The first steps in walking the world's best trails.
by Ric Samulski
Editor's note: Silver City's Ric Samulski is the author of a new book, Trekkerman: Walking the World's Best Trails, published by Wasteland Press. It's available at www.trekkerman.com and at Amazon.com in paperback for $17.95 or as an ebook for $4.95, and is also available in Kindle and Nook formats. Here he explains how his fondness for travel and hiking led him to becoming the "Trekkerman" and to detail his adventures in a book.
Hiking and backpacking became a large part of my life when my wife Rosemary and I moved to Wyoming early in our adult lives in the late 1960s. The state's iconic mountain ranges — the Big Horns, the Tetons and the Absarokas — very quickly cast their spell on us, and within our first year among those ranges, we started exploring their peaks and valleys. We just couldn't seem to get enough of them. That was also about the time that millions of other Americans began venturing into America's national parks and wilderness areas in search of pristine landscapes, wildlife, fishing and solitude. It was all part of the backpacking boom
Heading up the Annapurna Circuit’s Thorong La Pass.
(Photos by Ric Samulski)
But it was Wyoming's Wind River Range that seemed to draw most of our attention. We spent some 25 years pursuing careers along the base of those mountains that dominate the skyline of western Wyoming. For the first decade we taught school, and I spent four of those years teaching Arapahoes and Shoshone Indians on the Wind River Reservation near Lander.
In 1975 we took an occupational change of direction and purchased The Pinedale Roundup, the official weekly newspaper in Pinedale, Wyo. That isolated mountain town was also the most popular access community into the Bridger Wilderness and the Wind River Range. I continued to explore those mountains that seemed to pull on me like a kid to candy at every opportunity.
I was aware that there were plenty of other places across the US and around the world to pursue my love of backpacking, but I just didn't seem to have the time or financial resources to seek them out. Those obstacles were overcome when we sold the paper.
Over the years I had bumped into a few backpackers who had done treks abroad, but these still seemed out of reach. It may have been a little old lady from Oregon, whom I ran into at a trailhead at the northern end of the Wind River Range, who was the biggest motivating factor in getting me to begin my worldwide treks. She had just finished a multi-day backpack, and I offered her a ride.
The author’s wife Rosemary overlooks the North Sea on England’s Coast to Coast Walk.
"Thanks," she said. "I just finished walking the range and I was hoping to get a ride into town."
"You walked the entire 90 miles?" I asked.
"It's 50 miles back to town. How did you expect to get there?"
"Don't be silly," she teased. "Who's not going to pick up an 82-year-old woman?"
On the ride back, she told me that it took her 12 days to walk the length of the Wind River Range along the Continental Divide Trail. "I've wanted to do it a long time. It's been on my list. But I've got a few more to go. There's so little time and so many places," she explained.
"What else have you done?" I asked her.
"Well, last year I went to Nepal and did a trek there. It was my third trip to the Himalayas."
I was aware that long-distance trekking was popular in the Himalayas, but that was the first time I had ever actually met anyone who had been there and done that. When I asked her to tell me more about the treks, she rattled off a list of them like a seasoned sherpa.
"You can do the Everest Base Camp, or the Annapurna Sanctuary, or the complete Annapurna Circuit. There's even one called the Royal Trek, but lots of people prefer Pakistan's Karakoram or the Hindu Kush area."
"Aren't those trips complicated and expensive?" I asked her.
"Listen," she told me, "those places are well known. You don't need a guide. Just get to the trailhead and follow the German girl in front of you."
Few people in my life had motivated me so quickly. That same summer I had a conversation with a young backpacker from Ohio.
The author beginning his trek of Scotland’s West Highland Way.
"What brings you to the Wind Rivers?" I asked him. "How'd you find out about them?"
"They're in the book," he told me.
"What book?" I responded.
"The Great Treks of the World. Traversing the Wind Rivers is one of those great treks," he said.
Over the next decade, starting when I was 60 years old, I completed all or part of what trekkers around the world consider to be many of the world's best trails. They are:
- The Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Originally a medieval pilgrimage, it extends some 400 miles from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Coast, and the days are filled with conversations from people around the world. There's lots of red wine, cheese and olives.
