Earth Day Hike

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The Maryland ridgerunner’s Earth Day view of Greenbriar Lake.

Appalachian Trail Maryland, April 22, 2020 — “Love your Mother!” captained one of the earlier Earth Day Posters I can remember.  The admonition still applies, though one could easily argue we haven’t been doing such a good job of it.  If nothing else, the recent smog-free views taken of and in cities around the world offer evidence that we can do a better job of taking care of planet earth.

Love your mother

On the first Earth Day in 1970 I was an Army lieutenant stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.  I was way too busy to take much notice.

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I figured that the Hippies of that era existed to protest.  At the time, anti-Vietnam war protests were beginning to wain.  I reasoned that they needed a new subject and the environment was it.

I obviously wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking sophisticated thoughts then.  I was simply trying to do my best at the hardest job I’d ever had.

Earth Day was on my mind when I picked today for my weekly sojourn with Wes.  The pandemic we are experiencing has been tied to climate change and to other things Earth Day exists to bring to our attention.

I like to walk with Wes about once per week.  We’re not camping this year, so I haven’t had as much OJT time as usual.  Given the mandate to shelter at home, Earth Day seemed appropriate.

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We wore cloth masks while hiking.

We met a little before 10 a.m. at our destination, donned our N-95 masks, and shuttled to the start point at the Thurston Griggs trailhead.  This easy side trail connects to the AT at the Pogo campsite.

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Black birch blocking the trail.  “This is why we give you a saw.”

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Oh oh!  This one’s a little bigger.

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I have a sixteen inch folding saw, so we decided to take off the upper branch.  That would make this blowdown easier to step over.  The trunk obviously requires a chainsaw.

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We took turns.  Physical labor with a mask on isn’t fun.  Can’t wait for July – not!

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Now to dispose of the log.

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Finished job.

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A group of sorority sisters not practicing safe social distance at Black Rock.  Sometimes people think the rules of reality are suspended when they are out in nature.

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In the woods violets are flowers.  In your yard, they are weeds.  I like them as flowers.

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We counted 62 day hikers including three climbers.

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Common!

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This is under a no fire sign.  People do thoughtless things.  Fires sterilize the soil so it’s years before vegetation returns.  The fire scar is ugly.  One of the ridgerunners removed the soot from the rock with Elephant Snot a couple of years ago.  It appears no fires since.  That’s good news.

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Checked the caretaker site and hoovered some micro trash from under the picnic table.

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We were happy to clean up our mother’s backyard.  Couldn’t think of a better thing to do on this auspicious 50th Earth Day.

Sisu

 

If you can’t hike…

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Ash on the left.  Silver Maple on the right.

Kensington, Maryland, Winter, 2020 — The theme of these essays is hiking, backpacking, camping adventures, and a behind the scenes peek at the volunteers and activities that make it all possible.

What to write?  Planning is underway for the time when hikers might return to the trail. It’s dry, dull, iterative, and not very visual unless you relish Zoom call screen shots.  Moreover, it’s pointless to reveal what’s on order until we have a menu.  Why?  Because the truth is going to change six times between now and then.

Sometimes what happens in the wild forests also occurs in the so called urban forest.  Let’s talk about that and see what happens.

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The backyard was landscaped in 1978.  The ash (in front) was planted then.  The silver maple (background) is a sucker that grew from an earlier silver maple, probably planted in the 1950s.

Virtues?  Ash trees are frequently planted as shade trees.  Their wood is prized for baseball bats.  Trail maintainers like them for their rot resistance when used for waterbars and other structures on the trail.

Silver maples are not valued as much.  They are fast-growing junk trees with brittle wood and shallow roots.  They will give you quick shade, but they are subject to snow, ice and wind damage.

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Unfortunately, the ash is about to join the chestnut, elm, and hemlock on the endangered list.

The culprit is the emerald ash borer, an Asian import that is destroying ash trees throughout north America.  Our county has removed all ash trees on public property in hopes of slowing the borer’s progress.

The ash on the right was treated with systemic insecticide for the past two years.  It succumbed in September when its leaves all turned brown and curled up on the branches without falling.

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There was some blonding higher up on the trunk which was another hint.

