Handmade’s Tale

•29 July 2018 • Leave a Comment

At what point does something become handmade?

It’s easiest to show by example. Take a, I don’t know, candlestick. These can be made by computer-controlled lathes; all a human has to do is program ’em and feed ’em bits of tree, and voila, candlestick. Not exactly handmade.

If a human actually steps up to a lathe and turns the candlestick, is it then handmade? Or is that just a human operating a machine – “this car climbed Mount Washington” compared to doing it with your own two feet?

In that case, would a person have to hand-carve the thing using nothing but chisel and file for it to qualify as handmade?

And what of the ancillary matters of material and design? Would the person have to design the candlestick, or could they use a pattern? Can they buy the wood in the store, or do they have to cut down the tree too? If they chop the lumber, do they need to make the axe? What if they used a lathe, but built the lathe themselves?

If these might make a thing more handmade, doesn’t it follow that their absence makes a thing less?

I think that more and less betrays the fact that handmade-ness is not binary. It is a range.

Take a garment – a dress, a suit. On the one hand: you buy material; download a pattern; run it through your Singer. It’s a step up from buying the thing off the rack at Uniqlo – but just a step. On the other hand, you could make your outfit out of nothing but a pair of sheep staring up at you. It would involve numerous intermediary steps. It would force you to master – or at least, muster – a legion of techniques. It would put you so far from Entfremdung that you might risk summoning Ted Kaczynski. But the end product would be unassailably handmade. Handmade, as the poets say, af.

So it is a range – from simple assembly on one end, to preposterous made-from-scratch on the other. To define this range, then, I propose the following hierarchy.

The main qualities of any item are MATERIAL – DESIGN – FABRICATION. An item may be more or less handmade as to each of these categories. From least to most, a thing may be ASSEMBLED – PRODUCED – CREATED – MADE FROM SCRATCH – MADE FROM NOTHING.

Let’s go back to the garment-making example to illustrate.


An ASSEMBLED item is one where you just buy the materials at the store. You didn’t make the fabric. You just went to Joann Fabrics.

A PRODUCED item is one where you make the materials out of another made material. In the case of a garment, that would be knitting or weaving the fabric yourself – out of yarn you bought at Webs.

A CREATED item goes yet another step further back – spinning the thread, then weaving it, then stitching it.

An item made from SCRATCH is one where you have stepped back as far as is possible. You start from the basest possible ingredient – a sheep, a bushel of flax-stalks – and progress from there all the way to the finished product.

And then there’s MADE FROM NOTHING, wherein you are responsible for, not acquiring, but creating the basest scratch ingredients. That is to say, you have to raise the sheep yourself.

This applies to one’s TOOLS rather easily, as a tool is just a made item of a different sort. A scissors is just metal, which is the realm of metalwork. You could ASSEMBLE a scissors (or at least, a functional scissors-like thing) from items purchased at a hardware store. You could PRODUCE one by buying blank metal and then making it into scissor-piece shape. You could CREATE it by, not buying metal, but making it yourself – actually smelting iron ore. You could make it from SCRATCH by building your own smelting tower. And you could achieve PURE SCRATCH if you gathered the iron ore yourself.

(Or you could just, y’know, buy a scissors.)

By this framework, one could make a suit that was PURE SCRATCH of MATERIAL, but at the ASSEMBLY level of TOOLS (all one would need is a sewing machine, a scissors, a loom, a spindle, a pair of sheep-shears, some sheep, and a sheep-farm. You know, at minimum.) OR, one could make a suit that was ASSEMBLY-level of MATERIALS, but PURE SCRATCH of TOOLS (you’d have to start by dredging up ironsands from the bottom of an Irish bog scoop by scoop with your tiny weak little human hands… but once you finished the scissors and needle, you could just buy fabric at the store, and go from there).

I think that DESIGN can be forced to take most of the same bit. ASSEMBLAGE is just sticking to a pattern, without alteration. PRODUCTION adds or subtracts whole elements from the pattern (peaked to notched lapels; add a ticket pocket) but otherwise keeping it the same. CREATION makes smaller changes (make the lapels 1/4″ narrower or wider).

The concepts of SCRATCH and PURE SCRATCH are a bit more difficult, since there are few designs which are not born of other designs. This at least in the context of this example, whereby we have not set out to make a thing that fulfills a particular function, we have set out to make “a suit” and so we are already trying to fulfill a preexisting notion of design. Say that SCRATCH involves drawing up the pattern yourself, but having it still fulfill the elements of some Platonic ideal of what one is creating, however nebulous or sublime. And then PURE SCRATCH has one approach a problem (“this person needs to be nonnaked”) without regard to precedent, such that the result might be a garment, but it probably won’t be what one would call a “suit.”

These rules have internal application, as the scissors you make for your clothing project might be more or less designed, even though this might only add or subtract a modicum of handmade-ness to the final product. They might even be downright recursive, as to make the scissors you might use a hammer – but are you gonna make the hammer, too?

On the one hand, handmade-ness is probably of maximally diminishing returns for most projects. Do you really need to design special scissors just to cut a piece of cloth? Do you really need to fabricate scissors that are not, in fact, special, just to say you made ’em? Do you really need to aggregate to yourself all the different skills necessary to create, not just this item, but all the items needed to make it – or even, all the items needed to make all the items required in all its various steps of manufacture? Does a knife-sharpener also need be a knife-maker need be an ironmonger need be a miner? Does every tailor need to raise his own damn sheep?

