What the funk?

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I was out on my annual walk with some of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club ridgerunners last week.

On this particular walk I started asking about thru hikers about their previous hiking experience.  Better than 90 percent said that they had little to no previous backpacking experience before toeing off on Springer Mtn.  Admittedly it’s a small sample.  Nevertheless, the answer to this question and other observations got me noodling about hiker hygiene …

In central Virginia I called someone to shuttle me into town for a resupply. I tossed my pack into the back of the van; then jumped in. The driver reflexively rolled down her window even before I could get my door shut.

I knew what she was thinking. “This guy’s a thru hiker and I bet he smells to high heaven.” She knew I’d been on the trail for five days and her expectations were reasonable. Hell, when I’m out maintaining my AT section, if the wind is blowing just so, I can smell the thru hikers long before they come into view.

Anyway, as she pulled away, I implored my benefactor.

“You don’t have to do that. I don’t smell.” She looked me in the eye, wrinkled her nose and said, “You’re right.” “How do you do that?” she asked as she returned her window to the upright and locked position.

The answer is simple.   Personal hygiene is priority for me and a point of pride. I also don’t want to “smell like a Boy Scout” as my mother used to say to my brother and I when we returned from our camping trips. More importantly, I don’t want to get sick. It’s another level of Leave No Trace if you want to see it that way.

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My personal hygiene kit. It clips to and hangs with my bear bag at night.  It’s the equivalent of snivel gear for me.

Hikers don’t have to stink if they don’t want to.  I may may take it further than most, but staying clean isn’t all that hard and it has many benefits.  Experienced hikers tend to be the cleaner ones.

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The contents include tooth brush and paste, Dr. Bronner’s soap, waterless shampoo and waterless body wash, large microfiber wash cloths which double as towels, deodorant and Q-tips.  Fingernail clippers usually reside in my pocket for quick fingernail cleaning.

Here are eight hiker hygiene considerations.

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  1.  You don’t have to stink.  Using waterless shampoo and body wash each night is the trick. It’s a nice complement to the tick check, the weight is negligible, and it has the added benefit of helping to keep your sleeping bag from smelling like a dead gym sock.  Rub it in and wipe it off with a microfiber cloth.  You can buy the stuff and any drug store or REI.  Hand sanitizer works as deodorant if you rub it in, but I carry the real stuff.
  2. Bury your shit! Not only is it an unsightly and smelly disease vector, but the Bible itself, Deuteronomy 23:13, says do it!  Deuteronomy 23:13
  3. Wash your hands. I allocate two wet wipes per day for use when I relieve myself.  I work from the top down, face first, pits followed by the business at hand.  When done, they’re returned to the foil container they came in; then on to the trash bag. No monkey butt!  I also use a dab of Dr. Bronner’s eco-friendly soap to wash my hands whenever I get water.  I wash away from the source in a zip lock I carry for that purpose. I clean my fingernails each time I wash my hands.
  4. Treat or filter your water.  I prefer iodine and the neutralizer pills to save weight and space, but I also have a Sawyer.  The method is not important.  The key is to make it a habit.  Better safe than sorry.
  5. Dental care.  Brush after breakfast and again after dinner.  The key is the brushing action.  You don’t need but a dab of toothpaste which you can either swallow or spit into the woods away from camp.
  6. Clean your dishes!  This thru hiker was as filthy as her dishes.  I cook only foods I can rehydrate in Zip Lock freezer bags or their original containers.  If you cook in your pot, clean thoroughly with Dr. Bronner’s and scatter the gray water far away from camp.  You can dig a sump and strain out any chunks with grass or vegetation.  The chunks need to be packed out.
  7. Lyme disease.  This is bad stuff.  The most dangerous animal on the AT is the tick. Permethrin kills them on contact. You can have your clothes professionally treated here: Insect Shield or purchase permethrin spray at any Walmart, outdoor store or REI.  They even have it at the AT Conservancy Visitor Center.  I go overboard.  I spray my pack, the inside of my sleeping bag and tent and wear permethrin-treated long pants.  For those who don’t like chemicals, weigh the risk.
  8. Noro Virus.  The aforementioned practices can do a lot to reduce your chances of catching this ugly bug.  If you have a good relationship with your physician, you can get prescriptions that will stop vomiting dead in the water and doxycycline you can take on a prophylactic basis if a tick chomps you.  Imodium stops diarrhea.  I carry them in my first aid kit.  So far, so good, but it’s a comfort to know that they are there.  I had to promise that I’d immediately see a doctor if I took any of the prescribed meds.

