Channeling my inner 3-year-old


Shenandoah National Park, May 23 – 27, Spring Trail Crew Week — Three-year-olds love to splash in water and play in the mud.  That’s what we did all week.

The upper part of the trail to White Oak Canyon is full of springs. The trail is always muddy.  It follows that hikers don’t like to get mud on their shoes.  Therefore, when they encounter mud, they hike around it.  The trail grows wider and the environmental impact spreads.

Last year the park service trail crew tried to improve the drainage, but winter frost heaving did a job on their work.  This year, with our help, it was time to dig it all up and start over. So we ripped up 224 feet of rock wall and built it back using a different technique.


 It was muddy – and we loved it!


The structure we built is called a lateral drain.  In this case the water seeps in from multiple sources all along the length of the trail, so the ditch catches and directs it to a place where we can get it out of the way.

The ditch is dug and the rock gets lapped-stacked for stability.  The rock on this section came from a commercial source.  Call it an invasive rock species.  There wasn’t enough natural rock to do the job.

So much for the pick and shovel work.

We live at the newly renovated Pinnacles Research building which is an old CCC facility.  I was there earlier this month for the Leave No Trace master educator course.


When we’re done working, we load up the government van the park service provides and head back to Pinnacles.


The first one dives in the shower while everyone else grabs a beer.


When we’re clean, we head to town for dinner when we don’t BBQ.  Millennials aren’t the only people with their heads up their phones.  Our excuse is that we’re off the grid in the park, so we read email and catch up on the news when we can.  At least that’s our story – an we’re sticking to it.  With no TV or WIFI, once we’re back, it’s early to bed.

Sometimes we work with logs.  They’re faster, but don’t last nearly as long as stone – maybe 15 years with luck.

Debarking logs improves their life in the ground by removing the medium by which bugs and other rotting agents grow.


A young woman was hiking down the trail only to look up and be greeted by this guy (serial killer-looking maniac).  Imagine the look of panic on her face!  I was rolling in the mud laughing.  BTW, he’s a retired State Department Russian expert!


Once debarked, into the ground they go.  These are long-lasting locust logs BTW.  (For all my friends, including Karma, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year – the water might be welcome about now.

We always love working with the park service trail crews.  In this case, some may remember Eric “the human crane” from last year.

Our partnership with the park service, working side-by-side, is close and mutually beneficial.

We finished up Thursday morning.  With time on our hands, we wondered over to the Elk Wallow trail (between Elk Wallow and Mathew’s Arm campground) to remove several blowdowns blocking the trail.  One took an entire hour to slice up.


Calling home from Skyland where we ate dinner last night.



Didn’t know I was doing an Oreo commercial – honestly!IMG_4264

The MacLoed. The Swiss Army knife of trail tools.





Day 37: Cue the Proclaimers!

Karma on the PCT

Trite, I know, but it still makes me laugh! Because 500 miles!

Five-hundred miles. Five-hundred miles of the PCT. Who would’ve thought?

I’m in my tent (at mile 501), and I happens to grab a signal. I was just looking at new packs online. Today was slow, and it was slow because I was carrying 6 liters of water, and if I have any hope of doing the 25s after the Sierra, I need a lighter pack. Period. Bit maaaan… I do NOT want to go ultralight. Too much discomfort. I could drop $400 and save 2 pounds in about 2 months’ time, when the pack would be ready.

But then the saner part of me chimed in with the voice of reason. Will I still be on trail in 2 months? Who knows? Can I afford $400? No. Did thru-hikers have 27-ounce packs in the 1970s? No. Does…

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Day 33/34: Hiker Heaven and miscellanea

Karma on the PCT

Mile 458.0

First things first: Thank you so much to AT Trail Angels Beth and Bernie and to my friends in Lansdale for the care packages! Oh, mygod! Fabulous cookies, and jerky and bars and freeze-dried fruit, and cards and notes! You guys made my day! And I shared with hikers at Hiker Heaven, so you made their day, too! THANK YOU! (And thank you to my brother John for sending me my first fresh pair of shoes! Yay!)

The other news, less chipper, is that I’ve been ill. (Hence no journal yesterday.) I have some kind of intestinal issue going on, and yesterday I was completely wiped out. I fell asleep at around 3, then was up all night because of the raucus party at Hiker Heaven (which was super loud even with my earplugs in). Then this morning I sluggishly got my stuff together and made it to…

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Day 35: Another half-day, another half-dollar

Karma on the PCT

Mile 468.2

As usual, the whiny and internal stuff is up here, and the beautiful trail is all in the pictures. Feel free to just skip to that, anytime! (Not that you wouldn’t anyway. Because you’re smart like that!) 🙂

This is the new skill I’ve learned this hike: After rushing out of the tent to do your urgent business, when you’re finished just dig the next cathole. It saves time later–because later always comes.

I keep thinking things are trending toward improvement, but then I have a nasty setback. (Today almost an embarrassing one, too. I had to stop just off the trail, and it was a disaster, and I almost… almost… got caught with my pants down by two hikers who knew me. That would have been twice in two hikes! And they would have been blinded for life.)