On the other hand, it would seem an incredible accomplishment to truly, truly, make a suit from scratch. You would have to learn all the techniques required at each step of the way. By the end you would not only have a suit, you would have a panoply of skills. You would have achieved complete veritcal integration, cradle to grave. The suit would be less purpose than proof.

It would, for academic purposes if nothing else, be remarkably interesting to lay out all the steps needed to make a particular final product. I would like to know what one would need in order to make, say, one suit – and to make, or approximate, all the impedimenta needed for intermediate steps.

Would I then like to take the time to make said suit, and all else between?

Let’s be real: probably.


AT loadouts

•25 June 2018 • Leave a Comment

Summah: https://lighterpack.com/r/dgmzky

Wintah: https://lighterpack.com/r/f3snpa

Expendables include: fuel canister, lighter, some tape wrapped around my poles, 5 backup strike-anywhere matches, 10 backup aquamira tabs, hand sanz, neosporin, and TP

I know it looks minimal, but I really think I have everything I need. At this point I’m just pretty streamlined.

(not listed: fooooooooooooood)

Thoughts on Internal Passports

•21 June 2018 • Leave a Comment

Ahh, central Maine. Real Maine. The Way Life Should Be. The land of moose and mountains. The land of dial-up. The land of no ambulance coverage. The land of no jobs. The absolute apotheosis of bright flight. The place where, in some counties, more than fifty percent of all homes are abandoned (not just empty, not just for-rent; abandoned). The place where, in some towns, the average age is north of fifty years old. One of the many corners of the developed world whose only hope for survival is immigration.

And now, indeed, we’re doing this.

As you can see, I have objections to this from a policy perspective. However, a friend asked for comments about it as a matter of law enforcement procedure. I said this:


My understanding is:

-At any point within 100 miles of a US border – AKA, in most of Maine – CBP can request information as to the legality of your presence on American soil (your “status”) without any suspicion, let alone probable cause, RAS, or exigency.

-(And I’m pretty sure there’s a justification for search if you’re within 100 miles of a Port Of Entry, such as Portland – so that’s all of Maine, really.)

-Any person can refuse to so self-identify.

-Doing so carries no penalties. You cannot be arrested or detained.

-HOWEVER, doing so creates a suspicion that you are out of status.

-AND, this suspicion DOES allow CBP to detain you.

-This detention can include their taking steps to determine your status; and, if you are out of status, arrest and/or remove you.

-It can also involve a full warrantless (“inventory”) search of your person, vehicle, and effects.

-I am unsure if a US citizen could face penalties for failure to produce identification *after* they have been detained. I am unsure if a non-US citizen who is in status (LPR, visa, TPS, etc.) could face penalties, either criminal or immigration-related.

-As things stand, this is all legal and constitutional – both as to people in and out of status.

-This is not, unfortunately, the legal definition of “entrapment.” Jacobson v. United States, 503 U.S. 540, 548 (1992)

-Even if this did meet the legal definition of a “police-created exigency,” we don’t care about that. Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452 (2011).

I say “my understanding” because 1) I’m not primarily an immigration attorney, and 2) In the last 18 months, the field of immigration law has gone from “complex” to “chaos and uncertainty.”

I would also like to point out that CBP’s claims that this is intended to effect drug smuggling interdiction are pretty silly. I am not aware of any link between status and smuggling. Most drug smugglers in Maine are US citizens. (They are overwhelmingly white, native-born Mainers.) This check would not detect their activities. As such it would in no way deter them.

As a prosecutor I saw a number of smugglers who were non-US citizens. These were mostly white Canadians. However, they were all lawfully present in the US, either on long-term visas or just having driven their Harleys over for a few days. As a result, this check would not interrupt their activities either.

As such, this new “enforcement mechanism” will in no way result in a disruption of America’s drug supplies.

(Furthermore, it seems clear that disrupting America’s drug supplies will not actually alleviate America’s drug problem – another layer of policy difference.)

Also, while these status checks will cause a small reduction in the number of out-of-status people in America, 1) I am still unconvinced that this is really a thing we should be effecting, and 2) I am wildly unconvinced that doing so requires us to undergo these police-state indignities to our privacy and our liberty. And by “us” I mean both US citizens, non-citizens who are in status, and even non-citizens who are out of status.

Advice to myself before a thru-hike

•2 March 2018 • Leave a Comment

Link to Reddit

A Well-Regulated Militia in 2018

•21 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

RECOGNIZING the increase in the lethality of arms between the years 1789 and 2018;

RECOGNIZING the increase in the frequency of mass shootings continuing through 2018 unabated;

RECOGNIZING the right of personal gun ownership in America;

RECOGNIZING the right to personal safety in America;

RECOGNIZING that the unrestricted right to bear arms, and the commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cannot both be maintained;

RECOGNIZING that it is the duty of the Congress to establish the minimum restrictions upon the right to bear arms necessary to also guarantee the right to personal safety in America;

RECOGNIZING that a mechanism for the minimum necessary restriction on the right to bear arms exists in the Constitution;

IT IS DECLARED that arms may not be born except by those who maintain good standing within a WELL-REGULATED MILITIA.

BE IT KNOWN that each of the several States be required to establish and maintain a WELL-REGULATED MILTIA.

