It’s For the Birds

The days are shorter now.

The days are shorter now.  Storm clouds are on station.  The times, they are a changin’.

November 6, 2015 — Daylight savings time has come and gone, a signal for mother nature to turn down the thermostat and show us who’s boss.  Look around your neighborhood and let the warm cheery window light launch your imagination in the direction of turkey, punkin pie, sugar plumbs and presents under a tree.  After that, winter becomes a black hole the lucky enjoy from a Caribbean vacation or the clamp of ski bindings. The rest pray for spring.

These changes also signal us to help our feathered friends.  Last week the first dark eyed juncos arrived.  These brave members of the sparrow family are among my favorite flying friends.  They breed in the arctic and winter in more temperate climates.  These little guys kept me company on the Appalachian Trail as I marched northward from Georgia all the way to New York.

Dark eyed junko. Courtesy flickr.

Dark eyed junco. Courtesy flickr.

Juncos are ground feeders.  In fact, I’ve never seen one perched on one of our feeders.  As such, they must compete on the ground with squirrels, chipmunks, doves, cardinals and other birds much larger then themselves.  Fortunately for them, birds are messy feeders and there’s plenty of dropped seed to be found under our feeders.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark-eyed_junco

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This year we decided to add a second feeding station across the yard near the aucuba and holly that screens our yard.  Our feathery customers snatch a seed and dive under cover of the evergreens to munch in safety where the neighborhood hawks can’t get at them.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We've identified 35 different ones over four years.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We’ve identified 35 different species over four years. The most common are sparrows and house finches followed by mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, and tufted titmice.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

Customers in the house.

Customers in the house.

A little art found on the front walk.

A little art found on the front walk.

Among the Joy$ of Retirement

Time to paint.

Time for momma to paint. (Photo altered with the Pencil Sketch app.)

When we downsized, we bought a “functional” house and remodeled it in a way that our real estate agent says is attractive empty-nesters like us.  It is a custom built three bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood with which we’ve been associated for more than 30 years.  We adore the convenience, setting and the nature associated with the Rock Creek national recreational trail that helps define our leafy ‘burb.

This is our “forever” house.  After a lifetime of moving, we’re dropping anchor.  Like any of the 13 houses we’ve owned, this one has its challenges.  You adapt them to you where you can and you adjust to them as needed.

On the plus side, we love the backyard and low-rise deck.  We moved the laundry from the basement to the smallest bedroom in a way that a conversion back to a bedroom would be little more than a few bucks and a couple of hours work.  We also vaulted the living room ceiling, installed a bow window and skylights and opened up the entry to a glass-enclosed sun room. This house was built in 1953, so kitchen and bath updates, new windows and doors were necessary.  Soy foam wall insulation added R-21 to our walls and drastically chopped heating and air conditioning bills which helped pay for the remodeling.

On the downside, the over/under stairs to the attic and basement made it impossible to open up the kitchen, a feature we miss.  An expensive elevator we couldn’t afford would have solved that problem, so you adapt.  There are other nits, but that’s the biggest one.

We got rid of enough furniture, but not enough junk before moving in.  Our daughter occupied the basement au pair suite for awhile and we still are harboring a ton of her “stuff” that doesn’t fit into her nearby apartment.  Storage space is at a premium.

Everyone’s excess is choking the utility portion of the basement.  We also need new furniture.  Ours has been moved nine times including once overseas.  We decided to wait to buy furniture and paint permanent colors until we had the house figured out.  After four years, we’re ready.

Here’s where the joy$ come in.  Retirement is expensive. Some things you can anticipate, like the need for long-term care insurance if you can afford it. Then there are the unwanted gratuities that arrive as bolts out of a blue sky.

2015-09-29 11.46.11My wife totaled her car two weeks ago.  Fortunately she was uninjured.  Ker-ching!  Okay.  Maybe we don’t want to and it’s going to pinch, but we can absorb the added cost of replacing a late model car after the insurance payout.  No sooner than we had the replacement home, the check engine light winked on in my car.  Oh, oh.

I drive cars until the wheels fall off, so to speak.  My Acura was 12-years-old with just under 100,000 miles.  It should have been good for 75 – 100,000 more. To that end, I plowed a ton of (unanticipated) money in it earlier this summer.

