Daily accountability is a powerful tool.
I have kept a log of every hike that I’ve done since 2011. The calendar years since have ranged from a couple hundred to a couple thousand miles. There is a lot of variability year to year despite having the same love of spending time outdoors.
The largest year to date is 2014, where for 107 of 110 consecutive days I put on miles walking the entire 2185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. My total time outdoors in 2015 was way behind my wishes. In 2016, I saw a similar pattern emerging.
Beginning in July 2016, I found myself going much more regularly and wound up walking 30 of 31 days that month. I realized it felt good and that not wanting to break my streak kept me going back every day. I wanted to try committing to a longer streak.
I set the goal for my 28th year to hike 366 consecutive days. 1.0 mile minimum.
The goal of one mile per day seemed to fit. It drew inspiration from Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” advice, ultrarunners with multi-year daily run streaks like Sean Nakamura, and from filmmaker Casey Neistat’s Daily Vlog. Casey calls out the daily commitment as a way to “kill all the excuses I used that kept me from making more movies because at every single inflection point in my life, doing the work has always been the thing, has always been the catalyst that took me from where I am to where I wanted to be.”
Baseline: 1 year preceding the daily goal-
Total distance: 552.3 miles
Total hours: 301.9 (estimated based on 84.5% of miles’ time)
Logged walks: 214
Miles per day: 1.50
Result: 1 year with a 1 mile per day goal-
Total distance: 1421.6 miles (+157%)
Total hours: 680.3 (+125%)
Logged walks: 445 (+107%)
Miles per day: 3.89 (+157%)
Eliminating days off had a massive impact. The daily commitment lead me to 157% more miles and 125% more time on foot.
Only 34 of 445 walks (7.6%) were for the pure minimum 1.0 miles. This means most days, more than the absolute minimum mileage was accomplished (whether by 0.1 or 20 miles). 8 walks saw a marathon or greater distance (3 in the upper 20’s, 4 in the 30’s, and one 60 mile day).
Walking one mile a day gave plenty of time to listen audiobooks. I had consistent balance of physicality to go with primarily mental labor of the work day. I spend more time in the open air and in the natural world.
While minor compared to the benefits, there was also frustrations. Unforgiving instance to follow the rules I defined for myself occasionally confused those close to me. One day early in the process, my system of reminders failed. I had drifted to sleep without walking, and I woke abruptly at 11:30pm leading to a dash out the door and a power walk complete a mile prior to day’s end.
For the first 6 months, per the Seinfeld advice, I kept a calendar of X’s to mark the daily completion of a mile (in addition to my training log). The longer the chain grew the more accustomed I was to the habit. There were many days where I shorted myself sleep because plans dictated the walk needed completed before work.
In exchange, I saw more sunrises, sunsets, and wildflowers. I spent more time on the beach, in the desert, and under the moon. My energy was devoted to something I love.
Daily accountability, applied with rigor, elevates.
I made a sleeping platform that converts our Ford Escape into an RV using $27 of lumber. This incredibly cheap project is something you could complete in a single afternoon with almost no tools. The full materials, tools, and cuts lists are below.
The valuable simplicity of this setup is skipping the build of a permanent platform with storage underneath that is so common in van conversions. Simply get the wood required to make a flat surface. Ford owners can repeat exactly. Others can modify to fit the specific dimensions of their own SUV.
This removable platform makes a great crash pad for weekend trips to the wild without the commitment of a permanent conversion.
Estimated time to complete:
1-2 hours including drive time to get materials.
Two 48″x48″ pieces of 1/2″ MDF
Sleeping platform 73″ long, 40.5″ wide at foot & 47″ wide at torso level. Mid way up there is a half inch lip to cover the joint between the seats trunk floor. This 1/2″ lip meets flush with the 1/2″ MDF.
We were thinking of custom making a mattress to accommodate two. The day after the build, we stumbled into the idea of using a 4″ thick full sized mattress topper that we bought for $20. It is the perfect width at torso height and the sides of the foot area fold up slightly to fit. There is a slight bulge at top center where mattress sits on the center console but this is an unused part of the mattress when two are laying on each side. Sara opted for a yoga mat beneath her side to give a little more support.
