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Susan Alcorn's Backpacking Tales and Tips Newsletters 2018

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Shepherd Canyon Books
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Oakland, CA  94611
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Publisher of "We're in the Mountains Not over the Hill--Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers."

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Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #237 December 2018


1. Heather Anderson earns Triple Crown in one year

2. Kula Cloth

3. Can’t top this hiker list of holiday gifts!

4. Wonderful books for Camino travelers

5. “Free Solo” – must see movie

6. Salopek’s 21,000 mile walk

7. Pacific Crest Trail: Bear Canister requirements

8. Fitness and stair climbing 

9. Keeping warm while winter camping

10. Camino related: Coming Home

11. Regional: Northern Ca. Snow camping


2010-08-10_08-54-02_6577_P80 .JPG#1. On November 8, 2018, Heather 'Anish' Anderson achieved a remarkable feat—she completed the Appalachian, 2,190 miles; the Pacific Crest, 2,650 miles; and the Continental Divide, 3,100 miles, trails—in one calendar year. This gives her the “’Calendar Year’ Triple Crown”—which only five other people (all men) have earned). Anderson is hardly a newbie to the long-distance hiking community—she had previously earned the Triple Crown twice, and had set the self-supported fastest known time (FKT) for the PCT and the AT. Karel Sabbe broke Anderson’s speed record on the AT this summer, but the PCT record still stands. 

Heather began her three major hikes on the AT in March, but before she really got underway, her boyfriend proposed to her at the trail’s southern terminus—Springer Mountain. He hiked some of the trail miles with her and went on to finish his first Triple Crown this year. Now that the year’s major hiking is over, Anderson is busy planning a wedding; 

Read about her amazing achievements here in Backpacker Magazine.  

Anderson said in an Instagram message, “The thing that thru-hiking has taught me (more than anything else) is acceptance.  Acceptance of what is and what is not and to not waste mental energy on wishing things were different.” That’s important to remember when you are wiped out, freezing cold, your tent and sleeping bag are soaking wet, you are dealing with pain, and more—all of which Anderson experienced on her epic walks.

#2. Kula Cloth. Inga Aksamit on Facebook mentioned a new product called the Kula Cloth that looks quite intriguing to me.  It’s a “pee cloth is made from absorbent, antimicrobial microfiber. It's a nice upgrade from a bandana. The black side is the absorbent side.” See for yourself at…/kula-cloth-the-original-p-cloth

#3. Can’t top this list of holiday gifts for hikers.  Try as I might, there’s no way I can make a better list by Cam, host of blog, The Hiking Life, came up with. Check it out here. 

Contributor, Jake Lorfing added, “Another use for diaper pins – pickpocket foils when roaming through the big cities (just put your passport/wallet in a front pocket and clip the diaper pin mid-pocket). It’s also a conversation starter…”

#4. Excellent gifts for Camino travelers. If you want an affordable, interesting and practical gift for travelers, or armchair travelers, on your list, I hope you will consider one of my books on the Camino. Healing Miles, my most recent, informs about the northernmost Spanish Camino trails—the Norte and Primitivo. Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago is our Camino story of the Camino Frances in 2001. Both books are part memoir, part cultural insights and historical information as well as very practical packing lists, etc. Available either on Kindle or soft cover on 

#5. The movie Free Solo is a must see! Thanks to a reminder from triple-crown hiker Scott Williams, we managed to get ourselves to see the movie, which because it’s about climbing, is worth seeing on a big screen instead of at home. Outside Online calls 'Free Solo' the best climbing movie ever made. Yes, it’s a movie about mountain climbing, “On June 3, 2017, Alex Honnold climbed the 3,300-foot Freerider route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley without a rope,” but filmmakers, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin also look carefully into Honnold’s early years and current relationships to try to show us how he is able to mentally focus on making this epic climb. Review by Peter Vigneron, Sep 26, 2018. 

#6. Salopek’s 21,000 mile walk, Slow Down, Find Humanity. In 2013, Paul Salopek’s set out on a 21,000-mile journey—to walk, and occasionally travel by boat, the pathway of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and led to today’s world. He began in Ethiopia, went NE to Djibouti to make a crossing of the Red Sea and at last report was near Jaipur, India. This is a ten-year quest to slow down in order to “create a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium as told by villagers, nomads, traders, farmers, soldiers, and artists who rarely make the news.” Every one hundred miles, National Geographic reporter, Salopek, reports on the people he has met and the issues that they are dealing with. See for yourself at this link to Out of Eden

#7. Bear Canister Requirements and Protecting Your Food -- PCT Trail Dirt (newsletter). Guidelines for protecting humans and wildlife

#8. Stair climbing to aid fitness.  U.C. Wellness Letter suggests stair climbing as a method of improving cardio fitness, strength, agility [to which your editor would add “balance”.) It also can burn extra calories. They recommend starting with 25 steps and gradually increasing. You can try variations—two steps at a time; holding onto the railing or not; doing intervals; and going down stairs. There are considerations, of course—check with your doctor before embarking on a new strenuous conditioning program, hold on to the railing if your balance is questionable, climbing two at a time puts more pressure on your knees and so forth. If you swing your arms as you climb, it gives a greater workout, but also requires more balance and agility. Whatever method you use, keep your back straight, not hunched, and bend slightly from the hips. (“Stairway to Health,” University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Oct. 2018.)

#9. Keep warm during winter camping: Some ideas edited from Backpacker Magazine's list: use a sleeping bag liner (silk, synthetic, or wool) can add 5-25 degrees of warmth. [I personally would rate my silk as adding 5 degrees.]; Use an insulated sleeping pad; Control moisture from condensation—create a barrier from drips by putting your raingear over your sleeping bag, and don’t breathe into your sleeping bag. Eat before you go to bed—chocolate or other carbs to will raise your metabolism. Lightly exercise before you go to bed—not enough to perspire, but enough to generate your own heat.

And, fill a NON-insulated bottle with boiling water, seal tightly, place in a sock, and place in the bottom of your sleeping bag. Just be sure there is no way the container can leak! 

++A variation of the previous, and my personal favorite because it made my snow camping experience work—is to fill the bladder with boiling water (I somehow used a carabiner to attach in the process) and wear between layers of your clothing. 

#10. Camino Events and News: whether it is discussed as the challenges of coming home from the Camino, or how to deal with reentry, many people who have walked a Camino route (or any other long-distance trail for that matter) find the readjustment to “real life” at home confusing, disorienting, or challenging. This is an age-old quandary for many travelers.

I remember meeting Phil Cousineau more than 20 years ago when he was invited to a gathering organized partially by Lin Galea. Cousineau is the author of “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred.”  We discussed some of our feelings about our Camino walks—both that we had experienced while on the trips and when coming home. 

When you consider what brings people to do a Camino walk, it may seem like it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many emotions arise during the journey or afterwards. For many people, a Camino walk is their first long-distance adventure, may be their first trip to another country, may be the first time traveling solo, may be at a time when their life is undergoing a big change such as graduation, retirement, recovering from or facing an illnesses of their own or another, divorce, empty nest syndrome, a death, and more. BUT, the emotions that arise either before or after a Camino often do come as a surprise. In part this may be because the emphasis before the trip is how to physically train, where to start the trail, and how to pack. And after the trip, when one comes back home—often with new insights into how they want to live and what is really important—those at home have to stifle yawns about the returnee's trip and subsequent new perspectives. 


Which brings me to some very helpful information that American Pilgrims has made available to pilgrims to support those anticipating or returning from a Camino walk. Laurie Ferris, Co-coordinator of the Northern California Pilgrim Group, has thoughtfully put together the material presented at our chapter’ welcome home potluck in November. You'll find a video and workbook at the following link.

#11. Snow camping anyone? There are already some Sierra snow camping trips planned for Winter 2018 and I expect there will be more. For all the latest news and activities, sign up for Sierra Club Insider (, the Club's twice-monthly flagship e-newsletter. 

Happy holidays, happy travels,

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #236 November 2018


2005-04-03_08-37-11_0528_A95.JPG1.            Application dates set for 2019 PCT long-distance permit
2.            November Non-fiction Inspirational Reads – Nov 1-15.
3.            Global traveler and hiker, Francis Tapon, launches new sites
4.            Lure of Yosemite’s Taft Point proves deadly to couple  
5.            Duck of no-duck?
6.            Doing the de-funk
7.            What's that word on the tip of my tongue?
8.            Regional: San Bruno Walk
9.            Hiking ambassador—Bob Coomber
10.          Berkeley’s Wacky, Wonderful Garage Murals


#1. Application dates set for 2019 PCT long-distance permit. “Upcoming PCT Hikers,” writes Scott Williams, “The Pacific Crest Trail has announced the dates for thru hiker permits this season.  For anyone starting at the Mexican Border, the opening will be November 14th, 2018, and any other starting dates and places, January 15th, 2019.  If you want a specific start date at the Mexican Border, I suggest you send in your email request on November 14th, as the good dates for a desert start in April, fill up very quickly.” Williams should know, he was a Triple Crown recipient in 2014 (for completing the PCT, AT, CDT). 


#2. Thanks to Jane Blanchard (whose book, Camino Quotes and Poems: The Meaning of the Journey, is included in the offer), I learned that for a limited time you can download some excellent books. November Non-fiction Inspirational Reads – Nov 1-15. Book Funnel


#3. Francis Tapon. Being in the hiking community, I have been privileged to know, or know of, many inspiring people—people who think and live outside the box. One of these individuals is traveler, hiker, speaker, and writer, Francis Tapon. Tapon has recently returned to the S.F. Bay Area after four years in Africa where he lived or visited 54 of its countries. He has come back with a lifetime’s worth of stories, a beautiful wife, and is getting word out about his adventures.  You can get a taste of what he’s doing at How and Why Travel Transforms You. At this website , you can check out one of his new projects--even sponsor him. 


#4. Taft Point tragedy. I’m sure many of you have heard in late October about a couple who plunged to their deaths from Taft Point in Yosemite National Park in late October. They were an Indian couple, 29-year-old Vishnu Viswanath and 30-year-old Meenakshi Moorthy, who were living in the S.F. Bay Area. Though the investigation continues, apparently they were attempting to take a selfie when they fell.  

They fell more than 800 feet from Taft Point’s granite ledge. The 7,500 foot promontory is a very popular photo spot overlooking Yosemite Valley.  In the reports I read, several people stated that there was no railing; however, Jamie Richards, a park spokeswoman, was quoted as saying “there is a safety railing at the edge of the point.” 


The morning after the fall, other hikers spotted the couple’s tripod and alerted Park personnel. Rangers used helicopters to recover the bodies.  

The couple was married in India four years ago. Viswanath was a software engineer at Cisco India’s San Jose, California, headquarters and Moorthy wanted to work full time as a travel blogger. She wrote on a blog called “Holidays and HappilyEverAfters,” which has now been taken down. One of her posts read, “A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs and skyscrapers, but did you know that wind gusts can be FATAL???”


India’s Tourism Ministry in April asked state government officials to safeguard tourists by installing signs in areas where accidents had occurred declaring them “no-selfie zones.” India’s fatalities related to selfies accounts for more than one-half of the total.  A study published this month in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care said 259 people had died taking selfies between October 2011 and November 2017. Many sources believe the actual number is much larger, but is often attributed to other causes. 


