Walken’

Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for January, 2008

Theodore Roosevelt’s climb of Katahdin

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I am reading “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris and I really enjoyed this following section. I will quote parts of it directly and other parts summarize, as there are is a lot of material. Most of this can be found on page 96.

TR started taking trips to Aroostook county in Maine in 1878 to stay with a backwoodsman named Bill Sewall in Island Falls. Sewall and Roosevelt were a perfect match, as both were very vigorous outdoorsmen and loved to quote epic poetry as they made shot their prey in the woods. In the midst of his courtship with Alice Lee and his junior year at Harvard, TR took his third trip to Island Falls in late summer of 1879. It describes Katahdin as being about 40 miles away through some of the most intractible forest in northern Maine whose “silhouette massively dominated the western windows of Sewall’s cabin.” It says he wanted to climb it since he first saw it.

They prepared for two days and loaded up a wagon, and set off “southwest into a dank, dripping wilderness.”

“If nothing else, the events of the next eight days made Cutler withdraw his old doubts about Theodore’s stamina. Although conditions were wet and slippery, the young man effortlessly toted a forty-five pound pack up the ever-steepening mountain. Losing a shoe in a stream, he padded on in moccasins, which protected his feet ‘about as effectually as kid gloves.’ Yet despite the pain of tramping over miles of rain-slicked stones, he triumphantly reached the top with Sewall and Dow. Cutler and Emlen remained far below, in a state of collapse. That night, as the rain beat their tents and bedding into a sodden mess, Theodore noted in his diary: “I can endure fatigue and hardship pretty nearly as well as these lumbermen.””

As soon as they got back, the New Yorkers TR had brought with him left for Boston, exhausted. TR next convinced Sewall to underatake an expedition to the Munsungen Lakes by heavy, wooden dug-out canoe up the Aroostook River, which they had to portage often and drag through rapids and hack through beaver dams. The trip took 6 days and 50 miles each way. TR noted that the Munsungen trip made their trip to Katahdin look like “an absolute luxury.”

TR is one of my favorite presidents and I was thrilled to find this account. What a treat to know that Teddy Roosevelt, the most animated and vigorous man to ever live in the White House was drawn as a young man to the exact same place I am now drawn in the Maine wilderness. I will definitely remember this as I tote my 45 pound pack up that ever-steepening mountain!

And what a photograph! That’s Maine woodsmen Wilmot Dow, Bill Sewall and TR is on the right with the Burnside chops.

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Meredith Emerson

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As I’m sure you all know by now a hiker was kidnapped on new year’s day near the A.T. at Blood Mountain, Georgia. She was kept alive for 3 days in the back of a van before she was killed and then decapitated. Meredith Emerson was her name, and she was a beautiful 24 year old from my old back yard, Colorado. There is also an elderly couple who went missing on the A.T. in October, in North Carolina. The body of Irene Bryant has been found while her husband John is still missing. Finally, there is Cheryl Dunlap who was also a hiker murdered in Florida just before the holidays. It appears that they are going to charge the man who killed Meredith, Gary Micheal Hilton in the Florida case as well, and he is a prime suspect in the North Carolina case.

Obviously these events have rocked the hiking community quite a bit. Particularly the Emerson case, because of all the media coverage. The Appalachian Trail goes right over Blood mountain, and being just 28 miles from the start point I will hit it on day 3 or 4 of my hike. Undoubtedly that will be a tough place to pass. It is mind blowing to think that this kind of stuff can happen in the supposed haven of the woods. My heart and prayers go out to each of those families, and I am thankful that they have found the killer.

These events have raised big questions on the whole safety thing while hiking. Suddenly everyone is asking me if I’m going to carry a gun. One person asked me if I’m still planning on going. The hiking community forums are alive with posts on how to defend yourself when attacked, and one guy even asked what kind of sword would be best to carry. (The best, of course would be a cane sword like that guy in the movie Blind Fury. Duh.) In short, there are a lot of people freaking out.

This all has a very familiar ring to it. It seems there is a pattern in society, that whenever something bad happens we must overreact. However, it is important to keep reality in view here. These murders were likely done by just one person, who is now behind bars. Carrying a two pound gun is not going to protect you from Gary Micheal Hilton, because you won’t be seeing him on the trail any time soon. Besides, there is a lot of debate on just how to carry a gun on the trail. Since anybody you meet who wants to do you harm will probably attack you unawares, how in the world would you reach for your hidden piece in the bottom of your pack? It seems the only other option is to actually draw the gun on EVERY person you meet, just in case. Now that sounds like the safest way.

Buried somewhere in all of this nonsense and hysteria is probably some good, sound steps every one can take to stay safe. Like letting people know where you are going, how long you will be gone and so on. But unfortunately, we live in a world that is not completely safe. There have been something like 7 murders in the entire history of the A.T., before these. Considering the A.T. stretches for 2,175 miles and has millions of users each year, it seems that the Appalachian Trail is a lot safer than any city. The bottom line is, stuff can happen to you just as easy at the grocery store or at the movie theater. When something does happen to you, carrying that concealed pistol under the seat of your car or in the bottom of your pack probably isn’t going to help you a whole lot. Hikers have a lot more dangerous things to worry about, like hypothermia.

My prayers go to the families of the victims, and I hope they find peace.

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