A flat soufflé and limp noodles…

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Good ole white blaze serial number 00000001

North Georgia, Appalachian Trail miles zero through 69.6, March 3-10, 2017 — There I was, hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia for the third year in a row.  This time it was different, very different, but we will get to that in due course.

This adventure started with an invitation to present my talk on trail hygiene at the annual ATKO – Appalachian Trail Kick Off event at Amicalola Falls State Park. The kick off targets future hikers and serves as a reunion of sorts for many others.

The premise for the talk is that hikers neither have to get sick – Noro virus or gastroenteritis – nor smell like Oscar the Grouch’s trash can on a hot summer’s day.  All they have to do is make staying clean a priority. My talk tells them how.

My talk is entitled “What the Funk!” I blogged about the subject here: What the Funk!  My Power Point slides are here:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/zwxxfhmz96vhn42/What%20The%20Funk.2.pptx?dl=0

The ATKO is a well attended two-and-a-half day event featuring speakers, vendors and old friends like Mike Wingeart and Robin Hobbs who were representing ALDHA, the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association.

The ATKO featured a tent city, gear vendors and even a slew of visiting owls.  This is a great horned owl.  His pals included a tiny screech owl named Goliath and a barred owl which remained amazingly quiet.  Trail Dames is a women’s hiking organization I try and promote as often as possible.  Love those gals, most of whom I’ve met on my various trail journeys.  Check out Trail Dames here:  Trail Dames

Now, let’s get down to business.  We’ll open with a brief confession.  I did not come to the trail with “trail legs.”  In other words, I was not in shape.  My excuse:  I injured my hip lifting weights in early October and have not run since then.  Throughout the hike, my hip and cardio were fine, but my legs had all the strength and authority of limp spaghetti noodles.  That’s definitely not a recipe for a fluffy soufflé in the nasty hills of Georgia. (Lovin’ mixed metaphors!)

The anointed know that launching from the Amicalola Lodge nets the upper five miles of the infamously steep “approach trail” that leads to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain.  I did it three years ago when I  had to spell the caretaker on Springer Mountain.  That year my gazelle-like bounds magically crushed the steepest hills.  This year I huffed and puffed like the little engine that barely could. I was delighted to summit, albeit about 90 minutes slower than before.

While on Springer, I took a look around.  I was saddened to see that two trees I’ve been tracking for the past three years had finally been done in.  The number of people on the trail continues to increase along with their relentless degradation of the environment.

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A bit hard to see, but campers have moved south of the lower bear cables on Springer Mountain shelter and much closer to the water source; and have established a new fire pit.

The good news is that previous recommendations have been implemented.  The increased presence on the trail has remarkably reduced trash.  Vegetation recovery projects have begun.  Extra campsites and privies have been added.  My observations from that time are here:  Georgia 2015

Old fire pit at Hawk Mountain shelter cleaned up.

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Improvements since last year to the new Hawk Mountain campsite.

As always the newly minted hikers were delightful.  I saw Lynne, the Trail Ambassador on the right, twice on my journey as she expanded her patrol coverage.  I saw several other ambassadors too.

Ambition has never been lacking for me.  Since this was my very first time to hike Georgia alone, I decided to pace myself in accordance with the legend in my own mind, versus the reality of my current physical condition.  Mind over matter was a good strategy, or so I thought.  That worked about as well as one might expect.

After pitching my tent the first night and on my way to fetch water, I met a young man who asked me if it was okay for his dog to be off leash.  Never ask a Leave No Trace zealot that question.  I convinced him that every snake, skunk, raccoon and porcupine in the woods would eat his dog for lunch, not to mention any stray bears.  How ’bout them Lyme disease bearing ticks ole fido is going to bring back to your tent?  Oh boy!!!

This fellow also decided to cowboy camp that night (no tent).  Guess what, it rained unexpectedly.  I awoke to his thrashing as he hurried to pitch is tent while dodging rain spatter.  “Grasshopper, you’re going to learn a lot,” I smiled as a hiked past his tent in the morning. He was sawing zzzzzzs.

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I have finally perfected pitching and striking this tent in high wind.  I failed at that miserably in Maine last summer. Hint:  Up-wind pegs first…

The plan for Monday was to make it about 15 miles either to the Justus Mt. campsite or on to Gooch Gap.  The forecast included rain and high winds for Tuesday, so I wanted to get as far as possible.

