Winter Low Gap Trail: 1-10-2016

Low Gap Trail

My father and I hit the Low Gap Trail in the Morgan-Monroe State Forest (Martinsville, Indiana) this past Sunday for a short “get into the swing of things” hike.


This was my first dedicated hike since I was a kid. We planned this out a week ahead when we heard that we were getting a decent amount of snow, in the hopes of seeing some of the Indiana backwoods in a different light; it didn’t disappoint. While we only actually went about a mile (maybe) into the Low Gap Trail, it was still a workout in the fresh snow. It’s a lot like walking up hills of very fine sand and would be challenging enough for someone in much better shape than myself. As it was, I sweat a lot, got out of breath, and was exhausted at the end of the trip. However we did take the opportunity to get some cool pictures of the scenery since we were the only ones out, aside from a couple of squirrels, in the aftermath of the snow storm. It was a short trip, but was definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Additional information and reviews of this trail are available at

I don’t get paid to say that, I just enjoy the site.

Stepping back to me

unnamedWhen I was six, my family moved into a big white house on the edge of town, a mile north of the Wabash River. I was the younger of two boys, and we were lucky enough to have parents who settled into the neighborhood and became permanent fixtures there. Mom and dad are in their seventies now, still in the same house, still going strong but for some minor ailments.

I liked the house, liked my room, liked our yard and the neighborhood, but what I loved was the twenty acres of woods behind the house. There was a failed development between the back edge of our back yard and the beginning of the woods, only one house was built; when I was growing up, it was just a huge square grassy field. We played baseball and football in that field when the grass was short,until they stopped mowing it and it returned to nature.  Then when the grass got tall we bunched stalks of it and tied the tops together creating big grassy tunnels full of daddy long legs spiders.  Finally, saplings took root and begin to growing into a young forest itself, but that took years – the years after I grew up.  To me, that was always “the field” and what lay beyond was “the woods.”

The woods called my name.

I entered reverently, passing under the coolness of the canopy and into another world. It was a world I’d inhabit for the next twelve years. When I was six, those twenty acres seemed like their own country, and each year on the last day of school, I’d be gone. Riding my Murray Stingray up and down the hills, swimming in the creek, eating apples from wild apple trees, and setting up camp sites that would host overnights for a decade – too many memories to remember them all clearly because they all run together.

Until the day I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to be a Boy Scout, and I yearned for the day I’d turn ten and a half so I could ink that triplicate member application. To this day I can still remember the smell of at form because I held it up to my face and breathed in its official, business like smell like a bookworm might bury his face in a book. Nature was my book, my constant friend, my retreat. In the middle of that woods, there is a massive glacial pudding stone at the top of a small hill that leads down to the creek. To this day, it is my touch stone, and I’ve felt drawn to go and sit there and think before some of the most important decisions of my life.

I don’t even know who owns the property anymore, but it will remain forever mine in my memory.

Turning twenty, courting my wife, getting married, starting a family – all of these things took a toll on my outdoorsiness. There is a thirty year gap in my life that has been filled with good and bad things, but was almost completely devoid of just being outside in the wilderness I loved.

I turned fifty this past August, and I swear, the next thirty years will make up for the past thirty with a vengeance.

Getting ready for the AT

boxI spent an inordinate amount of time today getting ready to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I don’t know when I’m going to accomplish it, but I know that I will.

How do I know that?

Because I’m planning to do it now.  Back in 2013, I was supposed to mobilize and deploy to Kuwait for a one-year support mission.  I was at pre-mobilization training (PMT) the summer of 2012, and they ended up cutting the mission in half, and decided not to send the surgeon section.  I was the 38th Division surgeon’s plans and operations officer, and ended up as part of the rear detachment.  Not fun stuff.  But I got to keep this cool green box in which I can store all of the stuff from my AT hiking equipment list.  I keep that checklist as a checklist in Evernote.  It is based on the advice of lots of folks who have already hiked the AT and learned lessons I don’t need to learn first-hand.  They learned what to take and what not to take,  I’m taking what they took. I’m not taking what they sent home or didn’t take.  Pretty easy math, huh?

So the time I spent today, what did I spend it doing?  Finding out what I already had, and putting that stuff in the big green box. Want to know what is in the BGB?


I bought a synthetic short-sleeve button down shirt from Ex Officio a few months ago.  It rocks.  It’s made from recycled water bottles, and dries in about five minutes.

I have both a short and long sleeve moisture wicking compression shirt of the Under Armor brand.  They keep the sweat off of my skin and stop me from stinking in the pit area.