Probably not all that surprisingly, “the US led in the number of selfie deaths involving a firearm — people accidentally shooting themselves while posing with guns.”


2018-10-18_12-29-25_LGG7RBA.jpg#5. Duck or no-duck. "Duck Hunt: Do we need trail markers where they’re not needed or wanted? Down with Cairns,” writes Robert A. DeNike, Jr. in (Sep. 2018). DeNike makes his position clear right off. Opening sentence, “I hate ducks.” Otherwise known as “rock piles left all over the back-country by well-meanings Samaritans who want to show other hikers the way.” deNike doesn’t like them because: he wants the challenge of finding his own way; he feels they are an eyesore.


He is not alone—in fact Federal regulations state that constructing such “improvements” in the National Forest System is illegal. 

Personally, I have mixed feelings. I have been led astray by following markers—but never dangerously so. We’ve also been led astray by following the footsteps of others going the wrong way. Luckily we discovered our error before any harm was done. But I also have thoroughly enjoyed ducks along the Camino de Santiago, and most recently when hiking locally in the Robert Louis Stevenson National Park in Calistoga, CA. 


What do you think? 


#6. Doing the DeFunk: One of the reasons I like Smartwool tops is that synthetic shirts often stink a very short time after putting them on. I’ve now found a product that should help--Gear Aid Revivex Pro Cleaner. According to Backpacker Mag., this product was the winner in their tests for defunking synthetics. $9, 12 oz. (


#7. Headline: “Older People who are physically fit may be less likely to experience ‘tip of the tongue lapses.” This according to a British study in Scientific Reports.  Enough said, I’m going to go do a dozen more pushups. However, my attention focused at least as much on this sentence, “The glitches tend to become more frequent with age but are not considered a sign of cognitive impairment.” Whew! (U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter: Sep. 2018.)


#8. S.F. Bay Regional: Saturday, November 3 @ 10:00 am - 1:30 pm. Canyon Hike San Bruno Mountain. Explore San Bruno Mountain’s less-traveled canyons and learn about their history and ecology on this docent-led hike. Canyon Hikes are on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month. The hike is on narrow footpaths surrounded by coastal scrub, riparian woodland, coastal grassland, and amazing views of the Bay Area and the mountain.


Bring water and a snack or lunch. Dress for varied weather. Hikes leave at 10am and last until approximately 1:30pm. Meet at the San Bruno Mountain Watch office, 44 Visitacion Ave, Suite 206, Brisbane, CA 94005.  Our guided hikes are free, but we welcome a suggested donation of $15/per person, or whatever amount you are able to contribute. No one turned away for lack of funds. RSVP here: San Bruno Mountain Watch Phone: 415-467-6631 Email: 


#9. Intrepid wheelchair hiker: Bob Coomber works with East Bay Regional Parks District to encourage hikers to hit the trails. Coomber ( who climbs rocks, hills, and mountains that more sure footed people fear to tread is now offering several lively write-ups monthly on his favorite East Bay Regional Park District hiking trails. "Half of his hikes will be geared toward relatively flat options with easy access, perfect for those with mobility devices, strollers, young kids on bikes, anyone really, who would simply like to explore the outdoors on a flat trail. 


"The other half of his hikes are more challenging - he is, after all, the only person to climb 14,000' White Mountain in a wheelchair. These challenge hikes include longer distances and higher elevations. No matter what you're looking for, Bob is sure to have an option, and story, for you." Link here. 


#10.  Berkeley’s Wacky, Wonderful Garage Murals. Sunday, December 9 @ 10 a.m. Leader:  Ian Wood. Start: Jefferson Elementary School Flag Pole (1457 Acton St.). "See how some West Berkeley residents have transformed their garage doors – and sometimes their driveways and front steps as well — into eye-popping works of art. Ian, who documents this oh-so-Berkeley form of expression on his website, will lead us on a flat, 5.2-mile walk on neighborhood sidewalks. We’ll stop to admire a variety of land and aquatic creatures, planetary landscapes, and more and learn how Ian began photographing garages in Berkeley and beyond. Several homeowners will be available to explain how they transformed their garage doors into colorful giant canvases." See Berkeley Path Wanderers website for more info. 


Happy Thanksgiving--hope you also hit the trails!

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #235, October 2018


1. Woman dies after cougar attack in Oregon

2. What to do if you encounter a cougar

3. The Hiking Life

4. ALDHA-West Gathering

5. Free backpacking classes for newbies with an artistic bent

6. Camino Norte and Primitivo talks this month

7. Encouraging rattlesnakes to move off the trail!

8. A healthy trail snack

9. Fun doing the ‘Nifty Ninety’ 

10. Open Studios and Linoleum Block Class


#1. Woman dies in cougar attack. Authorities say that an Oregon woman’s death in an Oregon park was caused by a cougar attack—the state’s first confirmed fatal attack by a cougar. (Wed September 12, 2018 CNN). 

Relatives of Diana Bober, 55, of Gresham, Oregon, reported her missing on Friday, August 31. Her car was found at the Zigzag Ranger Station in Oregon's Mount Hood National Forest on that weekend. Bober’s body was found the following Monday, about two miles from the station. DNA evidence was sent to a lab in Ashland for examination.

At last report, officials were still searching for the cougar. Brian Wolfer with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife gave an estimate of 6,600 cougars in Oregon. However, Wolfer said, “’Oregon has never had -- until this incident -- a confirmed attack of a person by a cougar either fatal or nonfatal.”

#2. If you encounter a cougar/mountain lion. Information and precautionary recommendations (edited) from Wolfer and from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Cougars are more active at dawn and dusk. 
  • Hike in pairs or with a group. 
  • Keep children close to you. 
  • Keep dogs close and on a leash (so that it doesn't attract a cougar back to you)
  • If you see a cougar, look big. Raise your arms (hiking poles if you have them) above your head. 
  • Yell, clap your hands, or otherwise make noise to alert wildlife of your presence. 
  • Maintain eye contact and back away slowly. Don’t turn your back and run. If you have to pick up children, do so without bending down or turning your back on the cougar. 

ODFW adds, “If in the very unusual event that a cougar attacks you, fight back with rocks, sticks, tools or any other items available.”

#3. Books, Bothies and the Northern Lights.  Cam “Swami” Honan, author of the blog, “The Hiking Life” posted (9/2/6/18), “I just arrived home after six weeks of hiking around the Scottish Highlands and Norway’s Lofoten Islands. His new book, “The Hidden Tracks,” will be available in the U.S. in November (ed.: just in time for holiday gift giving!) 

Cam continues, “The first seven months of 2018 was one of the busiest periods I have had in many a year. Sixty to seventy hour work weeks with nary a day off. Much of this time was spent researching, writing and co-editing a book for Gestalten Publications titled, “The Hidden Tracks: Wanderlust off the Beaten Path.” It’s a sequel to last year’s, “Wanderlust Hiking on Legendary Trails.”  I’ll be putting together a detailed post about “The Hidden Tracks” in the coming weeks, but in a literary nutshell it’s a 270 page coffee table book that features 29 incredible hikes from around the world. As the title suggests, many (though not all) of the hikes included are out-of-the-way gems in places such as Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, Siberia’s Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal, and the mighty sand dunes of Khongoryn Els in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

#4. ALDHA-West Gathering. Coming up shortly is the annual American Long Distance Hiking Association – West Gathering. It will be Oct. 12-14, at Camp Kiwanis on Mt. Hood, OR. This is the place for hikers to enjoy a casual get-together with all of their long distance buddies. Informative and interesting speakers, tables loaded with merchandise to tempt you before your next outing, raffles of ultra-light gear, and the Triple Crown Ceremony, for hikers who have completed the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, and Continental Divide Trails. Nancy "Why Not" Huber and Scott "Shroomer" Williams will be doing the presentation of the awards. Williams suggests you go early and spend some time on the PCT or at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood before the fun-filled weekend.

#5. Off Trail, On Track: A New, Free Local Hiking/Backpacking Organization for Creative People (info from Scott Williams.)  Scott, “I quote Snorkel: “Has backpacking changed your life? Do you want to go backpacking but want a nurturing environment to do it? My good friend Duncan Cheung has a vision to get more people out there experiencing life-changing ah-ha moments in the outdoors. He's looking for candidates to teach and take backpacking. And his trips and classes are completely free.

“For this next round, he's looking for creative types who haven't had much experience backpacking, but want to do so in a safe, nurturing environment--and people who want to tell that story. If you or a friend fits that description, I highly encourage having them apply.

“Three courses starting this month, six spots each. The next trips are:  October, 18 - 21; November, 1 - 4; and November 15 - 18. Check out, Off Trail, On Track at: 

#6. Camino Norte and Primitivo talks this month. Reminder: Susan and Ralph Alcorn will be at four REI stores this month. *Wed. Oct 10. Concord REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm; Tue. Oct 16. Santa Rosa REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm; *Wed. Oct 24 Berkeley REI 7:00pm - 8:30pm;; *Tue Oct 30 Saratoga REI 7:00pm - 8:30pm. All events are free, reservations suggested.

While the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago is the Frances, hikers are increasingly looking for a less crowded or a new route. The Caminos Norte and Primitivo are great choices. Susan and Ralph Alcorn, who hiked both in 2015-16, strongly recommend the entire 500 miles of Norte, and/or the 200 of the Primitivo. In their digital slide show, the Alcorns will give an overview of the Caminos Norte and Primitivo--the routes, elevations, accommodations. Who is hiking? How difficult is it? How to train? How to pack? What resources are available--apps or maps? Throughout, you'll enjoy images of the journey and get inspired to plan that trip of your own that you have been dreaming of. Susan is the author of the newly published, "Healing Miles: Gifts of the Caminos Norte and Primitivo."

#7. Encouraging rattlesnakes to move off the trail! A Stubborn Rattlesnake? It’s not uncommon for rattlesnakes to be slow at moving off the trail—we’ve definitely encountered this! If you want to encourage them to move along, Scott Williams suggests giving them a squirt with your water bottle (from a safe distance, of course). 

#8. Trail snacks: UC Berkeley Wellness Letter reports that walnuts can help reduce your cholesterol levels. A recent analysis of twenty-six clinical trials found that eating 1-2 ounces of walnuts per day for 4-8 weeks resulted, on average, with a 7-point drop in total cholesterol and almost 6 -point drop in LDL (the bad) cholesterol (Oct. 2018).  Research funded, in part, by California Walnut Commission and the National Institute of Health

2018-10-02_12-11-42_LGG4RBA.jpg#9. Fun doing the ‘Nifty Ninety:’ Ralph and I have now completed 61 of the peaks named in the Bay Chapter’s #NiftyNinety Peak Challenge. Our good friends Patricia Schaffarczyk and Tom Coroneos aren’t far behind. This has been more fun than I think any of us dreamed of, but when you think about it—great exercise, amazing views, trails mostly to ourselves, time spent with wonderful friends, and a beer and appetizer stop afterwards—what could be better! Yesterday, with rain forecast, we kept it easy with a three-mile hike up an easy set of switchbacks to the top of north of Vallejo, CA. Still wondering how and when the Southern Pacific Railroad car ended up on the peak! Join the discussion on Facebook at Friends of Nifty Ninety Peaks or follow my blog at

#10. Regional: Central Coast/Santa Cruz. After walking the Camino Frances, artist Melissa Westwas inspired to do some painting and printmaking of images she enjoyed while on the trail. Melissa’s studio is in Watsonville (near Santa Cruz, CA) and she invites visitors to the Open Studios and her Linoleum Block Class in January. “My studio will be open one weekend only, October 6 & 7, from 11am - 5 pm. I am artist #5 in the guide, located at 451 Tuttle Avenue, Watsonville. I've been trying some new ideas combining painting and printmaking, plus I have editions of the images from my most recent set of book illustrations, Love Magic.

