The Ridgerunners Ride Again!

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After a early evening rain shower at Annapolis Rock

Annapolis Rock, Maryland, April 1-2, 2016 — Spring has sprung loose the usual Pandora’s box that is the hiking public.  The weather is improving and they are on the march.  Time for the ridgerunners to ride again and help the challenged to do the right thing.

This year’s class is interesting.  We were funded for six vs. five last year.  The extra one goes to Shenandoah National Park where we’ll now have two veteran ridgerunners to cover 105 miles of the Appalachian Trail there. I’ll introduce or reintroduce everyone as they come aboard.

First things first.  Maryland funds two ridgerunners because its 42 miles of trail is among the most heavily used anywhere.  After all, millions of people who live in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. areas are within two hours travel time and easy access to relatively gentle hiking.  The trail candy, e.g. the sites, vistas, civil war, and monuments, are attractive incentives.

Consequently the state wants a caretaker at Annapolis Rock (AR or the Rock) from April one through Oct. 31.  All the rest, with one exception, work from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day – peak season so to speak. That exception launches in Shenandoah next week.

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The easy access, gorgeous views, romantic sunsets, and excellent rock climbing, not to mention being named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s top 10 hikes, make the Rock a prize to to which people flock in droves.  Three hundred people on a pleasant weekend day is not uncommon.  Someone’s gotta help and guide them or the vegetation would be trampled and the trash would obscure the rocks.

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Enter Kyle. He’s a jocular former Marine and 2014 AT thru hiker.  He’s also a recent graduate of the National Park Service Park Ranger Academy.

Ridgerunning is not glamorous.  First thing is moving into the rustic apartment provided by the Maryland Park Service.  Then the AR overseeer helps you find the wood chips that help the two composing privies at the AR campground work.  Taking care of poop by tending the privies is a big part of every ridgerunner’s job!  That’s the ironic part of this dream job.

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Q:  Guess what the shovel’s for?  A:  It falls into the privies.

Next you have to put up the tent in which you or the summer ridgerunner will be sleeping in for the next several months.

It was fun trucking that stuff up the mountain – not.  Thanks to Rush, the AR overseer for schlepping it up.

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We got the rain tarp flying over the picnic table just before the rain hit. The rain was a nice complement to April Fool’s Day.

After the first band of showers, we went up on the rock to enjoy the scenery and that last “golden hour” of sunlight.

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Overnight showers snare-drummed the fly of my hammock all night long.  Me, I was hanging high and dry, my ears stuffed with ear phones listening to old “Lone Ranger” radio shows. Rain drops or hoof beats.  I couldn’t tell.

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They sky cleared this morning and it was time to haul up the first bail of wood chips for the privies. The first day in the glamorous life of a ridgerunner.

Adventure Season 2016

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Kensington, MD, March 2, 2016 — It’s that time of year again when the call of the wild echos through the ether.  This is when we plan, pack, lace ’em up and get it on.

The year starts in Georgia on the AT.  For one, I’m anxious to see if all the planning we have done to manage the early crowds actually is beneficial. All I know is that a lot of time and energy have gone into the improvements.

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Next it’s the National Park Service’s centennial.  Shenandoah has challenged folks to celebrate by hiking a hundred miles in the park in return for a free patch. My friend and first hiking partner Mary and her son Ben will be hiking there on a 600 mile-long AT section hike in mid-April.  I plan to tag along for all 105 of Shenandoah’s miles.

From there it gets fuzzier.  I have my ridgerunner hikes and trail crew week – only one this year. I’m signed up for a Leave No Trace master educator course and a talk on backpacking at Sky Meadows State Park, Va. for National Trails Day.

We’ve hired two returning ridgerunners and four new folks for this season.  More on them at another time.

There’s an opportunity to hike the northern half (Oregon and Washington) of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and/or the Colorado Trail.  Lastly, once school is back in session, finishing the Long Trail in Vermont is carved in stone after having to miss it last year.

