quilt closed me in like a tube. HG puts a snap at the neck and a cinch cord to seal the deal. Though no hood meant I slept wearing my beanie, a buff and down coat. I do recommend choosing bigger and wider, and depending on your temperature needs, choosing colder. 20 degrees was just right for temps hovering in the mid-30’s.

That being said, an added benefit of keeping your head out of the bag is less moisture build up to compromise the down. But the sleep system does take some getting used to. I come from the generation that was told sleeping nude in a down bag is warmer than clothed. An alternative fact created by the back-to-the-land hippy culture, no doubt, but one I seem to have a hard time shaking. With a quilt, you’ll need to sleep clothed, mostly your head and neck, but likely also your upper body. Quilts are roomy so this shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a rethink on how you feel coziest at night.

The open section of the quilt goes under your body.

Down is my go-to even in summer bags. It’s hands ‘down’ – pardon the pun – superior warmth to weight ratio than synthetics. Most manufacturers are using water-resistant shells these days, so keeping your down quilt dry is easier.

If you’re thinking about cutting weight, you are already on track to own an ultra-light mattress. I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite. It’s ideal for quilt-sleepers: warm, comfy and sits high so the quilt drapes over the sides and forms a seal. With hundreds of nights on this pad, I have never sprung a leak, even in the desert.

I realize it’s a one-night stand for me and the Moroccan Blue, but we’re off to a good start and she is my ‘bag’ of choice for the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: 24.59 oz
  • Length: 5’7″ to 6’2″
  • Width: wide
  • Temperature rating: 20 degrees
  • Footbox: zippered
  • Down fill: 800


alison young purchased this quilt from Hammock Gear.

gear blog

Soto Amicus review

A whole lotta power and stability in a tiny stove.

Amicus means friend in Latin, and I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Soto Amicus is a canister stove with built-in lighter (optional) It has superior features are far more expensive stoves including four rick solid folding pot stand supports and a recessed burner head that performs decently even in reasonably windy conditions, makes this sub-three ounce stove my first choice for the Te Araroa.

The unique recessed burner head provides superior performance when the wind kicks up and you’re hungry.

I have been vacillating between using my home made alcohol ‘cat stove’ and the very easy to manage, all-in-one Jetboil. But with a keen eye on ounces, I wanted to cut weight and the Jetboil rebuild seemed a bit risky.

I came upon the Sotos on Massdrop. For under $30 I felt it was worth a try and I am impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship. It feels solid with each arm locking into place with a satisfying and tight click. The cook surface is wider than most and will support wider pots.

Reasonably fast boil time.

While the piezo lighter adds a few ounces, it is built to last running through the stove’s center, protecting it from impact and adding to its reliability, though I will take a mini lighter just in case.

I did a quick test with 25 ounces of water at a rolling boil in four minutes at 45 degrees outside and at sea level.

The stove fits inside my Snow Peak titanium pot along with enough fuel for six days.

I then placed a fan directly facing my wee stove and the cook time was noticeably slower – about fifteen minutes! – but the flame never went out fighting against the artificial breeze.

Warning! It is never recommended that a backpacker use a windscreen due to the efficient and focused flame. You don’t want to create a ticking bomb. Rather look for a natural wind break and don’t bring your fan on the trip!

Specs at a Glance

  • Size: 1 1/2 inches x 3
  • Weight: 2.8 ounces
  • Fuel: canister
  • Energy rating: 2600 kcal/h
  • Ignitor: Piezo
  • Included: a sturdy stuff sack


alison young purchased her Soto Amicus

I had 25 ounces at a rolling boil in about four minutes.

gear blog

Tarptent Notch Li partial solid w/silnylon floor review

The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in its field.

The Tarptent Notch Li is a fantastic ultra light shelter for the solo thru-hiker looking for simplicity and durability, while not sacrificing comfort. Made of dynamee, the Notch Li is essentially waterproof. It sets up super fast with the use of trekking poles that remain outside the living space. The twin-peaked catenary ridgelines add rigidity in the wind and rain as well as create an enormous living space with two entryways and two vestibules. Notch Li is my choice for a home away from home.

I bought my first Tarptent when I walked the John Muir Trail in 2012. The single-walled Moment was the envy of all my hiking friends because it set up in literally seconds and was roomy with an enormous vestibule. I have since added an inside layer provided by Tarptent to alleviate condensation, but when I planned to walk on the soggy Coast-to-Coast, I decided to upgrade to something more reliably dry.


Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It’s lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.

The success of the Notch Li begins with its fabric. Formerly known as cuben fiber, dynamee is considered the most revolutionary material used today to make outdoor gear. It’s technically classified as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. The fiber has low density that allows for high load dispersion. Fifteen times stronger than steel and extremely light, it is the strongest fiber in the world. But wait, there’s more! It’s also waterproof, resistant to UV light and chemicals, and is extremely durable.

But that doesn’t mean you can just stuff the Notch Li in your pack. You need to handle it with care by rolling it into its dynamee bag. The feel is a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but I endured absolute downpours and there was not one drop in my tent.


The outside doors are held back with magnets.

I opted for the partial solid interior made of silnylon which saves a bit of money on your purchase but I had a few other reasons for this choice. While dynamee is strong and waterproof, it’s translucent and I like a wee bit of privacy. I also hike in places with blowing sand and heavy rainfall. The solid wall rises fairly high inside. It does cut down on views when supine, but it also keeps splash and detritus from finding its way through the no-see-um screen. The partial solid silnylon interior adds a few more ounces, but I felt it was worth it. I did not purchase nor have I used a footprint due to the floor’s ruggedness, but I do choose my sites carefully.

The Notch Li sets up like a dream. It is a non-freestanding tent with each corner supported by carbon struts that create a triangle. You simply roll out the tent, stake down each end with the provided Easton aluminum stakes, insert your trekking poles – which remain outside the living space, entry and exit – and stake down the sides. You should be able to do all of that without getting the inside wet because the two parts remain attached. The outer does not use zippers, which takes a little getting used to. I found I needed to slightly loosen the tension before attaching the poles into their loops and then ensuring the points of my poles stayed in place once I tightened up again. There is a little tab below the hook that helps when opening and closing the door but you do have to get the hang of it.


The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.

The tent held up well in wind, though there is an option to attach another set of guylines. That being said, you will need two more stakes to make the tent more stable in inclement weather. The six-panel design has advantages as does the ridgeline which makes the Notch Li more stable when loaded, though I have yet to take it out in snow.

Did I mention there are two doors? The Moment only had one, and that seemed sufficient, but once you are spoiled with two, you will wonder how you survived. This gives you two vestibules for storage, organizing gear and hanging out. But if the midges are as bad as they were this summer in the UK, you will be staying tightly zipped inside the tent. But don’t despair because the inside is huge. Richard is 6’4” and crept in for a test and found he had enough room to lie down and sit up. I am smaller so had loads of room for my bod, my gear at both head and foot as well as room for a few items along the side. I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite, which fit inside beautifully. There are also a couple of strategically placed pockets as well as a ceiling hook.


The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp “Spooky” in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.

This tent is in one piece, the inner tent attached to the outer, but you can take them apart if you prefer to use one without the other. This requires more stakes and for my uses, it never made much sense to use the pieces separately. However, I needed to have them apart when I returned home because I had so many squashed midge carcasses inside it was the only way I could clean the tent. It was a breeze to detach and reattach parts.

I love this tent and I should mention that my Notch Li was named by a contest. She’s the alicoop and will happily be my safe little chrysalis on the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Seasons: 3+
  • Weight: 21.76 oz.
  • Interior Height: 43 in
  • Floor Width: 20 – 34 in
  • Floor Length: 84 in
  • Minimum number of stakes: 4
  • Packed size: 16 in x 4 in
  • Doors: 2
  • Vestibules: 2
  • Materials: dynamee and silnylon
  • Support: trekking poles


alison young purchased her Notch Li from Tarptent.

hike blog

Te Araroa, New Zealand – Oct-Mar, 2018—19

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
– Mark Twain

I’ll begin walking New Zealand end-to-end this coming November.

