Abner Serd’s 2016 Storytelling Tour – Epilogue

I like to hike in sandals. Of course, they don't keep the dirt out.
I like to hike in sandals. Of course, they don’t keep the dirt out.

My last full day out on the Appalachian Trail started with me getting lost.

Southern Vermont and Northwestern Massachusetts are criss-crossed with a network of snowmobile trails, and not all of them are clearly marked. Occasionally, they cross the Appalachian Trail, which is generally very well-marked.  But a foot path is a shade more subtle than a snowmobile trail, and sometimes if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to take the wrong fork.

Took me a quarter mile or so to notice.  You see, I had my mind on breakfast.  Of course, I had a couple of packets of dried oatmeal in my pack, and I could have run down to Sherman Brook, filled up a water bottle and boiled up a nice, watery pot of porridge.  But the town of North Adams was only about a mile and a half downhill, and from the moment I woke up, I could hear the biscuits and gravy calling to me.  So I packed up and hit the trail around 5:45 a.m., and promptly got lost.

I was also thinking about the weather.  It hadn’t started raining yet, but the forecast called for everything from drizzle to thunderstorms all day long.  I was hoping to make a few miles before the deluge began, then hole up for the rest of the day at a shelter three miles south of North Adams.  Getting lost didn’t help my timetable any.  But the siren song of a high-calorie breakfast eventually pulled me back onto the right path, and I made it as far as Renee’s Diner before the first drops fell.

The rain was coming down in a steady, soaking shower by the time I finished my second cup of coffee and headed back up into the mountains.  But the shower diminished as I climbed, until the raindrops weren’t falling so much as they were coalescing right in front of my nose.  Then I climbed right up through the top of the cloud and looked down at the rainy valley below.

Hoosic River Valley from above the clouds

So much for the weather forecast.  For the remainder of the day, it didn’t rain a drop.  But I was so far ahead of schedule that I needed to slow down, or else I’d be hanging around Dalton, Massachusetts for two full days with nothing to do.  So I forced myself to stop moving.  I found a wooden tent platform at Wilbur Clearing, dropped my pack, and spent the whole afternoon doing nothing but sitting there and watching the life go on all around me.

The chipmunks scurried around the tent platform.  They chased each other through the woods.  I spotted several entrances to their underground homes.  Once I saw a chipmunk stuff a dried-up old leaf into her mouth and head for the nearest hole in the ground.  The leaf was too old and brown to be food.  But it was still soft and flexible, and I realized the chipmunk must be padding her nest.

I could hear the muffled sounds of a woodpecker banging away.  I wondered why it sounded muffled, until finally I spotted the bird wiggling out of the perfectly round hole he’d drilled, high up in the trunk of a birch tree.  I watched him for hours, as he’d duck into the hole and peck away for a while, enlarging the cavity.  Then he’d stick his head out and look around, duck back in and peck some more, then stick his head out again.  Every so often his mate would fly up to the tree, and he’d pop out and give her chase.  They’d do a little mating on a nearby branch, then the male would fly back to the birch tree and work a little more on his excavation project.

I felt like I was witnessing Spring.  It’s one thing to notice the new leaves unfurling and the buds opening as you walk on by – but there is always a lot more going on, if only you can slow down enough to see it.

At the time, I didn’t know that would be my last full day Out There.  That was on a Tuesday, May 24th.  I planned to meet up with Kirsten in Dalton on Thursday afternoon.  Things didn’t work out that way.  Around noon on Wednesday, Kirsten pinged to tell me she’d just returned home from the vet.  Our cat wasn’t going to live much longer. Kirsten suggested I find my way home as soon as possible.  So I hiked out to the nearest town, took a bus to Pittsfield, and caught the next train headed east.

Mozzie the cat was a bit of a character.  I’m glad I knew him, and I’m glad I got a chance to say goodbye.

I wasn’t particularly sorry to leave the trail a day early (Hooey!  Did I ever need a shower as badly as I needed that one!).  The journey ended in an agony of sitting and waiting, as the train was already three hours late by the time it arrived in Pittsfield.  But I am grateful for the time I had Out There, and I’m grateful for every moment that I got to spend on this trip.

