Trail Magic: Leapfrog Cafe

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Old Forge Picnic Area, Michaux State Forest, PA, May 2, 2018 — Trail magic in the hiking world is thought of as an unexpected act of kindness, generosity or discovery, or finding exactly what you need most when you least expect it.

Trail magic can make your day or your hike.  It can move you to tears, restore your faith in humanity, or stimulate extreme gratitude; sometimes all three.

As you can imagine, hikers love trail magic, but not all of it is welcome. Unattended trail magic can food condition animals and litter the forest with heaps of trash.

trail magic

This trail magic in Maine attempted to get it right but failed because it was unattended.  Animals could easily open these containers or a careless hiker could fail to close them.  Moreover, it’s personal property left on public lands and helps create expectations of free food for hikers.

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Those who bestow trail magic are known as trail angels.  Tim Davis is one. That’s about an eight-pound omelet he’s making for me in that frying pan.

Following a thru hike attempt where his ill-tempered knees failed to cooperate, the generous-hearted electrician wanted to stay involved and turned to cooking which is his second love after hiking.  Tim’s trail name is Fresh Ground for the beans he ground up and the fresh coffee he brewed with them each morning of his hike.

He invented the Leapfrog Cafe as the means to deliver his love to hikers. He sets up the Leapfrog Cafe for a few days, then moves up the trail to find new hikers.

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The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe was a welcome discovery in 2015 when, as a ridgerunner, I splashed out of an icy rain into Gooch Gap, GA.  The freshly grilled banana pancakes and steaming coffee were simply divine and exactly what I needed. If I was crying out of thanks, no one could tell if it was rain or tears running down my freezing red cheeks.

Later, I enticed several hikers, who had been dodging the rain for several days at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, to move on with the promise of fresh pancakes and hot coffee at the bottom of the soppy mountain.

Then, it was my duty to discuss Leave No Trace principles with Fresh Ground.  For one, he didn’t lock up his trash at night in bear country.  Since, he’s refined his methodology to be truly compliant.

This trip, since the Cafe was only slightly more than an hour away from home, I spent most of the day hanging out at the Cafe.  I brought cases of Coke, grape and root beer sodas plus a cash donation as a small payback for the priceless kindness I received not that long ago.

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Hand washing station for filthy-handed hikers.  The water has bleach in it.  He properly disposes of his gray water afterward.

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A clean towel covers the picnic table in the food prep area. Sanitation is paramount.

Hiker feeds like this are not allowed to charge money or accept donations.  Fresh Ground has a Facebook page and Go Fund Me page for that. Initially he saved and used his own money.  Now he does that, but accepts donations, 100 percent of which go towards feeding the hikers.

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Stopping at the Leapfrog Cafe can be like a fine dining experience with the owner doing double duty as the server.  Pancakes, omelets, hot dogs, taco bowls, fresh fruit, cookies and lemonade are on the menu.  He now packs up every night and operates out of picnic and off trail areas.

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Even the hikers need photographic souvenirs.

The Fresh Ground Leapfrog Cafe, featuring live entertainment by “Strummy String.”  He says his instrument is a reformulated mountain dulcimer.

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Trail magic is criticized for causing hikers to congregate.  But, whenever hikers stop for a bit, there’s always an opportunity to talk and sometimes make a difference.

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While talking to “Research” who is a psych professor on sabbatical from a college in Macon, GA, I learned she had hiked within a shout of the half-way point and didn’t know how to hang her food bag. She thought she couldn’t throw the line high enough.  “Never fear!” I offered.  “There’s a way even you can throw like Tom Brady.”

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After loading a sock with a rock and knotting it to her bear line, Research learned to fling the sock over a tall branch by swinging it underhand.

The next step in the PCT hang is threading the rope through a carabiner, then hoisting the food bag up to the branch level.  Here she’s tying a clove hitch on a stick that will prevent the bag from sliding back into bear reach.  Reverse process to retrieve the food.

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Success!!!  I love it when someone is excited about learning something new.

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Fresh Ground planning his next move while Research destroys a taco bowl.

