Monday, July 31, 2006

The Capitol Ltd

Another post from the past that didn't get published.

Lesson learned with Blogger's email-to-post function: wait a while between posts. It takes the blogspot software a bit of time to publish, and there's no queueing. Posts coming in between are lost to the ether.

EDIT: Another lesson learned: this function is worthless. Either that or blogger's email server is ridiculously overwhelmed. It's probably an aging MMX sitting under the water cooler.

Date: Sun Jul 23, 2006 7:24 pm

AMTRAK Capitol Ltd
en route to Harper's Ferry

Coming into Washington DC as a native Floridian and AT hiker was shocking in a number of ways. One was the public transit system. We Floridians eschew things like public transit, emergency rooms, and schools as being part of the global communist conspiracy, so Metrorail seemed like Great Stalin's Ghost himself. It's amazing getting from point A to point B without having to sell your firstborn children to insurance companies.

Second was the fact that, in spite of all the warnings about DC, the bad areas just didn't look that bad, at least as I sped above them on Metrorail. By "that bad" I am thinking of 14th Street in Bradenton. The only place I've seen that looks like 14th Street is currently being blown all to hell by the Israelis. I've only seen Beirut on the news, so I do not know if the bombing is an improvement or not, but in the case of upper B-town, I can say that intelligent munition is just what the area needs.

As a tourist destination, the museums in DC could eat up a week. Monica and I literally raced through three museums, but the American Museum of Art alone would take days to digest fully. Add to that the various monuments, the National Archive, and God knows what else, and you could have a very tiring, very rewarding weeklong family outing. I am pro-tiring and pro-rewarding, and if I had kids, I would be especially pro-tiring when it comes to vacations. Wear earplugs during the day to drown out their exhausted cries, conk those little suckers out.

If you do not care to have a family with you and don't care about things like private bathrooms or air conditioning, I'd also strongly recommend a hostel for the stay in the downtown area. Hilltop Hostel, booked by my fantastic girlfriend Monica, was a very handy 22 dollars per person, and a hundred feet from a Metrorail station.

I am glad to return to the woods. The city was, at times, almost overwhelming, both in the sheer number of people and the annonymity. On the trail, you generally don't pass a single person without having a little chat. It took some conscious thought to not chat up every person I bumped into on the Metro. "Oh, sorry bout that. Say, heard what the weather's going to be doing for the next few days?"

I am also sad to return to the woods. Having been with Monica for five years, it's been difficult being away from her. Reunited, it was astonishing how it felt as though I had never been away. Now, parted again, it is doubly difficult, without even the woods around me. I will see her again in four weeks. During those four weeks I will be flying across the relatively flat mid-Atlantic, twenty mile days being the rule rather than the exception. First I have to get away from the city.

Every hurt that the city inflicts is calculated: such-and-such highway system should inflict so many deaths and mutiliations; that train can discomort only so many; medical treatment is available only for so-and-so but not for such-and-such. I am, for the next hour, still a cell in this vast and malevolent machine. I have been once crushed in the workings of this beast, and now, alone, with a great war brewing, with every kind of evil looming over the Republic, I am apprehensive about its workings and its intent.

Already, though, steel and stone have given way to the countryside. From thousands of feet up, the human world looks the way it truly is, as it exists in Creation. It is so very small, so fragile, that peace and spread of knowledge among all peoples seems inevitable. With a few world wars along the way, of course.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pizza and Convicts

Again, here's another post that didn't make it through Blogger's system. Here it is, somewhat past its freshness date.

