Busy Week

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3987

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

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

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

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

IMG_3993

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

IMG_3991

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

IMG_3996

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4018

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

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

IMG_4017

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

The Ridgerunners Ride Again!

IMG_3959 (1)

After a early evening rain shower at Annapolis Rock

Annapolis Rock, Maryland, April 1-2, 2016 — Spring has sprung loose the usual Pandora’s box that is the hiking public.  The weather is improving and they are on the march.  Time for the ridgerunners to ride again and help the challenged to do the right thing.

This year’s class is interesting.  We were funded for six vs. five last year.  The extra one goes to Shenandoah National Park where we’ll now have two veteran ridgerunners to cover 105 miles of the Appalachian Trail there. I’ll introduce or reintroduce everyone as they come aboard.

First things first.  Maryland funds two ridgerunners because its 42 miles of trail is among the most heavily used anywhere.  After all, millions of people who live in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. areas are within two hours travel time and easy access to relatively gentle hiking.  The trail candy, e.g. the sites, vistas, civil war, and monuments, are attractive incentives.

Consequently the state wants a caretaker at Annapolis Rock (AR or the Rock) from April one through Oct. 31.  All the rest, with one exception, work from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day – peak season so to speak. That exception launches in Shenandoah next week.

IMG_3964 (1)

The easy access, gorgeous views, romantic sunsets, and excellent rock climbing, not to mention being named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s top 10 hikes, make the Rock a prize to to which people flock in droves.  Three hundred people on a pleasant weekend day is not uncommon.  Someone’s gotta help and guide them or the vegetation would be trampled and the trash would obscure the rocks.

IMG_3942 (1)

Enter Kyle. He’s a jocular former Marine and 2014 AT thru hiker.  He’s also a recent graduate of the National Park Service Park Ranger Academy.

Ridgerunning is not glamorous.  First thing is moving into the rustic apartment provided by the Maryland Park Service.  Then the AR overseeer helps you find the wood chips that help the two composing privies at the AR campground work.  Taking care of poop by tending the privies is a big part of every ridgerunner’s job!  That’s the ironic part of this dream job.

IMG_3939 (1)

Q:  Guess what the shovel’s for?  A:  It falls into the privies.

Next you have to put up the tent in which you or the summer ridgerunner will be sleeping in for the next several months.

It was fun trucking that stuff up the mountain – not.  Thanks to Rush, the AR overseer for schlepping it up.

IMG_3956 (1)

We got the rain tarp flying over the picnic table just before the rain hit. The rain was a nice complement to April Fool’s Day.

After the first band of showers, we went up on the rock to enjoy the scenery and that last “golden hour” of sunlight.

IMG_3978 (1)

Overnight showers snare-drummed the fly of my hammock all night long.  Me, I was hanging high and dry, my ears stuffed with ear phones listening to old “Lone Ranger” radio shows. Rain drops or hoof beats.  I couldn’t tell.

IMG_3981

They sky cleared this morning and it was time to haul up the first bail of wood chips for the privies. The first day in the glamorous life of a ridgerunner.

Adventure Season 2016

IMG_2318

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

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

IMG_1845

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1849

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

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

IMG_3765

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

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

Stay tuned for dispatches.

The Secret Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboy Candle

This is a cowboy candle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a convenient fire pit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Easy State

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

Max Mishkin and Dan Smith are the AT ridgerunners in Maryland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The youngster on the right did an excellent job.

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

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

An Abundance of Goodness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finished product.

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

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

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

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

New waterbar under construction.

New waterbar under construction.

Side-hilling to level the treadway.

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

Compacting a new grade dip.

Compacting a new grade dip.

It was THAT kind of day!

It was THAT kind of day!

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

I found this blowdown on my trail section.

I found this blowdown on my trail section.

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

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

Half done.

Half done.

Finished.

Finished.

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

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

Launched the rocks as far away as I could.

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

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

Waterbar, one each.

Waterbar, one each.

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

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

Blowdown Boulevard.

Blowdown Boulevard.

On A “Blissful” Patrol

Lauralee Bliss may well be the dean of AT ridgerunners.

Lauralee Bliss may well be the dean of AT ridgerunners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course the trash was right next to this sign.

Of course the trash was right next to this sign.

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

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

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

Other sections need work.

Other sections need work.

Lauralee, whose trail name is

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

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

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

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

ridgerunners break up illegal fire rings.

Among other duties, ridgerunners break up illegal fire rings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Forward One Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Road

Chainsaw sculpture at Bears Den Hostel, Va.

Chainsaw sculpture at Bears Den Hostel, Va.

Northern Virginia, July 17 – 28, 2015 — In deference to Garrison Keillor, it wasn’t a quiet week anywhere around my town.  It was busy as could be.

We had the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) biannual meeting at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. where I led two hikes – more to come on that, followed by a trail construction day with an environmentally oriented youth group from Yonkers, NY called Groundwork.

In between a small group of North District Hoodlum sawyers schlepped our chainsaws up to Bears Den on Saturday to buck two large dead trees that were felled by professional arborists.

Did I mention that the daytime temps averaged over 90 F with high humidity the whole time?  So there I was, producing infinite amounts of sweaty washing while our still-under-warrenty washing machine awaits a new motor.  No, I have not sublet any space at our house to anyone named Murphy.

The first hike was a strenuous 16-miler from the Reno Monument on Maryland's South Mountain south to Harpers Ferry, WV.  The heat took its toll.

The first hike was a strenuous 16-miler on the AT  from the Reno Monument on Maryland’s South Mountain south to Harpers Ferry, WV. The heat took its toll.

Monument to Civil War journalists at Maryland's Gathland State Park.

Monument to Civil War journalists at Maryland’s Gathland State Park.

The second hike was a five-miler on the First Manassas civil war battlefield on the 153rd anniversary of the battle to the day.  It was hard to imagine what it was like for the soldiers who wore woolen uniforms in suffocating heat and humidity.

The second hike was a five-miler on the First Manassas civil war battlefield on the 153rd anniversary of the battle to the day. It was hard to imagine what it was like for the soldiers who wore woolen uniforms in suffocating heat and humidity.  This is at the “stone bridge” for those familiar with the battle.

We started the morning with a preview of the battle in the visitors center.

We started the morning with a preview of the battle in the visitors center.

This stone house and former tavern served as a hospital during the battle.  The battle's culmination point on Henry Hill is just above this structure.

This stone house and former tavern served as a hospital during the battle. The battle’s culmination point on Henry Hill is just above this structure.

The sawyer was approximately 80 feet in the air.  Couldn't pay me to do that.

At Bears Den.  The sawyer was approximately 80 feet in the air. Couldn’t pay me to do that.  This dead tree plus another threatened to block the access road if blown down in a storm.  The need to preempt that is self evident.

Boom.

A severed branch smacks the road with a big boom!

Wearing my sawyer hat.

Wearing my sawyer hat.  I need to iron my neck and maybe use some spray starch.

Head Hoodlum Janice Cessna briefs the young folks from Groundwork.

Head Hoodlum Janice Cessna briefs the young folks from Groundwork.

2015-07-28 11.16.14

Working Hard!  It's important to make the experience hands-on.

Working Hard! It’s important to make the experience hands-on.  Here the kids are building a check dam which is a structure designed to slow water.

Completed waterbar - a structure designed to direct water off the trail.

Completed waterbar – a structure designed to direct water off the trail.