I love this job!

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Shenandoah National Park, Hoodlums Work Trip, Saturday, July 17, 2021 — If variety is the spice of life, any break from the drudgery of policing up trash, cleaning privies, camouflage noncomplient campsites, breaking up fire rings, and taking notes adds to the flavor of the ridgerunner experience.

We always invite our ridgerunners to join trail maintenance activity. It breaks up their routine and helps them learn more about what it takes to keep our hiking trails open and serviceable.

It was early on Saturday morning when I waved to Sara at the Gravel Spring parking lot where we were to rendezvous and join some Hoodlums to work on the two-and-a-half-mile Pass Mountain Trail. The trail spans the distance between the Pass Mountain Hut and the park boundary at Hwy. 211. We would be joined by ridgerunner Chris Bowley and fellow Hoodlum Greg Foster.

Our job was to clear 16 reported blowdowns while another group of four would chop weeds overgrowing the trail. Since the trail is located in a designated wilderness area, only muscle powered tools are allowed.

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On the way to meet the others at the Panorama parking lot, we chainsawed this blowdown which we had left in this condition two weeks earlier.

From Panorama we spotted a car at the bottom of the trail at Hwy. 211; then shuttled up the Pass Mountain Hut access road so we could work down hill thereby saving energy with a gravity assist.

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From time to time, team ridgerunner took on team Hoodlum in the crosscut classic.  Let me tell you a secret, the old guys have much better technique.  This wasn’t our first rodeo.  The ridgerunners got to do something that you don’t see or do every day and they got pretty good at it.

Crosscut saws are incredibly efficient. That efficiency helped build this country. This particular saw was purchased by my grandfather in 1945. It works as well as the day it left the Simonds factory in Fitchburg, Mass. Simonds has been in the cutting tool business since 1832.

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This 14-inch ash was the last large blowdown we found. After this one, there were a couple of smaller ones.  By the time we got this far, lightning was cracking all around us as we hurried to get off the mountain. 

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Most sawyers really don’t like clearing the smaller logs.  They live for the big honkers that present a challenge and bragging rights.  When I saw this tree, my morale shot sky high.  This would make us sweat, but it would be fun.  Instead it was more than a match.  The yellow arrow is the reason why. 

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This was a huge tree.  The main trunk was more than 36 inches in diameter before it split into four large trunks.  At some point before the tree fell, a combination of ice and wind probably bent over the trunk designated by the arrow.  As nature would have it, the bent over trunk was now vertical.   At 12 inches, it was big and heavy enough to behave in unpredictable ways once we started bucking the blowdown.

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It took a lot of force to bend this live tree.

We pondered what to do before deciding to lop away the poison ivy and leave the tree for the park service professionals.  The upright trunk put this blowdown well beyond my experience and expertise.  Better safe than sorry was top of mind.

Yesterday the park service professional trail crew managed to cut the higher trunk blocking the trail.  The other, featuring the upright, was left in place as too dangerous under the circumstances.  At least now it will be easier to climb over.

By the way, the count for the day was a little off.  We cleared 19 blowdowns and left the one.  That may be a record.

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We finished around 2:30 p.m.  With deep hunger and time to spare we drove to the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen in Sperryville. Their wood fired pizza oven makes tasty pizza.

For Sara and me, the day’s total was 20 blowdowns, but wait!  There was one more waiting for us at the Indian Run Maintenance Hut where we spent the night.

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We ate snacks, sipped beer and listened to the rain patter on our tents.  The reflector fire kept the bugs away while we reminisced about the days events.

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The three of us went to Sara’s favorite restaurant for breakfast.  Shall I say the apple doughnuts are yummy?  They are.

After dropping Sara off at Beahms Gap to contiunue her patrol, Chris and I schlepped a chainsaw and a string trimmer up to AT section I maintain on Compton Peak.  I weeded and cut logs.  Chris camouflaged a new noncompliant campsite that is, ironically, 200 yards from a legal one.

With that, the weekend work was done.  Blowdown total:  Twenty one.  The sense of accomplishment:  Priceless.  That why I Iove this job.

Sisu

 

Sara (Tidewalker) Saves the Day

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Sara Leibold and the obligatory north boundary photo.

Shenandoah National Park, July 1 – 5, 2021 — They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  We recently found ourselves needing a little luck when a very disappointed Joanne Renn reported that an injured knee would keep her from being the park’s midsummer ridgerunner. 

The second ridgerunner doubles our coverage when the number of midsummer visitors swells around the Fourth of July holiday.  It’s also when the last of the northbound thru hikers arrive.  In some years the so-called “trouble bubble” also drifts in.  They are the crowd that cares more about partying than packing out their mess.  In any case, the extra hands made a difference.

We could get by with one ridgerunner, but it would not be ideal.  The amount of litter and other trash would be harder to manage.  With just one ridgerunner on patrol, the huts and camping areas are visited once every two weeks.  Two ridgerunners allow weekly coverage of the entire AT within the park. 

So, there we were …

As it happened, Sara Leibold – 2016 PATC ridgerunner in Northern Virginia – was hiking from Rockfish to Harpers Ferry with a friend she made on her 2011 AT thru hike. Better yet, she had time to give before her next planned activity.  That’s the definition of preparation and opportunity.  We offered.  She accepted as luck would have it.