Date: Sun Jul 23, 2006 7:24 pm

Pen-Mar Park, MD
Mile 1050

A local pizza joint delivers to Pen-Mar state park, right on the AT, and I couldn't help myself. I ordered a large white pizza and relaxed, chatting with a convict on work crew. He found both my ability and desire to walk a thousand miles ludicrous. I found his desire to perform multiple violent crimes likewise. He was seated at a scenic viewpoint, wilderness and escape not sixty feet away.
"They must trust you guys an awful lot," I said, reminded of the escaped killer in the Senandoahs.
"I'm out pretty soon," he said, "Two months". Looking over his shoulder at the other members of the work crew, he added, "Don't know about them"
I asked him about prison.
"Too many fucking coons", he said, still looking over his shoulder.
I just nodded and tried to look understanding. This was, after all, a violent criminal. But the look on my face must have said something.
"Once you're in, you hook up with the KKK people. It's just what happens. I wasn't prejudiced before I went to prison."
"Same thing happens to public school teachers"
He laughed. Coughing trashy laugh.
If I didn't know this guy had a habit of using his wife as a punching bag and sometime fencing dummy, I might've played a game of pool with him. Hell, I probably have played many, many games of pool with people exactly like him.
My stomach turns, not for the first time, as I realize how much I hate Bradenton. I regret making a joke with the guy.
I saw the pizza car coming, and wished him good day.
"Good luck," he said
"Likewise," I replied.
It was the biggest lie I've told on the trail.


Palmerton, PA
Mile 1245

What will we miss when we're not through-hikers anymore? According to Hiker X (GA-ME 1996): "You'll miss feeling like you do now. You know. Ten foot tall and bulletproof".

He's right, we do feel bulletproof, but not for the reasons he's remembering. That's a lot of romantic nostalgia in his voice. We feel bulletproof because we aren't afraid of bullets anymore. We aren't afraid of bullets because they would probably hurt less than Pennsylvania. Northern Pennsylvania. I know a few hikers who might actually welcome hot lead over the dawning of a fresh, new, rocky 98 degree day.

I was so wrong when I said the rocks here aren't worse than anywhere else. I hadn't been north of Port Clinton yet. I hadn't gone through BMECC's jurisdiction (BMECC is a "climbing" club, not a hiking club, and they route the trail accordingly), and I hadn't touched the Superfund area, which looks exactly like the area depicted in "Road Runner" cartoons. Complete with electric blue rivers, from the contamination. Luckily, so far it is free of plummeting bodies coming to a messy end, concealed by a tiny white "puff". I loved those cartoons.

It's pretty breathtaking too. It's the first time I've felt daredevilish on the trail- I'm not naturally afraid of heights, but some of these boulder scrambles test my nerve. It's its own place.

And what the hell, leaping from boulder to boulder over endless chasms, we might as well feel just a little adolescence.

Just a little bulletproof.

Friday, July 28, 2006

State of Annoyance

Port Clinton, PA
Mile 1203

People complain about the rocks in PA, but really, they are no worse than a lot of Virginia. What gets you about PA is that this is the state in which all the trail annoyances gather to attack you en masse.

1) It's as hot and buggy as the mid-Atlantic. It's making us kind of crazy.
2) Some of the worst climbs on the entire trail (I'm looking at you, Lehigh Gap)
3) Rocks like New Hampshire (sharp enough to cut deep if you are foolish enough to walk to the privy barefoot . . .ahem)
4) Towns are as mean as New England (no showers)
5) Twenty miles of toxic waste. The forest service has considerately covered the AT Superfund sites with Ecoloam, a product containing real human feces. Mmm!
6) For the love of God it's as boring as Virginia.

Put all those things together and you get a state that kicks out as many would-be through hikers in two hundred miles as Virginia kicked out in five hundred fifty. Yellowblazing (i.e., hitchhiking) has gotten to be very popular.

From here it's seventy-six miles to Delaware Water Gap. Might as well get out of here. DWG has a free hostel, and please, Jesus, let it have a shower.

On the bright side, all the recent rain means there is plenty of water. In addition to rocks, PA is also known for thirst. Not so for the class of '06.

Well, less than a thousand miles (971.4) to Katahdin!