The 2016 New England Tour is in the books. Thanks everyone for coming along!  If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the Tall Tales & Shaggy Dogs podcast, and don’t forget to spread the word!  Tell your friends, write a review, follow Abner on Twitter – and Thank You for your support!

Mozzie the cat
Mozzie the cat

Day 22: Wilmington to the Appalachian Trail

Off to where the pavement ends
Off to where the pavement ends

Wilmington is in the books.  Because I am in a generous mood, I will say the audience numbered 8 people, including Kirsten.  But the fact is, people came and went, and there were never more than 4 people sitting down at any one time.

Most of my listeners did not come for the storytelling.  Most were there buying books, and probably had no idea there was a storytelling performance scheduled for that day.

At three o’clock, I stood there looking at a dozen empty seats, and wondered if I should just start talking.  It was a tempting thought; after all those hours spent practicing in front of an imaginary audience, it would have been a fitting end to the tour if I stood there and did an entire set for the benefit of a dozen empty chairs.

But it wasn’t like the store was empty.  A handful of customers were milling around, so I approached the nearest couple and asked if I could tell them a story.

They were reluctant.  They only came in to look for a graduation present.  They told me who it was for, but I forget.  Finally, I promised them I’d only do a couple of short ones, and they agreed to come sit down.

The minute they sat down, another lady took a seat a few chairs away.  I guess she didn’t want to be the first one to sit.

I had three real audience members now, and I was ready to roll.  But before I could decide on a good opening story and launch into it, the first couple insisted that I tell them a little bit about myself.

As Kirsten pointed out afterwards, both of these things – changing the order of the stories and complying with the biographical request – really knocked me out of my rhythm.

I have a couple of tales that I like to start with, because I know them best and because I think they help set the right tone for the audience.  After that, the stories tend to arrange themselves into a certain order:  if I’ve already introduced Jimmy Fingerbutton, then it’s easy to jump into a story about his latest invention, etc.  But if I change the order, then I have to rethink all the segues, and sometimes I even have trouble remembering how a story begins – it feels like I’m starting in a different place.

As for the biographical request … well, I’ve had this conversation with a number of smart people who know what they’re talking about.  I get that people want to know more about me.  I just don’t understand why.

Abner Serd is an amazing storyteller.  His tales have the power to capture the imagination.  I know, because I’m the guy standing behind him as he’s writing his stories down, and time after time, all I can say is, “wow!  Where did that come from?”

If another storyteller promised to spin me a yarn as good as one of Abner’s best, then the last thing I’d want to hear is a boring recitation of the author’s curriculum vitae.  I’d want to hear the story, and then another, and another, until they shut off the lights and locked the fun house doors.  Is it really just me who feels that way?

Anyway, for the last two days, I’ve been telling everybody who would listen who I was and what I was doing.  But at that moment, when I was in Abner mode, I struggled to recall the most basic information.  All those facts were locked away in a different part of my brain, and I simply couldn’t switch back and forth.

I muttered something or other, then gave them The Tale of Jimmy Fingerbutton and the Anti-Gravity Pack, followed by Wolverskunk.  Then my audience decided they really needed to get back to shopping, and I lost all three of them.

I rounded up a woman and her little girl who were browsing over in the children’s section, and I told them The Tale of Young Alice and the Biscuits.  I don’t think the little girl liked the story – or maybe she just hated the thought of stale biscuits.  She made the most adorable grimace just as I was finishing the story.  I couldn’t help but burst out laughing, which kind of ruined the mood.  They didn’t stay to hear another story.

Then a young man came in (he looked young, in spite of the gray stubble on his chin).  He came right in and asked if he was too late for the storytelling, so I said absolutely not, and gave him The Tale of Abner and the Little Tiny Man.  By this time, there were lots of customers browsing around in the store, but the young gray-stubbled man and Kirsten were the only ones seated and listening.  I tried to make eye contact with some of the shoppers; they feigned disinterest while remaining close enough to listen.

Kirsten prevailed upon me to do Gert the Flirt as an encore, and then I called it an afternoon.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad performance.  I think I handled the come-and-go audience as well as could be expected.  I did much better at not raising my voice to talk to the stragglers.  Maybe next time I can get somebody to introduce me, and that will solve the “tell us about yourself” conundrum.

