I am lying in our tent. It is, by my best guess, close to 8:45pm and nearing the only true moments of darkness we have on this trip. The sun has finally set and the moon is about to rise: waxing full and ripe, far brighter than I have ever seen it in cities or towns. When it rises it will give light to our little sandbar.
We made an impromptu camp this evening, on the east side of the river to catch as much of the waning sunlight as possible. We needed to dry our things. Rachel and I tipped our canoe this afternoon.
The moon rises and casts its light on the various articles hanging from branches and vines: shirts, underwear, hats, our rain fly, Kim’s sleeping bag, trash, our food bag, and eleven pages from my Midsummer Night’s Dream script all on the same branch, pale in the light, like a congregation of ghosts.
The river had flooded the week before we came, rising as high as 18 feet above its normal level. The trees along the bank are full of branches, leaves, trash, and other debris. Many were knocked down, dragged along, and left in the river.
Memory has funny tricks it plays. I am sure the actual tipping our canoe took no more than five seconds, but the memory of it is slow and segmented.
Rachel and I had come around the bend and seen the tree, but the current was too strong, we too inexperienced. Remembering it I feel we had days to turn, but didn’t, our canoe slowly drifting sideways into the uprooted oak, the water pouring into the bottom of our canoe like batter into a pan. It all seemed so slow in retrospect? How could we have lost control?
We managed to get the canoe out and the only thing lost was our bailer (the top half of a plastic jug). Much was dampened, including my and Rachel’s spirits and we moved a little slower the rest of the day.
It is at first glance a learning experience, but here under the moonlight, spent and exhausted and content, I draw no lines between learning and not. Everything thus far has simply been to experience, learning and growth and the need to categorize and contextualize fade away under the moonlight and I simply lay back, close my eyes, and feel the river sway me softly to sleep.
Day 2 on the Buffalo River
The green canoe that once contained Darrell and Kim is wrapped around a rock in the middle of the river. It has sunk about a foot and a half underwater. It is sideways. It’s bow and stern have filled with water and the continuous pressure of the flowing river has bent it in half around the rock.
I am waist deep next to the canoe as the water flows around me. Mike Mills is next to me. We are trying to lift the canoe.
Mike has said that the river at Ponca was flowing at 400 cf/s. I have no idea what kind of pressure this amounts to, all I know is it’s enough to bend a canoe in half. The canoe is plastic, yes, but it was a sheet of high density polyethylene. It now looks like a rag.
“You don’t pull the canoe towards you,” Mike says in a voice loud enough to carry above the rushing water. “The current’s too strong. You want to lift up.” And so we try.
And we fail. However much water the canoe is holding, plus the pressure of the river, is too much for us. Darrell, who lost a shoe in the spill, steps out to help, as does another canoer who’d been floating by and stopped to check up on us.
The Buffalo River is a friendly place. Most of the people there live within a 500 mile radius, and most are willing to stop and chat. The beginning is far more populated than the end. As Mike has said, the beginning is the most beautiful part and people flock to it. We’re lucky they do.
Mike, Darrell, the helpful stranger, and I manage to lift the sideways canoe above the water level, unpinning it from the rock. It drags us a few feet downriver before skidding to a stop in a shallower area.
The stranger wades back to his own canoe and Darrell and I wearily shout a thank you. He waves and sets off.
The canoe, it seems to us, is irreparable. I help Mike dump the water while Darrell tells Mike we’ll pay for the canoe. I can hear the disappointment in his voice. Canoes like these run anywhere from $700 - $1000 or more.
Without saying a word, Mike climbs into the bent canoe and gives it two quick stomps. Like magic the canoe pops back into place. But is it river worthy? “Give it a try,” Mike says. Though he must be tired from the effort, there’s a hint of a mischievous smile on his face.
The canoe floats. Darrell and Kim climb in and Rachel and I wade back to our canoe. “I don’t know a canoe of ours that’s been on this river that hasn’t hit a rock or been bent or filled with water,” Mike says nonchalantly. Rachel and I suspiciously eye the creases in the side of our canoe before climbing in. The river seems a little more dangerous than before.
“Well now you know and you can learn from it,” Mike says and he starts to go over what went wrong. Mike has a way of turning mistakes into lessons and lessons into successes. His is a quality of a true teacher.
Fortunately the canoe had been empty. Mike had us do this leg of the trip with no gear. “You can load up where I get picked up. It’s better that way.” The only thing lost was a sandal of Darrell’s and a camera got wet. We’ll toss the camera in some rice and hope for the best.
