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.


Day 6: Setback


I hurt my back.  No sense in tiptoeing around it.

I spent a rough night with every muscle tensed up, unable to turn over in order to find a more comfortable position, because that would expose my thoroughly dampened right side to the cold.

Since I couldn’t sleep, I roused myself as soon as the birds began chirping at 5 a.m.  I felt a twinge in my lower back while packing up.  But I was cold, and there wasn’t any dry place to lie down and stretch.

I should have made a dry place.  I should have found a way to stretch, even if it meant being covered in wet pine needles.  But I didn’t.

The nine miles into Exeter did me in.  There wasn’t any dry place to lie out flat and rest.  I never did get loose, and while I was walking, the weight of my pack jarred something in my spine out of place.

Back in the old days, this never happened.  Back in the old days, I never got sick or hurt.  Which is good, because back in the old days, I never had a wife to come to my rescue.

Kirsten picked me up in downtown Exeter, brought me to a nice hotel just a few miles away in Hampton, and stood guard over me while I collapsed on the bed for a three-hour nap.  When I woke up, I could barely move.

After dinner, I took a long, hot bath and crawled back into bed.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.  If I can’t walk, that’s pretty much the end of the journey.  But it’s too soon to think about that.  Right now, all I can do is get a good night’s sleep and see what the morning brings.

Day 5: Andover, MA – Newton, NH


For just the tiniest fraction of a second, at about 10:45 a.m., I thought I might have seen my shadow.  It kind of scared me, actually – I didnt know what it was.  Then it was gone, and I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing.

I hadn’t seen the sun since before we left Quincy.  I didn’t expect to see it today, either.  It’s possible that it won’t come out for the rest of the week.

Still, I felt good.  The performance the night before had been a rousing success, and the afterglow carried us all the way to Boxford (a 12-mile stretch) before we found ourselves in need of a break.

The temperature hovered around 45 degrees (7 celcius) – a shade too cold for sandals.  I wore hiking shorts, a light pair of gloves, and a long-sleeved thermal shirt, and I stayed warm enough – as long as I kept walking.


We reached Haverhill by mid-afternoon – and kept going.  The cool air provided good walking weather (and discouraged long breaks), so I figured we might as well do as many miles as we could today and give ourselves an easy stroll into Exeter tomorrow.  Besides, there wasn’t really any place to stop.


We walked on.  And on.
As we crossed the border into New Hampshire, the houses got more spread out – but not so spread out as to allow for any place where we could duck into the woods and hunker down for the night.  Every patch of land was owned by somebody, so we walked on.


Finally, about 6 pm we ducked into a thin sliver of public forest and found a place to camp.  By then, my ankles were sore from the constant pounding.  All together, we did around 23 miles, give or take a couple.  It was a longer hike than I’d planned, but  I felt good about getting our first 20+ mile day out of the way.  I figured a good night’s sleep would ease the majority of my aches and pains.

The rain began before I could get myself settled.  I made a haphazard job of pulling my waterproof bivy sack over my sleeping bag – according to the weather reports, it wasn’t supposed to rain until after midnight, and even then, it wasn’t supposed to last long.  I figured this was just a passing shower.

That passing shower lasted 8 hours, and soaked us both all the way through.

When you’re camping as light as we are, there’s only so much you can do about the rain.  We have no tent, and a bivy sack only works up to a point.  The rain finally stopped around 2 am – but by then, there wasn’t a thing we could do but lie there, shivering, until the 5 a.m. first light.

Day 4: Andover, MA

I’ve been blogging a lot about walking, these last few days.

I’ve told you about foot ailments and grumpy weather patterns.  I’ve told you about routes and destinations and long-distance hiker tactics.  But the truth is, none of that is what this journey is about.

Walking is only the vehicle, pardon the pun.  It’s only the means by which we get from one place to the next.  I hope it’s interesting, but it’s not the point.

The stories are the point.  Standing Abner up in front of as many people as possible and letting him spin his yarns – that’s the real purpose of this trip.

Here is a video snippet of Abner entertaining the Andover audience with a sad tale about Gert the Flirt:

Something about a misty morning …


Something about a misty morning always makes me think of dragons.  I don’t know why.  Dragons aren’t particularly fond of misty mornings.  Matter of fact, I don’t believe there’s a dragon alive who wouldn’t rather spend a rainy morning in bed with a box full of chocolate-covered hikers than to be out here flying around in the dampness.

Not that I’m an expert on dragons.  I haven’t seen a live one since that time back in the Summer of Ought Two, when a mean old 30-footer chased me halfway across the Great Empty Desert.  At one point, he got so close to catching me that I could smell the chocolate on his breath.  

