Dumbo’s Feather

Image

I am thru-hiking the AT this year with fond memories of my late friend Bob Schwartz. 

In the mid-1970s, when we were young, hard-bodied and living in Colorado Springs, Bob was my favorite hiking, climbing, and biking partner.  We would hit the Rocky Mountain high country as often as our lives and wives would allow. 

Together we summited “fourteeners” in winter and summer, bouldered and swam through the 1,800-foot-deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, rode centuries through the rolling plains around C-Springs, and contemplated the cosmos as we camped at starry-eyed altitudes. 

Image

Bob in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, Colorado

Bob loved New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  Walking there in his footsteps there will be the most cherished part of this experience. 

Bob was a native New Yorker (Brooklyn).  Through his eyes (and accent) I learned my way around the city long before I ever set foot there.  His quintessentially Jewish sense of humor and piercing intellect were extraordinary.

Bob graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in only three years on his way to becoming a distinguished physicist, NASA scientist and university professor.  During our journeys we often camped above tree line where the deep velvet sky is sequined in stars.  His education was my good fortune because, ever the professor, he never missed an opportunity to expand my mind and share his appreciation for the cosmos.

Bob tragically died of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD) in 1980.  At the time, his doctors believed he might have contracted this brain-destroying disease while doing post-doc work at Cambridge University.  Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow) was present in the UK then, and researchers believed that CJD could be contracted by eating contaminated beef. 

The irony of a mind-robbing disease destroying a brilliant intellect remains heart-breaking to this day.

After he died, Bob’s wife Mary wanted me to have his climbing and camping gear.  In Bob’s memory, I will carry one of his carabineers.

How would I know the carabineer was Bob’s?  Climbers mark their equipment because during climbs it often gets co-mingled with hardware belonging to others.  Since Schwartz sounds like schwarz – German for the color black – Bob marked his gear with black electrical tape.  Duh!

If Bob were part of this hike, and believe me he would have jumped right on it, we would literally fly like Disney pachyderms.  ‘Quit’ and ‘impossible’ were not in his vocabulary, although he spelled PRUDENCE in all caps. 

Once while ascending the south route of Colorado’s Crestone Needle (14,197ft.) in February, my toes were suffering from frost nip on their way to something worse.  We descended to our tent pitched on a saddle below, warmed my foot and changed into dry socks.  I was thinking zero and a very early dinner, but Bob pointed his mittened hand upward, and back up we went to keep our appointment with the blustery summit.

My friend, we will be united once more, especially on those magical midnights when stardust rains from the sky.  Your carabineer will serve as a talisman inspiring me to press onward relentlessly and always.  It will remind me to be courageous, to challenge my imagination and to encourage my mind to travel far beyond what little I can actually see. 

I am so thankful to have Mary’s bequest.  It reminds me that life and good health should never be wasted.  You have my solemn promise to give this journey every ounce of energy, fortitude and kindness to others that I can muster.

Just as Dumbo clutched his feather and soared, I hope having Bob’s ‘beaner’ along for the ride will do the same for me.  BTW, It’s not useless weight.  In addition to its function as totem, it moonlights by clipping my micro spikes to my pack by day and as my bear bag hanger by night.

Sisu – Making tracks

 “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be.  Be one.”  Marcus Aurelius

(A version of this essay was previously posted on Trail Journals.)

(Kristin and Eric) Week 1

These folks are having fun.

Trail Mix and Dirty Underwear

Day 1:  Amicalola Falls State Park to Black Gap Shelter,  7.3 miles
Day 2: Black Gap Shelter to Hawk Mountain Shelter, 9.6 miles
Day 3: Hawk Mountain Shelter to Gooch Mountain Shelter, 7.7 miles
Day 4: Gooch Mountain Shelter to Lance Creek Campsites, 8.5 miles
Day 5: Lance Creek Campsites to Neels Gap, 7.4 miles
Day 6: Neels Gap to Low Gap Shelter, 11.5 miles
Day 7: Low Gap Shelter to Blue Mountain Shelter, 7.3 miles

We have both said in our own way that this journey has thus far been the best time in our entire lives. We have both had many adventures in our life, so to say it has been the best of all our experiences is something that took us by surprise.  The fulfilment is so great, it is a close second to our love for each other. 

We are about to start Day 7. Our…

View original post 486 more words

Vandalism

Image

A certain number of our fellow countrymen/women don’t like rules and they don’t hesitate to demonstrate their viewpoint.  The AT is far from pristine throughout the 700 miles I’ve hiked so far. 

The A.T. Journey’s magazine recently chronicled the growing graffiti problem.   The story is spot on.  Most every shelter is covered in it.  Of interest, almost all of the graffiti dates no earlier than 2010.  Since then, every year is amply represented. It makes one wonder what change caused such an explosion of orgasmic ego expression.  Did fracking fluid enter the water supply?

Hint to the young folks who do this – and you can tell.  It’s not flattering to you or your generation. 

Trash is another problem.  The Carter Gap shelter and the grounds around it in North Carolina where my most excellent bear experience occurred was full of empty food containers.  My theory is that the bear hangs out there because he can score tasty treats the campers leave behind.

To be fair, not all the trash is left by long distance hikers.  Hunters and weekenders probably account for most of it.  How do I think I know that?  Well, it’s the cans and other detritus one finds which have included frying pans and coffee pots – not the stuff 2,000 miler wanna bees routinely hump, especially after a couple of hundred miles.  I’ve also found spent ammunition in and around the shelters as well as on the trail.  This, in spite of the hunting ban on and in proximity to the AT.

Image

Property damage also is prevalent in some areas.  This is from that part of Tennessee where the AT right of way was taken by eminent domain.  Every night I was in the area, hunters passed through in their ATVs using the trail itself as their primary right of way.

Image

Image

There’s a lot of trash in this photo taken on the night the temp dipped to zero at Ice Water Springs in the Smokies in early November.  Too much of it stayed put in the shelter.  I tried to gently shame the young Southbounders who left it into carrying it out when they decided to backtrack into Gatlinburg to duck the weather.  They politely let me know where they wanted me to stick it.

Three things – erosion, trash and overgrowth – are serious threats to the AT.  Any one of them could destroy the experience. Clearly Leave No Trace could use a few more evangelists. 

For those who are following, my hike should resume in about 10 days.  I’m almost done with the aftermath of my mother’s passing, my taxes are filed and I now have a Medicare card.  The National Weather Service reports about 18 inches of snow with deeper drifts at altitude.  Here’s hoping that it’s warming enough to melt a bunch of that snow by the time I can get back out. 

The next stretch will be a treat.  There’s Woods Hole hostel, the Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and the Priest, plus a few other chunks of trail candy.  Best of all, several friends who live along the way plan to meet me.  Baring another nor’easter, t should take about a month to reach Waynesboro where one of my high school classmates lives.  Can’t wait to see him.

Sisu – Makin’ tracks.