Oh, Shenandoah. So many stories.

Oh, Shenandoah,
I long to see you,
Away you rolling river.

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Shenandoah National Park, April 17 – 26, 2021 — The park was full of delight and disappointment this past week, marked by old friends, a new beginning and a sad ending.

The week started with the first full Hoodlum work trip in 18 months. My first thought was family reunion.

Socially distant safety briefing.

First night at Indian Run in 20 months for me.  Somebody is appropriating a bunk mattress for use in his tent.  The “Princess and the Pea” was my first thought.

Work continues on the AT restoration project on the north side of Compton.  What we thought would take a couple of years may be finished this year if we can have a crew week with the park trail crew to rebuild a large flight of stone steps.

The rip rap on the side encourages hikers to stay on the tread and helps prevent erosion.

Ringnecked snake. This is a big as they get.  It was released unharmed.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_snake

Just a couple of days later, the new long-season ridgerunner stepped into the on-deck circle.

The ritual pose at the north entry kiosk on the AT.  It’s his first official act.

The pandemic disturbed our normal routine.  Chris spent his first two days on Zoom for Leave No Trace training.  I’ve always wondered how you dig a cathole through your living room carpet.  Apparently it’s virtual with a backyard practicum on your own. 

So, we got a late start.  A nasty weather forecast predicted high wind and frigid temperatures.

The first-day orientation occurred on the second day where we met with the head of the backcountry office who coordinates the ridgerunners’ day-to-day activities.  The park rules, radio procedures, general expectations, equipment issue, living arrangements and a host of other topics are fire-hosed at them at full force.

As noted, the weather was brutal.  Sabine, our 2019 ridgerunner, was hiking in the park while waiting for her partner.   Her gear was at its cold weather limit, so she popped in for a warm up. 

FIRST PATROL

We started with unattended trail magic.  NO!  This parking lot is not the place to food-habituate bears or any other animal.  Well-meaning but ignorant has hell.

A stroll up Compton. 

The class we took three months ago taught us that the CCC scouted boulders like this and then routed the trail to connect them. 

Examination of a collapsing crib wall to be repaired later this year.  This damage is from falling trees knocking loose the upper layer of stones.

Breaking up a fire ring and later camouflaging a noncompliant campsite near the Compton summit.

A good ridgerunner has a good eye for trash.  I’m standing on the AT.

North Marshall noncompliant fire ring. 

One way I size up new ridgerunners is how far they are willing to carry rocks without prompting.  This guy is an all star.  I learned this from Lauralee Bliss.

The idea is to make it more difficult to reestablish the fire ring.

Fire ring removed.  Ash pit camouflaged and a log place to cover the soot scar on the rock face.  Nice work!

Take a break. 

 

Original AT marker!  Very rare.

Summit of North Marshall.  Spring is definitely visible.

Hikers beat up the trail.  The ridgerunners are the eyes and ears of the maintainers.  This is a project the maintainer can fix with a little muscle and a pick-mattok. 

This is a noncompliant campsite adjacent to an overlook.  The rangers have piled logs all over it year after year and the users pull them off.  Maybe time to iceberg it.  That means burying rocks as a means of area denial.

Practicing the chopsticks method of TP tulip extraction.  Ladies, use a pee rag or kula cloth, please.

Met up with Sabine at Gravel Spring.  She’s wearing every item of clothing she brought.  Did I say it was cold?

Loading the last of the trail trash into the car.  Headed for the dumpster.  End of patrol.

Sabine headed for my house to wait for her partner to arrive.  Meanwhile my daughter is moving and bought some stools for her kitchen island. Ever the physicist, Sabine cut the stools down to size with scientific precision.  

Flash forward a couple of days.  A park visitor was missing.  Rangers hiked into Gravel Spring a couple of days earlier with laminated posters; asking the ridgerunner to keep an eye out and post one at the next shelter.

No avail.  Our phones lit up with notifications from the park service to volunteer to help search. 

Joining dozens of professional SAR organizations, PATC volunteers mobilized and pitched in.

We bushwacked briar and blackberry thickets until the deceased was found outside our search area.

Good crew.  Hard day.  So sad.  It felt good to be of service to a fellow human being and his family.

National Parks are special places.  They have been set aside that way.  Sometimes they serve us.  Other times we serve them.  This has been a peek between the covers of a book whose story continues day by day. It is not a simple story of delight and disappointment, old friends, and a sad ending.  It is simply what happens behind the scenes.

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

Endless Blowdowns

Shenandoah National Park, January 12, 2021 — It was 23 degrees at the Compton Gap parking lot. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. So we were masked and armored to the best of our ability against the cruelty of winter.