The Santa Cruz Arts Council provides free guides and an app to the 300 artists participating in this event. Click here to find out more.  Look for the lime green signs to guide you on your way!

“I'll be teaching a weekend class on linoleum block basics.  Learn how to transfer an image, carve, and print your own linoleum blocks.  It's easy and fun, and you can do it at home with minimal equipment.” Class dates: January 26 & 27, 2019 at the Michelangelo Gallery in Santa Cruz... Cost: $150, includes materials. “

Happy trails, happy Halloween!,

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #234, September 2018


1. Go Anish

2. New Appalachian Trail Record

3. Camino: Tip for your credential

4. Foods of Spain

5. Power of Engo

6. Camino: Giving back—hospitalero training

7. Don’t overdo on NSAIDS

8.Some things Susan has learned

9. Camino Norte and Primitivo—upcoming presentations

10. Melissa West's art studio open house

11. Nifty Ninety Peaks hikes continuing


#1. Go Anish: Many of you on the West Coast may know of Anish (Heather Anderson) from when she set a record for FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013.  She hiked it, self-supported, in 60 days, 17 hours, 12 min, which broke the previous men’s record by four days and established the first female record. Anish Hikes (her trailname) has now completed the PCT on her quest to complete a calendar year TRIPLE CROWN! What makes this newest challenge extra special is that she has already hiked each of the Big 3 two times—this new attempt would give her three times doing a Triple Crown—and she hopes to do all three within this calendar year! So far this year, she has completed almost all of the Appalachian and all of the Pacific Crest trail—and is on to the Continental Divide where you can see her most recent blog, click here

Heather writes, “To celebrate this incredible act of preservation which makes remote and wild places widely accessible I am attempting to hike the 7,000+ miles of the Triple Crown in one Calendar Year.

“This will be a huge undertaking–completed only four times by men: Flyin’ Brian, Squeaky, Swami, and Legend. I hope not only to be the first woman to successfully complete the Calendar Year Triple Crown, but also the Triple Crown for a third time in total (Triple Triple Crowner).” Lots of ways to follow Anish hikes including on her website or social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Anish shares some of her story and the idea behind her "Triple Crown" of backpacking as part of the TEDxNapaValley 2015 "Redefining Success: changing direction mid-stream" event.

#2. Also in the news for an amazing new record. Karel Sabee, has now set a FKT for the Appalachian Trail. On August 28, 2018, Belgian ultrarunner Karel Sabbe summited Baxter Peak to claim the overall Fastest Known Time on the Appalachian Trail. He ticked off all 2,190 miles in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes, eclipsing by more than four days the previous northbound FKT set last year. For those keeping score, this was a supported hike—meaning he had a small crew with him providng food and other aid. Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy carried all of his own supplies last year and set a new self-supported record for his amazing journey. Read about Sabbe’s mind-boggling run, click here

#3. Camino: Holding onto your credential (the pilgrim passport) Saranger on Ivar’s forum recently wrote, “Always, always put your email address on your credential as well as your name. Link here.

2015-05-27_12-20-05_1742_EOSSanSebastian.JPG#4. Foods of Spain:  My friend Amy Racina, author of Angels in the Wilderness: The True Story of One Woman's Survival Against All Odds, recently wrote me, “Bouquerones are tiny fresh sardine fillets, marinated in olive oil and vinegar. They serve them as tapas. You can also get em at grocery stores. Yummy! They bear no resemblance to sardines as we know ‘em.”

#5. Power of Engo: Sometimes the best place for putting something to prevent a blister is not on your foot, but on the shoe itself. Years ago while on the PCT, a rough spot on the inside of my shoe started rubbing the outside of my foot. I used what we had available, moleskin, and it stopped the abrasion. There is something even better to use—Engo patches, which Ralph carries in our arsenal of footcare supplies. 

John Vonhof offers this info in a Fixing the Feet blog: Click here

#6. Camino: American Pilgrims on the Camino offers a way for those who have been looking for “a way to say thank you for all that the Camino has given you”—as a hospitalero.  The next hospitalero training course offered by APOC is Friday, November 9, 2018 through Sunday, November 11, 2018 in Winter Park, Florida. The last day to register is Friday, October 26th, or sooner if all the openings fill. The $295 cost includes the training, two nights' accommodations and all meals Friday evening through Sunday lunch. Towels and linens are provided. 

Some rules: “You must stay at the training facility. No off-site lodging. You must attend the entire training for certification so please plan your travel accordingly. In order to be eligible for training as an hospitalero, applicants must have overnighted in at least three non-private (municipal, parochial or association-run) albergues on the Camino, must have walked at least 100 km (or biked 200 km) of the Camino, and must be a member of American Pilgrims on the Camino.” Registration form is Click Actions, then Hospitaleros and then Hospitalero Training through American Pilgrims.

#7. ”Don't Go Overboard with Ibuprofen:” Ibuprofen (sold under both generic and brand names such as Advil and Motrin) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) as are aspirin, naproxen, and others. “Many people who regularly take the pain reliever ibuprofen unknowingly exceed the daily dosing limits, according to a study in Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety.” The article goes on to say that “many people take more than the recommended daily OTC maximum, set by the FDA and stated on ibuprofen labels, is 1,200 milligrams, or six regular strength tablets (the maximum is higher for prescription ibuprofen).” In addition, about a third of the people in the study on intake of NSAIDS, were taking both Ibuprofen AND naproxen or another NSAID. Many were not aware that both were NSAIDS. (“Low-dose aspirin, taken for heart health, was not included in the tallies.”)

“NSAIDs, especially when taken long term or overused, have a range of potential adverse effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and kidney damage. For healthy people who take ibuprofen and other OTC pain relievers as directed, the risks are small. However, because these drugs are so popular, thousands of Americans may be adversely affected.”


#8. What Susan has learned: Some things I’ve learned or experienced while hiking in France—including recent walk on the Camino from #Vezelay: 

  • Arms on table, not in lap. People hold their fork in the left hand to use as pusher.
  • Go to counter to get the bill—ask for l'addition. In most places, the servers do not want to disturb your conversation, etc. 
  • The pleasure of an umbrella—especially when the temperature is high, or rain would otherwise be hitting you in the face. 
  • Many people have made the effort to speak English to us.
  • Most/all of the other pilgrims we have met on the Vezelay had started from home—Germany, Netherlands, Belgium—in March.
  • After our "bonjour," people are generally tolerant of our poor language skills.
  • In France, there are often trail markings for many different routes and heading entirely different directions.
  • Still uncertain of this, but a forecast of “100% rain” appears to mean it will rain 100% of the time—not just that it will rain some time that day.
  • Shower stalls are so small that you are in trouble if you drop the soap, and inevitably the bathroom floor will end up flooded. The hot water is often scalding!
  • is faster and less expensive than the train, also less expensive than air. Buses, if available, are less expensive, but slower. The summer (and beyond?) train strikes created a lot of extra of business for blablacar. 
  • “Eau ordinaire” will now get you (free) tapwater. Previously they usually wouldn’t offer it, or ignored our requests so we’d have to pay for bottled. (I do wonder if there is a lot of lead in the old pipes.)
  • Traveler's law—never pass by a toilet and always carry toilet paper. Pay attention to where light switches are so that you'll be able to activate them if the the lights turn off while you are in a restroom. Sometimes waving your hands madly in the air helps—but not always. 
  • Most shops and restaurants in small towns, and many in larger cities, are closed on Sundays and Mondays—and there are many additional holidays. Buy lunch materials to carry you through.
  • When crossing a street, don’t assume that you—as a pedestrian—will be granted the right of way
  • When ordering the ‘Menu of the Day,’ it is often possible to order two entrees (starters) instead of a starter and plate, if you wish for a lighter meal. Just ask.
  • Spenco’s shoe inserts are available flat as well as with a built-in arch. I use the flat ones when I want a bit of extra cushioning. I have found that Dr. Scholls foam pads do not hold up to weeks of hiking.
  • It is difficult to walk long distances after a carafe of vin (wine).
  • Pilgrims can ask for the stamp—the tampon, in the cathedral 
  • Hiking poles can provide a place to hang your laundry to dry in your hotel room.
  • Respect customs

2015-10-04_14-45-50_3795_EOS.JPG#9. Reminder. Bay Area Pilgrim Presentations by Susan and Ralph Alcorn.

The following events will feature the author's Norte and Primitivo Camino pilgrimages:-+

October 10, 2018. Wednesday. 7-8:30 p.m. Concord REI, 1975 Diamond Blvd, Concord, CA

October 16, 2018. Tuesday. 7:00-8:30 pm. REI Santa Rosa. 2715 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa, CA

October 24, 2018. Wednesday, 7:00-8:30 pm. REI Berkeley. 1338 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA

October 30, 2018. Tuesday, 7:00-8:30 p.m. REI Saratoga. 400 El Paseo de Saratoga, San Jose, CA

Program Description: Caminos de Santiago in Spain: The Norte and Primitivo Routes

While the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago is the Frances, hikers are increasingly looking for a less crowded or a new route. The Caminos Norte and Primitivo are great choices. Susan and Ralph Alcorn, who hiked both in 2015-16, strongly recommend the entire 500 miles of Norte, and/or the 200 of the Primitivo. In their digital slide show, the Alcorns will give an overview of the Caminos Norte and Primitivo--the routes, elevations, accommodations. Who is hiking? How difficult is it? How to train? How to pack? What resources are available--apps or maps? Throughout, you'll enjoy images of the journey and get inspired to plan that trip of your own that you have been dreaming of. Susan is the author of the newly published, "Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo." We are very excited about these events; please mark your calendars and join us. Events are free, but reservations at REI events are highly recommended.


#10. Regional:  Santa Cruz Open Studios Art Tour. Melissa West, artist and hiker, extends an invitation to visit her studio in October.  “See where and how my art is made. I'm participating for one weekend only! October 6 & 7, 11am - 5pm. 451 Tuttle Avenue in Watsonville. Melissa also has a wonderful blog. This link will take you to her entries about the Via de la Plata Camino route of Spain.

#11. Nifty Ninety Peaks Challenge. Ralph and I and friends are hot on the trail of conquering all ninety of the hikes listed in our local Sierra Club chapter's #NiftyNinety Peaks Challenge. We've now done 57 of them and are thoroughly enjoying the process as well as feeling our strength grow week by week. We find these training hikes fun in the moment and are confident they'll keep us ready for longer hikes to come. I've set up a Facebook group, Friends of Nifty Ninety for anyone interested in joining in.  

