March 21, 2017 – The Best Retreat Is In Here, Not Out There

“People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul – especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat, and be renewed.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.3.1

Just a brief observation on this meditation.

My wife is a beach person. I am a mountains person. We go to these locations because the environment affords us greater access to that peacefulness we seek. But are these environments required, or are we playing to a bias? When discussing religious belief with someone who is dogmatically committed to a specific system I will inevitably ask them what makes their belief better than others. They usually reply with the specifics of their system as being superior, but what they can’t claim as their own is the feeling others get from different systems that mirror their own.

I fully admit that my love for the mountains is primarily a desire to not be in hot, humid weather. But it’s a true statement that being on my paddle board as the sun rises gives me a feeling much like watching the sunrise over snow capped mountains. What I’m looking for is not the peacefulness of the mountains, but peacefulness itself. I must be aware that such a state has nothing to do with where I am but rather how I think.

February 12, 2017 – Protect Your Piece of Mind

“Keep constant guard over your perceptions, for it is no small thing you are protecting, but your respect, trustworthiness and steadiness, peace of mind, freedom from pain and fear, in a word your freedom. For what would you sell these things?” – Epictetus, Discourses, 4.3.6b-8 

Acadia National Park is one of the great protected natural resources America has to offer. One of its draws is a 1.6-mile hike along the famous Precipice Trail. With narrow ledges, and many iron rungs and handholds, this 850 ft ascent is more about mental confidence than physical endurance. When I was in Acadia a few years ago the trail was closed due to the nesting of the Peregrine Falcons in the area, but it was a trail that was recommended to my friend and me.

Today I watched four YouTube videos of hikers that made the trek. Having already experienced Katahdin’s Knife Edge I was surprised that while watching the videos my hands began to sweat. Those on the video could assure me the rungs are stable, but when that camera looks down and we get to see the straight drop below the fear of falling was well translated. There is no future I can see where I would ever hike that trail. As much as I love to hike, why would I subject myself to such fear? I can experience views above tree line from much more stable locations.

Where do we spend our time? Work, sporting events, church, athletic teams or other social settings occupy our lives by choice. We are not bound by some natural, or man-made law, to social institutions, yet how often will we remain somewhere that serves to wear us down?

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis wrote:

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”

Epictetus is reminding us that our very character is something we must protect. The meditation is asking us to consider those environments that we allow ourselves to be in, and whether they are more provoking us rather than inspiring us. Are we constantly on that emotional edge, and in doing so is it distracting you from the life you want, and the person you want to be? Sometimes the hard decision is to change jobs, move to a different location, admit a friendship is pernicious or adjust to a different social group, but isn’t that a small price for the freedom Epictetus speaks of?


February 7, 2017 – Fear is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

“Many are harmed by fear itself, and many have come to their fate while dreading fate.” – Seneca, Oedipus, 992

Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? I have. Two summers ago I traveled to Maine with my friend Chris. Our hope was to get the perfect weather day that would allow us a hike up Mt. Katahdin, and a traverse of its knife edge. The rub…I have a very serious fear of falling. Chris left our campsite at the Roaring Brook Campground in Baxter State Park as the sun was finding its place above the ridge. I’d never seen him with so much energy to spare. Per the trailhead check-in sheet, I was 30 minutes behind him, but he somehow managed to separate by another hour as we hiked.

We both took the Saddle Trail, spent time at Chimney Pond, soaking in the beauty of a day beyond expectations. I was fine until the last .2 miles of Saddle. The Slide lacked solid footing and presented itself as close to an 180-degree ascent as I ever experienced. I shook with every movement, fearing any loss of balance would find me cascading backward with no hope of avoiding injury.

But I continued on.

Pulling myself up to Tableland (the flat area at trails end) I felt an incredible sense of relief, and I knew full well I would not be hiking down the way I came. On my way up I was passed by a 20-something hiker moving across the very same Slide like a well-traveled mountain goat. I envied that confidence.

