Adios.

Para Yogi Berra, 90% do beisebol é mentalidade e 10% é preparação ...

When I was trying to choose a name for this blog, many of Yogi’s aphorisms seemed applicable.

The fork in the road quote seemed most applicable because I wasn’t quite sure where life after my work career would flow.  I just knew that, when faced with a choice, I’d have to make one, so this quote fit.

I’ve always appreciated another of Yogi’s famous quotes, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”  All champions fail at times, but no champion ever quits.  Neither did Yogi.  Sadly, this time for us, and for his 90-year-old body, it is truly over.

The literal translation of adios, the Spanish word for goodbye is ‘to God’. May the fork in the road take him there.

Cowboy Candle

This is a cowboy candle.

This is a cowboy candle.  More about that in a bit.

Shenandoah National Park, Mathews Arm Campground, September 18 – 20, 2015 —  Come September mother nature begins nodding off as she contemplates her year’s achievements and a well-deserved winter rest.  Her spring creations are mature now having flourished in the embrace of warm summer sun and slaked by rain.  It’s time to lengthen the nights, turn down the heat and prepare to swaddle in blankets of white.

With the humidity having been wrung out of the autumn air, my car pulled in just after 8:30 p.m. Friday evening.  I’d been helping with a thru-hiker event at an REI store in Virginia that nailed my feet to the floor until after six — dead into the locked jaws of outbound D.C. area traffic.

The penalty of “rush hour” tacked a vexing extra hour to my trip, thank you very much! Traffic is the only thing in Washington that isn’t in a hurry.

As I shut off my ignition, it was dead dark and I was much later than I wanted to be. I still had to find a spot, pitch my tent, cook the a la foil steak resting in my cooler, and get some rest before the starting gun popped Saturday morning.  The night was warm with a gentle breeze that allowed me to snooze on top of my sleeping bag.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

Our workshop is an excellent training exercise limited to 30 participants.  They are divided into three groups classified as novice, intermediate and advanced trail maintainers.  People come from other geographical areas and maintaining clubs to take part.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build and rehab check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

So much for the work.  The best part is socializing at the bookends of the day.  We each contribute to a kitty so that we can hire caterers from Pennsylvania who have been with us for years.  All we have to do is schmooze and have fun.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us.  Thanks to good weather we didn't have to use it.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us. Thanks to good weather we didn’t need it.

We have a convenient fire pit.

I could get used to car camping.  Unlike backpacking, if you think you might need it, you just pitch what ever ‘it” may be into the trunk of your car.  That’s why everyone brought a cooler full of beer!

Saturday night is the only “official” night of the workshop. One of our rituals is torching a “cowboy candle.”  A log about three feet long is chainsawed into eight standing and numbered sections.  Everyone bets on the upright they think will be the last one standing.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven.  It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others.  Wrong!  It was the first to go.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven. It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others. Wrong! It was the first to go. 😦

As we cheered for our cowboy candle favorites, the breeze sharpened in a way that signaled that we were on the doorstep of a new season.  From now on, the year will age quickly.  For that reason, we have only one more monthly work trip left in our regular season.  Sometimes there’s a November encore trip, but that’s nature’s call as much as anything else.

It could have been the food, the friends or even the beer, but on Saturday night I snuggled into my trusty sleeping bag and was lost in dreamland before my head dented my inflatable pillow.  The morning dawned crisp.  I turned up the collar of my fleece as I shivered in line for coffee.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group.  Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates.  His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I've previously written.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group. Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates. His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I’ve previously written.

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets.  Paperwork!

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets. Paperwork!  I was delighted that our  group didn’t find any.

Vegetable Territory

Hal Evans takes notes on trail conditions during his patrol.

Hal Evans takes notes on trail conditions during his patrol.

Appalachian Trail, Northern Virginia section, September 5-6, 2015 —  Which was worse, the rocks or the humidity?  It’s a toss up.  “I don’t enjoy either very much,” I thought, as I marched one last ridgerunner patrol, this time with Hal Evans.

