The Secret Word

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

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

Shenandoah National Park, October 17 – 18, 2015 — Remember the secret word on Graucho Marx quiz show “You Bet Your Life?”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Bet_Your_Life I have a new one for ya.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a “lumbersexual” is a Metro-sexual who has the need to hold on to some outdoor based rugged-ness, thus opting to keep a finely trimmed beard. Sometimes their wardrobe includes plaid flannel shirts and leather work boots.  Well, this weekend was my best imitation – or maybe was I just testing my latest Halloween costume idea…

2015-10-17 09.25.26This was the final regularly scheduled Hoodlums work weekend of the year. I took a crew of four including myself on my AT section to finish the rehab started earlier this year.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic.  It's peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

My arrival was timed for dawn plus a few minutes to beat the traffic. It’s peak leaf season the the peepers cars clog Skyline Drive bumper to bumper for all 105 mikes if the park.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up but for the warm coffee.

This morning it was 28F when those of us who camped at Indian Run popped out of our mummy bags. I slept toasty and warm. Hated to get up except that the thought of hot coffee twisted my arm.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

I spent this morning inventorying all the erosion control structures on my trail section. Along its 1.3 mile length, it has 58 waterbars, 45 check dams, 3 swailes, 14 stone steps, 20 feet of stone retaining wall and one stone culvert.

The Appalachian Trail is administered by the National Park Service.  it’s budget is based in part on the amount of infrastructure that must be maintained.  All 2,189.2 miles of trail are being inventoried by its various overseers like me.  I think they are going to count a lot of “stuff.”

2015-10-18 11.08.34Milam apples were the most common type grown in the area.  Not sure these are those.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park.  You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober apfel gorge fest.

My trail skirts an old apple orchard that was part of a farm when the land was condemned to create the park. You can see were the bears have trampled the vegetation enroute to their Oktober Apfel Fest.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

Autumn is slowly asserting itself. The colors are shifting from the the energy of spring toward the reds and greens of the Christmas season. Snow and a quiet winter sleep are just over the horizon.

For more on lumbersexuality see:  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4277725.ece

Cowboy Candle

This is a cowboy candle.

This is a cowboy candle.  More about that in a bit.

Shenandoah National Park, Mathews Arm Campground, September 18 – 20, 2015 —  Come September mother nature begins nodding off as she contemplates her year’s achievements and a well-deserved winter rest.  Her spring creations are mature now having flourished in the embrace of warm summer sun and slaked by rain.  It’s time to lengthen the nights, turn down the heat and prepare to swaddle in blankets of white.

With the humidity having been wrung out of the autumn air, my car pulled in just after 8:30 p.m. Friday evening.  I’d been helping with a thru-hiker event at an REI store in Virginia that nailed my feet to the floor until after six — dead into the locked jaws of outbound D.C. area traffic.

The penalty of “rush hour” tacked a vexing extra hour to my trip, thank you very much! Traffic is the only thing in Washington that isn’t in a hurry.

As I shut off my ignition, it was dead dark and I was much later than I wanted to be. I still had to find a spot, pitch my tent, cook the a la foil steak resting in my cooler, and get some rest before the starting gun popped Saturday morning.  The night was warm with a gentle breeze that allowed me to snooze on top of my sleeping bag.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

The workshop is a cooperative effort between the Hoodlums trail crew and the Shenandoah park rangers.

Our workshop is an excellent training exercise limited to 30 participants.  They are divided into three groups classified as novice, intermediate and advanced trail maintainers.  People come from other geographical areas and maintaining clubs to take part.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

I led an intermediate level group of five to build and rehab check dams and water bars on my section of the Appalachian Trail.

So much for the work.  The best part is socializing at the bookends of the day.  We each contribute to a kitty so that we can hire caterers from Pennsylvania who have been with us for years.  All we have to do is schmooze and have fun.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us.  Thanks to good weather we didn't have to use it.

The Park Service sets up an awning for us. Thanks to good weather we didn’t need it.

We have a convenient fire pit.

I could get used to car camping.  Unlike backpacking, if you think you might need it, you just pitch what ever ‘it” may be into the trunk of your car.  That’s why everyone brought a cooler full of beer!

