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Welp, I finally got one of those fancy phones with a camera and the ability to connect to the internet.  So if you’re interested in seeing lots of pictures of chickens and hiking trails, follow me on Instagram at @JALEVINE6

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The New and Improved Middle of the Trail

Hey everyone,

There was a glitch or two in moving the site but it is now up and running!  Please stop by to check out the new site and let me know what you think. followers:  Unfortunately, since I moved the site, my posts will only show up in your WordPress Reader.  If you would like to get emailed the posts, please just enter your email in the upper left hand corner of the site.



Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #46

There’s snow flying around in the air.  It’s been snowing on and off all day, with some sticking to my car this morning, but there’s none on the ground.  I noticed the slightly silvery coloring of the pines and hemlocks from snow sticking to the branches, though.  I’m glad it’s not sticking on the ground yet, but it won’t be long, and even though it’s been cold, we’ve been lucky that the snow didn’t start flying a week or two ago.

They say that this is the remnants of Hurricane Sandy, which at the cabin turned out to be a whole lot of nothing.  We had a wind storm last winter where I could hear trees coming down with a fair amount of regularity, but this past Monday night didn’t add up to much.  There was one branch down on my road, so it turned out I didn’t need to bring my chainsaw with me.  But I guess it’s good that I was prepared to cut my road clear to get to work.  Or maybe it’s not good.  I don’t know.

The one thing that struck me about Sandy was that everyone was preparing for the worst.  They were prepared to not have power for days or even weeks.  And I realized that the phrase “Oh no, the power might go out” really doesn’t enter my day-to-day conversations any more.  I bought some extra food just in case Sandy became another Ice Storm like in 1998.  That storm is my reference for everything now.  I always say to myself that I better be prepared for these storms just in case it’s another Ice Storm.

I have nothing but sympathy for those who were actually affected by the storm.  I can’t imagine being stuck in New York City with no power.  But for the northern Adirondacks, it was just another storm with lots of rain and not so bad winds.  I wasn’t that worried about it for the obvious reason that power outages don’t affect me.  Just one more way in which my life is simpler out here.  And it’s one more way in which this type of life is easier to handle.

Cabin Life – #43

I had a great trip to South Carolina last weekend for a friend’s wedding.  Shorts and flip flops all day was a nice change from the jeans and sweatshirts our weather has required.  And for some reason, this trip has caused me to think a lot about what it means to live off the grid.  Maybe it was all that time spent on planes breathing recycled air.  I’m not sure, but I do know that I consider myself off the grid with no running water, electricity or even indoor plumbing.  But I have cell phone service and my blog has a Facebook page.  How off the grid is that?

As I think about shaping my experience, which in the near future means buying land and starting to build my own cabin off the grid, I’ve begun to wonder if living off the grid means giving up modern ammenities.  Should you be able to drive right to your house, or hike in?  Can you live on a major road and listen to traffic all day, or do you have to be isolated?  Can you buy imported foods or do you have to suffer a life without Guiness?

I’ll tell you one thing:  there is no way that I am spending the rest of my life without indoor plumbing. I don’t think off the grid means no hot water for showers, but is it too much to ask to have a hot tub?  What about a wood-fired hot tub that only burns wood taken from my land?  Is that still off the grid?

One of the things I’ve learned in this whole experience is that I don’t mind living simply.  I know now that I can live without a lot of things that many people consider neccesities.  I’ve often read about other people who live off the grid, but seem to give up nothing.  They have every modern convenience, along with a room full of deep-cycle batteries that everntually become hazardous waste.  I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, and I think it’s up to each person who decides to live this way.

I know what I want out of living a somewhat unconnected existence.  I like being able to keep in touch with friends and family and don’t want to be disengaged in that way.  What it means to me is that I try to be as self-suficent as possible, while not becoming the Unabomber.  I want to get some land that can provide the logs for a small cabin, one that will have a nice bathroom with hot water.  I want to raise most of my own food and rely on wood, solar and wind for the meager electric and heating needs I will have.  I also want a hot tub.  I’ve always wanted a hot tub.

Cabin Life – #40

I’m a traitor.  I went to Vermont to go hiking this week.  A friend and I hiked Elmore Mountain to an old fire tower.  The fire tower was open to the public even though it was decommissioned, which is a big change from New York.  Most of the fire towers here have had their first two flights of stairs removed, with the small, obligatory “Warning” sign attached somewhere. 