I’m learning not to predict too much.  Plans do not survive contact with reality, and this year reality is holding a lot of face cards.   I’ve taken on some executive responsibility with my trail club that’s going to eat time, and have been nominated for a professional lifetime career honor that, if selected, I will accept in person come hell or high water.

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Top of the first inning is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, Georgia.  I’ve noted and written about my friend Denise’s plan to thru hike this year.  Well, she gets dropped off at the trailhead around noon on March 9.  I’ve made the arrangements to be there like a beacon to cheer her on and hike the first 80 miles of the AT with her. She will nail her hike to the wall.

The weather in Georgia has been all over the map.  Hey, it’s in the south you say; it’s bound to be warm.  Well considering that the entire AT in Georgia is above 4,000 ft., cold weather, sleet and snow are factors throughout March.

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I’m packing now.  My pack is going to weigh much more than normal.  For one, I’m carrying my food in a bear-proof container, not so much for the bears, but to set an example to others who don’t take bears seriously.

As for which sleeping bag, jackets and other clothing, I figured I’d split the difference between zero degrees F and 70F.

Stay tuned for dispatches.

Tough as granite. Really?

Rangely, ME, Saturday, July 19, 2014 — I returned to Rangely today to continue my hike early tomorrow morning. Before I left Kennebunkport, my friend Ed taught me a new trick. First a little about Ed.

We first met Hashing in Panama where he worked for the Panama Canal Commission. After the canal reverted to Panamanian control, Ed stayed on to close the books and retire on the coast of Maine.

He’s also a busy guy, meaning he doesn’t know how to sit still. With manic levels of creativity, he has landscaped his property into a showplace in a neighborhood of showplaces.

It first started with mortar-free stone walls and morphed into granite. Then there are the flower gardens. Who knows where it will end.

I thought knowing how to split granite might be a useful skill to use at home and for maintaining the trail. So I asked Ed to show me how it’s done. After all, if he can do it…

How hard could it be? Turns out that breaking rock at its most basic level isn’t difficult at all. Learning how to read the rock is a matter for another day.

As we drilled the holes and pounded the wedges, it occurred to me that cracking rocks in two might be a metaphor for thru hiking. On the trail, as in life, being flexible and willing to adjust to people, circumstances or conditions is a productive skill. Otherwise you are at risk of being too inflexible and cracking like the chunk of the rock of ages (granite pictured below), and probably faster than you think.

The trail takes and the trail gives. An old hiker maxim says that the trail will provide. For the most part it does. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for perfection, without the flexibility to adapt to what you actually get, the end of your hike may be near.

That’s a hard lesson for those used to having the authority or resources to virtually dictate their will. You see, on the trail nobody cares about your title, rank or the size of your wallet. The trail doesn’t either.

It took longer to drag out the equipment than it did to split Ed’s rock. It went that quick. In those split seconds I realized that being as tough as granite really wasn’t that much of a virtue. Sometimes being strong isn’t what you think it is.

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Wow! Elapsed time = < 5 minutes!!!

Foggy glasses

Speck Pond Shelter, ME, AT NOBO mile 1,914.6, Wednesday July 2, 2014 — Mahoosuc Notch was so cool it fogged my glasses!

In fact, the fog shrouded valley looked far kinder and gentler than it actually was. Long ago glaciers scooped out Mahoosuc Notch from a great block of metamorphic rock. Over time house-size and larger boulders tumbled from the steep canyon walls to the narrow valley floor and formed either the world’s best obstacle to tank traffic or a jungle gym for hikers.

To anyone with moderate rock climbing experience, the great boulder field is a welcome diversion. For others, it could be a bit of a challenge.

With that in mind, the whole shelter awoke hoping for an early start. As we packed up, an ominous rumbling punctuated the atmosphere. No, nobody had lentils for dinner. Thunder has an unmistakable sound all its own at six-thirty in the morning.

Swayed and I were about a quarter mile from the shelter when the pelting rain sent us back under cover, not for fear of rain, but out of respect. We know how dangerous rain-slickened rock can be. Fortunately the sky cleared in 20 minutes and we launched our adventure.

