IMG_1799

Utility service road. Yeah we hiked it.

Hey, Greenlight here!

Coming off of two section hikes of the AT inside of a week, it took some “gettin’ used to” being back in relatively flat Indiana.  Aaron and I continue our weekendly expeditions over at Free Range Hiking and he is closing in on halfway toward his goal of fulfilling 40 hikes this year. My daughter-in-law Britni also joined us. She’s been hiking with Aaron for several weeks now and hopefully will continue!

On Sunday, we hiked about seven miles of the Depauw Nature Park, which is managed by the university of the same name. They advertise “well maintained trails.”  I give them that.  If by “well maintained” you mean “covered with gravel.”  I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m just saying that my boots like mud.  And rocks. And roots. And steep hills and inclement weather like rain and snow and heat and humidity. And, well, I’m just weird that way, but HYOH, right?

I did a light shakedown and resupply the night before and hiked with a lighter pack than I what I have been training with, but I make it a point to hike with my full pack as much as possible because I’m training for that glorious AT thru-hike somewhere in the not to distant future.

We had fun at DePauw Nature Park.  You will too, if you go. There are some camping spots off the creekside rail trail.  I haven’t completely figured out what their trail designations mean, but since they consist of interconnected loops, you’ll find the campsites eventually if you keep hiking.

The best part of this hike for me was when we came to the end of a loop and followed a trail that dead-ended at what appeared to be a service road.  That led to the cryptic “Prindle Institute.” I joked that maybe it was a driving school.  You’ll either get it or you wont.  That emptied out onto an asphalt road on the edge of Greencastle, but there was another gravel service road that looked like it ducked back in to the woods.  I was using GaiaGPS and the map showed that if we kept walking in that direction we would intersect the first trail we took from the trail head.

That led us back to a utility cut that with a steep and overgrown descent into a creek, and back up  onto the trail near the trailhead.  I was sorry to be back on well maintained gravel paths, but all in all it was fun. And we were only halfway through hiking.

Back near the trail head, we decided to hike along the abandoned quarry site, past a retreat

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Looks sorta like Washington Monument

center shaped much like Washington Monument on the Maryland AT at the top of Monument Knob.  I’d hiked past that on my way back to Indiana from DC a couple weeks ago and hadn’t gotten to climb the spiral staircase because the monument had been struck by lightning and was engineer taped and closed for repairs.  This DePauw retreat center also had a spiral staircase so I ran to the top and enjoyed the view for a few moments.

The bluffs of the quarry presented picturesque views of the lake below, and geese were bellowing and the males were showing off to the females.  It is that time of year, you know.  It began to mist a bit during the last hour of our hike, and we stopped about a mile from the trailhead to drink some water and snack on the food we’d brought.  I pulled my JetBoil out and had a steaming cup instant coffee, some Skittles, and a foil packet of Mango Habanero Salmon.

Back at Aaron’s house, I played with the dogs for a bit, Aaron and I drank some Dragonfly IPA from Upland Brewing Company in Bloomington and laughed over YouTube videos. They still had to drive a couple of hours to meet up with one of Aaron’s high school buddies in Marion, so I pointed the hood ornament east and headed back to the house for a shower, dinner, and some DVR’d COPS episodes.

Not a bad day, hiker trash, not bad at all.  Head on over to freerangehiking.com and join us for an upcoming hike!

-G

Newfound

Typical section of the AT near Clingman’s Dome

Hey, howzit’ goin’? I’m Greenlight.

When we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Aaron and I went with the intention of getting our trail names, on the Appalachian Trail, that we will use when we eventually thru-hike the AT.

Aaron wants his bestowed spontaneously. I’m more of an opportunist. But there we were, bearing down on Mount Collins Shelter where we’d spend Saturday night. We could smell wood smoke a mile-and-a-half away and knew we were getting close. The shelter is a half-mile off the AT on a side path, and we were told by Firecracker, the first thru-hiker we met on the trail, that there probably wouldn’t be many thru-hikers at Mount Collins because thru-hikers don’t like burning unnecessary miles.

