Wednesday, March 24, 2010

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'...

The most important piece of gear on any hiking or backpacking trip is the pair of boots on your feet. You can have the latest Granite Gear pack, Northface jacket and Eureka tent but if your boots don't hold up, neither will you. It's like your car on a road trip. Pack all the sandwiches you like to minimize food stops, but if your engine can't take it, your trip is over before it begins. Boots are that important. They're the foundation of every walking trip. So let's take a look at the boots that took me from Sulphur, LA to Boston, MA and back again.

Surprising as it might seem, the boots I chose were the cheapest items of my major gear. They were less than the backpack, tarp shelter, knife and sleeping bag. So why go cheap when footwear is so important? Because I'd owned a pair of these before.

The Canyon, by Magellan (Academy Brand) is an all leather hi-top boot with a black sole. They're nothing fancy to look at, just a classic-style leather hiking boot. A bit on the heavy side, but waterproof and tough. I purchased them for $50 at Academy in Lake Charles in late July and got them broken in. Being leather, they're a little stiff at first, but after wearing them for a week to work, they'd loosened up. By mid-August, they were ready for long trips.

Throughout the trip I spent countless hours pounding the pavement with a heavy pack on my shoulders, pressing my feet into my cheap boots. Walking on pavement is not my favorite thing to do, but when hitching, it's a must. A few times I walked about 20 miles on the shoulder of interstate, sidewalks and curbs. The unyielding concrete did little as the thick soles protected my feet from the torture. The only time I felt any soreness was at the end of Day 2 when I walked from Sulphur to Lake Charles, hitched to Welsh, and then walked to Jennings. My pack was heaviest then and my feet not yet toughened from the trip.

The boots held up over pavement, rocks, rough terrain and even railroad tracks. They took lacerations from jagged rocks and rusted metal. They were rained on, stomped through mud and water, slid down mountains and climbed back up again. They kept my ankles safe from sprains and awkward twisting while navigating rocky river beds and gripped true while scrambling along in the Appalachian Mountains. They kept the water out when I couldn't stay out of it and my feet stayed dry. They took all the abuse I could throw at them and never let me down.

But most of all they walked, and walked. And walked some more. I'm wearing those same Walkabout boots to work today, just like I have been every day since I finished the trip. Come to think of it, Magellan Canyons are the only shoes I've worn in the past four years...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Man F.A.Q. It's a website for men with some great articles. I'd visited the site several times in the past. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the founder contacted me, asking if I had time for an interview for a feature article. Of course I had time.

The article is up and you should check it out. Just click on the LINK.

Also, check out some of their other articles. There's one about a road trip from California to North Carolina that's pretty boss. We all need more road trips in our lives and that article just might light a fire under some butts.

One last thing, check back soon as I will be writing some gear reviews on some of the equipment and gadgets I used on my trip.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Formula

One of the most important things I've ever learned was something I learned on Walkabout. It is the formula to solving problems. It's simple and easy, even if its execution is not. And the more you use it, the more effective it is.

While on my trip, I was faced with more problems in a single day than I was used to dealing with in a week. Everything that could go wrong, did, and sometimes things that couldn't go wrong invented ways of screwing up anyway. It wasn't just the elements, which always had a plan for surprising me, but the simple things as well. Acquiring water in the middle of town was an act rife with obstacles. Once the stores were all closed, the only way to get water was the outdoor faucets, but most of those have had their knobs removed. And don't even get me started on hitching.

Day after day after day, the problems of life on the road ground me down and all too often I dreamt of quitting. But quitting was not an option, so I had to find a way to deal with the problems. I had no other choice. That's when I discovered the formula. Creativity + Resourcefulness + Determination.

