Weedwhacking

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A ray of light perfectly aligned with my eyes under my hammock fly this morning at 6 a.m.

Shenandoah National Park, June 17-19, 2016 — It was North District Hoodlums trail crew work weekend.  I usually go to the park on Friday early to work on the section of the Appalachian Trail for which I am overseer and personally responsible.  Saturday we do crew work.  Sunday we clean up any odds and ends we didn’t get done on our AT sections.

It’s been raining like crazy on the east coast for the past month. In fact, it’s only recently warmed up.  Add water to vegetation and you get jungle!  Jungle is habitat for the ticks that are the vector for Lyme Disease.  What to do about that. The only logical thing is to chop back the jungle.

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Weed whacker Man – a superhero if there ever wasn’t one.

I spent two whole days week whacking.  First was my trail.  Second was a section that belonged to a dear fellow who left us for the charms of Milwaukee.  Did I mention that it was hot?  At least there were two of us the second day – we are a crew, right?

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The idea is to cut the salad back about double arms length from the center of the treadway.  The hikers should not touch vegetation as they walk.  No vegetation.  No ticks (well, almost).

I have an informal campsite on my section.  No fires allowed people.  They build them anyway and risk the fine.  I break up the fire rings by tossing the rocks a long way away.  This knucklehead obviously had an unsuccessful fire, not to mention ample signs of raging diarrhea.  Poetic justice.  Damn right.  I’m sparing you the shxtty pics, but I always document the scene of the crime.

The third week of June is prime thru hiker season.  Time for the annual Hoodlums hiker feed.  We cooked burgers and hot dawgs for about 30 thru hikers.  Turns out that they were all very nice folks.  That’s not always the case this late into the season.

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Sometimes we see dramatic views.  Worth a whack so to speak.

Love the evening ambiance.

Next up:  I’m about to hike 55 miles through northern Virginia with Denise, the friend with whom I hiked Georgia.  She’s here and off the trail on “vacation.”  After that, I’ll be out for 240 miles with this year’s group of excellent ridgerunners.  Can’t wait to get moving!

Karma Comes to the Back Country

Gene from Brooklyn gets a "Trail Karma" award for picking up other people's trash.

Gene from Brooklyn gets a “Trail Karma” award for picking up other people’s trash.

Appalachian Trail, Sunday May 10, 2015 — People are loving our national hiking trails to death.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) alone is estimated to see up to three million visitors per year.

Looking at it one way, that’s enough boots on the ground to bruise the rocks rather than the rocks having the opposite effect on the hikers’ feet.  It’s sort of like hammer vs. nail in role reversal isn’t it?

The collective environmental impact generated by all these people is enormous.  They generate human waste, leave trash, trample vegetation, erode trails and mark their passage in many other unwelcome ways.  There are many means to mitigate this impact, but before we talk about that, here’s the back story.

Most people experience our national parks and forests in what is known as front country.  Front country is civilized, distinguished by infrastructure such as roads, picnic tables, flush toilets, trash cans, concessions and parking.

You know about more about front country than you may think.  That’s where Yogi, Boo boo and Mr. Ranger did their Jellystone schtick.  You get the idea.

The back country is a very different animal.  In contrast to front country, about the only evidence of civilization are the marked hiking trails.  The AT’s primitive shelters and privies are a notable exception. Otherwise it’s supposed to be a “wilderness” experience.  (Not to be confused with designated wilderness areas.  That’s a separate matter.)

Most people never see the back country and hardly realize it’s even there.  The primary reason may be that a lot of muscle power is usually required to get into the back country.  In other words, you have to sweat.

Been to the mall lately?  Observations suggest that fewer and fewer Americans are up for back country excursions. Supersize soft drinks aside, nevertheless there’s no shortage of back country hikers.

The problem comes when people show up in the back country and don’t know how to limit their impact.  Within my experience, they fall into two primary groups.

One group fancies themselves as romantic throwbacks applying their survival skills and living off the land in ways promoted by Jack London, the Boy Scout Handbooks prior to the 1970s, or the Bear Grylls TV series today.

If everyone behaved this way in the back country, it wouldn’t be long before they’d turn paradise into a denuded moonscape.  When you spy someone with a axe, hatchet, machete or (the very heavy) Bear Grylls brand gear on a national hiking trail, you might be looking at one of these folks.