Luckily, as I said, it was the Summer of Ought Two.  I don’t know if you remember that year or not.  I was in great shape, because I spent the whole summer doing all the things I Ought To, like eating right and exercising.

I’m not saying I ever  want to go through another year like Ought To … but that summer, it probably saved my life.

Anyway, this particular morning I was out wandering through the murk with my friend Vern Acular.  We were on a quest, of sorts – we were trying to find the place from whence the mist originated.

It was Vern’s idea.  He said the dewy air wasn’t like any kind of mist or fog he’d ever seen before.  Most mornings, he said, the mist is like walking through a cloud – or, if it’s really thick, it’s like walking on the bottom of a lake.  But this time, it was different.  This time, the mist had a movement to it – something like a very slow-moving current.  It was like walking through an air-borne stream of vapor.  And, of course, if it WAS a stream of vapor, then the stream must have a source.

So Vern and I were on a quest to find its headwaters.

Anyway, we’d been heading upstream all morning, and sure enough, the stream did seem to be narrowing.  I was just thinking, “geez, I hope there’s not a dragon up ahead.”

By the way, I have to tell you, Vern SWORE there WERE no dragons in this story.  At this point, I was taking his word on that.  I’m just saying, there was something about that mist that put dragons on my mind, is all.

So I was just thinking, “I hope there are no dragons up ahead,” when out of the mist … loomed a very large … brick building that had more chimneys than a small town skyline.  And wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly where the mist was coming from.  I mean, it poured out of those chimneys like the basement was on fire and the ground floor was full of water.

Vern looked disappointed.  He said “oh.  I should have known.”

I said “what’s that?”

He said “it’s a mistery.”

I said “what’s that?”

He said “it’s a factory where they make mist.  I didn’t know there were any of those around here.”

I said “you mean, there’s no dragons?”

He said “what IS it with you and dragons?  You’ve been yapping about them all morning.”

I said “they’ve just been on my mind, is all.”

He said “well, get ’em off your mind!  Trust me, there are no dragons in this mistery.”

I said “are you sure?”

He said “yes, I’m positive.  Now let’s go in there and solve this thing.”

I said “ha!  I knew it!  I KNEW there were dragons in this story!”

He said “no, there aren’t!”

I said “yes there are!  Because you’re not dragon ME in there!”

Day 3: Salem to Harold Parker State Forest



My right big toe had blood all over it.

I had only been walking for about an hour, but my Tevas hadn’t quite dried overnight, and anyway, it was raining again this morning.

More to the point, some grit or sand had gotten in under the toe strap of my sandal and started irritating the top of my toe.  I didn’t think it was that big a deal until I saw the red smear.

When did hiking get to be a blood sport?

Abner said “good thing there aren’t any sharks in the vicinity.”

“We’re on dry land,” I said – ignoring the fact that we haven’t seen any dry land since the day before we left.

He said “I know, but we’re not that far from the ocean, and the fog is pretty thick.”

I said “how’s that story coming?”  That shut him up.  Abner hates being put to work.

Anyway, the injury didn’t slow me down longer than it took for me to swap out my Tevas for socks and shoes.  When the rain is really coming down, I prefer to walk in sandals and keep my shoes dry.  This morning the air was saturated and the occasional flurry of raindrops would shake themselves loose from the clouds, but I figured as long as I didn’t try to wade through the tall grass, my shoes would stay tolerably dry.

The Independence Greenway runs from Peabody halfway to Andover, but where the trail crosses I95, it is not well-marked.  As it happens, I95 is exactly where the trail crosses a much better-marked trail, and so I ended up following the better-marked trail for a good 5 miles in the wrong direction.

Not that I minded all that much.  The scenery was nice:


I short-hopped Andover with a night in the Harold Parker State Forest.  Nothing to report there.  Just a typical night camping out under the stars clouds …


Day 2: Somerville to Salem


When I started planning this trip back in February, I thought to myself, I thought: “April Showers Bring May flowers.” I thought: April is cold and wet; May is warm and sunny. This is a simple equation. I will leave May 1st, and everything will be “Blue Sky, Warm and Dry.”*

* This my new catch phrase – copyright 2016, All Rights Reversed. Known alternatives I just thought of are: “Blue Sky, Safe and Dry” and “Blue Sky, Clean and Dry.”

But I’ve always been a dreamer. Out here in the real world, it’s supposed to be cold and rainy all week.

At 7 a.m., the morning was a shade too cold for sandals, but not wet enough to soak through my shoes. Take it all around, it was a pretty good morning for hiking.

I felt good. As we crossed the Mystic River, Abner started telling me this story about how misty mornings always make him think of dragons. But I told him, “hey, don’t tell ME! You’re supposed to be writing a blog, remember?”