Happy trails, happy travels,

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)


Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #233, August 2018


1.Alcorns’ Camino Norte and Primitivo October events.
2.Karen Berger will be the opening night speaker at ALDHA (East Coast) event
3.Earning your Compostela in Santiago
4.Pacific Crest Days coming right up
5.American Long Distance Hiking Assoc. WEST gathering
6.The handy Pilgrim Pouch!
7.One way to handle cell phones/GPS while traveling abroad
8.APOC sends its Spirit of the Camino
9.Hot weather tips
10.Discover Jenner Headlands and Sonoma Coast
11.Watching the Perseids Meteor showers


4#1. Alcorns’ Camino Norte and Primitivo, October events. “While the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago is the Frances, hikers are increasingly looking for a less crowded or a new route. The Caminos Norte and Primitivo are great choices. Susan and Ralph Alcorn, who hiked both in 2015-16, strongly recommend the entire 500 miles of Norte, and/or the 200 of the Primitivo. In their digital slide show, the Alcorns will give an overview of the Caminos Norte and Primitivo--the routes, elevations, and accommodations. Who is hiking? How difficult is it? How to train? How to pack? What resources are available--apps or maps? Throughout, you'll enjoy images of the journey and get inspired to plan that trip of your own that you have been dreaming of. Susan is the author of the newly published, Healing Miles: Gifts of the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. 


Wed., Oct 10, 2018. Concord REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm

Tue., Oct 16, 2018. Santa Rosa REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm

Wed., Oct 24, Berkeley REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm

Tue., Oct 30. Saratoga REI. 7:00pm - 8:30pm

All events are free. To register (advisable, but optional);t_lk

#2. Karen Berger at the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker's Association gathering. Karen is a Triple Crown recipient, travel writer, and—it turns out, a pianist. She has announced that she is doing “something totally new and different” at the event. She says, “(I will be) accompanying my speaking and the photography show (photos by Bart Smith) on classical piano. The events will be on Friday, Oct 12 at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. 

“The ‘Gathering’ celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Trail Systems Act. I'll be talking about Bart's and my (2014) book "America's Great Hiking Trails" (his photography, my words), which covers all the national scenic trails.” The speaking will be interspersed with showing photos from the book accompanied by piano music.

Also, “On Saturday night, Cindy Ross will present on her new book, The World is our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature and Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education. Her seventh book, it explores the value of using nature and outdoor adventure as an integral part of the educational process. Ross will reflect on how the national scenic trails inspired her family and how they used the trails as the best classroom for learning life's lessons.”

#3. There is no requirement for receiving the Compostela at the Pilgrim Office in Santiago that says the last 100km must be done in one year.You do have to be careful to get a new stamp and date from where you left off the prior year. (and get two stamps a day)

#4. Pacific Crest Trail Days is having the Summer Festival at Cascade Locks, OR, August 17-19, 2018. The event is free; there is a fee for camping. Learn about outdoor activities and gear—especially hiking, backpacking, and camping. Info on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. as well as the PCTA website.  

2#5. The Gathering of the ALDHA-west will be at Mt Hood, OR on October 12-14, 2018. The guest speaker will be Jennifer Pharr Davis. Davis is “Jennifer Pharr Davis is an American long distance hiker, author, speaker, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and Ambassador for the American Hiking Society.” (Wikipedia). if you'd like to volunteer!

#6. Pilgrim hiker Amanda Schaffer soon realized when she started walking on Camino routes that a lightweight pouch would be handy, so she designed a stylish pouch called “Pilgrim Pouch,” which is now available on Amazon, click here. and on Ebay, click here. Pilgrim Pouch is $29.99. It’s roomy, comfortable, light weight (2.5 ounces); made of eco-friendly fabric, water resistant, hand washable, and made in the USA. Useful on pilgrimage routes, but also for other hikes, shopping, and excursions around town.” (full disclosure: Amanda gave me a Pilgrim Pouch to try out. It's very cute and practical.)

Amanda’s current blog post, “Pilgrim Pouch Peregrinations,” shows Pilgrim Pouch's adventures in Chicago, the Windy City. Very imaginative and fun to see. If you scroll down further, you’ll find The Pouch visiting Obradoiro Plaza in front of the Cathedral in Santiago. Click here to read. 

#7. An option for using cell phone and GPS when traveling in Europe (including pilgrimage). Ralph writes, “We use T-Mobile and that gives us at least 2G level data in Europe for no extra cost. It is using the cell network so is sort of slow if you don't have wi-fi, but it good enough to get email. “GPS is a separate receiver in the phone, and works even if your phone is in airplane mode. Even so, to make use of it, you need an app that will work and use the gps in airplane mode. will work in airplane mode, but you have to preload the maps you need. To preload, you need Wi-Fi. Google Maps normally doesn't work in airplane mode, but recently they have added a feature to preload maps. If the maps are preloaded, Google Maps is supposed to work, but I haven't tried it. The maps preloaded for are different than the ones for Google Maps. My suggestion is to use and try it around here while your phone is in airplane mode.”

1#8. Baby, it’s hot outside, so a few strategies when hiking or backpacking during hot weather. It looks like the advice to drink 8 cups of water per day (under normal conditions) has been revised. Drink what you need—and it varies between people. “Hike in a Heat Wave” (Whit Richardson, Backpacker Mag., 8/18) says, “Good baseline is a half-liter per hour at 80 degrees, and a liter per hour at 100 degrees.” But don’t overdo—hyponatremia—is caused by too much water diluting the salt levels. 

  • Drink water before you start to hike. 
  • Eat carbs, salty snacks, and drink water during your hourly breaks
  • Keep your bandana (and other clothing if possible) wet. A moist bandana around your neck can help cool your blood as it circulates through your body. 
  • Carry a hiker’s umbrella. The metallic looking finish reflects the sun’s rays as well as keeps the sun off of you. You can find them on Amazon and by manufacturers such as Ex Officio.  
  • Wear sunscreen, and reapply every 3 hours or so when exercising. Wear a cloth hat that protects the back of your neck, and light-colored, UV-blocking clothing if possible. 
  • Hike during the cooler parts of the day (or night). When this is depends on where you are—altitude and latitude being among the factors, but generally it is coolest daybreak to 11 am and 4 pm to dusk.

#9. A recent email from American Pilgrims on the Camino included 
Spirit of the Camino:  


  • Live in the moment.
  • Welcome each day - its pleasures and its challenge.
  • Make others feel welcome.
  • Share.
  • Feel the spirit of those who have gone before you.
  • Imagine those who will follow you.
  • Appreciate those who walk with you today.

#10. S.F. Bay Regional: Wildlands Conservancy, a private nonprofit, suggests “Discover the Wildlands Conservancy Jenner Headland Preserve. There is limited, but free parking and access to 14 miles of trails—which at the moment appear to be led hikes.

#11.  S.F. Bay Area Regional: Perseids Meteor Shower ViewingIf conditions regarding wildfires allow: Saturday, August 11 @ 11:00 pm - Sunday, August 12 @ 1:00 am Bring the whole family out for an evening under the stars on Mount Burdell. Bring a blanket to sit on and enjoy the view. The star of the show will be the Perseids Meteor Shower, which will be at its peak at around Midnight.

All ages welcome. Dress in layers and wear sturdy shoes. Don’t forget to binoculars or a telescope, blankets, water, snacks, and star charts. Hot chocolate will be served. Friendly dogs are welcome, but must be leashed.

High fire danger cancels: Call (415) 473-7191 to get an update on fire danger status and land closures. If a “Red Flag” warning is in effect, all walks and events on Open Space District preserves are cancelled. RSVP required. Questions or to RSVP: Contact Mike Warner at 415 473-2816. Location: Mount Burdell Preserve. Meet at the gate on San Andreas Drive in Novato.

Directions: From Hwy 101 in Novato, take the exit for San Marin Drive west 2.3 miles. Turn right onto San Andreas Drive and follow approximately 0.5 miles. The gate is on the right (before dead end).

This year's Perseids should be the best meteor shower of the year; during their peak this month, spectators should see about 60-70 meteors per hour, 

Happy trails and travels, 

Susan Alcorn aka Backpack45

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #232, July 2018

2Happy 4th of July!!


1. Newt repair

2. Sorry, drinking alcohol won’t prevent traveler’s diarrhea

3. To share or not to share? 

4. Boots has arrived

5. Why and how to hike with your baby

6. Sebastian Junger on aging

7. Sierra Club Backpacking Trips open

8. Yosemite begins electronic entrance passes program

9. On my wish list: new book by Jennifer Pharr Davis

10. Nifty Ninety Pursuit Continues


3#1. Newt repair. With the exception of young children who can regenerate part of a finger if part of the nail is intact, people can’t regrow arms and legs. Newts, tadpoles, and most other salamanders can regrow legs, hearts, tails, and more! How many times is answered by Michael Ellis in "Ask the Naturalist" (Bay Nature, Jan-Feb. 2018) A: a biologist in Japan removed the lens of the eye of a newt 18 times during a 16-year study and it was regenerated perfectly each time.


#2. Sorry, drinking alcohol probably won’t prevent traveler’s diarrhea. According to US Berkeley’s wellness Letter (June 2018), wine can reduce some bacteria (including E.coli and Salmonella) that cause food-borne illness—probably because of the acidity—but the emphasis is may reduce. Some studies have shown that drinkers were less likely than non-drinkers to get sick, but tests have not been conclusive and the CDC doesn’t recommend drinking as a strategy. Also emphasized was it would take a lot of alcohol to be effective—definitely more than the one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. Party time?

And probiotics as a preventative—also uncertain/inconsistent test results. Some studies suggest that taking Saccharomyces boulardii, and a combination of lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum may prevent travelers’ diarrhea, but other studies have found no benefit. Added to this is the difficulty of figuring out what amount to use, how often, etc., and that the ingredients in some products are not what the labels claim. 

#3. To share or not to share. Passing around a bag of trail mix or chips to share at the campsite might sound like fun, but ask everyone to pour out what they want, not dip their hands into the bag. Poor hygiene—not washing hands thoroughly after a bathroom stop, etc. — is a major cause of backcountry E-coli and Giardia illnesses. (Thank you for the reminder,

#4. Boots is here! Geolyn Carvin, whose adventurous Boots McFarland entertains us in comic form, now has her book out. From the publisher’s info, On the Trail with Boots McFarland-Volume 1 is a collection of humorous comics capturing the highs and lows of backpacking life, interspersed with entries from the author's Pacific Crest Trail hiking journal. The ideas for most of these cartoons come directly from personal trail experiences... real or imagined.” I was happy to write the foreward. Geolyn’s podcast interview on Cascade Hiker Podcast will give you a taste of her down-to-earth humor. Here’s the link!

4#5. Yosemite Park Electronic Entrance Passes now in effect. Click here for details.  

