It’s a Wrap – Literally

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Crew and cast of a video for Nature Valley.

Appalachian Trail October 25 and 31, 2018 — “It’s a wrap!” called the director.  With that exclamation, the formal volunteer season ended with the sunset melting behind the horizon west of Shenandoah’s Black Rock summit.  Fade to black.  Hike to the trailhead.

That was the symbolic climax.  The actual ending occurred a couple of days later on Morgans Mill Rd. when the last of the season’s Road Scholars finished their strenuous ride on the Roller coaster section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.

First, let’s go behind the scenes at Black Rock.  (Anna Porter’s FB post).  A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking about locations to shoot a commercial in Shenandoah. It seems Nature Valley, the granola bar company,  is making a serious gift to the National Park Foundation to fund and maintain hiking trails in several parks including Shenandoah.

As people on Facebook suggested their favorite spots in the park, I realized no one had ever been involved in making a commercial and had no idea how ill-suited some places might be.

Having executive produced two regional EMMY-winning commercials, I jumped right in using industry vocabulary.  Soon the producers and I were talking.

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Ultimately we agreed on Black Rock Summit, probably the most dramatic location in the entire park.  Moreover three different trails intersect nearby allowing for a variety of b-roll locations and different looks.

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My “co-star” and partner in crime was Anna Porter and her dog Traveller, an inveterate hiker who completed the park’s 500 miles of trails in the 1990s This was long before hiking the Shendoah 500 was popular.

As Anna noted in her Facebook post, she learned a lot about making videos – notably just how boring it is.  Like the Army, you stand around and wait for the technicians to set up, not to mention the countless shots and occasional repetition needed to get them good enough to stitch the story together.

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We were each interviewed and asked to pose for dramatic effect.  Yes Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our closeups!  We joked about signing autographs on the red carpet.  Bet she styles high-heeled hiking boots!

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The golden hour produces the most dramatic light as Anna and Traveller admire the sunset.

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There were shots from every angle possible.

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Photo by Anna Porter

I felt like a bronze statue wanna be.

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The final chore, capturing the sunset.

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Nice shot.  Of note, the temperature was racing the sun to the bottom.

Final product:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BrOUysghBnK/?fbclid=IwAR0H8ersNcy3XvYtHJ-cmht8Qic24xSj9y_siXorHReejtE2tWTe9kpb_5U

 

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Flash forward a couple of days and the roller coaster ride left the station.  This was another great Road Scholar group.  Now, with the benefit of several years experience leading these hikes, I realize that most of them seriously underestimate the physical challenge of this hike.  It is defined by rough, rocky terrain, three steep climbs, and some challenging down hill that’s punishing for some older knees.

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Consequently we take lots of breaks to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of our surroundings.    Some remind me of their age only to learn that I’m usually older than they are.  I remind them that if one is lucky enough to avoid devastating maladies, and if you put in the effort to stay in shape, you can crush the average 40-year-old for a long time to come.  You just have to make it a priority – that’s the hard part.

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I ask every group what they think of this experience.  They find it challenging, but gratifying at the same time.  At the end, they realize how much they’ve overcome and what they’ve accomplished.

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As goes the leaf litter, so goes the season.  Can’t wait to do it again next spring. Meanwhile stand by for winter adventures.

Sisu

Road Scholars 2018 Edition

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First Road Scholars of 2018 on the Appalachian Trail at Bears Den Rocks, Virginia

Middle Maryland and the Rollercoaster, Virginia, April 17 – 18, 2018 — If ridgerunners are the first sign of spring, then the start of Road Scholar hikes is the confirmation.  This week we hosted our first group of Scholars on their ‘Hike the AT in Four States’ offering.

Link to program web page:  Road Scholar Description

This was a fun group.  Several claimed they wanted t shirts to display things like:  “I got detention at Road Scholars” or “I flunked out of Road Scholars.”  In a couple of cases, I actually believe such shirts might be prophetic.

These folks, being the confirmation of spring, could have fooled all of us. They were miscast. Their first hike in Pennsylvania featured trails turned to torrents six inches deep.  Maryland featured spitting snow and ouchy wind chills.  Virginia opened cold (note the title photo) but ended as a bright sunny spring day.  West Virginia today featured winds gusting to 40 mph.

Somebody ought to tell the prop department to knock it off.  Winter’s over, dammit!

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A stop at Dahlgren Chapel, Maryland. Link to Dahlgren Info

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Reading the historical markers at Fox Gap where a civil war battle occurred.