Moving with the speed to cold flowing molasses helped me realize that I wasn’t going to make either of my targeted locations, so I parked at Cooper Gap where, this year, the Army has been leaving its 500 gallon “water buffalo” unlocked for hikers. Now I was a half day behind with a cold, heavy rain in the forecast.

Very good news:  ALL water sources in Georgia were flowing with the exception of the spring at Blue Mountain shelter which is just short of Unicoi Gap.

Fortunately the heavenly watering of the Georgia hills didn’t begin until after I’d packed up.  I sopped off with a dry tent at least, headed for the Woods Hole shelter half way up the infamous Blood Mountain; about another 15 miles away.  Woods Hole has a covered picnic table and is located where bear proof food containers are required.  The odds were good that I’d get a spot, and I’d be back on schedule given that very few people want to carry the 3 1/2 extra pounds the canisters weigh.

Along the way, sometimes you see weird stuff.  Who would set the stump on fire at Gooch Mountain?  Just past there, somebody used a machete to hack up a dead tree.  For what?  The dead tree bark is good insect habitat for birds and bears.  Why ruin it?  Ignorance lives.

Please pack out your trash!  The fire pits and the trail in general was far cleaner than I’ve ever seen it at this time of year.  Thank you ridgerunners and trail ambassadors!

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I arrived at Woods Hole just prior to dusk.  I ate and then crashed between these two tents.

The morning dawned cold and windy.  The rain had passed. Of the three campers at Woods Hole, nobody had a bear canister. Surprise, surprise, surprise!  Where’s the ranger when you need ’em.

A father and son had pitched their tent in the shelter.  They were were woefully underprepared with summer sleeping bags and sported wet cotton clothes from the previous day’s rain.  The other tent belonged to a new thru hiker who didn’t know better.  I made it clear.  If more hikers came during the night, the tents would have to come down.  Fortunately, none did.

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It dawned cold and clear as I waited form my coffee water to boil. Note the two hats. After breakfast I was off for Low Gap, another 15 miles or so away.

Walking over Blood Mountain has its aesthetic pleasures.

Wind at Neel’s Gap

The trail to Low Gap is a relatively easy hike with the exception of a nasty climb at Tesnatee Gap.  My right hip flexor was swelling.  Time for a reality check.

Dawn at Low Gap.  Fortunately, from there it’s an easy 10 miles to Uniqoi Gap where I decided to bail.  The noodles were still limp and the soufflé was pretty flat.  Reached Unicoi about 12:30 p.m. and shuttled to the Top of Georgia Hostel.

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Bought a thru hiker lunch.  How do you spell bankruptcy?

Breakfast at Top of Georgia where Bob Gabrielsen offers the morning pep talk before the hopeful sea of humanity rides the tide northward in search of adventure and the state of Maine.  Time for me to saddle up the Subaru and ride north.

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Toxic waste bag.

It ain’t over until everything’s cleaned up.

Sisu

Walking the Line

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Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia, November 9 -12, 2016 — While it is self evident that the Appalachian Trail itself requires frequent maintenance.  After all, an estimated three million hikers tread on some part of it annually.  That’s a lot of wear and tear.

What few hikers may realize is that the trail itself is one thing.  The land through which it flows is another.  That land can be federal, state, or local.  In some cases it belongs to private conservation groups or other entities.  All of those land parcels have borders, borders that are surveyed and marked.  They must be checked from time to time to ensure the markers are still there and no encroachment or other illegal activity is underway.

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Checking the AT corridor boundary is what I’ve been doing in northern Virginia for the past several days.  I was on a corridor monitoring trip organized by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA).  Over time 30 some folks dove in, some for the whole time; others for a day or two.  Together we were able to check and remark several miles of boundary.

The boundary has no trail.  Crews edge their way along the border, bushwhacking through thickets and briars.

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Sometimes monitors have to get down into the weeds to find the survey monuments.

Once a monument is found, it is recorded and the brush is lopped away.

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Witness trees get refreshed.

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The boundary is marked in mustard yellow.  The paint, from bottles, is squeezed on brushes toothpaste style.  Bottles are refreshed daily.

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Sometimes monuments can only be found using the surveyor’s measurements.

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Brush trimming is not as fun as it appears to be. 🙂

The threats to trail lands and by extension to hikers are real.  People dump trash, extend their fences, or hunt illegally on these lands.

Who knows what led to this tragic scene.

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One thing for certain.  The former residents were unhappy with the government as other graffiti attested.