So maybe he’ll write that story down one of these days – we’ll see.

The rain began at noon. I changed into my rain gear, swapped out my shoes for a pair of Tevas, and kept walking.

The clouds decided they did not like my attitude. I was too sanguine. I did not demonstrate the proper amount of respect. The rain decided to do something about that. It poured itself on. My enthusiasm remained undampened. The rest of me, however, got soaked.

The raindrops dripped off my hat and down my collar. They leeched through my water-resistant rain pants and drenched me right down to the wallet. I didn’t care. I had a dry place to sleep that night.

But the temperature started dropping, and that was a problem. My toes got cold. Then the rest of me started shivering.

The rain finally wore itself out. It decided to regroup. It congregated in puddles by the side of the road. Some of them ran nearly a foot deep. The cars didn’t miss those ones. I got swamped. Repeatedly.

But I made it to my rendezvous, and was able to get “Blue Sky, Clean and Dry” before the performance. Somehow I expected more people this time, but the audience was actually smaller – i.e., there was only one dog present.

I believe Abner’s storytelling techniques are calibrated toward slightly larger audiences. He had a bit of a rocky start. But it ended well enough.

Tomorrow we plan to head for Andover, but we don’t have to be there for two days. So we’ll use a technique I call short-hopping: get as close as you can the first day, so as to give yourself an easy walk into town the next day. Short-hopping also gives you more time in town to do errands and stuff. I highly recommend it.

First day is in the books!

Somerville, MA– The first day’s mileage is in the books, although I’m not quite certain what the final tally is. On the map, it’s only 14 miles from Quincy to Somerville, but we had some time to kill, so we bounced around Boston a bit before heading for our final destination.

All told, we probably walked between 16 and 18 miles today. Scattered raindrops came down for most of the day, but never enough of them to go through the bother of pulling out the old raingear. Abner said, “certain air molecules seem to be suffering from spontaneous liquifaction,” which I guess is the opposite of spontaneous combustion. I’m glad it wasn’t contagious.

Abner performed his first official “sing for your supper” performance to a small audience of six listeners, two of whom were dogs. The four human audience members were generally receptive, in a quiet, well-behaved sort of way. They laughed out loud during the “Blue Caught a Skunk” song. Funny how many people like that one. Ironically, though, one of the dogs did not like it at all, even though the song is all about a dog. He (the dog audience member) kept climbing into his master’s lap and pleading with her to make it stop. I thought the dog was being overly critical – I didn’t think Abner’s singing voice was all THAT bad. But the dog had made up his mind, and couldn’t be reasoned with. Fortunately, it’s a short song.

The other dog slept through almost the whole performance. I don’t believe Abner’s stories were her particular cup of tea.

Heading for Salem tomorrow. It’s going to be a wet, miserable day. I’m looking forward to it!

Two days to go!

Roughly 37 hours to go before Abner heads out on his inaugural New England storytelling tour!  The journey will take him 300 miles across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — and, of course, Abner will be walking the whole way.

I’ve been asked a couple of times, why is he walking?  Why not drive, or at least take the bus?  You know he’s just going to get all dirty and smelly out there on the road, and when he shows up at the venue, they probably won’t even let him in the door.  So what is the point?

Well, to Abner, the journey is the point.  He doesn’t feel like he knows a place until he’s walked through it a few times, and felt the shape of the ground under his feet.  He thinks every place has a story, whether it’s a place with a lot of people in it, or just a very few scattered people, or even none at all.  When you walk, you get to hear all the stories.  When you drive, all you can do is skip ahead.

The same question is sometimes asked another way:  what’s so special about walking 300 miles?  It’s not like nobody’s ever walked that far before.  It’s not like New England is known for its dense, impenetrable jungles or its vast, expressionless deserts.  Why make a big deal about it?

That’s true, 300 miles is not that big a deal.  To me, this tour is not about the distance covered — it’s about the stories shared.  My hope is that we’ll find some place almost every day for Abner to stop and spin a few yarns.  We’re getting close to achieving that goal.  But the thing is, we wouldn’t have a single venue booked if we never spoke up and said “hey, guess what we’re doing!”

The other question I sometimes hear goes something like this:  we know who Abner is.  But who are you?

Good question.  I am Abner’s alter ego, or perhaps it’s the other way around.  Abner tells the stories.  Pretty much everything else he leaves to me.  So I’ll be blogging about where we are and where we’re going next.  I’ll tell you a little bit about the good folks we meet along the way, and answer whatever tour-related questions you might have.  And from time to time, Abner might tell you a tale or two from his perspective.  Not sure what he might come up with, but you know storytellers:  they always seem to see thing a little bit differently …