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

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

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

Hoodlums Crew Week

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Butterfly on short final for thistle pollen.  They have been abundant this year.

Shenandoah National Park, August 18 – 23, 2019 — Every year the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) Shenandoah trail crews organize crew weeks.  That’s when members can work closely with the park’s professional trail crews. It’s good for morale and camaraderie.  It’s also fun to play in the dirt like a five-year-old.

The five-day experience couples the satisfaction of teamwork and hard work with the joys of barracks-style living – nine people sharing a single bathroom and rush-hour-like  kitchen congestion.

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On the way to our work base in the park’s Pinnacles area, I stopped at my AT section at Jenkins Gap to refresh a flaky blaze.

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First you need exterior grade white paint, a brush and a scraper.

Next you remove the old paint and just enough bark to help the paint stick.

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Andy Warhol would be proud (I hope).

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Raiding the tool cache for tools needed for the the week.

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Loaded van, ready to rock and roll.

Monday we split up for a range of jobs.  Mine was on a “weeding” crew for an overseer who has been ill.

For arm chair trail maintainers, weeding translates to a roaring string trimmer frapping poison ivy into an evil green pesto that coats exposed skin like white on rice.  Need I say more?

It’s hot, sweaty and buggy work, all necessary to remove habitat for the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

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Day two dawned with the full brutality of mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity.  It was so hot that the burning crosscut kerf spit fire and brimstone.

We teamed up to rip our way through this 18-inch blowdown.  It’s in a federally designated wilderness near the park’s western boundary.  By definition, power tools cannot be used for trail work in wilderness areas, hence the muscle power.

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Anna, 65, and Mary, 68, proved age is no limit.

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The guys had several bites at the apple too.

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Half done, but the heat index was oppressive.  We were working at least 1,500 feet lower than the ridge above us where the temp would have been 10 – 15 degrees cooler.

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Shortly after we snapped this victory photograph, one of our members showed symptoms of heat exhaustion.

In this case the symptoms were: dizziness, dark urine, fatigue, transient nausea, vision issues and lack of coordination. Skin was cool and normal color, but she wasn’t sweating much.  Heart rate and breathing remained within a normal range under the conditions.  Her awareness and alertness (A/O) score remained at 3 for the entire time.

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Treatment included moving the patient into the shade, soaking her with water, placing chemical cold packs against her carotid arteries, taking her vital signs, and ultimately getting her to sip a liter of Pedialyte.  In total she drank 2.5 liters of Pedialyte and water.

We radioed Shenandoah dispatch about 15 minutes after the onset of symptoms for a backcountry EMT.  Her symptoms were worsening.

We knew it would be awhile.  The plan was to continue treatment until the EMTs could arrive or, if she improved sufficiently, to walk her out over the mile-and-a-half down hill to the trailhead.

Unfortunately emergencies in the backcountry are never trivial.  Help can’t arrive easily or quickly.  We coach our ridgerunners to prepare to be on scene without help for up to three hours in a worse case scenario.  Depending on the nature of the injury, that’s a lot of time for bad things to happen.

After an hour, our patient improved and felt strong enough to attempt to walk out.

The EMTs were still on the way, so we radioed dispatch that we were walking out.  We met the EMTs and park rangers at the trail head where they were preparing to hike in with the guide we had sent ahead.

Our patient was assessed and monitored for almost an hour before being discharged to our care.

A law enforcement ranger who responded paid our team the ultimate compliment.  “It was,” he observed, “nice to see people in the backcountry who were properly prepared.”

Amen to that.

The next day’s weather forecast was for molten metal falling from the sky, so we decided to take a zero day which would allow us to slip behind the public access curtain to see what we could learn. Our thanks to Rebecca Unruh, the ranger who coordinates our volunteer activities.

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The park archives are an amazing collection of records and artifacts dating back before the park’s creation in the 1930s.

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What’s in this box?

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Original maps.

Next stop, Rapidan Camp. The camp was President Hoover’s country (very rustic) retreat.  It was the model for Camp David, the current presidential retreat, located about 150 miles north in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park.

fullsizeoutput_2064Our zero day ended on a Sundae.

fullsizeoutput_2056  Throughout the year we partner with the National Park Service rangers.  Dave Jenkins is responsible for trail maintenance in the northern half of the park.

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Building a drainage dip for a wet spot.  We are shifting from hard-structure waterbars (drains made of wood and stone) to dirt mounds variously called swales, rolling grade dips, or as the trail maintenance manual (p. 65) calls them, “drainage dips.”  They are more natural and have less environmental impact.

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The dirt is raked down hill and hard tamped into a mound set at a 45 degree angle to the trail forming a ditch-like structure.

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We also cleaned and repaired serviceable log and stone waterbars.

