Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review for “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall

Run miles without shoes? Reduce my number of running injuries? My ears perked up when I heard author Christopher McDougall interviewed on national public radio on his new book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Being a distance runner with a chronic heel pain, I just had to read this book (

McDougall’s research and book centered on a Mexican Indian tribe called Tarahumara (pronounced with a silent “h”, Tara-oo-mara). The Tarahumara live in the depth of an isolated canyon in Mexico, and run 100 miles or more at a stretch – all miles either barefoot or with crude thin rubber strapped sandals.

Barefoot running brings to mind nasty road stones, sticks and glass that clutter every runner’s path. McDougall offers a near barefoot approach with the slim rubber soled Vibram FiveFingers footwear ( that look like a kind of glove for the foot with its articulated toe slots and just enough fabric to keep the thing on the feet. 

Besides the Tarahumara Indians, the book focuses on the sport of ultra marathons (100 or so mile running races in all kinds of terrain).

I write this blog because Born to Run goes against the tide of “the more expensive the running shoe, the better it is.” My hope is that this blog will generate comments from those who do barefoot running, have worn five fingers, or who have read the book. Born to Run suggests an elixir for runners with severe and recurring injuries who refuse to stop. It poses the question for me, “Could barefoot running really help me run without heel pain?”

Writing Style

As a writer, I consciously evaluate how other writers maintain the enjoyment and attention of the reader. McDougall’s style was of particular interest to me:

• I enjoyed his chapter lengths. They were generally four to six pages, and focused on one or two areas of the story.

• Each chapter ends with a paragraph or sentence that leads into the next chapter, similar to a TV serial, where the end of show entices you to read the next week. I wanted to read the next happening.

• McDougal intermixes the Spanish language within his writings, and then gives the interpretation in English. I once worked with Spanish speaking people, and this method brought back to me many Spanish phrases words.

• While my engineering background shows in my outdoor writings as I take the reader step by step through a story, McDougall assumes the reader will fill in time and people gaps. For instance, my tales might follow a runner’s progress throughout a race, whereas McDougall, without an introduction that the place or speaker has changed, jumps into the next paragraph with another runner, and it all makes sense as the reader understands this is a different runner.

Born to Run provides a very well written and unique perspective to distance running. I preach running to my audience as the cardiovascular exercise needed for extensive outdoor exercises. Whether paddling, hiking, skiing, or biking, you need a good level of physical health for these endurance sports. Whether the outdoor enthusiast reader agrees or disagrees with the author’s assumptions and perspective, the book will surely give you insights to the world of long distance running and an unique view of barefoot running. You also learn a bit about ultra-marathons.

Personal Comment

I ask you to respond to this post with your own thoughts and experience on the topics in Born to Run. However, given this is a blog, I must provide my own comment, and confess that while I am intrigued with barefoot running and Vibram shoes, I have not tried them. I continue to wear my expensive running shoes with orthotics. I have not completely given up the idea as Born to Run has stimulated my curiosity. I never want to say, “I wish I had tried barefoot running and Vibram Five fingers.”

• Holiday gift an inscribed copy of Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…”  E-mail Steve at Include the number of copies and the inscription for each book. The price is $34 per book. This special price includes the cost of shipping.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Touching a Paddle in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota

Cathy said, “I want to visit Minnesota”. So off we went.

We flew to Minneapolis, rented a car, and spent seven days traveling in northeastern Minnesota. We saw beautiful country, visited unique places in the Lake Superior area, and most of all we met wonderful Minnesotans. We now have new friends and great memories of Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). 

The BWCAW is a region of wilderness straddling the Canada–United States border between Ontario and Minnesota. It is composed of over 1 million acres of forests and thousands of miles of water routes. No motored vehicles or boats are allowed within the parameters of the wilderness area. Permits are required for all visitors of the BWCA. A limited number of permits grant access to each BWCAW entry point.

Cathy and I spent three days in Ely, Minnesota at the Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast, close to entrance 31 of the BWCAW. Ely provided us:
• A two hour kayak paddle to South Farm Lake, an area in the BWCAW
• A three hour canoe paddle from North Farm Lake into the Kawishiwi River, another entrance into the BWCAW
• Visited the International Wolf Center to see wolves in a two acre habitat
• Visited the Northern Bear center and saw bears in their natural environment
• An evening at a lakeside campfire learning how to “howl” to see if we could get a reciprocal howl from wild wolves.

Enjoy our video as Cathy and I share a taste of the boundary waters and the Ely attractions. Two of our Minnesota friends will give you an upfront demonstration of wolf howling.

Next September friends and I will never have to say, "We wish We had paddled a week in the Boundary Waters."

If you have interest in the boundary waters visit:

Click slideshow  to see all the pictures and videos of our Ely visit.
  •  Gift an inscribed copy of Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” for the upcoming holidays. E-mail Steve at Order Outdoor Enthusiast. Give Steve the number of copies and the inscription for each book. The price is $34 per book, and this special price includes the cost of shipping.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Exploring Lake Umbagog – a Gem in the Great North Woods

Ominous dark clouds were overhead. White caps on Lake Umbagog were starting. The wind was gusting. Do John, Dundee and I continue paddling north three miles, or do we head back to our campsite?

