Sunday, June 25, 2006

a world of excuses

So, here's the story. I get back to providence a few weeks ago and make this big proclamation. "get ready there's going to be a lot of new content (johntent, as its called around here) on the old bloggy blog. So here's the chronology since then:

I. Through June 10th I was in providence mostly working on moving into a new apartment with Tasha. This is pretty sweaty work, and also meant a lot of intermittent access to the internet. Also when you're moving all day, the last thing you want to do is climb into the internet and doodle around with the blogosphere. Also, i didn't even have my computer (it was in Dallas). I only had tasha's and honestly I couldn't be bothered to doink around on a late model iMac. It's like the fat baby huey cousin of my powerbook.
nb. My second night back in providence (this is my second night back from spending three straight months enjoying the transcendental solitude of the Appalachian wilderness) I went to see Tragedy and a couple of Japanese crust bands at AS220 with Darin. Sort of a re-baptism by fire.

II. Phase two involved being in Dallas with the fam for a little while. Between the shopping trips, the dinners, the hanging and the constant watching of Curb Your Enthusiasm I just didn't bother.

III. Tasha and I drove back from Dallas and took the really long route by first heading several hundred miles south of Dallas (to Houston to visit Tasha's friend). In Chattanooga, as we were getting out of the car, my computer fell on the hard concrete parking lot from, oh say, about 40 inches. Fuck, right? Well I turned it on in the hotel room and everything was humming along until I got a Kernel panic message and I had to restart. Lo and behold the thing appeared to be totally broken. I call Brian Merritt and he recommends running FSCK which I dunno what that is but i guess it's supposed to fix your computer when it's totally broken and all you can think about is "shit, how am I going to every be able to watch that dumb cyborg movie we made for James Der Derian again?" Anyway, I follow his instructions but to no avail.

IV. On arriving in Providence the other day Tasha and I immediately have to deal with the non-finishedness of our new Apartment. Also she is leaving for Paris in like two days for the summer so there's all these accounts to square up. Also my computer is still just sitting there, desperately non-functional. So Tasha and I are moving still, and we get in a big scuffle (for us, we're very non-scuffly, except virtually in Starwars: Battlefront) about a chest of drawers but really its about bigger things (are we really ready to live together? why do you never put the toilet paper on the roller?) Anyway we resolved it.
In the mean time I was digging around on the Apple support website and figured out that apple decided that I never registered my Applecare and therefore my computer was going to cost a bunch of money to fix. This is bullshit. I registered on purchase, but Apple likes to forget these things. Technocrat assholes, whatever.

On Friday I ushered Tasha off to Logan airport and returned home to an empty apartment and a broken computer. I set to work employing all of the crafty little tricks i know to get my computer working: resetting the RAM and the PMU and some other stuff. I dunno if this stuff actually helps but it sounds cool that I know how to do it. Anyway upon doing a little investigation I discovered that the whole reason my computer was 'broken' was that the airport card had gotten halfway dislodged from its housing in the fall and was shorting the computer's start-up routine. So guess what? Now it's fixed and now you, my fair reader will be reaping the benefits.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Well, friends, after a lot of miles (970ish or so) I'm off the trail for the season. Am I a quitter? Maybe. Yet I suspect there is quality to my style of quitting. I still want to walk a lot more. The fact is though, that I couldn't be happier to be back in providence. Summer here is a wonderful time. Building, scheming, sacrificing frequencies above 15000 hertz.

The story of the trail is, however, far from completed. Stay tuned in the coming days for a slew of new posts. I haven't been able to blog about any of the last month of hiking which was by far the most radical and storied part of my trip. Also, pictures/little dinky videos I made with my digital camera should start to surface.

hike your own hike, man.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

This is a true story

I woke up two days ago in the woods, tired and cranky. I'd tried to go to bed at a normal hour (10ish) the night before, but there was a pretty epic thunderstorm going on and between the shelter's tin roof and rather gnarly spider infestation, I'd had a difficult time sleeping. There's really nothing worse in the world than waking up to the promise of a 20 mile slog through mud and drizzle except maybe the activation of the potentiality entailed in that promise. Anyway, apparently I wasn't the only unhappy camper in the shelter that morning. My crony Ajax--an ADHD Oberlin sophomore who, much to my constant chagrin, walks the AT belting Blood Brothers songs at the top of his lungs all day--with whom I'd planned to hike for the day seemed equally miserable. Freight Train, who'd been up all night playing chess with a 50ish anesthesiologist named Sleeper, was equally inconsolable about the prospect of walking. So there we were, along with Dirt and Night Rider, sitting on our duffs contemplating our options. We've all walked damn near 600 miles by this point and none of us have much to prove to ourselves or each other, especially regarding our ability to put one foot in front of the other ad nauseum.

