Local Man Not Hopelessly Decrepit

Plus: paid memberships are live, and today in birds.

Great news, I’m not too old to hike anymore. I know I tentatively accepted that I was probably just sick in Grafton Notch, but last weekend I got hard scientifical evidence of it. More on that below, but first:

At last we have come to the moment when I ask you for money for this thing. Don’t worry I will ask again, probably many times. But if you already know you’re coming along for the whole trail, here’s the upgrade page:

And here’s the deal: This is a limited-run newsletter mini-series so I didn’t want anyone to have yet another subscription to manage. Fortunately Beehiiv just added a one-time payment option. So premium Today on Trail memberships are just one easy payment for permanent access to all posts past, present and yet to come, forever. No expiration, no renewal, no nonsense, and available in two rustic Appalachian Trail-themed tiers.

The Grandma Gatewood Tier: $45 (only one time!)

Named for ultra-light hiking icon “Grandma” Emma Gatewood, who in 1955 at age 67 became the first solo female Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. Grandma Gatewood only took along what she needed, and this subscription is just what you need and nothing more. A $45 one-time payment gets you permanent access to the entire run of the newsletter, however long that is. Probably through December, but we'll see what happens!

I learned about Emma Gatewood via Googling the name of the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape, a combination tarp shelter and rain poncho inspired by Gatewood’s all-purpose ultralight shower curtain poncho. It was my shelter (but not my only raingear) the first time I hiked the Hundred Mile Wilderness. I later read Ben Montgomery’s biography “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk,” which is extremely good. This is your basic membership tier, forty five bucks and you’re all set.

The Myron Avery Tier: $150 (also only one time!)

Lubec, Maine native Myron Avery was as responsible as anyone can claim to be for the Appalachian Trail existing at all, and his single-minded obsession with Mt. Katahdin is the reason the trail ends there instead of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. If your single-minded obsession with giving me money won't let you rest at a mere $45, this is the tier for you. It doesn't really get you anything extra but like Myron Avery, you'll become a hero to me.

This tier is available for anyone who has the means and the desire to chip in a bit more than a Gatewood’s worth. I’m not making any specific promises beyond "full access to the newsletter,” but if I can sneak you some extra goodies in the future I sure will. Avery Peak in Maine’s Bigelow range is named for Myron Avery, who was by all accounts a cantankerous old so-and-so. As the Appalachian Trail History website puts it:

Respected by almost everyone he met, Avery was not generally popular with many in the trail clubs, the National Park Service, and other federal agencies, largely because his greatest strength—his relentless drive—was also his greatest weakness… His demanding nature, his acerbic, often confrontational writing style, and his unwillingness to compromise meant that in addition to leading the completion of the Appalachian Trail, he also left a trail of broken friendships and broken professional relationships when he died at 53.

Oof. Today Avery Peak looks out over Flagstaff Lake, named for the former Dead River Valley town of Flagstaff which lies drowned beneath it by a 1950 Central Maine Power hydroelectric dam project. Avery died in 1952 and I don’t know what he thought of the creation of Flagstaff Lake, or if he even knew about it, but he was always a pragmatist about the trail.

Dammit I’m supposed to be selling you subscriptions, not recapping trail history. I guess it’s obvious which I’d rather be doing so why don’t you go settle up on the subscription page and we can get back to the fun stuff? Posts through the rest of June will be free, but when we hit the trail in July, I think most new posts will be premium. So if you don’t sign up now, you can certainly decide sign up then.

One last note: some folks have been having weird intermittent issues getting the upgrade payment to go through. If you have trouble, check that you entered your zip code and make sure you’re logged in with your subscriber email address, and if it still doesn’t work come back and try again a little later. Given time, the problems appear to solve themselves, which I find is broadly true for most things.

Today’s Trail Song

hey, nothing’s “Maine” has been on heavy rotation in my earbuds lately, for reasons that will be obvious if you give it a listen.