Caution: Major pedestrian thoroughfare ahead
Caution: Major pedestrian Appalachian thoroughfare ahead

Abner and I are not expecting to have a lot of connectivity out on the Trail, so this might be our last blog till we get home.  Thanks everybody for following along with us!  See you back in civilization.

I toad you to leave me alone!
I toad you to leave me alone!

Day 20: Wilmington, VT

Arriving in Wilmington
Arriving in Wilmington

I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m just hanging around with nothing to do.  It feels weird to stop moving.

One of the mistakes I thought I made back in Milford was that I didn’t get a lot of outreach done prior to the performance.  It’s hard to drum up publicity when you’re traveling.  I didn’t meet too many people along the way, and when I did meet them, I mostly didn’t tell them what I was doing.  I hung a few flyers up as soon as I got to town – but by then, it was too late for anybody to see them.

This time, I resolved to do better.  I arrived in Wilmington a full two days early, having papered every bulletin board between here and Brattleboro.  I expected to spend all of yesterday hanging my little flyers all around Wilmington, but the bookstore had already beaten me to it.  So I spent the day wandering around town, randomly popping into stores, cafes, restaurants and taverns, talking to people and handing out business cards.

Painted bear
Painted bear

Wilmington is an adorable town, but it doesn’t take long to walk it from one end to the other.  Which leaves me today with nothing much to do.

Altogether, I figure I walked about 14 miles yesterday, even though I spent the night within 3 miles of town.  That 14 miles included a six-mile round-trip jaunt in the rain, up and down a muddy, mountainous road, to seek out a gallery called The Art of Humor.  I couldn’t resist the name.  I was looking forward to meeting the artist.  Unfortunately, the gallery was closed when I got there.

If everything always worked out, nothing would ever be funny.
If everything always worked out, nothing would ever be funny.

It’s going to be a good performance tomorrow.  I’ve talked to a lot of people, and Bartleby’s Books managed to get the local paper to do a nice writeup.  It should be a good crowd, but I’ve learned my lesson:  I’ll talk to the folks who came, and not worry about the folks who didn’t.


Day 13 & 14: Milford/Peterborough/Dublin

Country road near Wilton, NH
Country road near Wilton, NH

We are entering a new phase of this journey now.  Milford has come and gone.  We have only one performance left on the schedule, though we might still pick up one or two more before we’re done.  But the pressure of keeping to the schedule is over, for all intents and purposes – we have 7 days to get to our next show, which is 55 miles away.  We could easily cover that distance in 4 days, or even 3 if we really pushed it.

In short, we have a little time now to relax and let our mind wander.

Abner says he can’t think with me pushing all these words into his brain all the time.  In point of fact, it’s not his brain – it’s ours.  We share it.  But I agree that it’s difficult for both of us to get our cerebral chores done at the same time, so after this post, I’m going to step back from the blogosphere for a bit and let Abner have a go at it.  Who knows, maybe he’ll tell us a tale or two.  Keep checking this space for Abner’s version of our traveling tale.

Anyway, we left Milford yesterday by the back roads, and enjoyed a glorious morning walking down shady streets with only the occasional car to watch out for.  But eventually, the byways dumped us back out on Highway 101 – the road we’ll be following until it turns into Route 9, somewhere around Keene.  We did a quick 17 miles without so much as a day pack, thanks to Kirsten’s Magical Pack Shuttle Service, and we beat the rain into Peterborough, but only just barely.

When Kirsten arrived an hour or so later, we had fun running through the raindrops to get to the nice Italian restaurant way on the other side of the parking lot.  Then we headed back to our AirBnB, where I simply could not force myself to stay awake later than 9 o’clock.

Next morning, I did an impromptu performance for our host and her daughter (and for Kirsten, who was there as well).  Again, an audience of only three people, but what a difference:  I was relaxed, I wasn’t shouting, I was playing to the audience in front of me, rather than to anybody who might be lurking outside.  I only did two stories and a song, but the song turned out to be exactly the right one to do (it was “Little Baby Crab,” and they really liked it, so I took my bows and got out of there on a high note).