I’m taking a mid-weight synthetic long sleeve fleece top from Sierra Trading Post from my last employer.  It’s blue.  It’s warm.  It’s going.

I already had a pair of lightweight synthetic trekking pants that zip off at the knees.  Those will be my day-to-day bottom half outerwear, and they were produced for the Boy Scouts of America.  It’s my nod to the six excellent years I spent in the BSA, eventually winding up an Eagle Scout.

There was an optional line there for underwear, which on a hike are simply a bother.  Don’t tell my mom, but I’m going commando.

I also have a fleece toboggan of military heritage.  It’s camel brown and I love it.  I wear it everywhere in the winter.

I also have a Columbia Titanium sun hat that I bought before accompanying my son to the 100th Anniversary Camporee in the BSA National Capitol Region (NCR) at Goshen Scout Reservation.  

I’m indecisive on which pack I’ll carry, but I’m leaning toward the Osprey Atmos 65 AG pack at this point.  By the time I buy, they may have newer models out. We shall see.

I already have a great winter sleeping bag, the North Face Furnace, but it is much too warm for summer camping.  I’m sure I’ll carry it from Springer Mountain in late March or April until the end of May or so, at which point I’ll mail it home and possibly re-delivered further up the trail in September.  In the interim months, I’m looking at another North Face bag, the Aleutian 35, for the warmer months.

have in my possession right now a ThermaRest self-inflating air mattress that compresses down to just about nothing for packing.  That will be going with me.

The military was nice enough to let me keep my issued waterproof bag.  It is large enough to slip over a five gallon bucket, so it should store all of my stuff that has to stay dry.

I’m undecided on which tent I will pack.  I know I’m taking a fist sized hammock for the warmer months, but I’m debating whether to get an REI Quarter Dome 1 tent for regular use.  Of course, when I can stay in a shelter, I will, but when I can’t I will opt for the hammock or the tent.  Options, people, options.

Footwear?  I know I’ll probably go through three or four pair of shoes, but which shoes will they be?  Methinks Merrell Moab Ventilator mid-ankle hiking boots will do the trick, or possibly the low-rise shoes.  In any case, I know the inserts will be Superfeet premiums.  Heard enough trail tales to know that the only way to hike is over Superfeet.

Trekking poles?  Yes, I’ll have a pair.  Don’t know which ones yet and don’t care.

Headlamp?  Same deal.  The PX has a lot of really geared up options, so I may try out one or two of theirs.  They have a liberal return policy and there’s a PX only 20 miles from my house.  Within biking distance.

I had to turn in my military issue CamelBak water bladder system but I know I’ll be getting another one for the thru hike.

I will be cooking over the JetBoil Flash, which features both the burner and the 16 ounce cup and cosy and has been getting rave reviews.  I’m a peanut butter and banana kind of guy, so I know I’ll be packing lots of PB, and dehydrated banana chips along with oatmeal, cinnamon, and nuts for the most part, but I also have an ample supply of MREs to bounce down the trail from a long military career.  They keep for a long time.  You tear open the foil pack and sniff.  If it doesn’t stink, it’s still good and you eat it. If it stinks, you eat peanut butter.

My water will be purified, along the trail, by a Lifestraw personal water filtration unit.  I’ll also find an inline unit that has good reviews.

I’ve already picked out my Nalgene bottle, and it is in the BGB.

I also have a really nice single folding blade knife that my daughter found walking along the road one day.  It’s a Gerber it’s sharp enough to shave with.

My first aid kit already has mole skin for blisters, an assortment of bandages, salves, wipes, and OTC meds such as the indispensable Advil, Immodium, benadryl and pepto along with sunscreen, foot salve, and bug dope.  I’ll consult with my doc before the hike to get a round of broad spectrum antibiotics.

No hike would be complete without a map and compass.  I’ll also have a Garmin GPS unit if needed, and AWOL’s trail guide, so I should be fine.

You’ll be happy to know that I won’t be wearing deodorant or bathing regularly, but I will be bouncing lots of toiletries ahead of me so I can indulge when I hit a town.

I have a mini-moleskine notebook and an anti-gravity pen that writes on anything for those moments when a brilliant idea hits and the mobile phone is dead.

And of course my iPhone will be attending with me for taking video, pictures, journaling, and finding out where the hell I am if I get turned around.

I have a very nice set of sunglasses/protective eyewear from the military and it will be going with.

And for entertainment?  Kindle Paperwhite with charging cable and wall plug.  I already have a waterproof case in which to put it.

What if I don’t feel like reading in camp?