Stay well.  Smell good.  Enjoy your hike!

Oh! The things we see.

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Pine Grove Furnace State Park, PA to Harpers Ferry, WV, June 30 – July 6,, 2016 — My annual hikes with our ridgerunners have begun.  This year my muffin top needs shrinking so I decided to walk all 240 miles of the PATC section in hopes of burning some of it off.  I’d like to do it nonstop, but schedules, theirs and mine, dictate otherwise.

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After dropping my car at the Harpers Ferry National Park long term parking, Robin Hobbs schlepped me up to meet Mitch Mitchell at the store where hikers traditionally eat a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate reaching the halfway point which is just down the trail.  From here the math for them changes from counting up the miles to counting them down.

Prospective ridgerunners think the job is about hiking.  Readers of this blog know from last year in Georgia and other missives that the opposite is true.  It mostly about picking up trash, coaching hikers in Leave No Trace outdoor ethics, counting and interacting with hikers.  The miles per day are generally slow and short.

This trip was no different, but here’s fair warning.  I’m going to let you in on some ridgerunner reality show secrets and it’s gonna get gross…

We were also out over the July 4th holiday weekend, meaning more people in general, more nubes, and the laggard thru hiker party crowd which is not known for its trail decorum.  In fact, they openly admit to yellow blazing (hitch hiking) and to using booze and drugs in excess.

The rule of thumb is that if a hiker isn’t at Harpers Ferry by the Fourth of July, they need to “flip” to Maine and hike south or risk winter weather shutting them out of Mt. Katahdin in October.  These folks are walking on the bleeding edge of that axiom.

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Selfie at the official half way marker.

Our start was leisurely enough.  We got about a half gallon (by volume) worth of trash out of the fire pit at Toms Run shelter and pressed on.  Before the day’s end Mitch’s pack reminded me of a colonial tinker plying his trade along the rutted byways that traced the very region we were trekking.

As we moved along, trash of all kinds accumulated.

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I don’t know what it is with me and finding pots and pans.  Since hiking with Hal and Lauralee last year, I’ve found enough to open my own store.

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Any more trash and he won’t have a place to put it.  It’s the second pair of new (cheap) boots I’ve found this year alone.

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Taking inventory before feeding the friendly dumpster at New Caledonia State Park, PA.  We’re not showing you the snack bar just out of the photo.  I packed out some of their tasty treats for  dinner for that night.

Homeless camp on state park property.  It was a family that appeared to have left in a hurry.  Some toys and a pink blanket were in one of the tents along with clothing.  The food in the cooler was rotten.  The park rangers cleaned it up.  Too big for us to haul out on our backs.

After spending the night at Birch Run shelter with a noisy crowd of hikers, we press on.

Ridgerunners see a lot of gross stuff on the trail including unburied human waste, used feminine hygiene products,  wipes and toilet paper (Charmin blossoms) and the like.  We fish it out of privies, pick it up and pack it out or bury it as appropriate.  What comes next  is a first for me.  Why I was surprised, I don’t know.

You’d think after more than 1,000 miles on the trail, hikers would learn a thing or three, especially about hygiene.  Maybe not.  We found the young woman who owns this food dish improperly camped too close to a stream and illegally camped in the vicinity of a PATC rental cabin.  I’d met her previously while hiking with Denise the week prior in Virginia.  The embedded dirt on her skin reminded me of a character made up to be in a movie about peasants in the middle ages.  My stinky gym socks smell better.  Small wonder hikers get sick on the trail.

There were fewer flies on this pile of human scat I buried than on our hiker’s food plate.  These videos will go into every presentation I will ever give from now forward on backpacking.

Approaching Deer Lick shelter, we bumped into a PATC trail crew hiking out their tools.  They were nice enough to invite us to dinner with the North Chapter group, so we grabbed some of their tools and Chris Ferme’s chainsaw and tagged along for some chicken pot pie, green salad and fresh backed blueberry and lemon pie for dessert.  Yum!  Chris hauled us back to the trail in time to reach Deer Lick before dark.  The next day we hiked over their handiwork.  Nice job guys!