Long distance hiking is a logistical challenge and an adventure in what I suppose we can call “the wilderness,” or whatever. But it’s also an athletic endeavor, and like most endurance athletes I want hard performance data. I hope it doesn’t ruin the romance of the trail for you to know that I’m tracking virtually every hike with at least one GPS app, and probably three for this trip.1  

For many years I’ve tracked most of my hikes with Gaia GPS, which includes a ton of map layers and lets me create routes along trails to estimate distance and elevation change. While I’m hiking, it tracks the actual trip and produces a heap of useful stats. Here for example, is the telemetry from our second day on Grafton Loop the weekend before last:

Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.
Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.

This is all one screen in the app, but I can’t screenshot the whole thing at once. The first image here has the total time, nine hours twenty five minutes, and a few speed and elevation graphs which aren’t that useful. The second image has the deets: we went 10.66 miles, ascended 2,725 vertical feet and descended 3,816. We were moving for about seven and a quarter hours and stopped for two hours and ten minutes. When moving, our average speed was 1.5 mph, and overall (including breaks) our average speed was 1.1 mph.

I can look at this and, from years of tracking similar hikes, immediately tell that these numbers suck for me. Two hours of rest time over 11 miles is way more than I’d usually need, and a 1.5 mph moving speed is very slow for summertime trail conditions, even with significant climbing. These are “something is terribly wrong” numbers.

For comparison, here’s the day of the Chairbacks four years ago, when my feet were falling apart:

Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.
Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.

You can see it right? Six more miles, a lot more vertical ascent, and I still only took an hour and a half of rest the whole day. This 1.9 mph moving average was the slowest of that whole trip, but it was a tough bit of trail and I was tired and injured.

Last Saturday Mica and I went to Pleasant Mountain in Denmark, Maine, which has a ski area on its northeastern slopes but is all hiking trails south of that. Our Grafton test hike did prove that our camping gear is fine, so we just did a day hike with our full packs. I wanted some evidence that I wasn’t sick anymore and that the icy breath of the Reaper was not yet tickling my agèd hackles. Here’s what we ended up doing:

Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.
Screenshot from Gaia GPS, see text below for the relevant numbers.

Now that’s more like it! Honestly still a little bit slow for my taste, but in my present email-job physical condition I will accept it as a starting point. Ten miles in a svelte six hours, a moving pace of two mph and only one hour stopped which included a bird sounds break (see below). More climbing than Grafton, although a solid thousand feet less descent, but broadly these were comparable hikes. And at the end of this one, I felt great. I could have kept going.

In conclusion, I am provably not too old to do this yet. I know you were worried. Not me though, I always knew it would be fine.

Today in Birds

Halfway through our Pleasant Mountain hike, Mica and I stopped in a deep green gully that descended just alongside one of the ski trails and recorded a very vocal red-eyed vireo trying desperately to tell us something, with an ovenbird breaking in to complain at about 0:45. Put on headphones and close your eyes and take a little forest bath.

ToT Stickers

Also today in ways to support the hike: our adorable tater ToT mascots are for sale in sticker form, in the Today in Merch store.

The cutest dang tater tot stickers you ever saw, propped against a Smartwater bottle on the picnic table in my backyard.

$10 + shipping. Smartwater bottle not included.

Send Me Your Questions

There’s only a scant two and a half weeks before we depart, and I’m starting to realize I will never be able to write down all the long distance hiking info I want to share with you in that time. So let’s do a Q&A? Hit reply to any newsletter (like this one!) and ask me any questions you have, and I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can in future posts.

Meanwhile, watch your email on Sunday for a tale of failure, hallucinated moose, and messy eating.

1  If you’re curious, the other two are Far Out, which is a more thru-hiking specific app that has full A.T. maps and is better for visualizing what kind of elevation changes are coming up and finding stuff on the trail like water sources, trailheads, towns, etc., and I will also be pinging satellites with a Garmin InReach Mini, which will let my family track where I am at roughly 30 minute intervals. I’ll probably talk more about those in the future.

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