Seasonal Rhythms

Fall

September 22, 2022 — Today is the autumnal equinox, the day Mother Nature begins disrobing ultimately she’ll bare it all.  She showed a little ankle on my neighborhood walk today, a bright splash teasing what she has on offer.

So it goes in the world of hiking trails and life in general.  Events happen more or less in order and on schedule – the circle of life’s rhythms and flow.

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If it’s the third weekend in September, it must be the Hoodlums’ annual trail maintenance instructional workshop in Shenandoah National Park.  Thirty folks ranging from raw beginners to the well-experience gather to live an learn.  Picks are swung, fires are made and beer, shall we say, is swallowed.

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This crew repaired part of the Appalachian Trail Caroline and I maintain on the south side of Compton Peak, about 11 miles south of the park’s northern boundary.

Heavy use and heavy weather was taking its toll on a steep traverse.  Eight waterbars (erosion control drainage structures) were torn out and reconstructed.  Rocks were dug out of the tread to smooth it out and make it a bit safer.  It’s good for at least 15 more years.

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Caretaker area at Annapolis Rock – Caroline, Sara and Sierra.

This also is the time when the ridgerunner program shrinks to Maryland only.  We lost Kasey to a family matter, so Sara Leibold shifted from Shenandoah to Maryland to help us out.  She and Sierra will complete the season – my last.  I will miss the interviewing, hiring and hiking with the amazing people – nearly 60 all told – who have graced us with their selfless service to the hiking community.

Caroline let me know that she was thinking of taking a Saturday hike on our section.  Knowing I would be there Monday, I suggested she hike up to Annapolis Rock with me.  Since she and Sara are friends, I thought a two fer would be fun – see Sara and a new place.

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While inspecting the area, eagle-eye Sara spied a spotted lantern fly.  It’s an invasive insect that is wrecking havoc on the region’s fruit orchards.  Did you know that if the jar says Smuckers or Mussleman’s, it probably came from this orchard-rich area?  We made the required report.

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Unfortunately, on the way to the car I noticed this graffiti and the axe blaze on the tree not far from the upper trail to the Pine Knob shelter.  We’ll use Elephant Snot to get ride of it, but why people think vandalizing nature is ok is beyond me.  The rock is sedimentary, the remnant of an ancient sea bed.

Tina, aka “Bulldog”, my friend of nearly 30 years, dating back to our days at the White House, has been my swamper on several trips.  She pitched in again this month.

The rhythmic drumbeat of blowdowns crashing to the forest floor is quickening.  The supply is nearly infinite.  Invasive insects have recently killed the red oaks, ash, and hemlocks.  The chestnuts and elms are long gone.  A native blight is currently attacking white oaks.  Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

I’ll close on a sad note.  We lost Mittens to brain seizures.  He was 15 1/2.  As the alpha cat, he could be a pain.  But, a Formula 1 Ferrari could not compete with the throb of his rhythmic purr. Frank Sinatra’s eyes could not have been bluer.  In fact, I wanted to name him “Frank,” but was overruled by my daughter.  RIP Big Guy!

Sisu

Please be seated.

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Who is she going to bury?

Shenandoah National Park, August 27, 2022 — When you live two hours away, the number of trail maintenance trips is limited.  When ever you do get there, there’s usually no time for the extra little touches that are fun to do.

We usually tent at Indian Run after a Hoodlums work trip and use the next day to maintain our section.  Since Caroline and her partner have a new puppy that needs a lot of potty training attention, we kicked the can ahead a week.  The improved weather was a bonus.

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First we replaced a rotten waterbar that, as the photo illustrates, was also completely silted up with sand that originated as part of an ancient lake bed that covered the region eons ago.  Then the fun began.

For years I’ve wanted to build a log bench adjacent to the water source that flows at about the half way mark on the south side of Compton Peak.  Its common to see hikers stop there to refresh their water supply, each lunch or take a break.  There is only one flat rock on which one can park their butt.  Otherwise, it’s sit in the dirt.  Adding a bench was priority two – after everything else that needed doing.

