PBS Travels with Darley


Shenandoah National Park, Hawksbill Mountain, May 24, 2018 — My friend Karen Lutz is the mid-Atlantic regional director for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  As such, she’s forgotten more about the Appalachian Trail than most people will ever know.  That’s why she was asked to appear on “Travels with Darley,”  a travel program that airs nationally on Public Television.


Karen is a bona fide expert.  Her resume opens with a 1978 thru hike, especially prominent because so few women thru hiked 40 years ago.


Karen’s original hiking boots are enshrined in the Park’s Big Meadow visitor center museum. We paid respects at this shrine to (grave of) Karen’s youth on our way to lunch.


The day’s itinerary was a march to the top of 4,050 foot Hawksbill Mountain, the tallest peak in Shenandoah National Park.  It’s also the last 4,000 footer headed north on the AT until New Hampshire.

The program’s topic was all the wonderful things a tourist can do in and around Culpeper, Virginia.  Hiking on the AT is only one of them, and thus only a part of the subject at hand.


Darley and Karen making tracks.


Television production is tedious work.  Endless b-roll has to be shot to serve as transitions between topics or video wall paper to cover voice-overs. You can never have enough in the editing process.


Karen and Darley did a lot of marching shots that will be used to stitch together parts of the AT segment.


Lots of starts and stops on the way up.


The folks involved in the shoot were many including Darley and her three person crew, plus writers from the Richmond, Virginia PBS station and representatives from the Culpeper chamber/tourism organization.


Getting ready for the summit interview.  They hid Karen’s mic in her hat – clever, but a hat is not something Karen normally wears.  She’ll probably hear from her friends.


During the actual interview, the mob hung out at a nearby outcrop where I busted a guy from Maine whose dogs were off leash.  Dogs must be on leash to protect wildlife from harassment, but also to protect the dogs from from the bears, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and snakes who can inflict far worse on the dogs.


Channeling Ansel Adams before heading back to the cars.


It’s a wrap.  Stay tuned for the air date.

In the National Capitol Region, the program airs on Maryland Public Television and Howard University Public Television.



Privy Maintenance


A composting privy on the Appalachian Trail

Shenandoah National Park, Pinefield Privy, May 18, 2018 — People gotta go and privy’s fill up with you-know-what.  They are, in fact, full of shit.  What happens next isn’t exactly discussed in everyday polite company, but we’re going full frontal and will deal with it right here and right now.


This is a composting privy. (Click here for explanation.)  In Shenandoah, they are built over two large bins.  One composts while the other serves on active duty.  After the composted material is emptied, the roles are reversed when building slides over in a dance move worthy of a Broadway production.  The lid on the composting bin is angled so rain runs off.


It was a dark and stormy night followed by a wet and soggy day.  The Crapper Crew – yes it’s a real entity – approached the objective with the aplomb of a couple of teens on a first date.

In the Army we called it shit detail (Click here for Urban Dictionary definition).  That’s when you get assigned to a particularly unpleasant or worthless task like cleaning the mess hall’s grease trap.  In our case, shit detail isn’t particularly apt.  This is important work.


We wrestled off the lid to reveal the stuff generally hidden from public view.


The patter of the gentle rain offered a muffled drum roll, as the composted manure saw daylight for the first time in two years.


The process is pretty simple.  The compost is shoveled into buckets.


Then the bucket loads of clean compost are scattered in the woods.


The problem is that the compost isn’t always clean.  Wipes and feminine products do not compost no matter what the packaging might say.  Your stalwart Crapper Crew volunteers have to fish this stuff out by the fist full.  We filled a 30-gallon trash bag.


In addition to the wipes, why people think it’s okay to drop other trash in the privy is beyond me.


Who drinks beer in a privy?


Empty bin.  The digging bar to the right is used to loosen up the compacted compost at the bottom of the bin.


Now for the good part.  The “out house” structure is detached from the frame in preparation for its “Electric Slide” atop the empty bin.


The ramp also has to be amputated and reattached  in the new position.


Moving the building reveals fresh poop soup.


The so called cone of deposition is leveled


Fresh wood chips cover the pile like cake frosting.  Poopers themselves should cover their business with wood chips after each use. The chips aid the aerobic composting process.


The wood chips are supplied by the volunteer shelter overseer and stored in a locked container nearby.  The overseers and ridgerunners have the box combinations and restock the wood chip buckets found inside the privies and also knock down the cone each time they visit.  The term of art is “knocking the privy.”