To: Mark Weatherall, Chief Executive of the Te Araroa Association
Kia ora, Mark. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me by phone on that cold,…Read
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audio narrative: the joy of missing out
Erica Jong writes, “Jealousy is all the fun you think they had.” I opt for joy in missing out…
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forest fungus fotos
Fungus was certainly among us walking the Kepler Track in the South Island. Seeing these pictures again brings back for…Read
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TA audio narrative: in the South Island
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TA homeward bound
Of course, there had to be just one more tramp before leaving.
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TA Stewart Island
I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself. —Emma Stone The…Read
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TA Day 127, Invercargill to Bluff, 34 km
As much as I love the alicoop, it is so nice to sleep in a bed – though my dreams…Read
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TA Day 126, Riverton to Invercargill, 33 km
Again stars were working overtime, but in the grassy dip set aside for Te Araroa tents, dew built up on…Read
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TA Day 125, Colac Bay to Riverton, 24 km
Stars are shining when I poke my head out of the alicoop, though clouds crowd in as I stroll to…Read
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TA Day 124, Martin’s Hut to Colac Bay, 24 km
Ian and Wendy are up first, speaking in whispers, their lights aiming down. My head is mere inches from the…Read
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TA Day 123, Merivale Road to Martin’s Hut, 29 km
I can see stars when I wake up, but fall is settling in and it’s pitch dark now. I organize…Read
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TA Day 122, ‘zero day’ Otautau
I only have a few things to share from this very lazy day of reading, writing, editing, eating and giggling…Read
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TA audio narrative: trail detour
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TA Day 121, ‘zero day’ Otautau
I tossed and turned last night, waking momentarily to see a waning gibbous moon perched on a cloud. My day…Read
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TA Day 120, Birchwood to Merrivale Hut, 28 km
I wake with the others in the bunk room, a bit groggy and hung over from the drama of the…Read
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TA Day 119, Lower Wairaki Hut to Birchwood, 36 km
Rain fell all night. I am so happy that I stayed in a hut, tucked into my bunk with my…Read
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TA Day 118 Lower Princhester Hut to Lower Wairaki Hut, 31 km
I’m awakened by birds peeping in that silver flute tone of theirs, the sky barely light. I am more of…Read
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TA Day 117, Mavora Lake to Lower Princhester Hut, 22 km
A clear, windy night gave way to a rainy, windy night. Even with piles of rocks, one stake slips out…Read
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TA Day 116, Taipo Hut to Mavora Lake, 27 km
The stars were electric last night, even as the super moon made a grand entrance, lighting up one stray cloud…Read
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TA Day 115, McKellar Hut to Taipo Hut, 28 km
It’s a night shared with smokers, door slammers and snorers, but it turns out to be pretty fun in a…Read
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TA Day 114, ‘detour’ Routeburn River to McKellar Hut, 38 km
It rained all night. I am dry and warm in the alicoop, but I don’t think I can hike an…Read
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TA Day 113, Arrowtown to Routeburn Track, 30 km
I’m up before dawn, quietly moving my gear into the common room so I can pack loudly. Someone on the…Read
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TA Day 112, Roses Hut to Arrowtown, 24 km
The stars did not disappoint. I checked often through the night, the nearly full moon lighting up this wild landscape.…Read
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TA audio narrative: hitting a wall
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TA Day 111, Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut, 17 km
Walking is the natural recreation for a (wo)man who desires not absolutely to suppress (her) intellect but to turn it…Read
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TA Day 110, Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut, 27 km
The morning is lazy because I have to wait for the bank to open. I load up on more calories,…Read
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TA Day 109, ‘zero day’ Wanaka
Pink sky in the morning, hiker take warning. Good thing I planned a rest day as the clouds move in,…Read
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TA Day 108, side trip! Rob Roy Glacier, Mt. Aspiring National Park
Pink light glows on the mountains and glaciers. A perfect sky for a day trip. Harry and I have been…Read
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TA audio narrative: water, water everywhere
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TA audio narrative: chasing clear skies
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TA audio narrative: hut life
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TA Day 107, Hawea to Wanaka, 25 km
It rained nearly all night on the alicoop in this odd carved out campground above the hotel. Self-contained vehicles hemmed…Read
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TA Day 106, Stodys Hut to Hawea, 22 km
The cure for loneliness, is solitude. —Marianne Moore Waking up this morning felt like a new start on a new…Read
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TA Day 105, Tin Hut to Stodys Hut, 27 km
A perfect sleep in a perfect, tiny historic musterer’s hut opens with pink clouds and orange light on the grassy…Read
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TA Day 104, Freehold Creek to Tin Hut, 30 km
Being alone is, we know, the best chance you have to be yourself, which is in turn the seed of…Read
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TA Day 103, Twizel to Freehold Creek, (29 km) + 6 km
At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. —Toni Morrison The stars were spectacular overnight and I slept…Read
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TA Day 102, Tekapo to Twizel, (54 km)
I slept poorly last night with all the rustling about, phones going off and generally being stressed out knowing I…Read
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TA Day 101, After Washdyke Stream on Richmond Track to Tekapo, 26 km
Ah, the stars last night! Twinkling diamonds on black velvet, the milky way a gentle twist. The morning opens with…Read
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TA Day 100, Royal Hut to after Washdyke Stream, 26 km
Contrary to Alan from Dunedin’s prediction, the day opens crystal clear, ready for our eyes to take in some of…Read
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TA Day 99, Crooked Spur Hut to Royal Hut, 16 km
The morning begins with the Kiwi couple talking, rustling in their plastic food bags and letting the door bang shut…Read
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TA Day 98, Potts River Bridge Car Park to Crooked Spur Hut, 17 km + 14 km
The wind dies down and the possums come out, climbing the tree above my head and chattering to each other.…Read
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TA Day 97, Manuka Hut to Potts River Bridge Car Park, 33 km
It’s cozy on my bunk as the sky begins to lighten. I’m up first heading to the longdrop on a…Read
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TA Day 96, A-frame Hut to Manuka Hut, 28 km
The wild wind blew open the door of the hut, even after we placed a rock to hold it shut.…Read
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TA Day 95, Harper River Camping Area to A-Frame Hut, 32 km
Such a lovely night with brilliant stars and later a crescent moon on her side. People arrive late and release…Read
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TA Day 94, Hamilton Hut to Harper River Camping Area, 20 km
I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same…Read
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TA Day 93, State Highway 73 to Hamilton Hut, 26 km
Alessio and I close up the bach, pack up and head to the road by 7 to hitch rides –…Read
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TA Day 92, zero day, Arthur’s Pass
I slept in late on this well deserved break day staying at a friend of a friend’s bach – pronounced…Read
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TA Day 91, Goat Pass Hut to State Highway 73, 10 km
The rain slashed against the windows all night. Was it wind making it sound heavier than it is or will…Read
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TA Day 90, Kiwi Hut to Goat Pass Hut, 28 km
My alarm goes off at 5:30 playing Billy McGlaughlin’s Finger Dance on full volume, but it’s still dark. I can…Read
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TA Day 89, Hurunui No. 3 Hut to Kiwi Hut, 23 km
The moonlight filled the tiny windows of the hut as I slept. The first morning I’m not flying out of…Read
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TA Day 88, Hope Halfway Shelter to Hurunui No. 3 Hut, 36 km
The morning begins cloudy, chilly, but no rain. I am up first, packed and ready to leave this over-stuffed hut.…Read
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TA Day 87, Boyle Flat Hut to Hope Halfway Shelter, 32 km
It rains all night and I wake up so glad I walked both passes in reasonably good weather and that…Read
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TA Day 86, Waiau Hut to Boyle Flat Hut, 43 km
Kuba’s alarm wakes us in the morning. Usually just the sunrise gets me up, but last night there was a…Read
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TA Day 85, Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut, 17 km
Rain spatters the windows as the sky lightens, though wind seems to have stilled. Snoring and adjusting keeps me awake,…Read
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TA Day 84, Upper Travers Hut to Blue Lake Hut, 16 km
Charley’s alarm wakes me around 5. He has plans to cross both passes today – and I’m sure he’ll do…Read
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TA Day 83, St. Arnaud to Upper Travers Hut, 30 km
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do. With your one…Read
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TA update: going up! – again
I received a short message from Alison: “Nelson Lakes conquered. Heading back up to miss rain. More in a week”…Read
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TA update: going up!
I spoke to DOC and they said walk, so heading up and will check back in about one week!
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TA Day 82, Red Hills Hut to St. Arnaud, 21 km
This morning I wake up on the edge of Mount Richmond Forest Park and say goodbye to this glorious –…Read
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TA audio narrative: north down, south to go
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TA Day 81, Top Wairoa Hut to Red Hills Hut, 29 km
I awake with a jolt from nightmares. I’d gone home trying to explain what I’m doing and then had one…Read
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TA Day 80, Rintoul Hut to Top Wairoa Hut, 22 km
I grab two bars, pack Olive Oyl and head up Purple Top before sunrise. A family of goats meets me…Read
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TA Day 79, Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut, 13 km
The hut rattles and shakes in the wind, but when I step outside for the loo, it’s not cold. I…Read
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TA Day 78, Hacket Track car park to Slaty Hut, 18 km
Maggie brings me outside when I wake up to show me my good luck charm – a rainbow. Cary joins…Read
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TA Day 77, Side trip! Abel Tasman National Park
Today is my second side trip, to beautiful Abel Tasman park. Steve makes a plan and we head out with…Read
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TA Day 76, zero day, Nelson
“It’s hard to be more perfect than right now,” says Steve as we sit on his beautiful deck overlooking a…Read
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TA Day 75, Captain Creek Hut to Hacket Track car park, 29 km
I sleep well outside. It’s cooler and the stars come out, diamonds displayed on black velvet. There’s no relief from…Read
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TA Day 74, Kaiuma Bay Road to Captain Creek Hut, 32 km
Tui and Sam’s loud morning stretch greet the day, overcast, just how I like it. It’s a different world down…Read
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TA Day 73, Onahua Lookout to Kaiuma Bay Road – 44 km
A couple of kids do arrive last night, just as the sun goes down behind a mountain. They bring good…Read
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TA Day 72, Camp Madsen to Onahau lookout, 37 km
Q: Why did the weka shriek before the sun came up? A: Because he can. To be fair there were…Read
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TA Day 71, Ship Cove to Madsen Camp, 17 km
I needed to get up before 5 am to catch the ferry, but what a treat for Raf to take…Read
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TA Day 70, ‘slackpack’ Wellington, 15 km
Things begin a bit lazy on another unusually sunny, warm day in Wellington with waffles and delicious yogurt, golden kiwis…Read
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TA Day 69, Wellington
I’m now dreaming constantly of walking, this time pushing through scree, trapped and not getting very far. I’m either a…Read
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TA Day 68, Camp Elsdon to Wellington, 29 km
I get up early to catch the cool air. It’s steep stairs up and up through bush finally into open…Read
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TA Day 67, Paekakariki to Camp Elsdon, 28 km
I dreamed last night that I was walking, but would wake up and see the stained glass window in my…Read
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TA Day 66, zero day
I suppose it’s a bit odd to snag a zero day when I’m just two days from finishing the North…Read
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TA audio narrative: weather window
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TA Day 64-65, Side trip! Mt. Taranaki
I hate to become repetitive, but this morning began with rain on the alicoop. I think I’m going to need…Read
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TA Day 63, Waikanae to Paikakariki, 21 km
The morning opens with rain and wind. Floris and Marjelain leave early, but I am beat. Brent makes me tea…Read
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TA audio narrative: thru-canoer
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TA Day 62, Waitewaewae Hut to Waikanae, 34 km
I wake up early, pack and eat tuna for breakfast to avoid any more of that weird heartbeat issue. The…Read
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TA Day 61, Dracophyllum Hut to Waitewaewae Hut, 13 km
Just after 5, and the nervous Germans are up packing. I like getting up early and hearing a few wind…Read
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TA Day 60, Makahika Outdoor Pursuits to Dracophyllum Hut, 25 km
When you go up in the Tauraruas, you want a forecast with no wind. The fact that it’s pouring rain…Read
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TA Day 59, Kahuterawa to Makahika Outdoor Pursuits, 40 km
Robb starts the trail with me for just a few feet before pealing off. Our drive into where I left…Read
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TA Day 58, ‘slackpack’ Palmerston North to Kahuterawa Park, 21 km
It rained last night and is still raining all morning. I have tea and toast with Robb and Tara hands…Read
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TA Day 57, Mount Lees Reserve to Palmerston North, 31 km
Well it was bound to happen – I wake up in pouring rain. I pack up anyway and figure, it…Read
