The Pandemic Changes the Rules


Stopping to add new string.

The Appalachian and Nearby Trails, July 12, 2020 — The Appalachian Trail is finally open to hikers for all 2,200 miles.  Maintainers everywhere are allowed to work.  Previously we were only working in Shenandoah.  Most things are the new normal including for the foreseeable future, shelters on federal land will be closed to hikers.

The problem remains that far too many hikers are not following commonsense on the trail.  A generous guess would be that 10 percent of them are masking when other people approach, even when six feet of separation cannot be maintained.  Worse, they are sleeping in shelters which can be very crowded as hikers sleep shoulder to shoulder surrounded by three walls and a roof.  Some insist that you can’t catch the COVID-19 virus outside.

The maintenance game has changed too.  My crew has limited work party size to four or fewer.  We do not work on weekends because then the trails then are too crowded.  Working weekdays only essentially eliminates those not retired.  Smaller work parties make big jobs more difficult.


First blowdown I chainsawed this year with my new replacement PPE.


All gone.

Meanwhile individual work goes on.  I’ve made two trips to my AT section in the past three weeks.


Believe it or not this was once a waterbar.  It rotted out completely.  No sign of help from the resident bear.  It happens to be in a steep place where a drain is needed.


Using a pick mattock and a McLoed fire hoe, the replacement was built 12 inches deep in about 20 minutes.  For scale, the McLoed is 9 inches from the blade to the tip of the tine.

McLoed fire hoes are the Swiss Army knives of trail work.  They rake, hoe, pick and compact earth.  Click for more on the McLoed.


In between trips our Gang of Four hiking group came over for a socially distanced gathering featuring Margaritas.  Too hot for a fire.


This is as far as the COVID beard got.  It was too hot for summertime trail work.  Worse, my respirator masks would not seal.  B99EBF2E-3CD7-4E3E-8809-1B09FC1BCCDB

My aspirations to audition as Santa Claus expired.  A haircut is next.


Weeding is my least favorite responsibility, but it is critically important to remove the vector ticks use to spread Lyme disease.


Did I mention that it was HOT.  I’m soaked through to the skin.  Note sweat-soaked mask and the poison ivy pesto all over my neck.  We use a product called Ivy X to precoat our skin and a special wipe to clean up exposed skin when we’re done.  Click for more info.


Meanwhile, the trees keep falling.  We’ll go after this one next week.