Pop Tarts & Poison Ivy

My summer spent working on the Appalachian Trail.

Results of Ridgerunning:

(A photo essay)

R.I.P., boots.

Shweet watch tan?

Trunk chaos.

Poor nutrition.

So many paperbacks.

Thru-hiker’s digitz?

Laundromat parties.

And croquet parties! 

Klipspringer says MUSH!

One unofficial job of a ridgerunner is playing messenger. It is a sometimes stressful (wait… who was I supposed to tell that to again?), sometimes rewarding task.

Recall a recent encounter of the adorable variety:

One morning I pass an elderly gentleman who thru-hiked way back when and is now doing a section hike with one of his old thru-hiking buddies. We stop to chat, and I find out that they both spent the night at the last shelter but his friend had yet to begin packing up to leave by the time he was heading out.

"When you see Farmer, can you tell him Klipspringer says ‘mush’?" he asks me.

A couple miles down the trail I pass another hiker of about the same age. “Are you Farmer?” I ask him.

"Yes…" he replies.

"Klipspringer says MUSH!" I tell him. To which he throws his head back and lets out a giant laugh.

"I haven’t heard that in years!” he says with a smile. And he starts hiking a little faster to catch up with his old friend.

Professional Blogging?

Okay, so it’s not exactly professional because I’m not getting paid for it. But it is the beginning of something exciting!


My Coffee Shop Fail

Ridges and summits are beautiful spots for snacks or naps, but going into town is sometimes the best break one can take as a ridgerunner (never underestimate the powers of air-conditioning and ice cream). It is also a necessary expedition, as we are out for long periods of time and need to replenish our food supplies.

The two major trail towns in Connecticut are Kent and Salisbury, and they can only be described as quintessentially “New England” (white picket fences, Volvos in the driveway, etc.). 

Unfortunately, as a smelly backpacker among the showered and powdered upper-middle class, I feel like I’m trespassing even when I step into the frozen food section of the grocery store.

To combat my poorly-groomed persona, I try to be as friendly as possible. Smiles, waves, door-holding, etc. And it works. I’ve talked to a bunch of people about my job (general reply: “I’m so jealous”), and possibly even convinced a few to become AMC members. 

Problem: Coffee Shop Guy is apparently immune to my charm.

The Roast in Salisbury in my favorite resting place (good coffee and shady outdoor seating), and I thought it would be cool to get to know the people who worked there, perhaps develop a “will you be wanting your usual blueberry muffin today?” type relationship. So early on in the summer I introduced myself to the guy behind the counter…

"Hi, I’m Rachel." [SMILE] "I’m working on a nearby section of the Appalachian Trail this summer and I love coffee, so I’ll be stopping in often… I hope I don’t smell too bad." (Okay, so a little awkward. But full of good intentions.)

Coffee Shop Guy’s response? “Oh. Hi.” After an awkward pause and an “okay… see you around then” (on my part, not his) I returned defeatedly to my spot outside. We haven’t talked since. 

From the Woods… to Those Other Woods

On my days off from hiking, I like to go hiking.

(It’s nice not having to wear my smelly ridgerunner shirt all the time)

This past week, my dad and I did a four-day backpacking trip in the White Mountains. It was awesome spending so much time hiking above tree line with a light breeze and beautiful panoramic views… until the weather shifted and we had to hike seven miles completely exposed on a ridge during a storm to get to our shelter. 

(Hello from the summit of Mt. Washington!)

But besides that less-than-enjoyable section, the trip was a success. Perhaps the coolest part was running into some thru-hikers that I’d met in Connecticut who remembered me. HOLLER!

Things I am bad at…

1. Night hiking. How am I supposed to keep track of my feet and the blazes? It is very hard and I am far too clumsy for it. 

2. Rationing food. Sometimes I start eating and I just can’t stop. On my last day out in the woods I am usually doing something desperate like eating peanut butter with a spoon. 

3. Telling people to put their dogs on leashes. They are so much happier when they can run freeee.

4. Sewing. My ridgerunner patch is falling off. Good thing I sewed it on with bright purple thread, so it still has style in its disrepair. 

Hello SOBO!

"Is there a waterfall at Sages Ravine?" one thru-hiker asked me yesterday, when motivation and Snickers bars melted in the mid-90s heat.

"Yeah, there is…but that’s about seven miles south of here," I answered with an apologetic smile. "You must have hiked right past it."