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TA Day 56, Koitiata to Mount Lees Reserve, 37 km
A full moon looked in on my sleep, then a glorious sunrise. I’m back on black sand as my trail…Read
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TA Day 55, Whanganui to Koitiata, 33 km
An absolutely beautiful rest in a beautiful room awakened by the smell of toast, eggs, bacon – a full English…Read
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TA Day 54, Hipango Park to Whanganui, (30 km) + 7 km
I wake up to a five-note song, a slight variation on Gershwin’s first prelude. I answer with the second line,…Read
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TA audio narrative: best birthday present ever
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TA Day 53, Flying Fox to Hipango Park, (34 km)
The moon comes out accompanied by wild night sounds and a few stray splats of raindrops shaking off the trees.…Read
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TA Day 52, Tieke Kainga to Flying Fox, (52 km)
You know it’s a thru-hike – or at this point a thru-paddle – when you wake up in the middle…Read
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TA Day 51, John Coull to Tieke Kainga, (32 km)
Our tents are damp in this foggy morning, set on a staircase of carved terraces, Inca-style. Yesterday, Andrew and I…Read
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TA Day 50, Whakahoro to John Coull, (38 km)
Waking up was with complaining sheep and the thwap-thwap of techno pop meaning only one thing – sheep sheering. It’s…Read
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TA Day 49, Katieke War Memorial to Whakahora – 24 km
The day opens with low hanging mist. I have to put on rain gear to pack the tent, studying the…Read
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TA Day 48, National Park to Katieke War Monument – 27 km
I’m having trouble sleeping as my birthday winds down. So many gifts of good weather, astonishing scenery, strong legs and…Read
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TA Day 47, Mangatepopo track to National Park – 30 km
I often wondered where I’d end up on December 14th while walking the TA. So happy to wake up in…Read
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TA Day 46, Te Porere Redoubt to Mangatepopo track – 27 km
I’m up and packing at 3 am. Friends, there are stars out. Glory Hallelujah. Fingers crossed we make the crossing…Read
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TA Day 45, Whakapapa River to Te Porere Redoubt – 35 km
Gray and ominous this morning; foggy, but no rain. Obviously I’d like ideal weather for the crossing – and my…Read
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TA Day 44, Taumaruni to Whakapapa River – 25 km
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself. – Søren Kierkegaard The day starts…Read
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TA audio narrative: into each life…
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TA Day 43, Ongarue to Taumarunui – 27 km
Up early just as the sun is coming up, my favorite time of day. I’m happy to have found a…Read
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TA Day 42, Timber Trail to Ongarue campsite – 26 km
Good decision to sleep in the tent, so cozy and much less dew this morning. Tuis call each other over…Read
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TA Day 41, Timber Trail – 33 km
All my gear is neatly laid out as I wait for the sun to peak out over the trees. He’s…Read
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TA Day 40, Ngaherenga campsite to Timber Trail – 27 km
I wake up to an absolute cacophony of bird song, the wildest yet. We’re at about 500 meters and it…Read
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TA Day 39, Mangaokewa Road to Ngaherenga campsite – 33 km
More rain, but finally the sun is up and the sky is pink. I am starting to doubt my capacity…Read
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TA Day 38, Mangaokewa Reserve to Mangaokewa Road – 17 km
What an extraordinary place to wake up to. I have a virgin forest, thick and impenetrable, across the river. Rapids…Read
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TA Day 37, Waitomo to Mangaokewa Reserve – 31 km
It rains at night, a constant, loud volley of water bullets on the alicoop. I’m dry and snug as the…Read
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TA audio narrative: a ‘walking holiday’
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TA Day 36, ‘zero day’ Waitomo
I think I felt so good yesterday because it was the first time I started to really feel my rhythm…Read
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TA Day 35, Kaimango Road to Waitomo – 29 km
The weather forecast is for more rain – and thunderstorms – but not until later today. The mist is down…Read
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TA Day 34, Pahautea hut to Kaimango Road – 18 km
Rain and mist all night, but snuggled warm in a bunk at the hut. Sadly, no view from this spectacular…Read
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TA Day 33, Whatawhata to Pahautea hut – 33 km
What a fantastic place to sleep, dead quiet until about 4 when the trucks revved up again, but a safe,…Read
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TA audio narrative: gratitude
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TA Day 32, Hamilton to Whatawhata – 10 km
The cows have moved this morning and are grazing literally in Irene and Bindie’s backyard. I strip down and take…Read
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TA Day 31, Hakamarita to Hamilton – 28 km
I got a note from a follower named Tom who says, “You and your hiking odysseys personify today’s word.” The…Read
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TA Day 30, Rangiriri to below Hakamarita summit – 29 km
Rained all night. Maybe it got it out of its system. I slept well behind Cathy’s pie shop even though…Read
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TA Day 29, Mercer to Rangariri – 27 km
About to set off. The sun is out but I’m nervous getting back on the trail. Bought way too much…Read
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TA Day 28, ‘slackpack’ Mangere Bridge to Totara Park – 36 km
It’s raining. A lot. And expected all day – with lightning on the side. But I have good rain gear…Read
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TA Day 27, ‘slackpack’ Auckland – 18 km
I’m up and out before the house stirs in full rain gear. Just drizzle – and not cold – but…Read
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TA Day 26, ‘slackpack’* Auckland – 9 km
*slackpacking is section backpacking while sleeping in the same place each night I’m a tourist today, loosely walking the trail…Read
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TA Day 25, zero day, Auckland
I am laying in a bed letting the body recover until all hours of the morning, make that the afternoon.…Read
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TA Day 24, Stillwater to Auckland, 33 km + 4 km
A lazy morning awaiting the tide to get to its lowest at 12:36 so we can cross the Okura River.…Read
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TA Day 23, Wenderholm to Stillwater, 30 km
Cold, damp, sandflies – oh my! It rained through the night and I was warm nestled in the alicoop, but…Read
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TA audio narrative: the trail will provide
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TA Day 22, Puhoi to Wenderholm – 7 km + 1 km
The barkeep Sean has just asked if I met the ghost in room 7, he carries his head in his…Read
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TA Day 21, Dome forest to Puhoi – 34 km
I’m up and out early. Exotic birds becoming friends wake me, but I slept fitfully. It would be a big…Read
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TA Day 20 – Pakiri beach to Dome Forest – 26 km
A sunrise over the South Pacific. Not a bad way to wake up. Though I faff about in the warmth…Read
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TA Day 19, Dragon’s Spell to beach near Pakiri – 39 km
A grand sleep with my kiwi hoot-whistling softly and waves rumbling far below. I dream about a person who hasn’t…Read
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TA Day 18, Ruakaka to Dragon’s Spell – 26 km
Note to self: no more setting up on a slope. It was relatively wonderful at Betty’s but I couldn’t find…Read
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TA Day 17, Peach Cove to Ruakaka – 17 km + 11 km
I am a total dope. I followed a beach sign down to a rocky shore. But there is another beach…Read
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TA Day 16, Taiharuru River to Peach Cove – 25 km
The tree house faces east looking out over the estuary, pink streaks reflected in the receding water that I’ll walk…Read
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TA audio narrative: hiking as conversation
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TA Day 15, Nikau Bay to Taiharuru Estuary – 13 km
It’s been two weeks. I’ve gotten conjunctivitis and a minor sprain. Here’s hoping – hobbling? – the new week is…Read
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TA Day 14, Whananaki to Nikau Bay Camp – 28 km + 2 km
Quiet and cool this morning by the estuary. The wind died and the party heated up until the wee hours.…Read
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TA Day 13, Helena Bay to Whananaki – 25 km
Walking straight uphill this early morning onto a flower-covered hillside above the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing below.…Read
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TA Day 12, Waikare to Helena Bay – 28 km
I get an early start. It’s overcast just as I like it. Someone else is up with a weed wacker.…Read
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TA Day 11, Paihia to Waikare – 13 km + 3 km
The day dawned damp and a bit chilly. Our tent city at the Pickled Parrot spreading out on the couches…Read
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TA Day 10, Kerikeri to Paihia – 24 km
Another lovely night’s rest and now Vern drives me on the windy rollercoaster of a road back to Stone House…Read
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TA audio narrative: the start
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TA Day 9 – zero day, Kaeo
I’ve been invited to stay the night at one of the most extraordinary homes I’ve ever been to, in the…Read
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TA Day 8, Puketi Forest to Kerikeri – 27 km
The morning came full of birdsong. The first few nights – especially going this hard – are tough. My legs…Read
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TA Day 7, Apple Dam to Puketi Forest camp – 36 km
Well this <expletive> sucks. It’s been pouring rain for the last few hours. Nothing is nastier than packing in rain.…Read
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TA Day 6, Umaumokaroo to Apple Dam – 26 km
Just putting my things up to face a few more hours of mud til a road walk and – you…Read
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TA Day 5, Takahue Saddle Road to below Umaumakaroo – 16 km
What a delight to spend the evening at Peter’s overlooking Ahipara Bay. Wine under the olive trees, alicoop drying in…Read
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TA Day 4, Utea Park to Ahipara, 32 km
Definitely a better night at Utea Park and I do feel a bit sheepish that I was so maudlin last…Read
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TA audio narrative: suddenly D-day
“Make one friend to last the rest of your life.”
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TA Day 3, Maunganui Bluff to Utea Park – 30 km
The alicoop crashed in the middle of the night. First came torrential rain, then the wind. Then rain and wind.…Read
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TA Day 2, Twilight to Maunganui Bluff – 28 km
I woke up early. Really early. To be expected after not feeling any effects of jet lag on yesterday’s mission.…Read
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TA Day 1, Cape Reinga to Twilight – 12 km
It’s pitch dark, the waves are crashing and the other six at Twilight are asleep, nestled in their tents. This…Read
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TA audio narrative: and away she goes!
The only impossible journey is the one you never begin. – Tony Robbins I’m leaving Saint Paul for Kerikeri, New Zealand…Read
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TA video: ready or not…
click for downloadable gear list for the Te Araroa – plus weights!
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TA audio narrative: no outcomes backpacking
If you arrive at a final destination, it’s a sign that you’ve set your sights too low. – Friedrich Nietzsche
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TA walking hand-in-hand with Beethoven
How happy I am to be able to wander among bushes and herbs, under trees and over rocks; no one…Read
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TA audio narrative: Does orange make my butt look fat?
It's said that people fear public speaking - and looking ridiculous - more than death.
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Hammock Gear Burrow quilt review
I am afraid of heights. At least according to Ohio-based Hammock Gear, who – despite the name and mission –…Read
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TA video: alison’s big adventure
On Saturday, October 27th, I will begin a journey… Thank you Eduardo at TLG Photo and Video for making the…Read
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Soto Amicus review
Amicus means friend in Latin, and I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Soto Amicus…Read
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gear list for the Te Araroa
Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the…Read
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TA audio narrative: who is this “blissful hiker” you speak of?
MPR host swept into the inevitability of a five-month hike in New Zealand. I’m a classical music DJ and long-distance…Read
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ten reasons to add hot yoga to your thru-hike prep
The very heart of yoga practice is ‘abyhasa’ – steady effort in the direction you want to go. – Sally…Read
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training is life; life, training
Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. –…Read
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TA video: Thru-hike prep with visual aids
Tenting tonight on the old camp ground. – Micki Simms
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The little light that could
Many years ago, my mom, who was a Forensics coach, took me with her to the All-State Finals to cheer…Read
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Balega socks review
If you want to hike with the ease, agility and the fleet-footedness of a seasoned ultra trail runner, and keep…Read
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Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-tec review
The Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec is a foldable bomb-proof aluminum trekking pole with an awesome cork handled grip and outstanding adjustability.…Read
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Tarptent Notch Li partial solid w/silnylon floor review
The Tarptent Notch Li is a fantastic ultra light shelter for the solo thru-hiker looking for simplicity and durability, while…Read
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La Sportiva Akyra Trail Runners review
What do you get when you cross the speed, flexibility, the ability to stop on a dime and the wicking…Read
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Granite Gear Crown2 60 backpack review
The Granite Gear Crown2 60 is a superbly designed ultra light backpack ideal for multi-day backpacking and long distance thru-hiking.…Read
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Te Araroa, New Zealand – Oct-Mar, 2018—19
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you…Read
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Today, my boss gave me the green light to take a personal leave of five months to take care of a little something that has been on my mind for the past several years: to walk one of the biggies.

