Can you believe it?

Buena Vista, Va., AT NOBO mile 802.6, Wednesday March 26, 2014 — Taking a weather zero (mileage) day off. The prevailing winds on the AT are from the southwest. Today a stiff wind is ripping from the northwest and I’d be walking dead into a subzero windchill. My mamma didn’t raise a fool.

Tomorrow I’m planning to slack pack about 15 miles back to Buena Vista. The advantage is twofold. One, it solves a distance problem that enables me to avoid hiking a 20-plus mileage day my second day out. Two, I get another night indoors and the free breakfast that comes with it.

Slack packing is when hikers are driven a distance down the trail and hike back to their point of origin. I so doing, they empty their packs of tents, sleeping bags, food and other nonessentials for a day hike. First aid, rain gear and water about everything that goes along for the ride.

The moving is faster ’cause the load is much lighter. I’ll still have to contend with six inches of melting snow, e.g. slush, but I’ll take that bet.

Got a huge surprise last night when I prepared to shower. A tick was noshing on my leg – as in locked on tight. It was too large to be a deer tick, the Lyme Disease vector. Nevertheless, I was a bit dumbfounded. During the past month, the overnight temps have been above freezing only twice. Moreover my base layer is skintight so the little sucker really had to work to get there. Could it be that Spring has sprung and nobody told us?

At the moment I’m soaking up lunch at the Bluedogart Cafe complete with a slab of that heavenly bee sting cake. Turns out that it’s homemade by a local Amish lady. Butch, the owner, is holding down the fort at his favorite roost.

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Slaying Vampires

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Gotta call it like I see it.  Ticks are vampires.  They engorge themselves with mammalian blood.  The redder, the better!

 Ticks aren’t picky.  They want blood, and don’t much care where they get it.  They love all 31 flavors.

 Worse yet, ticks are stealthy.  They hang out on tall grass, weeds and low hanging branches.  The idea is to score a passing Happy Meal in the form of a hapless mouse, squirrel, deer, bear or even the occasional hiker. 

Hikers must taste good ‘cause the ticks sure seem to like ‘em.  Unfortunately, they are too small to drive miniature wooden toothpicks through their evil little hearts.

Currently a research scientist funded by grants from the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is thru hiking for the purpose of studying ticks.  He has reported in his trail journal that most hikers attachment to ticks seems to come from trailside vegetation, not the shelters where he has found few ticks.

 The Hoodlum maintenance crew gathers on the third Saturday of most months to groom hiking trails in the northern district of Shenandoah National Park. This trip tick habitat reduction was the mission of my work team.  That’s a fancy way of sayin’ weed whacking and pruning trailside trees and bushes. 

 Even if you’re a yard work klutz at home, you’ll really jump on this.  It may be more fun to saw blowdowns or build check dams, but anything done to reduce exposure to Lyme disease is all good. 

 So what do trail maintenance crews do after the equipment is cleaned at the end of a hot sweaty and buggy day?  Here’s the secret.  You don’t have to ring the dinner bell more than once! 

 The North District Hoodlums retire to the Indian Run maintenance hut where some camp overnight and most everyone shares in the potluck dinner, swaps stories and revels in party games until the stars brighten and the fire fades.

 The AT is a complex system with a rich culture.  Trail maintenance is done by thousands of volunteers from Georgia to Maine.  It is usually hard physical and dirty work.  Some of it is mundane.  All if it is necessary to keep the AT active and safe.  Best of all, it’s time well spent with fascinating people who share a common love for the Appalachian Trail.

For those who discover this blog in preparation for AT hiking, I hope this little bit of insight deepens your understanding of the behind the scenes work that helps improve the the trail and improves all of our odds for success.