Went for a walk on a winter’s day

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Compton Peak

Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park (SNP), Compton Peak to Jenkins Gap, Saturday February 7, 2015 —  Each inch of the Appalachian Trail has a human who is responsible for its upkeep.  These folks are called overseers.  Stewards would be more like it.

Overseers remove blown down trees, branches, clean and repair erosion control structures like check dams and waterbars, build new ones as needed, cut back vegetation that may harbor ticks and pick up trash when necessary.

As luck would have it, yours truly is about to become responsible for one mile of the Appalachian Trail from Jenkins Gap to the top of Compton Peak (SNP north district).  That’s AT northbound miles 957.4 to 958.7.  I’m about to become a proud papa.

This is a handsome section of trail if I do say so myself.  From the Jenkins Gap parking lot, it’s optically flat for about a half mile.  This part has been burned over in the past. I’m going to have to learn more about the fire.  Consequently it is infested with lots of vines and thorns. These will require a lot of attention.

The second half begins with a nice flight of stone steps leading to a sluice a bunch of us built two years ago.  The Sluice keeps water from a healthy spring from washing out the trail.  The grade to the top is gentle by any standard.  The treadway throughout has a minimal number of rocks.  Yea!  This isn’t Pennsylvania, you know.

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The trail section ends on top of Compton peak.

A blue blaze trail crosses the AT on Compton Peak leading west to a nice overlook and east to a columnar basalt formation which is one of the few on the east coast.  Eighteen months ago we built 68 stone steps to help make the trail to the basalt formation more passable and to help control erosion.  Judging from the tracks in the snow, it’s popular year round.

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The primary reason for building the steps to the basalt formation was a spring that washed out the trail.  Looks like we’ve got more to learn about water management.

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Columnar basalt.

The day was pleasant.  The temps hovered around 32F with zero wind.  The sun was mostly cloaked by heavy lead-colored clouds.

Without overseers, trails would quickly become impassible no matter whether they are in a state or local parks or one of the big ones in the national trail system.

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Before and after.

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In total there were a even dozen obstructions that had to be removed.

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Jenkins Gap.  End of the line.

Let’s go hiking

A few folks have asked me to continue hiking adventure stories.  There are a few real adventures in the work, but in the meantime, here’s what a friend and I were up to this weekend as posted on “Life at two miles per hour.”

Winter Test Drive

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Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail NOBO miles 917.2 to 937.2 (20 miles), January 19, 2015 —  Just like a new car, it’s best to test drive hiking and camping in the winter before buying in completely.  So it was with my friend and trail crew colleague.  She knows her trail craft and is quite comfortable in the woods, but she wanted winter experience.  She’s hoping to thru hike the AT in the future and knows that partying in the cold and snow is almost an automatic on an AT thru hike.  Unlike most guys who would not admit it, she embraces her desire to learn with gusto.

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Denise

So, off we went this weekend on a 20-mile, three day/two overnight, trip along Shenandoah’s most scenic vistas and popular places including Hawksbill (the highest peak in the park), Big Meadows, Rock Springs, Skyland, Stony Man, the Pinacles and Mary’s Rock.

Though the sun smiled upon us most of the time, the temps averaged in the 20s with a biting wind entering stage right and left at cheek chapping intervals. The objective was not to cover ground.  It was to live in the winter weather for the better part of three days and two nights and see what we could learn.

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So off we went… Enjoying the winter wonderland.

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The first day’s walk terminated at Rock Springs Hut.  I stayed there on my thru hike last year.  It’s setting features a gorgeous view through the trees in front of a nearby cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail club.

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Rock Springs Cabin

Four adult Scout leaders were using it – getting away from the boys for a weekend.

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After camp chores at the shelter, we went down to the cabin to snap some pics.

On the Appalachian Trail, shelters are called “huts” in Shenandoah and “lean-toos” in Maine.

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Would you believe it was cold outside?

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The view from the cabin.

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Sunset behind the privy.

Overnight the wind snarled with gusto, but the dawn air was so still you could hear yourself change your mind!  We popped up, packed up, and after a quick meal of coffee and oatmeal, made a quick giddy up.  No sense wasting time when it’s temperature is singing bass notes toward the low end of the register.  Movement = warmth!

The scenery during the second day was worthy of being memorialized by the likes of Winslow Homer.

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Same scene.  Different vantage points.

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Winter is nature stripped down to its birthday suit.  Not much to hide.

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Birds Nest 3, our final shelter is a party spot and not the most hospitable place.  The fireplace doesn’t do much good in a three sided enclosure.  The wind howled all night and occasionally spit enough granular snow to remind us who was boss.

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The morning made for a quick get-away back to our cars.

All in all, a weekend marked by challenge and success.