- Torres del Paine Circuit. A hardcore backpacking experience into Patagonia's wilderness. Glaciers, guanacos, towering peaks and arduous mountain passes.
- The West Coast Trail. A backpack along British Columbia's Vancouver Island along the beach and through the rain forest. Crashing Pacific surf, seals, ladders and cable cars.
- England's Coast to Coast Walk. A 200-mile walk through the Lake District and across the moors and dales of northern England. There's a B&B at the end of every day. Take your umbrella.
- Scotland's West Highland Way. No tent needed. A picturesque walk along Loch Lomond and through the Scottish Highlands. Lots of mountains and plenty of whisky.
- Routeburn Track, New Zealand. A three- to four-day traverse of the Southern Alps. You can take your tent, but the rain is so serious that staying in huts is almost mandatory.
- Ireland's Dingle Way. Take a week or so to walk the Dingle Peninsula, Europe's most westerly point. It's a pub every evening and a B&B every night. Is that Maureen O'Hara at the end of the bar?
- The Annapurna Circuit. The world's classic trek. It circles the iconic Himalayan massif though mountain villages and over 18,000-foot Thorung La Pass. A cultural experience with Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines.
In my book, I've also included a chapter on traversing my beloved Wind River Range. These mountains, all things considered, may offer the finest backpacking experience anywhere. It takes 7 to 10 days to do the Continental Divide Trail from one end to the other. Glaciated peaks, isolated mountain meadows, great vistas and fine fishing. It just doesn't get any better.
The first step in undertaking any of the overseas trips is usually purchasing an airline ticket. Like jumping into a pool, once you've taken the plunge, the rest will follow.
There were a few times when my old body was challenged, but no matter how long or steep the trail, I always seemed to get over the pass. It's not about the lungs and legs, it's all about the heart and head. And keep in mind you'll usually find plenty of companions along the way. It's tough to get lost. Just follow the German girl ahead of you.
New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.
Excerpt from Trekkerman: Walking the World's Best Trails (Wasteland Press, 2013, $17.95/$4.95) by Ric Samulski:
We'd learned from previous experience that when asking directions in rural Ireland, there are certain criteria to be met. Peter McCarthy in his book McCarthy's Bar explained the process. "The preferred approach is to turn the encounter into a social encounter," he told readers. "...on a par with what goes on when two strangers meet and get chatting at a party or a wedding reception."
An elderly man was walking our way.
"Good day to you," I began.
"And to you. It's a fine day for a walk outside. Where are you two headed?"
"Oh we're going west on the Dingle Way, but we've lost the path," I told him.
"Well now, so you're doing the Dingle. I've done it myself a time ago. It was a grand experience. My daughter walked with me, but now she's off to school in Dublin. Going to be a nurse she tells me, but the phone rings last week and it's a teacher she wants to be. That's a fine profession, but mum and myself we're wishing she'd want to be a technical type like an engineer. Where are you from?"
"We're Americans," I told him.
"It's America, is it? My sister married a Yank and they moved to Kansas. He's got something to do with horseracing or wagering."
"Do you mean Kentucky?"
"Oh, I get those two mixed up. Is that where the Darby is?"
At this point Rosemary and I knew that we'd best be careful. The conversation could lapse into a wide-ranging discussion of the world's economy, Clinton's sexual adventures, botany, Afghanistan, the price of meat or the advantages of cottage cheese over yogurt.
I held up my map and pointed to Feohanagh.
"That's a tiny village and the scenery is as fine as in all Ireland. You'll be headed that way if you avoid the next turn, but if you take it, then don't bother with the next because it's too far from your direction unless you go to the right."
"How come they talk like that?" I asked Rosemary after we got on our way.
"It's stream of consciousness," she answered.
I still don't know what that means.
Author Ric Samulski lives in Silver City. He will be doing a presentation on Trekkerman at Gila Hike and Bike in Silver City on Friday, March 15, 4-7 p.m.