Seasons Change

Kensington, MD, October 21, 2014 — Today, for me, the seasons changed. Fall came a knocking. The doorbell dinged and frosty pressed the button.

For the first time, a long sleeve shirt was a necessity on my morning run. Mind you, no frost, but the atmosphere registered ambient air in the low 40s (F) and that was enough.

I always look forward to this permanent break with summer heat because from now until the first snow, the weather favors the runners. Less sweat means longer runs, faster times and more fun.

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Today the fallen leaves on our deck also confirmed the message of my early morning run. Could they be casualties of summer’s excess?

Living in the mid-Atlantic region has its benefits. We enjoy all four seasons without the extremes of northern New England and the Deep South. Having resided in both Boston and Atlanta provides special insight into splitting the difference between the hell of summer heat and winter’s cold dead hand.

Can’t wait until tomorrow’s run.

Season’s Over

Shenandoah National Park, VA, October 18, 2014 — The Hoodlums trail crew season ended on a chilly and rainy fall afternoon at the Elk Wallow picnic area as our Oktoberfest pot luck seasoned the air with the aroma of brats and kraut. It was a hearty end to a day of hard work.

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The crowd began to break up as the southbound mercury passed through the high 30s and sprinkles beaded up on our rain jackets. With handshakes and hugs all around we drifted toward our cars.

Given the weather I decided not to stay in the park and camp at our hut. I figured the crowd would be tiny and I wanted to get home where I could change the bandages on three bashed fingers injured by a table saw kick-back while helping my friend Ed in Maine put cedar shake siding on this garage.

As my car rolled along the 100-mile journey homeward, I was sad to see our season end and reflected on why I enjoy Hoodlum weekends so much.

First it’s a generally diverse group in terms of age, gender and background. Drawing its members mostly from the Washington, DC environs one might deduce most everyone must be connected to the government. Not necessarily so. We do have a wide range of federal and local government employees and retirees, but we also have EMTs, firemen, lawyers, librarians and so much more in a group composed of folks in their mid-20s to late 70s. Better than one-third are women. The only real drawback is the lack of “colorful” faces.

Though we share a common love of the outdoors and a sense of responsibility to give back, everyone enjoys good humor and a wide range of distinct interests that make our gatherings interesting to the point of fascination.

As I motored eastward on I-66, a photo I’d snapped at the potluck prompted a smile. The Head Hoodlum collects antique crosscut saws and he brought a few for show and tell. As folks were gathering for his presentation I noticed what one might expect in a group like this, the women were totally dialed in. I can’t think of a better illustration why being a Hoodlum is so much fun.

Until next year when we’ll gather again at Piney Ridge …

Frost on the Punkin

Williams College, Williamstown, MA. October 12, 2014 — While autumn is coloring New England in its full palate, this morning’s heavy frost signaled that the iron grip of winter is just over the horizon.

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It was the perfect set for staging the 33 “gathering”of the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association (ALDHA) where life was good. How could it not be in the warm clear light shining in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

The gathering is an eclectic mix of bearded men and sinewy women with a common love of outdoor movement no matter where or when. They live to be “out there” wherever there is.

The atmosphere is part Rotary Club – the parliamentary procedure, singing, backslapping and humor is the same – with a little Comic Con thrown in – lots of eccentricity with more that a dash of introversion in the mix. Everyone is welcoming and nice, but it’s obvious why these beautiful folks like to be in the woods alone or otherwise.

Many members adorned themselves in typical hiker regalia. Given that most everyone appeared to be a cross between Gandalf and a homeless person, it was no wonder that a few students called campus security curious about this strange group which was invading their campus. Of course college was well aware of our presence as guests of the Williams Outing Club.

The eclectic program exceeded my expectations having set the bar relatively low given that ALDHA is totally run by volunteers. The opening program was uplifting but a bit long. Of course my favorite part of opening night was the special recognition of the AT thru hiker class of 2014. We each received a certificate and a patch.

Overall, I was reminded of a high school reunion or a college homecoming. Everybody was hugging old friends. In addition to meeting my fellow Fourteeners, the opportunity to meet or reunite with hikers I followed from 2013, hostel owners and other trail characters was special and uplifting.

The broader program featured a surprising array of seminars ranging across subjects such as women’s self defense, hiking in the UK and other international destinations, the triple crown trails, search and rescue, ultra light gear, trail diet, writing, photography, and aging. Of course there were the obligatory business meetings and elections.

One of the most interesting discussions involved expectations and opportunities around the release of two hiking movies – “Wild” and a “Walk in the Woods,” the latter based on Bill Bryson’s best seller which stars Msrs. Redford and Nolte. Needless to say a zoo full of ill-prepared hikers are projected to jam the trail after these movies play.

I also learned that the next several years will emphasize improving the trail in Maine where erosion and sometimes dangerous river crossings need to be addressed. Amen!

I think it’s safe to say a good time was had by all. As for me, to shamelessly borrow from Arnold, “I’ll be back” next year.

Now it’s on to Main for another lesson I cutting and moving big rocks.

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Away we go

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Kensington, MD October 9, 2014 — This is the beginning of my new blog about active retirement, adventure, life, people, places and things that are mundane. This is your invitation to come along for the ride.

As with my previous blog about my 2014 thru hike of the Appalachian Trail entitled “A fork in the road,” (www.jfetig.com) I will try and write with humor, find absurdities, offer occasional social commentary or when my experience, background or expertise allows, share my take on issues of the day.  The latter will be rare, however.

Thoughtful, well-reasoned and criticism/comment expressed with civility is most welcome.

Early tomorrow I’ll saddle up my car and ride northward to the Appalachian Long Distance Hiking Association’s (AHLDA) annual “Gathering” which this year is at Williams College in Williamstown, MA.  This is the world’s largest gathering of so called “hiker trash.” The Gathering features seminars, networking and social opportunities and recognition for the Class of 2014.

2000MilerPatchI received this week my official ATC recognition for completing my hike.

During my AT hike, we camped one night with a group of Williams’ student leaders in training.  They were as sharp as one would expect and we enjoyed their company. Hope to meet some of them again this weekend.

Since completing my AT hike on Aug. 6, I’ve been majoring in goofing off for the most part.  So, following the Gathering, a practical exercise in high jinx is in order with my friend Ed in Kennebunkport – at least for a couple of days.

This week is a busy one.  After Maine, it will end with the Hoodlums trail crew’s final work weekend of the year in Shenandoah National Park.  The pot luck theme is Oktober Fest.  Prost!

More to come from the Gathering.

“Come along for the ride.”