Tuesday, July 20, 2004

"Extreme Hikers"

Not sure exactly what this means . . . I'm just reporting it: 
In an article called "Catfish And Dog Days Of Summer" by Nicky Reynolds posted July 19, 2004 at "The Chatanoogan.com; Chatanooga's Source for Breaking Local News" she (or is it "he"?) lists a lot of outdoor type activities and recreation locations in Tennessee.  Then Reynolds writes, "For extreme hikers, just over 156 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through the heart of Northeast Tennessee."

So, is the Tennessee portion of the AT only accessible to "extreme hikers"?  What is an extreme hiker anyway?  One who hikes to extremes?  Is it a play on words, punning off of "ex-stream hiker" (which would be someone who used to hike in streams (as in running bodies of water) ... or possible someone who used to hike not in fits and starts, but in long bursts [streams])??
What would an extreme hiker look like?  What would a non-extreme hiker (a "treme hiker"?) look like?
Would I want to be one?
Am I already one?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Seen on the Trail

I was able to spend some time hiking on the Trail this weekend.  As I always say "any day on the Trail is better than a day in the office."  But yesterday was particularly nice.
Didn't see a lot of hikers.  Only two northbounders who could have been thru hikers (based only on the fact that they had large packs, and flew right past without stopping to chat).  And a few other northbounders who were out for the day or weekend.
What I did see included a set of luna moth wings, stacked neatly along the edge of the footpath.  Looked like someone was assembling a kit and had to run out to get more glue.  I guess what happened was that someone had snacked on the body parts and left the wings behind.
And I'm pretty sure I saw a bear.  I was bumping along the Trail when I heard some rustling and crackling in the leaves and undergrowth that usually signals a deer skittering off.  When I looked off in that direction I didn't see the usual tan rump and flouncy white tail, but a wider black rump.  Just for a second.  Then it was gone.
The chipmunks and oven bird I saw were much less eager to be gone.  One of each were using the foot path and didn't seem to mind the company I provided.  At least they didn't vanish immediately.  And, of course, there were shelter chipmunks, too.  One appeared when I crinkled open a Zip-loc bag of dried apricots.  Made me wonder whether it had gotten conditioned, like my cats have been, to associate container sounds with food.  Well, this particular critter was disappointed in that department.
Also saw a tree that my wife and I have identified as a witch hazel which caught my eye as interesting because it seemed to me to have herbicidal properties.  What I mean is that while there was luxuriant growth of some kind of fern and of Japanese stilt grass along the Trail in that area, suddenly under this tree there was nothing for as wide as the branches spread.  The look of things, anyway, seemed to suggest that the tree was keeping the undergrowth in check.  Well, I thought it was interesting.
Let's see . . . lots of different kinds of mushrooms.  I don't know one from the other, but there was quite a variety where I was hiking.  I should just decide to slow down and take photographs of them, bring the pictures home, and look the things up in a field guide.  (Or, would it not be a "field guide" if I use it at home instead of out in the field?)  If I took the guide out to the field to TRY to identify mushrooms, I might get trampled on my one of those speedy through hikers I mentioned earlier.
All of which brings me to my personal pet peeve about what I read in shelter registers and trail journals.  I wish there was more commentary on flora, fauna, topography, geology, and weather.  And pretty much anything else other than when and where the next party would be in the next trail town.
I suppose I'm too much of an introvert to relate so much to continuous chatter about the social life on the Trail.  Or maybe the hiking introverts don't write much in the registers.  Or stay in shelters and trail town hostels.
Sure, most [through] hikers don't actually know the names of the plants and critters they pass (I haven't a clue about the mushrooms, for example), but how about remarking "Hey, wasn't that bunch of yellow flowers neat?" or "Did anyone else notice those blue butterflies up on top of X mountain?"  Something like that would make me feel more in touch with the Trail than "Meet you in town for a brew and a couple zero days!!"
Or maybe I'm an elitist.
Or old.  One of hikers I met this weekend was a guy maybe a little younger than me who was out with a friend and their two sons.  The sons looked to be high school seniors or so.  After telling me that I was "keeping a good pace" -- since I had met them going one direction, rested-ate-read at a shelter for about an hour, and then caught up with and passed them now going the same direction they were -- he asked me how old I was.  Nobody's ever asked me that on the Trail before.  I think he was hoping I was really in my 20's despite my grey-ish beard, and not any older than he was.

