‘Tis the Season for High-Vis Hiking… (Hunting, blaze orange, a high-vis gearlist and more)

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The sound of gunfire shattered the stillness of the trail. “Oh, shit!” I thought. “It’s still hunting season!” Once again I’d forgotten that the winter hiking and backpacking season was also hunting season. I paused, trying to remember where my blaze orange was… Doh!! The answer was nowhere useful. I have a blaze orange hiking T-shirt that I wear in the fall, along with a blaze orange reflective baseball cap-I love them both. I also have a blaze orange expedition parka, but I don’t have any blaze orange for the in-between-winter season. Clearly, I needed more blaze orange backpacking gear. The only problem was that I needed it right then!

Up next, Mt. Washington?!

“Pop!” another shot went off, “Pop!,” And then another. I frowned as the AT was bringing me closer to the hunters and not further away from them. As a 4-season hiker and backpacker I share the mountains and the woods with hunters; I just want to make sure that I do it as safely as possible. That means being both seen and heard! Since I didn’t have enough blaze orange on, and my path was predetermined by the route of the Appalachian Trail, I opted to make my presence known with the only tool I had on hand: my voice. I started singing. Loudly:

I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer,
Howdy hunter, let’s be clear!
I’ve got 10 toes, 10 fingers too
An awful lot like you!

As I hiked through Vermont singing, I remembered that I’d run into this same issue last year on a section-hike of the New England Trail during the week between Christmas and New Years. I’d known that the regular deer hunting season ended by the second-week of December, but I’d failed to take into account the ‘primitive firearms’ season which runs until December 31 each year. On that trip I ran into five hunters for every deer track I’d seen. Even though they’d surprised me, I hadn’t surprised them. All of the hunters had both heard and seen me coming long before I’d seen them; still, I’d like to give them as much advanced notice as possible!

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September through November I always remember that it’s hunting season and I wear my blaze orange, but for some reason in late December I forget that there are still plenty of people in the woods with guns that are shooting at things. I don’t want them to accidentally shoot me, so I want to make it as easy as possible for them to see me, and avoid me… blaze orange it is, but, how much blaze orange should I be wearing as I wander through the woods in the winter? (Check out the educational video below, which has information about how much hunter orange you need, and how visible it is).

The safe bet seems to be to wear the same amount of blaze orange they recommend that the hunters wear: a blaze orange hat during most of the hunting season and 500 square inches of blaze orange on the head, chest, and back during shotgun season. Perhaps due to my motorcycling background I figure if I I’m going with high-visibility for hunters, I might as well go high-vis all the way, so here’s my high-vis hiking gearlist/wishlist:

Once I have my blaze orange gear, the tricky part is remembering when hunting season actually is so that I’ll know when I’ll need wear it… The answer varies by state (check the listings near the bottom of the post), but it’s a good bet that you should be wearing blaze orange whenever you go out into the backcountry between September and May. For example, in Massachusetts hunting season started on September 8, 2015 (with deer archery season), and will extend until May 23, 2016 with the end of wild turkey season.

Is hunting really allowed on national scenic trails like the Appalachian Trail?

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Yes! Hunting is allowed along most of the Appalachian Trail, or at least 1,250 miles of it according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. For a large portion of the remaining 900ish miles, hunting is allowed just outside the 1000-foot wide AT corridor. On my thru-hikes I’ve encountered a fair number of hunters on the trails: on my 2013 AT thru-hike I ran into turkey hunters on the trail in Georgia and North Carolina in May, as well as moose hunters in Maine in October. On my 2014 PCT thru-hike I ran into hunters in the woods of both Oregon and Washington, and on the New England Scenic Trail I ran into dozens of hunters in late December.

I hike the trail, from dawn to dusk
Whene’er the skies are blue
I wear synthetic clothing
Like all the hikers do!

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As a thru-hiker I’ve heard gunfire on the trail so often that I’ve started to recognize, and be able to tell the difference in, the patterns of sound between: people firing at clubs and ranges (there’s a spot on the AT in Pennsylvania where the firing range sounds disturbingly close to the AT), people randomly firing at objects and targets (hiking through the desert on the PCT provided plenty of data points for that), and hunters firing at game (see above)…

I like red meat and ice cold beer
I’m gnarly like a root
I climb up over mountains
There ain’t no need to shoot!!