While it would seem to make more sense to start with something close to home like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest, my chunk of time away will be in the winter, and it’s only logical to track down summer – and prime backpacking season – where it happens during our cold months, on the other side of the earth.

I must have been playing a long song on Classical MPR when I stumbled upon this long trail. I was surfing the web looking up top hikes of the world and this newish hike – or tramp, as the Kiwis call it – popped up, piquing my curiosity.

Te Araroa means “the long pathway” in Maori. Completed in 2011, it’s a 3000 kilometer trail extending from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the south. It traverses the entire country; beaches, forests, mountains, volcanoes and cities and should likely take all the time I have planned to finish it.

Part of the Te Araroa is by boat.

Thus far the furthest I’ve walked all at one time was the GR5, 450 miles over the spine of the Alps. While taking on that challenge I wondered if I was made of the right stuff to sustain a thru-hike of not just weeks, but months. Aside from the logistical nightmare and the risk that I might not be missed at my place of employment, I hadn’t the faintest idea if I possessed the grit, the fortitude and determination, and the sheer pig-headedness to stick with a walk of 1,864 miles.

Over the ensuing years, I decided there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to go and do it. Keeping in mind the fact that I’m not getting any younger and my arthritic toes are continuing to protest, I made the decision to request a leave of absence, and put myself directly on the path of enormous change. Sure, it will be a change in scenery and routine, but also in how my life looks and feels because I am going alone. Don’t worry. Richard will be following my every step through the magic of GPS tracking – and I’ll stay connected by blog. I certainly hope you’ll follow me. I might need emotional support along the way.

So right now I’m absolutely tingling with excitement for this rare opportunity even as I make lists of all that has to get done, including applying for a visitors visa on an extremely thorough application which requires proof I not only have the financial means to return home, but plan to do so!

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 20, epilogue

Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.
– Cindy Ross

#blissfulhiker upon Kidsty Pike about to leave the Lakes.

Working my way back to Manchester airport from another seaside town, Scarborough. Gritty, charmless, yet full of people on a Saturday afternoon shopping in the pedestrian street, families pushing prams, tattooed singles with dogs, eating, vaping and all ignoring the cross signals, as I do too, ensuring I look right before pressing into traffic.

It’s maybe a fitting way to end this walk. It somehow seems more real than striding out on moors and atop fells, looking for a good place to pitch the alicoop, avoiding midges and cooking a meal in the Jetboil. Oddly enough I feel less sad and more satisfied than I often do at the end of these things. Maybe it’s the fact that within just minutes the train hurtled me out of the throng of humanity and right back into the green and pleasant land my feet trod, wide open and far less foreign to me now after three weeks. Or perhaps it’s that I was able to find a charity shop right around the corner from the station. The woman in charge saying yes she did have suitcases but they weren’t “modern.” Yes! just what I was looking for! A behemoth to hold my backpacking kit safely for the journey home, at just £5 and it even has wheels.

Coming out of the cloud.

Also fitting might be that the day is cloudy with some rain. Was I ever lucky, even copping rays in sun-filled Northern England. As one after another Coast-to-Coaster threw a pebble into the sea, we all commented on our good fortune, avoiding clag in the Pennines, no need for mincing footsteps in the non-existent boggy moorland, fabulous views in the Lakes.

What captures my imagination now is the variety of all I saw – fell, dale, moor and plain. Of course anyone walking the C2C would enjoy this gradual shifting of terrain as they walked west to east, but I upped the ante by adding another 60 miles and cracking up all the highest peaks plus some.

Strider on Striding Edge.

I would recommend adding the Ali-loop to the traditional trail. It’s a longer walk and once you rejoin the classic trail at Hellvellyn, the mileage remaining might feel daunting, but it’s a hell of a ride. And I would most definitely suggest backpacking. I only saw a few people carrying gear – and that’s only on the classic walk, there was not a soul backpacking in the Lakes. “Wild camping” is tolerated in the Lakes, and I was absolutely alone in every spot I chose. And when it was not convenient to be up in the hills, there was always a place to pitch at a farm or next to a pub. I found it exhilarating to have that freedom.

That being said, I mostly saw older people walking the classic trail in shorter stages with all their gear sherpa-ed to the next B&B. School is still in session in England, so it’s possible only retirees are free to walk now. It is the most lovely time with all the flowers blooming and the lambs frolicking in the fields, but it made me feel a bit out of place. It’s not to say the hike isn’t challenging, but even the French Alps with all the refuges and villages charmants, did not feel packed with weekend walkers. I’m eager for a solo hike in wilderness where the next pub is days rather than hours away by foot. Though, snob that I am, I still learned a thing or two from a few rambling retirees, like purchasing anti-blister sock liners next time and not having to tape every piece of skin on my foot after developing one nasty hot spot. No hiker knows it all, that’s for sure.

The first big pull above Ennerdale Water.

So what about the kit, how did it go, you ask. Aside from my hairband – which turned up inside my sleeping bag when i got home, nothing was lost or broken. Even the ancient Jetboil, its starter replaced and busted, the innards falling apart in my hands at Ennerdale Water on day one, held up and worked brilliantly. I’ll be looking for a lighter weight alternative to my most favorite MSR pump, which I did not bring this time and instead used pills. They worked just fine, but I was more remote than I expected and relied on them for all the days and nights in the lakes. The 4-liter dromedary was perfect, as were two fizzy water bottles, that never leaked or cracked. I always forget how much I crave a sweet energy additive for the water and this time packed a ziplock with a few weeks worth.

The alicoop, the sleep set up, my clothing – except for the terribly fitting Fits socks, the heel sliding under my foot, and my lack of full sun protection for my hands – all worked well. I kept my hair in a ponytail with a buff as a hairband. It was that hot! But also, the curls stayed under control when the wind picked up.

Slippy scree below Sca Fell Pike.

I am in need of a new backpack. I love this Granite Gear style, basically just a big bag with two pockets and a few straps, but I wear a men’s and after a week, I lose so much weight, I simply can’t tighten the straps. I’ve actually known this for some time, but have gotten too busy – or too cheap – to do anything about it. But the time has come to find a better fitting pack for the next adventure.

I did so love wearing quick drying, light weight, but rugged, fell runners. North Face even managed to patent a shoelace that never had to be retied. As one walker commented, “Brilliant! Superb!” My only concern was how my arthritis made itself known after a long day’s walk. Am I just getting older or do I need a boot next time, or maybe a more robust inner support?

Boats at low tide, Robin Hood’s Bay.

Two small things I brought turned out to be quite useful. At the last minute Richard gave me a cleaning cloth for the iPhone. It’s stuffed into a little water resist pouch and hangs off the waist belt. It got a bit wet, but dried quickly and lost none of its cleaning ability. I used it in the sunglasses, the screen and the camera lens with great results. I also packed a Sea-to-Summit mini backpack that closes into a tiny ball. I used it when buying groceries, and will use it now on the plane for the items I don’t want checked.

The compass got a workout, and everyone should carry one and know how to use it. Following a bearing can keep you from walking in circles when the mist comes down, and the C2C is not the best signed trail to say he least. I used the gps to send a bread crumb home, but a quick look at my location came in handy when everything disappeared in fog.

Resupply options.

Food was a bit of a problem. I was determined to stay on the Whole30 diet and managed to do so for the first several days, but it was far too difficult to resupply. The best meals were dehydrated eggs and tomato, potato bark with broccoli and pepper, beef jerky and larabars. In the past, I’ve dehydrated a complete stir fry meals of veggies, vegan sausage and brown rice. I think I’ll be heading back in that direction for the next hike to ensure I get enough calories. Indeed, pubs were frequented and some were better than others, but I found steak pie with mushy peas and a side of chips got a little repetitive and I longed for more variety, especially with vegetables. Though I’m not complaining at all about the selection of hand-pulled ales. Early on, I was convinced I needed the carbohydrates.

I used my headlamp once the entire walk, attempting to read just before sleeping on the first night. The sun set around 9 or so, but the sky was light til almost 11. By 4, the birds were in full song. I awoke, but usually drifted back to sleep. Every day was hours of walking, but I always felt like I had enough time and never rushed.

Lamb rumps.

Would I suggest this walk to friends? Of course. It can be taken on in any fashion that suits, guided and planned with a pint and a shower awaiting your every stage, gritty and come-what-may in my style, and every way in between. As an American it particularly fascinated me to hear the accents, see how people live and go on holiday, and discover how family-oriented this country is, even when it comes to the pubs. I never once felt in danger and it’s safe to say, I fell in love with this lovely place, as I learned on my walk to speak a bit more “English.”

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 19, Grosmont to Robin Hood’s Bay

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
– Terry Pratchett

One more steep climb, but easily done on road.

Today, the hike came to an end.

But what a finish! There was no way my extended-C2C was going to let me go without some work and a deeply memorable wow of an ending.

Rain fell on the alicoop in the night and I was a bit buzzy thinking of the weather report and what I’d walk into. Storm Hector was bashing the west coast of the British Isles, while in the east, the rain was falling in that way it does when the wind is high, in fits and spurts, the gusts shaking the trees and whipping up a frothy sky of fast moving clouds.

Mystical Little Beck Wood.