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Sara is a worldwide trekker.  Her hike in Nepal is my favorite.  She was a varsity NCAA student athlete at the University of Alabama (crew).  In addition to her hiking adventures, she has rowed the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to New Orleans and has plans for bigger and better trips ahead.  She also is one of the most agreeable people I have ever met.  It’s a joy to have her back on the PATC ridgerunner team, if only for a month.

Sara started on July 1.  After the obligatory orientation and equipment issue at the backcountry office, we toured beautiful downtown Luray, stopped by the Open Arms hostel, and got a bite at Skyland. 

On July 2 we spotted her car at Big Meadows, drove to park mine 50 miles northward at Compton Gap and started her patrol with a check of the Indian Run Maintenance Hut and a trip to the north boundary kiosk.  From there it was on to Gravel Spring where the grand total population for the night was five including us!

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Along the way we clipped a lot of vines and picked up enough trash to slow us down from making our ETA.  On North Marshall Sara had to extend her itinerary with the dispatch center which tracks ridgerunner whereabouts and progress.

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We spent a lot of time on this patrol documenting and geo-locating campsites that are noncompliant with park backcountry regulations. The proliferation of these sites is profound thanks to the Guthook App and other social media that enable hikers to readily share their locations.

Backcountry rules excerpt:

Know how to choose the right campsite.

Allow time in your trip to look for a legal, comfortable, and safe place to camp before dark. It is strongly recommended that you camp at pre-existing campsites; these campsites have been created and established by prior visitor use and are not posted, signed, or designated by the Park. Remember, good campsites are found, not made! Campsites must be at least:

  • 10 yards away from a stream or other natural water source.
  • 20 yards away from any park trail or unpaved fire road.
  • 50 yards away from another camping party or no camping post sign.
  • 50 yards away from any standing buildings and ruins including stone foundations, chimneys, and log walls.
  • 100 yards away from a hut, cabin, or day-use shelter.
  • 1/4-mile away from any paved road, park boundary, or park facility (i.e. campgrounds, picnic grounds, visitor centers, lodges, waysides, or restaurants).

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It  might also be possible that enjoying the views slowed us down a bit.

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As those who read these pages know, ridgrunners do a lot of things including reporting blowdowns.  They file a weekly report on a smartphone app complete with photos of what they find.

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Weeding is the most important trail maintenance activity.  Weeds are the source of deer ticks which spread Lyme disease as this report by Dr. Karl Ford indicates:  AT Lyme Disease Study

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This is what a well-weeded trail should look like.

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Ridgerunners also clear or trim blowdowns.  This one was near the Overall Run trailhead.

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Ridgerunners carry 12-inch folding saws that can help prevent erosive social trails from forming. 

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Now we have an easy step-over.  The main trunk is 8 inches, too large for a 12-inch folding saw.  The Hoodlums will chew this one up with a chainsaw next weekend.

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This one was easily dispatched with the saws on hand.

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Trash is always an issue.  This is the Gravel Spring tent stake collection. 

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If every responsible hiker would carry a bag and pick up trash, especially the TP tulips, Mother Nature would reward you with less unsightly mess.  We did bury two piles of human feces.

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Ridgerunners also stop at every hut and clean the privies along the way.  They have keys to the tool boxes and combos for the privy boxes.

The berries are almost edible.  That’s a treat for the bears and a caution for hikers.  Keep your distance from a feeding bear.  It will defend its food source.

After Northern Virginia’s infamous Rollercoaster, the Shenandoah views are a treat. 

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The deer were ubiquitous.  But, I’ve hiked nearly 100 miles in the park this season and have driven twice that many and have yet to see a bear!  Scat and shredded logs, yes.  Bears that are responsible for the signs, no.

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One of the most important things ridgerunners do is talk to hikers.  This hiker lives in the D.C. area, but was originally an active member of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club.  She gave us feedback on navigating the AT reroute at Skyland.

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Mother Nature.  Please put your dog on a leash.

One of the more onerous ridgerunner duties is to ask people to keep their dogs leashed.  The rule is necessary.  A ridgerunner was bitten three years ago.  About the same time a bear killed a dog on Dickey Ridge. 

The wildlife has the right to live without being harassed by dogs.  Moreover, Rover lives on carpet and grassy lawn.  Domestic dogs are ill-equipped to tangle with wildlife – skunks, raccoons, porcupines, snakes, bears and all the rest.  Owners always say, “My dog is well-behaved and under voice control.”  That’s true until the prey instinct takes over and the dog gives chase.

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We shared a wonderful patrol from the north boundary to Big Meadows.  It truly is about the smiles, not the miles.

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Here we are driving from Big Meadows in Sara’s car to mine at Compton Gap.  She thought she her car was unique in its configuration for sleeping.  She was pleasantly surprised to learn that Kaela Wilber in Maryland and other ridgerunners have done the same.  It was, I  must say, the most unique car ride I’ve had in awhile.

Welcome back Sara and thank you.

Sisu

What Pee Buddy Really Means

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***Trigger Warning.  Normally this is a family blog.  I avoid some topics and euphemistically discuss others.  This one is different.  This blog post contains explicit photos and discussion.  Fair warning.***

Shenandoah National Park and the Great Outdoors, June 19, 2021 — We have seen the future and it’s ugly.  The barbarians are at the gates and they are overrunning our public parks and forests.  Since the inception of the pandemic, leaders and others have urged the public to visit nature – national parks and forests, state parks and forests, regional and municipal parks, and all the rest.