The next few rapids go by slowly, with lots of planning and nerves. We are all a little timid.
Soon we reach Kyle’s Landing. This is where Mike will be picked up and before he goes he offers some advice: “Remember, pick a line a stick with it. Don’t second guess yourself.”
Mike gifts Darrell a pair of his old river shoes so Darrell will have something dry to change into when we stop for the night. Never have a pair of raggedy old shoes meant so much.
We load the canoes up with food and cameras, tents and sleeping bags. Tipping now would far more disastrous than before. Mike bids us farewell. “Trust your instincts,” he says by way of parting advice and we laugh nervously.
Once on the river, we put in a few more miles. We go through our first few rapids on our own. The river without Mike is wide and full of possibilities both great and daunting. We look for a place to camp.
Day 1 on the Buffalo River
Mike Mills sits in a canoe like a king in a throne, upright and at ease. Thick arms skim the craft over the river. Oftentimes his paddle stays out of the water for long stretches, needing only one deep stroke to navigate a rapid, letting the current - and years of experience reading it - do the rest. And yet one stroke of his takes him as far as three of our hurried stabs at the water. He is a man in his element.
We are nervous, Darrell, Kim, Rachel, and I, on our first day on the river. Mike is taking us from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing, ten miles or so, to train us for the rest of the trip. We will take out at Kyle’s and return to the beginning the next morning and start the trip anew. “The first 10 miles is the most beautiful part anyhow,” Mike says. He speaks with certainty, a man used to making split second decisions and making the right ones.
Mike begins by teaching us the draw stroke, the most important lesson, he says. A draw stroke is a stroke where the paddle is parallel to the canoe and you pull in toward the canoe. It is the primary tool of the person in the bow (or front) of the canoe. It moves the tip of the canoe in the direction of the paddle - and can be the difference between hitting a rock and gliding past.
“My job is not to judge, “ Mike says in his easy Arkansas lilt, “It’s to assess. Then I know what I have to teach you.”
None of us knew the draw stroke prior to this little lesson. All of us had canoed on lakes before, but lakes usually don’t have water pushing you toward rocks and debris - of which there is plenty. The river finished flooding no more than a week ago and downed trees are around every bend.
After learning the stroke, Mike takes us down the first rapid. “Most rapids on the Buffalo River are 1s and 2s,” he says, speaking of the classification of rapids which range from 1 (easy) to 6 (impossible). “The classifications basically relate to the likelihood of you being seriously injured or killed if you fall out in a rapid. 1s you might get a bruise, 2s it’s possible to break a bone. 3s and 4s and 5s you could be severely injured or worse.”
We all make it through the first rapid just fine and the second as well. On the third, Rachel and I get hung up sideways on a rock. Mike paddles next to us, yelling at us to power stroke (a long deep stroke meant to propel you forward). We do. We make it off the rock without tipping. Though we feel a little bad, Mike congratulates us.
“Two more seconds and you would’ve started filling up with water. It’s much better to hit the rapids head on. But you did alright.”
On the next rapid, we hit an eddy, spinning ourselves around and head backward through the branches of an uprooted tree. Rachel folds forward in the canoe and the branches fly over her head. Again Mike congratulates us. “It’s good to know what to do when things aren’t going right.”
True, but we’d prefer to be doing things right. Darrell and Kim seem to be getting along better. All of us want to impress Mike. He’s the kind of man whose respect you want to earn.
In the calm stretches between rapids he grabs onto our canoes and dispenses his advice. All four of us nervously glance ahead to the rapid just ahead, but Mike barely takes his eyes off us as he talks, paying no mind to the upcoming rocks and trees and rushing water.
"It’s better to pick a line and stick with it. Decisiveness. When you start second guessing your decisions is when you get into trouble."
When we make it to Kyle’s Landing, a few hours after we put in, about 5 o’clock or so, we’re tired and giddy. Mike invites to his house to talk, go over maps, and have a drink (no food - he doesn’t eat dinner: “Just a glass of red wine, and a handful of nuts.”).
When he asks if we’d like to go home first and "freshen up" or come straight up with him, we dither. He barks, “there’s a rock coming up in the river, make a decision.” We decide to freshen up.
His house sits on top of a large mountain overlooking the river valley. A window covers the whole east facing wall. It makes for a gorgeous sunrise, he tells us and encourages us to arrive at 6am tomorrow and watch.
We all pour over the maps with Mike and he labels rapids, potential camp sites, things to watch out for, and spots too beautiful to miss. He writes in a red permanent marker and the maps (with good reason) are waterproof. Finally, empty of stomach and full of information, we leave for our cabin to eat and sleep and rise with the sun for the true start of our trip down the Buffalo.
