Monday, April 25, 2011


This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Virginia to attend some family matters. The long drive to Manassas on Friday was followed up by a day of recreation on Saturday. Our specific form of recreation was an early afternoon trip to the Manassas Battlefield National Park. After walking into the Henry Hill Visitor Center for a brief tour of the artifact rooms, I headed out to the battle fields while everyone else headed into the theatre for a historical film.
I walked out across the first field and got a close up of the Stonewall Jackson Monument. This thing was huge and my mind immediately trailed back to the 2009 Massanutten 100 where I ran in the Stonewall Jackson Division. I finally got the whole story about Ole' Stonewall and got a good glimpse across the Battlefield, thinking of what he probably saw while steadfast atop this hill.
From there I headed out on a trail and barreled out into the woods. Everything is green down here. The grass is tall and has all ready been mowed. The flowers are in full bloom and the trees are spreading their green leaves. I'm in love as I bound through the lush forest. 75 degrees, humid and I'm sweating bullets all ready. Soaking wet from the heat and humidity, I'm smiling from here to ear as I crash through numerous mud puddles and the slick brown clay covers my legs. Enjoying myself so much I run through the Youngs Branch Creek for a quick rinse.
From here I head up to the old Van Pelt homesite. I plop my camera atop a fence post and snap a photo of me running through the green fields. I head around the Ford Farm Loop then up to the carter Cemetery where I am in awe of the 19th century Rock Wall that lines the boundary of the grave site. Super cool!

Back out onto the trail I emerge from the thick forest, full of ice storm destruction, and out upon Matthews Hill. Atop the hill side are Civil War cannons, arranged in much the same way as they may have been 150 years ago. I run across the vast expanse, stopping to admire the local fence-craft before descending to Sudley Road where I stop to admire the Stone House.

It was an amazing 6.5 mile run through this historical and humbling place. I finished my run by checking out the Henry House, snapping a few more photos and then washing my clay and mud covered legs off in a near-by puddle. The perfect day... especially after hearing it was snowing back in NH.. it was hard to return home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It was 5 years ago this week that my best friend, and grandfather, passed away. I've sat in front of the computer screen for a few days now, the official anniversary being Monday, and I find that it's still very hard to find things to say. After 5 years I'm still at a loss for words and struggle to find ways to make it all seem real. I know that he's gone, it's hard to ignore, but my grandfathers influence lives with me every single day.

There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about my grandfather but I can say that it's not simply thinking about him that I do. I spend a fair amount of time going through my head and remembering the many valuable lessons he taught me in his own unique ways. Sometimes I think about the 1999 MLB All Star Game at Fenway Park where on TV's around the country, we saw an image of Ted Williams talking to Nomar Garciaparra. IN that conversation Teddy Ball Game talks about the ball hitting off the bat and being able to smell the pine tar. I guess why that moment sticks in my head is that I see my grandfather as my Ted Williams and I was his Nomar. Coincidentally he had a real love for baseball himself, having been a Babe Ruth coach for many years.. even having gone to the Babe Ruth World Series.

I think everyone who reads this blog can attest to the fact that we all have very personal relationships with our grandparents. The relationship you have with your grandfather might be different then the relationship your mother or sister/brother might have with him. Along with this comes a collection of memories, sayings, teachings and at times even secrets that are your very own. I say this because as I reflect back on the life I had with my grandfather, I can't help but smile. I smile because I remember how honest he was with me and the many things he told me over the years. Not just the lessons, but the opinions, his thoughts.. his feelings. I always knew how he felt and what he thought without hesitation. He and I shared everything together. I told my grandfather things that to this day I'll never tell anybody else. And I know, he told me things that he never meant for anyone else to hear as well.

Of everyone in my family, I spent the most time with my grandfather. We were best friends and much of our time together was very intimate in that I was his care-taker for many years. I still have a lot of bitter feelings deep down in my gut about some of my extended family.. how they live in the shadows of the lies they told about their care for my grandfather. Care I, and they, know they never did. Care they told others they did do just so they could reap the benefits of monetary appreciation of which I call "Kiss-Ass Money." I think about these instances often and they make me sick to my damn stomach.

