AMC activity log: articles, correspondence, hike reports, philosophy, etc

In a continuing effort to get the local Appalachian Mountain Club chapter to acknowledge and accept barefoot hiking as a safe and healthy way to get outdoors.  Their resistance is especially nonsensical in that it runs against their own diversity statement, plus the fact that all trip participants are asked to sign one of these which theoretically absolves AMC of any and all responsibility.

This is not how you "make the outdoors welcoming for everyone".

So this is kind of a trip log, focusing around the transition from acceptance to rejection based solely, so to speak, on my footwear choices.  Through the late 20-teens years I participated in a handful of AMC-organized events, including frequent attendance in a weekly "conditioning" series that a couple of leaders were running over one summer on weekday evenings in the Middlesex Fells.  [The idea with those was to start around 6pm, close to the Oak Grove train station, to accomodate a younger after-work crowd, and do as much of the Rock Circuit trail as we could before it got dark.]  The leaders I dealt with might have been slightly skeptical at first, but were fine with having me along as soon as they could see I was perfectly capable on all the terrain we encountered.  There were a couple of other notable interactions, which lent hope that *favorable* word would get around the AMC community that barefoot hiking was A Real Thing for some of its members.

April 2019:   Newsletter article (published by the Cape Cod chapter instead of the Boston-based "Mud")
  We were possibly working on raising some awareness, but it apparently failed to get the visibility I'd hoped for.

June 2019:   A completely congenial trip up Mt. Osceola, which started as a solo hike until an AMC group
  out the same day welcomed me in to spend the rest of it with them.   (Brad Fenn)

    --- And then a pandemic happened, shutting everything down ---

and as we slowly began to emerge from lockdown, things had changed ...

July 2022:   Not renewing AMC membership out of disgust/disappointment with their degenerating attitude post-Covid.
    Sorry, they don't take my money and then exclude me from activities.

Pre-pandemic, several leaders had seen first-hand what I could do, and once assured that I was in no danger of hurting myself, we got along great.  There were some others that flatly insisted on boots, and wouldn't really explain why, so I learned to avoid them and even filed a couple of formal complaints about their attitudes.  This led to some back-and-forth about acceptance of confident barefooters with AMC's Boston-chapter volunteer and "community engagement" coordinator, who's in charge of that local pool of hike leaders.  But she would only delegate to "it's the individual leader's choice" and not try to offer *them* any internal guidance that maybe they shouldn't be so rigid about footwear.  That was really my hope, that she'd use her position of influence to broadly fix the problem in the most positive way.

Then as the pandemic faded and folks were able to get back together again, it appeared that they had ALL turned against me for no specific reason.  It really felt like some kind of conspiracy-theory thing, like the virulent anti-barefoot parts of that community had poisoned the rest against the concept completely.  So it seemed unlikely that I could ever be part of their group outings again, just because of that.  How ridiculous!  Not that I need AMC to enjoy our parks, of course, there are other groups I routinely hike with that are far more reasonable and accepting, and most of my jaunts are solo anyway.  Still, I kind of missed the particular social aspect of it with AMC participants, as they tended to have good lore about the White Mountains and other rugged locations.

As reasonable adult conversation with AMC seemed to get taken off the table, around the beginning of 2023 I started playing a little game with them.  I could read the hike listings and decide to wander into the same patch of woods the same day, and possibly cross paths with the group and simply be seen briefly.  Maybe participants in a group would get a glimmer that barefoot hiking is really a thing, and possibly get more curious about it on their own.  A handful of fun writeups [which this section now summarizes] emerged from that with the overall theme of "hunting", but apparently that concept scared the crap out of some people who completely misinterpreted my intent.  Maybe a bit tone-deaf in my writing style, but still only the opinions of some random guy on the internet and which included no violent or threatening content.
[They're still accessible here, you just have to look a little harder.]

Let it be clear: There was never any intent of harm or even "harassment" in those little adventures.  Read on.

They were in fact just for innocent fun along with some entertaining logistical/timing challenges once in a while.  A different hike group I'm with regularly has a few AMC members who also go on AMC outings (shod!), and when I told them about this "sport" they thought it was hilarious.  A subset even expressed that I should be actively obnoxious and show up at startpoints, but really, I'm not that vengeful a person.  All I wanted was a little common sense and even *known precedent* applied to my situation, preferably coming from AMC's upper leadership.  Despite my repeated pleas over the years, that never came.

