Monthly Archives: April 2012

Koko Head RR “hike” April 28th

Brief entry.

still working out the kinks in my knee. took the “hike” up Koko Head yesterday.  It’s really a steep walk, straight up. In afternoon it is under a blazing sun. it was 85 degrees yesterday.

eastern side of Oahu overlooking channel to Molokai

the zipper-like line is the former funicular railway bed, used as a Cardio workout by the locals

There is actually a hike listed in the guidebook which goes up the east side of Koko Head, but not as popular. the climb is about a thousand feet, there are 1,048 railroad ties to climb. I did not count as I went along. couple hundred people on this trail, including runners who went full speed up and down. I don’t have quite the confident to place my feet. I used my hiking poles, one of the few who had them. Nice view from the summit also included a look at Sandy Beach. There is an old helipad on the top. Overall, my knee felt the best it has been in  awhile, I am very encouraged.  took a long soak in the tub when I got home.



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the Zarabatana contest to end all zarabatana contests

True confessions: I am not into guns, knives or implements of death. Seen way to many victims of violence in my career.  I used to live in rural Maine and I have been around hunters a lot; I truly enjoy venison, but I was leery of getting shot, so I personally stayed out of the woods. One year a hunter had a heart attack while dragging his buck out of the woods; in token of us saving his life in CCU, he divided the deer among the staff – that year we ate cuts of venison no hunter would ordinarily share.

Blaze Orange

I am the kind of person who insisted that my wife and kids would wear blaze orange even if they were just going from the backdoor or the shed to the car in the driveway.  I spent all that time in Nepal but only bought a khukri when my brother Ed told me he always secretly wanted one. My taste in artifacts runs toward the things they tourists don’t buy. I never got a singing bowl, for example.

I am faced, however, with a son-in-law who is an anthropologist.  Not only that, but he is studying the Makushi tribe of the Brasil/Guyana border area. Not only that, but they are subsistence hunter/gatherers. This summer he goes on his year-long field work.

Last time he was there he had the bow and arrow, went hunting with “the boys” while evidently wearing a loincloth, and got a few shots off. He admitted he didn’t hit anything. He brought back an arsenal of bows and arrows and blowguns last time, they now hang above his fireplace like antique muzzleloaders. I suppose he keep them handy to ward off potential home invaders.

He now has been practicing like crazy though in his backyard, and joined the University of Virginia Archery Club. Every University needs to promote skill at the longbow, IMHO. At U of Hawaii, they tend toward asian Martial Arts – I was delighted to see the Kendo class one time.

Okay, I can go with hunting as long as you are planning to eat what you kill.

Summer Plans – “Virginia is for Lovers”

When I am on my hike I will use the house in Charlottesville as my “home base” – very kind of them to put up with me.  I will try not to overstay my welcome.

Today I  sent my budding Indiana Jones a message:

vi um kit zarabatana na Sports Authority ontem e estava pensando em desafiá-lo para um concurso, quando eu chegar lá. Vamos omitir o veneno e as tangas (apenas esse tempo), e é claro, o uso como alvo em oposição um ao outro. MAS – eu te desafio para uma melhor-de-10 a vinte passos.

(did I forget to tell you my daughter and her spouse are multilingual?)

Essentially, challenging him to a contest. a zarabatana is a blowgun. If I had been an ancient Amerindian I would have assigned it a more onomatopoeic name – something beginning with a “pffffff” or a “HAA”

My ace in the hole

Yes, I admit I haven’t actually handled a weapon since the riflery range at Boy Scouts, in 1970. What my Son-in-Law doesn’t yet grasp is that I am a lifelong trumpet player and I have forty years of superlative breath control.  heh heh heh. And the zen of it – I will be one with the blowgun. Or even the bow if we need a runoff. There was a YouTuibe video in which the intrepid zarabataneiro hooked the thing up to compressed air….. hmmm… that is cheating!

Practical reasoning here

I hate to put pressure on the young man, but let’s face it: if he were ever to bring my daughter along on some future field work, I would expect him to put meat on the table. At least once a week.  Is that too much to ask?

as to what exactly, they hunt down there, I am not sure – I think it’s capybara….

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Kuliouou Trail April 22 2012 hike

continued on the idea of daily hiking. still using the poles, and going slow. The knee is still tender but I am paying extra attention to the mechanics of walking. It was cool ( 60s?) and very windy, which actually made for delightful hiking weather.


It’s like “mindful walking”

There is a terrific website that describes many of the trails here.

