Pointless Ups and Downs

Happy Hill Shelter, Vt., AT NOBO mile 1,737.3, Sunday June 8, 2014 — The sky is blue. The leaves are brown. The trail goes up. The trail goes down.

I recited this little ditty all winter. It’s still true except that the leaves are now green. Today was a pleasant hike that was all about PUDs – pointless ups and downs.

Trail conditions were the only other remarkable note. The mud in this section has dried up for all intents and purposes. Only residual blood sucking insects remain. They were relentless today, but oceans of DEET kept them at bay.

The uncut weeds are a problem. A study last year proved that the vector for deer ticks, the carriers of Lyme Disease, is trailside vegetation against which hikers brush. They also help spread invasive species in the same motion.

It’s a jungle out there and all if us are concerned that we won’t find all the deer ticks that find us. I just wish the trail overseers would be more diligent about keeping the weeds and other vegetation cut back.

Four miles to Starbucks in the morning. Indeed! I can use the caffeine.

Last night my blog was so boring that I fell asleep while typing.

True story. If it’s reputation holds true, I think NH hiking will eliminate the boredom.

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Rude pizza guy

Morgan Stewart Shelter, N.Y., AT NOBO mile 1,433.9, Sunday May 18, 2014 — I promised this blog would be about a rude pizza guy. It is. You’ll see. But first a word from our sponsor.

Long distance hiking definitely helps sooth the mind, but Hike for Mental Health is more than that. Like bike rides, marathons and similar challenges. Hike for Mental Health hopes to use long distance hiking as a means to raise money in support of much needed research in the field.

As a former senior administrator at one of America’s leading research universities, I can attest to the criticality of funding for academic research. Without the creation of new knowledge, problem solving would grind to a halt. So it is with mental health. Here’s how hiking fits.

The Appalachian Trail was conceived as a way to get people from the urban areas into the wilderness. Its visionaries never imagined thru-hiking as a component of the trail experience, but one guy did.

Earl Schafer was the first thru hiker in1948. He was “walking off the war” (WW II) in terms of his own experiences and to cope with the tragic loss of his closest boyhood friend in that war. He needed the time, the space and the opportunity to commune with nature to help himself cope.

In my own case, I needed a way to decompress from a highly stressful career and do some unfettered thinking about the future, those I love, and my personal successes and failures. To date, hiking has been marvelous medicine for me, and this blog is part of that process.

I asked Hiking for Mental Health to put its donate button on the right hand side of my blog page for the purpose of trying to help a good cause. When this hike is over, I plan to click on it and make a small difference. I hope you will too.

Back to our story.

It was around 42 degrees this morning at wake up time. My tent was cosy and I hated to abandon ship. We were up and out of the park, walking briskly in our short sleeve shirts to stay warm, before almost anyone else was awake.

We hit the 9-11 memorial rock painting within minutes. Later we lounged for lunch at the exquisite RPH Shelter. If it hadn’t been 24 miles away, we might have stayed there instead of Fahnestock Park.

Everyone was in a great mood and looking forward to the pizzeria and deli where the AT passes 4/10ths of a mile from the highway to Stormville, NY. We’d be there around 2:30 pm and could walk the extra distance off trail in time for a tasty late lunch. Our anticipation was high!

Upon inspection, the deli was more of a convenience store with no seats so we decided to eat at the pizzeria. Swayed and I entered and ordered a $26 large pie to split between us.

Then Swayed made a simple request and asked where the restroom was so he could was his hands before eating. The guy behind the counter said they didn’t have a restroom, but Swayed could use the spigot on the side of the building.

I went on red alert. In NY, as most states, any restaurant with tables must proved a restroom for customer use. I scanned the small establishment but could see nothing obvious. Spigot… On the side of a building… It has a certain historical ring to it.

As we were bulldozing our way through the pizza, we noticed customers using a room marked “private” from which noise sounding strangely like flushing emanated.

Bingo! This guy doesn’t like hikers. I didn’t care much for his tasteless pizza either, but I got the picture. It works like this.

The vast majority of thru hikers are kids in their early 20s. Many are just out of college. Some are drop outs. Others never went. They stereotype into three groups, only the smallest of which is positive.

The other two groups act and sound either like Beavis and Butthead or characters from the 1983 Nicholas Cage “Valley Girl” movie with the upward inflection at the end of every sentence. They have little money, outdoor expertise or sense of personal hygiene.

The hiker trash stereotype is derived from their example and behavior. In dozens upon dozens of conversations with hostel owners, shuttle operators and restauranteurs, almost no one has had much good to say about them.

Swayed and I have met our share and concur. It’s been a constant topic of conversation since we met.

Back to our pizza guy. This jackass cannot differentiate between a couple of obviously polite middle age, affluent and educated folks and the boneheads. Worse, he’s breaking the law. Just insert any racial group into his equation.

I posted photos and a notice on the AT hiker class of 2014 Facebook Page. I noted that the deli is great, so I hope everyone goes there.

Flash forward.

Tuesday sometime we should reach the very affluent and reputedly hiker unfriendly little burg of Kent, CT.

The guidebook says hikers are “unwelcome” at the laundrymat. Guess who’s gonna test that one? This could get interesting. Stay tuned.