Machete damage.  Green trees don't burn by the way.

Machete damage. Green wood doesn’t burn by the way.

The other group is simply clueless.  Finding no back country trash cans, they just drop their garbage where they stand because they don’t come prepared to carry it out.  They befoul water sources with human waste.  They trample vegetation.  Overall, their practices put the back country environment at risk.

Ignorant people leave their trash in fire pits.  It doesn't burn completely.

Ignorant people leave their trash in fire pits. It doesn’t burn completely.

Unburnt trash.

Unburnt trash.

 When the backpacking craze developed as boomers came of age in the late 1960s, it threatened to overwhelm the environment.  Minimal impact techniques emerged as ways to mitigate the damage generated by the hiking hoards of that era.***

In time, minimum impact morphed into the Leave No Trace ethic.  Leave No Trace is based on seven principles designed to help not only to minimize human impact, but also to maintain the highest quality wilderness experience possible.

Principles were developed for both the front and back country.  Much more at:  https://lnt.org/  These are the back country principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Poorly prepared people, when presented with unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that degrade the outdoors or put themselves at risk. Proper planning leads to less impact.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Damage to land occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond repair. The resulting barren area leads to unusable trails, campsites and soil erosion.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Though most trash and litter in the backcountry is not significant in terms of the long term ecological health of an area, it does rank high as a problem in the minds of many backcountry visitors. Trash and litter are primarily social impacts which can greatly detract from the naturalness of an area.[5] Further, backcountry users create body waste and waste water which requires proper disposal according to Leave No Trace.
  4. Leave What You Find: Leave No Trace directs people to minimize site alterations, such as digging tent trenches, hammering nails into trees, permanently clearing an area of rocks or twigs, and removing items.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Because the naturalness of many areas has been degraded by overuse of fires, Leave No Trace teaches to seek alternatives to fires or use low-impact fires.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Minimizing impact on wildlife and ecosystems.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Following hiking etiquette and maintaining quiet allows visitors to go through the wilderness with minimal impact on other users. (Wikipedia)
Leave No Trace plastic tag at bottom right.

Leave No Trace plastic tag at bottom right. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

Fortunately most hikers are aware of Leave No Trace.  It’s promoted everywhere.  Unfortunately these principles are practiced selectively and conveniently.  In other words, hikers reason their one insignificant transgression won’t have any harmful effect.

The reality is the opposite.  The impact of small Leave No Trace lapses grows exponentially when “everybody” does it.

Now back to the reason for this story.

Too many younger hikers were not following Leave No Trace ethics, yet hikers 18-24 make up the majority of AT thru hikers.  More challenging, the traditional messages and delivery means were not working with this group.

Trail Karma awards and promotional stickers.

Trail Karma awards and promotional stickers.

Enter Trail Karma as a new outreach program: http://www.trailkarma.com.  It is a website targeting younger hikers.  The Trail Karma awards component of this program allows ridgerunners and trail ambassadors to reward good behavior on the trail when it happens in real time.

The Trail Karma Award is a nice AT medallion with a serial number on the back.  Hikers can register the award on the Trail Karma website and even pass it along when another good turn is observed.

The idea is to reinforce the positive.  I thought the two Trail Karma Awards I was able to present during my time in Georgia had a positive impact, both on the hikers who received them and those who observed the presentation.

Yesterday’s mail brought a CARE package of new Trail Karma awards and promotional stickers.  I can’t wait to find good behavior to reward.

***The trails weren’t pristine before the boomers showed up.  In the earlier era, hikers and campers built lean-tos, cut pine bows to make beds, chopped tent stakes every night, disposed of food cans willy nilly and practiced a multitude of other sins.  Their smaller numbers helped limit the damage which was was eventually cleared up.

Eating the Elephant

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Springer Mountain, Georgia, March 21 – 26, 2015 — My volunteer period is complete. I’ve hauled my last load of hiker trash out of the North Georgia hills.  It’s now up to someone else.  Some end of tour observations follow.

It’s a free country.  You can tell that from the range of people and their degree of respect for nature, the environment and the hard won Appalachian Trail infrastructure.  I just wish more hikers would come to the trail better prepared.

