Books You Might Want to Read Before Planning Your Next Hiking Trip in New England
For those of us who live in Massachusetts there are lots of great hikes all around us; some that you can reach quite easily (e.g. Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, Leominster State Forest, Douglas State Forest, Mass Audubon's Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, etc.,) - and others that you need to drive a couple of hours to get to the trailhead (e.g. Acadia National Park, the White Mountains, Franconia Notch, Mount Monadnock, the Berkshires, Smugglers’ Notch, etc.). Luckily there are lots of great books out there to help you find interesting New England hikes – both near and far.
This week another good book that you might want to consult prior to hitting the trails is making its debut: “50 Hikes in Eastern Massachusetts” in which Madeline Bilis shares her thoughts and advice about hikes in the Boston area. Madeline’s book has detailed information on 50 hikes for people in the eastern half of Massachusetts, of all skill and experience levels. From Cape Cod to Middlesex Fells, from Walden Pond to the Boston Harbor Islands – all sorts of hikes that are both beautiful and close to Boston.
The 256 page paperback book has detailed information on each of the 50 hikes, to include 50 color photographs and 50 maps, gathered by Madeline as she spent a year and 160 miles walking, researching and writing about the trails.
“Eastern Massachusetts is the loveliest place on earth. I can say this with 100 percent certainty, because I spent the better part of last year exploring all its nooks and crannies, trails and coastlines, hills and meadows. Every weekend for months, I went on a hike—oftentimes several—in this part of the state. Then I got home and wrote furiously, cataloging every one of those hikes for a new guidebook I was writing: 50 Hikes in Eastern Massachusetts.”
"It’s true that Eastern Mass. doesn’t have incredibly challenging hikes — it’s largely trails that are flat and easy, but also very beautiful."
In our opinion, if you live in New England, you should seriously think about adding Madeline’s book to your Hiking reference library. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon:
“50 Hikes in Eastern Massachusetts” by Madeline Bilis"
We’ve added it to our New England library which already included the following:
A High Level Overview of the AT
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, and like to hike and camp, you undoubtedly know about the Appalachian Trail (AT) at some level; you may have even hiked a section of it. But since it’s so big how do you really sort out what you want to see? Where to hike or camp to see it? And how to go about planning and taking your trip? We’re lucky enough to live near 6 of the States that the AT traverses (and are within reasonable driving distance of 3 of the other states) so here’s some information that we have complied over the years to help us with our AT adventures.
First off, some background information about the Appalachian Trail. As the world's longest “hiking only” trail, the AT is approximately 2,192 miles (3,527 km) of footpaths along the ridge crests and major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains - from Katahdin (Baxter Peak) in Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia – crossing the boundaries of 14 States as it meanders along the East Coast.
The States that contain some part of the AT are:
Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the AT is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers in thirty hiking clubs performing trail maintenance. The AT was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act of 1968, covers ~250,000 acres (1,000 km²), sees approximately 3 million visitors each year and would take an average person 165 days to thru-hike (although Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy, a speed hiker, hiked it in 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes in 2017 – a feat that we don’t recommend).
If you hike the entire AT you would cover approximately 464,500 feet in vertical elevation as you went up and down along the trail.
To keep people on the trail the AT is marked for daylight travel in both directions using a system of “white blazes”, rectangles of white paint approximately 2 inches wide and 6 inches high on trees and other objects such as posts and rocks. There are ~165,000 white blazes on the trail.
If you’re serious about planning a hike along the AT then here are the primary resources that you might want to consult for maps, hiking/camping information, weather, fees, rules, required gear and all other manner of vital information:
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
National Park Service
National Park Foundation
WhiteBlaze.net - a community of Appalachian Trail Enthusiasts
Appalachian Mountain Club
Appalachian Trail Distance Calculator
Appalachian Trail Mileage Chart
If you’re in New England, like we are, another great resource is the Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter’s website – especially the page for their Hiking/Backpacking Committee:
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter
Appalachian Mountain Club's Boston Chapter Hiking/Backpacking Committee
Finally, here’s Backpacker Magazine’s write-up about the Appalachian Trail and the definitive book about the Appalachian trail “Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion – 2019. They both have lots of great information about what to expect and how to go about hiking the AT – especially if you are planning a thru-hike of the entire AT.
Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers' Companion - 2019
Mountain Weekly News's list of "The 36 Best Books About the Outdoors"
If you’re looking for some interesting Summer reading (to either take on the trail with you or to just take to the couch with you), here's Mountain Weekly News's list of "The 36 Best Books About the Outdoors".
We liked their list a lot because it has quite a bit of variety - both on topics and geographically - and it's not just the usual list of "How To" books; which, no matter how good, get a little repetitive after reading a few in a row. Here’s the complete list of the books on their list by category.
Adventure Stories (9 books)
Climbing (3 books)
Environment (2 books)
Fitness (3 books)
Hiking and Camping (12 books)
Hunting and Fishing (2 books)
Mountain Biking (2 books)
Survival (3 books)
You can read their summary reviews of each book here:
Hopefully reading a couple of these books will give you even more motivation to get out on the trails and into the backcountry!
Fighting Shotgun Class with Gregory Cruz of Interactive Gunfighting
This weekend the rain finally stopped here in New England and we were able to enjoy a “Fighting Shotgun” course taught by Gregory Cruz, the founder of Interactive Gunfighting. It was a great day – and lots of ammo was expended. If you’ve ever wondered what over 2,000 spent shotgun shells looks like here you go:
The class ran 8 hours and covered a variety of topics to include:
During the day we each shot 200 rounds of bird shot, 25 rounds of buck shot and 15 slugs, using a wide variety of pump and semi-auto shotguns manufactured by all sorts of companies and decked out with all types of iron sights, optics, slings and other gear based on personal preference. Since we shot three different kinds of ammunition, Greg even took the time during one of the breaks from shooting to cut open birdshot, buckshot and slug shells so that we could talk about the pros and cons of each type of ammunition. (FYI - you can read the blog post that I wrote on this topic back in November of 2017 if you want the details)
As to the level of instruction that we received, it was top notch since Greg has had an extensive and widely varied career. Greg is a military combat veteran and wounded warrior nominated for the Silver Star for Combat Valor, awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V and Purple Heart. A former USMC Grunt/Sniper and Scout Sniper Instructor Greg served in Panama, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. An experienced Law Enforcement Officer, Greg served as the Chief Firearms Instructor at the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy. Greg was also a founding member of Department of Homeland Security/Federal Air Marshal firearms program post 9/11. Greg has been a weapons instructor for over 20 years and from 2014 through 2018 was the Smith & Wesson Academy’s Chief Firearms Instructor. A highly experienced competitive shooter, firearms and tactics instructor, and lifelong student of the tactical/shooting arts, Greg really brought practical knowledge to the class. You can find out more details on their website (https://interactivegunfighting.com/) or their
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/InteractiveGunfighting/
One of the things that I liked the most about the class was Greg’s emphasis on splitting your shooting stance (i.e. your legs) and your posture (i.e. your upper torso). Since accuracy and repeatability is so dependent on your shooting body position, and your mechanics, Greg’s focus on this was great. The shooting drills that we ran through helped you understand how to get a good stance to “drive the gun” (much like a football linebacker’s stance is how I always think about it), when and how to change your posture or rotate your torso to engage targets from different directions, and when to move your feet or the angle of your knees to reorient your stance.
The ever increasing speed of the sustainment reload (rapidly "topping off" the shotgun's magazine tube when you have a break from shooting so that the magazine is full when you reengage the targets) and combat reload (reloading the shotgun by putting a single shell into the chamber as soon as the previous shell has been ejected - done in extreme situations where there is an immediate threat and no time to fully reload the shotgun's magazine tube; sometimes called a tactical reload) drill was also great since you really had think and to work to keep up.
We all had fun and learned a lot during the class. So if you are looking to really learn how to utilize your shotguns – check out what Greg and Interactive Gunfighting offer.
