Hiking Maryland Heights with Old Friends

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Friends from my days in the White House/National Security Council Press Office.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  July 7, 2018 — The auspicious press room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is just off the West Wing, constructed over what was once the inauspicious presidential swimming pool.

As life would have it, my favorite journalists swam in the deep end of that former pool, now known as the press room basement.

You could say this invisible nether region was reserved for the less pyrotechnic news broadcasters such as Bloomberg, the Voice of America, NPR and the like.

I wish I’d taken photos of these down-under denizens who were literally schmooshed into their phone booth-size working spaces.

Believe me, ya hadda be there to appreciate it, especially the irresistible treats they’d bring from home each day.  I was soon food-conditioned and grazed almost daily.  It was an irresistible trap of sorts.  In return for treats, I’d respond to questions.  Hope my answers were as good as the brownies.

After my time at the Executive Mansion expired, keeping in touch was precarious.  This was the mid-1990s when the Yahoo search engine was revolutionary and long before social media.

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Two decades passed.  Then our friend Tina thought we should meet-up at a baseball game on July 4.  Catching up, we realized some of us had in common a previously unknown love of nature.

Impulsively I offered to organize a hike and BOOM, there we were, three days later, munching (this time my homemade blueberry muffins) in a Harpers Ferry parking lot preparing to assault the Maryland Heights overlook.  Maryland Heights Trail

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The iconic view from Maryland Heights is spectacular.  The Shenandoah River is top left.  The Potomac River is bottom center.

The weather was unheard of for July in the mid-Atlantic region.  Our 7 a.m. departure featured low humidity, a light breeze and a sweat-free temp of 60 F.  Up we chugged, skidding to a stop at the featured overlook in well under an hour.  We toured the 1862 civil war fortifications on the mountain top before finishing the 10 km loop before lunch time.

 

 

Along the way we took selfies like giddy teenagers.

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Showing off my thru hike photo from 2014.

With time to spare, we toured the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center, then we stopped for burgers and beers in town before moseying down to John Brown’s fort.

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Railroad tunnel and bridges over the C&O Canal and the Potomac river.

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Ruins of a lock keeper’s house on the C&O Canal.

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Jefferson’s Rock.  The props were added in the mid-1800s to preserve the balanced rock formation.

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The view from Jefferson’s Rock.

After exploring the lower town and crossing the river over to the C&O Canal, we marched up to Jefferson’s Rock, then through the ancient cemetery and back to our initial rendezvous point where we hugged all around and agreed to hike again soon.

Upon reflection, I’m thinking food history might be repeating itself.  I’ll keep baking blueberry muffins and other treats, as long as they keep coming.

To those from that era who weren’t there: We’ve got plenty of roster slots, lots of fresh hikes, and all the freshly baked muffins you can eat.

Sisu

Windstorm Cleanup

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Shenandoah National Park, Sunday March 11, 2018 — About ten days ago a nor’easter ripped through the mid-Atlantic on its way to hammer New England.  Large trees were snapped and uprooted like toothpicks, dragging down power lines as they crashed to earth.  Widespread power outrages bloomed in the winter storm’s aftermath.

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Our own electricity in the big city burbs was out for four days thanks to a big old tree that landed in the wrong place.

Soon word spread of massive blowdowns all along the Appalachian Trail, especially in Shenandoah National Park.  What’s a dedicated trail maintainer gonna do except saddle up and ride toward the sound of cracking tree trunks?

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This tree snapped near its base, and in the process, blocked a four-way trail junction.  Bucking this 20-inch tree was an interesting puzzle requiring careful attention to safety and a step-by-step approach.

fullsizeoutput_154bStep one was trimming away the smaller branches and reducing the blowdown to its bare structure.

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Step two is getting the main trunk on the ground where it’s safer to chop it up.

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Step three is reduce the main trunk.  Here, with a top bind, after an initial cut about eight inches deep, wedges are driven to keep the cerf from closing and trapping the saw in the cut.

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Wedges in, the job can be finished.

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Step four is get the slash off the trail and out of the way.  Best of all, we converted a lot of chainsaw gas into sawdust.

Job. Done.

All told, we cut six blowdowns on the section I maintain.  The subject tree was on the southern end.

After that, we moved to the Indian Run fire road which is the access to the Hoodlum’s maintenance hut.

We quickly picked off three minor blockages on the fire road.

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Of course there’s always “that one.”  This 12-incher was draped in vines and it was hollow making it a bit more sketchy to cut.

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The approach was to trim away the vines and branches before dicing up the trunk from the top down.

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Like dicing vegetables for roasting.

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Sliced into small enough chunks to drag off the trail.

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Ten obstructive trees were gone.  Then we found this.  This tree is a good 20 inches alone.  It has a twin right behind it. That’s a twofer.  It’s also a “leaner.”  The angle isn’t bad, but this multi-ton tree’s top is hung up requiring care to safely bring it to justice.

The day was getting late.  Fatigue proved the better part of valor and a safety rule red light, so we left the remaining trees for the Hoodlums to tackle on Saturday.

Sisu

 

Planning Your On-trail Budget

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Where the budget starts for most hikers.

From and article I prepared for the Appalachian Trail Expert Advice Facebook page, January 5, 2018.

Running out of money is one of the primary reasons hikers do not finish their thru hikes. A realistic budget, understanding where the money goes, and a little self-discipline can help ensure your hike goes all the way.

What a previous hike may have cost any single individual is relevant to your planning, but not definitive because everybody is unique. But, if you know what drives costs, you can develop a budget that will help you succeed at a price you can afford.

So, this post isn’t going to tell you now much money you need. Instead, it seeks to help you think through how to develop your budget by looking at where costs come from and offering a sense of what average hikers spend.

