Homer's Travels: December 2019

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2019

2019 was the year of my Appalation Trail (AT) adventure.  When I added the At to my plan I had a set of expectations based on my experiences on the Camino. The trail turned out to be more solitary and anti-social than I expected, at least near the end.  Some of this was the nature of the AT and some of it was me.  Looking back with 20-20 hindsight there were splashes of positivity all along the trail.  Sadly, in the end, the last half of the trail cast a shadow on my entire adventure on the Appalachian Trail leaving my expectations unfulfilled.

Let's look back at 2019, shall we:

  • January: We started the year overseas in Iceland watching the fireworks explode over Reykjavik. The trip, which was mostly in the last week of December, was documented in Homer's Travels in January when I got home.  My documenting was delayed as I was fighting a nasty bug.  Back home I visited snowmen and we announced our next overseas trip.
  • February: February was a mix of hiking and snowshoeing as Winter decided it was finally ready to snow for reals.  I went to my annual Oscar Shorts viewing.
  • March: I had my last snowshoe as the weather was warming up.  Good thing too since my boots breathed their last gasp on that snowshoe.  The Internet turned thirty years old which I discussed in length.
  • April: This was the month my great adventure started.  I didn't advertise it much since I was afraid to jinx myself.  I started my Appalachian Trail hike.  I had my tablet with me so I could post everytime I took a zero day (a day with zero hiking miles) in town.  In April I hiked from Springer Mountain, GA to Fontana Dam, GA.  Along the way I got my trail name, Little Hill.
  • May: This month I hiked from Fontana Dam, GA to Damascus, VA.  Along the way the Wife's niece got married.  I passed my first Camino distance in the same month I celebrated my Caminoversary.  I left Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina behind.
  • June: This month I hiked from Damascus, VA to Waynesboro, VA.  I passed multiple distance records, including my second Camino distance and longest day ever, making my AT hike my longest ever both time and distance wise.  I celebrated Hike Naked Day in a rundown hotel room in Buena Vista, VA.
  • July: This month I hiked from Waynesboro, VA to Port Clinton, PA.  I crossed the one thousand mile milestone.  The Wife met me in Harper's Ferry and approved of the beard.  I celebrated my fifty-sixth birthday alone in a hot room in Duncannon, PA.
  • August: This month I hiked from Port Clinton, PA to Bennington, VT.  I had my first major accident on the AT, tripping and cutting my forehead.  This is where my forward progress began to slow down.  The rocky trails in Rocksylvania was the beginning of the slowdown.
  • September: This month I hiked from Bennington, VT to Gorham, NH.  After a few long hiking days, I continued the slow down.  While the slow down started before Bennington, it accelerated from this point on.  The White Mountains, while being the most beautiful part of the AT that I saw, was the most difficult hike I have ever done.  At the end of the month I decided to end my AT hike due to my body, and mind, not recovering enough at the end of my hiking days.  My body and mind were just tired and so I came home.  The trail gave me the parting gift of a Moose and a thru-hiker friend I hadn't seen in a couple months.
  • October: This month was a time for recovery from the aches and pains of my adventure.
  • November: I was a bit quiet in November.  Still letting my AT experience soak in.  Near the end of the month things began to look clearer.
  • December: The anticipation for our Patagonia trip dominated this month.  The trip will start this year and end in the next.  I will post about that adventure next month.
  • Walking: When it comes to walking, I think you know what dominated this year.  I hiked 1,952.8 miles (3,142.7 km) on the AT.  This is more than the 1,893.7 miles (3047.6 km) that the AT Guide says but my number includes hiking off the AT to shelters and water sources.  The total millage for the year, which includes hikes before and after the AT is 2083.7 miles (3353.4 km).  This is the most I've ever done in a year.  I hiked one hundred and sixty times averaging 13.02 miles per hike.  This is a year of hiking that I will never, ever, be able to match again.  I will also never, ever, forget my experience on the AT.  As an aside, I also snowshoed this spring before I left.  I added 19.7 miles (31.8 km) over five snowshoe outings.
  • Biking: This year I didn't ride my bike at all.  This was mainly due to the fact that I was on the AT during the prime biking months.
  • Books: Since I was going to be away for six months in a situation where carrying a book or keeping a tablet charged for ebook reading was not convenient, I set a more modest goal of ten books to read this year.  I managed to meet my goal with six days to spare.  Here are my Goodreads stats for 2019.  I didn't read any real clunkers this year nor did I find a gem.  Most of my books were in the four star range with only a handful of three star 'MEH' reads.  We'll see if I can up the number in 2020.
  • Concerts & Shows:  Again, due to the my AT adventure, we went to very few shows in 2019.  The only one was the live Moth podcast event we attended before I left for the AT.
  • I posted 99 times this year - the lowest since I started Homer's Travels in 2006.  The AT, while giving me a lot to write about, limited how many posts I could write.  Having said this, I am surprised how much I actually posted along the trail.
2019 was quite an adventure.  I'm not sure what 2020 will bring.  Politics ... naturally ... but where will I go?  What will I see?  What will I do?  The AT was the last thing on the plan I made in 2012.  Now I move forward into the relative unknown and I think I may just have to sit down and make a new plan.

