Friday, February 29, 2008


My tick obsession has not faded, despite kind reassurances by experienced Challengers. I won’t be walking in my usual shorts at least until I cross the Corrieyairack.

I’m clearly not the only one concerned, since there is a thread on the subject on the TGOC Message Board. I’ve just posted there about what I’ve learned to help keep ticks away from my succulent flesh. I’m repeating that info here, with a couple of links:

“The US Department of Defense has done studies on the best ways to avoid tick problems (I bet the MoD has, too). Inspection and physical removal turned out to be the least effective approach to avoid problems. The most effective steps to take are these three:

“1. Treat clothes with permethrin. There are two approaches. The short-term one I’ll take involves spraying clothes — not while you’re wearing them :-) — with special attention to collar and cuffs, and hanging them out briefly to dry completely. This treatment is good for just about two weeks. Perfect.

“2. Treat exposed skin with DEET. (I’ll be using something called Ben’s 30, which has 30% DEET, the amount recommended by the Center for Disease Control as being best to repel ticks.)

“3. Wear long sleeves and trousers, tuck shirt(s) into trousers, tuck trousers into socks or gaiters.

“I know many people are wary of chemical insect repellants. Having seen the possible results of tick infection, I choose to use them for relatively infrequent periods of relatively short duration.”

Actually, the first recommendation is to avoid tick-infested areas, but that sounds like wishful thinking, for my route at least.

That’s it. Hope it helps.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hotel child

A few of the playlists on my iPod include numbers by a band called “Ingrid Lucia and the Flying Neutrinos”, which bills itself accurately as “a New Orleans style jazz and blues swing band.” The title of their 2000 album, above, has been popping into my mind over and over lately. Coming from the States for the Challenge, I’m having to consider a set of clothes to travel in, not to mention what I’ll wear to the soirĂ©es I expect to be attending along the way. My “Hotel Child” clothes. Working this out has actually made me change my mind about an important item of walking clothes.

Hotel child clothes have to be comfortable, clean, dry, and—perhaps most important—light as a feather and highly compressible. I’m bringing Crocs anyway, for wading and camp, and they’ll be fine for town as well; perfect, actually, in tasteful orange. I usually manage to keep a pair of sox clean and dry for evenings, too. I had been planning to walk in my usual RailRider Weatherpants when I needed long trousers, but they seem like perfect HC items, so I went looking for a walking replacement. What I came up with is a pair of Patagonia R1 Pants—heavyish tights, basically—which lend me a bit of the Alan Sloman look so many fashionable outdoors people are affecting these days. On top, I’ll wear a Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt, probably under my windshirt, since I don’t want to carry my dinner jacket (just think of the wrinkles).

This clothes horse stuff is right up my alley. One of Ingrid’s songs on the album is “Mr. Zoot Suit”:

He’s got great big feet, he’s jumping to the beat
he’s been dancing in the street
he’s dressed so fine, got lots of loot
we like to call him Mr. Zoot Suit

He drives a great big car, smokes a big cigar
looks like a king, and he acts like a star
when we see him drive by he goes “toot, toot”
we all shout, “Hey, Mr. Zoot Suit!”

In a later verse, she even mentions the spats. I didn’t know we’d ever met.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Map drops

I use a Mac, which is great in every way except the map way. I don’t typically use GPS, which is a good thing, since much mapping software runs on Windows only, and most GPS makers don’t show a lot of interest in OSX. As far as I can tell, this Mac aversion is shared by Anquet, Quo, et al. with regard to the Ordnance Survey maps I’ll be using in Scotland. So mapping my way electronically and printing off custom map segments seems not to be in the cards for me. I can live with that.

I like OS maps, and really like the National Grid Reference system, which we don’t have over here. My route will require five or six OS Landranger maps: 33, 34, 35, 43, 44, and maybe 45 (though, as a son of Rogers and Clark, I naturally have both the superb backcountry skills and the raw courage to force a route mapless through the savage waste between Edzell and St. Cyrus). I’m planning to strip the covers, but to bring the maps entire, on the grounds that I’ll inevitably get off-route—possibly even on purpose. I’ll have parts of two days in Glasgow before hopping the train to Mallaig, and to keep bulk and weight down, I think I’ll mail maps ahead to the Kingussie campground and the Braemar YHA, and send used ones home.