The irony is that while you’re actually hiking, you aren’t spending money. You may be eating, wearing or carrying what money bought, but unless you’re shopping on line from mountaintops, you’re not actually burning cash while you are on the trail itself.

Being that we’re discussing on-trail expenses, we will not include the cost of gear or equipment purchased prior departure or your transportation home.

Towns are money sumps. Some expenses are undeniably necessary while others are optional, but for the most part, how much you spend is purely up to you.

At this point human nature is worth noting. By the time a thru hiker gets to town, s/he has been on the trail for approximately five days. In addition to the big four: groceries, laundry, fuel, and a shower, most hikers want to sleep in a bed. Those five usually cost less than number six.

Number six. Being people, we’re hungry for restaurant food and maybe a beer or two. You guessed right. That’s where the real money goes. A restaurant/bar stop can cost more than the big five all together. Stay for a zero and a second night and you can easily double that.

So let’s talk about town stops.

First, how do you get to town?

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Some hostels shuttle for free and some do not.

With the exception of the few times the trail actually runs down Main Street, you’ll need to hitch or shuttle. Hitching is free, but sometimes difficult or sketchy. It’s also against the law in New York, New Jersey, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, in and around Harpers Ferry, and possibly more places. Weather and time of year also can be factors in this decision.

Shuttles usually cost around $2 per mile. Be sure you understand the cost before asking the driver to meet you at the trailhead. Shuttle drivers also expect cash payment.

With a growing number of hikers attempting to duck payment, some drivers are asking for payment up front, so be prepared.

Some hostels shuttle for free; some don’t. Sometimes you can spit costs with other hikers or get a group discount. If the guidebook doesn’t say, be sure and ask up front.

The average one-way shuttle cost is around $10 – $20 or $20 – $40 per town stop.

Once in town, expect to walk where you need to go. Hostels located outside a nearby town generally will offer free daily shuttles to town at designated times.

The big five:

Grocery costs depend on menu. The menu includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Also, most hikers change tastes over the course of their hike. So, that energy bar you love today may be the one you gag on three months in.

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Shopping at Ingles in Hiawassee, GA.  Taken from the in-store Starbucks.

As for entrées, on the high end is freeze dried food. You can save a little by buying freeze dry food in bulk, and use resupply boxes, but your tastes may change. On trail, freeze dry meals are available at Walmart and at most outfitters. Depending where they’re bought and the specific meal, freeze dry food costs, on average, between $6 and $10 per meal, bending toward the higher number.

Among the more affordable prepared foods are Knorr sides and Ramen which can be supplemented with tuna or chicken packets and much more. Hikers also favor instant oatmeal, granola bars, energy bars, candy bars, jerky, instant coffee, cured sausage, cream and block cheese, hardboiled eggs, crackers of all kinds, olive oil, peanut butter, tortillas, snack cakes, sticky buns, and cookies just to mention a few. Consider taking a multivitamin if you eat too much of your diet in refined sugar and salt.

Of course there are vegan diets and those who love fresh food. Also, some cook and some don’t. Choosing not to cook can save $3 – $8 per week in fuel costs depending on fuel type.

Your menu choices will determine food costs.

Don’t forget you’ll not be very hungry but will transition to eating much more after hiker hunger kicks in.

Your grocery bill will depend on what you eat. Between $30 – $50 per resupply stop seems to be around average.

Your trip to town subtotal is now $50 – $90 and you still have to shower and do laundry. There’s also a place to stay.

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No two hostels are the same.  Costs can vary dramatically.

Let’s say you’re sleeping in town. Hostels are cheaper than motels. The cost of hostels can vary widely depending on amenities – platform bunks vs. mattresses and pillows, tenting, private rooms, etc. Some hostels include laundry in their total price while others offer a la carte pricing for laundry, showers, snacks, meals or offer use of a kitchen to cook your own meals and save money.

Laundry and showers, without stay, at most hostels average around $5 each.

The cost of a hostel stay can vary a lot. The prices have been recently increasing due to supply and demand, the short season, and growing overhead costs. While one may be as low as $25, another can be more than $50, with some considerably more. An up to date guidebook will have the details.

At this point your plan may be to stay only at the least expensive hostels, and at that tent whenever possible to save money. Unfortunately no plan ever survives contact with reality.

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Severe weather can change your plans.  Photo by Warren Fewtrell

Your spreadsheet may say so many miles per day and specify town stops. However, weather, illness, frame of mind, trail family companions, injury, fatigue and a host of other issues may alter that planning and add considerable unexpected expense.

For planning purposes, it’s generally safer to round up. So let’s average $50 per hostel stay even though that may be slightly on the high side.

Your bare bones town stop is now up to $100 – $140 and you haven’t even had a hamburger yet.

Remember the reference to human nature. It takes a strong will to forego at least one restaurant stop while you’re in town.

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Some restaurants are part of the trail tradition and are difficult to avoid.

Run into some trail friends you haven’t seen in awhile, here’s betting you can’t avoid the temptation to find a place to eat, grab at least one beer and catch up. What about if you’re hiking out of town after a zero and just happen to run into these same friends you haven’t seen in awhile? Bet you take a second zero. Kerching! It’s like lighting twenty dollar bills on fire.

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Trail families form and dissolve.  You’ll want to catch up with people you haven’t seen in awhile.

Beer and burgers/pizza cost more or less depending on where you are. Realistially, you probably won’t get out of most restaurant/bars, with the exception of fast food, for under $40 – $50. The cost of alcohol is expensive and most hikers don’t drink just one beer or eat one hamburger.

Restaurant food and alcohol can cost as much or more than the big five.

