Monday, May 18, 2009

Breaking the Rules...

OK, I admit that in the big picture I am new to this long distance hiking.  I have always been a day hiker:  climb up the mountain, take pictures, eat lunch, read a little, take more pictures (in the different light), then climb back down, go home and sleep in my nice comfortable bed.

So to prepare for this hike I did some research.  And, I found out that there are rules.  Now, I appreciate rules.  I'm a "rules" kind of guy.  In fact, many of the rules to hiking the AT are similar to my own personal rules.  

For example; "Leave No Trace."  This is a good rule.  They say, "Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures."  This is a good rule and I agree with it.  In other words-- don't litter.  Whatever crap you bring into the woods, be sure to bring that crap back out.  That includes your cigarette butts!  No offense to anyone who might be reading here, but smokers are the worst offenders.  Maybe I'll make that rant in a future post, but for now I'll step down off my soap box.  You get my point.  

Some other good rules:  Be Respectful.  Be Courteous.  Share.  We all want to have fun, but not at the expense of others.  Sometimes "fun" can be loud.  Generally 9 PM is considered quiet time.  Most hikers wake up with the sunrise.  

On the subject of sharing shelters...  They say most shelters sleep six (but whoever decided that was thinking about Dopey, Sneezy, Doc and the gang.)  But they really sleep three or four comfortably.  But the rule of thumb is:  on a rainy night, the shelter is not full until everyone is inside.

Enough about Rules for now-- I could do a whole post on Trail Ethics.  Generally speaking, the people walking the Trail are some of the friendliest, most down to earth folks you will ever meet.

The point that I want to make today is that sometimes you HAVE to break the rules-- and sometimes you CHOOSE to break the rules.  Let me start with having to break the rules.

The day I got dropped off for this section turned into an adventure of its own.  My mother, my niece, and my nephew were nice enough to make the road trip with me to a deep dark corner of Western CT near the NY border.

As a way to thank them, I offered to treat us all to dinner.  What was supposed to be a quick stop turned into a marathon thanks to the worst waitress of all time.  In the spirit of always trying to be positive and "looking at the bright side," I will spare you the details of that nightmare.  

The end result was that it was VERY dark outside by the time we finally escaped from the restaurant.  

You have to understand that in this little part of the universe, there are no street lights and the roads are not well signed.  The people who live there grew up there.  They already know the names of the streets-- so why clutter up the countryside with signs?  

Eventually we did come to a sign that said, "State Park on right."  There was a nice big parking lot (just like the guide book said there would be.)  So we pulled in.

It was a cloudy overcast night so there was no moon and we couldn't see past the circle of light generated by the car.  

We jokingly took pictures in the dark which almost came out thanks to the flash, but we could not see what was in the view finder until the flash went off.  Then we said our goodbyes (which is an event all its own.)  At family gatherings the goodbyes can take as long as the main event.  It was not too bad on this night as there were only four of us and I really wanted to get them back on the road home.  

So I unloaded my gear from the trunk-- including my trusty head lamp (which is awesome!)  I could see some of the fear leaving my Mom's eyes when she saw how powerful my headlamp was.

Finally they were on their way home and I made my way into the Park.  I was reassured when I came to the typical sign that you find in these kinds of parks with a map showing the different trails and landmarks.  But just for a minute... because that's when I realized my dilemma.  

The map sign clearly stated that I was in Kent State Park which is one of those dawn to dusk day hiking parks with no camping allowed.  To make matters worse, according to my map, the Appalachian Trail is on the other side of the river!  

This is a time for decision making.  Do I (1) use the cell phone to have them come back to get me, consider this a fun day with the family and try again tomorrow?  (2) Brave the unlit (no sidewalked) country roads in Western CT at this late hour?  Or (3) make a conscious decision to break the rules and camp out in a no camping park?

You guessed it... the big winner is option #3!  

I'm sure the family would have been happy to come back for me.  We all would have added just one more laugh to the many laughs we enjoyed on the ride out, but it was already late and I think they were tortured enough for one day by our waitress earlier-- so option #1 was not really acceptable to me.  Option #2:  Too dangerous.  I like adventure but not necessarily life risking adventure.  That's why I do indoor sky diving and don't jump out of perfectly good airplanes!  