Ideas started being tossed around. One only carries so much food on the trail so sitting in the shelter all day wasn't really an option: we had to go somewhere. I suggested we go back to where the trail crosses the road near Atkins, VA and try to hitch a little ways down the trail to a hotel room we could split five ways. Maybe get some beers. Whatever.

So that was the basic first iteration of the plan, but all plans tend to spiral out of control (whereas all plots lead deathward, or so I'm told). Night Rider, who's originally from Long Island, but went to mechanic's school in Northern Carolina suggested a more outlandish scheme. He had a job working on boats on a lake in northwest North Carolina last summer and was real tight with his boss. In fact, he lived with his boss on a property on a peninsula on a beautiful lake in North Carolina and, in fact, his boss was a really cool dude and, in fact, his friend who still lived and worked for this guy could get to a road two miles from the shelter in about two hours and, in fact, we could totally stay by the lake for a few days. This was a good idea. Calls were made, packs were packed and we five--Ajax, Freight Train, Night Rider, Dirt and Senator (me)--soon found ourselves flying down US81 toward a lake in North Carolina.

So here I am, somehow on the shores of Lake Norman in beautiful North Carolina. We've mostly been eating and sleeping and fishing and watching movies and drinking beers (it's exceptionally wonderful to find a proper beer store that carries beer nicer than Natural Ice). Actually, I'm going to go open a Pilsner Urquell and thrown a hamburger on the grill right now. Tomorrow, we walk!

Friday, April 21, 2006


Mostly out on the trail I miss people, but other than that I miss my constant education on

Today for example, I learned that Iannis Xenakis (avant garde composer who did a lot of compositions using game theory and probabilities) looked like this:

Apparently, his face got messed up by a British shell while he was fighting for the ELAS in the Greek Civil War. Who knew? You can't learn that shit from trees no matter many times you ask.

Trail Name

It turns out that everyone on the trail pretty much abandons their names from civilization in favor of some pseudonym they either make up or receive in their first weeks of hiking. A lot of times these names derive from somebody doing something stupid (Freefall for example tried to glissade somewhere and ended up nearly going over a cliff) or they relate to one's life off trail (Novocaine is going to be a dentist,Grey Eagle is a retired Air Force and American Airlines pilot, Texas is from Texas, Goliath is really really big and tall) or they're because of whatever (Rat Puke, Sandman, Suffering Bastard, Bone Saw, Dirt, Tricycle, Patches) or they're location/name combinations that try suggest a commonality with Indiana Jones (Minnesota Smith, by the way is probably less like Indiana Jones than anyone I've ever met). So about two weeks ago I was in Hot Springs NC, and this dude (an older guy from Georgia, real nice, but is apparently hiking the trail to avoid getting a job and paying child support. There's a lot of people out here vaguely on the run from the law but that's a story for another day) I'd been hiking with in the Smokies and then not seen for a little while came up to me and was all "hey Senator", and I'm all "Senator?" and he says that he'd been talking it over with some other guys and they'd decided that because I was from Texas and went to an Ivy League school (we're talking about brown, but whatever) that I was going to be a senator. So, somehow that stuck and now that's what everyone calls me.

θεός φόβος

Translated literally this means fear of god, but more accurately we're talking about Divine Terror.