It was, however, a cold and windy night. There were a couple of thru-hikers at the shelter as well as a bunch of section hikers. With Aaron, and me the shelter was completely full. As we were pulling out our food bags and preparing to eat, with the sun going down, I pulled my Browning head lamp out of my pack and turned it on. Scoping out the inside of the shelter and looking around outside for a place to cook my dinner, I figured that my lamp was too bright and probably annoying people as it shined in the their eyes as I passed by.

Half of the shelter occupants had already eaten and were in various states of awake and asleep as they lay on the two tiers of sleeping spaces. I adjusted the light so that it was only emitting a soft green glow. Others were doing the same thing with their lights; all of their “low beam” colors were red. Coming around the side of the shelter, one of the thru-hikers mentioned off-handedly to me, “Hey dude, I like your green light.”

I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but as I was drifting off that night (before having to get up at 3 a.m. in nothing but my boots, compression shorts and down jacket to pee) I wondered how active I should be in the solicitation of a trail name. The first thing I did after making a double coffee in my JetBoil the next morning and downing the last of my maple bacon toaster pastries was to gather some firewood and attempt to get the fire started in the shelter fireplace. Having a full can of Zippo lighter fluid in my fire kit helped the process. The two thru-hikers were stirring and I asked which one of them had said he liked my green light last night. The younger one sporting dreads and a friendly “dude” attitude fessed up.

“Do you think that would work for a trail name?” I asked him. “Greenlight. I sort of like that.”

“That or maybe … Green Lantern” he joked.

“Oh, hell no! I gasped. Maybe Deadpool but please, not Green Lantern!”

It was agreed. My trail name would be Greenlight.

I like the fact that I didn’t decide single-handedly what my trail name would be. I like that it was negotiated on my second section hike of the AT itself, which will eventually become my home for four or five months in the not-so-distant future. And lastly, I like that it was the result of give-and-take with current thru-hikers.

Most people in the world have never heard of the Appalachian Trail. Of the ones who have, only a small subset give a rat’s ass how I got my trail name, or that I have one at all.

For me, though, it is important. It moves me one step closer to a dream. Not the dream of beginning, but rather of standing atop Katahdin and saying, with Grandma Gatewood, “I said I’d do it, and I’ve done it.”

 

 

IMG_1717It rocks your feet inside your boots. That’s what I told myself six miles in, sitting in my hammock at the Dahlgren Backpacker’s Camp after my first time on the Appalachian Trail. I was so proud of my Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking boots with green Superfeet inserts and merino wool blend socks, and while I have no blisters to report, I have to give the first round to the AT. I lay in that hammock, listening to the wind rolling up the hills and swaying two trees that rubbed and brushed together making a sound like laughter, and fell asleep like a baby in a cradle.

The excursion began with the traffic jam that is the beltway in the afternoon. It took two hours to get to Frederick, Maryland from my room south of old town Alexandria, but I finally rolled into the trailhead and changed out of work clothes and into hiker trash attire in the front seat of the car. It was a quarter after six by the time I stood in front of the hiker’s overpass on I-70. I entered with a sense of excitement and reverence, disappearing into the wood line atop the flinty rocks that would remind me that I had feet.

I still tend to over-dress at the beginning of a hike, such as the unnecessary black jacket I was wearing. As I started to climb Bartman Hill on the west side of I-70 in South Mountain Environmental Area, a trail running couple and their dog passed me in the opposite direction. The man seemed military by his haircut and demeanor, plus he was carrying a coyote military day bag. We passed so quickly there was only time for a short greeting. I don’t aspire to trail running, but I was swinging my trekking poles at a pretty good clip. I wanted to get in as many miles as I could on this my first on The Long Trail. Bartman peaks out at 1400 feet, and my GPS told me at the halfway point that I’d gone up 1000 feet and descended 1200. That is enough to blow the cobwebs out of your lungs, and make you pull off any odd jackets that might be covering your torso and stuff them in your pack.