#6. In 2013 Portlander Katie Arnold became a new mom and wanted to hike, but with others. From that came Hike it Baby, which has now blossomed to “more than 125,000 families in 277 cities in the U.S. alone, with 3,600 free nature walks every month.” (Outsideonline

1#7. In The Path of Most Resistance, Steven Junger (48), author of The Perfect Storm and filmmaker, considers reporting on wars and more. “I don’t feel too old. …probably up until age 70, to some degree, aging is elective. It’s socially determined when you start to feel old.” (Outside Mag. 2010)

#8. Itching for a backpacking trip? The Sierra Club still has several trips open. Here’s one, but there are many. Sierra Club outings link here

#9. The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by Jennifer Pharr Davis is definitely on my reading wish list. Davis, you may recall, set what was then (8/31/11) the fastest known time for a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail—46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. 


#10. Nifty Ninety Pursuit Continues. Ralph and I, and usually our good friend Patricia Schaffaczyk and her dog Boo, are well on our way to our goal of doing the Ninety Peaks designated by the Sierra Club, Bay Chapter (Peakbagger link here to challenge). The peaks, summits, hilltop range widely in level of difficulty. Some have been as easy at San Francisco's Russian Hill (where Coit Tower stands). Some ahead include such challenges as Rose Hill in Ohlone Wilderness between Del Valle and Sunol Regional Parks. This one requires a 20-mile hike or (as we will do it) an overnight stay in a backpacking camp in the Ohlone wilderness. Read my blog for our latest adventures. Ralph and I have now completed 44 peaks. Link to Susan's blog, Backpack45's Musing, here

Happy trails, happy travels, 

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)

2Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #231, June, 2018


1. Camino: Vezelay, FR route
2. Hiking in Italy
3. 2019 American Pilgrim gathering
4. What America’s most accomplished hikers choose
5. Billy Goat passed 50,000 mile mark
6. Fatalities in Yosemite
7. Happy Yosemite News
8. Book Tour planning/looking for new venues
9. Regional: New trail maps, free


#1. Camino: Vezelay, FR route: Ralph and I are just back (and still in the awkward jet-lag phase) from a walk on the French Chemin known as the Vezelay route. Last year we started in Vezelay and walked to Saint Amand Montrond; this year we continued on this route to a town just short of Limoges (to Saint Leonard de Noblat), a distance of 134 miles. From the Confraternity of Saint James, “The route runs southwest from the little town of Vézelay (in Burgundy), famous for its pilgrimage to the shrine of Mary Magdalene, whose relics are reputedly kept in its magnificent Abbey.  There are two distinct branches, the Bourges and Nevers routes, which meet in the village of Gargilesse.” 

Initially the landscape was green, flat, with many more cows than people (we saw perhaps a dozen and a half hikers the entire time), small farms and towns. Then we went through a section of large agricultural landholdings. And then the third section took us through the mountains—and reached what we were told was the highest elevation we would encounter until we reached the Pyrenees. In was fun to do some (moderate) climbing and spend time in forest after so much open landscape. For the most part, we were walking on pavement (I felt that having a pair of flat Spenco inserts was a tremendous help). I grew to love our hiker umbrellas because of the heat—we had only one time when it rained the entire day.


As usual for us, we stayed in a variety of accommodations—from pilgrim albergues to *** star hotels. Perhaps my favorite places to stay on this route were the Accueil Pelerin stays. This is a program that arranges for hosts to open their homes to pilgrims (not the general public). At a turn in the road, Loy-sur-Arnon, we stayed with Gerard Loup, a talented painter whose work is shown in galleries throughout Europe. As is typical of this program, we took our meals with our host. Many times when we have been in homes that participate in the Accueil Pelerin, our hosts have served us multi-course dinners including everything from aperitifs to the final cheese plate and dessert—all of the freshest ingredients. Because our French is limited, it is sometimes a bit awkward, but generally our hosts know more English than we do French, so we all manage. When possible, we select a place where English is spoken just to make it easier for everyone. Really, it’s not necessary to speak fluent French to get by—but it is more fun!

As far as cities and towns to see—most are tiny, but three come to mind as places where it would be good for a layover day—Chateaumeillant, Saint Leonard de Noblat, and Limoges. Keep in mind that most restaurants and shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays, so carry enough lunch materials to carry you through and we recommend making reservations ( or directly) for accommodations a night ahead because some places will be open only if you have arranged a stay.

Ralph prepared a detailed spreadsheet of the towns—mileages and facilities, so send a message if you would like a copy. At some point, he’ll post it on our website, but he hasn’t done that yet.  

A couple of interesting coincidences: We were La Souterraine, staying in a beautiful old house dating from the 1500s, and over dinner started talking with a young couple from Argentina. He spoke English, so we soon got to talking about where they lived in Patagonia. We mentioned that we had met a couple from Buenos Aires many years back, the Zapp family, who were at that time traveling in the U.S. and had stopped in San Francisco on a book tour (sitting at a table outside the Cow Palace) and were selling their new book, “Spark Your Dream.” One of their dreams from an early age was to travel to Barrow, Alaska—they had accomplished that in their 1928-model car —and had gained two children along the trip. 

I lost track of the Zapp family about the time they were trying to figure out how to get their car to Australia because that country’s immigration policy would not allow their wood-sided vehicle into the country because of possible insect infestation. Anyway, our new-found acquaintance from Patagonia said he knew of the couple--that they are considered heroes in Argentina because traveling to Alaska—the tip of the U.S. to the north, from Ushuaia, the tip of Argentine from the south—was a dream to many Patagonians. Then when we got home, I found an email announcement from the Zapp family that they are currently in France, with four kids and still the ancient car, and are raising money to sail back home after 18 years of travel around the world. Fascinating couple, check them out at 

The second story is less complicated, but fun to tell. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant—sort of in the middle of nowhere and were surprised that the dining room was filled with African art—paintings, carved figures, and a display case with jewelry. I had lost my earrings early on the walk and was interested in buying some new ones—in part because I didn’t want the holes in my ears to close up and have to go through getting them pierced again.  I wanted something inexpensive and here there were some good choices. I selected a pair of green ones from Senegal. As we were hiking the next day, it became increasingly warm and we stopped while I took off my pullover sweater. Off popped one of the earrings. The stone part of the earrings wasn’t hard to find, but we couldn’t find the little metal backing. As Ralph and I were bent over searching in the loose dirt, another hiker, from Berlin we soon learned, came along and we explained what we were doing. He took a look and immediately came up with the earring backing. We continued talking a bit longer, and then he, a much faster hiker, went on his way. He was the only hiker we saw all day. Later, when I was on Facebook, I came upon a post from a woman who was in his same Facebook group—he had told the story to them.  Small, fun world!

3  #2. Italy: The second part of our trip was a guided hiking tour, “Tuscany, Portofino, and the Cinque Terre” (Italy) with Wilderness Travel. There were nine participants and three   leaders. We started in Fiesole, just outside of Florence, and ended in Camogli, near Portofino. My main interest was in seeing Cinque Terre, but like many others in the group, we   actually liked other places we visited more. The Cinque Terre is beautiful, but very crowded—even on the trails up in the hills. We ended our trip with four days on our own in Venice.

  #3. Camino de Santiago: Next year’s 22nd Pilgrim gathering by the American Pilgrims on the will be in North Carolina. The 2019 Gathering of Pilgrims, with the theme “Cultivating Camino Connections” is scheduled for  Thursday, March 28 - Sunday, March 31, 2019  at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, Black Mountain, North Carolina. If you are interested in volunteering as a Camino albergue host, check the APOC website for information about hospitalero trainings. 

  #4. The Hiking Life: I enjoy Cam’s blogposts. Here’s a link to his info on the gear that 12 of the most accomplished thru-hikers in this country favor. I was especially interested to read that 4 of the 5 women he asked wear the shoes that Ralph and I are currently using—Altra Lone Peak trail runners. (A huge thank you to Scott Williams for turning us on to these zero drop shoes that have plenty of toe space!!!) : 

#5. Saddened to learn that there have recently been three fatalities in Yosemite National Park. On Saturday, June 2, two experienced climbers fell when on the Freeblast Route of El Capitan. And in May, a person fell while on the cables while climbing the very popular Half Dome. The park identified the victims on El Capitan as Jason Wells, 45, of Boulder, Colorado and Tim Klein, 42, of Palmdale, California. Klein reportedly had climbed the peak more than a hundred times previously; Wells also had climbed it many times. The Half Dome incident was the first since 2010. The victim was on the cables, which go up the last 400 feet of the dome. The report is that it was during a thunderstorm when the granite was very slippery.

#6. Good news from Yosemite: According to the Yosemite Conservancy, the park has seen a 95% reduction in bear incidents since 1998. Bear incidents include damage to property (mostly cars); stolen food, or (more rarely) human injury. Yosemite is home to 300-500 black bears (not grizzlies) and they eat 8,000-20,000 calories of bugs and vegetation per day. 

The Mariposa Grove, home to several hundred Giant Sequoias, has been closed for restoration for three years, but is scheduled to reopen to visitors at  9 am  on  June 15, 2018 . 

#7. 50,000 trail miles! John E Mummert shared a post on Facebook on May 31, that legendary long-distance hiker Billy Goat (trailname) made his goal of 50,000 trail miles. Billy Goat, 79, well-known in Pacific Crest Trail circles, reached his goal while hiking in Portugal. 

1#8. Book tour venues: I am in the process of scheduling dates for our narrated slide show on the Norte and Primitivo routes of the Camino de Santiago—the topic of Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. If you have suggestions of where our program would be welcomed, please let me know. We had more than 200 people turn out for our March/April programs at REI and for the Northern California Pilgrim group and received wonderful reviews. 

#9. Regional--new trail maps: Mount Diablo Trail Map. A new version of the map, covering the mountain and surroundings parks and preserves is available at Save Mount Diablo events, or by request at  The John Muir Land Trust also has new maps—for the Fernandez and Carr ranches. Visit to see them. Or click on

Happy trails, happy travels, 

Susan Alcorn (aka Backpack45)

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #230 April, 2018


  1. John Vonhof does a podcast about Susan’s Camino adventures
  2. Angela “walks the earth” 
  3. 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System 
  4. Susan and Ralph’s Norte and Primitivo programs at S.F. Bay Area REI stores and Book Passage, Corte Madera
  5. 'Scrubba’ 
  6. ‘Purple Rain’ Skirts
  7. ‘Last Minute’ camping/backpacking rentals
  8. Pacific Crest Trail Assoc. on safe stream crossings 
  9. PCTA Seeks volunteers
  10. ‘Passport in Time’ seeks volunteers
  11. Regional: S.F. Bay Area Bay Nature’s excellent hiking map and info
  12. Taking a break from the newsletter


#1. John Vonhof, author of the popular book, Fixing Your Feet (great resource for hikers and runners), also runs a podcast called Writers on Fire. He was kind enough to interview me in March about the long distance hikes Ralph and I have done—in particular the Caminos. Many hints for hikers are included in my comments.

#2. “My name is Angela Maxwell and I’ve been walking solo around the world for three years. I left my home in Oregon, USA to attempt a slow travel adventure across four continents, three of which I have completed. I have one continent left to complete my walk, which is home across the US. However, I made a side trip back to Mongolia to join an expedition with camels across the Steppes.