I made it (hiking) until about 2 today–about…

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Day 42: Hard left turn

I’ve been off the grid doing trail work. Blog on that to follow. Meanwhile, we’ll catch up with Karma.

Karma on the PCT

Acton KOA
Mile 440.3

It was cold this morning, but blessedly, blessedly unwindy. Calm! The cold front blew in with gusto and left chill spring in its wake. I slept later than usual and hit the trail at a little after 7.

The plan was this: Get to mile 444 or so, which is where Halfmile’s
note about Hiker Heaven was. Now, this contradicted other research, which put Hiker Heaven at 454 in Agua Dulce. Their website didn’t have directions. But maybe they were a little bit outside of town or something; I had an open mind.

The day was warm and downhill, and the scenery was Wile E. Coyote repetitive, but with occasional glimpses of stunning majesty. Things are so big out here! Mountains laid out like Christmas platform dioramas.

My digestive system was (and is) giving me quite a bit of trouble. It occurred to me that I…

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Seems Denise may have suffered a case of the Virginia blues, a common malady brought on by tedium and pain. I know I did. A thru hike is a 2,000 mile demolition derby for your body. An occasional rest can be therapeutic.

The Other Road

I know that my life is one big vacation right now, but sometimes you even need a break from vacation. So after waking up another cold, rainy morning in a long line of cold, rainy mornings, I decided I needed a getaway. After finally packing up my gear, I texted a good friend and asked for a refuge. As soon as she said yes, and I climbed the next hill for cell service and rented car. 16 miles later, I was at a hotel getting cleaned up to start my vacation the next day.

There were some very practical reasons for taking a few days off. First my feet were in desperate need of a break. The terrain had been very rocky recently and they were bruised and my shoes were literally falling apart. Second, I needed to switch out some gear items for lighter summer versions. I also needed…

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Day 31: Trailiversary!

Some days you get the trail. Others, the trail gets you.

Karma on the PCT

Mile 436.1
Elevation: Who cares? The clouds came to us!

The good news: One month! I survived 1 month! Let’s
see… 5 times 436 is… 2180 miles. About 600 short. So if I get that far, I’ll have to make up 600 miles in Northern California and Oregon. That’s always where I thought this thing would come off the rails, but we’ll see. That math is so far ahead that I can’t even wrap my brain around it.

The good news: I’m in my tent eating Snickers for dinner. And drinking soda.

The bad news: Today was the kind of day that makes hikers quit trails. (Generally speaking.) And it’s not just me! Everybody on this leg is having trouble at the moment because FREEZING WINDSTORM since last night! There are 30 hikers huddled at this ranger station hoping to survive this freaking wind advisory that’s
in effect until 10…

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Day 29: Things come together

Four hundred miles. The lady is starting to rock it.

Karma on the PCT

Mile 404.2
Elevation: 5915 feet

Something finally clicked today. I don’t know how to put my finger on it. It was the usual collection of every emotion under the sun, of mishaps and mayhem and laughing and snacks, but at nearly a month on the trail, today felt for the first time like I was in the rhythm of the thing. Like I finally got my psychic trail legs.

We hit 400 miles today.

I snoozed more times than I wanted to and hit the trail at about 5:30. It was a cool morning but not frigid–good walking for the mile or two down to the road walk.

The road walk itself was beautiful. Cliff faces and pine trees.
I wanted my attention on the road, so I skipped fhe music. Instead, I listened to a Buddhist lecture on impermanence and the ability to be in the moment even when…

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Day 28: I don’t even

Bad axx day!

Karma on the PCT

Mile 389.6
Highest elevation: 9406 (Mt. Baden-Powell)
Current: 6747

So many things happened today, I don’t even know which is the most important. It was like a month.

First up: hiker grapevine! Apparently there are two ‘things’ going around. One is a cold-type thing, and one is a stomach thing. When I heard this, I immediately stopped using outhouses (which have appeared periodically in this section at ranger stations and such). At one water source, a young fresh-faced hiker said, “Want some skittles?” and offered me her giant baggie of them. I wanted to say No, no, no, that’s how you spread the plague! But there seems to be a general lack of awareness of hiker-type things like that. Trail sense, trail etiquette.

Also, a lot of hikers apparently got sick after the hot springs. Dudes, did you not see the ‘fecal coliform bacteria’ warning? Also, I hope none of…

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Day 27: Mount Baden-Powell(ish)

Karma’s rocking 20s! Impressive.

Karma on the PCT

Mile 376.9
Elevation: 8596 feet

The day got off to a rocky start. With the cold and the wind, I didn’t sleep much, and I couldn’t force myself to start in the frigid dark, so I hit the snooze about a dozen times. I eventually threw on my clothes over my base layer and scrambled a half mile to a more sheltered place to redress and repack.

On a whim at the very end of the night I checked the elevation profile and realized today would be Mt. Baden-Powell. Oh, shit.

That kind of changed everything, and I didn’t feel physically prepared to tackle that beast.

It was an uncomfortable morning: I was so tired, and cold in the relentless wind, and continuously out of breath. I wondered if I was coming down with something. Hurdy-Gurdy had to head into Wrightwood with a cold of some sort.

After about 4…

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