We had left our Big Island remote camp two hours earlier paddling on the west shore of Lake Umbagog with the plan to reach the northern section of the eight mile long lake, and then return south to our campsite via the east shore. On the way we would explore the headwaters of the Androscoggin River and the terminus of the Magalloway River.

Fortunately, we heeded a fellow paddler’s storm warning, and decided to do a one-mile paddle across the lake to Tyler Point before heading south. Or did we delay our turnabout too long?

Planning the Trip

Weather was a major consideration for us. Originally we planned to do a ten-hour hike in Baxter Park, Maine to the terminus of the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Two days of heavy weather were forecast, and we decided against this trek. Dundee suggested paddling Lake Umbagog. We went to and for the satellite views, and our consensus was the weather would be light scattered showers in the Lake Umbagog area.

The weather in this region can change rapidly, and the literature notes the lake can become very challenging in moderate to high winds.  Regardless, we decided it was a go!

Lake Umbagog

The Lake straddles the border between Maine and New Hampshire. Lake Umbagog is 7,850 acres with a north-south length close to eight miles. Using Google Earth ( we estimated at least 12 miles of paddling hugging the western shoreline to the northern terminus of the lake.  Shoreline campsites are operated by the State of NH. The web site to make reservations is

The Lake Umbagog State Park offers 34 remote campsites in isolated locations around the lake accessible only by boat. Wildlife viewing includes deer, moose, loons, eagles, osprey, and other varieties of birds.

For more information about canoeing and kayaking Lake Umbagog go to

To see a Lake Umbagog map with its 34 remote sites go to

The Trip – Day 1

We arrived at the Lake Umbagog State Park in early afternoon for three days of paddling and camping. Two park rangers welcomed us and were most accommodating. Upon our comment to them that we wanted to paddle the whole lake, and were seeking a remote site to help us accommodate our goal, they suggested campsite 4 on the north side of Big Island. Big Island is about three miles up lake from our put-in at the southern tip of the lake.

Our paddling crafts: John (Old Town Cayuga 110 kayak), Dundee (Grumman 15’ aluminum canoe) and I (Old Town Adventurer 139 kayak).

We paddled north near the western shore, and arrived at our campsite in about two hours. We set up our tents, including tarps over the camp table to protect us from rain. We started a fire in the fire ring, and relaxed to enjoy our earthly presence on this remote wilderness island.

Day 2

We awoke at 6 am. Chief Chef John made a delicious egg, bacon and cheese omelet wrapped tortillas. These, along with Dundee’s coffee, made a great start for the day. By 9 am we are paddling north along the western shore. The wind is calm and the water as smooth as glass.

Around 11 am we reach Black Island cove. The wind has begun to pick up and the lake became choppy with small waves forming. Fortunately, we heeded a camper’s advice to abandon our trip north and to head back to camp as the wind was expected to increase the already rough waters. We still wanted to see as much of the southern half of the lake as we could, and we felt we could return safely on the eastern side of the lake. We paddle across the lake to Tyler Point with the easterly wind and waves at our backs. As Dundee said, “With the wind at our backs we were surfing fast across the tips of the wave crests. Yes, it was fantastic!”

We went ashore at Tyler Point, and there we introduced ourselves to Leonard and Camille, two brothers raised in the area. Leonard suggested on our return paddle we stop at Tyler Cove for a ¼ mile hike to a natural flowing spring. The short hike was certainly worth our time, and as I scooped the delicious cold spring water into my mouth, I wondered if we had discovered the fountain of youth!

The wind was now gusting to cause us serious concern, and the waves were rolling and splashing such that I had visions of an ocean launching of our kayaks and canoes at high tide. We now needed to prove our mettle to get back to our Big Island campsite. The wind was blowing directly at us, and we needed to go perpendicular to it in order to move south along the eastern shoreline. We used whatever protection from the shore and trees we could fine to minimize our exposure to the strong winds and heavy rain now blowing across the lake from the west.

Dundee had the toughest paddle, as his aluminum canoe was like a sail in the wind. He had to paddle with his bow into the wind, at a near 90 degree angle in order to go parallel with the shoreline and not get swamped by the pounding waves. His paddling expertise and confidence were apparent as he gently moved along the shoreline.

John and I pointed our kayaks at a 45 degree angle into the western wind in order move south. We both wore kayak skirts, but some water did manage to leak into our kayaks. Our hope was we did not take too much water to avoid the need to go to shore to bail the kayaks, or worse case we would be swamped.  Bailing was nearly impossible in these winds and lake conditions, as constant paddling was needed to maintain both our direction and uprightness.

To quickly end the epic of our three hour return paddle journey, indeed we made it safely back to Big Island – a bit wet, but none-the-less without a "tip over". We had beaten the winds and white caps of Lake Umbagog.

We were drenched from the rain and water, and certainly cold, so once reaching our camp we immediately built a roaring campfire, changed into warm clothes, and boiled water for hot soup.

Never say, “I wish I had paddled Lake Umbagog”.

We would certainly return to Lake Umbagog for another paddle to explore the northern half of the Lake, including the headwaters of the Androscoggin River to the Errol Dam, and the terminus of Lake Magalloway from the Lake Umbagog Wildlife Refuge on Route 16.

  • Click slideshow to see all the pictures and videos for this trip.

