Trail Ambassador

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Role playing exercise

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, February 20, 2015 — I’ve spent the past week gettin’ ready for love.  Oh, not THAT kind. I’ve been with a group of people training to assist hikers on the Appalachian Trail this year.  We love the trail and the people who hike on it.

Our base camp is a modern style house from the late 50s or early 60s owned by the National Park Service.  During the summer it is basecamp for the trail crews that work in the park.

Our mission is to educate hikers primarily on “Leave No Trace”™ principles, encourage them and help them in practical ways.

An estimated three million people walk at least some distance on the Appalachian Trail each year, so Leave No Trace is a big deal.  The national scenic trails, of which the AT is only one albeit the most famous, are being “loved to death.  The number of users continues to increase at a high rate.  Therefore, the impact on the environment from human footsteps alone is enormous.  Add their feces and urine, toothpaste, dishwater, dropped litter, abandoned gear, fires, animal disturbance and all the rest together and the sum is enormous.

Unfortunately, individual hikers fail to appreciate that their impact is additive to all the others.  That’s why Leave No Trace is more than Pack it in.  Pack it out.  Hikers are expected to plan and prepare for everything they might encounter on their hike.  Understanding how and where to camp prevents erosion and unsightly scars.  Knowing how to dispose of human waste properly is critical to preventing water contamination and disease. Respecting wildlife, fellow hikers and campers, leaving what you find undisturbed and generally being considerate round it out.

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Here I’m demonstrating how to hang a food bag in a way that is not tied to any tree.  Bears have learned to break ropes tied off to trees and feast on what falls to the ground!

Human food kills bears.  Once they become unafraid of humans, bears have to be trapped and moved, or worse, destroyed. They are magnificent animals.  Being thoughtless has sad consequences.  The AT-wide bear statistics weren’t encouraging.  Bear territory is shrinking and the animals are only trying to find food.

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Had a small bear encounter at the outfitter in Gatlinburg, TN.

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During the week, the Forest Service taught us a lot about hiker/camper psychology and methods to be persuasive without confrontation.  Nobody wants to hear that they are a screw-up.  Above all, we learned to count small victories.

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Then there’s the weather.  Minus 23 at altitude in the Smokies!  Holy frostbite Batman!!!  My gear will get me to -15F at best with a miserable night.  I’ve experienced and slept outside in -50F in Alaska and northern Minnesota.  I can’t carry that kind of gear over these mountains.  Best to stay in town when the weather forecast looks like this.

Today I drove to Hiawassee in north Georgia to visit a couple of hostels and assess trail and weather conditions.  There weren’t that many hikers around.  Several had been driven back to or into town by the subzero temperatures.  They said the snow wasn’t a big deal, but that there were a lot of downed trees to impede progress.

Ridgerunners/trail ambassadors carry large pruning saws to attack blowdown up to about a foot in diameter.  At a minimum, we can trim away the branches from a large trunk.  The going will be slow next week.  Can’t wait.

Tuesday the Georgia crew meets with the Forest Service and the local trail club for coordination.  Let the games begin!

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Dick’s Creek Gap today.

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Same rock.  Better weather!

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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Twenty four hours later…

Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps , AT NOBO mile 2030.5, Thursday July 24, 2014 — Today reminded me that Maine has more mud than Vermont and more rocks than Pennsylvania in spite of it’s glorious splendor. Yesterday’s rain dumped a lot of water on the Maine landscape with predictable results. It did what water does.

The mud was deep and black as onyx. It would make pretty good glue I suspect. I’ve written enough about slippery rocks that the eponymously named college probably owes me something for the ads. We had it all, in spades.

None of that nuisance stuff interfered with what was a watercolor day of storybook ponds and classic Maine scenery. I even crossed a road with a congratulatory 2,000 mile sign painted on it. Must be depressing for the southbounders. Some of them look so fresh and innocent. They have no idea what they’re marching into. None of us did.

Maine is dotted as thick as a Monet painting with rustic, and I mean rudimentary, cabins that people own or rent for fishing and hunting.

Built in the early ’30s, and not much changed, Harrison’s is a classic. Franklin Roosevelt once fished here. Tim, the owner and former actuary, is a good guy who treats hikers with extra kindness.

