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Woods and words are perfect combination for hiker/author

October 14, 2017 - 12:07 AM

NEW CASTLE, Pa. - Some mothers coax their kids to bed by reading them a story.

It was the opposite for Gary Sizer when he was growing up. Sizer's mother encouraged her children to tell stories based on what had happened to them during their day.

That momentous time of his life paved the way for what the 1987 New Castle High School graduate does now.

His resume lists his professions as author, hiker and storyteller.

He has lots of great adventures to tell.

And many of them can be found in two books he has written and published. The bestselling non-fiction "Where is the Next Shelter?" documents his 2,185.3 miles hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2014, which took him 153 days to complete. The other is called, "Home is Forward" and it includes stories of people he has encountered on his hiking trips all over the world.

Gary Sizer, adventurer, also sounds like the title for a book. The desire to hike trails struck about the same time the writing bug struck.

Now living in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife, Katie Farrar, Sizer, 48, is doing exactly what he wants to do.

His mother's technique about storytelling and adventures that was instilled in Sizer was cemented even more after he spent 10 years in the Marines where his love for being outdoors grew stronger. Even when he was on leave, Sizer went backpacking.

"I always wanted to have one more day," said Sizer, whose mother and brother still live in New Castle. "I was always a little wistful to get into the woods."

Just recently, he and Farrar returned from a backpacking trip to the Shenandoah Mountains, which he calls a favourite. The adventures have also extended to other parts of the globe when he travelled as part of his job in corporate software and consulting.

Farrar shares the sense of adventuring with her husband but admittedly perhaps not to the extent that he does. She had never camped until she met Sizer.

"I have him to blame for this," she joked, adding that now she's had the experiences of a lifetime and loves being outdoors.


It takes a rugged, determined individual to traverse the Appalachian Trail or AT as through and section hikers — those who hike for four or five days — alike refer to it.

Sizer said his basic equipment included a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, water, water purification system and navigational tools. While going through the grueling nearly final section in Maine called the 100-mile Wilderness, Sizer contracted Giardia, an infection that is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States. He also had a close encounter with a rattlesnake and "played the waiting game with it." And he encountered danger going up Mount Washington where the highest ever winds — 200 m.p.h. — have been documented.

"It knocked me over, I slid sideways off the trail, grabbed a root and it saved me."

His entry for the AT was Springer Mountain in northern Georgia and the northern terminus is Mount Katahdin in Maine. He left on May 10, 2014, and finished on Oct. 9, walking, on average 14 1/2 miles a day and splitting time between his tent and shelters.

"The entire state of Maine is glorious," Sizer said. "The leaves were changing, the moose were out, the loons were singing."

It was those shelters, though, that prompted the first book. And he actually developed the title before he even started the trail.

"It popped into my mind," he said. "It had a nice ring to it."

Throughout his journey, he carried a waterproof notebook and pen in a side pants pocket.

"Anytime inspiration struck, I made note of it."

Shelter is a deceptive word. Those structures on the AT actually have three sides and one open side. There's no electricity or other amenities. The basic purpose is to keep a person from the elements.

Some of what he captured in his journal was used for parts of the book.


The woods are never far away from Sizer, physically or figuratively.

In fact, he went into the woods to do most of his writing using an old iPad and a $10 Bluetooth. With a keyboard, that setup became his makeshift, mobile office.

In its category of hiking and adventure, "Where's the Next Shelter?" became a number one seller on Amazon.

"That was a big surprise that changed my life almost as much as the hike itself."

"Home is Forward" was just released in September and can be purchased anywhere e-books are sold, Sizer said, adding the reviews have been good.

For this book, he talks about his world-wide adventures, which including losing his map on the tundra in Newfoundland where one must pass a navigational test to get a permit, losing cold weather gear on the way to Iceland, and losing his memory on a train somewhere in eastern Europe.

"It was losing my mind in a comedic fashion against the backdrop of an exotic locale."

Her husband has always been a good storyteller and writer," Farrar said.

"Finally, he is able to devote all his time to it," she pointed out. "I've never seen him happier."

Hiking the AT and writing a book were two of Sizer's goals and both were realized, Farrar mentioned.


Sizer said, "Hiking the AT changes a lot of perspectives in life. It humbles you."

What's next for the couple is building a trail where they bought a house on a mountain in the Pisgah National Forest.

He also wants to do the Continental Divide Trail, which is considered one of the Triple Crown that includes the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail. The Continental Divide Trail runs from Mexico and Canada through the Rocky Mountains but is not yet finished.

The most special element about trail hiking is, "I made some of the best friends ever," Sizer said.

Farrar and Sizer attend a lot of AT-related festivals and "meeting all the people, that's the best part," she said. "People tell Gary, 'I read your book. You're the reason I'm out here.' He's having an effect on people and it makes all the struggles worth it."

Sizer also has a message for others who think about certain pursuits.

"Anything you want to do in life, whether it's learning to paint or building a house will remain a dream until you put a deadline on it; then it becomes a plan."

His experiences are told so that even if one hasn't been where Sizer has, the words paint the picture for readers to enjoy.

Storytelling is its own special type of magic.





Information from: New Castle News, http://www.ncnewsonline.com

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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