  • Gift an inscribed copy of Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Enthusiast: Never say, “I wish I had…” for the upcoming holidays.  E-mail Steve at  Give Steve the number of copies and the inscription for each book.  The price is $34 per book, and this special price includes the cost of shipping.

Certainly, we never have to say, “I wish I had paddled Lake Umbagog."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sea kayaking and Camping on the Maine Island Trail

A few years ago my cousin Linwood suggested I join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). ( The Maine Island Trail (MIT) is a 375-mile chain of over 180 wild islands along the coast of Maine. The MIT is a must do for any outdoor enthusiast.

The Planning Phase

Kayaking and camping on islands in the Atlantic Ocean is not something one does on a whim. Who would like to go with me? When do we go? Where do we put-in? Where do we park the car for three days? Which islands do we camp on? Do we need fire permits? Do we need camp site reservations?

I invited my regular camping and paddling buddies, and Dundee was the sole positive responder. Dundee and I selected Stonington on Deer Island as our put-in because it offered a plethora of islands close to shore for our maiden trip. I emailed the office of MITA, and Eliza quickly responded answering my questions about island fire permits (there is a telephone number in the MITA online ( and hard copy guidebook); camp site reservations (There is no need for camp reservations on any of the islands - a MITA member has access to all sites on the trail, at any time, unless the guide descriptions indicates otherwise); The Deer Isle overview page of the guide has a list of put-ins available, and we selected Old Quarry Ocean Adventures with parking and launch facilities at a discount for MITA members.

Linwood sent emails on maps ( for nautical navigation charts. He cautioned us to plan transits from the islands and mainland using a favorable following tide flow. Tides can be 2 to 4 knots in some of those channel passages, and if we end up bucking the tidal flow, we won't make much headway toward our destination and may run out of energy and/or daylight.

He sent us tide charts (e.g. as tide knowledge is critical for camp sites and campfires, since the fires must be  below the high tide line. The velocity of flow is maximum at mid-tide and slackens toward either end, reaching null at the direction change. In the Stonington areas the tide will run about 12 feet (give or take the phase of the moon effects). We needed to remember to drag our kayaks a boat length or two up the beach landing area for high tide. When the tide rises 12 plus feet, we do not want to find our transportation has gone out to sea.

We need to carry compasses, relevant guides and charts, the MITA guidebook, and a plastic water resistant nautical chart.

Packing our kayaks for our three day paddle meant tough decisions on what to bring and what to leave. My wife Cathy thought we would never pack the gear we had readied, but indeed we managed without sinking our kayaks.

I sent emails to friends to follow our progress on their email with Google Maps (the app is called Wheres My Droid ( I also downloaded an app called My Tracks ( to follow our island trail paddle.

Day 1 - Wednesday

We registered our itinerary with Old Quarry (Hells Half Acre Island on Wednesday night and Steves Island on Thursday night with a 4 pm return on Friday). The Old Quarry staff were extremely accommodating with information on islands to camp (e.g. “too buggy”, “be careful of lobster boats when crossing channels and between islands”, etc).

We had a smooth put-in at Old Quarry, and with a smooth paddle we were at Hells Half Acre island in just over thirty minutes. We were in awe of the island and the view of the bay. We took a walk about this two acre island, and located a nice spot on the east end of the island and pitched our tents on two wooded platforms.

Our initial plan was to save a camping spot by pitching our tent, and then doing some paddling to other islands. However, we were in awe of this paradise, and after some adult beverages, we decide to cool it for the night right where we were. This proved to be the right decision as shortly after we landed a three mast schooner with five sails full, tacked into our harbor. It was a magnificent sight.

Dundee was chief chef for this evening’s dinner. We made a campfire below the high water line, and he proceeded to prepare beans and franks. Fabulous meal.

The sunset was dreamlike on this beautiful summer evening with a gentle breeze

Day 2 – Thursday

On Wednesday night we went to sleep surrounded by beautiful islands with clear skies and overhead stars.

We awoke Thursday morning on an island in the middle of the ocean! We were completely engulfed in pea soup fog!

We had a lazy breakfast hoping the fog would clear. It did not.

At 10 am we decided to use our map and compass skills, and find out way to Steves Island. Dundee’s skills included a nautical map and compass.

I felt comfortable with Dundee leading the way, but I must admit it was a weird feeling paddling into soup fog and hoping to find our next marker island to know we were on course to Steves Island.

It took us about an hour to get to Steves from Hells Half Acre, as we meandered between a few islands enjoying this surreal experience of fog paddling. We could see about thirty feet ahead, so when we located an island, we paddled around it so take in the pleasure of the rocky coast of Maine.

When we found Steves Island, we were met by a couple, Taylor and Catherine, who had spent the prior night there, and because of being fog bound today, they intended to spend another day on Steves trusting that Friday’s sun would burn away the fog.

We found a delightful campsite to pitch our tents. We toured this rock bound island, with balsam trees in the middle. Of course with the fog, our views off the island were essentially nil. We could hear lobster boats, but did not see them.

During the day four kayakers in beautiful hand-made sea kayakers found the island for lunch. Interestingly, I knew one of the kayakers, so it was fun talking old times. They had all the appropriate navigation equipment, and after lunch left to make their way back to their campsite at another MITA Island.

Given we were now friends with Taylor and Catherine, we invited them to join us for Steves Island fresh mussels and pre-dinner Hors D’Oeuvres.

