Da Bears (Den)

Bears Den Hostel and Hiking Center, Bluemont, VA – Saturday, November 21, 2015 — Sometimes pop up projects just happen.  The PATC supervisor of trails was jawing with Glenn, the Bears Den caretaker.  “Ya got any work?”  “Yup.”  And so another adventure begins for the North District Hoodlums Trail Crew.

So there I was, minding my own business when in comes a “flash” email looking for volunteers for Saturday.  Bears Den needs firewood and urgent repairs to one of its hiking trails.  Who can come?  Sawyers bring your chain saws.  “Let’s rally!”

Now what can you say at a time like this?  A chance to fire up my chainsaw…  This is better than playing baseball in late October.  Woah dude!  Don’t ask twice I’m there. I love extra innings.

Fortunately we’ve had a prolonged indian summer here in the mid-Atlantic.  Unfortunately we became way too comfortable with unseasonably warm weather.

Of course the weather pattern was going to hold.  What was the chance it would be subfreezing Saturday morning … No need to guess.  It was 26F according to my car when I pulled into the parking lot.

Everyone was shivering as we organized our work parties.

We had three sawyers and split into two parties while a larger crew marched off to repair a badly eroded trail.

The swampers got some help from one of two Scout troops camping on the Bears Den grounds. We were bucking the hazard trees a professional crew of arborists dropped earlier this summer as mentioned in this post:  https://jfetig.com/2015/07/29/on-the-road/

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Lunch is always better when enjoyed outside, especially since the temp jumped the shark back to early autumn.

 Now to split the damn stuff.  Fortunately, Glenn has a hydraulic splitter.

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At the end of the day, we tramped down to Bears Den rocks for a zen moment  Thus ended another Hoodlums excellent adventure.


Job Done! Missing Vermont.


University of Virginia Bio Science Grad Students

Shenandoah National Park, November 14, 2015 — The trail rehab project at Blackrock is done!  It took a proverbial village to do it. A number of different crews worked in this project all summer long and into the fall.  Thanks to a few grad students from UVA and three PATC members, you can put it in the books for another 10 – 20 years.

See: https://jfetig.com/2015/05/22/crew-week/ for more on the Blackrock project.


Crushing rock over which gravel will be laid.

Why the do over in a decade or so?  Blackrock is actually a talus pile made of quartzite that once was ancient seabed long before the Appalachian mountains formed.  Now, the millennia and the freeze thaw cycle have turned it into a boulder field that is slowly inching its way down hill.

Being a boulder field, there’s a lot of empty space in between the stones.  It’s that empty space that swallows up the gravel with which we pave the treadway. Over time, about 10 years or so, it simply disappears down the train. Then we get to do it over again.

If you’re wondering how we got the gravel to the work site, check this out.  it’s a “motorized wheelborrow.”  It moved gravel the National Park Service had stashed for us on tracks from a near by fire road.


The students had a great time. With their youthful energy, the project only took three hours to complete. Afterward, they went on a hike to Blackrock Hut to eat lunch.

Why was I available for this project, and not hiking the Long Trail as hoped? I was careful not to build any expectations for this reason.

I have a condition known as “Viking’s Disease,” medical name Dupeytren’s Contracture.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dupuytren’s_contracture   It’s a recessive gene that causes collagen to form around tendons in the hands causing the fingers to contract.  Unattended, a person’s hand would ball into a fist.

The ring finger on my right had is bent to the degree that I cannot get a warm glove or mitten on it.  The collagen also restricts blood flow.  Both of these symptoms put me at risk for frostbite.

Every four or five years surgery, now replaced in many cases by a drug therapy that dissolves the collagen and allows the affected finger to return to near normal.  Medical insurance SNAFUs made it impossible to receive  treatment on time to go to Vermont.

This is where I’d rather be right now – with Max Mishkin and his dad tramping southward on the Long trail.  Have fun guys.  I’m jealous.