We had a handy materials candidate in the form of a nearby blowdown cleared about 18 months ago.

The plan was to saw two pieces for the base and use a six-footer to sit on.  We would then peg it together with wooden dowels.  What could go wrong?

Would you believe the battery overheated several times and stopped the drill dead, the last time for good.  We were unable to complete drilling the holes.  Time for plan B.

We had already made a cradle for the cross piece with an axe.   It would have been ok for a pegged bench, but not for one held by gravity so I used my chainsaw to notch a seat.  We’ll bring a more powerful drill next trip and complete the pegging then.

Meanwhile the bench got a reasonable test from a flip flopper and two southbounders who stopped to help.

But wait!  There’s more.

The last time I painted blazes was 2015 when I inherited responsibility for the section.  Some are fading and flaking paint.  Time to refresh.

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The first thing we did is invite one of the southbounders to paint a blaze.  She was thrilled.  Her husband documented the deed.  I think we made her day.

The first the old paint has to be scraped and the bark smoothed with a stripping tool.

Caroline’s dad is from Switzerland and she’s a dual national.  When I asked if there were any famous Swiss painters, she couldn’t think of any.  Well, they have one now – sort of.

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PS:  Hoodlums highlights from last week.  Our team cleared seven blowdowns from the north district trails including a branch that crashed at the hut.

We also cleaned out a silted up box spring.

The water cleared after a bit.

A fish story.

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Rembrandt sunset.

Aswopiswanan Lake, Northern Manitoba, July 29 – August 6, 2020 — Imagine a land of sky blue water* framed by endless popcorn, all of it patrolled by bald eagles above and by submarine-size northern pike below; where the eagles outnumber the people and the fish can weigh more than small children.

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We were there.  Four guys alone with two motorboats and a zillion miles of nowhere; where eagle chatter dominates nature’s gossip; where waves slapping your boat is the drumbeat of time passing; where no sign of civilization can find you.  Walden Pond, eat your heart out.

We were an interesting deck to shuffle.  On the one hand, we are variously two sets of brothers, one uncle, two nephews, two sons, and three of us are dads.  On the other, we were simply four fishermen loaded for pike.

Four a.m. wake up.

Let’s start at the beginning.  It takes four flights to get there from here.  One from where you are to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Winnipeg; overnight in Winnipeg.  Day two opens with a zero-dark-thirty take off in a Beechcraft King Air to a dirt strip at Point St. Theresa.  Next it’s a float plane flight about another hour north to the lake and a lunchtime arrival.

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What a treat.  Our floatplane was a 1953 vintage De Havilland Beaver (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Canada_DHC-2_Beaver), the aircraft bush pilots love.

Although retro as hell featuring well-worn rudder pedals as proof of its lucky legacy, it was updated with the latest avionics from Best Buy.

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Fortunately the Beaver can schlepp a load.  My brother’s boys are not small people.  Matt is 6’6 330lbs.  Nate is 220 lbs.  Somehow we fit.  Since this lake is a regular stop on their fishing circuit, they gave the rookie the front row seat with its E ticket ride.

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Number two for takeoff following 10-minutes to warm-up the oil pan.   The windows were so scratched that I wondered how the pilot could see much of anything.

Airborne in under a minute.  As long as the number of take-offs and landings are equal, all’s good.

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The glaciers pocked Northern Manitoba with more lakes than you can count.  Classic boreal forest carpets the exposed granite ridges.

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Esker debries lines the lake bottoms.

Definitely an old-school stick and rudder aircraft.  Happy landing. Hardly a bump when we hit the water.

The fish camp decorated in early particleboard reminded me of hiker accommodations powered by propane where the shower output dribbles like an old man standing at a urinal.  Unfortunately at some point prior to our arrival the building made a wrong turn on its foundation but remained true inside.  A crew flew in to shore it up on the plane that lifted us out.