I happily made a shorter day yesterday into Grosmont to experience train culture and save one more giant climb for the morning when I would most likely still be fresh. Working my way up past stacked row houses on a 33% grade, I felt elated by how fit I’d gotten, even if knackered from 16 days hiking with no real rest day. But let’s face it, road walking is pretty straight forward. No two steps up, one step back on scree like Sca Fell, or rock hopping on precipitous edges like Helvellyn, or boggy way finding like the Dodds. This was a piece of cake even as the road wound around, up and up to the top one last high moor, Sleights, where the wind found me.

And what a wind! Richard and I were slammed with something similar in Chile’s Torres del Paine, but these were 55 mph straight line winds with gusts of 70. I didn’t fall over, but certainly had a drunken look to my meandering walk bracing myself on my sticks over a totally exposed couple of miles. As if to add an exclamation point to the wild ride, a mini squall pressed in of sharp sleet. It was a bugger to try and manhandle the waterproof. Fortunately, it was short lived.

70 mph gusts from Storm Hector made walking difficult, but made me ecstatic.

In all that noise and excitement, I was mostly squealing with delight never feeling in any real danger. Soon I cut off the trail down into one more charming town, the views of the North Sea tantalizingly close, but still another 12 miles away. The trail moved deep into Little Beck Wood, where the birdsong competed with wind high up in the trees. A little oasis of calm, the nature preserve boasts a closed alum mine and a hermits cave. I was mostly taken with the stand of oak on the sharply angled ravine.

Back into the open and out on one last moor, this time a low moor called Sneaton, the path obvious from the crushed swamp grass and deep boot prints in the boggy moss. Here a sign warned about adder. Poisonous snakes in England?!? The moor gave way to the Graystone Hills and finally back on tarmac, where the wind whipped the telephone lines, creating an eerie moan.

The last moor in high wind, the sea finally appearing in the distance.

Here I began to experience that ambivalence one gets in the final day of a thru-hike. It doesn’t matter if it’s 70 miles or 700, there’s a transition made from the routine of backpacking to finally stopping and re-entering. I find it hard to get into the right pace. Do I push along quickly and get this done, or do I linger longer and savor the moments even more, as soon they will only be memories. It’s not without some sadness that I approach final days and I carried this with me for the few miles past the final villages – Low Hawsker, Hawsker, High Hawsker and Hawsker Bottom – before reaching a holiday park of row upon row of minty green aluminum-sided track homes marching straight down to the sea, my final goodbye to charming English villages.

Now, as if bookended with my start, the finale was a three mile coastal walk high up on cliffs where the fields poured down the hill towards me on my right, the North Sea in a frenzy of white caps to my left. The day was truly extraordinary, the full brunt of the gusts tempered by the hills, the views striking and the walk tender on the feet.

Tract homes with million dollar views on the final walk to the North Sea.

You begin to see the bay tucking in before you see any town, a smugglers site with a long history. And suddenly, there it is, perhaps one of the most lovely towns on the walk, a cluster of buildings clinging to the side of the gully all the way down to the sea. And it’s the grand walk, on road and on stairs that takes the C2C finisher past shops and restaurants right down to the water where she plunges in up to her knees – as requested by her friend Kate – and tosses in the pebble she’s been carrying across the country from the Irish Sea.

Now it’s time to clean up, fatten up, take stock and organize pictures. In a few days time, I will post my GPS coordinates should you be interested in walking the Coast-to-Coast extended walk. But for now, the biggest walk today is down the road for a celebratory meal and a pint of Wainwright.

The C2C – and the road – finish in the water.

The End.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 18, Blakey Ridge to Grosmont

Desert, jungle, mountains or coast; I don’t have a preference. If I’m out in the wilderness with everything I need in the world on my back, chances are my smile is wide and my thoughts are clear.
– Cam Honan

Volunteer rail men clowning around for this enthusiast.

What is it about trains that always make us smile? Especially if it’s an antique one with wooden carriages and a coal-fired steam locomotive. The North York Moors Railway belched acrid black smoke leaving the Grosmont station spot on 4:30, the platform was full of tourists like me snapping pictures and waving, the various volunteer masters and foreman keeping everyone safe as she huffed and puffed and gathered speed, peaking at 25 mph.

Grosmont – silent S – is the alicoop’s stop for the night as the next few miles is another straight up hill towards the remaining 15 miles to the end. It’s a gritty little town, but filled with character and pride, signs pointing the way through a grand tunnel to see the locomotives barn and pick up some train-themed souvenirs. This spot has a good vibe.

Great Fryup Dale.

The day started windy with the alicoop rattling, but standing up to them. Once I started on the mostly downhill 13 1/2 mile day, I was broad-sided by the cool fingers, happy to have it compete with so much direct sun. How can a person complain about such bright weather in England?!

I moved down the rigg of moorland, on and off tarmac switching the poles from rubber tipped to metal along the way. One particularly lovely stretch had me singing some Sweet Baby James Taylor in time to my footsteps. It was that kind of lazy walk. Though once on a track with small stones, my feet grew weary and I looked for any strip of grass to cool them.

Drinking “pink” – instant energy water – on the Beggars Bridge,

Past grouse butts and protective nesting birds screeching overhead, I finally came upon the terraced houses of Glaisdale. Promised one of the most charming towns on the trail, I pushed down and down the 25% grade and somehow blew past it straight to the Beggar’s Bridge, built by a poor man who found his fortune and returned to marry the squire’s daughter – and finally improve passage for the town over the River Esk.

I must have missed the charm and there was no way I was heading back up to find out, so I pushed on into a wood that looked as if the perfect scouted location for a Monty Python flick. I expected the black night at any moment to tell me “None shall pass.” Indeed many had on the lovingly laid stones, worn smooth in the middle by thousands of feet.

Skipping on the stepping stones at Egton Bridge.

Egton Bridge appeared after a bend with its famous stepping stones to a public island. Here I contemplated how far I’ve come – the Coast-to-Coast and then some. It’s always hard to manage your pace as the end draws near. Do you race to the end and finish or savor each moment a bit longer? I feel elated to have done all of this in the time I set for myself, but, of course a bit sad too having it come to an end. Just making a small mental note of how things went. Nothing broke, nothing was lost – except my favorite hairband – and I still feel reasonably good overall.

In another few miles I arrived in Grosmont and am ready for one last wander around in my crocks and a taste of local food. The place is jammed with walkers and there’s a collegial vibe that we’ve just about done it.

NYMR or “Hogwarts Express”

Of course, tomorrow begins with one more big uphill, then a long walk on the coast, marching into Robin Hoods Bay. The Beeb says the winds are going to be high and rain is expected. Should be some way to finish, so off to bed soon enough.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 17, Ingelby Arncliffe to Blakey Ridge

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
– Henry David Thoreau

Urra, highest point in North York Moors.

Rain fell in the alicoop last night and by morning – which begins here at 4am – the fret moved in and I thought my day would be lost to poor views and claggy conditions underfoot.

It was just the opposite and why I have been blessed with such fabulous conditions, I have no idea. I have certainly paid my dues, hiking the Colorado Trail in an almost constant state of monsoon and last fall’s Border Route nothing dried for five days. Praise the hiker guides this time around.

Absolute bliss.

My feet are much better today, the blister beginning to harden. The walk starts straight up out of Ingelby Cross through verdant green forest. Stiles and gates disappeared for a firm track that I was told had only recently been patched up with stone. The views opened out onto a series of fells into the distance as I happily – and surprisinfgly quickly – puffed up the first big climb.

As I entered the North York Moors National Park, a sign told me this is the largest continuous stretch of heather in England. Friends, my breath was taken away, not by the climbing, but the stunning view from this height. The moor has been carefully maintained with a series of rock slabs blending right in with the wildness, your feet feel as if walking a church floor, smooth, gentle – even going down.

Soft walking without the clag.

It was here I met up once again with the men from Mississippi who gave me a long stare and asked, “Now before you won the lottery, what did you do??” Taxidermy, I said…these guys were persistent! I banged their sticks for luck and pushed on by. Thank goodness we had different destinations for the day. Nice guys, but c’mon already.

I was reminded of the Dodds from so many days ago, up and down different humps – Near Moor, Live Moor, Holey Moor, Cryngle Moor, Urra Moor – but all the time, I was high above the Yorkshire Plain, close to the clouds, the wind keeping me cool.

A good day of 21 miles walking.

I would now like to say something about my hat. It’s goofy, I know. Made by Kavu it’s the best hat I have ever owned. The strap tightens from the brim, so the hat is never against the head in such a way as to induce a headache, but it always stays on even in the fiercest wind. I have gotten some sun, but nothing direct and the wide brim has worked beautifully in light rain too. Yay for the hat!

I’m now at the the Lion Inn after a long seven mile stretch smack dab in the middle of the moor. I may have this puppy over and done with in two days. Excited, happy and strong. Praise the goddess.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 16, St. Giles Farm to Ingleby Arncliffe

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
– Frank Lloyd Wright

Wheat in the wind, the Cleveland Hills in the distance.

Today was the day I was warned about – long, flat and a lot of road walking. It’s to be expected on any real thru-hike that you’ll have some days less exciting than others, but what surprised me was that the road walking turned out to be blissfully relaxing with some of the fields, less so.

I was told by a local that Yorkshire people have short hands and long pockets. This soon became evident in the state of the way-marking and stiles, as if no one could be bothered to keep the right of way in good repair. Sometimes this included crashing through a hedge barely trimmed for clearance, or busted steps, flimsy poles or barbed wire surrounding the exact placement for your hand. It felt a bit like I wasn’t totally welcome here. And topped off by a wildly dangerous mad dash across a dual carriage way, lorry upon lorry upon young man in an Audi bearing down on your sad hobbled run.

The excuse for no bridge? The road was here first.

Half-way pit stop in a long day’s walk.

But maybe my own attitude needs adjustment. When I told a few folks in Danby Wiske that I had added six days in the Lakes to the walk to bag all the big mountains, they said “As if this isn’t hard enough?” I am thrilled I did, and proud I moved well, but today I’m paying with a big fat blister right on my heel, like stepping on a sharp tack with every footfall.

It’s dressed with everything in the arsenal, but endless pounding through fields and road – even if flat – started to deflate my spirits. And that’s when something needed to be done, to get into noticing mode. I ask myself what is around me to see, whether beautiful or ugly, what sticks out?

Church, Bolton-on-Swale.

Bolton-on-Swale has an interesting church, the leaning gravestones taking up the entire front yard. The houses here are no longer stone, but made of brick and the land is greener with the thick vegetation everywhere. In fact, at one point, the trail veered right into a tunnel of hedge between two fields. It was about a half mile in the shade.

Moors have given way to meadows, the wind gently blowing the grass like waves on a sea. Yellow Jammers float frozen in the air, singing their complicated song as skylarks whistle, competing with the wind.