“When I’m not walking, I enjoy painting and writing. One of the aspects of my walk that I enjoy is the solitude because I’m an introvert. But my ambition is to connect with the culture and people in the places I walk through. Slow adventuring is a way to learn, expand our ideas and creativity and encourage cultural understanding. Although my walk may be completed in the next year or two, I think I’ll be going walking adventures for the rest of my life.” Follow Angela at

1#3. Help celebrate the 50th Anniversary (Oct. 2-1968- Oct 2, 2018 ) of the National Trails System. Events will be announced later. (photo in snow PCT in Washington below)

#4. Caminos Norte and Primitivo: Ralph and I are off to a good start with our schedule of events on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo narrated slide presentations. We continue through the end April. All events are free; reservations recommended (but generally not an issue). We would love to see you! 

April 3, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Fremont, CA

April 4, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Corte Madera, CA

April 11, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Concord, CA

April 14, 2018 .  Saturday .  7:00-8:30 p.m.  BOOK PASSAGE, Corte Madera, CA

April 17, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Francisco, CA

April 19, 2018 .  Thursday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Carlos, CA

April 24, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Saratoga, CA

April 28, 2018 .  Saturday .  9:00 am.-10:30 am.  REI Dublin

#5. At the March RUCK (an American Long Distance Assoc.-West event) in Berkeley, we met a couple who were preparing to go on one of the Camino routes and learned about a product that they are taking called the Scrubba, which they will use for doing their laundry. Lorie Florence had a sample. You fill the bag with your laundry, your soap or determent, and rub-a-dub-dub. What’s unique about the Scrubba is that inside the bag are “hundreds of internal Scrubba nodules [to] efficiently clean clothes in minutes–a modern take on the old fashioned washboard.” It’s made of “Durable microbial- and hydrolysis-resistant polyether TPU” and can doubles as a dry-bag. It weighs about five ounces and isn’t cheap, but it seems pretty ingenious. Several models and systems starting at about $45.

#6. At the RUCK, I was also introduced to Purple Rain Adventure Skirts, and was very impressed. The skirts are handmade in Mandy ‘Purple Rain' Bland’s small workshop in Southern Oregon. Mandy herself is an experienced backpacker; she came up with the idea for the skirts while thru hiking the Appalachian Trail (and also hiked the PCT).  The skirts are lightweight, comfortable, and well designed. The waistband is of wide stretchy fabric so that it doesn’t rub or bunch up uncomfortably under a backpack’s hip belt, the length is moderate so that you don’t feel you are revealing all, and the two pockets are large enough, snap shut, and placed well so that you can actually reach them while wearing your pack. Her second item is a hiker kilt, which is very similar to the skirt, but has a snap at the hem line that can be snapped together to provide a bit more coverage when in town, etc. Highly recommended product. 

#7. More RUCK: “Last Minute;” I also visited a booth for Last Minute, “Rent outdoors gear 1 hour before your trip.” Call or text +1-415-813-1881. They sell and rent some products in the San Francisco store, and deliver to additional areas. 

4#8. The Pacific Crest Trail Association says that “People die in stream crossings. Tragically, two thru-hikers drowned last year. It’s better to turn around than risk a dangerous crossing. Don't underestimate the risk. We want you to be prepared, so we wrote a whopping 2,600 words on the topic of staying safe. While long, it's concise and full of useful information. Pour a cup of tea and read it over.”

One example given, “If you have three people, try the triangle method.

“Unbuckle your packs and form a triangle facing each other. Hold on to the waist of the person next to you. Have a strong person upstream to break the flow. Stay close together and have a leader talk the team through each step. Make sure two people are securely planted before the third person moves. Together, as a tripod holding each other up, you’re stronger. Work your way slowly across the stream as a team.”

#9. PCTA seeks volunteers. Projects up and down the trail—some are one day, some a week or more. One big one is working on the 12 miles affected by last year’s Eagle fire along the Columbia River (currently still closures in the area), but the is working on the situation. Mar 27, 2018 they reported that “After approximately 12 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Columbia River Gorge was damaged in the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, PCTA volunteers are working with the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Columbia Gorge Recovery Team to reopen the trail,” Pacific Crest Trail Association announced in March.

More projects, look here. Volunteer projects. 

#10. Interested in cultural history? “Hello PITsters: and welcome to this March edition of the e-Traveler! We just had several new projects roll in for you to take a look at, and other great projects still in the application phase and looking for hardy PIT adventurers. Some of the new ones are "ongoing until filled," so don't miss your chance - apply today! We know there are other projects on their way, so keep an eye peeled here, on our Facebook and Twitter feeds and, of course, on the PIT website (

The PIT Clearinghouse will be closed from  April 7-17 …, but applications will be accepted and processed, and they will be checking emails. 

(Editor) Under their current projects, I found these examples of projects: 

June 14-25 ;  June 28-July 9 ;  July 12-July 23 ;  July 26-August 6 ;  August 9-August 20 ;  August 23-September 3, 2018  - Historic Elk Lake Guard Station Staffing Project 2018 - Deschutes NF – OR. Historic Elk Lake Guard Station lies along the beautiful and popular Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. It was originally built in 1929, and was afterward in regular use for almost seven decades. Later, after having been “de-commissioned” as a full-time Forest Service guard station, it was in dire need of maintenance and repair. From 1998-2001, the Forest Service and Passport in Time volunteers worked to restore the landmark. In 2001, the guard station, eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), re-opened its doors as a Forest Service visitor’s center and interpretive historic site. Since that time, PIT volunteers have been recruited and trained to staff Elk Lake Guard Station, and serve as professional-caliber information/interpretation specialists for the site’s thousands of annual visitors. Continuing that tradition, we need your help as uniformed Forest Service representatives again this year. Volunteers will keep the station clean and tidy, and will provide a full range of information and interpretive services to visitors.

“ July 2-July 11 ;  July 12-July 23 ;  August 1-August 13 ;  August 15-August 23 ;  August 23-September 4, 2018  - Fish Lake Guard Station Interpretive Hosting Project 2018 - Willamette NF - OR

Nestled in the High Cascades of Western Oregon, you will find the Fish Lake Guard Station. The Station is a Forest Service administrative building group constructed in the early 1900s, and was in regular use between then and the 1960s. During its formal life span, it served as a guard station, fire headquarters, and remount station. The site is bordered to the southwest by Fish Lake, and encompasses 16.81 acres of gently sloping, south-facing, high plateau terrain. It hosts 18 historic buildings, structures, and sites, as well as two non-historic buildings and other structures. The Guard Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), as is the Santiam Wagon Road, which cuts through the Guard Station compound. Once again, we call on PIT volunteers to serve as uniformed interpretation specialists for the many visitors to the Forest and the Guard Station! You will work with the public, providing information, history, and guidance during your session. During your hours “off the clock,” this is a fantastic place for walks, hikes, fishing, wildlife (and people) viewing, and much more! We will only take applications until all slots are filled, though, so apply today – we hope to see you for another great season at Fish Lake Guard Station!

#11. Regional: S.F. Bay Area. Bay Nature’s excellent trail-finder hiking map and info

#12. We're taking a break-- so there will not be a May issue of this newsletter.


Happy trails, 

Susan Alcorn aka Backpack45

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips, March 2018


  1. Tomorrow ,  Saturday : Special Camino Norte & Primitivo presentation after Nor. CA pilgrim walk
  2. “50-Mile Hiking Craze ‘Foolhardy’”
  3. KINDLE version of Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo
  4. Reported Attack on Camino Pilgrim near Finisterre, Spain did not happen!
  5. Northern California “Shell Blessing and Potluck” in March
  6. Susan and Ralph’s Norte and Primitivo programs at S.F. Bay Area REI stores and Book Passage
  7. 10-tips-for-hiking-downhill/#comment-13423
  8. Keeping synthetic fibers out of the environment
  9. Why Americans are developing osteoarthritis of the knee in greater numbers
  10. The Ruck’s coming up
  11. REI offering Camino tours on the Norte.
  12. Challenge from East Bay Regional Parks
  13. California Mission Walkers



#1. S.F. Bay Area Regional: Oakland, CA. Tomorrow,  Sat. March 3 , Ralph and I will be giving our first narrated slide show presentation on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo as part of the “Lunch and Learn Camino Presentation” following the regular Lake Merritt Walk by the Northern California Chapter of APOC. 

The Lake Merritt walk is open to everyone. It’s a monthly, informal gathering that goes rain or shine starting from the pergola on the east side of Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Participants meet at  10:30 a.m.  and start walking at  10:45 a.m. —going clockwise around the lake on a paved, level 3.3 mile walk, which takes about an hour. 

The “Lunch and Learn Camino Presentation” is optional and requires a reservation for lunch and the program at the nearby Barlago Italian Kitchen. Look for the event on our Peregrinos Northern California Facebook group to RSVP online, or email Laurie put the 'at' sign

#2. “’50-Mile Hiking Craze ‘Foolhardy.’” Some of you may remember a hiking craze during JFK’s presidency. As I recently was sorting through some old newspaper clippings, I came across this item “Kansas City, MO (AP) The national reaction to President Kennedy’s challenge on 50-mile hikes was foolhardy, says a former Green Bay Packer football lineman. ‘Leave the spectacular for television,” Dr. James S. Feurig, now director of student health at Michigan State University, said at the American College Health Association meeting  Thursday  [4/25/1963]. He said less that 2-1/2 percent of Americans get enough exercise at their work.” The Independent (Richmond, CA) dated April 26, 1963

#3. Reminder: The KINDLE version of Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo is also now available on Amazon. Please spread the word to your friends and family who might be taking a Camino walk this year. And if you enjoy Healing Miles, please consider writing an Amazon review. 

#4. Pilgrim attach did not occur… Last month, you may recall, I ran an item about a pilgrim woman being abducted and raped while walking from Finisterre to Santiago de Compostela, Spain in early February. Now according to an article cited by American Pilgrims on the Camino, we learn that this attack did not occur. “This morning, the Voz de Galicia reported that that the pilgrim, after obtaining proper medical and psychological care, has admitted she fabricated the incident as a result of a psychological breakdown. Full details of the report can be found in…/pe…/0003_201802G22P10991.htm. (February 22 at 4:33am)

#5. Regional S.F. Bay Area. The Northern California Chapter’s Annual Shell Blessing Ceremony and Potluck will be  Saturday, March 17, 2018 9:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.  at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Oakland. Reservations are required. Check at APOC’s website at

2#6. Caminos Norte and Primitivo: Ralph and I are going to have a schedule full of narrated slide presentations on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo at the end of March and through April. All events are free; reservations recommended (but generally not an issue). We would love to see you! 

March 27, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Mountain View, CA 

March 28, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Berkeley, CA 

April 3, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Fremont, CA

April 4, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Corte Madera, CA

April 11, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Concord, CA

April 14, 2018 .  Saturday .  7:00-8:30 p.m.  BOOK PASSAGE, Corte Madera, CA

April 17, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Francisco, CA

April 19, 2018 .  Thursday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Carlos, CA

April 24, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Saratoga, CA

April 28, 2018 .  Saturday .  9:00 am.-10:30 am.  REI Dublin

#7. 10 Tips for Hiking Downhill. Cam’s blogpost, The Hiking Life, has some helpful suggestions for going downhill without injury including: take shorter steps; tighten your hip belt, keep your pack weight down. Read all of his ideas and the why and wherefore here.