As I've begun to write off and distance myself from those cold hearted liars in my family, I think about the thoughts about them that my grandfather shared with me in the days and few weeks before his passing. I smile... I SMILE A LOT.. when I think of the things he told me. His thoughts, his feelings. He knew the truth and he appreciated what mattered most. With his trade mark smile, wink and nod... I smile brightly knowing I can carry those secrets with me for the rest of my life. Knowing that the one person in my family who knew the work I did, the care I provided and the connection we had... he knew, still knows, and I cannot wait to see him again... is the best feeling in the world. So while I am somber this week, missing my best friend as I always do. Even more angry at family now then I ever have been... I remember Moe. The times we had, the memories we shared. Our own personal history and stories. I remember what mattered most to him. I remember how he appreciated me and was always quick to tell me. And I remember.. his honesty.. and how quick he was to share that as well. That last piece of Pizza... ha... yeah, I'll never forget what he told me later about why he shared 75% of it with me.

I love you Moe.. and I miss you.
John Paul

(I.K. HHY. AITE. HTMHWYHSH) Love ya pal!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inspire The Fire

This past weekend I attended the 2011 Association for Experiential Education (AEE) Northeast Regional Conference. The conference was held at The Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA in Becket, MA. This years conference was described with, "It all starts with a spark. It fuels us when we come together. It moves us to do things we thought impossible. It exists in our camps, communities, classrooms, therapeutic agencies and in our heads, bodies, hearts, and souls. It exists when people engage in Experiential Education.

What inspires your fire? This conference will inspire you to find a way to incorporate Experiential Education into the work you do. Come to listen, engage in conversation, share your inspiration, learn and play."
I can't think of a more perfect setting to continue to engage in experiential learning. And how well the conference theme fits in with the work we do here on Human Potential. So it was with great pleasure and excitement that I attended this years conference. I really felt that the Keynote Speech by Preston Cline was one of the more exceptional talks I've ever heard. Preston told us the tale of how he got involved with Experiential Education and his work in Risk Management. He told us what he is doing now in the field and what he hopes to do in the future. Much of what Preston shared at the conference, both in the Kepynote presentation and during the following mornings dialogue with Keith King, really resonated with me and my own personal trains of thought.

Beyond what Preston offered up at the conference, I felt this years conference wasn't as stellar as last years but it was still worth the money to attend. Saturday morning I gave a presentation on Ethics in Outdoor Education and asked my peers if they were acting properly. Together, during my one and a half hour workshop, we were able to work through some of scenarios and using Kitcheners Model of Ethical decision making as well as the three Ethical Principles to decide how we might make the better, ethical, decision with our participants. I then went on to learn how to do Primitive Fire Building where I started a fired using a fire bow. Yeah.. this is the rubbing of two sticks together. I did it and it felt great. Sunday morning I attended a workshop on how to lighten your load during 8 day, field expeditions and then made an alcohol camp stove out of a Fancy Feast kitty food can.

I did a bit of introspection at the conference and tried to think more about what I want to do moving forward with Experiential Education after I graduate in a few short weeks. I know for certain I'm not likely to present on Ethics again, though I'll try to investigate my roots a bit further. Motivation is a tough subject in our field and I'd like to continue to work on how we can be Responsible TO participants rather than FOR when we think about motivation. I'd also like to create some workshops on backcountry cooking. And once I move to Boulder.. I hope to hook up with the AEE's main office to volunteer some of my time to a great organization.

There is a lot of good that happens at the AEE conferences and I really hope more people in our society can open their eyes to the benefits of experiential learning. It's a movement that is still catching on and the narrow-minded traditions of traditional education still have the curtain down on what is out there to be had.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LNT: Dogma or Idea?

April 22, 2011 is the 41st Anniversary of the Birth of the Modern Environmental Movement in the United States. This day is most commonly referred to as, Earth Day. To learn more visit:

Team Sherpa Ultra Running is conducting a series of posts this month to celebrate Earth Day during the entire month of April. These posts also coincide with Streak Earth, a month long running series hosted by Sherpa John: Human Potential.

