The Return of Squiggly Sticks

When I announced to friends and family that I was moving to Virginia and looking forward to hiking the hundreds of miles of trails in this state, many of them had the same initial reaction: venomous snakes! Having lived eleven years in Missouri and run on various trails, I’m no stranger to the occasional copperhead. I may even have encountered a timber rattler or two; I blasted past several diamond-patterned slithery serpents without stopping to identify their type.

But during the decades I lived in Maine, I only recall seeing three snakes. And there are no venomous ones native to the frozen tundra there. So I’ve grown complacent over the last six years, knowing that any “squiggly stick” I encounter is overwhelmingly likely to be just that.

The other morning I was out for a run in my new home state and, in the early morning light, approached a squiggly stick in the middle of a quiet street. At first I wasn’t concerned, then I remembered where I was and slowed. As I grew nearer, I was able to identify the critter stretched out on the asphalt in front of me: It was a squiggly stick. Relieved, I booted it to the grass and kept on running.

It was an important reminder that I’m back in the land of venom-totin’ pit vipers. And not every squiggly stick I encounter will be one, especially when I strap on a pack and head to the lush greenery of the Virginia woods…


I Reverted. For One Day

My previous two posts displayed, in photographic detail, the gradual onset of spring as it dropped onto my favorite local running (and now hiking) trail. This week I had planned to hike and shoot part three, which would show the snow completely gone from both the approach road and the vast majority of the woods track.

But my scheduled hiking day also featured the running of the 121st Boston Marathon.

All marathon runners know and appreciate the history of Boston whether or not they’ve actually run it. We’re all familiar with the story of Kathrine Switzer, the pioneer who snuck into the field as “K.V. Switzer” and literally battled her way to the finish line as the first woman to officially conquer the famed point-to-point course. The name John A. “Johnny” Kelley, finisher of 61 Bostons, is revered among marathoners. Personally, I cruised the last ten miles of the 2000 edition with a dear friend (RIP “Rocket”) running his first of ten Boston Marathons, was heartbroken and made anxious by the bombings in 2013 (I knew six people running the race that day), and bounced up and down on my stool and choked back tears at the local Buffalo Wild Wings the following April as Meb Keflezighi conquered a talented group to become the first American to win Boston in over thirty years.

Boston Strong.

So on the day I had planned to do my third and final hike in the “Buzz off, snow!” series, this former marathoner ran instead. I did manage to run on the woods trail, and it would have been interesting to photograph the stark difference in snow/ice cover from last week to this, but Monday needed to be about honoring my departed friend “Rocket” and those lost and injured in ’13, and about reliving the emotional triumph of watching Meb turn onto Boylston and race towards history.

Reacquiring the Marathoner Mentality

Day hiking has been bad for my whatever-it-takes mentality. Okay, that’s probably not fair, as my weather-related slackadaisical attitude started when I stopped training for marathons which, as the calendar snottily points out, was a few years before my interest in backpacking began.

A marathon features a set date, typically chosen by a combination of tradition and the good sense of the race director. Given that there is a potential for any sort of weather on that date, it is prudent to train in everything, just in case. To that end, I’ve suffered -30F wind chills, 115F heat indices, sheets of rain, sleet, blizzard conditions with snow and 60MPH wind gusts, and more. One sure thing about a 26.2 mile race: Given the logistics required to set it up, only an extreme natural disaster will prevent its taking place.

I sat inside the other day waiting for the rain to stop before I ventured out for a weighted practice hike. It was 40 degrees, foggy, rainy with a light breeze. It would have given me the chance to test out the rain cover on my trusty Kestrel 28. And given me a taste of a spring/fall hike on the AT. One sure thing about the Appalachian Trail: It rains there. Often.

So why the waiting? I’ve lost the marathoner mentality. And I need to reacquire it, and quickly. Because, as sure as the AT runs from Georgia to Maine, I’m going to need it. Day hikes can be spontaneous and cherry-picked around nice weather, but I’ll have to schedule my 3-10 day jaunts on the Trail in advance, and I can guarantee that I won’t see 3-10 days of perfect sunshine, even if the forecast predicts it. Pop-up showers (not to mention sleet and snow) are a thing under the tree canopy that makes up the majority of the Trail.

And they’ll happen. Whether I’m ready for them or not.