BE IT KNOWN that each State must enact, oversee, and enforce, the laws of its WELL-REGULATED MILITIA.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it incorporates every person who bears arms within that State.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it be open to all persons who are otherwise able to bear arms, as allowed by both federal and local regulations; and that membership not be denied to anyone on account of race, heritage, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, level of education, military service, or place of birth.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it punishes those who bear arms within that State, and are not members of the militia, with a term of imprisonment of no less than one year and one day.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it punishes those who bear arms within that State, and are not members of the militia, with forfeiture of all their arms.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it punishes those who bear arms within that State, and are not members of the militia, with forfeiture of their right to bear arms for a term of not less than one year and one day, to be served consecutively with their term of imprisonment.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it maintains a complete and accurate registry of all its members;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it maintains a complete and accurate registry of all arms owned, borne, or produced, within that state;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it maintains a complete and accurate registry of all the arms owned by each of its members;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it allows law enforcement to have unrestricted access to all aforementioned registries – be it law enforcement of that State, of a sister State, or of the Federal Government;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it provides for regular public meetings, in public space and at the public expense;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it does compel its members to attend at least one such public meeting per year;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it provides that failure to attend at least one such public meeting per year shall result in the expulsion of that member, along with resultant loss of their right to bear arms for a term of not less than one year and one day;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it immediately notifies both local and Federal law enforcement of any failures by any of its members to obey its compulsions, including but not limited to such failures as result in that member’s termination from the miltia, and their resultant loss of the right to bear arms;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless the State which incorporates it provides that a bearer of arms, who loses their membership in the militia and thus their right to bear arms, be immediately visited by law enforcement, and compelled to gather all arms registered to them, and turn them over to law enforcement; and the law enforcement shall hold these arms until such time as the person be allowed to legally bear them, and that this holding be at minimum and reasonable cost to the bearer; or, if the bearer prefers, they be sent to public auction, the proceeds of which shall go to the bearer, minus minimum and reasonable fees;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless the State which incorporates it provides that the registered ownership of an arm, without its owner’s membership in good standing in their state’s well-regulated militia, establish sound and complete basis for a search warrant of the registered locations of said arms; and that, if said arms are not discovered in said locations, there shall be established sound and complete basis for a search warrant of the person’s home; any other properties owned by and accessible to that person; any vehicle owned by and accessible to that person, or known to be used by that person; as well as a warrant of arrest for that person, all to be served immediately.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it does compel its members to undergo psychological evaluation by a competent and State-certified psychologist, to determine that person’s psychological fitness to bear arms; and that such evaluations be done of all members no less than once per year;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it considers any question of a member’s psychological fitness to bear arms to be ground for that member’s immediate suspension from the militia, and temporary loss of the right to bear arms, pending further evaluation; and that any declaration of a member’s psychological unfitness to bear arms result in their permanent removal from the militia, until such time as they might then prove their psychological fitness to resume membership in that Militia;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless the standards for its psychological evaluations, and of accreditation of those who offer them, be established by law, and strive to be as objective as possible to produce their assessment of fitness; but that these standards shall meet constitutional minimums as established by the Federal Government or its delegatee.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless the results of such a psychological evaluation be immediately appealable to either an intermediate special court, or to the state’s lowest appellate court; and that the decisions of either be appealable to the state’s court of highest jurisdiction.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it offer courses in firearm safety and use, or information on where such courses may be had;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless its meetings bar any political activity, nor solicitations for membership in or donations to any organizations, political or civil.

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it refrains from accepting donations, in specie or in kind, from any person, business, or organization, excepting de minimis donations as provided by its members to all other members equally, such as at the militia’s public meeting;

BE IT KNOWN that a MILITIA shall not be WELL-REGULATED unless it requires its members to neither have no display any rank, insignia, or uniform, which could be construed as belonging to the Armed Forces of the United States, or of any state, or of law enforcement, be it federal, state, or local; and that the members of the militia not be ordered to undertake any activities of law enforcement or peacekeeping, nor undertake such activities in the name of the militia.

BE IT KNOWN that each State be allowed to establish any and all additional regulations of its WELL-REGULATED MILITIA that they deem necessary and proper, so long as those regulations do not substantially overburden the right to bear arms.


•6 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

MIRRORBLAZE: The impact of technology on the Trail

by david axel kurtz


The AT is changing. Base weights plummet. Neros get bigger and bigger. Nobos are starting earlier, yoyos are finishing later. Flip-floppers are the new normal. Trail towns are rotting. Drones are coming. The line between supported and unsupported is going to disappear. And maybe I should take a moment to explain what any of that means, so that you can understand what the future holds for hikers and for the trail.

The Appalachian Trail has always​ ​​had its own little lexicon.​ ​​​​Like the trail it changes. Like the trail, it usually gets longer.

​​A thru-hiker is one going from the top of the trail to the bottom. One may hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine or the reverse. The former were first called northbounders. ​But hikers will never miss an opportunity to shed a syllable or two – one part a love of insular lingo, one part just a hatred of syllables – and t​his was immediately shortened to ​​nobo. Southbounders are hiking ​​sobo, or are on a ​​sobo, or are ​a ​sobo – you get the idea.

​Nobo and sobo are just the two main types of thru-hike. Some people start at Harpers Ferry – just shy of the midpoint of the trail – and head north to K, only to jump back to Harpers and hike sobo to Springer. This is a ​​flip-flop, and those who hike it, ​​flip-floppers. Whereas some people hike the entire trail, nobo or sobo, and then turn on their heels and hike it right back again. This fine double hike is called a yo-yo; the people who hike it are called ​​insane, clinically; but in the parlence of the trail, ​​yoyos.

On the long cold nights (and, worse, the long hot days), hikers are inclined to talk of all manner of things. Daydreaming about the trail is known to occur. It does take a certain creative spark to see the trail, not as it is, but as it could be. This spark is fairly well prevalent among the hikers, who tend to be young, intelligent, motivated (obviously), good planners (necessarily), and also have this disturbing tendency to be engineers or consultants.

In 2017, a certain hiker (IT WAS ME) suggested a froyo as a variation upon the yoyo – a hike where one would go northbound during the warm hiking months; wait in Maine until the weather became cold; then hike the trail southbound in the winter. This would allow them to experience two distinctly different hikes.

In 2018 the same hiker suggested the​​​ ​cyco​,​ wherein one would hike the length of the trail, and then bike back along the roads which follow it – mountain bikes not being allowed on the trail itself, for much the same reason that thru-hikers aren’t allowed on the interstate.

But these are variations of direction. At their core they assume: same trail, same hikers. With so many hikers – and the ethos of HYOH​, Hike Your Own Hike​ ​- there have also arisen variations of the trail hiked, and the literal act of hiking.

A thru-hiker is one who hikes the entire trail​​. But it’s not uncommon for one to miss a few miles here or there – a wrong turn, maybe, or maybe you get off the trail to the left of a town and then get on the trail to the right of it, walking two aching miles of pavement but missing a mile of soft earth in the process. These people are no less thru-hikers. This is why the Appalachian Mountain Club refers, not to thru-hikers, but to “two thousand milers” – people who have hiked over 2,000 miles, while the full length of the trail proper is actually around 2,200.

This hiker is considering trying to thru-hike this year. He might very well skip Pennsylvania from Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap, having already hiked it, and found it to be *awful*. This would put his thru-hike at a mere 2050 miles. He would still call himself a thru-hiker. As would his feet – and they’d thank him for skipping those awful Keystone State rocks.

A detour which you hike is called a blue blaze – again it can refer to the hike, the hiker, or be used as a verb. This is because such trails are marked with literal blue blazes, in contrast to the white blazes that mark the AT proper. A detour which you don’t hike is called a yellow blaze – a joke referring to the fact that it usually involves a car, which follows the yellow markings in the road – and also incapsulates a judgment of cowardice here and there.

Some people might skip a mountain or two due to inclement weather – sometimes a week goes by without a day where one could safely ascend Mount Washington. A common blue blaze goes around the highly toxic superfund site at the Palmerton Gap, and it must be noted that this “winter trail” actually adds about a mile of distance without losing any altitude achieved. Some people skip small sections that they’ve previously hiked. Many repeat thru-hikers skip Rocksylvania (or wish they had). Some people might jump ahead 20 miles to catch up with a hiker whose trail name is Really Great Butt. None of this is begrudged. But it shows that the definition of “the trail” is fluid​ from hiker to​ ​hiker.

This definition also changes for every hiker from year to year. The trail changes. It moves – a little here, a little there. It always starts and ends in the same place, but most everything in the middle is up for grabs – to the point that less than 2% of the current trail is as it was when it was created.

Why is it changed? Usually it is simply as a response to erosion – to allow the earth to heal here, the trail is moved there for a time. Sometimes it is as a result of changes to the landscape – a boulder falls, a dam collapses, the trees are too damn high. Sometimes the trail is changed to make it easier. And most commonly, when the trail is changed for some other purpose, the new route will be the easiest of the possible routes available. As a result, it is generally considered that the Trail is easier than it was at the outset, and that it gets a little easier every year.

​And that’s just what is hiked; the hikers too are changing. This mainly expresses itself as improvements to a hiker’s gear – their kit – the contents of their pack. Improvements in gear are still happening at a staggering pace, and have had​ a truly mind-boggling impact on the hike. A hiking pack in the 1940s might weigh ​70 or 80 pounds. In the 1980s, ​it probably weighed ​half of that; in the 2000s, half again; until a certain hiker in 2017 enjoyed a base weight of under seven pounds. ​The same hiker proposes that this halving of weight be referred to as Less’s Law. (I’ll hike myself out.) ​

It is worth noting that a base weight of seven pounds does not actually leave much room for decreases. A halving of minimum weight (at same level of functionality) would leave a hiker only 3 pounds lighter than they are now. That’s nothing. That’s about the weight of an extra day’s food, or an extra bottle of water, or a full bladder for Christ’s sake. A 3lb reduction, even if it represents 50% of one’s base weight, will hardly be noticeable. Less’s Law has been identified and immediately it is irrelevant.

(Axel’s Corollary to Less’s Law: when the decrease in base weight is less than the weight of an extra bottle of water, it is irrelevant; when one’s total base weight is less than the weight of a bottle of water, one’s base weight is irrelevant entire).

​It must be noted that, while Weight has always been the devil on a hiker’s shoulders, its sidekick Volume has also been a burden. In general, modern gear is smaller than older gear – there’s a great picture on the top of r/ultralight of a 110L backpack (this hiker has no trouble using a 57L even for winter hiking). Over the coming years, as weight decreases smash headfirst into diminishing returns, volume decreases will undoubtedly continue – but they’ve never been the priority, and we’re already kicking their ass as well.

​I’d file these under “improvements in form.” There have been, and will continue to be, improvements in the function of gear. This includes e.g. faster and more effective water filters​;​​ more breathable fabrics​;​ comfortable shoes​; more gear is now inherently waterproof; more gear, even ultralight gear, is becoming terribly durable;​ ​lead times in manufacture are decreasing; prices are coming down; and batteries are lasting longer, which, thumbsup.jpg.