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The choice was to wait for the ash to eventually fall down and risk crushing the deck, or launch a preemptive strike to speed up nature’s process.

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A tree service did the work if for no other reason than they could haul the slash away and grind the stumps.

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What to do with the space?  The 40+ year-old timbers are rotting.  The space is too ugly to leave be.

Here’s where the hiking and camping experience come in.  Everybody likes a campfire.  Me too.  Let the work begin.

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I was stunned by the number of roots they had to dig out.  Glad I didn’t try to do this as a DYI project.  I will admit that I thought about it.

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Taking shape.  Note the logs stacked in the background.  They are the best parts of the ash and maple.  In a year they will be seasoned firewood, ready for splitting.

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The stone veneer is not “lick and stick.”

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Finished product.  The dry creeks fix a long standing water runoff problem.  With all the trees around, there’s plenty of dead fall to be burned including larger limbs.

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Can’t wait until people can come over.  Gang of Four, you’re first.

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I’m staying in practice.  One of the dogwoods in front also died.  Yesterday I felled it and built a sawbuck that will be needed to buck the ash and maple next year.

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Since I had my PPE on, I could not resist the chance to convert some gasoline into noise.  Insider tip:  The big chips composing the saw dust indicate the chain is sharp.

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Plants go in after the last frost date.  Can’t wait for the first fire.  The yard seems a lot larger too.

Have chainsaw.  Will travel.

Sisu

 

Spring cleaning delayed.

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Home, April 14, 2020 — As the debate about when America can go back to work stutters along, I’ve been wondering when trail maintainers can start digging dirt again.  We want to work too. Time’s a wasting.

I am under no illusion that someone is going to flip a magic switch and the world will shift from black and white to living color regardless of the political pyrotechnics.  The virus doesn’t care.

Until there is an effective vaccine, COVID-19 can be a potentially mortal threat to anyone who catches it. Respect alone for this potential will certainly cause some people to avoid crowds and certain public places.

Nevertheless, at some point the parks and trails will reopen to the public. People think they’re far from others when they are in the woods as if civilization can’t follow them there.  It’s an attractive illusion, so they’ll be back.

For one, I’d like to have the trails safe and ready when they come.

Fall

The problem is that the trail you tidy up in the fall …

Spring

… looks very different in the spring.

Between now and when the people come back, nature will be hard at work.  Spring has sprung and the weeds are growing.  It won’t be long before they take over the joint unless they are cut back.

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Why worry about weeds?  They are the way ticks carrying Lyme disease get to hikers.  Lyme disease or COVID-19?  Each is ugly in its own way.

Weeds are only one of the jobs that need to be done in the spring.

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The tread itself needs maintenance.  Water control structures silt up or rot over the winter.  A bear destroyed this one.  This waterbar has to be cleaned and rebuilt.  It’s clear from the detritus that it’s no longer effective.

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Blowdowns also have to be cleared.

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We’ve has several howling windstorms recently which increase the probability of finding blown down branches as well as tree trunks.

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Everyone I know is itching to get a jump on spring maintenance before hikers return.  Trail maintainers like nothing better than packing up for an honest day’s work, although I despise the two-hour drive each way.

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The tool caches are ready.  With the people gone, we could get a lot done when it’s easy to maintain safe social distance.  Maintainers in our area are spread about one to two miles apart.

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But, like they say, the trail will be there when the time comes. True dat.  Meanwhile, I’m on the bench yelling, “Put me in coach!”  Where’s coach?  He’s sheltering at home just like the rest of us.

Sisu

 

2020 continues to disappoint.

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Appalachian Trail, April 12, 2020 — The Appalachian Trail is closed to thru hiking with no camping or facility use allowed now on any federally owned land and in multiple states.

People everywhere, who are in effect under house arrest, have been paroled by governmental authorities to do just two things – go to the grocery store and exercise. Tens of thousands naturally swarmed the hiking trails, especially the signature locations – the ones that make every top ten list.

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McAfee Knob, VA.  Courtesy Creative Commons

This is McAfee Knob, near Salem, VA.  It is probably the most iconic spot on the AT.  Imagine this space mobbed with 150 people instead of the 13 in this photo.  The flash mobs happened here and nearly every other popular hiking trail and overlook along the trail.