Creativity: When a problem arose (usually right after breakfast, but sometimes earlier) I would try to think outside the box. If the solution was apparent, then it wasn't much of a problem. Every problem has a solution, I just have to figure out what that solution is. I'd examine the problem from all angles and try not to discount ideas just because I lacked the means to carry them out. I never knew where one line of thought would take me. I'd discover a solution based on the problem, not my ability to execute the solution. Example: I need to get across a city but the cops won't let me hitch on the interstate and it's too far to walk. Solution: hitch anyway. The problem is no longer a problem, but a challenge.

Resourcefulness: This is where I look at my solution and adapt it to my resources and situation. I know the starting point and the finishing point, I just have to bring the two together using what I have. And if I don't have what it takes, I need to find someone who does. If I need to solve a complex geometry problem and I don't know geometry, why learn when I have a friend who can figure it out quicker? I can learn geometry later, but for now I need instant results. Example: I need to hitch across town without getting on the interstate. Solution: Start chatting up people stopped at a gas station and try catching a ride with them. The challenge is now a reachable goal.

Determination: I have the solution and the plan, now I must put it into action and see it through to the end. This is easier said than done because from the onset the problem has the advantage of circumstances. Those circumstances are stacked against me and working with the problem to thwart my progress. As long as the circumstances are working against me, I cannot defeat the problem. I cannot meet the challenge. However, every situation is fluid. Circumstances change and all I have to do is keep pushing harder and longer than the problem until the circumstances are no longer working against me. Once that happens, the problem cannot withstand me. It will crumble and fall away and I will succeed. Example: Everyone I talk to refuses to give me a ride and some even threaten to call the cops. Solution: Adjust my tactics and keep chatting people up. Eventually a person willing to give me a ride will come around, even if it's a cop. The challenge is now something of the past. It's a deed I accomplished.

A man once tried to climb a mountain that had claimed the lives of many who had tried to climb it before. Reaching the summit was impossible. It couldn't be done. To try was to face humiliation or death. Then a man named Eddie decided that everyone in the world was wrong and a solution existed. He was creative enough to think of a new route, resourceful enough to gather what he needed to traverse this route, and determined enough to defeat every problem that lay in his path until finally he stood atop Everest, the impossible mountain.

Now you know the formula and how to apply it. The problems of your life cannot withstand you.

Cause and Effect

It's been almost four months since I stepped through the door to my home after completing my walkabout, and I'm still not accustomed to 'normal' life. I can't sleep without the aid of medication and even when I do sleep, it's not that deep, restful sleep that I found beneath overpasses and in the bushes. I only sleep well while camping.

The headaches that plagued me for years before my trip have returned. I hadn't been home a week when they made their presence known and now I'm dealing with them on an almost daily basis. Sinus headaches, tensions headaches, headaches that have no cause at all. I wasn't meant to live like this.

I've become more of a minimalist. A few weeks ago I went on an overnight camping trip with some friends. Back in the day, my backpack weighed in at 40 lbs. for an overnight trip. This past trip, I brought an old daypack with a total of 5 lbs. of gear, and even then, I didn't need everything I packed. I can now go camping with only the gear that would fit in the pockets of my cargo pants. Everything else is just junk.

I'm also recycling things. Not paper and plastic, but containers. I'm so accustomed to using items over and over again, that when the peanut butter jar runs empty, I wash it out, dry it, and stick it in the cabinet without even realizing it. I have about a million jars. Some of them are now filled with my own homemade seasoning.

The idea of driving somewhere is still a bit strange. I don't like driving to Lake Charles without a very good reason. And if I get there and find out that I can't do what I set out to do, I have to find another reason to be there. I can't let the trip be wasted.

I've been neglecting this blog, and my writing in general. I haven't been in much of a writing mood lately, but that's changing. I banged out a few short stories recently, and I'm getting back into the swing of things in that department. Hopefully I can get back to where I was before the trip in short order. I have so much to write, and a short amount of time to write it in. I'll need to live a hundred years to get it all down.

Life is good. My head is clear and I know where I'm going and what I'm doing. I have direction and I no longer feel lost. I no longer feel as if my life is not my own. Walkabout fixed all of that.