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Some people pose with trophy animals.  We, on the other hand …

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Last project.

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Closeout discussion with Ranger Rebecca Unruh at our barracks.

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Final portrait.  One more crew week in the books.

Sisu

 

 

FKT Attempt: A Champion’s Story

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Witt flying through Beagle Gap.  Note the stove I used to make coffee.

Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2019 — “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Theodore Roosevelt

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Witt Wisebram is an Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner from Atlanta, GA.  His resume includes the hiking triple crown – the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Witt holds or has held the FKTs (Fastest Known Times) for the Arizona Trail, the AT’s 100-mile wilderness in Maine, and the AT’s Four-state Challenge.

You can look up and learn more about FKTs here:  FKT website

Yesterday Witt attempted to earn the record for the FKT on the AT in Shenandoah National Park.

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The course is 103.2 miles on the Appalachian Trail beginning at 2,220 feet in altitude at the south entry kiosk, rising to 3,837 ft. at Big Meadows, and ending at 2,334 ft. at the north boundary.  The elevation profile looks like saw teeth whose bite can sap a runner’s strength like a crosscut sunders logs.

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Sunday night prep.

While the planning began for this “supported” attempt began weeks ago.  It got serious Sunday night when Witt and his support team positioned themselves in Waynesboro, VA to launch a zero-dark-thirty assault.

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Final checks.

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Overnight rain meant slick trail, at least until the sun burned it off.  Lingering clouds delayed the BMNT (Beginning of Morning Nautical Twilight) start by nearly 20 minutes.  Five thirty a.m. was launch time.

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While Witt burned up the trail, the support team set up to wait.  The tote contains calorie-dense foods, spare clothing, blister treatment, and spare gear.  A cooler in the car chilled water.

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After set up, we’d wait until the man himself dashed into view.

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Water bottles exchanged.  Snacks delivered.

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Potassium-rich bananas help prevent muscle cramps.

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It’s always handy to have a physics professor friend document your record attempt.  The sheet marked mileage, aid stops, miles in between, expected pacing, actual time, and any variance.  Sabine even made a column for bears seen (6).

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Witt was on or ahead of pace even after the sun burned off the friendly cloud cover.  Here he is crossing the Skyline Drive bridge at Swift Run Gap at the the boundary between the park’s southern and central districts.

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Waiting quietly for Witt had its pleasures.

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The aid stops were plotted where we could get easy access to the AT, generally 3-5 miles apart.

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Reginald the snapping turtle was our mascot.  Sabine’s life-long friend, an astronomer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, happened to be in town and joined us later in the day.

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Leave No Trace principles apply, especially when the athlete and his support crew are ridgerunners.  Witt exchanged is old wrappers for new snacks at each stop.

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As the day wore on, the mountains and the sun took their toll.  Mother nature is not sympathetic.

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As nightfall approached, we could tell Witt’s tank was emptying.  He had stumbled just prior to this stop and tweaked a muscle in his upper back.  His pace had been slowing since mid-afternoon.  When he sat down at this stop I knew his run was in grave danger.

We discussed ending the attempt.  Witt was concerned that continuing might but him in position for a long painful recovery.

We quickly planned another stop 1.5 miles up the trail at the Timber Hollow Overlook on Skyline Dr. where a final decision could be made.  Sabine joined Witt for safety and support.

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The thousand-yard stare tells the end of the story.

For safety’s sake and Witt’s health, he made the decision to stop his attempt, just short of the 70-mile mark.  Elapsed time:  15 hours, 21 minutes and 48 seconds.

Witt made a brave and intelligent decision.  This was his first defeat.  I hope it’s not his last.  Adversity helps us learn and grow.  It offers perspective and coaches empathy.

Note I did not say failure.  While the outcome on this day was not what Witt expected, he performed like the champion he is and will continue to be, only After this he’ll be a little bit better.

Sisu

 

 

 

The secret lives of ridgerunners

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Blackburn Trail Center

Blackburn Trail Center, Round Hill, VA, July 18, 2019 — Once a month in June and July we bring our Appalachian Trail ridgerunners to Blackburn for a little R&R and a short business meeting.  Outside guests from the Conservancy, NPS and our trail club are often invited.  In August they travel to the Scott Farm training center outside Carlisle, PA where they rejoin their mid-Atlantic peers for an official seasonal debrief and a personal comparing of notes.

Our MO is pretty standard.  We show up Thursday afternoon for some social time, prepare a meal and have some beer.  Friday morning we do cook-your-own pancakes with a 9 o’clock hard start for our meeting which varies between 90 minutes and three hours. Lunch is leftovers if there are any.