After tossing our gear inside, it didn’t take long to launch the two 14-foot boats pushed by 20-horse Yamaha outboards.  Thus powered to stay out of trouble, we still could scoot up the lake at a pretty good clip.  It’s the venerable kit used in International Falls when I was a kid.

Twenty horses pack a punch even in rough water when the boat smacks your butt like the principal’s paddle back in the day.

Ok.  We’re there.  We’re on the water.  Let’s get down to business.

In this case we don’t have to talk about the ones that got away even though many did.  We were using barbless hooks from which smaller fish can easily unhook themselves by wiggling.  With the exception of a few walleyes we ate, this trip was strictly catch and release.

Proof they weren’t all lunkers.  Too many hammer handles to count.  (A hammer handle is a northern pike about the same size as a hammer handle.)

We’ll save the lunkers for last so stay tuned. Now for what happened in the middle.

Northern pike are notoriously aggressive.  They’re also cannibalistic. 

It works like this.  Grandpa hangs out outside the nursery school door waiting for his grandkid’s class to get out, then boom.  They eat about anything that moves. 

The lunkers are large enough to eat almost any fish or bird in or on the lake.  This medium size northern followed a smaller one my brother hooked and attempted to devour it while still on on the hook. The aggressor fish was oblivious of everything else except eating.

An overnight storm proved challenging in several ways.

The wicked wind of the west kicked up waves around three feet tall.  The boat moored perpendicular to the wind was swamped. 

Bailing it out proved challenging.  Then we discovered a leak and water in the gas. 

Fortunately there were five boats to choose from so we made a change.

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Later, I was wearing an automatic flotation device when a wave flipped me out of the boat as I stood to cast.  The auto feature worked.  The water was warm!  Fortunately I saved the tackle and the ride back to change clothes was short.  I was embarrassed but delighted with the outcome.  Don’t screw around without PPE.

The abundant wild life have been noted.  Here’s some proof.  Unfortunately we didn’t photograph the beaver swimming from its lodge.

Now for the best video clip of the trip.  Bald eagles owned the sky.

I quickly fished my iPhone from my pocket when I spied this one.  It delivered for my effort.  I captured several eagle clips.  This was by far the best.

Ready for the sunsets and sunrises?

The best was taken by my nephew.  I was too whipped and jaded to get out of bed to view the northern lights the first night. 

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He caught the big dipper dead center.

Oddities?

What’s with the ancient rifle or the weird chairs?  The prop looks like it diced some rocks instead of onions.

The hook and bullet trade is not known for its attention to Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

Even motorboat fishing has its zen.

Let’s get ready.

Ok, here come the trophy fish.  They are in the 38 inches+ class.  When they hit, you know it.  Your rod bends like a troll with a bad back.  The drag groans as the fish overpower the brake.  You hang on and reel like crazy.  You’re hoping Jaws is on the line.

I won the contest for most fish over 40 inches and for the biggest fish. 

 

This is the 42 1/2 inch lake snake that won me $15.  My brother Jack did the honors.  The fish are seriously stressed by handling.  The less, the better.  They also secrete a huge amount of slime as a defense mechanism. 

These are serious predators.  Here’s what it did to my lure. 

The fish was strong enough to break off on of the hooks and bend the rings.  My nephew Nate restored the lure to mint condition. 

There are a lot of ways to end this story. 

It could be the wings back to reality.

It could be another eagle video.

It could be landing a fish.

Instead its the real reason for going in the first place – family, fish and fresh coffee at dawn.

Sisu

*Appropriated on purpose from a Hamm’s Beer ad from yesteryear. 