Day 3 Friday

We awoke at 5:30 am Friday hearing the lobster boats get an early start. The fog was lifting and we knew the day would be clear. Around 9 am we began to be surrounded by islands, as indeed they appeared on our map.

At 10 am we started a gentle paddle back to our Old Quarry take-out via Crotch Island and Stonington. We left Steves Island with wonderful memories of ocean mussels and new and old friends. Crotch used to be a stone quarry, and was loaded with monstrous granite cut stones. We paddled along the shorefront of Stonington harbor, and around 1 pm we pulled into our take-out.

We reported our return at the Old Quarry Ocean Adventures office, and after buying three freshly caught Maine lobsters, we headed home to New Hampshire.

Shared Learning

• My Droid Incredible ran out of power in less than 7 hours after its full charge, so my expectations for Where is my DROID, and My Tracks was a big negative (although some friends used GPS My DROID on day one and it worked great. Thereafter with no battery …

• Always bring a water resistant nautical map and compass – and certainly know how to use it BEFORE you go

• Join the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA)

• Most assuredly I will return many times to enjoy and explore the wild islands cared for by the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA)

• Play Slideshow of all pictures and videos taken on MIT

Never say, "I wish I had paddled the Maine Island Trail"

"Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go outdoors." 
– S. Priest


Steve’s latest book, Outdoor Play "Fun 4 4 Seasons" is available as an e-Book at Kindle and hard copy at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Never say, “I wish I had swum across Perkins Pond”

This blog describes seven friends doing a group endurance swim of nearly one mile at Perkins Pond, Sunapee, NH.

The swimmers, accompanied by a safety boat, go across the pond, around a raft, and then return back to the start. The swim takes approximately 40 minutes. The video describes the requirements the athletes meet before they swim with the group.

The maps, pictures, and video show snippets of the swim and will give you an “up front and personal” perspective.

The history of this swim started when my 7 and 8 year old boys, Shaun and Tim, asked to drive our 6 hp motor boat by themselves. Cathy and I knew the boys could swim, but if an emergency should occur in the boat, we were skeptical about their ability to swim a long time.

We told the boys they could only take the boat alone if they could swim across Perkins pond, and then swim back, all without a life vest. Of course we would accompany them by boat to insure their safety.

Our challenge proved to be an incentive for these young boys to improve and practice their swimming skills. Later that summer they fullfilled their swim agreement, and they were allowed to use the boat, wearing a life vest, by themselves.

Now, with close friends and family, we gather to repeat this original challenge.

Our seven swimmers in this blog post represent members of the Priest, Nestler and Scharff families.

Whether as a swimmer or supporter, enjoying the outdoors with friends and family is something you do to never have to say, “I wish I had swum across Perkins Pond."

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Hike to Table Rock, Dixville, New Hampshire

Please join me in a hike to Table Rock in Dixville Notch, NH.

My wife Cathy and I spent an enjoyable three days at the magnificent Balsams Grand Hotel Resort, located in the great north woods of New Hampshire. Looking out the window from our room, I was enticed to hike to Table Rock.

Table Rock is without question the scariest, most spectacular overlook of my New Hampshire hiking experiences. Table Rock is the tip of a chiseled natural elevation that towers over the Dixville Notch highway. Table Rock jets out at the highest point of the Notch, seemingly a sentry guarding the Balsams property hundreds of feet below it. On a clear day, the view from Table Rock can include the mountains of Canada, Vermont, and Maine.

Reaching Table Rock requires a one plus hour hill climb on a narrow tree-canopied forest trail with 30 – 50% grades and rocks, roots, streams, and mud.

Please enjoy the video of my hike to Table Rock.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Outdoor Enthusiast Campfire Chat: Starting Your Campfire with Rotten Birch Bark

Most campers know birch bark contains a combustible oil and will burn fiercely even when wet. We also know that it is not appropriate to peel bark from a live tree.

What was missing from my knowledge was whether old rotten and damp birch bark will still serve as kindle to quickly start a file.

During a recent hike in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire we passed through a swampy area with old blown down birches. They obviously had been lying on the floor of this forest for years. My friend thought overtime this downed tree had lost its combustible oil. I was not sure, and I never wanted to say, “I wish I had tried using rotten birch bark to start a camp fire”. Certainly, rather than wait to test this theory under emergency conditions, we should try it now.

See the below video on using rotten birch bark to start a camp fire.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Outdoor Enthusiast Campfire Chat: How to Cook an Egg in an Onion

In my March 31, 2010 blog post, I Never Have to Say, “I wish I had paddled Florida’s Suwannee River”, I created a video showing John, our camp chief chef, cooking an egg in an orange over an open campfire.

A recent Great North Woods paddling and tenting trip to northern New Hampshire’s Lake Francis, allowed me to take my campsite experience a bit further. Paul Tawrell's outdoor enthusiast book, Wilderness Camping and Hiking, described a method to cook an egg over an open campfire in an onion. Being one to never say, "I wish I had cooked an egg in an onion over an open campfire", I decided to try Paul's recommendation.

Click the below video to see Outdoor Steve's experience with an onion, egg, and campfire.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Never Have to Say, “I wish I had paddled Florida’s Suwannee River”

In late March, we spent five days paddling seventy miles of the upper Suwannee River. Dundee paddled his fifteen-foot aluminum Grumman canoe, Shaun was in an eleven-foot Old Town Cayuga kayak, and John and I in my sixteen-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe.