The overwhelming majority of people naturally do the right thing.  They practice “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics by taking only photos and leaving only footprints.  Everything they truck in, they haul out from cigarette butts, Charmin flowers, and uneaten food to unwanted gear that’s unneeded or too heavy, excess clothing, or used dental floss.

My pleasure was being with these folks.  They’re plumbers, pipe fitters, surgeons, teachers, nurses and bus drivers.  They share a common love and respect for the outdoors and are excellent students of how to do well out here.  They love being outdoors and live to be one with nature.

A lot of hikers come to the AT overwhelmed.  They struggle to grasp all 2,189 miles at once.  It’s like the old aphorism about how you eat an elephant – one bite at a time.  The average AT hiker goes to town every five days.  If that’s so, hiking the AT is simply 35 consecutive five-day hikes.  Put that way, it’s much easier to get your arms around the magnitude of the task ahead.

My hope is that more hikers would better prepare themselves.  I follow a blogger from Colorado who wrote an interesting post this week about Colin Fletcher who wrote some of the seminal books on hiking including the all time favorite, The Complete Walker.  His post can be read at this link.  http://www.pmags.com/the-complete-walker-iii-colin-fletcher I just wish more people would read Fletcher, or at least check out the enormous amount of information available on line.

Here's a fellow dressed in cotton (cotton kills).  He also could learn a thing or two about packing.

Here’s a fellow dressed in cotton (cotton kills). He also could learn a thing or two about packing.

Others are far less attuned to ethical behavior in the back country.  They do what they do back home.  Twice hikers even tried to argue that I was hiding the trash cans from them.  These would-be-thru-hikers had a hard time appreciating that thru hiking is supposed to be a wilderness experience.  You pack it in.  You pack it out.  No trash cans.  End of story.  I was ignored more than once.

Food containers do not burn completely.

Food containers do not burn completely.

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Bill Bryson had it right in his book A Walk in the Woods.  It’s been made into a movie which will be in theaters later this summer. Bryson wryly observed the unprepared throwing their gear overboard and much more.  Why people come out here so poorly prepared is beyond me, and a hellova lot of others too. You don’t have to look far for classic examples. It’s a topic of continuing conversation among the properly prepared.

This was my final trash run.  The load included a discarded tent, new boots, wet cotton clothing and uneaten food.  Total pack weight was close to 70 lbs.

This was my final trash run. The load included a discarded tent, new boots, wet cotton clothing and uneaten food. Total pack weight was close to 70 lbs.

Considering how much excellent information is readily available on the internet or from recent books, there’s no excuse for being unprepared.  Some self-identify with so-called survivor show heroes and want to give it a whirl.  Others are just clueless.  Somehow almost all of them manage to learn one thing – that is to wind duct tape around their hiking poles.  A precious few don’t even find that out.

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There are two basic hiker types out here.  There are the thru hikers.  They are self-evident.  Only one in four will finish.  Still, this is their season.  They’ve got until mid-October to climb Maine’s Mt. Katahdin before it closes.  They’ve got to get going.

Some folks are old school.

Some folks are old school.

Then there are all the shorter distance hikers, sometimes called section hikers.  Of them, about half are on spring break – families and college students alike.  This is one of the only times during the year when they can come.  They identify with the AT brand and are in Georgia because it’s where the southern terminus of the trail is, it’s warm and the logistics are easy.  They’re not going away.

IMG_2296_2 IMG_2285_2There’s an interesting subculture among section hikers.  A significant number of these hikers want to share in the excitement of the great spring migration – to be there, to rub shoulders, to share the thrill and/or to relive their own adventure and reignite memories of years past.

Some come every year.  It’s muddy form of March Madness where they get to be on the court with the actual players themselves.  Later they will follow hikers they’ve met and root for them.  It’s hard to beat.

The challenge is that, in the first 30 miles of the trail, for every 10 thru hikers there are 8 section hikers.  The infrastructure is taxed to the max!  Even the privies fill up – ugh.

This is the second shift cooking dinner at the Gooch Mountain shelter.  These were some of the folks tenting in the rain.

This is the second shift cooking dinner at the Gooch Mountain shelter. These were some of the folks tenting in the rain.