Saturday night is the only “official” night of the workshop. One of our rituals is torching a “cowboy candle.”  A log about three feet long is chainsawed into eight standing and numbered sections.  Everyone bets on the upright they think will be the last one standing.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven.  It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others.  Wrong!  It was the first to go.

This year about 90 percent of us bet on pillar number seven. It was up wind and seemed a bit thicker than the others. Wrong! It was the first to go. 🙁

As we cheered for our cowboy candle favorites, the breeze sharpened in a way that signaled that we were on the doorstep of a new season.  From now on, the year will age quickly.  For that reason, we have only one more monthly work trip left in our regular season.  Sometimes there’s a November encore trip, but that’s nature’s call as much as anything else.

It could have been the food, the friends or even the beer, but on Saturday night I snuggled into my trusty sleeping bag and was lost in dreamland before my head dented my inflatable pillow.  The morning dawned crisp.  I turned up the collar of my fleece as I shivered in line for coffee.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group.  Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates.  His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I've previously written.

Steve Dannenfeldt and his daughter Shelby were in our group. Steve oversees the trail atop Compton Peak where my section terminates. His trail leads to the columnar basalt formation about which I’ve previously written.

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets.  Paperwork!

Unfortunately people in three separate groups were stung by yellow jackets. Paperwork!  I was delighted that our  group didn’t find any.

The Easy State

 2015-08-29 10.11.10  2015-08-28 11.54.30

Max Mishkin and Dan Smith are the AT ridgerunners in Maryland

Maryland Appalachian Trail, August 28 – 29, 2015 — Many hiking guides list Maryland as the easiest state on the Appalachian Trail.  Here the AT is a relatively flat ridgewalk, mostly on South Mountain.  It has its share of rocks, but nothing compared to those to be experienced north and south of here.  In that sense, Maryland is fortunate.

In contrast, Maryland has the misfortune of being easy and close to the millions who live in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas.  That’s a lot of people, many of whom take the shortest path to the AT section nearest home.  It’s a recipe for over use and abuse.  That may be why the state funds two ridgerunners for just 38 miles. One starts early and the other stays through October.

On Saturday Dan Smith and I hiked from Weverton Cliffs to Gathland State Park.  These gentle miles unfold quickly.  Even the hump to the top of the cliffs isn’t an outrageous challenge.  Pretty much any able bodied person can make it.  Come at it from Gathland and the physical challenge is even easier.

Relative to the work Lauralee and I did last week in Shenandoah National Park, this southern chunk of Maryland was a piece of cake.  Still, I was surprised at the amount of trash we policed up – ranging from micro trash like mylar snack wrappers to discarded/forgotten clothing.  Dan said it was a light weekend. Note to self: Remember this for next year.

We also broke up a couple of illegal fire rings too.  Fires, except at designated fire pits at the shelters, are illegal in Maryland, but some people just don’t seem to care.

Dan is an amiable Pennsylvanian and mechanical engineer who appreciates being outdoors.  He’s thru hiked both the Appalachian Trail (AT, 2,200 miles) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington, featured in “Wild.”)

Next year Dan’s off to hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.) It’s the last leg of his triple crown and I have no doubt he’ll nail it.  The ridgerunner community will miss him.

After repositioning Dan’s car, I left him to rush northward to spend the night at Annapolis Rocks with Max Mishkin.  I made camp about two minutes before I needed to turn on my headlamp.

The two Maryland ridgerunners rotate so that there’s always a caretaker on site at the Rocks.  It didn’t take long to figure out why.

Caretaker's tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Caretaker’s tent at Annapolis Rocks. I hung my hammock nearby.

Annapolis rocks is the Grand Central Station of Maryland’s AT section.  On a nice weekend, several hundred people per day have been known to visit.  Most are neophyte day trippers who are unaware of the Leave No Trace principles.  Consequently trash and cigarette butts figuratively snow from their presence.

Outdoor organizations also frequent the Rocks.  Scouts and Outward Bound groups are common.  Camping is restricted to a limited number of designated sites and no fires are allowed.

As I was walking in, a disgruntled father with a couple of sons was moving out with the speed of the approaching darkness.  It seems that the father brought the boys to one of the most sensitive and protected places in Maryland to show his boys how to build a fire and make a lean-to.  Max caught them hacking live trees and starting a fire.

Rather than camp the right way, they packed up when Max didn’t allow them to continue their activities.  The damage they caused was sadly obvious when we cleaned up the site the following morning.  As some of my military friends put it, “You can’t fix stupid.”

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt.

The upside to caretaking at Annapolis Rocks is obvious. People seem to love a guy with patches on his shirt. I think we found Max at central casting.

Max is a jovial extrovert from Connecticut who graduated from William and Mary.  Since then, he’s knocked about in political campaigns and paralegal work.  On his days off, he volunteers like I do at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center.  In early November he plans to hike Vermont’s Long Trail.  I’m planning to be on that trip too if circumstances permit.  I love the challenges of winter hiking.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.

Two Outward Bound groups came in turn to climb the rocks. This is a climbing favorite in Maryland. The highest rated climb, Black Crack, is 5.9 on the Yosemite decimal system because it has an overhang. The others are non-technical but do require rope protection.  It’s a long drop to terra firma.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

I love to see young folks learning how to climb. The rock is a hard sandstone infused with calcite. The cracks and fissures make excellent and safe handholds.

2015-08-29 10.32.47 2015-08-29 10.46.05

The youngster on the right did an excellent job.

Say it ain't so! The seasonal transition has begun.

Say it ain’t so! Buckle up your overshoes. The seasonal transition is beginning.

An Abundance of Goodness

Four basic tools of the trail maintenance and forest fire trade.  From the left: Mcloed, Pulaski, Rogue hoe, pick mattock.  Add a five gallon plastic bucket, a shovel, a pruning saw and you've pretty much got the whole set.

Four basic tools of the trail maintenance and forest fire trade. From the left: Mcloed, Pulaski, Rogue hoe, and a pick mattock in front of a brand new waterbar we used them to build.  Add a rock bar,  five gallon plastic bucket, a shovel, a pruning saw plus an occasional cross cut or chainsaw and you’ve pretty much got all the toys.

Shenandoah National Park, VA, August 15 – 21, 2015 — This was a physically demanding and productive week in the park.  I love to sweat, so thanks to the weatherman, we were virtually swimming in goodness.

The itinerary was chock full of fun. Saturday marked our monthly Hoodlums work day.  We enjoyed an excellent turnout for mid-August vacation season.

I groaned a bit when the short straw put my crew on a weeding expedition down a side trail that hadn’t seen much love this year.  In about five hours, six of us weeded two miles of trail with swing blades because a chunk of it is in a designated wilderness area where motors are not allowed.  We also cleaned 42 check dams and six waterbars, and cleared one blowdown!

I removed this blowdown with my Hoodlums crew using a 20 in. pruning saw.

I removed this blowdown using a 20 in. pruning saw.

Note the rise of the tree trunk on the right side of the photo.  I knew there was stored energy to be released, but not that much.

Removing a blowdown isn’t newsworthy except for this.  Note the rise of the tree trunk on the right side of the photo. I expected a bit of a jump, but not all the way to eye level. It’s a good example of how bucking any down tree can be hazardous.

Immediately after the Hoodlums clock expired I hustled 50 miles toward the southern end of the park to meet up with Lauralee Bliss for a two-day ridgerunner walk, after which I hurried to join the crew I’d be working with for the remainder of the week. I was a day late, so I knew I needed to work extra hard to make it up.

The first project was fixing a mud hole created by a spring further down Overall Run trail than we were able to get during crew week in May.

The spring leaks from multiple locations and undermines the trail tread,

The spring leaks from multiple locations and undermines the trail tread,

We don't call Eric Jenkins the human crane for nothin'!

We don’t call Eric Jenkins the human crane for nothin’!

Our solution was to build a culvert drain and a raised turnpike to the upper/dryer side of the trail.

Our solution was to build a culvert drain and a raised turnpike to the upper/dryer side of the trail. We left the muddy part untouched because the water also rises from underneath.

Finished product.

Finished product. It’s always great to work with the National Park Service crew.

The second day on Overall Run we corrected another mud hole using a slightly different solution.  Rain ended the day early.

The second day on Overall Run we corrected another mud hole using a slightly different solution. Rain ended the day early.

The following day we rehabbed the treadway on the Dickie Ridge trail and built several new waterbars and grade dips to improve drainage.  The weather was worthy of a Finnish sauna.

