Serendipity!

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Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, June 5, 2019 — My friend Karma is hiking the AT again this year and I have been following her blog.  In the past some of her blogs from previous hikes have been cross posted here to share her adventures.

Her blazing speed this time around is impressive.  You can do that when it’s your second rodeo.  On a repeat performance the B.S. is reduced to noise and the anxieties are taken in stride.  You can actually enjoy the experience.  That she’s having a good time was obvious at lunch.

The truth is that she’s a week ahead of schedule, not because she’s faster but because she’s hiking smarter by spending less time in town.  It just so happens I was in Harpers Ferry upstairs at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy when a friend there told me Karma was downstairs, fresh off the trail, wringing wet with sweat.  Serendipity!

I bounded down the stairs into the hiker lounge and gave my friend a soppy hug.  After finding out that it was too early to check into the motel where she could have showered, we decided to go to lunch anyway.  After all, it is a hiker town and we’re hikers.

Our plan always had been to meet for lunch in Harpers Ferry where Karma planned to take a day off known as a zero for zero miles hiked.  Now as it is, I always buy lunch when a friend hikes in from Georgia.  It doesn’t happen that often, so it’s a bet that won’t break the piggy bank. When it does happen, it’s special.

My first question was “Why are you doing this a second time”?  The answer was simple and complicated.  In the end, her reason is universal. She likes being out there.

Karma first hiked the AT in 2013.  Her blog “Karma on the Trail” is the most entertaining AT blog I’ve ever read.  You can find it here:  https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com/

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Karma’s half way photos from this 2013 and 2019.

You go girl!

Sisu

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Don’t practice being miserable!

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Forty liter pack. 

Appalachian Trail, January 5, 2016 — By now the 2016 thru hikers are deep into preparation.  A very small number have actually launched.  You go guys and gals!

Two years ago on this date I was thru hiking north of Damascus, VA.  The following day I was leaving the trail because one of my parents was going into hospice care.

That was cold hard news, but the weather was colder.

If you recall, the winter of 2013-14 was the year of the infamous polar vortex. When I woke up at dawn the morning of my departure, my thermometer read -15 F.  I had 21 miles to make for pickup.  That’s cause for pause for everyone planning to hike this or any year.

It had rained the entire previous day. Fortunately my rain kit kept my body and the contents of my pack bone dry.  That was a life saver under those circumstances, but my pack harness and pole straps were frozen hard as rock.  Pounding them into a pliable state generated much wanted body heat!

That icy morning I also took my all time thru hike favorite photo of a gorgeous white blaze framed in plump Virginia snow.

This year, as the seasons have switched from Indian summer to true winter, I’ve been following social media discussions on what gear thru hikers should carry.

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This March the temp on the AT in north Georgia fell to 4 F.

On the one extreme are the ultra light gram Nazis. Some of them won’t even carry a Bandaid for fear it will add too much weight.  On the other are extreme the Wally World folks who contemplate hauling camp chairs and elaborate cooking utensils.  Each of these approaches carries existential risks that aren’t for me. I can tell you stories …

Most everyone else is somewhere in the middle on pack weight. As I’ve followed the discussions and debate, I’ve contemplated what constructive information I might be able to add.  Afterall, I hiked 1,000 miles on the AT in winter conditions and was a ridgerunner in Georgia this past spring.  I saw and learned a lot of value from those experiences.

In that context I follow a blogger named Paul Magnanti (www.PMags.com).  Paul writes a very useful and entertaining hiker/backpacker blog from his home base in Colorado. His most recent is entitled “Snivel Gear.” Continue reading

Reunions

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Harpers Ferry, WV, May 26, 2015 –There I was doing my best Captain Kirk impression as I sat in the command chair behind the counter of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) visitors center when the door opens and I hear a cheery, “Hi Sisu!”  (Sisu is my trail name.)

To my delight, in walks Emily Leonard.  At least that’s who she was when I camped next to her and her husband on Springer Mountain, GA in early March.  Now she is “Black Bear,” an awesome thru hiker who remembered me promising that I would take her ‘half-way photo’ if she reached ATC HQ on a Tuesday, my volunteer day.  Well, she did and there I was wearing a giant smile in salute to her presence and accomplishment.