I won’t see Kirsten again for a whole week, so I’m back to carrying a full pack again.  I did 11 miles on Day 14, fetching up in a state forest just west of Dublin, NH.  Weather report says it’s going to rain tonight – I hope I handle it better than I did last time.

A desert ritual: spilling a drop of water at a roadside cross
A desert ritual: spilling a drop of water at a roadside cross

One last note from a long-time roadside pedestrian.  When I was living in Arizona, I got into the habit of spilling a drop of water whenever I came across a roadside shrine or cross.  You can make what you want of it:  maybe it’s an offering to any lingering spirits who happen to be hanging around.  Maybe it’s a sign of acknowledgment and respect, like tipping your hat when a funeral procession drives by.  Maybe it’s just a waste of precious water, or maybe a flower will grow there, thanks to that little drink.

You don’t see too many roadside crosses back here in the northeast, but occasionally one will turn up.  Anyway, I like to carry on the ritual.  Whatever else it may or may not do or mean, the ritual makes me feel connected.

Day 12: No shortcut to Glory


There is no shortcut to Glory!

That’s one of my favorite stories – I try to work it into every performance.  One of the reasons I like it is that the meaning (if there is one) is open to interpretation.

Of course, some days I think I know exactly what it means …

One of the reasons I am out here doing this tour is that I thought it would be a good way to learn and to grow and to practice and to get better as a storyteller.  Abner says that’s four reasons, but I told him to go write his own blog.

The point is, I came out here for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to gain experience.  I wanted to leave my comfort zone and go tell stories out where nobody knew me, just to see if I could do it.

I was really looking forward to the Milford performance, because this is the first one that wasn’t set up by a friend of a friend.  This one involved convincing complete strangers that I had something worth bringing to town.  It was definitely a step beyond the friends-and-family network, and I wanted to do everything I could to make sure the event was a success.

I stopped the day before in Amherst, made a dozen copies of the flyer that Kirsten had created, and posted them all over town.  I did the same in Milford the next day.  I stopped people on the street and told them what I was doing, and asked them to come to the Toadstool Bookshop for an amazing performance (okay, that last bit is an exaggeration.  I didn’t talk to everybody I saw – but I did talk to one guy who was out watering his lawn).

Of course, I could have done more.  There’s always more that I could have done.  It would have been better to get the flyers up at least a week or two in advance – but that wasn’t possible, since I didn’t arrive in town until yesterday.

I thought at least some bookstore regulars would drop by.  But the place turned out to be pretty quiet.  Kirsten was there (thank goodness), and our AirBnB host had brought a friend out to watch the show.  And that was it.

Three people.  No dogs.

The performance wasn’t bad.  Could have been better.  I felt like I was shouting – and considering the size of the audience, I definitely should have dialed back the decibels.  But I had it in the back of my mind that all I needed to do is talk a little louder, and maybe the stragglers would hear me and come drifting in.

It was a good lesson to learn:  focus on the audience you have.  I’ll try to do better next time.  Other than that, I think I did okay.

An audience of three people, though … that was disappointing.

But there is no shortcut to Glory.  You’ve got to walk every step.  That includes all the detours and blind alleys that weren’t on your original map.  As long as the path you’re on remains the right path, you’ve got to follow it wherever it takes you.

I think I’m still a long way from Glory.  The path is still muddy, and it’s a hard slog, sometimes.  But I’m fairly certain that it’s still the right path.


At least on my path, I don’t get attacked by fire demons.  Not yet, anyway.

Day 11: Manchester to Milford


Hello, Milford!

Back when this whole “wandering storyteller” project was just a crazy scheme – one that I had trouble explaining, even to my closest friends – I wondered if anybody would even be interested.  It was one of those worst nightmare scenarios:  what if I throw a party and nobody comes?  What if I reach out, and nobody’s there?  What if I tell a joke, and nobody laughs?

What if I say:  “I’m going to walk from town to town all across New England, telling stories to anyone who wants to listen!”  What if I said that, and it turned out nobody wanted to listen?

For a couple of months before I left, that nightmare looked like it just might come true.

