Black Friday Hike

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Stone walls evoke a certain nostalgia for hopeful yeoman farmers long since passed into history.  The truth is that most of these walls were built by slaves who enjoyed no hope at all.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland, November 29, 2019 —

It was Black Friday and all through the world, the shoppers were teed up to give it a whirl.  The hikers instead would rather not fight, we would go walking with nature’s delights.  And so we did.

The ever-flexible Gang of Four tentatively planned a Black Friday outing.  This iteration was minus two.  Alexis and Catherine were out of state at family celebrations.  Being working journalists, their free time is limited, especially in news-rich times like these.

Tina and I decided we were going anyway.  Her demonstrated determination on this trip and others earned her the trail name “Bulldog!”

We decided to do the Maryland Road Scholar route.  It’s rich with Civil War history, mostly gentle, and has a nice viewpoint.  At nine miles, it’s just long enough for a good workout with delightfully civilized start and stop times.

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Note the knit cap.  I could not resist noting, as a Red Sox fan, I have several.

After dropping a vehicle at the end point in Gathland State Park, we displaced northward to Washington Monument State Park.  There we dashed up the hill for a quick selfie at the monument to memorialize the start. 

The weather was a crisp 34 F with a light wind.  The scattered clouds feathered some of the sun.  They ultimately evaporated allowing the sol’s rays to befriend us as the temp climbed to the day’s high of 46 F.

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Lambs Knoll communications towers, reached just after lunch.  From the Dahlgren Chapel.

The route is rich with trail candy.  The first highlight is the Dahlgren Chapel, at Turner’s Gap, immediately followed by the Dahlgren campground, then Fox Gap, Rocky Run Shelter, the White Rocks viewpoint; with an end at Crampton’s Gap.  The lot of it is on South Mountain, the site of several Civil War battles.

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The campground features showers, tent pads and picnic tables.

Big blowdown at Dahlgren Campground.

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The circumference of this blowdown was in the neighborhood of 30 inches.  For scale, the longest bar I have for my chainsaw is 20 inches.

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Another view.  It’s the devastating work of the emerald ash borer.

We’ve recently had severe winds which knocked down several trees and large limbs.  We were able to clear three small blowdowns with my hand saw.

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The “Bulldog” on the attack.

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White Rocks viewpoint.

Just after the viewpoint we found an 18-inch blowdown.  That’s way too large for my hand saw, so I reported it to the local trail maintainers.

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What was this camper thinking? The stuff seems carefully arranged as if cached for later or for someone to find.  Love the socks.

The hike was almost over except for the walk out.  There we were, loping along, looking forward to our traditional post hike burger and a beer, when off to our right was this.

Weekend warriors have a some redeeming values.  For one, they’re out there trying to appreciate nature.  For far too many of them, that’s about it.  Their ignorant behavior overcomes the rest.

For anyone in the ridgerunning world, it’s easy to deride these guys – yes, they’re almost always men. The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor and this exemplifies one of the reasons why.

Women weekenders have few exceptions, they always take a more informed approach.  They do their research, plan ahead, prepare and take care to leave wildlands better then they found them.

Bubbas, on the other hand, are a literal mess.  They fit several cultural identities and stereotypes – lumber-sexuals, cammo-sexuals or ammo-sexuals; preppers and survivalists; middle-age boy scouts; or sometimes the unfortunate homeless.

In no case are these folks educated and aware of how to Leave No Trace.  In every case and  everytime I stumble upon a mess I have to clean up, I ask myself, “What were you thinking?”

The perp who’s the subject of this rant left a 1960s vintage Optimus 8 stove.  I had one in the early 1970s.  The food selection included military MRE packets, sardines, Ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, coffee, a spoon, and assorted other stuff.  Way too much for even a four-day hike if the hiker started Thanksgiving eve.

Here’s the issue.  Had this person planned ahead and prepared, Maryland’s rules would have been familiar.  They are posted at every trailhead, online, and in guide books.  No camping or fires except at designated shelters or campgrounds such as Dahlgren. This was an illegal campsite located less than one-third of a mile from the Crampton Gap shelter which has lots of good secluded campsites.

The current fire danger is high and insufficient space is cleared around the fire ring.  Lastly, you pack it in, you pack it out.  Otherwise it’s animal food.  The volume was approximately three gallons which we wrapped in my pack’s rain cover.  Bulldog schlepped most of it out.

