Appalachian Trail

By Frank Gregory

High & Dry The Appalachian Trail is marked by white painted rectangles on trees, rocks, telephone poles, etc. These "blazes" run the entire length from Maine to Georgia. Each section of trail is maintained by different groups of interested people, from individuals to local hiking clubs to college outing clubs. The lowlands between The White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont on the Appalachian Trail is a mixture of small local trails, old logging roads, dirt roads, and rural maintained roads. The trail follows a meandering route that is in constant revision due to property transfers, local town projects and the desire to keep the trail as far away from civilization as possible. Very often the trail follows "right of way" access through someone's property, and the paint blaze will be on the side of a house, old barn, chicken coop, garage or if the property owner doesn't like the arrangement, a large doghouse complete with large dog. A good portion of trail on either side of the Connecticut River is maintained (or not) by the Dartmouth Outing Club, from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. This club is an older organization than the Appalachian Trail itself. The DOC has their own blaze system which is orange and black stripes in different combinations depending upon the trail you are on. These trails intersect and/or merge with the A.T. at different times. In some places the paint blazes have not been maintained very well and navigation can become difficult at best and virtually impossible at worst.

On a brittle dry afternoon, walking on an old logging road in a large oak-hickory forest, I came across the carcass of a 1930 Ford with a 12 inch diameter tree growing out of the engine compartment. It was late autumn and the leaves were raining down like flocks of moths. The sun shone brightly and the shadows from the branches and millions of drifting leaves made the ground appear to move like water. I was getting hungry after hiking all morning and the noise of the dry leaves landing on each other sounded like a steak frying. I sat down next to the car to cook some soup for lunch and get my bearings. All day long I had heard the muffled concussions of blasting very off in the distance, which was not all that uncommon. Sitting there drinking my soup I noticed that the blasting had stopped and looked at my watch. It was later than I thought, going on four- thirty. I quickly finished up and started walking again. By my calculations the next shelter was four or so miles away. I could camp anywhere, but the next shelter was built at the only spring for miles around and I hadn't brought enough water with me to spend the night.

These old logging roads sometimes petered out into narrow paths. At other times they were veritable mazes of forks and intersections. This particular afternoon I started to become concerned when I passed a unique glacial erratic boulder...and recognized it. I had traveled in an enormous circle and had absolutely no idea where I was. The maps I had with me were no help because many of these old roads just weren't on them. In hopes of being led to civilization I picked a road with little underbrush and started down it. The sun was lower and shone through the trees from the side turning everything yellow-orange, and I imagined it would be a very dry, cold night on the ground. The power of suggestion is strong and I was getting thirstier and thirstier with every step. Through my loud curses at the DOC I didn't hear the low rumble until the truck was just behind me. A voice said, "Hey, you!...You wanna a beer?"

The blasting crew decided to take a short cut home, drink some beer and do some four wheeling in the woods. " You gotta be kidding!" I hopped in the back of the old beat up pickup, sat on a crate of dynamite and thoroughly enjoyed my Rolling Rock, rolling over the rocks and stumps.