I think I’ll mail some food ahead, too, though my route will allow me to buy as I go, and I’ll be doing a lot of that. Many, if not most, American long-walkers rely on Lipton Sides, now Knorr-Lipton Sides, but in the next few weeks I’ll be testing some of the less chemical, more interesting, much-praised dehydrated meals from Enertia Trail Foods. A report will be the topic of a future post or two.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow day for boot testing

Out this morning with temps in the low 20s F (around –6°C), which has been pretty normal for a while. But there was 2-3 inches of snow already on the ground, which we hadn’t expected quite so early in the day. Paul and I took our walk as usual, but it was quieter (few cars—school was canceled—and the general dampening effect of a layer of white) and more beautiful than most mornings. A gorgeous day, really. We did Loops today rather than River, and this took us through the cemetery.

A few weeks ago, I decided I might not enjoy having wet feet all the way from Inverie to St. Cyrus, and decided to try a pair of lightish Montrail GTX boots that are supposed to use a different manufacturing process to let the GTX breath better. I’ve heard this is a true improvement, but the jury is still out on this footwear. I have high arches and a high volume foot, and these boots didn’t seem to agree with that profile. But I trashed the original laces, got a pair of six-footers, and have been fiddling with different lacing schemes that would give me foot room without ankle flop (now there’s an advertising slogan for you) and the inevitable rubbing. They’ve been feeling pretty good. This morning, in the invisible ruts under the snow, they felt stable and secure. Fingers crossed (or toes), but I can always fall back on my comfy Hardrocks, and live with the damp tootsies.

I look out my office window now, nine hours later, and it’s still snowing. The governor has sent all state workers home. The police are on the radio urging people to stay in, or to drive very carefully if they have to be out. The ambulance has been by three times, the police twice and a fire truck once. We’ve canceled dinner with friends this evening. It’s nothing close to a blizzard. It’s not too cold, not windy at all, and we’ll probably only get six to eight inches of snow. Snowstorms like this are only a big deal because so many of us have to travel so far in our cars to work, and because so many of us no longer know how to drive on snowy roads—once a New England specialty. (People my age can all hear their fathers saying, at various volumes and intensities, “Keep your foot off the brake! Pump it! Pump it!” and “Steer into the skid!”)

We’re both working at home today, tucked in warmly, drinking tea, and having seen Paul off home this morning so he could enjoy his oatmeal,

we’re expecting him back later for the pickup meal that will replace our snowed-out dinner. I’m off to make my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls for dessert.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Walking poles

The Black Diamond Flicklock hanging on my office wall met its end coming off the Col du Bonhomme on the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2006. I seldom use walking poles. I’m a devotee of wristloops, lengths of webbing that I’ve tied through rings near the tops of my pack’s shoulder straps. I don’t actually put my wrists through them, which would be stupendously dangerous in even a minor fall, but holding onto them is comfortable, and they help me avoid the dreaded sausage fingers.

I have used poles occasionally to ease my old knees down difficult descents, but my experience has been mixed. Sometimes I think, “Wow, good thing I had those along.” More often I think, “Boy, are these ever more trouble than they’re worth.” Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled with them on the Bonhomme, where I wound up on my back, head downhill at the edge of a small drop, wriggling like a flipped turtle until H helped roll me over. And I never use them in my home mountains, which are routinely very steep.

On the other hand, there is my injury-induced fearful hesitation, mentioned a couple of posts ago, when I need to hop from stone to stone now and then.

So I’m debating the utility (for me—I know many more swear by them than at them) of walking sticks for the Challenge in May. I’d leave them home for sure except for the knowledge that I’m going to have to ford the Kingie at Kinbreak (and while we’re at it, can someone tell me the correct spelling of Kinbreak? I’ve seen that, and Kinbreack, and even Kinbrake, which I’m sure must be wrong). But is it worth the weight and fuss for a 20-foot wade and the occasional rock hop? I’m leaning against, but this is another choice I’ll agonize over, then probably make on the spur of the moment just before I leave.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can’t account for it

I just discovered that my profile over there to the right has been listing my “Industry” as “Accounting.” Oh, the horselaughs if my friends ever saw this! In all the list, there isn’t another possibility that would be as far from an accurate representation of my inclinations and whatever skills I may have. “Investment Banker” would be less absurd. “Fashion” would be dead-on by comparison. I do dress myself, after all.