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After our burgers and beer, the sun was dropping as fast as the temp when we shuttled back to my car at Washington Monument.  Fade to black, Friday.

Sisu and Bulldog

 

Myron Avery Award

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Vienna, VA. November 20, 2019 — The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s annual awards banquet offered yours truly a wonderful surprise in the form of the club’s highest honor, the Myron Avery Volunteer of the Year Award.

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PATC Myron Avery Award.

“Named in honor of the founder of the PATC, the Myron Avery Award recognizes a substantial achievement by a PATC member who most exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism through his or her contribution to PATC during the past year. This is the highest honor bestowed upon members of the club and is awarded to the PATC volunteer who most exemplifies Mr. Avery’s dedication and devotion to PATC’s mission. The contribution can be to any type or combination of club service activities, e.g., devoting many hours above and beyond the norm to service activities, including travel time, or making an exceptional contribution to a particular project.”*  Avery also founded the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Two people are principally responsible for creating the Appalachian Trail.  Benton MacKaye supplied the vision.  Myron Avery got it done.  Myron Avery

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Volunteers are the heart and soul of the AT and our national parks.  About 250,000 volunteer hours annually are needed to keep the AT properly maintained and open.

Thousands of volunteers across 14 states, hundreds from the PATC alone, give what they can in time, money and sweat for a labor of love.  I’m proud to be counted among them.

Sisu

*www.patc.net

Bear-Resistant Food Storage

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BV 500

Appalachian Trail, November 9, 2019 — About this time every year, next year’s thru hikers start the food storage debate.  Some are going to hang it.  Some are going to carry bear canisters.  Others argue for Ursacks.  A few brave Darwin Award candidates claim they’re going to use their food bags as pillows.

The fact is that most shelters on the AT don’t have bear cables, bear poles or bear boxes.  Of those without, many are surrounded by trees the limbs of which are so high that a NFL quarterback might have difficulty tossing a line.

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Fifty feet of rope.

The discussions tend to proceed along emotional rather than practical lines.  The contrarians definitely assert themselves.

The list of practical reasons to seriously consider how to protect your food is getting longer.  On the AT, only bear canister requirement is for a short distance on Blood Mountain. It can easily be avoided by camping at the Lance Creek campground.  It’s an easy hike on into Neels Gap the next day.

The bear canister requirement on Blood Mountain was created when bears learned to shake food bags off the bear cables at Woods Hole shelter.

The AT Conservancy is highly recommending bear canisters along the entire AT HERE  because the number of food-related human/bear encounters is growing.  Here’s what the AT Conservancy had to say about bear incidents 2018.

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Bears do what human’s teach them.

Sometimes what happened before you came along matters most.  This tent had no food.  The bear learned that some tents have food, so it opens them up to check.  Other bears routinely enter shelters to forage and take what they find.

Before we discuss canisters and Ursacks, the PCT bear hanging method is worth a mention.  Done properly, it is effective.  The problem is that too many people improperly hang their food and then blame the bear that took it.  PCT Bear Hanging Method is at this link.  You Tube:  Here.

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PCT Method.

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BV 500 and Ursack.

Now lets try and not to start a WWE match over canisters vs. the Ursack.  Each has practical considerations plus strengths and weaknesses such as size and weight.  Both should* be tied to trees so that bears can’t carry them off.

*Clarification:  One manufacturer does not recommend tying bear cans to trees.  The NPS is ambiguous.  The concern is that nothing should be done that would permit bears to get leverage that would improve their chances of opening the canister.  I’ve had a bear cart one away that I was unable to find.  Thus, you’ll find me with my bear can tied to a tree well away from camp.

Ursacks must definitely be tied to a tree to be most effective.*

THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE COMPARISON OF ALL BRANDS OR MODELS.  IT’S PURPOSE IS TO HELP YOU THINK YOUR WAY THROUGH YOUR CHOICE OF BEAR PROTECTION FOR YOUR FOOD. Google is your friend.

Canisters:  Canisters are the most foolproof but can be difficult to fit into your pack.  I had to upsize to a 65 liter pack to practically fit a Bear Vault 500 and the way I like to pack my other gear – in waterproof stuff sacks rather than packing it loosely around the canister. My normal pack is 50 liters.

The BV 450 is smaller and an easier fit.  Since it will hold four days worth of food, we issue it to our ridgerunners who are normally on the trail for four nights and five days.  For many, it’s a best value.

