Friday, June 24, 2005

Conservative Slander

Karl Rove attacked liberals the a few days ago for their weak response to the 9-11 attacks. Liberals were weak and uncertain. Conservatives, on the other hand, were robust and strong in their response to the attacks. Nothing is uncertain in Rove’s mind as he looks at September 11, 2001.

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war," he said in a prepared text released by the White House. "Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

Three years of war in Afghanistan and two years in Iraq now show the results of the conservatives’ robust determination. Afghanistan remains chaotic and unstable. American forces continue to sustain casualties. The central government has little authority outside Kabul. The warlords who divide the remainder of the nation rule in a lawless, arbitrary manner, enforce strict Islamic law against women. Lack of personal security in Afghanistan has led some to remember the Taliban favorably.

Afghanistan at least had a tangible connection to 9–11. Iraq did not. Conservatives created a false threat to justify a robust response to “terror” that included military action to topple Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government. Two years on, American forces are the target of an increasingly well organized resistance that reflects most Iraqis’ opposition to the presence of a foreign occupier. Even though resistance was entirely predictable based on Iraqi history and politics, American forces lacked the numbers and skills needed to secure the nation in order to prevent the chaos that incubated resistance.
As a liberal who opposed both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, I will tell Karl Rove that I had no less anger, no less hatred for the attackers. No less desire for revenge. I also THOUGHT. Even as I mourned and raged, I looked at the broader context of history and motive, seeking to understand as much as I could about this watershed event before responding.

Karl Rove did not think. His response was more visceral.

"I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the twin towers crumble to the earth, a side of the Pentagon destroyed and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble. Moderation and restraint is not what I felt -- and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will -- and to brandish steel."

Karl Rove–and America–needed revenge. Attacking the al-Quaeda and its Taliban supporters allowed America to strike back, to extract a toll from the perpetrators of this heinous crime. The world applauded and supported America’s actions. What I questioned then and still question now was the long term effectiveness of a military strategy against non state terror organizations. I saw no real evidence of strategy that used intelligence, investigation and analysis to pursue this these elusive, decentralized networks. Taking the Taliban out of power did not destroy them or al-Quaeda and its networks around the world. They remain a threat that Bush/Cheney’s policy of military intervention, now grinding up American soldiers and equipment, does nothing to address.

My response to 9-11 was restraint. I thought about the causes and impact of the 9-11 attacks. I looked for alternatives for protecting my country and the world from terror. I sought to know the attackers motives and beliefs in order to understand the nature of this threat. Because I know the chaos of war, I looked to avoid its destruction and death. Because I took time to think, Karl Rove dismisses me as an American, my ideas and beliefs not worthy of consideration. I am a liberal who is timid and afraid, some one who will not stand up for his nation. Only conservatives have the clarity of thought and will to protect America, according to Rove.

The chaos and carnage in Afghanistan and Iraq are the Conservatives legacy. So to is the loss of American credibility and rising distrust of America throughout the world. This conservative legacy is testimony to how little Americans stopped to think about the long term consequences of the Bush/Cheney wars. Instead, this nation responded to feelings manipulated in the pursuit of meritritious policies. Some thought would have saved this nation and the world much grief.

Monday, June 20, 2005

AT 2005. The Final Chapter

(Note: Now that my Appalachian Trail hike is complete, I am posting the email updates I sent from the trail but never posted while I was walking.) They read chronologically up from the bottom.)

June 17, 2005

My 2005 Appalachian Trail hike is complete. I came off the trail at Rockfish Gap, Virginia on June 13. In total, I hiked 400 AT miles (the 222 I missed in 2002 and the rest because I wanted to), about 15 miles of other trail and road and unknown miles climbing down (and back) for campsites and water. I received many kindnesses from family, friends fellow hikers and complete strangers. In many ways, this hike was as encompassing and engrossing as my much longer thru-hike. And, I think, more fun.

After finishing the Pennsylvania miles, I visited my 87 year old aunt, the last of my parents’ generation, in Johnstown. My brother, Neil came up from Atlantal for the visit. We also spent some time in my father’s hometown of Shippensburg where we found the family cemetery plot, information and photograph of the drug store my great uncle, grandfather and father ran there for almost a century.