Earth Day was first started in 1970. The legislation was pushed through by a Wisconsin Senator named Gaylord Nelson. The idea came to him after an oil spill in Santa Barbra, California.
"We're going to have to do a whole lot more, and give nature at least a chance to repair some of the damage we've done." - Gaylord Nelson
John Muir was a precursor to Gaylord Nelson's Earth Day. Muir, born in 1838, was a novelist, poet, geologist, environmentalist, and renown climber. He is also the founder of the Sierra Club. Conservationists like Theadore Roosevelt camped and learned from John Muir about the importance of protecting the most precious lands in the United States.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir
Here are just two of the many early influential individuals that knew the importance of protecting our lands and resources. Make every day Earth Day!
Through the bare trees I could see down the eastern and western slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wind climbing the gap came in breaths, and the sunset cast the building clouds in a dazzling gold.
If you’ve been in the wilderness at night, you know it can get dark. It strikes me how rarely I’m in a place with absolutely no artificial light—no streetlights yellowing my bedroom blinds, no microwave clock bathing my kitchen in a green glow. In the woods on a moonless night, you can maybe catch the arc of your tent, or the tree branches directly above against a backdrop of stars, but you’re in the thick of it. It can make one feel vulnerable and alone.
"no streetlights yellowing my bedroom blinds, no microwave clock bathing my kitchen in a green glow."
That night near Rabun Bald, I woke in the very early morning to absolute black, the kind of dark I’d last experienced in Mammoth Cave when the tour guide cut the lights. Confused and a little afraid, I switched on my headlamp and opened my tent, and a plume of fog billowed inside.
I’d camped at about 4,000 feet, and in the night north Georgia’s ceiling had descended. I was in a cloud. With my headlamp shining its brightest, I only had 15 feet of visibility. Switched off, there was nothing. No ground, no sky. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
I decided to get an early start back on the trail. Night hiking wasn’t my plan, and neither was the fog, but there was a full day’s trek to my car and rain was coming. I started packing up inside my tent, and it’s important to note here how quiet it was. The fog muffled whatever breeze came through. The only sound was condensation dripping off the trees. There’s just no substitute for this kind of silence. Early morning on that mountain there was so little to sense, and that really makes you feel like you’re the only thing on earth.
But I wasn’t alone. You never are in the wilderness.
All of the sudden there was this flutter, this desperate flapping against my tent. At first I thought bear. When I’m startled in the woods my mind shoots to the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely given the season or the lack of grunts, footsteps, or other bear noises. Then I thought person—someone tapping frantically on my tent to get my attention or to screw with me or to warn me of something. But it became clear the source of the disturbance was small. It could fly. And it was stuck between my tent’s outer shell and its inner webbing. My heart was thumping, but the picture grew clearer. Four in the morning, zero visibility, my headlamp on as I packed my things. I’d trapped a bat.
Now, I’m pretty cool with bats. I live in South Carolina, and when I see them swooping overhead at dusk, I cheer them on. Eat as many mosquitoes as possible, please. Bring your kids. Bring your friends. Keep on feasting. Of course, the vast majority of my experience with bats, and with any animal for that matter, is on their turf. If I’m walking to my car outside my apartment, and there’s a squirrel next to my tire chowing down on an acorn, I’d reach down and give the thing a tiny fist bump if it would let me. But, you take that same cute squirrel and put it in my kitchen, in my space, and I’m going to freak out. That squirrel might as well be a lion, or a ghost, or the ghost of a lion.
Maybe when I’m hiking I like the feeling of missing the stuff I take for granted.
So I smack my tent where I see it fluttering, and it flaps over to the opposite side and back again. I realize my tent is the perfect bat trap. There’s only an inch of open space between the shell and the ground where this invader could crawl out, and I’ve scared it so bad there’s no way it’s going to be calm enough to solve that puzzle. I realize I’m going to have to open the inner net, stick an arm out, and open the shell so it can fly away.
I bite my lip, put on my headlamp, unzip the netting, and yeah, I have to get a look at the thing before I let it go. I open just enough to stick my head through, and then I see it. It’s not a bat. It’s a sparrow. The same brown and tan type of sparrow I probably see every day back home. A freakin’ sparrow.
When the sparrow flew out of the tent and into all that nothing, I had to think how I’d just been so afraid and then so sure and then so wrong. But then I thought, what the hell are you doing up here, little guy? It’s 4:30 a.m. and there’s zero visibility. I envisioned the sparrow flying headfirst into the nearest tree. Because my headlamp was the only source of light in who knows how many miles, I feared the sparrow would dive-bomb me when I left my tent to take a shit. It just seemed so confused and mistaken, so lost.