Florida has designate the Suwannee River as an Outstanding Florida Water. The Suwannee flows and winds 265 plus miles from the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. It has fifty plus springs along the way. The river’s limestone outcroppings and a drop in elevation create Florida’s only whitewater rapids at Big Shoals and Little Shoals.

Put-In at Cyprus Creek South Tract

My sister Barbara and husband Larry drove us to our put-in at Cyprus Creek South Tract in northern Florida where CR 6 crossed over the Suwannee River.

This was our first paddle in Florida, and we were not sure what to expect. Interestingly as the trip went on, we recognized similarities with our NH/ME/ treks, such as in New Hampshire we kept our eyes open for moose, whereas on the Suwannee we watched for alligators. In Maine we would admire stands of pine trees, while here in Florida we saw Spanish moss hanging from stately Cyprus and Live Oak trees. Our northern river paddles often passed through ledges and canyon-like sections, whereas in the Suwannee we experienced high bluffs of limestone walls funneling the river.

The river is lined with sandy banks and beaches made from the thick limestone that underlies the entire state. The Suwannee River pulverizes the limestone into white beach sand, and hidden underwater stone formations cause the river to whirl as if there was a spring or a whirlpool waiting to draw us into its black hole. Often, particularly at sharp bends, twisting water would atttempt to turn our vessels upstream.

We frequently saw rope swings along the river. Summer had not yet come here, so we could only let our minds wander as to how much fun it would be to swing over the water, release, and drop into the cool Suwannee.

The upper and middle Suwannee is a dark brown-black color. This color is tannic acid released by decaying vegetation.

Our GPS showed the current to be around 3 miles per hour from our put-in through Big Shoals. Thereafter we noticed the current to be around 2 mph.

Day One – A Twenty miles Paddle to Big Shoals

In mid-morning we met two Florida State biologists. They demonstrated their shocking technique to inspect fish. This was particularly interesting, as last spring Dundee and I assisted NH Fish and Game as volunteers to stock salmon fry on the Souhegan River, and we were told about monitoring the fish population with a similar shocking technique.

Big Shoals is the Suwannee’s (and Florida) only set of rapids. Big Shoals was at Class III level, so we decided to portage (about a quarter mile carry). We camped on the bluff overlooking Big Shoals for the night. Click this video to enjoy our unique breakfast prepared by Chef John (or as we nicked him, Emeril Lagasse).

The below video shows the Big Shoals rapids, our superb breakfast, and our portage around Big Shoals.
The picture here is a fellow named Matt who built his own self-powered sail boat. He shared with me he was in a friendly race around Florida with six other competitors. His boat was most intriguing.

Day Two – sixteen miles to Swift Creek camp

We did see four alligators, but as they lie on the banks they look like logs, and when they spot us, they quick slid into the water before we can get a picture. We spotted many large turtles throughout the trek. I spotted a river otter twice, but again they are quicker than my picture taking. Hawks, red cardinals, and vultures flew overhead. We heard what appeared to sound like Barred owls at night.

Ogeechee Tupelo Tree

As we paddled we noticed a tall odd-shaped tree that was similar in color to the Cyprus and height, but obviously was a different category. In planning for this trip Dundee and I visited his relative who had worked along the Suwannee, and he told us to be aware of the Ogeechee Tupelo tree near or in the water. The tree is unique to warm and wet areas in northern Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. The trees we saw were close to 40 feet in height and with a spreading flat-topped crown. Multiple, irregular branches and roots emerged from their trunks. It had dark brown or grey, ridged bark, and the base of the tree had swollen buttress-type roots. We were told that local people often use its fruit to make jelly.

We noticed as we got closer to Big Shoals, the river bank changed to more rock than sand, and we stopped seeing Ogeechee Tupelo trees.

Admittedly, the Ogeechee Tupelo tree looked weird to us, and you can judge for yourself by playing the video we took.

Day Three to Swift Creek

We generally sought camp on the river between 4 and 5 pm. Edwin McCook, Land Management Specialist for the Suwannee River Water Management District, had given us maps and GPS points of preferred riverside camp sites, and these points came in handy in looking for a good night’s accommodation.

I spotted a three foot brown and tan spotted snake, but again no picture.

Dundee decided to pitch his tent on a sand island in the River. In the morning he was on a peninsula as the River had dropped a few inches. Think of what might have happen if it had gone up!

Day Four – fifteen miles to Holton Creek River Camp

The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail River Camps (, such as Woods Ferry and Holton Creek, are spaced a day’s travel apart, and generally accessible only by the river of hiking trail. We stayed overnight at the Holton Creek River Camp, and its resident host, Ed, made our stay exceptional. We highly recommend these river camps.

We started noticing orange trail markers, similar to the painted white trail signs on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  These markers signify The Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST). The 1400 mile trail comes across from Osceola National Forest to the Suwannee at Big Shoals on the east bank. It follows the east bank to White Springs and crosses the river at SR 136 Bridge and follows the north bank of the river to near Dowling Park in Twin Rivers State Forest where it turns west to the Florida panhandle. During our stay at Holton Creek, Shaun and I hiked two miles of the FNST.