Leave No Trace: Dogma or Idea?
What is Leave No Trace and how do you follow it's mission? In this post I'm going to ask you the trying question; Do you view it as a Dogmatic Approach to Land Ethics? Or is it simply an ideologic framework designed to make us think? The answer is certainly different for everyone and it's important to know that it's not always in black and white. As a Certified LNT Trainer, my goal here is to get you to think about your impressions of LNT, question how you follow the guidelines and determine what is appropriate for you and not necessarily everyone else.

The LNT Mission: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people, worldwide. (From:

Now that we have read the LNT mission statement, I wanted to pull out a few of the core values of LNT for the purposes of this conversation. To view all of the LNT Core Values please visit:

1. Is committed to the enjoyment, health and protection of recreational resources on natural lands for all people;
2. Believes that education is the best means to protect natural lands from recreational impacts while helping maintain access for recreation and enjoyment;
3. Is founded on outdoor ethics whereby a sense of stewardship is gained through understanding and connecting with the natural world.
8. Is apolitical and dedicated to education;

The Seven Principles of LNT:
Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors

During the 1960's, 70s and 80's; The degradation, abuse and mis-use of public lands had become a serious item for consideration whenever people thought and spoke about the outdoors. Here in New Hampshire, for instance, Franconia Ridge was a brown dying mess due to hikers walking wherever they darn well pleased alone the top of the ridge. From the starting point of the 60s, things were only getting worse instead of better and The USFS needed to act fast to preserve some of our most beautiful treasures.

Starting in the 1960s, pamphlets were handed out to wilderness travelers to try and educate them about being responsible stewards of the land. In the 70's, books written by the famed Petzoldt and Watermans were the new mode of communication with the outdoor types. most notable, Backwoods Ethics and Wilderness Ethics by the Watermans. The USFS and other land management agencies struggled through the 70's and then the 80s to really make the needed impact towards shaping the way our society used the lands and getting them into the habit of trying to do their part towards preservation. So, in the 1990s the USFS teamed up with NOLS and created the first Leave No Trace Education Curriculum. In 1994, LNT was created as a 501(c)3 non profit organization. The organization is privately funded through the efforts of the various other Outdoor Non-Profits who use lands such as The AMC, Sierra, and others.

So What?
So what does this all mean? It means that LNT was conceived through a long drawn out process. It was conceptualized by various government agencies such as the United States Forest Service and a number of other Outdoor Education organizations such as The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), based on the writings and ideals of a select few who's words and thoughts have long been highly regarded in the outdoors arena. They created this framework, to educate people about the totality of each individuals impact on the land they use. A "carbon footprint" of sorts. But what has it become in the 2000s? It's been 17 years since LNT first became a non-profit and it's been a bit longer since the first LNT Master trainer courses were ever conducted.

I ask the question... have the original reasons and ideals of LNT turned into a dogmatic approach to land stewardship? Are those who follow the ethics of LNT following them too closely and in turn preaching, and pushing their own personal interpretation of these ideas on others?

Scenario 1: Take for instance the story of Hikers "A" and "B." Hiker "A" is walking along their favorite hiking trail when they spot a white fungi on the side of a dying beechwood tree. So, hiker "A" walks over and breaks the fungi off of the tree and using a smaller twig, writes a message into the fungi which he aptly calls a "Mushroom Message." Hiker "A" then places the mushroom message on the side of the trail which will surely be read by the next hiker if they notice it. While placing the message down, Hiker "B" walks up and began to berate Hiker "A" for not following good LNT. The tongue lashing continues until Hiker "A" agrees to pick up the mushroom and chuck it into the woods never to be seen by human eyes again.
Question: What is the big deal? In this instance, Hiker "B" has taken the frameworks of LNT to an entire new level. It's not as if a party of 300 hikers were writing messages on mushrooms in the forest. So what's the big deal? Is it really that big a deal after all? In this instance, has LNT become Dogmatic or is it still a framework ideal?