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Recently defaced Confederate marker.  This is part of a national trend.  Unfortunately, this marker is part of a battlefield, not a city park.

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Lunch at Rocky Run Shelter

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The trail is rocky and rough.  This hiker fell and we put a chemical ice pack on her injury.  We later learned that she had two hairline fractures of her wrist.

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Beginning of the AT hike in Virginia

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Approaching the first river crossing.

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One of five stream crossings in Virginia.  We feared high water but got lucky.  Notice the difference in clothing compared to the previous day.

Lunch at Sam Moore Shelter

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Best part of the trip.  Joined by Mary Thurman who was my 2015 ridgerunner colleague in Georgia.  This year she’s the caretaker at the Blackburn Trail Center.  The sign damage was caused by a bear marking its territory.

The intrepid Road Scholar hikers handled the five challenging rollercoaster mountains like pros.  Mary Thurman contributed photos to this blog.

Sisu

 

 

 

Victory Lap of Sorts

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100-mile Wilderness, Maine, August 1-10, 2016 — Bottom line:  Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  I remembered the last 100 miles of my thru hike as a piece of cake.  In my memory, only the second day was challenging.  Oh Grasshopper, you definitely mis-remembered that experience!

Absent the adrenaline of a thru hike, the 100-mile Wilderness was hard work, and was it ever.  Nevertheless, it was a joy to share it with Windy (Pepsi Hiker) Horn and watch her face brighten with excitement as the wonders of this gem of a hike revealed themselves like a sultry fan dancer hungry for tips.  If Katahdin is the cherry on top, the wilderness is definitely the whipped cream and definitely worth the effort.

IMG_2195I met Wendy and her hiking partner Diane near Port Clinton, PA in 2014 on my thru hike.  We hiked together for several days before I eventually outran them and they had to return home to northern Illinois.  We kept in touch.

This summer I shared dinner with Wendy and her friend Rene at the Skyland resort in Shenandoah National Park.  Mostly we talked about hiking.

Turned out that Wendy has section hiked West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Nice, but little to write home about.  I suggested she chew off a chunk of excitement for motivation.  That’s how we found ourselves tramping our way through the ultimate 100 miles of Maine.

I drove to Maine to visit an old friend for a couple of days before snagging Wendy at the Manchester, NH airport.  We then motored six-plus hours north to Millinocket and stayed at the AT Lodge before being shuttled to Monson, the gateway to the 100-mile Wilderness.  There we stayed at Shaw’s, now under new and enthusiastic ownership.  The place was packed to overflowing.

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The first stop was the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s new visitor center in Monson.  The number of AT hikers is overwhelming Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin.  A new permit system is being tested that will ultimately meter in a finite number of hikers per day and limit the allowable number coming from the AT to 3,000 hikers per annum.

We will save the arguments about the efficacy of this system for another time.

At Shaw’s we arranged a resupply drop which, sadly has upped in price from $25 to $80.  Seems hikers were dumping their garbage in and around the old 5-gallon paint buckets. Worse, some food was being stolen.  Now, resupply is delivered to your hand.  It takes some doing, but it worked okay for us except that it cost an unanticipated $40 each.  At least we could split the $80 cost.

THE DROUGHT

Maine suffered a dry winter.  This weather pattern has continued into summer.  In spite of the drought, the ponds have plenty of water to keep the outlet streams running.  The tertiary streams and many springs are bone dry. Hikers need to plan their water carefully.  The water sources for two Lean-tos were bone dry.

Same spot, two years apart.  The soil is thin with only inches of soil having been created since the glaciers retreated.  It doesn’t take much for a rain shower to make mud, or the sun to just as rapidly dry it out for that matter.

Desiccation is everywhere.  Even the blueberries are raisins.  If the berries fail, the bears, deer and other animals which depend on them will suffer.  The harsh reality is that some will starve.

The forest is tinder dry and we learned that fire crews have been propositioning equipment in expectation of forest fires that most certainly will occur.

Here’s a graphic example of the drought’s effects.  Little Wilson Falls, two years apart.

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Crossing Little Wilson Creek, two years apart.  This is not a crossing I ever imagined would be feet dry.

THE TRAIL

The trail begins gently enough with some gentle climbs and slab walks.

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Plenty of roots, considered a trail feature in Maine.

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Got rocks?  We climbed this twice … How?  The trail was rerouted at some point to include this gem.  The old trail wasn’t blocked and we accidentally did a two hour loop.  Ugh!

Not exactly a sprint.