Sulpher springs on the Suwannee River were once promoted as a cure for almost any ailment. Today these sites are simply places of interest.  At Suwannee Springs there is an old pool built out of limestone around a spring that was a resort in the late 1800’s and in the early 1900’s Folks would come and soak in the sulfur spring water for its healing properties.

Day Five – Thirteen Miles to Take-Out at Suwannee River State Park

John had a challenge with his navigation, as his GPS gave us “as the crow flies” miles to go, whereas, the river twisted and turned many times. For example, his GPS read 8.4 miles from Holton Creek to the Suwannee River Park, whereas, the sign read 13.4 miles. Our map showed many U and S turns along the way.

Larry and his Dad met us at our take-out at Suwannee River State Park.

Enjoying the Suwannee – and more

This was a fabulous trip. We had only paddled in northern New England, and we were all pleasantly surprised with the ecology, cleanliness of the river shoreline and campsites, and its ecosystem with many birds, trees and animals. As northerners, we were a bit hesitant about being in alligator country, but we quickly learned gators were most likely to disappear when they saw humans.

The Suwannee's height  at the White Spring's water guage marker ramp at the Stephen C. Foster State Park was 60 feet above sea level. This river water level was perfect for our riverside camping and paddling.  Anyone considering paddling the Suwannee should check the water level at the SRWMD's web site before starting their trip.

If one did decide to paddle the Suwannee, based on our seventy mile trek, I would recommend extensive planning with the GPS in anticipation of campsites. Our late March trek was perfect for minimum bug intervention, and it rained only one night. We did three nights of primitive camping (read that to mean no showers or toilet facilities) and on the fourth night at Holton Creek river camp the screened shelter, toilets, and showers were divine. If primitive camping is not your forte, then certainly the river camps offer a pleasant alternative.

Web site references are: Suwannee River Water Management District at, and Suwannee River Wilderness Trail at

Learn about the Ogeechee Tupelo tree at

I definitely would consider doing the remaining 155 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The Suwannee is a gem for a paddler’s delight.

I never want to say, "I wish I had paddled the Suwanee River to the Gulf of Mexico".

Monday, March 15, 2010

A New Hampshire Winter Vacation…

Last week our two grandchildren (Madison 13 and Carson 10) from Kennesaw, Georgia, joined their Uncle Tim, Nana and Papa for an outdoor enthusiast week of skiing at Mount Sunapee, snow-shoeing to a beaver dam at Perkins Pond, a Celtics basketball game, and a tour of Fenway Park (Boston).

Madison (alpine skier) and Carson (snowboarder) skied last year for the first time. Both took lessons, and had three days of “falling, getting back up, and then trying it again”.

Day one this year was on the Mt Sunapee’s South Peak Learning Area on the beginner green trails. As the day progressed it became obvious their skills and confidence had sharpened from last year, and they finished the day taking the lift to the Summit Lodge.

Tim is truly an expert skier, and he served as their mentor for confidence and skill building. Days 2 and 3 were on the intermediate blue trails of the full mountain.

To get a sense of their skill level, click here for a video of Carson, Madison, and Tim making their way down South Peak.  The end of the video has a brief snowshoe hike to the Perkins Pond beaver dam.

Ice Boat and Snow-shoeing through the Woods

Our friend Dundee called. He wanted to remove his ice boat from Perkins Pond because of the melting ice. He also asked if we wanted to snow shoe though the woods to a beaver dam on the Pond. This was an opportunity outdoor enthusiasts could turn down.

Yes, snowshoes are essential tools for anyone whose life or living depends on the ability to get around in areas of deep and frequent snowfall. In additiion, snowshoes are used for winter recreation. Snowshoeing is easy to learn, and is a relatively safe and inexpensive recreational activity. As a reference to more information on snowshoeing click here.

Telemark/Backcountry practice and lessons

Yes, we were fans for our favorite skiers, BUT Outdoor Steve was not to be denied getting on his backcountry skis. Steve had not cross-country skied this season. To never say, “I wish I had XC skied this year”, he decided to practice his telemark turns on the “bunny hill”. Telemark skiing, popularized with a style of turn where one ski is advanced in front of the other and the heel was raised on the rear ski, with the skier in a very bent knee position .Day 1 was OK, as he began to feel comfortable after being off his skis for a year. Day 2 was frustrating, but at the end of the two hours of hiking up the hill, and tele (snow plowing to be truthful) down, Steve managed a few turns that “felt” like he was telemarking.

Day 3 started very frustrating and ending with a very positive Steve. As he snowplowed down the hill, he could not get the “feel” of a tele turn. Finally, after much rationalizing of whether to join Cathy in the lodge, he decided to ask if Sunapee did telemark instruction. A Sunapee instructor was watching the bunny slope skiers, so Steve asked him – turns out his name was Mike – and Mike said he taught telemark lessons. It was lucky day as Mike was the only telemark instructor at the Mountain.

Telemark skiing has been called "the world's oldest new sport”. Telemark skiing (or "tele") has also been called "the most rhythmic and flowing way to descend a snow covered mountain or backcountry trail." One thing I do know with absolute certainty: tele skiing is all about the stoke, the sensation, that feeling of excited exhilaration that comes from getting into the groove of the tele turn.