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BV 500 and BV 450.

BV 500. 2 lbs. 9 oz.  7 days.  $79.95.                             BV 450. 2 lbs. 1 oz.  4 days.  $69.95.

Other canisters such as the Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe are longer, thinner, and a bit more practical, but also heavier.

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Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe.

Frontiersman. 3 lbs. 7 days.  $78.95

Bearikade carbon fiber canisters are several hundred dollars but cool as hell. Check them out.

Any of the canisters can be rented.  Lightly used canisters can also be found on gear for sale sites at discounted prices.

Ursacks:  Ursacks are a made of ultra strong Laminated UHMWP and Kevlar. UHMWP is Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene.

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When combined with an aluminum sleeve, Ursacks are highly bear resistant.

 

Ursack AllMitey.  13 oz. 5 days. $134.95.

Ursack Major.  7.6 oz.  5 days. $84.95.

Ursack aluminum liner.  $39.95.

Ursack also recommends odor reducing bag liners.

Now for the dark side.  None of these methods is perfect.  I know, you’re shocked.  Bad hang and the bear gets your food.  They also have been known to break into containers or destroy food inside Ursacks.

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Bad news for a Bear Vault.

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The bear got a taste of Sriracha.

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Ursack contents, post chew.

What ever you do, check out the containers approved by the U.S. government’s  Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.  They are the only containers allowed where food protection is required out west, the John Muir Trail for example.  There are many more brands and models than those discussed here.    Certified Bear-resistant Products.

The Forest Service, Park Service, BLM and others really do care about your safety.  Their certification helps you sort through the marketing hype and the trolls’ bullshit.

In may sound like a cliche, but a fed bear is a dead bear.  Let’s do what we can to keep our bears safe, ok?

Sisu.

 

 

 

Road Scholar Closeout

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Last “Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States” Road Scholar group for 2019.

Maryland and Virginia, October 26 – 27, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail year has a rhythm.  It’s base line begins to pulse the first week in April.  It’s then that our ridgerunners in Maryland and Shenandoah National Park take the field.

Then comes third week in April when the Hoodlums trail crew, like brass and strings, liberates its tools from cold storage to repair the minor chords of winter.

By Memorial Day, we’re in full swing with all the elements – ridgerunners, trail work, and leading hikes – in motion.

Halloween week is the coda that signals the off ramp from our three season journey.  The last ridgerunner on the entire trail completes their season then, and the Road Scholars close out their final hike with us.

After that, it’s not necessarily silent.  The Hoodlums might have a November encore, or not.  We might do some winter hikes, the Gang of Four continues to march, but it’s improvisational.  Everything else after that is meetings and budget-related stuff designed to make it all possible again next spring.

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Washington Monument State Park, MD, the starting line in Maryland.

The start of Road Scholar hike on Tuesday was crisp with a little knife edge to the wind.  Mary Thurman was all smiles.  At 5 p.m. her season would conclude.

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Fox Gap battlefield site where a docent explains civil war ammunition.

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Picking and eating wild grapes along the edge of the battlefield.

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Trick or treat?  The Maryland trail crew was working just ahead.  They left plastic Halloween bones to fool Mary.  Didn’t work, but everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter.

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We always inspect the shelter for trash and discarded gear.  Size 38 waist trousers anyone?  We deduced that the guy got soaked in the rain and didn’t want to carry heavy wet pants out, so we did it for him.  They’ll be washed and tossed into the hiker box at the Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry.  The synonym for ridgerunner is janitor.

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White Rock viewpoint.

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Season over.  Mary hightailed it to a mutual friend’s house in Virginia Beach.  Safe travels my friend.

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Lunch the following day at Sam Moore Shelter in Virginia.

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Mother Nature is signaling that it is time to turn the page.

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The AT in Washington Monument State Park, MD

Adios.

Sisu

 

From George’s House to the Daughter of the Stars

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Mount Vernon, VA; Harpers Ferry, WV; Shenandoah National Park, VA, October 24 – 26, 2019. — This was a good week.  It opened with a quick trip to Annapolis Rock in a drippy drizzle and closed with similarly soggy weather in Shenandoah.

In between the sunshine was brilliant when we came knocking at George’s house.  Mt. Vernon hasn’t seen my shadow since 1985.  What a difference 34 years make.