The onset of spring has brought on a fair number of lightning storms, and if there's anything in the world of 'natural shit that can kill you but probably won't' that freaks me out, it's lightning. This fear is perhaps unfounded--lightning strikes account for about 73 deaths every year, compared to the 400ish who are annually gunned down just for living in greater Philadelphia--but the fact is the people who do get struck by lightning are people just like me who spend their days walking along on high ridgelines carrying 2 big fat hiking poles (read: lightning rods) in their hands. I mean that's just tempting fate. Also, lightning's unpredictability definitely smacks of Olympian caprice, and if I'm going to fear any set of gods, it's going to be the ones who'll kill you because they want to steal your girlfriend or because the smoke from your cooking fire had an unpleasant aroma.

When storms roll in I'm pretty much inclined to sit in shelters and wait them out. I've got no problem getting rained on all day, but I'm not really into being burned into a smoldering wad of grizzle. Not cool Zeus.


I've gone and done something I promised I'd never do. In my preparation for the trail I did a lot of checking around on internet forums, namely and for advice on gear, timing etc. (NB. I also learned how to make my pepsi can stove from trailforums and that thing works like gangbusters) One piece of advice I didn't take had to do with clothing, namely that I should give up my hiking shorts and switch to a kilt. Not a kilt kilt, but a hiking kilt, they look like this:

Anyway, what kind of asshole would walk around all day wearing one of these? Right? Well, here's the thing. It has started to get really hot out on the trail, like pushing 80 degrees which when you're walking uphill with a pack strapped to your back feels like 115, and honestly things get really sweaty really fast. Of course hiking in these conditions for hours at a time and then for days at a time produces uncomfortable side effects and general unpleasantness. SOOOOO.... I've broken my own rule and yesterday I picked up a Mountain Hardware Mountain Kilt just like the one above. I promise PROMISE! this doesn't change anything, I'm not going to be wearing this when we go out for drinks or even ever in the real world (possibly around the house). Don't worry, this doesn't change anything; I'm not 'that guy,' I'm just trying to hike my own hike, man.

This week in hiking

Guess what? I'm in Virginia. No more of that nonsense criss-crossing between Tennessee and North Carolina; pretty much I'll be in old Virginny for the next 500 miles.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Trail Magic? Can I Get a Witness?

So, there's this thing people do on the trail called trail Magic. I first encountered this phenomenon at Hogpen Gap in Georgia. It goes like this:

Hikers are always hungry, so people who are friends of the trail (ie. people who've hiked before and know the hunger) will pull up to a gap or some place with a cooler full of goodies like sodas, beers, various little debbie snacks, snickers, etc. etc. The really creative folk might bring a little grill and cook some hotdogs or some such. Here's a picture of an older couple doing trail magic. Notice the guy holding the bananas. I ate three of them.

Here's another example. Today, on the trail somebody left a cooler full of goodies. Here's me next to them.

So, three days ago (sunday) I'm all walking down the trail, about 915 in the AM, when lo and behold there's a sign on the trail. It reads something like "turn right at the gap, walk past the 'welcome to North Carolina' sign and go up the driveway on the right for trail magic." Of course I follow these instructions. Of course. So I walk up to this house, open the door and there's a fucking Schmorgasbord (sp? who knows?) This couple is making all sorts of food. I proceed to eat a home made pecan waffle, a banana split and a pulled pork sandwich, in that order. So after eating all this, and chatting it up with the other kids who've come through in the morning, I sit down in a rocking chair and notice a bible sitting there, so I pick it up and thumb to Luke. I like Luke, it's my favorite gospel.

At some point I start glancing around and noticing that this place is Christian. Like really really Christian. Like all the books on the bookshelf are the Purpose Driven Life and How to Talk to Skeptics. I had been sitting at the table minutes before talking to this kid Novocaine about keeping Kosher on the trail (this was as I was eating the pulled pork sandwich) and then onto other topics relating to our mutual Judaism. Anyway, I think this guy thought I was thinking about converting (no, I just think Luke is a good gospel and for the record Romans is my favorite epistle) and started witnessing to me, and generally to all the kids sitting around the table. It wasn't that big a deal or anything, but it was sort of an intense witness session. A lot more 'fire and brimstone' than 'eternal salvation.' At that point I was really to full to care. Anyway, it was awkward, but seriously, that sandwich was super good.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Okay, here's a little smattering of photos. This computer has a SD card reader. Badass.

(1) Here's me getting ready to hike at Amicalola Falls on the First Day. Picture Credit: Dan Gruen

(2) This is what I looked like on the second day of walking, note the bright, youthful eyes.