As if the sound of frequent gunfire wasn’t enough evidence of gun use on the trail, on the PCT there were shell casings all over the trail… I ended up making a game of keeping track of each new type of casing I saw, just like I was keeping track of each new type of flower: there were casing from handguns, shotguns, and rifles in all shapes and sizes… Too many to count! Thru-hikers have a tendency to write-out the mile-markers for the long-distance trails using sticks, stones, and pine cones. But near mile 500 of the PCT the only thing around were shell-casings, so I made my mile-marker out of them :-P

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Since there are plenty of folks with guns out there, take a minute to review your local hunting seasons and land-use rules before heading into the woods this winter, and remember to wear plenty of blaze orange! Below are links to hunting information for the states that the AT, the PCT, and the Florida Trail cross through, along with a rough range of the current hunting season to give you a sense for why you want your blaze orange if you are thinking about doing a lot of winter hiking, or setting off on a thru-hike:

Hunting Seasons on the Appalachian Trail:

Hunting Season for the PCT:

Hunting Season for the Florida Trail:

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***

All together now, let’s sing (To the tune of Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song):

I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer,
Howdy hunter, let’s be clear!
I’ve got 10 toes, 10 fingers too
An awful lot like you!

I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer
I sleep all night and I hike all day
I’ve got a pack, upon my back
And boots upon my feet.

I hike the trail, from dawn to dusk
Whene’er the skies are blue
I wear synthetic clothing
Like all the hikers do!

Cuz, I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer
Howdy hunter lets be clear
I’ve got 10 toes, 10 fingers too
An awful lot like you!

I like red meat and ice cold beer
I’m gnarly like a root
I climb up over mountains
There ain’t no need to shoot!!

Cuz, I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer
I’m not a doe and I’m not a steer
I’ve got 10 toes, 10 fingers too
An awful lot like you!

I hear gunshots, I eat my lunch,
I go to the lava-try.
I follow the white blazes
Singing loudly and off key

Cuz I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer
Howdy hunter lets be clear
I’ve got ten toes, ten fingers too
An awful lot like you!

I like Bambi stew, and duck confit
My whiskey strong and neat.
I should be wearing orange
Now wouldn’t that be sweet!

Cuz I’m a hiker and I’m not a deer
Howdy hunter lets be clear
I’ve got ten toes, ten fingers too
An awful lot like you!

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Kennedy Meadows (PCT Days 43-45)

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“Kennedy Meadows population 200,” the local guys laughed, “maybe there are 200 parcels in Kennedy Meadows but there’s no way there are 200 people, 20 would be more like it.”

I’d hiked through 700 hundred miles of desert to get to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierras. As I’d hiked northwards it seemed like everyone was excited about getting to Kennedy Meadows… Overtime it became an almost mythical place: the point at which you leave the desert and enter the Sierras.

When I remarked on the spectacular beauty and amazing views of the desert the people around me would smile at me and say, “if you think this is amazing, just wait until you get to the Sierra.” It seemed almost akin to people smiling at young children and saying, “just wait until you’re older.” Lots of people were looking forward to getting out of the desert and into the Sierra and getting to Kennedy Meadows was symbolic of that transition.

I wasn’t sure what I expected or what to expect as I approached Kennedy Meadows, but I do know that whatever it was, it was something completely different than what I found…

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Entering Kennedy Meadows as I Ieft Sequoia National Park I passed by a few small homes and some land that looked like it was used for cattle and headed towards the general store. It looked much like a small store you might find in any southern or western mountain town. There were chairs out front with local folks relaxing and enjoying some beers, and then a side porch where the thru-hikers were sorting through their gear and preparing for the Sierras.

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The two porches felt like they were two different worlds of completely alien peoples. I kind of enjoyed the watching the people on both porches… The locals seemed relaxed, and happy to drink their beers and marvel at the thru-hiker show with all of its bustle, boisterousness, excitement and beer.

Every now and then there was an alien encounter and a few words were communicated between the thru-hikers and the locals. I get to talk to other thru-hikers all the time, so when when of the locals started up a conversation with me I grabbed a beer, sat down, and joined them.