New waterbar under construction.

New waterbar under construction.

Side-hilling to level the treadway.

Side-hilling to level the treadway and move it up hill enough to keep it from causing erosion in some areas.

Compacting a new grade dip.

Compacting a new grade dip.

It was THAT kind of day!

It was THAT kind of day!

The heat was quickly depleting all of us, so we broke early.  I decided to spend the extra daylight checking on my Appalachian Trail Section and I was glad I did.

I found this blowdown on my trail section.

I found this blowdown on my trail section.

Just after cutting the first branch, another small tree came crashing down.  It scared the scat out of me!

Just after cutting the first branch, another small tree came crashing down. It scared the scat out of me!

Half done.

Half done.

Finished.

Finished.

Found this illegal fire ring at an informal campsite on my section.  Since destroying the last one early this spring, no one had rebuilt it until now.

Found this illegal fire ring at an informal campsite on my section. Since destroying the last one early this spring, no one had rebuilt it until now.

Launched the rocks as far away as I could.

Launched the rocks as far away as I could. Maybe planting poison ivy or raspberries in this space might help solve the problem, ya think?

The weather broke on the final day. The temp dropped 20 degrees and the humidity halved.  Yea!  We worked near the Elk Wallow wayside building a couple of new grade dips and waterbars.  We also repaired a huge waterbar where rain cascades down the trail like a river.

Waterbar, one each.

Waterbar, one each.

Your August 2015 trail crew:  Cindy Ardecki, me, Brian Snyder, Noel Freeman, and David Sylvester.

Your August 2015 trail crew: Cindy Ardecki, me, Brian Snyder, Noel Freeman, and David Sylvester.

Blowdown Boulevard.

Blowdown Boulevard.

On A “Blissful” Patrol

Lauralee Bliss may well be the dean of AT ridgerunners.

Lauralee Bliss may well be the dean of AT ridgerunners.

Shenandoah National Park, VA, August 15-17, 2015 — I now coordinate five ridgerunners who patrol the 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) for which the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) is responsible.  While I am a volunteer, they are paid a modest stipend for their summer work.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be walking a bit with each of the five.  My objective is to know them better and learn what I can from them about the issues on their respective sections of the trail.  Afterall, we’re expecting many more hikers next year. http://appalachiantrials.com/a-walk-in-the-woods-and-its-impact-on-the-appalachian-trail/

Last weekend I walked a section with Lauralee Bliss who is the sole ridgerunner for all 105 miles of the AT in Shenandoah.  That’s a lot of territory to cover.  To say her hiking resume is strong is an understatement.  A former orthopedic nurse, she has thru hiked the AT both northbound and southbound.  Her memoir of those hikes, Mountains, Madness, & Miracles: 4,000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail sells well. She also has published more than 20 books. http://www.amazon.com/Lauralee-Bliss/e/B001JPCEBI

Lauralee’s multi-year tenure and the volume of unsolicited praise from hikers pretty much says it all.  I’d heard a lot of good things about her long before actually making her acquaintance at a National Trail Day event earlier this summer.

Last Saturday, after completing my work with PATC’s North District Hoodlums trail crew, I hiked in to meet Lauralee at Black Rock hut located at northbound mile 882.3 on the AT.  From there we would hike to McCormick Gap at mile 865.3 with a second overnight stop at the Calf Mountain hut in between.

A very nice couple, former thru hikers, joined us at Black Rock.

A very nice couple, former thru hikers, joined us at Black Rock. Lauralee tents. I hung my hammock.

Along the way we swapped ridgerunning stories and performed minor trail maintenance including clearing some minor blowdowns and picking up micro trash.

Our first adventure happened bright and early the first morning.  We stopped to snag the TP someone had left next to the deposit they’d plopped just a couple of feet off the trail.  As Lauralee shed her pack with intentions of parking it, I noticed a copperhead lolling in the leafy landing zone, perfectly camouflaged as they are.  When ole “Jake No Shoulders” slid into a new residence amongst the discarded TP we decided let it be and wait for another time, discretion is the better part of valor you know. That’s the only mess we didn’t clean up.

Lauralee checking in with Shenandoah dispatch. Many ridgerunners are issued radios that connect them to the various forms of support they need.