Thanks to Bolton Lake Lodge, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I took 330 photos and video clips during the week.  Here are some out takes:

 

Saw, Dig, Pull

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My view of the Thornton Gap Entry Station

Shenandoah National Park, July 24 – 27 — The North District Crew Week was anything but usual.  For one, we tackled a variety of projects.  For another, I only worked three of the five days.  Now, it’s off to Manitoba to fish with my brother and nephews.

Usually crew week offers the opportunity to partner with the park service trail crews on big projects that are too big for either outfit alone.  This year everybody was everywhere all the time.

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We started with the great blowdown hunt.  While the remainder of the group took on some dirt work, Wayne Limberg and I searched for a tree tangle reported by a hiker on the Shenandoah Hikers Facebook page.  Shall we say it wasn’t where it was alleged to be…

On net we hiked about four miles on our search.  We found it about 200 yards from a trailhead parking lot.  It would have been a cinch if we had started three miles south of the initial reported position.

We managed to chew a lot of wood into sawdust, huge piles of it. 

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In the end, the old guys were bushed.

The next day we rehabbed the AT from trailhead parking south to the Byrd’s Nest 4 connector trail.

My last day was best.  A tree on the AT about 200 yards south of Compton Gap parking became a leaner last year and ended up in a near vertical posture.  This was too dangerous for volunteers to cut.  After consultation we and the park crew agreed that it should be pulled down.  This is how it happened.

Rigging the tree.

Dave Jenkins has a new toy.  It’s a motorized winch.  Beats a grip hoist any day.  But, sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan.

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Ready to go.

Oh oh!  Nothing is happening.

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Ain’t technology great!  What else.  Check You Tube to find out what you did wrong.

Turns out the rope wasn’t wrapped quite the right way around the capstan.  A couple of twists made all the difference. 

But wait.  There’s more.

The tree had dug itself in.  Nothing a pick mattock could not tackle.

On the way.

One more time.

Boom!

All that for 50 seconds of sawing.

Job done.

Sisu

It’s all about the food

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Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA, July 21 – 22, 2022 — Ridgerunners travel on their stomachs just like armies do.  We gathered at Blackburn earlier this week for the second time this season to prove the point.

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The spacious kitchen with its tandem sinks and dishwashers naturally draws crowds, especially at dinner time.  Wendy Willis, one of our split season Michaux State Forest ridgerunners, is more famous in one of her other lives.  She owns a Mexican restaurant in Winchester, Va called Sexi-Mexi. Click here: https://burritobar.sexi-mexi.com/

This year she’s been feeding us at Blackburn to the point that her scrumptious cooking has become the raison d’etre for showing up.  Rest assured, no one is late.

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As we stood at rapt attention, Julia Child would have approved of how Wendy coached us through the tostada bar she conjured from a magic cooler full of delectable ingredients.  The mob gathered salivating, ready to pounce.  The secret red poblano sauce was worth holding hostage.  Trust me, we took no prisoners.

As ridgerunners are apt to do, we talked long into the night on Blackburn’s enticing wrap-around porch brightened by the moon and a string of low wattage bulbs.

It ain’t over yet.  It was bright-and-early o’clock, but my eyes were glued shut tightly as I snoozed away.  The sound of sizzling veggies in an iron skillet popped my eyes open.  It was fritatta’s under construction. I sprinted for the coffee pot. Count me in!  Afterwards I could hardly stand up from the breakfast table.  Yum!!!

So far it’s been an fantastic year.  The hiker class of 2022 is awesome, the ridgerunners outstanding and the calendar pages turning too rapidly on what will be my final season in this role.

While the fritattas were in the oven, John Cram repaired/modified my poorly designed Zpacks ultralight pack.  In another life, John is a sailor and sail maker.  His expertise and magic sewing machine did the trick.

Stay tuned.  It ain’t over yet.

Sisu

It was all about firewood

Sara learned to split firewood.

Shenandoah National Park, July 16 – 17, 2022 — Some Hoodlums work weekends are more fun than others.  This one was a blast.