Scenario 2: Hikers "C" and "D" are hiking up a trail when along their way 3 gray jays fly onto the tree branches around them and begin following them. Hiker "C" takes out his trail mix, places some in his hand and the Gray Jays swoop out of the trees, land on Hiker "C"'s hand and begin to eat the trail mix from it. In seeing this transpire, Hiker "D" throws a nutty and begins to lecture Hiker "C" about how his feeding of the Jay's is detrimental to their survival as he is now teaching them to rely on humans for survival. Hiker "D" goes on to tell Hiker "C" that his LNT skills are deplorable and he should have stayed home.
Question: Should have Hiker "C" stayed home? Are the birds really learning to rely on humans for survival? Is this really part of the LNT principles? When thinking about the history of LNT, does the importance of not feeding the Gray Jays really play into why the LNT program was even created?

Scenario 3: Hikers "E" and "F" are seen hiking above tree line and in the alpine zone, an area of fragile vegetation that takes thousands of years to grow. While in the Alpine Zone, Hiker "G" sees Hikers "E" and "F" walking wherever they please, off of the trodden path and in turn are destroying some of the vegetation without what seems to be a care in the world. Hiker "G" then respectfully approaches Hikers "E" and "F" and educates them about LNT and the Alpine Steward program and explains to them the effect that their trouncing about has on the vegetation.
Question: Is Hiker "G" right? Is it possible for us to educate and enlighten each other while using some form of respect and understanding? Isn't this the reason why LNT was originally created? If yes, then why all the furor over the feeding of Jays and the writing on mushrooms?

Now What?
The importance of these scenarios is not for us to have a debate here. The purpose is for you to ask yourself these questions and determine for yourself, what you would do personally. What do you feel is ethically right and how will you educate others in future situations? But let's keep it in perspective here. What really is the purpose of LNT? What are we trying to teach? How do we teach it and is it for us to teach? But really ask yourself... What is the purpose of my teaching this to people and am I really keeping the main reason for the creation of LNT in mind? These questions are essential if you're going to get your message across and educate your outdoor peers about what is one of the most important topics of the last 20 years.

As far as this author is concerned. I fear our society has taken the LNT principles and turned it into something that far surpasses it's original purpose. People follow it like religion and push the belief on others like they'r the governing body of the trees. To each his own, but the idea of educating is being lost in the emotion and push for understanding.

Sherpa John

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fool Scouts VI

April 2, 2011
Franconia, NH
Fool Scouts Ball VI
It's been a long time since Sarah and I had attended the yearly Fool Scouts Ball. It was 2006 when the idea of a Fool Scouts Ball was first conceived by none other then the Fool Scouts themselves. A group of merry and foolish men from the North Shore area of Massachusetts. As their own unique way to give back to the hiking community and their closest hiking friends; they decided to create a banquet of silly-ness where folks would hike to an AMC Hut, feast, drink and be.. well... foolish.