​The effects ot these improvements to gear have been profound. Outside of the uncertainty and the danger of the early hikes; they were slow. Carrying a huge pack really slows you down. The earliest hikers would often hike 10 miles in a day. Now, in a bit of shape and with proper gear, hiking 20 in a day is not at all uncommon; people, regular people, will marathon (26 miles) or even push into 30s​ -​ every single day​. That would have been impossible two generations ago, and both rare and much harder even in the last generation. In short: these improvements to gear have not made people hike less hard; it has simply increased the amount of hiking one gets done when one pushes oneself. People aren’t hiking easier; they are hiking faster. But it means they are finishing the trail in 4 months (or less), rather than 6 months or more – and that certainly changes the experience.

At the intersection of function and form, a hiker might consider a gedankenexperiment: would they rather hike with a 50 pound pack and a cell phone, or a 5 pound pack and phone-free? The meta-answer is: they would be two very different hikes – both of them different from an AT hike as originally envisaged, and both different from an AT hike as is often undertaken now.

​​It is also generally considered that the amenities along the trail improve every year. There are towns. There are gas stations and convenience stores. Thanks to the internet they are all easily identified. In the 1950s I rather assume that one would have to depart the trail; hike into town; ask around; find a little store; wait for it to open; and purchase whatever canned goods or dry goods were available. Now one can buy dehydrated hiker’s meals at most every little store along the trail – to say nothing of the preposterously calorically dense snack foods that fill every gas station in America, and which one should really only consume if one has just hiked 1100 miles and has another 1100 to go.

It is worth considering that the general wisdom, here, is wrong – that the heyday of AT amenities might actually be behind us. As one hikes, one encounters no shortage of closed businesses. Some of the Trail Towns – towns near the trail, even towns where the trail runs right down the sidewalks of Maine Street – are fallen on very hard times. Some of them don’t have a lot of businesses left open. Some of them are really a little scary. Hostels like the Bear’s Den are probably less dangerous than sleeping in an actual bear’s den. I never encountered a shelter that was less comfortable than The Doyle.

On the face of it, these are universal changes to the trail; they affect all hikers equally. But this brings us to the other variation, which is in the way one hikes. Most hikes are unsupported – if a hiker wants to resupply (i.e. buy Knorrs sides and jars of peanut butter), they have to depart the trail and head for a grocery store. Sometimes this is a matter of walking a few feet; sometimes it’s walking, or hitchhiking, a few miles. Some few hikers are supported; these are people who arrange for supplies to be brought to them along the trail. These hikers are, pretty much exlusively, those who are trying to set some sort of record. Although even here they are robbed of some glory, as the Trail keeps records for both supported and unsupported hikes.

​In the future, however, this is going to change – I bet my poles on it. In my life off-trail – in the cotton life, that most poetic of phrases – I no longer drive to the grocery store; I get food deliveries. These are assembled by people in the grocery store; driven to me by human drivers; brought to my apartment door by a human deliverator. Amazon – my delivery service of choice – is already in the process of replacing the human factor at each of these steps. The grocery stories are being replaced by warehouses, where, as with all other Amazon warehouses, workers are being replaced by machines (robots, if you will). The cars are beginning to drive themselves. Rolling drones – little more than dumber Roombas – are being rolled out to bring the groceries from curb to doorstep. Amazon is already testing aerial drones for the delivery of food and packages. And they’re doing all of this only because it’s cheaper to use robots than minimum-wage employees, and faster to use a sky-darkening horde of VTOL craft than it is to drive in urban traffic.

​There will be a trickle-down of this technology. At the easiest, current logistical innovations – GrubHub, Uber, Amazon Prime, Fresh Direct – make it much easier to get to and from a trailhead; to get resupply of food or gear; to get a pepperoni pizza delivered to certain shelters (I’ve done this) (it’s better than a weekend in Amsterdam). On the other hand, if one could get pizza delivered every night, one would never have to worry about resupply. This would eliminate the entire idea of an unsupported hike. It would be wonderful in many ways – but would it still be a thru-hike? Would the Trail still be the Trail?

Let us daydream for a moment. It is now 2018. There are already drones delivering mail, and (in three states) self-driving cars on the roads. In 2023 they will be becoming common; in 2028 I expect they will be ubiquitous, the rule rather than the exception. As a result, I firmly expect that – within ten years – one will be able to order a complete food resupply and have it waiting for you, in the back of a self-driving car, at any of the frequent points where the trail crosses a road. It would not surprise me if one will be able to order a drone delivery, and then not to road intersections, but upon the trail itself.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to hike a 20- or even 30-mile day, collapse by a little wooden shelter in a small clearing by a babbling brook, pull out your phone, and soon thereafter a whirring little drone will drop you down a six-pack and a 20″ with extra cheese. Perhaps you cannot imagine the wonders of this until you have been a long-distance hiker. I can assure you that it is paradise enow.

Undoutedbly it would be expensive. Most hikers cannot afford to eat a pizza every day, even if one were available. But on the other hand, the possibility of drone resupply would mean that hikers would not have to carry food – or not much of it – in their packs. That would eliminate a large amount of weight from the hiker’s back, allowing them to hike longer, faster, and in greater comfort. Hell, there were times when I would be carrying more food weight than gear weight. Drone ressuply could make that a thing of the past.