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.
May all your dreams come true in 2020.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Book: William Gibson's "Neuromancer"

My last read of the year was a new classic.  William Gibson's "Neuromancer" introduced the world to cyberspace back on 1986.  The book holds up surprisingly well thirty-three years later.

The book touches on artificial intelligence, body modification, uploading of the brain into the network, and many other things we take for granted in sci fi today.

I really enjoyed this book.  I was not expecting it to hold up so we'll and I am not a fan of stories that feel obsolete.  This is not an obsolete book.

I have this book four stars out of five on Goodreads because ... it's a good read.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book: Tim Maughan's "Infinite Detail"

I saw this book recommended on a top ten list somewhere so I asked my library to get it.  Tim Maughan's "Infinite Detail" is a dystopian vision that, of all things, lacks detail.

The book chapters alternate between before and after a catastrophic network virus attack that bricks every network attached device in the connected world.  Maughan's after is a world in turmoil and collapse of society.

My main problem is that I remember a time before the internet and connected systems and, guess what, everything worked and civilization flourished.  Would there be chaos after such a network disaster?  Yes.  Would it last long and result in social collapse? No.  I found this premise to not be realistic.

There also was very little conflict in the book.  It was just like a day in the life story and it was hard to get into the story without some conflict.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  It missed in a few ways for me.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Book: Lindsey Hilsum's "In Extremis: The Life And Death Of The War Correspondent Marie Colvin"

My latest read is a biography of war correspondent, Marie Colvin. The book, "In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin", was written my a fellow journalist, and friend, of Marie Colvin, Lindsey Hilsum.

Marie Colvin lived an interesting, but somewhat tragic life, before her untimely death in Syria.  She struggled with alcohol, bad relationships, and PTSD while reporting on the Middle East, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Serbia, and Chechnya.  She died doing what she liked best, telling the stories of the civilians caught in the crossfire of unending brutal war.

The story is basted on her diaries and the memories of all the people she touched throughout her life.  The result feels a bit superficial, more a recollection than a biography.  The writing feels very news article-y at times which makes sense since the author is a journalist.

I enjoyed reading about Marie Colvin's extraordinary life but I wish the story was written with the depth such a life deserves.  I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads because, despite the books technical flaws, the story it tried to tell came through and an interesting story it was.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Appalachian Trail: The Stories A Little Hiking Speed Chart Can Tell

I was thinking about how I was feeling while I was on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, most of my memories were positive before Harper's Ferry, WV.  I started wondering if I could link my feelings with how I felt physically.  I decided to look at a plot of my average speed figuring the better I felt physically, the faster I moved.  This, of course, is not perfect since terrain also affects hiking speed.  Below is a chart of my average speed on the AT.
The first twelve hundred miles of my hike my average remained fairly steady between 1.5 and 2.5 MPH (2.4 to 4.0 km/hr).  There is even a slight upward trend between the third week of June and the third week of July.  Then the bottom drops out.

The left blue line is when I arrive at Port Clinton, PA.  It's after port Clinton when the rocks really became bad and Rocksylvania earned it's name.  I expected this drop since the terrain really slowed me down but I never expected the drop to last.  I kept waiting for the terrain to get easier and my hiking speed to go back up.  This chart tells me it never did.

I think the left blue line is also when I started to lose my enthusiasm.  The difficulty of the terrain and the time I'd spent on the trail began wearing on me emotionally.  Several things happened in this section that hurt my morale.  I got separated from people I liked.  A reunion with someone I'd met in my first week fell through and never happened.  A reunion with a Camino friend never materialized. I began making bad decisions about where I should stop. This, combined with the damn rocks, slowed me down and made for some darker feelings.

The right blue line is when I reached Lincoln, NH.  The White Mountains caused my speed to drop once again.  This was mostly terrain but I was also feeling my body not recovering.  My legs often felt just as bad in the morning as they'd felt the night before.  I didn't expect the terrain to get better for at least one hundred and fifty miles into Maine and I doubt my speed would have ever recovered to what I was doing before Port Clinton.

So there you have it.  To the left of the left blue line I have happy memories.  To the right of the left blue line my memories grow darker and more dreary.  To the right of the right blue line my dreariness combined with a more physical breakdown.  Love what a good chart can do to explain things.

One last thing.  Below is a picture of my custom insoles.  The left is one I wore on the AT, the right one is a new one for comparison.  While the worn out insoles didn't cause me any problems, I think I should have gotten new insoles in Harper's Ferry.

AT insole on the left, new one on the right.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

A Holiday Season Two-Fer

It's the first of December and both of my Christmas Cactuses have a single opening bloom marking the official start to the Christmas season in our house.

The first bloom I noticed on our kitchen window sill.
We knew it was coming so, on Friday, I put up the Christmas tree and lights.  The Wife added ornaments today.  On Saturday, when the weather cooperated, I put up lights, wreaths, and laser lights outside.

The other bloom in my larger cactus.
I haven't decided about the big balls in the oak tree.  We will see when the wind we are having dies down.