Continued from 30 September with Giggles
It's estimated that 2-3 million visitors take a hike on of the Appalachian Trail each year. Most enjoy day hikes and short backpacking trips, but each year a small amount complete the entire Trail. The “2,000-miler,” coined in the late 1970s, includes thru-hikes and multi-year section-hikes. However, even beyond this massive undertaking is completing the entire estimated 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail with continuous footsteps, in one calendar year. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike; only about one in four make it all the way.
With all of this foot traffic, it can have a major impact on our public lands, and we all want it to be a positive impact. Stewardship efforts come full force from Ridgerunners, and Carla Mitchell is no exception. From educating, supporting and helping hikers to adopt techniques and understand Leave No Trace principles, Ridgerunners provide direct impact in minimizing damage to the natural environment.
So let us learn more from Carla Mitchell, our third Ridgerunner from Maine, trail name Jukebox. We highlight her achievement to infinity and beyond with AT 2017 NOBO and trust our safety in her hands as a WFR through NOLS (Wilderness First Responder through National Outdoor Leadership School).
Public Lands Coffee: Surprise! This interview begins with a challenge. In 5 words or less, define what a Ridgerunner is.
Jukebox: On the record? A Ridgerunner is “a steward of the trail”
PLC: What section of trail are you responsible for? Is there a portion that’s your favorite? Why?
Jukebox: My position as the ATC Ridgerunner is unique because one of my main focuses is to urge thru hikers into the ATC Visitor Center in Monson. In the beginning of the hiking season (May-June) I was hiking north into the 100 Mile Wilderness to intercept the SOBO’s. This section spanned from Route 15 to the Katahdin Ironworks Road, about 30 miles. This section includes the Barren-Chairback Range and is generally rocky and rooty with a lot of ups and downs. The section I’m currently running is 37 miles between Monson and Caratunk, hiking south to intercept the NOBO’s and encouraging them to stop in the VC to plan for Baxter. I love this section! It’s fairly mellow with two peaks on the trail - Moxie Bald and Pleasant Pond Mountain - and one peak that’s a 0.7 blue blaze off trail - North Moxie - which might be one of my favorite places in the world! Incredible sunrises and sunsets (and lots of blueberries).
PLC: Describe an average day for you on the job.
Jukebox: Since I typically spend only 3 days on trail at a time (I split my time 3 days on trail and 2 days in the Visitor Center) I tend to focus at one task during my time in the field. Last week I hiked with loppers and a saw and did some light trail maintenance like clipping and sawing small blowdowns. Other weeks I’ll focus more on packing things out of the shelters that people leave behind (it’s a lot sometimes and my pack gets very heavy!) But my main goal every week is talking to hikers and making sure they are informed about procedures in Baxter.
PLC: What is the biggest misconception about your role/life on the trail?
Jukebox: I think the biggest misconception is that we don’t do anything besides hike. The reality is, we are constantly talking to people all day, packing out loads of random stuff, reporting trail conditions and water sources etc. Don’t get me wrong, there is A LOT of hiking but it’s not solely hiking.
PLC: A lot of hikers think you have their dream job. What would you say to them?
Jukebox: I do! Apply! It’s awesome. I learned so much this year working for the ATC. It’s a lot of work. I had to pack out a human turd in my backpack earlier in the season, it’s not all glamorous, but it makes for some good stories.
PLC: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a Ridgerunner? Any important skills or training they should develop/acquire?
Jukebox: I think being personable, friendly, and welcoming will get you further than you think. Yes, it’s important to have prior knowledge/experience on the AT, but we are working on the trail to connect and educate people. It’s very social. Alternatively, I received my Wilderness First Responder certification through NOLS last year. Not necessary but definitely helps.
PLC: Are there any mistakes that you see hikers make regularly, that make you just shake your head?
Jukebox: I was super surprised to find that a lot of hikers still throw their trash, food, and cigarette butts in a fire ring! If it’s not firewood it doesn’t belong in there.
PLC: How about a POSITIVE experience that totally redeemed your faith in our species.
Jukebox: I could think of a dozen or more instances from my thru-hike, but as far as things that I’ve experienced ridgerunning? I would say that seeing families out here with their kids really tugs at my heart strings. The kids are getting much more than a wilderness experience outside, but they are experiencing a whole different way of life. They meet people and befriend people they probably wouldn’t even be exposed to in their home lives. That’s always been my favorite part of the trail, experiencing the connections you make with a very diverse population.
PLC: Your love of the hiking must have led you to become a Ridgerunner, so what do you do now with your leisure time? More hiking??
Jukebox: Exactly. Lots of exploring. Maine is incredibly beautiful and diverse and there is so much to explore.
PLC: I want to be like you when I grow up. Where can I find additional information and Ridgerunner job postings?
Jukebox: Check the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website for postings. Also check the regional trail clubs (MATC, Green Mountain Club, etc)
PLC: Bonus Question. A trail angel and a trail volunteer get in a fight. Who wins and why?
Jukebox: Trail angel because they can bribe the volunteer with beer, soda, and food and if I was a volunteer I would 110% surrender and settle differences for a cold PBR and a grilled cheese sandwich.
Sadly, this series has come to an end after we have had the luxury to gain insight from an awesome team in Maine. A great team, great friends, and a great wealth of trail knowledge. And lastly to send you off with some Grand Master wisdom: