Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hiking With The ATDOT

Pacemakers for the rest of us.

Backpacking is getting more popular all the time.

With the rising cost of living on top of a crashed economy and widespread job loss, more annoying people than ever are taking to the trails. And most are even more ignorant than the average backpacker.

This is easy to see on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, for decades one of the most heavily traveled trails in the country. And it's getting worse.

The AT as it's called is 2181 miles (3510 km) long, and passes through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, North Virginia, Northwest Virginia, North-northwest Virginia, Far North Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and several Yankee states.

"So what?" you say. "I done that there a few years back. Let's have some more ribs and beer."

Sure, you can say that.

You think, maybe, this summer, you'll go on out there and do a tad bit more a that there trompin', iffn' you has the itch.

Maybe not, Scooter. Pretty soon you will need a license.

All those new people? Causing problems.

Problems beyond even the normal stray garbage, flies, human droppings, random gunfire, and mentally defective animals attracted by armpit smell.

There's new stuff now. Congestion. Weekend and holiday pileups are common.

Rush-hours, pranged trekking poles, dented backpacks, scuffed Gore-Tex, trail rage. Now it's all yokels, all over, all the time, and they're killing the trail.

Managers have a multi-year plan for improvements, beginning soon, with an end to construction in 2020.

Old timers, especially the slow ones, will say the trail is good enough. Wide enough. Smooth enough for two people to walk side by side while having a friendly chat.

Nope. Not any more. That will soon be illegal.

The old single dirt track will soon be four lanes, two north, two south, separated by a median, paved and striped. Professionals and competitive hikers with commercial sponsors will be free to use the inside (fast) lanes. Average, unlicensed, unpaid amateurs and wandering Sunday strollers will have to stick to the slow lanes or get ticketed, maybe jailed for obstruction.

Soon you'll see multi-level trails with ramps, passing lanes, and 24-hour rest areas.

But until then, starting in June, watch for uniformed "Pace Patrols" marching two abreast, directing traffic, answering questions, and writing the occasional warning citation.

Enjoy the experience of rolling speed harmonization as you follow the Pace Patrols' bright flashing lights and flow along with them at a steady 2.5 mph (4 kph), no more, no less. Right away you'll notice improved safety, smoother traffic, and fewer fistfights, especially around parks and beer kegs.

They kinda do it in Colorado...CDOT Tests I-70 Pace Cars With Ski Traffic Sunday.