New News on Eldred Township

Here's the latest on the proposed race track in Pennsylvania:  another delay!
According to a story in Saturday's "Express Times" from somewhere or other in New Jersey, written by Alyssa Young and titled "Officials Put Off Race Course Vote; Say Revised Plans Still Inadequate," the 350 acre project wasn't approved this time because the plans being brought by the developer still have too "many errors that remain uncorrected as well as several new deficiencies" .
At some point, I imagine, someone's going to get tired of having to discuss the Alpine Rose project, get tired of paying for engineers and consultants, get tired of having yet another revision to review.  I just hope it isn't the Appalachian Trail Conference folks and Blue Mountain Preservation Association folks.  Their lawyer at the meeting claimed that the current plans being submitted are substantially different from the first plans.  If they really are (I guess the planning commission decides) that the developer apparently has to start all over.
One thing that caught my eye in this news story is the note that "the final plans also include more deforestation to make room for an additional stormwater detention basin." 
There seems to be substantial discussion about the sewage treatment facility thaty would have to be built.  And the conservation district still hasn't passed on the plans yet.
I was wondering over the weekend whether this track would be open to snowmobiles in the winter.  THAT would be a real "ear-shed" problem along the Trail.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Can't See the Forest for the Bush

This has got to stop! President Bush has decided to yield up my share of the national forests (YOUR share, too) to logging industries. There are articles in papers all over the place today, but one in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" hits home to AT folks.

The article by Charles Seabrook, titled "Bush Opens Forest Roads; Governors Get Say in Logging, Mining Access," shares this information:

"In the southern Appalachians, the rule could affect 756,000 acres in nine national forests.

"One of the Chattahoochee Forest tracts is the 8,350-acre Kelly Ridge roadless area straddling the Appalachian Trail near the Georgia mountain town of Helen, about 120 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. A high, wild and rugged area, it is adjacent to the 9,700-acre Tray Mountain Wilderness Area and harbors one of North Georgia's largest old-growth forests. Swallow Creek, an important trout stream, flows out of the Kelly Ridge area."

What I want to know (don't we all) is whether any governors will have the gumption to move against the loggers in their states and make an appeal for preserving roadless areas. President Bush has turned things completely upside down in making the status quo position "okay for roads." To protect areas under his new rules, the so-often sluggish political machinery will need to gear itself up and ask for it. Before yesterday's announcement on this issue, the status quo was that forests were protected; governments and industry had to ask before they could disrupt the carefully balanced ecosystems of these forests by putting in roads and taking out trees.

Better get out there and hike Georgia's AT through Kelly Ridge while you still can!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Trail Terror Recalled

Here's a piece titled "Lessons on the Bears and the Bees" coming out of Florida, in which the writer, Robert Hughes, writing for "Florida Today" recalls waking up one morning on the Appalachian Trail to discover that he had pitched his tent on top of a [below ground] yellow jacket nest.

I've never had the pleasure of that myself (though I have confronted some of these creatures of God in my backyard ... and some which had decided to burrow into the woodframe of a bedroom window of our house), but Hughes describes his feelings upon finding the buzzing company with such a deft pen that you can really picture it yourself.

Nice change from the bear stories most people tell. The only place he mentions bears is in the first sentence where he writes "Forget bears and snakes."

International Appalachian Trail Publicity

Wowzers! I was passing through juno.com earlier today and noticed that one of the 8-10 news articles they were highlighting at the time (one of two under the "Travel" heading) is one marking the 10th anniversary of the IAT. That's pretty high visibility publicity for a hiking venue, seems to me.

The "USA Today" article is unsigned, and is copyrighted by the Associated Press with their usual warning about not reproducing it. When I saw it online, it was accompanied by a color photo of Earl Shaffer and David Donaldson walking some boards in a muddy section of Trail.

