Dan and Hannah Roam Idaho and Hike the Gibson Jack Trail Update

GJ Idaho map with Pocatello

When traveling in the Mountain States, Hannah and I love to hang out in small towns of the West.  Some of our favorites are: Flagstaff in Arizona; Bozeman and Missoula in Montana; and Panguitch and Moab in Utah.   It’s wide open Big Sky Country at its finest.  Unable to visit the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks this early June because of two to four feet of snow on even the lower trails, we drive an easy 170 miles north from Salt Lake City on I-15 to another one: Pocatello, Idaho.



Pocatello is home to Idaho State University with a perplexing nickname: the Bengals, as in tigers.  Let me remind you that Bengal tigers are found on the Asian sub-continent primarily in India, a half a world away from Pocatello.  Of course, our alma mater (Arizona State University) has a mascot (Sun Devil) from 93 million miles away so we can’t get all hot and bothered ourselves that our mascot is not native.

Set at the base of the Bannock Range, Pocatello sits at an elevation of nearly 4500 feet.  With a semi-arid climate, the winters are long and cold and summers hot and dry.  That said, this early June day is delightful.  With Latter Day Saints (Mormons) comprising 75% of the population, Pocatello is a family-oriented community.

GJ trail 1

Midday we head south to the edge of town for a favorite local trail, the Gibson Jack Loop Trail, with six to eight cars already at the trailhead.  Loving the chance to interact with others, on the trail I am no solitary John Muir or Henry David Thoreau or Hermit D. Wilderness.  Energized by the give and take of conversation, I enjoy interacting with fellow hikers on this sunny and 80 degree late spring day.  Lathering on the sunscreen and slapping on our fanny packs, Hannah and I immediately start a steady climb at 5000 feet on a rocky-strewn trail through sage, juniper, and pines.

Grassy fields along the Gibson Jack Trail

Grassy fields along the Gibson Jack Trail

After 45 minutes through mountain meadows of grass, we hit a fork in the trail and choose to cross left over a wooden bridge of planks.  Sadly, the trail signage here in the Targhee National Forest is not great and we have no map.  We bad.  Since today’s trail is a loop trail, we just can’t go up and back on the trail we’ve hiked.  We hike on and hope.

GJ trail 2

Aspens bracket the trail with leaves that are not fully leafed out.  Mountain snow rivulets whisk by us.  After an hour we haven’t seen another hiker.  With a mountain in the distance we are looking for a  sign. I mean an omen-type sign.  If we see another hiker on the trail in whose advice we have a high degree of confidence, we’ll continue on.  If not, we’ll double back the way we came.

GJ trail 3

The mountain ascent is steep and rocky and makes us wonder, should we go any further?  Now five miles into the wilderness, we feel we are out of options and don’t want this late afternoon to be spelled L-O-S-T.  Seeing no one around, we turn back the way we came.  Denied, we learn later that if we had continued to that mountain top, we would have had just a little over two miles back to the trailhead instead of the five we retraced.  Lesson learned: get a map, bucko.

GJ overview of mountain

Spent after three and half hours on the trail, we drive a simple ten miles back to our Super 8 motel in Pocatello.  After a shower, we toast the Blackfoot Mountains, as the early June sun sets after 9 PM in this part of the northern Rockies.

The Gibson Jack Trail is challenging with a steep ascent to the mountain top, but it’s doable and enjoyable despite the poor signage.   As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.


Dan and Hannah Hike the Long Trail in Vermont Update

LT Jeffersonville map

Having traveled just south of the Canadian border to Jeffersonville, Vermont for a wedding, we are staying at Nye’s Green Valley Farm B & B.  Many of you may not know that Hannah was a B & B Innkeeper herself in the late 1980s with two rooms above our carriage house (well, truth be told it is our garage).

Even so, today is our first time staying at a B & B ourselves.LT Green valley farm image  For $95 we have a king-bedded (love the adjective!) room with a private bath and an all-you-can-eat breakfast.  The room is spacious and includes 10,000 stations of Direct TV.  The breakfast opens with fresh fruit, followed by blueberry pancakes made with applesauce, and then scrambled eggs.