People who were cooped up indoors were more than happy to oblige.  They swarmed the beauty spots in droves, and they’re still coming in inordinate numbers with no end in sight 

Buckle up.  For every action there is a reaction. Two national parks have initiated a reservation system.  No more spontaneous trips for them.  Other parks have exceeded capacity and temporarily limited access.  It follows that other popular places may have to follow suit and adopt similar policies.

Hoards are coming to the parks, forests, trails and the backcountry. They are ignorant and unprepared about Leave No Trace ethical practices.  Leave No Trace was created to minimize the impact of the backpacking boom in the 70s and to help protect newly designated wilderness areas.  Learn more about leave No Trace:  http://www.lnt.org

Those of us who help maintain these spaces want you to come, but we want you to come educated and prepared to minimize your impact on these precious resources.  We would hope that you could respect nature and your fellow visitors as well.

 When you do something for a long time, you get jaded.  You’ve seen it all. Right about then, a surprise bites you in the bum.

I found something new near the trail Saturday while we were there to clear blowdowns on the AT.  It was a “PEE-BUDDY” feminine urinary funnel.  Feminine urinary funnels are hardly new.  Shewee, pStyle, Freshette, and others have been around for more than 20 years.  They are made of silicone and are meant to last a long time.  You can do an internet search if you want to learn more.

What’s different about PEE-BUDDY is that it is disposable.  Thus it was trail trash when I found it, and that’s the problem. The woman who used it dropped it when she was finished.  Did she think her trash would make the trail more attractive?  If she anticipated the call of nature and brought her PEE-BUDDY in the first place, should she not have anticipated proper disposal?  Who did she think was going to pick it up? 

Like lady, handling an object upon which you’ve urinated is just what this volunteer wanted to do.  Made my day.  I won’t mention other feminine products and by products we also regularly find.  But, I’ll let you in on a secret.  Just as maintainers have nick names for the TP you drop after urinating, we call tampon applicators “Beach whistles.”  Just so you know.

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Opps.  Forgot someone forgot their stove and a plastic bottle.

For one, my arms are getting tired lugging trash off the trail.  That trash includes nearly anything you can imagine from TP tulips, wrappers, bottles, cans, dirty baby diapers, uneaten food, and discarded gear of all sorts from tents and sleeping bags to ill-fitting boots to wet clothing.  Part of this is what I signed up for, but it’s getting worse.

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Trash bag contents.

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Regular readers of this space hardly ever see a photo of a ridgerunner or maintainer without a bag of trash.  We anticipate ignorant and unprepared people coming out.  It is in part why we’re there.  But it’s at another level since the pandemic.

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Grafitti and tagging are multiplying.  I imagine that if it’s cool to tattoo your body, marking Mother Nature seems like the right thing to do.  A lot of this activity is not friendly to the families who also love to bring their children out to enjoy the outdoors. 

Let’s not let an opportunity go to waste. Finding an international orange phallus painted on a tree certainly presents an opening for parents to discuss the birds and bees with their young children.

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Fire pits seem to attract trash.  Ninety nine percent of what people put in a fire pit does not burn!  Note the trash bag.  It’s full of burned cans, foil and even cigarette filters.

This has been ugly.  I didn’t show you feces and other gross stuff, but it’s there — right on the trail.

Maybe the disposable urinary funnel was the straw that broke the camel’s back and launched this rant.  All we need is another disposable item for the trash bag.

Everyone involved is redoubling their efforts to educate the public on Leave No Trace so that they can recreate responsibly.  The PEE-BUDDY is a symptom of a larger challenge.  Regardless, if the numbers continue to rise, it might not matter.  You might need reservations.  If I had my way, you’d have to pass an on-line Leave No Trace course in order to make them.

From Axios News:

1 coming reality: Reservations for open spaces
Visitors at Adirondack Mountain Reserve. Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP

The days of the spontaneous national park road trip may be on their way out, thanks to surging crowds and overwhelmed park rangers.

The big picture: “This year has been over the top with new visitors who really are not educated as to how to appropriately recreate,” Joette Langianese told AP.

Between the lines: Reservation systems for park entry are in place at Rocky Mountain and Yosemite National Parks, with the prospect of more. Arches National Park in Utah is on track to have its busiest year ever, causing the park to close its gates over 80 times so far in 2021, AP notes.

Sisu

Summer Specials

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Appalachian Trail, June 14, 2021 — Trail life is more than hiking, snagging trash, and cleaning out fire pits. Occasionally you meet people who can tell you stories and celebrate life.

The trail also has a cast of characters.  No, this isn’t Gandalf though he would be a good stunt double.  He has been maintaining Pinefield hut for 30 years with an list of stories long enough to put Amazon’s inventory to shame.

You will recall Chris Bowley started in mid-April.  Sunday he helped the Crapper Crew empty the compost bin at Pinefield Hut in Shenandoah National Park.  He also cleaned the trash out of the fire pit.  All in a day’s work.

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Flash forward to last night.  One of our ridgerunner almuni was in the area.  Kiki was one of our 2018 Maryland ridgerunners and ridgerunner alumni are royalty.

Kiki Dehondt and Kiera Johnston are recently engaged to be married.  Certainly a celebration was in order.

Witt and I cooked hamburgers for them at the Blackburn Trail Center.  We served the burgers with champagne and craft beer as a special treat.  More valuable from a thru hiker’s perspective, they got to take hot indoor showers!