Hoyle.  All weather infrared readable playing cards.  Shelled out ten bucks for them a few years ago and friends, they work.  You can have a full blown Euchre tournament in the middle of the Hundred Mile Woods in the dead of night with a red flashlight.

I also bought a cheap harmonica so I can offend everyone I meet for the first month or so.  By then I should be playing like John Popper.

That is basically it.  Most of that stuff will be traveling on my back for about six months.

Do you think I’m “all in” enough?

I do.

Book resolution

booksI made a resolution today.  Really, it was just a minute ago.  I have a huge library of books.  All kinds of topics, you’d be amazed.  My resolution is that I’m going to read a book, then give it away.  My town recently introduced the “Little Free Library” and I’m going to donate them there, so others in town can enjoy them.  I am going to do this over and over again, until my library is the right size.  How long will that take?  Hard to say.  I know one thing, when I was in Virginia, I never watched television.  Being “back home again in Indiana” has been a different story. There are different dynamics when I’m with the family than when I was away.  My “must see TV” shows now consist of Doctor Who and Fear the Living Dead.  I can make excuses to waste time watching the tiny house revolution shows, the treehouse shows, COPS, and any flavor of doing really cool off-the-grid stuff in Alaska shows, but I have to stop that.  I read more in Virginia, and I have to return to that.

That, and I’ve also become a for-the-most-part convert to eBooks, primarily read on my Kindle Paperwhite.  When I hike the Appalachian Trail or do a cross-country bike ride, I’ll take the Paperwhite.  But anyhow…

The books will be read and dispatched.  Want any of them?  Check the “what I’m reading” section of my webpage/blog and tell me you want a certain title.  I’ll send it to you, Media Mail.

Hey Fifty

flowerbugBecoming an antique causes reflection – a sort of after action review (AAR) of the first half of one’s life.  One of the big conclusions I arrived at (and this may reveal aspects of my character to you) is that I have failed to do two things.  I’ve failed to ride my bike across the U.S., and I’ve failed to hike the Appalachian Trail.

It’s okay, I have the second half of my life to do both, but I feel that my chances are slimmer now because I had fifty years in which to do those things and chose not to.  Will I also choose not to during the second fifty?  Keeping in mind, of course, that I’m not guaranteed fifty more.

What I do hope to accomplish is to become more faithful.  I also want to revel in the experience of being human, the good and the bad.  I believe that life should be lived as a good Tolkien adventure. Since we only live once, I want to live out every day of every year as we march through the seasons.  The first tender blossomings of spring, the heat of summer, the cool decay of fall, and the death of winter.  I’ll best accomplish this through each day by following the Church calendar and a modified monastic schedule.

It is going to be difficult, I know, but this is something I have to do.  What choice do I have?  I’ve already burned fifty years.

Sacre Coeur

sic-deus-dilexit-mundum1For as the heavens are high above the earth, so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins. – Ps 103

Dietrich von Hildebrand once wrote that liturgy, properly done, clearly reveals the face of Christ.  It is one of the most important ways we know Him.  It was done extremely well in properly conducted Masses of the usus antiquior, more commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.  I know first hand because I have experienced it myself on more than one occasion.  I don’t get that from Mass in the ordinary form.  And it isn’t because they aren’t capable of achieving that.  Instead, we have priests who have been trained to say Mass a certain way.

A way that often leaves me cold instead of warm.

And that is what brought the thought to my mind on this feast of St. Eudes, that we live in a time of little consolation.  That, I’m quite sure, is because we’re all about comfort and selfishness.  “Make no mistake, it’s all about me” is the modern mantra.  That so flies in the face of the Gospel.  The thought I had was that St. Terese, the Little Flower, I believe lived out her short life with no spiritual consolations.  Mother Theresa was the same way.

And yet they loved.  It shows how different true love is compared to what we now call love.  And I would imagine, though I don’t know, that there is a void in the consolation of Christ on the cross because of our generation.  We don’t know how to love, and He suffers the more for it.

I want Him to teach me how to love.

Life in you

Bread_of_Life_SeriesIf you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. –Jesus

We’re winding up five Sundays in a row focused on the Bread of Life discourse from John’s gospel.  When I returned to the Catholic Church twenty years ago after more than a dozen years away, this passage…  You’d have had to have been there.  This passage is deep beyond words, and to this day it confirms for me the singluar reason why I will never be anything besides Catholic.  Even if I’m a bad Catholic, which I am.

