Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Defining the field

The thing about librarians (although I prefer Information Scientist) is that we have an innate drive to organize, categorization and define things. Travel writing is no exception. And so, without further ado here's my first attempt:

Definition: Travel writing is a broad category of writing concerned with various aspects of travel.

Types of travel writing:
The more I think about it, the more I realize it's travel literature that draws me. Books where the place is an important character within the author's journey from ignorance to knowledge. Place, setting, location - go a long way to forming who we are, for some even more than their social setting. Going somewhere else, i.e. traveling, exposes us to other places, other potentials of who we could be, even as it exposes us to who we are based upon where we've lived. I never realized how American I was until I went to Europe, never knew that the dense forests of New England kept my perspective local, until I hiked in the Southwest deserts, never felt Connecticut's reserve until coming to a four way stop in Iowa and waiting for everyone to signal everyone else through. There are some writers who can convey this - and those are the ones I like to read.

Vicarious Adventures - Travel Writing/Reading

In the words of Neil Young, "Comes a time when you're drifting, comes a time when you settle down." And it appears, I'll be in the settled down phase for the next six months. Hard to believe I won't be flying off to Utah, or Arizona, or Colorado, or any of the other warm, sunny, states this winter, but baring some kinda of miracle conference, that's the case. Oh sure I'll get in some weekend hikes. Hey, maybe it'll even snow and there will be skiing, or winter camping, but no Big Adventures are in the future until late spring when I'll be heading down to western North Carolina, and swinging through Tennessee (got to keep adding to the state list, and even a chance to section hike some of the AT!).

The inevitable question arises. What then to write about? Last year during this time there was the ever popular "Adventures in Retail." While I will be working retail this year, at the same store, with many of the same folks, I suspect there will also be mostly the same stories. Aside from the fact that there may be fewer considering the recession, or rather considering that this year people have to admit there is a recession, there's probably won't be many new stories.

And yet there is something, especially about winter, that makes we want to write. Cozy up with a cup of tea (coffee is out for the time being) and typing away. Right now it's raining out and the wind is starting to pick up. Listening to the cars drive by and typing, just feels nice, really nice. (So nice, it really doesn't matter what I write so feel free to stop reading.)

But back to the question. What to write about? Beer also seemed a good topic. Not in the sense of reviewing it, but in it's history. A few years ago I realized that I liked beer. Much more than red wine, which gave me a headache, or white wine, which didn't give me anything, or harder liqour, which gave me more than I could handle, it was really the clear, crispness, or heavy heardiness (depending upon the season, or mood) of beer that I enjoyed most.

A few weeks ago Bethany was processing a manuscript collection and came upon an 1857 receipt for a shipment of IPA and sparked my newest interest - the history of Beer!

But no - research is a private pursuit, and long one too.

And then it hit me. Write about other travel writing. Every time I go on a trip, I try and read about the area before going, and as faithful readers know, book selection for trips is a key part of every adventures success. But it was on the trip to Portland, Oregon in that bookstore of bookstores, Powell's, that I became truly aware of the Travel Writing Genre, its pros and cons, and realized too that some of the best travel books, really aren't. Check out the travel section at Amazon and you'll know what I mean. Or, read on as I'll be trying to figure that out as well.

Friday, October 24, 2008

.5mile You're on the Cape Cod Rail Trail

A few weeks ago, in celebration of Columbus Day, S introduced me to the CCRT. There's a lot written about it on the web so I won't talk too much about the 22 mile, ex-train line, now bike trail that runs from South Dennis to Wellfleet Mass. I will however talk about the people on the trail.

Even on the cool fall day there we're lots of people, of all types. Not many regular road riders (the kinds you hammering out the miles on the side of your average road) but lots of more recreational types, on all types of bikes. Couples, families with kids on tryks, three-wheelers, and even a spider bike. And then there was the boy scout troop. What we thought at first was a pack of 8 dedicated, hard-riding, teeth-gritting male teens was followed by a larger group of 20 silent, somewhat sullen teens. A few minutes later a smaller group of obviously annoyed teens, followed by 3 scout leader types brought up the rear. All in all the group gave off the appearance of either being on a race at which the future on humanity was at stake, or their very existence depended upon surviving this near-death trek rather than that of the Boy Scout troop that they were. On the return trip we passed a very different group of 20 girls, all together with their leaders, all smiling, and SINGING. The Girl Scouts appear to have a much different view of bike riding, the trail and perhaps life? Couldn't help but note that the difference between the Boy and Girl Scout Troops reflects the differences in men and women's approach to life.

