A Savannah Sestina

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Savannah Sestina–

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

my husband, Dan, sings gleefully, passing a porch

on which a lone hipster, pierced, holds church.

Her tattoos echo the form of draping Spanish moss,

her stare admonishes the white polka dots, clean

against the background of my red anorak. She sips udon.

In search of sushi, we settle for udon.

Spring feels less like Georgia, more like Portland.

Dan questions how clean

the divey vinyl upholstery feels. We dream of porch

sitting in southern towns, watching moss

grow on menus, knowing almost everyone here is at church.

Impatient, I jump when a church

bell strikes noon. I slurp my udon

quickly, and push afternoon sluggish like moss

out of my ears. “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

I whistle, walking past soaked columns and porches.

I am attempting to arrive at my reading both dry and clean.

Two hours later, I become aware, again, that the minds of English majors are less than clean.

It is good that the conference is not held in a church;

the walls would surely burn. I think about porch-

sitting conversations akin to conference proceedings, perverse as eating udon

for lunch in the South. More appropriate for Portland,

my lunch begins to squirm in my stomach like worms in moss.

Dan finds me under hanging moss,

both ill and worried, red and white polka dots looking scrubbed clean.

I feel conspicuous in the flood of flannel, a staple style of Portland,

adopted by hipsters and hippies alike. They sit on benches by churches;

none of them ate udon for lunch.

They can’t afford a porch

Or pretend not to be able to. Who needs a porch

when you can have mochas and moss

and skinny jeans? Moss, like udon

dangling from chopsticks, dripping fish on your clean

flannel, loose and messy against rigid church

columns. The dream of retirement at age twenty-two

is alive and healthy in Savannah, as in Portland.

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

Dan laments, longing for a sports bar, finding a church

reincarnated as a brewery, not quite dirty, but not real clean.

Chicken Broccoli Cheese (Some Potato): What To Pack For The North Country Trail

There is something innately masochistic about foot travel, especially backpacking. There will be physical discomfort involved, even when you are your most prepared. Unless you happen to be a barefoot runner, with thick, asphalt-denying soles, chances are strong that you will get blisters.  Unless you consistently carry 20-30 lbs of backpack throughout your daily activities, you will have sore, aching shoulders.  Hip flexors will tighten up and it won’t feel great to get up and hike after a short night sleeping on the ground.  You can, however, be a little more prepared and be a lot more comfortable–and it will make the beauty of the trail that much easier to enjoy.

Pictured Rocks is one of the loveliest national parks I have ever seen, and I should know; I didn’t see the inside of an Embassy Suites on a family vacation until I was 12 years old.  I just assumed that “vacation” meant tent camping in Colorado’s San Jose National Forest, where I would spend the week fishing with Grandpa B and losing all of my Jolly Ranchers in poker tournaments with my brother.  I haven’t been to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but Pictured Rocks is a primal geological wonder of sand, forest and water. The grandeur of Lake Superior contrasts sharply with the minutiae of the forest trail.  I marveled at feeling both very large and very small as we trekked through 35 miles of the 42 mile North Country Trail. Enjoy this gallery, and read further to hear about how we packed our bags.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dan and I are backpacking newbies.  We have often spent entire days on the trails, especially in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, but after covering 14 miles, we are happy to return to a soft bed and pizza,–and wine.  Nothing makes a long day of hiking better than a good glass of red wine, which is perhaps why I loved Argentina so much. The next day, we usually sleep in, drink coffee, and re-fuel with pancakes.  Backpacking has none of these comforts–and it has torturous potential.  It is physically and mentally grueling, and you can make it even more so if you are like us and packed 3 lbs of canned soup and no cook stove.   When you find yourself salivating at the prospect of half-heated chicken broccoli cheese soup, turned a pallid grey color from ash, or eating a packet of tuna salad for dinner, you know that you should reevaluate your nutrition plans.

Readers who are advanced backpackers will surely make fun of us greenhorns, as you should.  I worried about this trip incessantly for two weeks, trying to figure what to bring and how to use it.  I was afraid of getting sick from drinking lake water (we didn’t; we filtered it).  I was afraid of a bear or two taking all of our food (as my mom says, bears are more afraid of us than we are of them).  I was most afraid of reaching that mental state when hunger turns into anger and attacking the bear trying to take my food. I did reach that point a couple of times, but the bears wisely avoided us, so nothing worse happened than my having a short panic attack–and that was at the beginning of the trail. And it turned out that we were prepared for some things, but not for others.  Especially eating.  Lesson learned: buy and pack a small backpacking stove and freeze-dried food.  The stove is important at Pictured Rocks; not all campsites allow fires, and a packet of tuna for dinner is not really that appetizing.

Lesson Two: Sleeping pads.  We slept on the hard ground, inside warm, comfy sub-zero sleeping bags.  But sleep can’t ease soreness away if  a tree root is lodged so deeply into your shoulder that you can’t tell where the root ends and your bones begin.  A yoga mat would have been well worth the extra weight in the pack, and the Cliffs at Pictured Rocks are the perfect location for a scenic sunset vinyasa.

We were prepared for contingencies that we were lucky not to experience, namely, picnicking with bears.  In recent months, Pictured Rocks National Park has started cracking down on bear preparedness, mostly because rangers have reported multiple instances of campers giving their food to bears.  It is a bad day when bears associate people with food–your chicken broccoli cheese could be quickly snatched and you might have to use your bear spray (a frightening device that looks like an air horn and sprays a capsaicin spray that you must not in any way get on your person). We strung our food up in odor-proof bags inside a bear canister in a high branch or one of the park-provided bear poles. Don’t leave food or toothpaste or other toiletries in your tent–put them in the canister and hang them up. Bonus: Wolves will be less interested in your camp too. Nothing scarier than a herd of rabbits paraded through our campsite. I think avoiding a bear run-in boosted our backpacking confidence.