The little red check engine light proved to be lipstick on a painted lady.  Her price for going all the way was eye-popping. In a matter of months I would have “invested” a lot more than the car was worth, so I donated it to public radio.  I’d been coveting a sexy a Subaru Forester for my trail work anyway, so I didn’t need much of a nudge to breakup with an old floozy who overplayed her hand.

Naturally none of this was in the budget, especially buying two cars in two weeks.  Of course, there’s more work to be done on the house and yard.  We’ve begun repainting the interior and will be hunting for new furniture soon.  Hard to undo that.  Then, we always seem to need something like new glasses.  My hiking adventures aren’t cheap either…

Among other things, here’s hoping a pipe doesn’t freeze this winter.

UPDATE:  It was a buggy summer.  Progress on the landscaping has been slow, but there has been some.  The next big push on that front will be a pruning and transplanting just before spring arrives. Over the winter I’ll build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope pictured below.

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Backyard Chainsaw Massacre

IMG_2920Kensington, MD, July 16, 2015 — It has been the second wettest summer on record in our area.  According to the Washington Post weather section, we are 10 inches above normal.  That’s a lot of sop in a region that gets a respectable amount of rainfall in a normal year.  It’s also the reason not a lot of work has been done in our back yard this summer so far.

My excuses include wet ground, squadrons of mosquitoes, ticks (remember that the herds of deer that frequent out backyard salad bowl are a reservoir species for Lyme disease), and the simple need to come up with a valid plan of attack.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and you can see that we brought in some heavy artillery.

The first job was to clear out a lot of brush that included some deer-shredded azalea and aucuba japonica and a couple of ragged holly shrubs.  We did the second phase over the past couple of days.

IMG_2882Wednesday I felled eight volunteer saplings of various species.  Some may have derived from bird droppings while others are the offspring of more mature trees in our yard.  I bucked them up with my new Stihl MC 261 chainsaw and stashed them between our driveway and our neighbor’s to await the arrival of David Gregg’s Tree Service – folks we’ve been using for more than 20 years.

IMG_2887David Gregg and company are the heavy artillery.  They don’t mess around with saplings.  The take on the big boys that will crush your house if they fall on it.  They do it without harming anything nearby and you hardly can tell they were there.

We had two mature trees that had to go. One was a rotten silver maple and the other a locust that is growing too close to an ancient tulip poplar that our county would never allow us to remove without a good reason.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards.  If the tree is large enough, they'll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards. If the tree is large enough, they’ll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

IMG_2904It’s amazing to watch these guys work as they take big trees down from the top.

Timber!  Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut.  After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Timber! Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut. After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Yup it was rotten alright.  Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

Yup it was rotten alright. Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

The dead are carted away.

The dead are carted away.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck.  Nope.  They're smarter than that.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck. Nope. They’re smarter than that.

Done.

Done.  Now I can start more pruning and trimming to prepare for planting and transplanting season.

I Surrender :-(

Our gourdes have full occupancy.  Might have to raise the rent next year of the market is this strong.

Our gourdes have full occupancy. Might have to raise the rent next year of the market is this strong.

Kensington, MD, Friday June 5, 2015 — A while back I wrote about my summer project.  That is to say, dealing with the overgrown landscaping around our house.  The project has become overwhelming.  I don’t know where to start or what I should do next, so I give up.

Note the difference between giving up and surrender.  This is no surrender.  It’s a tactical pause in the action until reinforcements can arrive.

I’m from a family of landscapers.  My brother Jack owns both a landscaping business and a nursery store.  Now I know its not genetic, or if it is, I got none of that DNA.  If having a green thumb is not an inherited trait, then it must be hard work.

Since my family lives 1,500 miles away and can’t come here to bail my talentless backside out of this mess, I hired a local landscape architect.  She comes next Thursday.  Her job:  Tell me what to do and in some cases, how to do it.

Here’s the deal.  The front yard and sides are going well.  In fact, they are almost done. It’s the tangled jungle in the ‘back 40’ that is the challenge. In addition to the previous description of the hodgepodge mixture of plants that don’t belong together, I found a giant patch of poison ivy mixed in with other ground cover and flowers.  Ugh!  I have no idea how to kill it. I just know it’s gonna be a fight.

Help!

The fist casualty of this war wasn't truth.  It was the holly I transplanted from the front.

The fist casualty of this war wasn’t truth. It was the holly I transplanted from the front.

