Spring cleaning delayed.

IMG_3891

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.

IMG_4406

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.

Waterbar

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.

Crosscut

Blowdowns also have to be cleared.

IMG_3712

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

IMG_2615

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.

ToolCache

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.

IMG_5365

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.

getofftrailsign

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.

McAfee-Knob-VA

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.

Crowdat AR

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.

ATSHEN

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.

ATHope

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.

ATHikersSpringer

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.

ATIntlHiker

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.

DC7C31DF-A78F-47F1-AADC-8A0389F67A7B

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

RockCreekTr

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.

21B0CA8A-815B-4F0E-9B85-841533D7BDC0

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.

945E1951-349A-4DF1-B47E-EE1A5B1EC4A6_1_201_a

Folks decorate their trees.

4BB8CA82-530F-4D92-A357-638554E4397D_1_201_a

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!”

0FF55C49-FC60-4124-9A5F-73C39DAC77F6_1_201_a

Vernal pool.

B170B493-4281-42A6-ADA5-B423D8A273F6

Cat tails ready to regenerate.

041D2BC6-28DC-4F15-B42A-71616D99857C_1_201_a

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

84AEFB58-33ED-460F-AB43-830E9217B16A

Lots of kids.

C3EE7D1D-FB2C-4895-B470-66385EF8A332_1_201_a

American cherry trees are blooming everywhere.

F5460E1C-A492-469A-8AC6-B9D8A9E75FC9_1_201_a

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

CCF95126-23E2-4CA8-8C55-F24A811F052D_1_201_a

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

BB8918C9-2E2A-4F80-AA1A-0C0A109A331B_1_201_a

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

3ED5EF37-8803-4CC5-8D03-37A9558735E3_1_201_a

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

9BFD2512-E9EA-4176-9A43-1D7FE06FE547

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

0304A399-EBB4-4559-9581-A24B30F6299E

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

185CA941-6D4B-4909-92EB-3C63F6555141_1_201_a

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

55A3FD8A-FCEE-4D59-A167-0BD62D1FDD8F_1_201_a

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.

91B6F2F0-6EE2-4A44-B3CE-F4B6BB3AE0DE

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

867281A5-37F7-4064-ACBC-595D4D9A3DE9_1_201_a

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.

8199E812-8EAA-4050-A06D-D93633B0F648

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.

902530C6-A36C-489C-8E17-F73310828982

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.

AD1C9AFB-78CB-4A6B-B856-6F3F0DEA3410_1_201_a

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.

6CEF778D-79E5-4105-A271-1813684E4480_1_201_a

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.

EEE7E876-F98C-4903-B724-B317FF6BE809

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!

593BCF86-5E62-4C3C-90B0-0FE64A0AA3A1

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

C770B638-F213-4AA3-9D44-3EA22560A844

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.

3F2492C1-483C-4D60-ADBE-2B4B082588E9_1_201_a

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.

B60424BE-F86E-4519-A169-47DBE410AC62

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

COVID-19 knows no boundaries.

647E3EE4-24B7-450B-BE27-AA15B9F0EEA8_1_201_a

Home sequestration, March 27, 2020 — This past week has seemed like a year.

It feels like Mother Nature has put the entire country in time out.  We got sent home from school for bad behavior. We’re stuck in our rooms.  Justification: Failure to be good stewards of our lonely blue marble.  Maybe Mamma’s gettin’ even?

But like Biblical pestilence, famine, the sword, beasts, plague, and their friends, sometimes it feels like the four horsemen are thundering just over the horizon.  Other times we simply long for companionship.  The urge to invite family to dinner or gather with like-minded friends is overwhelming.

Then, there’s always wine.  And Zoom.  Because Amazon has run out of lamb’s blood.

Gather together.  Isn’t that what humans do in stressful times?  We are herd animals, like it or not. But, the herd is too big and the big dogs are making a cull.

For example:

AT Closed

The overcrowding up and down the AT and in the National Parks that I reported last week exploded over the weekend.  Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and The Great Smoky Mountains national parks are closed to the public for public health reasons.

Forest Order

On the east coast, the Chattahoochee, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are completely closed to visitors.  Too many people, people.

NPOvercrowding

This illustrates the overcrowding out west.

More parks are considering closing.

A Maryland State Park Service ranger told me that they were “Slammed!”  over the weekend.  Twenty-one million people live within two hours of most Maryland parks.  Seems like a big bunch of them showed up.