The Doyle

Duncannon, PA
Mile 1141 (the mileage in the post from Boiling Springs is not correct- it was obtained from an out-of-date datasheet)

When I was just starting this hike in Georgia, Monica and I ran into a former through hiker who had completed the trail in 2005. His trail name was Porter. When pumping him for information about the Doyle Hotel, he responded, lugubriously, "Oh. The Doyle. It's a hostel with a bar. That's all you need to know"

He was right. A bar is all it's got going for it. I've had better accomodations at trail shelters, for a lot less money, to say nothing of the wonderful free hostels out there. If I didn't have town errands I'd be out of here. Again, beer and liquor color through-hikers' reflections on what is good and not good.

But there's errands to run and laundry to do, so it's best to make them snappy so I don't spend more time at the Doyle than I absolutely have to.

The rest of PA is a hot, rocky, and mean hundred miles, and it won't be punched through as easily.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Stars and Bars

Harper's Ferry, WV
Mile 1008

Harper's Ferry is the most beautiful trail town I've seen yet, largely because it is an historic artifact preserved by the Park Service. Mighty rivers join right at the foot of a commanding church steeple, and cliffs loom like the ghost of history itself from three sides.

I ran into Cud at the Outfitter where we shared some good-natured Southern guffaws. "We're about to enter enemy territory," I said
"Hell yeah," Cud replied, "Comin up out of Virginia they got this big flag, Lincoln all over it, all kinds of stuff like that. Shee-it." Even in his wicking fabrics and lightweight backpack, he looks like he is wearing a gray wool uniform. Cud's southern Georgia accent and overall courtliness overrides the Johnny Reb in him, but it's always there for a true son of the confederacy. Which Cud really is not, thankfully (he's a Good Guy through and through), but it did get me thinking.

On the surface it is peculiar that folks emblazon their homes and vehicles with the flag of America's most dire enemy, the Confederate States of America. It's not so peculiar when you reflect on the fact that the Confederacy, in the minds of many, never really lost. The state song of Maryland ("Maryland, my Maryland") quotes Maryland son John Wilkes Booth- specifically, the words he cried out on shooting Lincoln. Sic semper tyrannis. Virginia should not call in vain.

Then you have a particular Missouri senator who remarked, in an interview with the laid-back white supremecists of Southern Partisan magazine, that we need to fight the idea that "Southern patriots" were "defending a perverted lifestyle". Slavery seems pretty perverted to me, but apparently former Senator and Attorney General John Ashcroft disagrees. If only he could keep his kinky slave fetish in the closet, because it's sort of disturbing reading about public officials being into this kind of thing. It's like finding a vibrator on your grandparents' bedstand. School voucher programs, preposterous drug sentencing (compared with sentencing rules for violent offenders), and pants-height laws all efficiently spell out what John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, and countless others so very much want to say: we don't like the Negroes very much.

So, as Osama bin Laden once observed in a 1998 interview, America is still a nation very much divided. Heaven help us if the Bad Guys get their ministry into the hideous US prison system. Actually, heaven won't help us, but maybe the Aryan Brotherhood will. When I left for the trail, an investigation into AB "stacking" of Florida state prison guards was underway. A federal attorney apparently began wondering why all the guards at Sanford had shamrock tattoos and carried nooses on their keychains. Hey Mr. Fancy Pants Federal Attorney, you ever consider that the AB may be our front line against terrorism?

This divided state . . we haven't even gotten into the sex thing yet, largely because feminists don't know how to point a gun or mix up plastic explosives. Which is a shame, because they're about to repeal the Enlightenment. So long marriage for love. Say hello to marriage for reproduction and, oh, needing a spouse's signed letter to buy condoms or birth control. Or going to jail for selling same. All of which will be revisited by newly sworn reactionaries, courts in power for the next few decades. It'll be a jolly old time when all those Lakewood Ranch soccer moms need a letter from hubby to go to the gynecologist.