This edition of the Ford Escape was a perfect choice for this conversion because the folded down rear seats lay down into an almost completely flat platform. After years of driving a truck with a camper shell, I was specifically checking for a sleepable space when searching for our SUV. I folded down the seats and laid in pretty much every SUV we considered buying at several different car dealerships. Whether you own an Escape or another model, I highly recommend configuring for in car camping.
Nearly free camper
Can easily fold away & use rear seats
Perfect for short trips & dispersed camping
Sleeping with windows open wouldn’t work as well in rainy or buggy areas
Sleeping gear fills a lot of storage space if not optimized properly
After building the platform the 13th and getting the mattress topper on the 14th, we loaded up the rig to test out on the 15th in the Mojave National Preserve. We packed our backpacking packs with quilts and clothes. We filled a cooler with food and grabbed 2 pillows. We hiked to the top of Kelso Dunes and camped out at the base. Woke to a beautiful view and had a nice second day in the desert.
Smart thoughts about investing and the use of money. A must-read for anyone who struggles with money or long term financial planning. Written in the verbose Tony Robbins style you know and love, this book stays on message and is packed with practical advice. Page numbers below correspond to the hardcover edition. Interjections from me personally are contained in [square brackets].
“… psychology, time management, history, philosophy, physiology. I wanted to know about anything that could immediately change the quality of my life and anybody else’s.” P19
Biographies of leaders, thinkers, doers – Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, John F. Kennedy, and Viktor Frankl.
The book is laid out as “Seven Simple Steps to Financial Freedom,” which are outlined in the checklist at the book’s end. Here are the steps, which correlate to the 7 sections in the book:
1. Make the most important financial decision of your life
2. Know the rules before you get in the game
3. Make the game winnable
4. Make the most important investment decision of your life
5. Create a lifetime income plan
6. Invest like the .001%
7. Just do it, enjoy it, and share it
Step 1: “Make the most important financial decision of your life” [The decision to automate the transfer of a percentage of all income you ever receive into your freedom fund (retirement account)].
“Find a way to do more for others than anyone else does. Become more valuable. Do more. Give more. Be more. Serve more. And you will have the opportunity to earn more.” P6
“People who succeed at the highest levels are not lucky; they’re doing something differently than everybody else.” P9
“Money is simply a behavior for trying to meet our needs.” P74
“If we get underneath what you’re really after, it’s not money at all. What you’re really after is what you think money is going to give you.” P75
The fastest way to fill base needs [thrive] is to “… find a way each day to appreciate more and expect less.” P79
Step 2: “Know the rules before you get in the game”
This section is an in-depth review of the technical concepts that shape the battlefield of modern investing. Definitely worth the read because it truly would be impossible to successfully navigate the field of play without knowledge of the pitfalls that await you.
“Never again will you tolerate the “herd” mentality in your own life.” P104
By law a broker is only required to provide “suitable” advice. P125
Fiduciary – registered financial advisor, legal fiduciary, registered investment advisors (RIA) – by law must remove or disclose conflict of interest.
Fiduciary selection criterion: P132
1. Make sure registered with state or SEC as registered investment advisor or is an investment advisor representative (IAR) of a (RIA)
2. Percentage fee is only fee
3. Make sure they are not compensated for trading stocks and bonds
4. No affiliation with broker-dealer
5. Hold money in reputable 3rd party such as Fidelity, Schwab, or TD Ameritrade
Directory of fee-based advisors P132
“You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” – TR P161
“You get what you tolerate” Learned helplessness devours if it is tolerated
“Most people start out with high aspirations but settle for a life and lifestyle far beneath their true capabilities.” P199
Next time you come up with a reason why you can’t do something, call bullshit on yourself. “Change your state. Change your focus. Come back to the truth. Adjust your approach to go after what you want.” P199
Step 3: Make the game winnable
Anchor your dreams to to an actual number.
Do the math! [This section walks you through the calculations step by step.]
Ultimate truth: “Life is not about money, it’s about emotion.” P209
Money itself is not the goal.
Places money takes us, freedom, and time are what really after.