Emily is a former teacher and soccer coach who lives in Maine.  She sounded and looked strong. After the formalities, I treated her to a healthy, read leafy green-colored, lunch at a quirky local restaurant. Our conversation quickly established that she’s having a wonderful time walking in the woods.  You can follow her blog at:  http://happyhiking.bangordailynews.com/category/home/  I really hope that Black Bear goes — ALL THE WAY!

By way of additional insight, I wrote about Emily anonymously in one of my blogs from Georgia.  She was a hiker with the ultra light Cuban fiber tent pitched with so much slack that I worried might blow away in a strong wind.  After staying the first night, her husband returned home to Maine and work while Emily hiked on.  That wasn’t the first time I learned to never judge a pack by its cover.

Of note:  It turns out she ditched that tent for a range of reasons and is using the one her husband had.  So much for hi tech.

IMG_2095Separately, a hiker named “Bonafide” aka “Winter Walker” phoned me from Bears Den hostel last night.  I first met him in Tennessee in December 2013 during my thru hike.  That year his doctor told him to lose some weight, so he walked from his home state of Vermont to Tennessee and back to Harpers Ferry.  This year he decided to thru hike and I met him plowing through the north Georgia snow back in February.

Sisu and Winter Walker in Mount Rogers Outfitters, Damascus, VA in Dec. 2013

Sisu and Winter Walker in Mount Rogers Outfitters, Damascus, VA in Dec. 2013

His call was to check in being that he was nearby. When I mentioned that the movie, “A Walk in the Woods” would be out in September, he unleashed a tirade about hikers who mess up the woods and don’t follow Leave No Trace principles.  It was instructive to say the least.  It seems like time and distance don’t weed out all the bad apples.

The “Walk in the Woods” trigger was this:  The Bill Bryson book features many scenes like the ones I reported from Georgia with people tossing trash and worse all over the trail.

He asked me what I thought the answer might be.  My response was one word:  Babysitters.  That’s what you get when you act like a child.

Here’s the trailer for “A Walk in the Woods:” It promises to be a fun movie.

http://news.moviefone.com/2015/05/27/robert-redford-walk-in-the-woods-trailer/

Sneak Peek

My gear set up in Woods Hole shelter in Georgia.

My gear set up in Woods Hole shelter in Georgia.

North Georgia, Friday March 30, 2015 — None of us who love being outdoors could ever be accused of living he lifestyles of the rich and famous.  We’re not even trying.  But, we are living life in the simple way we love.  A sneak peak into the way it is out here follows.

It’s always fun to write about the drama whether it’s snow, mud, rain, wind, heat, bears, snakes, and the like.  But reality is much more mundane.  So what it is that we really do? Here are a few questions and answers.

Where to we sleep?  Some people sleep in shelters.  These three-sided structures were part of the AT’s original vision.  A precious few of the original log structures still stand, though most are infested by field mice and the critters that eat them. (Read Jake No Shoulders: aka snakes.)

An original shelter from the 1930s.

An original shelter from the 1930s at Cable Gap.

Wood Hole, a more contemporary shelter.

Wood Hole, a more contemporary shelter.

Shelters offer safe haven in stormy weather and enable quick get-aways in the morning. The accommodate from six to 16 of your best friends, at least that’s what you become after sleeping cheek to cheek with people who were formerly perfect strangers. Corner locations offer privacy on at least one side.

Former strangers.  Friends now!

Former strangers. Friends now!

Tenting or sleeping in hammocks are alternatives to shelters.  Hikers tend to favor tents, at least until their need for speed trumps aversion to strangers.

A peak inside my mosquito netting.

A peek behind my mosquito netting.

Tents offer privacy and control of your gear.  Most makes are comfortable and weather tight.  They do add up to an hour each day to pitch and strike them.

Cooking?  There are as many ways to cook as there are hikers.  Some cook over an open fire.  This method has multiple disadvantages including sooty pots, the time spent gathering wood and building the fire, not to mention the extra weight of fresh food that’s much cheaper than branded dehydrated meals.

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Hikers tend to cook near their tents or in common areas associated with the shelters.

