MakerMask: A New Adventure

I never thought my own struggles with occupational asthma or MacGyvering back-country masks for wildfire smoke on the PCT (2014) and CDT (2018) would come in handy in a global health crisis, but here we are…

I am putting to good use a decade of research and background into respiratory health, the science of particle sizes, models of particle dispersal patterns, depth of penetration into the lungs, and a very personal relationship with N95s to work with a team of volunteers on the MakerMask project.

Early in March (right after my last post), I started making and fit-testing prototypes for science-driven mask designs. On March 17th, I mailed four prototypes to @ATOR Labs in Florida for preliminary lab validation. Today, MakerMask has two patterns on our website – makermask.org — and a third design in the pipeline.

MakerMask Prototype Development

“MakerMask: Fit” and “MakerMask: Surge” prototype development using NWPP from a New England Patriots bag. After discovering most elastics for home sewers include latex and don’t withstand sterilization, more recent models use latex-free cloth ties.

Four key lessons:

  1. Nonwoven polypropylene (NWPP) provides better droplet protection than cotton, which is especially relevant in a droplet-transmitted pandemic. NWPP is the material of choice for commercial medical-grade masks. Water-resistant NWPP outer layers block the droplets that can carry viruses from coughs and sneezes, while allowing for vital airflow. Reusable grocery bags are an accessible source of NWPP.
  2. Certified N95 masks with valid fit tests are a critical resource for our front line communities, and the supply chain for those materials is stretched thin. Single layer NWPP covers can extend the lifetime of our limited stocks of commercial-grade masks.
  3. Latex-free designs are important, especially in clinical settings. Cloth ties or bias tape have advantages over elastic straps b/c they don’t contain latex allergens and can be sterilized without heat damage. Look for designs that can be home-sterilized by boiling before community use or be sterilized in autoclaves for larger scale use.
  4. This impacts all of our communities; we all can help; and I need your help. In addition to sewists, MakerMask is seeking volunteer team members to help with mask testing, communications, project management, and IT. I also need help from fellow researchers, clinicians, and friends who can use these masks and help get the word out about the importance of science-driven, clinically relevant designs. Check out https://makermask.org/contribute/ if you can offer help!

Thank you and stay safe!

"MakerMask: Surge"

The MakerMask:Surge, shown here in the snow last week was designed to provide droplet protection, to be latex-free, home sterilizable, and relatizely easy to construct.

Links with MakerMask in the News:

 

Face Masks & Respirators: Insights from An Asthmatic Adventurer

Face Masks & Respirators: Insights from An Asthmatic Adventurer

Wearing my N-95 on the CDT

Wearing my Vogmask N-95 respirator during my 2018 CDT thru-hike.

As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe (click here for the latest numbers from the WHO), there is a sudden spike in interest in the use of face masks and respirators for personal use and as personal protective equipment (PPE). Masks/respirators are specifically designed for different tasks, and like most safety gear, they are only effective if you know what to use, when to use them, and how to use them. In this post I share info about:

  1. Masks/respirators: COVID-19 (click here for WHO guidance (pdf): Rational use of personal protective equipment for COVID-19)
  2. Masks/respirators: Personal Use and Backpacking (including a review of the Vogmask N99 that I carried on my CDT thru-hike)

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Escalante Petrified Forest – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah (Day 2)

Escalante Petrified Forest – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah (Day 2)

Sleeping Rainbows

Two logs of petrified wood (purple, yellow, orange, and red) in the snow at the low-point of the Sleeping Rainbows Trail

Rock-hounding is strictly forbidden. Collecting petrified wood and/or rocks of any kind within the boundaries of Escalante Petrified Forest is strictly forbidden. As of 2020, there are plenty of places in Utah where you can go and respectfully collect small amounts of petrified wood for your personal collections (click here for details or check with local BLM offices), but this is not one of them.

Trip Report: Escalante Petrified State Forest

  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Activity: Winter Day Hiking
  • Day-Use Fee: $8, payable at self-pay station
  • Trail Name(s): Petrified Forest and Sleeping Rainbows Loop (1.75 miles total)
    1. Petrified Forest Trail (1 mile loop), rapidly ascends 200 feet before winding lazily across a mesa littered with petrified wood; Trail Conditions: a muddy mess with occasional intervals of snow and ice; I recommend avoiding it on warm (above freezing) afternoons and in the spring
    2. Sleeping Rainbows Trail ( 0.75 miles) loop off of the Petrified Forest Trail at the top of the mesa; this rougher, less-trafficked trail steeply descends off of the back of the mesa to an overlook before rapidly returning to the top of the mesa and the Petrified Forest Trail. Trail Conditions: a steep snowy scramble with fresh untracked snow of variable depths (2″ and 24″) between rocks and boulders (spoiler alert: some of the boulders are petrified wood).
  • Location: Southern Utah between Bryce Canyon National Park and Capital Reef National Park (Two miles northwest of the town of Escalante off State Route 12). Address: 710 N. Reservoir Road, EscalanteUT 84726
  • Access and Amenities (winter): Parking lots were plowed and completely empty, roads were mostly plowed. The reservoir was completely frozen with 8″ thick ice, so I was surprised to find functioning water spigots even though the temperatures were above freezing (I hosed off my very muddy boots before returning to my car)
    • Campgrounds: Open and 100% empty ($20 per night, $28 for RVs/hook-ups);
    • Visitor Center: Closed the entire day I was there

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Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 2

Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 2

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The colorful pre-dawn light at Sunrise Point, showing the stark difference between the snowy Northern slopes, and the orange and red rocks and sands of the Southern slopes (Bryce Canyon National Park, January 28, 2020)

Watching the sunrise from the rim at Bryce Canyon National Park should be on your bucket list. I caught the sunrise both from the rim (Inspiration Point on Day 1) and below the rim among the hoodoos (Queen’s Garden Trail on Day 2). I recommend doing both.

Trip Report: Bryce Canyon National Park (Day 2)

  • Date: January 28, 2020
  • Activity: Winter Hiking, 2 separate day hikes
  • Weather: 3℉ at start; 17℉ at finish
  • Trail Name(s):
    1. Queen’s Garden Trail and Navajo Loop Combination (2.4 mile loop) including:
      • Queen’s Garden Trail (0.8 miles): I descended 320 feet and 0.6 miles on this trail, and then another 0.1 miles each way, out-and-back (0.2 miles) to the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo; packed powder and ice, zero people
      • Queen’s Garden Trail to Navajo Loop (0.7 miles): snowier trail with less evidence of traffic, zero people
      • Navajo Trail to Sunset Point via 2 Bridges (0.4 miles): very crowded (dozens of people); icy; mountain lion tracks
      • Rim Trail: Sunset Point to Sunrise Point (0.5 miles) snowy; less crowded
    2. Mossy Cave Trail (1.0 mile): lightly trafficked trail with packed snow and ice; less crowded than the Navajo Loop Trail, fewer hoodoos, lots of history
  • Trail Conditions: Packed powder and  ice. Light traction (microspikes) recommended; mountain lion tracks on the Navajo Loop Trail and Mossy Cave Trail
  • Parking/Access: Roads and parking lots were plowed, but Rainbow Gate remained closed while I was there. Parking was easy.
  • Background about Bryce: For information about the history, geology, and terms used when discussing Bryce, see my previous post: What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?
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The sunrise from the snowy Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce (camera: Sony α6000)

Sunrise Point

I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm went off, excited about getting up and out to Bryce to catch the sunrise despite the frigid temperature (3℉ / -16C). It was so cold that I didn’t expect much company at Sunrise Point. I was wrong. The overlook was jam-packed with folks with tripods waiting for a perfect sunrise shot of Bryce’s Amphitheater. It was too crowded for my taste, so I decided to hike down the trail just for a sec… to get away from the crowds… maybe just down to the first hoodoos?

