LONG-DISTANCE HIKING by Dan Feldman, August 2013, Stackpole Books, 240 pages, paperback, $16.95.
Dan Feldman had spent plenty of time outdoors working on his parents’ farm in Bowdoin, but he had never spent a night in the woods before striking out on the Appalachian Trail in 2002. Fresh out of graduate school, he was looking for an adventure. He was woefully unprepared.
“I think when you’re in your 20s, everyone has an urge to get out and do something different,” he said. “You hear about folks going to Europe to backpack or people going to work in Alaska or somewhere different to get away from the grind. I wanted to do something like that too.”
For Feldman, it was the AT, a 2,180-mile footpath he’d done some reading on at the local bookstore. He planned to hike it from north to south, from Maine to Georgia.
“At the time, I wasn’t carrying a stove,” Feldman recalled. “I was carrying things like hard-boiled eggs, no carbs — it was a mess. I was an idiot.”
Not long on the trail, he was forced to drop out of Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness due to malnourishment. For some people, the early defeat would have been enough to cause them to rethink their idea of a grand adventure. Not Feldman. He got his diet straight and hopped right back on the trail.
“I had a blast,” Feldman said. “I got to see people, see the country, be outside, and then I got to finish.”
The remainder of his journey wasn’t without trials and tribulations, but he worked his way through every obstacle to finish the long trail.
More than a decade later and with several other treks under his hipbelt, Feldman released his first book, “Long-distance Hiking,” a collection of backpacking stories and tips.
“If someone is interested in doing a long-distance trip, I want them to be successful and enjoy themselves,” he said. “For me, being successful doesn’t mean finishing the last mile, it also means having a really satisfying, positive experience with it.”
Published by Stackpole Books in August, the book includes practical suggestions about trail food and preventing injuries, but in addition, Feldman offers methods for maintaining a good attitude and dealing with friction that commonly occurs between hiking companions — a subject few backpacking guides touch upon.
Since completing the AT in 2002, Feldman went on to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. And as he gathered knowledge about gear, he began contributing to Backpacking Light Magazine.
“It’s like a drug or something — you need to try it again and go back to feel the way you felt when you were backpacking,” Feldman said. “There’s just something about that kind of travel, journey on foot, that grabs people or a certain type of people.”
“You don’t go back into the car the next day,” he continued. “There’s not a shower waiting for you. You establish a whole new routine and lifestyle. You think of things like food and shelter. You look up to see what the weather is doing. It’s a whole different life than sitting behind your desk. It’s a journey across state lines and mountain ranges, and it’s really something special.”
Feldman decided to write “Long-Distance Hiking” in 2007 while thru-hiking the PCT. High in the San Jacintos, he crossed paths with a fellow thru-hiker named Billy Goat (a trail name) who was experiencing such pain in his feet that his journey was in danger of coming to a premature end. A board-certified pediatric physical therapist, Feldman offered his help and created a temporary arch support in Billy Goat’s boots out of tape and pieces of his foam sleeping pad. The arch support worked so well that Billy Goat decided to continue to use it instead of buy new boots — and he finished the trail.
“I suspected that many people like Billy Goat have gotten frustrated and abandoned a hike when all that was needed was a basic adjustment or two,” Feldman wrote in the book.
Throughout the book — which is divided by topic such as gear, skin care, frame of mind and the elements — Feldman recounts his own backpacking stories, as well as the stories relayed to him by people he has met on the trail. His many stories (humorous, tragic and everything in between) lend him credibility and assure the reader that for the most part, Feldman learned the hard way.
“I think the biggest mistake in expectations is presuming that it’s going to be fun all the time, that you’re going to have sunny days and a little rain and snow,” Feldman. “No one’s ever anticipating a week of rain and freezing feet and being hungry, but it happens. The biggest mistake is not expecting to be a little uncomfortable and even a little bored.”
To expand beyond his own experiences, Feldman issued surveys to gather opinions and stories from more than 200 hikers staying at hostels on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011, the results of which are reported throughout the book.
He also researched statistics and information on things such as trail injuries, wildlife encounters and water-borne illnesses. And many of the tips he offers translate to day hiking and other outdoor activities.
Yet in the end, even if you know the right gear to purchase and all sorts of tricks for staying comfortable on the trail…
“In the end,” said Feldman, “what matters most is your attitude about the whole thing.”
For those interested in Feldman’s stories and know-how on long-distance hiking, he will present a slideshow and sign books at an Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Chapter event 6-8 p.m. Nov. 12, at Freeport Community Library. The event is free to the public, and a potluck will be held 6-7 p.m. He will also be at a book signing event 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 1, at Kittery Trading Post.
His next adventures include section hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail with his wife April, to whom “Long-Distance Hiking” is dedicated, as well as the 4,000-foot high peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. And next summer, Feldman plans to hike and cross-country ski the 200-mile Sierra High Route in California with photographer Tim Martin.