Hikers love high calorie, low volume foods.  Breakfast often consists of oatmeal, coffee, hot chocolate, pop tarts and granola bars.  Lunch can be tortillas and peanut butter, salami on bagels, or Snickers bars.  Many folks don’t stop long for lunch, if at all.  After all, time equals miles.

Almost everyone eats a hot dinner.  One all time favorite is Ramman noodles with peanut butter. That passes for haute Pad Thai in these parts.  Otherwise meals dehydrated at home or manufactured by companies such as Mountain House are luxurious at the end of a day harder than woodpecker lips.

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Some folks love a few creature comforts, especially at the onset of their hikes.  However these extras add weight and tend to disappear rather quickly as the reality of a 2,200 mile trek sets in.  It’s sometimes amazing what come out of the huge backpacks you see out here.

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After meals, we hang our bear canisters or food bags to keep them out of reach of critters.

Bear canisters are heavy and only required in one small area in Georgia.

Bears must think of this as a food bag tree.

Bears must think of this as a food bag tree.

"Mouse hangers" keep field mice away.

“Mouse hangers” keep field mice away.

After dinner, some folks like a camp fire where they wile away the stress of the day.

After dinner, some folks like a camp fire where they wile away the stress of the day.

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At the crack of dawn we reclaim our food from the bear cables or when in town (about every five days) go to the supper market to buy more.

Now you know a little bit more.

Went for a walk on a winter’s day

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Compton Peak

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park (SNP), Compton Peak to Jenkins Gap, Saturday February 7, 2015 —  Each inch of the Appalachian Trail has a human who is responsible for its upkeep.  These folks are called overseers.  Stewards would be more like it.

Overseers remove blown down trees, branches, clean and repair erosion control structures like check dams and waterbars, build new ones as needed, cut back vegetation that may harbor ticks and pick up trash when necessary.

As luck would have it, yours truly is about to become responsible for one mile of the Appalachian Trail from Jenkins Gap to the top of Compton Peak (SNP north district).  That’s AT northbound miles 957.4 to 958.7.  I’m about to become a proud papa.

This is a handsome section of trail if I do say so myself.  From the Jenkins Gap parking lot, it’s optically flat for about a half mile.  This part has been burned over in the past. I’m going to have to learn more about the fire.  Consequently it is infested with lots of vines and thorns. These will require a lot of attention.

The second half begins with a nice flight of stone steps leading to a sluice a bunch of us built two years ago.  The Sluice keeps water from a healthy spring from washing out the trail.  The grade to the top is gentle by any standard.  The treadway throughout has a minimal number of rocks.  Yea!  This isn’t Pennsylvania, you know.

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The trail section ends on top of Compton peak.

A blue blaze trail crosses the AT on Compton Peak leading west to a nice overlook and east to a columnar basalt formation which is one of the few on the east coast.  Eighteen months ago we built 68 stone steps to help make the trail to the basalt formation more passable and to help control erosion.  Judging from the tracks in the snow, it’s popular year round.

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The primary reason for building the steps to the basalt formation was a spring that washed out the trail.  Looks like we’ve got more to learn about water management.

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Columnar basalt.

The day was pleasant.  The temps hovered around 32F with zero wind.  The sun was mostly cloaked by heavy lead-colored clouds.

Without overseers, trails would quickly become impassible no matter whether they are in a state or local parks or one of the big ones in the national trail system.

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Before and after.

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In total there were a even dozen obstructions that had to be removed.

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Jenkins Gap.  End of the line.

Return to mundane life

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Kensington, MD, August 15, 2014 — I saddled up my car in my cousin Deb’s Grantham, NH driveway, ready for the journey home.  The leaves are hinting their fall colors and it was time to leave.  

On this phase of the journey, the pathway would mostly be on I-95 which exists as a remarkably dissimilar parallel universe to the the sylvan setting we’ve come to know as the Appalachian Trail. 

The drive home was relaxing and noneventful to my delight. I arrived around midafternoon on a delightful late summer day featuring low humidity.  I pitied the traditional Washingtonians who’ve made their lemming-like August escape. This place can be delightful with a huge chunk of the local population out of town.

The mood wasn’t right to do much after arriving, so I unloaded the car and junked my gear in a pile to be sorted another time.  The stuff that smelled like ripe gym socks stayed quarantined in the garage. Like the rocks, nothing was going to go anywhere.