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Annapolis Rock is another tiny beauty spot that is often overcrowded, especially in a time of safe social distance.

Ultimately hikers were unable to maintain safe social distance forcing the Appalachian Trail Conservancy which manages the trail for the National Park Service, and the National Park Service AT office, to ask for and receive permission to close federally owned land.

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At nearly the same time, the national parks through which the AT passes closed themselves to the public for the same reason.

As all of this unfolded, most thru hikers took heed and suspended their hikes, their life-long dreams dashed like glass bottles thrown on the rocks.

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Thru hiking is not a casual endeavor.  Many take years to save enough money, buy their gear and find six months they can spend on the trail.

To have it unexpectedly end for reasons far beyond their control is a personal tragedy. Many will never get another chance.  Others will resort to section hikes over many years. The lucky ones will rebound next year for a second crack.

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A few hikers are pressing on in spite of warnings that they may help spread the virus, in spite of learning that some of the small rural towns aren’t welcoming them, knowing full well that medical care in rural Appalachia is barely available on a good day, and in spite of ATC policy not to record them as thru hikers.

These hikers been criticized as selfish and self-centered.  Some may be.  But thru hiking isn’t a mean feat.  It’s more like an Olympic class athletic event.  The hike itself has to be the most important goal in your life at that time with a focus that cuts steel like a laser.  It is do or die.  For someone in that state of mind, it has to be hard to throw in the towel.

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There also are international hikers who, for a raft of reasons, can’t get home until their visas expire.  Rural transportation networks are rickety with reduced service.  Some want to shelter in town “until this blows over.”  They plan to continue when the AT and national parks reopen to the public.

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Normally by now, the caretaker’s tent is pitched on the platform and there’s a tarp over the picnic table.  This year it’s possible that may never happen.  Depending on circumstances, it might not happen next year either.

If you left the trail, there’s good news and bad news.

In the good news category, your gear will still be good next year and for years to come.

You now have an idea what a thru hike is all about, especially those who made it a few hundred miles.

You probably still have the bulk of the money you saved for your hike.

You can stay in physical condition and even get stronger.  You’ve got a much better idea of what it takes.

The bad news is finding the time a second year in a row.

Worse, with the economy in suspended animation, far too many may have problems finding work.  They may have to burn through their AT nest egg just to survive.

The trail infrastructure is likely to drastically change.  Hostels are fragile businesses with thin margins. They needed the cash from this season to make it through next winter.

Me.  I’d take it one step, one day, one week, one month at a time.  We will eventually hike on.

Sisu

 

Hiking the neighborhood

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Mile 3 of 30 on the Rock Creek Trail

Kensington, MD, April 4, 2020 —  Some people in the burbs never thought they’d actually live there.  For them, home is a place where you sleep and store your stuff.  You work, play, socialize, and vacation elsewhere – at a resort, their beach house or a “camp” in Maine.

Now that the entire country is on an extended stay-cation, folks are finding out if their ‘hood is good.

Until recently, we have had a few neighbors we’ve never seen.  They’ve avoided the mundane stuff of suburban life. Other people cut their grass, plant their flowers and clean their houses.  Maids even put out their trash and exercise their yellow labs.

Since the advent of COVID neighborhood arrest, they’ve been out sniffing flowers and wearing out their tenderfooted dogs. In some ways it’s fun to watch.  We even made a rare sighting of our U.S. senator who lives on the next block.

We first moved into this neighborhood in 1985.  At that time I was a competitive distance runner and needed routes to run that were long and safe from traffic.  This was/is best place to run and walk in all of Washington IMHO.

These days this hike-a-holic is on the neighborhood wagon. It’s a good ride with plenty variety and room to roam.  Here’s a five-mile sample.

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The hood is full of small libraries.  The first was designed a built by a 10-year-old girl with very little help from her dad.  It’s not this one.

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Folks decorate their trees.

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One of more than 70 LDS temples in the U.S.  Can’t tell you how dramatic it is at night.  Nearby graffiti used to say, “Free Dorothy!”

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Vernal pool.

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Cat tails ready to regenerate.

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Turn toward the temple.  Right at the For Sale sign.

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Lots of kids.

