[at-l] Village Soup, corridor monitoring

rockdancer97 at comcast.net rockdancer97 at comcast.net
Tue Nov 3 06:57:50 CST 2009

It's an interesting personal account of being a corridor monitor for the AT while living in Maine. --RD 


(I'm not sure what "Village Soup" is all about) 

Down the Road a Piece 

By Milton Gross 

WALDO COUNTY (Oct 28): Finding a piece of metal deep in the woods 
By Milt Gross 

This past week I actually did it, I found one of those permanent bounday markers deep in the woods along the corridor of the Appalachian Trail (AT). 

It was not in Waldo County but way off in the woods northwest of Monson, along a rough, steep, and rocky road that climbs around on Breakneck Ridge. I didn’t break mine. 

I did have to carefully negotiate an old, steep, rocky -- as in loose rock that wanted to roll under my normalcy-challenged leg for which I use a walking stick to sturdy things a bit -- jeep road, cross a six-foot wide brook, trusting that leg and stick to keep my feet dry, and wallow along through a wetland that continued to call itself the old jeep road on the other side of the brook. 

And I did have some fun with others in those woods, a single wild turkey, a what-I-would-guess-to-be yearling bull moose who left me a couple of tracks to steer by -- and look around by to make sure he wasn’t peeping at me through the trees, and a gray squirrel, which was probably one of the ones we feed here at home....just making sure he knew where I was before it was feeding time again. 

I’ve been a member of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) since 1980, which makes my membership a 29-year affair between me and those other guys and gals who do a lot more than I can. That affair began when a hiking friend slipped in the mud and said, unhappily and a bit cynically, “They should take better care of this trail.” I found out who “they” were and have been a member ever since. 

During the first dozen or so years of this lopsided relationship in which all the rest of those guys and gals do a lot more volunteering than do I, I lived about 40 miles from a section of AT assigned to me to maintain. I did okay with that for several years, but then a lack of tools and money to buy them became a problem. Those tools would have allowed me to remove grass and similar stuff from the footpath. At the same time, I became busy enough as a newspaper reporter to not have enough time to maintain that section adequately, even had I had those tools. 

I talked with the MATC member in charge of that kind of volunteering and we mutually agreed for me to be “fired” and take on a new type of fun volunteering out in the woods -- out in the woods being the key to all this AT stuff for me. I now became a corridor-monitor (which I fondly dub as CMing) for a section a bit west of my original section. 

As a CMer, I crawled, clawed, stumbled, and otherwise made my way through forest and puckerbrush, over small cliffs, through wet places, and occasionally too close to a moose who apparently thought he was the CMer. He did, in fact -- actually they, several moose -- follow the approximately four-foot wide opening through yonder forest that had been cut along the boundary lines of both sides of the AT in my new section. 

Then I somehow hurt a leg, the right one, which kind of put a crimp on my boundary-line walking and stumbling. It slowed me down quite a bit to the point that on one CMing venture I took a friend with me. I think my wife had persuaded him to go to make sure I would get home again. We both got home, but that was a turtle-paced trip during which my friend kept wondering aloud why I was going so slow. 

Hey, you try keeping up speed with a leg that likes to cause pain when you do outlandish stuff such as walk on it. 

On a later CMing venture, I took another friend -- which I think accounts for two of the three friends I might still have had after being a reporter and, as a MATC volunteer, dragging friends through the woods to follow yellow-blazed AT boundary lines. It was in the spring, and when we came across the tracks of a momma and baby moose, he said, “I want to see them.” 

“No you don’t,” I insisted, being a bit more familiar with momma moose with their babies than was my friend. 

I had my way and we didn’t, but that led to my friend’s becoming tired and bored and wanting to return to the car and home. I managed to drag him on awhile and actually got some CMing accomplished before following him back to the car. 