Last visit, there were a small number of tourists, much of the house was undergoing restoration and few outbuildings that had been reconstructed.  Other than a mention, there was next to nothing about slavery or the other people and infrastructure that made the plantation economically successful.

This visit, we found a huge visitor center, plenty of docents, museum and hoards of tourists and herds of school kids on field trips.  The house is looking good too.

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Mary Thurman occasionally visits and we explore the region.  She’s a member of the Cherokee nation, so last summer we visited the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.  This visit we had a choice of Mt. Vernon or the Spy Museum.  Our choice was a good one.

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The spits, hooks and other kitchen paraphernalia reminded me of torture tools that might be found in a medieval dungeon.  The audio tour was excellent and downloadable for future use.

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Fall Colors in Harpers Ferry.  The church is antebellum as is every building in the photo.

The next day Mary returned to her ridgerunning duties while myself and two other PATC volunteers led 20 Northern Virginia Community College students on a hike to the Maryland Heights viewpoint.

Great idea:  The college parks a bus in front of its student center on Fridays.  Nobody knows where it’s going until they board.  This day the destination was a rendezvous with us at John Brown’s fort.  The fort is in its third reconstruction and location.

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This photo was taken from the fort’s original location which was elevated for a railroad bed (no longer used) after the civil war.  The foundations of two buildings that were once part of the pre-civil war federal armory are visible.

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Not sure why people feel free to vandalize national parks, in this case the fort which was originally a fire house.

Perfect time to visit Harpers Ferry.

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Maryland Heights was crowded in addition to our students.

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The view is worth the effort.

Maryland Heights.

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Stephanie is using a professional model electric chainsaw.  It’s power and longevity was impressive as was its light weight.  Dear Santa …

In the predawn murk I slammed down a coffee and hightailed it to Shenandoah for chainsaw sawyer recertification – required every third year.  Chairsaws are no joke and the park service pays attention to safety.

The information on which certified sawyers are tested is at this link:  Sawyer Handbook

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After passing the test, my intent was to refresh the white blazes on my trail section.  Several of them are peeling.  Unfortunately Mother Nature and her liquid sunshine suggested other ideas.  So I simply took a stroll looking for work that will need doing in November after the leaves are down.

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The spring is barely flowing.

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The tread is in good shape.

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Nature’s art.

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Northern Red Oak.

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Another view of the overlook.  Shenandoah to the left.  Potomac in the town foreground.

Next week:  Final Road Scholar hikes of the year and the end of Mary’s ridgerunning season.  Stay tuned for the blog.

Sisu

 

 

Sunset at Annapolis Rock

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 23, 2019 — Slogged up to the rock in a drippy rain yesterday to examine tree damage – rope scarring caused by unpadded climbing ropes.  Maryland park rangers agree that we should armor the trees.

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The cloud cover broke just as we arrived.  To say the sunset was spectacular is an understatement.

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Love his spot.

Sisu.

Hoodlums October Work Trip

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Nine a.m. safety briefing at the Piney Ridge ranger station.

Shenandoah National Park, October 19, 2019 — Beautiful autumn weather welcomed around two dozen Hoodlums to our October work trip.  The turnout was as brilliant as the weather.

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After roll call and introductions we divided into four work parties – two on the AT, one for general maintenance, and one to construct a lateral drain.  Two crosscut crews attacked blowdowns in wilderness areas on the blue blaze side trails.  One of the crews cleared 29 down trees.

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Constructing a drainage dip.

My work party did general tread work on the AT section from Jenkins Gap to the Hogwallow overlook.

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In total we cleaned all the waterbars and check dams, replaced four log waterbars with drainage dips, and removed four blowdowns.

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We took advantage of the perfect weather to break for lunch.

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As we completed our work at Jenkins Gap, we met two thru hikers finishing their hike.  His partner was camera shy.  They were constructing a 2,192.0 marker out of leaves to memorialize their finish.  We were delighted to congratulate them.

The pot luck theme was Oktober Fest.  Everyone supplied their favorite German delights.

November encore?  Stay tuned.

Sisu

 

It’s a wrap for the last ridgerunner standing.

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Annapolis Rock, Maryland, October 18, 2019 — It’s that time again.  Our longest ridgerunner season is running out of altitude and airspeed.  The sprint to the finish line is underway.

Friday, Mary Thurman and I struck the caretaker tent, packed it up and hiked it down the mountain to the ridgerunners rustic apartment at Washington Monument State Park. There it is interred in a closet for a long winter’s rest.