I started at the parking lot and got to the picnic table, my objective. started at 250′ elev and ended at about 1100′ elev = 850′ change, which is respeckable.  Been to the top before but it’s much steeper and requires pulling yourself up using a fixed rope at times. Last time I got covered in mud.

Mud is a fact of life in Oahu hiking.  I am being cautious. got home and soaked my legs in a hot bathtub for half an hour.

Accompanied by Shama Thrushes most of the way, including a pair that seemed to be “courting.”  Shama Thrushes are an introduced species to Oahu. Beautiful song.

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Filed under Joe Niemczura, Oahu Hiking

Updated 2012 Equipment list for Catch-Up’s hike

Thank you, Whoopie Pie

A hiking buddy of mine was kind enough to share the list she made in 2010 before embarking on a through hike. This is the time of year to shakedown your stuff – I used to have a rule which I would invoke before bringing anybody on a hike, which was that they had to “shakedown” – empty the contents of their pack and justify every single item before deciding to haul it God-knows-where.

It was something we did in the Boy Scouts but I am sure it originated in the military.

The shakedown rules apply to me as well

In 2010, “Snafu” and I did a shakedown the night before we stepped off on a six-day jaunt through the Green Mountains; (and it rained every single day….)  Likewise, Whoopie Pie was savvy enough to demand that I justify not just the equipment, but every food item, before our epic ninety mile skedaddle through The Garden State. (lots of places to buy food along the way, redefines the culinary experience associated with backpacking, for me….) And for the record, I cooperated.

Both those guys are hikers I would gladly set off with at a moment’s notice.

The goal of our next hike will be to accompany a wizard in retrieving stolen treasure from a dragon.

Or maybe In Search of P.B.

Or to find a The Porcupine Tree of Happiness.

Hiking as opposed to backpacking

better writers than me have pointed out that the list will be dramatically different for a weekend backpacking trip as opposed to a weeks-long trip. My friend Tom just posted a bunch of tips for how to choose items.  how can I improve on that? A hiker builds on what they know……


For the record: in 2011 I lived in Kathmandu Nepal for ten weeks and travelled around the country. Everything I needed, I fit into my daypack. Okay, it didn’t include a sleeping bag or food or a tent, but – you get the idea. I don’t define myself by my material possessions anymore. Which is good.

The Ultimate list of items

Tim O’Brien, in my view, wrote one of the best books ever on the subject of hiking and backpacking.  The opening seven or eight pages constitute the ultimate backpacking list, here is an excerpt:

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the  necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs,  wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes,  salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military  payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together,  these items weighed between fifteen and twenty pounds, depending upon a man’s  habits or rate of metabolism.

Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra  rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound  cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental  floss, and several hotel-size bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney,  Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot  in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and  because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed five pounds  including the liner aid camouflage cover.

They carried the standard fatigue  jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried  jungle boots-2.1 pounds – and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can  of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder as a precaution against trench foot. Until he was  shot, Ted Lavender carried six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him  was 2 necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RT0, carried condoms. Norman Bowker  carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, Carried  an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who  taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against bad times,  however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his  grandfather’s old hunting hatchet. Necessity dictated. Because the land was  mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered,  nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds, but which on hot days  seemed much heavier.

Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least  one large compress bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access. Because  the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green  plastic poncho that could be used as a raincoat or groundsheet or makeshift  tent. With its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost two pounds, but it was  worth every ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used  his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him  into the chopper that took him away.

(excerpt from The Things They Carried. buy the book on Amazon. Pulitzer prize 1990)


I suppose there should be a contest for Best Backpacking Books ever.  hmm… too broad…..

Metaphysical lists

And another backpacking buddy once told me that his mental status could be broken down into components. He carried it with him, but just like a backpack, he could choose what to carry and what to leave behind.  Wow. at first, the thought of it alone was heavy as an anvil, then like magic it got lighter and lighter. I think a hiker who truly grasped that, and practiced it, would float along the trail. No need to touch the feet to the actual ground….. time and distance cease to matter when the elements of zen come together so beautifully. Oh how I want to get there….

Happiness and hopefulness? check.

mindfulness? check. breathe in – breathe out -repeat

despair and sadness? too heavy, put it aside.

recrimination and self-doubt? easily available along the way, no need to put it in the pack yet. bring the repellant in case somebody else tries to dump it on you.

lovingkindness? yes, put it in an outside pocket where it can be reached easily.

Here is an excerpt from another blog, in which the author met a guru……..for your consideration….