The ramp is reattached.  A little leveling was necessary.


Lid replaced.  Job done.

The sixty four thousand dollar question comes last:  Does it smell?

Answer:  The compost does not smell.  The active side has little smell except when poopers don’t add enough wood chips.  That’s especially obnoxious in mid-summer heat and humidity.

Now you know the the full story.  Happy pooping!




Privy humor at the Trapper John Shelter in New Hampshire.

Trail Magic: Leapfrog Cafe


Old Forge Picnic Area, Michaux State Forest, PA, May 2, 2018 — Trail magic in the hiking world is thought of as an unexpected act of kindness, generosity or discovery, or finding exactly what you need most when you least expect it.

Trail magic can make your day or your hike.  It can move you to tears, restore your faith in humanity, or stimulate extreme gratitude; sometimes all three.

As you can imagine, hikers love trail magic, but not all of it is welcome. Unattended trail magic can food condition animals and litter the forest with heaps of trash.

trail magic

This trail magic in Maine attempted to get it right but failed because it was unattended.  Animals could easily open these containers or a careless hiker could fail to close them.  Moreover, it’s personal property left on public lands and helps create expectations of free food for hikers.


Those who bestow trail magic are known as trail angels.  Tim Davis is one. That’s about an eight-pound omelet he’s making for me in that frying pan.

Following a thru hike attempt where his ill-tempered knees failed to cooperate, the generous-hearted electrician wanted to stay involved and turned to cooking which is his second love after hiking.  Tim’s trail name is Fresh Ground for the beans he ground up and the fresh coffee he brewed with them each morning of his hike.

He invented the Leapfrog Cafe as the means to deliver his love to hikers. He sets up the Leapfrog Cafe for a few days, then moves up the trail to find new hikers.


The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe was a welcome discovery in 2015 when, as a ridgerunner, I splashed out of an icy rain into Gooch Gap, GA.  The freshly grilled banana pancakes and steaming coffee were simply divine and exactly what I needed. If I was crying out of thanks, no one could tell if it was rain or tears running down my freezing red cheeks.

Later, I enticed several hikers, who had been dodging the rain for several days at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, to move on with the promise of fresh pancakes and hot coffee at the bottom of the soppy mountain.

Then, it was my duty to discuss Leave No Trace principles with Fresh Ground.  For one, he didn’t lock up his trash at night in bear country.  Since, he’s refined his methodology to be truly compliant.

This trip, since the Cafe was only slightly more than an hour away from home, I spent most of the day hanging out at the Cafe.  I brought cases of Coke, grape and root beer sodas plus a cash donation as a small payback for the priceless kindness I received not that long ago.


Hand washing station for filthy-handed hikers.  The water has bleach in it.  He properly disposes of his gray water afterward.


A clean towel covers the picnic table in the food prep area. Sanitation is paramount.

Hiker feeds like this are not allowed to charge money or accept donations.  Fresh Ground has a Facebook page and Go Fund Me page for that. Initially he saved and used his own money.  Now he does that, but accepts donations, 100 percent of which go towards feeding the hikers.


Stopping at the Leapfrog Cafe can be like a fine dining experience with the owner doing double duty as the server.  Pancakes, omelets, hot dogs, taco bowls, fresh fruit, cookies and lemonade are on the menu.  He now packs up every night and operates out of picnic and off trail areas.


Even the hikers need photographic souvenirs.

The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe, featuring live entertainment by “Strummy String.”  He says his instrument is a reformulated mountain dulcimer.


Trail magic is criticized for causing hikers to congregate.  But, whenever hikers stop for a bit, there’s always an opportunity to talk and sometimes make a difference.


While talking to “Research” who is a psych professor on sabbatical from a college in Macon, GA, I learned she had hiked within a shout of the half-way point and didn’t know how to hang her food bag. She thought she couldn’t throw the line high enough.  “Never fear!” I offered.  “There’s a way even you can throw like Tom Brady.”


After loading a sock with a rock and knotting it to her bear line, Research learned to fling the sock over a tall branch by swinging it underhand.

The next step in the PCT hang is threading the rope through a carabiner, then hoisting the food bag up to the branch level.  Here she’s tying a clove hitch on a stick that will prevent the bag from sliding back into bear reach.  Reverse process to retrieve the food.


Success!!!  I love it when someone is excited about learning something new.


Fresh Ground planning his next move while Research destroys a taco bowl.

At dusk, the Leapfrog Cafe disappeared into the sunset headed for its next surprise location.  With luck, that will be near you.