Ridgerunners are usually fairly stoic people.  They are selected for their maturity, judgment, commitment and intelligence. But what are they really like when they let their hair down and no one else is looking?  Here’s a snapshot of the dinner hour last night.

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Food prep was pretty standard.  The main course was grilled burgers.  Catherine, our PATC intern, was our slicer and dicer for the fixin’s.

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Seems like gender neutral nail painting is a thing with hikers this year.  I appears to have started with hikers painting their black toenails to cover up the grossness of it all.

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Next thing I know, they’re all doing it.

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Checking for purity?

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Stylin’.

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That was hard work.

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Ok.  Everybody outside to cook.  We were joined by Gary Seizer, host of the podcast “Stories from the Trail.”  He recorded an episode after dinner that will air in two to three weeks.

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What’s this?  The food was yummy.

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A good time was had by all.

Sisu

 

 

 

 

A tale of two hikes on the Appalachian Trail

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Me, Mary and Joanne at Nutter’s Ice Cream, Sharpsburg, MD for a pre-hike treat.

Appalachian Trail, Maryland. June 27 – 28, 2019 — The Appalachian Trail is not all work.  Sometimes it’s a truckload of fun.  So it was this week with two different gravel-crunching adventures.

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Making a last gear check in the Penn-Mar Park parking lot.

My ridgerunner friend Mary decided to hike the 47-mile four-state challenge to celebrate her 45th birthday.

Her plan:  Ridgerunner colleague Joanne would support her by car.  Roughly speaking she would hike the first quarter alone.  I would join her for the second quarter, and  her colleague Witt, the current speed record holder at 9 hours and change, would trot the last half with her.

The adventure begins on the AT in PA at the Mason-Dixon line, then passes through MD and a corner of WV at Harpers Ferry.  It terminates where the trail breaks into Virginia territory.  To be official, the hikers have 24 hours to git ‘er done.  The average successful hiker uses close to the entire time.

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It doesn’t count without the predawn selfie.

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Crack of dawn start.

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She’s a blur at Pen-Mar Park.

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She’s off!

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Joanne met Mary at road crossings along the way.  Staying hydrated on a hot day was paramount.

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Blister repair at the I-70 footbridge.  “Dr.” Joanne officiating.

Unfortunately, this is the last known photo.  After handing off Mary to Witt at Washington Monument State Park, about 8 miles later they encountered unforecast thunder, lightning and hail.  The tenderizing effects of head-banging hail caused Mary to call the game at 32 miles.

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Flash forward one day to the long-planned first hike of the season for the Gang of Four (minus one).  Our plan:  Annapolis Rock where Mary was on duty as ridgerunner/caretaker.

Green Briar Lake in the background.  Catherine with a Ninja pose and Tina photographing a camera-shy copperhead wedged in a crack in the rock.

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Mary, none the worse for wear, warns hikers of the copperhead.

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Best part of the day at Dan’s Tap House.  We missed you Alexis.

Sisu

 

Hand Surgery (Warning Graphic Pix)

Kensington, MD, June 19, 2019 — In my last post I was sporting a white cotton glove Michael Jackson style on my left hand.  It’s purpose was to keep my surgical wound clean and hide the stitches so they wouldn’t gross out people in restaurants.

fullsizeoutput_1f53.jpegThe gloves are sold at drug stores and serve the purpose for which I use them better than bandages which is the alternative.  I also cut the tips off the glove fingers for improved dexterity.

Regular readers are aware that this condition, Dupeytren’s Contracture, is a pain in my backside.  Click for more info

Sometimes called “Viking Disease,” Dupuytren’s is found in people with northern European heritage.  It is caused by a recessive gene. It’s presence in the general population is about five percent rising to around 30 percent in the Nordic countries.

I imagine the Vikings married their sisters back in the Fjords and then spread it everywhere they raided.  Being primarily of English/Irish and Scandinavian heritage makes me a prime candidate.

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This was as straight as I could make the fingers on my left hand which as had one previous surgery to release the thumb.

To date the treatment record includes six surgeries and four injections over 15 years.  This condition comes with a lifetime membership and season tickets.  It just keeps coming back.

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Surgery was two-and-a-half weeks ago.  Notice the straight fingers.

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Stitches came out on day 10.

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Found one we didn’t find when the rest of them came out.  Dug it out with pointed tweezers.

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In preparation for physical therapy a hot bag of clay is wrapped around the hand with a weight to help make the fingers as straight as possible.

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I sleep in a molded brace at night to keep my fingers straight.  During the day I do exercises to help them bend normally.

The prognosis is excellent.  So good that I’m planning to run a string trimmer for a short time Saturday to clean up a small section of the AT that I was unable to finish weeding before surgery.  Better yet, I’m meeting a ridgerunner for breakfast before that.

See you on the trail soon.

Sisu

 

 

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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