At dusk, the Leapfrog Cafe disappeared into the sunset headed for its next surprise location.  With luck, that will be near you.

Sisu

 

Waiting for g OD ot.

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Dick’s Dome Shelter, VA, AT mile 984.3, June 24, 2016 — My friend Denise texted me this morning that she was headed my way, leaving the trailhead at Hwy 522 Front Royal, VA. Her ETA at Dick’s Dome: 7 pm. She’s late, but that’s okay. I’ve been talking to the hikers and exploring the new “Whiskey Hollow” shelter under construction about 100 yards away.

My last visit to Dick’s Dome: Stink Bugs + Notebook Odds and Ends

Denise is my trail crew friend, now known by her trail name “The Optimistic Dictator,” OD for short.  Readers will recall that I hiked with Denise in Georgia as she started:  They’re Off  I’ve also written about our adventures here: Let’s Go Hiking.

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The PATC 2016 Ridgerunners

When she texted I was with the PATC ridgerunners finishing our monthly meeting.

This month we chose the PATC Highacre “cabin” in Harpers Ferry.  It’s within 50 yards of Jefferson’s Rock if anyone cares to look it up.  Regardless, nice view of the Potomac River.

The gathering includes a Thursday evening social followed by a Friday business meeting.  These are hard working folks who patrol the trail, teach Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, act as ambassadors to the hiking community, clean up trash and privies, and patch up blisters and more serious injuries and afflictions.

We learned that the number of thru hiker reaching Harpers Ferry is up 18 percent over last year.  We’re somewhat skeptical of this number’s legitimacy. Here’s why.

In recent years more and more hikers appear to be “yellow blazing.”  That means they hitch rides ahead and don’t actually hike all the trail.  For example, I saw hikers at the Hoodlum’s hiker feed who appeared in Harpers Ferry, 100 miles north the very next day when I was there.  Hummmmm……  The younger generation is going to hell, and it always has!

Flash forward.  With dusk on the horizon, I pulled up my WordPress app and began my thoughts.  Just then OD rolled in. It was marvelous to see her now after wishing her well at mile 80. She’s nearly 1000 miles into her hike.  That’s a big odometer number by foot.

We took up residence for the evening at the Whiskey Hollow shelter under construction.  It’s going to be a nice one.

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Our itinerary marched us through an Appalachian Trail section branded the “roller coaster.”  It’s a series of steep pointless ups and downs, more of a toothache in the grand scheme of the 2,200 mile trek,  than a serious challenge, but nevertheless…  I’ve often said it’s like an outlet mall where Pennsylvania ships its surplus, worn out rocks, and the stones that don’t sell.  This time it occurred to me that the roller coaster may also be where PA’s fugitive boulders go on the lam. That is to say there’s no shortage of miserable rocks on the roller coaster.

So, there I was. It was hot, humid and I was now hiking with someone sporting “trail legs.”  Like a Philip Marlow client, the dame’s spandex oozed confidence and strength. Her glimmering smile stared down the roller coaster like Paul Bunyan making match sticks in the north woods. My role in this little meet up was to act as speed break.

This trip “slow-and-melting” was my middle name and I know Denise took great delight in having to stop and wait for me more than a couple of times.  How do I know?  She loved  telling the story.  Yea Denise!!!

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We found what we thought was trail magic.  Instead it was a refreshment station for a trail running group.  They didn’t seem to mind that we helped ourselves to some of their cold Gatorade!

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Sometimes your dogs need a dip in cold water!

We took a selfie at the 1,000 mile mark (L)  GA in March (R)

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Raven Rock, VA

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Trail Magic at Keys Gap from a 2014 thru hiker and her mom.

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A happy hiker reaches the psychological mid point at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry.

The official enshrinement in hiker history.  This is a strong young woman.

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Did I tell you that a bear tried to chew through Denise’s kevlar “bear proof” Ursack food bag in Shenandoah National Park?  In this case, bro bruin chomped into a bottle of sriracha sauce.  Hope this particular Yogi learned his lesson. That stuff is liquid bear spray.