By the time I found myself at the sign marking my success in reaching Katahdin’s peak I was shaking. My options of getting down the mountain were all terrifying. The Saddle Trail is the least demanding of those which I could take with the time left in the day. The Knife Edge Trail to the Helon Taylor Trail was the goal. Chris had waited an hour and a half for me to complete our first task. A new friend I met along the way up, Larry, (who I would hike the Presidential Traverse with the following summer) and Chris patiently waited as I worked through this crisis. For 30 minutes I sat at 5,267 feet, waiting for my mind to settle, while my two friends assured me I could this. The hike from Katahdin to Pamola Peak (where the Helon Taylor Trail meets) is only 1.1 miles long, but there are sections where you’re free climbing with nothing below you but a 4,000-foot drop. There are blind climbs to find the blazes.

It was the most focused I had ever been in my entire life. The only time fear made itself felt was when we stopped to rest. For a brief moment I could take in the majesty of my surroundings, but my mind would inevitably focus on my elevation and task still before me.

When I finally pulled myself up to Pamola Peak the joy I experienced at completing this dream made every bit of fear I experienced meaningless. Hiking the Southeast cannot prepare you for the challenges of Maines rugged terrain. But I was more ready than I realized. Instead of letting fear make me an unstable hiker, I allowed it to make me a more focused one. True, I could not have done it alone, and that’s what makes the experience even more inspirational. It will always remind me how important it is to prepare. That it’s important to accept that you may need help.

Fear is not something that should stop you. Instead, understand how you can use it gain your footing.


Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Hiking the White Mountains

Jack telling us about The Whites.
Jack telling us about The Whites.

On August 27th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki. The subject matter was “Hiking the White Mountains” of New Hampshire. The range consists of 48 peaks which exceed 4,000 feet known as the 4000’ers. It includes Mt. Washington, which at 6,288 feet is the highest mountain in the Northeast.

But it’s more than just numbers and names. “The Whites” are a destination for college students, adventure seekers and families.

Jack’s memories of this section of the AT are varied and happy. The kindness of the people in trail towns, the pristine upkeep of the trail and most of all the amazing views. If this is not on your bucket list it should be. The irony is that my family will be in this area for our Christmas trip. While winter in The Whites can be dangerous Jack assured us that there are still sites aplenty.

While there are many areas to hike The Whites, Jack focused on the section which he traversed while hiking the AT. Therefore the mentions, for example the notches, are not fully inclusive of all The Whites.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

If you see anything which you feel is incorrect I always appreciate feedback on how to improve upon, or further elaborate, the information conveyed. I have also tried to include more informative links to items noted in the session.

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Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Shenandoah National Park Section Hike

On August 20th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki. The subject matter was “Section Hiking the Shenandoah Nation Park”. Jack believes the Shenandoah section of the AT is a great hike for beginners due to the relatively level terrain. Add to that welcoming lodges with full service facilities (dining, pool, sauna, etc.) and you have a place the whole family can enjoy.

What makes this trip a welcoming temptress are the fine folks willing to shuttle you to any put-in. Oh, and then there is a great mountain a bit south of the southern terminus. But you will have to read on for that.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

If you see anything which you feel is incorrect I always appreciate feedback on how to improve upon, or further elaborate, the information conveyed.