For interesting articles, and some humor and some inspiration, we like to check out Semi-Rad; especially since they often highlight exactly what we've thought when we were hiking on the trails.
It's a website created by Brendan Leonard who, in addition to running the Semi-Rad site, is a contributing editor at Adventure Journal and a columnist at Outside. He's also had stories in Backpacker, National Geographic Adventure, Outside, Men’s Journal, Sierra, Adventure Cyclist, and other publications.
One of the reasons that we like Leonard's musings is because he "created Semi-Rad.com to as a channel for those of us who aren’t elite climbers, skiers, ultrarunners, and alpinists - the folks who love to get out there, but maybe don’t take it too seriously." Like us, we love the outdoors, but can't live and breathe it every minute because we have other things going on in our lives.
Here’s a couple of hiking cartoons that we especially liked. You should really check out the Semi-Rad site!
“Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning"
Everybody thinks that they know what a drowning person looks like - since we've all seen in on TV and in the movies hundreds of times.
But they’re WRONG! You learn this during lifeguard training – unfortunately most people don't have this training.
To help you identify the differences between Hollywood fantasy and reality here's a great article by Mario Vittone (updated online on “Soundings” on 4 May 2018) that describes the "Instinctive Drowning Response" and what a real drowning person looks like in the water.
SPOILER ALERT: A drowning person does not flail their arms and scream “Help Me!” at the top of their lungs since they are too busy trying to breathe, avoiding getting water in their mouth and can’t really control their arm motions since they instinctively feel compelled to place them flat on the water to try to press themselves out of the water.
With Summer quickly approaching you might want to read Mario Vittone’s great article so that you're a little better prepared when you hit the water. Here’s the URL:
Steel Targets – Lots of Fun – if Safely Used
Since we try to focus on “tactical” shooting we try to spend a minimum amount of time standing behind a bench and shooting paper targets. Instead, we try to focus on moving and shooting activities that include reloading, malfunction clearing, switching between different firearms, using barricades and thinking - in addition to the actual shooting. One of the things that we do quite a bit of, to increase the tactical nature of our range time, is to shoot steel targets in addition to shooting paper targets.
Why? Well, in addition to the challenge and the fun of having more varied activities - there are lots of great reasons to shoot steel:
So why don’t more people shoot steel? Our experience is that paper targets rule over steel targets at most ranges because of four factors:
So what do you need to know about steel target setup and safety
Here are some great websites with even more information in case you are interested in learning more about shooting steel targets:
………and here’s a good 23 minute video from the Military Arms Channel:
You Really Must Visit the New American Heritage Museum – Especially if You Like Armor
Last week we went to the Grand Opening of the new American Heritage Museum (AHM) in Stow, Massachusetts. The latest addition to the Collings Foundation, the American Heritage Museum is housed in a brand new 70,000+ square foot facility that features an immersive WWI Trench Experience and some of the rarest historical military artifacts and vehicles in the world - from WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the Cold War and the Gulf War.
The artifacts on display include an American WWI tank, Kommandogera¨t 40 (WWII German rangefinder and mechanical analog computer for directing anti-aircraft guns) a Higgins Boat that survived D-day, an LVT-(A)4 that survived the Pacific battles, a Panther tank, a German Sd.Kfz.222 reconnaissance vehicle, an IS-2 tank, an Me 109 fighter, a Scud B missile and launcher, an original section of the Berlin wall and many other unique pieces. You can see the complete listing of all the artifacts here:
The museum is wonderful and the artifacts are stunning; even more so since most of them have been fully restored and are actually operational. So, if you are in the area, or looking to see some world class military vehicles and other artifacts, you should really make a trip to the American Heritage Museum. You can find more information about its location and hours here:
Here are some photos that we took the first day that the American Heritage Museum was open (click on any image to see it in full size):
Added Photos of Some of our Adventures in Egypt
Earlier this month we took an 11-day trip to Egypt - and I’ve finally had time to catch up, review, edit and post some of the 2,000+ photos that I took during the trip. It was a great trip that allowed us to see a lot of spectacular sights and hike all over Egypt – from the Lower Kingdom to the Upper Kingdom (both in the desert and in the urban areas). Here’s a short list of the places that we went and the sights we saw:
You can see all the photos of our Adventures on the Adventures/Middle East page.