On Saturday we cut firewood for our annual trail maintenance workshop and for use at Indian Run maintenance hut where the Hoodlumns and north district trail maintainers stay when they are going to be out for more than one day.  On Sunday Caroline and I weeded our AT section.

(Call sign) Ridgerunner Two, Sara, met me at a trailhead near where she had camped for the night.  In the cool of the early light I offered the best treat I could think to bring – fresh Apple House doughnuts with hot coffee to sooth ever present craving for a certain flavor doughnut.

We then lumbered down Skyline Dr. to rendezvous with a group of Hoodlums at the Dickey Ridge picnic area.  After everyone arrived, we split into two groups with one working in the area while a third broke for the Indian Run maintenance hut to weed the lawn and access road, and to cut the aforementioned firewood. A third work party met at the Piney Ridge ranger station to work on the AT between Rattlesnake Point and Elk Wallow.

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The question was where to find a sufficient amount of wood.  Part of the answer was on the AT itself where it is on a fire road near the intersection with the Dickey Ridge trail.

We remembered a blowdown that Caroline and I bucked last October.  There are cords worth of wood in that honker, two pick up loads to be exact.  The rest we picked off fire road from Compton parking to the Dickey Ridge/hut access road intersection.

Team effort. 

The wood is left unsplit to deter impromptu fires.  The small wood is locked in the hut.

The Hoodlums gathered for their traditional pot luck at the end of the work day. 

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Following the picnic, Sara, Caroline and I retreated to Indian Run for the evening. 

Let’s just say there was a learning curve in the splitting business.

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Caroline and I modeling our dorky Z 87+ safety glasses after we finished weeding the AT section on Compton that we co-maintain.  Note the vegetable matter on my glasses – and I was sporting a wire shield on my helmet.  Let’s just say that it was hot enough for us to stew in our own sweat.

Sisu

Just in time for the Fourth

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This is the definition of a blowdown.  For perspective, Sara is six feet tall.

Shenandoah and the Washington Nationals Parks, July 1 – 4, 2022 — The month of Hades arrived right on schedule and so did Sara Leibold to pick up her AT ridgerunner duties right where she left off last year.

This tough angel does not fear the month of July in Virginia when it’s hot, hot, hot – and muggy.

We started out with the usual equipment issue and check into White Oak Cabin where Sara checked the log book to see who’d been there since her time last season.  We then adjourned for the first night at Indian Run Maintenance Hut, but not before picking up some pizza in Luray.

Muscleman Dan split some firewood.

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I’ve had to saw my way down the fire road the last three visits.

Before any of this happened, Sara stopped at my house for a special pizza and to pick up the keys she needs at PATC Hq. where she found a shelter log book from 2016 that documents her first night as a ridgerunner.

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Sara loves Apple House doughnuts, a treat from a local eatery.  Dan brought some for breakfast at our first shelter stop and Sara ate even crumbs down to the last grain of sugar.

By now, readers know the drill – break up illegal fire rings, clear brush and disguise campsites that are noncompliant with backcountry regulations.

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Tree crown across the trail.

Clearing the brush.  The reference to Silky is a professional brand of pruning saw.

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Sara notes results.

More necessary drudge.  At least she can claim the views.

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Ridgerunner perk – blackberry milkshakes at Elk Wallow.

While Sara continued her patrol, I enjoyed the Fourth with dear friends and our hapless Nats.

Sisu

Continue reading

Fifteen Seconds of Fame

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Ridgerunner Gathering at Blackburn Trail Center

Appalachian Trail, Maryland, June 25, 2022 — The day after our monthly ridgerunner meeting at the Blackburn Trail Center, we headed for the hills with a crew from Maryland Public Television for their second trip to document the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.