Friendly fillies.

One farm warned me to beware of the witch, a skull and rubber rats nailed to the stile. Once I stepped up a recording was tripped, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” Had this family gotten fed up with people letting their pooches loose on their lambs? Or is watching walkers negotiate the zigzagged trail, losing their way and traipsing on the lawn enough to make them want to poke fun?

I must admit, at this stage, I feel kind of ridiculous carrying a backpack stuffed with gear, the GPS strapped to my left shoulder, dressed in my goofy hat and walking on all fours with trekking poles. I deserve to be poked fun at. One farmer did so when he built a stile to nowhere ending in tramped down grass above a beck and no way out. He had the last laugh as I – and all who went before me – backtracked to the correct crossing.

Just me and the birds on the road walk.

But it’s been well worth it to carry the kit because here I am all set up in another field, the weather clement and a plate of lamb rump coming to me – lamb rump, I might add here, I saw in great abundance alive and bleating all along the route. In France, campsites have a bar and took my order for the morning’s croissant. In England, the tea service is available for campers right next to the toilet.

Though not the most memorable day of this walk, it did turn out to be just right.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 15, Reeth to St. Giles Farm

Travel far enough, you meet yourself.
– David Mitchell

Way finding in Richmond.

Another stunningly beautiful, bright, sunny day completely out of the norm for this region of the world. I met two women also backpacking and coming the opposite direction, dressed in full-on rain gear, gators and sun protection. They were in such shock about this unusual weather, they seemed unable to change their clothing – or attitude.

The day opened on Reeth at 4 am, but I was absolutely knackered from my trudge across the moors, I slept late. By the time I suited up, sent the “I’m starting my hike” and tracking message to Richard, it was well past 10. But I knew the walking was only getting easier and the sunsets later, so I had literally all day to find my way past Richmond.

Stone laithe in Swaledale.

Out into the countryside, the land was changing noticeably into more rolling green pastureland and deciduous trees. The path forward was still a bit of a puzzle as to finding which way any sort of “trail” went through the fields and if they indeed led to a stile or fence, but I was improving in my way-finding, and only had to backtrack a few times.

The sun was hot and the cumulus clouds grew above the verdant path, one so delightful to walk on as if someone had spread an Oriental carpet in front of my feet. Soon, I reached the priory ahead of Merrick. Closed now to the public, I was only able to make out its graceful ruins from a distance. But what remains for public consumption are the stairs hand-built by the nuns leading through a wood for almost half a mile to the town center. The cool of the dense shade was welcome this morning, and I could almost hear singing through the ages as I ascended.

Nuns walk to Merrick.

The village is just a collection of farm buildings and homes all made of local stone. I looked longingly at the homes with their stunning view atop a hill. Could I live here? Experiencing sunrise in June at 4, it doesn’t take much calculating to figure that by December, sunset would be early, and darkness – combined with a damp cold – might make the living less desirable. I do know if I lived in a stone house, I would paint my doors a bright purple or maybe even orange.

Opening gate after gate, some with a tuning fork-like melody, I entered into a new kind of field, no longer moor, but meadow, with a gentle reminder to walk in single file. This is because the seemingly useless meadow is in actuality winter feed for livestock and the farmers prefer giving up only so much right-of-way.

Local boosters.

Upon entering any village, I pop out of my pocket two rubber tips for the trekking poles, a brilliant last-minute idea I had right before leaving Minnesota. And I would like to say something here about my trousers and their most excellent pockets. In the last several long distance hikes I have walked, I have worn long pants. It was my husband – a professional disc golfer – who convinced me that it was worth being protected in keeping the sun, poison ivy and all that scratches and clings off my skin. It’s actually cooler to stay covered than to wear sunblock, so I am pleased to have these long pants from REI.

At first I thought the stretchy material was just to hide bulges and contour to my curves, but the purpose is also to make real pockets that actually hold things like left side: map; right side: pole tips; zip pocket: wallet and the little stone I’m carrying from one coast to the next. I can also make them tighter with a kind of internal belt as I slim down over the hike. These pants rock.

Snacks served in the cemetery.

In Marske, a little sign invited me to take a pause at St. Edmunds Church. They had an honesty box of candy bars, potato chips and drinks. I hadtoI partake of the peaceful surroundings, sipping an OJ in their graveyard.

As I approached Richmond, I came upon a bench and small sign with words from one of Alfred Wainwright’s books extolling the wonder of this high level view of an ancient Norman city. Sadly no one took the time to trim the branches and the view was directly at a hedge.

But Richmond did not disappoint, a lovely small city of stone and cobbled streets looked upon by castle ruins directly on the River Swale. I had a snack at a pub in the center of town with techno pumping and an early drinker throwing darts.

Pastoral scene, Yorkshire.

It’s never easy finding the trail that leads out of towns, and I missed my turn at one point, fortunately without too much damage. I have never been so happy to find the sewage treatment plant that I needed to pass before heading back up into meadows and farmland for the village of Coburn.

You can’t imagine how odd it is for an American to come upon a village just emerging out from the fields. We’ve become accustomed to strip malls and urban sprawl. England protects its open spaces, which are havens for wildlife and all that goes with a natural setting like fresh air. I wish I could bottle the smell and bring it with me back on the plane.

Glad I’m slimming down to push through this slot stile.

My plan was to reach a farm where camping is allowed on the lawn, just about a mile out of town. But as I passed the pub, people looked out the windows and beckoned me indoors. Finally a waitress came out and suggested I not pass but come in for a pint. At first I was reluctant, but then relented and was swept into the magic of trail walking, that you make friends from all over the world. Two men from Mississippi were particularly eager to talk and find out all about me. Though it did seem their primary interest was to talk about themselves as how this was the second time they’d walked the trail, they loved it so much.

Gate to nowhere.

I tend to get shy around such gregarious behavior, so when they asked me what I do, I told them I was lucky enough to win the lottery and was able to spend the rest of my life traveling.

Would it were so. But life is pretty darn good as I get to spend my night in this glorious location up on a hill looking out on some of the most delicious scenery on the entire trail , with tomorrow a long day’s walk all on flat ground.

View from my tent at St. Giles Farm.


Coast to Coast

C2C: day 14, Ravenseat to Reeth

I like being near the top of a mountain. One can’t get lost here.
– Wislawa Szymborska

One third of the Ravenseat Farm brood.

I broke two cardinal rules today: I didn’t check the map as I came around a difficult section of the trail and I followed two people I thought were going my way. Never do these things. Why? Because you get yourself good and lost.

I’m in the lovely village of Reeth tonight. A reasonable pull of 14 miles or so, if I hadn’t made a long and arduous detour. The day started at Ravenseat Farm, right at the end of the trail coming off the moors. The farmer’s wife greeted me with scones and jam and had me set the alicoop right at the foot of the stone bridge, the bubbling beck singing me to sleep. When I awoke, it was all in mist and chilly, though the sun peaked out promising a good days walk.

This way in Swaledale.

Soon the children came out one by one to see who was camping in their yard. This is a big family of nine children spanning a few decades. First it was the second oldest riding over in a motorbike he was fixing up himself. He was dressed to kill in real biker duds, though likely his dad’s or older brothers as the pants were rolled up. He showed off a little, waiting for me to ask more about the bike.

Then the farmer himself sauntered to my the picnic table where I was organizing breakfast. He gave me the facts about sheep farming, then plunged right into politics. Brexit – bad; Trump – not so much.

#blissfulhiker looking for Crackpot Hall.

Later the little ones came by. “What’s this for-uh?”asked the littlest one, Clemmy, about all my gear. “What’s this for-uh?” This is a compass. “What’s this for-uh?” My gps…”What’s this for-uh?” These are my trekking poles…The smallest of the brood has no guile whatsoever and I could have stayed the day playing and explaining.

But it was time to push off, out on the moor high above gulleys rushing with water and “forces” or waterfalls. This area is called Swaledale and rolls along in gentle curves dotted with laithes or stone barns standing solitary in million-dollar views.

Lead mines remains right before the storm hit.

Soon, I approached Keld, more of a bend in the road than a village of stone houses. I picked up a bacon bap at the camping store, but was a bit put out by the notices filled with rules, regulations and a cost for everything including charging the phone.

Perhaps it was the funk I got into leaving a lovely green in Keld with massive signs saying no camping, so by the time I neared the high route leading to Reeth, I was distracted and enervated by the increasing heat and lost my way. The book warned that the trail was not easy to find, and of course, I landed myself directly on the wrong trail, only two boots wide and hanging right over the cliff above the river. But I found it an adventure and soldiered on towards Crackpot Hall, crackpot simply referring to the depth of the chasm, one only a crow could love.

Two intrepid women marched ahead of me and I circled around the old lead mining ruins with them, snapping a few pix then following them up the other side of the chasm. A big mistake. From here, the trail came right back out, onto the edge of the moor, essentially in the opposite direction I needed to go. Once I realized my mistake, I discovered an easy exit straight down to the lower route to Reeth, where most hikers were slowly meandering along in bunches.

But that kind of walking was not for me. I was up for a challenge and thought I might simply take a beating and meet the main high route trail by making a kind of triangle. Theoretically, it’s doable. But it required crossing over two miles of open moor, much of it uphill.

Road walk through Keld.

And that’s what I did, ignoring all of my English lit classes warning of the dangers on the open moor, how one can get thoroughly lost, disoriented, or sucked into the mire. Luckily the mire was well in hand with so little rain. It was the heather that nearly did me in, sharp, scratchy, grabby, clumpy, tussocky heather for miles on end.

But once I got going, there was no stopping me and I plodded onwards and upwards, finally following a stone wall that eventually led to a stile. A stile meant only one thing: people walked here. And just as I felt completely idiotic adding many miles to what was supposed be a reasonably easy day, two other women hikers appeared. We shared the map and advice and I found a way down and down, backtracking to a bridal path and finally to the C2C.

Storms building on the moor.

And this just as the thunder started rumbling. It was quite a sight at that junction, ruins from one of the smelters built during the Industrial Revolution, a lovely brook falling over mossy stones. But at this point I needed to go up to go down, right into the path of the storm.

In a previous post, I mentioned the English seem less panicky about thunderstorms which tend to be less catastrophic. None-the-less, loud booms echoing in the hills had me moving as fast as I could up onto Melbecks Moor as the rain began lashing down. The site at the top seemed fitting, an industrial wasteland of tailings and moved earth, a few ruins scattered about for dramatic effect.

The only thing needed after a day like today.