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I've marked trees and plants I want to remove to show the landscape architect what I'm thinking.

I’ve marked trees and plants I want to remove to show the landscape architect what I’m thinking.

It's been too wet the past several days to prune these plants in the front.

It’s been too wet the past several days to prune these plants in the front.

Deer repellant works!  I never thought to spray the areas not under cover.  I've since nuked this section and deer come no more.

Deer repellant works! I never thought to spray the areas not under cover. I’ve since nuked this section and deer come no more.

Run Like Zombies Are Chasing You!!!!!

Sign on the back of team vans.

Sign at a baton exchange point.

Gettysburg, PA to Washington, DC, Friday and Saturday May 1 and 2, 2015 — The annual American Odyssey Race is a 200-mile team relay from Gettysburg, PA to the Washington, DC waterfront.

Each team has 12 runners subdivided into two six runner sections.  Each section runs for two six-hour periods with six-hour rest periods in between. Sleep is optional.

Around 200 teams, many from far away, laced up to be in the race to raise money in support of returning U.S. military veterans.

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A huge number of military teams participated from places such as West Point, the Pentagon and even the Marine Corps Marathon.

Runners came from near and far.

Runners came from near and far.

So much for the newspaper-style lead.  Here’s what really happened, but first a word from our sponsor.

I’ve been a client of the Fitness Together (FT), http://www.fitnesstogether.com, personal training franchise for more than 10 years.  This year I joined one of the two teams FT sponsored.

We were an amalgamation of owners, trainers and clients – all with generally high fitness levels but of mixed running ability.  The object was not to win, but to pit ourselves against a tough challenge and enjoy ourselves in the process.

In keeping with the FT motto: One client.  One trainer. One goal, we worked together to do our personal best, not meet someone else’s expectations.

Now back to our story.

Our team (FT Bethesda) was split into two six-runner sections.  Yours truly was runner number eight traveling in van number 2. Each section would run for approximately six hours, with each runner’s leg lasting about an hour on average.  Given that timing, my first leg didn’t start until about eight hours into the race.

As luck had it my first leg chugged over South Mountain on a dirt road in Pennsylvania’s Michaux state forest.  Much to my delight, this route intersected the Appalachian Trail (AT) at an unremarkable place I do not remember from last year’s thru hike, at least not through the river of sweat stinging my eyeballs and fogging my glasses.

I pressed on.  The run was steep consisting of one-third up hill and two-thirds down.  Knowing I had two more times to run after this one, I was worried about burning out my quads (thigh muscles which must lift your legs going up hill and serve as breaks going down with down hills inflicting the damage – just like hiking). The good news was there were no crowds to urge my ego on – to try and be stupid.

I was faster than my planned time, but not by much.  So far, so good.

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Teams decorate their vans in with interesting slogans.

Once we finished our shift, the B section of team 9 headed for dinner.  Being a very experienced runner, I figured everyone would be looking for light foods and a quick sojourn to the Boonsboro High School were we could grab a few winks in the gym.

Almost finished with our first shift.

Almost finished with our first shift.

Will this help me sleep.  No!

Will this help me sleep. No!

A quick trip to sleepy time was not to be.  I got about 30 minutes sleep.  Then, we were up and at it again.

Runners pass out in the Boonsboro HS gym.

Runners pass out in the Boonsboro HS gym.

Second shift about to start.

Second shift about to start.

In running order, I ran the second leg of the six assigned to our van.  On this, my second run of three, the forlorn country road was darker than a well diggers backside.  The leg was divided evenly between a steep opening downhill to a creek followed by a long climb out to the next baton exchange.  My dinner, what I thought was a bland vegie panini, just didn’t want to agree.  The five-mile leg was agonizing.  Still, I met my time expectation and the team was on track.

Driving to drop off the next runner.

Driving to drop off the next runner.

We finished our second shift at 3 a.m.  Then we drove an hour to the Poolsville, MD middle school were we could rest again.  Except this time, the school was shuttered.  No gym.

Some of us slept in the van with rain in the forecast, while others took their chances.  They were rewarded It didn't rain!

Some of us slept in the van with rain in the forecast, while others took their chances. They were rewarded. It didn’t rain!