To paraphrase John Muir, telemark skiing gives access to places to play, places where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul, to interact with wildlife, to feel the forces of gravity, the energy of a gathering storm. A lot of tele skiers find a big part of the stoke to be in the friendships they develop with other members of the tribe, and for some a big attraction is the challenge of learning a new approach to skiing their local resort or terrain park. And then there are the philosophical, almost zen-like aspects to the sport.

While all of these things add to the fun of tele skiing, the true stoke is hard to describe. It can be an almost ethereal experience in those moments when everything comes together: form, function, time and space. Yet it is almost uncanny how something as intangible as this stoke can come to dominate a big part of so many of our lives. Frankly, I have yet to learn the tele stroke.

Mike (right against Mt Sunapee background) had me try a few of my tele turns, and he immediate diagnosed one of my major flaws – I was using my uphill ski to “grab” the hill when turning, and I thus crossed my skis. Opps, away I fell. He demonstrated “my” snowplow, emphasizing its deficiency. He then demonstrated the turn with the uphill ski being kept flat on the turn. Now it was my turn to see if I learned from Mike. Walla, I made a decent snowplow. I practiced a few turns with Mike’s additional comments. I immediately felt a comfort level with Mike’s instructions – and certainly my turns. I was now ready to be shown the proper tele turn.

Mike had me parallel the hill as I moved one ski in front of the other while keeping both skis parallel. Mike quickly pointed out I did not raise my left heel. I could have sworn I had it raised, but when I looked down, it was only in my imagination. Mike certainly has excellent observation – and a very wonderful teaching manner.

My hour was up, and it was time to leave the hill. I doubt if I will make it back on snow this year, so hopefully, I this blog post will remind me of the instructions of Mike. If you want a wonderful telemark instructor, you can reach Mike at the Mt Sunapee Learning Center or at Eastman ‘s Recreation Center.

Boston Celtics

Tim made the kids week by a trip to see the Celtics plan the Minnesota Grizzlies. The results were not pleasing to Boston fans, but both Madison and Carson are star basketball players on their local teams. Seeing basketball at its best with Uncle Tim was quite a thrill.

Fenway Park

My grandson, Carson, is a left-handed Little League pitcher, and an avid Red Sox fan. He wanted to tour Fenway Park. Fenway is being prepared for the Red Sox April 4th opener. The field this year needed sod due to the ice hockey games Fenway hosted this winter.


Click this link for a brief video. Note the wolf-like animal in the outfield. Of course, this is a stuffed animal, and when asked our tour guide said the stuffed animals are used to keep the geese from eating the seed.

I cannot wait for next year for the grandkids to ski, and certainly for me to “practice” my tele stroke.

Never say, "I wish I had..."

I now never have to say, “I wish I had cross-country skied this year”.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Deep Travel & Way down upon the Suwannee River

I am preparing to paddle the Suwannee River!

On October 16, 2009 I posted a blog on my hike along the Suwannee River, Paddle Florida - Get Down on the Suwannee River, and Go with the Flow! A call followed from my friend Dundee saying he wanted to paddle the Suwannee. My response was, “If you organize it, I will go”. Well, March 22 through March 26, Dundee, John, Shaun (my son) and I are paddling 70 miles of the 266 miles of the Suwannee River.

We will do a five-day paddle on the Suwannee starting in Florida where the Suwannee flows under Rte 6. We intend to pull out five days later at Suwannee River State Park in Live Oak, FLA. We will camp 4 nights along the River.

Planning the Trip

For the past few months, under Dundee’s leadership, we Googled the "Suwannee River", read William A. Logan’s, Canoeing and Camping the 213 miles of The Beautiful Suwannee River, and watched Logan's DVD. My sister Barbara and husband Larry introduced me to the lore of the Suwannee River - and Barbara has provided contacts and maps from the Suwannee River Management District Department of Land Acquisition and Management. The White Springs water level is used to determine the water conditions. In my email correspondence with Edwin McCook, SRMD Land Management Specialist, he says, "I like to paddle the river between 50’ and 60’ at White Springs."

Last week Dundee and I went to Vermont to visit with his cousin Arthur. Arthur is a retired biologist who had responsibly in the Suwannee River area, and he readily shared sights of interest, warnings, and camping suggestions (i.e. firewood is plentiful, check the water level at White Springs before you start, "alligators will not bother you", etc).

Deep Travel

Interestingly, a response from my friend Doug to my Dreaming the Appalachian Trail blog post on January 29th suggested I look at David Leff’s web site Indeed, I checked David’s web site, emailed him, and I now have an autographed copy of his book, Deep Travel: In Thoreau’s Wake on the Concord and Merrimack. So how does Deep Travel relate to my Suwannee paddle? Let me share a few paragraphs from David’s Deep Travel:

"At its simplest, deep travel is about heightened awareness. It is careful looking. It is paying attention to what is around you. Deep travel demands that we immerse ourselves fully in places and realize that they exist in time as well as space. A deep traveler knows the world is four-dimensional and can’t be experienced with eyes and ears only.

Deep travel is not so much a matter of seeing sights as it is sight seeking. It is a searching for the patterns and juxtapositions of culture and nature and delighting in the incongruities left by the inexorable passage of time. Deep travelers revel in the wild, inspiring call of a kingfisher as it flies over a couple of trolling anglers with Bud longnecks in one hand and rods in the other. They savor the sight of a tree shaded burial ground squeezed between big-box retailers on a traffic chocked commercial strip.