Kiki and Kiera have known each other for 10 years.  Ironically, Kiera was also known as Kiki when she was a child.  Just yell “Kiki!”  They’ll both come running.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that thru hiking was her idea. They’ll soon be in Maryland where surely Kiki will introduce Kiera to all the friendly rocks he met when he was a ridgerunner there.

On deck:  A ridgerunner alum is about to make an encore appearance.  Stay tuned.

Sisu

The Ridgerunners are at Full Strength

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Brandon can drive with his eyes closed.

On the Appalachian Trail in Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland, May 29 – June 6 2021 — Memorial Day weekend broke windy, cold and wet, the trifecta of misery for those who tramp around the woods with their house on their back. 

Nobody likes to walk in the rain when the temperatures are hovering around 40 and the wind is popping.  It is a recipe for hypothermia at worst and guaranteed discomfort at best. 

Branden and Kaela shuttled me to Pennsylvania’s Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  The park is the northern boundary of the 240 AT miles that the Potomac Appalachian Tail Club maintains.  There I would meet Darrel Decker and we would hike southbound to the Mason-Dixon Line where his responsibilities terminate. 

After leaving Darrel, I planned to hike solo another 20 miles to my car at Washington Monument State Park in Maryland.  From there, after a zero day, I’d return to rendezvous at Raven Rock Shelter with Kaela who would be hiking in from the Mason-Dixon Line at Pen-Mar Park.  We would then hike south to where my car was stashed. The net AT mileage for me would be about 80.

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This is the official halfway sign between Georgia and Maine.  When I reached this point in 2014 I recall my emotions deflating as I realized that after months of punishing effort I was only half done.  By then I understood the enormity of repeating the challenge.  Pulling up my socks and getting my head in order for another long march was not a small challenge.  In that single moment, I understood why so many people give up and quit.

Darrel is a repeat customer.  He was a ridgerunner in the Michaux State Forest for the club in 2009, 10 and 11.  That experience and time between service is rare and valuable.  He will be able to tell us what’s changed since he was last here.  One thing he noticed right away is the expanded sprawl of tent sites associated with the shelters. 

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Veteran ridgerunners know how to find and haul trash.  He found a bunch. 

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The rain was mostly light and intermittent.  The tread conditions were good though wet rocks are always slippery.

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Damp camp at Burch Run.  I like the patter of rain on my tent fly until it’s time to pack up a wet tent.

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Lunch break at a campsite.  Needless to say we found plenty of trash, especially in the fire pit.  It amazes me that people think that foil among other things is combustible.  Truth is that they don’t think.  They just do.

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Recording a blowdown on the smart phone app we use for reporting.  Not all of them are conveniently located next to a road.

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Quick stop to clean up the Rocky Mountain Shelters.  The sun was welcome; the cool weather even more so.

Spent the might drying out on a tent pad at Quarry Gap.  One young hiker was reminded of the Hansel and Gretel story.  This place was too good to be true, he reasoned.  Would the witch eat him?  I told him I thought he was safe because I heard that the Inkeeper had a freezer full of hikers left over from last year.

 

Tumbling Run.  Snoring or non-snoring.  Strictly “enforced.”

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The mountain laurel are ready to pop.

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Welcome trail magic at Old Forge picnic area courtesy of a former thru hiker.  I scarfed two hot dogs, a Gatorade and a bag of chips.

After our mid-morning snack we marched on to the Deer Lick Shelters and then to Pen-Mar where I continued northward and Darrel reversed course.

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Once across the border into Maryland, adjacent to the AT there is an municipal park known as a graffiti hot spot.  Not Banksy is spreading up and down the AT which is spitting distance away.  Maintainers will remove this with a product called Elephant Snot which essentially is jellied acetic acid formulated to eat spray paint.

I rarely get to hike solo.  Hiking with someone tends to focus attention on conversation and away from nature.  Hiking alone tunes the senses to your surroundings.  Also, as someone who maintains trails, I pay a lot of attention to the tread, weeding and developing problems.

This year I’ve noticed hikers by-passing even the smallest inconvenient rocks, rises and roots.  They are creating social trail by-passes in the process.  It matters because erosion can develop and what is supposed to be a narrow pathway can become a dirt autobahn in no time.  We have ways of deterring social trail development with stacked rip rap or brush.  Just another job to put on the task list.

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Of course the cicadas are out in force.  I can attest that the world’s largest orgy is LOUD!  Of note, some areas are chock full of them while others have none at all.  Can’t come up with any correlation as to why.

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After four days with Darrel and one by myself, I welcomed a zero day with Sophie the shedding lap cat.  Zero stands for zero miles hiked, by the way.

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Here we are, off the grid, hiking to Raven Rock from Wolfsville Rd.  The waving fiddleheads were soothing in the rare absence of cacophonous cicada pick up lines blaring from the branches overhead. 

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No, that’s not an IV line.  It’s a water purification system.

Kaela struggled into Raven Rock hauling 30 lbs. of trash gift wrapped in a cheap green plastic camping tarp she found.  She was daunted by the prospect of dragging that mess another 30 miles.  She earned her ridgerunner challenge coin with this effort. I was reminded of my own travails as a Georgia ridgerunner where similar trash hauls happened.

This scenario is exactly why I like to hike with new ridgerunners.  Call it OJT, spring training or what you will, the old guy knows a few tricks like the one where you take the trash to the nearest road and cache it to be picked up later.  The spring was on the way to the road, so when we went to get water, the green tarp and its contents came along for the ride.  I picked it up two days later and the dumpster is its new destiny. 