(3) This is what I looked like yesterday.

(4) Shortly after I took this picture I had to hide from some Ring Wraiths. It was hella scary.

(5) Here's Brad (Sir Hawk) and I in Helen, GA.

(6) Here's the Georgia, North Carolina Border.

(7) Here's a snowy day in the Smokies.

(8) Here's the trail in light snow.

(9) Here's Jesus, just for good measure.

sorry that's it. It takes a long time to upload photos and there's a line forming.

Hiking vs. poppy/clicky semi-music

So Max/MSP is this computer program where you can make all sorts of neato electronic music crap. It is a radically customizable program and has a rabid, though decidedly cool-nerd following. I would consider myself to be on the lazy fringes of this following. Anyway, with in Max MSP, what you do, basically is make things called "Max Patches" these are little prgrammes that use Max to control MIDI data and MSP to control digital audio waveforms. You can do literally all sorts of shit with Max/MSP. It's cool.

Here's what a Max Patch looks like:

So a few days ago, I was dorkily tickled to discover Max Patch, North Carolina. It's an honest-to-god place that for real exists. Actually, it's a man made high bald in Western North Carolina. Adam Florin would crap his pants. Here's what it looks like:

Anyway, sorry to waste your time with this post.

Two possible methods of quitting

The thing with the AT, is that about 10% of people who start wind up finishing. Those odds are pretty slim. I'm sort of already in the 90% of people who won't finish (though I may in the future, I really like doing this, but 3 months at a time seems a lot more 'bite-sized'). So far I've met at least six people who have quit (probably more actually, I just don't know they've gotten off). Of those I can remember a few names, or at least trail names. These are Lil' Easy, U-Haul, and Tin Can. All were really nice guys who, for one reason or another, decided to cash out.

The other way to quit the trail--the coup de grace if you will--is of course to die. This happened recently to a 65-year-old guy named Phoenix. Phoenix had thru-hiked twice in the last six years, so he's not really a quitter per se, but he did in fact die in his sleep at Mt. Collins Shelter (4 miles south of Newfound Gap and the road to Gatlinburg) about a week ago. I met Phoenix a few weeks before at Low Gap Shelter about 4 days into my hike. He was, if anything, a grizzled sonofabitch and fairly proud of it. On top of completing 2 thru-hikes, he had been a Navy Seal, kayaked the entire length of the Mississippi and killed a man who attacked him with a knife while he was working as a UPS delivery guy ("He just fell on his own knife six times"). Phoenix used to talk about his time in the service and say things like "that doesn't make me a badass, a badass with a guy with a ski mask and a nail bat." Of course, the nail bat was interchangeable with any other sort of melee weapon (length of chain, baseball bat, 10-inch blade etc.) or small-caliber handgun. The ski-mask always stayed in the picture.

The other story I heard from Phoenix was a lot nobler. On his last thru-hike he was tented-out near a shelter when he and another hiker tented nearby awoke to screams for help. They both jumped out of bed and ran to the shelter only to find some asshole trying to rape a girl who was sleeping there. Phoenix subsequently set about pulling this dude off the girl and using his military training to beat the living shit out of him. Then he marched him a few miles off into the woods and dumped him there without his pack in the middle of the night. The girl was safe, Phoenix was the hero etc. etc.

Whether or not any of this is true is debatable. I like to think it is. I for one was pretty scared of Phoenix. One night I tented next to him and just before going to bed he told me he had once set fire to the tent of someone who kept him up at night while they were inside, and that I'd better be quiet as a mouse. Needless to say, I was.

So to you Phoenix I tip my hat and pour out some beer. Even though you'd probably just call me a pussy and put me in a choke hold for even talking about you, its still very sad that you've left the trail. But seriously, what a fucking way to go.

The object of the plan

My second night on the trail, I was staying at Hawk Mtn. Shelter in the Chattahoochee National Forest and I wasn't having a very good time. I could not for the life of me make the psychical leap required to drift into sleep on the second night of what would ostensibly be a six month journey. I crawled in my sleeping bag at about 6:30 and didn't finally close my eyes until about four hours later. That night I decided that I didn't want to hike the entire AT. At the time I had walked about 16 miles and it had damn near killed me, the 2100 more I had left to go stretched out like a vast insufferable and infinity. Hell is scariest in the abstract, where the ideatum everywhere and always outstrips the idea.