The ice in the crevasses worked like a Roman frigidairium and cooled the air in the boulder field at least 20 degrees. The effort required to navigate the boulders, canyons and tunnels should have generated copious amounts of sweat. Instead I was dry as a bone and cool as a cucumber. The cool temperature was exhilarating. Unfortunately my glasses fogged every time they came in contact with the day’s hot and humid air.

We made it through the boulders in about three hours. That’s far slower than some and a bit ahead of the average time of three and a half hours.

Simply put, I had a blast, even when I had to push my pack through a rock tunnel. I have video when I can post it. Mahoosuc is on the list of places I’d like to revisit in the future. Mark it down.

After Mahoosuc Notch is a gentle little slope (not) called Mahoosuc Arm. Not a nice place. I was ever so happy to be climbing. I can’t imagine descending in good weather or bad. Let’s just describe the Arm as a black diamond ski slope made of hard-hearted stone.

Tomorrow we’ll be at the Pine Ellis Hostel from which we’ll be doing some slack packing and avoiding Hurricane Arthur. Slacking has got to be easier on the knees than what we have been doing.

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Maine! The final exam.

Full Goose Shelter, ME, AT NOBO mile 1,908.4, Tuesday July 1, 2014 — This is the beginning of the end. Each mountain top witnessed the ever fading shadow of Mt. Washington shrinking in the haze of my rearview mirror. By day’s end it was gone – history in the books.

What lies ahead is less romance than hard work. The trail in Maine is rough. Everyone at the shelter is complaining about the steep slab rocks on the downhills. They’re slicker than snot when dry. We can’t even contemplate them wet. We’ve all fallen enough that we’re gun shy on wet rock.

Lots of fancy trail structures in evidence today.

Tomorrow is Mahoosuc Notch and arm, reputed to be either the most fun or most challenging couple of miles on the trail. In anticipation, I’m working on my war stories early. My mind is open. Let the end games begin.

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Sayin’ Uncle

White Mountains Lodge and Hostel, NH — When I arrived on the hostel’s doorstep, I knew I was near the end of my rope. I just didn’t know how close to the end I actually was. Not only were my knees screaming, but I also had a full blown head cold. I also couldn’t stand the taste of food and had not eaten anything significant in 24 hours. In short, I was a mess. I just didn’t realize it.

The first night and morning I consumed only water and cola in preparation for sleeping all day. On the second night I still could only sample my dinner. I theorized that my aversion to food might be the result of having encountered a dirty dish somewhere in the hut system.

In short, I need a space and time for respite and recuperation.

As I’ve noted before, it’s impossible to compare hostels one to another. There are too many independent variables. It is fair to say that this time, I was at the right place when I needed it.

There is a slight comparison. White Mountains Lodge is simIlar to Vermont’s Green Mountain House in so far as each is a converted house with similar amenities and a home style feel. Each host is a wonderful person.

I couldn’t have found a better place. White Mountains is a welcoming and accommodating home away from home. Marni, the owner, is a wonderfully attentive and cheerful host who understands long distance hikers and their unique predicament. She should know. Her son hiked the trail two years ago. She and her assistant Eric helped in every way.

In all it’s taken six days to recover. The trip down to see my friend Katie was also a significant part of that process. Tomorrow we head north again. I’m fit and looking forward to it.

About now I’m sure glad I was willing to say uncle.

The next set of blogs should come in a few days.

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Super friend to the rescue.

Shankhassick Farm, Durham, NH, Friday June 27, 2014 — The last time I was here, Katie’s house was just built. It was raw and new with the smells of fresh paint and varnish.

Today it’s an eclectically decorated, quiet and comfy retreat from the insanity of the outside world, a place where a body and mind can rest and recover. In a word, it’s “paradise” in New Hampshire!

I needed that. I also needed and appreciated the wonderful friend behind it all.