After Pennsylvania, Neil drove me to Bland, Virginia where I started hiking north to find my friends, Montreal and Kutsa. I caught them in a couple days and began hiking with them just as a major storm front moved into the area. We had about 45 hours of steady rain, which left us increasingly wet. We managed to dry out and continue but the very humid weather that followed led Montreal and Kutsa to rethink their plans. They ultimately decided to head for Maine and hike south on the AT. We hitchhiked to a point on the trail farther north, regrouped for our separate journeys. In all, we hiked about 50 miles together and had the chance to share each others’ company one more time. I last saw them on the balcony of the Howard Johnson’s in Troutville, Virginia. Kutsa was waving to me and Montreal was filming me as I walked back to the trail.

The final week on the trail was an exercise in planning, logistics and luck, as I hiked, hitchhiked and walked the Blue Ridge Parkway 130 miles to Rockfish Gap. One of my rides was a cross-dresser named Cynthia/Johnny (his hair was perfect). I met new hikers each time I jumped trail miles. One of the major differences between this year and 2002 is that I did not get to know many of the hikers I met. But meeting so many and seeing how thru-hikers are pretty much the same this year as in 2002 was one of the more enjoyable parts of the trip. Not quite as much fun was the heat, humidity or the steep climbs in central Virginia. Nor was getting soaked by an afternoon thunderstorm on a high ridge as I raced across open areas, hoping the lightning would not get any closer. On that day rain, heat and sweat combined to produce the rankest hiking clothes I ever wore.

But I was able to stay dry that evening in my tent during a series of showers and dried out nicely the following day at a hikers’ B&B. After that, my days were short miles and relatively easy despite a few challenging climbs. I had much time to think and reflect about this hike and my 2002 thru-hike. What I realized was how lucky I am that I was able to hike, that I made the decisions that took me to the trail and that I had family and friends to support me along the way. Even when I hiked solo, I was never alone.

On my next to last day, I crossed Reeds Gap in the early morning. Reeds Gap is a special place to me. It’s where I first learned about the Appalachian trail in the year after my return from Vietnam. During the next ten years I spent much time there stargazing, watching sunrises and sunsets, just gazing into the vast landscapes and walking the trail, all of which soothed my spirit in good times and bad. Returning to this place two decades later helped me realize that I began healing the anger, bitterness and self-doubt from Vietnam at Reeds Gap. After many years, I have found peace with those events and my actions. In the end, my Appalachian Trail hike was, among many things, a pilgrimage of reconciliation. Not bad for just following a trail in the woods.

Thanks for your e-mails and encouragement. As I said, I never hiked alone and for that I am forever grateful.

Rez Dog

AT 2005. Part Four

May 26, 2005

At 5:18 pm on Saturday, May 21 I completed the last mile of the Appalachian Trail at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. Not exactly Mt. Katahdin but a fitting end point, one that not only had beer but also did not require a five mile return hike over rocks and a 27 mile ride to the nearest town. Good enough for me and the friends who walked in with me. Beverly Carver, Norma Job and Pat Doyle shared my final eight miles. I was glad to have long time friends as company . We shared a round of beer before showering and returning to the Doyle for cheeseburgers and more malt beverage.

The 12 days from Palmerton to Duncannon were mostly pleasant, sometimes tricky but looking back across those ridges and miles, I had a decent walk--a far better one than thru-hikers now in southwest and central Virginia will have when they hit Pennsylvania in four to six weeks. "Rocksylvania" turned out far better than I expected. Yeah, I stepped over, on and around plenty of rocks but I never found it particularly difficult. No doubt a liesurely schedule and good hiking weather made the rocks less tedious. Even so, I looked forward to the end of several--some long-- rocky stretches. But they always ended and in some cases were followed by good trail and easy grades. In many places the rocks are cobbles, a nuisance but nothing really difficult. And, unlike many other states, Pennsylvania AT miles don't require much climbing. It's mostly ridge walking. I don't doubt that Pennnsylvania can be a real challenge. The thru-hikers I met in Delaware Water Gap in July 2002--Red, Gary and all the rest--came through in summer heat and humidity. They had to walk ALL the way down to the only reliable spring at most shelters where Pennsylvania in May 2005 is blowing with water. A drier, hotter May would have made my walk much less tolerable.