It’s boring sitting at home.  Or is it, if you can’t maintain a safe distance between yourself and the next person?  And oh, by the way, please take your trash with you when you leave.

Dear Darwin Award candidates.  It won’t be boring in the ICU, that is if you can get a ticket.

There is an inverse ratio equation that may apply here:  FOMO is inversely proportional the closer you get to the ICU.

(Thanks for the concept Tom Toles, Washington Post editorial cartoonist.)

D011AD43-DC8C-4B9A-924C-F01B01692AEF

With the closures, the trails resemble a reverse scene out of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Absent were the humans.  The sound of their chatter.  The crunch of their boots.  The crinkle of their candy wrappers. The scraping of their potty trowels. The soft poof of their TP tulips making trash landings faded away. Only the chirping of chickadees and the buzz of the bees, harmonized with the rustling leaves and the beavers’ baseline to entertain the squirrels, the deer and the bears.

Please stay home.  This article explains why.  This is why.

Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 1.04.42 PM

We had another conference call this week to reassess ridgerunners.

 

AT Closure

Each year our trail club hires six ridgerunners to patrol the 240 AT miles we maintain. The trail is, in effect, closed.  Accordingly, the club is supporting the land manager partners who still want ridgerunners.

IMG_3585

We’re now down to three ridgerunners – Shenandoah National Park, Northern Virginia and Maryland.  Shenandoah is delaying the start of all their seasonal employees until circumstances sort themselves out, April 30 at the earliest.

The nature of the COVID-19 virus will dictate profound changes to the normal ways ridgerunners function, not the least of which is maintaining social distance.

Until further notice, the ridgerunners will not enter shelters, tend privies or sleep in the back country.  Each has a discrete residence that they don’t share with anyone else.  Health insurance is provided this year as an extra precaution.

With the ridgerunner question settled, home sequestration isn’t the end of the world in my neighborhood.  If you can’t hike far away, you can hike near by.

F8AB7B38-03A2-4E6D-849D-A7DFDFC32DC6_1_201_a

The 40-mile long Rock Creek Trail is a leafy block-and-a-half away.

F90AA7F5-6F11-4F1D-ABF2-12F54FE6235A

The walks are agreeable in spite of the urban location.

0A0181A7-9B7E-48FF-B2E9-F5C97097A4B6

My neighborhood has plenty of pleasant walking.

F0B68BED-1BD1-4848-9BAB-E4CE87D03913

We are very situationally aware as a neighborhood.  This family always has a sense of humor – and Halloween decorations that can be amortized over additional use.

04E58FDB-A03F-464E-80D4-337A35D8788C_1_201_a

Campfire anyone?  Who’s afraid of a ferocious house cat?

Our house is a comfortable redoubt for a reason.  It was built for a man with ALS who loved the outdoors.  You wouldn’t know his name, but you do know his work.  He invented those bumpy tiles at crosswalks and along train platforms in his workshop in the basement of this house.

Thanks to Robert Kramer, this is a more than pleasant place if you have to hole up.

Oh! One more thing. The radio and TV are off.  Podcasts beat the hell out of newscasts. Old Time Radio podcasts are my favorites along with “Ben Franklin’s World,” “What you Missed in History Class” “Sawbones,” and “In Our Time” from the BBC.

Be safe.

Sisu

Hiking with Contagion

7EC3DDE7-D7DC-4ED0-967F-F18EAB846B6A_1_201_a

Everywhere, March 23, 2020 — On a cool spring morning, on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, we were on a 12-mile hike that would put this state’s 42 miles in the books.  It would mean one state down and 13 to go for Bulldog on the AT.

In some ways nothing has changed.  Hikers still have to lift their feet one step at a time.  In other ways everything has changed.  In addition to an over abundance of pollen, the invisible threat of the COVID-19 virus ominously hangs in the air.

As governments closed restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other gathering places, the media observed that at least the hiking trails were open.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Shenandoah National Park Photo

Image may contain: car, sky, tree and outdoor

Shenandoah National Park Photo

It didn’t take long for people to figure that out. They have been swarming the trails, especially the beauty spots such as trails with popular waterfalls and overlooks. The overcrowding defeats nature’s benefits.

IMG_5771

Bulldog needed the most popular section in Maryland to fill in her dance card.  This is the footbridge across I-70 near Boonsboro, MD.