Oh the adventures OD has had!  Stay tuned…

Separation Anxiety

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Hiawassee, GA, March 17, 2016 — It was time to say farewell to my intrepid friend Denise and head home for a Hoodlums trail crew work weekend, since snowed out, but that’s another story.

I really didn’t want to go.  In fact, the bug bit me.  I really, really wanted to hike all the way home.  A cool thousand miles would be a great way to celebrate spring and work off my winter weight gain.  Unfortunately, my volunteer career comes with responsibilities requiring my presence in places other than the southern Appalachians.

I’ll be up front.  I think Denise is going to make it.  At the very least she has better odds than most.  She’s stubborn, positive, and has the self discipline of the soldier that she once was. Her competence in the woods counts for a lot.

For most people Georgia’s 80 miles are a bitch, plain and simple.  Although the treadway itself is mostly smooth dirt, the hills are steep and a good test of will and fitness.  The first day out, Denise’s challenge was compounded by a nasty upper respiratory infection (URI).

Being sick in the woods isn’t fun.  She suffered, yet she persevered without complaint – good sign!

Along the way we met a ton of people.  At one point she asked me if there was anyone I didn’t know.  Here we are with Erwin, Tennessee’s “Miss Janet” Hensley, one of the iconic trail personalities and genuinely good folks on the trail.  She’s referenced in memoirs going back to the turn of the century.  It’s fair to say those stickers help keep her van in one piece.

The weather this season has been unusually warm leading to a slightly greater number of hikers making it out of Georgia.  In other years adverse weather tends to wash out a lot of inexperienced people.

The warmth this year has led some hikers into believing spring has sprung.  They have sent their weighty cold weather gear home.  Not Denise.  She knows that she’ll  be hiking over 5,000 ft. (and at one point 6,000) for the next 400 miles.  Not until you’ve seen the wild ponies at Virginia’s Grayson Highlands state park just south of Parisburg is it safe to shed most of your cold weather gear.

Denise started ahead of the big bubble.  By March 15 last year I was counting around 150 hikers per day.  They fill the shelter/camping areas beyond capacity in spite of the heroic improvements made by the Conservancy, the Georgia Club, National Forest Service and the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association.  Knowing the area helped us find good flat spots away from the tent cities.

We hit one day of intermittent rain last week.  Our training hike in the cold rain last spring paid off.  The orange rain cover is to give the hunters a visible aiming point.

I’ve always loved the way life renews itself and finds a way to survive and recover.  That tree is a survivor.

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People still need to learn how to Leave No Trace in the woods.  It’s gross, and a lot worse than this in many places.

Taken three years apart.

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Meanwhile, our intrepid hiker has invaded North Carolina.  One state down.  Thirteen to go. She’s fine.  I’m the one wringing his hands.   I’ll continue to cross post her blogs as her hike unfolds.

Brilliant Weather 

  
Neels Gap, GA, March 12, 2015 — Double speak lives. Winter is summer! The daily highs have been in the 70s. Even the gnats are out – bastards. 

Don’t get used to this hikers. Winter will find you. Promise.  

The second and third days in Georgia are difficult for many people. The climbs are steep and frequent, although relatively short. They take their toll. On average one-third drop out at Neels Gap, the 30-mile mark. 

  
The weather seems to be dampening the attrition rate some, in spite of the infamous Blood Mountain. Today it’s pouring buckets. Wondering what difference that’s going to make…

   
 
This year’s early crowd is very social. Folks gather round the picnic tables at the shelters. Note the electric devices. Not sure they enhance the experience, but then again, I’m a traditionalist. 

  
Not everyone camps at shelters. Lance Creek borders an area south of Blood Mountain, a section where bears are extra active and bear canisters are required for food storage if you camp overnight. Most don’t schlepp bear cans so they camp here. 

  
Special surprise trail magic. Ran into Clare Arentzen at Neels Gap. She was our ridgerunner  in Pennsylvania last season. Clare is a very special person who starts her thru hike next week. Go Clare!!!

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!

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/