I'll take hiking tales over gas fumes any day

August 03, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's Note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. This column was originally published Sept. 14, 2005.

I went up to New Hampshire last week to see why President Bush has been so slow to get disaster aid to the White Mountains. They gave me some cockamamie line about not having any disaster that they knew of. Sure, whatever.

But being away, this meant I missed Gov. Ehrlich's "Remain Calm, All is Well" speech of last Friday when he was forced to dispel rumors that every gasoline station in Maryland would close for the weekend at 5 p.m.

I do admit that the gas prices make me long for the days of my ancient pickup Old Copper which, once I'd made a strategic adjustment to the points, would run passably well on kerosene.


For someone seeking solitude, of course, high gasoline prices have some benefit, because it means fewer people are making the drive to the mountain trailheads - that or they somehow knew I was going to be there, and they didn't see the need to ruin their trip.

Hiking in New England, my brother and I actually got thumbed by a ranger who, bereft of any other human target in the middle of a surprisingly empty mountain range, was compelled to level her interrogation powers at us. After concluding - rather sadly, I thought - that we were of no danger to anyone, she half-heartedly apologized for "just doing her job."

"You would be surprised at the crazy stuff that goes on up here," she added, in her defense. "Crazy, crazy stuff."

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Well - the other night someone's dog got loose."

"No. Really?"

"Yep. I finally tied it off on a clothesline myself and had to walk it back to their camp. And did they even act like anything was wrong? Hmph. I wrote 'em up for that. Or I would have, but it wasn't my quadrant and it was raining and, you know, you can hike them out and write them up, but sometimes it just isn't worth it, but I got her name and I don't think she was lying about that, because I asked her kind of fast and she didn't have time to think anything up..."

By this time Bruce and I were looking at each other and shifting back and forth on our feet, kind of anxious to get going and all - but we couldn't break away.

"...course when I asked what town she was from she said 'New Orleans' and I said, 'OK, let me see if I got this straight. You have a western New York accent, but your home is in New Orleans and it's all flooded out and you got no place to go so you come all the way up here so's you can walk in the rain?' I don't think so. Well, it doesn't matter if she gave me the right town, if she gave me her right name - and I think she did, 'cause I asked her fast, you know, I can run her through the system and we can find out where she lives, now if it says New Orleans, well OK then, but if it says she's from Buffalo, we can send her a ticket, you know?"

"Um. All this over a dog, is it?"

"Absolutely. They can't just let them loose, because, well for one thing because of the bears - we had a bear on the point the other night and you can hear them progress down the shoreline by the screams and dogs barking and people banging on pots. I could calculate just about the time the bear would get to my campsite, so I'd say 'all right, time to get things tied down, because he's going to be here in about 10 minutes...'"

By this time I was ready to make a break for it. It was my opinion that we could outrun her, even with full packs. But Bruce hates to be impolite, so we toughed it out and it actually turned out to be a pretty interesting conversation. But it was clear that part of her outburst had come from a lack of other people to talk to out there in the wilderness, because even on the Labor Day weekend people were driving less.

And that's how the high price of gas has affected me.

So anyhow, I get back into town this week and have about 20 phone messages on the voice mail, all saying the same thing: The displaced New Orleans hurricane victims could be given a temporary home at Fort Ritchie.

Judging by voice tone only, I would say about half of them believed it was a good idea, about half believed it was a funny idea.

Those who thought it was funny are no doubt shocked to learn this week that it may actually happen. The displaced residents should feel right at home here. They have Mardi Gras, we have Augusteptobervemberfest. I mean, I know it's really not the same, but ...

Although why not? Move the whole celebration here and call it the Ritchie Gras.

All the PenMar board members could dress up as giant caterpillars and dragons and stuff and teeter around the parade grounds, while dozens of drunken, topless...

No, come to think of it, this is not a good idea at all. It's a very, very bad idea.

Sorry. Must be the gasoline fumes.

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