I agree with all of the suggestions—and have found that #9 is of utmost importance. I worry a lot about falling when going downhill (at my age, in the 70s, it is of more concern), but I remind myself to stay loose because I have found that the more rigid I hold myself, the more likely I am to slip and slide.  

#8. Fleece garments aren’t perfect. In spite of their great usefulness to hikers, fleece clothing has a downside—“every time such garments are washed, thousands of plastic fibers are released and ultimately end up on rivers and oceans,” where they work their way through the food web. What you can do: suggests the article, "Don’t Get Fleeced," in Sierra Magazine, Jan/Feb. 2018, is don’t wash these items as much and look into outerwear options. There is a bag designed to hold your fleece clothing while washing that will keep the microfibers out of the waterways—Guppyfriend washing bag.

#9. Why the increase in osteoarthritis? According to a Harvard study, Americans are twice as likely now to get osteoarthritis of the knee than they did before WW II. And it is not just because Americans are living longer and are heavier. Researchers have hypothesized that "physical inactivity may be a factor because it can lead to thinner cartilage and weaker muscles to stabilize the knee joint, and it can contribute to low-grade inflammation.” (University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Dec. 2017.)


#10. The RUCK! “Ruck is the German word for Backpacking, and has been used through the trail community as a name for an event that helps you get out and backpack. Cost is $20-$35. On site camping at some locales will be available  Friday  and Saturday  nights for those who wish to stay overnight. 

“This day-long event is designed for all sorts of backpackers (from novice to expert) to prepare themselves for the hiking season. The primary focus is on attendees looking to set out on their first long distance hike be it on the Camino de Santiago, Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, Timberline, Wonderland, or John Muir Trail.

“Whether you are on trail for a few days or several months, if you’re hiking this summer, this is the event to attend!"

March 3, 2018 , Inland NW Ruck, Coeur d'Alene, ID

March 10, 2018 ; NorCal Ruck, Berkeley Hills, CA

March 17, 2018 , Colorado Rockies Ruck, Golden, CO

March 31, 2018 , Bellingham Ruck, Bellingham, WA

#11. Camino: REI is offering nine-day trips along the Camino priced from $4,199.  Some dates are still available.

#12. Annual Trails Challenge opens in East Bay Regional Parks. This fun, self-monitoring challenge is to hike the equivalent of a marathon, 26.2 miles, or five of their featured trails, by the end of the year. There are 20 different trails—varying in length and level of difficulty and it’s a great way to train and to experience new or old favorites. Download the guidebook and to find out where you can pick up a free t-shirt while the supply lasts. 

3#13. California Mission Walkers news. California Mission Walkers goal is, “promoting a walking route along the historic El Camino Real between the 21 California Spanish missions, and supporting those who walk it.” The have a new website, which they hope will help to spread the word about the California Mission Walk, make it easier for people to find the group, and provide information to those planning their walks, including information about getting started on a mission walk. Their California Mission Walk Facebook page will still continue for our ongoing discussions. 

Happy trails!

Susan Alcorn aka Backpack45


Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #228 February 2018

  1. The many benefits of hiking poles
  2. KINDLE version of Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo
  3. Woman attacked on Camino
  4. The focus on setting records going too far?
  5. Taking a short, steep horseback ride  
  6. Regional: Camino talks on packing (Silicon Valley Chapter)
  7. Regional: Northern California “Shell Blessing and potluck in March
  8. Regional: Special Camino Norte & Primitivo presentation after Nor. CA walk
  9. Regional: Susan and Ralph's programs at S.F. Bay Area REI stores Norte and Primitivo 
  10. REI Adventures offering trip along Norte route
  11. APOC Gathering spots filling fast. 
  12. Regional: Excellent, and somewhat challenging, hiking opportunities
  13. Regional: East Bay Regional Park District’s Trail Challenge 2018



#1. The many benefits of hiking poles. 
Ralph and I have used several types of hiking poles over the years—after our initial backpacking trips in the Sierra where we each used a single wooden pole found trailside.  The first purchased poles were aluminum—which we liked initially, but then better things came along. We don’t like the twist-to-adjust ones because the twist mechanism always seems to fail at the least convenient times. Some people like the locking-type mechanism, but I no longer see a need to adjust the length of my pole whether going up or down hills. I absolutely love my current poles—Black Diamond, of carbon fiber, which collapse down 15 & ¾ inches and weigh 4.5 oz. (for the pair). 

Why I love them: provide stability—especially when stream-crossing, on uneven ground, scrambling up hillsides, descending steep paths. Push me along faster on level ground. Work upper body and take some of the load off lower body, which provides help to the knee, hip, ankle, and feet joints, etc. 

Some other benefits not always considered:

  1. Prevent hands swelling in hot weather
  2. Provide support for some tent models
  3. Protect or possibly ward off animals—including insects
  4. Useful for guiding snakes off the trail
  5. Provide entertainment – baton twirling during idle moments
  6. Allow drawing arrows to point the way (temporarily only) or initials in the sand
  7. Measure depth of water, or mud, before a crossing

Phillip Werner, also known Section Hiker, asks, “Why aren’t all Trekking Poles This Good? He loves his new Pacer Poles as he explains in this current blog:

#2. The KINDLE version of Healing MilesHealing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo is also now available on Amazon. Please spread the word to your friends and family who might be taking a Camino walk this year. And if you enjoy Healing Miles, please consider writing an Amazon review. 

#3. Appalling news from the Camino near Finisterre: I am sorry to have to report that a pilgrim woman was abducted and raped while walking from Finisterre to Santiago just two days ago. She survived the attack and is receiving care. I want to remind people that more than 300,000 people reached the pilgrim office last year—and that figure does not include the many who walked Camino routes but did not go into the office to receive a credential. Still, there are isolated areas, and trails that are more remote, so taking precautions is important. Most everyone agrees that hiking in Spain is safer than hiking in many parts of the U.S., but that is cold comfort to anyone who experiences an attack.

Here’s a repeat of an item in last September’s newsletter with some safety precautions, "Women’s Safety on the Camino. In general, the Camino paths are very safe places to be, but just like in the ‘real world,’ incidents occur. Anyone on the trails is well advised to program Spain’s (and many other countries in Europe) emergency number, 112, into their telephone. There is a downloadable App that allows you to send an alert from a mobile device/smartphone to the police.’ 

Finally, for the benefit of everyone, it is urged that you report all incidents to the police.”

#4. Outside Magazine, Marc Peruzzi, Jan 20, 2018. OUT OF BOUNDS: Stop the Progression Already. Increasingly, what we do outside is less about enjoying the activity itself as an intrinsic good, and more about planning ways to go bigger, faster, and farther, often for our selfie-stick mounted cameras. And so it went that once healthy outdoor pursuits devolved into suicide clubs."

#5. Horses to take you up to O Cebreiro on the Camino Frances? Just heard about during a local pilgrim walk. Probably wouldn’t be for me because every rental horse I have been on races back to the stable instead of forging on ahead, but some love this service. When on the Camino, you’ll see a sign at the start of tiny Vega del Calcarce, which is a few miles ahead of the 620-meter elevation ascent to O Cebreiro. The actual rentals began in Las Herrerias. The service is by Victor, reached at 638-041823. Cost, last I heard, is 35 Euros—pretty steep, but so is the ascent. On Ivar’s forum I saw a comment that the horses are not well cared for, but the majority of people using this service did not comment on this claim. 

#6.  Camino Events - Packing for the Camino. Regional: Judy Barnes and Pat Day of the Camino Silicon Valley Chapter. Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. REI, MARINA. 145 General Stilwell Drive, Marina, CA Register online or call the store at 831-883-8048. And, Wednesday, February 7, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.REI, SAN CARLOS, 1119 Industrial Road, San Carlos, CA

Register online or call 650-508-2330.

#7. Camino de Santiago: Regional S.F. Bay Area. The Northern California Chapter’s Annual Shell Blessing Ceremony and Potluck will be  Saturday, March 17, 2018  at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Oakland. Check at APOC’s website at for more details or changes.

#8. Camino: Northern CA chapter: The next regular informal walk around Oakland’s Lake Merritt will be on  Saturday , Mach 3, 2018. From Laurie Ferris’s Camino Provides site, “The group meets at the pergola on the east side of Oakland’s Lake Merritt at  10:30 a.m.  and starts walking at  10:45 a.m.  in a clockwise direction around the lake. It is a paved and level 3.3 mile walk and takes about an hour.” Everyone is welcome. 

3Following the March walk, there will be lunch at the Barlago Italian Kitchen and Susan and Ralph Alcorn will be presenting a narrated slide show on their Norte and Primitivo Camino pilgrimages. Lunch and the program will be RSVP-required as space is limited. More event details will be posed by  Feb. 10  on the Peregrinos Northern California Facebook group, or you can email

#9. Susan and Ralph’s REI Events on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo: Ralph and I are going to have a schedule full of narrated slide presentations on the Caminos Norte and Primitivo at the end of March and through April. All events are free; reservations recommended (but generally not an issue). We would love to see you! 

March 27, 2018 .  Tuesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Mountain View, CA 

March 28, 2018 .  Wednesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI, Berkeley, CA 

April 3, 2018 .  Tuesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Fremont, CA

April 4, 2018 .  Wednesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Corte Madera, CA

April 11, 2018 .  Wednesday ,  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Concord, CA 

April 17, 2018 .  Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Francisco, CA

April 19, 2018   Thursday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI San Carlos, CA

April 24, 2018   Tuesday .  7:00-8:30 pm.  REI Saratoga, CA

April 28, 2018 .  Saturday .  9:00 am.-10:30 am.  REI Dublin, CA

#10. Camino: REI is giving a nine day-trip along the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. Priced from $4,199.

#11. Final Reminder: Annual National Gathering of American Pilgrims on the Camino,  April 12 – 15, 2018 . 

Vallombrosa Center, Menlo Park, Complete information and registration for all events: Things are filling very fast!

1#12. Nifty Ninety: As I mentioned in the January newsletter, Ralph and I are embarking on a new challenge, the “Nifty Ninety Peaks” as thrown out by the Sierra Club Bay Chapter. I’ve resurrected my blog to write about our progress so far and why I think it would be a fun and worthwhile goal for local hikers. We’ve now completed 14 of them and it’s turning out to be a great excuse to plan hikes with friends. has more info. 

#13. Regional:  East Bay Regional Park District: Healthy Parks Healthy People. Trails Challenge 2018. Trails Challenge is celebrating its 25th Anniversary! Every year more than 10,000 people use this FREE self-guided program to explore our regional parks and to keep fit outdoors. The free printed Guide Book and T-Shirt are available at participating Visitor Centers or the EBRPD administration office, while supplies last. No Registration is needed to participate. Simply pick-up or download the Guidebook and get started! The Guidebook includes detailed trail descriptions for hikes in 20 Regional Parks or Trails. Hikes range from easy to challenging. There are trails open to hikers, bicyclists, dogs, and equestrians, and many are wheelchair accessible. To complete the challenge, hike five of the trails – or 26.2 miles of trails.