Long Trail of Vermont

Long Trail of Vermont

With a trailhead on Route 15 just two miles away, the Long Trail predates the Appalachian Trail.  Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border.  It was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail…The Long Trail is 273 miles, well, long.   

LT 1 trail sign

Though the weekend is to be stormy, we set out to hike a little after 9 AM, putting our faith in the forecast that any storms will arrive later in the afternoon.  Hiking four tenths of a mile to the Lamoille River, we spot a white blaze directing us across the river plain.  Stepping from rock to rock, we see where plants have been flattened by the rushing waters of the past week due to Hurricane Irene.

LT 2 bridge spanning creek

Over the river itself is a 100 foot pedestrian cable suspension bridge which can handle the biggest of storms.  But the river plain below is much wider than 100 feet and it appears that this area has recently been under ten plus feet of water.

Crossing a dirt road, we pick up the white blaze trail that is sweet dirt and easy on the feet.  Over the next mile and a half we will climb 1000 feet of vertical elevation to Prospect Rock.

Above the Lamoille Valley

Above the Lamoille Valley

Prospect Rock offers panoramic iconic Vermont views of forested peaks with farm land along the Lamoille River Valley.  We hear the first distant rumbles of thunder.  We hike on.   We are so naïve.

White blaze along the Long Trail

White blaze along the Long Trail

Losing the trail briefly, we know that the major trails (Appalachian Trail and Long Trail) are so well-marked that if we don’t see a white blaze for a few hundred feet, we just double back until we see the last white blaze.  In this case, we have missed a double white blaze that means a turn in the trail.

Aftermath of Hurricane Irene on the Vermont countryside

Aftermath of Hurricane Irene on the Vermont countryside

Having taken less than hour to climb to Prospect Rock and since the thunder is in the distance, we decide to hike on to give ourselves a three hour hiking experience.  Ferns and small oaks bracket the trail as we ascend.  Rumbles of thunder are not so distant and a blow down (a tree crossing the trail blown down by the recent hurricane) seems like a good turn-around point.

It's amazing what eating oatmeal and raisins every morning does

It’s amazing what eating oatmeal and raisins every morning does

As we head back to the trailhead, we meet Bob, a Long Trail thru-hiker, who tells us he is just 50 miles from Canada.  Likeable enough, he does complain about young hikers texting at the shelters.

And then we three all feel the first rain drops.   We double time it under the oak and pine canopy.  The thunder is overhead and the rain picks up in intensity.  With Hannah in the lead, we are making excellent time, but it’s a fool’s errand to think we can outrun Mother Nature’s deluge.  Soon every part of our bodies drenched.  Rather than huddle under trees, which doesn’t seem too bright in a thunderstorm, we just keep run/walk hiking.

As quickly as it begins, the storm ends 25 minutes later and the sun reappears.   Hiking a half mile back to our car, we then drive back to our B & B for showers and dry clothes.  We’ll nap and arrive at the wedding to watch our son Will give a heartfelt toast to his college roommate Jerrod and his bride-to-be Danielle.

As always, when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared if the forecast is not exactly what is predicted.

Dan and Hannah Take the Ice Bucket Challenge

Nominated by our son Will and son-in-law Tip, I took on the Ice Bucket Challenge to support the fundraising to find a cure for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  No shrinking violet herself, Hannah joined in on the fun.

We are extending the Ice Bucket Challenge to all who read my blog.  Get yourself a bucket full of water and ice, find a trusty friend with a smart phone, and take the challenge.

The key is donating $10 at http://www.alsa.org if you take the challenge or  donate $100 if you decide not to take the challenge.  As of two days ago, the ALS Association has received $13,300,000 in donations since July 29.  In a comparable period last year, they received $1,700,000.

Email us the video once you are done.

You have 24 hours!



By the way, Kent, Donna, and Eileen have all embraced the challenge.  Hannah and I want to get 33 more people to take the challenge and donate.  Why 33?  Owen was born on the 23rd (of July) and Max on the 10th (of May).  Ergo 23+10=33.  We will count all the people you get to take the challenge, too.  If you have done it already, let us know and we’ll add that to our total.  Kind of a positive pyramid scheme.