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The first rays of the sun hitting the hoodoos on the Queen’s Garden Trail (Sony α6000)

Queen’s Garden Trail

Sunrise below the rim was beautiful, and I had the trail to all to myself as I wended my way through the hoodoos, each one turning to gold as soon as it was hit by the rays of the sun. I was struck by the mythical beauty of it, imagining that I was walking through a valley of petrified giants, turned to gold by the Midas Touch of the sun. As I hiked, I tried to sort through the mash-up of folklore and stories that all seemed applicable, but it didn’t quite sum up to a coherent picture:

  • Petrified Giants: the Scottish and Cornish lore of my ancestors includes stories of landmarks formed by the petrification of giants who were turned to stone as punishment for their misdeeds (e.g. the giants that refused “to become Christians” that became The Stone Circle at Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Scotland and The Merry Maidens and The Pipers of Cornwall who were “turned into stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday.”
  • Trolls: the modern lore of my geek culture includes stories of trolls that are turned to stone, petrified by sunlight (e.g. stone-trolls in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and the Netflix show Trollhunters)
  • King Midas and the Golden Touch: an ancient Greek myth about King Midas, who was blessed/cursed so that everything he touched turned to gold, including his daughter, as well as any food he tried to eat… so an example of golden petrification
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Wandering through the golden castles of the Queen’s Garden Trail at Sunrise

At any rate, my cultural heritage strongly biased my imagination towards seeing petrified giants and cautionary tales. I was surprised when I later learned that the origin story of the area (attributed to the Paiute people, who lived in the area from ~1200s onward), shared a lot of similarities (see previous post for origin story).

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Enjoying the golden rays of the rising sun as I descended into the Queen’s Garden.

With all of my expedition gear on (including my gigantic orange expedition jacket), I was unperturbed by the cold. However, the icy trail conditions slowed me down. My microspikes should have been on my feet, but they were in my car because I wasn’t planning on doing a hike. In theory, I was going to return to my car as soon as the sun came up…

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The eroded giants and spires of the Queen’s Garden Trail, with the golden light of the sunrise glowing on the far walls of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Surprising absolutely no one, after the sun came up I decided to keep hiking instead of returning to my car… I figured I’d keep going, but just until I reached the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo ;)

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The Queen’s Garden Trail winding down through the snow, tunnels, walls, and hoodoos.

When I reached the ‘Queen Victoria’ hoodoo, I had trouble finding the Queen. I’d biased my imagination to see giants, with feet rooted to the valley floor and heads towering 50 to 150 feet above me. It turns out scale matters, and the queen was more of a cake topper than a giant. Eventually, after comparing the photo on the Queen’s Garden Benchmark with the hoodoos in front of me, I was able to imagine the vague resemblance of a Queen on top of a nearby hoodoo, but I’m not 100% sure I was looking at the right hoodoo. Regardless, I was thoroughly enchanted by the hoodoos and the landscape around me.

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Hoodoos in the early morning light at the Queen’s Garden Benchmark in Bryce. Is ‘Queen Victoria’ in this photo? Was I looking the wrong direction? Hmmm…

The gorgeous golden light of the early morning kept enticing me further and further into the maze of hoodoos, so after checking out “Queen Victoria” hoodoo I decided to keep going and loop back to my car via The Navajo Loop and Sunset Point (instead of returning the way I came)… Besides, it wasn’t that much further…

Navajo Loop to Sunset Point

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Muddy red tracks in the fresh white snow at the base of the Navajo Loop Trail

The first thing I noticed as I approached the Navajo Loop Trail were a set of tracks; muddy red paw prints in the bright white snow. From a distance I couldn’t see their shape clearly, and I assumed they were dog tracks (most tracks on trails with lots of human footprints are), but when I got close enough to see the shape clearly, I stopped in my tracks… mountain lion tracks?! As soon as I thought it, I began surveilling the area, checking to make sure there were no mountain lions on nearby cliffs, ledges, or in nearby trees. Once I was certain I was still alone, I leaned down to get a better look…

The palm of the print had three lobes to it, which I associate with mountain lion tracks, and the palm of the print was large (and wide) relative to the toes. It definitely looked like mountain lion tracks to me, but… claw marks? That’s unusual for mountain lion prints. I looked at a few more prints, at where they came from (the woods), their relationship to human prints (there was none), and I reviewed the possible critters with paws that size. Bear? Absolutely not, so then the question was canine or feline. Wolf? Nope. Coyote? No. Dog? Naw…. The overwhelming conclusion that I kept coming to was that the tracks were feline… Bobcat? No, the prints were too big. My final conclusion? Probably a young mountain lion.

So, what were the claw marks all about? *shrug* Probably for the same reason that the human prints in the area had, or should have had, “claw” marks; for extra traction in the deep muddy/slushy/icy/snowy conditions on the steep slope.

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Switchbacks on the Two Bridges (Navajo Loop Trail) looking up towards the rim

I hiked up towards the rim with a heightened awareness of my surroundings. The mountain lion tracks were from the night before (after the last human traffic of the day, but before the overnight temperatures had completely frozen the red muddy mess on the southwestern slopes). However, they were recent enough that I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t still in the area somewhere. I have to admit, when I started to hear human voices echoing through the hoodoos, I was a bit relieved. By the sound of it, there were crowds of people on the trail above me, hidden from sight by the towering walls and hoodoos… Undoubtedly they would have scared any nearby mountain lions away… either that or they would have scared them in my direction…

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The fin of rock towering over the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop Trail.

As I rounded the next corner, I was met with a shriek… There was a woman in a magenta pink hat frozen in her tracks in front of me, followed half a second later by her hiking partner (pale as a ghost). I looked at them quizzically as I scanned the area, trying to figure out what had terrified them, but didn’t see anything startle worthy.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “It’s just…”

“We thought you were a cougar,” the guy with her continued.

“Ummm,” I hesitated, partially confused because I was wearing my gigantic fluorescent orange jacket and incredibly hard to miss, and partially because my friends occasionally tease me about being a cougar.

“It’s just you’re the first person we’ve seen all day,” she continued quickly, “and we’ve been following the tracks and …” she trailed off, pointing to the tracks.

“Oh yeah,” I nodded, realizing that though I’d heard them coming from a mile away, they hadn’t had any warning of my approach… It’s a lot easier to be stealthy when you’re hiking solo. As their heart rates returned to normal, we chatted a bit about the tracks. They’d figured that they were bobcat tracks, but I was pretty sure they were too big to be bobcat. Either way, we were all happy to encounter humans going the opposite direction, since we were less liking to meet a mountain lion lurking around the next corner.

Thor's Hammer at Bryce

The ~150 foot tall hoodoo referred to as Thor’s Hammer. Having trouble seeing the hammer? Imagine a mallet, and then ignore the bottom 120 feet of the hoodoo, that might help.

The famous hoodoo Thor’s Hammer dominated the view as I ascended the final leg of the trail. Did it look like a hammer? Ummm… well… not to me… not at first. My first impression was of a petrified giant with shoes in the snow, a big pink rounded belly, lighter colored shoulders, thin neck, and a head perched on top (complete with eyes and a funny hairdo/hat)… My second impression? The profile of a turkey, upended and waiting to be basted?  It wasn’t until I remembered the Queen Victoria hoodoo and the ‘cake topper’ theory of hoodoo naming that I was able to imagine the hammer… The rock balanced at the very top looks like the head of a mallet… Thor’s Hammer… sure… at least this time I knew I was looking at the right landmark ;)

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The 150 foot hoodoo topped with Thor’s Hammer towering above me as I ascended the Navajo Trail at Bryce.

Even though the trail was much more crowded above Thor’s Hammer, it wasn’t too bad. Most folks weren’t straying far from the overlooks (and their nice warm cars) because the temperatures were so low.

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Looking down at the crowds (one person) on the snowy, but well-trafficked Navajo Loop Trail

Despite my critical take on the ‘cake topper’ naming conventions, the scenery at Bryce (the spectacular spires, walls, and amphitheaters) was absolutely spectacular! Gorgeous. Awe-inspiring, and downright amazing. Yeah, I think I’m in love :)

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One final shot of Bryce Amphitheater as I hiked from Sunset Point back to Sunrise Point

When I got back to my car, I was planning on heading to Capitol Reef National Park, with a potential stop at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, but Bryce wasn’t done with me yet. As I was driving away, I saw the trailhead for Mossy Cave, and decided to check it out.