  • Jack states the Shenandoah Valley is an easy hike, compared to other sections on the AT, and one of the most beautiful. 
  • Many side trails that lead to places to sleep and more vistas. 
  • 103.3 mi – Rock Fish Gap to Front Royal VA. 
  • Add 4 miles of walking to leave the trail for the closest town. 
  • Elevation stays between 2 and 4 thousand feet. 
  • Very well manicured. 
  • Best time of year – Autumn. 
  • Got into the teens during Jack’s time in late September/early October. 
  • Blazes change from white to markers noting your location.  
  • You’ll see bears and deer. The wildlife is robust. 
  • Bears have been humanized, so be mindful. 
  • That said Jack’s experience with a mother bear and her cubs was benign. 
  • Bears Den Hostile – owned by AT Conservancy in the Shenandoah Valley. 
  • Permits – pretty easy to get a permit. You self register in the kiosk just inside the valley, coming north and south. No charge. 
  • You will be fined heavily if you do not get a permit. 
  • You can stay any place for a max of 2 nights. 
  • You can reserve spots, but they are not shelters. 
  • Shelters are first come first serve. 
  • Picnic pavilions are considered shelters. 
  • Camping shelters are called “huts”. There are 8 in the park. 
  • Most campsites have showers. 
  • The park embraces stealth camping. 
  • 50 yards from another party and 10 yards from water. 
  • Cabins are free, but they can be reserved. They’re located just off the AT. 
  • You have to be a member of the PATC – Potomac Appalachian Trail Club – to reserve a cabin. 
  • Big Meadows, in the southern part, has a resort next to it. 
  • Waysides – three of them. Here you can replenish your gear. Think of them as a convenience store. 
  • In theory you could limit the food you carry in and supply on trail. 
  • They also have kitchens. 
  • Your supposed to camp a 1/4 mile from a wayside. But knowing there are hot meals, good luck with that. 
  • Two national park lodges in the park – one 1/3 of the way from the north and south points. 
  • Four trail towns close to the park: southern end Waynesboro, 50 miles south of Waynesboro is Buena Vista, Front Royal at top, Luray just south of Front Royal. 
  • Shuttle services – Mountain Valley Shuttle Service in Lorray from Duncannan to Daleville VA 
  • Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro will shuttle you to Royal 
  • Ironically Jack suggests the following – Rockfish Gap to Cow Camp Gap (about 50 miles) gets you over 3 Ridges Mountain. You’ll hit a mountain called The Priest. A top 3 place on the AT for Jack. 
  • Jack recommends staying on top of the mountain. It’s just above a water supply. 
  • Good place to solo hike. 
  • Jack recommends checking in at every journal. 
  • Jack noted there was sufficient natural water supply points. 
  • June, July and August are wicked hot. Memorial Day and Labor Day are crowded. As is late October to watch the leaves change. 
  • Early spring is nice – no bugs. 
  • Mid-April is when the thru hikers start to come through. 
  • You can also kayak the Valley. 
  • Most AT miles are in VA. 
  • No campfires allowed. 



Mt and Valley Shuttle Service 

Duncannan, PA – Daleville, VA 



Rockfish Gap Outfitters 

.8m from Waynesborough 


Trail Angel Network 

Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Footwear

On August 13th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Evan Fullford. The subject matter was “Selecting the Best Footwear for a Long Distance Hike”. A strong proponent of minimalist hiking, Evan went from sandals to shoes to boots. In spite of the title focusing on long distance hiking, Evan fielded questions relative to a variety of trail time from a simple run to a through hike.

An unexpected benefit of the session was Evan explaining the importance of arch support and how people strike the ground. Use a skeletal foot he detailed how shoes can assist impact points.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

If you see anything which you feel is incorrect I always appreciate feedback on how to improve upon, or further elaborate, the information conveyed.

