Robo Hiker #4

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When I pulled into the parking lot I saw the Robo Hiker leaning against the wall outside the Wayside. It was raining heavily and he didn’t seem to notice the other visitors rushing inside to get out of the rain. I watched him for a couple of minutes before grabbing my rain coat and walking over to talk to him.

“You’re probably surprised that I’m hiking back to Springer Mountain. I can always fly up to Maine and then hike south from Katadhin. I heard the black flies aren’t as bad in the fall. I didn’t see you at the press conference in Harper’s Ferry, though I heard you were in town. How was your meeting with the ATC Director?”

“Let’s go into the restaurant or sit under the pavilion. I’m getting soaked.” I walked over to the pavilion next to the visitors center and he followed carrying his backpack. “So tell me about your new toys,” I asked.

He handed me one of the lightweight hiking poles. The sensors embedded in the wood were almost invisible to the naked eye. The MIT engineers hadn’t discussed these sensors with me or why they had to be in these hiking poles.  Before I could ask about them he sat down across from me and said, “When your funding runs out am I going to be recycled or reassigned to another research team?”

I wasn’t ready to discuss this so I motioned towards the hiking poles and asked about the MIT engineers. “They’ve pissed me off. They replaced one of the Japanese neuro-linguistic processor because someone complained that I sounded “too human”. Since it’s  not synchronized with my facial nerves it sometimes sounds like I have a mouth full of marbles. And the damn hiking poles are throwing me off-balance on the wet rocks. They’re making this much more complicated than it has to be.”

As the rain let up I picked up the hiking poles and walked towards my car. “I’ll send these back to MIT and insist they work all future enhancements through me. They won’t like it but I don’t give a shit. We’ll talk about your next assignment the next time we see each other.” As I drove away I saw the Robo Hiker go into the visitors center as the sun came out.

 

Robo Hiker #3

Leaving the Guide Dog Café I nearly spilled my iced coffee when a passerby bumped into me. Before I could call after her I saw the Robo Hiker standing outside an antiques store. A small group had gathered around him taking pictures and asking questions. “Are you really going to hike the entire AT in less than 2 months?” “Yes, I’ll summit Katahdin Mountain in a month from now and then fly to San Diego to begin hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.” I maneuvered around the small gathering and headed up the short hill to the ATC.

“What brings you to Harper’s Ferry?” the Robo Hiker asked when he came up beside me. He carried a package from the Post Office and was drinking a Monster energy drink. “I’m just here for the press conference.” As we approached the ATC headquarters there was a lull in conversations as the assembled group saw us approaching. A couple of his handlers from MIT escorted him into a nearby RV to get him ready for the press conference.

Inside, the ATC gift store and lobby were packed. I made my way to the “Hikers Only” area to finish my coffee and gather my thoughts. A young hiker finished rinsing out her coffee cup and turned towards me and said, “I wish they would get that damn thing off the trail. He almost  knocked me over when he passed me near the Blackburn Trail Center. It was like I wasn’t even there.” She walked away when another hiker came in.

Upstairs the Director welcomed me into his office and offered me another cup of coffee before we sat down. “This press conference will  be seen around the world and finally put ATC and Harper’s Ferry on the map. So, how do you think our synthetic friend will do?”

“He’ll surpass everyone’s expectations, They’ll be surprised by how articulate he is and laugh at his anecdotes and self-deprecating humor. He’ll provide insightful answers to their questions and thank his sponsors and hosts.  He’ll almost convince them he’s human and all this fuss is over nothing. It will be hard, but the reporters will have to remind themselves and their audiences that he’s just a well-programmed machine. And then they’ll move on to the next big story, and ……” Terri came in as I was finishing up and told the Director he had to take an important phone call. Terri apologized about interrupting our meeting and pointed me toward a desk near the window.

I took some great photos of the press conference from the second-floor office. The press conference went longer than expected. The reporters submitted  their stories and interviews back to their newsrooms before they pulled out of the parking lot. The Robo Hiker stayed out front posing for selfies and mingling with the small crowd. It wasn’t long before he was ushered back into the RV by the same two handlers.

Zombie Taxidermy

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I’m the only Zombie Taxidermist in the DC area.  As a wildlife biologist I’ve worked around dangerous animals most of my life. And I moonlight at a morgue so I’m use to the smell of decaying flesh and noxious body fluids. And being from DC I’m used to be surrounded by “brain-dead” politicians and lobbyists and tourists.

When the zombie apocalypse strikes everyone will want a snapping zombie head mounted on their wall. Especially if it’s the head of your whining ex-wife or obnoxious neighbor or local politician.

I still need to work out a few details, but its going to be the “next big thing”. I’m pretty sure the long pole in the tent will be obtaining a steady supply of intact zombie heads.  Who is going to want a zombie head with a bullet hole through the forehead, or one that’s been bashed in with a shovel.

As the training aid above shows the tried-and-true method is just tearing the head off. Zombies are deaf and blind and slow-moving so they can easily be ambushed from behind. It will be like tearing the head off a rotting rabid raccoon or other roadkill. And of course you will have to wear chain-male and a face shield and a respirator. Which reminds me I better stock up on these things.

Northern Water Snake

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I nearly stepped on this 6 foot northern water snake recently at Camp Rapidan in Shenandoah National Park. I was focused on taking photos near the Brown House and didn’t see him curled up behind me until I turned around. Thankfully he never reacted at all to my being there. I moved up to the wooden deck behind the Brown House and took this picture. I watched him for another 10 minutes before I continued on my hike.

Robo Hiker #2

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After the FedEx truck pulled away I walked to a nearby overlook to enjoy the view  and take a few photos. The valley below had changed little in the twenty-seven years I had hiked in this area. Despite the ominous dark clouds I felt my spirits lift as I looked out over the verdant forest and farms below.

When I turned to leave I was surprised to find the “robo hiker” standing nearby. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I just didn’t want to intrude, you looked very peaceful sitting there. I need to apologize for venting earlier. I’m sure you didn’t come out here to listen to an old  bucket of bolts like me complain prattle on. Anyway, I’m sorry and was wondering if you would share a pint of ice cream with me.”

As we sat at the picnic table enjoying the walnut maple ice cream he shared a funny story about hiking in the national park. “I was standing in the White Oak Canyon parking lot and there was a commotion nearby. One of the trail horses got  spooked when he saw me and was frantically trying to get back to the stables. I really wanted to help the young rider get the horse under control, but I knew that would only make it worse. I knelt down to rearrange a few things in my pack and stayed there until the horse settled down and they were on their way. When I stood to put on my pack a little boy pointed at me and said, “I bet he makes babies cry and wet themselves.” I didn’t know what to say so I just turned and headed down the trail.”

When I returned to the table after throwing away the trash he had wandered off. I waited for a few minutes for him to return and then headed to my car. I was surprised to see a manila envelope stuck under my windshield wiper. There was no one nearby when I opened it and an intricate origami horse fell out. The message scribbled on its side read, “Babies really love me.”