Mossy Cave Trail

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The Mossy Cave Trail crossing Tropic Ditch, an irrigation ditch created by 40 men in the 1890s

The first thing I noticed as I hiked the Mossy Cave Trail was the running water. Despite the early morning temperatures hovering in the single digits, by lunchtime the temperatures had risen by 30ºF, and were above freezing. Dramatic temperature changes like this are common at Bryce, which undergoes more than 200 freeze-thaw cycles each year. These freeze-thaw cycles drive the erosional forces (primarily frost wedging also known as ice wedging) that make Bryce’s fantastical landscape so unique. Since water expands by 9% when it freezes, 200 freeze-thaw cycles a year can have a big impact on the landscape.

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Ice formations, tucked within the shade of the Mossy Cave at Bryce.

Back to that running water… there’s a story there. The creatively named ‘Water Canyon’ was a bone-dry wash until an enterprising group of 40 Later Day Saints (Mormons) set to work with picks and shovels in 1890. Their nearby settlement, later named Tropic, needed water, and by the work of their own hands, they finished the 10-15 mile long irrigation ditch in 1892 that would provide it.  According to the history of the town of Tropic:

“It was on May 23, 1892 that the ten-mile canal brought the waters flowing from the East Fork of the Sevier River over the cliffs of Bryce Canyon into the Tropic Valley, a drop of 1,500 feet; the only stream so far known to have been diverted from the Great Inland Basin, and which would eventually find its way into the Gulf of California through the big Colorado River.” 

DiggingTropicDitch

Excavating new spillway of Tropic Dam. Lange, D., photographer. , Garfield County Garfield County. United States Utah, 1936. May. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017762899/.

As I read the quote, I fixated on the bit about the Great Inland Basin. Hiking through the Great Basin during my CDT thru-hike (2018), I had learned the one fundamental rule of the basin, “water that falls in the Basin, stays in the Basin,” flowing neither to the Atlantic nor the Pacific… yet here I was, standing next to Great Basin water that was breaking that fundamental rule, and flowing to the Pacific. The other thing I had learned about Great Basin water? At best, it was saltier and more alkali than I like my drinking water to be, at worst it was downright toxic… Earlier this year, I watched a documentary about Avocado’s and one of the California Growers complained about the salinity of the water he was getting from the Colorado River… Was this humble irrigation/drainage ditch partly to blame? I looked into it (Squirrel, What?! Did I find a rabbit hole?), and it IS a contributor to the problem. Seepage from Tropic Ditch “carries 1829 tons of salt per year to the Paria River,” which in turn, carries it to the Colorado River.

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Snow-covered trail following the snow-covered waters of the Tropic Ditch on the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce

Regardless of how the water came to be flowing through the area, it was a beautiful place for a quick hike. Initially I’d hoped to head over to Tropic Waterfall before checking out Mossy Cave, but there were three little signs, spaced at undeniable intervals, declaring the trail to the waterfall closed. Despite my curiosity, and the enticing glimpses of waterfall beyond me, I respected the posted signs and opted to move on, heading straight to ‘Mossy Cave’.

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The trail up to Mossy Cave was very icy (microspikes highly recommended), but easy to follow. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t super excited about a moss-covered overhang, but I was pleasantly surprised. The spring-fed ice formations at the grotto were interesting, especially the stalagmites rising up from the floor of the grotto, almost as if mirroring the rows of hoodoos in Bryce’s amphitheater just a couple of miles away.

All in all, I had a wonderful time at Bryce. Bryce was an awesome first stop on my Utah vacation. My only concern was that it set a high bar for vacation expectations, and would be hard match, never mind top…

Previous posts about Bryce:

Next Stop…

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 1

Bryce – Solo Winter Adventures in Utah: Day 1

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The ‘Silent City’ of hoodoos at Bryce from Inspiration Point at sunrise (Janaury 27, 2020; 18℉)

Overview Trip Report: Bryce (Day 1)

  • Date: January 27, 2020
  • Activity: Winter Hiking; 3 separate day hikes
  • Weather: 18ºF to 34ºF (maximum wind speed: 35 – 45 mph)
  • Trail Name(s):
    1. The Rim Trail: Inspiration Point to Sunset Point (0.6 miles one way). I hiked it as an out-and-back (1.2 miles) just after dawn. Trail conditions: 8 – 12 inches light powder on top of packed powder; ~3 foot drifts in the margins. Traction: snowshoes recommended.
    2. Peek-a-boo Loop Trail from Bryce Point (5.5 miles total). I hiked from, and returned to, Bryce Point. Trail conditions: drifting snow, light powder, 4 – 12 inches of packed powder and occasion ice with Intermittent ice and mud at the lower elevations. Traction: microspikes and trekking poles.
    3. The Rim Trail: Sunrise Point to Sunset Point (0.5 miles one way). I hiked it as an out-and-back (1.0 miles) just before dusk. Trail conditions: black ice on pavement sections, unpaved sections were a mix of snow and ice (1 – 4 inches of powdery snow obscuring underlying ice). Traction: microspikes and trekking poles.
  • Parking/Access: Before sunrise, roads in National Park hadn’t been plowed yet (4 to 6 inches of powder had fallen overnight). They plowed just after sunrise. Rainbow Gate remained closed throughout the day. I was the second car to enter the park for the day, and parking remained easy throughout my time at Bryce.
  • Background about Bryce: For information about the history, geology, and terms used when discussing Bryce, see my previous post: What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?

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What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?

What is Bryce Canyon? Hoodoo?

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Standing at the rim of Bryce looking out across the valley, with tunnels, walls, and hoodoos below. Note the trail from Bryce Point to the Peekaboo Trail goes through the snowy tunnel (bottom right) in the snowiest section of the photo… It made for an epic hike (see Trip Report in the next post).

What is Bryce Canyon?

A Rancher’s Perspective: “It’s a helluva place to lose a cow!” was the reply of the park’s namesake Ebenezer Bryce, a rancher who lived in the area for just 5 years (1875 – 1880) before moving on to greener pastures. “Not wrong,” I smiled, suddenly imagining the challenge of tracking down a lost cow, or anything else for that matter, trapped in the maze of rock spires and walls of Bryce Canyon.

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RIP City Slicka “Patrick O’Meara” (1973 – 2019): The Man Who Never Returned

RIP City Slicka “Patrick O’Meara” (1973 – 2019): The Man Who Never Returned

Patrick

“Pictured next to the A.T. archway at Amicalola Falls is “City Slicka” aka Patrick O’Meara from South Boston, MA who completed the A.T. southbound in February. It look him one year to complete due to some injuries that took him off of the trail for over 4 months” – Kathy Brigman March 5, 2013 (source: Facebook)

City Slicka (Patrick M. O’Meara), the thru-hiker from Southie (South Boston) with legendary calves and more than 21,000 Career miles on the Appalachian Trail (AT), is dead. City Slicka swore like a sailor, drank a lot of beer, smoked a lot of weed, embodied a lot of both the good- and bad- qualities associated with ‘Hiker Trash’ on the AT, and was part of my trail family (a trouble-making older brother of sorts). He was hiking the AT full time by 2012, and by the end of 2013 (the same year I finished my AT thru) he’d completed at least one ‘yo-yo’ (round-trip) of the AT. By the end of 2014, he’d completed another yo-yo of the AT, and his calves had become a thing of legend. For those of you that are having trouble imagining legendary calves, think about ‘Popeye the Sailor’, with massive, tattooed legs instead of giant arms, a backpack instead of a sailor’s cap, a can of bee-ah [beer] instead of spinach, and a wicked strong Southie Accent.

Year by year, as City Slicka continued ‘ponging’ the Appalachian Trail (ping-ponging back and forth up and down the trail from Georgia and Maine), the legends of his exploits and the size of his calves grew and grew, and we stopped counting the number of thru-hikes (and miles) he’d hiked. Instead of signing into log books with which years he’d completed his thru-hikes like the rest of us (FYI, I sign in as Patches AT ’13, PCT ’14, CDT ’18), he signed in as ‘City Slicka AT∞’, and that seemed right. He was City Slicka and he’d hike the AT an infinite number of times. City Slicka was a bit like the AT itself, in that we all sort of just figured that he would always be out there, somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. In July of 2019, City Slicka physically left the AT, but his spirit and his legend will be a part of the AT forever.

