Your adventurous suggestions

Since my GAP story was published, I’ve been getting a lot of emails with recommendations for places to hike, bike and write about in the coming year. Thanks — and keep the recommendations rolling in. (please: no biting flies, deserts, succulents, crocodiles, vampire bats, etc.)

Slide show: Great Allegheny Passage, plus Maynard Sembower

Here are some beautiful photos that give you a good sense of the GAP. This ran with the Times piece on Friday. Also, I was saddened to hear about the recent passing of Mr. Maynard Sembower, the Mayor of the GAP. I feel very lucky to have met him and conversed with him (all too briefly)in Rockwood, PA., about the trail during my recent trek. He was 100 years old.

Hiking with umbrellas? Bleccch!

I have just returned from a practice hike in which I tried to avoid sunscreen and protect myself from the heat by hiking with a large umbrella (or parasol.) I’ve read so much hype about this that I wanted to give it a try myself. Alas, the umbrella strategy was problematic. Perhaps I was hemmed in by my desire to see where I was going. Often, the umbrella blocked my view. Because of this, I was hiking blind most of the time, crashing into many foreign objects( bushes, rocks, trees, bees and so forth). For another, I could never figure out how to keep all of myself out of the sun’s searing rays; at any give time, my ankle, neck or calves were getting barbecued from above. And finally, hiking with an umbrella looks silly, especially if your parasol is huge and pink with ugly racing stripes. More later, but…

New York Times Escapes: My journey on the Great Allegheny Passage

Here is my latest adventure, this one on two wheels. My travels took me through a beautiful section of Maryland and Pennsylvania. By the way, this was a sort of homecoming for me; I used to live in Glen Echo, MD., close to the towpath.Right now (Friday morning) this is the fifth most emailed story on the NYT site. (The passage’s many bridges took us over countless river and creek crossings such as the one shown in the watercolor painting above.)


Lorrie Moore, A Gate At the Stairs. Tragic, surprising and strange. The slow-food-restaurant-from-hell scene was an added bonus. Rick Wartzman: Obscene in the Extreme. Thought-provoking book about the banning and burning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which turns 70 this year. I reread Grapes this month to mark the anniversary. Philip Roth. The Humbling and Indignation. I admire Roth’s epics, such as American Pastoral, but lately he’s been writing these pitiless little books that hit very hard. The Humbling is about a once-great actor on the skids, and the unexpected romance which might put him back in business or put him out of commission for good. I won’t spoil the ending but if you’ve read Roth, you know he can be merciless with his main characters. Also by Roth: Indignation is about the price some people pay for flouting conventions. And it has the scariest panty-raid scene ever…

Wish list for next year’s HSBG fest…

Another great festival has come and gone, but it’s never too early to start planning for the next one. Here is my wish list for HSBG 2010. Little Village reunion (with John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner) John Fogerty, solo acoustic. Lucinda Williams with her band. Wild card singer-songwriter choice: Paul Weller. Iris Dement. Greg Brown. This is just a starting point. Feel free to send in if you have suggestions.

Hardly Strictly day two: strong winds, high spirits

Strong winds knocked off Steve Martin’s hat and toppled an upright bass belonging to one of Steve Earle’s Bluegrass Dukes. “Snuggle up!” Earle commanded as he took to the stage, sporting his new Hagrid look. The show was dramatic, owing in part to the lightning-fast bluegrass music, and in part to the scary heritage tree (a Monterey cypress) directly behind the stage, thrashing its branches and threatening to fall on the performers. The wind did all it could to blow the performers off the stage, but their fingers flew and they would not be distracted. Earle peppered the show with provocative comments. After criticizing Obama for making a reference to clean coal — “coal has blood on its hands,” Earle said — he launched into two coal-related Earle classics : Harlan Man and The Mountain. Before launching into “My Uncle,” an up-tempo draft-dodging anthem, he said, “This is written by…