It’s funny if not a little obvious that the sparrow could say the same about me, clamoring about in my nylon dome in the wee hours, swearing like a sailor at a small woodland creature, hiking up Rabun Bald in the cold dark to see nothing but fog, tearing up my feet for…why exactly?
For the seclusion? Maybe. But I’m far from the reclusive kind of guy William Bartram was. The namesake of the Bartram Trail was one of the U.S.’s first naturalists, embarking on numerous excursions throughout the 18th century south to document local flora and fauna. His writings describe many solo meanderings into blank spots on the map where he discovered new species and witnessed alligators gorge themselves in a river so full of fish, you could walk across its surface. I’ll take a trip alone, but I always prefer to bring a friend along. My fiancée doesn’t typically hike with me, and when I’m gone, I miss her terribly.
To get off the grid? Perhaps. But I’m often checking for service so I can text home or pull down a weather report. I’ve gotten very close to burning precious phone battery on a podcast to help me sleep. Hiking photos go on Facebook the minute I get home.
To be in nature? I guess. But if I’m honest, my favorite part of any trip is eating my post-hike McDonald’s on the drive home…and it’s not like that’s the only time I go to McDonald’s.
Last summer, I hiked the Manistee River Trail up in the glove of Michigan. My dad, who I camped with as a kid but hasn’t backpacked as long as I’ve known him, decided to join me last minute. It was the hottest few days of the year. His pack weighed 50+ pounds. He wore cotton everything. He didn’t trust my water filter. And he was on a diuretic. At the end of our two night trip, he lay down on a picnic bench and couldn’t get up without hitting the deck. He’d hiked himself into kidney failure. Seeing him jaundiced and disoriented in the ER, hearing the doctor hesitate to say he’d be all right—it was terrifying. When he was finally discharged a few days later, we both said it, almost at once, “Why the hell did we do that?”
And the truth is I don’t know. Maybe when I’m hiking I like the feeling of missing the stuff I take for granted. Maybe I like to imagine I’m William Bartram and I’m exploring pristine land before we pushed out the natives, before we drowned so many gorges with our desire for control and cheap power. There’s a light in the woods and it draws me in. I’m like the sparrow in that way. But unlike my lost little friend, I’m not supposed to be out there.
My parents visited last weekend and we went for a quick day hike in Congaree National Park. My dad wore synthetic, moisture wicking shorts and t-shirt, topped with that classic outdoorsy hat you see men in their 60s wear. I wore jeans and a cotton v-neck.
“When we going backpacking again?” he asked me.
Originally from Metro Detroit, Chris Koslowski wandered south via degrees from University of Michigan and the University of Cincinnati. His work has appeared in Blue Mesa Review, Front Porch Journal, and Day One. Chris is an MFA graduate of the University of South Carolina where he currently teaches writing. He's at work on a novel about professional wrestling. He chirps hesitantly @KozlowRazor.
Olivia Rose is from London, England but her passion for bringing joy to others takes her all over the world. Thanks for all your work Olivia!
My name is Olivia and I am a performer and director. Last year I began volunteering with the charity, The Flying Seagull Project who travel around bringing play, circus, magic and joy to children in different parts of the world. In February I was lucky enough to travel to India with the organization. We visited many government run institutions for orphaned, abandoned and special needs children, as well as many rural communities. Very often, the children we work with live in heavily disciplined environments or have many responsibilities to take care of, including other siblings, earning money for the family or just being independent from a young age. Its amazing to see how, by the end of our time working with them the children can for once, relax and enjoy laughing, playing, letting the tension go from their bodies. Just before Christmas I went to Greece where the charity are working on their ‘Happiness Matters’ project in refugee camps. Here you can really see the positive impact of the work on the lives of these children and their families. They have experienced such trauma and continue to live in incredibly tense, hostile and uncertain situations. People need creativity, love and kindness – its what brings out the best in our humanity. Its amazing that, despite the horror people have lived through, they are still capable not only of receiving love, but giving it back in equal measure.
For more information on the charity visit: http://www.theflyingseagullproject.com/
This weeks Saturday Spot light is on Stan Enns, a native of Manitoba, Canada and an avid photographer.