Overcrowding has its downsides.  Earlier in the week, the Georgia Health Department issued a noro virus warning.  A case had been reported in the state.  Funky hikers who don’t know how to stay clean in the wilderness, living in close proximity, form a perfect petri dish.  In spite of the beauty, it can get really ugly out here.  Nevertheless, it’s worth it.

Blood Mountain on Saturday morning.  Some of the thru hikers showed me the trash they'd collected.

Blood Mountain on Saturday morning. Some of the thru hikers showed me the trash they’d collected.

Many hikers are tuned in to Leave No Trace practices and collect trail trash as the hike.  I gave one hiker (from Brooklyn, NY no less) a “Trail Karma” award for carrying out discarded clothing and other trash.

Gene from Brooklyn gets a "Trail Karma" award.

Gene from Brooklyn gets a “Trail Karma” award.

Someone creatively tried to hike the space blanket they no longer wanted.

Someone creatively tried to hide a space blanket they no longer wanted.

Still, hikers are excited to be on the AT whether the trail viscosity matches a hot fudge sundae on a summer day in Georgia or it’s frozen over.  In many cases they are living their dreams.

Drying out at Hawk Mountain.

Drying out at Hawk Mountain.

Her dreams are one step away from becoming reality.

Her dreams are one step away from becoming reality.

During my stay the seasons changed – at least twice.

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This year the Appalachian Trail is 90 years old.  It was built by volunteers and is maintained by volunteers as originally envisioned by its founder Benton MacKaye.  It’s thrilling to play a small role in that legacy.

Springer Mountain memorial to Benton McKaye who envisioned a hiking trail along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia.

Springer Mountain memorial to Benton McKaye who envisioned a hiking trail along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia.

Hope



Springer Mountain, GA, Tuesday March 10, 2015 — It’s raining with liquid sunshine dominating  the forecast for eight out of the next ten days. Yet on Springer, hope is not dampened. Hope is eternal.  

This is the beginning of the great spring migration to Maine, that’s 14 states to the north of here. It’s five million steps, but what the hey!  

On the first day everyone has a more or less equal shot, or so they think. It’s all about optimism and the anticipation of dreams long in the making. 

For the next couple of days I’m spelling one of my colleagues who is the caretaker here. My job is to educate hikers on Leave No Trace, gather data and help the hikers. 

On the first night I helped a woman who was setting up her ultralight tent for the first time outside of her living room floor. I asked how well she thought it would withstand high winds. The tremendous amount of slack in her rain fly and the obvious swayback in the middle was my prompt. 



Later we learned how to hang food bags on the bear cables. Within that context, the opportunity was right, so we learned to throw a bear line and hang food without tying it off to a tree. That way a smart Yogi or Booboo wanna be can’t break the rope and score a meal. She survived the night intact. 



Springer is a place of optimism and farewells. Fathers and mothers, grand parents, husbands, wives, even sisters and brothers trundle to the summit from US Forest Service road 42, just 9 tenths of a mile down the hill. 



The nonhikers gaze deeply into their loved one’s eyes in search of doubt. You can catch them furtively glancing about for danger as they hug their dears and even blink back tears. Then they mug for photos, sometimes even asking the caretaker to be their shutterbug. 



At the trailhead parking lot come the final hugs and tears. Then, with an adrenaline rush, the hikers are off on one of life’s great adventures while the loved ones return home to quietly worry and hope for success.



The hikers come by ones, twos and small clusters. It’s sometimes the first time they meet their fellow thru hikers. No matter where they’re from, their age or reason for hiking, they bond instantaneously in common cause. 

Me. After introductions, bears are my first topic, followed by a bit on Leave No Trace. 

I specifically mention “pack it in. Pack it out.” But I’ve learned to mention cigarette butts, cat holes and for the women, packing out their TP after taking a pee. I’ll mention pee rags, Diva Cups and Go Girls if appropriate. Believe me, most of them need to hear it.  Charmin flowers are not appreciated. 



My last mention is the large number of hikers on the trail. Crowding in shelters and at camp sites is to be expected.



Last I ask who participated in the voluntary registration program, the purpose of which is to help hikers self disperse. Almost everyone who’s heard about it registered. Only a small minority thinks it’s a bad idea. 

At the end of the day I am humbled and reminded that a journey of 2,189 miles begins first with hope; and it’s launched with that first step on Springer Mountain. 