Preparing for Hiking and Camping as Winter Ends
The last remnants of snow are finally melting here in our part of New England – so it’s time to get serious about preparing for our Spring, Summer and Fall Hiking and Camping adventures. Given that we did some casual Winter hiking, in both the snow (to see the beauty of Nature after the big snowfalls) and on days when the trails were mostly clear between snowfalls, we’re not totally out of shape – but we’re also probably not ready to hike the most challenging parts of Mount Washington. So what’s our plan?
Like most of you, we’re not professional hikers and consequently don’t have days of spare time each week to dedicate to training for our Hiking or Camping trips. So we try to train as efficiently as we can in the time that our schedules allow. And that training isn’t just for leg endurance – it also has to include strength and balance. So here’s what we do:
1) We start walking outside as soon as the snow melts and the local sidewalks and trails clear. It’s never too early to start Spring training – we just prefer to do it when there’s no snow on the ground since we find that it’s more efficient and we’re more motivated since we can watch Spring arrive as we walk. Try to take walks and short hikes at least three times a week.
2) Any walking is better than no walking. So we walk whenever we can – and we take the stairs where ever possible. After all, we’ve all seen those rocky uphill trails that look just like stairs – and leg-based cardio is a critical part of your training.
3) Since you’ll probably have a variety of different adventures during the upcoming months, it pays to give yourself up to a month to initially train. That way you can cover all your bases and be in reasonable shape (e.g. leg strength, arm strength, core strength, endurance, etc.,) before you hit the trails for the first time.
4) Since two of the most common hiking injuries are ankle sprains and rolling an ankle we try to make sure that we don’t just walk on flat terrain – especially since that’s not what you will find on your “real” hikes. We like to mix up our training terrain walks so that some of them are on flat ground, some hilly, some rocky, some uphill and some downhill. The better you can replicate the type of terrain that you will ultimately be hiking on during your training walks – the more prepared your body will be for what’s to come.
5) As with number #4, you need to walk in different weather conditions too – since that’s going to be the reality of your real adventures. Although this isn’t always the most exciting proposition, think of it as a great way to test out your gear. Are your boots waterproof enough? Does your jacket breathe when it gets wet? Do you need more or less layers of clothes? Do you need different socks for different weather conditions? Finding these things out on a short walk close to home is a lot better than dealing with them in the outback.
6) Wear the same boots that you plan on wearing on your Hiking adventures. This serves two purposes a) it makes sure that your boots are broken in and adapted to your feet, and b) it gets your legs used to the weight of the boots. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people complain on the trails that their boots feel so heavy only to find out that’s because they did all their training in lightweight running shoes.
7) In addition to walking you should probably plan on doing some crunches to build your core strength, some push-ups to build your upper body/arm strength, some step-ups to build up your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings, and any other exercises that you think are applicable to the type of adventures you are planning (i.e. training for rock climbing requires different exercises than kayaking).
8) And finally, you should train with your backpack. Yes this might look a little odd when you are walking around your neighborhood, but trust us – you need to do this since the last thing you want to do is put on a 40 pound backpack for the first time when you hit the trail for that 3-day camping trip. Hint: A fully loaded backpack should probably not weigh more than 20% of your body weight.
As always, there are lots of great articles out there on the internet that will give you all sorts of ideas about how to get ready for Hiking and Camping season. Here are six that we found interesting:
1) How to Get in Shape and Train for Hiking
2) Training for Hiking
3) Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking and Hiking
4) How to Train for Hiking
5) Ultimate Hiking Workout: 6 Best Training Exercises for Hiking
6) How to Prepare for Your Trekking Adventure: Our 10-Step Training Guide
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