"On telephone poles?" you ask. Yes, it's true, the AT crosses over some back roads as well as some busy roads (including the Mass Turnpike.) Occasionally, there are times when you need to walk along the road for a while before heading back into the woods. But don't be lulled by cars and civilization because your only warning to get back on the Trail is a 2" x 6" white blaze on a random tree (that may or may not have a worn path nearby.)
It's these white blazes alone, that keep you trekking in the right direction. In tricky spots with an awkward turn, you will find two blazes on the same tree (rock, etc.) One blaze is slightly higher (starting about mid-blaze.) If the higher blaze is on the right, the Trail makes a random right turn. Of course, if the left blaze is higher the opposite is true.
In places where the Trail is less obvious, white blazes will be found closer together. Sometimes you can see the next blaze from the one you are standing next to.
At other times, when the Trail is more obvious (at least according to the ATC Trail Runners who paint the blazes) they are more spread out. Sometimes as much as a quarter mile.
This can be frustrating because it is easy to imagine missing a blaze. It's not like you can stop and ask for directions. Some days I only saw two or three people all day. And sometimes they are going the opposite direction.
In these sparsely blazed sections, a white blaze is a beacon calling to you. It easily adds a spring to your step. It also squashes that thought of having to retrace your steps up or down a mountain, just to re-climb from a different angle.
While planning my hike I thought it would be fun (or at least interesting) to create some sort of ritual of touching each blaze as I walked by (or at least counting them.)
Touching each blaze is not practical. In fact it's probably impossible. Most are at eye level, but some are very high up in the trees to be more visible. Some, as I said are on the rocks, which from the bottom of a hill appear to be at eye level, but once you climb to the top, you find that the rock is of course, low to the ground. Trust me, no one wants to bend down to the ground with a 40 pound pack on their back-- no matter how cool a ritual it might be!
So I took to counting my blazes. I got to fifty blazes before I decided it was stupid. I have better things to think about than how many blazes there are from GA to ME.
The lesson here is to plan carefully, but be flexible. Now I am just grateful that they are there. The blazes are a tool or a guide. Not unlike our habits in real life. We build good habits (or bad habits) and these habits guide us in our decision making. We don't think about them much, but they have a huge impact in our lives... This is the White Blaze.
Intersecting with the 2,178.3 miles of white blazed Appalachian Trail is a whole network of Blue Blazed Trails. These trails are mostly maintained by the local Forest and Park Services or by Volunteer Groups.
Mostly, a blue blaze will lead you off the Trail toward a shelter, campground or water source.
Occasionally, a blue blazed trail is a trail unto itself, looping around to connect back to the starting point (often a parking lot) and is situated not far out of a town.
A good example of this is the 24 mile Mohawk Trail in CT. Some of the Mohawk Trail used to be white blazed until the Trail was relocated in 1988.
Now it is a spider web of connecting trails that are great for day hikers of various ability and looking for different levels of challenge.
Thru hikers will follow the blue blazed trails to get into a town to resupply, to treat themselves to a night in a motel (with indoor plumbing and a shower) or even to find a restaurant or bar for "town" food or social interaction.
And then there is the little known Orange Blaze. This is the DETOUR BLAZE. I'll write more about this in the next post: "Breaking the Rules..." where I'll discuss the art of illegal camping and ignoring the Orange Blazes.
Why are you still sitting at your computer? GO OUTSIDE NOW!
Peace and Love,