The article gives a very quick background history for the northern extension to the AT, and opens with the question: "What's a hiker to do after completing Appalachian Trail, which meanders more than 2,800 miles from Georgia to Maine?" Their answer is to keep walking. It points out that 11 people have done the AT/IAT combination.

Kind of a nice little piece, although it doesn't point readers to anywhere they could get further information, maps, or whatever.

Friday, July 09, 2004

New Book Review for Hunter Irvine

I don't know whether there's a new edition on Hunter Irvine's "One Pair of Boots" out on the market (ISBN 1-928590-02-0), but he garnered a positive review in today's "Summit Daily News" (for Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, and Frisco Colorado). The review by Austin Diaz says that it "reads like a travel journal with conversational flair." Diaz is right that it's a quick read. It might bring back memories for some folks, or probably will for that matter, as any hiking narrative will. When I read the book about a year or so ago, I remember thinking that the book really tailed off toward the end. Maybe the author was in trudge mode for the last few states. I also see that I wrote in the margin at one place "I've about had it with his using the passive voice."

That said, it's still worth at least picking up a library copy if you haven't read this one.

Irvine hiked in 1990 (8 April--18 September).

Good News from Pennsylvania

In Eldred Township, the brakes are on for the racetrack. "John Woodling, director of the Monroe County Planning Commission, wrote in a letter last week, that plans should not be approved until certain issues with the plans are resolved. The issues include: a helipad proposal, sound attenuation barriers, various engineering issues and the differences between the preliminary plan approval and the final plan in regards to the increase in deforestation acreage." This is described a little further in a 9 July online Pocono Record story by Ashley Burrell titled "County planners say more work must be done on car club's plans"

A couple weeks ago the Appalachian Trail Conference's Mid-Atlantic head honcho (is that your formal title?), Karen Lutz, was there in Eldred for a site visit and tour that led up to this decision.

According to Alyssa Young's 24 June article in The Express-Times titled "Officials Get 3-D Look at Planned Race Course":

"Developer Richard Muller Jr. led planning commission members, supervisors and representatives of two environmental groups that oppose his project on a tour through tall grass and trees for a three-dimensional perspective of his plans.

"Planning Commissioner Kimberly Michael requested the visit at a June 17 meeting. That evening, the planners postponed until July their recommendation on whether the board of supervisors should grant final plan approval.

"Michael called the two-hour tour 'very informative.'"

The "group of about 20 people first gathered around a topographically accurate model of the $15 million resort. Muller said the model is a marketing tool created to attract members to his motor sports club. He never intended to show it to township officials."

[I'm wondering whether there were topographically accurate models of hikers on the part of the model showing the Trail who were holding their ears. And topographically accurate birds and animals shown leaving the area because of the noise, crowds, compacted soil, lost trees and so on. Wait! There wouldn't have been. The developer wasn't planning on showing non-investors the model.]

You see, "Muller later escorted a smaller group on a driving tour through the property on which several white-tailed deer and wild turkey were among the sights.

"He said he spent $200,000 conducting required studies to ensure the fields and forests are not home to any endangered species."

It's apparently okay to destroy the homes of UN-endangered species. Once those white tailed deer become endangered perhaps. [No, wait! This is Pennsylvania. There are way too many white tails in Pennsylvania as it is, for the ecosystem to support. Let's build a racetrack in their habitat so that drivers of little sports cars can have the pleasure of running into them at high speeds!]

In my mind, it's not just an issue of "earshed" or "viewshed" from the Trail's vantage points. It's really a quality of life issue for the folks who live in the area and would suffer the effects of noise and exhaust pollution, advertising pollution, dependence on gasoline-based jobs, and so on. It's an ethical issue.

Kudos to the County Planning Commission for recognizing that there are problems in the plans being foisted on the people on Eldred Township and Monroe County! And kudos to the ATC and other groups arguing against the Eldred racetrack.

Alyssa Young's article concludes "The Blue Mountain Preservation Association and the Appalachian Trail Conference have appealed the plan's preliminary approval in court. They say approving the project violates the Appalachian Trail Act which requires municipalities to 'preserve the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the trail.'" You betcha!