THE JOURNEY

Ya got yer stream crossings and yer views.

We planned for an eight-day transit, allowing for some short and some long days dependent on the terrain.  The weather opened windless, humid and hot.  Temps were in the 80s and 90s which is cooking for Maine.

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Normally, I drink one to two liters per day and another in camp.  The first day I got dehydrated because several water sources were dry.  I filled up my spare three liter bladder (six lbs.) which we shared.  Problem solved.

Two years ago, I didn’t encounter more than a dozen or so hikers.  This year there were dozens upon dozens.  The college students told us that hiking is now a campus fad.  Good to get new blood into the woods, but the trash level was much higher than before.

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Two students from Elon U.  They had a general idea of what to do, but little knowledge of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and practices or the fact that privies aren’t everywhere you can camp, or how to properly wash dishes in the woods (not in the pond), or the finer techniques of hanging a food bag.   I pulled out my handy Leave No Trace card and led a discussion in the proper practices.

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Only one place to get water from the pond where we camped the first night.  Guess what’s under that artsy reflection of the sky?

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Some Bozo washed his dishes at the only place campers can get water.  Brilliant.  Not!

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A snowshoe hare mowed the shelter lawn.  His hind feet were huge and mostly white.

As it turned out, I overestimated how much mileage we could make.  The terrain was tougher than I remembered and the heat was oppressive.  Each of us was fit enough, but …

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Wendy twisted her knee about 40 percent of the way in and had to be “med-evaced” (shuttled) back to Monson for a recuperation day.  Here she’s arranging transportation.  She brought our resupply when we rendezvoused at Jo-Mary Road – along with a surprise: An icy cold Coke which I appreciated very much!

Nature’s art gallery.

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Laundry.

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Katahdin in the distance.

While Wendy recuperated, I hiked over White Cap Mountain in the cold rain – exactly the same conditions and time of day as two years ago.  It wasn’t a happy flash back.

I pushed on to Cooper Brook Lean-to the next day to swim – almost as good as a shower.  The next morning Wendy rejoined at Jo-Mary Road and we were off.

The AT has its moments.  One that sneaks up on you like a woman in a Philip Marlow novel with that come hither smile then sets you up for a hard fall is the newly reopened White House Landing.  I missed this one last time around.  They pick you up in a boat and stuff your face full of burgers and incredible homemade pizza.  You don’t leave hungry in the morning either!  It helped that the weather broke to cool temps, low humidity and a nice breeze.  So much for wilderness.  Perfect!

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This little guy stood his ground.  No rattles, but with the body type of a pit viper including the narrow neck and triangular head.  Definitely not a hog nose.  Possibly a water snake.  We were near a river.

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The 100-mile wilderness ends at Abol Bridge, just before entering Baxter State Park for the Katahdin climb.  There were about 20 hikers headed for Baxter where there’s only room for 12 long distance hikers.  Everything else is reserved car camping.  We shuttled into Millinocket and drove into Baxter because we didn’t want to occupy space.

Katahdin is awesome!

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Made it!  Second time around is not the same, but it’s still pretty good.

New sign this year.

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Pretty obvious.

More trash than we could carry out.  This is just a sample.

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Best sign of the trip.

Sisu.

 

 

Workin’ for the Trail Boss.

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The Hoodlum trail crew gets briefed by the Trailboss, patron of the infamous Roller Coaster. Photo by Mike Gergely

Somewhere on Loudon Heights, WV, July 16, 2016 — There’s a somewhat secret two-year-long project to relocate the Appalachian Trail on Loudon Heights as it descends to Harpers Ferry.  By the end of the year, the job will be done.

The pitch of the existing trail reminds people of a church steeple.  Such a challenging slope does not facilitate erosion control. Worse, it passes through preserved civil war battlefield entrenchments, which as par for the course, unthinking/uncaring hikers damage by removing rocks to make fire rings.  Neither practice, rock displacement nor fires, is appropriate on such hallowed ground.

The AT is constantly being relocated.  Someone once told me that less than 5 percent of the trail is original.  Not sure that’s accurate, but in this case, a “relo” makes common sense.

So, you need hard work done fast, “Who ya gonna call?”  The Hoodlums, of course.  In reality, we were building on the good work of crews that came before us and set the stage for those to follow.  Nevertheless, the Hoodlums were delighted to answer the call and do our small part on a brutally hot and humid summer day.

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The new treadway gently hugs the mountain’s contour lines.  If it had a label, it would scream in bold print, “New gentle lower calorie formulation!”