But those fair ladies need not worry. They have enough money to hire their own doctors, doctors who won't give a damn about some cockamamie law saying what they can and can't treat. Seventy percent of the country consistently polls as against abortion, but eighty percent of the country wants the choice available to them when their teenage daughter gets knocked up. Instead of being anti-abortion, how about being "anti-letting-your-daughter-go-out-drunk-until-3AM"?

So Harper's Ferry sent my head spinning until I began unconsciously looking for the nearest liquor store. I came back to my senses and headed again into the woods, away from history and those accursed cliffs, at least for the time being. The town was a deathtrap for any force trying to hold it. It is a deathtrap for any hiker who gets too caught up in what it represents. I must focus. Defending the American Way is not what I am doing today. Today I walk.

Tomorrow I visit Monica in Washington, DC.

The Last Mighty

Terrapin Station Hiker Hostel, VA
Mile 950

I am looking ever more forward to three days with my lovely girlfriend Monica in Washington DC. I have put the mighty Shenandoahs (aka 'Shennies' or 'Doahs') behind me with a brace of twenty-plus mile days, the mileage made easier by the Shennies' gentle terrain and the unseasonable cold front we've had come through the area. And, of course, by the fact that Monica waits on the other side.

The Shennies are the last string of 3,000ft+ ridges I will be mounting for some time. There are prominences between here and the Whites that will rise above this altitude, but no sustained ridges. I'm about to enter the dreaded "Deli Country", with its spiralling costs, lack of water, bugs, and Jersey Death Bears. The Shenandoahs are the last mighty, until the Whites rear their feared peaks above my head. Those mountains will present challenges I've never faced, but on the plus side, they're still five hundred miles away.

Shennies Overview
The southern half of the Shenandoahs are pretty darn boring, but very easy hiking. The second half is a bit more difficult, but has some of the best views in Virginia. Why are the Shennies supposedly the most popular stretch of trail among thru-hikers? The answer is beer. Well, beer, restaurants, road access, and honest-to-God trailside full-liquor bars. You can't hike seven miles without coming near a store, and the road is never more than a mile off. Too much civilization for me. I felt a bit like a piece of the wilderness myself. "Look at this guy honey! He's walked all the way from Georgia! Get the camera!"

I saw seven bears in the Shennies, one of them being the second-closest bear encounter I've had in my life. It's hard to beat the first closest, as the closest bear encounter I've ever had was the bear's teeth being inside of me (see the entry titled 'Totem'). I suppose if I was partially digested by a black bear that would beat it, but I've lost enough limbs for a lifetime, thank you very much. Anyway, this close encounter involved me rounding an uphill switchback near Jarman Gap and almost colliding with the animal, a big lone male, damn near in arm's reach. We scared the crap out of each other. I said, "Awk!", he said, "Gurk!". In the time it took for my hand to reach my pepper spray holster, the bear was out of sight. He ran with such power that he sprayed me with clay and rocks from thirty feet away.
Coming off Loft Mountain, I saw another notable bear, halfway up a dead tree, rocking violently back and forth in an effort to bring it down (and presumably to eat the grubs inside). I never knew bears of that size could climb. It also indicated a level of planning I didn't think bears posessed. They're a bit smarter than I thought. Overall, bears in the Shennies are also quite a bit bigger than their relatives in the Smokies.

An escaped killer made his way to the Shenandoah National Park yesterday, and was attempting to pass through the area disguised as a section hiker. Rangers with assault weapons and helicopters canvassed the area. One well-armed ranger seemed pretty casual about it. "He'll get hungry and come in, they always do after they run in the woods". I complimented his choice of rifle sight. He complimented my choice of hairstyle. "No one's gonna come near you looking like that". I got my head shaved bald in Waynesboro. Explains how I always get so much shelter space. That, and the snoring.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Waynesboro, VA
Mile 842

DISCLAIMER: Some of this post may contain disturbing material.

There's a fellow I met on the trail a few weeks back, whose name I will be keeping from this account, as he has quite a few aquaintances that are off their freaking rockers. I'll call him Trackless, or Track, for short.