Eyes on the prize!

Hurd Brook Lean-to, ME, AT NOBO mile 2,166.7, Sunday August 3, 2014 — Finally! A clear view of Katahdin. Not the best , mind you, but at least the camera saw it clearly and unmistakably.

Katahdin rises like a ginormous humpbacked whale breaching a flat ocean surface. It’s simply overwhelms everything around it. Simply put, it’s impressive.

I actually was so l busy picking blueberries, which are ripening on the rainbow ledges where hikers get their first up-close and personal view of the mountain, that I almost missed it. I looked up just at the right time. The sight took my breath away. Photos do not do it justice.

Earlier this morning a longer distance view was very hazy with Katahdin barely visible to the camera. I’m disappointed in my photo ops so far.

Tomorrow it’s breakfast at the Abol Bridge camp store, then on to The Birches where thru hikers stage for their assents. The weather remains a mystery given how long it’s been since I saw a forecast.

One caveat. The mountain is closed by the park rangers if weather conditions endanger hikers or possible rescuers. If that’s the case, I may have to hang in Millinocket until it clears. I’m hoping for a clean first attempt.

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3.14159 reasons to love Delaware Water Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course the cats were delighted to see me. 🙂

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Mother Lode

Eckville Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1228.5, Thursday May 1, 2014 — I found it!

I found the Pennsylvania rock stash, the Fort Knox of the Keystone State, the horde of hordes, and the Salomon’s mine of all things hard!!!

I was picking my way through a poorly marked boulder field, worried about whether I was on course or not and there it was. It was like I’d found an Aztec pyramid in a small clearing. It was almost hidden in plain sight.

With such a find, Indy would have been proud. But now we know where the Pennsylvania trail crews stash their rocks for future use.

Rocks don’t wear out very often, but when they do what’s a trail crew gonna do? Replace ’em of course. Then there’s new trail that must maintain Pennsylvania’s repetitional standards. That adds up to a lot of rocks.

Other than the big find, the day was pleasantly warm and humid. The deluge of recent rain was sweating itself out of the very ground itself turning the trail and Forest Service roads into rivers of runoff.

The walking was sloppy but swift.

I lunched at a local astronomy club’s observatory. It has, count them, five telescopes! No idea what kind they are or their focal length, but there are no towns or cities nearby, so the light pollution must be tolerable.

All-in-all a very good day and the third night on the trail in a shelter with a door! Bake Oven Knob Shelter tomorrow.

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Trail Toast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is all this detritus scattered willy nilly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doyle’s Brand Promise

Duncannon, Penn., Doyle Hotel, AT NOBO mile 1143.1, Thursday April 24, 2014 — The Doyle has been one of the iconic AT destinations for a very long time.

Priced for a hiker’s budget, this vintage 1905 hotel welcomes hikers with a smile and open arms. The owners, Vickey and Pat Kelly, led the initiative to make Duncannon an official AT “Trail Town.” They truly are hiker-friendly folks.

The Doyle features everything a discriminating guest could expect from an unrenovated and threadbare late Victorian era working class hotel building.

One Doyle fitness exclusive is the absence of elevators which helps maintain hikers’ leg strength, a critical characteristic that often diminishes while they languish in hamburger-stuffed towns.

Ambiance exudes throughout the hotel. Reminiscent of nature, critters found along the trail are conveniently located in guest rooms and throughout the building. The antiquarian shared baths and room appointments would be impressive to the 18th century experts on “Antiques roadshow.”

The bar and kitchen are to be commended for their hiker fare. Army surveys for years have shown that soldiers value temperature and volume above all else. The Doyle’s menu scores a hundred percent on both. It’s selection of craft brews is excellent.

Karma rated the Doyle cheeseburger “best on the trail.” She makes a valid point. By the time she reached the Doyle, she knew her cheeseburgers.

The Doyle may not have earned any Michelin stars, and there is no expectation that it ever will. But, I’ll have to award it at least one asterisk for brand consistency. It promises nothing but delivers so much more in its unique way. It is a hiker-friendly place indeed, and best of all, a friendly home away from home.

Today’s trek chugged through the farmlands of Pennsylvania’s fertile Cumberland Valley complete with curious cows. The view of Duncannon along the Susquehanna River was magnificent.

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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.”