The hike from here, had I not made such a costly error, was mostly boring. But I was knackered through and through, it seems an endless six miles or so. I missed yet another turn and ended up in a tiny group of houses on the road a mile from Reeth. A sign promised a walk through the fields, but came to nothing and I cursed as I made my way back to the road and walked all the way into this lovely town, wide open to the fells and wide open in embracing my tired self.

Now I must go and study up carefully for tomorrow’s hike which I hope will prove uneventful. Though to be honest looking back, what an adventure to have such a stunning view up the Swale Dale over Gunnerside and Mucker and to experience for myself the first – and hopefully only – time crashing straight through moorland, no trail, no path, just me an the compass. I’ve had my share of thunderstorms in the hills, but this time I really was out in it and far from comfortable. So I just put on the raincoat and kept moving. Not so bad an adventure after all, and certainly different from the masses.

Yay for this #blissfulhiker.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 11, Grisedale Tarn to Haweswater

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.
– Edward Abbey

Hiker coming around the bend in Patterdale.

I just might be at the most beautiful wild campsite yet, and the last of the wild sites. Tomorrow, when I hit Shap and cross the M6 motorway, the lakes will be just a memory – and most camping will happen next to pubs.

Last night was cold and damp. The sky was clear and some very bright planet peaked into the alicoop from the south across the Tarn. I shivered when I emerged into the wind and before I could make tea, a chilling mist sneaked up the dale “on tiny cat’s paws” covering the sun, causing me to shiver. The hardest chore camping is to take down in the rain. But taking down in the cold is right up there in challenge, when your frozen fingers can barely work as they touch metal and you try to roll up the tent and carefully stuff it in the bag. I sang to myself to move faster and stay warm as I left that lovely place, down and down to Patterdale.

Mist creeping in at Grisedale Tarn.

I always worry the impression I make when I enter town and need to buy things. I see myself as strong and intrepid, having added ten major peaks to the trail plus a day’s climbing. But the impression I must give is a bit raggedy, my hair squashed into a buff and held tightly off my burned face, my hands dry as crocodile leather, and my body smelling like a barnyard, and that’s an insult to barnyards everywhere.

But what a delight to discover that haggard hikers is the norm and I fit right in. All the action is at the local post office – part store, part cafe, part charging the electronics pit stop. Apparently it was the favorite of Alfred Wainwright himself, and the first to carry his beautifully illustrated trail books. BBC broadcaster Julia Bradbury hosts a special on her top Wrainwright walks and raves about the bacon baps at this very spot, so I was found mid-morning enjoying one myself.

Resupply at Wainwright’s favorite post office.

A thru-hike never really feels like a thru-hike until it’s time to resupply. On the Colorado Trail and the John Muir Trail, I sent my food ahead, but here, like France, I knew I’d drop into towns and could pick things up as I went along. Of course, you’re at the mercy of what’s available, like potted soup, random bars and “smash.” The tea selection was good and I was surprised the tiny store carried isobutane for the Jetboil.

It was hard to leave, but I needed to make some miles today, so crossed the beck and looked for the trail headed straight up the next set of hills. As I moved up, a few RAF jets came careening down the dale, the sound sudden and terrific.

Trail crew.

Up the trail, I finally saw trail workers laying the stone paths, young people I asked might show me how strong they are for a photo, and replying “but we are strong!” Now on the official C2C, more people shared the trail. Many a “hiya!” and “awright” as I meandered up the path.

If a walker sticks to the classic route, this one will be the hardest they hit. After so many peaks tackled, I was feeling pretty cocky. This is gonna be a breeze as one false summit after another was crossed. The map was clear, I’d walk nearly four miles before hitting the highest point at Kidsty Pike, but I obstinately believed each rise was my destination, even after passing the shapely Angle Tarn, only half-way up.

Kidsty Pike before the midges took control.

I only took a few wrong turns, quickly corrected, before seeing the obvious pointy brow of the pike and the long gulley leading to Haweswater. It was a lovely perch of jagged rocks framing the high peaks of the lakes I had only recently climbed. But as I admired the view, the wind dropped and the midges rose, as if one amorphous organism setting down on my face and hands. Think African Queen, no swatting would keep this evil cloud away, so it was out of there as fast as I could. It seems it’s not just water that attracts these buggers.

The next stage made me a bit nervous as my official guide warned of a steep, rocky descent where hands would need to be used. The first part was velvety grass, the type fell runners crack straight down. I’ve gotten pretty good at that myself, even with a pack. Sticks help the technique of placing your feet facing down, bending your knees, leaning back and running in smallish steps. You really move. No more zigzagging for this #blissfulhiker!

Beautiful Angle Tarn.

But the fun was over when the stones appeared. Wainwright himself suggests your best defense is to use your bum. There’s certainly no shame in it, and I have the snagged trousers to prove it. So I was fully prepared to get down in whatever undignified way necessary. It was a bit of challenge; a wee bit. I guess if this was your very first big pull, a fair warning might be useful, but I’ve been hiking now nine days, so just flew right down.

Looking down at my (hopeful) campsite.

Haweswater is a reservoir, one that completely buried a village. In drought it’s said the ghost town comes into view. Right now, all that can be seen are crumbling rock walls and overgrown trees. My site is next to a small stand of tamarack next to a burbling creek. Idyllic and absolutely at peace. Hoping for Shap and Orten tomorrow, and on to the Pennines!

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 9, Blencathra to Mosedale Beck, below Clough Head

It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.
– Dave Barry

Looking for a wild camp above Threlkeld.

An ode to the alicoop:

Oh, alicoop, you are so long and shapely with your twin peaks and proud double mastheads.
You are my chrysalis and my haven.
Light and lithe, you cradle me when darkness falls at half-eleven, and as the eastern sky lights at 4 am.
Thank goodness I haven’t broken a trekking pole.

I’ve been sleeping so well on this walk, probably because my floors have been grassy. But last night I was awakened by flashing light. A thunderstorm?! I lay there cozied in and heard the rumbling approach up the dale. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…kaboom-boom-boom, it rattled and echoed the surrounding fells, as I wracked my brain, does five seconds mean five miles away or one? KaBOOOOOM-boom-boom!

Soft grass, water and solitude in the fells.

I breathe very shallow in lightning storms, feeling vulnerable and completely at their mercy in the wild. I was surprised to here that the English are not too worried about a little crashing in the heavens. I was told the storms are never all that severe, but this one sounded close.

Soon the flashes stopped and the rain came, pitter patter at first followed by a downpour. The alicoop stood up to the shower, and I slowly drifted back to sleep.

Thankfully, the morning came with no rain. There’s nothing worse then packing up in damp. Well, maybe walking in rain is worse. It was dry and the midgets had given up for now, so it turned out to be nice for a spot of tea next to the beck.

First order of business was to get up in Mungrisdale Common, and that would require walking across the rushing water. I did so by wading straight in as I wisely chose trainers for this walk. Sometimes I long for ankle support when I’m contouring the side of a hill, but mostly they are perfect, strong, comfortable, light and quick drying in these marshy, boggy conditions.

Uber-complex stile.

Where I made my mistake was in my sock choice. I have a slight allergy to elastic, so I thought I’d nip it in the bud with low socks. But within just a few days the promised perfectly fitted heel failed completely and the socks spend more time under my feet then around them. I hope to find a suitable replacement in two days when I hit Patterdale.

I pushed up the tussocky – pronounced toossookey – hill, straight into disorienting mist. Blencathra, just shy of 3000 feet, was my goal but finding my way took extra time. This peak was one of Alfred Wainwright’s favorites. It’s more a mountain of ridges than a peak with multiple gullies and sharp edges to be explored. But on a wet day like today with a backpack, I took the easy way up and down. Still a slog and for what? No view whatsoever.

Descending Blencathra, views finally appearing.

As I sit here now I’m looking back on the peak and fog spreads a tablecloth hiding her beauty. Perhaps tomorrow will see clearer skies as I cross the Dodds. You could say a hike like this is a test of one’s attitude and spirit. Can you still feel joy if the weather is not in your favor? The people I met at the top seemed to take it in stride. If not today, there’s always tomorrow.

I chose the least direct route down to avoid a slippy descent on rock. Still, one area was closed by farmers and I found the free-to-roam public footpath going back up before finally heading down into Threlkeld. I was delighted to find a cafe open and serving a bit of lunch, before I heaved the pack back on and headed up the next sheep field towards a blue line in the map where I might wild camp.

Charmer charms.

Who knew there would be a perfectly flat grassy area right at the bridge, and close to the junction for tomorrow morning’s walk with just enough wind to dry the alicoop and my freshly rinsed clothes, and keep the midges at bay. Perhaps it’s a wind persistent enough to blow away the mist? Let’s hope, but no matter the weather, count on me out in it.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra

Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
– Walt Whitman

Knocking out another big peak.

Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.

Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.

Shy sun in the Lakeland Fells.

The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.

The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.

Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.

Helpful signs for once.

Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.

Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.

Miss Smiley goes up.

Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.

But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.

Backpackers appear on Skiddaw’s misty summit.

After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.

My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.

Alicoop at “campsite spooky.”

And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?

Above England’s second highest, Skiddaw.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 7, Seatollar to Keswick

Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise.
– Carrie Latet

Descending below cloud on Cat Bells.

There are five good reasons to hike in mist:

1. You get the fell all to yourself
2. It’s cooler (well that’s debatable; the day actually started out humid)
3. The birds sing louder
4. It’s intimate with every footstep a surprise
5. You get to test your navigation skills

On the steep path out of Seatollar, the stillness of the mist was magical. I only ran into one older walker striding at a good trot and obviously pleased with the day having just finished his final Wainwright, at least from one particular book, Castle Crag. This was Alfred Wainwright’s plan all along, to organize the hills so people could organize their walking. Most people I met proudly ticked off the fells on their list before they asked where I was from.

Lonely stile in the Lakes.

In the mist, the Lakeland Fells look as they usually look, poetic, hidden, mysterious. At the junction, I pushed up a steep section littered with slate. The low fog added atmosphere to ruins of walls, buildings and mines along the hillside.

Soon I reached the ridge completely hidden in cloud. My plan was to do a circular route that would find me eventually in the bustling village of Keswick, a tourist destination filled with shops and pubs. But with the weather, I decided to shoot across the moor towards High Spy, Cat Bells and eventually work my way around Derwent Water.

What is a fell, you might be wondering. It’s likely from old English or perhaps Norse, another word for hill. In the Lake District, fell and hill are interchangeable, even though Sca Fell is over 3000 feet high. The term mountain is reserved for Scotland, higher – by 1000 feet or more – and craggier.