Hal, a quiet, gentle soul with a PhD in psychology, is responsible for the 58 mile section we call Northern Virginia between the northern boundary of Shenandoah National Park to Harpers Ferry, WV.

Hal thru-hiked the AT in 2010 following his retirement.  Since then he has been a ridgerunner variously in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and northern Virginia.

Over time, he’s been working his territory toward home near the southern half of Shenandoah National Park. “Maybe next year,” he laughs. Since I understand we may receive funding for a second ridgerunner in Shenandoah, that’s a real possibility.

During my hike, I described the attractive places along the trail as “trail candy.”  If places such as the iconic McAfee Knob, the ponies at Grayson Highlands and Annapolis Rocks; or a charming trail town such as Harpers Ferry are akin to high calorie deserts, then the unremarkable trail in between must be like eating your vegetables when you were a kid.

McAfee Knob, March 2014.

McAfee Knob, March 2014.

On the AT there’s a lot of figuratively nutritious trail of which your mom would approve.  Hal’s section is so nutritious that it might qualify as broccoli or kale. In spite of its inherent charms – Front Royal, VA, Bears Den Hostel, Blackburn Trail Center and a couple of overlooks – for the most part, this is hike-over country that hikers endure as they lust for the next treat.

Hal and I met Saturday morning at the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center in Harpers Ferry.  We left his truck there and drove my car 21 trail miles south to Bears Den Hostel where we would begin our work.  That way we could hike mostly down hill.  Note:  It sure fooled me and I can read a map!

Northern Virginia is rocky to say the least.  It features the last of “The Roller Coaster,” a 15-mile section of strenuous and infamous PUDS – pointless ups and downs.

Hikers don’t come to this section to meditate.  They come to sweat and nostalgically relive the Pennsylvania rocks.  In fact, I’ve heard that, for good measure, this section adopts Pennsylvania’s orphan stones.  Sure am glad they have a good home.

We cleaned up several "stealth" campsites and scored two grid irons and a frying pan among other heavy junk we had to truck out.

We cleaned up several “stealth” campsites and scored two grid irons and a frying pan among other heavy junk we had to truck out.

At one of the campsites we cleaned up, Sherlock might have deduced that this perp was never a Boy Scout because he was hilariously unprepared.

First he cooked, only to subsequently realize that he couldn’t clean his dirty frying pan.  Rather than hike it out, he left it. (It’s almost always a he.)

Of course when morning came, this genious realized he needed a hole deeper than forgetting the means to clean his dishes.

Sans TP, the hapless primate used a far less effective expedient that had to be the only thing at hand less effective than poison ivy leaves – a plastic bag.  Bet his trail name is Monkey Butt.  I chuckled at the poetic justice even as I took care of the mess.

Being Labor Day weekend, we figured more trail traffic than we found and the amount of trash was less too.  Lucky us.

We found some strange markings that extended from this spot along the trail far into the woods beyond the trail corridor is the type of anomaly ridgerunners find and report.

We found some strange markings that extended from this spot along the trail far into the woods beyond the trail corridor.  This is the type of anomalous encroachment that ridgerunners find and report.

Hal measures and notes a blowdown he will include in his weekly report.  This one will require a chain or crosscut saw for removal.

Hal photographs a blowdown he will include in his weekly report. The photo will help the district manager and overseer determine the best means to clear it.  This one will require a chain or crosscut saw for removal. Those are poison ivy vines all over that down tree.

We spent the evening at the David Lessor memorial shelter with some very nice people, then pressed on to Harpers Ferry early Sunday morning.

The Harpers Ferry National Park extends far beyond the area where John Brown's raid occurred.  Civil War battlements extend miles beyond the town itself.

The Harpers Ferry National Park extends far beyond the area where John Brown’s raid occurred. Civil War battlements extend miles beyond the town itself.  It’s beyond me why people think they need to tag everything.

Almost there.

Almost there.

'Nuff said!

‘Nuff said!  (Facebook share. Original source unknown.)