“That’s a mighty fine knife you’ve got there,” was the conversation starter. “Why yes it is,” I smiled and replied. “Mind if I take a peak at it?” I handed him my knife. He recognized the make and model of the knife (as did his two friends that were sitting there drinking their beers) and they admired it thoroughly.

Before I knew it, I was on the porch in Kennedy Meadows fully embroiled in a conversation about knives, guns, and the government. “I’ve stumbled into the wild Wild West for the first time,” I thought as the conversation went on. “The nearest law enforcement is at least three hours away and that’s the way we like it,” continued the conversation. “If the government stays out of our business, we’ll stay out of its business,” contributed another. And they tried to explain what life out in Kennedy Meadows was like.

With less than 20 full time residents and cold snowy winters, you have to be ok with a lot of solitude, and since the nearest law is 3 hours a way you learn to trust and rely on your neighbors. Are there small town politics, heck yeah. The smaller the town, the bigger the politics, and this may be the smallest “town” I’d ever seen.

What Kennedy Meadows has is a general store, a road, a trailhead, and solitude and independence for those that want it. The general store is the gathering point for both the locals and the thru-hikers with its nice shady porches for beating out the heat of the day. It’s not a big store, or a new store, but it’s Kennedy Meadows’ Store and that means something. There’s no cell phone reception in Kennedy Meadows, none. And the electricity for the store comes from it’s own generator. There’s no public power, public water, or public sewage in Kennedy Meadows. There’s no post office in Kennedy Meadows. There is, however, a pay phone… The first pay phone that I’ve used in over a decade.

As we were relaxing on the porch the guy with the black tank top and cammoflauge hat received a package. “You better look out man, could be a bomb,” said one of his friends. He looked at the package, turned it over in his hands, looked at the other guy and said, “f*** man, you may be right. Plenty of folks looking to take me out.” He then stood up and walked to the far side of the driveway to open the package. They seemed legitimately concerned that the package might be a personal bomb. I was definitely in a different world.

A couple minutes he jogged back beaming, “it’s a book!” He yelled. A book about the history of the American Civil war. As we chatted the afternoon away I grew fond of the group of locals and one of them offered to let me and some friends come back and sleep in his cabin instead of pitching our tents at the back of the parking lot.

With a couple of friends in tow, we piled into his pickup truck and headed for a new adventure in Kennedy Meadows… We’d found an unlikely trail angel!

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The cabin was beautiful and had been completely constructed by our trail angel. He gave us the tour and showed us the solar panels, batteries, and generators that he uses to power everything in his house. It was really cool to see. Then we went inside, relaxed, ate roasted pinyon pine nuts that he’d collected from his own trees, and listened to him play guitar. He was a really good guitar player!

In between sessions we played with his punching/kicking bag a bit. I was pretty entertained at one point when he turned to me and said, “damn girl, you’ve been trained. You don’t land a kick six feet up the bag like that unless you’ve been trained.” It was good to see that I haven’t forgotten everything :)

There was more discussion about guns, conspiracy theories, the government, and what it meant to be a true patriot before he said, “you wanna really hear something?” and went downstairs to turn the generator on. When he came back he went to town on one of his electric guitars. This guy was definitely a real musician.

Though Kennedy Meadows may not have been what I expected to find, it was full of awesome and amazing adventures!! I can’t wait to see what awaits me in the Sierras… The trip has been incredibly amazing so far.

p.s. Still having trouble with the newest revision of the blogging software, hopefully it will get resolved soon!

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Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! (PCT Days 14 – 16)

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Near one of the road intersections I came across the above sing warning hikers about potential mountain lions in the area and suggesting that “hikers should bear side arms.”

Over the winter I’d seen a mountain lion in my home state of Massachusetts and there had been a lot of discussion about why government officials might be reluctant to confirm sightings. Though I’m not sure whether the reluctance is real or not, signs like this one certainly make me understand why there may be a reluctance to confirm sightings. It seemed to me that the sign was trying to encourage fear, panic, and a shoot to kill attitude towards mountain lions (cougars).

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As I continued up the trail I kept my eyes open for cougars and rattlesnakes and bears, and whatever else might be lurking in the woods, but figured my odds of running into a mountain lion were probably just as good as they would be anywhere else on the trail (fairly low, and preferably at a distance).

Within the next five miles the trail intersected with a dirt road and saw what appeared to be mountain lion tracks. big mountain lion tracks. They made my men’s size 10 wide boots look small! Was it a hoax? It seemed a bit suspicious to me being so near the warning sign.