The following morning Mitch dropped off to participate in a PATC North Chapter hiker feed back at Pine Grove Furnace.  I pushed on to Raven Rock shelter in Maryland to rendezvous with Robin.

People love to steal this sign.  I was lucky it was there this trip.

Removed a small blowdown obstructing the trail using a folding saw.

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Evidence of the party crowd.  Scattered the sticks.

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The last of the rhododendron blooms.

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Bear activity has been unusually high this season.  The good news is that most hikers have found religion when it comes to bears and are hanging their food and toiletries rather than sleeping with them.  Yogi and Boo Boo have been working overtime.  Bears have entered shelters and stolen packs in search of food and destroyed tents.  Shenandoah has closed a section to camping and bear sightings in the PATC’s 240 mile section have been frequent.

While at Raven Rock shelter, MD, Robin and I hiked down to the old Devil’s Race Course shelter location (now torn down) and dismantled the fire ring.  That will help make it less inviting for high school drinking parties that caused the new shelter to be built up a steep hill from there.

Now, it didn’t happen by accident that I timed my hike to be at Annapolis Rock for July Fourth ’cause guess what?  You can see fireworks from that lofty perch.  Unfortunately the rain was falling in buckets with heavy fog.  We saw zip, but the campground was nearly full in spite of the forecast.

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The clouds were clearing the next morning when I set off for Crampton Gap after a quick photo op with Robin.  It was Kyle’s day off (the other Maryland ridgerunner), but I’ve been out with him before and we intercepted him along the way.  He’ll be there through Oct. 31, so we’ve got plenty of time.

The AT foot bridge over I-70.

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The original Washington Monument outside Boonsboro, MD.  My camera lens was foggy with sweat!

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C&O Canal lock # 33 just outside Harpers Ferry.  I’m standing on the tow path.

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Back to Virginia and Shenandoah soon.  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…

Independence

These are difficult decisions. You have to know yourself and how deep you can dig. I’m following several faster and much younger hikers ahead of Karma. The snow is challenging both physically and mentally. The cold weather has been brutal at altitude. Then, if you are unfamiliar with high altitude hiking, the shock to your system can be stunning. Altitude sickness is common. It features headaches, lack of appetite, lethargy and inability to sleep. I’ve been there and done that. As Karma says, this isn’t her first rodeo. She’s bagged a major thru hike. Maybe it’s time to savor the journey, and not the death march.

Karma on the PCT

The day of badassery having been acknowledged and celebrated, a human’s got to know her limits. Forester was mine. Not all trails work for all people — and hey, 800 miles is nothing to sneeze at.

At least the desert had hummingbirds! 🙂

Yesterday morning my shoes were frozen solid, and my socks and pants were still wet and icy cold. This morning my tent was frozen. And in addition, someone seems to have flicked the mosquito button to the ‘on’ position. They’re suddenly swarming, and they’re relentless. Also large.

The altitude is affecting me much more than I thought it would. Can’t hike fast, can’t sleep, can’t breathe well. I’m really tired–and it’s making things very hard.

My PCT adventure is likely at its close. I could skip the Sierra, but that’s not ideal. And there’s still too much snow in Washington to go that far north. Best to…

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Weedwhacking

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A ray of light perfectly aligned with my eyes under my hammock fly this morning at 6 a.m.

Shenandoah National Park, June 17-19, 2016 — It was North District Hoodlums trail crew work weekend.  I usually go to the park on Friday early to work on the section of the Appalachian Trail for which I am overseer and personally responsible.  Saturday we do crew work.  Sunday we clean up any odds and ends we didn’t get done on our AT sections.

It’s been raining like crazy on the east coast for the past month. In fact, it’s only recently warmed up.  Add water to vegetation and you get jungle!  Jungle is habitat for the ticks that are the vector for Lyme Disease.  What to do about that. The only logical thing is to chop back the jungle.

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Weed whacker Man – a superhero if there ever wasn’t one.

I spent two whole days week whacking.  First was my trail.  Second was a section that belonged to a dear fellow who left us for the charms of Milwaukee.  Did I mention that it was hot?  At least there were two of us the second day – we are a crew, right?

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The idea is to cut the salad back about double arms length from the center of the treadway.  The hikers should not touch vegetation as they walk.  No vegetation.  No ticks (well, almost).