But I lucked out. I had good dates and good experiences. During my first week south from Delaware Water Gap I was largely on my own; met a few people but camped solo many nights. In Port Clinton, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with two brothers whom I had met on the trail a few days earlier. I met thru-hiker Big Daddy D at the bar of the Port Clinton Hotel and we proceeded to the bar of the Port Clilnton Fire Department and shared the hospitality of the local volunteers. A few days later I met day hikers from the local AT club and was invited to their post hike cook out. I walked 15 miles that day and was pleased to share their food and company. In the following week I began to meet many more northbound thru-hikers from Georgia and distance section hikers. My rough count is 29 and 10, respectively.

Hiking the AT in Pennsylvania is not a wilderness experience. It's more an experience in the space bertween all the people. Between DWG and and Duncannon the trail follows ridge lines of Kittatinny Mountain, then Blue Mountain and Peters Mountain. On either side of those ridges are farms, homes, small towns, interstate highways and all the commotion of human enterprise. Noise is ever present, although the ridges are sufficiently remote that I can ignore if not forget it. Along the ridge is the habitat that remains for rattlesnakes, bear, deer, turkey and grouse. The plant life is varied if not as widespread as it is farther south. Many wildflowers--bluets, columbine, mayflowers, pink ladyslipper, jack-in-the-pulpit and others I cannot name were in bloom as I passed through. Mountain laurel and rhododendron are still to come. Fiddlehead ferns grew abundantly in many places, their massed greenery creating some of the most dramatic contrast in an otherwise muted forest. The forest is largely new growth, having been clearcut two or three times previously.

One of my greatest delights came at the Eckville Shelter where the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club maintains a shelter with four walls, a door and windows, flush toilet, solar shower (not yet heated for the season but welcom at the end of a hot humid day) and a caretaker who stocks cold drinks and ice cream for hikers (also welcome, etc). The shelter register goes back to 2001 so I was able to see what my friends friends wrote when they passed through in June and July 2002. Seeing their words, their names, their humor and artwork transported me back to those days, the days when I was not with them, and suddenly they were a real part of me hike. That alone was worth th effort of this hike.

So now I've hiked the entire AT. I still have no great thoughts to share although I have learned that I can dry off with two bandanas after a shower, that camping alone is not bad but company is even better and that the AT and the people I met there will always be an important part of my life. I also learned that I am a lucky man to have had the support, assistance and good wishes of so many people. Even when I was by myself I was never alone.

I'm in western Pennsylvania, visiting my aunt, the last of my parents' siblings, and cousins. My brother came up from Atlanta and will haul me back to Virginia to find Montreal and Kutsa for a few more days' hiking on the AT before I head back to the blast furnace that is a Phoenix summer.

Rez Dog
GA=ME 02
Missing Miles 05

AT 2005. Part Three

May 9, 2005

The weather is starting to warm up. Pennsylvania has been unusually cool for this time of year, which has made walking far more tolerable than it was in July 2002 when I would have walked here on my thru-hike. So has the cloudy weather. There's lots of sun in the forecast for the next few days, so walking along the exposed ridges here may be a bit intense. At least I don't have bugs and dry springs to contend with. I did have the odd experience of coming into a shelter where the water supply is a spigot from an adjacent Retreat Center. Two northbound hikers got their water at the spigot. I found it shut off and no way to turn it back on. The other hikers shared their extra water with me so I had just enough, along with the half liter I caged from a day hiker, to walk 14 miles on the first truly warm day. Things like that leave me edgy but somehow manage to work out.

I'm in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, about 36 miles from Delaware Water Gap. The infamous Pennsylvania rocks are a challenge but not quite as bad as I thought. They have, however, given my about four blisters (my first of this trip) and at times are pretty tedious. What they are not are boulder fields, which is what I had expected. Most all photos I've seen of Pennsylvania are hikers crossing exposed rock areas. Mostly, the trail is just rocky so I must watch my step carefully. I'm doing very well in that regard on this hike. In over 100 miles of walking I've not fallen yet. I fell every few days last time. This time my reflexes seem much better so when I trip or my ankle rolls, I am able to catch myself before I go down. Perhaps I have truly learned to walk erect. I can only hope so.

