Flag Karma

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Kensington, Maryland, January 4, 2016 — I got myself in big trouble the other day.  The Christmas season was over and it was time to change the banner we habitually fly from our front porch.  More on how much trouble I’m in a minute.

I didn’t give the next flag much thought.  We have so many that I usually just grab one that is seasonal and we haven’t flown in awhile.

We have a storage container full of awesome banners. In total there are more than two dozen. We get them from master flag makers Carole and Mark Bisgrove in Massachusetts.  Some we’ve had for 20 years.  They are indestructible.

By way of full disclosure, Mark and I fished together as kids in the Ashland, Mass. reservoir when I’d pay an occasional summer visit to my cousins who lived across the street.  More on Carole and Mark’s flags here. Continue reading

Back to the future

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February 14, 2015 — I’m packing up and headed for some training in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has a base camp there used for training year round and for trail crews in the summer.

I’ll be joining a group of ridgerunners.  Ridgerunners patrol in season the Appalachian Trail (AT) from beginning to end.  The onset of thru hiking season is just around the corner,  and it’s time to get ready.

My role is to test the use of volunteers to augment the paid seasonal staff.  The difference is that I’ll be there only for the month of March.  Everyone else is there for the duration of hiking season – until autumn.

The need for the test is that AT (and other trails) is expected to see a large increase next year in thru hike attempts in response to the movies “Wild” in theaters now, and “A Walk in the Woods” which will be in theaters before summer’s end.

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Historical data establishes a direct correlation between increases in thru hike attempts and popular mass media about hiking or the AT.  Books, television, videos have done it every time.  Now we have Hollywood to help drive up the numbers next year.

My patrol area is the AT’s 78 miles in Georgia.  We walk five days and spend four nights on the trail.  The sixth day is off.  Of interest, we hike southbound (SOBO) for the purpose of meeting as many thru hikers as possible.  Once we reach Springer Mountain, the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club shuttles us back north to do it all again.

Among our duties is to help hikers as we can, educate them on Leave No Trace™ principles and trail etiquette, pick up litter, do minor trail repairs, and report issues we cannot handle.  These hikes are not about miles.  They’re about the smiles.

The forecast isn’t friendly, at least for next week.  It’s going to be colder than a well digger’s backside in the Smoky’s.  So much so that we’ve been told that we’ll be spending our nights at the basecamp and none sleeping outside. Yea!  No sense practicing being miserable.

The weather in Georgia will probably whip back and forth between ugly and nice with huge improvements toward the end of March.  Still, the southern Appalachians are high enough that snow can fall into April, even when the temperatures in Atlanta and points south are cooking.

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I’m looking forward to some former stomping grounds.  Dick’s Creek Gap is just short of the North Carolina border and the northern edge of the patrol area.  Blood Mountain is in the center of the sector.  It’s got some interesting native American history with some ornery bear activity on the side.

I plan to blog daily, but publish them as every fifth or sixth day as time permits just like I did on my thru hike.  So stay tuned.  If anyone has read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods, you know this could be interesting.

Winter Test Drive

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Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian Trail NOBO miles 917.2 to 937.2 (20 miles), January 19, 2015 —  Just like a new car, it’s best to test drive hiking and camping in the winter before buying in completely.  So it was with my friend and trail crew colleague.  She knows her trail craft and is quite comfortable in the woods, but she wanted winter experience.  She’s hoping to thru hike the AT in the future and knows that partying in the cold and snow is almost an automatic on an AT thru hike.  Unlike most guys who would not admit it, she embraces her desire to learn with gusto.

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Denise

So, off we went this weekend on a 20-mile, three day/two overnight, trip along Shenandoah’s most scenic vistas and popular places including Hawksbill (the highest peak in the park), Big Meadows, Rock Springs, Skyland, Stony Man, the Pinacles and Mary’s Rock.

Though the sun smiled upon us most of the time, the temps averaged in the 20s with a biting wind entering stage right and left at cheek chapping intervals. The objective was not to cover ground.  It was to live in the winter weather for the better part of three days and two nights and see what we could learn.