I have an informal campsite on my section.  No fires allowed people.  They build them anyway and risk the fine.  I break up the fire rings by tossing the rocks a long way away.  This knucklehead obviously had an unsuccessful fire, not to mention ample signs of raging diarrhea.  Poetic justice.  Damn right.  I’m sparing you the shxtty pics, but I always document the scene of the crime.

The third week of June is prime thru hiker season.  Time for the annual Hoodlums hiker feed.  We cooked burgers and hot dawgs for about 30 thru hikers.  Turns out that they were all very nice folks.  That’s not always the case this late into the season.

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Sometimes we see dramatic views.  Worth a whack so to speak.

Love the evening ambiance.

Next up:  I’m about to hike 55 miles through northern Virginia with Denise, the friend with whom I hiked Georgia.  She’s here and off the trail on “vacation.”  After that, I’ll be out for 240 miles with this year’s group of excellent ridgerunners.  Can’t wait to get moving!

Kennedy Meadows

Karma is one tough lady. There is no quit in her character. She proved that on the AT

Karma on the PCT

Boom!

703 miles of desert (with mountains). Beyond my wildest dreams. Certainly, I thought there was a good chance it was beyond my physical abilities. But here we are! 700 miles in 7 weeks. 700 miles of desert.

The last few desert days were hard. Really hard. The whole desert was really hard! (I got sick again; turns out it really is the ibuprofen, after all. I stopped it immediately this time, and immediately got better.) I’ve never walked in 110-degree heat while carrying 20 pounds of water along with everything else. (And I’m not anxious to repeat it!) But it was worth every scorpion.

It’s like the Promised Land when you walk around that bend here at KM. Everybody cheers and claps. Everybody beams. It feels like the finish line. 🙂

I got here the morning of June 11th. I’ll be taking the day, then entering the…

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Utter exhaustion…

Denise is still plugging away. Her miles are amazing. The good news is that she’s now in Shenandoah National Park, and I’ll be seeing her soon. I’m hoping I can keep up!

The Other Road

On the trail we are pushing ourselves everyday. When we first start to head north from Springer Mountain a long day may be 10 miles or so. It took pretty much all day to do the ten miles and you are sore and tired at the end of each day. However, that ten miles slowly becomes 12, and then 15. The longest day I have done so far is 23 miles with my pack and 26 without it (slack packing). It amazes me to think that I can walk that far in a day while going up and down mountains.

We also take days off, zeros as we call them because they are days we walked zero trail miles. These zeros are frequent in the beginning. One every five days or so. But as we move north, and the desire to cover more ground increases, we take less time off…

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Days 46, 47

Karma on the PCT

Day 46 (Saturday, June 4): H-2-Oh
Mile 610.9

The hikers who are passing me now started on May 1 to May 8. I really need to let go of that question, lol.

Good news! The trail near the Chimney Campground fire wasn’t damaged, the fire is controlled, and the trail is scheduled to reopen tonight (Saturday). So the march to Kennedy Meadows continues! It’s 100 miles–6 days (I’ll try for 5 and fail!). In 7 days, I’ll be entering the High Sierra, armed with bear canister, ice axe, and microspikes. ‘Donner, party of one!’

I was on the trail promptly at 5. Long, hot, heavy day today–the first day of the longest water carry on the trail: 42 miles. The streams are dry, the caches are no longer maintained. I heard a lot of people planning all sorts of permutations to avoid carrying 8 or 9 liters of water–paying people…

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Day 48: Scorpions and Devilfish

Electricity for your phone/camera/typewriter/emergency communications device is always an issue. The choice is to carry lbs worth of storage batteries or get on a juice diet. Unlike the AT, on the PCT you can’t run to town every time you need something…

Karma on the PCT

Day 48 (Monday, June 6): Scorpions and Devilfish
Mile 636.6
Kennedy Meadows ETA: Still 6/10, by some miracle

Hey, I canna do what the grownups do, either! I set the alarm for 1:00 AM, then failed to hear it!

It was another freakishly windy night last night. I was in a protected little dell surrounded by Joshua trees, so the blowing itself wasn’t bad, but the noise was awful! A true roar. I put in my earplugs just enough to cut the howl to something less fierce and scary, but I forgot to turn the alarm volume up to compensate. Heh. So I’m cozy and drowsy and wondering what time it is…3:22 AM! Holy crap! So much for my bold night-hiking plan.

But I’ve gotten good at getting things ready the night before, so I was hiking by 4:15. But get this: When I went to put my shoes on…

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