That leaves option #3.  I followed the powerful beam of my headlamp into the woods, being careful to stop moving and turn the light off whenever I heard a car coming.  No need to attract any authority figures.  I went fairly deep into the woods , almost to  the top of the mountain.  I didn't go over the top as I was just going to have to climb back down in the morning to make my way to the AT.

Somewhere near the top I came across a nice flat, leaf covered clearing just off the side of the trail in the center of an outcropping of rocks to block the wind.  And to add to the experience, I could hear a babbling brook not far in the distance.  Perfect.  

This is the first time I ever set up camp in the dark, but the headlamp made the job easy.  I even found the perfect tree (not too close/not too far) to hang my bear bag.  

After making a few phone calls to find everyone safely home, I slept like a baby.  It was beautiful.  I considered removing the top cover of my Big Agnes tent to sleep with just the netting, but realized that with the cloudy sky I wouldn't be able to see any stars and there was the potential of rain-- so I left the cover on.  

As a side note:  I didn't stake my tent because I didn't want to leave holes in the ground so close to the trail.  "Leave No Trace."  Rule #1 (especially when you are bordering on the criminal.)  

In the morning I broke camp at first light so I could be gone by the time the rangers came through.  I fluffed up the leaves so no one would ever know I was there and carried my pack down a little way to a bench overlooking my babbling brook to consult my maps.  

To my absolute delight, I found out that my "babbling brook" was a raging waterfall.  It's the last picture I took before my batteries died.  You can see this photo in the previous post.

As I was consulting my maps the first two hikers of the day stopped at my waterfall.  As it turned out they weren't hikers at all.  They were Trail Angels.  You can read their story in an upcoming post on "Trail Angels."

My Kent State Park story is an example of having to break the rules.  Next is a story of choosing to break the rules.

Right now in CT there is a 3-mile Orange Blazed Detour on the AT at the road crossing over U.S. 7 near Conn. 112, just below Sharon Mountain.  This detour, according to the southbounders I passed and/or camped with, follows a country road that is nice enough (for city folks) but still a road.  Had there been a store to buy batteries or a restaurant to sit in (while my phone was charging...) I would have been happy to go the extra three miles.  There are neither.

But, again according to the southbounders, cars are driving across the bridge.  It's just closed to pedestrian traffic.  

If I walk three miles out of my way I could still make it to a campsite by nightfall.  But if I choose to ignore the Orange Blazed  Detour, I could make it to the next shelter!  

At the road crossing where the detour is, I met John who owns the garage at the intersection  and Phil (the auto detail guy).  You can read their stories in the "Trail Angel" post when I get to that.  For now let's just say they gave me the information I needed to get across the bridge to ignore the detour.

Happily, I am uploading this post from home and not from the Danbury Prison.  Obviously I made it across and continued to follow the original White Blazes without incident.  Some of the other hikers were saying that they thought hitchhiking was illegal in CT but that if you stand at the side of the road and look pathetic enough, sometimes people will offer you a ride (which is very different from hitchhiking.)  

But I just chose to walk right across.  If you are going to break the rules-- do it like you mean it.  There is an old Buddhist saying:  "Whenever you sit, sit.  Whenever you stand, stand.  Whatever you do-- don't wobble."  In other words, if you make a mistake (or in this case- break a rule) do it with the full force of your whole being.  Or as I like to say, "Live life on purpose!"  In dance we have a similar term:  "Own the movement."  Meaning don't be hesitant in your dancing.  Move with conviction, in a way that says, "I meant to do that."  

So there you have the difference between HAVING to break the rules, and CHOOSING to break the rules.  Hopefully you won't think too badly of me for being a radical rule breaker.  Especially since I would break both of these rules again in similar circumstances. 

Having mentioned so many "Trail Angels" I think that should be the focus of my next post.  

I have also decided that I will continue to do 3-5 day sections.  This seems to be comfortable for the legs.  And being in New England it is fairly easy to access many sections of the Trail.

Hope you are enjoying my adventure as much as I am. 

Peace and Love,

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