The actual reason I pulled in here was for the giant breakfast and the HOT shower. The mud and warm temperatures this week have taken their toll. Laundry can wait until tomorrow in Caratunk where I have to go to the post office anyway.

It’s a three-mile hike in the morning to catch the canoe that ferries hikers across the Kennebec River. The ferry was initiated after a hiker drowned and several others had close calls several years ago. The danger lies in a dam upstream that releases water without warning. The icy cold temp can’t be a favorable factor either.

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There’s a noisy loon in the pond.

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Tim joined us for breakfast.

On the money

Dalton, Mass., AT NOBO mile 1,565.2, Tuesday May 27, 2014 — Trick question. Guess where the paper for U.S. currency is manufactured? That’s the white rag paper with the red and blue fibers imbedded in it. Right here in Dalton of course.

We figured that out (from a sign) on the way into town foowing an hour’s easy hike.

Unfortunately the ice cream parlor didn’t open until 4 pm and it was 9:30 am, but the coffee shop was open and we settled in for a quick latte and a banana muffin.

Town stops are pretty mundane, comprised mostly of house keeping chores such as collecting boxes as the post office, grocery runs, laundry, showering, and pigging out.

Today we were the beneficiaries of some trail magic when Laura, the Shamrock Inn’s manager, took us along on her run to Price Chopper. We treated her to ice cream in return.

We’ll stay one more day to rest our battered feet. Then it’s on to our next town stop in Manchester Center, Vt.

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Another day, another rock

Rutherford Shelter, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1329.7, Saturday May 10, 2014 — Today was all about nature, human and otherwise.

First, last night Swayed, Bus, Maglev (the nurse) and I were at a shelter with two young women from Rheinlander, Wisconsin. They were. It only a total delight, but a hoot as well. It’s been a long time since I’ve met anyone that genuine.

The girls are on a six week southbound section hike for all the right reasons. Adventure and discovery will punctuate their personal growth. May the wind be at your back ladies.

Today’s hike was rocky enough that we thought we’d taken a detour back into Pennsylvania. The rocks will thin out permanently within the next 100 miles or so. Not going to fret about them.

We discovered where a bear had been making its own blazes. I only wish humans could to that well. We spent two hours this morning chasing the trail due to some poor and unconventional marking techniques.

Later we encountered some tourists near a parking lot. “No, I didn’t see any bears today!” I need a sign to put around my neck to answer that ubiquitous interrogative.

A funny black snake which had a payday crossed the trail. He was pretty slow, being fat in the middle. Once his head was hidden, he stopped trying to get away thinking we could no longer see him.

Also watched some red tailed hawks trying to make their living.

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Beaver Dam Rules

Brink Road Shelter, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1,314.4 Friday May 9, 2014 — Once upon a time a hard working beaver built a dam and all was good.

It was a strong dam with a very large pond away from people. Each day the beaver greeted the other animals when they came to drink. They were happy that the beaver chose their neighborhood to make his living. Everyone was happy.

Then one day the beaver heard strange noises. Heavy construction equipment was making a lot of noise. He learned from a passing deer that men were building a power line on the next ridge over.

That same day people with picks, McClouds, Pulaskis and white paint began carving a hiking trail on the beaver’s dam and around the edge of the pond.

The Appalachian Trail was being rerouted around the power line construction. This was sad news for the beaver and the other animals in the forest. People, especially smelly hikers would be everywhere. The peace and quiet would be gone forever.

With winter coming on the beaver knew he needed to raise his pond’s water level to make sure he would have room under the ice. So he set out to reinforce his dam and the water rose to the appropriate level.

Sadly, the trail crews didn’t like it when the water level rose and covered the trail they had worked so hard to build. The crews installed a drain to lower the water level. The beaver plugged it and the trail crews unplugged it, and so it went.

In time the beaver decided to draw the line. Be permanently plugged the drain, then he cut down the trees with white blazes, then be blocked the trail itself. That’ll show ’em, he thought … and it did. The trail crews moved the trail up slope and decided to leave the beaver alone.

When the hikers saw what the beaver had done, they cheered. They like it when nature wins.

We stopped short today so Bus could stay with us. Life is good and the beaver story is true.