Also, it could allow one to get deliveries of real food. Not just pizza. Protein. VEGETABLES. A thru-hiker is usually at a calorie deficit, and almost always is lacking in at least one macronutrient (protein) if not others. The extent to which a thru-hiker, on an average day, is lacking in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) or phytonutrients (fruits and veggies) borders on the comical. It must have an impact on the hiker’s overall health. It must impact their ability to hike. Drones could eliminate this problem.

The problem, here, is that it could allow the average thru-hike to go from unsupported to supported. It would remove the need to resupply, to plan resupplies, to plan – well – anything. It would remove the logistical and tactical elements from hiking. Would that be a fundamental degredation of the nature of the hike, or a fundamental improvement to it – allowing one to push oneself harder, and therefore cover more miles in a day – in a nutshell, just letting one hike better?

​It is an ontological question: what is the Trail? Is it the easiest possible path between Point A (Springer) and Point B (K)? Or is it necessarily hard? Is it a long hike aided by the best technology of Now, or the best technology of 1930? Is it necessary that it require planning, thatthere be an element of adventure? Or is hiking all day hard enough, thank you very much, now where’s my drone pizza and six side salads?

I would illustrate this point through a few examples.

-Alice is a hiker. She is carrying a backpack containing 57 pounds of gear and equipment. She is living off of peanut butter and Knorr’s pasta sides. She can only carry 3 days worth of supplies at once, so she is having to plot her resupplies carefully. She gets to go into every town. She hitchhikes a lot. She meets tons of people. She burns through two pairs of heavy over-ankle hiking boots. She makes it to Katahdin in 200 days, and is a thru-hiker.

-Bob is a hiker. He is carrying a backpack containing 10 pounds of gear and equipment. He is eating the same as Alice, but he can carry two weeks worth of food without really weighing himself down. He goes into town a bit less than Alice. He hikes a bit faster in his trail runners – burns through four pairs but that’s to be expected. He makes it to Katahdin in 160 days, and is a thru-hiker.

-Chuck is a hiker. He is carrying a pack that weighs 4 pounds soaking wet (which it never is, because it’s waterproof). He gets all his food delivered by drone. It costs him more but boy is he healthier and happier. He only stops in town when he needs a shower, and then doesn’t bother sleeping there. He makes it to Katahdin in 120 days, and is a thru-hiker.

-Drew is a hiker. She does not carry a backpack or food. Every night a drone brings her, not only dinner, but a sleeping bag and hammock. Every morning she packs it up and the drone takes it away. She never goes into town at all, never sleeps in shelters – she even sends her hiking clothing out with the drone some nights, and in the morning it comes back freshly laundered. She eats well and healthfully every single day. She makes it to Katahdin in 90 days, and is a thru-hiker.

These are four different types of hikes that, I expect, will be available to average hikers within the next decade. As it is, the early AT hikers had it much harder than Alice – they had no cell phones, nothing comparable to a modern guidebook, much less development along the trail, far fewer resupply options, and even heavier packs. Whereas Bob is now the average, Chuck is fast approaching, and Drew is really not that far away. Technology is significantly impacting the way we hike. Soon it will be to the point that it has changed what the hike is itself – if, indeed, we aren’t at that point already.

Personally, this hiker would much prefer to hike as Chuck. He thinks that hiking as Drew would be going too far – but on the other hand, he thinks he might be deluding himself. The difference between Chuck and Drew is minuscule, and hiking with a 4 pound pack just to say that one is carrying one’s gear is a pretty weak imitation of the thru-hikers of yore. Certainly the difference between Chuck and Drew is nothing compared to the difference between Alice and Bob, and that is a distance we have already traveled. And still we think ourselves thru-hikers. (Are we?)

It might even be worth considering that the next generation’s improvements to “the Trail” could focus, not on trail or pack, but on the hikers themselves. Improvements in sports medicine. Better painkillers. Safe steroids. Over-the-counter EPO. Nanotechnology. Stuff that is barely on the horizon now. But one day or another it will start to arrive, and when it does, we will look back on the days when we worried about cutting a few grams from our base weight as the Dark Ages – when feet don’t hurt, when muscles don’t ache,  when average people start doing ultras every day.

This hiker might wonder whether a distinction might be made, not between types of hikes, but between trails. For example: maybe the AT would allow drone resupply; the PCT would not, but would allow cell phones and ultralight base weights; the GDT would ban drones and mandate a minimum base weight, much as a drag race might disqualify a car that is too light. This way a hiker could still “old school” it on the AT, but would have to fight the pressure against it; whereas a hiker on the GDT would know that they were similarly situated, that those they met would be HEOH – Hiking Each Other’s Hike.

This hiker wonders whether, in the future, “slack packing” will not be taking off your pack in exchange for a lighter one, but will rather be dumping your light pack in exchange for a heavier one, so that you can experience what hiking used to be like – and appreciate, deeply, how good you now have it.

This hiker wonders whether increases in the ease of the Trail will allow more people to take up “lifestyle hiking,” whereby they incorporate long-distance hiking (or biking) into their daily lives – a dozen miles, a little siesta, an afternoon of work on a little laptop. Doesn’t sound like a bad life. Not for a semester, not for a year. Not, perhaps, for a whole lot longer than that.

The Trail is always changing. So are hikers, so are the way we hike. It is important, at the very least, to understand this – to remember what the Trail used to be, so that it can inform what we want it to be. This humble hiker likes his seven pound base weight. He would not turn up his nose at anything which got him more food on the trail. If hiking gets easier, he’ll hike faster. He’ll hike more, not less. He’ll hike longer, cover more miles, climb more mountains, see more shining seas.