Dan and Hannah Hike Mt. Frary on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah

Just north of Salt Lake City, Utah lies Antelope Island (in orange in the inset Great Salt Lake map).  Having been through Salt Lake City maybe ten times, Hannah and I have missed this hiking jewel time and again.  With water five times as salty as the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is nearly 60 miles long and 30 miles wide.  Traveling a seven mile causeway from the mainland, we pay a mere $9 for this easy-access adventure.

MF  GSL map image

Taking the meandering park road to the top of a small rise in the desert landscape to the visitor center, we find a spry elderly volunteer who suggests Mt. Frary if we want a challenging hike.  It is the macho hike of the island and it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.

The road along the west side of the island winds along the salty shoreline to a paved access road to the Mt. Frary trailhead.  Though there is a 2100 foot elevation gain on this climb, it’s only three miles to the top or so we are told.  Promises of big horn sheep and buffalo lure day hikers to 6,600 foot Mt. Frary.

Causeway from the mainland to Antelope Island

Causeway from the mainland (in the distance) to Antelope Island

Immediately we are breathing heavily, thinking, Whoa! This is no walk in the park.  Strewn with sharp rocks, the trail has us stepping carefully.

MF Antelope Island State Park map

Busting our butts, we take the first half mile in 13 minutes as the trail now becomes mostly dirt through fields of grasses.  Dressed in tee shirts and shorts we have packed long sleeve tee shirts for the possibly windy, chilly summit.  Far in the distance we see a buffalo or technically bison.  Bison, despite weighing over 2,000 pounds, are able to jump over a six foot fence from a stand-still!  Plus, they can run as fast as 40 mph.  No lie.

The trail winds through fields and is challenging but not exhausting.  We soon see the radio tower at the promised three mile turn around point.  But alas dear reader, we have been deceived.  I know that is an inflammatory verb, but what we have is a faux peak.  It’s not the top.  The actually mountain top is in the distance, maybe a half mile away.

MF  trail to Mt Frary

From here, the trail descends quickly along the mountainside, and then climbs precipitously.  We soon spot two twenty-something’s 25 feet above us with expressions on their faces of how the hell are we are going to do to get down this steep slope.  I crack, You must be the mountain goats we were promised.  They smile and then start inching their way down feet first on what seems to be a 70% incline.

I reach for the girl’s hand and she extends hers to mine.  She’s made it.  Then I reach for her boyfriend’s hand to get him to level ground.  The human touch!  What a connection can be made by skin on skin, even when so brief.  Without words, it says, We’re not alone.  Someone is there for us.  Our climb up is just as perilous up, as we grab rocks and dirt and skirt the edge of the cliff (knowing all the time we have to go back this way).

MF island image

Atop, we have the classic 360 degree view of the Great Salt Lake.  With surprisingly little wind and pleasantly warm, it is only the no-see ‘ems that are a problem.  Knowing the inevitable hike down awaits, we begin our descent after ten minutes with Hannah in the lead.  Part billy she-goat, Hannah soon is sliding on her butt to negotiate the steep slope.  Inspired, I do the same.  And then she turns to go backwards on the 80 degree pitch.  I sidesaddle it and at times go backwards myself to descend this treacherous cliff mountainside.

MF Mt Frary from the base

Just having been unceremoniously dumped from our group health insurance when I retired from the University of New England, I again wonder why there is no national health insurance and what is in the fine print of our private pay health insurance that we just signed up for days ago.  A $10,000 deductible for each of us is not comforting.  I hope we never break a leg.


MF buffalo

We survive to hike on.  Once back at the radio tower of the faux peak, we descend as if strolling in the park.  On the way down we see two hikers in the distance covered with what it turns out to be are motel towels.   Once we meet them, we learn that this father and son had no idea how little shade they would encounter on this basically treeless mountain.   Unprepared, they willingly accept our trail mix and water.

At the trailhead again and not wanting to leave the island before we dip our feet in the Great Salt Lake itself, we drive to the lake shoreline.  The parking area is just 400 yards from the water’s edge.

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Wading in water that never rises above our knees, we walk carefully on the pebbly lake floor as sand fleas swarm at our feet.  Sampling the water, I find it triple the strength of salt water I would drink for a really bad sore throat.