Lauralee checking in with Shenandoah dispatch. Many ridgerunners are issued radios that connect them to the various forms of support they need. She’s standing next to Skyline Drive which is the primary front country feature of Shenandoah National Park.

The first day was a hot one.  Toward the end, my IT band was talking back loudly and with authority, but what the hey, it’s all in a day’s work.  At one point I saw a branch strangely sticking out of the ground and partially blocking the trail.  I judged it to be a tripping hazard.  Wrong!  It was plugging a yellow jacket nest.

I got lucky.  When I yanked it out only a few of the evil little critters buzzed about to take a gander.  Rather than luck, it could have been professional courtesy since I used to work at Georgia Tech.  Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. (The Georgia Tech mascot is “Buzz” the Yellow Jacket.)

Along the way we heard about a boisterous southbound Boy Scout troop which had camped at the Calf Mountain hut.  Negative reputations travel fast on the AT.   We didn’t know what to expect, but experience has taught each of us not to hope for much.  We weren’t disappointed, though it could have been much worse.

Trash left by the Boy Scout troop. We only wish they had signed the shelter register. We love return addresses when we find trash.

Trash left by the Boy Scout troop. We only wish they had signed the shelter register. We love return addresses when we find trash.  The pot was full of uneaten food.

Of course the trash was right next to this sign.

Of course the trash was right next to this sign.

Lauralee’s purpose for bringing me to this section was for me to see where maintenance is needed. Some parts of this section are overdue for weeding.  Weeding is important because weeds are the vector for Lyme disease-bearing deer ticks.  http://distancehiking.com/blog/lyme-disease-appalachian-trail/

A contractor mows parts of this section since its distance from population centers makes recruiting overseers difficult.

A contractor mows parts of this section since its distance from population centers makes recruiting overseers difficult.  The vegetation alongside the trail is an invasive species called Japanese stilth grass. Stealth grass would be more like it.  The stuff sneaks right up on you with overwhelming force!

Other sections need work.

Other sections need work.

Lauralee, whose trail name is

Lauralee, whose trail name is “Blissful,” trims briars.

We stashed our trash at Beagle Gap for pick up later. That's about three gallons worth.

We stashed our trash at Beagle Gap for pick up later. That’s about three gallons worth.

Many hikers want to become ridgerunners because they think the job is about hiking.  It’s actually about education.  The purpose of ridgerunning is to help hikers do the right things to take care of the trail and its surrounding environment.

ridgerunners break up illegal fire rings.

Among other duties, ridgerunners break up illegal fire rings.

Ridgerunners help hikers understand how to Leave No Trace that they've ever been in the wilderness.

Ridgerunners help hikers understand how to “Leave No Trace” that they’ve ever been in the wilderness. https://Int.org .

Ridgerunners pack out other people's trash. It's one of the distasteful parts of the job.

Ridgerunners pack out other people’s trash. It’s one of the distasteful parts of the job.

Best of all, ridgerunners help hikers. Here Lauralee helped this young novice with a back shakedown that eliminated eight excess pounds of equipment she did not need.

Best of all, ridgerunners help hikers. Here Lauralee helped this young college student with a pack shakedown that eliminated eight excess pounds of equipment that she did not need.

One thing I learned about Lauralee is that she is a bear whisperer.  On our last morning we found a young bear ambling in the forest.  It probably is his rookie year away from his mother.

When Lauralee talked to the bear in her soft blissful voice, his head cocked from side to side while his ears twitched in every direction like radar searching for UFOs.  Maybe to him that’s what we were.

I just know this: He left us with a gentle heartbeat and in the good spirits that reflected the extraordinary person with whom I was fortunate enough to share the weekend.

No Shxt Shirlock!

    
I found this uneaten apple about a perfect bear length in front of a pile of bear scat. Since there is but one apple tree on my entire AT section I can only deduce that it came from a tree three quarters of a mile away!

                                                           ________

Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2015 — It’s been a crazy summer for black bears in the park. They aren’t behaving normally. 
Ridgerunners report seeing far fewer bears than normal. Yet, bear sign is everywhere. There’s plenty of scat, not to mention a huge increase in overturned rocks, shredded logs and the like.  Why this, now, when food in a wet year is especially abundant?

That’s my main complaint. Our furry but elusive buddies are making a mess of everything. They’ve never done that to this degree before. 