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They are shooting a segment for “Outdoors Maryland” ( https://www.mpt.org/programs/outdoors-maryland/ ) a program “…produced in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This award-winning series delights viewers each week with thought-provoking stories depicting the region’s diverse collection of ecosystems, people, and places…”

We started at the Appalachian Trail Conservancey in Harpers Ferry, WV where they found a family with a two-year-old thru hiking the trail this year.  So far they’ve covered more than 1,000 miles.  They have a large backpack and a child carrier which the parents switch off.  Yes, they are packing out the diapers.

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We found two thru hikers hiding from the mid-day heat at Gathland State Park.  One just finished nursing school; the other is on her way to medical school.  Each is hiking from Georgia to Maine as part of their transition to the next step of their lives.

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Next up was an unusually crowded Dahlgren campground for just after mid-day.  Dahlgren offers hot showers and porcelain plumbing making it a Cadillac stop in between towns.

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Kasey did a long interview to supplement the one she did two weeks ago.

We finished up with a campfire at Raven Rock Shelter.  There’s one more shoot scheduled in the fall once the leaves have started to turn.  The program will be eight to 10 minutes long.  To produce that much air time, literally hundreds of hours of video needs to be shot.  The program will air over the winter and ultimately be available at the Maryland Public Television website.

Sisu

Trail of Two Ridgerunners

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The sleeping pad is tilted because several gallons of trash are wrapped inside.

Michaux State Forest, PA, June 15 – 19, 2022 — We have a split season in Pennsylvania this year.  Chrissy Funk is the bun wrapped around Wendy Willis’s burger in the middle.

Chrissy’s first ridgerunner tour ended last Sunday.  The next day her jeep aimed for North Carolina where she would reunite with her pampered pug, Zsa Zsa. 

The day after Chrissy left, Wendy’s car crunched to a stop on the gravel near the Mason-Dixon Line in the Penn-Mar Park overflow parking lot.  From there we were shuttled to the Pine Grove Furnace General Store to begin her 37-mile journey back to Penn-Mar.

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Obligatory first picture.  Note how Pennsylvania marks its AT road crossings.

Wendy is an ornithologist who partly grew up in Mexico and most recently worked with a bird sanctuary in Peru.  She is a PATC trail maintainer in Northern Virginia whose Spanish and English are interchangeable.  She’s spending a month of her sabbatical this summer with us.

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The first couple of days were humid as Hades with sweat dribbling down our noses like a leaky faucet.  It soaked our clothing which ultimately ripened into that mellow hiker essence we all know and love.

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Someone’s TP got wet in the rain so, rather than packing it out, they parked it in a fire pit, maybe as future kindling?  Nice try.  No cigar.

The most common Leave No Trace aphorisms are “pack it in, pack it out” and “take only photos, leave only footprints.”  If people would do that much it would help.  Obviously stacking rocks surpasses leaving only footprints.  In our region rock stacks don’t survive contact with the first responsible person who finds them.

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Wendy signs in and checks each shelter log book looking for any remarkable content.  The coffee cans behind her contained food left as trail magic for hikers.  Luckily it didn’t attract any animals before she had a chance to hike it out to a dumpster 20 miles to the south.

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Breakfast at Birch Run and a little map recon of the day’s journey.

Wendy sawed this five inch obstruction and flipped it out of the way.  Her first.

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What luck to run into Dr. Ken “Nimbus” Bunning, former ALDHA (Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association) Coordinator, who was out for a few days.  Ken truly is one of the greats.

You may remember the smashed roof at the Quarry Heights Shelter from the previous blog two weeks ago.  It’s fixed thanks to the PATC North Chapter. 

Quarry Heights may be the most intimate shelter space on the trail.  It’s enclosed by a grove of rhododendrons, features a porch swing, potted flowers, tent platforms and is always in mint condition.

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Preparing to truck some trash down the mountain to the dumpster in New Caledonia State Park.

Sawing another small blowdown.  Sometimes you apply too much energy and bend your saw which then binds in the kerf.

The Mountain Laurel were peaking while the caterpillars are about to feast upon the oaks.