I’ve known my friend Katie Paine for a long time. I’ve been her client, colleague and collaborator almost from the day we met in New York where we were presenters at a Conference Board meeting. It didn’t take long for our friendship to form after that.

When my iPhone went on the fritz – the battery would hold only a 50 percent charge, then crash. It also turned itself on and off randomly – I needed to buy a replacement. The challenge: the nearest store was three hours away!

Calling all superheroes.

Like the Lone Ranger, it was Katie to the rescue. Cue the music Tonto!

Next think I know, a ride to Katie’s house was miraculously arranged with one of her former employees at a business she formerly owned in Gorham.

My ride had to first stop in Concord, my wife’s home town. Seems Granite State Candy needed an emergency delivery of New Hampshire maple syrup.

Whoa! That’s our favorite candy store in the whole world. What a treat! That did wonders for my morale.

We made it to Katie’s around three o’clock. Since Katie had to finish some conference calls we didn’t complete the phone replacement until after 8 pm.

Following a beautiful dinner, Katie squeezed me into a house full of other guests and I slept like the proverbial rock.

Katie is in the communications metrics business. In fact, it’s legitimate to say she invented it. That said, I don’t know how you measure a friendship like Katie’s. She went above and beyond and truly rescued me from a crisis that threatened to ruin my hike given that my phone not only is my camera, but my communications Swiss Army knife as well.

I can’t ever thank Katie enough. I will return the favor in every way I can whenever possible. Certainly, I owe her dearly.

She truly is a superhero and best of all, a super friend!

THANK YOU KATIE PAINE!!!

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Keepin’ on.

White Mountain Lodge and Hostel, Shelbourne, NH, Wednesday June 25, 2014 — Success. Motivation and commitment.

It’s a long way. Two thousand one hundred eighty five point three miles. It’s a long time too. Generally six months or more.

“Walksandscrambles” asked about what it takes to maintain one’s mental determination over the course of such a grueling endeavor. It just so happens that I’d been mulling that very same question.

However it’s put – motivation, focus, attitude, determination, fortitude, tenacity, commitment, or plain old sisu – half of the game is 60 percent mental as I remember Yogi putting it.

The first thing every successful thru hiker mentions is how hard the mental component of the trail is.

First, it’s tedious. Being head-down day in and day out takes a tole. Honestly, it can be profoundly boring at times. For the first time in my life I can imagine solitary confinement. The “Virginia blues” is only the beginning of the mental wrestling match for some.

Now that I am deep into this adventure, a more profound appreciation of mental toughness has emerged. In the vernacular, this sucker is hard.

How hard is it?

Let me digress a bit and invite you to read one of last year’s blogs that is not only well written, but spins a grand tale of personal conquest against the odds. Best of all. it’s coated with a rye sense of humor. Linda Daly’s “Karma on the Trail” at https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com is a great read. You’ll enjoy it.

So, here I sit with aching knees and more, and only 319 miles remaining on the clock. Honestly, I’ve achieved most of my primary goals, so what’s the motivation?

Not a day goes by that I don’t remember why I’m out here. Zack Davis wrote an excellent book about mental preparedness and I took his advice.

First I prepared a list of reasons why I am hiking the AT with specific personal objectives, most of which are disclosed in this blog. Some are not.

This process ensured that I developed a deeper understanding of why I am here and what I hope to achieve. I review it daily in my head.

A second list delineates the costs and consequences if I do not complete my mission. This list also is on my mental checklist whenever I need a reminder.

Most importantly, I set my mental attitude before I ever took the first step. Short of debilitating injury or personal emergency, quitting is not an option. I dragged out my old military mindset and gave myself a mission to complete the AT within 12 consecutive months. Period. Do or die.

I’ve always loved Teddy Roosevelt’s answer to the question about why he gave the task of building the Panama Canal to the Army. His answer: “Because they can’t quit.” There you have it in a nutshell.

The daily motivation is relatively easy. You wake up and follow the white blazes.

They say never quit on a bad day. In that sense, everything depends on how a bad day is defined. The word disaster comes to mind.

