The following article by Mary Thayer appeared in the September 21, 1995 edition of The View, a Boonsboro, Maryland Newspaper. It is reproduced here with permission.

Running the Ridge

Many people think of crabs when they think of Maryland, but hikers on the Appalachian Trail think of free hot showers.

The facility located at the Dahlgren Camp Site near the trail's intersection with Alt. Rt. 40, is the only one with hot showers to be found along the more than 2000 miles of the trail, according to David Thurston Griggs, who patrols the Maryland portion of the trail.

"Hikers look forward to this stop because of the hot showers, and if they have a good credit card, they are close enough to the Old South Mountain Inn to treat themselves to a gourmet meal," he said.

Griggs would know about these things. He has been hiking the Maryland section of the trail for nine years as a ridge runner. His job is a combination of public relations, emergency medical care and policing. Maryland was the first state to start a ridge runner program and Griggs' extensive knowledge of the trail made him perfect for the job.

Griggs works on the weekend and two other days a week. He walks 12-15 miles a day, impressive mileage for almost anyone, but especially for Griggs, considering that he is 79 years old.

Griggs lives near Baltimore and to perform his duties, travels 60-75 miles each way in an aging Toyota with Chinese characters painted on the sides and front.

He is a retired professor from the University of Maryland with a doctorate in Chinese History, which accounts for the lettering on his car. It's what the lettering says reflects the spunky personality that keeps him on the move.

"It says 'Old Geezer" in Chinese. I painted it on my car to make it distinctive so no one would steal it, and it makes the car easier to find in a parking lot," he explained.

"Sometimes I forget the lettering is there and I'll have all these Chinese people passing me on the road waving and laughing, and I wonder why they are being so friendly until it dawns on me."

One may find it hard to understand why someone would want to be a ridge runner in retirement, but it makes perfect sense to Griggs.

"It's great exercise, it's very good for my health, I meet nice people, and I'm being useful. I never know what my day will be like or what will happen," he said.

His lifelong involvement in mountain recreation is probably another reason. Griggs grew up in the Puget Sound area of the West Coast and worked in the mountains there. When he moved to this area in 1959, he became interested in the Appalachian Trail. He has been a member of regional trail clubs for 30 years and served on the board of managers of the Appalachian Trail for 12 years, so he has a lot invested in this particular footpath.

Part of his job is to pass out literature about the trail in Maryland and answer questions for hikers. His experience on the trail provides the extras, such as information on where the best water is and how to find a shortcut to a designated water station.

He is equipped with a radio for emergencies and to keep in touch with the park rangers. He also carries a first aid kit in his backpack, but rarely gets to use it.

"Most people on the trail tend to be self-reliant. They want to take care of themselves or the person in their group. They don't expect help," he said.

The most common problems he encounters are with short-term hikers who often run into situations they hadn't prepared themselves to handle. They often have blisters, sore muscles, and failing equipment.

"I carry some rope also, for people whose packs have broken their packs and such," he said.

Another aspect of his job is to try to protect the trail from trespassers and vandalism. He replaces signs that have been torn down and posts new ones if he feels they are necessary. He talks to people on the trail to distinguish serious hikers from potential troublemakers, information he passes on to park rangers.

If there is a portion of the trail or its shelters in need of repair, Griggs reports the problems to the local trail clubs and they handle repair and maintenance of the Maryland trail.

"They are doing an excellent job. The trail is in better shape this year than it has ever been in the past," Griggs said.

"Trash has been a problem lately. I think it comes from the local users who come for a short hike and they don't have the literature. They see some trash and they think it's okay to leave theirs. Serious hikers know they are responsible for whatever they bring in and they have to take it out with them," Griggs said.

This year, Griggs has made it his mission to learn more about "thru-hikers," people hiking the trail from beginning to end. These people are a different breed of hiker, considering that it takes four to six months to complete the trail.

"I've spent more time talking to thru-hikers this season. I've learned a lot more about their habits. I've discovered that people who start out to hike the trail as a group often split up. It's very common for them to realign themselves. They meet other people they feel more suited to and they form new combinations," he said.

Although the trail has had some bad publicity in recent years, Griggs maintains that it is still a safe place to travel. "Considering the number of people who use the trail, the incidence of crime is very low. I've met many women this summer who were traveling alone. I do suggest they team up with someone and camp at designated sites where there are likely to be other people camping. There is safety in numbers," he said.

Griggs' car may harken the arrival of an "Old Geezer," but the hikers he encounters would likely disagree. To them, he is probably more akin to a patch of sunshine amongst the shade of the trees, dispensing anything from a band-aid to a humorous anecdote.

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