Northern Virginia, July 17 – 28, 2015 — In deference to Garrison Keillor, it wasn’t a quiet week anywhere around my town. It was busy as could be.
We had the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) biannual meeting at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. where I led two hikes – more to come on that, followed by a trail construction day with an environmentally oriented youth group from Yonkers, NY called Groundwork.
In between a small group of North District Hoodlum sawyers schlepped our chainsaws up to Bears Den on Saturday to buck two large dead trees that were felled by professional arborists.
Did I mention that the daytime temps averaged over 90 F with high humidity the whole time? So there I was, producing infinite amounts of sweaty washing while our still-under-warrenty washing machine awaits a new motor. No, I have not sublet any space at our house to anyone named Murphy.
The first hike was a strenuous 16-miler on the AT from the Reno Monument on Maryland’s South Mountain south to Harpers Ferry, WV. The heat took its toll.
Monument to Civil War journalists at Maryland’s Gathland State Park.
The second hike was a five-miler on the First Manassas civil war battlefield on the 153rd anniversary of the battle to the day. It was hard to imagine what it was like for the soldiers who wore woolen uniforms in suffocating heat and humidity. This is at the “stone bridge” for those familiar with the battle.
We started the morning with a preview of the battle in the visitors center.
This stone house and former tavern served as a hospital during the battle. The battle’s culmination point on Henry Hill is just above this structure.
At Bears Den. The sawyer was approximately 80 feet in the air. Couldn’t pay me to do that. This dead tree plus another threatened to block the access road if blown down in a storm. The need to preempt that is self evident.
A severed branch smacks the road with a big boom!
Wearing my sawyer hat. I need to iron my neck and maybe use some spray starch.
Head Hoodlum Janice Cessna briefs the young folks from Groundwork.
Working Hard! It’s important to make the experience hands-on. Here the kids are building a check dam which is a structure designed to slow water.
Completed waterbar – a structure designed to direct water off the trail.
Harpers Ferry, WV, July 7, 2015 — I was privileged to see a sneak preview of “A Walk in the Woods,” a knockabout comedy staring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. The show opens in 1,800 theaters on Sept. 2.
Redford. Slapstick. No way!!! Indeed, it’s true. The movie was a delightful midnight snack adding a light touch to Redford’s rich acting career. If you recall, Redford and Paul Newman always had a comedic touch.
To my delight, the humor was practically nonstop. The jokes kept coming. Anyone would get them, but there was enough hiker and AT double entandre to evoke knowing nods and smiles from the audience.
Potty humor on the trail isn’t new and this movie doesn’t disappoint. The ubiquitous and sometimes maligned potty trowel makes more than a cameo appearance.
Redford with toilet paper in hand may have been added for shock value, but more likely, the potty trowel scenes are subliminal Leave No Trace messages using a subject not much discussed in polite, read the non-hiking, society.
Yup. Bears aren’t the only ones who do it in the woods and wanna be’s need to know that and prepare to pull their pants down around that and other deeply personal subjects in advance.
To recap for the unfamiliar, author Bill Bryson penned a best-seller in the late 1990s entitled, A Walk in the Woods. It was a semi-fictional and somewhat autobiographical story based on chunks of the Appalachian Trail that Bryson sampled in preparation to write his story. His sidekick, Steven Katz – played by Nolte in the movie – is the foil and comedic counterpoint as their adventures unfold.
This New York Times best seller is credited with driving up the number of AT thru hike attempts by logarithmic factors since.
The screenplay differs a fair amount from Bryson’s original story, but the essence is there. Two old comrades with diametrically opposite personalities reunite after decades of estrangement for one last adventure.
Neither this film, nor the recent movie “Wild” (based on Cheryl Strayed’s best selling memoir) are about hiking per se. In each, hiking is the means to the end. In this case, Bryson confronts career burnout and the remedy is a romp in the woods with his old buddy Katz. Our treat is to go along for the ride and enjoy the laughs.
The cast is fantastic, especially Longmont, Colorado’s own Kristen Schaal who is brilliant. Her character plays off a classic AT stereotype and the reappearance of her character could have been a hilarious punctuation point near the end of the movie when Bryson and Katz have to be rescued. In stead, the dynamic duo are saved by other stereotypes they first hate but come to love. In reality, it doesn’t happen that way on the AT. No spoiler alert here.
As with any movie about subjects we know intimately and love dearly, this movie has its share of nits to pick and quibble about. Among them, in the movie: Gooch Gap comes after Neels Gap. McAfee Knob appears after Shenandoah National Park. The duo has trekking poles strapped to their obviously empty packs, but never use them. The social aspects of the AT experience are mostly AWOL. The bears that steal Bryson and Katz’s food are grizzlies, not black bears. (We know bears will do almost anything for food, but hitchhike from Montana? That’s a bit much.) Much of the movie was not shot on the AT. That’s dramatic license. So what?
The $64 dollar question is how “A Walk in the Woods” will affect the number of hikers in the future. History is clear. Major media events drive numbers up.
Given that most Millennials barely know who Redford and Nolte are, it may not have much effect on that demographic. Large numbers of Boomers, on the other hand, missed out when they were in their 20s. Like me, they had to wait until retirement to find the time. Could be that this will remind them to get off the bench and out in the woods.