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Zoo

Clarence Fahnestock State Park, NY, AT NOBO mile 1,419.9, Saturday May 17, 2014 — Swayed and I are tenting in a NY state park not far from New York City on a weekend. Guess who’s on exhibit? Why us of course.

“Hey Vinny! Did ya see doz guys?” We being “doz guys.” Actually, if you know how to ‘nice them out’, New Yorkers are pretty good folks. Let’s just say that we’ve been well treated since we’ve been here. Swayed’s British accent helps.

We got a late jump on the day being that the shuttle leaves the motel at nine. That’s really late for us. We set our sights on a 20 mile day while Bus elected to stop much shorter. He caught the chest and head cold I’ve been nursing for the past week and is a bit under the weather.

We all wanted to see the Bear Mountain Zoo. Within, the bear exhibit is the lowest elevation on the entire AT. Sadly, we were too early. It wasn’t open yet. Every hiker wants to liberate the poor bears. We like them much better outside cages.

Since we had the extra time, our day started with a high octane pancake breakfast served with Italian charm. We loved it.

Next up at lunch time was the Appalachian Deli which is right on the trail. It is truly an amazing place. I gobbled an excellent plate of rigatoni with chicken for lunch. Washed down with Gatorade of course.

The day was decent hiking with the exception that the trail was seriously waterlogged from the heavy rain overnight. I did run into a friendly garter snake whose curiosity about me was amusing.

This weekend is Trail Days in Damascus, VA. Thousands of hikers gather there. Hike for Mental Health, which I support, has a booth. I plan to write about the hiking and mental health tomorrow. It’s a propitious time to do it.

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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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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.”

Logistics (The boring stuff.)

Pine Grove Furnace, Iron Master’s Inn and hostel, AT NOBO mile 1097.9, Monday April 21, 2014 — Today we hiked a NERO or near zero miles. Just 3.3 miles by my count.

Armies and hikers run on their stomachs and by the grace of repair parts. My glasses needed repair, my laundry was beginning to ripen, not to mention me, and the old feed bag was on a quarter tank.

I could wait two days for Boiling Springs and pay a lot for a motel or stop today at a much cheaper hostel. The Super Walmart store would be the same one in either case. No contest. The hostel won.

Today I passed the old official halfway point and took a selfie. It’s also the northern boundary of my trail club’s area of responsibility. I’ll miss my PATC colleagues.

A shuttle which took me to Wallmart and back. All missions accomplished. I plugged in my electronics on the general store porch to charge while I ensconced myself at a nearby picnic table to wait for the hostel to open at 5 pm.

The store is the home of the “Half Gallon Challenge.” Hikers bulldoze their way through a half gallon of ice cream in 30 minutes. I was saved again by being off season.

Just then a SOBO named Groceries hobbled up to my picnic table. Seems she twisted her ankle in some fashion. We spent the afternoon talking until Yodel, a German hiker I met in passing a couple of days earlier, hiked in to join us.

Groceries’ ankle is now “knee deep” in ice and my trusty compression sock. We’re hoping she’s better in the morning.

Rain tomorrow afternoon is the weatherman’s bet. It’ll be a race to the shelter to beat the rain. Common sense prevailing, of course.

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It’s all down hill from here.

Toms Run Shelter, Penn. AT NOBO mile 1094.6, Monday April 20, 2014 — It may not really be down hill exactly, but I passed the official halfway point this afternoon.

Now to repeat the process. Judging from the first half, is a long slog indeed. Note: The official halfway point changes each year due to repairs, rerouting, etc. this year’s official mileage is 2,185.3 miles.

Easter’s sunrise poked me square in the eye this morning and we were up and on our way bright and early. Hiked off and on through the day with the Penn group from last night. They’re good hikers.

We’re entering a stretch where some of the shelters have wonderful caretakers who’ve put a lot of heart into their work. Will write more on this topic later.

Haven’t seen anyone since 3 this afternoon. Alone again, naturally and lovin’ it.

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Six states complete

Rocky Mountain Shelters, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1075.4, Saturday April 19, 2014 — Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland are now in the books. Let’s see if we can gnaw on Pennsylvania for a bit.

I crossed into PA at 10:54 this morning. I took a pic of the Mason-Dixon sign, but in my excitement forgot to attach it to the post about leaving the south.

I also forgot to mention something I’m not looking forward to in the north. The “New York minute” escaped me only because minutes have very little meaning to a thru hiker. We measure time differently out here.

Physically all’s well. The compression sock took care of the shin splints. Will try to keep them from coming back. My glasses need repair – a nose pad came off. Will try to hustle into Wallmart today or tomorrow. I love being close to civilization.

Got a great pic of the Maryland countryside today. Saw a water moccasin at one of the springs. And the Easter Parade continues on the trail. In camp tonight with some nice folks from eastern PA out for a nice weekend camp out.

I also spied some Hash House Harrier trail markings this afternoon. Hashers are sometimes called beer drinkers with a running problem. I was hoping the trail would end up in camp where this veteran Hasher knew he could score a fair share of their ample beer supply. But alas, the trail turned right and the AT didn’t.

Rain in the forecast next week and the people will all go back to work.

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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