Take a moment to consider what you want your money to buy.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho
You are the creator of your life.
“Wherever focus goes, energy flows.” TR p227
“It’s not conditions but decisions that determine our lives.” P244
“It isn’t about money. It’s about choice; about freedom. It’s about being able to live life on your terms, not anybody else’s.” P245
“Find your gift and deliver it to as many people as possible.” P246
“What you get will never make you happy; who you become will make you very happy or very sad.” – Jim Rohn p246
Rule of 72
Section 4: Make the most important investment decision of your life
Asset allocation is the most important tool you have.
Division of investment:
A. Security bucket: sanctuary of safe investments; unshakable core; aversion to risk P300
B. Risk/growth bucket
C. Dream bucket
“Your dreams are not designed to give you a financial payoff, they are designed to give you a greater quality of life.”
“When you give your all, the rewards are infinite.” P343
“So much of what makes us wealthy is free” TR P347
“The secret to wealth is gratitude.”
Step 5: Create a lifetime income plan
This section includes an asset allocation presented as the All Seasons Strategy, which is crafted from Ray Dalio’s reply to: “What kind of investment portfolio would one [average investor] need to have to be absolutely certain that it would perform well in good times and in bad — across all economic environments?” There is a much more in depth backstory to Ray and his elite, ultra-successful fund the All Seasons Strategy is based on. In short it give you a recommendation on how to evenly balance the risk faced in each of the 4 economic “seasons.”
Develop a modus operandi to expect surprises P372
“Expect surprises” – Ray Dalio
Always be asking: “What don’t I know?” – Ray Dalio
Step 6: Invest like the .001%
This section includes interviews from 12 investing thought leaders with proven track records of peak performance. Many of their reccomendations had common themes.
Four obsessions of self made billionaire investors: P455
1. Don’t Lose.
Focus on protecting downside at all times; defense is 10x importance of offense.
2. Risk a Little to Make a Lot.
3. Anticipate and Diversify.
Research till certain then still anticipate failure case & diversify against it.
Brilliant people are terrible investors if they are not prepared to make decisions with limited information.
4. You’re Never Done.
Earn, learn, grow, give.
Keep your hunger.
To whom much is given, much is expected.
Life is really about what you have to give.
Step 7: Just do it, enjoy it, and share it
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” Dali Lama XIV
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Henry David Thoreau
Our decisions control the quality of our lives. We make 3 key decisions every moment of our life. Most make these unconsciously. Make these decisions consciously and you can literally change your life in an instant: P577
Decision 1: What are you going to focus on
Decision 2: What does this mean
Decision 3: What am I going to do
“You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously.” – Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game, P584
10 min daily exercise to prime for gratefulness: P585
3 minutes to feel gratitude for things big and small
3 min to [send love by] asking for health and blessings to all you know, love, and will meet
4 min on “Three to Thrive” – three things want to accomplish and visualize them as if completed (including the sense of celebration and gratitude for having completed them).
“Every day stand guard at the door of your mind, and you alone decide what thoughts and beliefs you let into your life.” P585 Tony Robbins paraphrasing Jim Rohn
“Give freely, openly, easily, and enjoyably. Give even when you think you have nothing to give, and you’ll discover there is an ocean of abundance inside of you and around you.” Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game, P606
Each day “be a blessing in the lives of all those people I meet and have the privilege to connect with.” Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game, P606
“There is no adrenaline rush. If I get an adrenaline rush, it means that something has gone horribly wrong.” -Alex Honnold
Alone on the Wall is a phenomenal book from a phenomenal adventurer. I first learned of Alex Honnold’s feats of climbing through the short film by the same name as this book. This book provides a deeper look into the journey that brought him to the public spotlight and the epic feats of adventuring he has completed since.
It’s incredibly inspiring to read in detail these accounts of Alex’s ascents, link-ups, and expeditions. I was pumped every day that I was reading the book & got in lots of hiking and gym climbing.
The book worked well with two authors. The narration alternates between italicized sections where Alex accounts his climbs first hand and the general text written by David Roberts that provides a third party perspective to the full spectrum of Alex’s story. David tied in key snippets of information about Alex from his climbing films, historical context for the climbing accomplishments, and enough technical explanation to allow even non-climbers to enjoy the narrative. David did an excellent job covering the philosophical side of the high stakes environment that is the cutting edge of climbing.