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At first we thought something had gone terribly wrong. The tarp protecting the tent from UV rays was in shreds.

Had a bear attacked it?  Vandals?  Actually high winds the previous night destroyed the sun-weakened tarp which had valiantly done its duty.  Now dead, its dumpster-destined remains are nothing more than worthless weight on the hike out.

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Mary was relieved to find the tent intact.

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Packing up.

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Tool box locked.  Site secure.

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It was a brilliant day on the rock.

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Farewell visit to the viewpoint.

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Reflecting on how the season opened last April with Sabine Pelton who patrolled Shenandoah National Park.

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Out-a-here!  The final two weeks will be spent on patrol or tenting in one of the Annapolis Rock tents sites.

Until next year.

Sisu

Annual Trail Maintainers Workshop

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Some tools of the trade.

Shenandoah National Park, October 18 – 20, 2019 — If you want to learn how to dig holes in the dirt, who ya gonna call?  The Hoodlums, that’s who.

Each September the North District Hoodlums trail crew hosts a workshop for trail maintainers, beginners through experts.  Last weekend we did it again. For me it was number seven.

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The canopy is for the kitchen where Dave Nebut’s brothers prepare our scrumptious meals.

The format is simple.  The content gets adjusted periodically.  It goes like this.  The official start time is 0900 Saturday morning.  The safety talk is followed by work party assignments commensurate with each person’s experience level.

On Saturday we generally work until around four o’clock when we return to clean up.  Dinner is a six followed by a campfire.

Sunday is a repeat with coffee and breakfast at 7 a.m.  We close at noon for lunch and cleanup.

A few of us usually arrive early on Friday to help with set up, gathering of tools, hauling firewood, and the like.  The early birds also get the most level tent sites!

A full campground on a clear Friday night doesn’t always go the way you plan.  Some group partied until 3:30 a.m.  I was shocked the campground host didn’t intervene.  Moreover, the city slicker dogs just had to announce each bear that wondered through in hopes some ignorant knucklehead left out food.  Between bears and loud drunken laughter, nobody got much sleep.

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Saturday dawned like the shiny jewel of a day it was.  The park trail crew arrived to work with the advanced group.

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Phone addicts everywhere.  Mine gets NO Service in this spot, a blessing.

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Dave and I led some fine folks on an encore trip near the junction of the Thompson Hollow and Tuscarora Trails to finish the work we abandoned last month when one of our work party members suffered from heat exhaustion.  The day was warm, but not that warm.  It’s officially designated wilderness, so traditional tools only may be used.

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In total we removed seven blowdowns.

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Some of the blowdowns were high while others were low.

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Using a hatchet to chop away the rot.  On a log spanning a gap, gravity draws the wood downward causing compression (bind) at the top.  Once the cut gets deep enough, the resulting bind will slowly make it harder to saw.

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We use wedges to hold open the “kerf” so the sawing can continue.

We also built some drainage dips where waterbars were needed to prevent erosion.

The dirt was proof of a hard day’s work, so let’s get the party started.

Good news.  Just as darkness blanketed the park, our odds changed.  We learned that 30 percent chance of rain sometimes means you get wet.  Why good news?  The rain doused the campfires and the partying.  Silence reigned even as dark rain poured from the inky sky.  Everyone got a good night’s sleep.  Amen!

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Sunday was another beauty contest winner made extra special by the hot coffee.

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We split into three groups.  Rebecca Unruh, backcountry ranger and dear friend of the Hoodlums, gave a talk on environmental hazards from poison ivy to heat stroke.

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We also offered sessions on string trimmer use and maintenance, and on grade dip construction.

We called it at noon for a delicious lunch.

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A sign of happiness.

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Boots usually last 500 miles or about a year for me.  These are two-year-old miracle boots.  The rain last year was easy on the soles.  The rocks finally got the uppers.

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Straining for a selfie.

Until next year.

Sisu

 

 

Educating Hikers

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This was my final trash run. The load included a discarded tent, new boots, wet cotton clothing and uneaten food. Total pack weight was close to 70 lbs.

September 12, 2019 — There’s a popular website/blog/resource for hikers called the Trek.  It was originated by my friend Zach Davis who wrote an excellent book about psychologically preparing for an AT thru hike called “Appalachian Trials.”

Recently a writer for the Trek interviewed me and others about educating hikers.  Here’s the result.

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Link to Trek Article

Sisu