In a previous post I mentioned an encounter with The Ridgerunner, Georgia’s Appalachian Trail liaison, concierge, and good-will ambassador. I noted that after the brief encounter I thought of a variety of questions I would like to have asked, but the moment had passed.
In accordance with true serendipity, The Ridgerunner, a.k.a. Karunamiel, left a comment on this blog and I availed myself of the opportunity to ask the questions I should have asked on the trail.
She has graciously responded and here is our email interview:
The Ridgerunner, also known as Karunamiel
Many of us see the dream of spending time on the trail as elusive, difficult, and far away. Job and family responsibilities make time available for such things difficult to set aside. It would seem you have a dream job: paid to hike the Appalachian Trail. What is the reality, is it indeed a dream job?
Dream job? Yes! Absolutely! I get paid to do something that I love doing, that I’d be doing somewhat anyway. After my thru-hike I couldn’t see myself in a desk job. I floundered for about a year, then landed this job. It doesn’t pay much, but then, I don’t need much.
Dream life? No, not really. I don’t have a life apart from the Trail. I’m divorced; my children are grown and non-communicative. Hence, I don’t have a family life. I live with my mother, and we get along, but we’re not close. On my days off, I have a few things in town that I do, but mostly the time is spent resting my feet, and getting ready for the next week.
How much time do you spend on the trail? Are you able to briefly describe your schedule?
I am responsible for a little over 100 miles of trail, consisting of the A.T. in Georgia, the approach Trail, and a handful of side trails, maintained by the GATC (Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, my employer). I work a 4-week schedule that covers all of my territory. I made up the schedule myself, and am able to change it if the situation requires it. Week 1: Bly Gap – Chattahoochee Gap, and out on the Jacks Knob Trail (One of my side trails). Week 2: Chattahoochee Gap – Jarrard Gap, plus the Blood Mountain side trails, and the Lake Winfield Scott side trails. Week 3: Jarrard Gap – Nimblewill Gap on the Approach Trail. Week 4: The rest of the Approach Trail, the Hike Inn Trail, the Dockery Lake Trail, and the Rocky Mountain connector trail. I have a free day this week; if nothing comes along to fill it, I go up to Blood Mountain and caretake for the day.
My work week goes nonstop from Thursday morning to Monday afternoon, then I go home and write my report.
How did you become The Ridgerunner? It would seem this is not the type of job you see advertised in the classifieds.
The deeper answer to that question is: I followed God the best I knew how, and this is where it took me. The answer you more likely expect is: I was at the annual business meeting of the GATC in 2007 when the former ridgerunner announced his retirement. I nudged my buddy and said, “Gee, I’d sure like to have that job”. She said, “Let’s see who you have to talk to”. And that was pretty much all she wrote. I talked to the appropriate people, went through the formalities of submitting an application, and here I am! For those who don’t have inside connections, there is a ridgerunner application on the ATC website, appalachiantrail.org, that covers the entire Trail. It comes out in the fall.
What is your overall Appalachian Trail experience?
I’ve thru-hiked the entire Trail twice, once in sections (1986 – 2004), and once in one season (2006). I’ve been a member of the GATC since 1989, and hiked extensively in Georgia, as well.
Is it difficult to stay adequately in touch with family and friends when you are away for a considerable amount of time?
In a word, yes. I’m on Facebook, but mostly read what others have been doing. I’m not much of a talker when I’m off the Trail. I try to respond to emails whenever I get them, which isn’t much.
What is a typical day like on the trail? Do you set time or mileage goals? Are you very routine about how you hike, or do you take each and every day differently?
A typical day on the Trail. I start at the shelter, pack up, clean up, and go. I’ve been putting together a list of landmarks 1/10 mile apart, to make maintenance reporting easier, so I count my paces while I’m hiking. It occupies my mind. I look out for wildflowers (my thing) and maintenance problems (my job). Whenever I see a hiker I speak to them, sometimes for quite some time. It’s my job to find out how long they’re on the trail for, the rest of the conversation is being friendly, and to satisfy my interests. If I gave you my 20-words-or-less job description, you may remember that part of that is “walking information desk”. I give hikers the latest word on water sources and upcoming terrain.
Have you made lasting friendships from the trail?
From the Trail, yes. I’ve met a few people from my long-distance hikes that I keep up with. From ridgerunning, not yet. I meet a lot of people, but mostly I don’t ever see them again.
When I do, though, it’s a real treat.
Are there any particular people or incidents that stand out as funny, dramatic, or memorable?
My first bear sighting of the year: I was hiking on the Approach Trail, counting (see above), when I hear a noise. I look up, and there’s a bear bounding away from me. Typical. The next thing I see is, out of the corner of my eye, two brown blobs shooting up a nearby tree. Bear cubs. Then I look up at the trail ahead of me and there’s this small round bear face above the underbrush, looking at me. Mama bear. I sighed, looked around to determined the best course of action, and bushwhacked around her. When I got back onto the trail, she and the cubs were gone.
How much do you carry in your pack? Can you generally describe what you, as a seasoned long-distance hiker, carry? Do you keep your pack to a certain weight?
I carry everything I need for a 5-day backpacking trip, just like any hiker, plus a small handsaw, a first-aid kit, and a Forest Service radio. “Everything I need” consists of bedding (in the summer, my fleece liner and a silk “blanket”), food (Mountain House, oatmeal, and gorp), water, and camp clothes. My pack weighs around 27 pounds with food and water.
Do you have any advice to beginners and novices?
For wannabe thru-hikers, take it slow starting out. Your body isn’t accustomed to the rigor of hiking long miles every day, and if you push it too hard, too fast, you could injure yourself and not be able to complete your hike. I recommend taking it easy until Damascus, VA. After that the terrain gets a lot easier.
How did you obtain your trail name? Does it have a specific meaning?
I gave myself my trail name. Foreign language is my hobby. “Karuna” and “miel” are foreign words. “Karuna” means “compassion” in Sanskrit, and “miel” means “honey” in both Spanish and French. I thought they sounded pretty together. It actually had its beginning when I opened an email account. I wanted something I didn’t have to put a number behind in order to make it unique.
When we crossed paths on the trail your last words were ‘God bless you,’ the same as your closings in email. Would you like to comment on the nature of your relationship with God?
God is the only sure thing in my life, and all that I live for. I get lonely, a lot, on the trail, and God fills that emptiness. God is the foundation of my life, and like building foundations hard to see (and talk about) but absolutely essential. When I sign the registers, I include a symbol that looks like “the square root of a fish”. The “square root” symbol is a general “radical”, and the fish is an ancient symbol for Christianity. I am a radical follower of Christ; I believe it when he says, “seek first the kingdom of God and all your needs will be fulfilled”. And “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, … and he will direct your paths”. I am absolutely sure of one thing: that God loves me unconditionally, and all I do is in response to that.