CA6052DC-CA6D-402C-AC66-2869BF64D7B4_1_201_a

Social distancing from above.

In the course of the first eight miles, from Washington Monument State Park to the Pogo campground, we counted 50 hikers, 17 of which were backpackers.  From talking with them, noting more trash than usual and the type of trash, and from observing the size of backpacks and bear spray, we deduced the crowd was mostly novice.

053ADB17-E212-4155-ACDE-23CF1BDF4CC5_1_201_a

The miles after eight are less popular and we saw no one.

1D1C1489-3A83-4F2D-9D32-9E532E79AC87

Bulldog’s step count.

5BB33AB1-3FD5-4F47-B05B-9B3024EC2C5A_1_201_a

Stay tuned for the next state.  It’ll probably be West Virginia’s less than five miles.  After that, they’re pretty much out of day-hiking practicality.  Virginia’s 500+ miles are a prime example.  Remember this sucker is 2,200 miles long.

We did not wear masks while hiking.  We could easily stay six feet apart and well away from other hikers.  We did mask up to shuttle our cars to the start and end points.  I am in a vulnerable group relative to gray hair and having allergy-related asthma.

23211728-0F93-4E28-8674-3AE00AA2921A

“Zooming” with Sandi Marra, president of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Our hike was only the kickoff event for a relentless week.  As the CDC and state governors refined their guidance, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy needed to make decisions relative to hiker safety, the ridgerunner season, trail conditions, meetings and a lot more.

As of this writing, noon Monday, March 23, the following closures and restrictions have been announced: Rocky Mountain National Park is completely closed.  Shelters/campgrounds closed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Numerous hostels and trail centers have also closed.  Trail crew work trips are canceled including my beloved Hoodlums.

This just in:  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will officially ask Americans to stay off the AT until further notice!  The overcrowding is unsafe.  Darwin Award candidates everywhere.

I’ve asked the park if I should do this or not.  Thursday I’m driving up to Shenandoah to prepare my AT section for spring, raking leaves out of the waterbars (drains), paint some blazes, and a couple of other small projects.  Will count cars in the parking lots on the way out.

Stay tuned and stay safe everyone.

Sisu

Fitness isn’t luck, or is it?

BDFC3E9E-A4EE-4018-A6EA-FE03D39F1BB4

Kensington, Maryland, March 13, 2020 —  It’s Friday the Thirteenth, an auspicious day to note one of my favorite mottos: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

That brilliant observation is attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca.  All I know is that in my experience, it has been more accurate than not.

With our official Appalachian Trail season opening next Saturday, I suppose one could spend the winter hoping that luck would be enough to get this septuagenarian ready to hike with the ridgerunners, lead Road Scholars and do the physical work required to keep the trail clear and in good repair.

Before I answer, please allow some digression.

IMG_4267

The vast majority of trail maintainers, who contribute a quarter million volunteer hours each year, are retired or persons close to retirement for one reason.  They have the time.

IMG_4251

While maintainers come in all stripes, ages and tenures, the younger ones tend to take a hiatus when marriage, children or job responsibilities heavily dent their free time.

The challenge for some retirees is that they age out too soon.  On average they retire at 65 and they are gone a few short years later.  Sometimes it is bad luck.  I inherited the AT section I maintain from a dedicated guy who was unfortunately struck by cancer.  Other times we grow infirm as we age whether it’s arthritis, illness or general decrepitude.

IMG_3078

The idea is to leave as little to chance/luck as possible.  Since most of what we do is physical, the idea is to be in the best condition achievable.  That requires work and dedication.

You can’t half-step and expect to run with the big dogs.  With the big dogs, you don’t have to be the strongest or fastest, but you do have to keep up.

AF2BFD35-D41F-4C5F-8FCE-FB913A16FFE2

Disclaimer.  I’m a life-long athlete.  I was a professional soldier required to be fit as a condition of employment.  I’ve never been seriously out of shape, so I’m starting from a higher plateau than most.  At the gym, my fitness coaches have told me for more than a decade that I easily out perform most of their 40-year-old clients.  That’s because, for me, it’s business. I am neither normal nor lucky. Regardless…

My workouts are planned by a coach.  I set the goals.  The coach decides how we, as a team, get there.  I depend on my coach’s knowledge and far too often on their motivational ability because sometimes I’m lazy.