Take for instance the section of the Appalachian Trail that I oversee. I can appreciate the “guys” help in keeping down certain invasive species such as the raspberry snares that are proliferating in the aftermath of a 2011 fire that burned through the lower half of the trail. Thanks for that. But, to paraphrase what we used to say in the Army, “One aah shucks wipes out every atta boy!”

Message to bears: Stop tearing up my waterbars and check dams!  I mean it. It’s going to take half the winter to repair the damage. 

    
Here bro bear trashed a perfectly good waterbar checking for grubs. At least the log was heaved where I could find and reuse it. 

    
In this instance of bear banditry, the SOBs took the the log which is nowhere to be found. 

   
All right already!  I know the log on this check dam is starting to rot and needs to be replaced.  I just don’t need the ursus crowd chowing down on this insect motel. 

Guess what?  I know who you are. I saw both of you last week when I was working on keeping the weeds (Lyme disease-bearing tick habitat) in check. If you don’t behave, I’m going to have to post your picture in the Jellystone post office. I mean it!

Flash Forward One Year

Aug. 6, 2014.  I took summit photos in two different shirts.

Aug. 6, 2014. I took summit photos in two different shirts.

Home Sweet Home, August 6, 2015 — I wasn’t going to write a one-year-retrospective.  Most of them are boring and trite.  As I have often said, being a successful thru-hiker doesn’t make you special.  It only means that you were fortunate enough to have a special experience.

Okay, so what happens when it’s over?  You go home and then what?  Post hike depression is well documented.  Of course, I thought it could not happen to me.

When your hike is over, if you’re lucky, you have to get back to work.  That’s true for most hikers.  If you have something lined up – say going to grad school – you’ve got it made.  But even if you have to job search, you’ve got a defined focus for your time and a purpose to pursue.

If you’re retired, that’s another story.  Recently retired people are the second largest, albeit, small category of thru hikers.  A lot of them shut the door to their offices and open the front door to the AT with little transition time. I met a hiker in Georgia this year whose time lapse was four days!

I prepared for ten months, but it’s almost the same.  I’d done nothing to prepare for retirement itself other than to know that I’d have to “keep busy.”

Boom!  The hike ends.  You take a victory lap. The the crowds stop clapping.  For months on end you’ve had a routine.  Wake up, eat and hike.  Following the white blazes was my job.  Where is the next white blaze?

Aside from the daily trail routine, hiking is heavy exercise that bathes your brain in a heavy flow of endorphins all day long.  Like distance running, the craving doesn’t stop when you end your journey.

Endorphins act like opiates.  These chemicals, manufactured by your body, make you feel really good.  When they go away, the funk can get very deep indeed.

I thought that returning to a strenuous exercise routine and increasing my volunteer activities would help me avoid endorphin withdrawal and the mental depression that goes with it.  NOT SO!

I did all these things, but in between, I sat in my easy chair and stared out the window or zoned out with ESPN on the idiot box.  My reading habit evaporated.  In the past year I have completed exactly one book; that compares to my 3 to 4 per month lifetime average.  My motivation meter was pegged at zero.

There’s more.  My weight began to creep up.  I did switch back to healthy foods from the ultra high calorie trail junk, but I ate a lot and drank more beer.  I’ve regained about 75 percent of my lost weight.

After my voluntary stint as a ridgerunner in Georgia this spring, my mind began to get a grip.  Maybe returning to the scene of the crime helped.

I remembered why I retired in the first place. My retirement routine couldn’t replace my previous career as an adrenalin junkie.  The 60-hour plus work weeks needed to be left to history.  The new normal needed to be new.

Now my volunteer time is structured around specific goals.  I’ve found opportunities with much more responsibility – to the point where I supervise five paid employees in one of the gigs.  Best of all, I’m beginning to have a lot of fun.

For now, one year after my hike, retirement has become a never-ending process.  I’m contemplating more hiking adventures, but I’ll tackle them differently.  For example, I’d love to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. (“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is set there.)  But if I do, it will be over three years in sections rather than all at once.

If I learned one take-away from hiking the Appalachian Tail it is that thru hiking takes a long time.  While I loved my hike and would do it again, I got tired of being out there “forever.” Moreover, making “forever” so is not a reasonable expectation.