I have a real hard time promoting myself, but I did what I could to reach out and make contact with some likely venues along the way.  Nobody called; nobody wrote back.  I couldn’t bear the thought of making all those follow-up calls and hearing all those rejections first-hand, so Kirsten graciously agreed to take over the outreach duties.  She said not to worry about it, so I didn’t worry – I just kept practicing my tales and getting my legs into shape.

Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH was the first venue that came back with a “Yes!  Let’s do this!”

Other venues followed, and before I knew it, I had a genuine, honest-to-goodness storytelling tour all lined up.  But that first venue was the key.  That one validated the whole crazy scheme.

So you could say, I’m partial to Milford.  I’ve been looking forward to this performance for a long time.  I really want to give them a good show.

Tomorrow, May 12th, at 4 p.m., if you’re in the area.  Come and let me tell you a story!

Day 10: Candia to Manchester


Predictably, the trail got busier and more urban as Manchester drew near.  Fantastically, the trail brings you straight into the city, which means if you live here, you could walk out your front door and jump on a trail that’ll take you halfway across the state.

Of course, the trail doesn’t take you straight into downtown Manchester.  Instead, it leads into what seems to be the warehouse district in South Manchester.  That would make sense, considering the old rail line would have gone where there was freight to be loaded.


It’s not the best part of town; I saw one sign in the window of a bar & grill that said “No Colors (i.e., no street gang insignia) … No Attitudes … No Exceptions!”  I didn’t go in.  I was afraid I might accidentally say something attitudinous.  What they would do to you, I wondered, if you forgot to say please?

Speaking of attitudes, almost half the road crossings today were posted with an official orange sign that said “Stay On Trail Or Stay Home.”  At first, I found that statement to be a tad curmudgeonly.  But the more I saw it, the more it seemed wildly inappropriate.

I am grateful that this rail trail allowed me to spend the last two days away from traffic.  I’d love to see more trails like this one, connecting one community to the next.  But until that happens, let’s remember that it’s not illegal to walk alongside most roads.  I won’t stay home just because there is no trail that leads to my destination.


Day 9: Epping to Candia


Now this, I thought, is what it was supposed to be like!  This is what it’s all about!

If I could, I would have done this whole trip by trail.  Trouble is, most trails don’t actually go anywhere.  Instead, they lead you on a merry chase through field and forest, up and down mountains, and twice around the briar patch before petering out somewhere in the middle of a swamp.

The Rockingham Rail Trail is one of the exceptions.  It runs fairly straight and true from Manchester to the outskirts of Portsmouth.  It only shows up on Google Maps if you zoom in really close.  It’s a wonder I found out about it at all – but ever since I did, I’ve been looking forward to this section of the trek more than any of the others.

And I haven’t been disappointed.  From Epping to Raymond, the trail runs pretty close to Highway 101, and traffic sounds are inescapable.  But between Raymond and Candia, the road and the trail run a bit farther apart, and it is possible in certain places to forget you can still hear the distant sounds of vehicles speeding on their way.

The trail is not heavily traveled (at least, it wasn’t today).  It is multi-use – I saw plenty of horse tracks and a couple of bicycles, but the only motorized vehicles allowed on the trail are snowmobiles, which didn’t concern me too much on a day like today.

Speaking of which, it’s so nice to feel the sun again!  A strong, cold breeze kept the early morning chilly, but the sun was determined to shine through, and eventually it succeeded.  I made sure to take plenty of breaks, even when I wasn’t tired.


When you’re on the road and you want to give your feet a break, you have to take into account houses and dogs and people who’d rather you weren’t passing through their neighborhood at all, much less setting your pack down and taking your shoes off right there on the town commons.  But when you’re on the trail, things are a lot simpler.  I found lots of good rest spots.

I don’t know how I managed to do 13 miles today.  The mileage wasn’t really on my mind.  I was just having fun wandering along, enjoying the day.


Not long after I reached my destination, I felt a crawling sensation on my back.  I reached around under my shirt and pulled off a tick.  I bet I laid down right on top of him, during one of my rest breaks.  He hadn’t even started biting me yet.  As far as I could tell, he didn’t bring any friends along.