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AT logbook with City Slicka’s AT infinity sign-in and shout out to Riff-Raff! from July 16, 2018 (source: Rich Outdoors)

Our trail family first learned the news that City Slicka was dead in November, and before any of us knew much more than that, we found ourselves at an “Irish Wake” for City Slicka down at 4 Pines (the hiker hostel that City Slicka had tattooed on his famous calves) in Virginia. For three days the whiskey, moonshine, and beer flowed freely as we gathered, and grieved at 4 Pines. We were in the Appalachian Mountains, so it was cold and rainy the whole time, but thanks to Pound Puppy (who has mad skillz with fire), we had a raging campfire to linger around. We poured one out for City (by the end of the 3 days, it was probably closer to 750), we told stories, we laughed, we cried, we broke things, and we burned things in true Hika’ Trash style. City Slicka woulda been proud :)

As we grieved, the question, “Who was City Slicka?” kept popping up. For me, the thing that came immediately to mind whenever anyone asked was an old song from Boston that tells the story of “the man who never returned.” In the original song the man took a ride on the subway (the MTA), and got stuck riding back and forth forever, never able to make his way home… The song hit home for a lot of reasons, and whenever I think of City Slicka the refrain (with slightly reworked lyrics) runs through my head:

But did he ever return?

No he never returned and his fate is still unlearned (he may hike forever)

He may hike forever on the Appalachian

He’s the man who never returned

We had all known that City Slicka was from Boston, that he left home one day to hike the Appalachian Trail, and, at some level, most of us knew that he was never going to return… We just assumed he was going to hike forever. Though I have since learned City Slicka’s fate, I choose to remember him somewhere out there, hiking to infinity on the Appalachian Trail.

Patrick

“The others had run into City Slicka at Trail Days and we wondered where he was. Shortly after this was voiced, City Slicka showed up at McAfee Knob.” – Garrett Fondoules, April 24, 2014 (source: Facebook)

It is with sadness (and a wee dram of whiskey) that I sit down to share with you some of the stories that have made me laugh, given me solace, and contributed to the legend of the man I knew as City Slicka on the AT. For those of you that didn’t know him, a quick heads up, City Slicka may have been a legend, but he was no saint. Like a lot of the colorful characters on the trail, City Slicka was a polarizing figure… I’ve heard him described, affectionately (or not), as “a drunk with a hiking problem.” They weren’t exactly wrong, but those of us that were his friends knew that underneath his drunken, foul-mouthed, gruff exterior, he had a heart of gold, and a troubled soul. As one of City’s friends from college put it, “He was a brilliant man, a troubled man, and a great friend to me.”

Patrick

“City Slicka’s calves… –with Kristen McLane” (aka Siren) – Garrett Fondoules, April 24, 2014 (source: Facebook).

City Slicka And The Calves of Legend

“His calves are ‘uuge,” bragged City Slicka’s buddy admiringly.

“Oh yeah?” I smiled skeptically, took a sip of my beer, and glanced over at City Slicka. It was 2014, and though I’d met City Slicka in passing during my 2013 thru-hike of the AT, this was the first I’d heard of his legendary calves. His eyes twinkled with a confident smile, clearly enjoying the praise. He had the weathered look of a legit thru-hiker, with a long scraggly beard, scruffy brown hair, and the physique of someone that’s spent most of the last year hiking every day, but I wasn’t easily impressed. I’d just finished back-to-back thru-hikes of the AT ’13 and the PCT ’14 and had pretty impressive calves of my own.

“They’re the most finely sculpted calves on the AT,” chimed in another guy.

“I don’t know,” I replied, still unconvinced, “my calves are pretty sculpted.”

“I’ll show ya mine,” laughed City Slicka, finishing his beer, “if you show me yours!”

“Bring it!” I laughed, and before we knew it, City Slicka and I were rolling our pants up, and our socks down, and comparing the cut of our respective calves in front of a couple of highly entertained long-distance hikers.

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A photo of City Slicka’s calf in an all American Knee sock – Tricia “Pop Tart” Jehn (source: Facebook).

“Not bad,” acknowledged City with a nod, as we stood there, flexing our calves on the cool October afternoon. His calves were definitely bigger than mine, but when it came to whose calves were the most finely sculpted, we decided to call it a draw (he was being generous).

“I see you all have met,” interjected my friend Colonel. I knew him from the PCT, and City Slicka knew him from the AT in Maine.

“Ay-yup,” I replied as G-Hippie handed us each another beer.

“Well, ya know,” Colonel continued with his thick Philly accent, before switching into an attempt at a Boston accent, “ya both are from Boston, and you’re both wicked smahht.” I looked at him and rolled my eyes. First, because his attempt at a Boston accent was pathetic, and second, conversations about smarts make me uncomfortable.

“Wicked f**kin’ smaht he-ah with my bee-Ah” I shrugged, cracking open my beer and taking a sip. I grew up in Massachusetts and lived in the Boston area for over a decade, and the Worcester area for even longer, so there’s no doubt I could own a Massachusetts accent, but my accent wasn’t anything like the thick Southie accent City Slicka commanded.

“Ay-ya,” nodded City, “wicked fuckin’ smaht.”

“Well,” Colonel continued doggedly, “Doc-tah Songa’ he-ah went to MIT and worked at Ha’va’d.”

“So I c’n pa’k my ca’ in ha’vah’d yah’d if ya’d like,” I replied glibly, neither confirming nor denying anything Colonel said.

“Are ya done?” Colonel paused significantly, raised an eyebrow and said, “Well? Are ya?” I shrugged a shoulder with a silent noncommittal maybe.

“And City Slick over there,” he directed my gaze over to City, “has like three f**in’ degrees in like geo-f**in-chemistry and shi**, and …” he paused to take a quick breath before continuing.

“You both worked for some sort of NASA f**in’ sh** or sumthin’, and y’all are some of the smartest f**in’ people I know… so you should talk and sh**,” he finished his sentence and looked pointedly from me to City Slicka and back again. We weren’t helping him out at all, and just looked at him silently.

“So what are you all waiting for?” Colonel exclaimed, leaning forward and waving his arms around at us, “Talk Already!” He took a quick breath, clearly exasperated by the two of us, “… and Go!” he finished, leaned back expectantly, took a sip of his beer, and waited, eyebrows raised for us to follow his directions…

Following orders isn’t exactly my strong suit, and City Slicka didn’t seem to be in a hurry to comply either, so the lull in the conversation just kept growing. I looked over at G-Hippy to see if he was gonna help us out, but the answer was a smile and a shrug. Nope. He was just going to sit back and enjoy the show.

“Massholes,” Colonel muttered, half under his breath, “the both of you!”

“True‘n‘nuff,” I nodded, owning it.

“Born’n bred,” agreed City Slicka.

City Slicka (Patrick O'Meara) in 2014

Photo of City Slicka at Hiker’s Ridge Ministry Center in 2014 (source: Facebook)

After that, we got to talking about Massachusetts, which parts of it we’d lived in, where we were from, and the different accents from different areas. City Slicka had a super thick Southie accent that I couldn’t imitate even if I tried, and my accent (which I think mostly isn’t very noticeable) is more of the central Massachusetts accent, closer to a Wistah (Worcester) accent. We joked about Tollbooth Willie and the T (the subway system in Boston), and talked enough science and backpacking to suss out whether the other person was full of sh** or legit. There are lots of bullsh**ers on the Trail, but by the end of night I’d come to the conclusion that City Slicka was legit, and we’ve been friends ever since.