I overheard someone say that his dad said the same thing mine did, “If you don’t go to college, you’ll end up digging ditches.”  So much for education.  If I was paid for this, I join a union; but as a hobby, it’s fun and the camaraderie is fantastic.

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Trail work is like pulling teeth  Big old rock molars.  Emily knows the physics of leverage.

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Then there’s the detailed work of removing roots and smaller stones.  Later another crew will smooth out and level this rough cut.  Our job this outing was to break ground.

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It takes a village to make a trail.  Our northern Virginia ridgerunner, Sara Leibold,(foreground) joined us for the day.  The trail building added a new dimension to her experience.

Head Hoodlum Janice and Hoodlum Julie got dirty and had fun.

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Some rocks are bigger than others, but eventually they all succumb to brute force and a little bit of know-how.

Like distressed jeans, some new trail comes complete with pre-blowdowns. We just worked around and under them.   Trailboss attacked them with gusto!

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At the end of the day, we retired to Blackburn Trail Center where Mrs. Trailboss, who just happens to be the chair of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy board, rewarded us with a scrumptious dinner!  It doesn’t get better than that.  Sisu  GA/Me ’14

 

 

Busy Week

ameShenandoah National Park and Antietam National Battlefield, first week of April, 2016 — It’s about time I complained about the weather.  It’s been totally schizoid for the past several days – hot then cold with a dash of sun, rain and wind, frosted on occasion with powdered snow.   There’s snow dusting in this weekend’s forecast.

Why weather?  Last Saturday Shenandoah was ripped by strong winds.  A sleeping hiker was pinned under a tree that blew over about two days hike south of the park at a place called Spy Rock.  Trees and branches were down everywhere in our region.

I was supposed to spend Sat. night at Indian Run with a friend I was going to help Sunday clear blown down trees on one of Shenandoah’s 400 miles of side trail called Jeremy’s Run.

After spending a cold night at Annapolis Rock, I chickened out.  The wind and cold were distinctly unwelcoming.  Instead I showed up bright and early Sunday morning to a greeting by an icy windchill with teeth and a dusting of snow still on the ground.

Jeremy’s Run is located in a designated wilderness area.  That means all work must be done with hand tools.  No motors allowed.

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So off we marched with a junior sized version of the famous crosscut saw you see in antique logging photos.  It sports a traditional carpenter saw handle on one end and a moveable vertical handle on the other.  If the vertical handle is on the far end, it’s a two person saw.  If it’s just forward of the fixed handle, it’s a one person saw.  Very versatile.

Blowdowns are a pain in the butt for hikers.  Step-overs like this one are not so bad.

It’s the chest high or ones with a ton of protruding branches that are a real pain.  You can’t go up or down.

We whacked six and 1/4 blowdowns.  One quarter?

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This big fella came at the end of the day.  It requires two cuts to get it on the ground and two more to cut out the section obstructing the trail.  Its height and the adjacent slope make cutting out the center section too difficult and dangerous.  Better to lay it down.

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Lots of work here, especially coming as it did at the end of the day.  At least we were out of the wind.   The wedges keep the cut open as the tree’s weight and gravity wants to close the top of the cut and bind the saw.

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This guy was too large for our little saw to be fully efficient. It took 45 minutes for two tired sawyers to make this slice.  Hence one quarter. A crew with a longer crosscut will finish the job next weekend during the Hoodlums regularly scheduled monthly work trip.  At least hikers have a relatively passable step over until then.

Wednesday I joined a group of nine PATC members at the Antietam National Battlefield to disassemble a section of worm row fencing. We got ‘er done in three hours!  In the process we dubbed ourselves the Hole-in-the-Ground crew because of the dozens of ground hog dens we occasionally stepped in.

We celebrated a local ice cream parlor in Sharpsburg – no work without play is our motto.

The National Park Service is working on a multi-year project to restore civil war battlefields to the sight lines and condition they were in when the battles actually happened.  This fence was not present on Sept. 17, 1862 when 23,000 soldiers became casualties on this ground.  It was and remains the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antietam_National_Battlefield

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The week ended with a short trip to Shenandoah so our ridgerunners could meet with the back country office before Lauralee’s first patrol starting today.  Both Lauralee and Hal are returning from last year and need no introduction.  Chris Zigler is the new back country manager and we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Of note, the park’s trail crews will be beefed up.  Better yet, up to six back country rangers will be on the trail and at the huts this year – helping people do the right thing and coaching Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.