The hike to Mt. Frary is challenging, even perilous near the top, but most satisfying.   More than 20 people were on the trail this Saturday in June.  As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Ed Garvey Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

MD map

If you love to hike, come to Maryland.

From Frederick, Maryland, which is just 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC, Hannah and I drive west on Route 340 to exit 17, following signs to Gathland State Park.  Driving the winding country roads of the Maryland countryside the first week of November, we have hit bucolic pay dirt.  Together Hannah and I will hike in mid-60s weather, ready for any unexpected adventure that comes our way.  Freedom  of the open road is a cliché, but it’s what I was hoping to purchase when I retired.  I get that and more today.

Gathland St Park arch

Today we’ll hike south toward Weverton Cliffs (near Harper’s Ferry, WV) on the Appalachian Trail (AT) where we hiked just a year ago.  Driving up the Gapland Road from Burkittsville, we come upon a 40 foot stone arch dedicated to the war correspondents of the Civil War in truly the middle of nowhere.  And Nowhere, Maryland is just where we want to be today.  No traffic nor list of things to do.

AT in MD

With no one in sight, we cross the road and find a welcome path to the AT.  Today we are in for unexpected treat – ridge hiking.  We’ll have a mostly level terrain across mountain tops, where the trail is wide enough for Hannah and me to maintain a rockin’ pace as we walk side by side.

Today on the trail I introduce the topic of how to share our riches.  What is truly being generous?   Giving what you have?  Tithing?  Giving til it hurts?   What do we really need anyway?  Are we letting prudence get in the way of our giving?  Is our faith greater than our fear?

AT trail in MD 2

Without a conscious, frontal lobe focus on the giving-away-money part of our life, we just don’t seem to make it happen as much as we’d like.  Here’s a thought: Let’s pick a dollar amount to give each month and the last day of every month see how we’ve done.  If we haven’t reached our giving goal, we don’t leave the room until we find a home for the balance of the month’s giving.  Let’s talk about being generous the next time we meet.

Side by side on dried brown leaves we walk through the Maryland countryside on this sun-dappled fall day.  From time to time, branches with green leaves from a recent storm block our path, but they are easy to circumvent and return to the trail.  We hear geese squawking south this November day and feel few rocks beneath the dried leaves.  In seventy minutes we arrive at the turn to the Ed Garvey Shelter after 3.7 miles of ridge line hiking.  By the way, Ed Garvey was a thru-hiker (hiked from Georgia to Maine in one calendar year) and a former president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Ed Garvey Shelter

Ed Garvey Shelter

The shelter is a two story building of wooden floors with a loft above that is reached by a back entrance.  Climbing the stairs to the loft we find a pristine room; the broom hints at why.  At the picnic table out front we lunch on our Subway subs, scanning the valley below through a thicket of saplings.  The raised privy lies to our south while benches on three sides in front of us face the campfire.  Each shelter has a log for hikers to record impressions of their hike.

AT trail in MD 3

The latest entry is October 29th from a couple hiking during the snowstorm just a few days ago.

The firewood we collected was damp (even with flammable toothpaste) however we discovered skin-on-skin is a wonderful way to stay warm.   – LaChelle and Tim

 From October 4th

I was here 4 months ago.  It was naked hiking day (editor’s note – hiking sans clothes on June 21st) and hot.  How I miss the trail.  – Yinz

Hannah at the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah at the back entrance of the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah adds to the log.

Dan and Hannah from York, ME – ½ day hike to and from Gathland State Park.  What a beauty-full spot and shelter.  Thank you Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  And here’s to Ed. Garvey.   2-Ply (Hannah)* and Jersey (Dan)   [Our trail names.]


AT trail in MD 3

Today is hiking at its best: Hannah, warm temperatures, and ridge hiking on a trail wide enough to walk and talk side by side.  We are blessed with this Maryland hiking escape.

As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

*Hannah’s trail name is between you and her.  Email her.

Dan and Hannah Hike Wolfe’s Neck Woods near Freeport, Maine

The end of our driveway on April first.  Most unusual to still have such snow.

The snowy end of our driveway in York on April first. Most unusual to still have this much snow.

For Hannah and me cabin fever can be real during Maine winters.  The winter of 2014 has been a doozy.  Windows are sealed so that no precious heat escapes.  Country roads are bound by snow banks so that walking them means dodging passing cars.  Cold viruses are just hanging around wanting a piece of you.  Working out at our local gym is a godsend for Hannah and me, but the fresh air draws us outdoors today.  Come April in Maine, it’s a time for something more than four walls.

Dan at the front gate

Dan at the front gate

The forecast for this April first is sunny, albeit mid-40s; we drive 60 miles north on the Maine Turnpike to Freeport to hike at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and to shop at the LL Bean outlet.  With over four and a half miles of trails, Wolfe’s Neck Woods is 200 plus acres of coastal trails and woodlands.

Trails of Wolf Neck Woods State Park

Trails of Wolfe’s Neck Woods

With six inches of snowpack still on our front yard, we wonder if snow-covered will be the operative word for the trails through the woods today.  Coming from the town center of Freeport on Flying Point Road, we turn right on Wolfe’s Neck Road past fallow farm fields and stands of oak and pine.  We pass the experiential, residential Coastal Studies for Girls, a semester-long science and leadership school for tenth grade girls in Maine.  Who knew?

Maine takes care of its seniors!

Maine takes care of its seniors!

Five miles from town, the country road winds its way towards Casco Bay as we slowly negotiate the spring’s frost heaves.  Passing three cars parked on the side of the road, we come to the park gate 100 yards later which blocks vehicular access to the park.  Though we can see that the park road beyond is clear, the woods are snow covered.  Fearlessly we forge ahead.

Hannah on snowy trail

Walking around the locked gate and down the dirt road, we see that the trails are indeed snow-covered.  Icy trail hiking is a deal breaker for us.  Hannah’s left leg protests such hiking for it is still reasonably pissed off at what she did to it while water skiing nearly two years ago.  It wants no more funny business.  As you can imagine, when Hannah’s tibia talks, she listens.

Shore at Casco Bay

Shore at Casco Bay

Thanks to a full sun, the snow is mushy, allowing us to sink in for reasonably stable hiking.  We head through the pines to the waters of Casco Bay.  Down to the water’s edge, gingerly we take the wooden steps.

WNW 9A steps in snow on trail

The trail hugs Casco Bay for two tenths of a mile with shore access points along the way.  Turning inland through the forest, we find the trail, thanks to the footsteps of previous hikers.  The Harraseeket Trail takes us back towards the Wolfe’s Neck Road, up and over the snow-packed forest floor.

Snowy trail in April

Snowy trail in April

Then we meet an athletic thirty-something couple, appealing in a crunchy granola sort of way, who seem to love hiking in the mushy snow as much as we do.  We stop and connect over conversation; they tell us about falls on the other side of the road at Freeport Bay.  Changing course we head for the bay.

WNW 9C snow trail

As they leave, I think how important it is for dating couples to hike together.  Or, to do something challenging under difficult circumstances to see how they each react under stress.  Is he a good sport when she likes hiking more than he does?  How does she react when he loses the trail?  A prince?  A princess?  A sweetheart?

WNW 9G snowy trail thru woods

The slushy snow makes for easy hiking on a day in the mid-40s with sun that makes it feel fifty.  Near the water, the wind is up and we duck for cover into the forest, glad myself to be wearing two sweatshirts.  We never do see the falls as we hike 25 feet above the Freeport Bay with a view to town.

Cliffs above Freeport Bay

Cliffs above Freeport Bay

As we hike on, I wonder about Freeport.  Where did it get its name?  Was it a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves wanting to be free?  Unromantically, Wikipedia guesses that it has to do with the openness of its harbor (free of ice).  In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened a shop in the basement of his brother’s clothing store here in Freeport, selling his signature Maine Hunting Shoe.  LL Bean’s now has its own indoor trout pond and remains open 24 hours a day.

A burning deal

A burning deal

Our 90 minutes hiking on the level, snow-covered terrain is just what the doctor ordered to bust open the doors and windows of our cabin fever.  Off to the LL Bean outlet just down the hill from the flagship store up on Route One, we look for bargains.  Striking hiking boot gold, Hannah finds $149 hiking boots for $42!

Nancy Sinatra would be so proud.

Nancy Sinatra