Three Fords. Not a Chevy in sight.

Shaw’s boarding house, Monson, ME, AT NOBO mile 2070.8, Sunday, July 27, 2014 — Three river fords today. It took more time to take off my boots than it actually did to cross the rivers.

Today was mostly non-eventful. I was at the edge of the pond at 0500 a.m. looking for, what has been for me, the elusive moose in situ. So far, no dice. The loons were still at it, though. I got some decent recordings of their serenade that I’ll use for soundscape in the composite video that will follow the conclusion of this hike.

Rain punctuated today’s hike for about the last hour. I didn’t much care. After all, I was headed for a hostel. There I could dry out and get ready for what comes next.

Monson is another down and out trail town. It once was the center of the slate roof industry. One that dried up, the slide has been precipitous.

The trail was rerouted from passing through town to where it is now, by-passing the outskirts of the village. Not sure why this was done. Without doubt, right now it is not doing Monson any favors. The trail passes directly through several towns along the way, so it’s not unusual for it to do so.

I’ll try to learn more tomorrow as I work my way through the items needed for a successful transit of the hundred mile wilderness.

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Blood Sacrifice

Bake Oven Knob Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1,245.9, Friday May 2, 2014 — One trail aphorism is that “the trail provides.” The corollary is that the trail also demands.

Me, I’ve been tempting rock fate, raiding lost shelters and walking on the knife edge (more on the last one later). Sooner or later I knew I’d have to pay. Today the bill came due.

Let’s set the stage. Eckville Shelter was a great place. There were four of us including a new personality trail named BUS – Big, Ugly and Slow. He’s a nice guy with whom I have a lot in common.

Following a convivial evening we rose this morning knowing we were facing some of Pennsylvania’s most challenging rocks including a feature known as the Knife Edge and the Bake Oven Knob. There also were plenty of “rock puddles” decorating the more common and otherwise brilliantly smooth stretches of super smooth pathway.

Early on we encountered a mean boulder field. While dancing through it I missed a step and slipped backward suffering a little rock burn on my elbow. It looks far worse than it is. I treated it with anticeptics and left it exposed to the air.

Sadly, the trail of trash continues. In PA the shelters tend to be close to roads which is the best explanation I can conjure .

All-in-all, a good day. The trail passes right by the Blue Mountain Summit restaurant. The portobello mushroom burger with Swiss cheese was yummy. So was the Coke.

So fortified, I managed to waddle over the Knife Edge and Bake Oven Knob without tossing my cookies — but barely.

Tonight’s accommodation is pretty rustic, even for the AT. We’ll correct that tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Palmerton where the city lets hikers stay and shower free in the “jail house hostel” located in the basement of city hall.

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Trail Toast

501 Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1186.6, Sunday April 27, 2014 — This morning we were looking at an impressive pile of abandoned equipment we found at the shelter when we arrived last night.

None of it was hiker grade, but all the essentials were there in terms of clothing, wicked knife, now saw, bear line, pots, pans and even tooth paste.

“Wonder why this guy abandoned his stuff,” I mused.

“He was trail toast ” shot back one of the lady section hikers from Illinois.

If that’s so, there’s a lot of crumbs out here on the trail.

This is not the first abandoned equipment I’ve seen.

At various places I’ve found almost every kind of equipment imaginable from cast iron skillets to tents and backpacks. There’s been enough clothing to stock a huge consignment store.

Why is all this detritus scattered willy nilly?

How many stars are there in the sky? It’s complicated.

A funny place to start is Bill Bryson’s book, “A Walk in the Woods.”

Katz, Bryson’s foil, fool and neophyte acts out every stereotypical AT scenario from overpacking to throwing away his gear when he realizes that heavy equals hard. That’s a good part of the answer.

“A Walk in the Woods” is a movie currently in production starring Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as Katz. Don’t miss it.

There are mentally ill folks out here too. They talk to themselves, claim to hear voices and all the rest. Then there are the druggies…

Mind you, these are distinct minorities, but they are here and have been known to abandon clothing and equipment helter skelter.

Hunters occasionally use shelters as places to store cooking gear so heavy that they know hikers won’t trundle off with it, so we’re dealing with all kinds.

When you meet someone on the trail, it’s fairly easy to size them up. If their story, gear, body weight and general appearance don’t add up, then it’s time to move on. That’s where the absence of a beard discounted my credibility a bit.

Today’s shelter is a huge room with bunks and chairs around the perimeter. It features a door and giant hexagonal skylight. You can order pizza. Is there more to life? Not out here!

The walking today was very pleasant. Southern PA truly is a hikers joy. However the rock puddles are becoming larger and more frequent.

Within a couple of days I’ll be hiking hell on earth, I am told by nearly everyone I meet.