The twice-a-week workouts are 45 minutes of intense exercise organized into two to three sets of three exercises per set with 12 to 15 reps each.  That’s 36 – 45 repetitions of each exercise.

In between gym sessions I used to run daily.  That’s no longer possible due to a congenital condition in my feet.  Instead I speed walk hills and bike paths near my home.  Occasionally, but not often enough, I add a third workout with weights at home gym.

The workouts are functional.  They are designed to mimic actual movements and activities or to strengthen specific muscles needed for certain activities.

Here’s a sample.

Goblet squat with 55 lbs.  Strengthens quads and core.  Preparatory for lifting and climbing hills.  The 45 lb. weight plate I’m standing on helps isolate the target muscles.

Skull crushers with 60 lbs.  Designed to strengthen triceps and shoulders.  For upper body control.  Wanna swing a pick?

Presses on the floor.  40lbs. each side.  Triceps, shoulders, and chest.  Good for pushing and rolling, not to mention crosscut sawing.

Plank with a 30 lb. weight vest.  Great for back and core. Two minutes

Chops pulling 55 lbs.  Good for digging and weeding.  The towel cushions my surgically repaired hand.

Giant shoe laces.  Stamina and lifting.

Twenty pound medicine ball toss.  Back and arm strength.  Lifting and digging.

That’s enough.  Put me in coach.

Sisu

Witt’s Chainsaw Rides Again!

674FD479-3B12-4A64-B575-3B54601B9B63_1_201_a

That white glaze isn’t frosting.  It’s ice which atomizes when the teeth bite in.

Appalachian Trail, Northern Virginia, January 21, 2020 — The thermometer was slinking past 19 degrees this morning when we crunched gravel in the Keys Gap trailhead parking lot.  We were on a search and destroy mission to clear six blowdowns on the AT.

8C779691-6A3A-4D77-A6D0-A72E1EC5A83F

The frosty air pinched our noses as we rucked up the chainsaw and all its trimmings.  The first blowdown was quick on the march.  The white stuff is ice.

BEE09B30-F4AD-4C54-B1BB-4FD1D23BDC36

The chainsaw makes quick work of these guys.

7BE44550-831D-423E-AFBD-43567D83F7E2

All clear.  The next five were attacked in quick succession.

CAAA9CC5-A0EA-400A-8F2F-46BAA76156AB

One side down.

2CCCC99D-6C56-4653-B81E-C62879A959D4_1_201_a

Side two.  The round, or the middle chunk of log we removed, had to be cut in half.  It was too heavy to manhandle out of the way.

485484E1-FBE6-4812-AD00-2023A81F85EA_1_201_a

The formula is simple.  Convert gasoline to noise.  Noise is a catalyst that converts wood to sawdust.  Done.

Sisu

First Day Hike 2020

IMG_5203

Tina’s inevitable selfie marking our start at Gathland State Park, MD.

Appalachian Trail, MD, Gathland to Weverton, January 1, 2020 — Do this math.  It was the Gang of Four, minus one who had to work, plus three.  If Mary was one of them, how many oranges did Mary have left if she ate two?  Answer:  6.5 miles.  Makes as much sense as most word problems.

The confusion doesn’t matter because these intrepid hikers braved the morning frost to mark the New Year in search of burgers and beer at the end of the rainbow.

D972C1EC-E866-41B1-A72F-7F1ED4361DAB_1_201_a

Rest stop at the Ed Garvey Shelter

The trail between Gathland and Weverton Cliff is gentle and not very rocky by AT standards.  Tina, who was on the nine-mile Black Friday march, was delighted both by the relative absence of rocks and by the gentle terrain.

The hike follows a wooded ridgeline that is semi exposed to the predominate northwesterly winds.  At times the gusty breath of Mother Nature nibbled at exposed skin, but in return, the sun represented her comforting motherly hug.  Layers and hats were on, and off, and on again for most of the day.

We were a merry band on our march.  We wished “Happy New Year!” to everyone we met along the way.  While the trail wasn’t crowded, the number of families enjoying a First Day hike was impressive.

2017-02-14 23.23.58

Our second rest top was Weverton Cliff.

2017-02-14 23.23.44

Weverton Cliff offers sweeping vistas of the Potomac River all the way to Harpers Ferry.

2017-02-14 23.18.39

“Bulldog” is noted for finding and photographing natural art.

2017-02-14 23.17.57

Weverton has LTE.  Can you tell?