Another Death in Baxter

In a copyright Associated Press story that "may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed" (but which, presumably, may be commented on) which appeared online today in the Portland Press Herald, the Maine State Police identified the human body parts found in Baxter State Park as those of Robert Taylor, late of Bangor. Taylor had been missing for months. His remains were apparently found in or near a campsite, including a semi-erect tent and some supplies. The medical examiner hadn't pinned down cause or date of death, and the investigation is on-going.

This comes very shortly after the rockslide death on the Cathedral Trail at Katahdin.

Not a good summer so far in Maine.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Let's Be Careful Out There

News published in the New Jersey Herald on 6 July and written by Pat Mindos, Herald Staff Writer. Makes you stop and think:

"On the Appalachian Trail near Frankford, an unidentified female hiker burned her upper extremities while she was cooking on a small camp stove about 7 p.m. on Sunday night, according to Bob Wolff, section fire warden for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

"The hiker walked about one mile to the Frankford/Hampton boundary line on Route 521 west of Route 206, Wolff said.

"After a 911 call, Frankford First Responders, paramedics from Saint Clare’s Hospital in Sussex and the Blue Ridge Rescue Squad arrived on the scene as well as members of the National Park Service and the New Jersey Forest Fire Service.

"The hiker was taken to the hospital and treated for her injuries, Wolff said.
He was unsure which hospital the hiker was treated at or what her condition was." [or whether she was released and went back to hiking; or is a thru-hiker; or what her name or trail name are; or what kind of stove it was; or what caused to accident and injury]

Must have been more than a little serious to have necessitated a hospital visit. I'll say a prayer for her tonight.

Still the "Gold Standard"

The AT is still the "gold standard" by which other hiking trails in the US are measured. At least if the recent story in the Southern Illinoisan by Les Winkeler is to be believed (and why wouldn't it be?).

Winkeler writes a nice article about a 175 mile hiking trail that "meanders ... across Southern Illinois." It's called the River to River Trail (look at an Illinois map if you don't know which rivers are being referenced).

He (or is it she?) writes:

"'People like it,' said John O'Dell of the River to River Trail Society. 'It's getting better marked each year. It's kind of a good tryout trail before you go on the Appalachian Trail. There are very few places where it is really flat.'

"While most visitors hike segments of the trail, O'Dell said there are a few through-hikers.

"'It's pretty demanding of a person to take two weeks off to hike the trail,' O'Dell said. 'There are people, we've had three or four this year.'

"O'Dell said topography and the meandering nature of the trail results in hikers averaging about a mile per hiking hour."

Okay, so it's "pretty demanding" and it's got "very few places where it is really flat" and they've had "three or four" through hikers this year. Sounds like a nice "Walk in the Woods" [can I still say that after the Bryson book?]. It's also maintained by volunteers. But the article didn't mention shelters. Are there any?

On the other hand, it's also got spookiness. Check this:

"Another popular spot is the vortex, a place believed to have paranormal features.

"'That's Max Creek, that's just south of Tunnel Hill,' O'Dell said. 'There is a convenient loop where you can walk down into the heart of Max Creek and walk out a different way.

"'A lot of people try that. If you believe in crystals and supernatural powers, we've had people that have gone down there and have genuine feelings about that place.'"

Sounds fun. But remember . . . the AT is what it gets compared to, and the Trail for which it serves as a preparation.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The Trail is Like . . . . (part of a continuing series of comparisons)

Here's a comparison I wouldn't have thought of by myself.

Sarah Kaufman, a Washington Post Staff Writer, wrote (in a Saturday, July 3, 2004; Page C01 article titled "Blood, Sweat And Gears; The Heroes Ride Cycles Instead of Steeds But the Tour de France Is an Epic Saga") of the month-long bicycle race:

"Like completing the Appalachian Trail or running the Iditarod, riding in the Tour is at once very simple and richly metaphoric. It is heavy on steak, light on sizzle. It is exquisite self-flagellation, whose redemption comes in a commingling of anguish and glory."

Gotta like that! "Very simple and richly metaphoric ... heavy on steak [that's the part this vegetarian wouldn't have thought of], light on sizzle ... exquisite self-flagellation" -- sounds like the hiking I know and love.