And a peak? That’s reserved for a completely different district, unless you’re referring to just one particular top. And the term for the fells in North Yorkshire that I’ll hit next week? Those are called moors, high tussocky and wet flat areas on top of fells. It’s really all quite confusing with the most important thing of all knowing where I am when I’m there.

Stairs built and walked by thousands of slate miners’ feet.

As I approached the pointy lookout of Cat Fell, the number of hikers increased 100-fold. Lots of “hiya”s and “allright, mate”s as we passed. I loved the speed I was getting even with my home on my back, so flew up to find a little rest stop for lunch. It didn’t take long before my overconfidence was deflated coming down on rock stacked like bread slices, and needing to slither slowly, inch by inch on my bum.

Once I reached the lake, it was only a few miles to town and I was overjoyed that a public foot path was organized through the forest and gardens. You really can walk anywhere in this country and people do.

Damp selfie in Keswick.

By this time, it was raining full on, but no one seemed to mind too much including me, the temperature is so lovely and the air fragrant. Today is market day in Keswick and I arrived just in time for half price on fruit and vegetables, the stall minders loudly selling their wares like carnival barkers.

Tomorrow proves to be better weather and I hope to find a little tarn near Blencathra for the alicoop whose seen only campgounds for the last few days. But for now, it’s window shopping and pub crawling. Cheers!

Large cairns for low visibility.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 3, St. Bees to Ennerdale Water

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
– Susan Sontag

The Irish Sea at St. Bee’s where I pick up a stone to drop into the North Sea at the end.

The morning began with the sound of birds and breakfast being made for a decent-sized group of hikers, their luggage piled high in the sitting room. Their luggage would be ferried to the next B&B. But not for this intrepid one. With food, water and fuel, my rucksack – backpack – weighed in at 25 pounds and I was all my own.

After some small talk and “see you on the trail” betwixt us, I was off. The path heads west first, straight to the beach. I promised my friend Kate I’d wade in at least to my knees in the bracing Irish Sea, which I did, before – true to tradition – I selected a pebble to make the journey across England with me.

St. Bees Head in unusually spectacular weather.

Up and up St. Bees Head towards its lighthouse past unimaginably beautiful vistas, the path sometimes within the animal fence, sometimes without, right at the cliff’s edge. It was full on sun all day, unusual for this part of the world, making the wild flowers sparkle in pinks, purples and yellows.

After a little over three miles, it was time to say goodbye to the sea and push west through Sandwith, Demesne and Moor Row, crossing under the railway line that brought me to the start and striding through fields of sheep and sheep poo. My water was getting low, so I stopped into a garage to top up. The eager proprietor had lots of advice in his accent of rolled R’s.

“Crrrrrikey , you’rrrre crrrrracking along. The sun will be on yourrrr back. Make surrrre to pick up all you need in Cleitorrrrr. Therrrre’ll be no otherrrr place to stock up forrrr days.”

Shops along the way make resupply – and rehydrating – easy.

Then he sent me up the hill reminding me at the top of the rise to turn left and “crash through the hedge” for the shortcut to the next village, where that proprietor happily disagreed with my comment about too much heat saying “it’s a nice change from the rrrrain.”

What a lark to have such a glorious day as I strode up and up through forest then out onto Dent Fell, the panorama of the lakes opening in front of me, the sea just behind.

The going was steep now, straight down the slope. And it’s here I’d like to sing an ode – in the form a haiku – to my trekking poles.

Walking Coast to Coast,
Up, down, views, flowers, wind, stiles.
Nil wobblies with poles.

First big pull up Dent Fell with big views of big mountains ahead.

The lovely people of Ennerrdale made a footpath next to the road for safety, but by now, my feet had had just about enough for the day. It was a walk past town towards the man-made lake and I felt sure I’d find a spot for the alicoop somewhere as the C2C follows the shoreline. But after a hard, tiring 20 minutes of scree-filled walking, I had to give up and turn around. Not one flat place showed up, just the grassy area next to to the overflow.

The spot appeared made for camping, its little locked fence unable to keep this tired hiker out. It even had a rock wall to block the whitecap-inducing wind.

Alicoop in her element next to Ennerdale Water in the Lake District.

Up went the tent, dinner soon made – mashed potatoes, broccoli and squash with beef jerky, apple chips for “pudding.” The sky is crystal clear promising another glorious day tomorrow as I scramble up some of Wainwright’s favorite peaks, one of them delaying the view of tonight’s full moon.

Not to worry. I’m crawling in now and will await her glow under the canvas.

Queen of the Stiles.

Coast to Coast

C2C: day 1, getting to the start

Everywhere is within walking distance, if you have the time.
– Steven Wright

Let’s get this party started.

And so, it begins.

But not so fast. It takes about a day-and-a-half just to get to the town where the trail starts, the ancient city of St. Bees on England’s westernmost coast. I am flying from Minneapolis to Atlanta, then on to Manchester. Here at the gate, I’m inundated with northern England accents. A little pre-trip immersion.

Presumably, we are all on the same flight. I always scan the crowd for fellow hikers. Sometimes, secretly pleased to see none as I hang onto the misguided belief I’ll have the trail all to myself.

Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.

Beautiful art in the bowels of Atlanta airport.

When I arrive in the green and pleasant land, l’ll catch a train – two actually – and arrive a bit staggering from jet lag with a few tasks ahead, to buy fuel and lighters.

But for now, I remain state-side still humming from quite the send off. Last night, Cameron Wiley, Andrea Blain and I put on air our last-for-the-season of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra broadcasts, with loads of help from Mike Pengra. I do so love my walks and getting away, but every day, I count my lucky stars to have such great colleagues, not to mention world-class music just a 30-minute walk down the Hill stairs.

My life is not bad, really. This morning, I biked to the market for eggs and fresh vegetables including six morels at two bucks for a departing feast. I packed enough of my dehydrated ingredients to last through day five when I hope to resupply in Keswick, but one never knows if customs will confiscate my healthy meals leaving me with bangers and mash for the next 20 days.

I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.

I love my life in front of the mic, especially hosting live concerts.

When I walked the spine of the Alps two summers ago, I wore an outfit ready for Goodwill and packed most of my gear in a lightweight bag lined with cardboard. The board got dumped – as did the clothes after a stormy first night, tossed out the tent to be colonized by French slugs. The bag, I kept for the return. This time, the entire lot will find a home at some charity in St. Bees. A good plan, as within hour one, I spilled an entire can of tomato juice in my lap.

Richard asked me last night as we sat out on the porch in the finally cooling air what I was looking forward to most. Sure, I’m ready for a vacation and a break from the day-to-day demands of work and home. But what I most savor is the feeling of walking, that glorious feeling of just putting one foot in front of the other, moving along and settling into my rhythm. I really don’t go all that fast, I just walk far. One friend said I saunter. There is a bit of a lilt to my gait.

Throwaway clothes make packing a snap.

That’s because I look around. I love to take in the grand and glorious, the views I work so hard to get to, both during and before the walk in setting up the opportunity itself. But there’s always something to see even below the climbs in out of the way places of the special unexpected moments. I’ll have the camera and microphone at the ready to find those and promise to share.

Richard and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary yesterday. Many years ago he made an observation about me. He said, “My wife is always smiling when she’s moving here body.” Ain’t that the truth. Lots of moving – twenty days worth – and lots of discovery.

I can’t wait.

Awesome friends see me off.


gear blog

And the winner is…


My tent doesn’t look like much but, as an estate agent might say, ‘It is air-conditioned and has exceptional location.
– Fennel Hudson

Christening #alicoop before her maiden voyage.

Congratulations to Eileen Ho of Ann Arbor, MI for coming up with the most popular name for my new Tarptent Notch Li, all ready for her first thru-hike on England’s Coast-to-Coast in ten days!

A big round of applause to all who entered. I loved all the names on offer and who knows, she may get a nickname along the way.

Stay tuned for ‘adventures in the alicoop’ by following the blog.

alicoop, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



Don’t shun (-tion) the “Ten Essentials”

Before any hike, you should ask the question “could I spend the night here?”
– blissful hiker

The ten essentials don’t take up much space in your pack: Navigation, Illumination, Habitation, Insulation, Protection, Medication, Reparation, Incineration, Nutrition, and Hydration

Have you ever set out on a beautiful sunny day that turned into a wet misery half-way through? Did a snowstorm suddenly change course and dump right on your course? Maybe you missed a turn and when backtracking, got lost? That’s the reason the “ten essentials” were created, to help prepare us for the unexpected.

I had fun making each “essential” end in the same suffix, reminding me to never “tion” them, even on a short day-hike.

this sign tells it like it is based on the misfortunes of many an unprepared hiker

  1. Navigation – I always throw in a map and compass. If it rains, snows, or there’s a white out, a compass will keep you moving in the right direction. One wilderness survival course noted that a compass can also keep you from walking in circles should you get lost (!) I have a GPS with spot locator beacon for multi-day hikes that allows me to stay in touch with the outside world should I have an accident or become delayed. But it’s best to keep in mind that rescue could be hours, even days, away.
  2. Illumination – In case you’re be-nighted, you should throw in a headlamp. An extra set of batteries in a ziploc is not a bad idea too.
  3. Habitation – Could you sleep out here tonight? I like to have an emergency bivy sack with me. They’re very light and small and could also help if you get cold. Depending on where you go, a more comprehensive bivy is worth the weight.
  4. Insulation – “Dress in layers” and bring extra layers. Hypothermia kills fast and just being shivery can leave you feeling crabby.
  5. Protection – The sun might be free, but it can burn your skin and bring on heat exhaustion. I find sunscreen messy, so I dress like an Arab in long sleeves, long pants, and hat. Umbrellas are awesome.
  6. Medication – Throw in the basics, like bandaids, tweezers, aspirin, etc. Consider where you’re going when packing a first aid kit, do you need a splint, an epipen, ice pack? I always take the ever-versatile athletic tape.
  7. Reparation -When the sole comes off your boot, you’ll be really slowed down. Believe me, I know. You can store a bunch of duct tape on your water bottle. Safety pins can repair almost everything.
  8. Incineration – I throw a lighter in a ziploc and cotton balls slathered in vaseline in another ziploc for a fail-safe fire starter.
  9. Nutrition – Take a few extra calories for a happy, healthy, fueled hike which may last longer than you anticipated.
  10. Hydration – Remember you can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water. Iodine pills weigh next to nothing and kill most bacteria. Don’t forget a water bottle.

There is no 11th essential, but I’d add take along a good attitude, one ready to turn back and give up the summit if the day turns against you. The hike will be there tomorrow and it takes a balanced person to avoid getting into the position to need the essentials.

~Hike on and have fun, alison

Storms brewing near the saddle between Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Mountain, CO

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