I changed the box to “Consulting,” which some people I know think sounds grand, but which, like “freelance writer” more often than not means “unemployed.” “Communications or Media” is as opaque as Consulting, and I suppose is just as flabbily accurate, but it sounds so grubbily Fleet Street (that’s actually the accurate part). “Publishing” inevitably makes me think of losing money...and we’re all the way back around to Accounting.

Consulting works best, especially on the understanding that for purposes of this Challenge blog it reflects being the consult-er rather than the consult-ant.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I wrote in a very early post that I couldn’t make up my mind between Paramo-style raingear for the Challenge and the stuff I’ve got. I’ve decided: The stuff I’ve got. A Scot helped me make the decision.

H. did a term at the University of Edinburgh in 2001 (most of which I think she actually spent in the mountains), and we visited for Thanksgiving. At some point, I went off to Tiso’s looking for a pair of boots. After the usual sorting, fitting, wandering, and pondering, I narrowed it down to two possibilities, and the salesman had a preference. He set one pair aside and presented me with the other. “These,” he said, clearly bestowing what he thought was very high praise indeed, “are adequate.” I bought them, and they were ... adequate.

I’ve decided that my Marmot Precip jacket and Red Ledge Thunderlight full-zips are adequate, too. They are reasonably light, reasonably ventable, and reasonably breathable under the right conditions. And I own them, along with reasonable things to wear under them. Getting outfitted Paramo-style would cost almost as much as my flight, and though I’m persuaded that for Scottish conditions the gear would be superior to what I’ll be wearing, the fact is I don’t walk all that often in Scottish conditions. My summers are warmer, my autumns are drier, and my winters are colder. (I don’t talk much about spring: mud and black flies—a good time to repair what’s broken.)

So adequate it is, and onto The List they go.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stones and sticks

This half-attractive photo is of our daughter and me on Pillar a few years ago. When Bob Cartwright saw this picture, he gently suggested that technical shirts had come a long way and I might want to take a look at one. Sartorial lapses aside, we had a great week walking from a farm in Wasdale, while H’s mom and an old friend toured the fleshpots of the Lake District. This Mosedale Horseshoe was probably our best day. A little earlier, we’d passed the very nice chap who took this photo, lounging about on a flat boulder near the Shamrock Traverse, wearing a tweed jacket and reading a small volume of something that was probably terrifyingly erudite. Insouciant Oxbridgian elegance personified. I’m sure he was impressed by me, too.

The day after this picture was taken, I had the worst fall I’ve ever taken in the mountains. It happened not much more than a stone’s throw from the pub, was a drop of less than a foot—pure stupidity its only cause—and it resulted in a pathetically inglorious and ridiculous-looking dislocated thumb, breathtakingly painful bruised ribs (“No — Gasp — Wait, wait — Gasp — Just let me get up — Gasp — by myself!”), various minor abrasions, and, the piece de resistance, a dislocated shoulder that popped out and back in again so quickly that I didn't know it had happened until months later when odd arm pain sent me to the doctor. (“No, Doc, I've never dislocated that shoulder.” “Oh, yes you have.”) Back home, this eventually required arthroscopic surgery and—always my favorite—physical therapy.

Emergency treatment was at the hospital in Whitehaven, where my wayward thumb and other complaints were treated with astonishing promptness and I was looked at as if I were crazy for wandering around afterward looking for someone to pay. Say what you want about the NHS. Then come over here and try us out. Bring, say, Moby-Dick or Ulysses to read—something thick and slow-going—and a valid credit card with a high limit.

Because this was essentially a slip off a wet stone, its effect has been to make me timid hopping from rock to rock while crossing streams. I’m getting better (lots of teeth gritting and self-admonishment), but I still can’t reliably muster that necessary commitment to ongoing motion that true safety and success in that situation require. This is the reason I’m thinking of bringing walking sticks to Scotland. More on that topic soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I can’t, of course, begin to pronounce most of the mountains I’ll be walking over, around, or under in May. I’m hoping to learn them as I pass by. But there are two words I’d like to get straight now. I’m told “Kingussie” is pronounced “Kinoosie.” Is this true? And how to I properly express “Ruigh aiteachain”? Thank goodness for Jock’s Road.