She also says the Tour -- and by backward extension, a thru-hike on the Trail -- is "decidedly medieval". And that "traversing mountains and misery in equal measure and adhering to a code of honor that governs everything from bathroom breaks to what to do if your key rival crashes (wait politely for him to get back on the bike, of course), the Tour resembles nothing so much as a heroic quest from the days of King Arthur."

Well, that sounds like the Trail I know, too. (Except for the bike part ... though probably most of us have seen bicyclers on the Trail somewhere.)

After that point, however, the analogy breaks down for me. Ms. Kaufman continues: "Sure, most of the competitors are anorexic-looking, hollow-cheeked fellows with wan white chests and baby-smooth legs, wearing flashy Spandex and oversize insectoid sunglasses. To many, they may look more like large crop pests than warrior princes."

Can't say I've seen too many hikers who look quite like that.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Virginia Trail Volunteer Op.

In the Saturday 3 July 2004 issue of the Winchester (VA) Star, there is a note requesting volunteers who want to hike the Trail and report in on water sources. They are specifically targeting seniors and retired folks, but I would half guess that young working people would also be allowed to help.

It reads: "The Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement, at the request of the National Park Service, is seeking volunteers that like to hike the Appalachian trail and would help with monitoring water sources along the trail and report their findings on a Web page. This volunteer position requires a person who is computer comfortable and has access to the Internet. For more information on this volunteer opportunity, contact Tom Benjamin at EASI, via his email address: tom@easi.org."

What a concept! Volunteers helping out on the Trail!! I just hope they make sure the volunteers take their own water, because it'd sure put a dent in their program to have volunteer hikers out there dehydrating in the hot Virginia weather of July and August afer finding water sources have dried out. I mean, how would they know if a volunteer doesn't come back whether a) the spring was dried up and the volunteer dehydrated; b) water was plentiful and the volunteer headed for Maine; c) volunteer accidentally headed south and ended up in the Smokies, never having checked the water sources?

Oh, yeah, the article does also specify for more general information to "call the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program at 1-800-883-4122 or 635-7141, Ext. 303." And that they're targeting Winchester, Warren, Clarke and Frederick counties in Virginia. (Anyone else along the Trail doing similar monitoring?)

Friday, July 02, 2004

Some Connecticut Trail Related News

Okay, so if the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation is recognized once and for all, and can build its casino, will it be near enough the Trail so that hikers can use its restrooms for sponge baths?

It seems, according to a recent article in the Kent Dispatch ("All dressed up and no place to 'go'," by Bob Deakin, 2 July 2004) that the other tourists in Kent, CT are having trouble with the fact that there are no oublic restrooms in Kent.

According to the article, "Visitors can seek relief at Patco, but many find the portable toilet it provides outside to be cold comfort, especially in winter. Patco used to have indoor restrooms, but the management discovered that customers abused them so badly they eventually contracted for the portable toilet. A former employee said it appeared people, possibly hikers off the Appalachian Trail, were taking sponge baths using the sinks."

As if that weren't enough, though, "Not everyone supports having public restrooms. Opponents argue that temporary/portable restrooms are unattractive both to the eyes and nose and require constant maintenance. Some are also concerned that a visitor's center would become a hangout for hikers, deterring shoppers."

Well, darn! Either us hikers have to shop more (by the way, if there were any good AYCE buffets in Kent, they might get more hiker dollars!). or the residents and their other guests have to get used to the hiker aroma that we used to leave in the Patco sink.

Seriously, though, we all know that sink baths rarely are good public relations events. And with the Trail Corridor negotiations getting more complicated (according to Kathryn Boughton's article today in the Litchfield (CT) County Times titled "Claims On Land In Kent Become More Complex") we need to tread lightly passing through the Nutmeg State.

Hey, what about a "Leave No Trace" ethic applied to towns?? Just a thought. It would make the restroom people in Kent happy, at least.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


I'm intending to use this blog to post news, notes, and quotes about the Appalachian Trail (and environs). Be back later. Gotta go to work now.