2021 PATC Ridgeerunners absent Sara at the Blackburn Trail Center on Aug. 26. L to R: Witt Wisebram, me, Chris Bowley, Darrel Decker, Kaela Wilber, and Branden Laverdiere.
Shenandoah National Park (mostly) August 26 – September 14, 2021 — Come Labor Day the summer chapter in our trail story ends and the page turns toward autumn. The cast of characters is down to one.
When the five o’clock whistle announces the Labor Day weekend wind down, the clock runs out for five of our six ridgerunners. For them it’s time for next steps. Two have taken seasonal work with the mid-Atlantic AT boundary monitoring team. They check surveyor’s monuments to ensure that the bench marks and the witness trees are still there and search for encroachment on federal land. One headed for Vermont’s Long Trail and there bumped into the ridgerunner who had her job in 2016! Small world. Witt returns to endurance running.
Branden is the last man standing, at least until Halloween. Until then, he’ll patrol Maryland’s 42 miles during the week and spend weekends caretaking at Annapolis Rock.
This year’s team was particularly noteworthy for their dedication, teamwork, innovation, and extra effort. Everyone associated with them will miss their enthusiasm and presence.
Meanwhile a lot happened before the story ended.
Chris reported this rat’s nest on the AT in the middle of the north district.
I had time to kill while waiting for Chris to catch up and swamp for me. Sawyers are not allowed to saw without an assistant – to call 911 when we screw up. That gave me time to recon the blowdown and develop a plan of attack. Along the way I was saddened to discover that my favorite tree in the park had passed.
I first discovered it on a foggy walk in April 2013. Hikers spend more time looking down than up in order to keep from tripping on the ever present rocks and roots. In the fog that day, the old oak startled me looking very ominous, reminding me of the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter series. I’ve loved it ever since. Soon we’ll be sawing up its bits and parts and nature and gravity slowly reclaim it.
Chris’s did a great job using his folding saw to clear as much as possible to make it easier for hikers to pass.
Chris acted as the swamper and moved most of the pieces out of the way.
The rest was a simple matter of converting gas to noise by chopping the thing up from left to right. Now it’s history. Elapsed time: 10 minutes thanks to the recon.
Is that it? No! There’s more.
You stood tall next to the AT at Beahms Gap until you succumbed to the emerald ash borer. Now you’ve got to go. Since you can’t do it on your own, Mr. Stihl will help.
There’s a teaching point here. Note how the tree is lying across the trail. What you cannot see and neither could I is the tree’s crown. There was too much vegetation in the way. Here’s what happened:
The part of the trunk on the left side of the photo should not be expected to rise. The tree was once very tall and the majority of its weight was across another blowdown parallel to the trail. That blowdown acted as a fulcrum allowing the trunk to rise when cut. Once in the air I could see clearly what happened.
This is not particularly dangerous. We are trained to watch for possibilities like this. Nevertheless, the day you think you’ve mastered the art of bucking blowdowns, you should think again.
Another blowdown in the history books.
The next stop was dropping my friend Crissy at a central Virginia trailhead. She’s walking 500 miles before moving to Colorado to be with her father who is ill. I’ll join her in a couple of weeks to hike the last half.
You’d think there would be enough nature on the trails, but noooooo. Backyard buck is chowing down on the landscaping to build strength for the mating season. Note the cat in the chair.
While the deer was destroying the flowers, the guard cat could not care less.
Next steps: Tomorrow brings trail work with an all-woman Virginia Conservation Corps crew followed by the Hoodlums annual instructional workshop on trail maintenance.