Later we decided to bushwhack our way to the AT for an easier hike out.  I found an illegal trail built by a hunter the previous year as noted in this blog post about my hike with ridgerunner Hal Evans. Vegetable Territory  The hunter had put up an illegal deer stand which was supposed to have been removed. Of special interest, it faced the hiking trail which was less than 100 yards away. This was an intolerable situation regardless of other circumstances.

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Note the odd-colored green paint the hunter used to blaze his trail.  The bottom part of the ladder was removed.  Standard procedure.

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Our intrepid crew cut the bicycle lock with bolt cutters and carried out the offending tree stand.  Some disassembly was required before it would fit into the ATC’s van for disposal.  The Appalachian Trail is a national park and a note and business card from the park’s chief ranger was substituted on the tree to account for the missing stand.  In a sign of the times, monitors were concerned that face recognition software might identify them to a revengeful hunter, so faces are not visible.

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The ATC crew has a van donated by Toyota.

 

We stayed at the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Blackburn Trail Center.  It features three bunk rooms and a large commercial kitchen.  It is rentable for group events and weddings.  Otherwise it is used by trail crews, ridgerunners and others working on the trail.

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Accommodations are rustic.  The plumbing is outside.

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Blackburn features a hiker cabin, tent pads and a covered eating area.

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Unfortunately the solar shower wasn’t working this late into autumn.

Gorgeous stone work at Blackburn.

Sisu

Personal Recognition

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Standing near the old apple orchard. The saw is for cutting logs used to construct waterbars and check dams. The red pants are Kevlar chainsaw chaps.

Recently the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) honored me as the volunteer of the month.  As personally gratifying as that is, it is important to remember that I am but one of thousands of people in the trail community working hard to protect and preserve this national treasure and all the other trails and parks.

Some of these wonderful people are trail angels who help out individual hikers, others perform a limitless range of activities then help keep the trail alive.

Last year alone volunteers contributed more than a quarter million hours of maintenance on the Appalachian Trail.  Even that is not enough.  If you love your parks, please contribute as much time, talent and/or treasure as you can.  Above all, enjoy your hikes.

Jim Fetig – Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Jim Fetig is a man with a mission—to do everything he can to protect and preserve the Appalachian Trail.

Jim began volunteering with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) in 2012, in part to prepare for a thru-hike, which he accomplished in 2014.

Besides overseeing a Trail section in Shenandoah National Park and working with PATC’s Hoodlums trail crew, he coordinates the club’s ridgerunner program, serves as public affairs chair, and helps with fundraising. He also volunteers at the ATC visitor center in Harpers Ferry and does presentations and workshops on various aspects of hiking.

According to ATC Information Services Manager Laurie Potteiger, Jim is a powerhouse. “Few volunteers are involved with the A.T. from such a variety of perspectives,” she says. “You might find him using a chainsaw to clear blowdowns on his Trail section, swinging a pick on a trail crew, greeting visitors at ATC HQ, supervising ridgerunners anywhere along PATC’s 240 miles of the A.T., or writing blog posts that promote new initiatives that benefit the Trail.”

Last year, Jim helped pioneer the Trail Ambassador program, working as a volunteer ridgerunner with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to greet and encourage hikers heading north from Springer Mountain. That section is heavily used, particularly in March and April, not only by prospective A.T. thru-hikers, but by even larger numbers of students on spring breaks and other groups.

As many as 150 of those hikers per day may want to stay at the same overnight site. They are often ill-prepared—many of them on their first backpacking trip. Besides educating hikers on Leave No Trace principles, backcountry sanitation, protecting food from wildlife, and much more, Trail Ambassadors also perform minor trail work and pack out trash. Jim found it very rewarding, particularly motivating hikers and giving them confidence in what they can accomplish. He has received notes from hikers who have completed A.T. thru-hikes thanking him for his encouragement and advice that helped them accomplish their goal.

Jim’s work on the Trail makes him appreciate the complexities of managing it, describing it is a system with many parts that all need to work together. Volunteers are one of those parts, and he says there is a role for everyone. “Whether giving back or paying forward, the volunteer experience is an intrinsic reward in and of itself. Whatever you do, it will be deeply appreciated by everyone concerned including your fellow volunteers.”