>From then on, I CMed by myself. But we had by that time moved onto and now near Mount Desert Island -- renting until we could finally buy in the woods west of Ellsworth -- and my CMing section required five or six hours of driving before I spent the rest of the day limping. CMing now meant nights in a motel, but neither my budget nor allotted time to be in the woods allowed that to work. 

Somewhere along the way, perhaps while I was out limping one day, the CMing plan kind of changed. It originally had been for me to find my way from yellow boundary blaze to yellow boundary blaze, which had become difficult over the years as the four-foot width grew back in and even the gap between the trees along the boundaries also was filled with branches. The new plan, I was informed, was to find, locate, describe their location, and digitally photograph permanent, I believe aluminum, boundary monuments along the boundary way between those yellow blazes. 

I had found one by accident during my years on my original CMing assignment. 

So a year or so ago, I asked Dave, the guy in charge of all this CMing of which there are some 70 CMing sections along the AT from Grafton Notch to Katahdin, if he could find me a CMing place closer to home. 

He did, only three hours from our house. There could be no place really close to home as the AT simply avoids Ellsworth as a lot of motorists wish they (we) could. My new section is in Blanchard west of Monson by several thousand rocks along the Taylor Road, known more romantically as Breakneck Ridge Road because it traverses Breakneck Ridge above Horseshoe Canyon. (No horseshoes yet in my ramblings in and near my new CMing section, just moose prints in the mud. And yup, there is mud. The AT wouldn’t be the AT without mud, just ask any of the real hikers, the ones who actually hike it.) 

Last year I looked for my new section somewhere off that romantic and rocky road. I followed what I thought was an old log road accessing my new section. It turned out to be a U-shaped old log road that spent a fair part of its meanderings under water and mud before reversing directions and heading south instead of my preferred direction, north, where several maps assured me the AT was located. 

I did find several bird hunters, who were not in ye olde muddy woods but along that romantic rocky road in their pickups. Did you know that the up-to-date cool way to hunt birds is to drive along a road in your pickup until a bird lands on your hood, jumps up and down, and waves its wings invitingly at you? Of course, by the time you stop your pickup, clamber out, get your shotgun in hand, and look at the hood, Mr. Bird has flown the non-coop. I would too if I had an idea some guy to whom I was being nice enough to wave to was trying in turn to have me for supper. 

One of last year’s bird hunters turned out to be Roger Foster, who also turned out to be the science teacher (when not bird hunting) who had tried hard to teach all four of my bread snappers back when they had daily wandered the halls of their high school in western Maine. 

Last year’s CMing was frustrating, as I never did find either the AT or my section of boundary lines to CM. But it was rewarding to accidentally meet my kids’ old (well, older than when he tried to teach them) science teacher. 

I thought of them all the other day, the four bread snappers, Roger, my good wife, Dolores, and my new hand-held GPS while following my steep, rocky, wet old jeep road to my new CMing turf. 

I thought about a moose too, half expecting one to jump out of the puckerbrush and holler, “Boo!” in mooselish -- which may qualify as Maineiac moose lingo. But he only left me those wet footprints to allow my imagination to make up the rest. I did, of course, see the turkey and those other bird hunters. 

I used to bird hunt, but I’ve dropped it, because I don’t have a pickup with a good-enough hood for birds to hop up and down on and because I actually prefer rambling in the woods rather than driving along a romantic rocky road. 

What’s the point of all this rambling not in the woods? If you too would rather ramble in the woods than drive along a romantic rocky road, try wandering along an AT boundary corridor or, better yet and much closer to home if home is anywhere from Ellsworth to Union, any of the older or newer trails in our turf. Dolores and I have finally discovered the Georges River Land Trust and have begun following their selection of places to find forest, mud, or whatever it is about the Maine woods that turns us on. Try it. It will keep you away from the mall. 

Woods, mud, rocks, roots, yellow blazes, other-color blazes, moose, turkey, and all are much nicer than the mall. 

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway at midmaine.com. Milton M. Gross Copyright 2009
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