NEW! All 20 featured trails are now available on the AllTrails app. First download the free app, sign-up and log in, then go to and click on “Copy to my lists”, followed by "Continue in App". The featured trails will show under 'Lists' in 'Plan'. 

The app indicates where you are on the trail, enabling easy return to the trail if you stray from it. You can also record your hikes, and share your photos, comments etc. with others.

Buen Camino/Pleasant hiking/Tale care!

Susan Alcorn aka Backpack 45

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales and Tips #228, January 2018


Late Breaking News: Healing Miles now out on Kindle

  1. Earlier feats on the John Muir Trail
  2. Camino de Santiago 2017 statistics
  3. Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo
  4. Peaceable Kingdom launches new Camino support project
  5. Reminder: dates of national Pilgrim Gathering
  6. Checkpoint and the G2G 2018?
  7. New Year’s Resolutions
  8. My intention for 2018 – Ninety Nifty Peaks
  9. Regional Events, S.F. Bay Area


2#1. Setting records on the John Muir Trail. Nowadays, when one sets a record for being the oldest, youngest, or fastest person to complete a major trail—or achieves another exceptional goal such as climbing Yosemite’s El Capitan even though quadriplegic or blind or in some other way greatly challenged—we hear or read about it in minutes. This has not always been the case. 

Back in the day, people also did amazing things—and they didn’t always get noticed in the manner that they now do. And sometimes we forget that the current crop of hikers, runners, climbers, etc. have probably benefited from those who came before. New, better and lighter equipment is available, for the most part trails have been improved or better marked, alternate routes have been discovered. 

I love this story sent by reader Dick Ryon of Livermore, CA.

"I never fail to bring up a friend's incredible journey on the John Muir Trail when the opportunity arises. I forget how long ago, maybe in the early 1970’s, my friend Larry Marino ran the John Muir trail, unassisted, without caches, in 5 days. I no longer remember the exact time, hours and minutes. He was so fatigued at the end that he did not recognize his wife and ran past her at Happy Isles in Yosemite at the conclusion of his run. As far as I know, there are no references to his amazing achievement. (This took place way before the internet.) Larry died a few years later in a bicycling accident, going from Los Alamos to Santa Fe, NM. Larry and fellow mountaineer - physicist Jim Wilson and a couple others also skied the John Muir trail together in winter." 

[ed.] I like reporting firsts, fastest, youngest achievements, in much the same way I enjoy the Olympics—seeing what the human body is capable of doing. However, even though I needed weeks to complete the John Muir Trail and months to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, I still consider it a huge personal victory and accomplishment. Anyone doing major miles on our grand trails is a winner in my book! -- photo from Mt. Whitney summit. 

#2. The Pilgrimage to Santiago – 2017 statistics. According the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela, 301,036 people received Compostelas for having traveled on foot, the required minimum 60 miles (100 kilometers) or by bicycle or on horseback 120 miles (200 km). You can find much more detail online at, but a few stats: just over half were men (50.88%), just under were females (49.12%). The greatest number, 25.54%, started their walk at Sarria (at the 100 km. point); in second place was St. Jean Pied du Port (500-mile point) with 11.41%. Most took the Camino Francés (60.04%), followed by the Portuguese route, the Ingles, the Via de la Plata, Norte (3.35%), the Primitivo (2.90 %). 17,522 were from the U.S. 

#3. Related to item #2. Please keep in mind that if you want a less-crowded, somewhat more challenging, alternative route to the Camino Francés, consider picking up a copy of my new book, Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo. These two routes are beautiful! It’s now available in soft cover and will be out on Kindle shortly. or your local bookstore can order it from Ingram.

#4. Rebekah Scott and her husband Patrick live in Moratinos, a tiny village near the Camino Francés. If you should happen to meet them while on the way, you would soon learn that they are doers, not slackers. Rebekah and Paddy, as you may recall, organize a small group of volunteers called the Ditch Pigs that goes out each year to clean up trash left by walkers (and others) alongside the Camino route. 

Here’s her latest project: “Welcome to the Peaceable Projects newsletter. 2018 and the launch of something beautiful. It's a new year, a new look, and a brand-new Camino-based non-profit dedicated to keeping charity alive on the Camino Ways to Santiago. We're launched! Arching over the InterWebz, and you´re first in line for the fun! 

Go right now to … and nose around the splendid new Peaceable Projects Inc. website. You´ll see familiar places and faces and learn what´s happening now in Moratinos: learn of our new projects for 2018, see where your contributions are going, and ponder opportunities to join the activity… all in one online location. It´s engineered for SmartPhones, IPads, and on-the-move media as well as big, clunky computers like mine… so check it out while it´s hot! 

Sign up on the site for updates like this one, so you never miss a thing. 


Our mailing address is: peaceable projects, Calle Antanon 2, Camino de Santiago, Moratinos, Palencia 34349, Spain. Email: rebekah scott <"

#5. Reminder: The National Gathering of APOC is approaching. American Pilgrims on the Camino hosts an annual Gathering of Pilgrims. The Gathering is an opportunity to share experiences, to support one another and to learn more about the Camino and pilgrimage experience.

The 2018 Gathering’s theme is “Making Meaning from Memories. There are three parts to the gathering:

Tuesday, April 10 - Thursday, April 12, 2018 . Hospitalero Training. Location to be announced and more information available this month on registration.

Wednesday, April 11 - Thursday, April 12, 2018 . 2nd Annual Chapter Coordinators’ Workshop, Vallombrosa Center

Thursday, April 12 - Sunday, April 15, 2018 , Vallombrosa Center, Menlo Park, California

Complete information and registration for all events will be available January 2018

1#6. Checkpoint and the G2G 2018? For those who just can’t let an opportunity go by for a huge challenge, check out the information on the Grand 2 Grand Ultra-2018 event and the Mauna to Mauna Ultra -2019 (Hawaii’s big island). The G2G event is 273 km, 6 stages, over 7 days. It’s from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the top of the Grand Staircase (Arizona to Utah). Dates are  September 23 – 29, 2018 . “Registration for G2G 2018 is still open and entries are being received with country quotas filling fast. See the link to the competitor list below.” 

The M2M is 250 km, 6 stages, 7 days. September Pre-registration for M2M 2019 is open and the planned date for the event is May 2019! Pre-registrants will be given priority when formal registration opens in a few months from now. or check their Facebook pages.  (photo by Susan Alcorn: Southwest sunset).

#7. New Year’s Resolutions and Intentions: As most of us have learned, New Year’s Resolutions are hard to keep. This doesn’t mean they can’t work, but statistically they usually don't. Forbes Magazine gives hints on how to be successful. First of all, why do they fail? “#1. Ambiguous Terms.” Saying you want to “Get Organized” is not particularly helpful. Stating that you “will not allow clutter on your desk” just might.  Setting “#2. Overly Ambitious Goals” is another way to set yourself up for failure. If you can’t presently walk a mile, saying that you will run the Grand 2 Grand this year might not work. How about saying that you will add 10% to the distance you presently can walk or run and consistently doing it? “3. Lack Of A Strategy” is their third tenet. Instead of a vague “I’ll walk no matter what,” consider how you could make this real. Do you need to buy a new rain jacket? Do you need to find a hiking partner? Do you need to modify the goal to make it realistic, “I’ll walk when I am not on a plane to Australia? I’ll walk unless I have dental surgery planned. I’ll walk every day except the anticipated day of my granddaughter’s birth. In other words—give yourself a bit of wiggle room, but stop yourself from making such excuses as “the laundry needs to be done,” or “I partied too late last night.” 

#8. Susan and Ralph set a new goal; it's an intention, not a resolution! A few years back I interviewed a local hiker and photographer, David Sanger, who had taken on what I thought was an interesting project. He had set out to climb a local hill, mountain, or high point every day for a month. But, after the month was over, he kept going…and going. He no longer goes out daily, but he has continued with his personal challenge and has climbed and photographed well over 100.

Recently I found an article, entitled “Nifty Ninety Peaks,” in our local Sierra Club chapter’s newsletter, and I was intrigued. These high points are all in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached by day hiking. And, so this has become Ralph’s and my latest goal. The rules are simple—do the peaks, send in the dates, receive a bumper sticker. There’s no time limit for doing them. Just as with most trails, it’s self-reported. There are no “peak police.”  Ralph and I have already done some of the peaks, so we have started with the peaks we have not done. 

I know that many of our readers don’t live in the Bay Area so this list won’t help you much, but my suggestion is that you keep your eye out for a new personal challenge that might provide some extra motivation to get out there and keep exploring.

#9. Regional: Wrap up of Bay Area happenings. The John Muir Land Trust, which focuses primarily on the Mt. Diablo area, has new trail maps available to the Fernandez Ranch and Carr Ranch.

East Bay Regional Parks is kicking off their annual Trails Challenge (the 25th anniversary). Participants are challenged to walk at least five featured trails, or 26.2 miles. Maps and featured trail information is available starting today (Jan. 4). Free tee shirts are available, while supplies last, at some visitor centers. Registration is not required; you keep your own records and submit them when you are finished. 

Save Mount Diablo has a new trail map of the Diablo Trail, a 30-mile multi-use trail, available. You can get a copy at one of their events or email  

Sierra Club Bay Chapter has numerous hikes coming up such as “Muir Woods/Steep Ravine 3C loop hike.” (Marin County) Rain cancels. Meet  9:15 am.  at Mountain Home trailhead. Ends  5 pm.  Moderate pace, but not for beginners. Leader: Bob Solotar. 510-525-2110 or

Northern California Pilgrim walks: The first Saturday of each month walks around Lake Merritt continue. On January 6, the 3.3 mile walk will be followed by an optional Lunch & "Wayfaring" Film Screening. Meet for the walk at the pergola of Lake Merritt, Oakland at  10:30 am

3On Saturday, January 13, 2018, 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM. San Francisco, California. Lands End Hike & Labyrinth Walk. “Welcome the New Year with the Northern California Chapter with a hike and labyrinth walk at the end of the world! This 12-mile loop route starts at the historic Beach Chalet building at Ocean Beach. This year we're reversing the course. We'll walk through Golden Gate Park, on a short section through city streets, then through the forested Presidio, by Andy Goldsworthy's Spire. At the Golden Gate Bridge, we'll enjoy fresh sea air and sweeping views of the ocean and Marin Headlands. Next we'll follow the rugged coast heading south and walk the Lands End Labyrinth. We'll continue along the coastal Lands End Trail to the Cliff House and end back at the Beach Chalet building, where we'll cool our heels and have a casual bite at the Park Chalet Restaurant. Reservations are required if you are eating with the group at Park Chalet. Please email Stephanie with number in your party by Thursday, January 11. RSVP not required if you’re just doing the hike.

"Please refer to the American Pilgrims - Northern California Chapter page for more information, event updates or cancellations." 

Labyrinth at Lands End by Susan Alcorn

Happy New Year!

Susan “backpack45” Alcorn

. I’d love to include your success stories and other items of interest with the hiking/backpacking and Camino communities. I encourage you to send them to me at for consideration.
Susan “backpack45” Alcorn

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Emma Gatewood first hiked the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail at the age of 67.  She last hiked it at the age of 76.

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