FINAL TAKE: Highly recommended to all who want inspiration to elevate their dreams and continue pushing their personal adventures. 9 of 10 stars.
“I think of all the people who inspired me as a kid, and I sort of realize they were all normal people, too. I just do my normal life, and if people choose to be inspired by the things I’m doing, then I’m glad they’re getting something out of it.” – Alex Honnold
The gear you carry is close to irrelevant. It is unfortunately common for aspiring hikers to distract themselves with gear preparations rather than make the necessary physical and mental preparations.
I kindled the first genuine flame of interest for an Appalachian Trail thru hike on the 16th of May 2014. May 31st was my last day in the office. On June 4th, I got on a Greyhound bus. I began my hike North from Springer Mountain on June 5th, a mere 20 days after realizing I had an immediate interest in a thru hike.
This was possible ONLY because I had physically and mentally prepared prior to that. The logistics of gear were merely incidental.
While on the trail, I made a daily calculation to estimate my average pack weight. My base weight was known and, I recorded any gear changes that would change it. I knew both the weight of water and my water carrying capacity, which let me calculate water weight based on actual mileages & locations I refilled water or to estimate the average volume I had carried through the day. The last piece to calculate was food weight carried. In most cases, I was able to weigh my resupply or to calculate the resupply weight with the information from its retail packaging. Each day between resupplies, I would subtract off between 1 to 2.5 lbs of food weight depending on how much I had eaten. These estimates could be confirmed at my next resupply by the weight of what food remained, even if that weight was zero.
I graphed the average daily pack weights for all 110 days that I was on the trail:
July 4th, 5th, 20th are given a null value because I was off trail visiting family and hiked no trail miles.
The average value of my average daily total pack weight across the entire trail was 16.7 pounds with a standard deviation of 4.1 pounds.
Removing also the 4.5 pound pack weight day on 8/2/2014, which was a 10 mile hike with only 4 hours on the trail, the average value of my average daily total pack weight was 16.8 pounds with a standard deviation of 3.9 pounds.
There was considerable variation across my hike in the weight I was carrying. The downward stepping of weight between resupplies was one of the most substantial variations but water carrying habits and gear changes played a role too.
For another look at pack weight variation, see the histogram of my daily average weight:
For 21.5% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 9 and 14 lbs.
For 57.9% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 14 and 19 lbs.
For 14.9% of my hike, my total pack weight was between 19 and 24 lbs.
Just as it did in my hike, your pack weight will ebb and flow. Be open to changes. Regularly re-evaluate pieces of gear, your resupply strategies, and your water carrying habits.
My base weight for the opening 341 miles from Springer to Erwin, TN was 15 lbs. In Erwin, I mailed home 2 lbs of gear (my 2oz ultrapod, the extra pair of gym shorts I had worn on bus down, a highlighter, other small unused items, and swapped out 3 Nalgenes for disposable plastic bottles, which was probably the largest part of the weight dropped). For the next 198 miles my base weight was 13 lbs.
That first 539 miles of the trail was hiked with my Go Lite Jam 50L pack. It costs ~$100 and weighs about 2 lbs. I already owned it from the year before.
Somewhere in TN, I learned about and ordered Matt Kirk’s pack kit. He designed this for his 2013 self-supported record breaking hike of the AT in less than 60 days. The pack has a 25L capacity and no padding at all. It’s basically a mesh bag with shoulder straps and hip pockets. It’s awesome.
Matt’s pack is $90 including shipping. Weights 8 or 10 ounces, depending on how you put it together. Assembly is required but no sewing is needed. I put together mine during my zero days at home on July 4th and 5th. The weight savings of this pack were much more than it’s difference in pack weight from my Go Lite. This pack forces you to carry very little. Matt says the comfortable max capacity of the pack 15 lbs. After using the pack for the last 1646 miles of the AT, I concur. This pack carried like a dream at with 14 lbs or less. It can technically carry up to 20 lbs but doing so was less than pleasant.