The day dawned with promise. None of us got much rest, let alone sleep.  As we stretched, our muscles talked back intoxicated as they were with lactic acid.  Did they know what they were saying, or were they fooling with us.  Time would tell.  The day would be warm.  Our legs would be sore.  We were already tired.  Time to embrace the suck as the aphorism goes.

This is a rare sight in Montgomery County Maryland - a farmstead in sun rise.  Corn and orchards have been over-planted with an invasive species of developer borne house seeds. They are winning.

This is a rare sight in Montgomery County Maryland – a farmstead in sun rise. Corn and orchards have been over-planted with an invasive species of developer borne house seeds. They are winning. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

Race officials preparing for the first runners.

Race officials preparing for the first runners.

I awoke feeling like I’d been shot through my thighs during the night.  The school had opened so we could shower and the booster club could make a few bucks selling coffee, donuts and muffins.

I must have looked comedic as I pranced toward the wake-up juice with truncated steps like an intoxicated ballet dancer in slow motion.  Others around me were either yawning or grimacing as they faced their own personal realities.  Their complaints all sounded alike.  The showers barely flowed so I decided to pass.

In my days as an elite runner, this would have been proforma, but not anymore.  I thought about how much I hurt in context of past glories. Age is cruel, but you accept new realities and soldier on.  My resolve was to leave everything I could offer on the C&O Canal tow path where my final run awaited.

As a boss, coach and parent, I’ve always asked everyone to do their best.  The challenge is that our best isn’t the same everyday.  Sometimes we’re tired, sick, stressed, depressed, or distracted.  But we should give whatever we can under those circumstances.

I may not have championship ability anymore, but I could still do the my best.  Knowing dehydration and pain were my enemies, I cameled up on a few Gatorades and took 800 mg of ibuprofen for insurance purposes.

The C&O Canal tow path was flat and relatively dry after the previous day’s rain.  Luckily its shady parts offered some respite from the sun as the day’s temp climbed toward 80F.  I could even see up to 100 yards ahead in places.  My personal mission:  Let no one pass and overtake anyone I could see in front of me.  That’s a tough one in the shape I’m in.

I pushed onward as hard as my anaerobic threshold and the somewhat dulled burn in my legs would allow.

When a cyclist passing from the opposite direction said I was close to where my run finished, I sighed.  There were two runners ahead of me I hoped to catch, but had not seen.  Just then they came into sight, about a hundred yards in front of me.

When a runner says you’re close, that means a couple of hundred yards to the finish.  Think of my dilemma by imagining the algebra.  If Jim is 100 yards behind John and Jane who are running at X speed, and Jim’s top speed is Y. How far would Jim have to run to catch them – especially after the cyclist said you were close to the baton exchange point?  Could I run fast enough to beat them in the available distance.  I decided to try.

Fortunately cyclists have a very different sense of distance than runners.  My opponents were far behind when I slapped the baton into the next runners hand and ended my Odyssey race. I was done and beat my projected pace by more than a minute per mile. With that happy note, I decided that I want to do this again next year!

The finishing area.

The finishing area.

After party.

After party.

These days everybody gets a medal.

These days everybody gets a medal.

It’s a Jungle Back There!

House finch families have moved into the gourds we have hung on the porch and from tree branches through out the yard.

House finch families have moved into the gourds we have hung on the porch and from tree branches throughout the yard.

Kensington, MD, April 13, 2015 — We are entering our fourth summer in our retirement home.  As with any new place, the repairs, upgrades, remodeling, and yard work gets prioritized by health and safety needs, aesthetics and by cost.

No house is perfect.  As houses go, this one suited our needs but had some design issues.  We’ve learned over the years that you can make almost any building work, besides there was nothing perfect on the market in our preferred neighborhood when we were buying.

Our three cats own the sunroom.

Our three cats own the sunroom.

The primary selling point for this house was the back yard.  The landscaping renders it totally private in the summer. Plus, it features a huge low profile deck and it is garnished by a large glass sunroom which allows us to enjoy a 180 degree view of this sylvan setting year round.

Unfortunately, my lack of attention over the past three summers allowed the yard plants the freedom to metastasize into an overgrown jungle.

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I will admit to gross procrastination.  That’s why it’s taken three years to get to this point. The landscaping has become so overgrown that I couldn’t figure out which part of the elephant to bite first.

Landscaping is also hard, dirty, brute labor.  I’d rather think of it as a workout, but that romantic logic doesn’t always hold up to the reality of the hot sun, stifling humidity, sticky mud and the biting bugs.