Oh and the title - for the first 10 miles or so the words ".5mile" appear at regular intervals. "Funny" I noted to S., "that someone is so intent on having us enjoy the trail that the feel its necessary to write smile on the pavement." S looked at me rather strangely. "You mean .5 miles?" And darn it all thats what it really said. I'd mistaken the .5 for an s. But hey, it was a nice day, so Smile, you're on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mt. Madison, last ascent into the alpine zone, last trail of cairns

James Madison was the fourth president of the United States.. At 5367' Mt. Madison is the fourth highest, and also the northernmost peak in the northern Presidentials. It was also the last peak of the vacation and by the 4th day I recognized the progression to the Presidential ascents.

Leaving the parking lot there is always a bit of relatively flat hiking the length of which varies depending on the trail and the mountain. The longest flat was Eisenhower, the shortest Madison via the Pine Ridge/Howker/Osgood trails. Here the trail immediately begins climbing. Which really isn't so bad on the way up. It's on the way down, when you want a few feet or so to stretch out your legs that you miss the flat.

After ascending for a mile or two, whatever it takes to reach an elevation somewhere around 4000' the trail enters the Alpine Zone. There is always a sign somewhere in the area to warn you that "the area ahead has the worst weather in America many have died there from exposure even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." (kinda like waving a red flag in front of adventure junkies). Soon after the trail breaks into the open areas of the zone, so it would be hard to miss. The thing about the Alpine Zone that I love is the contrast of the bigness, and harshness of it, with the tiny plants that live there.

Simultaneous with entering the Alpine Zone, or because of it, the trees disappear and trail markings change from blazes to rock cairns. On the trails around Adams and Madison these were particularly interesting. Someone has taken a great deal of care to top them with a large piece of white granite and many of them looked much like stone lighthouses, and they stood out clearly against a sea of gray rock. Pretty, but also potentially lifesaving. In the heavy fog that often sits on these peaks you need all the help you can get to stay on the trail.

Once in the land of cairns the trail switches, basically from a walking trail to a rock hopping exercise. Once again the value of good gear, in this case boots, is a welcome thing. Hopping across rocks, following the cairns to the Big Cairn which marks the summit can be heck on your feet. But as with the others the summit of Madison was worth it. The view was a little hazy but really its not just the view. It's the sense of accomplishment, of being in the clouds, in the sky that just makes it all worthwhile. I especially like looking back down the mountain, picking up the hints of trail we hiked, seeing where we've been, and feeling just great that only a few hours ago I was way over there and that now here, under my own power(and with the help of some awesome hiking poles) I stand.

Mt Adams

Peak fever and Pole adoption continue apace. Today the peak was Mt. Adams (at 5,774 feet the second highest peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the one with the greatest elevation gain by any of the standard routes.) During the whole hike we only saw one other person. A few off in the distance of what are often the most overcrowded peaks in the world, but we met up with only one hiking the same trail we were on. Seemed kinda strange.

Ascending on the Airline Trail, an impressive 4.3 mile, 1000 to 5600 ft trial leading in a straight line from the Appalachia parking lot to the summit via a stairway cut from stone, a mile-long knife edge ‘walk’, and a .9 mile scramble up a rock pile we arrived at the summit just as the clouds lifted off the peak. As we enjoyed the traditional applebutter and peanut butter sandwich the clouds also lifted, east to west off Mt. Madison, Jefferson and Washington. The sun really didn’t shine but it was nice this time to see the view. Reading over other posts of Mt. Adams ascents it appears we were lucky. This peak is often in the clouds for days.

Leaving Adams to the east via the Lowe Trail with a much shorter .3 mile rock scramble we arrived at the AT, aka the Gulfside Trail. Here as with all the other trails on this hike it was maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club. Someone has arranged massive granite boulders into a level walking path. The work done by the RMC all over the mountain is amazing, making for easily walkable, well marked trails in an often hostile environment.

From Gulfside we descended to the AMC Madison Hut. It was closed now but looks like a good base for future area hikes. Speaking of which, while the plan had been to climb the .5 mile to Mt. Madison, it was now 2:00 and really not a good idea.

We descended the mountains via the Valley Way. A bit slippery for the first mile of the descent it was a relatively nice hike. Toward the last mile the trail followed along a beautiful stream with falls and pools that looked especially inviting - come some warm summer day.

During the hike (down - on the way up, between trying to catch my breath, and stop myself from getting vertigo) I developed and perfected the hiking pole draw. The art of pulling the poles from the pack without breaking stride. It’s really very easy. By inserting them individually, one on the left side of the Gregory ISO pack, one on the right, thru the compression straps and into the water bottle pockets – handles up – you can draw them in a second. Also developed two new uses for the poles, fencing sword, and javelin. S. introduced one as well – drying rack.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

And on the third day

Today we rested. Well kinda. To be honest, even with the wonderful poles I was a bit sore. The legs just weren't holding up to the sudden jolt from spending 8 hours at a desk to hiking 8 hours on the trail. In my work at ACO I often wonder at the folks who come in and announce they're going to climb some huge mountain the next day, with no preparation whatsoever. And now I know why they do it, and I know how they feel. Exhilarated and perhaps more than a bit sore.