It was an unlikely friendship in a lot of ways, but wasn’t any the lesser for it. City Slicka was part of my trail family, and acted a bit like an older brother to me in the trail community. He is one of the only folks I know that has spent more time solo than I have, is a more experienced backpacker than I am, and understood what it was like to be both ‘hiker trash’ and a proverbial ‘rocket scientist’. We shared a lot of stories and advice, gave each other occasional pep talks, and though he knew I could take care of my own damn self, he was always looking out for me. There are lots and lots and lots of folks that try to give me advice about backpacking, but he’s the guy I knew I could turn to for trail advice when I needed it…. Like now. *sigh* (aside: I wouldn’t have had to explain to him how I managed to get poison ivy despite the 2 ½ feet of snow on the ground, and he would know the fastest/bestest way to get the urushiol off of my backpack and all my nice warm down winter gear and decontaminate everything. Sure, I can figure it out, but it’s a pain in my *ss, and it’s feeling like a daunting task right now, and City would have just known, and he would have managed to get me laughing about it (no easy feat) and thinking it wasn’t a big deal…) *sigh*

Patrick

From Wanderlustforlife (May 2014), “This is City Slicka with Daisy the Dog. City has given me lots of advice. He’s a yo-yo hiker and is in his fourth continuous hike. From Boston, he’s about 40 and says before the trail he weighed 280 and sat on a bar stool all the time. We tell him he’s a drunk with a hiking problem.”

City Slicka: Serious Talk

City Slicka didn’t talk much about his life in Southie before the trail, but occasionally he would stay with me in Boston (usually on his way to- or from- the bus station) when he was in town visiting family. I knew that his mom and his sister still lived in the area, that he loved them, and that the family dynamics were… complicated… He gave mad props to his sister for sticking around and dealing with sh**, and would explain with a deep sadness in his eyes that he just couldn’t… that he needed to get back to the trail.

“I know,” I’d say, giving him a hug, “I get it.” City and I both spent thousands and thousands of miles hiking alone, with rocks and trees as our only company. Over the years we’d talked about the solace and solitude of the woods and joked about how much easier trees were to deal with than people. We’d talked about long-distance hiking, post-trail depression, and the challenges associated with trying to come back to civilization, either to visit (like City was doing), or to stay (that would be me). I don’t know how to describe the bond that City and I had, the wordless understanding that coping was easier while walking, the relaxed banter of mutual expertise, and I don’t know… We were weirdly the flip slides of a coin… I was usually feeling angsty about returning to civilization, and he was usually feeling angsty about leaving it… I guess mostly I supported him and understood his angst about leaving, and he supported me and understood my angst about staying…

“Patches,” City Slicka had reminded me, “yo-a fuckin’ ha’d co-ah, and comin’ back do’n change dat,” (translation: you’re hard core, and coming back doesn’t change that). He looked me in the eye, very seriously, “I would come back if I could, but we both know that that ain’ eva’ happenin’,” then he got a faraway look in his eyes, “There ain’ no comin’ back fo’ me…” he paused as the weight of that truth settled on us both. We both knew that it was true. I could still function in society, so for me, coming back and re-integrating into society was a choice. For City? Not so much. “But,” he continued with a reassuring smile, “I’ve made my peace wid i’ ” (translation: I’ve made my peace with it). I nodded, and knew that he had. City Slicka wasn’t trying to sugar coat it, or wallow in it, he was just tellin’ it like it was.

“Well, I gotta take a piss,” City blurted out, breaking the somber mood, and abruptly leaving the room.

Patrick O’Meara Becomes City Slicka

City Slicka (Patrick O'Meara) in 1994 at the ATC

Photo of City Slicka (Patrick O’Meara) and The Great Gherkin (Thad McDonald) taken at the ATC in Harpers Ferry August 4, 1994 (source: the ATC)

Patrick O’Meara was already going by the trail name City Slicka in 1994. I found the above photo of him sporting both his given name and trail name, and then, I found a post he made back in 1997 explaining how exactly he got dubbed with the trail name City Slicka, and why it mattered. The title of the thread was “AT Traditions, and their downfall” and I’ve included City Slicka’s words below:

“It’s just that Trailnames that have a story behind them are so much more meaningful, whether you get them on the Trail or not. As an example, I started w/o one b/c I really didn’t care to think one up. Then at Deep Gap shelter in GA, while having a conversation with a group of local boy SCOUTS, ONE OF THEM ASKED WHERE I FROM, AND I TOLD HIM I WAS FROM BOSTON. He then got up and left, saying “I’m not talking to some Yankee city slicker”. From then on, my fellow hikers called me by this name, though I drop the ‘er ending for a more Bostonian ‘a. I guess I’m just being selfish w/ most of my comments, in that I want the Trail to mean as much to everyone as it does to me. And if have offended someone, I really don’t care. My comments are not racist, biased, sexist, or anything that could be harmful to someone confident enough in enough in themselves. “They’re only words, in and of themselves they’re harmless, it the context that you take them in that makes them bad” —– George Carlin” — City Slicka (Patrick O’Meara), AT ’94 – ’97, LT ’95

City Slicka: Life Before the Trail (The ‘70s to the ‘90s)

City Slicka didn’t talk much about his life and accomplishments before (or after) the trail unless you were already friends, or he was flirting with you. Although lots of people assumed that most of the myths about City Slicka’s past were greatly exaggerated, so far, all the things that he told me (and the folks I know) seem to check out. There are still some gaps, with nothing but rumors churning around, but here’s what I know:

In his pre-trail life, City Slicka’s friends knew him as Pat (Patrick Michael O’Meara). He was born May 23, 1973 and grew up in a rough and tumble neighborhood in Southie (South Boston). Everyone on the trail knew that he was from Southie. Partly because he’d tell you so, but mostly because he had a wicked thick Southie accent, the kind of accent that everyone associates with Boston.

He got into hiking in high school (the late ‘80s) through a program for troubled teens he called, “Hoods in the Woods.” We didn’t talk much about the high school antics that got him into trouble back in Southie…. Well, except when we talked about where I used to live in the ‘Ville (Somerville) and Wistah (Worcester)… but those aren’t my stories to tell.

By the early 1990s, City Slicka was ‘bit by the bug’ (the hiking bug) and started taking off on long distance hikes whenever he got the chance and by 1997 he’d walked the entire length of the Appalachian trail between Georgia and Maine at least once. When he wasn’t hiking, he did the college thing at Bridgewater State University (BSU). In the trail community, rumor had it City Slicka’s degree were chemistry or chemical engineering. He told me it was geology and chemistry. I talked to a friend of his from college (BSU) that told the story of how City Slicka ended up in Chemistry, “In college, he was a geology major, a friend of mine was a chem major and was bitching about the difficulty of Organic Chem. Well, Pat starts taking chem courses to get a job tutoring.”

I laughed, because that sounded right, but I wasn’t 100% convinced that the Pat he knew, and the City Slicka I knew were the same person until he told me the PAT-SA story, “In college, he would have a monthly food budget and it wasn’t much. Some months he would decide to treat himself to steak or something expensive, which would leave him with limited funds and he’d eat noodles for a week or two, daily. Well this led us to call him Patsa (think pasta pronounced with an emphasis on PAT) He took it all in stride until he didn’t and I can still hear him yelling “CALL ME PATSA ONE MORE TIME AND I’LL STAB YOU IN THE EYE WITH RAW SPAGHETTI.” By the time I finished reading the end of the story I was laughing instead of crying, and there was absolutely no denying that the Pat he knew and the City Slicka I knew were the same person.

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City Slicka (middle, orange shirt) enjoying a pasta dinner (some thing never change?) on the AT in 2012 or 2013 (photo source: the internet)

City Slicka graduated from BSU in 1995, and completed an end-to-end hike of the Long Trail (LT ’95) in Vermont with a friend that same year. City Slicka and I had both done a lot of hiking in Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the 1990s, and my first long distance trail was the Long Trail (LT ’98), which I hiked with my younger brothers. It was fun remembering the days when we were backpacking newbs, and talking about how much things have changed and how much they stay the same.

After finishing up the LT in 1995, City Slicka moved West, to Golden Colorado for Graduate School, where he was working on a doctorate degree in geochemistry. For those of you that thought that that part was bullsh**, I can assure you it checks out. His alma mater bragged about him in their 1997 magazine, verifying that, “Patrick O’Meara attends the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) as a graduate student in the geochemistry” (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/48827220.pdf). He told me that he was in a doctoral program, but ended up finishing ABD (all but dissertation) with just his Master’s degree because his thesis advisor was, “bein’ a dick.” We geeked out about the science (I’ve since forgotten all of those details), but since I was in the process of moving from my pre-trail career in academia, to a post-trail career in industry, we mostly talked about the pros and cons of working for industry.