Some of the trail photos illustrate a few of today’s selected delights.

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Mourning bells on Madison Avenue.

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Boiling Springs, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1117.5, Wednesday April 23, 2014 — The mourning bells are ringing on Madison Avenue because I died today.

Really?

As members of the original Pepsi generation, advertisers promised Boomers we were never going age. We weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30.  Our uniform was going to be Levis, mop tops, and sandals!  We were forever young and the most coveted demographic of all time.

Given the degree of indoctrination we endured, I don’t know if this was a shared Boomer experience, but I felt a little strange when I woke up the morning of my thirtieth birthday and nothing changed. I didn’t look or feel any less trustworthy. Same thing when I reached a few other magic milestones that society commemorates with sacrificial candles.

This morning yet another of my life’s supposedly defining markers slipped by. Yup, another birthday.

This time something is different. I really am dead.

Dead, you say?  Like a doornail?  How could that be?

It’s actually a metaphor. As someone who worked in the marketing and PR world for many years, it’s like this: I know that I might as well be dead. 

Here’s the logic.

In some circles, being in a coveted consumer demographic is high status. Everybody wants to talk to YOU. They know that ME is the most important word in the English (advertising) language. 

Oh yes, you’d better be talkin’ to me!

If that’s the case, it’s over for moi. I’m not in anybody’s coveted demographic anymore. 

I’m tuned in, but Madison Ave. dropped me out.  Studies say that most of my brand preferences have been locked in – like NRA paranoia – for decades.  They think I’ve stopped thinking, because I can’t.

Ha!

It’s ironic.  By the time you reach a certain age, overnight the ad industry writes you off – you’re  a non-entity completely unworthy of ad service. In short, you don’t count in the ratings.

Nielsen, I know you don’t love me anymore.  It’s okay. You can have your box back.

As boomers, mainstream advertising no longer covets our eyeballs and ears. Our music has faded from the soundtracks of hit TV shows, and from the commercials that pay for them.  

Our generation’s stars have been reduced to playing grumpy and eccentric grandparents on the new TV shows.  Even the E-D ads target younger men.  To know that all you have to do is look at the age of the women who play the wives.

In the modern American consumer economy, when nobody wants to sell you anything, what’s left for you? You might as well be dead.  As far as the sales department is concerned, you are.

Big deal.  Life’s interesting.  I can personally attest that the mirror lies like a dog.  My hair isn’t gray, it’s only color-challenged. I mean, I’m glad to still have some.  But hey, I hear the Fountain of Youth is somewhere over the horizon, but that’s not why I’m walkin’.  (Or is it?)

“They” think the bell is tolling for me. They are soooo wrong!

Being retired is like perpetual vacation from school.  There’s a lot of time to fill, and there are a million things to do. If you didn’t notice, our generation has accomplished a lot and we still have talent. Most of us aren’t willing to go quietly into the great good night either.

Guess what Mad Men?  There are better roles in daily life than playing manipulated consumers whose primary benefit to society is buying stuff.  Boomers are born activists.  Remember the 60’s.  I know.  If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there.

Buckle your seat belt.  As more of us retire with too much time on our hands, it could get interesting, so let’s get ready to rock and roll.

Enough rant.  There’s something more important to say on this, my first birthday without my mother.

“Thanks for the birthday mom. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become uninteresting to advertisers.  I’ll always love you for that alone.”

Underground Railroad

Aside from getting my glasses repaired, one of yesterday’s highlights was staying at the Pine Grove Furnace Iron Master’s Hostel. The mostly restored 1820’s house is huge even by today’s standards. The Iron Master was one of the original one percent.

Whatever else be was or did, his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The basement actually has three chambers. The normal one is walled off in such a way that you wouldn’t suspect there was more to it.

The entrance to the secret chambers is through a closet floor. The low ceiling suggests a WWII Stalag 17 escape tunnel. The second chamber is entered through a small square opening I tried to capture with my iPhone camera.

One can only imagine the hope, fear, and resolve that passed through those rooms.

What ever else be was, the Iron Master did the right thing.

The iron works lasted until 1894 when it Bessemer process rendered it uneconomical to operate.

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Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line

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Get ready for reverse culture shock.

Where are the biscuits and gravy?  No more grits and black-eyed peas, not to mention butter beans, mac and cheese and red velvet cake. 

North of here you can’t say, “Pass the corn bread or hush puppies,” either.  How ’bout southern fried…?

There’ll be no more mashing of buttons, taking NASCAR, or swilling sweat tea. 

College football, up north, what’s that?  How ’bout them Dawgs?  Ramblin’ Wreck? Roll Tide? 

BBQ?  Don’t say “y’all” any more. 

