Flash Mob at Pinefield Hut


It was a dark and thirsty night, but the old folks at Pinefield Hut didn’t know that yet. 

Meanwhile, day three of my Appalachian Trail training hike had just closed.  In spite of my heavy pack, I’d made good time walking on the contoured terrain around the Loft Mountain camp ground. Put it in the books as a good day.

There I was making camp with a couple of younger guys just out of the Army and an older 70-something thru hiker recently back on the trail following a long injury recovery. He was hiking from his home near Delaware Water Gap to the place in southern Virginia where he had to leave the trail this past spring with his hopes for completion long dashed.

It was dark and quiet with hiker midnight fast approaching.  The military guys decided to tent leaving the shelter to the two older guys.  It would be my second night in a shelter, but given the hour, it didn’t seem like we should be expecting more company.


Just as we were settling in a couple of young Millennials drifted in.  One was a young woman whose blog I’d read and we had a nice conversation about that and other mundane aspects of the trail.  Than a few more young faces drifted in from the darkness – and a few more after that.  The dynamic of one of those You Tube flash mobs quickly took over.

Once the crowd reached critical mass, out came beer, wine in one and two liter bottles.  In a flash the picnic table was groaning under their weight.  I checked my watch.  Ten thirty.  For me, it was past time to sleep.  For them it was party time.

A roaring fire accompanied a solo guitar.  Alcohol fueled voices harmonized – more or less.  The rowdy revelry continued well into the wee hours before dawn.  The other adult hiker and I scrunched into the deep shadowy recesses of the shelter and tried to sleep, me with my iPod cranking out an alternative soundtrack.   

It was a stereotypical display of Millennial self-absorption. I generally hold young folks in high regard having worked with 18 – 24 year-olds most of my life.  This group, other than being inconsiderate, wasn’t that bad with a couple of obnoxious exceptions.  As minor payback I certainly didn’t hesitate to make noise when I broke camp at the onset of morning nautical twilight.

One thing came out of it, a new song to add to my AT playlist.  Judy Collins’ “Send in the Clowns” seems a most appropriate way to memorialize the evening.

Why your pack has a hip belt


The seasons are changing.

It’s day two of my 13-day hike from Waynesboro, Va. to Harpers Ferry.  Hiking like this offers a certain amount of contemplation time, and my musings have uncovered a new reality.

Everybody thinks the purpose of the hip belt on their pack is sort of like the belt on their pants – to hold the whole thing up.  That’s a big and important job.  If your pack weight is resting on your shoulders rather than your hips, you’re in a heap of trouble, not to mention a pending big ouch.

That said, the real reason packs have hip belts is not what you think it is.  Before I go there, allow me to digress. 

One of my secret goals for my fall training hikes was to lose some weight.  I mean, what’s the point of whittling your pack weight under 30 lbs. if you’re packing that much in a spare tire or muffin top? 

The two go together.  What’s the point of floating a 25 lb. pack up the hill if it’s off set by a 25 lb. spare tire that you have to haul up the mountain at the same time?

I was having lunch in late June with a thru hiker who flipped to Maine.  Just before complaining about adding extra weight to accommodate warmer gear, she noted that she’d lost 35 lbs. since Springer. 

Ever the idiot wit, I quipped that she had a 35 lb. margin to work with.  What’s the big deal, I thought?

So, back to the purpose of the hip belt.  It’s real function is embarrassment! 

How does it do that?  Strap one one on and you learn that it functions like an underwire bra for your belly. 

Somehow it manages to lift, round, mound and curve every ounce of flesh from your navel on up.  Cinch it tight and there it is, like Dorothy Lamour/Dolly Parton for all to admire. 


I hate to admit it, but from the side I look like I’m in late term pregnancy. Everyone takes note. That’s motivation to make tracks and burn some calories. Sisu – Making tracks.

Close Bear Encounters of the Third Kind


Bear busted for shopping in store at Shenandoah National Park’s Skyland Resort.  He was a nice guy!

Psst!  Hey you…  Yah, you.  Wanna lose weight?  You do.  Guess what?  Hike for 13 days and 160 miles straight through on the AT without a zero and eat only what’s in your pack and YOU too can lose a pound per day.  I did.  Betcha!  One more hike like this and I might be willing to take my shirt off at the beach.