But it was a beautiful day, and while none of us liked shopping, it seemed that a trip to North Conway and Eastern Mountain Sports, than driving North around Mt. Washington would be a good way to recuperate.

Ah, EMS. Way back when, when I was just a little girl. Mad as heck that my parents dragged me up and down mountains (preferring to explore them at my own pace) we used to stop in at EMS. For those of you who missed the original North Conway store, it was located in a huge Colonial Revival building. The biggest structure in town at the time, and the most imposing. I'll always remember how walking in, no matter how often, I'd be expecting some grand, almost museum-like atmosphere. I'd have to stop and take a minute every time just to adjust to all the gear, and the smell. (Gear has a very distinctive smell - not describable - but once you smell it, you know it).

But we only stopped briefly at the old edifice. EMS has moved and I don't want to see what's in the old one now. Probably some foo foo shops of some kind. The kind that smell like new mall stuff. Eww.

The new EMS is down the road to the South. A nice enough building. A big enough space. And no matter where you find it, techwick is always the best. That and shot blocks. I love shot blocks.

After that we headed North on RT 16, then West on Rt 2 and back to the little cabin. Not so sore anymore...and ready to climb another day! Only one question remained. Which mountain(s)?

Mt. Pierce and Jackson and I've got Peak Fever

It’s Day Two of the Presidential New Hampshire vacation. The sun is shining and we’ve selected a slightly less ambitious hike. Still two peaks but instead of 5300, and 5600 fters we’re gearing down to 4100 and 4500 ft. The idea being to take it a little easier today but still bag a few peaks and enjoy some fantastic scenery.

Parking at the Crawford Notch parking lot we started up on the Crawford Path. The sign at the trail head informed us that this was the oldest, most continuously hiked trail in the United States. Initially established as an easier means for Victorian tourists to summit Mt. Washington it was at one point expanded to a horse trail (making it even easier), until replace by the Cog Railroad, which was replaced, or put into competition with the road. (Can it get any easier to get to one of the harshest places on the East Coast? And why do so many people want to go there?)

But back to the Crawford Path. It is a nice 3.3 mile trail up to the summit of Mt. Pierce with a steady incline and no technical sections, but still an incline that was made more enjoyable with the use of hiking poles.

…and the view from the summit of Mt. Pierce is stunning. We arrived around 11:00, just as the higher clouds had lifted off Mt. Eisenhower to the North. The air was so clear we could almost see the cairn on the top clearer than we could yesterday when we were standing right next to it. As we stood and watched the clouds lifted off the top of the next mountain. We debated which mountain was Monroe, which Washington, which was Jefferson. With the final lift however, it became clear. Mount Washington stood tallest and we could figure the rest out from there. And it was then and there that I really decided...well, why not climb them all? See what the world looks like from each and everyone of them. Join the community that knows that, that shares a common language of peaks, of New England weather knowledge, an intimacy with the many trails that leads to each and every one of them. Be here in this part of New England, playing, peak after peak.

The view was so nice, so well deserved, especially after yesterday's fog fest that we decided to have lunch there on the rocks where we could take it all in. Two other hikers were there, a rabbit, a weasel (I believe one had lunch on its mind also) and two Gray Jays that were definitely in feeding mode. We enjoyed our peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches, and they enjoyed our raisins and peanuts. Right out of S’s hand. They’d sit in the firs right next to us and wait until he held out his hand with some goodies, then they’d take turns flying in and snacking. They weren’t in any hurry and would just sit in his hand and fill up taking as much as 5 good sized peanuts in the beaks (pouches?) before flying off. When we decided they’d had enough the continued to eye us but smart enough to not be fooled by and empty hand.

After lunch we headed east on the Webster-Jackson Trail realizing that in our calculations for today’s hike we (or maybe it was just me) hadn’t figured in the fact that’d we’d need to descend, then ascend between the two peaks. But it wasn’t that bad. The AMC's Mitzph hut, a trailside grouse that wasn’t phased by our passing, and a nice mountain bog added to the hike. Once on the summit of Mt. Jackson (named not for President Jackson, but rather for Charles Jackson a 19th century New Hampshire state geologist) we had another nice stop and some more amazing views of the Presidentials. I attempted to shoot a 360 degree panorama. We’ll see how it comes out.

On the summit we crossed paths with what could possibly be the last of the thru hikers. Four young guys on their way to Katadin, in a bit of a hurry).

The trail down, the Webster Jackson connector, was a bit steep, but have I mentioned that I have hiking poles?