Of course, there are also plenty of White Mountain features that create confusion when people speak them. (You’re all coming to walk in New England soon, aren’t you?) The two I think of right off the bat are Mt. Mooselauke, the first big 4,000-footer northbound AT walkers encounter, and the scenic Kancamagus Highway, which cuts through the mountains from Lincoln to Conway.

Much of Mooselauke belongs to Dartmouth College in Hanover, whose outing club (the DOC) is responsible for trail-maintenance on the AT, and a number of side trails, for about 75 miles from mid-Vermont to Kinsman Notch in New Hampshire. Most Dartmouth types, and most others, too, pronounce it “Moos'-a-lock.”A minority goes for “Moos-a-lock'-ee.” Either is okay. Under either name, it’s a big, wonderful mountain with a large trail system. You will be told a story that the name derives from the words “Moose Hillock.” Smile politely, nod, and pass it on with a wink.

More often than not, the highway is just called “the Kanc,” but most of those saying its name fully mispronounce it as “Kang-ga-mang'-gus.” The correct sound is something like “Kank-a-mah'-gus” or “Kank-a-maw'-gus.” The name, like so many in New England, is said to come from “an Indian chief.” Some of them probably do.

“Jox Rode,” right?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pitchers and catchers

At about this time every year I begin to run into people at the post office or grocery store who say hello, and then blurt out, “Pitchers and catchers,” a phrase guaranteed to produce grins from both of us.

Baseball season per se doesn’t begin until April, but the teams all “go south” to Florida or Arizona for the ritual of Spring Training in March. And before the entire teams gather, they send their pitchers down to get their arms loose and ready. They need to throw to someone, so the catchers go, too. “Pitchers and catchers” means spring, green grass, and shirt-sleeve weather are all at least out there on the horizon. Not to mention the joy of rookie phenoms, the daily drama of building pennant races, and, best of all, the patterned elegance and beauty of the game itself, which Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon in the movie Bull Durham called a “religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time.” Annie is nuts, but we know what she means.

To New Englanders my age, “Pitchers and catchers” is a balmy zephyr bearing a memory of childhood, a whiff of neatsfoot oil and glove leather, and a promise that we will eventually be warm again and rooting for the Red Sox. Even now, no longer innocents about the professional game and its often seedy denizens, “Pitchers and catchers” always makes us grin.


I can’t help it. More Annie Savoy, with notes: “I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring... which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250... not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ’Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ’Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball—now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

  • Women who, uh, hang around with ballplayers have been called “Baseball Annies” for well over a hundred years.
  • Baseballs do have 108 double stitches (sometimes counted as 216 stitches).
  • .250 is a pretty weak batting average, which is simply the percentage arrived at by dividing the number of base hits by the number of official at-bats. .300 has long been the standard of excellence.
  • An RBI is a Run Batted In, a run directly attributable to the action of a batter. 100 over the course of a season has long been the standard of excellence.
  • “A great glove man up the middle” would mean a shortstop, a second baseman, or a center fielder. The old, largely true, rule of thumb is that a good team needs, defensively, “to be strong up the middle,” so a player there producing runs and playing great defense would be valuable regardless of batting average. (Actually, a player at any position who produced runs and played great defense would be valuable, regardless of BA, which isn’t really that important.)
  • Walt Whitman actually watched and wrote about baseball. He probably played it a little, too. Emily Dickenson probably didn’t do any of those things, although I find the idea wonderful to contemplate.
  • 142 games is a minor league schedule. The major league schedule was 154 games for much of the 20th century, but has been 162 games since the early 1960s.
  • Frank Robinson was an long-time, all-time great right fielder, primarily for the Cincinnati Reds and (after being traded for Milt) the Baltimore Orioles. Pappas was a good pitcher for a few years. A famous steal for the O’s.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Yes We Can

This is a homemade pin I made the other day. I've been wearing it around town. Some people know it’s for Barack Obama. They grin and give me the thumbs-up. Most people have no idea (they will soon—it’s becoming the de facto slogan of the campaign), and a lot of them ask me about it. What follows is usually either interested curiosity (even in this very Republican town) or an anguished commentary about how hard it is to choose between Obama and Clinton. It gives me a chance to make Barack’s case.