Information on contacting Trail maintaining clubs and ATC volunteer opportunities can be found at www.appalachiantrail.org/volunteer.

http://www.appalachiantrail.org/home/volunteer/volunteer-recognition/volunteer-biography-full-page/october-2016—jim-fetig

A Curtain Falls

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Annapolis Rocks, Maryland, October 31, 2016 —  Today the final curtain descended on the 2016 ridgerunner season, and an anticlimactic ending  it was.

This morning I dashed up to Annapolis Rocks to meet Kyle, our long-term Maryland ridgerunner.  Together we struck the caretaker’s tent, packed up the gear and marched it down the mountain for storage in the apartment the ridgerunners share at Washington Monument State Park.

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Kyle moving in to the apartment in April.

The tent platform is clear again.

Caretaker sign in April and October.

The view is always spectacular.

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Thanks both to Kyle and to Robin, whose season ended Labor Day, for their dedication and hard work caretaking at Annapolis Rock and ridgerunning on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.

Ironically it’s Halloween, admittedly a scary day.  After today, with the scolds gone, you are not free to trash the woods. That would be really scary.

 

The Great Winoosky

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Resolved:  Never hike a trail without a beer named after it.

The Long Trail, Vermont, September 7, 2016 to September 22, 2016 — The northern two-thirds of the Long Trail may include the most rugged hiking I have ever done.  When the map elevation profile looks like sharks teeth or witches hats, you know you’re going to work that day.  Let’s just say I’m glad I hiked a lot of miles this summer to get ready. The bad news is that I should have done more.

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Drought stressed ferns

Expectations were modest. The nation’s oldest hiking trail is known to be exceptionally rugged.  Vermont is in drought having received little snowfall last winter and was negative nine inches of rain on start day.  Now Vermont, aka Vermud, is noted for its own original black, sticky, oozy goo.  No rain, no goo right?  Wrong!

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Pre-rain mud

On start day the temps were in the mid-80s.  The heat persisted for the first five-day leg.  I was raining sweat at a prodigious rate.  Could hiker sweat produce this much mud,  I asked myself?  Not likely.  We found sufficient water, but it was not always where we needed it.  I got dehydrated the first day and didn’t catch up until our first trail break.

Here’s how the hike went down.

I hiked with my PATC colleague, Rush Williamson.  Rush happens to have a friend who lives near the start point at the Canadian border called Journey’s End.  Thus we could position a car on each end as save ourselves costly shuttles.  He also had friends about five days apart which allowed us to break the hike into three five-day segments.  Easy logistics are always welcome and his friends’ hospitality was marvelous.

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With Rush at Hal Gray’s home near the Canadian border.  We stayed with Hal the night we drove up.

We set out on September 7 hoping to make Jay Camp, 11 miles in. Experienced hikers ought to be able to do that, right?  Not even.  The terrain and heat conspired against us!  Instead we logged a measly eight miles.  We arrived at the Laura Woodward shelter around 4:15 pm with plenty of daylight remaining, but with legs not fresh enough to use it.

This miss dogged us.  It took two days to realign with shelters.  In the interim we tented.  The second night it rained hard for what turned out to be the first of five times. Both of us suffered through leaky tent seams.  Not good.

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Stealth camping in the Vermont woods.

On September 8, the trail over Jay Peak was much more challenging that we anticipated confirming our decision not to press on the previous day. The ski area restaurant had closed two days earlier and the restrooms were locked so we did not linger. I took a 360 video on top and cursed the high angle slab rock where it was featured on the descent. Rain was in the forecast and I worried about safety when the rock was wet. I later learned that my concern was well founded.

Jay Peak

And so this challenging little adventure unfolded.  In Vermont shelters are three-sided traditional hiking shelters.  “Camps” are rustic cabins with doors.  We stayed at several of each.

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Corliss Camp shared with a Middlebury College freshman orientation group.

The first five days were hot but otherwise uneventful.  On day five we reached Johnson were we were picked up by Ira and Katie Marvin. They were kind enough to share their house and family with us.  Rush had an ugly blister so we zeroed.  Katie happens to be a physician, so she patched him up good as new.

 We had fun with the Marvins.  Ira owns a maple syrup factory that supplies Whole Foods, Target and many other stores with genuine Vermont maple syrup.

The next feature on our list was Mt. Mansfield, a very popular mountain featuring an alpine habitat and an auto road.  It’s the state’s tallest mountain.

 Contemplating hiking up Mansfield with my morning coffee.