The cats were happy.  They expressed their glee in the usual ways, rubbing and purring up a storm.  Then I fired up the grill, savored non-dehydrated BBQ and melted into my chair to watch “Project Runway” with my wife and daughter.  Sophie, my favorite cat assumed her usual position on my knee. 

This morning I got a haircut.  Afterwards I could not resist grazing at my favorite donut shop next door.  I adore their glazed donuts.  Let’s not make that a habit, I reminded myself. Reintegration is nearly complete.

The heart of today’s plan was to clean up my gear, wash my clothes, sleeping bag and down jackets, and remove the funk from my rain gear.  Since my trail crew is working tomorrow I needed to prepare my contribution to our post work pot luck dinner.  The theme this month is Caribbean.  Here’s hoping my finely chopped mixed greens with pineapple, mango and watermelon, drizzled in balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing will complement everyone’s jerk chicken.

Late this afternoon, the laundry remained a work in progress, so I decided to skip tenting tonight (Friday) and instead will drive up early tomorrow morning.  I will camp Saturday night.  I hate to miss spending Friday with some of the more intrepid crew members, but I really don’t feel like practicing my deep woods sleeping skills just now.  That can wait until next month.  Monday I return to the gym to get ready for cross-country ski season.

After Katahdin, I needed to clean up two short trail sections I’d skipped.  I was too ill to join Swayed when he hiked the Wildcats, a taxing 21 mile chunk from Pinkham Notch, NH to Rt. 2.  With pending big rain as the motivation and aided by fresh and healthy knees, I knocked it off in 14 hours nonstop.  A day earlier I ripped through a seven mile stretch, centered outside Andover, ME and Moody Mountain, in what turned out to be a no-challenge jaunt.  The yellow blazes have been erased from the record.

Wednesday morning I met with a rep from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) about the perception of their brand in the minds of thru and long distance hikers.  They are well aware and nondefensive.  Best, since this was my second conversation on this subject, my impression is that they are willing to listen and repair as much of the damage as possible. I’m hoping to be a productive part of that process, after all that’s what most of my communications career was all about.

Once the weekend’s work is done, I’ll begin sorting out my trip report for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), final equipment review, lessons learned and the video.  Then there’s the honey do list … here’s a hint.  It’s long.

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Better than Disney World

Kennebunkport, ME, Friday August &, 2014 — Reintegration back into non-hiking society began in earnest this morning with a visit to a local coffee shop called Morning in Paris. Can’t get much further from the back woods than that.

Later we jumped on my friend Ed’s Vespas and scooted to the beach to watch some friends surf. His daughter Katie is home from her job with the United Nations, so naturally we posed for our “life is a beach” pic.

The adrenaline drained from my system during the shuttle from Millinocket yesterday. I was too exhausted to join a party in progress at a local Irish pub. Instead, I sat on the front deck sipping wine and let the sound of the crashing waves massage my cares away.

I can tell that I’m still suffering from adrenaline withdrawal because I’m dragging a bit. It feels a lot like the aftermath of a long business trip.

I can’t get too far in front of my ski tips. I have two short sections of trail I skipped over, about 27 hours total hiking time. I’ll get the first six hours on Sunday and the remainder Monday and Tuesday.

Tuesday or Wednesday I hope to meet with some Appalachian Mountain Club officials to offer them some requested feedback centered on their brand image with thru hikers. These are the Appalachian Money Club folks.

Then it’s off to my cousin’s to retrieve the gear I Ieft there. After that it’s home to join my trail crew working next Saturday in Shenandoah National Park.

Thanks to everyone for your kind kudos since Katahdin, especially HOBO whose congratulatory text reached me on Katahdin’s summit. His timing was perfect.

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Note the genuine Paris bistro chairs.

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After you hike the AT, life truly is a beach!!!

Made for TV movie

Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,185.3, Wednesday August 6, 2014 — Today was like a made for TV movie with perfect scenery, a thickened plot and surprise casting.

Imagine two thru hikers hiking in successive years. Each has walked all the miles except the climb to Katahdin.

Better yet, each one has vicariously hiked with the other through their respective blogs month by month, day by day; mile by mile.

What are the chances that they would find each other and summit together? Well it happened.