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Meanwhile, a few miles north of us in Maryland, Kasey was wrangling copperheads to help them avoid unsuspecting hikers at a popular overlook.

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Michaux State Forest

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Stuffed bear at Michaux State Forest headquarters.

Michaux State Forest, Pennsylvania, June 1 – 5 — Contrast is the name of the game.  This year the predicted rains never came.  Last year it never stopped raining.  This year the temperatures were in the low-80s.  Last year hypothermia lurked around every corner as the rain-soaked thermometer registered in the high 30s.   In both cases, the hikers were in good spirits, the rocks were happy, and so were we.

Ridgerunner recruiting this year has been a proverbial bear.  Qualified seasonal employees are in short supply.  Thanks to a stroke of luck, two ridgerunners will share the season in Michaux.  Chrissy has the first part.  Wendy has the second.  Chrissy will return to close out the season.

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After meeting the the state forest rangers, we encountered our first blowdown almost straight out of the door. We quickly hacked a path through the branches leaving the bigger stuff for the chainsaw folks.

Our first night was spent at Tom’s Run Shelter.  The crowd was convivial.  We saw several people using bear canisters.  Everyone took advantage of the bear poles to protect their food.  Given the increasing number of bear incidents, this is an excellent sign.

With early morning temperatures in the low 60s, hot coffee is still a welcome treat.  That season is about to end as the summer heat and humidity sets in.

Our section of trail in Pennsylvania is only 37 miles long.  It packs some respectable hills, so it’s not a snap. 

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A line of thunderstorms was expected to pass about lunch time at Birch Run.  Several hikers ducked in for lunch and some decided to stay.  Fortunately the storms never materialized.  We pressed on for a total of 18 miles to Quarry Gap, probably the most famous and aesthetically pleasing shelter on the trail.  It is famous for its flowers and kitschy decorations.

Sadly one of the twin shelters at Quarry Gap got bonked by a blowdown.  Most shelters are built like bunkers and can withstand a significant hit.  This was Wednesday.

By mid-day Saturday repairs were well underway.  The PATC north chapter mobilized to sneak repair materials in via the “secret squirrel” side trail.  By nightfall, almost like new.  Photos courtesy of the PATC north chapter.

Meanwhile, other members of the north chapter were organizing at nearby New Caledonia State Park to prepare a trail magic feast featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta salads desserts, and soft drinks!  After the work day, the crews descended to polish off the fixin’s.

Ours wasn’t the only trail magic.  A well-intended generous soul left water near a road junction.  We left it overnight, but cleaned it up on our way back to New Caledonia.  Trail magic should not be left unattended, even if it is water which, unlike food and sugary drinks, does not attract animals.

A hiker’s favorite sign.  This is trail magic done the right way.  This guy comes out several times a year to cook hot dogs and serve snacks at the Old Forge picnic area.  He retrieves his signs when the day is done.  I loved his dogs last year and my dreams were fulfilled that he’d be there again this year.  Before we left, the pavilion was full of hikers.

Our chunk of Pennsylvania has its scenery.  Eponymously named Rocky Mountain is our signature site.  In other places pine needles carpet the straightaways.  

Houston, we have a malfunction.  I’m still adjusting to switching to ultralight equipment.  This Zpacks frame has had its issues.  One reason the gear is lighter in weight is that it simply is not as rugged as the heavier traditional equipment.  In this case, the design is flawed.  Now both sides have been repaired with zip ties.

Graffiti continues to be a problem, although not nearly as bad as it was last year.  “Sunshine” seems to be this year’s problem child.  The first instance is in PA.  The second is in NJ.  We’re looking for you girl. “Pyro” last year’s biggest jerk has been painted over everywhere except in this one spot where someone seems to have had a sense of humor and maybe is trying to message others.

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Literally rubbing out graffiti can be a sport.

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The patrol ended with the last piece of microtrash at Penn-Mar, aka the Mason-Dixon line.

Sisu