Where: Bridle Loop Path, Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire
When: May 2006
What: The nine-mile Bridle Path Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains takes in two of the state’s tallest peaks, Lafayette and Lincoln. I love this particular trail because it rewards you with all the best elements of hiking in the Northeast: an extended traverse along an exposed ridge, a series of roaring waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the Presidentials and Pemigewasset Wilderness all the way to Mount Washington.
Penny will be the first to admit she had trouble with this hike, but there she is in the foreground toughing it out anyway. It’s not easy, and we probably hiked it a little too early in the season. There were still huge swaths of snow on the trail below the treeline, and up on the exposed ridge all of the rocks and alpine plants were coated with hoarfrost. But man was it fun!
Here’s how I described it in the September 2006 edition of my American Adventurer column: “The trail climbs, steeply and steadily, over exposed rocks and up through a forest of beech, birch, and maple to the knife’s edge of rocks and windswept ledges that is Franconia Ridge … There you stand, a mile high, with the world spread before you and nothing between you and the next peak but a narrow, undulating ridge. The next mile and a half is all ups and downs, all jagged rocks and tumbled boulders, with every step of the way punctuated by loose rubble, patches of dwarf pines, and vast stretches of hardy alpine scrub.”
If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does.
The end is here. Or maybe it’s just a new beginning. Either way, my very last syndicated American Adventurer column has gone live over at USATODAY.com. Hard to believe it’s been nearly four years since I started writing this series! Here’s a snippet from my final story:
Say this for the Vikings: If nothing else, they were good with names. That’s what occurs to me as the fog rolls in on my first full day of hiking Scotland’s northern isles. Knee-deep in heather and eye-level with a thick gray mist that seems to have swallowed the island whole, I can only marvel at the precision with which the Norse once named this place. They called it ski, meaning “cloud,” and on this late September day the Isle of Skye is enthusiastically earning its name.
Of course, not everyone enjoys wet socks and muddy boots, so Skye must have something else to recommend it, right? Boy does it ever. That something is the raw beauty of sheer cliffs and wind-whipped fjords, of heaving hills, sheep-dotted farms, and jagged black mountains that hug the sea. And in the midst of it all, a strange kind of serenity—a peacefulness that comes from the sense that at any given moment you might just have this weather-tossed wilderness all to yourself… (more)
I’ve traveled to some pretty amazing places and done some awesome stuff over the course of those four years—cycling on Malta, kayaking in the Panama Canal, trekking across Iceland, caving in Trinidad, hang-gliding above the Smokey Mountains, and mule riding down into the Grand Canyon, to name just a few of my favorites—yet now I’m moving on to the more lucrative but less certain world of freelance travel writing.
I’m trading a cushy expense account for the freedom to sell my stories and photos to the highest bidder. I’ll also have free rein to write the stories the way I want to write them, rather than trying to shoe-horn in a “saving money” angle like this series required.
Still, I’ll miss the life of a syndicated columnist… at least till I get that first freelance paycheck!
Where: Isle of Skye, Scotland
When: September 2000
What: I snapped this photo while climbing a muddy footpath to the top of the Quiraing on Skye. This easy day hike is one of my favorites on the island because it offers so much of what I love about the Scottish landscape: dramatic cliffs, heaving hills, and blue-green lochs. From the top of the Quiraing I could see as far as the Black Cuillins in one direction and the wide open Atlantic in the other.
I’ll also never forget the day I took this picture. It was September 18, 2000, my first wedding anniversary. Probably the best vacation Penny and I have ever taken, and definitely the one of which I have the best and most vivid memories.
Quiraing, incidentally, means “pillared stronghold,” which as you can see takes its name from a series of natural rock formations that spiral up to the sky with breathtaking abandon.