“Retirement, a few years ago, gave me the opportunity to pursue some long time interests. Photography was a way to combine being outdoors with some technical and creative activity. I needed to learn quite a bit about the digital photography world and that kept my mind busy. And I’m constantly learning more. Nature and wildlife attract me the most as photographic subjects. It’s the thrill of the hunt that I enjoy the most. Getting close enough to birds and animals to photograph them in their natural habitat is very enjoyable for me. Seeking out the northern lights is also a hunt which leads to some awe inspiring sights. The icing on the cake is being able to share my photos on the internet and see other people’s work as well.” -Stan Enns
This weeks Spotlight Saturday is shining on Devin King! Devin and Meghan are avid adventurers and photographers. They take some beautiful shots wherever their travels take them.
"For my wife and I, living out of a backpack and sleeping in a tent feels just as much as home as our house. We love the desert and the mountains, but do backflips for the opportunity to have them both at the same time. Every weekend in the spring, summer and fall is spent seeking these places out. What we've learned is to always be flexible and be willing to switch up your plans at the last second if weather is going to be better somewhere else." -Devin King
We're very excited about our newest trip: Darrell and I will be hitting the road, traveling the historic Jefferson Highway in a Model T Ford! If you're like me and don't know a lot about the Jefferson highway (and don't feel bad, I didn't before we started researching this trip), here's 4 quick facts to get you informed:
- It is a trans-country highway!
One of the few the United States boasts, the Jefferson Highway is a trans-country highway that officially stretches from New Orleans, LA to Winnipeg, Manitoba. While the Canadian part is only about 75 miles, that’s enough to count as far as we’re concerned!
- It spans nearly 2500 miles!
Although there are several different branches, officially the Jefferson Highway runs through two countries, eight states, and, including all branches, spans well over two thousand miles of pavement.
Its nickname is the Pine to Palm or Palm to Pine!
Originally named for President Thomas Jefferson, the nickname “Palm to Pine” stuck because of the drastically different trees the climates at either end produced.
Its centennial is this year!
Though an obelisk in New Orleans was erected in 1918 to mark the southern end of the Jefferson Highway, officially it was finalized in December of 1916. The numbered system we have today has changed the public perspective, but this highway is every bit as historic as its more well-known counterpart, Route 66!
We’re excited to be traveling along this piece of history and can’t wait to share our journey with all of you!
Get to know the people you might pick up some day! We had a conversation with a hitchhiker via the website Hitchwiki.org.
Highway Walkers: Hello! Thanks for talking with us, what's your name?
Kyle: Kyle. But on Hitchwiki.org I'm thewindandrain.
HWW: When did you start and why?
Kyle: I started hitching regularly in 2011 as a way to get around the country and learn about it without needing money. It opened my eyes to the fact that travel need not be something reserved for people with lots of money.
HWW: What's the longest individual ride you got?
Kyle: Glacier view Alaska to bakersfield California. (Just over 3200 miles - around 59 hours)
HWW: How about the longest trip you took?
Kyle: I have been hitching nonstop for over a year now but in the past I used to hitch for about 6 months at a time.
HWW: What's your best experience thus far?
Kyle: One of my favorite rides was a man who Picked me up in Ohio and drove me to a small airport then flew me to the next town in his airplane. He encouraged me to steer the plane in the air which ended up being very relaxing and fun.
HWW: Any advice for first timers?
Kyle: Hitchwiki.org is the best place to start along with the sidebar in reddit.com/r/hitchhiking. My best advice would be to avoid coming up with reasons not to go; it doesnt take much.
HWW: Very true. And for the nervous, any safety tips?
Kyle: Wear a seatbelt and know that if you ride in the bed of pickup trucks you forfeit control of the situation with the driver versus riding in the passenger seat.
HWW: Any tips for people picking up hitchhikers?
Kyle: Realize that a reasonable assumption is that the hitchhiker you see is just a person asking for a ride, not a murderer. If the person has a backpack and is obviously traveling, picking them up is usually safe.
-3 Lessons from ultrarunner
-Role Model: Search Local
-How to Sleep in Your Car
-How to Hitchhike: Advice
-How to Adjust a Backpack
-How to Hitchhike Safely
-Dustin: Hitchhiker *video
- Zach at Niagara Falls *video
-NYC Interview *video
-Trouble Crossing * video
-Iron John Journey *video
-Letter From a Viewer
-Ibn Battuta: Exploreer
-Danny Schmidt/Carrie Elkin
-Top 5 Famous Hitchhikers
-Hitchhiking:Trip at a Glance
-3 Things Lionel Said
-Radio Interview: WEHC
-Adventure: Idea to Action
-Miller's Gourmet Popcorn *
-Poem from a fan
Darrell and Josiah