Wrong. I am so used to thru-hikers traveling from south to north, but this month marked the beginning of the south-bounder (“sobo”) season in Massachusetts, and I’ve begun to encounter those who started at Katahdin and are working their way downwards.

What this means: I get confused and accidentally tell people that they missed waterfalls that they have yet to encounter. I have to adjust my mindset.

Meet T. Sprinkle

I’m not the only ridgerunner in my section…


Tristan Sprenkle (a.k.a. T. Sprinkle) hails from the small town of Kramer, Pennsylvania. “We have a gas station and a pizza place,” he says. “If you want anything that’s not there you have to drive to the next town. But the pizza is pretty awesome.”

This statement illustrates Sprenkle’s optimistic, if sometimes contradictory, take on life: Sprenkle is a vegan hunter who won’t eat cheese but will eat squirrels if he killed them himself, and he has a giant Optimus Prime tattoo across his stomach but hates the Transformers movies. “I grew up watching the cartoons and I have the comic books,” he says. “They ruined my childhood with those movies.”

Sprenkle embraces an ultra-lightweight approach to hiking by designing and sewing his own his own pack and sleeping bag that weighs only 13.8 ounces… but carries around an 1,444 page copy of War and Peace. “I’m determined to finish it by the end of the summer,” he says.

An avid reader, Sprenkle has read every work of fiction by Edward Abbey at least three times, and he was almost an English major (and a photography major, and an informational technology major) before he eventually graduated with a degree in environmental science. He is certified to install solar panels in homes, and he spent a summer surveying invasive asian beetle populations.

“I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” Sprenkle says. But in the meantime, he is enjoying his summer spent in the woods. “I get to live outside,” he says. “This is the perfect job.”

On his days off, Sprenkle recovers from hiking 16 miles a day by exercising as little as possible. “I once watched the first fifteen minutes of Biker Boys—the worst movie ever—because I didn’t have a remote.”

Sprenkle is preparing for post-season by ordering dried food in bulk from Mormon websites. “I just want to make sure I don’t starve.”


Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

Favorite Hiking Food: Berry Blast Oreos

Favorite Biggie Song: “Gimme the Loot.’”

Least Favorite Article of Clothing: Socks. “They make my feet feel claustrophobic.”

Best moment on the trail this summer: “Going to sleep listening to a pack of howling coyotes,” he says. “That was a great night.”

The Ginger Phenomenon

It’s about halfway through the season and I’m beginning to notice a pattern: the amount of red-headed male thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail… is disproportionately high.

I find freckles cute and sunburns endearing, thus in everyday life I have found myself wondering, “where are all the red-headed boys?” They’re not at the gas station or the grocery store, the library or the corner cafe.

And then I started work on the Appalachian Trail and I realized—it’s because they’re all out hiking.

As a ridgerunner, I keep track of the number of thru-hikers, overnight hikers, and day hikers I pass on the trail. But recently I’ve added a new sub-category beneath thru-hikers: red-headed males.

At least one in four men that I meet on the trail has red hair, while the national average for red-heads (male and female) falls somewhere between two and six percent.

What could explain this disparate percentage? “I think it’s our fiery passion for life,” says Sniffer, an undeniably ginger thru-hiker from Maine. Um, okay. But I have another theory.

Almost all of the men hiking from Georgia to Maine have beards. This makes sense, as there are few opportunities to shave on the trail. Almost all of these beards are noticeably more vibrant than their accompanying head-hair.

In this way, borderline auburns become distinct red-heads and strawberry-blondes become just plain strawberry. It is almost as if the red hue of the beard reflects itself across the rest of their head, and their persona.

If this theory proves correct… if all the men in the “real world” decided to grow beards, the world would be a noticeably rosier place.

Lost & Found

As ridgerunners, one of our jobs is to pick up any trash we find along the trail. And we’ve found some interesting things, including….

1. A plastic Buddha figurine.

2. A baby blue 3-speed bicycle.

3. Half a deer (no sign of the other half).

4. A winter sled.

5. A straw sombrero, which is now the official AMC 15-passenger van driving hat.

6. …And a PUPPY!

(This is actually a sad story: someone abandoned a puppy in the woods. But it has a happy ending: Caleb “I don’t usually brag about myself but I think I’d be an awesome dog owner” Jackson adopted her! They make an adorable couple.)