We pointed our boots toward Mansfield at the usual hour of seven. By the time we reached the high angle slab rock that defines the Mansfield trail, it was cold and raining hard. The footing was precarious enough to slow us considerably. A Vermonter who used an expression that sounded more like it was from the deep south proclaimed that the rock was “Slicker than chicken shit in a greasy Teflon skillet.”  He was accurate.

 

By noon we discovered Taft and called it a day with no rain in the forecast for the next couple of days. It’s Hobbit door can’t be more than five feet tall.

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The next morning the clouds had stopped sobbing, but the trail was still wet and slick.  We elected to use the aptly named Profanity Trail bad weather bypass trail up Mansfield because the feature known as the “nose” is notoriously difficult and dangerous when conditions aren’t ideal.

Mansfield is spectacular.  One young hiker named “Skywalker” we encounter described it as the top of “Vermudarado.”

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The sunrise from Puffer shelter was spectacular and worth the work required to see it.

The full view from Puffer.  Mansfield on the left.

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Bridge across the Winoosky River and into Burlington for resupply. Next up Camels Hump.

The hump up Camel’s Hump is six mile climb.  Great trail and not a terribly hard push save the lack of water. Fortunately we’d learned to carry extra. I made a quick 360 video on top and my partner admonished some day hikes for straying outside the roped-off area into the alpine habitat.

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Camel’s Hump

 The day hikers have a two-mile long trail to reach the top in droves.

Trail features.  Yes, that’s what you walk.

 

 Too many ski areas to count.

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Old privy smashed by a blowdown.  Hope no one was in it.

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Replacement privy.

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Next to last day our amazing ridgerunners Robin Hobbs and Sara Leibold cross paths.  What a treat and a sight for sore eyes. 

The hike ended where the AT crosses U.S. 4 just south of Maine Junction. I hiked uphill to the Inn in 14 minutes. That’s 3  1/2 mph with a 30 lb. pack on my back.  Beer is an incredible motivator.

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The Inn at Long Trail.

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What a surprise to find Denise Benson!

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Off to Maine where my friends donated day lily bulbs.

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Clean up.  The end.

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Ran into this.  Looks like the Long Trail to me.

Outtakes.

Journey’s End.

Moonlight in Vermont

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2014

Coming attractions:  It’s time to get back in the saddle, so what’s next?  The oldest hiking trail in the United States beckons. Next up, the mountains of Vermont and The Long Trail.

We’ll be driving to the Canadian border just as soon as the Labor Day traffic clears.  Then we’ll hit the trail early the next morning for what is hoped to be a 16 day trek – more if mother nature proves our planning wrong. The objective is to collect the 172 Long Trail miles missed when hiking the Appalachian Trail.  (Note: Sources differ on the exact distances involved.)

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The sign marking “Maine Junction.”

The AT and the Long Trail overlap for the 100 miles starting at the Vermont/Massachusetts border northward to “Maine Junction” just north of the Rutland and Killington area. At Maine Junction the trail hangs a sharp easterly right turn toward Hanover, NH and from there onward to central Maine.

The Long Trail was conceived in 1910 and stitches Canada to Massachusetts for 272 miles along the spine of Vermont’s rugged Green Mountains.  It’s rugged and last month’s 100-mile wilderness hike was good practice, but this adventure will be more strenuous.

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Ironically, both the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail were conceived in the same place.

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The fire tower on Stratton Mountain has been preserved and maintained so that hikers may see the same views that conceptualized the two hiking trails birthed there.

The hike has a happy ending.  Can’t wait!

My partner will be Rush Williamson, a fellow PATC member who also is highly involved in protecting and preserving the AT.  He’s also a retired Marine with whom I work closely on many trail-related projects.

For more on the Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail click on: Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail

Want to dance?

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Julie Johnson, who commutes from Manhattan, drags a log she named “Betty,” up Pass Mtn. for use in a waterbar.

PATC North District Hoodlums Trail Crew, Pass Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2016 — Hanging out with the Hoodlums this weekend prompted a thought.

What is it about the Appalachian Trail that would cause people to commute hundreds of miles to maintain it; to hike it?  Why do so many report deeply personal relationship with this trail?

There are as many answers as there are hikers.  Here’s a possibility.

Some say the trail has the personality of a curvaceous vixen whose shapely turns first catch your eye on centerfolds in coffee table books.  She holds your gaze.

At the same time you imagine the possibilities, her earthy voice whispers on the wind, “Come with me. We’ll be amazing together.”  Smitten, you follow her irresistible come-hither with stars in your eyes and dreams of conquest.