For shelter and rain gear, I used a Gatewood Cape from Six Moon Designs. It costs $146.55 including shipping. I did not use the net tent with it, which costs just as much again.
I carried 6 aluminum tent stakes and used a 5 mil piece of plastic for ground cloth.
For the ridge pole of the tarp-tent, I used my walking stick, which was an old ski pole from a second hand shop.
I carried one jacket and one wind breaker. I also had a pair of light sleep clothes but no extra walking clothes (except a second pair of walking socks). I wore a technical t-shirt from a second hand shop for the whole trip. I wore a pair of Race Ready brand long distance running shorts (with 5 pockets across the back and side) for the entire trip. I carried a bandanna too.
I used a sleeping back liner as my bag. For about 100 miles in PA, I hiked without any sleeping bag, and instead used a pair of lined windbreaker pants with my jacket.
My ground pad was normally a CCF pad. I hiked from the SNP to somewhere in PA without any ground pad, and instead sought out only soft places to bed down.
My camera was my iPhone in a lifeproof case.
From Springer to Hot Springs, NC, I carried no water treatment equipment. In Hot Springs, I bought some Aquamira. In Waynesboro, I swapped that for a sawyer inline mini filter. In the Whites, I left my water filter at an overlook and ordered Aquamira for the rest of the trip to arrive at my next mail drop.
I carried no stove. I had a 1 oz Victorinox Classic army knife.
I carried a few additional luxury items: a 4500 mAh batter to recharge my phone, a SPOT locator device to track my nightly stopping position and ease minds of family at home, and either a harmonica or 1 oz iPod Nano for some podcasts & audiobooks.
In summary, the specific items selected for your hike are of no importance. Carrying one pound less has cascading effects. Your weight will ebb and flow with your food and water carrying habits. Shed unnecessary: Never carry something that hinders your forward progress.
The transformative effects of reading are clear. Reading is education and enjoyment. There are so many resources available to let you do more of it.
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes” – Erasmus, Letter to Jacob Batt (12 April 1500)
There are extensive resources available that allow you to read without cost and without acquiring every book you read as possession.
The most important tool people overlook in searching for books is WorldCat.org WorldCat is a search engine that scans more than 10,000 libraries worldwide and helps you find items nearest to you. It allows you to filter search results by zip code so that you find the best source local to you to acquire the book for free. It is superior to a search at your regional library because it includes all the university libraries, which often allow any citizen a membership as well. A quick search on WorldCat should be a prerequisite for almost any book purchase.
Another library related tool is OverDrive, which allows you to download and borrow digital materials such as the newest releases of ebooks and audio books that are available from your library.
Additional tools for accessing fantastic books are Gutenberg and Librivox because they allow you to tap into the wealth of works contained in the public domain, which is where books “relocate” to when their term of copyright expires. Basically, you should never again pay for a book published more than 90 years ago. Not only will this type of book be available in almost every library around, they are given away free in digital format by communities working to make these classics available to all. Because Project Gutenburg has more than 45,000 ebooks available, a good place to start for many is their most downloaded books.
Librivox volunteers create audio recordings of public domain books and make them available for download but also as free podcasts in the iTunes Store. They sync great with an iPhone or iPod. Among many others listened to, I personally have enjoyed listening to Librivox recordings of John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.
Listening to audio books can be meditative. In graduate school, I eliminated television watching by listening to about a chapter a day of a Hemingway or Jack London story. It became part of my unwinding routine before bed. I listened on long drives out to trail heads, and I reclaimed time while cooking meals or cleaning dishes. Audio books give you a chance to rest your eyes from screen time bombardment. In my opinion, it is much easier to adjust to listening to fiction than it is to non-fiction. It took many months of familiarity with audio books before I really enjoyed the transition to non-fiction audio books.
The key to awakening as an avid reader is finding a book that really excites you. In 2011, I picked up my first volitionally selected book in close to a decade. All it took was finding that right book that would spark a fire, and, before I knew it, I found myself reading 30 to 50 books each year with my sights set on many more.
“If we encountered a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he read.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims (1876)
Reading lists can be a good way to find new and inspiring books.