My first training hike is in the books.  Sept. 24th was day one.  I launched at 10:08 a.m. from Rockfish Gap, Va.  It was 55*F.  At 10:12 I saw three bears before I could even get off the road and into the park!  An auspicious beginning if ever there was.

By the time they get this far, 858 miles into their hike, most thru hikers can knock out the distance from Waynesboro, Va. to Harpers Ferry in about 10 – 11 days.  Since this was a test of my injured right foot, my gear, food, and much more, my pace was deliberately slower.

The first day was seven miles to the Calf Mountain shelter.  Most thru hikers would want to bang out more miles, but maybe not the 20 miles to the next shelter at Blackrock.  For those wanting to do more than seven, but less than 20, I counted 14 excellent stealth camping sites scattered between Calf Mountain and Blackrock.  The only caution is that  water is available only at the shelters.  Tank up at Calf Mountain and you’re good to go.

I set the first day deliberately short followed by two 13s in a row.  The schedule next called for rest following an eight mile NERO.  I reached my destination just after noon and cooled my heels until some great guys showed up to spend the evening.  Following that, the days averaged around 12 until I got word that the remnants of a tropical storm would clobber the trail on Monday Oct. 7.  Not wanting to ride out a tornado watch and a deluge in some shelter, I hiked three 15s and a 20 in order to finish a day earlier than planned.  Two weeks without rain – priceless!  Pushing that hard – ouch!!

My initial pack weight was very heavy on purpose. For example, I carried all the food and supplies needed for a full fortnight. I also lugged my full winter kit since that’s the heaviest weight scenario.  Other small things added up such as packing a full bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.  

As time passed, the weather changed.  In the beginning morning temps hung in there around 40 with day time highs around 60 – 65.  This near perfect hiking weather shifted to sticky windless summer temps in the second week with the final day ending  above 90.  My sleeping bag smelled worse than my socks – and my socks smelled so bad they actually woke me up one night!  They got kicked out of the tent after that.

In spite of the weather, I managed to stay relatively clean.  I did laundry and shower at Lewis Mountain camp ground and again at Bears Den.  I washed my shirts out in streams a couple of times.  Twice I was alone at night and use the solitude as car wash moments.

Lessons learned?  You can bet I’ll never do that again.  When I finished I was still strong, but sore and beginning to notice some of the classic overuse injury symptoms.  For me, a zero is in order at least once per week. 

My initial pack weighed 37 lbs.  That’s at least 10 lbs. too heavy.  I’m glad I could manage it, but even as I ate the weight down, the dead weight on my back sapped my morale much more than I would have predicted. 

Most of the extra weight was food.  I had way too much in the beginning, so I gave some away.  Regardless, I still finished with two extra meals. 

I can also cut weight elsewhere.  My fist aid kit could treat a decimated army. It can be much smaller. A little Dr. Bronner’s goes a long way.  I’ll repackage it and other liquids and consumable supplies into week size portions. 

Beyond that, I’m chopping up David “Awol” Miller’s guide book into bite size chunks.  That thing is a brick.  Speaking of Awol’s AT Guide, it’s excellent, but as many in the class of 13 noted, the trail profile is hard to decipher.  When you think it’s going to be hard, it isn’t and visa versa.   Fortunately I had topo maps which don’t lie and never run out of batteries. 

What’s going on with Awol’s guide may have more to do with the trail surface than anything else.  The rocks make a difference.  If the rocks are difficult, the trail is hard in spite of its ascending or descending grade. Stay tuned for my rock classification post.   If you’ve never heard of a Susquehanna snot slicker, you will.

This is a family blog, so scatological discussions are not normally part of the genre.  However I did have one eureka moment.  You’re gonna use a lot more TP than you think.  When I needed to resupply, the store was out.  Table napkins are a most excellent replacement.  Never goin’ back if you know what I mean.

The special orthotics my podiatrist made saved me from the pure brutality the rocks inflict on your feet.  Excellent investment they were.

Last note.  Bears Den is a jewel of a hostel.  Dana and her husband are warm and welcoming hosts.  I wasn’t the only one who could not eat the entire hiker special – pizza, pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a soft drink.  Also, the guide doesn’t mention that you get to cook your own free pancakes for breakfast.  My trail crew will be at Bears Den Nov. 2 to help with some projects.  Can’t wait.

As soon as I get new boots, get my orthotics adjusted, a sleeping bag liner and a couple of other things.  I’ll be on my way from Harpers Ferry to Duncannon, Pa.

Sisu – Making tracks.