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Occasionally a little adventure.  We cautioned a couple of very tired and reluctant thru hikers to relocate their tent which was pitched next to three dead trees.  With high wind gusts in the overnight forecast, we were in no mood to medevac people in the middle of the night.  We shared our concerns with the Maryland Park Service which can fell the potential widowmakers.

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We ate dinner with four lovely ladies from the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club who are hiking the AT in sections.  Their accents, smacking of cheesy grits and buttermilk biscuits, reminded me of friends it turned out we share in common. After momma nature turned out the lights, they built a fire and talked well into the night.  When I got up at six thirty, they had already beaten feet.  You go girls!

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People like to camp at an interesting rock formation about a half mile south of Raven Rock.  In Maryland dispersed camping is illegal so we have to “clean it up.” 

Three years ago Kiki Dehondt and I tossed about a million rocks into crevasses between boulders thinking we could eliminate the fire rings.  (Kiki and his fiance will appear in this space soon.) 

We were right and wrong.  Now the campers build fires without the benefit of a fire ring.  We bagged the ashes and scattered them in the woods before covering the area with leaf litter.

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1960s vintage bike.

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Water and snack break.

When we reached the Cowall shelter, I noticed Kaela was really hungry.  Since my car was a quarter of a mile away and knowing the town of Smithburg was just down hill from there, I offered to buy Kaela , whose trail name is Pizza, an eponymous lunch.  We couldn’t find an open pizza place so we refueled at a Mennonite grocery and deli.  After hiker food, it was glorious.

Next I dropped Kaela to finish her patrol; then headed to Devil’s Race Course to snatch to cached trash and on to home.

In training we tell the ridgerunners that they are about to meet the dark side of the trail.  That side has many forms from the often bureaucratic to the rarely malevolent.  In addition to help search for a missing hiker who ultimately turned up in a Gettysburg bar, Darrel and I encountered a hiker who said he’d been bitten by an aggressive dog at the Pine Knob shelter in Maryland.  He said he would report the bite to the National Park Service AT incident line: 866-677-6677.  Later Kaela and I found the dog.  It was not friendly and the owner was unconcerned about it.  We moved on and notified the the right folks.

Protecting food from bears is important.  A bear conditioned to human food becomes a safety problem and sometimes must be put down.  “A fed bear is a dead bear,” the saying goes. 

I’ve previously written about bear canisters and Kevlar sacks.  I noticed the Georgia ladies were using Ursacks.  The one depicted is properly tied to a tree.  The problem is that bears can always crush your food and sometimes they can get in. 

Fortunately every shelter in the PATC section has a bear pole, bear box or cables to help hikers protect their food.

The forest is a magical place.  You never know what you’ll find be they witches, beasts or fairies. 

Sisu

Have Backpack. Will Travel.

The Appalachian Trail, March and April to date, 2021 —  We’re back in the saddle.  It’s been nearly 20 months since the eponymous sound of my Jet Boil stove signaled that morning coffee was close at hand.  From now until when, subject to the inconvenience of pandemic protocols, we’re in the backcountry in full force patrolling, building, digging, and sawing.  The ridgerunners, the North District Hoodlums and the trail maintainers are riding again.

Now it’s been a minute since the last blog post.  There’s a lot of catching up to do.  The excuse is simple, WordPress decided to reject the original file format in which the newest Apple phones store their images.  It’s taken awhile to figure out a relatively convenient way to make it work.  Meanwhile the other social media automatically convert the files and everyone is none the wiser.  If Word Press can’t figure this out and become a little more customer friendly, I’m moving to a new platform.

April 1, aka April Fools Day, kicks off the year.  Job one is establishing the caretaker site at Annapolis Rock, a beautacious overlook and campground just off the AT.  First we pitch the tent, graciously donated by REI.  Then we string the tarps.  They help protect the tent from UV and the picnic table from sun and rain.

Once the caretaker site is established, we walk the area for orientation and OJT.  In the beginning of the season, there’s always noncompliance issues to fix including dismantling fire rings, picking up a load of trash and cleaning the privies.

This humongous fire ring is the largest I’ve ever seen.  It’s at group site 1.  The sign on the tree says “No  fires.” No irony intended.

Branden has muscles!

Gone.   Ash has been shoveled and scattered in the woods.

I’ve been volunteering to do this job since 2015.  That experience has taught me to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  This act vandalism was truly upsetting.  This was a beautiful grassy picnic spot just south of the main overlook.  Some people built a large fire and smashed their alcohol bottles on the rocks carpeting the space with small shards of broken glass.  It was a perfect area denial attack.  The amount and size of the shards are impossible to clean up.  It is no longer a place to spread your picnic blanket.  Of course the sign says no fires and no camping.

Here’s what really frosted my sense of humor.  The process of destruction cooked this environmentally valuable nonvenomous snake. I hope there is a special place in hell for people like the ones who did this.

The amount of trash was not bad for this time of year.  Fortunately the maintainer had been there within the previous month.

The next step in OJT is patrolling.  This hike covered the nine miles from Washington Monument State Park to Gathland State Park.  Of course there’s the ubiquitous trash haul.

Ridgerunner duties include sweeping out the shelters and tending the composting privies.  This time Branden is dispersing the “cone of deposition” which had risen nearly to seat level.  Glamorous job it ain’t.  Critical job it is.