If you eat breakfast and lunch in restaurants, add more. The good news is that AT towns are so rural that there are only a couple of Starbucks on the trail, so your coffee habit won’t beak the bank!

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There are excellent and not inexpensive coffee shops/restaurants along the way.  Dalton, MA.

Subtotal: $140 – $190 per town stop. If you use resupply boxes, add around $15 for a medium size flat rate box, two-day delivery. A medium size Express Mail box will hold four days food.

Since town stops are so expensive, how many should you expect?

The average hiker goes to town every fifth or sixth day. The reason is that food is the single heaviest item – and one of the bulkiest – in their pack. Think weight and space. Five days is about what fits (in a bear canister, food bag or pack) at a weight hikers feel comfortable carrying. There are exceptions, but again we’re talking averages.

Divide the average time it takes for a thru hike, 180 days, by five and you get 36 before zeros. Believe it. You’ll want to zero from time to time. Let’s say you plan for 15, but due to circumstances actually take 20 under the round up principle. That’s 40 five-day hikes and 40 town stops.

Estimated rounded-up cost on the trail ranges between $6,000 and $7,200. Add $15 for each resupply box you expect to use. The author used about 15 of them, all in the north.

Resupply by mail is common.  You can leave boxes open so the contents can be adjusted if necessary.

Can you thru hike for less? Absolutely.

Start with fewer zeros. If your body holds up, you may only need one zero per month. That’s six, not 15. Unfortunately, that’s not what most people need or do.

By increasing days between resupply you need fewer town stops at the price of a heavier pack. You can use the NERO (near zero) option to minimize your overnight stays in town. Above all, decrease eating in restaurants and alcohol consumption.

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Hitch more if you’re comfortable doing that.

Work for stay also can reduce hostel costs. But remember that you won’t be the only one who wants work for stay and the opportunities are limited. There just isn’t enough work for everyone.

Be aware that hostel owners complain that a lot of work-for-stay hikers aren’t willing to work hard and do a good job. They have a list serve and communicate with one another. All the other hostels up the trail will know about shirkers or problem hikers. Do a good job and you’ll stand out from your competition.

One successful hiker was very smart about work for stay. He was a decent handyman who was able to do very useful work for hostel owners. When he completed his assignment, he’d ask the hostel owner to refer him up the trail. His lodging budget was $0 and he was successful. He even earned real money from time to time. The keys were his willingness to work very hard, do an excellent job, his useful skills, and being savvy enough to ask for help landing a gig at his next stop.

Of note.

You’ll need a budget contingency for equipment you may have to replace. Whether a bear tears up your tent, you fall and bend your trekking poles, a boot fails, or you lose weight and need new pants, you may have to replace something along the way.

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Gear breaks and hasty repairs don’t always hold.

Bear Damage.

Be aware that the southern end of the trail is very good at separating hikers from their money. The trail towns are friendly, the festivals frequent, and the hikers really want to be social.

You really have to watch your spend rate on the first half of your hike. Too many hikers spend way too much money in the south and have to go home early because they are dead broke.

Hiker feeds are found primarily in the southern half of the trail.  Do not depend upon them to reduce costs.

Many hikers don’t realize how much more expensive the northern half of the trail is compared to the southern half. There also are far fewer hiker feeds that sometimes off set food costs in the south. Consider adding 15 percent to what you think the southern half will cost.

New England accounts for part of the northern cost increase. The area is unique with its fragile ecosystems that require management of very popular overnight sites. Trail/infrastructure costs are higher because human waste has to helicoptered out at the end of the season. The warm weather season is too short for it to compost. Caretakers must be paid. Campsite fees cover these extra expenses. They are listed in the trail guidebooks.

The huts in the White Mountains take only the first two thru hikers for work for stay requiring most hikers to either find a scarce place to stealth or go to a pay-for-stay campsite.

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The crowding in New England at popular sites requires expensive management.

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White Mountain Hut (Madison)

Hikers can avoid some of these sites by doing long (and hard) miles in tough terrain and unpredictable weather.

The Appalachian Mountain Club has tried to help hikers save money with this recently announced campsite deal: https://www.outdoors.org/articles/issues/2017/may-june-2017/amc-rolls-out-overnight-camping-deal-for-appalachian-trail-thru-hikers

Baxter

Once you reach Baxter, there’s a $10 fee to camp at the Birches. After you’ve summited, the hitch to Millinocket is easy. There’s only one road in and out of Baxter State Park and it goes straight to Millinocket. Millinocket is usually another town stay to celebrate and recover before you head for home.

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Last hostel in Millinocket, ME.

Your last budget item is off trail – the cost of transportation home.

Good luck. Sisu

 

 

Spring Training

Left:  National patch.  Right:  Local maintaining club patch.

Scott Farm, PA, May 16 – 23, 2017 — Baseball players go to spring training and so do Appalachian Trail ridgerunners.  It’s a time to refresh and sharpen needed skills for the upcoming season; and to bond and mesh as a team.  It’s also fun.

The eleven ridgerunners hired to patrol the mid-Atlantic region gathered for five days of intensive training at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy training center at Scott Farm just outside Carlisle, PA.  I was there as the ridgerunner coordinator for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) which employs six of the 11; and to attend the wilderness first aid training to renew my sawyer certification.  Following first aid, I helped teach the Leave No Trace instructor course.

The first day opened with a hearty breakfast followed by administrative announcements and an orientation to the trail from a systems perspective.  The AT is a lot more complicated than the average hiker can appreciate.  The bunkhouse quickly filled up, so the spillover camped on the lawn.