I’ve gathered up a handful of the book lists posted around the web by successful people.
Send me a message if you have a good reading list to suggest be added.
From 5 June 2014 to 22 September 2014, I hiked every mile of the Appalachian Trail.
Each day on trail, I took a 1 minute video for my own record.
Each book below is included for slightly different reasons that I address in the first sentence after listing the book title and author.
This book is a favorite because it taught me at an early age that I can create my own happiness. I first read this work quite some time ago at the age of 13, and completed it again at age 17. I talked about this book in my college application essay and in my application video for the entrepreneurship program I attended in 2012. In both of these cases, I discussed the role of this book in my personal realization that no matter the circumstances around me I controlled my reaction, and that by adapting my reaction, I could literally create my own happiness in situations others would find miserable. If you are not familiar with the book, the entirety of the ~110 page book is set to a single day of a prisoner at a Soviet labor camp. The reader steps into the minute details of grueling labor, injustice, and the harshest of winter conditions. This was quite a moving day to relive vicariously knowing that it is but one day of a ten year sentence at the camp. My favorite part of the book comes in the concluding pages and is what ties the jarring conditions to my realization that happiness is rooted largely in one’s perception. Though it’s not a complete spoiler, you may wish to skip ahead from here to the next paragraph to avoid it. As the main character lays down to review his day, he finds that it was a day with ‘not a dark cloud in the sky’ and, that, despite all the abuse and suffering, which I as the reader had observed with shock, the day in the book had been ‘an almost happy day.’
Similar Books that I’ve Enjoyed: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This book is a favorite because it is a beautiful compression of life and love to the 4-day timeline of the story. I consider it a favorite because the deep emotional response the writing elicited from me. Without getting much into plot specifics, I will simply say I recommend this story highly. I’ll also point out that I find it interesting that two of my favorite five books include stories told in great detail over a very short timeline. Previous reflection on this, lead me to read The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber and Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman this past fall and to continue to evaluate why timelines of this slowed time nature appeal to me.
This book is a favorite because it’s the innovation from a life’s work explained in terms simple enough for novices to follow. The lightweight backpacking system presented is one the author developed from the ground up over decades that covered more than 25,000 miles of long distance backpacking. Jardine has a phenomenal repository of knowledge and he provides an incredible representation of this knowledge in Trail Life. This book expertly covers the fundamentals of long distance backpacking knowledge from A to Z for your planning, conditioning, and time on the trail.
Similar that I’ve Enjoyed: Walking the Entire Appalachian Trail: Fulfilling a Dream by Accomplishing the Task by Warren Doyle
This book is a favorite because it helped me remember why I lived and breathed running during five of my teenage years. I devoured this book in three days and found myself at the end of the book with delusions that I’d be running an ultramarathon in the following month. This book taught me the value of prescribing the reading of running/high intensity books to a fixed amount per day or a fixed amount per number of runs completed so that I could translate the intensity of the story into intensity in my training. Born to Run discusses the forefoot running style associated with barefoot running and also introduces the basics of the evolutionary case for humans as runners (the ability to cool off while in motion by sweating, our Achilles tendon, our arched feet, etc.). My favorite single thing in the book was the account of a persistence hunt in which a group of bushmen in the Kalahari Desert chase an antelope and relentlessly run it to a death by overheating — talk about awakening a primal desire to run!
This book is a favorite because it thoroughly explains the insanity that is present day international monetary policy. I’ve been reading for years in articles and newsletters about how crazy it is to allow a small handful of men to control the majority of the world’s monetary supply. This text takes a much deeper dive into how we arrived in the present situation, why the current situation is so fragile, and the extremely unlikely actions that would need to be taken to avoid further economic turmoil.
Similar that I’ve Enjoyed: Anatomy of the State by Murray Rothbard
Walk into the grass and remove your shoes. Feel the cool earth through the leaves of grass and the warmth of the sun on your face as you close your eyes to listen. Let go for 8-15 minutes. Repeat frequently.
Reconnecting with the natural world is simple. Make it a point to start today, right now even.
Stepping away from your busyness, even for just a few moments, can create powerful outcomes.