Ridgerunners perform light trail maintenance.  In practice that means clipping vegetation which generally means chopping back thorny briars and berry vines. They also have a 12-inch folding saw which allows them to clear obstructions too small for chainsaws.

Large  blowdowns are photographed and geolocated in the FastField app.

In this case we cleared a path for hikers by removing small branches.  In concept we are trying to prevent errosive social trails from forming before a saw crew can address the big stuff.

We spent the night at the Crampton Gap Shelter.  Branden had not set up his new tent before.  It was not intuitive.  Let’s just say it took awhile.

Let’s call it dinner on a rock.  The best practice is to transfer freeze dry meals from their heavy and bulky packaging to freezer bags.  Freezer bags don’t melt or transfer a plastic taste to food.  The name of the meal is written on the outside along with the amount of water needed to rehydrate. No dishes to clean, zero risk of food poisoning, and very little trash to pack out.

Morning giddy up juice.

Humans tend to have common instincts and ridgerunners develop a sense where people hide trash.   They type of trash suggests an overnighter or a short stay by a homeless person.

Patrol complete.  That’s nine miles worth of trash.  The red object is a sleeping bag intended for a sleep over or possible summer car camping.  Clearly its owner didn’t think it was valuable enough to hike out.

The Shenandoah ridgerunner starts tomorrow.  Stay tuned for the next adventure.

Sisu

Garvey Shelter Vandalized

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The Appalachian Trail, February 28, 2021 —  Unfortunately everything that happens on the Appalachian Trail is not positive.  This is one of those stories.

Earlier this month a member of the Trail Dames hiking group planned a stop at the Ed Garvey shelter in southern Maryland.  In fact, it’s the first shelter in Maryland, just 6.3 miles north of Harpers Ferry, WV.  It is a popular spot frequented by local campers as well as long distance hikers/backpackers on the AT.

She was shocked by what she found.

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Someone had built a fire on the shelter’s lower sleeping deck.

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The fire burned through the deck doing considerable damage.  It was only thanks to luck that the shelter itself did not burn down.

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It’s possible that who ever built the fire also strung this tarp across the opening.  In some ways this is senseless.  There’s a very sheltered sleeping area on the upper level.

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She also found other detritus.

In addition to the damage to and evidence in the shelter, someone broke into the tool storage and took a couple of minor items.  Not much is ever stored near shelters for this reason.

What happened?  Was this caused by inexperienced people in competition for a Darwin Award?  Could it have been pure vandalism?  Could the damage have been caused by someone who is homeless?

The latter is most probable given the theft and the placement of the fire.  Many homeless suffer from mental illness or from drug/alcohol addiction.  They occupy shelters, intending to stay awhile, and tend to leave at least some of their belongings behind.  We may never know for sure.

The good news is that the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintainers in Maryland had the damage repaired within a couple of days after its discovery.

Edward B. Garvey is the shelter’s namesake.  More on Mr. Garvey at this link.

Sisu Continue reading

Trail Design Workshop

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Determining the slope angle.

Shenandoah National Park, December 2 – 3, 2020 —  We gathered for our sustainable trails design, construction and rehabilitation field training in the Compton Gap parking lot where we engaged in initial introductions, orientation and safety talk. 

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We were leaders from the park staff and PATC who are involved with backcountry trails and the park’s historic legacy.

As each of us spoke in turn, the sharp wind assaulted our clothing like a rusty razor shaving a drunken sailor’s belly.  It attacked the tiny gaps, exploited thin layers, nipped exposed skin, and stung our nerve endings with the efficiency of a serial killer wielding an ice pick. 

Still, we focused on the subject at hand, sustainable design, restoration and maintenance of Shenandoah’s hiking trails. 

Did I mention that the wind chill was cold?

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After the preliminaries we crossed Skyline Dr. and began marching on the AT up the north side of Compton Peak.  The trek leads to a nice viewpoint to the west and to the east the best example of basalt columnar jointing in the park.  Needless to say this section of the trail is popular and receives a lot of traffic.

The route was originally built by the CCC and some of their stonework still stands although, after 80 years, is breaking down.  Our mission was to learn how to identify it and sustainably restore it for another generation to use.

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Brinnon Carter, Cultural Resource Program Manager, discussed CCC trail design.  Those who have hiked on the north side of Compton know the trail passes two very large boulders.  That, it turns out, didn’t happen by accident.

Along the way we discussed water/erosion management, design criteria including selecting ascending and descending grades and other design criteria such as the amount of traffic and two-way traffic considerations.  Most of this is not new, but the review fit the context of the primary purpose of the workshop which was to identify and preserve the CCC’s work.

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In the afternoon we walked to the north boundary kiosk discussing the merits of keeping the trail on the old roadbed and ways of aligning it for a more esthetic hiker experience.  Some Myron Avery’s old maps were informative. 

While Benton MacKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail, it was Myron Avery who scouted the route and got it built.  He also was the founder of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  For more, click here.

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The stillness of the second day’s dawn at Thornton Gap was remarkable in contrast to day one.  While the ambient air temperatures were similar, the wind was elsewhere afflicting other people, and thankfully not us. 

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Stephanie passed out excellent homemade cookies to help fuel our climb to 3,300 foot high Mary’s Rock.  Info on Mary’s Rock here.

Our purpose on the climb was to examine the CCC’s crib walls and learn how people and nature have caused changes over the previous 80 years.  The question was how to catalogue, grade and monitor them for maintenance and restoration.  Climbing while masked didn’t prove to be a hardship.