Uniform and equipment issue soon followed.  Ridgerunners carry pruning saws to clear minor blowdowns, clippers, first aid kits and wear distinguishing uniforms.  The patrol their respective sections for five on and two off; always being present on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the days of heaviest use.

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Household chores – cooking, cleaning, dishes, etc. are divided among and rotated between everybody taking part in training.  Readers may remember PJ from the Million Woman March.

Following the administivia, it was time to get down to serious business.  Each ridgerunner is certified in wilderness first aid and as a Leave No Trace outdoor ethics instructor.

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First aid training comes first.  Some seasons the worst thing a ridgerunner sees is a skinned elbow or knee.  But, and it’s a big BUT, they have to be prepared to manage serious emergencies that arise in the backcountry, hours away from first responders and easy evacuation.

The SOLO Wilderness First Aid course is 16 hours long (two days), and focuses on the basic skills of: Response and Assessment, Musculoskeletal Injuries, Environmental Emergencies, Survival Skills, Soft Tissue Injuries, and Medical Emergencies.  The idea is to perform a proper patient assessment, treat common injuries up to and including setting and splinting a compound fracture.

The ridgerunners are trained to determine whether the patient can be safely “walked out” of the back country, or whether an evacuation is necessary.  At that point their training allows them to professionally interact with the medical system for the patient’s benefit.

Needless to say, the training is realistic.

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Lower leg fracture splint using a common sleeping pad as a splint.  Students are taught how to employ commonly available gear.

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Field expedient traction splint to set a fracture of the femur.

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Splinting an open book fracture of the pelvis.  The legs are tied together.  This is NOT something you want to deal with deep in the woods.  These fractures are often accompanied by severe internal bleeding and the need to get the patient to a room with bright lights and stainless steel tables is critical.  Unfortunately, this can take hours in most places and days in others.

Love moulage.

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Putting a dislocated shoulder back in its socket.  If you didn’t treat dislocations and fractures, the pain might send a patient into severe shock long before s/he could reach care.

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Treating hypothermia (on a hot day).  Glad I wasn’t the patient.

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Eurica!  Our friend Denise hiked in right in the middle of training.  She’s on a LASH – long-ass section hike.  What a pleasant suprise.

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With first aid out of the way, we turned to Leave No Trace.  With an estimated 3 million people using the AT each year, minimizing human impact on the environment is of paramount concern.

The ridgerunners primary duty is not to hike.  Rather, it is interacting with the public for the purpose of helping them do as little environmental damage as possible.  Leave No Trace

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Most Leave No Trace training takes place in the woods.  The seven principles Seven Principles

Nobody is going to be perfect, but ignorance is our worst enemy.  If we can show a hiker how to improve, that’s a victory.

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Peeing and pooping in the woods is a subject of endless discussion and immense importance.  Not everybody knows how.  Ask any ridgerunner.  They’ll be glad to teach you.

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We divided the students into three teams and then determined who dug the best cat hole – width, depth, 200 ft. off trail.  Here, Ryan rolled up a Cliff Bar which looks just like shxt.  Then he reached in and pinched off a piece and ate it.  He actually hooked a couple of folks!

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Exercise in choosing durable surfaces.

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Learning about shelters.

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Unfortunately graffiti begets graffiti.

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Most Leave No Trace training takes place on hikes.

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Your 2017 mid-Atlantic ridgerunners.

FIRST PATROL

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Julie is our newest ridgerunner and the only one with whom I have not hiked.  An orientation hike is always beneficial.  So, we started by meeting with the rangers of Michaux State Forest and New Caladonia State Park, PA.  Her patrol section runs the 62 miles south from Pine Grove Furnace State Park, to the Mason Dixon Line at PennMar Park.

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Clipping vegetation encroaching on the trail.

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Documenting a blowdown that will require a sawyer to remove.  It’s waist high.

We stopped to clear a small blowdown and who should show up but my friend Rocky who this year is on his second thru hike.

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Checking the trail register at the official half way point.

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Hung our food and smellables at the Toms Run shelter.

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At the very time Julie and I were at Toms Run, Lauralee Bliss was at the Gravel Spring Hut (shelter) in Shenandoah National Park where a bear destroyed two tents.

The tents have had food in them.  Rule number one in bear country.  Never put food in your tent and properly store your food and anything that smells such as deodorant, toothpaste, soap, etc.!

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Found a hiker just starting his hike from Harpers Ferry.  He plans to flip from Maine back to HF and then hike to Georgia.  Note the bear bell, large knife and stuffed animal.  Bet those are gone soon as he gains confidence.

It was a good week.

Sisu

Short Part of a Long Journey

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Appalachian Trail, New York, April 2017 — Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days hiking with my delightful friend Robin.  She is on a month-long trek to both close an unfinished gap she has between Georgia and Maine; and to get into shape for ridgerunning.

She parked her truck and stashed her extra gear at our house and then together we drove to New York where climbed up to the ridge that hosts the AT at the NJ/NY border on a very warm spring day.

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I met Robin, aka Miss America, when I was ridgerunning in Georgia in 2015.  The daughter of National Park Service rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she’s a willy woodsman and a strong hiker.  She was a ridgerunner in Maryland last year and will serve in Northern Virginia this season.  All told, she’s a perfect hiking partner.

Speaking of what’s hot, I can’t remember the last time I hiked in temperatures under 80 degrees F.  Last September in Vermont, this March in Georgia and last week in New York it was hotter than Hades.  My socks have been so sweat-soaked that they make a squishy sound that squeaks like Crocks on a wet tile floor.  Talk about holding your feet to the fire.  Enough with the hot weather already!