Two Obama-related videos have gone around the world a few million times already, but I think even if you’ve seen them they’re worth another watch. The first is Obama’s speech in New Hampsire after he lost the primary there. (Those with long memories will remember that Gene McCarthy lost in New Hampshire in ’68, but his strength knocked the winner, incumbent Lyndon Johnson, out of the race). This speech is the kind of inspiring rhetoric that we’ve all learned to be skeptical of. But see if it doesn’t win you over, or at least get you a little excited, despite yourself. I have friends it brought to tears.

The second, a mix based on that speech, was apparently made without involvement from the campaign. Pretty cool. And it conveys what somebody talking to me yesterday called “the yearn,” a usage I think I’ll hang onto.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Scouting days

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was a Boy Scout once upon a time. I got most of my early exposure to the outdoors with Woodbury’s Troop 54. Now, a previously unpublished photograph has been made available to your reporter, showing him sterilizing the troop’s cookware at a camp in April of 1962. I’m the skinny blond fellow second from the left, doing something energetic with a garbage can. (The suave scout second from the right, stylishly displaying the garbage pail cover, is in my house as I write this, repairing a water-damaged plaster ceiling.)

I remember this event very well. It was held during the Spring school holiday, it was terrifically hot for April in New the Fahrenheit 90s (above 32°C)...and it was a great week in every way. We hiked a few miles in, camped along the Pootatuck River, fished, lashed felled saplings together to raise a tower, had all manner of other scoutly adventures and, to top it all off, built a “monkey bridge” across the srteam. This is a classic BSA project, involving piers of crossed logs secured and anchored at each end, with ropes making up handlines and footline between them, allowing you to scramble across water or chasm. Do monkeys do this?

One evening, probably our last, the plan called for a big campfire, with singing, story telling, and Serious Ceremonies. Members of the adult troop leadership who couldn’t make the whole week began to arrive. One, well fed and resplendent in full regalia, somehow showed up on the wrong side of the river. Boy, lucky thing we built that bridge. Much bantering and jollity as he climbed the step or two up and smilingly began to make his way across the ropes. All of us realized at once that the theoretically firmly planted stakes holding the ropes securing the piers on his side of the bridge weren’t holding. We watched in open-mouthed silence as Mr. Mansfield, a good 50 pounds heavier than the huskiest boy who had scrambled across this web-like construction, gracefully descended, without letting go of our handiwork, into the sternum-deep Pootatuck. His gentle landing burst our bubble of horrified astonishment, and the whole troop, including the adults, were convulsed with laughter. We couldn’t stop, we couldn’t talk, we couldn’t even stand up. “Falling about” describes it perfectly. Hilarity reigned. It remains one of my greatest memories of scouting.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Shuffling along

I had my first decent run this morning since I got back to it last week. It was one of those days when I really, really, really didn’t feel like doing it at all, but the body parts worked together smoothly enough to make it, if not delightful, at least encouraging. This going well when you feel like not going at all happens so often, to me and to others, that there must be something physiological to it.

My base-line run for years was 4 miles. Anything less didn’t count. When I came back from injuries or simple layoffs, I’d get back to 4 miles as quickly as possible, usually immediately, then work toward 6, which I long considered the shortest run that did me any real good. Once I got there, I’d begin a standard runner’s program, building base mileage up, with hills (runners’ Miracle-Gro), long days, quick days, and easy days mixed in.

This is NOT what I’m doing to get ready for the TGO Challenge. Instead, I’m walking every morning, running afterward three days a week, now at about 3 miles, looking forward to no more than 4. And these “runs” are, in fact, the slo-mo shuffles I’ve described before—nowhere near Arthur Lydiard’s “steady state,” the aerobic-anaerobic threshold where I used to try to live. I’m also doing simple strength and flexibility exercises three days a week, primarily to make sure my back and other creaky parts don’t betray me inconveniently. In April, I’ll start wearing my pack on our morning walks, and will probably extend some of those strolls to 6-8 miles.