•6 February 2018 • Leave a Comment

I have always had a thing for pattern-welded steel. Regular steel is simple. Damascus steel is complex. Plain steel is boring. Damascus is interesting. Steel is common. Damascus is rarified.

In the same vein I’ve always been drawn to quartersawn oak over simple pine, or spalted maple over simple white. Following suit I have begun to see the appeal of textured leather such as crocodile (and abhor a patent shine). In watches I’ve grown to appreciate a cornes-de-vache over a simple straight lug, a guilloche dial over a simple monochrome. To say nothing of the joys of a decorated movement – this or this or this.

I often imagined replacing the things I use every day, the simple things made of simple materials, with these more beautiful materials. After all, day to day, I don’t use that much. I could replace my kitchen knives with damascus knives – I could do so at any nicer kitchen supply store. I could replace my kitchen shears with damascus scissors, even if I had to make them myself at the forge. One day I could trade in my $15 Ikea end tables for something Stickley, my $300 microbrand dive watch for something lovely, my old dress shoes for a pair that really shine. This wouldn’t be much different from the traditional American pasttime of “replace Stuff with Better Stuff” – just suffering the flavor of my particular aesthetic.

Then I was offered a counter-example, in the form of Dufour’s horns. And now I am quite close to rejecting this philosophy entirely.

Philippe Dufour is a watchmaker. The dials of his watches are elegant and simple. The movements are considered by many to be the absolute height of haut horologie. Each individual piece is made by hand. It is finished by hand, from the surface abraisions on the plates (Côtes de Genève) to the way that every single piece has beveled edges, hand-polished to a mirror shine. There is a reason it takes him months to make a single watch. There is a reason why one of these simple time-only watches fetch about a quarter of a million dollars at auction – we’re using the word reason rather loosely, but such is the world of horology.

The epitome of M. Dufour’s watchmaking – if not of watchmaking entire – are his horns. Not them in the center of the image, to left and right. They are a purely decorate flourish. They are shaped and finished entirely by hand. They are extremely difficult to produce – M. Dufour claims that no machine could adequately recreate them. As they are part of the watch movement, they are only appreciable through a crystal caseback (a decadence itself), and then only when the watch has been removed from the wrist to be ogled. They are small enough that one must look carefully for them – and to appreciate their true beauty requires a jeweler’s loupe of high magnification.

They are minute, delicate, and unnecessary. They are a decadence. They are silly. But it is easy to see why a watch collector, or simply a watch enthusiast, would arrive at them.

You could tell the time quite well with a $10 digital Casio. But you want something dressier so you get a $50 analog Timex. But you want something that doesn’t tick like a quartz hammer striking a quartz anvil, so you get a $300 automatic Seiko. But this is the watch that you’re going to wear every day, that people are going to see, that your kids and grandkids are going to think of as His Watch, so maybe you want to get something a little bit fancier. Plus the Seiko’s movement is not exactly gonna get you laid at Baselworld. So you spend $3000 on a Grand Seiko – a Peacock or Snowflake – with its finer finishing, higher accuracy, and decorated movement – and suddenly you’ve got something you can be proud of, both in horological and Veblen terms. Over the course of sixty or seventy years, three thousand dollars amortizes out pretty well – about a penny a day, and that doesn’t include resale value. So you think, if I double the amount I spend – $6000 – I’m still at about two cents per day. If I spend $13,000 I could get a perpetual calendar with killer insides. Another few grand and I could get it in gold. Then there’s the gold bracelet. Then there’s the handmade movement. Then there’s the tourbillon or squelette. If you were to spend $100,000 you could get a nice gold perpetual calendar chronograph by Patek Philippe. You’d have the wrist equivalent of a Rolls-Royce – all for about a thousand dollars a year. Not including resale value. Which, historically, has been well in excess of one hundred percent.

And what do you get for the really, really rich person who has everything? A $250,000 Simplicity.

Sure it has less functionality than the $10 Casio. Sure it probably tells time just as well as the $300 Seiko – and objectively less well than the $30 Timex. But there are over two thousand people in this world who are billionaires. It’s hard to expect them all to wear G-Shocks. The marginal improvements of a Dufour are still improvements. At each step from Casio to Dufour a buyer encounters diminishing returns – but they’re still returns. If you’ve got so much money that it doesn’t matter, why not get the best?

It is insane, but not unreasonable (a most American phrase!). One might say that it suggests a lack of imagination, that one cannot find any better use of one’s money. One might say it displays a lack of altruism – or a condemnation of the society which allows a person to be in the position to make such a purchase, whether or not they choose to do so. But it’s no stupider than a sports car – or a luxury car – or a bigger house, or a better apartment – or a bigger wedding – or a longer vacation. If you’re going to throw the money away, a watch is as good as anywhere. Some people prefer Ferraris, some Ferragamos, some Laurent Ferriers. De gustibus non est disputandem.

A better argument would be that the existence of those who have so much disposable income is problematic itself.

And yet, while a Dufour could only belong to the ultra-rich, the logic against its purchase applies just as strongly to a “mid-range luxury” timepiece in the window of a mall or jewelry store. For example: there were one million Rolex watches sold last year. Is there any real reason to buy a Rolex (average price: $8,000-20,000) as opposed to a Seiko Cocktail Time (about $300)? Does a Submariner do anything a Prospex ($399) cannot do? Does a Daytona outperform any one of the hundred Seiko chronographs? And Rolexes are not real luxury watches! They are not handmade – do not have decorated movements – are lacking many complications (no perpetual calendar!) – are not scarce by any stretch – are not, in this society of wealth and wealth inequality, really all that conspicuous in their consumption.

