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

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.

No Shxt Shirlock!

    
I found this uneaten apple about a perfect bear length in front of a pile of bear scat. Since there is but one apple tree on my entire AT section I can only deduce that it came from a tree three quarters of a mile away!

                                                           ________

Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2015 — It’s been a crazy summer for black bears in the park. They aren’t behaving normally. 
Ridgerunners report seeing far fewer bears than normal. Yet, bear sign is everywhere. There’s plenty of scat, not to mention a huge increase in overturned rocks, shredded logs and the like.  Why this, now, when food in a wet year is especially abundant?

That’s my main complaint. Our furry but elusive buddies are making a mess of everything. They’ve never done that to this degree before. 

Take for instance the section of the Appalachian Trail that I oversee. I can appreciate the “guys” help in keeping down certain invasive species such as the raspberry snares that are proliferating in the aftermath of a 2011 fire that burned through the lower half of the trail. Thanks for that. But, to paraphrase what we used to say in the Army, “One aah shucks wipes out every atta boy!”

Message to bears: Stop tearing up my waterbars and check dams!  I mean it. It’s going to take half the winter to repair the damage. 

    
Here bro bear trashed a perfectly good waterbar checking for grubs. At least the log was heaved where I could find and reuse it. 

    
In this instance of bear banditry, the SOBs took the the log which is nowhere to be found. 

   
All right already!  I know the log on this check dam is starting to rot and needs to be replaced.  I just don’t need the ursus crowd chowing down on this insect motel. 

Guess what?  I know who you are. I saw both of you last week when I was working on keeping the weeds (Lyme disease-bearing tick habitat) in check. If you don’t behave, I’m going to have to post your picture in the Jellystone post office. I mean it!

Hair today. Gone tomorrow.

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I started cultivating my beard the day after my mother’s funeral. I just needed to change things up a bit.  If nothing else, I needed to see something different in the mirror.  We were beyond the fuzzy stage when I returned to hiking in early March.

Until the stubble showed up, I was clean shaven on the trail.  As winter progressed, the cold forced me from shaving every day as had been my previous habit. So shearing the crop shifted to join my weekly town routine along with laundry and a shower.  I should reverse those because the shower always comes first!

Believe it or not, on the trail having a beard made a huge difference.  Sans beard I had a hard time convincing people I was a thru hiker.  I just didn’t look the part. Thru hikers are supposed to be scruffy.  Almost by definition facial hair is an expected part of the male uniform along with a distinct odoriferous funk and filthy fingernails. 

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I didn’t fit the picture.

A typical conversation would go like this: 

Q: “Where’d you start?”  A:  “Georgia.”  (I didn’t want to complicate matters by explaining that I started first in the north before going south.)

Q:  “Where ‘ya headed?”  A:  “Maine.”

Q:  “What section are you doing this time?”  A:  “Not doing sections. I’m a thru hiker.”

Puzzled look.  :~{ 

Q: “Geez.  You don’t look like a thru hiker.  When did you start?”  A:  “Late September…”

And so it would go. Even Crazy Larry labeled me a section hiker on his hostel’s Facebook page – after I had explained my unconventional hike more than once, but then again Larry admits he’s crazy.

Once the beard showed up, the entire social dynamic changed.  People assumed I was thru hiking and were interested in the number of miles I averaged each day, how much my pack weighed, and how long I thought it would take to reach Katahdin.  It just goes to show that judging a book by its cover can be very misleading.

By now, someone out there is wondering why I whacked off the whiskers.  It’s simple.

Last week I chanced to stumble through a swarm of freshly hatched gnats.  There were ‘zillions’ of them, and more than a fair share opened a game of hide and seek in my facial hair, and were still squatting on my property several hours later when I reached camp for the evening.  Combing them out was a pain in my posterior.  While tending to my nitting so to speak, my subconsciousness recalled reading last year about guys combing ticks and other unwelcome guests out of their beards. Yuck!

Fear the beard!  The scariest animals on the AT are not bears.  Lyme Disease carrying deer ticks strike deep dread in every hiker’s heart.  Why offer those pests an extra opportunity to lay you low?  So it was bye-bye beardie. 

Maybe the beard and I will meet again when this is over.  I’ll think about it.  My buds at Fitness Together like it, though my spouse does not.