I’ve had many hard days, but never a bad one. Mostly they’ve been very good. Sometimes I’ve rolled into town (Erwin, Tenn. and Damascus, Va. for example) soaked to the skin and just short of disaster.

Those towns were in exactly the right places at the optimal times. I got lucky. Then again, it also pays to be lucky sometimes. Just don’t learn to depend on luck.

Everything else we try to plan such as logistics or in the cases of weather or trail conditions, take In stride. “It is what it is.” comes out of every hikers mouth several times a day or so it seems. Being properly equipped and prepared tends to take care of that. Unfortunately experience and gear cost money that some folks don’t have.

Last, I try to maintain perspective and remember some if the great ordeals of history as I did with the Civil War force marches through the Shenandoah region. Compared to Shackleton, or Louis Zaparini, the Bataan Death March, the Russian winter campaigns suffered by the French and German soldiers, an AT hike is truly a walk in the woods.

It’s ways helpful to maintain perspective. The rest is will power.

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Some shelter caretakers are mindful of hiker boredom.

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Spectacular scenery and an occasional gray jay help.

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Finding new friends along the trail is a pure delight.

Food!

Galehead Hut, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,825.2, Thursday June 19, 2014 — What’s on the menu?

So most all thru hikers “hate” the Appelachian ‘Money’ Club. Until we hit AMC territory trail shelters and campgrounds are free. Most hostels are in the $20 – $50 range and offer showers, laundry, resupply, phone recharging and access to real food. All that ends in NH.

Like the troll who hid under the bridge, the AMC charges to camp in tents, stay in ordinary shelters and or bunk at the huts. Nothing has a value add that a thru hiker would recognize. But, there is a hidden treasure.

In addition to the work for stay we’re doing for a second night, thru hikers can eat leftovers all day. You can actually eat your way through the Whites. That’s what we’re doing.

This is better than the New Jersey deli per day plan! Today we reached Galehead early , around three o’clock and negotiated work for stay, but also got to clean up a ton of scrumptious leftovers – pulled pork BBQ, lasagna, homemade bread and turkey soup. What a life!

It’s time to note that the climb out of Greenleaf was a no-strainer of less than 45 minutes. No buyer’s remorse here. The pic shows the hut after the weather cleared.

Trail conditions, not the climbing per se, make for slow progress. We met a guest who section hiked the AT beginning in 1956, ending in 1995. His description of changing trail conditions and culture were fascinating. The most profound difference, he said, was the extent of the erosion. It’s like hiking over broken and scrambled Jersey barriers.

So here I am, feeling like a stuffed turkey as I type. I can only hope this fare is equally filling. 🙂

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One mile an hour!

Kinsman Pond Shelter, NH, AT NOBO mile 1,807.4, Tuesday June 17, 2014 — Expect to make about one mile an hour. Everybody said it. I believed it, sort of, but not really.

Well, it’s true. We hiked 11.5 miles today in eleven hours. Bingo.

If Moosilauke is where Momma Nature set her first line of defense, we’re getting beyond the screen now. We made 1.6 mph until about noon, then an endless rockfall earned our total attention. The poles got stowed and hand over hand climbing ruled the day.

At one point I slipped on a rock and tweaked some tendons in my right foot. In response I doubled down on the vitamin I (ibuprofen) and laced my boot as tightly as possible.

We’re camped at a pond, so the water near shore isn’t cold enough to help decrease the swelling. I’m using my compression sock instead. We’ll have a verdict in the morning.

The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a series of huts throughout the White Mountains. Our goal today was to reach Lonesome Lake hut, 1.9 miles from here. We realized we couldn’t do it before dark, so we called it a day.

Normally the huts cost $125 per night for a bunk, dinner and breakfast. Thru hikers can to work for stay, or as we were told tonight, stay (as AMC members) for a highly reduced rate. We also can buy meals during the day. The huts could be a real bonus if everything works out.

Rain is forecast overnight. Rocky trails are dangerous. We’ll see in the morning.

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Cooking dinner at Kinsman Pond