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We stopped several places to look at examples of the CCC’s work and learned how to identify it and assess the condition.  Along the way we found two of these painted sticks abandoned at different places along the trail.  I brought one home to burn in my backyard fire pit.  Please, Leave No Trace!

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Lunch was pleasant absent the wind.  The program featured a well-known local comic.

After lunch we moved southward to the White Oak Canyon parking lot.  From there we examined the Skyland horse, Limber Lost and a bit of the White Oak Canyon trails.  The last is one of the busiest in the park.

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You can discuss the placement, effectiveness, merits and demerits of a waterbar ad infinitum. 

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Limberlost Trail is the only ADA handicapped accessible trail in the park.  We divided into groups and walked along entertaining discussion questions, the answers to which were debriefed to other groups.

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Once back in the parking lot we filled out a matrix informed by our group discussions.

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The workshop finished with each of us briefing back to the group what we had learned and its future application. Meanwhile there is a ton of CCC work to find, identify and catalogue.

Sisu

Clearing the Blowdown Backlog

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Shenandoah National Park, August 5, 2020 — The purpose of this blog is to offer a peek behind the curtain so you can see what it takes to keep the hiking trails open and well-maintained.

There are hundreds of volunteers who do this work.  We are organized by park district, south, central and north.  Swift Run and Thornton Gap mark the boundaries.

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A young friend who volunteered with the Hoodlums for a year before being transferred to California said that she’d been hiking and backpacking all of her life and had no idea how much effort went into maintaining backcountry trails.  She loved volunteering.

And now a word from our sponsor:

PATC always needs volunteers.  No experience or tools necessary.  We maintain nearly 500 miles of trail within the park and another 1,000 outside of it, including 240 miles of the Appalachian Trail, trails within the national battlefield parks, C&O Canal, Prince William Park, and many more. Join us at http://www.patc.net

The pandemic protocols – mask, avoid as many people as possible, groups of  no more than four, sanitize – don’t impose much hardship.  After encountering hoards of people on the weekends, we decided to do group work only during the week. That pretty much limits crew members to retired folks with sore muscles.

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Yesterday we cleared 11 blowdowns on Pass Mountain.  Several hikers reported this one on Facebook.  This is a “leaner” in sawyer speak.  Leaners can be dangerous to clear and we only clear them if it can be done safely and they are blocking the trail.  Otherwise park and PATC policy is to let Mother Nature take care of business.

In this case, the giant tree is not blocking the trail.  Moreover, it’s larger than all but one of our saws.  If it were on the ground, it would be a hellova project. As it is, it’s beyond our capability in a wilderness area where only muscle powered tools can be used.

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Judging from this angle, it’s going to be up there for a long time.  Anna Larsen Porter’s granddaughter may be a maintainer by the time it comes crashing down.

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You could tell it was going to be a special day for August when we spotted a car at the Pass Mountain hwy 211 trailhead.  The sun was gentle with a cool breeze.  A perfect day to be roaming the park.

The plan was to drive up the Pass Mountain fire road and park at the hut/shelter and then work our way downhill to hwy 211.

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First we would use a chainsaw to clear the AT near the hut trail.  That area is not wilderness.  Note that this leaner is much different from the previous one. The bind is on top, so you saw it from the bottom to keep the bar from being pinched.

We then locked the saw in the car so we would not be tempted to use it in the wilderness area we were about to enter.

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This one had also been reported on Facebook.

It was cloaked in grapevines and brush which had to be cleared before we could get after the trunk.

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The trunk required two cuts.

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Sometimes it’s easier on the back just to sit.

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Two down and as far as we knew, one to go.  Instead we found nine more.

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Easy one.  Bottom bind.

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Quick work.

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Hwy 211 parking.  That was a clean mask when we started.  Dave looks like Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider.”

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Decided to make a Subaru commercial on the way down the fire road.

The Pass Mountain trail was very weedy.  Being in a wilderness, it must be weeded with swing blades vs. the string trimmers we can use elsewhere.  We understand an AmeriCorps crew will give that trail a haircut this Friday.

Speaking of haircuts, I could not stand it and gave in.  Pandemic beard and hair excuse expired.

Sisu

 

 

 

A special crosscut returns to service.

EE5115FA-5804-4E6E-A8B1-75809FB250D8_1_201_aShenandoah National Park, Sunday, May 31 – Jim Grant was my grandfather.  He’s been gone for 42 years, but he lived again today.  No, Mr. Grant wasn’t reincarnated in the flesh.  His memory reawakened in the form of a newly restored four-foot crosscut saw he once owned.

It was there to tackle a huge blowdown on the Little Devils Stairs trail.  The objective was a long dead, 26-inch, double trunk tulip poplar.  Venus Foshay, my fellow Hoodlum trail crew member is responsible for that trail and she requested reinforcements.  Sam Keener and I answered her call.

Following our safety discussion, my grandpa’s precious saw bounced lightly on my shoulder as we headed down the Keyser Run fire road to the intersection with Little Devels Stairs.  Along the way, I thought deeply about what my grandfather meant to me.

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Me with my grandpa.

I imagined my grandfather hoisting that very same blade to his slender right shoulder.

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It would have rested on his black-and-red-checked Filson Mackinaw coat, steadied by is work-gnarled hands swaddled in his trademark deerskin mittens with the green woolen liners that I still have.

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The blowdown was a monster.