The reason we were there is as mundane as the presence of Nature. The never ending parade of trees blown down across hiking trails had marched on. In its wake were a list of barriers to breach. There we were. Armed with fuel, oil and a Stihl chainsaw, ready to assault and clear what might be described as potholes on the hiker superhighway.

Think about it. We’re the Hoodlums Trail Crew. Masks are totally apropos.

We managed to clear 5 blowdowns from the AT. As the day warmed up, we were as overdressed as any group of rookies that ever were.

We’d never encountered a blowdown like this until today. Then there was another one just like it. Blowdowns are like puzzles. The first time wasn’t perfect. The second was a charm.

We salami sliced this beautiful red oak because it was covered in poison ivy. Didn’t want to manhandle a large log.

After clearing five blowdowns on the AT, Wayne and Dave headed for the Elk Wallow Trail to test this ancient two-person crosscut. I drove to Jenkins Gap to checkout the AT section for which I am responsible.

Woops. Found a five-incher across the trail a few feet north of the stone steps for those who know this area. Everything else was clear so took the time to clip green briar and blackberry which are easy to see in winter. These brambles are vicious, ripping hikers skin and clothing. Some can grow a foot per week in summer. Hope I made a dent in their progress.

Same blowdown looking south.

Day’s end. Relaxed. Off the grid. At one with Nature. It was like riding into the sunset.

Sisu

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

Gilligan’s Island Hike. What could go wrong?

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Appalachian Trail south of Harpers Ferry, WV, Friday, October 2, 2020 — We rendezvoused at the church parking lot next to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry.  Hot Starbucks and blueberry muffins fortified the blue sky, dry air and perfectly cool autumn morning.

Bellies comfortably full, the Gang of Four plus one piled into my Subaru, masks on and windows down for the shuttle to our starting point at the Keys Gap trailhead.  From there we planned a three hour tour to Harpers Ferry with a detour to the Loudon Heights scenic overlook.

Our plus one was Nancy who was dubbed the Iron Ranger for her roots in Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range.

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The start was uneventful.  We marched six to eight feet apart. 

The AT is infamous for its rocky tread.  It wasn’t long before the Iron Ranger got bucked off her horse in a classic face plant that dealt her a bruised cheek and a small skinned area on the palm of her hand.  She’s made of Viking stock, so patched up, she soldiered on.  Little did we know that by day’s end we would each do some serious soldiering.

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Taking a break.

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Badass removes a branch blocking the trail, her first experience as a trail sawyer.

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Along the way we photographed natures interesting handiwork.

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Not far from the orange trail that goes to the overlook on Loudon Heights.  This where the “What could go wrong” part comes in.

I’ve hiked through here dozens of times but had never diverted to see the overlook after seeing photos taken there.  It’s excellent, but Maryland Heights was much better, so I never bothered.  Besides I was always in some kind of hurry.

We rallied at the turn off behind the trail sign.  My assumption for a number of reasons was that the viewpoint was less than a mile out of the way.  When we returned, the sign said it was two miles. 

Round trip that’s at least two extra hours.  So instead of finishing at 3 p.m. we finished at 5:30 when the walk all the way back to the church parking log was factored in.  Probably would not have done that if I’d looked at the sign.

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This view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers was the holy grail. 

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Trophy pic.

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By the time everyone reached the overlook many of us were spent.  We took plenty of rest breaks on the way to Harpers Ferry.

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Full circle.  Lunch turned into dinner at Keys Gap. Our weary bodies smacked the log benches with the sound of a waitress wet-ragging a plastic table cloth.

There we were with quads made of jelly, sore feet and empty fuel tanks.

Seemingly to pick us up, AWOL bragged her gluts were in fine form.  That was a rare opening.  She has wanted a new trail name, so we started riffing – Hardass, and Buns of Steel emerged as candidates.  Being who we are, Iron Butt won the day.  Iron Butt it is.

At some point I think I was charged attempted murder if not formally that’s what everyone was thinking.  I thank them for the acquittal.

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Saturday night was Badass’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday!

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Celebrating six feet apart at Bulldog’s house. 

Guess what? We had as much fun as they did on Gilligan’s Island and we’re already planning our next outing.

Sisu

Emptying the Gravel Spring Privy

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The corrugated bin cover (extreme right) is off.  Steve and John plot the attack.

Shenandoah National Park, Gravel Spring Hut, August 17, 2020 — One would not consider August an ideal month to be emptying the compost bin of a backcountry privy but PATC’s faithful Crapper Crew reported for duty anyway armed with buckets, shovels and digging bars.