Deep travelers look not so much for scenery or enchanting objects as for a tapestry of comprehension woven from stone walls, retail establishments, street and topographical names, transportation networks, building styles, plant and animal assemblages, advertising signs, and other artifacts. Each element makes a statement about the landscape as a whole and the relationship of one part to another. Together, they tell a story. Deep travel is an ecological way of looking where everything we see has a function and all the parts are related, no matter how seemingly disparate or contradictory.

Like animals that remain intensely aware of their surroundings and any alteration to them because predation or starvation await the unwary, deep travelers work to be keenly conscious of their environs. They strive for the alertness and acuity of wildland firefighters or solders whose survival depends on their knowledge of topography, history, weather, vegetation, and the observance of changes in minute phenomena. Such mindfulness simultaneously enriches experience and makes the voyager worth of the journey."

I read David’s book, and in particular the above section, and realized the Suwannee was my chance to improve my deep traveler skills.  My friend Dundee is a deep traveler and he always “stops to smell the roses” and appreciate the moment of the forests, animals, flora and sky. Me, I need to remind myself to be a deep traveler, and as David says, “At its simplest, deep travel is about heightened awareness. …..A deep traveler knows the world is four-dimensional and can’t be experienced with eyes and ears only.”

I welcome your comments - certainly, there will be a follow-up post.  I never want to say, "I wish I had been a deep traveler on the Suwannee River."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dreaming the Appalachian Trail

The Man - Brad Viles
I encourage you to read Brad Viles's book, Dreaming the Appalachian Trail. I write this blog in admiration for a man I have never met in person. We have corresponded via email, have chatted on the phone, and have exchanged books. Indeed, I have read many of his writings in the Bangor Daily News.

I was so enthralled with Dreaming … that I just had to have my wife Cathy listen as I read her two chapters of beautiful prose that reminded me of reading Robert Frost’s, “Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the one less traveled by”. I pictured Brad reading to an intent group of outdoor enthusiasts by a campfire next to a river in Maine.

Snippets from Contents of Dreaming
Dreaming the Appalachian Trail is a fictional account of Brad’s Appalachian Trail (AT) hike from Georgia to Maine. Along the way he encounters violent storms, strange people, spectacular scenery and events that change his life. The trail itself is a major character in this story of imagination and wonder.

I absolutely loved Non-stop’s frog/tadpole metaphor. “A frog can’t explain to a tadpole what he will become when grown. The tadpole can’t understand about having legs, no tail and breathing air, even though a frog is exactly what the tadpole would become when it’s an adult. I could not express to anyone what it was like to walk over two thousand miles, so I was a frog, surrounded by tadpoles.” Gosh, I read that, and said, there is my answer when people ask me what it is like to paddle 100 miles on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The Voice made me pause and feel Maine-tainer merge with the “AT”. I ask myself, hmm, so that is what it is like to have the AT talk to me.

Topo Man made my imagination go wild, and his appearance with Compass was unexpected and appropriate. I could see a person tattooed from head to foot with the map of the AT, and yet this person was always losing his way on the AT.

If you want a book to tell you directions and points of interest on the AT, as most AT books do, then this book is not for you. If you want to "feel" this man's connection to the AT, if you want to be absorbed and believe an AT hike, and if you want to read poetry, then buy Dreaming the Appalachian Trail.

I felt so moved after reading Dreaming the Appalachian Trail I posted a five-star(*****)review on

Purchase Dreaming the Appalachian Trail
To buy Dreaming... ($10.00 72 pages) go to

Brad writings include special outdoor enthusiast columns describing his personal exploits. You can read his outdoor pieces by Googling keywords, “Brad Viles Maine”.

Enthusiast passes on tips, stories, love of outdoors
In the January 16, 2010 issue of the Bangor Daily news, Brad wrote a book review of Outdoor Enthusiast titled, Enthusiast passes on tips, stories, love of outdoors. Click here to read it.

An Invitation to Hike Acadia National Park
Brad and I do plan on meeting in person. Brad has graciously invited me to join him in hiking his special trails in the Acadia National Park of Maine. In fact, as I shared Brad’s invitation with my own “characters’ in Outdoor Enthusiast, many have asked if they might join us. Maybe if Brad reads this blog he will smile like his AT trail name of “Maine-tainer”, and I can introduce him to three or four of my fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

My Maine Connection
In the process of interviewing me for his BDN article, I recalled my Maine adventures - after all this review is for "Mainers”. Gosh, I am really connected! Not only was my Dad from Maine, I have aunts and cousins throughout Maine, and we are doing a genealogy search to verify my great great grandmother was indeed a Penobscot Indian.

Moreover, Outdoor Enthusiast describes seven paddling treks in Maine including the Allagash, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race (with my TV dump at Six-mile Falls), Kennebunk Fireman Triathlon, Kennebec White Water Rafting, and the Androscoggin Trek to the Sea. My Maine club memberships are the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Maine Island Trail Association.

I trust my motivational presentation at the Naval Ship Yard Kittery encouraged sailors to enjoy Maine’s outdoor opportunities. Chapter Eleven of Outdoor Enthusiast has Places to Play in Northern New England - the Maine Way

Be sure to never say, “I wish I had spent $10.00 to read, Dreaming the Appalachian Trail