On the other hand, I didn't, nor do I now want to quit. I figured, and can now testify on a stack of bibles, that the trail and the person become increasingly more amenable to one another as the miles slip by. Now, 270ish miles in, things cruise a lot more quickly during the day, and nights at camp can be downright convivial.

Part of this general sense of well being, however, has to do with a decision I made on the second night of my trip to constrain the distance and time I plan on spending on the trail. This decision grows increasingly reasonable with every step I take and every time I wake up a three in the morning, slip out of my sleeping bag in freezing weather and stumble to find a suitable spot to take a piss. I came out here in part to figure stuff out, and what's amazing is how quickly 'out hereness' begins to work wonders for the sort of information overload of day-to-day life amongst late capitalism's finest banal atrocities. There is no philosophy out here except of a negative sort of dialecticism. Everything--cognitive excesses of every kind are no different than excess pack weight--percolates to the top only to be sloughed off where convenient. If there is no decidedly functional logic behind carrying something, off it goes. My pack weight has gone from somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 pounds to somewhere in the neighborhood of 35. My body weight has gone from a hearty 165 to a much more hearty 155. I expect that a good bit of this loss is the simple release of neurons from electronic bondage: a sacrifice of excess ions.

So now time for the decision. I am not quitting the trail now, but I am going to quit at the end of May when I reach Harpers Ferry in West Virginia at just after 1009 miles. My plan, though it may be pie-in-the-sky depending on what the next year has in store is to flip-flop and complete the other half of the trail (southbound, Katahdin to Harpers Ferry) next summer. If I don't get around to it, so be it. I've still got 750 miles to go and I'll be whistling all the way.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Before leaving on the trail, Tasha and I worked out that we could meet up for a long weekend in Gatlinburg, TN at the end of her spring break. The timing wasn't perfect, but close enough. Gatlinburg is a resort town with easy access to both the trail and the Knoxville Airport, so I figured it made more sense to meet up here than anywhere else. I'm really happy about how quickly i was able to reach Gatlinburg. I got in two days early even after purposefully hiking short days so i wouldn't arrive with much extra time. It's getting to the point where anything less than a 15 mile day seems quick. Hopefully after I get through the second half of the Smokies, things will pick up even more and I'll be able to cycle up to about 20 miles a day. This is good news.

Report on Smokies

So, here I am in Gatlinburg, TN, nestled into the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. The last three days of walking since I entered the Smokies at Fontana Dam, NC have been particularly treacherous. The Smokies are home to some of the roughest terrain on the trail and I happened to arrive right at the tail end of a rather sizable snow storm which deposited about a foot of snow or more over everything higher than about 3000 feet. After the climb into the park up Shuckstack Mountain, I haven't been lower than about 5000 feet so it's pretty much been a winter wonderland. Hiking in snow presents some novel challenges. Prior to the last three days, I often awoke to light dustings or maybe an inch or two of accumulation, but nothing that impedes progress to a noticeable degree. Having to negotiate the trail with a foot of snow on the ground is quite another thing entirely. Monday was my first day in the park and snow was continually falling into my boots so that by the end of the day they were thoroughly soaked, after a night of 15ish degree weather (which is pretty much the standard so far), I awoke to find my boots frozen solid. The next day things got even more grim. Walking through snow mostly makes one hungry and tired, but things get worse as soon as the sun comes out and snow turns into slush. The trail tends to be recessed four to six inches from the surrounding landscape, so on Tuesday with the sun beating down all day, the trail turned into a canyon of six inches of shitty whitish brownish slush. I only walked about 12 miles on Tuesday, but it was by far my grumpiest day on the trail. It was hot and cold at the same time and pretty much every step sucked for one reason or another. Wednesday morning started out pretty rough as well, the slush had turned into Ice over night and so getting up or down hill (which is pretty much all one does on the Appalachian Trail) became rather a harrowing ordeal, but by the end of the day, the trail started to poke through and there was a lot more brown than white on the ground.