Tag Archives: usa

Winter hike of Mt Mansfield via Hellbrook Trail

In the parking lot about to head up Route 108 Scenic to the trailhead for our ascent of Mt Mansfield
About to begin hiking Mt Mansfield, with Route 108 Scenic in the background, and Mt Mansfield behind that. L to R: Mark, Sebastien, Vince, Ryan

I recently embarked on my second winter hiking expedition: a tour of Mt Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont, via Hellbrook Trail. This post will focus on trail conditions and required footwear since this was the major challenge of the hike.  If you would like to learn more and be informed about other helpful gear and food preparations, you may find it useful to read an earlier blog post about Ryan’s first-ever winter hike – a lovely experience exploring Cascade and Porter Mountain in the Adirondacks. Continue reading Winter hike of Mt Mansfield via Hellbrook Trail

First solo winter hike in the Adirondacks: Cascade and Porter

There is a sign in the parking lot off of Route 9N indicating which marks the trailhead and provides basic information for visitors to Cascade and Porter Mountains. This is the starting point.
Mountains hiked: Cascade Mountain and Porter Mountain, New York, USA
Elevation: 1290m (4232 feet) and 1237m (4058 feet), respectively
Hiking time: 4 hours (round-trip)
Hiking distance: 5.6 miles or 9.0km (round-trip)

Greetings! I am sitting here with a hot tea thinking about how to begin describing my recent winter adventure hiking in the Adirondacks last weekend. The purpose of the trip was to make my first attempt at winter hiking with the objective of having fun :), being healthy, and building up my skills and knowledge for a much more difficult eventual winter-time summit of Mt Washington later this season. So let me give you my trip report: the background, my preparation, my experience, and some photos.  I hope this information can help someone else with their first winter hike! Continue reading First solo winter hike in the Adirondacks: Cascade and Porter

Community-building in North Carolina

Please have a look at this photo for a moment…

This is an example of community-building happening in the town of Chapel Hill, in the US state of North Carolina. A local church and a community center organized a block party for neighborhood residents to get to know each other.


Chapel Hill is a rapidly growing college town and that brings with it a lot of benefits but also some disadvantages. Property prices have risen as developers gentrify the neighborhood to offer student housing. But this has caused problems for some longtime locals, whose property taxes have become unaffordable, since their household income has not changed.

The block party provided an opportunity to create ties. Kids are playing games, students are dancing, people are practicing handicrafts, and folks are eating, drinking and laughing. We are connecting with each other.

Hopefully in some small way this will help us to better understand each other’s perspective on what “prosperity” and “progress” really means for our community and how people are affected in different ways by development.

What’s your vision for the community where you live? Does it match what others see too?

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Nice to back in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA! I am here for two weeks as part of my work with the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill is a small town in the interior of the state of North Carolina on the eastern coast of the United States. The main economic driver of the town is the university and population doubles during the school year to 80,000. Chapel Hill is located in close proximity to the state capital Raleigh and the city of Durham, and together these three form the boundaries of what is known as “Research Triangle Park”, home to many firms providing finance, technology, medical and research services. The three major universities in this area are Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and they are fierce rivals in sport and academics.

Bridging people

An intersection in Carrboro, North Carolina

Having left Malawi a few days ago, I am now in small town North Carolina ahead of a big water-related conference taking place next week. Its quite a change from the life I’ve been living overseas the last few months, and as usual, makes it easier to notice things that might otherwise seem quite ordinary.

Yesterday morning, I had just finished running an errand and was looking for the bus stop to get a ride home. I saw a lady sitting in a parked car and asked her if she knew what direction I should be going in. Lucky me. She knew the area like the back of her hand and told me exactly what I needed to do. Her voice had a strong Southern twang to it and she was eager to help. I thanked her, barely noticing the brightly coloured vest she had on.

As I stand at the bus stop, a woman and child approach and sit down on the curbside. The boy is not a day over two years old; the mother in her mid-30s at most. They are of Asian ethnicity (from Thailand or Vietnam perhaps). The boy is shy and looks at me with big eyes. He looks away and burrows into his mother’s lap; she rocks him in her arms. I chat them up and discover they are in fact from Cambodia. The woman speaks in broken English with a bright smile and a soft voice. It makes me happy, somehow. I’m not sure why.

Waiting for the bus, small-town life passes by. There is something very pleasing and comforting about the slow pace of life. The interactions of the townspeople betray a familiarity and a security not often seen in the big city. A Ford Mustang roars by and honks his horn at a boy on a bicycle. An elderly couple, the man pushing a walker, shuffle by without saying anything – that comfortable, understanding silence that comes with time, communication that needs no words. The mother and son duo beside me, enjoying the sun and blue sky on their faces. Two strangers, one of whom asks the other for the time – to which the response is: “I’m not sure, but I just came from the post office and the lady had come from a late lunch. Maybe it’s about, ehmmm, 2pm?”

Then, I notice the woman from the car, the one who had given me directions, walking across the street. She is carrying a stop sign in her hand. She is a crossing guard and she is about to start her shift. Oddly, there are no children around and I look around searching for a crowd of kids from around the corner.

Willa Mae, a crossing guard
in Carrboro, North Carolina

A woman with a stroller approaches the intersection. Suddenly, the crossing guard blows her whistle and strides confidently out in to the street. She raises her sign and signals for drivers to stop. The woman and her baby are waved across. They smile and thank her.

I get up and walk over her. “Hello”, I say, and introduce myself. Her name is Willa Mae. I tell her that I have been admiring her doing her job and am wondering where all the kids are. She points to a building and says that they are about to finish class. Is she a volunteer, I ask? She proudly declares that no, she works for a nearby elementary school and has been doing so for about two months. “I took over this job from another fella who recently passed on”, she says in a matter of fact way. “Bless his soul!”

As we stand there chatting, a man begins to cross the intersection. Willa Mae excuses herself and  hurries out to stand between him and the traffic. He says hello to her. A woman from the opposite side crosses him, and they nod. All seem to know each other. I realise that although Willa Mae’s role is to ensure the safety of children, she is really an asset to the community. Traffic gets busier during these peak hours and she helps any man, woman or child cross the road safely. People meet and greet each other, perhaps partly because of her. She is a bridge, so to speak, between people and points. I feel somewhat self-conscious standing there, an outsider. Moments like these feel somewhat voyeuristic. An intimate glimpse into the personalities of strangers.

I spot the bus approaching, call out a quick goodbye to Willa Mae, and sprint back to the bus stop. The door opens and the driver grins at me, saying hello. Buses are free of charge in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They have been for years. Feeling “bridged”, I return the smile and the greeting and sit down.

Begging in America?

Today a man sitting on the sidewalk asked me to buy him something to eat. I refused him and as I walked away thought to myself that he looked pretty well-dressed to be begging.

But a few hours later I’m reflecting on it: the number of people in America who are living in poverty now (46.2 million in case you’re wondering). That’s more than one of every seven people! Who knows what might have happened to this guy? Maybe he lost his job, missed a couple of rent payments and was evicted. Or had a car accident and was hospitalized without insurance, and had to remortgage his house to pay the bills, and had his home foreclosed.

Or maybe he was trying to scam me. But in this economy, the odds seem to be stacked against that. I wish I had helped him out after all.

I am reminded of this idea from Mother Theresa:

Better to make mistakes in acts of kindness than to hope for a miracle in an act of unkindness.