A Day in the Life of a Trail Patroller: New Season, New Gear, New Friends

Kellogg Conservation Center

Kellogg Conservation Center

Last Thursday was a great day of networking for me. It started off that afternoon at the beautiful Kellogg Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts. I was there to meet the new seasonal ridge runners hired by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and along with our Connecticut Appalachian Mountain Club leaders, to teach them about how we manage our section of the trail.  Our state comprises 90% of the ground they will cover in their role, the other 10% being the southernmost section of Massachusetts. The new ridge runners should be out there on the trail as of this week to help should you need it. Say hello, and have a chat. They are a nice group and are out there to help hikers and take care of the trail, like me.

Caretaker tents

Caretaker tents

My  job and the ridge runners’ job is essentially the same with a few exceptions. They are paid to be on the trail all season, while I go out mostly on weekends and days off and volunteer my time whenever I can. And they also attend to the stuff inside the privies which I’m not going to complain about being exempt from having to do! But we are both out there for the same reason, doing pretty much the same thing. So It’s important to know each other, of course. We will see each other a lot.

When I arrived I got a nice tour of the building and grounds, which was cool because this is where the ATC oversees and coordinates everything for the trail in the area and I got to meet some of their management too. I really enjoyed seeing the canvas hut-style tents that the ridge runners were camping in for their training week. These are also the same kind of tents the campsite caretakers use. If you’ve been to Sages Ravine campsite you know the ones I mean. They are large white canvas tents and hold two cots in them with plenty of room to spare. They are obviously meant for longer, semi-permanent stays. Being a bit of a civil war history nut, they really remind me of civil war officers’ tents.

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

Race, Everett, and Bushnell

After the official business we had a BBQ and got to chat and get to know each other. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone out on the trail and all that we will learn. We shared some stories about the abundance of nightmare fire rings we’ve already dismantled. Someone out there is a master builder. Nice skills… too bad it’s not allowed.

I’ll be staying at Race Brook Falls campsite next month on a hike with our friends from Sages Ravine to Shay’s Rebellion site, so I told the ridge runners to say hi if they see me as they pass through. Speaking of which I loved that you could see pretty much the whole of that hike from Mt. Race to here from the lawn of KCC. I snapped a few shots and sent them to our friends to get them more stoked. I am looking forward to coming up with their trail names and covering this beautiful section of trail for the first time, and for us to have our first backpacking trip with friends. I hope that’s a tradition we continue.

As the BBQ wrapped up I headed down to Salisbury to meet up with a hiker I met on Whiteblaze.net, Rainman. He was doing a section through Connecticut and Massachusetts and it just so happened he was in Salisbury that evening, just 15 miles south of the KCC. I drove down the beautiful Route 41 past all the trailheads for the Elbow Trail, Race Brook Falls trail and Under mountain trail as well as the A.T. crossing just east of town en route to Mizza’s Pizza where he and a few others he was hiking with were having dinner (photo to come when Rainman can download it from his phone). They were staying at trail angel Maria McCabe’s and she had dropped them off there to have dinner and do laundry at the laundromat behind the restaurant.

At Mizza's Pizza with Rainman

At Mizza’s Pizza with Rainman

We had some pizza, shared some stories and then I gave them a lift back to Maria’s before heading home. The sun was setting and casting amazing beams of light across the valley and the mountaintops. I wanted so badly to stay on the trail that night and hike the next few days but it was not in the cards. The pizza was tasty and they offer you free ice cream at the restaurant! Maria’s info is in the AWOL and other guides if you want to stay there. I was hoping to meet her but she was out herself at the time. Her house is just a short walk from the trail.

I also just took advantage of REI’s big Memorial Day sale and got the bucket of Mountain House meals and a new tent. Did I really need a new tent? Well, no but I am out there a lot. So that’s my excuse. And the lighter the load the happier the hiker. And this tent is nearly a full pound lighter than my current solo tent. It’s also the REI brand which I have been really happy with so far for their quality — not just the guarantee. I know the smaller manufacturer’s have great customer support too… not hating on them.

Bushnell to Jug End

Bushnell to Jug End

The reviews were also fantastic for this tent and at 20% off to boot I couldn’t resist. I set it up in the yard yesterday as they recommend doing so because the set up is a little odd. I think I am in love. Fielden Stream loved it too. What a great tent! It will get its first official use this weekend when I’m up on the trail in the Bear Mountain/Lion’s Head area. If you’re out there say hello! (As usual, rain seems to be in the forecast) Because of its unusual pole design, it’s very roomy and super light. I swapped out the stock stakes with some MSR mini groundhogs and some Vargo titanium sheep hooks. I am going to try it without a footprint to save space and weight.

I had been doing all kinds of research on the lightweight tents including the great cottage industry ones from Henry Shires (Tarptent) as well as the Zpacks Cuben Fiber tents and offerings from Lightheart Gear. Mind you I’m always researching since I’m inundated with sales and offers and reviews in my email inbox! Massdrop has a great offer on the Zpacks Duplex right now but while I can justify a new tent that will get lots of use and is significantly lighter, those tents are way above my budget. And while they are even lighter, I also feel most comfortable and familiar with a double-wall tent at the moment. I checked out a couple other new double-walled offerings from MSR and Big Agnes but ultimately I found the best deal and bang per buck was this REI Quarter Dome 1.

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

My new REI Quarter Dome 1

And while this is only semi-freestanding, you really just have to be sure to stake down the foot end to get it to full functionality. I suppose it would be annoying to set up on a platform or rocky area but I avoid those anyway as they just kill my back. I do really still like my Easton Rimrock 1p tent and it will make a great tent for when a friend wants to come along on the trail. I love the way you can open both sides of the vestibule on that tent and use trekking poles to make a roof. At 3.2 lbs its still a very viable solo tent and will remain in my gear quiver. I was going to sell it but I realized I can lend it to buddies who might join me for a hike I hope one of these days.

— Linus


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