Fortunately the water sources were plentiful and flowing.  In spite of that, I drank four liters of water and still didn’t urinate.  By the end of my journey, my clothes were so salt encrusted that they could stand by themselves unaided – you know, kind of crunchy like saltine crackers.

New York is the state where the AT angles a hard north eastern turn toward Maine.  The trail turns perpendicular to the north-south flowing ridge lines meaning it’s all day up and down for the hikers.  In other words, PUDS – pointless ups and downs.

Here rebar replaces an aluminum extension ladder that was too easy to steal.  Hey, it’s New York!

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The terrain is ugly for the most part.  This is hard work even when heat is turned down.

The gnats had recently hatched.  In NY they’re a feature, not a bug.

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Can you spell rugged?

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How ’bout them bears?  We properly hung our food every night.

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Casualty.

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We navigate using a guidebook that lists terrain features, elevation profile, campsites, springs and also has town maps and phone numbers.

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Miss America photo bomb!

We were out four days before it was my time to head home for chainsaw recertification, a trip to Annapolis Rocks to bring supplies up to Gene Anderson and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Flip Flop Festival this weekend where I’m a featured speaker.

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We tented rather than sleep in shelters.  This is at dawn, packing up before a big rain pending.  At first, Robin was worried about wearing a Red Sox cap in Yankee country, but people treated her as a novelty.  Not sure most of them had never seen a Sox fan before.

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Staying clean in the woods is critical to remaining healthy and avoid gastrointestinal ailments.  We were hiking along one afternoon when I got a message from the ATC asking me if I could take a photo of a hiker using soap and water to clean up in the field practicing leave No Trace principles.  We magically produced the goods.

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Hudson River Valley just south of West Point.

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Yes, the trail goes straight up that rock slab.

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Earning my trail legs.

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Sometimes you get surprised by trail magic.  This was just north of the aptly named “agony ridge.”  The sodas were cold too!  As a practice, leaving unattended food, trash and drink along the trail is not a good idea.  Too many opportunities to unintentionally feed animals and make a mess.  Some call this “trail tragic.”  We did appreciate it though.

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Old sign.  Can’t wait to rejoin Robin next week.  We’ll be hiking north until just before ridgerunner training starts in late May.  Then my spousal unit will come pick us up. There’s no doubt in my mind that Miss America will go far.

Sisu

A flat soufflé and limp noodles…

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Good ole white blaze serial number 00000001

North Georgia, Appalachian Trail miles zero through 69.6, March 3-10, 2017 — There I was, hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia for the third year in a row.  This time it was different, very different, but we will get to that in due course.

This adventure started with an invitation to present my talk on trail hygiene at the annual ATKO – Appalachian Trail Kick Off event at Amicalola Falls State Park. The kick off targets future hikers and serves as a reunion of sorts for many others.

The premise for the talk is that hikers neither have to get sick – Noro virus or gastroenteritis – nor smell like Oscar the Grouch’s trash can on a hot summer’s day.  All they have to do is make staying clean a priority. My talk tells them how.

My talk is entitled “What the Funk!” I blogged about the subject here: What the Funk!  My Power Point slides are here:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/zwxxfhmz96vhn42/What%20The%20Funk.2.pptx?dl=0

The ATKO is a well attended two-and-a-half day event featuring speakers, vendors and old friends like Mike Wingeart and Robin Hobbs who were representing ALDHA, the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association.

The ATKO featured a tent city, gear vendors and even a slew of visiting owls.  This is a great horned owl.  His pals included a tiny screech owl named Goliath and a barred owl which remained amazingly quiet.  Trail Dames is a women’s hiking organization I try and promote as often as possible.  Love those gals, most of whom I’ve met on my various trail journeys.  Check out Trail Dames here:  Trail Dames

Now, let’s get down to business.  We’ll open with a brief confession.  I did not come to the trail with “trail legs.”  In other words, I was not in shape.  My excuse:  I injured my hip lifting weights in early October and have not run since then.  Throughout the hike, my hip and cardio were fine, but my legs had all the strength and authority of limp spaghetti noodles.  That’s definitely not a recipe for a fluffy soufflé in the nasty hills of Georgia. (Lovin’ mixed metaphors!)

The anointed know that launching from the Amicalola Lodge nets the upper five miles of the infamously steep “approach trail” that leads to the AT’s southern terminus on Springer Mountain.  I did it three years ago when I  had to spell the caretaker on Springer Mountain.  That year my gazelle-like bounds magically crushed the steepest hills.  This year I huffed and puffed like the little engine that barely could. I was delighted to summit, albeit about 90 minutes slower than before.

While on Springer, I took a look around.  I was saddened to see that two trees I’ve been tracking for the past three years had finally been done in.  The number of people on the trail continues to increase along with their relentless degradation of the environment.

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A bit hard to see, but campers have moved south of the lower bear cables on Springer Mountain shelter and much closer to the water source; and have established a new fire pit.

The good news is that previous recommendations have been implemented.  The increased presence on the trail has remarkably reduced trash.  Vegetation recovery projects have begun.  Extra campsites and privies have been added.  My observations from that time are here:  Georgia 2015

Old fire pit at Hawk Mountain shelter cleaned up.

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Improvements since last year to the new Hawk Mountain campsite.

As always the newly minted hikers were delightful.  I saw Lynne, the Trail Ambassador on the right, twice on my journey as she expanded her patrol coverage.  I saw several other ambassadors too.

Ambition has never been lacking for me.  Since this was my very first time to hike Georgia alone, I decided to pace myself in accordance with the legend in my own mind, versus the reality of my current physical condition.  Mind over matter was a good strategy, or so I thought.  That worked about as well as one might expect.