More likely, we may expect the number of weekenders and short-distance backpackers to increase along the trail. After all, Bryson himself didn’t hike the whole thing. For those without the where with all or inclination to thru hike, sampling chunks of the trail is a viable alternative.
Hordes of uninitiated hikers can have a disproportionate impact on the environment. That’s why the potty trowel metaphor is an effective vehicle to communicate the larger Leave No Trace message. It creates awareness and opens the door to a broader discussion of appropriate behavior and practices.
Viewers come to movies like this with a truck load of preconceptions. They’ve read the book, tramped around on the AT or other trails, and have their own inventory of intrepid experiences. Hikers want a hiking movie with which they can self-identify and reinforce the attributes of the hiking experience as they understand it.
In other words, hikers will tend to want a certain label and vintage of fine red wine, e.g. perfection. For some, this won’t that movie, and I’ll submit that there’ll never be one. So, this flick may not be what you hope for, but it will still make you laugh because if you haven’t been there and done that, at least you’ve seen it.
As a feature film, this treat is tasty, but definitely lo-cal. It never intended or tried to be an opulent double Dutch chocolate delight. In other words, here’s little to satiate the uncontrollable urge known as hiker hunger in “A Walk in the Woods” the movie, and unfortunately the lack of high caloric content may be unfulfilling to a few of the usual suspects out there in hiker land who never seem to be satisfied anyway.
By its end, “A Walk in the Woods” is a light comedy based on our favorite pass time with a sprig of deeply personal revitalization for the two main characters garnishing the end. They all lived happily ever after.
When you think about it, isn’t that a big chunk of why any of us lace ’em up and grab our trekking poles?
Shenandoah National Park, VA, June 20 – 26, 2015 — I’ve got 15 feet of surplus fire hose. That makes me rich in a special sort of way. In some ways, that’s better than having a gold bar from Fort Knox.
Most people wouldn’t find old fire hose exciting or practical, I mean you can’t use it for water fights or to water your lawn for that matter. It’s just canvas with a rubber lining. How useful could it be? Besides, I’m too old to play fireman anymore (not really).
To people who use sharp tools, old fire hose is pure gold. It’s so durable that it’s nearly bullet proof. A little glue and a rivet gun help craft this magic material into all kinds of sheaths, holsters, and protective coverings for all things sharp such as axes, hatchets, cross cut saws, chain saws, pruning saws, swing blades, clippers, loppers, heavy fire fighting hoes, and machetes. These are among the tools I need to maintain my section of the Appalachian Trail and for work maintaining trails in the park.
I own them all, and I’ll use every bit of this hose before I’m done. Thanks to Dick Batiste for sending it.
That’s Dick in the blue PATC volunteer shirt.
Dick is one of the great guys I met volunteering in Shenandoah’s Central District last week. He’s a retired FBI agent/lawyer who’s nearly 80 years old. That’s 80 Arnold Schwarzenegger years. This guy can lift giant rocks and swing a pick with the best of them! If he’s found the fountain of youth, he ain’t tellin’ and I don’t blame him. Actually I think that his being a New Hampshire native is his real secret. Tough country and rough weather produces tough cookies. I should know, I’m married to one.
The week was productive. It opened with the North District Hoodlum’s monthly work day. I was assigned to work rehabbing a side trail where we rebuilt several erosion control structures, pruned back vegetation and cut a few blowdowns.
We were working in a designated wilderness area, so no motorized saws or tools are allowed. Hence the cross cut.
Unfortunately our planned hiker feed got rained out. That was a bummer. It’s been a soggy year so far.
The Shenandoah skies have looked like this all summer.
I spent Sunday chopping weeds and brush on the section of the Appalachian Trail which I oversee. Found this ugly blowdown in the area that was burned over in 2011. The dead tree is resting on a live pine creating what sawyers call a spring pole. Spring poles are potentially very dangerous to cut because of the amount of energy stored within and their unpredictable behavior. This one’s coming down with a pole saw which will allow a healthy stand-off distance. Once everything is on the ground, it can be easily cut up (bucked in sawyer parlance).
It poured Sunday evening. I elected to stay at the Pinnacles Research Station rather than camp. It was a good decision.
Our crew week time was spent on three projects – completely rebuilding the Spring Meadow trail, installing some stepping stones at a messy spot on the Corbin Hollow trail and doing basic maintenance on the lower half of the Old Rag trail.
Digging the seat for a stepping stone on the Corbin Hollow trail.
Hi ho, hi ho… Testing the finished project.
Old Rag is the most challenging hike in Shenandoah and one of the most popular. The trail is bumper to bumper on summer weekends.
We had one small adventure. We needed to install a waterbar on the Meadow Spring project. Waterbars are drains set at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the trail. We picked a spot where we could tie into some existing rocks. The only problem one little rock that blocked the way. The rest is history.
At first we thought we could reduce that little ole boulder with a rock maul. Hammer as we might – and we hammered mightily – nothing happened. Zip!
We eventually learned that some rocks speak Mandarin.
So, we used a tool called a grip hoist to winch it out. BTW, that’s 1 billion-year-old “green stone” basalt.
An old marker on the grounds of a former CCC encampment.
Turned over a rock to find this little guy – Slimy Salamander plethodon glutinosus