The woods were thick with deer, and they looked huge. Three of them skirted me on the IMG_1728east at one point, followed by another a minute later. It seems that everyone wants to see bears, or in Bryson’s case he didn’t want to be molested by one. I would have been at a loss had I encountered one at that point because my back was pressed tight against a tree as the remains of a McDonalds lunch ran into a cat hole between my shaking white legs. I could partially blame it on my excitement of finally being on the AT, but that’s a crappy symbolic present to leave behind for the Maryland wildlife.

Bartman descends to a road crossing, and you pick up two more hills before the trail places you on Monument Knob in Washington Monument State Park. Earl Shaffer mentions the “original” Washington Monument built by the people of Boonboro and later restored by the CCC. It was recently struck by lightning and they’ve got it engineer fencing around it until they can make it safe again, so I wasn’t able to climb the staircase to the top.

Washington Monument was a decisive place for me. I stood in the parking lot drinking water and plotting out my next move. I wanted miles, but in the gloaming, all by myself, I had no idea where I’d lay my head that night. My hands went to the top left pocket of my pack to grab my head lamp, which I put on and turned on. And I walked.

I walked up another hill and switchbacked down the other side into Turners Gap. The cool air felt good on my skin as I hiked through the darkness while my little lamp searched out the white blazes. Head lamp hiking seems to be a skill acquired by much practice, and though I never fell, I did roll my ankle once. My poles saved me. When it is dark and your legs are getting tired, you don’t pick your feet up as high, and you kick rocks. When you do that, your toes make you say bad words. My advice to you is that when you night hike, you make a concerted effort to pick your feet up and place them carefully. Even with shoes or boots on, sometimes kicking a rock on the trail is like stubbing your toe on a bedpost.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, the woods opens up into a grassy field and the blazes are on brown, six-foot high stakes. The light from my headlamp bounced off of a structure. It was the back side of a stone church. Across the street, a couple was leaving the Old South Mountain Inn (Food and Drink for All). There were still a few people inside, so I stowed my pack in the bushes by their stone patio and went in to the bar and asked if I could get a beer and a trip to the privy. Even though they were technically closed, they served me and allowed me to use the facilities.

People on the east coast are tickled because Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is available there now. It’s always been one of my favorite brews. It tasted especially magical sitting there chatting with the bartender at an establishment that serendipitously appeared at the edge of a big woods which you have just night hiked through.

I picked up the trail again wondering how far I’d have to hike until I came to a shelter. I found out in two-tenths of a mile, which is exactly where I found Dahlgren Backpacker Campground, already occupied by three tents and a hammock. I added a second hammock and crashed until I got the urge in the middle of the night to wet the port-o-john. I tried to fight off the urge until sunrise, but keeping pee warm really saps your body heat. I got up, did my wet work, and climbed back into my nest and instantly fell back to sleep.

The occupants in the tent across the lawn from me began to stir at sun up, simultaneously cooking breakfast and tearing down. I broke out my JetBoil to brew a double coffee and munched on maple bacon Pop Tarts while chatting. The older one said he’d completed a thru hike in 2003, and he was shrinking the learning curve for his younger friend. They’d come from Harper’s Ferry and were continuing northbound. They cleared out as I was finishing my breakfast. I broke camp as the rest of campers began to stir, but caught up to them again near a huge rock outcropping. The younger hiker was directing his friend to look around the biggest rock.

“Geocaching?” I asked as I stopped for water.

IMG_1680“Yeah, I was explaining it to him as we were hiking, he’d never done it before.”

“He’s going to get hooked and really slow your pace down, you know” I said, laughing.

He scrambled up the hill to help his friend look for the cache and I hiked on.

On the return to Monument Knob, I shared a water station with a Papa Sprout, a hiker who has completed from Springer Mountain to Front Royal, with plans to complete to Katahdin in sections. I wished him happy hiking and enjoyed the level grade until the trail left the confines of the park. I still had a lot of energy to burn up on trails when Bartman appeared ahead and I realized that my first go on the AT was coming to an end. I crossed the residential road where the trail continues between two houses and down a small erosion control stairway constructed of landscaping timbers and back to the hiker’s overpass across I-70. I stood there defiant, not wanting the excursion to end, but it did.

I tossed my pack into the back of the car and as quickly as it had begun, it ended.

I’ll be back.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.02.02 PMIs this just fantasy? I’m dreaming, right?

