Q&A with Randy
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
The easy answer here is backpacking, but a well packed backpack is really a gateway to an infinite number of outdoor adventures. I love to hit the trail, and there is nothing better than a night under the stars, but I also love to load up my pack and head to the beach for some surfing, or the lake for some wake boarding, and when the snow falls, it’s hard to beat a day of snowboarding followed by some winter camping. If I’m not carrying my pack then I’m probably carrying either my clubs or my discs on the links of one type of golf course or another. Truth be told, if it’s an active adventure in the outdoors, you can count me in!
Name your top 3 hiking destinations.
There are so many amazing hiking destinations that it really is tough to narrow it down to three, but if I was designing my own backyard I think I would create a one of a kind loop of trails. The loop would start out my back door with an up and over of Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park including the Knife’s Edge, you would then transition onto the Tahoe Rim Trail on the California side of Lake Tahoe and follow the route of the American Discovery Trail all the way to and through the Granite Chief Wilderness, spending a short stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail before linking up with the Western States Trail. The final section of my “Backyard Loop Trail” would transition into a few miles of the Highline Trail following the Continental Divide through the unmatched beauty of Glacier National Park in Montana, that way I could have the Going To The Sun Road as a driveway and the added bonus of an out and back spur on to the Waterton Valley Trail for a cool dip in Waterton Lake after a great day of hiking in my backyard!
What is your signature camping recipe?
My signature camp recipe is to add a pinch, or a dash, of salt or pepper to whatever Sheri is making! If Sheri isn’t with me, it’s usually a quick boiling of water and simply adding noodles or rice and sauce. Thank goodness for advances in pre-made backpacking meals, add boiling water, wait 10 to 15 minutes and presto, a great tasting highly nutritious, high calorie meal. Pad Thai is definitely one of my favorites!
Tell us what your perfect day entails.
My perfect day would start with the sounds of mountain chickadees, juncos and tanagers acting as Sheri and I’s songbird alarm clock softly pulling us out of a deep sleep just as the first golden rays of sunlight break the horizon and cut through the cool mountain air in an attempt to warm our tent enough to allow us to comfortably slip out of our sleeping bags. We would get the day going with a tasty breakfast sitting alongside the lake, creek or river that we pitched our tent near the night before, and then break camp with a plan of making our way for higher altitudes. After enjoying the flora and fauna under the shady cover of the damp and sappy smelling Spruce and Pines, we would break tree line and soak in the sun with every rewarding step we took in our charge for the summit. We would enjoy lunch and rest our tired legs with the company a few Marmots while taking in the unlimited visibility from the top of an incredible alpine peak, and thanks to an early start we’d have plenty of time to enjoy the summit before making our descent. The afternoon would involve a leisurely hike off the peak and a short layover in an alpine meadow where we would unwind while tossing the Frisbee before making our way back below tree line in search of another epic campsite. Just as the dancing flames of our campfire started to compete with the hews of gold and red in the setting sun we would toast the day with a cool refreshing beverage, kick our feet up, relax and patiently await the arrival of the thousands of sparkles that will soon fill the crystal clear night sky. At this point we might even pinch ourselves so as to make sure we are not already dreaming, what a day!
What indulgent item can you not live without on the trail?
With the advances in lightweight and ultra-lightweight backpacking methods and equipment, the concept of indulgence is more debatable than ever. Those counting every ounce probably wouldn’t carry the camp shoes I carry, or the tent with extra space in the vestibule created by the fly. Ultra-lighters would question why I have both a tent and a set of rain gear when I could just carry a Tarp Poncho that would work for both rain gear and a shelter, but I’m a big advocate of the “Hike Your Own Hike” philosophy and love the fact that backpacking allows us all to create our own unique style. I have always made gear choices that I felt would make me feel the most comfortable regardless of an extra ounce or two, a water purifier over a chemical tablet for instance, and the tent over the tarp, but all of those items still serve a necessary purpose. There is, however, one item that often finds its way into my pack that is without a doubt an unnecessary indulgence, and that is my mp3 player. I love the sounds of nature, but when the miles get tough and long, a good tune might just be what pushes me through.
What are your “trail names” and how did you earn these monikers?