Nonetheless, the timeline continued for a little while thereafter ...

June 2023:   Informally accepted participation in a show-n-go outing, in Willowdale, due to a rare sensible leader   (Robin Doyle)
    -> Notably, Marc Hurwitz aka "hiddenboston" was along too, a frequent leader that I'd
  been out with a few times pre-pandemic but had more or less turned against me since.
  So he got to see me once again happily barefoot in the woods, whether he liked it or not.
    [... Maybe there was actually some hope, I thought ...]

July 2023:   Popped briefly out of the woods at a Middlesex Fells trailhead I had not known about
  previously, were it not for a REGI posting about "Explore the North Reservoir area". 
  Thanked the leader for that enlightenment, and vanished into the woods again to continue
  the solo jaunt I was already 2 miles into.   (Thurman Smith)

Administrative note:
Somewhere in the series of "be seen" crossing of paths, one of the hike leaders actually tried to call local police on me.  For what, one has to wonder.  Hiking in a public park?  That was basically the response that the police gave, according to what I heard about it later.  In other words, "don't waste our time with your paranoid hysteria".  What's ironic is that the same leader used to hike *with* me in another group fairly regularly, and on those outings we would chat and get along fine.  Later the person stopped showing up to those, got involved with AMC instead, and then delusion apparently set in -- I'm not really sure what happened, but for anyone to take a cheery on-trail passing as some kind of personal affront is pretty extreme.

At this point, though, the volunteer coordinator got wind of my game and stepped in via email with several false accusations, notably "trying to randomly show up for registration-required hikes unannounced".  That was total bullshit, as the only hikes I had *participated* in recently were open show-and-go with no registration, and *approved* up front by their leaders.  I refuted a lot of what she said, but that probably just soured the relationship even further.  Honestly, do I have to point out the gulf of difference between "showing up" at a startpoint and trying to force my way into full attendance with a group, versus maybe being spotted briefly somewhere by its participants as they would anyone else hiking in a park any given day?  The level of flat-out psychosis in the Local Walks committee was really reaching a fever pitch.  Anyone external who I described this sad situation to agreed that AMC's take on it was completely unfounded, ludicrous and control-freak.

So, for any AMC affiliates reading this far:
If you're going to accuse someone of "stalking", you need to define it in the right context.  Tracking something in a natural setting is the classic definition, which has been the basis of many kinds of games and puzzles for hundreds of years.  That's my working definition: a simple game to me, a "fox hunt" in the ham-radio sense with more mobile targets, an engaging but silly little test of skill which harms or imperils no one.  That kind of activity could range an entire spectrum, from geocaching to paintball, and nobody's making personal accusations over that.  It is not your misapplied "internet definition", especially when it didn't particularly matter who the leaders or participants were, the aim was to simply find them and pass by and not even worry about it if I couldn't.

Get a grip.  You know exactly how to turn the text past this point into positive experiences and even endorsements for the organization to others.  It's up to you. 

Aug 2023:   In expectation of some backlash from a particular outing, I had prepared this response to the volunteer coordinator,
  but since no complaint ever arrived I never sent it.  It's worth a read anyway, as it further explains my overall philosophy.   (amcboston)

    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

In moments of reflection about all this, I wandered through some of the resources for AMC volunteers, and found the Leader Handbook, a fairly monster PDF.  The entire first *third* of that reads almost like a psychology textbook, going deep into interaction with trip participants and how to skirt carefully around any problematic DEI areas or negative aspects of an experience.  So AMC leader training is likely to produce obedient disciples who are already walking on eggshells, terrified of offending someone and far more likely to adopt a stricter rules-based approach to everything.  This is not, however, how you "welcome new ideas", notably barefooting, if you're going to wind up so steeped in the "gear lore" that you blindly reject anything out of the ordinary on principle without actually stopping to learn more about it.
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Sep 2023: the "Salem witch trial" happened, which I won't even get into because it was so stupid.  Suffice to say that the witch plaintiff LOST.  But with the hornets' nest a-buzzin' and their paranoia ratcheted up to such a high level, we took the games off the table for a while.  The "tales from the hunt" are still online, though.  *Nobody* outside of AMC who I have described any of this whole situation to has been able to comprehend why AMC's attitude is so bad.

_H*   collection started 230516

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