About 18 months ago, a good friend and I began what will probably be a very long endeavor at our current rate. We decided to try to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) – in sections since we have no real desire to spend six months or more in a continuous hike of more than 2,100 miles. The AT is a winding, rocky, often spectacularly beautiful, occasionally steeply mountainous trail that runs along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. Here is a link to the National Park Service web site that provides information about the trail – http://www.nps.gov/appa/. We have since invited others to participate on our semi-annual sections; we are fair weather hikers that take advantage of spring and fall to avoid the summer and winter extremes of temperature.
You might wonder why I bother to mention this quest here on the Atomic Insights Blog, but there is an energy relationship. Hikers that carry food, water, shelter, clothing, tools, and fuel on their backs for 10-15 miles per day become intimately aware of exactly how much energy they really need to survive. We also are reminded first hand of the value of concentrating that energy.
My buddies and I generally manage to make do with about a cup’s worth of propane each for a four-day trip. That amount of fuel is enough to boil water for coffee and oatmeal each morning and a hot drink plus “cooking” a dehydrated meal each evening. However, that is not the whole story of our energy use.
We also carry a handful of batteries each for our headlamps – it gets awfully dark in the woods at night. Most nights, we forage for wood for a campfire; none of us want the added weight of saws or hatchets so we reject any fallen wood that is too big. It usually takes a good half an hour per person to find enough wood for the evening; many people would be surprised at just how much wood it takes to fuel a small fire for a couple of hours. We have been fortunate – there was a hurricane in the Appalachians about two years ago, so there is quite a bit of fuel remaining that has been well cured. Of course, I feel a little guilty about all of the smoke and soot that our little fires produce.
Since we all live in the Washington, DC area, we have pretty good access to certain sections of the trail, but after three trips, we have managed to make our way from the border of Maryland and Pennsylvannia down into the Shenandoah National Park. Our drop off and pick up trips are getting longer and longer – so we burn up a good bit of gasoline even though we like to think that our mode of transportation for our mini vacations is by foot. Though I enjoy the challenge of long hikes with survival gear on my back, I love the freedom of movement provided by abundant energy.
This last trip also reminded me something else about the Appalachian region – it is a gathering place for lots of haze that can be partially attributed to the large coal fired power plants that dot the region and the areas to the west of the mountains. Our trip started with a front moving through on the first day. The rain and wind cleared the air and we were treated to some amazing views. During the rest of the four days that we were out, we had incredibly nice weather with lots of sunshine and mild temperatures indicating the presence of a high pressure area.
By the middle of day four, our vistas were getting a bit brownish as more and more of the pollution from those coal fired power plants got trapped.
It inspired me to want to work even harder to help people understand just how beneficial it could be if we were able to begin shutting down those plants as new nuclear power plants came on line.