Most privies in our region are a simple design consisting of two bins and an outhouse that can be moved from one bin to another. One side is active while the other is composting which normally takes about two years. Users are asked to cover their business with wood shavings from a bucket to allow air to enhance the process. Urine adds needed moisture.

Extra wood shavings and cleaning supplies are stored in the long silver box in the upper right of the lead photo. It’s not a coffin for any dead bodies we might find.

Normally the heat and humidity of a mid-Hotlantic summer is unbearable. Add close proximity to the active side of the privy and the word ripe could be an understatement. Let’s just say that we got lucky. Starting temps were in the mid 60s tickled by a gentle breeze. We took it.

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The ramp had to be removed before we could start.

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You need a team to do this.  First up is the digger who scoops out the compost and puts it in one of several five gallon buckets.  Second is the picker who hand picks and trash-bags the stuff that’s not supposed to be in the privy.  Last is the bucket brigade whose members spread the compost on the forest floor.  All told, we totaled five.

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You find a lot of detritus in the compost.  There is usually at least one pair of underwear.  Wipes, which don’t decompose, in spite of what the packaging says,  are the most common item followed by the likes of food packaging, bottles, feminine hygiene products, and clothing.  Once we found a potty trowel used by hikers to dig cat holes.

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This trip hikers gifted us two bags of trash.  That’s about normal.

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The digger gets in the bin so they can reach the gold at the bottom.

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Once the composting bin is empty, the crew slides the outhouse over the empty bin and bolts it back on. 

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The bin cover is placed over the newly inactive side and the ramp is reattached.

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Long deck screws finish the job.

Ok.  I know.  I didn’t answer the question you’ve been thinking about the whole time.  No, the compost does not smell. 

Sisu

Spring cleaning delayed.

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Home, April 14, 2020 — As the debate about when America can go back to work stutters along, I’ve been wondering when trail maintainers can start digging dirt again.  We want to work too. Time’s a wasting.

I am under no illusion that someone is going to flip a magic switch and the world will shift from black and white to living color regardless of the political pyrotechnics.  The virus doesn’t care.

Until there is an effective vaccine, COVID-19 can be a potentially mortal threat to anyone who catches it. Respect alone for this potential will certainly cause some people to avoid crowds and certain public places.

Nevertheless, at some point the parks and trails will reopen to the public. People think they’re far from others when they are in the woods as if civilization can’t follow them there.  It’s an attractive illusion, so they’ll be back.

For one, I’d like to have the trails safe and ready when they come.

Fall

The problem is that the trail you tidy up in the fall …

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… looks very different in the spring.

Between now and when the people come back, nature will be hard at work.  Spring has sprung and the weeds are growing.  It won’t be long before they take over the joint unless they are cut back.

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Why worry about weeds?  They are the way ticks carrying Lyme disease get to hikers.  Lyme disease or COVID-19?  Each is ugly in its own way.

Weeds are only one of the jobs that need to be done in the spring.

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The tread itself needs maintenance.  Water control structures silt up or rot over the winter.  A bear destroyed this one.  This waterbar has to be cleaned and rebuilt.  It’s clear from the detritus that it’s no longer effective.

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Blowdowns also have to be cleared.

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We’ve has several howling windstorms recently which increase the probability of finding blown down branches as well as tree trunks.

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Everyone I know is itching to get a jump on spring maintenance before hikers return.  Trail maintainers like nothing better than packing up for an honest day’s work, although I despise the two-hour drive each way.

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The tool caches are ready.  With the people gone, we could get a lot done when it’s easy to maintain safe social distance.  Maintainers in our area are spread about one to two miles apart.

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But, like they say, the trail will be there when the time comes. True dat.  Meanwhile, I’m on the bench yelling, “Put me in coach!”  Where’s coach?  He’s sheltering at home just like the rest of us.

Sisu

 

2020 continues to disappoint.

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Appalachian Trail, April 12, 2020 — The Appalachian Trail is closed to thru hiking with no camping or facility use allowed now on any federally owned land and in multiple states.

People everywhere, who are in effect under house arrest, have been paroled by governmental authorities to do just two things – go to the grocery store and exercise. Tens of thousands naturally swarmed the hiking trails, especially the signature locations – the ones that make every top ten list.

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McAfee Knob, VA.  Courtesy Creative Commons

This is McAfee Knob, near Salem, VA.  It is probably the most iconic spot on the AT.  Imagine this space mobbed with 150 people instead of the 13 in this photo.  The flash mobs happened here and nearly every other popular hiking trail and overlook along the trail.

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Annapolis Rock is another tiny beauty spot that is often overcrowded, especially in a time of safe social distance.