When I went over Sunday afternoon on the Port Kent ferry, the overwhelming view of both Vermont and the Adirondacks was still green.  The shoreline of Lake Champlain on both sides of the lake showed little sign of the cooling temperatures of mid-September. 

I met up with Mike in Montpelier and followed him to his house somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  It was well after dark by the time we got there.  We had a small fire and a couple of beers while Pico and Mike’s dog Sadie wrestled with each other and barked at the coyotes howling in the woods, not too far away.  We could hear cows mooing on a neighboring farm and a heavy dew started settling in while the fire died down.

When I woke up the next morning, I glanced out the window to see a gray sky and a fire red maple.  The feeling of waking up on an overcast day with a hike planned was somewhat offset by the brightness of the tree.  The window was open and the coolness made me both wide awake and reluctant to get out of bed. 

I knocked on Mike’s door to wake him up for the hike, but he and Sadie were already awake.  After a beautifully fatty breakfast with a lot of coffee, we headed north to Elmore State Park to climb the mountain.  It was a nice trail, and because it was Vermont, basically everyone else we saw had a dog, so Pico and Sadie had plenty of butts to sniff along the way.

When we were done with the hike, we headed back to Mike’s place so I could go home and he could drive down to New Hampshire for a three day hiking trip.  I got back on the ferry in Burlington, and soon realized that the boat was going backwards.  Or, more accurately, the cars were facing backward. 

As the ferry left Vermont, I watched as the lake gained in size while the buildings and boats shrank.  Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield stood idly by while we went west across the lake.  I got out of the car and turned around.  Looking at the Adirondacks from the ferry with Vermont at my back, I realized that I while like the vibe of Vermont, it’s not the Adirondacks.  And I love the Adirondacks.

Lake Champlain

Cabin Life – #36 will be out next Tuesday…

Popped up over night and disintegrated two days later.


Driftwood and Valcour Island


Great Blue Heron wading along shore


Hiking up the hill out back. Wasn’t that long ago…


Cabin Life – #25

There was a loon swimming off the beach this morning, its haunting call reminding me of years past.  In college, I lived on one of the severalLoonLakeshere in theAdirondacks.  It was great until the loons showed up, all six pairs of them.  They wouldn’t shut up all night.

I know from experience that loons are smart animals.  As large as a goose, but barely able to walk, their black and white body with red eyes are an iconic part of theAdirondacks.  I used to monitor banded loons and their nests, and after a few weeks of kayaking around them, I was often treated to the loons swimming under my boat and tagging along on the weekly paddles.

It was always a shame when I found an egg that had been eaten by a snapping turtle, or an unhatched egg still in the nest late in the summer.  But life goes on, and few people are unfamiliar with their nightly calls.

I think my favorite part of working at the campground is the wonder campers express at being in nature.  The osprey nests are one of our biggest attractions, and kids’ eyes light up when they see these huge birds flying into the nest with a fish in their talons.  I anticipate that these kids will remember their experience here and it makes them want to be outside as much as possible.  Luckily no one will be able to make a video game that mimics the experience of actually being in nature.

The Adirondack Almanack

Hey everyone, I just wanted to give you a heads up that the Adirondack Almanack has asked me to be a regular contributor to their blog! The Cabin Life series will be a weekly column published every Sunday. Don’t worry, I will still be maintaining Middle of the Trail, and putting all of my posts on here as well. But my audience just went from a couple hundred people to several thousand! Thanks Adirondack Almanack!

Cross Country Skiing

Well, it’s the beginning of a new year, and the snow is finally starting to fall.  There’s about six inches on the ground in Vermontville, NY and it’s coming down pretty good!  After five years in Florida, I really looked forward to how nice it is to witness the first part of winter when everything is fresh and clean, and the road sides don’t yet have that brown nastiness that they’re soon to take on.

And today was a big transition day for me, because I pulled out my trekking poles (or Geek Sticks as non-users call them) and switched the rubber tips for snow baskets!  I’ve always been a downhill skier and snowshoer but, a couple of years before I left for Florida, I bought a used pair of cross-country skis.  They were cheap and beat up and it was an impulse purchase, but, why not?  Forty bucks lighter I walked out of the store with my first set of cross country skis and boots (that’s a deal, right!?).