G. K. Chesterton once said that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.  I doubt he had me in mind, but it holds true for me.  Someone else once said that everyone was born for a reason, and some were born to serve as a warning to others.  I may well be that person, too.  But yet a third person, and I’ve quoted this person for years in my FB profile page, has said that it is never too late to start doing the right thing.

That is what keeps driving me when I have bad days.  It is really the heart and soul of the message of the Resurrection, and the hope the Church holds out for us in Baptism and Confession.  The grace bought for us on Calvary, which animates and enlivens us through the Sacraments, tells us that in simple and deeply loving words:  “My Jesus, Mercy” are the only three words spoken from the heart needed to turn the gaze of God upon us.  He will pour out mercy upon us.  He anticipated the need and made it available to us before the first of us had need to ask.  That mercy confers complete forgiveness, so much so that the man or woman retreating from the confessional bears a soul as bright and spotless as a newly baptized infant.

It is never too late to start doing the right thing.

Return yourself to the state of grace.  If you’re already there, stay there.  Eat His flesh, drink His blood, and with a loving heart, adore with me and sing “Alleluia.”

Our crying sister

No chemicals were sprayed on these berries, and yet they are still growing

No chemicals were sprayed on these berries, and yet they are still growing

Here is something that I am convinced of, and I will tell you why it is a problem.  The past four popes, at least, have been telling us something that has been dismissed out of hand by conservative pundits and turned into something akin to goddess worship by liberals.

Liberalism and conservatism, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with being Catholic.  If your Catholicism isn’t tempering your liberalism or your conservatism and shaping those ideologies so that they fall in line with what the Church teaches, something is off kilter.

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter much if you are liberal or conservative, because if you’re a faithful Catholic and a liberal, or a faithful Catholic and a conservative, you’re going to reject whatever exists in either of those camps that contradicts your faith.

Liberals who call themselves Catholic and yet also think aborting babies at any point after conception is a good idea are having a rough time in the press right now.  Good, they should be having a rough time.  They should be going to confession, amending their lives, and doing penance.

Conservatives who call themselves Catholic and yet also think that raping the planet for corporate profit and “progress” is a good thing, and have been throwing mud at Pope Francis since the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’.  Whenever economics and the environment are discussed by the popes, or any other stripe of our clergy for that matter, the conservatively entrenched Catholics begin rending their garments and screaming “Marxism! Marxism!”  If G. K. Chesterton were alive today, he would be having a ball with them, but I’m no Gilbert.  I only have one thing to say. They should be going to confession, amending their lives, and doing penance.

And this has been stated clearly by the last three popes, at one or more times during their pontificates:  Rampant consumerism is a serious sin.  Let me ask you this.  If all of the babies saved from abortion, were Roe v. Wade overturned, were born on a planet many of whose ecosystems were on the verge of collapse because of the human activities required to support rampant consumerism, and died horrible deaths from chemical poisoning, flash floods, droughts, from being chained to the factory machinery of production in developing countries and third world countries alike, would their deaths be less atrocious?

We are never going to live in a world where prosperity saves the soul.

In the opening paragraphs of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis says that our Sister, the earth, is crying out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.

Irresponsible use, he says, because maybe we simply didn’t know or suspect we were inflicting damage.

Abuse, he says, because those who do know, don’t care.

I find it interesting that Francis couched the argument in the theological language of soteriology.  The act itself is evil, and culpability is only lessened by ignorance.  The act itself remains evil, even if I don’t know I’m doing evil.

It is evil.

Back home again in Indiana


Downtown Shelbyville

The past couple of days have been jarring.  I spent Saturday at my last of five 12 hour shift with Homeland Security, and jumped into the already loaded van to head back to Indiana.  It was a nine hour drive, at the end of which I fell into my own bed with my head on my own pillow and sank into blissful sleep for six hours.  Woke up and went to Mass at St. Joe’s across the street from my house in Shelbyville.  I’m home, I’m home, I’m home.

The sermon  at Mass was by the St. Meinrad’s seminarian, a transitional deacon on his way to ordination as a priest, and he focused on the Eucharistic message of the gospel reading.  It was a great sermon.  Afterward, we spend the day relaxing.  I mowed the yard.  I has a smoothie for lunch and we ate dinner at Fazoli’s.  Tawnya got back on a bicycle again for the first time since her knee surgery almost eleven weeks ago, and we rode for a couple of miles.

I start orientation for my new job on Wednesday in Indianapolis.

The view, again, will be different than it was in D.C. just like when we came back from there in 2010.  I’m trading monuments, population density and awesome bike infrastructure for corn, tractors, and wide open spaces.

I am happy to be back.