Not so fast. Be careful of those sexy charms.  This babe may have legs that run from here to there, but a walk in the woods with this little number can suck you dry and empty your will to keep on.  Know that she turns from sultry to frigid ice virtually overnight.   See her tears fall in torrents that become rivers in your path. Be aware that she may not leave you laughing when she goes.

IMG_4914Date this honey and you’re in a high maintenance love affair. It’s more than the constant stroking, the sweet nothings or minding the flowers.  You’re in it with all of her friends including the bear who dug up my waterbar in search of a meal.  The hurt is high with this one.

She likes her suitors looking good.  Before you know it, you’ll own mix and match backpacks, tents and sleeping bags.   Guess how many base layers, flash dry shirts and pairs of Smart Wool socks I have.  I am ashamed to admit that my hiking boot closet would make Imelda Marcos jealous.

Heaven help you when you start owning your own personal trail tools – Pulaskis, MacLoeds – and Stihl brand anything is on your Christmas wish list.  I hear that she’s impressed by bigger saws.

Words like Jet Boil and Pocket Rocket soon replace GE and Tappan in the kitchen.  I mean who needs stainless steel when titanium is lighter.  Hell, Mother Nature even throws in the granite for free.

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She’s not a cheap date though.  Betty needed a lot of polishing before she became but one more piece of jewelry decorating the trail. This expensive jewelry habit is essential.  Keep it coming or Ms. AT’s beauty and charms quickly erode.  Costume pieces may be okay from time to time, but this girl likes to receive big rocks, especially on special occasions. Forget one and she can get ugly.

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In spite of all this, like a 1940s taxi dancer on a steamy Saturday night, the trail has no shortage of suitors.  Even the guy with the halo had to stand in line for his turn to dance.

Oh yes.  You probably guessed it.  The Hoodlums had another great outing.

Victory Lap of Sorts

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100-mile Wilderness, Maine, August 1-10, 2016 — Bottom line:  Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  I remembered the last 100 miles of my thru hike as a piece of cake.  In my memory, only the second day was challenging.  Oh Grasshopper, you definitely mis-remembered that experience!

Absent the adrenaline of a thru hike, the 100-mile Wilderness was hard work, and was it ever.  Nevertheless, it was a joy to share it with Windy (Pepsi Hiker) Horn and watch her face brighten with excitement as the wonders of this gem of a hike revealed themselves like a sultry fan dancer hungry for tips.  If Katahdin is the cherry on top, the wilderness is definitely the whipped cream and definitely worth the effort.

IMG_2195I met Wendy and her hiking partner Diane near Port Clinton, PA in 2014 on my thru hike.  We hiked together for several days before I eventually outran them and they had to return home to northern Illinois.  We kept in touch.

This summer I shared dinner with Wendy and her friend Rene at the Skyland resort in Shenandoah National Park.  Mostly we talked about hiking.

Turned out that Wendy has section hiked West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Nice, but little to write home about.  I suggested she chew off a chunk of excitement for motivation.  That’s how we found ourselves tramping our way through the ultimate 100 miles of Maine.

I drove to Maine to visit an old friend for a couple of days before snagging Wendy at the Manchester, NH airport.  We then motored six-plus hours north to Millinocket and stayed at the AT Lodge before being shuttled to Monson, the gateway to the 100-mile Wilderness.  There we stayed at Shaw’s, now under new and enthusiastic ownership.  The place was packed to overflowing.

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The first stop was the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s new visitor center in Monson.  The number of AT hikers is overwhelming Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin.  A new permit system is being tested that will ultimately meter in a finite number of hikers per day and limit the allowable number coming from the AT to 3,000 hikers per annum.

We will save the arguments about the efficacy of this system for another time.

At Shaw’s we arranged a resupply drop which, sadly has upped in price from $25 to $80.  Seems hikers were dumping their garbage in and around the old 5-gallon paint buckets. Worse, some food was being stolen.  Now, resupply is delivered to your hand.  It takes some doing, but it worked okay for us except that it cost an unanticipated $40 each.  At least we could split the $80 cost.

THE DROUGHT

Maine suffered a dry winter.  This weather pattern has continued into summer.  In spite of the drought, the ponds have plenty of water to keep the outlet streams running.  The tertiary streams and many springs are bone dry. Hikers need to plan their water carefully.  The water sources for two Lean-tos were bone dry.