Now the bill has come due.  It’s do it now or by the end of summer, our place will be overgrown like a lost Mayan temple in the Yucatan jungle.

Gaps in the picket line.

New gaps in the picket line.

The battlefield is a half acre with a sloped front yard buttressed by a brick retaining wall.  The weight of moisture laden March snows seriously tore holes in the hedge that picket-lined its front slope.

View from out back.

View from out back.

The outer defenses of the back lot consist of a perimeter of mature holly trees reinforced by an understory of intertwined aucuba and azaleas. Ground level is carpeted by a United Nations of intermingled ground cover plants –  vinca, English ivy, pachysandra, periwinkle, and various ferns including some fiddle heads.  The yard itself is mostly ground cover with little grass.

The tulip poplars like to bomb our yard with discarded branches.

The tulip poplars like to bomb our yard with discarded branches.

I forgot to mention the sentinels – five mature tulip poplars which have a few random off spring sprouting out of the babel of plants that serve in lieu of grass.  From time to time the big guys drop branches large enough to require a chain saw.  Fortunately, they are posted at the back of the lot and are not near the house.

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Sadly, Bambi thinks the aucubas and azaleas are a salad bar.  We live only a couple of blocks from a miles-long green space infested with deer.  Cleaning up the deer damage alone will require heavy artillery.

We also have a few isolated winter kill issues.

We also have a few isolated winter kill issues.

I decided to rehearse the main attack in a side garden.  It was a contained space chock full of laurels in need of haircuts, overgrown azaleas, ivy run amok, and three half-dead holly bushes.  Pulling the ivy was the the worst part.  The damn stuff fights back!

The battle lasted two days, but armed with iron tools the invading plants were eventually overpowered after putting up a worthy defense.  It was great training for the main event to come.

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Two weekends worth of enemy battle casualties.

Yesterday was backyard D-day.  The Powell Doctrine was in effect – as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell postulated that overwhelming force must be used against enemies.

We attacked at down with a ground assault – led by a pick, serrated spade, pruning saw, the professional grade loppers I use on the Appalachian Trail, and all supported by a wheel borrow and our daughter’s old little red wagon.  No plant in the wrong place stood a chance.

The little red wagon was hiding in a defilade position.

The little red wagon was hiding in a defilade position.

By late afternoon today, the first objective was secure.  This is going to be a summer-long fight.  No hundred-hour war here.

First corner cleaned out.

First corner cleaned out.

With the first objective taken and rain in the forecast, it was time to review the day’s work and plot my next move.

Enjoying the fruit of victory.

Enjoying the fruit of victory.

Walking in the Woods

This is a cross post from my other blog, “A fork in the road.”  There’s more about my adventures in Georgia there.

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Kensington, MD, April 1, 2015 — Bill Bryson wrote a wonderfully humorous book entitled A Walk in the Woods almost 15 years ago.  It is a story about two totally unprepared old pals attempting on a lark to thru hike the Appalachian Trail.  When I read it, I thought it was humorous fiction.  After ridgerunning in Georgia this March, I know it’s not.  It is as true as true can be, and Bryson was an astute observer.

The movie of the same name, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, will be out this summer.  I can’t wait to see it, but I worry about those who do and then think they’re going to jump on the trail without a care in the world and hoof it up to Maine.  Not that there aren’t plenty of folks hiking this way already.  I just worry how many more of these unprepared innocents will join in the frolic over the next few years, and more importantly, what their impact will be on the trail and its environment.

This blog has noted the incredible number of clueless hikers  observed last month as they attempted to foible themselves through Georgia.  How anyone could jump into the woods having never set up a/their tent before, or show up with packs stuffed with so much that they can barely carry them – with all their gear still hermetically sealed in the original boxes – is beyond any level of sanity I can conceptualize.

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How people can forget that the sun doesn’t always shine, that the days and nights are not always warm, and that rain or snow can be bitterly cold is beyond me.  Misery does not love company on the trail.

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Under the wrong weather conditions – cold rain sleet for example – you could become hypothermic and cease to exist or be seriously injured in the southern Appalachian spring.  It’s happened recently.

Four components of success defined themselves as I observed both the prepared and unprepared go about their business.  I thought a lot about them, comparing what I saw this March with my previous experience on the trail and elsewhere.  Some may disagree with my priorities here they are anyway.