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So off we went… Enjoying the winter wonderland.

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The first day’s walk terminated at Rock Springs Hut.  I stayed there on my thru hike last year.  It’s setting features a gorgeous view through the trees in front of a nearby cabin owned by the Potomac Appalachian Trail club.

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Rock Springs Cabin

Four adult Scout leaders were using it – getting away from the boys for a weekend.

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After camp chores at the shelter, we went down to the cabin to snap some pics.

On the Appalachian Trail, shelters are called “huts” in Shenandoah and “lean-toos” in Maine.

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Would you believe it was cold outside?

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The view from the cabin.

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Sunset behind the privy.

Overnight the wind snarled with gusto, but the dawn air was so still you could hear yourself change your mind!  We popped up, packed up, and after a quick meal of coffee and oatmeal, made a quick giddy up.  No sense wasting time when it’s temperature is singing bass notes toward the low end of the register.  Movement = warmth!

The scenery during the second day was worthy of being memorialized by the likes of Winslow Homer.

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Same scene.  Different vantage points.

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Winter is nature stripped down to its birthday suit.  Not much to hide.

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Birds Nest 3, our final shelter is a party spot and not the most hospitable place.  The fireplace doesn’t do much good in a three sided enclosure.  The wind howled all night and occasionally spit enough granular snow to remind us who was boss.

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The morning made for a quick get-away back to our cars.

All in all, a weekend marked by challenge and success.

Three Cat Night

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January 8, 2015 — Who said cats are worthless?

We have three loyal cats in our household. Each has his own story. Each has special talents.

Please allow me to introduce them.
Mittens

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First there’s Mittens. He’s a Siamese, silver gray with leaden highlights. Absolutely the alpha male without doubt. In that role, he’s greedy, pig-headed and obnoxious. Even so, he can be needy and insecure in full appreciation of a warm lap and a tummy rub.

Mittens is our cat of contrasts. At the same time, he’s the best athlete of the bunch, but incredibly lazy. His narcissistic poses are legendary yet he loves to be touched. His throaty purr plays the tone of a worn out muffler. (Hearing protection recommended.)

Sophie

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Sophie is Ms. Priss. When Mitten’s mom kicked him out of her litter, Sophie’s mom took him in and they’ve composed a kitty pile ever since. At six lbs. Sophie isn’t exactly a giant among cats. As such, she’s more of a cheerleader on the sidelines as the boys roughhouse as boys tend to do.

Best of all, Sophie is my cat. She adopted my lap as her safe haven and home base. Together we watch the TV news and sports every evening in, what is for me, a soothing nightly ritual.

Want to know a secret? I’ll let the cat out of the bag: Sophie’s a Red Sox fan to the point where she’s become a popular meme on my Facebook page.

Mustache

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How about the clown prince of the household! This guy comes dressed for the part and believe you me, has enough talent to play Carson on Downton Abby.

Mustache was rescued as a flea infested kitten on the Gettysburg College campus by my soft-hearted daughter, and what a find he was.

This loving little guy is always searching for limelight; willing to perform at the drop of a bat for mere crumbs.

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Nice publicity stills, huh!

What’s the point of this story?

Last night the thermometer plunged to 9*F. That’s cold anywhere, but here in the mid-Atlantic region that number psychologically equates to the Yukon or Klondike. Sgt. Preston would be impressed we think.
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Now, the cats don’t normally sleep in our bed. I am allergic to cats and dogs, not to mention that they each have their favorite spots – all of them defined by an electric heating pad by the way. Yet last night, when the time came, there they were – all three of them hovering on or near the bed waiting for the humans to settle in.

Now it’s said that dogs sleep in your bed because they like you. Cats sleep there because they like your bed. Regardless of what the truth is, the kitty crew sensed that they were in for an especially cold night.

How cold was it? A three cat night! (Ba da boom)

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.