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On the way home this little guy on my AT section got chopped up with a pruning saw. Did I ever mention that I love retirement.  The work is not work.  It’s fun!

The Pancake that Ate Luray…

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Shenandoah National Park, VA, March 23 – 24, 2016 — Pancakes!  I woke up hungry for pancakes.  What’s wrong with that?  I mean what do the real lumbersexuals of Washington eat – not the fake hipster ones, but the gals and guys who actually get out there and get after it?

What could pancakes possibly suggest?  How about a work trip to the park.  The hikers are coming and there are blowdowns to obliterate.

I called my district trail manager to find out what needed to be done. Then I emailed David Sylvester, my ever ready chainsaw companion, and we set the time and place.  There’s more than enough fun to go around.

Sorry.  I ate the pancake before it could eat Luray.  No.  There were no heroics – and apologies to Norman Greenbaum’s eggplant.

So, after carb loading, I test fired my saw, packed the car and stuffed my hammock in the side pocket of my pack and jumped on I-66 headed west.

First stop, Rileyville, Va. to pick up David.  Believe me.  It’s one of those towns that if you blink, you miss it.  Not even a stop light.  Next stop, the Luray Seven-Eleven to snag a sandwich for lunch; then on to the park’s Thornton Gap entrance where we were told work awaited.

We understood that there was a big blowdown about a mile up Pass Mountain.  Pass Mountain is a pleasant jaunt, maybe the easiest mountain in the park’s entire repertoire.  Well, as luck would have it, we marched and marched and marched.  No down tree.

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After searching for an hour we stopped at Pass Mountain Hut for lunch. Lugging 40 lbs. of chainsaw, safety gear, tools plus fuel and oil up and over mountains with a guy less than half your age is WORK!

I’m always fascinated by the trash we find along hiking trails.  Who would leave a pair of serviceable army-style boots in the middle of nowhere?  As always we found TP, aka Charmin flowers, everywhere.  Women who don’t know better pee, then dry themselves and drop the paper.  We get to police it up.  Use a pee rag ladies, please – or pack out your paper.

Both days were gorgeous with temps into the mid-70s.  Still, snow persisted in some northern shadows.  Nevertheless, the bugs were abundant.  That’s a bit unusual for this time of year.  Obviously, the woodpeckers have been after them. They defaced a brilliant blaze I painted last year.

Next stop was Gravel Spring where a “giant” complex blowdown awaited bucking.  Damn!  Someone got there first.  Probably a park crew.  But, we did find another just a bit to the north.  It took David longer to get his safety gear on than it did to demolish the obstruction.

Last we inspected a large obstruction the ranger at the Thorton Gap gate told us about.  We decided to clear it in the morning.  The day ended at Indian Run as many trips do.

A healthy daffodil crop surrounds the hut.  We built a small fire and sipped a brew as a brilliant pearl of a moon peaked its nose over the horizon and tracked  across the night sky.  Excellent medicine.  Doctors should prescribe it more often.

Our last project was mopping up this sucker at the junction of the Dickey Ridge and Snead Farm trails.  These are popular trails that lead to an old apple farm where the foundation of an impressive house remains and the apple barn has been preserved for history.

First job is to attack the small stuff, then amputate the big guy on the end.  Remove debris and the trail is ready for prime time once again.

Observation.  Real lumbersexuals always wear red Kevlar pants!

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Two days well spent. It’s spring break.  Met a bunch of nice families out hiking.

They’re Off

  Springer Mountain, GA, March 6, 2016 — Denise crunched her first gravel about noon on the way to Hawk Mountain campground. 

  
The campground was built in record time. That’s the good news. It’s going to need improvements if it has a chance of becoming a hit with hikers. 

The 42 sites are muddy and most will flood in heavy rain. The “bear box” food storage and the privy were popular  with the 14 hikers there, but they were looking for cooking areas and fire rings to socialize. 

Oh, and one wag complained that the water was so far away that it seemed like Alabama. 

   
    
 
We stumbled into some trail magic from Psycho Bob the next day. 

  
Very tasty southern hot dawgs. 

Onward!

Adventure Season 2016

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Kensington, MD, March 2, 2016 — It’s that time of year again when the call of the wild echos through the ether.  This is when we plan, pack, lace ’em up and get it on.

The year starts in Georgia on the AT.  For one, I’m anxious to see if all the planning we have done to manage the early crowds actually is beneficial. All I know is that a lot of time and energy have gone into the improvements.