Looking ahead, I’m hoping to better use my time because at this stage of life, you truly have to do more with less.

Post card I sent to those who helped along the way.

Post card I sent to those who helped along the way.

One of the best parts of my final day on the trail was to share it with my friend Karen (Tie) Edwards.

One of the best parts of my final day on the trail was to share it with my friend Karen (Tie) Edwards.

Here’s a link to a one of several videos I’ve made in support of speeches I’ve made this past year.

https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D3624411_94596663_12582

A Romp in the Woods?

Harpers Ferry, WV, July 7, 2015 — I was privileged to see a sneak preview of “A Walk in the Woods,” a knockabout comedy staring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  The show opens in 1,800 theaters on Sept. 2.

Redford.  Slapstick.  No way!!!  Indeed, it’s true.  The movie was a delightful midnight snack adding a light touch to Redford’s rich acting career.  If you recall, Redford and Paul Newman always had a comedic touch.

To my delight, the humor was practically nonstop.  The jokes kept coming.  Anyone would get them, but there was enough hiker and AT double entandre to evoke knowing nods and smiles from the audience.

From a potty trowel Christmas ornament available on line at www.appalachiantrail.com

Potty trowel Christmas ornaments are available on line at http://www.appalachiantrail.com

Potty humor on the trail isn’t new and this movie doesn’t disappoint.  The ubiquitous and sometimes maligned potty trowel makes more than a cameo appearance.

Redford with toilet paper in hand may have been added for shock value, but more likely, the potty trowel scenes are subliminal Leave No Trace messages using a subject not much discussed in polite, read the non-hiking, society.

Yup.  Bears aren’t the only ones who do it in the woods and wanna be’s need to know that and prepare to pull their pants down around that and other deeply personal subjects in advance.

To recap for the unfamiliar, author Bill Bryson penned a  best-seller in the late 1990s entitled, A Walk in the Woods.  It was a semi-fictional and somewhat autobiographical story based on chunks of the Appalachian Trail that Bryson sampled in preparation to write his story.  His sidekick, Steven Katz – played by Nolte in the movie –  is the foil and comedic counterpoint as their adventures unfold.

This New York Times best seller is credited with driving up the number of AT thru hike attempts by logarithmic factors since.

The screenplay differs a fair amount from Bryson’s original story, but the essence is there.  Two old comrades with diametrically opposite personalities reunite after decades of estrangement for one last adventure.

Neither this film, nor the recent movie “Wild” (based on Cheryl Strayed’s best selling memoir) are about hiking per se.  In each, hiking is the means to the end.  In this case, Bryson confronts career burnout and the remedy is a romp in the woods with his old buddy Katz.  Our treat is to go along for the ride and enjoy the laughs.

Kristen Schaal.

Kristen Schaal.

The cast is fantastic, especially Longmont, Colorado’s own Kristen Schaal who is brilliant.  Her character plays off a classic AT stereotype and the reappearance of her character could have been a hilarious punctuation point near the end of the movie when Bryson and Katz have to be rescued.  In stead, the dynamic duo are saved by other stereotypes they first hate but come to love. In reality, it doesn’t happen that way on the AT.  No spoiler alert here.

As with any movie about subjects we know intimately and love dearly, this movie has its share of nits to pick and quibble about.  Among them, in the movie: Gooch Gap comes after Neels Gap. McAfee Knob appears after Shenandoah National Park.  The duo has trekking poles strapped to their obviously empty packs, but never use them. The social aspects of the AT experience are mostly AWOL. The bears that steal Bryson and Katz’s food are grizzlies, not black bears.  (We know bears will do almost anything for food, but hitchhike from Montana?  That’s a bit much.)  Much of the movie was not shot on the AT. That’s dramatic license. So what?

The $64 dollar question is how “A Walk in the Woods” will affect the number of hikers in the future.  History is clear.  Major media events drive numbers up.

Given that most Millennials barely know who Redford and Nolte are, it may not have much effect on that demographic. Large numbers of Boomers, on the other hand, missed out when they were in their 20s.  Like me, they had to wait until retirement to find the time.  Could be that this will remind them to get off the bench and out in the woods.