Abner wondered what it sounds like when ticks talk.  I said “probably something like: ‘get off me, you big ham sandwich!  You’re blocking my sunlight!'”

Day 8: Portsmouth to Exeter to Epping

The Portsmouth performance really sparkled.  The audience was small, but lively – they didn’t listen passively.  Kirsten said Abner did better controlling the tempo this time, meaning he slowed it down whenever the logic of the story took a sudden surprising turn.  Sometimes you need to give folks a little more time to see where you’re going, if you want them to follow you around the corner.

The next scheduled performance is in Milford, NH – about 4 days from now.  Since the Milford show is a 4 pm matinee, I am hoping to add at least one children’s story to the repertoire between now and then.  Maybe the one about Young Alice and the Biscuits …

After spending the night in Portsmouth, Kirsten drove me back to Exeter.  I hated taking a ride during what is, after all, a walking tour.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to push too hard these next few days.  We did the Exeter-to-Portsmouth route yesterday; no sense covering the same ground twice.

Instead, we did Exeter-to-Epping – a distance of only 9 miles.   Just to make it more sporting, we did it in the rain.


Abner thought it was funny that I had trouble climbing up even the slightest incline, on account of I couldn’t lean into it.  Whenever I tried leaning forward, my spine threatened to unseat itself.  Once I sneezed, and for a brief second I experienced weightlessness.  It was as if my spine simply gave up all pretense of holding my top half upright, and at the same time, my legs  buckled, and my crumpled up body just hung there in mid-air, waiting for gravity to click.

Fortunately, I managed to catch myself before the ground did.

Epping is on the Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail, which will take us straight in to Manchester.  Looking forward to some nice, easy trail hiking for the next couple of days.


Day 7: Exeter to Portsmouth

Kirsten said I walked like a pregnant woman – as if I were leaning back in an effort not to topple forward.  The truth wasn’t that far off:  I was afraid if I bent forward even a little bit, my back would have given out completely and I would have collapsed.

So I woke early on Day 7 and did as much yoga as I dared.  It didn’t help much.  But it probably helped a little.  By the time I got out of the shower, I was ready to think about options.

Kirsten is here in New Hampshire for the weekend.  That made it possible for me to experiment.  We agreed that I would try to walk the 13 miles from Exeter to Portsmouth without a pack, and if I could do that, then perhaps I could continue on with the journey.

I thought the walking might help to loosen up my back.  I also thought there was a chance it would get worse and worse, until I found myself lying all folded up in a ditch by the side of the road.  However, the odds of me becoming so crippled that I couldn’t dial a cell phone seemed remote enough to take the chance.  If I had any problems, I could call Kirsten, and of course she would come right away and get me (just as soon as she was done shopping for perennials down at the local garden center.  I mean, after all, it’s not like I’d be wandering off anywhere).

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to carry a full pack for a while.  That took the camping option off the table.  But if I could walk 13 miles to Portsmouth, I would feel comfortable continuing the journey with nothing more than a day pack, just walking from one hotel to the next.

Going hotel to hotel is a pretty expensive option – the original budget did not call for a paid room every night.  But Kirsten and I agreed that it was important to finish the walking tour, if possible.

I’m not sure about Kirsten’s reasoning, but mine was pretty basic:  I began this trip with the hope of building a reputation, and I wanted to build a reputation for finishing what I started – for doing what I said I would do – rather than for quitting when the track turned to mud.

I admit, that reasoning is a little old-fashioned, and doesn’t take into account all kinds of subtle shades of circumstance.  Still, it all boils down the same:  I didn’t want to quit.  I had a performance scheduled in Portsmouth, and several more at various points down the road.  One way or another, I intended to keep them all.


So I walked 13 miles into Portsmouth.  I walked funny the whole way, but by the end, I wasn’t even thinking about cutting the Wandering Storyteller journey short.

My back loosened up – not a lot, but some.  As I walked, I rehearsed some of the stories I’d be doing that night.  I visualized reenacting the tales with a more limited range of motion.  By the time I met Kirsten at the hotel, I felt … oh, what’s the phrase?

Cautiously optimistic.