Roughly 3 years ago in March of 2011, I took an afternoon to reconnect on a short hike. This hike has led me to hundreds of miles on the trail since, including the opportunity to backpack the 290-mile Allegheny Trail last fall. Below is the most interesting 1-minute from my trip, which I share in hopes to engage your imagination about what is possible when you begin to reconnect with the natural world.
“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” – Paul Dudley White
12 September 2013 12:21 PM
Mongahnela National Forest, WV
I stopped on the trail and listened as a military jet roared by overhead. In the past thirteen minutes, I had already heard nine such jets fly over. So looking up, I tried in vain to make out the tenth jet through the clouds.
Having just left my final resupply point on the Allegheny Trail and heading towards an area with uncertain water sources, my pack weighed in at its trip maximum – 38 pounds, 12 of which were food and 10 of which were water. Between the pack weight, the roar of a jet reverberating in my ear, and my neck craned upwards looking for planes, I was distracted.
Other than the jets far overhead, the hours since leaving town had been eerily quiet. I had observed only a single creature – a spike buck who offered a series of 12 snorts as he struggled to pinpoint my location from across the hollow. The wind was mostly calm. The stream I crossed moved at an imperceptibly slow pace, almost if it tried to disguise the fact that it flowed at all.
A dense understory growth of rhododendron thickets surrounded the trail where the sound of the tenth jet had brought me to a stop. I had just come around a turn before stopping and from here the trail continued straight ahead for 30 feet before twisting sharply to the left, where I could see roughly 25 more feet of the trail before the dark green rhododendron leaves fully obscured it from sight.
In an instant the forest’s stillness was shattered. Even though time seemed to enter slow motion, my brain raced to interpret and still felt like it was grasping for something just out of reach.
As my mind caught the realization something was approaching fast, I saw my first glimpse of a deer flying towards me down the trail. The young doe was approximately the same size as the spike buck I’d seen minutes before but something was clearly terribly wrong in her world at present.
Her legs were fully extended out in the front and in the back in a diving full-tilt sprint. When her hooves got to the ground, she was digging and pushing with absolutely everything she had. Her effort had her neck real low to the ground, eyes bulging from her face in a panic-stricken, full-alarm, desperation for survival.
Awestruck, I called out “OH! … DEER!” as my mind raced to catch up to reality.
My thoughts screamed, ‘Why are you running towards me??’
I was seriously baffled. ‘Shouldn’t she be running away from me if I frightened it? That’s what usually happens when you jump a deer… Why is it running straight at me?’
The deer was headed my direction on the trail but really she was headed straight down the trail from where the path had entered sight towards the trail’s sharp bend, which that lay only 30 feet from me. As she reached this point, in only an instant, I think she sort of saw me and opted to keep as far away as possible. Still digging and pulling for everything she had, rather than bank sharp to the right towards me, she just skidded a little and tilted off to the left onto a deer path or simply through a minor clearing of the rhododendrons.
Coming right up behind her came the explanation for it all.
In her slightest instant of hesitation at the bend, her pursuer had closed the gap on her to a matter of 8 or 9 feet.
The coyote on her trail had its ears perked up and was dialed in with laser precision on the deer. He had no panic in his face.
The coyote was lean and grey with white down his chest and underbody. He was 75-50% of the deer’s size but due to the different body shapes, it was hard to tell exactly. His movements seemed effortless even in the intensity of pursuit.
His demeanor was that of pure predatory focus. Nothing else in the forest existed. His only concern was about killing that deer and eating it.
When the deer had skidded and suddenly crashed into the woods, the coyote saw me and immediately eased to a stop. The chase was off. He turned and loped off the trail like you would expect a dog to lope across a yard, only slightly faster.
The coyote moved through woods to the top of the hill about 50 yards away and stopped. Crouching to peer better through the rhododendron cover, I saw the coyote atop the hill look around and at me surveying the scene for danger.
To this brief pause, I answered in my artificially-deepened, stern, animal-commanding voice, “Hey….Hey….Hey.”
I saw him dart out of sight down the back side of the hill and was left with the sound of my heart beat and silence in the forest.
Story by Brett Anderson, Originally published at UltraBackpacking.com