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City Slicka’s profile pic from a deleted facebook account

City Slicka: The Missing Years (the 2000s)

Rumors about what City did, and who he was, during the decade between getting his Master’s degree and settling on the AT as a full-time hiker are many, but most of them seem to hold at least a grain of truth… So, let’s get started with a game of City Slicka, fact or fiction?

He told people that he graduated from a renowned master’s program for chemical engineering. That was pretty much TRUE, he got a Master’s Degree from Colorado School of Mining, and he and I used to joke around about “bein’ engin’ ‘e-ahs” since I had a master’s degree in engineering too.

What did he do after he graduated? Those details are a little fuzzier.

He told me that after he left the Colorado School of Mines he worked as a contractor… I don’t remember if it was for Ratheon or Lockhead Martin or Boeing or one of the Big Oil Companies, but it was one of the big industry players, with a reputation for being flush with cash and flexible with morals. I was doing contract work for Big Pharma at the time, and we were talking about the pros and cons of going to- and working for- the DARK SIDE. We both agreed that the money was good, but the bosses were bad.

For City, the biggest advantage of working in industry was that he’d banked enough money as a contractor to support his hiking habit. It wasn’t a ton of money, and his budget was tight, but he skimped and stretched it, and it was “good’n’nuff.” He was by no means wealthy, but he had had enough to “retire” early (trail rumor suggests he was 32 when he retired) and become full-time hika’ trash (by 2012ish). I couldn’t fault his logic, but I did the math, and it was definitely a tighter budget than I thought I could pull off… I have a real fondness for steak :-P

He told Sisyfus (April 9, 2014) that he was “the inventor of something that was bought by NASA and used on the Mars Rover,” and though I can’t confirm that all of those details are true, I do know that at least some of it checks out. CSU, where City did his graduate work, has been involved in space research since the 1990s, and has been hosting a “Space Resources Roundtable” where academics, folks from NASA, and private sector industrial participants get together, talk shop, and make plans to mine the moon, mars, asteroids, or whatever else might be profitable. Although neither of us had worked directly for NASA, we had both been involved in research for NASA. We’d been involved in different aspects of the Space Program, so didn’t know any of the same people, but we had fun talking about how surreal some of the NASA conferences had seemed. Did City Slicka invent something that was purchased by NASA and used on the Mars Rover? Probably. I expect it was more like he was part of a team of contractors that invented/created something bought by NASA, but the story fits with what I knew about City.

We had a few other conversations about those in between times, when he was working as a contractor, but not many… just enough for me to have a sense of which rumors were complete and utter BS, and which things seemed about right… We mostly had these conversations while I was doing research on a military base… the running joke at the time was, “I could tell ya, but then I’d haveta kill ya.”

While I don’t know a lot of those in between details, I do know that when he returned to the AT to start his first thru-hike he was fat and out of shape. At one point I mentioned to City that I’d lost about 60 pounds on my thru-hike of the AT. He smiled indulgently, “I gotcha beat,” he grinned patting his belly proudly… “I must-a’ lossa’d ova’ a’hund-ed (I must have lost over a hundred).

“I was a chubby bastah’d,” he laughed. I don’t remember exactly what he said he weighed pre-trail, but it made the ~200 lbs I’d started the AT weighing seem like small potatoes. He told some other hikers in 2013 that, “before the trail he weighted 280 and sat on a bar stool all the time. We tell him he’s a drunk with a hiking problem…”

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City Slicka (middle, no hat) on the AT in Maine in 2012 (posted by Clark King, March 17, 2013)

City Slicka: >21,000 Career AT Miles (the 2010s)

City Slicka re-surfaced on the AT sometime in the 2000s, and by 2012 his name began popping up in the blogs and posts of the other thru-hikers as he started racking up miles and sculpting his legendary calves as he ponged back and forth along the trails of the Appalachian Mountains. In 2013 alone, City Slicka hiked 4,153.4 miles (he counted ’em up and gave Doc Spice the total). By the end of 2014, City Slicka hiked the AT from end-to-end at least 5 times (4 continuous thru-hikes since 2012, and at least once in the ‘90s), with more than 11,000 career miles, and was well on his way to becoming an AT legend.

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Doc Spice and City Slicka on the AT in New York in 2012; according to Doc Spice, City Slicka had been bouncing back and forth between the AT (in the summer) and skiing in Colorado for the winter for between 4 and 10 years in 2013 (photo: from Doc Spice’s blog).

An article from November 2015 advised AT hikers to get to know 2 of the Appalachian Trail Legends: Baltimore Jack, and City Slicka saying, “City Slicka has been hiking the trail since 2012. Non-stop. He hikes to Maine. And then back to Georgia. And then back to Maine…etc. So he knows the way better than just about anyone, making him a great night hiking partner. The former chemist will show you where the closest liquor stores are, as well as give you a lesson on how to save your money (401K!)

Some people keep track of every mile they hike, but City Slicka told me that was bullsh**. “What’s the point?” he’d grumble, bristling (silently or not so silently) as some friggin’ peacock came struttin’ around thinkin’ they were hot sh** because they’d hiked a few thousand miles of the trail. He had more miles on the AT than just about anyone, and he knew it. He’d hiked the trail enough times that he’d quit counting, which wasn’t to say that he couldn’t figure it out-ish, it’s just that it wasn’t usually worth the effort.

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“City Slicka (in green). Two great guys and already well known along the trail.” – Travis Shepherd Hall, March 25, 2014 (source: Facebook)

Late one night, must have been 2016, we were chatting about total career miles (A friend of ours, Colonel, had been lecturing me, informing me in no uncertain terms that I should be keeping track of my total # of career backpacking miles) and City Slicka decided to try to count ‘em up. It was kind of hilarious, because he was trying to count out his thru-hikes on his fingers, but we kept getting distracted and loosing count. Before long we were both sitting there trying to count on our fingers, “Ay-ya,” laughed City, “Wicked f’in’ smaht he-ah, countin’ wid ah’ fingahs.” At that point he’d finished his 7th or 12th hike of the AT? (We never did manage to finish counting, but I’m pretty sure he was waving 2 fingers around when the conversation ended), had done the Benton McKay, and was working on blue-lining the AT (hiking all of the trails that connect to the AT).

Nobody is exactly sure what City Slicka’s total career miles were or how many times he ponged back and forth from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail, but the consensus seems to be that he had over 21,000 career AT miles, and roughly 8 continuous AT thru-hikes between 2012 and 2019.

Some folks thought City Slicka was a Triple Crowner (hiked the AT, PCT and CDT), but that rumor was FALSE. “Hrmph,” City Slicka mumbled when I asked him about it, before telling me in no uncertain terms that he’d never hiked those other trails and was never going to. I tried to sell him on the awesomeness of some of the other trails, but he wasn’t buying it, not even a little bit. He eventually conceded that the mountains in Colorado were pretty awesome and he’d hiked and skied there a bunch in his pre-trail days. The Colorado Trail, he admitted, might tempt him away from the East Coast ever so briefly, but the AT was his trail and always would be. Nothing and no-one would ever change his mind about that.

“It’s jus’ home,” City Slicka explained, a little misty eyed explaining that he knew every rock, root, and tree between Georgia and Maine like the back of his hand. And, more than that, the AT was the place where he felt like he belonged. In additional to sculpting impressive calves as he’d hiked up and down the trail, City had established a community up and down the trail. He’d found a group of folks, his hiker family, that appreciated his awesomeness, acknowledged his flaws, and loved him anyway…

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City Slicka and crew at Trail Angel Mary’s house for her birthday in July of 2018 in Pennsylvania (photo courtesy of Trail Angel Mary)

By continuously ponging back and forth on the AT, City Slicka had developed stronger ties to the people and places between Georgia and Maine than any of the rest of us could imagine. The sense of community, connection, and belonging he found on the AT was something I know he appreciated, because he told me so. His connection to the AT trail community was much tighter than mine, but he considered me to be part of his trail family, and when I was feeling disconnected and more alone than was good for me, he would remind me that no matter how far off the grid I was, my trail family was still with me. The last time I saw him, we were both getting ready to disappear into the woods for a while. Though solitude was a fairly constant companion for City Slicka, I’d been back in civilization for a couple of years, and where I was headed out on the CDT, I was anticipating (and got) a lot more solitude than I was used to.

