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Conquering the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail was Bob Bugelholl’s white whale. He dreamed of hiking the trail before he graduated from Wyoming Area in 1975. He grew up in West Pittston where his mother Rosalie, brothers Dennis and Michael and sister Jacqueline still live. He was inspired to hike the trail by Ed Kuni, whose series of stories about his own Appalachian Trail hike ran in the Sunday Independent in the mid 1970s.

“It seemed like a great adventure,” Bugelholl said.

The great adventure would have to wait more than 40 years. Bugelholl planned to hike the trail in 1976, he even bought some gear, but life got in the way — college, six years in the US Navy, a career in the nuclear energy industry and a wife and kids. His Navy hitch included three years aboard a submarine, which led to his trail name, “Yellow Submarine.”

Retired in January and living in Oswego, New York, Bugelholl, now 62, hit the trail on March 7 at the Southern Terminus, Springer Mountain, near Ellijay, Georgia.

It would have been easier 44 years earlier, but in 1976 he wouldn’t have had a wife and three children to support him and start and finish the hike with him. As a regular runner and occasional marathoner, he didn’t worry about his legs, lungs and heart, but he didn’t run marathons with a 30-pound pack on his back, so he worked on his upper body strength for a couple of months before starting the hike.

He carried with him a backpack and a walking stick his mother gave him 40 years ago. His 82-year-old mother met him near Palmerton and hiked a portion of the trail with him. His 30-pound pack held, among other things, a tent, sleeping bag, an extra set of clothes, rain gear, five days of food — freeze dried meals, protein bars, and trail mix — and two quarts of water. His was an average pack.

“It was pretty stripped down,” he said, “A lot of hikers carried 40-pound packs.”

He had a lot of good info, including a trail handbook listing towns, resupply stores, water sources, hostels, shelters and campsites. Appalachian Trail hikers don’t stay out on the trail for the five to seven months, more or less, of a thru-trail hike.

“My longest stretch was eight days. Normally, I’d go four or five days and stop at a town for food, laundry and a shower.”

Though there are three-sided shelters every 10 to 15 miles, hikers typically only used them in bad weather. Most, as Bugelholl did, would pitch an ultralight tent on the ground.

At Springer, Georgia, he was joined by his daughters for two days and wife for three days.

He said he never came close to giving up, though he did find some dicey going in Maine.

“The toughest section was Southern Maine, due to the steep climbs and descents up and down mountains. Thru hikers have actually quit in Maine. The steep climbs punish your leg muscles and the steep descents are hard on your joints, especially your knees,” he said.

The Northern Terminus, Mount Katahdin, features a 4,000-foot climb in 5 miles, with 3,000 feet of it in a mile-and-a half. Another mile through the Mahoosuc Notch, which scrambles over boulders and narrow passages, took three hours. Bugelholl hiked for six days through the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. This is a remote section of the trail with no towns or services readily available. Most of the stream and river crossings in this section are made by fording through water two feet deep.

Weather also was an obstacle.

“There was a lot of bad weather,” he said. “Up until May 17 it was cold and wet. I hiked through snow in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. On May 9, my water bottles froze in Northern Virginia during the day. I did get caught in some severe rain and thunderstorms in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, but normally you watched the weather closely and made it to a shelter before it hit ... In Maine I spent 30 minutes in a cave while a thunderstorm passed.”

Though he hiked over half the 2,190 miles alone, he did buddy with other hikers for 300 miles in New Hampshire and Maine.

“I hiked with guys I met around my age, for safety,” he said.

But his favorite hiking buddies were his wife, daughters and son — Theresa, Kate, Sarah and Cory. They joined him as he neared the end at Baxter State Park in Maine.

“It was special when they finished the hike with me,” he said.

They summited Mount Katahdin on Aug. 3.

The plethora of wildlife along the trail also kept him company.

“The only thing I did not see was a moose,” he said. “(I saw) several bear in Virginia, New Jersey and New York. I was surprised by how fast they can move. The deer were so tame that they would come within 5 feet of you. Dozens of snakes, including rattlesnakes, in Pennsylvania. The most interesting wildlife was the porcupines and an owl in flight in dense foliage. I was impressed with the gracefulness of an owl in flight.”

Having started on March 7, he missed the early COVID restrictions, though he said it was tough to resupply in April.

“Many towns ... had most of their businesses and stores closed. For a month I relied on mail drops from my wife to get resupplied with food. The completion of the hike would not have been possible without my wife’s support.”


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Welcome to the porch

When Susan Thackara stepped onto her front porch in Wyoming over the weekend, she saw a line of people on the sidewalk leading up to her house. Rather than running inside, shocked at this development, she opened her porch on East 4th Street to one group at a time as planned, selling cupcakes and cookies by the dozen.

“We opened the porch at 8 a.m.,” she said. “We sold 30 dozen cupcakes and about 20 dozen cookies.”

Thackara hosted the grand opening of her business, The Front Porch Bake Shop, on Sept. 12.

“It’s literally my house,” she said. “I have a table and a display for cupcakes.”

Thackara, a high school teacher and mom of two, has always loved to bake. She spent time as a child in the kitchen with her grandmother, and has kept her passion for baking alive as an adult. Before “quarantine hit,” at the start of the pandemic, Thackara said opening a bakery was just a far-off dream.

“Then all of a sudden I had more time at home,” she said.

She started baking more and more as the shutdowns continued, taking orders from friends and family for some of her specialties.

“Around Easter I made an entire dining room of cupcakes,” she said.