2017-02-14 23.39.43-1

Glam shot of “Bad Ass.”  She was once a television correspondent for a network you would recognize.  She still looks the part.

2017-02-14 20.46.14

It’s almost a military formation!  The front two are military veterans leading the way.  Note Sam’s “Air Force gloves.”

9F2FCD05-A4B3-4873-8254-68DE39D0017D

Railroad bridge closure notice at the trailhead.  We’ll soon know soon how much longer repairs are expected to take.

44F69A03-36D7-47D3-860E-CE3041A2D1A1_1_201_a

We took the long way to burgers and beer, stopping to admire the view at Jefferson Rock.

Total trash collected and packed out:  One gallon by volume.

All in all, the First Day was a good day.

Sisu

The AT’s Newest Sawyer

a344707c-6a76-4f66-8b0a-ce9e50ec5f96.jpeg

Appalachian Trail, The Rollercoaster, Virginia, December 28, 2019 —  Some folks who spend time preserving and protecting hiking trails are possessed by the demons of perfectionism.

Knowing something isn’t right is like an itch they can’t scratch.  They obsess about it until whatever ‘it’ is, is fixed.  In this case ‘it’ was blowdowns.

Pair uncleared blowdowns with a newly certified sawyer itching to practice, and a chainsaw gets to go for a hike along with a couple of enthusiastic swampers !

DSC00666

By way of introduction, our sawyer is Witt Wisebram who was last season’s ridgerunner in Northern Virginia and ultra distance runner.  The Atlanta native is now the winter caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center.

866AE45F-16AA-41BA-AA45-0CCC6595BFAB

A “pie cut,” sometimes called a wedge cut, is used because the bind is on top and the log isn’t thick enough to use wedges.  It’s too close to the ground to attack from underneath.

The first few blowdowns were little more than a nuisance to hikers.  They are step-overs that can be ignored, at least the small ones can.  They are removed because they can cause erosion.  The greater challenge for the sawyer on this type of blowdown is to avoid sawing rocks and dirt.

14418FA1-E26F-49F2-984C-BEE47F591CC9

This tree trunk blocks the trail.  There’s no way around it.  It’s equally difficult to crawl over or under.  Because it’s a “leaner,” care is taken to read it in terms of bind, how the log will behave once the tension is released, including whether it might roll.

You also want to keep your feet out from under the top section of the trunk which will hit the ground with a heavy thud.

62E6BCD9-58EB-41BA-B68F-395D7D484B21

The pie cut missed but the angle cut worked anyway.  Experience gained.  Witt’s friend Jason congratulates!

2E788618-107F-445D-B2A9-37CCC3B88ACA

Clean up.

B8CCD5F6-9430-4AB5-BD64-FF4E268DC3F2

Finishing the job.

24E9335A-2CA4-4E9A-A1E3-F8E59FEA27A9

Funny how they seem to fall perpendicular to the treadway.

D6BA37E9-C4D4-4907-AF4F-82E917BFE277

Blowdowns come in all sizes.  Witt captured the white blaze for display at Blackburn.

5AA2DFFE-E093-44D0-BF8B-AEE48AD909A1

People have been painting rocks and leaving them along the trail as decorations.  Now it’s golf balls.

54FF6CA8-3E17-4BD4-8047-CE6A1C9F3EFF

This is how we found it.  Needless to say we packed it out.

6B5D5AB6-EEDB-47A7-A508-CCC76EC7AEED

This large branch buried itself more than a foot into the ground.  It was too big to move without being reduced to bite-size chunks.

E11AEFEC-DA06-4888-B3FF-4B6E180BB541

Mother nature saved the tenth and best blowdown for last.  The bigger ones are more fun to cut.

1EEEA5A2-62B1-4E4B-AD94-B8FD49587276

A log this large – in this case about three inches thicker than the length of the chainsaw bar – sometimes the round will bind and not drop to the ground.  An inverse keystone cut is used to ensure the cut out section falls to the ground.

5AFA2BDC-78A9-485A-A30F-D8DAFE6485FF

Note the end of the bar is not sticking out. That means the sawyer has to cut from both sides.

967168D7-C9E5-4441-B0C5-8B965435C083

We used wedges to keep the kerf open. It worked as planned.

656612D4-B836-4052-9615-F9729C5EE912

The trail is clear.

Stay tuned for the Gang of Four’s First Day Hike.

Sisu