This stretch of the hike has not been quite as lonely as I feared. I meet hikers most days, including north bound thru-hikers coming from Georgia. One whom I met on May 3 showed up at the shelter where I was staying on the 7th; he and his companion walked 130 miles in four days. I expect to cover that distance in 12 days. For the most part, though, I am on my own for much of each day and, since I sleep in a tent (far more comfortable than a shelter unless it's screaming rain), I have a lot of time to think and reflect. I'd like to tell you I am awash in Great Thoughts but mostly I figure how soon I will reach the next camp, what to eat next and how soon I can make the next town.

One thought that does come up often is how isolated from the rest of the world I am as a thru-hiker, pretty much separate from non-hikers. I experienced this alienation in 2002. Even in towns, hikers are pretty much removed from routine life. We are just passing through and have little to do with the people whom we see and meet. We wear distinctive clothing that sets us apart and a battered, worn and unshaven. Places like Palmerton are a good antidote to that isolation. The town lets hikers sleep in the basement of the borough hall and use the shower there. A very friendly policeman let me in late on a Sunday afternoon. The town clerk gave me a hiker goodie bag prepared by the local girl scout troop and the grocery store gave me a free apple. The same is true of many towns along the way and it helps keep things in perspective.

The trail coming into Palmerton passes through a Superfund area where the entire mountain top was poisoned by the emissions from the zinc smelter that was a major industry here for about a century. It's probably the most desolate stretch of trail I will see. I was planning to camp there last night so I could come into town early today but I got there early in the afternoon and wasn't too thrilled about sitting there all afternoon. Instead, I added four more miles and a sheer 1,000 foot descent into Lehigh Gap to my day.

Spring is coming to Pennsylvania now but it's not as rampant as it seemed down south. The forest here is about third or fourth generation, mostly small and not nearly as impressive as what I walked through in Georgia and Carolina. Wildflowers are coming up in places, including those little pale blue for petal flowers I was so taken with in the south. Not much wildlife is visible. Every now and then I think I hear wild turkey but I never see one.

And one addition to my last update. Peyton tells me that we finished third in the men's tandem class in the Nelson Downriver Race with time of about 1 hour, 42 minutes. I think we get a medal.

That's it from Palmerton. Now it's time for a final town meal before I head to the next shelter south.

Rez Dog

AT 2005. Part Two.

May 6, 2005

Now I am at the Church of the Mountain hostel in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania preparing to head south for the last of the 140 miles i missed in 2002. I'm using the chuch's computer and the office will close soon, so this one will be short.

I finished hiking with Montreal and Kutsa back in Erwin, Tennessee on April 23. After two sunny days in town, we had two days of increasingly stomy weather. No matter. The woods were beautifully etheral and, as long as I kept walking, I was warm. We walked into town in a cold rain and bailed into a Holiday Inn Express that was also filled with hikers, all of whom were taking refuge from the predicted snow storm. It wasn't much of a storm but it was snow and cold. I rode out on a Greyhound bound for Virginia. It was hard leaving Montreal and Kutsa behind. Their company made for great hiking.

Good friends Peyton and Carol Coyner put me up for a week while I got ready for Pennsylvania. I probably could have prepared more quickly but there were so many diversions: Carol's book club (I read the book about a year ago), a nine mile canoe trip down the Rockfish River, during which Peyton (wielding a chain saw) and I cleard two major obstructions. We also visited an old friend in Richmond for an afternoon and participated in the Nelson County Downriver Race on the Tye River on Saturday. We only flipped once and managed to finish.

Sunday Peyton drove me to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania and dropped me at the trailhead the following morning. Now I am truly alone. The first day's walk was 14 miles across the Cumberland Valley, open farming country and mosly flat. I saw one other person. The following day I met a thru-hiker who had walked from Georgia this year (he left in late February and is moving very fast). My second night's camp was at Hawk Rock overlooking Duncannon, PA which is situated on a bend in the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg. The view was achingly beautiful.

I spent last night at the famed Doyle Hotel, which by any standards would be a flophouse. It's worn, faded and dilapidated but has a good bar (which is what keeps it open) and cheap rooms for hikers. As long as you don't need A/C it's okay. Actually, I needed the heat. Pennsylvania is still cold this first week in May.

Tomorrow, I head south.

Rez Dog