Tie Dye wrote a fascinating blog during her 2013 hike. Along the way, we struck up a conversation. In fact, she was responsible for shaping the tone of my own hike. I blogged about it in a post entitled “Conversion on the road to Damascus.” Who knew she was working at the AT Lodge in Millinocket.

Conversely, Tie has been following my blog and has encouraged my progress. I bumped into her when I popped into the Lodge to wait out the rain.

Today was her day off and we summited together. How cool is that?!!! Two hikes, two years and one goal.

We piled into the van, a bunch of hikers headed to the top of a mountain, bound together in common purpose.

The trail can be divided into thirds. The initial portion resembles most of the trail in Maine – roots, rocks and mud. It even has bog bridges. At treeline, boulders resembling Mahoosic Notch add challenge with less difficulty. The end is a tableland walk with a surprise ending. The final exam has a bit of everything.

The dark leaden sky blocked dawn’s early light as the forecast’s twenty percent chance of rain threatened. About 45 minutes in, the sky dropped its load. With those odds, maybe I should head for Las Vegas.

As we scrambled through the boulders, the clouds parted like the Red Sea and we could see forever. It was indeed a perfect day.

Thanks to family, friends, followers for coming along for the ride. Special thanks to Tie for sharing this special day. Without Fitness Together, this would have been a struggle. Please stay tuned for follow-ups , the anthology video and to see what comes next.

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Go for launch

Millinocket, ME, AT Lodge, AT NOBO mile 2,180.1, Tuesday August 5, 2014 — Lies, damn lies and statistics? Wrong! It’s really lies, damn lies and weather forecasts.

Where have all the T-storms gone? Not here. No time passing.

Today dawned cloud free and has remained so all day. I feel like an idiot to have missed another opportunity to put the cherry on top of this most excellent adventure.

The forecast for tomorrow is now for clear weather. Therefore I’ve decided that we attack at dawn come hell or high water. It’s Katahdin or bust ’cause I am about to bust just sitting around here twiddling my thumbs. The hostel is a nice place, that’s not the issue.

Of course I am psyched. Let’s rock and roll kiddies. It’s time.

Now for other news. Sadly Millinocket is another small town drifting toward oblivion. It’s paper mills have closed taking its middle class down in the process. Deferred maintenance and for sale signs characteristically define Main Street in what has become a hiker town trend.

It is sad that the theories of Adam Smith and Darwin are evident one more time. In Smith’s case, the prosperity always seems to accrue to someone else or elsewhere. At least the hiking community brings in a few bucks.

Some of the businesses look like the owners left in a hurry. Names remain on marquees. It looks like they might be open, except they aren’t. Potemkin would be proud.

This town supports its troops. Communities like this have been sending their sons, and now their daughters, to defend our nation’s interests on muddy fields for centuries as monuments to their service attest. It’s ironic that no one seems to have defended them in the hour of their need.

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Outside. The desperation is evident.

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Inside. Working harder didn’t solve the problem.

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Rain delay

AT Lodge, Millinocket, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,180.1, Monday August 4, 2014 — Up to this point, every day, every mile, every rock, every root, every mud hole has been a preliminary heat. Now we’ve made the finals.

With toes on the starting line, the assent of Mt. Katahdin has been delayed by a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow. A similar percentage applies for Wednesday.

I opted to regroup at the AT Lodge in Millinocket and climb on Thursday when the weather is expected to clear. It’s sad to come this far and not get a clear view on top, so I’m waiting.

I reached the camp store at Abol Bridge just as it opened. Hot, fresh coffee! Oh boy. Then it happened.

There it was – a moose just inside Baxter State Park! It was munching its way through a swamp to my right. Rain or no rain, I whipped out my camera and fired away. Mr. Moose, or maybe it was Bullwinkle, posed like a pro. Thanks bro!!!

The remainder of the ten-mile walk to Katahdin Stream Campground was a soggy jaunt in drenching rain. Can you believe it? The sky cleared just as I arrived, just 30 minutes past the deadline for starting a summit attempt. If I hadn’t stopped for coffee, I could have summited today. Oh well, 5.2 miles to go…

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The store and it’s setting reminded me of Alaska.

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The white tail was a bonus.

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