Saturday, October 17, 2015

The 34th Annual ALDHA Gathering

The 34th Annual Gathering family photo (photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)

What an incredible time it was visiting with fellow long distance hikers and trail enthusiasts during this past weekend's 34th Annual Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association Gathering. This year's Gathering took place on the pristine grounds of Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, PA. Camping was on site on one of the recreational fields, although I must admit I took myself to the Rodeway Inn for both nights. Each day was so jam-packed full of entertaining speakers, delicious meals in the student cafeteria (everything from made-to-order sushi to pizza to salads), dancing, and general good vibes, that when I laid my head down in the evening - mind you many hikers were still going at 10 pm - I drifted off into deep sleep I hadn't experienced since I'd been on the trail.

Marilyn Beckley of the Finger Lakes Trail (photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)
I had the chance to meet another Finger Lakes Trail End-to-Ender Marilyn Beckley, aka Amoeba, who was there sharing some stories about the FLT's very own Ed Sidote, to whom this year's Gathering was dedicated. Ed Sidote was not only an ALDHA volunteer and member but a long-time volunteer and member of the Finger Lakes Trail, an invaluable asset to FLT hikers, and a passionate supporter of the trail in every way possible.

The Ed Sidote bench on the Finger Lakes Trail near Pharsalia Woods Lean-to 
I never did get to meet Ed Sidote, but I heard numerous stories about him while I journeyed across the state. His book, written with Joe Dabes, was also the first guide I purchased for the FLT back in 2011. The owner of the Susquehanna Motel, which is located near the eastern terminus of the FLT told me that once Ed got word that a long distance hiker was heading into town that day, he would show up and sit on his front porch waiting to greet and offer assistance as they crossed the bridge into town. On the day I reached the eastern terminus of the FLT, I had to share the sad news with a local man, who lived along its final miles in the tiny town of Claryville and hadn't yet received word, that Ed had passed away. The man lived simply and with little more amenities than his pick-up truck and had helped Ed shuttle hikers to and from the end. In Ed's honor, the FLT dedicated a portion of the trail and a bench to him this past summer bearing his trail name.

Bill Cooke at his booth in true hiker form- ice cream in hand- with his book, Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color: A Thru-hike of the Colorado Trail 
I also had fun visiting with familiar trail faces, such as Bill Cooke and Pam Masterson. I had first met Bill at Trail Days this past spring where we were both selling our books. Bill's book is titled Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color: A Thru-hike of the Colorado Trail and describes his 486 mile journey along the Colorado Trail. To read more about Bill's book visit: http://www.cookerhiker.com/. When Bill and I had first chatted I shared with him my plans of hiking the Finger Lakes Trail that coming season. It just so happened that his partner, Pam, lived in the Finger Lakes region. As I made my way through this area, Pam had reached out to me via email offering her help. We never did manage to connect while I was hiking but how cool it was to put a face to the name when I met her here. Pam has also published a book highlighting 22 trails in the Little Finger Lakes, complete with maps. She has been making her own jams and maple syrup goodies for some time now through her business Canadice Kitchens and is presently experimenting with putting together hiker maildrops complete with healthy dehydrated foods. I'm looking forward to this business for my next thru-hike!

Cam Honan, trail name Swami, describing his "12 Long Walks"
(photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)
This year's keynote speaker was, Cam Honan, aka Swami, an Aussie who has hiked nearly 50,000 miles in his 42 years. In 2012, he completed a thru-hike of a lifetime, hiking 14,000 miles over 18 months, combining multiple long-distance trails throughout the United States, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. He took only a handful of zero days and averaged 30+ miles a day. His slideshow was an array of breathtaking landscapes and mountain vistas, and his stories spanned from heart-warming, such as meeting a familiar face atop a remote mountain to humorous, citing a special evening in Georgia that involved a taser and copious quantities of cheap beer. When asked why he chose to do a hike of this magnitude, he stated, "I thought it'd be a nice way to see the states." Well, Swami, that's one way to do it.


I too enjoyed giving two talks at the Gathering, one detailing my experience hiking the Finger Lakes Trail this past spring/summer, and another describing my two thru-hikes on the Mountains to Sea Trail in 2011 and 2014. I was thrilled to have so many attend and to share in your enthusiasm for your upcoming adventures. It was also a treat to chat with not only familiar faces who have attended previous talks of mine, but to run into folks I had hiked with on the Appalachian Trail back in 2008. And as I sat at my booth throughout the weekend I had the pleasure of hearing about so many of your thru-hiking and section-hiking plans and to pick your brains as well about various trails. My ideas continue to steep on what trail to do next and how and when, but it is events like this that contribute to my inspiration. Thank you to all for that!

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