More likely, we may expect the number of weekenders and short-distance backpackers to increase along the trail.  After all, Bryson himself didn’t hike the whole thing.  For those without the where with all or inclination to thru hike, sampling chunks of the trail is a viable alternative.

Hordes of uninitiated hikers can have a disproportionate impact on the environment.  That’s why the potty trowel metaphor is an effective vehicle to communicate the larger Leave No Trace message.  It creates awareness and opens the door to a broader discussion of appropriate behavior and practices.

Viewers come to movies like this with a truck load of preconceptions.  They’ve read the book, tramped around on the AT or other trails, and have their own inventory of intrepid experiences.  Hikers want a hiking movie with which they can self-identify and reinforce the attributes of the hiking experience as they understand it.

In other words, hikers will tend to want a certain label and vintage of fine red wine, e.g. perfection.  For some, this won’t that movie, and I’ll submit that there’ll never be one.  So, this flick may not be what you hope for, but it will still make you laugh because if you haven’t been there and done that, at least you’ve seen it.

As a feature film, this treat is tasty, but definitely lo-cal.  It never intended or tried to be an opulent double Dutch chocolate delight. In other words, here’s little to satiate the uncontrollable urge known as hiker hunger in “A Walk in the Woods” the movie, and unfortunately the lack of high caloric content may be unfulfilling to a few of the usual suspects out there in hiker land who never seem to be satisfied anyway.

By its end, “A Walk in the Woods” is a light comedy based on our favorite pass time with a sprig of deeply personal revitalization for the two main characters garnishing the end.  They all lived happily ever after.

When you think about it, isn’t that a big chunk of why any of us lace ’em up and grab our trekking poles?

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Ridgerunner Coordinator

Yours truly with the 2015 Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners.

Yours truly with the 2015 Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners.

Blue Ridge Summit, PA — No good deed goes unpunished.  In my case, the “punishment” is really a delightful reward.  Last month I was asked to manage the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s (PATC) ridgerunner program. I couldn’t wait to be thrown into that briar patch!

Although I love being a grunt on the Hoodlums trail crew and overseeing my AT section, I’ve been searching to expand into a leadership role within PATC and this one is perfect for me.

These ridgerunners are highly trained, independent, experienced and motivated.  Serving them is a high honor.  If you could meet them in person, you’d know exactly why.  You’d break your pick for any one of them.

The Ridgerunner’s primary role is to be an ambassador from the trail to those who use it.  They are there to help and encourage, especially desired behaviors such as practicing the Leave No Trace ethic.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ridgerunner for more. Ridgerunning is a rewarding experience as readers know who recall the blogs I wrote while ridgerunning in Georgia this past March.

Each ridgerunner patrols a defined section of the PATC’s 240 miles of the AT.  The length of their service is dependent on the where their patrol section is and the funding provided by the partner agency responsible for that section.  They aren’t paid a lot, but that’s not really the point.

As for the good deed — I prepared a report for various senior AT leaders about my experiences and observations in Georgia. The report was widely circulated, and I think someone thought, “Okay wiseguy.  You brought it up.  Now step up!” I accepted in a nanosecond.

Here is a link to that report:  https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D3624411_94596663_20574  Those who read it will learn a bit about what I leave out of my family-friendly blogs.

Looking ahead to upcoming challenges, the number of AT thru hikers and visits to the trail is expected to dramatically increase next year in response to two Hollywood movies — Reece Witherspoon’s “Wild” which involves hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail and Robert Redford’s “A Walk in the Woods” which is based on Bill Bryson’s popular book about hiking the AT.  “A Walk in the Woods” opens Labor Day weekend.

Historical data tells us to buckle up and  expect a huge increase in the number of inexperienced and inadequately prepared hikers. For my part, I’d rather be part of the solution than be part of the problem.

Meanwhile, I look forward to hiking with these great ridgerunners on patrol in, what for us, is the real world.

Several friends and acquaintances have congratulated me on my pencil drawings lately.  I can draw, but not nearly that well.  The featured image for this post was taken with my iPhone and processed by an app called Pencil Sketch.  I’ve used this artful feature for more than a year and absolutely love it.  I created the renderings that follow just to show you some of the tricks it has up its sleeve.

This is the original photograph.  The various renderings follow.

This is the original photograph. The various renderings follow.

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Reunions

EmilyLeonard

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/