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New Jersey tries harder

Mohican Outdoor Center, N.J., AT NOBO mile 1,300.4, Thursday May 8, 2014 — Early this morning I passed a sign that said Sunfish Pond was one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey. I know Cape May could be another of them, but for the life of me I can’t think of any candidates for the other five.

Actually, it’s New Jersey’s unnatural wonders I worry more about – the Meadowlands superfund sites, the urban blight of Elizabeth and Newark, organized crime and state politics as if you could tell the difference. Then there’s Snookie…

New Jersey has more bears per square mile than anywhere else on the trail. We saw three huge piles of bear scat today, but no other indications. We even saw a sizable stash of uneaten acorns. Bet we’ll see a bear before we’re ought of here.

To be fair, most of the day was rainy and foggy. Very little of Sunfish Pond was visible, so maybe I’m missing something. If not, old New Jersey is trying awfully hard to make something out of not much. That was confirmed when we tripped upon the state’s cache of spare hiking rocks. Nice try NJ, but you’re no Pennsylvania.

We’re at the Mohican Center, a former Scout camp operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC is derisively know in some circles as the “Appalachian Money Club” for charging excessive fees for the use of its facilities, especially the huts in the New Hampshire mountains.

Tomorrow’s hike is 21 flat, and (we hope), moderately rocky miles to the next shelter. Here tonight is Swayed, Bus, and a male nurse section hiker from North Carolina. He makes the eighth male nurse I’ve met on the trail.

This is probably the last night we’ll see Bus. He’s much slower and can’t consistently do the mileage Swayed and I routinely turn in. He’s a great guy who will be missed.

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3.14159 reasons to love Delaware Water Gap

Delaware Water Gap, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1,289.6, Wednesday May 7, 2014 — If I had been a character on Sesame Street, I would have been the Pie Moocher.

I love pie – pot pie, apple pie, cherry pie, punkin pie – any kind of pie, even the number pi. You can fill my pie hole morning, noon and night.

Well, this threadbare burg has its very own pie bakery. Talk about a hiker vortex. You can walk in, but you can’t walk out.

No sooner did I saunter in than a piece of apple pie a la mode jumped right out and landed right on my table. It was so yummy.

Not to be outdone, the second course consisted of a savory shepherd’s pie. Scrumpilicious!

For desert I tried waddling over to the strudel table but fortunately I couldn’t make it all the way. The button on my waist band was about to pop.

Did I forget to mention the homemade giant size cookies or the cupcakes? Oh mercy!!!

They open at 8 o’clock. A special breakfast awaits, I can tell.

The rest of the week will be much warmer and rainy. My quick trip home and back paralleled the AT. Spring is about a hundred miles south of us at the moment, and should catch up momentarily.

Of course the cats were delighted to see me. 🙂

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Is that all you got Pennsylvania?

Delaware Water Gap, Penn. AT NOBO mile 1,289.6, Monday May 5, 2014 — Big milestones today. I’m three tenths of a mile from crossing the New Jersey border and early this morning the odometer clicked less than 900 miles remaining before Mt. Katahdin. Amen!

As for Pennsylvania, it’s one of my favorite states.

At dinner we debated what percentage of the AT within the state is actually “rocky.” The consensus opinion is around 30 percent, meaning that the rest of the state is smoother than a baby’s bottom.

My friend Karma was correct yet again. Some of the rocky sections were rough, but they didn’t last long. They sure did some damage to our boots though.

So, Pennsylvania, is that all you got? If that’s it, you ain’t got nothin’!

Virginia was worse for both rocks and tedium. Maryland wins on total percentage of rocks and gratuitous boulder fields with rock pile traverses.

I love you Pennsylvania and I’m coming back to prove it.

The woods are beginning to transition into spring. The undergrowth is greening up. Soon we’ll be in the green tunnel. I’m posting two photos to show the contrast.

Tomorrow Enterprise car rental is picking me up so I can drive home to swap gear.

Nobody is yet switching into strictly summer equipment, so I’ll set it all up to be mailed as needed. I’ll sent my colder weather stuff forward to my cousin in Hanover, NH. There I’ll snag it as we enter the big boy mountains of NH and Maine.

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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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