Ultimately hikers were unable to maintain safe social distance forcing the Appalachian Trail Conservancy which manages the trail for the National Park Service, and the National Park Service AT office, to ask for and receive permission to close federally owned land.

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At nearly the same time, the national parks through which the AT passes closed themselves to the public for the same reason.

As all of this unfolded, most thru hikers took heed and suspended their hikes, their life-long dreams dashed like glass bottles thrown on the rocks.

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Thru hiking is not a casual endeavor.  Many take years to save enough money, buy their gear and find six months they can spend on the trail.

To have it unexpectedly end for reasons far beyond their control is a personal tragedy. Many will never get another chance.  Others will resort to section hikes over many years. The lucky ones will rebound next year for a second crack.

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A few hikers are pressing on in spite of warnings that they may help spread the virus, in spite of learning that some of the small rural towns aren’t welcoming them, knowing full well that medical care in rural Appalachia is barely available on a good day, and in spite of ATC policy not to record them as thru hikers.

These hikers been criticized as selfish and self-centered.  Some may be.  But thru hiking isn’t a mean feat.  It’s more like an Olympic class athletic event.  The hike itself has to be the most important goal in your life at that time with a focus that cuts steel like a laser.  It is do or die.  For someone in that state of mind, it has to be hard to throw in the towel.

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There also are international hikers who, for a raft of reasons, can’t get home until their visas expire.  Rural transportation networks are rickety with reduced service.  Some want to shelter in town “until this blows over.”  They plan to continue when the AT and national parks reopen to the public.

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Normally by now, the caretaker’s tent is pitched on the platform and there’s a tarp over the picnic table.  This year it’s possible that may never happen.  Depending on circumstances, it might not happen next year either.

If you left the trail, there’s good news and bad news.

In the good news category, your gear will still be good next year and for years to come.

You now have an idea what a thru hike is all about, especially those who made it a few hundred miles.

You probably still have the bulk of the money you saved for your hike.

You can stay in physical condition and even get stronger.  You’ve got a much better idea of what it takes.

The bad news is finding the time a second year in a row.

Worse, with the economy in suspended animation, far too many may have problems finding work.  They may have to burn through their AT nest egg just to survive.

The trail infrastructure is likely to drastically change.  Hostels are fragile businesses with thin margins. They needed the cash from this season to make it through next winter.

Me.  I’d take it one step, one day, one week, one month at a time.  We will eventually hike on.

Sisu

 

COVID-19 knows no boundaries.

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Home sequestration, March 27, 2020 — This past week has seemed like a year.

It feels like Mother Nature has put the entire country in time out.  We got sent home from school for bad behavior. We’re stuck in our rooms.  Justification: Failure to be good stewards of our lonely blue marble.  Maybe Mamma’s gettin’ even?

But like Biblical pestilence, famine, the sword, beasts, plague, and their friends, sometimes it feels like the four horsemen are thundering just over the horizon.  Other times we simply long for companionship.  The urge to invite family to dinner or gather with like-minded friends is overwhelming.

Then, there’s always wine.  And Zoom.  Because Amazon has run out of lamb’s blood.

Gather together.  Isn’t that what humans do in stressful times?  We are herd animals, like it or not. But, the herd is too big and the big dogs are making a cull.

For example:

AT Closed

The overcrowding up and down the AT and in the National Parks that I reported last week exploded over the weekend.  Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and The Great Smoky Mountains national parks are closed to the public for public health reasons.

Forest Order

On the east coast, the Chattahoochee, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are completely closed to visitors.  Too many people, people.

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This illustrates the overcrowding out west.

More parks are considering closing.

A Maryland State Park Service ranger told me that they were “Slammed!”  over the weekend.  Twenty-one million people live within two hours of most Maryland parks.  Seems like a big bunch of them showed up.

It’s boring sitting at home.  Or is it, if you can’t maintain a safe distance between yourself and the next person?  And oh, by the way, please take your trash with you when you leave.

Dear Darwin Award candidates.  It won’t be boring in the ICU, that is if you can get a ticket.

There is an inverse ratio equation that may apply here:  FOMO is inversely proportional the closer you get to the ICU.

(Thanks for the concept Tom Toles, Washington Post editorial cartoonist.)

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With the closures, the trails resemble a reverse scene out of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Absent were the humans.  The sound of their chatter.  The crunch of their boots.  The crinkle of their candy wrappers. The scraping of their potty trowels. The soft poof of their TP tulips making trash landings faded away. Only the chirping of chickadees and the buzz of the bees, harmonized with the rustling leaves and the beavers’ baseline to entertain the squirrels, the deer and the bears.