Sure a Dufour is absolutely indefensible. But so is a Rolex. And really, so is a Seiko. Really we should all wear Casios – and hiking boots and heavy jeans and shirts of rough homespun to last a lifetime. We should all bike everywhere, we should all live in small apartments, we should (as we currently envision it) never go out to eat. But of course this extreme isn’t really reasonable either. It is dull and it is ugly; it is brutalist in a world that can be beautiful; and, if this kind of puritanism were fully followed, it would leave an average person in the same position as a rich person – wondering I’ve got extra money – why shouldn’t I blow some money on something pretty?

I don’t want to live in a nation of Mao Suits any more than I want to live in a nation where people fail to condemn those who blow five grand on a Gucci tiger shirt. A middle ground is appropriate – and achievable.

But I am not here to pen a scree in favor of bougie moderation-is-the-key. I am not here to suggest that even the very rich refrain from purchasing the superior things in the world. I am here to suggest that some of those things are not actually superior. They should not be avoided because of absolute cost or diminishing returns; they should be avoided because they offer no returns at all.

Why are Dufour’s horns thought beautiful? It is not due to any innate attractiveness. It is because they are very hard to make. The resultant scarcity is why the watch is so expensive. But the reason it is very hard to make is not itself of any use, or interest, or beauty. It is expensive because it is hard to make. It is hard to make because people like things that are hard to make.

It is not M. Dufour’s fault. His horns are the inevitable result of accepting a correlation between cost and complexity. People accepted that a $3,000 watch was worth more than a $300 watch. They applied that logic to a $30,000 watch. A $300,000 watch was inevitable. The logic that gave us the Rolex, then the Royal Oak, then the Richard Mille, inevitably gave us the horns of Philippe Dufour.

Why should there be a limit? Why should horns that take days to manufacture, and a 10x jeweler’s loupe to view, be the end of it? Why not geometric complexities that take weeks to manufacture? Why not fill a watch with such minuscule glories that a microscrope is required for their appreciation?

With a small enough tool, a watch’s movement could contain a density of things comparable to the density of information found in a computer hard drive. Which seems very silly. Why would someone want to ape a hard drive for millions of dollars – why not just buy a thumb drive for five bucks and change? But we have already established that a Seiko is just a Casio which someone, for some strange reason, prefers to be mechanical instead of digital. A grand complication, with perpetual calendar and minute repeater and chronograph, is just a mechanical G-Shock. Given enough time, it is inevitable that someone will produce a mechanical smartwatch. With the development of techniques, with training, with time, such a marvel as Dufour’s horns could come to be seen as crass and coarse. I see no reason to believe that this will not occur.

…and that’s assuming you believe they haven’t already – the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers contains 23 complications. (The 52760 pocket watch contains 57 complications; but smartphones are still more powerful than smartwatches, so I guess we can give VC a break). In that same vein, a Patek Philippe 6300G could be yours today for a conveniently logarithmic price increase of $3,000,000.

As a species, I do not believe we should walk this path. This regardless of the opportunity cost of that money – one rich person buying a ten-million-dollar watch is not any greater injury to humanity than ten million ordinary people each buying a pint of beer. I believe that we should refrain from praising complexity for its own sake because complexity for its own sake is boring. Density is not by itself interesting, any more than an empty hard drive is more interesting than a full floppy disk. In assessing the cost of something, its difficulty to manufacture is a reasonable factor; in assessing whether something should be made, its difficulty of manufacture is not.

What happens if we continue to praise the addition of more and more detail to smaller and smaller things? What does the visitor from another planet do when they come to the Earth and find that we are watch geeks? “Here lies Humanity,” the headstone might say. “Oh, sure, they’re still alive. But they just spend all their time polishing their micro-rotors. If you walk up to one and poke it with a stick it will just keep on hand-polishing. May as well ignore them; they won’t harm you. They may as well already be dead.”

What happens, indeed, as we get wealthier? What happens as the average joe has more and more of a disposable income? Does he go from Seiko to Rolex? Does he go from Vulcain to Voutilainen? What happens if we actually achieve greater wealth equality – if the rising tide does raise all boats? Is this what average people are going to spend their money on? Is this how humanity rewards itself for its endeavors?

…once again, I would argue that this is exactly what is happening. Last year there were a million Rolexes sold. And three quarters of a million Omegas and Tag Heuers. And over two million of the other brands – of luxury Swiss watches alone. (250,000 Breitlings. The world is doomed.)

I believe that it is necessary to disassociate difficulty of manufacture from value. I believe that complexity without purpose is not aesthetically superior to simplicity. I believe that there is room for great variety in wristwatches, quite possibly justifying watches costing over a thousand dollars – but in general, a $300 Seiko or microbrand diver is not only sufficient for the cost, but that it is superior in the metal, and this regardless of price.

By the same turn, I cannot defend the use of materials which are more complicated simply because they are more complicated. I cannot defend the replacement of plain items with more baroque items; I cannot defend the purchase, or the manufacture, of more baroque items, regardless of cost. As a result of the ad absurdum example of Dufour’s horns, after much consideration, I must say: quartersawn oak is not superior to white maple; crocodile is not superior to cordovan; and damascus steel is not superior to VG-10.

This does not mean that I embrace minimalism. It is important to want things. I just have to find other things to want. This does not mean that I embrace simplicity. It just means I must look for other forms of complexity – those which allow utility – those which are justified.

%d bloggers like this: