Road Scholars 2018 Edition


First Road Scholars of 2018 on the Appalachian Trail at Bears Den Rocks, Virginia

Middle Maryland and the Rollercoaster, Virginia, April 17 – 18, 2018 — If ridgerunners are the first sign of spring, then the start of Road Scholar hikes is the confirmation.  This week we hosted our first group of Scholars on their ‘Hike the AT in Four States’ offering.

Link to program web page:  Road Scholar Description

This was a fun group.  Several claimed they wanted t shirts to display things like:  “I got detention at Road Scholars” or “I flunked out of Road Scholars.”  In a couple of cases, I actually believe such shirts might be prophetic.

These folks, being the confirmation of spring, could have fooled all of us. They were miscast. Their first hike in Pennsylvania featured trails turned to torrents six inches deep.  Maryland featured spitting snow and ouchy wind chills.  Virginia opened cold (note the title photo) but ended as a bright sunny spring day.  West Virginia today featured winds gusting to 40 mph.

Somebody ought to tell the prop department to knock it off.  Winter’s over, dammit!


A stop at Dahlgren Chapel, Maryland. Link to Dahlgren Info


Reading the historical markers at Fox Gap where a civil war battle occurred.


Recently defaced Confederate marker.  This is part of a national trend.  Unfortunately, this marker is part of a battlefield, not a city park.


Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter


The trail is rocky and rough.  This hiker fell and we put a chemical ice pack on her injury.  We later learned that she had two hairline fractures of her wrist.


Beginning of the AT hike in Virginia


Approaching the first river crossing.


One of five stream crossings in Virginia.  We feared high water but got lucky.  Notice the difference in clothing compared to the previous day.

Lunch at Sam Moore Shelter


Best part of the trip.  Joined by Mary Thurman who was my 2015 ridgerunner colleague in Georgia.  This year she’s the caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center.  The sign damage was caused by a bear marking its territory.

The intrepid Road Scholar hikers handled the five challenging rollercoaster mountains like pros.  Mary Thurman contributed photos to this blog.





Ridgerunners – The First Sign of Spring


Annapolis Rock, Maryland and Shenandoah National Park, April 3 – 9, 2018 — All the leaves may be brown, but ridgerunners on the Appalachian Trail signal the first sign of spring in the mid-Atlantic region.

This week has been busy helping each of these ridgerunners get up and running.


First up is the Annapolis Rock caretaker site.  The weather was atrocious.  Wind gusts to 30 mph ripped the corners out of the tarp.  We ultimately gave up to try another day.


The ridgerunner chose to temporarily pitch his own, lower profile, more wind-resistant tent.  We’ll pitch the larger tent later.


We went for a training hike.  Fires are illegal in Maryland except in designated fire rings.

Illegal fire rings are broken up by scattering the rocks in multiple directions as far away as possible in hopes of making it more difficult to reassemble them.  Unfortunately, rocks to manufacture new ones are not in short supply. 😦


Shenandoah was a lot more interesting.  First of all, it is federal with all expected complications, rules and paperwork to sign.

We met a ranger at the back country office for orientation and equipment and key issue.  Then we moved gear into a cabin where trail crews sometimes stay.  It’s a “rustic” abode deep in the back country, powered by a propane generator with a nice kitchen and shower.

What’s better than that? Certainly not the snowstorm happening outside.

I’d share photos but it’s not on the maps, so we’ll keep its location and identity “secret.”

Following processing and a quick trip to town for a “last supper,” we hiked into the Indian Run maintenance hut for an overnight stay.  It’s near the AT’s north boundary where we were headed the next morning.  It was also a comfortable respite from the snow.


Dawn broke to hot coffee in the Jet Boil and a warm sunny day.  The snow magically vanished!


This is what we expect bear damage to look like.  Not this.

Bear damage to the privy.  This is a second visit.  No idea what this bear wants.  This is a locked privy and the people with access are well aware and disciplined enough not to dump food into the pit.  Note evidence of previous repairs.


We basked in pleasant sunshine during the 12-mile hike to Gravel Spring hut.


Unfortunately Gravel Spring is too close to the highway.  Park visitors picnic there and sometimes leave trash.  The hut is in back country which, by definition, has no trash cans.  If you pack it in, you pack it out.

Some bears have become food-conditioned, meaning they’ve learned to find and like human food.


This tent was destroyed by a bear at Gravel Spring last May.  No food was inside, but no doubt the bear had leaned to associate tents with food.  To these bears, every tent is a taco.


Ridgerunners are many things – ambassadors to the trail users, back country rangers, Leave No Trace educators, and yes, janitors. Inspecting the privy supply box.


Ridgerunners clean each privy every time they visit.


The page turned the next morning.  I got up to visit the privy at five a.m. Even in the predawn glow I could tell the sky was leaden.  By seven a.m. it was snowing.  Not. Even. In. The. Forecast!

Shall we say it snowed?  The wind had a rip to it.  Most of the day was spent in a fleece hat with hood up.

We pushed through the day stopping at the Elk Wallow wayside for a hamburger and closed the day at the Pass Mountain hut.

Since the zipper on my Sierra Designs sleeping bag failed, now for the second time, rather than be miserable on what promised to be a cold night, we decamped for the vehicle we previously cached at the Panorama comfort stop and ended the patrol in return for a warm shower.