Please stay home.  This article explains why.  This is why.

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We had another conference call this week to reassess ridgerunners.

 

AT Closure

Each year our trail club hires six ridgerunners to patrol the 240 AT miles we maintain. The trail is, in effect, closed.  Accordingly, the club is supporting the land manager partners who still want ridgerunners.

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We’re now down to three ridgerunners – Shenandoah National Park, Northern Virginia and Maryland.  Shenandoah is delaying the start of all their seasonal employees until circumstances sort themselves out, April 30 at the earliest.

The nature of the COVID-19 virus will dictate profound changes to the normal ways ridgerunners function, not the least of which is maintaining social distance.

Until further notice, the ridgerunners will not enter shelters, tend privies or sleep in the back country.  Each has a discrete residence that they don’t share with anyone else.  Health insurance is provided this year as an extra precaution.

With the ridgerunner question settled, home sequestration isn’t the end of the world in my neighborhood.  If you can’t hike far away, you can hike near by.

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The 40-mile long Rock Creek Trail is a leafy block-and-a-half away.

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The walks are agreeable in spite of the urban location.

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My neighborhood has plenty of pleasant walking.

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We are very situationally aware as a neighborhood.  This family always has a sense of humor – and Halloween decorations that can be amortized over additional use.

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Campfire anyone?  Who’s afraid of a ferocious house cat?

Our house is a comfortable redoubt for a reason.  It was built for a man with ALS who loved the outdoors.  You wouldn’t know his name, but you do know his work.  He invented those bumpy tiles at crosswalks and along train platforms in his workshop in the basement of this house.

Thanks to Robert Kramer, this is a more than pleasant place if you have to hole up.

Oh! One more thing. The radio and TV are off.  Podcasts beat the hell out of newscasts. Old Time Radio podcasts are my favorites along with “Ben Franklin’s World,” “What you Missed in History Class” “Sawbones,” and “In Our Time” from the BBC.

Be safe.

Sisu

Hiking with Contagion

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Everywhere, March 23, 2020 — On a cool spring morning, on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, we were on a 12-mile hike that would put this state’s 42 miles in the books.  It would mean one state down and 13 to go for Bulldog on the AT.

In some ways nothing has changed.  Hikers still have to lift their feet one step at a time.  In other ways everything has changed.  In addition to an over abundance of pollen, the invisible threat of the COVID-19 virus ominously hangs in the air.

As governments closed restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and other gathering places, the media observed that at least the hiking trails were open.

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Shenandoah National Park Photo

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Shenandoah National Park Photo

It didn’t take long for people to figure that out. They have been swarming the trails, especially the beauty spots such as trails with popular waterfalls and overlooks. The overcrowding defeats nature’s benefits.

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Bulldog needed the most popular section in Maryland to fill in her dance card.  This is the footbridge across I-70 near Boonsboro, MD.

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Social distancing from above.

In the course of the first eight miles, from Washington Monument State Park to the Pogo campground, we counted 50 hikers, 17 of which were backpackers.  From talking with them, noting more trash than usual and the type of trash, and from observing the size of backpacks and bear spray, we deduced the crowd was mostly novice.

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The miles after eight are less popular and we saw no one.

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Bulldog’s step count.

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Stay tuned for the next state.  It’ll probably be West Virginia’s less than five miles.  After that, they’re pretty much out of day-hiking practicality.  Virginia’s 500+ miles are a prime example.  Remember this sucker is 2,200 miles long.

We did not wear masks while hiking.  We could easily stay six feet apart and well away from other hikers.  We did mask up to shuttle our cars to the start and end points.  I am in a vulnerable group relative to gray hair and having allergy-related asthma.

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“Zooming” with Sandi Marra, president of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Our hike was only the kickoff event for a relentless week.  As the CDC and state governors refined their guidance, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy needed to make decisions relative to hiker safety, the ridgerunner season, trail conditions, meetings and a lot more.

As of this writing, noon Monday, March 23, the following closures and restrictions have been announced: Rocky Mountain National Park is completely closed.  Shelters/campgrounds closed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, George Washington National Forest, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Numerous hostels and trail centers have also closed.  Trail crew work trips are canceled including my beloved Hoodlums.

This just in:  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy will officially ask Americans to stay off the AT until further notice!  The overcrowding is unsafe.  Darwin Award candidates everywhere.

I’ve asked the park if I should do this or not.  Thursday I’m driving up to Shenandoah to prepare my AT section for spring, raking leaves out of the waterbars (drains), paint some blazes, and a couple of other small projects.  Will count cars in the parking lots on the way out.

Stay tuned and stay safe everyone.

Sisu