Even the rhododendrons stopped growing about 175 miles back.  Mountain Laurel just isn’t the same.

Oh, the travesty of having to miss it all, ya’ll.

There are things I won’t miss.  Like Sunday mornings when the “unregulated militia” pops rounds at 10 a.m. on the dot -everywhere I hiked.  The 1,000-mile regularity of this quaint cultural artifact was disconcerting.  Same for a certain banner that symbolizes more than most will admit.

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Time to embrace pastrami, Sicilian pizza and better wine.  Let’s not forget poutine over fries, grinders, cheese steak, hot dogs, clam bakes, Chowdah, lobstah, maple sirup, frappes, soda pop and pumpernickel.

Then again ya got your beans – LL or Boston baked. Take your pick.

When I reach Red Sawks nation I’ll become a hik-ah and pawk my cah in Havard Yahd. I’ll wear my parker in New Hampshire when it gets cold.  I’m also secretly hoping for a little R&R in Boston to catch a Red Sox game from the seats on top of the Green Monstah.  Go Sox!

Life is about to change. 

Bye-bye “Dixie.” Hello “Yankee Doodle.”

Heading north and makin’ tracks.  Warmest regards,  Sisu

 

 

The long weekend continues.

Raven Rock Shelter, AT NOBO mile 1055.6, Friday April 18, 2014 — My mind is beginning to obsess. It’s starting to be about the rocks and we’re not even in Rocksylvania yet. The border is just five miles away so we’re almost there.

Just as Tarzan vines swung through my head, now it’s rocks. I’ve written two parody songs about hiking so far, and now a third one about rocks is working its way through my synapses. I’ll share a sampler of some random lines derived from Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence.”

Hello rocks, my old friends,
I’ve come to hike on you again.

Beneath the halo of my head lap,
I turn my collar because you’re cold and damp.

The hikers bowed and prayed,
To the white blaze god they’d made.

And it echoed with the sound of hiker midnight.

We’ll see how it goes.

A two-time thru hiker who shuttled me back from my snow-aborted slack pack attempt in Buena Vista warned me about the Maryland rocks. He thought they were worse than Pennsylvania’s.

He was right about the trail being excessively rocky, but there is so much more of Pennsylvania. How could a state some people hike across in a single day beat big bad Pennsylvania at its own game?

Not buying it – yet. A Penn native and successful thru hiker named Karma told me that Pennsylvania wasn’t that bad. Best of all the rocks don’t extend to the whole state. She’s batted 1000 so far, so I’m sticking with her.

Tonight’s shelter is new and pretty awesome. I’d put it in the top three. It’s guests include a nice family from Delaware, and on the tent pads an amorous young couple and a solo older guy. All-in-all, good company.

Since last week the forest is really beginning to wake up. The May apples are exploding – that’s a tip of the hat to my friend Karma who wrote about them in her blog last year.

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The good, the bad and the ugly days.

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Someone asked me if I’ve ever considered quitting.  The short answer is a resounding, “No.”  The question did prompt a reflection on how I classify my days.

They say never quit on a bad day ’cause the next day’s always better and you’ll most likely get over it.  Well, I’ve had good days, hard days, but fortunately no bad days though I’ve been close twice.

Almost every day has been a good day.  That means everything has mostly been routine.  I got up, got where I was going, and got fed, all with minimal discomfort.

There have been a few hard days.  I had three of them in a row after returning to the trail in early March.  I was trucking my full 0F, 38 lb. winter kit, enough out of shape to notice, and a total slug from a mental perspective.  Moreover, the climbing was bigger and harder than I anticipated, not to mention that my cake got frosted with snow on the second day.  Woe was me!

I sucked it up and got over it as I ate the weight out of my food bag and my body and mind readjusted to hiking.

Even the nasty early November storm in the Smokies was just hard.  A little frost nip is nothing and the adjustments I had to make weren’t that big of a deal.

Twice I was soaked through to the skin and everything in my pack was wet enough to have been in a Dunkin Donut contest. I had nothing dry to change into though my bedding was dry as a teenage guy’s mouth when he’s trying to talk to a pretty girl.  In each case I’d made a costly mistake, but had the fortune to be walking into planned town stops each time.  Warm and dry Erwin, Tennessee and Damascus, Virgina never looked so good.

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It’s 34F and raining in this photo – that’s cold – and I’m soaked inside and out.

Had the towns not been there, we might be telling a different story.  As they say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

What’s a bad day?  How about when you break a bone, fall and knock yourself silly, or run out of food?  Bears, racoons, skunks, mice, porcupines, pit vipers, rocks, widow makers, lightning and a whole lot more have propensity to turn the odds in their favor.

In the interim the best advice I have is this: Don’t dwell on it.  Just hike.