Friday, June 6, 2014

Into the woods we go....

Time for my annual vacation. Like previous years, I'm spending it in the outdoors. Unlike previous years, I'm leaving the bicycle behind. Since I have two backpacking trips, I have the difficulty of finding a place to store the bike when I'm away. So its staying home.

During my trip I won't be able to post here. In addition, A Taste For The Woods will be moving to its own website at, and that launch should be happening during my absence.

Take care, and I'll be back in three weeks. And remember, the outdoors is for everyone.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Backpacking Project - Friends

"Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends." - It's A Wonderful Life

So far in the Backpacking Project posts, I've discussed the pack, the problem I had with getting a pack, boots, my packing list, and more. And while all those things are important, I think most important of all is the fact that I'm going to be doing these trips with friends.

Admittedly these are friends who I've met while publicly living what Donald Miller might call a "good story." I knew none of them before they expressed an interest in taking me into the woods. The cynical might say they simply feel sorry for me. Cynicism is its own reward. The online backpacking community has been amazingly supportive of my taking on this challenge, even while assuring me its not a challenge at all. I disagree with them about how difficult I might find backpacking, but still the support has been wonderful. I've learned so much and I expect to learn much more as the Backpacking Project continues.

In particular the three friends leading me on trips deserve mention. First of all is Ian, who is guiding me on the Loyalsock Link Trail in 8 days. This will be a three day trip of 18 miles, with the possibility of an additional
stretch to the area known as the Haystacks. The hike is described at Midatlantic Hikes, and I've poached the photo from the hike description at the link, Ian is going to introduce me to hammock camping. I suspect I'll have a lot to write about on that subject, as well as the wonders of the Loyalsock. I look forward to Ian's company as well as that of the loyal hound Baxter.

Ten days after the Loyalsock I'm meeting Adam for an overnight on the Appalachian Trail here in PA. Adam is an enthusiastic backpacker with a challenging health problem that would keep many men inside. In other words, he's the reason for this blog. Adam is going to have me on the ground instead of the air - where Ian is loaning me a hammock for the Loyalsock, I'm borrowing an ultralight tent for the AT trip. Our distance will depend on how the two of us feel and the suitability of a spot for pitching a tent.

Then next month I travel to Virginia for an overnight trip with John, the man who sent me his boots for my backpacking trips Our destination isn't set yet, nor the dates, but we are aiming for July, and the AT is probably the trail. We would most likely camp at one of the trail shelters.

A Taste For The Woods isn't just a home for my writing, or a an account of trips in the outdoors, but its also a celebration of friendship. I love the outdoors alone, but I push myself hard and further when I'm with friends, and the world, rich as it is, seems richer still in good company. Regardless of how these trips turn out I expect to have a great time with Ian, Adam, and John. Thank you in advance, friends.


300 - Weigh in June 2, 2014


No, its not the number of posts I write a week. No, its not the number of readers I have. (I wish!) Its the number of pounds I weigh, and its the lowest I've weighed since 2011.

I've not been as attentive as I should to my eating and exercise over the past couple of months due to stress, and so the recent drop I've experienced is a surprise to me. Still, I'll take it. And the drop means I'm poised to go below 300 during my vacation, which will consist of hiking, backpacking, bike riding, and other outside activities. I expect an enormous calorie burn from backpacking in particular, and I have two, and possibly three, backpacking trips in the next three weeks.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review: A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

(I first published this review on my Facebook page three years ago. I've expanded and clarified a point or two, but it remains very much as I wrote it in December 2010.

While a Christian-themed book by a Christian author might not seem a good fit for A Taste For The Woods, I think Miller's ideas of living your life as a story and making your goals public 'work' regardless of your beliefs, if any. Also, many scenes in Miller's book take place in the outdoors - hikes in Peru, a bike ride across the US, kayaking in Portland - and so its related to our topic. And its hard to not see the support I've received in the Backpacker Project as an example of people wanting to be part of what they see as a good story.)

It's afternoon on Christmas day, and I've finished Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Miller is a writer who authored a memoir, Blue Like Jazz, that made the New York Times bestseller list a few years ago. During the writing of the screenplay of his memoir, Miller began to explore the idea that a person's life could be better if he viewed it as a story, a tale of a persona in conflict with obstacles who goes into action to overcome them and make a good ending.

Miller, the author of several books, is surely being coy when he claims he didn't understand how a story works. All writers tell stories. Even writing about chess, I did. There's a reason "story" is part of "history." A decade ago I wrote an article about an all but unknown chess player named Morris Freed. This Polish immigrant wasn't even a footnote to a footnote until I came across a family reference to his wanting to impress his wife by winning the chess championship of Pennsylvania. All of a sudden as a writer I had a man who was going into action to overcome whatever was in his way. That's a story.

I enjoyed Miller's book, and recommend it, but on reflecting I find I've been applying a lot of what he writes about in my own life for the past five years without realizing it. For instance, Miller describes as "choosing a different story" what I'd usually refer to as making a life change. Years ago I changed my life, or picked a better story than burying myself with a fork. And making better choices is an event as old as story itself. When my 400 pound self lay in the hospital years ago it was Dickens' miser Scrooge who came to mind, standing before his own grave and wondering what he could do to remove the words from that stone. “Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Obstacles, Miller writes, can be self-imposed challenges. Again, I've done it, and seen it in action. My friend Sayre Kulp at one time was notorious on Bike Forums for three word posts and 1500 word signature lines filled with his goals. Just as Miller sends out text messages that he's going to meet his long-estranged father just so he'd go through with the meeting or publicly commits to hike the Inca Trail when he's flabby round the middle, so Sayre posted his goal to ride 2000 miles back when he was north of 400 pounds simply so he could hold himself accountable. Not a new idea on Sayre's part, or Miller's, but still effective, and important to remember.

The aspect of Miller's book that had the most impact on me is how we, and our stories, interact. People like a good story, and if you 'write' one, you'll find people will join in it simply because it's good. They become part of the story, and in some ways the best part. Participating lets them not only help you, but it improves their life stories too. For example, four years ago I began to learn to ride a bike. Three years ago I completed a century, a hundred mile ride. Although it wasn't that long ago, there are many details of the ride that have faded in my memory. However, I remember my friend Dan at the finish line, cheering me as if I'd finished in sub-six hours instead of ten hours 25 minutes. I remember our first meeting, when I could barely balance and I knocked him and his bike over. And I remember the support, discussions, and arguments that took place as I improved in the months between the fall and the triumph. That's what Miller might call a good story with a good ending. (I'm writing a memoir of my weight loss, and that IS the ending I am using.) I'm pleased I lived a good story and that Dan was part of it. I'm still friends with Dan years later and I'm sure he remembers it as well.

I'll stop here. I have to go out and write the next page of my story....


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-06-01

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A Taste For The Woods