We have had the pleasure of having a few trail names, independently we have been known as “Waterfall” and “Tagalong”, and together we have been known as “The Tag Team” and “The Honeymooners”. Sheri earned her moniker on the first day of her Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 1999 when she leaned over to touch the water at the base of Long Creek Falls in Georgia, slipped and fell in to the cold, cold water, from that point on being known to the other A.T. Hikers as “Waterfall”. Randy didn’t get a trail name nearly as quickly. It wasn’t until almost three weeks into the thru-hike that other A.T. Hikers took notice to the fact that every time they would see “Waterfall” coming up the trail or into a shelter area she was always followed only a few steps behind by Randy. Eventually someone commented on our hiking style and pointed out that “Waterfall” always has a “Tagalong”. The moniker slowly picked up momentum and every time we would enter a Shelter area fellow Hikers would declare our arrival with an energetic, “Waterfall” followed moments later by a giggling, “and her Tagalong”. After a while “Tagalong” just fit. Because we were never seen without the other, not once over the 222 days we spent on the Appalachian Trail, as we made our way North, we also became known to some as the “Tag Team”. As for “The Honeymooners”, that moniker was associated with our 253 day thru-hike of the American Discovery Trail in 2006, which we hiked as our honeymoon of course!
Relay a time when your outdoor skills and expertise saved you from an otherwise frightening experience.
I have definitely spent enough time in the outdoors to experience a few of the dangers that Mother Nature has to offer. I’ve felt the effects of extreme heat and extreme cold, I’ve been caught in exposed areas during hail storms and lightning storms, I’ve been awakened by the rising water of a flash flood and awakened to over a foot of unexpected snow in the early fall.
Feeling the rush of facing these risks is part of the reason I get such a thrill out of backpacking. There is one experience that I definitely never want to face again though. While hiking in Northern Maine on a cold October morning I made a critical mistake while attempting to ford a swift moving stream. The stream would normally have been a relatively easy ford, as far as fords go, but on this particular day it was flowing extra heavy from the remnants of a hurricane that had worked its way up the Atlantic Coast and hit the area in the form of heavy rain.
I thought I had done everything correctly, I’d unbuckled my pack, I’d looked up and down stream for an easier crossing (none to be found), I’d chosen a spot that appeared to be a good balance between depth and current and I slowly started across. First to my knees, then my waist, just about mid-way, as the water approached my chest, my next step never touched the bottom. I had found a deep cut out that was behind a large hidden boulder and the next thing I knew I was submerged and the current had me! Before I could react, I was being dragged downstream, backwards and head first, with my pack beneath me pulling me under the fast moving water.
I fought to keep my head above water and tried to free myself of my pack, hoping that I would be able to rotate into a position that would allow me to at least get swept down stream feet first. My adrenaline was pumping at a maximum level and the water was still winning. Luckily, I eventually collided with a tree that had fallen across the stream from the far bank, I used all of my remaining strength to hold on to the tree and pull myself over to a point at which I could climb onto the tree and crawl across it to dry land.
Fortunately, I had properly prepared my backpack with a pack liner and had stored my sleeping bag in a dry sack enabling me to have the necessary dry supplies I needed to fight off the effects of hypothermia that would have inevitably followed my disastrous stream ford. I knew to immediately remove as much of the wet clothing as possible and replace them with warm dry layers. Today, having learned from the experience, I try to influence others to know their limits and make decisions that will keep them safe and alive, even if it means waiting out the stream for an extra day until it is in a more fordable condition.
What is your favorite part of teaching others outdoor skills?
Backpacking is my passion, and therefore, my passion is my job, and my job is my passion. I love to share my passion for backpacking and want more people to be able to experience all of the outdoor adventures that have made my life so fulfilling. If I can teach others the skills that they need to feel comfortable and safe while in the outdoors then they will be able to focus their energy on having fun as they explore all of the unbelievable adventures that our outdoor world has to offer.
Relay the most rewarding experience you’ve had while on the trail.
Time and time again, the experiences that I find to be most rewarding while on trail are the experiences that reassure my faith in humanity, usually in the form of some type of random act of kindness. Sure, the awe inspiring beauty of nature, the excitement of a rare animal sighting, the thrill of reaching a challenging summit, and the countless other natural rewards of being in the outdoors are all part of what lures me to go backpacking, but more times than not, I seem to find some type of human interaction that stands out as the most memorable and rewarding experience of my backpacking trips. It may be in the form of bonding with a hiking partner, or sharing a campsite with someone I find to be genuinely interesting, or in the form of “trail magic” from a kind stranger who has gone out of their way to enhance my trail experience. I love the fact that while backpacking is a great escape, it can also bring us all a little closer together.
Any tips or tricks of the trade you’d like to share?
If I could give one tip to everyone it would be to remember that there is more than one right way to backpack, embrace the Hike Your Own Hike Philosophy and create your own unique style. I learn from my own mistakes all the time and believe that experience is the best teacher, so grab your pack and get outside, experiment with different skills and gear choices and find out what will work best for you!