Thackara said her friends and family pushed her to start selling her baked goods and custom cakes, so she tried selling orders from her front porch for Mother’s Day. After that success, she spent the summer preparing her business.

“I had wanted to start a shop when I retired,” she said. “But I just thought, ‘Why am I waiting?’”

Now, Thackara has staples that she will sell from her porch every Saturday, even into the winter months. Some of her most popular treats are her salted caramel pretzel cupcakes, Italian rainbow cookie cupcakes, and dark chocolate chip and sea salt cookies.

To prepare for a Saturday of selling, Thackara and her husband bake through the weeknights after they have put the children to bed.

“We line up mixers on the counter,” Thackara said.

She always bakes in single batches, and whips her buttercream icing for a minimum of five minutes

“The kitchen is really covered in powdered sugar,” she said.

With the grand opening behind her, Thackara has resumed pre-orders for cupcakes and even custom cakes with enough advance planning. Anyone wishing to place a custom order can contact The Front Porch Bake Shop over Facebook or at 570-592-2342.

Thackara said she looks forward to seeing her business grow — even as the cold of winter inches closer.

“I’ll still be standing there for six hours in the cold,” she said.

The cops and I

It wasn’t even my car. It belonged to my girlfriend’s mother. I swear she liked me better than my girlfriend.

It was 1968 and I was a sophomore at Wilkes College, but still only 18. My girlfriend was a freshman at Bloomsburg. Because I worked 12-hour shifts on Saturdays, there was no heading to Bloom for the weekends. And since I had no car of my own, there would have been no heading to Bloom at all, except for my girlfriend’s mom. Every Sunday morning, I’d get a ride to her house where she’d give me a hug and hand me her keys. The tank was always full of gas.

I’d get to Bloomsburg in time for the “folk Mass” for the college kids at the downtown movie theater. Afterwards we’d go to Hotel Magee for Sunday dinner. We’d spend the afternoon walking around campus, sneaking in a little smooching when no one was looking. There was no going up to your girl’s room in those days. Dorms were not co-ed then, and there was a “house mother” to rival any Marine drill sergeant in every lobby.

I’d have the car back before dark.

Simple as all that sounds, those Sundays were heavenly, and I’d be flying during the ride home. One particular day, I guess I was because I looked out of the driver’s side window and there was a state trooper motioning me to pull over.

“Do you know how fast you were going, son?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said, and it was the truth.

“85,” he said, before adding, “Have you ever been arrested?”

Even as I heard another “No, sir” coming from my mouth, I was thinking, “They arrest you for speeding?”

“You seem like a good kid,” he said, examining my license. “And you have a lot of life ahead of you. Don’t go killing yourself on the highway.”

He got back in his car and off he drove.

A few years later I was parked with my new girlfriend in a little pull-off along a road in Harding. Yes, the Bloom girl had dumped me. I told you her mom liked me better. At least by then I had my own car.

It looked like a quiet place to “talk,” but we barely got started when we heard tapping on the window. The engine was still running, so I popped the car into gear and floored it, kicking up dirt and cinders. Seconds later I heard the siren.

“You scared the daylights out of us,” I yelled when I rolled down the window and saw the cop’s face.

“Sorry, kid,” he said, seemingly unprepared for this reaction. “I, uh, wanted to make sure you weren’t littering,” he fibbed. And that was that. No ticket. No warning. No nothing.

Spin the clock ahead about 20 years and I was a divorced guy with two young kids living with their mom and stepdad in a New Jersey town not far from New York City.

My brother, an expert on being divorced, had taken me under his wing and convinced me if I was going to be driving back and forth to New Jersey I needed a new Lexus. “I don’t know,” I countered, “maybe a Honda Civic,” but he’d have none of it. He also talked me into a $225 pair of Oakley sunglasses, which I did not have a month before breaking.

I fared better with the Lexus, but only because I refused to listen to him when he said it could cruise at 100 mph, which was how he drove his BMW. I was quite content to go the speed limit, maybe a few miles over. And that’s what I was doing one night about 10 p.m. as I approached the Delaware Water Gap after a great visit with the tykes. When I saw the flashing lights of the New Jersey state trooper in my rearview mirror.

I couldn’t imagine he was signaling to me. But sure enough.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he said.

It was a regular déjà vu moment, but this time, I had an answer. “Yes, officer,” I said, “a little under 70. Aren’t I allowed 5 miles over the limit?”

“Yes, sir, you are” he said. “But the speed limit on this stretch drops to 55.”

He asked me where I was going, but instead I told him where I had been, spending a day with my kids. I told him I didn’t mind the fine but I dreaded points on my license.

Maybe he was a dad, himself, because he thought for a moment, and then started rattling off something about New Jersey traffic law with the cadence of an auctioneer. I barely grasped a word when he slowed down and ended with, “And so, sir, I am going to ask you this and ask you only once. Sir, when I pulled you over, were you or were you not wearing a seatbelt?”

I swallowed hard and said with trepidation, “Is ‘no’ the right answer?”

“No,” he barked through a wide grin, “is a very good answer, sir.”

He wrote me up for a seatbelt violation, that had just a $99 fine and no points.

These encounters have been on my mind lately because cops have been getting a bad rap. God knows, some of them deserve it. Some, as we’ve seen all too often, are a disgrace to the uniform. But for every bad person wearing a badge, there are thousands or tens of thousands of good ones. We shouldn’t forget that. I know I can’t.

Ed Ackerman writes the Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.