FITNESS.  Being fit, especially cardio fitness, can cover a wide range of other deficits, particularly in older and female hikers.  I couldn’t count the number of late middle age guys (mostly) who, for decades had been chained to their office desks until the week before they started, when they were suddenly paroled to pursue their retirement dreams on the AT. Too many of them went from zero to 60 and back zero in less than a week.

Guys, your high school sports days were close to 50 years ago!  Take a year to get yourself in shape.  Couch potato millennials fall into this same category. What did they think would happen when they rushed to Springer Mountain with little or no prep?  That’s why about a third of hikers don’t make it past the first 30 miles.

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As I hiked my patrol route, I’d watch the out of shape hikers sweat their way up hill chipping tiny step by tiny step up the trail, their wheezing breath hissing like dying steam engines suffering from leaky piston seals.  Pure panic defined pallid faces as the harsh realization sunk in that they were in for more than they bargained.  Their knees quivered under both the oppressive weight of their bodies and the clutter of unneeded gear strapped to their backs.  Their fun meters were pegged at zero.  So much for a walk in the woods.

Some folks are old school, but they're in shape and prepared to go.

Being fit helps prevent common orthopedic injuries, not to mention that you can hump more weight on your back.  Would anyone think that it might be smart to at least attempt lose some weight and/or get into shape before day one?

EXPERIENCE.  Knowledge.  Know-how.  Call it what you will.  Knowing how to live in the woods, and what to do if and when, can be priceless.  Traditionally we might consider learning what’s in the Boy Scout Handbook a good starting point, and it is if you have an up to date copy, not the ancient one with which I grew up.  Excellent information is available on line or in a range of recent how-to books.  Then there’s the confidence born of having been spent a little practice time living outdoors.

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Experience is the best teacher and makes for fewer goof-ups in the woods. AT hikers should know how to hike in the rain and stay dry, stay warm and above all, stay clean.  How about pitching a tent in a storm so it won’t be flooded or blown down?  How big a knife does one need, not want, but need?  First aid anyone?  What do you do if you tear your ACL or impale yourself on a protruding branch?  You should know ’cause 911 response is several hours, if not a day or more away. Leave No Trace anyone?

How about them bears, anyway?

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GEAR.  You can buy your back weight down if you can afford it, but more folks are on tighter budgets than I would have thought.  They simply can’t afford to equip themselves with hyper-light gear.

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The reality is that most of us cannot afford a $600 – $800 Cuben fiber tent weighing mere ounces, much less the full boatload of gear made from this miraculous fabric – rain gear, food bag, pack, etc.

So, what do people do?  A good set of lighter weight gear costs between $1,000 and $1,500 depending on how much of it you can buy on sale.  This type of gear, with five days food and a liter of water, will get your total winter pack weight under 35 lbs. or less depending upon what you think you need to bring.

Properly fitting light weight and flexible boots or trail runners along with dry feet help prevent blisters, the scourge of any hiker.

Unfortunately even that much money is too much for many people.  Their alternative is to buy heavy gear from Walmart or army surplus, either that or they repurpose older but much heavier gear from previous generations.  They pack canned food because they cannot afford the lighter dehydrated meals.  This route alone doesn’t deny success, it just makes everything harder.

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Some hikers don’t know what to buy, even if they can afford it.  That’s what produces the over sized 70 lb. packs stuffed with all sorts of useless trinkets.

Binoculars, camp chairs, bear bells, heavy stoves and stainless steel cooking pots, Carhart canvas jackets and other detritus is what finds itself strewn along the trail. Folks start sinking under the tremendous weight and desperately heave it overboard in hopes of staying afloat as did Bryson’s sidekick Katz in A Walk in the Woods.  Remember:  Are you on the AT to camp or to hike?

ATTITUDE.  Like the Little Engine in the storybook, if you think you can, you can.  Self-confidence and a bit of bravado can take you a long way. Yet, self-doubt racks too many hikers.  The most common question is:  “What have I gotten myself into?” That’s when I want to roll my eyes and intone “Duuuuuude! What were you thinking – that is if you were thinking at all?”

Positive attitude!

Being trail ready on day one is priceless.  Showing up on the starting line fit, knowledgeable, properly equipped and confident isn’t a guarantee, but it gets you off to a great start.

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