A former through-hiker, Track feels the need (as many former AT hikers do) to help fellow hikers. Lord knows Track's charges need it.

There's Marge, the paranoid schizophrenic who, after hiking the trail, decided that she was the real reason behind Edward's abdication in the middle of the last century. Something about being a lost lovechild or queen of England. The Lindberg baby was also involved, but as I was not writing the whole story down as Track recollected it, I've completely forgotten how that tied in. I regret my decision to not take notes, because the whole thing was incredible. Track has frequently had to rescue other hikers from Marge's . . . Accusations.

MARGE (seemingly normal): Did you see the photo montage on Reagan last night? They must have had that all made up, just waiting for him to pass away. How awful!
HIKER: Actually, one of my best friends works for CNN, and she can . .

Track was worried about poor Marge, as she was not in her usual hideyholes. I shared his worry. Given our nation's enlightened attitudes on mental illness, chances are Marge is in jail. It could be worse, I said to Track. At least she's white.

Another guy I'm not even going to try hiding the identity of, because he sounds like a jerk. Leonard something. Bill Bryson featured him under a pseudonym in his AT classic, "A Walk in the Woods", but heaven help me if I can remember the pseudonym.

One of Leonard's standard shenanigans was walking up to people's tents in the middle of the night, unzipping doors and shining his flashlight in their faces, proclaiming, "You're not gonna make it" . . ."You'll make it" . . . "You're not gonna make it". Supposedly, Track said, he was passing judgement on who would or would not complete the trail. I mentioned that it sounded like a good way of getting a few hollowpoints in the chest.

This Leonard character goes by the name "HEELED" now, as he's spent several months in a mental institution after spraying female hikers with his own semen. Unsurprisingly, HEELED is also a former through-hiker.

The good thing is that all these wards of Track were probably terminally unhinged before they made their hike. At least now they can live semi-peacefully in the Virginia woods, watched over by Track.

Mind them well, Madkeeper.

The Missing

Rusty's Hard Time Hollow, VA
Mile 828

Rusty's Hard Time Hollow is run by none other than a man named Rusty, who someow has direct private road access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. He had made noises about selling his land, as he is getting older and poorer, and is less able to maintain the place. It'd probably help if he didn't have a couple score of different livestock scattered around, or if he didn't insist on doing his own welding. God did not intend for molten metal to be used in toilet repair, for example.

Lately he's been trying to send out the message that he's looking for a protege. Young, responsible hard worker to work for room and board and eventual inheritance of an 18 acre estate on the Virginia Blue Ridge. There's no takers. Everyone is either already tied up in the larger world or is so feckless there's no hope in entrusting them with anything more than maintaining the pig trench. From my various employer friends I've talked to, it's a common failing in young men these days. They're not dumb or lazy, they just don't seem to care about what they are doing.

And really, who can blame them for not being interested in participating in this country's economy? With a third of the money supply owned by the Chinese, another quarter by the Sauds, and the American capital manufacturing capacity running at around the same level as the Vatican's, you're left with spending the rest of your life as a stockboy at Wal-Mart. Oh yay. Instead of looking back on a day's work and saying, "I helped build that automobile", or "that plane flew because of me", our young worker can say with pride, "I brought low, low prices to Backofnowheresville, Virginia". Gah.

Unsurprisingly, our young workers say, "No, thank you"- that is, the ones not already sucked into the global marketplace. Perhaps, someday, when the Arabs and the Chinese yank their support for our currency (making the US economy look like Weimar Germany on a bad day), and the shiny happy global capitalism movement is shown to be the farce it truly is (the Chinese don't 'globalize'- the Chinese 'sinofy'), there will be a whole crop of energized Americans, working for their country and other things that matter. As opposed to pumping oceans of money into the festering pieholes of the Saud regime.

I'm betting that on that day there will be some young Rustys in that crew, working the Hard Time Hollow, and slopping that damn pig outside the outhouse. We await our young men, the prodigal, the missing, and we will greet them when they return.