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American cherry trees are blooming everywhere.

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Woah!  A bear!  Note that it’s on a leash.

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Kensington, like its English namesake, is noted for its gardens and playgrounds.  Unfortunately the equipment is a COVID vector and accordingly is off limits.

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The parks are named for the people who cared for them, most for decades.

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The farmer’s market was open, but sparsely attended compared to normal.  That is the original 1894 railroad station where the train still stops.

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This is a cosmopolitan international area.  Earlier I passed the Hungarian ambassador’s house.

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This has been a children’s library for more than 125 years.

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No.  The rabbi isn’t buried there.  The town is full of tributes to its prominent citizens.

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Silver Creek.  Earth Day was conceived a couple of blocks from this site.  Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day.  His wife still lives in their house.

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We tried to name this new middle school after Sen. Nelson. Silver Creek won out.

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What’s a hike without a fire?  The ash tree that used to live here was murdered by emerald ash borers.  Left with a giant hole in the ground, a stay-cation-ready replacement was in order.

I usually walk early to avoid the herds that self-generate as the day matures.

Wanna buy a house?

Sisu

 

 

 

The Maryland ridgerunner starts.

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Washington Monument State Park, Maryland, April 1, 2020, — It’s that time of the year when mid-Atlantic ridgerunners begin their seasons, but how times have changed.  This year we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.  That changes everything we do.

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The new reality is grim.  Safe social distance is the only way we can reduce the rate of infection so that our hospitals are not overrun with patients requiring critical care.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland.  Greenbriar lake in the distance.

The popular trails are overcrowded to the degree that hikers are at risk; especially so at the signature locations.  Most of them are relatively small sites and visitors are incapable of maintaining appropriate social distance from one another.

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Wes’s orientation at social distance.

The club, after much deliberation, honored the Maryland Park Service’s request to hire one ridgerunner for the April – October season.  Normally we have two in Maryland, a second one for a shorter season from Memorial Day – Labor Day.  This year the Conservancy withdrew its share of funding, so the club and the state of Maryland could only afford to pay one.

Collectively we are concerned that if we withdraw from the trail we will not know what’s going on.  Even if hikers are banned, people will still be out there.

Our first principle is to keep the ridgerunner safe.  Among other factors considered, we learned that, with the enormous noro virus outbreaks over the previous several years, not one ridgerunner has ever been infected.

Since the virility and vectors of transmission are similar, we reasoned the ridgerunners could keep themselves safe by observing the proper protocols.  The ridgerunner also lives alone.  No one is to enter his apartment until the state gives the all clear.  He has a N-95 mask and gloves.  Moreover, he will not sleep in the field until the governor lifts his ban.

Even the uniform has changed.  No AT ridgerunner patches or hats.  Only PATC livery.

To sum it up, normally we hire six ridgerunners.  This year we plan three.  One in Maryland, one in Northern Virginia and one in Shenandoah, if and when the park brings on its seasonal employees.  Already the season’s start has shifted from April 8 to May 10 at the earliest.  Should the park close, it might not reopen in time to have a season.

The good news is that there are fewer hikers on the trails.  On March 23 Tina and I hiked this section and the lot was full.  On April one, it was empty.  On our first hike to Annapolis Rock we counted less than half the number on March 23.

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Wes discovered the true synonym for ridgeruner is janitor.  The day started as expected.  Plenty of trash to collect along the way.  This is near Pine Knob shelter.  The tin can spells rookie.  If you pack it in, please pack it out!

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Naturally there were illegal fire rings to break up and what’s a ridgerunner without a frying pan found on the trail?

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Leave No Trace principles say take only pictures and leave only footprints.  Rock stacks are not on any list of allowable behavior that I know if.  Sometimes it’s fun to see how far you can throw them.

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We have ridgerunners to help protect the environment and property.  Not sure the sentiment here was to resist park service rules or the current federal administration.  Either way, graffiti is unwelcome.  A little  Elephant Snot  will make short work of this.

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After picking up four gallons of trash in and around Annapolis Rock, we drove to Gathland State Park to point out the back trail to the Crampton Gap shelter; then on to Weverton Cliff to end the day.

One ridgerunner on duty.

Sisu