After pitching my tent the first night and on my way to fetch water, I met a young man who asked me if it was okay for his dog to be off leash.  Never ask a Leave No Trace zealot that question.  I convinced him that every snake, skunk, raccoon and porcupine in the woods would eat his dog for lunch, not to mention any stray bears.  How ’bout them Lyme disease bearing ticks ole fido is going to bring back to your tent?  Oh boy!!!

This fellow also decided to cowboy camp that night (no tent).  Guess what, it rained unexpectedly.  I awoke to his thrashing as he hurried to pitch is tent while dodging rain spatter.  “Grasshopper, you’re going to learn a lot,” I smiled as a hiked past his tent in the morning. He was sawing zzzzzzs.

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I have finally perfected pitching and striking this tent in high wind.  I failed at that miserably in Maine last summer. Hint:  Up-wind pegs first…

The plan for Monday was to make it about 15 miles either to the Justus Mt. campsite or on to Gooch Gap.  The forecast included rain and high winds for Tuesday, so I wanted to get as far as possible.

Moving with the speed to cold flowing molasses helped me realize that I wasn’t going to make either of my targeted locations, so I parked at Cooper Gap where, this year, the Army has been leaving its 500 gallon “water buffalo” unlocked for hikers. Now I was a half day behind with a cold, heavy rain in the forecast.

Very good news:  ALL water sources in Georgia were flowing with the exception of the spring at Blue Mountain shelter which is just short of Unicoi Gap.

Fortunately the heavenly watering of the Georgia hills didn’t begin until after I’d packed up.  I sopped off with a dry tent at least, headed for the Woods Hole shelter half way up the infamous Blood Mountain; about another 15 miles away.  Woods Hole has a covered picnic table and is located where bear proof food containers are required.  The odds were good that I’d get a spot, and I’d be back on schedule given that very few people want to carry the 3 1/2 extra pounds the canisters weigh.

Along the way, sometimes you see weird stuff.  Who would set the stump on fire at Gooch Mountain?  Just past there, somebody used a machete to hack up a dead tree.  For what?  The dead tree bark is good insect habitat for birds and bears.  Why ruin it?  Ignorance lives.

Please pack out your trash!  The fire pits and the trail in general was far cleaner than I’ve ever seen it at this time of year.  Thank you ridgerunners and trail ambassadors!

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I arrived at Woods Hole just prior to dusk.  I ate and then crashed between these two tents.

The morning dawned cold and windy.  The rain had passed. Of the three campers at Woods Hole, nobody had a bear canister. Surprise, surprise, surprise!  Where’s the ranger when you need ’em.

A father and son had pitched their tent in the shelter.  They were were woefully underprepared with summer sleeping bags and sported wet cotton clothes from the previous day’s rain.  The other tent belonged to a new thru hiker who didn’t know better.  I made it clear.  If more hikers came during the night, the tents would have to come down.  Fortunately, none did.

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It dawned cold and clear as I waited form my coffee water to boil. Note the two hats. After breakfast I was off for Low Gap, another 15 miles or so away.

Walking over Blood Mountain has its aesthetic pleasures.

Wind at Neel’s Gap

The trail to Low Gap is a relatively easy hike with the exception of a nasty climb at Tesnatee Gap.  My right hip flexor was swelling.  Time for a reality check.

Dawn at Low Gap.  Fortunately, from there it’s an easy 10 miles to Uniqoi Gap where I decided to bail.  The noodles were still limp and the soufflé was pretty flat.  Reached Unicoi about 12:30 p.m. and shuttled to the Top of Georgia Hostel.

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Bought a thru hiker lunch.  How do you spell bankruptcy?

Breakfast at Top of Georgia where Bob Gabrielsen offers the morning pep talk before the hopeful sea of humanity rides the tide northward in search of adventure and the state of Maine.  Time for me to saddle up the Subaru and ride north.

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Toxic waste bag.

It ain’t over until everything’s cleaned up.

Sisu

Moonlight in Vermont

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2014

Coming attractions:  It’s time to get back in the saddle, so what’s next?  The oldest hiking trail in the United States beckons. Next up, the mountains of Vermont and The Long Trail.

We’ll be driving to the Canadian border just as soon as the Labor Day traffic clears.  Then we’ll hit the trail early the next morning for what is hoped to be a 16 day trek – more if mother nature proves our planning wrong. The objective is to collect the 172 Long Trail miles missed when hiking the Appalachian Trail.  (Note: Sources differ on the exact distances involved.)

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The sign marking “Maine Junction.”

The AT and the Long Trail overlap for the 100 miles starting at the Vermont/Massachusetts border northward to “Maine Junction” just north of the Rutland and Killington area. At Maine Junction the trail hangs a sharp easterly right turn toward Hanover, NH and from there onward to central Maine.

The Long Trail was conceived in 1910 and stitches Canada to Massachusetts for 272 miles along the spine of Vermont’s rugged Green Mountains.  It’s rugged and last month’s 100-mile wilderness hike was good practice, but this adventure will be more strenuous.

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Ironically, both the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail were conceived in the same place.

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The fire tower on Stratton Mountain has been preserved and maintained so that hikers may see the same views that conceptualized the two hiking trails birthed there.

The hike has a happy ending.  Can’t wait!

My partner will be Rush Williamson, a fellow PATC member who also is highly involved in protecting and preserving the AT.  He’s also a retired Marine with whom I work closely on many trail-related projects.

For more on the Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail click on: Green Mountain Club and The Long Trail

Want to dance?

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Julie Johnson, who commutes from Manhattan, drags a log she named “Betty,” up Pass Mtn. for use in a waterbar.

PATC North District Hoodlums Trail Crew, Pass Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, August 20, 2016 — Hanging out with the Hoodlums this weekend prompted a thought.