During the earlier year of these events, I had assumed the role of the official Turkey Runner. In fact, to this day I still hold the speed record for running hot out of the pot deep fried turkey's to the hut for the feast. This year, the plan had changed and I arrive to assume my role as the Ham Runner. We met up with Randy Pierce, his wife Tracy and the mighty Quinn in the Lafayette Place parking area. We were able to reserve them a seat at the party. It was important to me to get them up there because I wanted them to meet the nicer folks in the New Hampshire peak-bagging community so that after I leave New Hampshire, the 2020 Vision Quest would have an able supply of folks to support them. 
After trudging through hefty snow drifts in the tunnel travelling under I-93/US3, I spotted a few folly folk I knew were heading to the hut. I asked Mark Howes what was left to carry and he directed us to the Hams. I threw 3 of the 11 pound mounds of meat into my bag and gave Sarah 1, and with that we began our trek "up." Sarah took the lead and guided Tracy up the mountain at a leisurely pace while Randy and I hung back with Quinn and talked about general business, jokes, folks and fun. We all had a wonderful time making our way to the height of land. The higher up we got, the more snow there was. From maybe 2 feet at the base to around 3-4 feet up high. The trees were dusted with fresh snow from the night before and the 3 or 4 inches on the trail offered us superb traction along the way.
As we reached Lonesome Lake, we ventured out onto the frozen pond. Randy let Quinn of the lead, and let the pup run around like a dog possessed. He loved it! Then Randy and I had some fun, with a "ready, set, go!" Randy and I were racing across the pond. Of course, Randy being visually impaired, he lost his balance and crashed while narrowly missing plowing me over. We all had many good laughs as we put on a hell of a show and I'll admit that when upright and running straight, Randy was kicking my butt.
Upon reaching the far shore, we climbed the final hill, entered the hut, took off our packs and settled in to enjoy a long day of faces new and old, jokes funny and not and the wonderful food, sounds and laughter of one foolish event known to be a "fine kind of lunacy." For dinner we had ham and pork loin complete with mashed potatoes, corn, carrots, green beans. Homemade apple and cranberry sauces. Desserts beyond belief or a number that is sane or even safe to eat. Finally.. a few of the burlier hikers had carried up kegs and libations of all colors and flavors. A great time was mandatory and unavoidable. We've missed the last 2 or 3 FSB's, it was great to enjoy one last trip to the Lonesome Hut for a day of fun. At 8:30pm, we threw our packs on, turned on the headlamps and headed down the mountain one final time. Thanks Fools!
FSB VI - Afterward
I have a long history in New Hampshire's online-hiking community which started back in 2005 when my movie, "48", was first released. Unfortunately, by my own undoings, I recognize that much of how folks remember me in that community is as an out-of-control, over-opinionated, punk. When I first joined these communities, I very much enjoyed the relationships and friendships created over the years. However, as time went on, I couldn't believe the behind the scenes poison that exists within the realms of cyber-bullying in this community. As well as the true naivety and narrow-minded posts of some of the communities members. Over time, I took on the challenge of trying to get people to see things other than "Black & White." To get people to think "out-side the box." While trying to accomplish this personal goal of mine, which I thought was helpful, I accomplished nothing less then my own frustration and personal destruction.

I left the online hiking communities for two very different reasons. Many of my closest friends existed on I had to leave that community because I realized that some of the negativity and frustrations I felt, and in many cases created for myself, were contributing to my struggles with deep depression. When I walked away from the website, I kept in distant contact with many of these folks through FaceBook but generally, I also walked away from an entire community and submitted myself to my own personal exile. While in this exile, it became my mission to find myself, re-direct my energies and find ways to do good.

I returned to the FSB this past weekend for a few reasons. One was mentioned above in that I wanted to introduce Randy Pierce to a community that has done so much for me in the past. A community which I knew has a big heart and would be willing to understand and support Randy and his mission long after I'm gone from those hallowed hills. I returned to reconnect with many of my old friends whom I hadn't seen in 2, 3 and in some cases 4 years. I returned to say goodbye and I'll see ya later to those who I remained in touch with and whom I hold close to my heart. Yeah... as I said good bye to the head fool, Russ, I fought back a rush of tears. I'm going to miss many of these folks.. as I have for so long all ready. I also needed to climb to the hut so that for one time... rather than none.. I could look two people, whom Sarah and I hold very dear to our hearts, in the eye and tell them that I'll always be here to support them in their time of trouble. I know some of the pain they go through.. I lived it myself from their daughters perspective. I feel for them and love them.

But the other reason I wanted to go, was to show a community that I walked away from that change is possible. I wanted them to re-live the Sherpa John they knew in 2005 before the poison crept in on all fronts. I wanted to laugh and cry. I wanted to hoot and holler. I wanted them to see that.. yes... Someone can sink into the darkness and through hard work, perseverance and better choices; anyone can resurrect themselves much as I feel I have. I wanted them to hear my laugh, see me smile.. and hear my words. I wanted them to see the humble Sherpa. Forever thankful for their support and friendship. Their time and attention and forever apologetic to the many wrongs I could never make right. So to my foolish friends.. until we meet again.. happy trails. I don't know if any of them saw what I hoped they would, but I'm content in knowing I tried.

To Jay... "L.I.G." I know what that is my friend. That, is my nemesis. The hardest thing in the world for me to do. No one but me can know the true pain I've felt given the actions of some of the poisons in this community. Just know that I hold dear to my heart and still smile before bed at night at the good that you people have given and done for me. So while I can LIG to some, I can't to all.. I'm still working, still hurting and still moving forward. Left, right, repeat.. Hope you'll join us for OH.

Yours.. and I miss you all,
Sherpa John