After contemplating what to do today to stave off cabin fever, I strapped on the skis and headed out the door.  I was never good at cross-country skiing, it was just a way to get outside and have another winter activity at my disposal (and I used to be a much worse gear hound, and just kind of wanted that stuff lying around).  I used to roll my ankles constantly and the only part I was actually good at was going down steep inclines.  So today was a test run, if you will.

The best thing about living in the woods is that when you want to head outdoors, all you do is go outside.  There is no need for a long (or even a short) drive to the trailhead.  The property I live on has several trails, and it’s bordered by state land, so if I want to keep going I can.  But today is a short one, more a way to check my gear and give Pico some exercise than a way for me to get a good workout in (Plus, I’d been sick all week and really needed to get out of the cabin).

Leaving the cabin in the dust and with Pico galloping ahead, I start gliding from the front door up the trail.  I was apprehensive and made sure that my phone and keys were safely secured in zippered pockets so I didn’t lose them in my inevitable first fall.  I was also waiting for the sharp but not serious pain that comes when I roll my ankle.  But after a few minutes, I’m still upright and Pico is desperately trying to figure out what the hell I’m sliding around on.  I forgot that this was his first time seeing anything like this.

The first little incline I hit posed no problem at all.  I always used to have to duck walk (legs splayed, toes pointing in opposite directions and heels together so that the skis

make a herringbone pattern in the snow) to get up any sort of hill.  But for some reason, I shortened my stride, leaned forward and didn’t have to slow down at all.  Those quick little kicks and pushes with the poles make it so much easier to ascend.  Holy crap, when, where and how I picked up this technique is beyond me, but I like it!

After reaching a good point to turn around and head back, I realized that I was having a lot of fun, and hadn’t fallen or rolled my ankle once.  It was overcast but warm, the snow is deep enough that I didn’t hit any rocks, and the quiet, quick swish on the skis was kind of entrancing.  In fact, it’s downright enjoyable.

I know that cross-country skis will never fully replace snowshoes for me, but I have to tell you, it’s not nearly as dorky or boring as I used to think.  I like the quiet movement that the skis afford, and there is a bit of excitement to be had coming down the steeper hills, especially if there is a turn or two along the way (or if your not-too-bright dog sits down right in front of you).  I’ll keep doing this all winter.  And the best part?  No $80 lift ticket!

Hiking the High Peaks

The Adirondack 46r’s is an organization that is only open to people who have climbed all 46 of New York’s highest mountains, and I intend to become a member of that club.

The High Peaks were originally surveyed by Verplank Colvin, and his crews found that there were forty-six mountains with summit elevations above 4000’.  Later, and obviously, more accurate surveys found that of the original 46, four of them were actually under 4000’, and one “new” mountain was above 4000’.  By this time however, tradition had set in and nothing really changed when it came to hiking the High Peaks.

Some of the High Peaks are well known, such as Whiteface Mountain, home of the 1980 Winter Olympics alpine events, and Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in the state.  And then of course, some of them are less well known, like Couchsachraga, which to be honest, I can’t even pronounce.

Twenty of the peaks are “trail-less,” meaning that there is no officially designated route to the summit.  So far, I have climbed Boundary, Esther, Street, and Nye Mountains, with absolutely no problem finding the herd path to the summits.  Enough people climb the High Peaks that the paths are pretty well defined.  I’ve run into a couple of instances following these paths when I wasn’t quite sure which way to go, but was able to figure it out with no real problems.

Up to this point in my life, I have hiked 14 of the 46 peaks.  The first one I climbed was Cascade Mountain, a short and pretty easy climb not far from Lake Placid.  Just below the summit of Cascade, the trail splits and goes over to Porter Mountain, another High Peak.  Unfortunately, due to a sick friend, the first time I went up Cascade, I didn’t get to do Porter.  A few years went by, and it bugged me the whole time that I basically had to climb Cascade again just to do Porter.  Finally, in the summer of 2008, I re-climbed Cascade and made it to the summit of Porter.  That was Pico’s first High Peaks experience, and he slept like a dog that afternoon.

During college I also hiked Algonquin, Wright, Iroquois, Boundary, Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, and Big Slide.  I cross country skied almost to the summit of Whiteface, but decided not to count that.

I began the summer with 10 peaks under my belt, but after five years in Florida, my legs were just not accustomed to carrying me across a non-horizontal surface, so Pico and I again climbed Cascade and Porter just to get ready.  Since then, there’s been four more peaks crossed off the list, and plans are in the works for a five-peak day.

14 down, 32 to go!