Monday, October 5, 2009

Conversations from the Appalachian Trail

THIS PAST WEEKEND, I hiked with a group on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.

It's a well-organized group of outdoors enthusiasts I've hiked with before and like very much. In general, I've found most of them to lean more left than right politically (after all they're from Maryland). So I am careful not to get myself too tangled up in talking politics on the trail. Still, I was pleasantly surprised with some things I heard walking on the mountain top Saturday. To wit:

Conversation 1, The Education Bubble Will Burst. I chatted with a man who was a recently retired college professor in a small state/community school in Maryland. He said he was relieved to be out of the rat race and decried the growing numbers of students pushed into higher education who could neither read nor write. Not only that, he said, these students were being pushed into courses that they were totally incapable of participating in academically by "educational elites who were building empires based solely on increased numbers going through the system."

He emphasized that these practices of mandating equality of results in education were demoralizing for the high-achievers and hard workers and would come back to haunt us all. He said the education bubble would one day burst, like the sub-prime housing bubble, with similar devastating results.

I stopped short of asking him what he thought of Mr. Obama, but he sure sounded a lot like a conservative to me.

Conversation 2, The Absolute Need for A Single Payer System in Health care Reform: I next chatted with a hiker who's a career staffer with Medicare. She has a lot of experience with the federal system and in fact she with some of her colleagues has advised the Senate Finance Committee on various schemes for health care reform. This was a more difficult conversation for me and so I spent most of this one listening rather than talking. Heaven knows I tried, but she just wouldn't let me!

This conversation went something like this: We MUST have a single payer system in this country. Otherwise, there would be nothing but old and indigent people in the government pool. In order for the government option to work, it must have lots of young and healthy people in it to help subsidize those who can't pay. This is certainly the best, most cost effective way to make health care reform work. She also decried the right's reference to "death panels" as absurd.

I then chimed in about Tennessee's 20-year experience with universal, non-mandatory health care. She looked me in the eye and summarily dismissed me by saying, "I know all about TennCare." Period, end of conversation.

She was extremely opinionated and I decided that this conversation should be left there in the middle of the Appalachian Trail.

Conversation 3, We're raising a generation of "entitled monsters:" Had this fun conversation with a French woman, now U.S. citizen for decades. She is a high finance banking consultant who works all over the world. Her most recent work venue took her to Viet Nam for two months this summer. She loved it and said the people couldn't be more friendly towards foreigners, especially Americans.

Then she started in on the rigors of international flying: The French are raising a whole generation of brats she told me in no uncertain terms. Flying across the ocean with French kids is a nightmare, she said. They are ill-behaved and cry and scream if they don't get their way. T

Then she told me, the absolute best children in the world are the Koreans. They are quiet and well-behaved on long plane rides and without a doubt are the least spoiled children in the world, in my opinion.

Conversation 4, Lyme Disease: One of the strongest hikers Saturday was a woman who is getting over her second case of Lyme disease. Would never have known she'd been battling this infectious disease with antibiotics the past month. I've always been afraid of this tick-related malady, and was most anxious to know what she said had to say about it.

Basically she gardens and says she occasionally picks up these tiny little seed ticks, also referred by her as "deer ticks." She said the first case was treated immediately when she recognized a rash on her back that she knew was often the first stage of Lyme. One round of antibiotics did the trick and she never had any other effects.

Her second tick infection came a year later with symptoms of overall unwellness and high fever, but no rash. She said her first case gave her no immunity from her second. This time, she needed a longer round of antibiotics, adding she was feeling much better but still hadn't gotten her full energy back.

She also said she was now gardening and hiking only in long pants and never again in shorts, even in hot weather.

Something about this conversation and seeing how strong this woman is made me less fearful of Lyme disease. But still it's not something I wouldn't want to contract if possible.


It's always fun to hike with friends and new acquaintances. Like travel, for me it's fascinating to know what's on people's minds and a little of why they think the way they do. I liked these people for the most part and think there were actually some conservative politically incorrect hikers like me on the AT Saturday. Glory Be!

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