They asked ” Swami, how can we progress further?”

Swami said “Drop what you know. You are carrying heavy burden of indigested knowledge and age old samskaaras.”

“Swami, what can we drop?

Swami said “Everything. All that you really need will be yours anyway. You “need” nothing. All that you think that you have, you actually do not have. It will all wither away sooner or later. All that you give away, you will always have. Spirituality never ends with one incarnation of the soul. It continues through time and space, as long as it should. You are covering yourself more than necessary. Shed your coverings. Do not hide yourself. And do not hide your real face. Be bold to be yourself. You will experience reality. When clothes become an addiction, we become unnatural.

They paused to digest the hidden meaning behind the saint’s answer and asked: “Swami, who will protect us from this cold and tamasic ignorance?”

Swami asked “Existence. Are you feeling cold now?”  They realized that they were not feeling any physical cold. Swami continued: “Who is protecting you from cold now? The same existence will protect you from tamas and ignorance too. You are definitely not the doer.”

that about wraps it up. yeah, I am going through my stuff…..

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Three tunes for hikers – got a theme song?

I have always been somebody with a tune going through my head. If it’s a trumpet tune you might see my move my fingers as if I was holding a trumpet. 

In 2010 when I was getting ready to hike, I spent money on i-tunes getting my mp3 playlist in order. More than I want to admit. My daughter brought me back to reality by saying ” here I am, getting ready for my hike by putting in some miles – and there you are, worrying about the sound track. what’s wrong with this picture?”

Okay. true enough. But I still had fun. Turns out I never used the mp3 player while hiking because I needed to conserve batteries. And listening to the sounds of nature was just as much fun – for example, one night when a pair of nesting hoot owls made sure we knew they were less than fifty yards away from the lean-to.

In the meantime, I am thinking of this summer, and here are three candidates for the theme song of 2012.

living like a refugee  it’s African Roots Reggae, which is to say, a reggae beat using a folk instrument setup. The Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars are composed of guys who evidently got together at – a refugee camp. I also like Tiken Jah Fakoly, french lyrics and all.

wagon wheel If there ever was an National Anthem of the Appalachian Trail, this would be it. I’d never heard of this song before my daughter Whoopie Pie declared it was her theme song in 2010. Early in my 2010 hike, I was at Levardi’s Hostel in Dalton MA when a fellow hiker pulled out a guitar. Every hiker there,  about a dozen, sang along on the porch. I knew then and there I was going to have a great summer.

The lyrics to Wagon Wheel contain a litany of locales along the Trail in the south. Makes me want to see Johnson City, Tennessee! The Official Video is kinda strange, basically so outlandish that it becomes hilariously funny. what were they thinking?!?!??!?!

travelling shoes hard to find this specific tune on the interweb. There is a classic gospel tune with the same name, which has been recorded by just about everyone – this is a more mellow folk tune by Bill Staines. Reminds me of WERU-FM Saturday morning radio in coastal Maine. This version was uploaded to YouTube as part of a class project by a music teacher who is guiding some of his students in folk music performance (a cool idea). The tune addresses the need to travel and the need to think about the afterlife as a continuation of the journey…. a good lesson for all of us.

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Using Hiking Poles with an intentional gait to preserve my knee

this one will be short.

Orthopedic Pearls of Wisdom

An orthopedic surgeon I used to work with once told me “Your twenties and thirties are when you sustain a variety of orthopedic injuries. You won’t really discover how severe they were until your forties and fifties.”

and to quote A.E. Housman:

“O, tis true! tis true!”

Winter 2011-2012 for me has been characterized by the knee injury I got in December, which was the worst orthopedic event for me in the past five years, even worse than developing a bunion on my left foot in 2008.  I first injured my right knee in 1973, playing lacrosse. there have been times in my life when it comes and goes. I was walking six to eight miles a day from Sept to December – my main after-school activity.

Then it happened. There was no sudden event – it just sort of ground me to a halt.

To make a long story short, I waited weeks for it to get better; switched to swimming instead of daily walking so as to not aggravate it by weight-bearing; and consumed a whole lot of motrin. When I got an X-Ray and a steroid/lidocaine injection, there was instant relief which made me wonder why I waited to so long to see a doctor.

And now I am “training” for a summer hike. I think the knee is now well enough to start self-rehab via hiking. I am making sure to stretch and warm up carefully, I am wearing the hiking boots, and I am going on the trails in the neighborhood, not simply relying on walks over pavement near my apartment. (too much pounding).