What is it about the Appalachian Trail that would cause people to commute hundreds of miles to maintain it; to hike it?  Why do so many report deeply personal relationship with this trail?

There are as many answers as there are hikers.  Here’s a possibility.

Some say the trail has the personality of a curvaceous vixen whose shapely turns first catch your eye on centerfolds in coffee table books.  She holds your gaze.

At the same time you imagine the possibilities, her earthy voice whispers on the wind, “Come with me. We’ll be amazing together.”  Smitten, you follow her irresistible come-hither with stars in your eyes and dreams of conquest.

Not so fast. Be careful of those sexy charms.  This babe may have legs that run from here to there, but a walk in the woods with this little number can suck you dry and empty your will to keep on.  Know that she turns from sultry to frigid ice virtually overnight.   See her tears fall in torrents that become rivers in your path. Be aware that she may not leave you laughing when she goes.

IMG_4914Date this honey and you’re in a high maintenance love affair. It’s more than the constant stroking, the sweet nothings or minding the flowers.  You’re in it with all of her friends including the bear who dug up my waterbar in search of a meal.  The hurt is high with this one.

She likes her suitors looking good.  Before you know it, you’ll own mix and match backpacks, tents and sleeping bags.   Guess how many base layers, flash dry shirts and pairs of Smart Wool socks I have.  I am ashamed to admit that my hiking boot closet would make Imelda Marcos jealous.

Heaven help you when you start owning your own personal trail tools – Pulaskis, MacLoeds – and Stihl brand anything is on your Christmas wish list.  I hear that she’s impressed by bigger saws.

Words like Jet Boil and Pocket Rocket soon replace GE and Tappan in the kitchen.  I mean who needs stainless steel when titanium is lighter.  Hell, Mother Nature even throws in the granite for free.

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She’s not a cheap date though.  Betty needed a lot of polishing before she became but one more piece of jewelry decorating the trail. This expensive jewelry habit is essential.  Keep it coming or Ms. AT’s beauty and charms quickly erode.  Costume pieces may be okay from time to time, but this girl likes to receive big rocks, especially on special occasions. Forget one and she can get ugly.

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In spite of all this, like a 1940s taxi dancer on a steamy Saturday night, the trail has no shortage of suitors.  Even the guy with the halo had to stand in line for his turn to dance.

Oh yes.  You probably guessed it.  The Hoodlums had another great outing.

Victory Lap of Sorts

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100-mile Wilderness, Maine, August 1-10, 2016 — Bottom line:  Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  I remembered the last 100 miles of my thru hike as a piece of cake.  In my memory, only the second day was challenging.  Oh Grasshopper, you definitely mis-remembered that experience!

Absent the adrenaline of a thru hike, the 100-mile Wilderness was hard work, and was it ever.  Nevertheless, it was a joy to share it with Windy (Pepsi Hiker) Horn and watch her face brighten with excitement as the wonders of this gem of a hike revealed themselves like a sultry fan dancer hungry for tips.  If Katahdin is the cherry on top, the wilderness is definitely the whipped cream and definitely worth the effort.

IMG_2195I met Wendy and her hiking partner Diane near Port Clinton, PA in 2014 on my thru hike.  We hiked together for several days before I eventually outran them and they had to return home to northern Illinois.  We kept in touch.

This summer I shared dinner with Wendy and her friend Rene at the Skyland resort in Shenandoah National Park.  Mostly we talked about hiking.

Turned out that Wendy has section hiked West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Nice, but little to write home about.  I suggested she chew off a chunk of excitement for motivation.  That’s how we found ourselves tramping our way through the ultimate 100 miles of Maine.

I drove to Maine to visit an old friend for a couple of days before snagging Wendy at the Manchester, NH airport.  We then motored six-plus hours north to Millinocket and stayed at the AT Lodge before being shuttled to Monson, the gateway to the 100-mile Wilderness.  There we stayed at Shaw’s, now under new and enthusiastic ownership.  The place was packed to overflowing.

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The first stop was the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s new visitor center in Monson.  The number of AT hikers is overwhelming Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin.  A new permit system is being tested that will ultimately meter in a finite number of hikers per day and limit the allowable number coming from the AT to 3,000 hikers per annum.

We will save the arguments about the efficacy of this system for another time.

At Shaw’s we arranged a resupply drop which, sadly has upped in price from $25 to $80.  Seems hikers were dumping their garbage in and around the old 5-gallon paint buckets. Worse, some food was being stolen.  Now, resupply is delivered to your hand.  It takes some doing, but it worked okay for us except that it cost an unanticipated $40 each.  At least we could split the $80 cost.

THE DROUGHT

Maine suffered a dry winter.  This weather pattern has continued into summer.  In spite of the drought, the ponds have plenty of water to keep the outlet streams running.  The tertiary streams and many springs are bone dry. Hikers need to plan their water carefully.  The water sources for two Lean-tos were bone dry.

Same spot, two years apart.  The soil is thin with only inches of soil having been created since the glaciers retreated.  It doesn’t take much for a rain shower to make mud, or the sun to just as rapidly dry it out for that matter.

Desiccation is everywhere.  Even the blueberries are raisins.  If the berries fail, the bears, deer and other animals which depend on them will suffer.  The harsh reality is that some will starve.

The forest is tinder dry and we learned that fire crews have been propositioning equipment in expectation of forest fires that most certainly will occur.

Here’s a graphic example of the drought’s effects.  Little Wilson Falls, two years apart.

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Crossing Little Wilson Creek, two years apart.  This is not a crossing I ever imagined would be feet dry.

THE TRAIL

The trail begins gently enough with some gentle climbs and slab walks.

