Friends Indeed

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Cleaning tools at the cache located just inside the SNP Front Royal entrance.

Shenandoah National Park, January 15, 16, 17, 2016 — I love my friends.  This weekend two of them stepped up to help me fix a problem on my Appalachian Trail section that was bigger than me.

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A forest fire burned the bulk of my section in 2011.  The fire left dead trees and mountain laurel that is harder than the meanest drill sergeant’s attitude. These ghosts frequently fall across the trail and otherwise impede maintenance.

In the fire’s aftermath, certain plants always invade first.  Raspberry, green brier, tulip poplar and black birch are most notable.  They grow prolifically and faster than a teenager wolfing hamburgers and milkshakes.  They have choked both sides of the trail and the drain fields of most of my waterbars.

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The look on my face last summer when it came time to weed the trail.

Summer vegetation grows like crazy.  The sticker bushes can grow a foot per week when it’s wet and warm.  The trees up to six feet in a season.

We have professional grade string trimmers to keep the vegetation in check.  The challenge arises when saplings grow in amongst the ferns, flowers and weeds.  These saplings and the briers impede the weed whackers as well as bollards are designed to impede vehicle traffic.  Than you’re left swinging a blade, whacking down the rough stuff with  muscle power.  That is a hard row to hoe, especially as you stew in our mid-summer tropical climate.

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Here’s the problem.  All the vegetation you see in this photo is perfect tick habitat – ticks spread Lyme disease.  Therefore it’s imperative to keep the leafy vegetation cut back – weeded in trail parlance.

The sentence of this court:  You gotta go.

So a couple of my intrepid friends made plans to help me attack all those saplings, blow down overhangs and stumps.  The objective:  Clear a string trimmer-friendly corridor on either side of the treadway as well as the waterbar drain fields.

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We set up camp at the Indian Run maintenance hut where we camp during summer work weekends.

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Many thanks to fellow Hoodlum Dave Sylvester and to Kelly Izydorczak Gueli, the PATC’s Jill of all trades and official swamper for this escapade.

Weapon choice:  Stihl (brand) brush cutter.  Couldn’t find one in any of the several tool caches we checked, so we woke our chainsaws from winter hibernation for one last encore.  Overkill, maybe.  But as you might imagine, nothin’ stood a chance against heavy artillery like that.

Chainsaws aren’t designed for cutting saplings and sticker bushes close to the ground.  Try as we might, we nipped a rock or two and ground up a few dirt clods too.

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Lunch was spent repairing the damage.

All told we cleared 90 percent of the troubled areas.  Sunday was marked to finish the last bits and build a replacement waterbar until old man winter showed up.

Only idiots chainsaw when the ground was slick, so we took our time packing up Sunday morning and will finish the job another time.

The timing of this was intentional.  Many Americans dedicate a day or more to service over MLK weekend.  We were delighted to honor Dr. King’s memory.

Editors note.  Finger procedure number one healed enough to allow this work weekend.  Thumb surgery on Thursday will preclude blogging for awhile.  See you on the other side.

 

Don’t practice being miserable!

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Forty liter pack. 

Appalachian Trail, January 5, 2016 — By now the 2016 thru hikers are deep into preparation.  A very small number have actually launched.  You go guys and gals!

Two years ago on this date I was thru hiking north of Damascus, VA.  The following day I was leaving the trail because one of my parents was going into hospice care.

That was cold hard news, but the weather was colder.

If you recall, the winter of 2013-14 was the year of the infamous polar vortex. When I woke up at dawn the morning of my departure, my thermometer read -15 F.  I had 21 miles to make for pickup.  That’s cause for pause for everyone planning to hike this or any year.

It had rained the entire previous day. Fortunately my rain kit kept my body and the contents of my pack bone dry.  That was a life saver under those circumstances, but my pack harness and pole straps were frozen hard as rock.  Pounding them into a pliable state generated much wanted body heat!

That icy morning I also took my all time thru hike favorite photo of a gorgeous white blaze framed in plump Virginia snow.

This year, as the seasons have switched from Indian summer to true winter, I’ve been following social media discussions on what gear thru hikers should carry.

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This March the temp on the AT in north Georgia fell to 4 F.

On the one extreme are the ultra light gram Nazis. Some of them won’t even carry a Bandaid for fear it will add too much weight.  On the other are extreme the Wally World folks who contemplate hauling camp chairs and elaborate cooking utensils.  Each of these approaches carries existential risks that aren’t for me. I can tell you stories …

Most everyone else is somewhere in the middle on pack weight. As I’ve followed the discussions and debate, I’ve contemplated what constructive information I might be able to add.  Afterall, I hiked 1,000 miles on the AT in winter conditions and was a ridgerunner in Georgia this past spring.  I saw and learned a lot of value from those experiences.

In that context I follow a blogger named Paul Magnanti (www.PMags.com).  Paul writes a very useful and entertaining hiker/backpacker blog from his home base in Colorado. His most recent is entitled “Snivel Gear.” Continue reading