This is my last ridgerunner hike of the season.  Unfortunately I was unable to walk with Clare Arentzen who patrols southern Pennsylvania.  It’s a miss, but not huge.  Clare isn’t planning to return next year because she has something far better in mind.  She’s going to be on the AT as a member of the thru hiker class of 2016.  Here’s wishing a brilliant Princeton grad the best of luck and endless trail magic.

The Easy State

 2015-08-29 10.11.10  2015-08-28 11.54.30

Max Mishkin and Dan Smith are the AT ridgerunners in Maryland

Maryland Appalachian Trail, August 28 – 29, 2015 — Many hiking guides list Maryland as the easiest state on the Appalachian Trail.  Here the AT is a relatively flat ridgewalk, mostly on South Mountain.  It has its share of rocks, but nothing compared to those to be experienced north and south of here.  In that sense, Maryland is fortunate.

In contrast, Maryland has the misfortune of being easy and close to the millions who live in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas.  That’s a lot of people, many of whom take the shortest path to the AT section nearest home.  It’s a recipe for over use and abuse.  That may be why the state funds two ridgerunners for just 38 miles. One starts early and the other stays through October.

On Saturday Dan Smith and I hiked from Weverton Cliffs to Gathland State Park.  These gentle miles unfold quickly.  Even the hump to the top of the cliffs isn’t an outrageous challenge.  Pretty much any able bodied person can make it.  Come at it from Gathland and the physical challenge is even easier.

Relative to the work Lauralee and I did last week in Shenandoah National Park, this southern chunk of Maryland was a piece of cake.  Still, I was surprised at the amount of trash we policed up – ranging from micro trash like mylar snack wrappers to discarded/forgotten clothing.  Dan said it was a light weekend. Note to self: Remember this for next year.

We also broke up a couple of illegal fire rings too.  Fires, except at designated fire pits at the shelters, are illegal in Maryland, but some people just don’t seem to care.

Dan is an amiable Pennsylvanian and mechanical engineer who appreciates being outdoors.  He’s thru hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT, 2,200 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, featured in “Wild.”)

Next year Dan’s off to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.) It’s the last leg of his triple crown and I have no doubt he’ll nail it.  The ridgerunner community will miss him.

After repositioning Dan’s car, I left him to rush northward to spend the night at Annapolis Rocks with Max Mishkin.  I made camp about two minutes before I needed to turn on my headlamp.

The two Maryland ridgerunners rotate so that there’s always a caretaker on site at the Rocks.  It didn’t take long to figure out why.

Caretaker's tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Caretaker’s tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Annapolis rocks is the Grand Central Station of Maryland’s AT section.  On a nice weekend, several hundred people per day have been known to visit.  Most are neophyte day trippers who are unaware of the Leave No Trace principles.  Consequently trash and cigarette butts figuratively snow from their presence.

Outdoor organizations also frequent the Rocks.  Scouts and Outward Bound groups are common.  Camping is restricted to a limited number of designated sites and no fires are allowed.

As I was walking in, a disgruntled father with a couple of sons was moving out with the speed of the approaching darkness.  It seems that the father brought the boys to one of the most sensitive and protected places in Maryland to show his boys how to build a fire and make a lean-to.  Max caught them hacking live trees and starting a fire.

Rather than camp the right way, they packed up when Max didn’t allow them to continue their activities.  The damage they caused was sadly obvious when we cleaned up the site the following morning.  As some of my military friends put it, “You can’t fix stupid.”

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt.

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt. I think we found Max at central casting.

Max is a jovial extrovert from Connecticut who graduated from William and Mary.  Since then, he’s knocked about in political campaigns and paralegal work.  On his days off, he volunteers like I do at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center.  In early November he plans to hike Vermont’s Long Trail.  I’m planning to be on that trip too if circumstances permit.  I love the challenges of winter hiking.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 on the Yosemite decimal system because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.  It’s a long drop to terra firma.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

2015-08-29 10.32.47 2015-08-29 10.46.05

The youngster on the right did an excellent job.

Say it ain't so! The seasonal transition has begun.

Say it ain’t so! Buckle up your overshoes. The seasonal transition is beginning.