“Ya know Patches,” City Slicka reminded me, “you may be hikin’ solo, but ya’r neva’ alo-en out the-ah.” City Slicka paused and looked at me with that intense look he had when we wanted to make sure that you were paying attention, and you know, actually listening. I nodded, and he continued, “yer trail family is always wid’ja.”

“It’s good ta rememba’ dat,” he concluded solemnly.

“Yeah, I know” I agreed, and then continued, “but reminders are good.”

We stood there lost in our own thoughts for a minute… we both knew that remembering that you didn’t have to do everything alone, that there were folks out there that would help if you let them, was easier said then done.

“Ya know?” I said, nudging us back out of the silence, and reminding him that everything he was saying to me, was also true for him.

“Yeah,” he agreed, abruptly standing up and walking away.

“I, a’,” he resumed, as he started rummaging around in his pack, “give me a sec, I got sumthin’ fo’ ya.”

I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t sure what to expect… City Slicka wasn’t 100% predictable, but he didn’t usually have anything in his pack that he wasn’t going to need to bring with him to see him through the next stretch of trail… We had plenty of food and whiskey, and I don’t smoke, so… I had no idea where this was headed.

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City Slicka standing in Trail Angel Mary’s living room with his sleeping bag, wearing his Riff-Raff! shirt (Photo courtesy of Trail Angel Mary).

“It’s my reminda,” he beamed, a minute or two later as he triumphantly pulled a black Riff-Raff! bandana out of his pack. It was the sweetest gesture ever, but I hesitated, I couldn’t take City’s reminder, he needed it.
“It’s wash’t,” he explained hurriedly with a little self-conscious frown, “but it ain’ exac’ly clean,” he admitted.

“It’s not that, it’s just….”

“Oh,” Interrupted City realizing that I was worried about him, “It’s ok. I’m gonna’ gedd’a new-un nex’ week when I see ’em all.” We was referring to Riff-Raff!. For those of you that aren’t familiar with all of the AT sub-cultures, Riff-Raff! is a tightly knit trail family of thru-hiker alum and trail angels that has a reputation for partying hard. City Slicka was a ‘shirted’ member (think of it as being a card carrying member) of Riff-Raff!, and proud of it (he had the tattoo on his leg to prove it).

“Ya know I’m not shirted, right?” I said. He looked at me and lifted an eyebrow. “I have trouble with crowds,” I shrugged, “so I’ve never been to Trail Days. I always end up bailing and doing a solo backpacking trip instead.”

“I ge’ it,” he nodded, “bu’ you sh’d go, Riff-Raff! are good people,” he paused thoughtfully, “well mostly,” he clarified, “but they’re my people,” he smiled distantly remembering something. Suddenly the smile faded and he looked at me, his blue eyes intensely serious, “they’d take care of yer.” I nodded, Riff-Raff! has a reputation for being the hardest partiers on the trail, but they’re also a fiercely loyal group that looks after their people.
“You should have this,” he re-iterated, handing me the bandana.
“You’re sure?” I asked impulsively. He gave me a look, the one that said don’t be a dumba**, I wouldn’t offer it if I didn’t mean it.
“Thank you, City Slicka,” I accepted the bandana, and pressed it to my heart. There was a lot more going on in this simple interaction, than just the exchange of a dirty black bandana.

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City Slicka sporting the black bandana on his pack (Photo: June 26, 2013, taken by Cj Polett)

Afterward

When I heard about City Slicka’s death, I immediately pulled out that dirty black bandana, pressed it to my heart, and cried. City Slicka left the trail in Virginia, boarded a Greyhound bus headed for Colorado, and killed himself (his body was found in Texas). It was absolutely heartbreaking to think of him dying alone out there, and I scoured the internet trying to find information that would help bring me closure. I didn’t find it. The things that have brought me solace are the things that City told me, and the outpouring of support from his people (both the old crew that knew him as Pat, and the new crew that knew him as City Slicka).

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“Watauga Lake: Fresh, The Goat, Ghengis, Blue Deer, Stretch, Kamikaze, Peppa and City Slicka” – Hiking with Gandalf, April 17, 2014 (source: Facebook)

It helped that I didn’t have to wonder if he’d found peace somewhere out there on the trail, I know he did, because he’d told me so in his out-loud voice. I didn’t have to wonder if he knew that his trail family supported him, because I knew that he knew. He’d told me so in his out-loud voice. Not only that, he understood that truth so well that he’d tried to share that support with me when I was feeling the weight of a little too much solitude. I also know that his trail family helped him get professional help. It’s just that sometimes it’s not enough, and that may be the most heartbreaking part all. City Slicka is the second friend from the AT class of 2013 that I’ve lost to suicide. I’m afraid that he won’t be the last. I’m not sure that I know how to talk about it, but I’m going to try, because no matter how flawed, I’d like the colorful characters that I call friends to remain in my life soo….

I’d like to encourage everyone to get outside, to enjoy the trails and the wild places that the world has to offer, but at the same time I’d like to remind everyone that a thru-hike isn’t a panacea that will cure all that ails you… it’s an epic adventure that may help you ignore your demons for a little while, but it doesn’t usually make them go away… As one of City Slicka’s friends, I wish I could have helped him get the help he needed. I wish that he was still here and that I could help him fight the good fight, but he’s not, so I can’t. Instead, I’m going to listen to City Slicka’s advice, and try to remember that I don’t have to face my demons alone. I’m going to remember that even when I’m alone, my family (both on the trail, and off of it) want to support me, and I’m going to try to do a better job of letting them support me, and trusting that I’m not the only person that has my back… My family and community has my back, just as certainly as I have theirs… It’s what we do, and who we are.

So, pour one out for City Slicka, hug the people you love, get the help you need, be the help you can, and hike your own hike.

But did he ever return?

No he never returned and his fate is still unlearned (he may hike forever)

He may hike forever on the Appalachian

He’s the man who never returned

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City Slicka helping out with some chores at Trail Angel Mary’s house (source: Trail Angel Mary, July 25, 1018)

Appendices & References

City Slicka: Tales from The Internet

In 2017 City Slicka messaged me to tell me he was quitting Facebook and asking for my number so we could stay in touch. He was tired of all the fu**in’ pose-ahs (posers) and ah’m-chay-ah’ (armchair) bulls**t wannabe’s online. He had a reputation for being “wicked smaht,” and did a pretty good job of disappearing from the internet, but he didn’t get rid of everything. For folks that still want to know more about City, I’ve included some links to the blogs, posts, and other info I found about City Slicka as I was poking around the internet (First, a couple of stories, then a timeline with links and information).

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“Finally met the legend, City Slicka!” – Kestral the Backpacking Yogi, November 8, 2015 (source: Facebook)

Stories

“City has given me lots of advice. He’s a yo-yo hiker and is in his fourth continuous hiker. From Boston, he’s about 40 and says before the trail he weighted 280 and sat on a bar stool all the time. We tell him he’s a drunk with a hiking problem…” – May 2014, https://wanderforlife.com/2014/05/page/2/

“But then I met City Slicka’. The dude is old school hiker trash. He claims to be a previous through hiker, the inventor of something that was bought by NASA and used on the Mars Rover, a Triple Crowner (hiked the AT, PCT and CDT), independently wealthy, a graduate of a renowned masters program for Chemical engineering, and a whole slew of other things. It would seem that he hasn’t had a job in a while. He claims to have been on one trail or another for the last five years. He’s rocking one of the most impressive mullet/mohawks I’ve ever seen and maintains a pervasive odor of marijuana. He’s always smoking. And drinking. He also never shuts up. When I got to the hostel he had already been there for two and a half days and when I left he looked like he was setting up camp for a continued extended stay.” – Sisyfus (April 9, 2014)