I have some real concerns about the Challenge, primarily navigating over open terrain in bad weather, something I’ve seldom had to do. I want to remove fitness from my worries and make sure that if I do manage to point my body in the right direction, it can get me to the next waymark.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Today is so-called Super Tuesday, when a lot of states over here hold their Presidential primaries or caucuses. I voted late this morning in Connecticut’s Democratic Primary. I was a John Edwards man, because he was the clearest, most detailed, and, I think, most courageous of the candidates. Democrats have been so browbeaten over the last generation or so that it’s actually shocking to hear one talk the way Democrats habitually talked when I was a young man. Edwards did. Neither Clinton nor Obama was willing to engage certain issues until he pushed them into it. Now Edwards is out, though, I’m going with Barack.

I like Hillary. We’re the same age, members of the same graduating class from similar Northeastern colleges (mine was for men, hers was for women), and she is the kind of get-out-of-my-way feminist I certainly hope I would be if I were a woman. I feel as if I know her pretty well, and I admire her. She would probably be a good president. But she is surrounded by advisors I detest, epitomized by her pollster and chief strategist, the repellant Mark Penn (who will be remembered by Brits as a one-time Blair advisor). Penn and the rest of this crew epitomize big-money business as usual, and the kind of politics that has pushed this country into a kind of glazed, cynical despair.

I have much less fellow-feeling for Barack. But he’s got something going that I’ve decided to pin my hopes, my political contributions, my campaign efforts, and my vote on. Hope, eloquence, and excitement aren’t enough. Not even close. But what I do know about him indicates that there is a fine mind there, strong beliefs, and solid political skills.

Of course, I’ll vote for any Democrat in November (we had a pretty good field, actually). This corrupt, criminal Republican administration has done possibly fatal damage to the US. But I want someone in office who will give our necessary regeneration a real shot, and who is most likely to give the rest of us good reasons to help. I think Obama’s the one.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


As both my avid readers know, I do most of my walking in northern New England, primarily in New Hampshire. As Robert Frost said in the poem he named after the place:

She’s one of the two best states in the Union.
Vermont's the other. And the two have been
Yokefellows in the sap yoke from of old
In many Marches. And they lie like wedges,
Thick end to thin end and thin end to thick end,
And are a figure of the way the strong
Of mind and strong of arm should fit together,
One thick where one is thin and vice versa.

“Yokefellows in the sap yoke,” refers to collecting sap for maple syrup—a very tough job. (Buy the cheaper, tastier Grade B if you have a choice, rather than the lighter, “fancier” Grade A. And if ever you take advantage of the sagging dollar and head transatlantic for some great New England walking, do not fail to have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor, in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, near Franconia, where Frost once had a farm. You don’t just get the world’s best pancakes, with Polly’s own excellent maple syrup, but you get the single most spectacular mountain view in the East—the Whites from Adams to the Kinsmans, all laid out before you. Just don’t try to get in on a weekend morning.)

Both of the yokefellows host parts of the Appalachian Trail, though New Hampshire’s section is much more spectacular. Vermont’s own Long Trail shares a treadway with the AT from the Massachusetts line to about a third of the way up the length of the state. Just north of Killington and Route 4, the AT turns east for Hanover and the White Mountains, while the LT continues north to Canada, through the Green Mountains, and directly over the summits of all the state’s highest peaks.

Frost again:

Anything I can say about New Hampshire
Will serve almost as well about Vermont,
Excepting that they differ in their mountains.
The Vermont mountains stretch extended straight;
New Hampshire mountains Curl up in a coil.

The Long Trail at 270 miles is the oldest long distance trail in the US, and although it’s the shortest, the consensus is that—mile for mile—it’s the toughest. I’ve always wanted to start at the Canadian border at the end of September and follow the color south as New England’s leaves turn. With good weather, a little luck, and a congenial partner, it will be a gorgeous walk.

Frost was a great ironist. New Hampshire is a long and dryly witty poem (also, in my inexpert opinion, oddly self-indulgent and slightly goofy). Here’s how it ends:

Well, if I have to choose one or the other,
I choose to be a plain New Hampshire farmer
With an income in cash of, say, a thousand
(From, say, a publisher in New York City).
It’s restful to arrive at a decision,
And restful just to think about New Hampshire.
At present I am living in Vermont.

I aspire to echo that last line. Though New Hampshire would be okay, too.

[If you’re interested in Frost’s poetry or the man himself, Jay Parini’s superb biography is the place to start. Great on the man, terrific on his work. Scrumptious. My personal book of the year in, I think, 1999. Parini, of course, lives in Vermont.]