  • Boots, hiking shoes, trail running shoes and sandals
  • First example was the Keen (the one I own)
  • Salomon Tech Amphibian
  • Evan pointed out the weight difference and concern over rocks and sticks
  • Obviously good for warmer weather or if you know you’ll be spending time in water
  • A shoe will need to dry
  • Compared the hiking and trail running shoes
  • Trail running shoes are much more flexible
  • Example was the Salomon S-lab
  • Trail hiking shoes maintain rigidity for true hiking stability
  • Trail running shoes are usually lighter
  • More tread on a trail running shoe due to faster travel, and more resistance
  • Trail hiking shoes tend to have a thicker sole
  • Trail running shoes can be geared for the type of strike (heel or forefront)
  • When walking you tend to heel strike
  • Boot example was Lowa and Vasque
  • Heavier hikers or heavier packs may require boots for better support
  • Evan reminded us that concern over ankle support tends to be over stated, noting that hiking in shoes will strengthen the ankle
  • However if you have weak ankles there is no reason to go without support
  • Evan noted the difference between water resistance and water repellant. Unless there are no access points for the water the interior will get wet regardless of the coating.
  • Be mindful that all leather vs. leather/mesh with Gore-Tex might give you the same degree of water protection.
  • Big negative with Gore-Tex: the interior will take longer to dry
  • If you can carry the weight, carry the sandals with you for water crossings. Personal preference.
  • Do not wear cotton socks when hiking. If they get wet they hold the water, and your shoes/boots will take longer to dry.
  • Leather, however, is more durable.
  • Evan shared his Salomon love: better arch support, lighter and simply better construction.
  • Discussed the importance of knowing about arch support.
  • Defined pronating and supinating
  • Naturally your foot doesn’t need arch support, per Evan’s sources. This is something being debated by physicians.
  • Those who support minimalist shoes note we’ve simply become accustomed to arches.
  • Street running will kill the tread of a trail shoe. A street shoe does not have the best foot plate for trail comfort.
  • For hiking, your shoe should not fit like a glove. Compensate for swelling.
  • Also, when on trail you tend to consume more salt and you’ll retain water.
  • When hiking downhill you don’t want your toe slamming against the front of the shoe.
  • Go a half size above your normal, but consider it more different sizing.
  • Discussed different insoles. Superfeet was our example. Make sure it suits your shoe.
  • Some inserts can tear Gore-Tex.
  • Your ideal hiking shoe bends where your foot is supposed to bend. Sounds obvious, but folks forget.
  • Your price range for shoes/boots/sandals is $75 to $160 based on general public. These are still good quality, but as with anything you can get higher quality at a higher price. Fully understand the environment they’ll be used in. No reason to overpay because you’re romanced by features and technology you don’t need.

Black Creek Outfitters Guru Session – Pitching a Tent

On August 7th Black Creek Outfitters hosted a Guru Session led by Jack Stucki. The subject matter was “Pitching a Tent”. A strong proponent of minimalist hiking, Jack focused less on tent manufacturers and more on proper selection and use based on the type of hiker one is. He did offer some great advice on how to handle foul weather and dark conditions. As usual he also shared some entertaining stories which enhance the education element.

Minimalist hiking is not cheap, but if you plan and save you will find the money you spend is priceless when it comes to the weight you’ll save. Before making any purchase do your research. Go to your local outfitter and let them take you through the variety of gear at your disposal.

The Guru discussions occur every Wednesday evening, with pauses in the series based on availability as well as breaks for planning and actual outdoor adventuring. If you are in the Jacksonville area and would like a session dedicated to a specific topic you can reach out to me or ask for Jack when you visit the store.

  • Our tent for this evening is the MSR Experience Series Hubba. Best names ever. Check out their site:
  • Know your trek. Car camping vs. section/through hiking. Jack’s focus is minimalist hiking, hence a minimalist style tent. Costs more, but if you’re packing it you’re getting value through less weight.
  • Todays tents are silicone impregnated nylon, significantly lighter than the days of military grade pop up tents.
  • Tents have gone from sleeves to ringlets to clips
  • Increased ground claws will allow for more space. Design idea.
  • When rain comes, find a place to wait out the weather. Taking a tent down in the rain is less a problem.
  • Suggestion: pack tent assembled so when the rain comes you have a quick setup. This is specific to fly only. Full tent enclosure is a different story.
  • Inventory your tent and perform multiple pitch and take down excercises. Be efficient before trail.
  • Prepare for the unexpected to a greater degree…do it in the dark. Don’t expect a light source.
  • Jack and his daughter set used the week before trail to practice setting up the tent twice a day.
  • “Fast fly” is the term used for pre setup.
  • Big Agnes and Marmot have this capability.
  • A bug bivy sack is an alternative to a tent if the weather is warm and you know you’ll have coverage if needed.
  • Jack warned of hiking the AT that Lyme Disease is a danger between the months of mid-June through mid-September, going from VA to VT. Make sure you have a tent with coverage for weather and insects.
  • Jack noted that buying a minimalist pack before buying the gear might not be the best idea. Minimalist packs are meant to carry minimalist gear. Whatever tent you buy consider how you’re going to carry it.
  • Set the tent up in the store before purchasing it. Completely understand the pieces and space. Where will you put your wet gear and your pack? It comes down to personal preference.
  • If you ask Jack, the best tent begins and ends with Big Agnes.