“City Slicka has been hiking the trail since 2012. Non-stop. He hikes to Maine. And then back to Georgia. And then back to Maine…etc. So he knows the way better than just about anyone, making him a great night hiking partner. The former chemist will show you where the closest liquor stores are, as well as give you a lesson on how to save your money (401K!)” – November 2015, https://yuki.la/out/1640594

2017_D_Dearman

“RIP City Slicka. I just found out I lost a dear hiking friend. I met City on the AT. We traveled many miles together. He was a special guy, a sweet soul who brought happiness to everyone he met,. He lived to hike, it was his world. I will miss you.” – Donna “Eagle-Eye” Dearmon (source: Facebook)

“Joe’s first lieutenant, at least while we stayed at the hostel, is a burly, equally grizzled, early-middle-aged hiker who goes by the moniker City Slicker (the -er is pronounced -ah. Slicker’s from Boston). Slicker has calves that bodybuilders pine for, and his legs are tattooed with symbols of the trail: the ATC, four shaggy pine trees for Four Pines, Trail Days, Riff Raff, etc. Slicker is one of those lucky souls who loves their life so much that they constantly seek out parts of it to complain about. Today, it was the upcoming bubble—the concentrated mass of thru-hikers who left Springer mid-March, and who have been averaging 12-18 miles daily. “The party crowd,” or “the fuckboy parade,” as Slicker knows them.” https://thetrek.co/appalachian-trail/the-four-pines-hostel/

“Later this guy City Slicka, an annoying and somewhat psychocotic vagrant from South Boston, showed up. He wouldn’t leave us girls alone but gave us good advice on getting to Walmart and a heads up that the cops swing by the hostel three times a day since the local meth heads had been giving hikers trouble. Gotta love the meth heads. J. Rex and I were stationed outside organizing our resupply we got from Walmart but couldn’t hardly get anything done because City Slicka was drunk and kept telling us these ridiculous reasons why he’s been living on the trail for 3 years (he retired at 32 after inventing the Mars Rover, was a too-smart doctor to work, etc.).” https://katiesappalachiantrailadventure.wordpress.com/feed/

“This hits me hard. City was like my Trail Dad in ’15 – first person I met on the trail, and saw him on and off throughout the whole experience, also hiking and hanging with him a bunch in 2016 on my full thru. Last I saw him was at a shelter just before crossing into ME where he gave me a moose femur to hike to Katahdin, as we hadn’t yet seen one. We saw our first moose later that night, and that femur now rests on my bookshelf. The trail lost one of the vert best- may your soul rest peacefully in paradise dear brother 🙏😭😭😭” – Brent Wander Borgemeister, Facebook

“APPALACHIAN TRAIL | APRIL 14 | DAY 51: Leave Four Pines after listening to City Slicka’s stories of last night, in which he chased away a fox with a rake. The fox tore up one of the chickens, but Joe will ‘take care of it’ later (with his shotgun, it is implied). Meanwhile we’re told that the Guinea Hens are on ‘tick patrol’ and used to rule the roost until Joe got ducks, and now the ducks rule the roost because they are ‘fuckin gangsters’. Alex and I head to Roanoke for a zero day and I finally get someone to look at my legs and prescribe some GD steroids for what turns out to be poison ivy. The pharmacist tells me I might feel like slapping anyone who says hello, and not to worry—it’s normal to feel ‘a little tense’ on heaps of ‘roids. We eat good food, drink good beer, and I get a full-body Epsom salt soak in the tub. Back on trail tomorrow!” -@hikeasaurustreks (April 2019)

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“Third annual 2013 AT Hiker Thanksgiving at Patriot’s house. What a great tradition! With Patriot, Mudmouth, Yardsale, Tin Cup, Whiskers, City Slicka, EagleRunner, Chapinlara, Shepherd, The Triplets, and Tugboat.” – Deb Van Schaack (source: Facebook)

Timeline

1970s & 1980s:

  • Pat (Patrick Michael O’Meara) was born May 23, 1973 and grew up in a rough and tumble neighborhood in Southie (source: “United States Public Records, 1970-2009”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KLVW-G1B : 8 November 2019), Patrick M Omeara, 2001-2008.)
  • He started hiking in high school through a program for troubled teens he called, “Hoods in the Woods.” (source: personal accounts)

1990s: Total miles hiked > 2500 (AT Georgia to Maine + End-to-End Long Trail, VT). By the early 1990s Pat had started taking off on long distance hikes whenever he got the chance (source: City Slicka & college friends).

  • 1994 – 1997: Appalachian Trail (AT), Pat had been dubbed “City Slika” and completed at least one AT thru (source: City Slicka)
  • 1995: Graduated from college (Bridgewater State University): Degrees in Geology and Chemistry and completed an End-to-End hike of the Long Trail, Vermont with a friend (source: City Slicka, Bridgwater State and friend from College)
  • 1996 – 1997: “Patrick O’Meara attends the Colorado School of Mines as a graduate student in the geochemistry” (source: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/48827220.pdf).

2000s: Between 1998 and 2011 the only information I have about City is from conversations we had, and rumors of other conversations. Rumor has it that City retired when he was 32 years old, which would have been 2005, other rumors say he started hiking the AT somewhere around 2002, others say he started hiking 2011.

2010s: City Slicka started showing up in AT photos and blogs in 2012

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City Slicka on the Harris Homestead Trail (source: unknown)


Updates and Additional Notes

NOTE (12/16/2019): I worked with the folks at 4 Pines to create a photobook for the hostel out of this post and some of the photos of City Slicka that I’ve collected. Since I’ve already done the work to put it together, I decided to make it publicly available (click here to preview the photobook or get a link to the eBook) in case anyone else is interested. I’ve also received a few cool photos of City Slicka since the original posting, and may add more below as time allows.

Patrick "City Slicka" O'Meara with a snapping turtle

“The story of the snapping turtle: October 5, 2014. City Slicka had just finished up his hike at Katahdin, and we were heading back to the park to celebrate with trail magic. We spot a turtle in the road and we instantly agree to help it across. Before I can even pull over, City jumps out of the moving car, runs over and picks up the turtle, explaining his knowledge of snapping turtles, and convincing me he knew the proper way to pick up a snapping turtle, as he staggered across the road! Of course I had capture the moment for historic preservation.” – Turtle Traxx

NOTE (1/9/2020): This post is currently serving as the obituary for City Slicka (Patrick O’Meara). City’s disappearance in July, and the notice of his death have left many of us with more questions than answers. For me, the absence the specific date of his death has been particularly disquieting. I spent endless hours scouring the internet searching for the date. Surely his death was mentioned in a paper or police log somewhere? When my online searches failed, I started reaching out to newspapers, police departments, and state officials. Still nothing. Eventually I filed the paperwork and $$ required by the state of Texas to get the official word. Though the process is painfully slow, I’ve received confirmation that my request was received and should be receiving official information from the state of Texas (by snail mail) sometime between January 20th and February 10th. I’ll keep all y’all posted.

UPDATE (2/11/2020): Today I received information from state offices in Texas confirming that City Slicka (Patrick M. O’Meara) died there. Although I am still waiting for the official notification (via snail mail), they shared with me the date of his passing: July 11, 2019.

UPDATE (2/14/2020): The official ‘verification of death’ letter from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services arrived today. It states, “A search was made of the DEATHS records in the state of Texas to verify the death of the person named below. A death record was filed for PATRICK MICHEAL O’MEARA deceased July 11, 2019 in TITUS County, Texas.” Neither the cause of death, nor the specific town are listed. I will note that there is a Greyhound Bus Station in Titus County (Mt. Pleasant, Texas), which would have been en route from Roanoke, VA -> Dallas, TX -> Colorado.

Patrick "City Slicka" O'Meara with a 22 lb fish

Patrick “City Slicka” O’Meara (sometime in the late 2000s?) with a big fish, “22 lbs I think he said,” – Wicked (source Wicked)

Thank you to Wicked who reached out with some more photos of City Slicka from his old phone including two of City Slicka and Chet (Chet is wearing City Slicka’s shirt), one of City Slicka and Trail Angel Mary, and a bunch of other photos of City Slicka:

May he hike forever on the Appalachian, he’s the man that never returned…