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I followed the tracks up the road and away from the trail and human tracks until I was confident that the tracks weren’t likely to be a hoax (if anybody knows a tracker that could provide verification or thoughts on the tracks I would be interested in hearing their thoughts!). The pressure, the variation, the spacing, and the number of tracks all suggested to me that the tracks were real though I have to admit I’m definitely not an expert tracker by any stretch of the imagination!

I have to admit, after seeing those giant tracks I may have slowed down a bit so that the friend hiking behind me could catch up to me. I figured the tracks were at least a day old and were going away from the trail, but it made me feel a bit better to hike near someone else for a while!

As I continued hiking I got the dialog from the wizard of oz stuck in my head, “do- do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?” Asks Dorothy and the tin man replies, “Um, some. Mostly lions and tigers and bears.” I almost skipped along to the chorus, “Lions and tigers and bears. oh my!” It seemed possible, even probably that at some point on my journey I would encounter mountain lions and bears, but I had no idea that later that same day I was going to encounter actual lions and tigers and bears!

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When I rounded the corner it was the smell that hit me first, kind of a fetid, rancid, nasty smell. I looked up and saw rows and rows of chain link fence. In the corner of one there was a large brown blob. As I approached, it became clear that it was a large brown bear intermittently panting in the sun and chewing on the metal bars. It appeared to be a 12×18 foot cage without any enrichment and without any shade. It seemed very sad to me. It was not the way I wanted to see a bear, or any animal really.

As I continued up the hill I saw more animals lying down in their cages in the sun. There were lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And they all looked very sad to me. I heard later that they were retired stunt animals. I just wish they at least had larger cages and some kind of environmental enrichment. If they spent their lives working to entertain us isn’t there something more that we could or perhaps even should do to make their lives better?

I may not feel comfortable seeing the big wild animals up close and personal in the wilderness, but I definitely think that that’s where they belong. We are guests in their world, and if we pull them into our world, we should treat them as respected guests if we can.

Yeah, it’s legal, but it ain’t 100% legal (PCT days 9&10)

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There are some nights when I feel like staying in my tent in a field of boulders. It was just 3 more miles to the trail angels house and the next water source, and it was only 4 o’clock, but I didn’t want to camp near a road again. I’d spent the previous night camped by the road at Warner Springs and it was way too loud so close to town. This spot in the boulders was quiet and beautiful and I loved it. I could stretch my water until morning and just relax for the rest if the afternoon.

I woke up early the next morning and headed to my next source of water, the trail angels house. The trail angels and trail magic on the PCT have been absolutely amazing. It seems like they are incredibly organized and go to an amazing amount of effort to help the hikers out, especially with water. This trail angel’s place was no different. Instead of just a couple of jugs of water, he’d installed a giant full tank of water for the hikers.

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As I was filling up my water I heard the unmistakable laughter of the Russians (three Russian hikers that I’d been hiking with on and off for the last couple of days), so I decided to head down, say hi to the Russians, and meet the resident trail angel.

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The Russians and the trail angel were sitting in front of the house chatting and welcomed me warmly. They offered me some tea, so I sat down to join them for a spell. It was only 8 am so I was barely half awake.

The trail angel got up for a smoke and the conversation turned to state versus federal drug laws. The Russians had never seen weed before, so asked to see the trail angels prescription. “100% legal” said the Russian translator. The trail angel replied that yes, he had a prescription, but that even though it was legal you were better off thinking of it as illegal.

It turns out that he used to own a dispensary (100% legal according to state law), but he’d been raided by the Feds. Having been arrested 11 times for issues associated with pot, his lack of confidence in the law seemed very understandable!

As the conversation waned and turned towards other subject matter one of the Russians walked away from the table and towards the backyard where he picked up a 22 and began shooting at beer cans. This combination of events was a little too much for my brain to process at 8 am!

I drank my tea and enjoyed this new and somewhat surreal trail experience. On the AT lots of people talked about guns and asked me if I was carrying one, but I’d never actually seen anyone firing them. On the PCT this was now my second time watching someone fire at targets in the desert.

I finished my tea and as I prepared to head back out into the desert I wondered what new and surreal adventures were still awaiting me!

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