Same spot, two years apart.  The soil is thin with only inches of soil having been created since the glaciers retreated.  It doesn’t take much for a rain shower to make mud, or the sun to just as rapidly dry it out for that matter.

Desiccation is everywhere.  Even the blueberries are raisins.  If the berries fail, the bears, deer and other animals which depend on them will suffer.  The harsh reality is that some will starve.

The forest is tinder dry and we learned that fire crews have been propositioning equipment in expectation of forest fires that most certainly will occur.

Here’s a graphic example of the drought’s effects.  Little Wilson Falls, two years apart.

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Crossing Little Wilson Creek, two years apart.  This is not a crossing I ever imagined would be feet dry.

THE TRAIL

The trail begins gently enough with some gentle climbs and slab walks.

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Plenty of roots, considered a trail feature in Maine.

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Got rocks?  We climbed this twice … How?  The trail was rerouted at some point to include this gem.  The old trail wasn’t blocked and we accidentally did a two hour loop.  Ugh!

Not exactly a sprint.

THE JOURNEY

Ya got yer stream crossings and yer views.

We planned for an eight-day transit, allowing for some short and some long days dependent on the terrain.  The weather opened windless, humid and hot.  Temps were in the 80s and 90s which is cooking for Maine.

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Normally, I drink one to two liters per day and another in camp.  The first day I got dehydrated because several water sources were dry.  I filled up my spare three liter bladder (six lbs.) which we shared.  Problem solved.

Two years ago, I didn’t encounter more than a dozen or so hikers.  This year there were dozens upon dozens.  The college students told us that hiking is now a campus fad.  Good to get new blood into the woods, but the trash level was much higher than before.

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Two students from Elon U.  They had a general idea of what to do, but little knowledge of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and practices or the fact that privies aren’t everywhere you can camp, or how to properly wash dishes in the woods (not in the pond), or the finer techniques of hanging a food bag.   I pulled out my handy Leave No Trace card and led a discussion in the proper practices.

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Only one place to get water from the pond where we camped the first night.  Guess what’s under that artsy reflection of the sky?

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Some Bozo washed his dishes at the only place campers can get water.  Brilliant.  Not!

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A snowshoe hare mowed the shelter lawn.  His hind feet were huge and mostly white.

As it turned out, I overestimated how much mileage we could make.  The terrain was tougher than I remembered and the heat was oppressive.  Each of us was fit enough, but …

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Wendy twisted her knee about 40 percent of the way in and had to be “med-evaced” (shuttled) back to Monson for a recuperation day.  Here she’s arranging transportation.  She brought our resupply when we rendezvoused at Jo-Mary Road – along with a surprise: An icy cold Coke which I appreciated very much!

Nature’s art gallery.

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Laundry.

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Katahdin in the distance.

While Wendy recuperated, I hiked over White Cap Mountain in the cold rain – exactly the same conditions and time of day as two years ago.  It wasn’t a happy flash back.

I pushed on to Cooper Brook Lean-to the next day to swim – almost as good as a shower.  The next morning Wendy rejoined at Jo-Mary Road and we were off.

The AT has its moments.  One that sneaks up on you like a woman in a Philip Marlow novel with that come hither smile then sets you up for a hard fall is the newly reopened White House Landing.  I missed this one last time around.  They pick you up in a boat and stuff your face full of burgers and incredible homemade pizza.  You don’t leave hungry in the morning either!  It helped that the weather broke to cool temps, low humidity and a nice breeze.  So much for wilderness.  Perfect!

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This little guy stood his ground.  No rattles, but with the body type of a pit viper including the narrow neck and triangular head.  Definitely not a hog nose.  Possibly a water snake.  We were near a river.

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The 100-mile wilderness ends at Abol Bridge, just before entering Baxter State Park for the Katahdin climb.  There were about 20 hikers headed for Baxter where there’s only room for 12 long distance hikers.  Everything else is reserved car camping.  We shuttled into Millinocket and drove into Baxter because we didn’t want to occupy space.

Katahdin is awesome!

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Made it!  Second time around is not the same, but it’s still pretty good.

New sign this year.

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Pretty obvious.

More trash than we could carry out.  This is just a sample.

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Best sign of the trip.

Sisu.

 

 

Busy

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Digging a bear pole hole.