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Plenty of roots, considered a trail feature in Maine.

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Got rocks?  We climbed this twice … How?  The trail was rerouted at some point to include this gem.  The old trail wasn’t blocked and we accidentally did a two hour loop.  Ugh!

Not exactly a sprint.

THE JOURNEY

Ya got yer stream crossings and yer views.

We planned for an eight-day transit, allowing for some short and some long days dependent on the terrain.  The weather opened windless, humid and hot.  Temps were in the 80s and 90s which is cooking for Maine.

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Normally, I drink one to two liters per day and another in camp.  The first day I got dehydrated because several water sources were dry.  I filled up my spare three liter bladder (six lbs.) which we shared.  Problem solved.

Two years ago, I didn’t encounter more than a dozen or so hikers.  This year there were dozens upon dozens.  The college students told us that hiking is now a campus fad.  Good to get new blood into the woods, but the trash level was much higher than before.

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Two students from Elon U.  They had a general idea of what to do, but little knowledge of Leave No Trace outdoor ethics and practices or the fact that privies aren’t everywhere you can camp, or how to properly wash dishes in the woods (not in the pond), or the finer techniques of hanging a food bag.   I pulled out my handy Leave No Trace card and led a discussion in the proper practices.

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Only one place to get water from the pond where we camped the first night.  Guess what’s under that artsy reflection of the sky?

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Some Bozo washed his dishes at the only place campers can get water.  Brilliant.  Not!

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A snowshoe hare mowed the shelter lawn.  His hind feet were huge and mostly white.

As it turned out, I overestimated how much mileage we could make.  The terrain was tougher than I remembered and the heat was oppressive.  Each of us was fit enough, but …

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Wendy twisted her knee about 40 percent of the way in and had to be “med-evaced” (shuttled) back to Monson for a recuperation day.  Here she’s arranging transportation.  She brought our resupply when we rendezvoused at Jo-Mary Road – along with a surprise: An icy cold Coke which I appreciated very much!

Nature’s art gallery.

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Laundry.

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Katahdin in the distance.

While Wendy recuperated, I hiked over White Cap Mountain in the cold rain – exactly the same conditions and time of day as two years ago.  It wasn’t a happy flash back.

I pushed on to Cooper Brook Lean-to the next day to swim – almost as good as a shower.  The next morning Wendy rejoined at Jo-Mary Road and we were off.

The AT has its moments.  One that sneaks up on you like a woman in a Philip Marlow novel with that come hither smile then sets you up for a hard fall is the newly reopened White House Landing.  I missed this one last time around.  They pick you up in a boat and stuff your face full of burgers and incredible homemade pizza.  You don’t leave hungry in the morning either!  It helped that the weather broke to cool temps, low humidity and a nice breeze.  So much for wilderness.  Perfect!

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This little guy stood his ground.  No rattles, but with the body type of a pit viper including the narrow neck and triangular head.  Definitely not a hog nose.  Possibly a water snake.  We were near a river.

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The 100-mile wilderness ends at Abol Bridge, just before entering Baxter State Park for the Katahdin climb.  There were about 20 hikers headed for Baxter where there’s only room for 12 long distance hikers.  Everything else is reserved car camping.  We shuttled into Millinocket and drove into Baxter because we didn’t want to occupy space.

Katahdin is awesome!

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Made it!  Second time around is not the same, but it’s still pretty good.

New sign this year.

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Pretty obvious.

More trash than we could carry out.  This is just a sample.

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Best sign of the trip.

Sisu.

 

 

Busy

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Digging a bear pole hole.

Northern Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail, July 21-24, 2016 — It was time for the monthly PATC ridgerunner meeting, this time at the Blackburn Trail Center where “Trailboss” is the caretaker and gracious host.  Since he has an endless list of projects, Robin Hobbs and I showed up early to help do some work at the Sam Moore shelter (AT NOBO mile 999.6).

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Bear poles have hooks to hang food bags using a forked pole, here tied down on the far side of the pole.

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The pole is set 18 inches in the ground with four 60-lb. bags of concrete.

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Working bear pole at Jim & Molly Denton shelter.

While the Sam Moore overseer and I installed the bear pole, Robin and Trailboss hiked north to clear two blowdowns across the AT.

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We finished up by replacing a fire ring with a new fire grate.

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The social and dinner prompted a lot of discussion.  This is where the real business is done.

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Sara Leibold, our Northern Virginia ridgerunner and I started patrolling immediately following the meeting.

We spent the first night at the Tom Floyd Wayside shelter with three others.

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We took a break after picking up micro trash at the John Singleton Mosby campsite.  It is deep in the area Mosby’s raiders patrolled during the civil war.

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Along the way we clipped plenty of vegetation which grows prolifically this time of year.

Our last evening was spent at the Denton shelter with a large grouping of campers. Sunday morning we hiked to a road where Sara’s dad was waiting to take her home to Alabama for a whirlwind visit.  She works 10 on and four off which gives her sufficient time.

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It wasn’t until much later that I realized Sara might be a serial killer! 😉

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Tried to photograph an interesting spider web with a phone camera.  No luck.  A good camera is on my Christmas list.

I was testing a new Osprey pack for use in the 100-mile wilderness next week.  It carries nicely, but I like the cargo features of my old one.  On a long hike the ride is more important, so the new pack made the Maine manifest.

Next stop Kennebunkport to see my friend Ed, the guy who taught me to split granite.  Then to Manchester, NH to pick up Wendy “Pepsi Hiker” Horn at the airport and head for Millinocket where we’ll drop my car and get shuttled to Monson to begin our 100-mile journey.  Boots on trail Aug. 1.

Sisu