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Next it’s the National Park Service’s centennial.  Shenandoah has challenged folks to celebrate by hiking a hundred miles in the park in return for a free patch. My friend and first hiking partner Mary and her son Ben will be hiking there on a 600 mile-long AT section hike in mid-April.  I plan to tag along for all 105 of Shenandoah’s miles.

From there it gets fuzzier.  I have my ridgerunner hikes and trail crew week – only one this year. I’m signed up for a Leave No Trace master educator course and a talk on backpacking at Sky Meadows State Park, Va. for National Trails Day.

We’ve hired two returning ridgerunners and four new folks for this season.  More on them at another time.

There’s an opportunity to hike the northern half (Oregon and Washington) of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and/or the Colorado Trail.  Lastly, once school is back in session, finishing the Long Trail in Vermont is carved in stone after having to miss it last year.

I’m learning not to predict too much.  Plans do not survive contact with reality, and this year reality is holding a lot of face cards.   I’ve taken on some executive responsibility with my trail club that’s going to eat time, and have been nominated for a professional lifetime career honor that, if selected, I will accept in person come hell or high water.

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Top of the first inning is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, Georgia.  I’ve noted and written about my friend Denise’s plan to thru hike this year.  Well, she gets dropped off at the trailhead around noon on March 9.  I’ve made the arrangements to be there like a beacon to cheer her on and hike the first 80 miles of the AT with her. She will nail her hike to the wall.

The weather in Georgia has been all over the map.  Hey, it’s in the south you say; it’s bound to be warm.  Well considering that the entire AT in Georgia is above 4,000 ft., cold weather, sleet and snow are factors throughout March.

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I’m packing now.  My pack is going to weigh much more than normal.  For one, I’m carrying my food in a bear-proof container, not so much for the bears, but to set an example to others who don’t take bears seriously.

As for which sleeping bag, jackets and other clothing, I figured I’d split the difference between zero degrees F and 70F.

Stay tuned for dispatches.

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

A pain in the …

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The ring finger does not straighten.

Kensington, Maryland, December 23, 2015 —  This is going to be short because I’m typing with one hand.  Apologies to my Facebook friends.  You already know this, but you’ll see it again because my blog automatically posts to Facebook and Twitter.

I won’t be involved in much outdoor activity for awhile and there’s a good reason.

I inherited a recessive gene that causes Dupeytren’s Contracture. This is sometimes called “trigger finger.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dupuytren’s_contracture. Dupeytren’s is common to people of northern European heritage.

I like to say that the Vikings married their sisters back in the fiords, then spread the love while raiding and pillaging the British isles and the north coast of the continent.

Unfortunately I have a aggressive case and it exists in both hands. The disadvantage as a hiker, backpacker and trail maintainer is this:  I can’t get a glove or mitten on my right hand.  That could mean a quick trip to frostbite city in cold weather.  This condition specifically kept me from hiking the Long Trail this month with my friend Max and his dad.

Dupeytren’s (named by a pioneering French anatomist) can be treated in two ways.

The traditional approach is surgical where they slice away the collagen that grows around the affected tendons. The much newer alternative is to inject a solution that dissolves the culprit collagen.

I’ve previously had two surgeries on my right hand, and I had one injection procedure immediately before starting the winter portion of my AT thru hike..

This week I had another injection, this time into my right ring finger. The next day the doc straightened it out using a technique that I am certain came right out of the CIA’s torture handbook. Trust me.  You’d cough up your secrets!

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Novocaine is used both prior to the Xiaflex injection and subsequently when the orthopod unbends the affected finger.

The injection of bacteria-derived proteins (marketed as Xiaflex) is quick and done in the physician’s office. The procedure itself is more unpleasant than surgery – I mean they stick needles into the palm of your hand – albeit numbed with Novocaine, but even with the magic of numbness, it’s not nearly as fun as going to the dentist. 

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Post manipulation. The bruising gets more pronounced the second day.

The Xiaflex advantage is a blessedly quick recovery. I expect to return to the gym after two weeks. I should be able to run on Christmas Day.

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A brace is fashioned to help keep the fingers straight. Physical therapists work about every other day to return the finger as close to normal as possible. After a week, the brace is worn only at night – for four weeks.

Later in January I’ll have surgery to clean up the Dupeytren’s affecting my left thumb because I can barely open a large peanut butter jar.

The FDA has not approved Xiaflex for use on thumbs.  Fingers only.  Surgical recovery is a full six weeks. The PT is similar for either procedure.