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The smaller trunk was broken off and offered an easy bottom bind cut.

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Sam won the trophy photo.

The larger trunk presented tricky top bind for a crosscut saw.  It would require two cuts.  Normally you can make reverse keystone cuts and roll the billet out of the middle.  In this case the proximity and angle of the root ball would force the billet to bind.  We knew we were in for an “Oh joy!” day.

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After amputating the smaller trunk, we applied muscle to the larger one.  To maintain safe social distance we used the saw in single sawyer mode and rotated as our arms tired.

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I have at least 10 wedges in my car.  I only brought three because the tree was site unseen.  We had to be creative to keep the kerf open.

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We sawed from both sides to keep the cut level.

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The “easy” part was over.  This is where the real battle began.  We thought we could lever out the billet with a log.  WRONG!

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While Venus hiked and drove back to the Piney River tool cache to get a couple of rock bars, Sam and I hiked to the bottom of the trail to clear a second blowdown.

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Social distancing was a problem all day.

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Little Devils Stairs is one of Shenandoah’s picture book hikes featuring several waterfalls, many creek crossing and lots of rugged scrambling.  She’s on the trail, by the way.  With this many rocks, I’m befuddled why the AT wasn’t routed through this canyon.

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Rock bars are all about brute force and ignorance.  It’s all muscle.

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Almost there.

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Success!

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Sam’s look says it all.  Thank heaven she’s a power lifter.

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Victory.  All that for this.

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Here’s the backstory.

I thought all of my grandfather’s tools and gear were lost to history.  Family legend was that my mother sold everything when she moved her elderly parents from International Falls, Minn. to her home in Greeley, Colo.

Last October.  Location:  My brother’s garage in Loveland, Colo.

Me.  “Wow!  A crosscut saw.  Where’d you get that?”

Brother.  “That was grandpa’s saw.”

Me.  “I thought mom sold all of his stuff when she moved grandma and grandpa out here.”

Brother.  “Not this.”

Me.  “What do you plan to do with it?”

Brother.  “I was going to hang it on the wall.”

Me.  “No way.  I could use it.  I have a friend who restores old crosscut saws.  I’ll ask him to fix this up and I’ll put it to work clearing trails.  Grandpa would like that.”

Brother.  “Ok.”

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Me.  “I’ll make a box and ship it today.  Where’s the nearest UPS store?”  The truth is that I wanted to get it out of there before he could change his mind.

The story added a new chapter today.  But, where did it begin?

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James Grand circa 1920

International Falls, MN circa 1920.

Who was Jim Grant?

James Earl Grant was my namesake.  Growing up, he was “Big Jim” and I was “Little Jim.”

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Favorite fishing rock.  My brothers and I have caught a lot of walleye there.

Jim Grant was a lumberjack, teamster and avid fisherman who immigrated from Alberta, Canada to International Falls, Minn. to cut trees for the Minnesota and Ontario paper company, now Boise-Cascade.  We’re not sure when.

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Born in 1900, Jim Grant was a good and kind man who had lived his life well. A third-grade education limited his opportunities, but he worked hard and made the most of those that came his way. He lived to be 78 before succumbing to prostate cancer.

In reality Grant was my mother’s stepfather.  He had once asked my grandmother to marry him, but she declined and later said yes to another man, also a Canadian.  Her husband, John Wesley Jordan, died at age 30 of kidney failure in 1930 as the Great Depression sunk its jaws into the Northern Minnesota economy.  In those days there was no safety net.  She was 30 with three children and they struggled.

After arriving in International Falls with his two brothers, Walker and Clarence, Jim Grant cut and skidded pulp wood in Minnesota’s north woods until he was drafted in WWII.  In the war, his age and lack of education led to work as a hospital orderly making beds and emptying bedpans at Camp Carson, Colo.

He loved Colorado and regaled me in childhood with stories of his Rocky Mountain adventures and tall tales of ghost towns like Cripple Creek.  Later on when I was stationed at that very same Army post, the first place I went was Cripple Creek where I imagined his stories playing out among the mining relics.

Fortunately Jim Grant was a patient soul who truly loved my Grandmother.  When he returned from his WWII service, he proposed a second time to my widowed grandmother and she accepted.  He never could have become my hero without that unfortunate chain of events.

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After the war, he purchased the saw I now have.  It is a Simonds Crescent-Ground, One-Man Crosscut Saw model 223.  The aux handle can be moved to the far end allowing for two-person use.

I found the saw in excellent condition, still sharp with very little surface rust.  It wasn’t used enough to completely erase its factory markings which is how we know the model and approximately when it was made in Fitchburg, Mass.

Link to Simonds Saw Catalog

The catalog says that this saw “will stay sharp longer than any one-man saw made.”  It also notes “Large hand hole in handle permits sawing with mittens or gloves in cold weather.”  That would have been practical because most of the timbering was done in winter when the lakes and dirt logging roads were frozen solid.

The light usage suggests he didn’t do much lumberjacking after the war.  We know that he found less strenuous employment on the papermill loading dock where he worked until retirement in 1965.  Thanks to a strong union, he had earned health insurance and a modest pension that he and my grandmother could live on in their own home for the rest of their lives.

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Today Jim Grant’s Simonds model 223 was reborn as a working tool in Shenandoah National Park.  When my time ends it will pass to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club where it will enjoy a long and noble life thanks to, and in memory of James Earl Grant, lumberjack.

Sisu