Northern Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail, July 21-24, 2016 — It was time for the monthly PATC ridgerunner meeting, this time at the Blackburn Trail Center where “Trailboss” is the caretaker and gracious host.  Since he has an endless list of projects, Robin Hobbs and I showed up early to help do some work at the Sam Moore shelter (AT NOBO mile 999.6).

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Bear poles have hooks to hang food bags using a forked pole, here tied down on the far side of the pole.

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The pole is set 18 inches in the ground with four 60-lb. bags of concrete.

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Working bear pole at Jim & Molly Denton shelter.

While the Sam Moore overseer and I installed the bear pole, Robin and Trailboss hiked north to clear two blowdowns across the AT.

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We finished up by replacing a fire ring with a new fire grate.

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The social and dinner prompted a lot of discussion.  This is where the real business is done.

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Sara Leibold, our Northern Virginia ridgerunner and I started patrolling immediately following the meeting.

We spent the first night at the Tom Floyd Wayside shelter with three others.

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We took a break after picking up micro trash at the John Singleton Mosby campsite.  It is deep in the area Mosby’s raiders patrolled during the civil war.

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Along the way we clipped plenty of vegetation which grows prolifically this time of year.

Our last evening was spent at the Denton shelter with a large grouping of campers. Sunday morning we hiked to a road where Sara’s dad was waiting to take her home to Alabama for a whirlwind visit.  She works 10 on and four off which gives her sufficient time.

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It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sara might be a serial killer! 😉

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Tried to photograph an interesting spider web with a phone camera.  No luck.  A good camera is on my Christmas list.

I was testing a new Osprey pack for use in the 100-mile wilderness next week.  It carries nicely, but I like the cargo features of my old one.  On a long hike the ride is more important, so the new pack made the Maine manifest.

Next stop Kennebunkport to see my friend Ed, the guy who taught me to split granite.  Then to Manchester, NH to pick up Wendy “Pepsi Hiker” Horn at the airport and head for Millinocket where we’ll drop my car and get shuttled to Monson to begin our 100-mile journey.  Boots on trail Aug. 1.

Sisu

 

Workin’ for the Trail Boss.

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The Hoodlum trail crew gets briefed by the Trailboss, patron of the infamous Roller Coaster. Photo by Mike Gergely

Somewhere on Loudon Heights, WV, July 16, 2016 — There’s a somewhat secret two-year-long project to relocate the Appalachian Trail on Loudon Heights as it descends to Harpers Ferry.  By the end of the year, the job will be done.

The pitch of the existing trail reminds people of a church steeple.  Such a challenging slope does not facilitate erosion control. Worse, it passes through preserved civil war battlefield entrenchments, which as par for the course, unthinking/uncaring hikers damage by removing rocks to make fire rings.  Neither practice, rock displacement nor fires, is appropriate on such hallowed ground.

The AT is constantly being relocated.  Someone once told me that less than 5 percent of the trail is original.  Not sure that’s accurate, but in this case, a “relo” makes common sense.

So, you need hard work done fast, “Who ya gonna call?”  The Hoodlums, of course.  In reality, we were building on the good work of crews that came before us and set the stage for those to follow.  Nevertheless, the Hoodlums were delighted to answer the call and do our small part on a brutally hot and humid summer day.

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The new treadway gently hugs the mountain’s contour lines.  If it had a label, it would scream in bold print, “New gentle lower calorie formulation!”

I overheard someone say that his dad said the same thing mine did, “If you don’t go to college, you’ll end up digging ditches.”  So much for education.  If I was paid for this, I join a union; but as a hobby, it’s fun and the camaraderie is fantastic.

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Trail work is like pulling teeth  Big old rock molars.  Emily knows the physics of leverage.

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Then there’s the detailed work of removing roots and smaller stones.  Later another crew will smooth out and level this rough cut.  Our job this outing was to break ground.

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It takes a village to make a trail.  Our northern Virginia ridgerunner, Sara Leibold,(foreground) joined us for the day.  The trail building added a new dimension to her experience.

Head Hoodlum Janice and Hoodlum Julie got dirty and had fun.

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Some rocks are bigger than others, but eventually they all succumb to brute force and a little bit of know-how.

Like distressed jeans, some new trail comes complete with pre-blowdowns. We just worked around and under them.   Trailboss attacked them with gusto!

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At the end of the day, we retired to Blackburn Trail Center where Mrs. Trailboss, who just happens to be the chair of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy board, rewarded us with a scrumptious dinner!  It doesn’t get better than that.  Sisu  GA/Me ’14