We were also prepared for injury, bugs and hygiene. Blisters were disinfected and bandaged nightly, making the next day’s hiking much easier.  Two ACE bandages helped me limp through the last 11 miles of the trail. Pain killers take some of the ache out of your sore shoulders and hip flexors.  And wet-wipes.  Wet-wipes are essential for boosting hygiene and morale; there is nothing better than a fresh wet-wipe to make the trail look a bit rosier.  They are even better paired with an industrial-strength mosquito repellent on skin and sprayed on tents, backpacks and a couple of outfits.  You want something with 30% DEET or above. I’m sure it is highly carcinogenic.  But I left Pictured Rocks, Land of the Thumb-Sized Mosquitoes, with three bites total.

When you hike Pictured Rocks–and you should, especially if you are a Michigander, a Buckeye or a Cheesehead (it is so close to home!)–don’t bother to take these things with you:

1. Canned soup. Or canned food of any kind.

2. 6 lighters.  Bring 2 lighters, and some matches.  6 lighters, in the immortal words of Larry David, “are a bit much.”

3. A dozen AA batteries, unless you are actually carrying a device that requires said batteries.  We weren’t.

4. Four changes of clothes.  One or two is plenty.

5. 4 lbs of trail mix.  Your tummy will not thank you later.

6. A bikini?!? Not sure why I brought that.  The lake is way too cold for swimming in early June.

And definitely bring:

1. A well-stocked first aid kit.

2. Enough food to replace the thousands of calories that you burn; Dan and I roughly estimated that we ran a calorie deficit of at least 6000-9000 calories throughout the entire trip.  That is more than enough to bring on hanger; I get grumpy when I have to give up chocolate for a week.

3. Insect-repellent.

4. Bear canister and odor-proof, water-proof bags. And bear spray. Use the former; know how to use the latter.

5. A water filter, or at least some water filtration tabs. Rangers suggest a filter, but the lake water is clear and perfect for chlorine tabs if you don’t have anything better.

6. Your camera, and an extra battery. Because there is nothing better than waking up in the woods when the sun begins to peek through the canopy.  The mosquitoes stare at you disconcertingly from their position under the rain flap of your tent, and you feel righteous, reveling in the fact that you are heavily bug-sprayed and that they are probably dying from the fumes.  Outside, you eat your Cliff bar and saunter down to the lake to refill your water bottle.  The water is so clear that you can see the fish feeding five, ten, fifteen feet below. You will want to capture that morning feeling, as your ankles and arches start to warm up on the trail after breaking camp.  Your body feels better than it did last night, and for now, your muscles are fueled and you are full.  You know that the rest of the day is nothing but moving and breathing.  Happy trails indeed.

Creative Commons License
Chicken Broccoli Cheese by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at apiedonfoot.wordpress.com.

A Hiatus

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


As my Readers have probably noticed, À Pied is taking a hiatus throughout the fall and holiday months, due to re-structuring and professional initiatives (ie. I am fixing up the blog and also applying to PhD programs, a tortuous process which is a journey unto itself, but not one fun enough to write about).  Expect a return after the first of the year, with features on travel books, fall and winter destinations, winter running and much more.

Thanks to those who read regularly; your feedback and encouragement has inspired many new changes in my writing and blogging, and I am excited to turn your ideas in posts very soon.  You have made the pilot of À Pied this summer an encouraging and enriching experience, and we will be returning with travel stories, updated features, real photography, new posts, and much more foot travel–especially now that my concussion is healed and I am running again.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of Michigan summer, and think longingly about the hazy, lazy days behind us.


Danville, Kentucky, USA–Pictures and Poems from the Great American Brass Band Festival

In my first Weekend Suitcase feature, I told you I was going to Kentucky.  I actually spent a week there, playing trumpets, talking with friends, being an awesome matron of honor, and even doing a little hiking.  My hometown, Danville, is absolutely beautiful in the spring and summer; here are some pictures from my little walking tour of downtown Danville and Centre College’s campus (my alma mater).  There are also a few from the Great American Brass Band Festival performances in which I tooted my own horn rather poorly, albeit with some great company.  They made me sound pretty good, although I know everyone heard my failure to observe many, many key changes. It’s not my fault that I have a brain injury.

*Note: these pictures, like much of my photography, suffer from ignorance.  

I tried to capture a few snippets here and there of some fantastic trumpet playing, featuring Al Vizzutti, Vince and Gabriel DiMartino, Doc Severinsen, Al Hood, Jens Lindemann, Mark Ridenour, the Stilettos, and so, so many others.  The quality of the film, like most of my images, is really just too poor to post.  But if you want recordings of these performances that actually sound good, visit the Great American Brass Band Festival’s website.  They will be overjoyed to receive your contribution, in exchange for a festival CD.  YouTube has some great features from this year’s festival–to which you can subscribe–like this one:

Finally, an ode to my hometown, before I leave it for awhile and venture on to more foot-friendly posts.  I am trying to work on brevity, so these are just a few little haikus:

Early summertime

calls for lots of bourbon,

bugspray, and brass bands.


White columns and steps

Green acres, rolling and swept

Infested with chiggers.


Just when you feel cool

You attend festivals

Devoted to horns.