So far I did the Diamond Head hike (Monday) and yesterday, the Manoa Cliffs Trail.

Hiking Poles

I am making sure to use the hiking poles. Even before these became popular I used to hike with a staff – like Gandalf I suppose.  My favorite staff was from a red alder thicket I cut out of a beaver bog in northern Maine. Nowadays I use hiking poles, like ski poles.

Using a “Gait”

The wrinkle, for me, is that I find myself relying on my knowledge of cross-country skiing and nursing, to choose how to plant the hiking poles – using what a physical therapist would call an intentional gait – either a 2-point of a four-point. It’s made a big difference in supporting my weak knee during this period of retraining. It’s helped my confidence tremendously.

Nordic Walking

I particularly recommend this one video that describes “Nordic Walking”  – it explains the techniques of proper pole use from a skier’s perspective.

see you on the trail!


Filed under Appalachian Trail

Ways and Means of a long distance hike

I am in the planning phase of the trip for 2012. Thought I would tell you the details.


I have gotten “off the Island” of Oahu for each of the past five summers. As a nine-month faculty, the University does not direct my time during summer. I leave the day after “the last faculty duty day” and return a few days prior to “the first faculty report-to-duty day.” Four of the summers I travelled to Nepal and volunteered there. In 2010 I joined my daughter Whoopie Pie for part of her through-hike of the A.T. That trip turned out to be the stuff of which hiking legends are made.

Summer Sub-let

A faculty member on a continuing nine-month contract has their pay divided up over a twelve month period. so it continues over summer. check

Plane fare to Da Mainland costs about $1,000.check.

I found a responsible person who will sublet my place. check.

The person’s date of arrival and departure fit very neatly with mine, and I get $2,650, which will be applied toward my rent. I also get an honorarium for a speaking engagement in NYC (how much?  I’ll never tell). check

So – the short version is, I come out several thousand dollars ahead by subletting and getting off the island. Even after paying the airfare.

When I figured this out in 2007, it was a revelation.  That’s how I subsidize my travel. This option is only available when you don’t mind dropping everything to take off.  And of course, the place I am subletting is nice. Simply closing the apartment down and leaving it empty  does not help the math.

Equipment rundown for summer 2012

not trendy with the young hikers of today, but dependable

I am “old school” – I am also not a “gearhead” – On the A.T., I guess I am one of the old guys, hopelessly retro. I don’t spend a lot of dough on equipment.

I use an external frame Kelty backpack. These were *the pack to have* in the 1970s. Nowadays you only see old guys carrying one. (no problem; I am an old guy!).

I cook with an MSR stove  (no tuna fish cans for me!) though for years I used a Coleman Peak One that I got in 1982.  I use a sleeping bag I bought in 1982. In 2010, I got a nice air mattress, and discovered that the improved rest resulted in an immediate increase in daily mileage. for clothes, I have my red T-shirt which is cotton but the rest is poly pro ( wool is too itchy).


Facial Hair – if you want to be a Mountain man, look like a mountain man

Do I look like a minister in this?

Do I look like a minister in this?I will grow my beard again, it’s part of the Mountain Man look. Here is what it looked like at the end of the hike in 2010 – I shaved it when a friend told me it made me look like a homeless person. ( In Honolulu, facial hair is not so common as it is on the Trail). I confess that I myself was suprised to see how gray it was!


I have new boots, took Uncle Tom’s advice and bought a pair two sizes larger than my feet. In other words, size 13w. I use duct tape and liquid skin, proactively, to protect my feet from blisters, along with thick wool socks.

I don’t spend time mailing boxes ahead.

I won’t be making beef jerky at home in my spare time.

I will shop in grocery stores along the way.


Route – south of the Mason-Dixon line

The hike will be in (at least) two parts. First, a test hike in Virginia for a week or so. Probably start at Rockfish Gap  and go South. the idea is to make sure the equipment is working and get back in the groove, you need a certain mindset in order to do this.

Then, go to NYC and Houston for the events. I return to C’Ville June 4th, and at that time I will get serious about the summer hike.  I will use the teleporter to get beamed to Asheville NC, then hop on the A.T. at Davenport Gap, just south of Max Patch and head – north. For as long as I can go. Oh, and I will fit in a quick trip to Florida along the way.

I will be mainly relying on the Data Book but my daughter has the complete set of Virginia maps. Virginia is the place for about  500 miles of the Trail – longest of any state. I will be happy if all I do is get as far as Harper’s Ferry – but we shall see.

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