Hat tip to Queen

But when I passed under this… this enigma… on Monday, it took everything within my power to stay the course and continue on to Alexandria and the conference schedule. Yeah, I knew that I would be “passing under” on the way.  And on the way back. And I knew it would pull at me, but I had no idea it would pull this hard.

You see, the as yet un-trail-named eldest son of mine (and I) will be beelining it to Gatlinburg, TN this weekend to section hike the Appalachian Trail from, oh, approxiately Clingman’s Dome southbound for a total of around 27 miles.

The goal is to pick up our trail names. Because our intent is to thru-hike the AT within a few years in one push.  But before then, our interim goals is to eat up trail miles on weekends and vacations from places like Morgan Monroe State Forest in southern Indiana, to…well, anywhere within reach that seems intriguing, and it would be nice to have trail names to blog for those excursions, too (we will probably thru-hike several smaller mileage trails before the AT).

Places like Starved Rock in Illinois which we conquered in February. Even landlocked horse trails like at Mississinewa and Salamonie Reservoirs in Indiana’s lakes region. We’re not picky and we’re not whiny, we ruck up and hike.

But tomorrow is staring me in the face and my dilemma is close at hand.  I could finish my conference and retire to Casa Deal, the “hostel” where I bunk when I have work in the DC metro area and get a good night’s sleep on a plush mattress in one of the toniest zips in the US. (Right across the Parkway from the freakin’ River Farm Gardens!)…

Or I could point my car northwestward, plow Cabin John Parkway and 270 toward Frederick and plant the hybrid at the AT trailhead just north of Canada Hill Road and ruck the f*@k up like the hiker trash I am and bust it toward Harpers Ferry until the sun goes down. I could stretch my hammock beneath spring’s budding bows and eat cheesy bacon taters beneath stars strewn across the velvet sky and fall asleep to the sounds of the Maryland mountainsides.

And then scarf down a breakfast of maple bacon pop tarts ™ and instant coffee and double back to the car to be home safe and sound by Thursday midnight. Friday is a gimme day at work since I’ll have worked four 10’s. Still gotta go in and fill out my time sheet and turn in my travel receipts.

What say you, friends?  Should I or shouldn’t I…

 I want to be mindful. By that, I mean being fully present in each moment. It isn’t a piece of cake. It isn’t easy as pie. It can be damn hard, but like many things, I bet it gets easier with practice.

I also want to focus on the important things in life. And I don’t want to fool myself about what those things are. There are so many messages swirling around out there. Some are blatantly false. Some are attractively false. Some are true but the truth isn’t obvious because people have thrown mud at them and they appear unappealing. Some are clear and true and beautiful. I want to live my life aligned with the true, the good, and the beautiful.

These things don’t have to be of a high order. For instance, this weekend we hiked with a new acquaintance and his dog, a yellow Lab. Hiking with a dog is a beautiful thing when the dog is enjoying it, which Corbin was. We hiked seven miles and Corbin hiked twenty. He was up and down the spurs and draws with boundless energy , went swimming in the lake and lay down in the deeper parts of the creeks we crossed to cool off and hydrate. His simple canine joy at being outdoors and free was contagious. He was as alive as a dog could be, and I felt a touch of envy. I don’t want to be a dog. I want to be fully present in the moment like he was.

  I like the idea of having everything that I need to survive in a pack on my back. My food, water, shelter, bedding and clothes are with me. The means of starting a fire and cooking food are there, too. It is enough.


As I marinate in my cubicle, I’m relishing the thought of getting out of here today. First to the house so I can get a quick health check up and EKG from LabCorp to see if I can get my life insurance policy cost cut because of lowered blood pressure and better overall health. When I took out the policy a few years ago, I wasn’t in this good of shape. After that, Aaron and I are hitting the open road (I-74 to be specific) to take Megan’s stuff to her new apartment over by the airport in Cincinnati. It is mostly sunny and 72 degrees out as I write, which is great for being the 8th of March. Phil was right. I’ll be mowing the grass this weekend. My hope is that we don’t get another cold snap that freezes spring’s tender buds.

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